JPG: As we’re speaking, you’re doing the Railroad Earth tour, then you jump on with The High Hawks. What you said earlier about switching from violin to guitar gave a preview of how you mentally prepare for the switch. With less than a week between tours do you sit around and think about it during any free time?

TC: Once I get home, I got Monday and Tuesday off. I got a lot of shit I gotta do during the day.  I have two different trips I have to make in to New Jersey, which is going to eat a couple hours of the day. At some point there, both those days I’ll wind up in the studio and play through all the songs so that I’m prepared. And I have charts. I use an iPad that’s hooked to the microphone stand. I have a little bluetooth controller so I can page through. I’m reading lyrics. I’m doing what I have to do.  I’m 67 years old. My memory’s still pretty fucking good but I’m not 28 years old anymore. [Laughs.]

JPG: I always wondered about how a musician adapts to that quick change from one musical catalog to another. I think of Warren Haynes who did similar things.

TC: I did the Phil & Friends thing out at the Warfield, literally everyone had a teleprompter. Luckily, they had an extra one. That whole thing started with me, I was going to be there to do 12 songs in a three-day run at the Warfield, and then a week later it was like, “No, actually it’s going to be more like 25.” Then, literally a week before it was, “We want you on all the songs.”

So, now I had 56 songs and I really didn’t know them. I’m writing charts for everything. When I got there, I was like, “I’m need a music stand and a book.” Then, the engineer, the wiz there, he comes over and goes, “Oh no, we have an extra teleprompter.” So, I sat there on every break, I wrote my charts into the teleprompter. When it came time for the show, I had everything in the teleprompter that was actually lifesaving because a lot of those songs are like tone poems.

One of the songs, I can’t remember which one, but the verse would be one way and then the next time you sang the verse the chord were inverted. [Laughs.]

JPG: As a music listener, I can understand having the iPads and teleprompters but as a photographer trying to take pictures of you guys with those devices up there, they’re in the way.

TC: I keep mine low. There’s tons of pictures of me now where you can’t even see my iPad. I use an iPad with Railroad Earth occasionally for a few songs. I wrote some string charts on the last record. I still need to read those when I’m playing. Now, I’m making an amalgamation of the string quartet. So, I’m playing, various first and second and also viola parts but intermixing the whole thing. But, I still have to read it.

I haven’t committed it all to memory. I may never. I can play a lot of it. I can play some of the fast ostinatos. I know those by heart because they’re fast and I’m not reading that fast anyway. I have to remember them. There are too many notes going all over weird places. I can read it fine. It’s no big deal. It doesn’t wear on my conscience that I’m reading lyrics and music. It’s an arrangement. It’s something that I wrote for the song. Everything else or the most part is being improvised unless it’s written. 

JPG: Back to The High Hawks, did you go in to the studio and focus on 12 songs or did you do a little more that you held back?

TC: Turns out we wound up using everything that we recorded, but there was one song that we were on the fence about and that’s “This Is What Love Feels Like.”

Vince was like, “I don’t think I want it on there because it’s a real slow kind of love song.” He didn’t think that it really fit the rest of the record but I disagreed. Look, it’s his song but when it came around, he was like, “Okay, let’s put it on there.” So, basically everything we recorded went on the record.

JPG: And that’s followed by “Backwater Voodoo” that reminds me of The Band with Levon Helm singing.

TC: People compare us to The Band a lot. I could hear that. I played a year-and-a-half with Rick Danko.

JPG: Oh, wow. Very nice. The songs altogether have been tied together as a journey down the Mississippi River from Minnesota to New Orleans. Did that vision or theme come up during the recording or did you have a dozen songs you liked and tried to figure out how do these fit together?

TC: Actually, Chad came to the realization, “Hey man. This is like a travelogue down the Mississippi.” When I looked at it, I was like, “Yeah, you to have to use your imagination a little bit, maybe squint and you’ll see it, but that makes sense.”

JPG: Can you talk about the challenges of pulling together a tour with The High Hawks?

TC: You can imagine the logistical nightmare it is to get six people that are playing in different bands. And even though Will Trask, our drummer, he’s listed as being the drummer in Great American Taxi, but that guy plays with like six to eight different things. So, he’s probably busier than all of us but he also has a certain amount of flexibility in his scheduling because he just has to rely on himself whereas I can’t just tell Railroad Earth that I can’t play because there are 11 other people depending on what I’m doing. We seem to work it out pretty good, at least this year. Let’s see how it works next year but this year we seem to have everything a little bit more in place. So, we’re playing a little bit more. If can get like 20, 25 gigs in a year. That’s pretty good. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do much better.

JPG: Finally to your project with Lou Rogai, Cedar Sparks. “Gathering Song,” I ended up buying the split 7-inch with Lenny Kaye and Cedar Sparks at Record Store Day Black Friday. I downloaded it years ago when I interviewed you and Lou Rogia for the Cedar Sparks single back in 2021, but I wanted to hear it on vinyl as well as the Lenny Kaye material. I bring that up because I was wondering if anything else is happening with Cedar Sparks.

TC: Actually, I’m going to be producing a record for Lenny [Kaye], his own, literally the first solo record he’s done since 1986. Lou has a studio in the same building [as me] and, so, we work together. We—Lou and I—co-wrote “Temperature Is Rising” on “Mother Nature’s Show.”

Lenny and I and Lou, we have like a little Three Stooges kind of the thing going on. We’re like the three caballeros. I’ve known Lenny for about 10, 11 years now. He’s a super-sweet guy and super-talented and he’s an international rock star for fuck’s sake.

He’s like 77 years old. He has all of these songs that he’s played for me in my studio. “We need to get these out there, man. This is your fucking legacy now. If not now, when? Let’s just fucking do it.”

I’m not even gonna charge the guy. I’m just gonna do it for him when we have time. There’s any such thing as “I have time” because time of death is uncertain but it’s not like I have a really weird schedule but Lenny’s schedule is fairly open. At least once a month he’s traveling out of the country doing one thing or another with Patti or doing a book tour or whatever because he writes books.

That’s the next thing that I’m really, really looking forward to making is the Lenny Kaye record. We do a residency at this local ramen shop in the Delaware Water Gap, a little hundred seat venue. So, once a month, we’re down there playing. We’re going to do it again next month. It’s called Sango Kura.

It’s really cool. We’re having a great time and it’s super creative. It’s been great, and it’s great working with Lenny, a super-sweet guy. He’s okay with me doing my thing. He wants somebody to help him with that shit. It works out really great.

JPG: The last question then, since you’re so busy is, what’s next for you or what else is going on this year? Working with Lenny, working with Lou, working with High Hawks?

TC: We’re gonna have sporadic gigs all throughout the year [for The High Hawks]. Railroad Earth has been slowly working on new material. We can look forward to something new from Railroad Earth either sometime later this year or early next year.

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