Matt Dillon

Actor Matt Dillon’s deep appreciation for the Beat generation, hot jazz and Latin music is on display in his Guest DJ set. He also praises the Clash’s musical exploration and tells us how Cuban scat singer El Gran Fellove inspires him as an actor. Matt currently starring in the supernatural TV drama Wayward Pines.

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  1. Bing Day - "Mama's Place"
  2. The Clash - "Complete Control"
  3. Al Castellanose - "Speak Up Mambo"
  4. Frankie Trumbauer - "Blue River"
  5. El Gran Fellove - "El Jamaiquino"

Anthony Valadez: Hi, I’m Anthony Valadez and I’m here with actor Matt Dillon. From his award-winning turns in Drug Store Cowboys and Crash, to the hit comedy There’s Something About Mary, he’s been on screen, large and small since the late 70’s. He stars in the upcoming supernatural TV drama Wayward Pines and he’s here today to talk about five songs that have inspired him over the years as part of the Guest DJ Project.

Matt, welcome aboard man.

Matt Dillon: Yeah, it’s great to be here.

AV: So you have brought some records for us here?

MD: Yeah, the first song I brought is actually something a last minute replacement and it is a song called “Mama’s Place” by Bing Day.

The opening line of this song is “you need a blade to cut the fog to find the sea,” and I always thought that was a great opening line.

And I like the beat generation. I worked with William Burroughs and, you know, I always had a soft spot for Jack Kerouac. I did the audiobook on tape for On the Road. I like stuff that’s beat and fake beat stuff too. (laughs) I like bongo beat and beatniks, I like all of it.

Bing Day, I think he was a rockabilly cat, you know in the 50’s, and “Mama’s Place” is a sort of satirical song about beatniks, and I like both of those things, both of those elements.

It’s kind of got a novelty thing. I’m a sucker for novelty records too. And as it so happens, today, I was walking down the street in midtown and a guy came up to me and said, "Hey man! You remember me? I met you in St. Barts back in the 80’s. You gave me a cassette with a song 'Mama’s Place’ on it," and I said that’s so funny cause I was just thinking about that.

Song: Bing Day - “Mama’s Place”

AV: That’s “Mama’s Place” by Bing Day. Next up, it looks like we’re going punk?

MD: This will be kind of incomplete if I didn’t put a The Clash song on there cause that was really my favorite band that had a big impact on me and Joe Strummer was a hero to me, as was Mick Jones and those guys.

I can honestly say for me they never made a bad record.

You know, I admire them cause they were courageous, they started off as a punk band, but they went on and had influences: reggae, ska, funk, hip hop; I thought that was courageous and it was also eye-opening and it’s sort of the way I look at things, you know. I’m fairly eclectic. But I think The Clash were really doing that music when not a lot of people were doing it.

I chose this because I always had a connection with punk rock and this was my favorite.

Song: The Clash - “Complete Control”

Joe Strummer was a hero to me and then I got to become friends with him and that was really special; and, you know, he was just one of those guys he’d tell you the truth too.

I sent him a copy of a film that I directed 'cause I wanted to get his feedback and he said, "Oh yeah, really loved it man!" and he goes, "but you know…", he pointed something out that would have been in all of the blooper reels. He saw something that wasn’t supposed to be there, how did I miss that? How did the editor miss that?

The guy was supposed to be missing his foot and you can actually see that the guy still had his foot still attached to his body so Joe pointed that out. But anyway, like I said, he was one of the people that I admired most and really influenced me as a person you know I think as an artist and his taste and the way he approached things.

AV: That was “Complete Control” by The Clash and I see we’re now shifting gears, right Matt? Where are you talking us now?

MD: Well, like I said, I have a pretty varied taste in music, fairly eclectic like that and I’m a sucker for novelty records.

I wouldn’t say that this next one is a novelty record, but it’s called "Speak Up Mambo" by Al Castellanos and this record was one of these things, I first heard it in a village in New York at a record store and the owner was kind of a curmudgeonly guy, I’ll be honest with you.

AV: Ok.

MD: But he played this 45, “Speak Up Mambo,” and I immediately responded to it. I just loved it, the horns, the arrangements. Now, my Afro-Cuban friends my Puerto Rican Friends here in New York who are aficionados on Cuban music would say that’s not the most authentic, it’s not real, but I love this record.

Anyway the guy wanted 20 bucks for the record and I wasn’t gonna pay 20 bucks – it was in the early 90s, but for a 45, on principle, I wasn’t paying 20 bucks for it. I’ve spent about 500 bucks trying to find the record after that, of course. I finally tracked it down in the Bronx. I only paid 5 bucks for it, of course as soon as I found the record, then I found 10 copies of the record. That’s how it goes.

Song: Al Castellanos – “Speak Up Mambo”

MD: If I was going to say one thing about “Speak Up Mambo”, Robert Farris Thompson who’s one of the great writers and intellectuals and professors on the diaspora of African music would say "Hey baby, fake Mambo is better than no Mambo."

AV: That was “Speak Up Mambo” by Al Castellanos, so what’ve you got next for us?

MD: The next one is called “Blue River” by Frank Trumbauer. This record, for me, is one of my favorite records and it features Bix Beiderbecke on the cornet and there’s a vocal bite this guy Seger Ellis.

Song: Frankie Trumbauer – “Blue River”

AV: When might Matt Dillon put this record on? Like what kind of vibe would you throw this on? Like a dinner party or in your headphones? When would you rock this one?

MD: When I’m in the mood to play jazz and, you know, listen, when I first started loving jazz I kind of did everything ass-backwards.

The first jazz record I ever bought was Ascension by John Coltrane. Nobody starts off with that record, I just kind of did it cause I really didn’t know any better.

But now, at this point in time, I sort of favor pre-war dance band jazz music. It’s just sort of the way things evolved. So I would just play this anytime I was having a feel for hot jazz you know. It's great stuff but it's music, it’s so evocative.

AV: That was some hot jazz by Frankie Trumbauer. Sadly we’re at our last selection, what do you have for us?

MD: “El Jamaiquino” and it’s by the great Fellove but really his name is El Gran Fellove.

El Gran Fellove was really the first scat signer in Cuba to sing with a distinctly Afro-Cuban flavor. He’s been very much on my mind lately because I’m making a documentary about him.

He was a great artist and, listen, when I was an actor coming up we prized and valued the ability to improvise that was so important, you know, to be spontaneous. Spontaneity was everything. And I think with Fellove that’s what he had. He had this gift of spontaneity; he could create something out of anything.

His manager told me once in Mexico City that he was one time performing on stage he had like a set of false teeth in front, and he was singing, and his front teeth flew out of his mouth and he caught ‘em in his hand and didn’t miss a beat – kept singing – and that’s the way he was you know. But you know he was an innovator and yet there was something very humble about him and I think that’s what I kind of responded to with him.

Song: El Gran Fellove - “El Jamaiquino”

AV: That was “El Jamaquino” by El Gran Fellove, selected by Matt Dillon part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Matt this has been quite the learning experience, I have to say. Thanks for joining us on

MD: You’re welcome, I really enjoyed it.