Boot to the Head All Over AgainPeter Prince’s Moon Boot Lover, Past and Future
Back in January, Peter Prince and Alan Evans were stashed away at Applehead Sound studio in Bearsville, New York, putting the final touches on a “new” Moon Boot Lover recording. The trouble is Alan, along with his brother, Neal, left Prince’s seminal funk/groove band around the dawn of 1997 to eventually form their own band, Soulive (maybe you’ve heard of it?). So, with a harmless phone call to Prince, did I clumsily stumble on one of the biggest breaks in the jam worldthe regrouping of Moon Boot Lover? In a sense, yes, but not what you might think. “What we’ve been doing is finishing up an album that I did a few years back with the Evans brothers, of Soulive,” Prince explains, “and we’re finally putting this in the can. I’m psyched.” Peter continues to break down the session, slowly deconstructing the hopes of an actual Moon Boot reunion. “We had done the recording [in 1996], and we actually had done some mixing, and we left it for years, and now to come back with some fresh ears and to hear itto hear these thingsthe changes, and the little editing that we’ve doneI think we raised the bar even more. We’re really psyched. And they’re [Soulive] having such success right now that it seems the timing has been everything.”
Prince’s decision to release the new recording, tentatively titled Catskill Martian Dogs, on the heels of Soulive’s much talked about release, Next, was no coincidence. In fact, the timing is downright calculated. “I don’t know if you’ve heard,” Prince says, “but Soulive’s next release is going to have a lot guests, and it also includes Dave Matthews. I think it would behoove me to get this whole thing up to speed. And it’s kind of been a reuniting in a way.”
Founded in 1990 out of Albany, New York, Moon Boot Lover’s initial gathering of the vibes included Prince on guitar, Alan and Neal Evans on drums and organ, respectively, and a rotating cast of bass players, most notably Jon Hawes. During the good ol’ days of the early to mid-90’s, the band toured like it was nobody’s business, racking-up mileage from venue to venue around the Northeast. The road soon proved to be a generous friend as Moon Boot gained notoriety as innovators of the funk/groove jam scene. Though mistakenly pigeonholed as a post-Phish jamband by their fans and critics, the true spirit of MBL lied in the band’s fusion of funk, soul and rock, and an abstinence from the lengthy guitar solos and jazzy improvisations that were then en vogue. As demonstrated in their early recordings, Outer Space Action (1994) and Live Down Deep (1995), Moon Boot was more in tune with Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies or Al Green than moe. or String Cheese Incident. But coattails are sometimes comfortable, and if you are fortunate enough to find yourself riding some dandy tails, like those of the burgeoning jam-scene of the early 90’s, then it sure beats walking. Right?
“Of course we were jamming,” says Prince about the band’s sound, “but we played so much that I couldn’t forsee that, Hey, we’re going to record this song and then jam on it and make that jam a definitive part of the song.’ Each night we could go in a totally different direction, and put it on tour.”
Maybe that struggle to establish themselves as a powerhouse soul/rock band, rather than just another jamband, finally took its toll on the members of Moon Boot Lover; or, maybe the players wanted to go in different creative directions during those live shows out on tour. Whatever the juicy details may entail, the musical brainchild of Prince and Evans et al suffered a severe set-back when Alan and Neal decided to leave the group in early 1997 to pursue other creative endeavors, leaving Prince to reconstruct the band’s personnel and direction. “Our breakthe whole thing was just that we were burnt,” recounts Prince. “We had been going at both end [he sighs]and it’s a combination of just being green and recreating the wheel more than we probably should have.” As Peter was soon to discover, recreating the wheel would prove more difficult than minor bouts of frustration.
With the departure of the Evans brothers, Moon Boot Lover suffered a severely gaping whole. Gone were the bouncing, soulful rhythms of Neal on organ, and gone too was Alan’s burn-down-house drumming, each a creative chunk that pushed the band onto a plain of melodic, groove-filled funk. Right about nowas Prince coped with the loss of his friends and band mateswould have been the perfect time for the arrival of a superman musician; someone or something with extraterrestrial powers and the uncanny ability to pull all the loose ends together and save the distressed man from the burning building (or, in this case, burned out band). And soon enough, like a lightening bolt from above our superhero arrived on the scene brandishing a V-shaped electric guitar and clad in a blazing jumpsuit and shiny space bootswhy, I’ll be damned, those are moon bootsI’ll be damned again because that’s not a bird or a plane, it’s Peter Prince, the Moon Boot Lover!
Always loved and respected for his maniacally entertaining stage presence, Prince was able to harness his live-and-in-concert alter ego for some much needed inspiration. He decided to embark on a slue of acoustic performances along with singer/songwriter David Gans, members of moe. and others, all the while masquerading as The Moon Boot Lover. Peter didn’t see the loss of the Evans brothers as a period of down time or creative drought. Instead, he embraced the new opportunities, established some potent relationships, and reinvented himself out on the road.
“While there wasn’t a band,” Prince says, “I was posing as the Moon Boot Lover, doing solo stuff, and that kind of bridged the gap for me. I did a tour with Tim Reynolds, too,” Prince explains, referring to the 2001 acoustic tour with the hailed guitar god and longtime Dave Matthews Band collaborator, “and that opened the door into a whole other scene that I hadn’t even investigatedthe acoustic singer/songwriter side to the thing.” Most important, the acoustic performances allowed Peter to develop a fresh fan base. “There’s a whole other audience for that, too,” he gushed. All the while, though, you can be sure that Peter Prince was placing his bets on the reconvention and future success of his prime objectivehis band. Let’s not forget, Moon Boot Lover is not simply the name of Prince’s band, it’s more a reflection of his soul revealed to the world.
So, following the acoustic tour with David Gans and others, Prince rolled up his sleeves and started to put some elbow grease into getting Moon Boot Lover in top form once again. Utilizing the steadfast dedication of Jon Hawes on bass, and with the addition of seasoned drummer Andy Herrick on drums, Prince had himself a manageable, stripped-down trio to launch his rocket-soul: “Part rock, part soul, and the et’ is for that extraterrestrial or extra thing.” This reincarnation of MBL resulted in Back on Earth (2001), a recording that boasts blistering guitar riffs, soul-injected lyrical content with catchy choruses, and sweet-n-sexy balladry. All in all, the album turns out tunes that throw back to heavy Staxx recordings and Hendrix-like guitar bravado. It was a satisfying record to the artist, one of those incidences where a musical metamorphosis occurs in an embracing manner to reach beyond anything he has done in the past. But some folks didn’t see it that way. “The album, Back on Earth, wasn’t so much jam-oriented,” he says, “and I’ve gotten feedback on that from the jamband world, like, This isn’t really so much like Live Down Deep,’ where a lot of it was improv. I only felt like it made more sense on the live gig to have a song, the core, and then we’d go out every night and jam on that. Just leave more headroom.”
The questions regarding BOE’s more concise, clean-cut sound as compared to Boot of yesteryear rattled Prince only slightly, until he was able to accept some perspective. Perspective, once again, came to Peter in all shapes, colors, sizes and ages in the spirit of his fans. It seemed that BOE had struck a vein in those older (and younger, to some degree) music lovers hungry for something with a classic-rock edge. “A lot of people gave a lot of response,” he says, “and then it was like old fans meeting new fans. The audience, all the sudden, just doubled. Which is great!” Great for those fans, but what about the others left behind during this expansion into rocket-soul? “People don’t really like change,” Prince laments, “because they get comfortable and that’s what they want to know. I think it’s difficult for most artists. You think, Are people going to embrace this [he releases a booming, nervous laugh].’ But, hey, we’re just doing it.”
Unfortunately, Peter would have to find someone else to do “it” with because following the tour to promote BOE in 2001, Jon Hawes and Andy Herrick were no longer a part of Moon Boot Lover. The environment surrounding the plummet of Hawes and Herrick from Prince’s world back to Planet Earth is a bit cloudy, though the Boot front man did offer this assessment: “Jon Hawes had been carrying on with me for a while. He was from the other band, before. So we were sort of holding on to certain ideas.” Obviously, the past is something on that Peter Prince does not dwell, but the constant upheaval to his band’s structural core must have yielded to something in the way of progress. Even this superhero must have realized that. “Yeah,” he admits, “I’d take a couple steps forward and I’d be taking a couple back. I was doing that little dance for a while.” For some people, regrouping and refocusing is a life-altering experience. For Peter Prince, these tenets are simply life.
The latest incarnation of Moon Boot Lover is moving even further down that dusty back road known as rock-and-roll. The edition of a second guitar player, Johnny Trama of The Daddys and the Rockett Band, promises the potential to set MBL afire once again. It’s all part of Prince’s grand plan to maintain “a stable band and good players” that complement his fiery stage presence and adept ability to craft a true rock-song of soulful quality.
The release of Catskill Martian Dogs, then, hints at a certain degree of closure with the past and deep anticipation for Moon Boot Lover’s as yet undiscovered future. One thing is for sure, Catskill Martian Dogs, the third edition (though the fourth overall in the set) to the Moon Boot Lover comic-book-crazy release series, is the kind of album that offers solid prospects of a new beginning for MBLit’s already brought together the original members. “It’s a really good time,” Prince reflects, “reuniting with the guys because we put a lot of time in together. We had our notions about what the future entailed, and then everything gets turned upside down. And now, to come back and be a little more wise, a little more experienced. Now we’re talking! Those guys are all doing solo albums, and Alan has been inviting me to come and get back in the studio and get back into these brainstorming sessions that we used to have. It feels so good.” It all just goes to show that even Peter Princea veritable renaissance man complete with superstar nameeven this superhero could use a little help from his friends.