Dick Connette Shares His Musical Scope

Dick Connette is an artist whose name resonates amongst those in the Americana hall of fame. The humble, legendary, traveling musician has worked with a number of artists, like Loudon Wainwright III, and has inspired countless more.

Last Forever, a previous release of Connette’s, gathered together four albums worth of American folk and other traditions to present a collection of material that captured the hearts and minds of genre aficionados.  Now, the New York songwriter returns with a new project – Too Sad For The Public, the first installment of which is called  Vol. 1 – Oysters Ice Cream Lemonade 

The new collection combines two covers (Carole King and Van Morrison), six originals, and tributes to Jaco Pastorius and go-go superstar Chuck Brown. The ensemble of 17 musicians includes Rayna Gellert, Chaim Tannenbaum, Erik Friedlander, Steve Elson, and Astral Weeks guitarist Jay Berliner.

With a wide-reaching spectrum of influences, Connette is an artist who has spent his years quietly becoming a point of reference in what it means to focus on the material, and let the music shine. ARTISTdirect caught up with Dick to ask about his musical memories, here’s what he said…

First single I bought…

Well, not actually bought, but stole, rather, at the age of 11, in 1962 – “The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva (Gerry Goffin/Carole King), stolen from Woolworth’s, stuffed up my shirt while my pre-teen confederates created a diversion at the soda fountain. Now that the statute of limitations has run out, the truth can be told. What got me was the drums – the driving snare and low tom thump, and that bari-dominated sax section in the back. I’d play those first 8 seconds over and over and over again.

First live show I attended…

Don’t know about the first, but I do remember my first lid-flipping live show. When I was in the 6th grade, for spring vacation, I went to Puerto Rico with a friend and his parents. We stayed in some fancy hotel. One night, the dining room entertainment was a flamenco performance. Yow! The guitars, strummed hard, fast, and precise as flick-knives, the clapping, the stamping, the castanets … I’d never heard time expressed so passionately, so emphatically. I was so knocked out I went back for the late show by myself in my pajamas, as I remember it, to the consternation of the maître d’ and several waiters. I pleaded my case successfully, however, and was seated at the back. The late show was considerably more “adult,” but I only really gathered that there was stuff going on that I would be embarrassed about if I understood it better. As for the music, maybe I didn’t really understand it either, but I got it.

First song I learned to play…

Tough call. I got to start by saying that it began with the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964. It was a little confusing – I couldn’t tell the guys in front apart – they had the same hair and suits and all played some kind of guitar, but the guy in back, framed by the drum kit – I could at least get a fix on him and could sort of comprehend what he was doing. Like millions of Americans at the time, I was non-plussed by the unprecedented energy and spirit on display. I wanted a piece of that, and got my parents to buy me some drums and then I put together a group of like-minded near-clueless aspirants, which gets me to the song in question – the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of this Place.” It actually had easily identifiable sections – building, building, building, release/chorus, then back down and then build back up again, and, to these ears, it was all working around the drum part. I did my best to get it right, and still have muscle memory of those opening stick figures on the bell of my ride cymbal.

The song that encouraged me to learn my instrument of choice…

Blood Sweat & Tears’ second album came out the winter of 1968, my senior year in high school. I didn’t much care for the swap out of David Clayton-Thomas for Al Kooper, but they did record some band arrangements of Erik Satie’s piano piece, Gymnopédie No. 1. The next year, as a freshman at Harvard, I soon discovered I wasn’t a mathematician, and switched my concentration to music. The Department was not impressed with my background, Animals expertise notwithstanding, and I was farmed out to a piano teacher to bolster up my non-existent chops. After months of wrestling through assigned pieces by Bach, Scarlatti (the younger), and Chopin, my teacher asked me what I wanted to play. Now that was easy – the first Gymnopédie – which I took at a distressingly slow (for the teacher, anyway) off-the-metronome tempo so as to luxuriate in those luscious major 7ths.

The song that reminds me of home…

James Brown 1964-75 feels like home to me. Ditto anything, anytime by Thelonious Monk. And Anne Briggs and Karen Dalton get me where I live.

My guilty secret track…

When a friend of mine was having a baby, we decided, as an investment in her future, that we would buy her a 45 phonograph and a box of singles. Bear in mind, this was in the 90s. Anyway, we went to our local West Village Oldies shop with a long list, which drove the owner’s assistant into the dusty basement trying to locate our occasionally obscure requests, including a middling chart effort by The Angels. From down the stairs, he shouted, cruelly, almost as if offended, in exasperation, “Forget about ‘Wow Wow Wee.’” I should add that “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen was on the top of our list. And my conscience will not allow me to fail to mention Moby Grape’s first album, in its entirety.

The song I wish I wrote…

I once read an article posing the question, “What would JImi Hendrix be doing if he were alive?”

Well, we can’t imagine, because he was a genius. If we knew it, we’d do it. To pick a song that I wish I’d written, I might be inclined to pick something that I admire from so far afar, that I could never have possibly written it. I’d be wishing I wasn’t me. Which I don’t, exactly. That said, my song soul is stirred by Joni Mitchell’s “The Jungle Line,” Paul Simon’s “René and Georgette Magritte with their Dog after the War,” and Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.”

The finest song from my all time hero…

Somebody once asked me to name my five all-time greatest songwriters. I duly did, but did not include a certain Zimmerman from Hibbing, MN. My friend asked me why no Dylan. I told him, “Well, the other five are on top of the mountain, but he’s with the moon and stars.” Is Blonde on Blonde a song? How about Bringing It All Back Home? or Blood on the Tracks? or Love and Theft? or or or …

The song that should be played at my funeral…

What? What’s this about a funeral?! OK, OK … How about John Cage’s famous slice of silence, 4’33”? As Emily Dickinson observed, “alleviation of the irreperable degrades it.” Sad, sad, sad, but true. Death strikes us dumb on both sides of the casket. We are best left with contemplation, however inchoate. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds should be sufficient.

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