Like so many people, Erik Deutsch experienced some serious upheaval in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Before being confined to his Mexico City home, along with his wife, the musician Victoria Reed, the keyboardist was prepared to go on a massive world tour, providing keys for The Chicks – formerly, the Dixie Chicks.
However, the time off the road did give Deutsch the opportunity to look back on meeting Peter Shapiro at The Wetlands (“He was wearing a baseball cap, and he just said, ‘Man, you guys are awesome! You need to come back in two weeks.’ And, I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’”) as well as his tenure in Leftover Salmon (“It’s just a wonderful, musical family. I love those guys like they’re my brothers”) and his childhood interactions with The Man in Black.
He also has a new live record, which we discuss below.
So, how are you holding up in this strange new world of ours?
I get frustrated and I get down so I’d just rather not focus too much on the big picture. I try to just make the most of every day. I’m in Mexico City and my wife Victoria and I are lucky to be here in Mexico. It’s kind of a strange reality to be living in a foreign country and kind of isolated in an apartment because a lot of the joy of living down here has to do with experiencing the culture of Mexico, you know?
How long have you lived in Mexico?
We’ve only been here since January of 2019. So, just over a year and it’s been really just a wonderful, exciting, endearing experience of being here. So now being locked in the apartment feels, in a strange way, a little extra alienating.
But, we are fortunate. We have a beautiful home and we have a little recording studio so we’re able to do a lot of work. Our neighborhood Roma Norte is spacious with lots of vegetation. If you’re gonna be quarantined in one of the biggest cities in the world I think it’s a pretty good one to do it in.
What drew you to the city?
I came to Mexico City in 2007 with Charlie Hunter, the guitar player. I was in his band for three years and we had a show down here. I was really excited when I came and it was not a letdown – everything about that weekend was amazing – the shows, the people I met, the hang, the weather. It was just so fun.
It opened my eyes to just how cool it would be to have a musical career in Mexico. So I really worked hard and I built something here. I started a radio show and a podcast in Guadalajara about five years ago called Sounds of Brooklyn and Beyond and that airs live in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta now. So every time we came back I just made more friends, made more connections, more musicians to play with. And when Victoria and I met, we started coming and she also loved it here – it’s hard to not love it. And, we ended up getting married in San Miguel De Allende, another great city in the mountains. And so, all of this led to us thinking “Wow, maybe we could find a way to live there, you know as a home base.”
You just released a new live record Live at LunÀtico, which you recorded in New York. Tell me a little about that room, and why you wanted to record there.
Well, LunÀtico is a special place. It’s in the heart of Bed-Stuy and, it’s in a building that’s owned by three musician friends of mine, Richard Julian, Arthur Kell and Rosita Kess – they’re great long-time New Yorkers. Arthur’s a jazz bassist, Rosita’s a singer/songwriter from Rome and Richard Julian is a singer/songwriter – he’s someone you might know because he has a band with Norah Jones, The Little Willies.
My assessment of my music stylistically is that it’s somewhere between jam and jazz. It’s a little jazzy for the Brooklyn Bowl vibe but it’s a little jammy for The Jazz Standard or The Jazz Gallery, so it takes a special kind of room I think to find the right audience. Around the time LunÀtico opened they would put us on weekends because we’re a little jammier, a little more high energy than some of the jazzier things they have in there. It’s this bar atmosphere where it’s like a neighborhood bar. It’s super stylin’. There’s music every night, no cover. It’s just a mason tip jar thing.
We always have fun there and I asked them if we could two nights. We recorded the four sets and took the best music from it. We’ve never released a live album before, and it just seemed like such a part of me to be with the band in this space where we really feel at home.
You mentioned how you’re kind of between jam and jazz. Yet some people in the jam scene might know you for your work with Leftover Salmon and now you’re on the Dixie Chicks team. What are your roots in the bluegrass, folk and country world?
I know a lot of musicians say, “I do a little bit of everything,” but I think that I’m pretty honest case of somebody who’s just done a lot of different things. My original roots in country come from my mom being from Nashville. I went to elementary school in Nashville. During that time I went to school with Waylon Jennings’ son, Shooter Jennings.
I remember being around Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson and Brenda Lee and Barbara Mandrell and Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, in the same room as them.
I remember at one of Shooter’s birthday parties and they had a skating rink and that’s where Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson were hanging out.
Was Johnny Cash on rollerskates?
No, he was sitting in a booth smoking. [Laughs.]
I also want to touch on your time in Fat Mama. I know you’re still in touch with Joe Russo, and you still collaborate with all those guys. Tell me a little about that era – I’m sure it was a bit of a whirlwind.
I was fortunate. I just met this small group of guys who were great when I went to Boulder. My freshman year, a few days before school started, that’s when I met those guys.
A year went on, and it was really exciting and special for me as a freshman to be in a band and be popular obviously. At that point, we had Jonathan Goldberger, Jon Gray and Brett Joseph – those are kind of the guys who remained to the end along with some other folks. Then the end of freshman year, our drummer graduated from college. And, somebody met somebody – and, that was Joe Russo. He had moved from New Jersey to Boulder that summer of ‘96.
And Jonti Siman my old elementary school buddy all the way through high school – he ended up joining the band a year later when our bass player left, and that was the lineup that lasted for the next five years basically. We had quite a run. That time was just so important because I did everything from write songs and book shows in Boulder to buy a school bus, drive a school bus, buy a trailer, book shows all over the country, meet promoters. I remember meeting Pete Shapiro at The Wetlands at our first show there, and being invited back to go back again in ‘97.
It was really exciting. We got our creds, you know? But, the sad thing is that we just started really getting going – we got to the place where we were selling tickets in New York, and big publications were writing about us. We just kind of got to that point when the band was going to break up. It just wasn’t viable anymore for a lot of reasons – socially, economically. So, it is kind of a shame that we couldn’t stay together because bands that stayed together in that era are very successful now. But, that wasn’t in the cards, and it just shot everybody out on their own trajectory. And, we’ve all done pretty well for ourselves and done different things.
Tell me about getting involved with The Chicks aka The Dixie Chicks.
I was with Leftover Salmon for years, and out of nowhere, I get this call from Dixie Chicks, and they’re like, “Look, we’re doing this really important new album, the first album in 14 years, and we need a keyboard player.” And, I just thought, “Wow, this is a very special job, to join one of the biggest bands in the world. Maybe it’s a good time to hop on board with these guys, get back in this pop thing, do this world tour and experience that.”
It’s a funny thing for me to have been in such a tight-knit family. The fans of Leftover Salmon are just so beautiful. So a part of that is we reluctantly announced my departure, thinking I’m about to go on this massive tour, and then all of a sudden – nothing. But, it’s all good. I have faith and everything. But, I feel like I’m floating in No Man’s land. Because I disconnected from my family, at least on paper.
I’ll say it could be worse. I know that there are folks out there who are really struggling, and their jobs aren’t going to be there when this quarantine is over. And, I have a pretty good feeling that my job will come back at some point.
And, in the meantime, you and Victoria can jam out in Mexico.
That’s the thing, man. I was about to go from one band straight into another one, and instead, now I have this big block of time to be creative and do my own thing. If there’s one thing about switching from the jazz world to the pop world that I miss, it’s that freedom of expression. I was getting ready to kind of give up my long solos and my 10-minute freeform exploration. Instead, I have this big block of time to do whatever I want. It’s kind of special.