Ed Ruscha is one of the most compelling artists of the last 40 years and leader of the West Coast pop art movement. In his Guest DJ set, he shares his favorite rockabilly tune, a song that defined his early years in California, and an artist very close to his heart, his son Eddie Ruscha.
For More: http://www.edruscha.com/
1. Jessie Belvin - Good Night My Love
2. Mason Williams - Them Sand Pickers / Them Sticker Gitters
3. Hank Ballard - Annie Had a Baby
4. Sleepy La Beef - Little Bit More
5. Eddie Ruscha - The Rose
Liza Richardson: Hi, I'm Liza Richardson from KCRW and I'm here today with artist Ed Ruscha, the California master of pop art and various other kinds of visual splendor. His inventive work has been exhibited internationally for three decades and is represented in many major museum collections. Today, we will be playing excerpts of songs that have inspired him over the years, as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Ed Ruscha, welcome to KCRW.
Ed Ruscha: Thank you, Liza.
L.R.: Tell me about your set. What did you bring? What are we starting with today?
E.R. We're starting with somebody who came through and kind of covered a particular area. He was very strong in the '50s, his name is Jesse Belvin. I'm going to play this tune called, "Goodnight My Love," and this kind of represents everything I felt about California when I first came out here.
Song: Jesse Belvin -- Goodnight My Love
E.R.: I came out to California and things were happening so fast and there was a rich kind of thing happening right in central L.A. which is Hollywood and Los Angeles proper, not so much the suburbs. Also Central Avenue, I mean all the great musicians were playing there. And seeing that and just kind of building this structure of thoughts about music and how it jived with art. I was studying art at that time at Chouinard Art Institute and this is kind of represented that romantic aspect of coming to California.
L.R.: That is, "Goodnight My Love," the song is by Jessie Belvin and that's one of the songs that sort of encapsulates a moment in time for you, living in California, when you first moved here. So you drove out here with a friend named Mason Williams and we're going to play something from him. Tell me more about this.
E.R.: Yeah, well he got into writing, and playing and he was locked into the folk world, and he had been schooled in classical music and country and western music, so he kind of worked out of that, and he was writing a lot of poems at the time. He went through a little spell there where he wrote these poems, called, "Them Poems." When I think today, they're almost like precursors of rap and they had some flavor like that. He put these things to music, I mean like with a guitar, and they could almost be without music. They could be read like poems almost.
L.R.: We’ll hear a couple of "Them Poems." And, what are they about?
E.R: They're about the various things that he's titled these things with. One's called, "Them Sandpickers," which is about picking sand.
Song: “Them Sandpickers”
E.R.: The next one is about, it's called, "Them Sticker Getters," about walking through weeds and getting stickers and how to get rid of them.
Song: “Them Sticker Getters”
L.R.: Those are excerpts from, "Them Poems," by Mason Williams, choice of our guest DJ, Ed Ruscha. And what's next?
E.R.: Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, which was a tune recorded in 1954 in Washington, D.C. and it's called, "Annie Had a Baby." I was introduced to this in high school. I grew up in Oklahoma and lived through the Jim Crow era, where racial tensions were high.
So race music, or rhythm and blues at that time, was music that was pretty much taboo.
Of course that made it more listenable at the same time, but it was such great music. You couldn't listen to it on the radio, 'cause it was banned. But this particular tune was… you know, you find out about the opposite sex and this came along at a time where it just, like, tickled everybody that I was in school with, and so this was a very popular tune. You'd have to buy it kind of almost on the black market, but you could get it. It just wouldn't be on the radio. And Hank Ballard went on to make other recordings too, and he became part of like the Doo-Wop movement so there's lots of intertwining of musical styles that come after him so, "Annie Had a Baby."
Song: Annie Had a Baby
L.R. : So that's Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, "Annie Had a Baby." So Ed, tell me, what's next?
E.R.: The next tune is a piece that comes out of, maybe, it's sort of derived from rhythm and blues and mixed with hillbilly music and country & western music.
I was listening to artists like Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young. And then out of that came artists like Charlie Feathers and Sleepy LaBeef. Sleepy LaBeef and Charlie Feathers were two artists that came out of the southern tradition of country & western music and then got into rockabilly music which was like an up-tempo kind of thing. So, I always liked this guy Sleepy.
I'm playing this tune of his called "A Little Bit More." I don’t know too much about his history except that he did a lot of recording and he was very adroit at imitating people. He could sound like Johnny Cash. He could sound like Elvis. So, this tune, if he's imitating anybody, he's imitating Elvis Presley imitating Sleepy LaBeef.
Song: A Little Bit More
L.R.: So, that's the choice of our guest DJ Ed Ruscha. Sleepy LaBeef is the artist and "A Little Bit More" is the tune. And so Ed, let's lead into this last choice.
E.R.: This gets right up to date, after several decades. So this comes down to a musical piece done by my son, Eddie Ruscha. He did this a couple of years ago. He was in a number of bands doing vocals and guitar and composition. He's also a painter and he's known to help me out in my studio. He's great at that.
He created this composition called "The Rose." I have a hard time describing the music, but, after doing this thing, he was talking to his son, my grandson, Milo and he said "Well Milo, gosh, let's see. I've got to come up with a name for this tune." Milo says right away "The Rose!" …and that's how these things get done.
L.R. : There's no great scheme, it's as simple as that.
E.R. : Yeah. No magic, just right off. "The Rose!"
Song: The Rose
L.R. : That’s "The Rose," by Eddie Ruscha, the choice of our guest DJ Ed Ruscha. Ed, thank you so much. This has been such a treat for us here at KCRW to have you come by. We don't usually have people playing this kind of music, so it's refreshing.
E.R.: Thanks Liza.
L.R. : For a complete track listing or to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject