Interview -- Stephen Linsley (The Jim Carroll Band)
left that I even
want to imitate."
~ The Jim Carroll Band ~
The Jim Carroll Band made music that was both compelling and relentless and wrapped the noise around poetry that felt so real you could taste it.
And Stephen Linsley, the bassist and youngest member of the JCB by plenty...was poppin' the string for the entire ride. That would be a 7 year, 3 album ride for those taking math. But it was their eye-opening 1980 debut..."Catholic Boy"...that expanded the boundaries of truth.
"Catholic Boy" reminded us...that street life is extremely messy, time moves quicker than crosswalks, and choices are weighed and made in but moments. And yet between the seedier shadows and darker reflections...glimmers of chance and strength share a soft breath with beauty.
Go get you some.
Stephen Linsley Interview -- Oct. 2017
Casey Chambers: I'd like to begin with the lost gem..."City Drops Into The Night" from The Jim Carroll Band's debut album..."Catholic Boy." You co-wrote that song, right?
Stephen Linsley: "City Drops..." was written while Jim (Carroll) was living in San Francisco in this room in an apartment with Terrell Winn's (guitar) girlfriend at the time. She was a friend of mine from high school. None of the rest of us actually lived in the city but we were playing in the city a lot. And we used the place as our base. It was sort of our clubhouse as it were. So one night we were just hanging out enjoying a late evening of typical Jim Carroll Band partying and Jim and I and Brian Linsley (guitar) basically wrote the song. I don't have a whole lot of specific memory writing it. I mean, a lot of times we wrote songs in a very organic way. They kind of happened without a lot of notice.
"City Drops Into The Night" was always an incredible song to play live and one of my personal favorites. I was 10 years younger than everybody else in the band. I was 18,19, 20. And I wouldn't say I was completely impressionable, but I think I was a lot more open to what Jim was saying. I took his lyrics seriously and that song, in particular. Things like..."It ain't hip to sink so low unless you're gonna make a resurrection" was a particular lyric I really took to heart and I'm probably still alive because of it.
The Jim Carroll Band
(Stephen Linsley, Terrell Winn, Jim Carroll, Brian Linsley, Wayne Woods)
That's the long version. It goes back to what Morrison was talking about and certainly, people like Baudelaire and Rimbaud were talking about. As you probably know, Jim was heavily influenced by them. Jim was turning the typewriters over to the monkeys. Not just to get high and have a good time, but to actually create something. And when I would be playing, I was not so much listening...as I was experiencing the lyrics. It was like being in the audience and on stage at the same time. It had that effect on me.
Casey Chambers: Bobby Keys played the sax on that song. How did he get involved in the recording?
Stephen Linsley: Our manager, Earl McGrath, worked with Rolling Stone Records and was the president of the Stones label at the time. And Bobby Keys was a big part of The Rolling Stones. Played all over the Rolling Stones. He was one of Keith Richards best friends and Keith liked us. So Bobby came in and it was cool.
"City Drops Into The Night" - The Jim Carroll Band / "Catholic Boy" (1980)
Casey Chambers: It's a great night driving song. It's perfect. So the Stones were fans of The Jim Carroll Band, too?
Stephen Linsley: Oh, yeah. It was the fact that Keith really dug what we were doing that ultimately ensured we got signed. When it came time for our record to come out, we switched over to Atco which at that time the Stones were part of. It was Ahmet Ertegun's label...the guy who started Atlantic Records in the '50s. Atlantic became such a huge label in the '70s that we forget it started off as a kind of eclectic label that was doing a lot of R&B ...which was rare at the time for white labels to be doing black music. That really was Ahmet Ertegun's doing. They've always been more experimental, and I think Earl realized we would probably get promoted better if we were over on the mother company's side...so we swapped over to Atco.
Casey Chambers: The band's explosive signature song..."People Who Died"...that was a game changer on many levels.
Stephen Linsley: "People Who Died" was born at one of our rehearsals. Whenever it was time to rehearse, all of us would show up but often not exactly at the same time. So we'd use that time to just warm up. Sort of start playing with each other at the beginning and a lot of times the easiest thing to play just to warm up is like 1-4-5 Chuck Berry type stuff. Rock and roll. Just jam shit basically.
And the band was warming itself up, playing some fast punk rock style 1-4-5 Chuck Berry and Jim sort of jumped in on it which he didn't usually do. Usually, he would just be doing other stuff and let us get limbered up. Or one of us would sit down with Jim. Or a few of us. Or...sometimes Jim wrote a song and he would come to us and say, 'I have some chords.' Jim wasn't really a musician per say, but he would hear things in his head. Like, "Catholic Boy" was something he had fully formed in his head oddly enough. He said, 'Gimme that guitar.' And he had that rhythm. And I'm jumping tracks.
But with "People Who Died," Jim popped in and just started riffing on that thing. It kind of spontaneously combusted right there. And we were all like, 'Wow, this is an interesting song!'
Later, we went back and fine-tuned it and that's how that song started. And this happens a lot with songwriting. You start with some little kernel of a thought, a melody, a riff or something. A rhythm. And then come back to it. It's like poetry. Poetry a lot of times you'll spit it out. And then you'll go back and hone it into something. Not just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. And the song went on to become our infamous hit.
"People Who Died" (early live version 2 years before album)
Casey Chambers: What did that song do for you guys in terms of media attention?
Stephen Linsley: Well, I think it was certainly a good hook and the song gave people a lot of stuff to latch onto. In a lot of ways, "People Who Died" is the most like the "The Basketball Diaries" of any of the songs.
There are certainly other themes I can see showing up, but you can really hear the little stories...of friends lost...parsed from that book in this one. And it was aggressive and very unique in its way. I'm sure there must be other songs where people sing about people dying, but...
Casey Chambers: I've never heard anything quite like it...before or since. And I can still remember being knocked out hearing that song for the first time. Like an anthem.
Stephen Linsley: Yeah, and I was surprised by the number of covers. I remember a few years ago doing a search on YouTube and was really shocked at how many people have covered it. I mean, John Cale did a cover. And there's a live version of Marilyn Manson doing it, which kinda makes sense. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: Oh, I totally get it. I'm sure he adds his own special flavor to the song. (laughs)
Stephen Linsley: Yeah, it's an interesting cover. Very stylized. It wasn't somebody covering it literally. It's on YouTube, I think.
Casey Chambers: I'll check it out. What would be really strange is hearing Olivia Newton-John bringing it to the house. (laughs) And that song still continues to pop up in movies and tv shows, doesn't it?
Stephen Linsley: Yeah, I know. And it's always weird when it shows up and I don't know it's there. It's like being in a strange town and suddenly running into someone you know. I was watching...this is actually my favorite combination...I was watching "Six Feet Under" and on the final season DVD, they did this great recap of the entire show set to "People Who Died." Appropriate that they would choose it. (laughs) They literally just took video cuts of people dying throughout the series.
Casey Chambers: Oh, that is cool! And that show has been on my Watchlist for awhile. Just haven't pulled the trigger yet. And Spielberg must have been a fan too, slipping that song surprisingly into "E.T." (1982)
Stephen Linsley: Oh well, I mean it's actually a pretty anticlimactic use of it, but at the time it was huge to us. It was the first time we had had anything like that done. And of course, "E.T." was this giant...ya know...it was phenomenally huge and it was just really cool to see it used in that film. That was sort of a fun bragging rights thing...to be able to say, 'Yeah, and ya know that song was in "E.T." But again, it's a little odd, contextually, where it is in the movie. They segue "People Who Died" into "Papa Oom Mow Mow" or "Bird is the Word" or whatever that funny '50s song was. It's like, what radio station are those guys listening to? (laughs) But it was cool.
"Catholic Boy" - The Jim Carroll Band (1980)
Casey Chambers: What was some television you did when the album came out?
Stephen Linsley: Well, we spent Thanksgiving in New York with Earl in 1980. It was the first time the band went to New York. And a month after the record came out, we did The Tom Snyder Show in New York City. That was a late-night talk show from the 70's and '80s. And I saw that they recently released a DVD of music from that show. We're unfortunately not on it and I've never seen our performance since. And we were also the musical guest on "Fridays." "Fridays" is available. But I would love to see the footage of our performance on Tom Snyder.
Casey Chambers: What did you guys play?
Stephen Linsley: I'm sure we did "People Who Died." And something else. I don't remember exactly. I'm sure we did two songs. But Tom Snyder was the first time I was aware that we were actually famous. We taped the show in the afternoon at 30 Rock which is where NBC is. Rockefeller Center is such a big building in New York. And when we came down the elevators afterward, there was a mob waiting for us.
That was the first time I had ever been mobbed by a crowd. (laughs) That was so much fun. It's like, 'Oh wow!' I mean, I don't give a shit about being famous now. I'm 56. I had the career. Fame is not healthy. It's not for any real human being. But when I was 20, of course, I wanted to be famous. Ya want to be a rock star. This is when you're still climbing up the hill. We hadn't even done our first real tour yet and our first album, "Catholic Boy" had just come out. And you have all this energy of...'You just want it to be as fucking big as it can be.' So, it was pretty cool. It was probably the only time we ever got mobbed because we were never really a hugely famous band. But it was fun. It was really, really fun.
Casey Chambers: You mentioned the show "Fridays" earlier.
Stephen Linsley: Yeah, "Fridays" was in the middle of our first tour. We did three songs and it was shot in L.A. When we shot Tom Snyder, it really had a lot of mystique. It was really mysterious. Being in New York...it just had a lot of...mystery attached to it. When we did "Fridays," it was really low-key. I have always wished there had been a director there to direct us a little on TV. It seemed like a really flat performance to me. It was not a good representation of what we were like live. Live, we were really edgy and hard. And I didn't get that from that performance. It's a skewed perspective 'cause I'm in the band, but...it just seemed sedate to me. When you do a show live, you have the crowd and it quickly gets you up to this pinnacle of energy and that just didn't happen as much with that show.
"It's Too Late" - Jim Carroll Band on "Fridays" (1981)
Casey Chambers: Do you have any special memories from that show?
Stephen Linsley: Valeri Bertinelli was hosting the show that week. And I got to briefly meet Eddie Van Halen there. Most of us were huge fans of Van Halen and I was a huge fan of their first record. You can't imagine now what it was like to have no Van Halen. But the sound of that record...it was just a total musical sea change.
Casey Chambers: So, Eddie Van Halen was hanging at the "Fridays" show?
Stephen Linsley: Yeah, because he was married to Valeri Bertinelli. She was in "Three's Company." No, what was that fucking show called? Some weird show in the '70s.
Casey Chambers: All the shows were weird in the '70s, weren't they? (laughs)
Stephen Linsley: (laughs) Anyway, they were married at the time and she hosted the show. I was sitting on the stage doodling with my bass. I think it was after the soundcheck. And Eddie Van Halen sort of walks up. I was like, 'Oh shit! It's Eddie Van Halen!' In hindsight, I wish I had talked to him more. I was kind of shy. The funny thing is, even though other people saw us as rock stars, or whatever, I never felt that way. I met lots of famous people. I remember palling around with David Robinson from The Cars when we would play Boston and I always thought...'Oh, he's a rock star. I'm just a normal person.' I mean, that's the thing. It's all just an illusion. Nobody's a rock star really.
Casey Chambers: Are there any possible plans of releasing any outtakes or live stuff from the band anytime soon?
The Jim Carroll Band
Stephen Linsley: I am currently in the middle of digitizing every cassette of every show we ever did. Partly why "Catholic Boy" is so good and has so much energy, is that we had been playing in clubs literally every weekend for two years before we recorded it in San Francisco. I mean, "City Drops..." on record is great. But live...that song was a monster. I mean, I would leave my body playing that song.
Casey Chambers: It'd be great to see some of those songs reach the fans. We'd love to hear them.
Stephen Linsley: Yeah, some are epic. When we were playing live, sometimes it would just transcend everything. It was just that...mystical.
But it sorta stopped happening once we got out on tour playing every night instead of every weekend. It became more like work. It depends on the crowd, of course, but now you're in a business. You have to push yourself harder to hit that energy and because you're pushing yourself, it's intentional and loses some of the magic. But when it's right...
One of the most amazing lyrics Jim ever wrote and one of the most important songs we ever did was "Dead Heat." We never recorded it, which is a real shame, but we did this show once and played that song and we just hit this magic critical mass that was...on this other level. We all remembered it. You could ask any of the band members, 'Hey, remember that night we played "Dead Heat" at the Rio?' And everyone would be like, 'Oh yeah! That was...' Everybody knew. "Dead Heat" was a song that lived in the band's collective memory. Something special happened.
And that's the way it is. Sometimes it's punching a clock and going to work and sometimes it just goes beyond. And there's no way to really tell why that happens. I mean, I saw the band Television play a couple of weeks ago. I'm a big fan of Television and heard they were playing. And it was a perfect show. I mean it was perfect on every...fucking...level. It was mystical. It was transcendent. Like all the corny shit Jim Morrison would talk about. (laughs)
I felt so privileged to see it. I liked it so much, I talked my way into the club and got to see them a second night And of course, the second night...it was totally different. (laughs) It was good. It was interesting to see. I enjoyed watching it from a technical point of view. Watching the guitar work. But like, I never left my mind the whole time. I was thinking. Not feeling. And it was like...'how weird.' From one night to the next. In the same club. Totally different experience. And that's just it. It doesn't happen all the time. But when it does...you remember it.
I'm digressing a bit, but that's the way it was for us. And for years before we ever dragged out the cassettes and found that song ("Dead Heat") it was just...'oh yeah, remember that night.' And you really do...you remember it.
Casey Chambers: I have really enjoyed listening to you share a few of your memories off the fly. And I hope those live recordings you're working with get released someday. Thank you so much.
Stephen Linsley: Well, it's my pleasure, Casey. I'm really happy that the people who liked us...still like us. Thanks for being a fan.
"People Who Died" - The Jim Carroll Band / "Catholic Boy" (1980)
Stephen Linsley Photography
Follow Me On FACEBOOK.