Used with Josh Clark
A walk through the used record bins of some of the country’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.
“Amoeba’s supposed to be the greatest record store of all time, but they don’t have Poison’s Flesh and Blood? What’s wrong with this place?”
Tea Leaf Green guitarist Josh Clark glances incredulously around the monstrosity that is Amoeba Music in San Francisco in hopes of attracting an unsuspecting employee to explain their obvious mishap. As my limited knowledge of Poison and Bret Michaels starts and ends with 1986’s Look What the Cat Dragged In, I’m really of no service to Clark in his current state, but part of me wonders if the young guitarist channels his inner C.C. DeVille at times while onstage. I’m about to ask the question when Clark beats me to the punch and professes his love of 80s hair metal.
“Poison logically lead to the Crue Motley Crue,” he explains. “Dr. Feelgood’ was huge back then. Everyone in junior high school had that just because it was banned. The fastest way to make sure it gets into every kid’s hands is to ban it.”
Growing up in suburban Los Angeles listening to hard rock, Clark is almost predisposed to be a Guns N Roses fan. Founded in Los Angeles in June 1985, G N R’s unique style combining punk, blues, and heavy metal music and balls-to-the-wall attitude spelled the end of the reign of 80s hair bands like Whitesnake, Cinderella and Ratt.
“Guns N Roses pretty much showed up and destroyed everything,” Clark says matter-of-factly, “They blew the hair guys away. We’ll just forget about the Spaghetti Incident for now. Everything else they made was pretty solid, but that might be the worst album ever made. I actually gave it as a Secret Santa present one year. It was like the Bunk Gift of the Year.’”
Standing in the middle of Used Rock, Clark begins a sermon on the evolution of American rock music from the arrival of Axl Rose up to the current day that eventually has a few older Amoeba shoppers stopped in the aisle to listen, some looking like they might query Clark for some gift ideas for their children.
“Guns N Roses turned into a joke and then eventually got eaten by the next big fish grunge,” he says. “Grunge was like the first break from radio rock since like the 60s and 70s. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana have just as much as to do with me being a musician as The Beatles or anyone else; Nevermind is the seminal album of my generation. The guitar playing, the lyrics, the vocals are all great, but it’s the emotion the passion, anger and rage those guys poured into the music. Bleach is an insane album too. Everything that a generation of kids was feeling at that time, Nirvana was putting through a loud speaker.”
If Axl and Slash ate Twisted Sister, and Nirvana and Pearl Jam ate Guns N Roses, then The Ramones, Television and the punk rock groups coming out of New York City in the 1970s birthed heavy metal. Interestingly enough, Clark and his bandmates backed one of the pioneers of punk music and one of the all-time great female rock n rollers of all time Patti Smith.
“We actually backed Patti Smith at a Ralph Nader super rally during the election in 2000,” Clark says with a laugh. “She was on tour with Nader doing these super rallies, and we happened to get a gig warming up, cause we’d done a couple of small functions for the Green Party up in Point Reyes a few months before. During soundcheck, Patti Smith comes walking over and asks us to back her up on this song People Have the Power.’ At the start of the song, my guitar starts going on the fritz. It’s cutting in and out, and I’m sweating it, man, really sweating it. Meanwhile, her guitar player is looking back at me and yelling, You gotta play, man, you gotta play!’ It was a huge disaster for me.”
Most “Used with” guests are either certifiable musicholics or vinyl nuts, but Clark’s trips to the record store are few and far between. Today’s visit coincides with a gift certificate he recently received, so he’s looking to buy something that has lasting power along the lines of his last music purchase.
“I’m glad we’re doing this, cause it’s actually the first time I’ve bought music in over two years,” Clark admits. “The last thing I bought was the soundtrack to _The Last Waltz_so it’s been a while. It’s one of my favorites really unbelievable. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still love it. It’s such an incredible production.”
Talk of The Last Waltz ultimately leads to one of the performers at the legendary concert and Bay Area resident, Neil Young.
“I love Neil Young, and I love Neil Young’s guitar playing,” Clark says. “People take issue with it, but his electric guitar playing is sort of this amazingly juvenile approach that’s just perfect. It’s completely honest and wild. I saw him play a warm-up gig at The Warfield with Crazy Horse before this big Rio Rocks thing years ago. He did this secret show. I wasn’t expecting much, you know. I’d heard his acoustic stuff, and I kinda digged it. But I ended up getting way up front, and when he came out, the sound just hit. It was so big, so loud andso huge. It honestly changed me and my whole idea about guitar tone. After that concert, I wanted to sound as big and jangly as Neil Young.”
Released in November 2005, Tea Leaf Green’s new album, Taught to Be Proud, offers a more polite take on their explosive live shows and depicts a young band becoming more comfortable working in the studio. Keyboardist Trevor Garrod writes and takes lead vocals on all 11 tracks of the album, which has drawn comparisons to the Dead’s American Beauty, The Faces and the early work of Young and Jackson Browne. But one influence I hear on the record from a compositional standpoint is The Beatles, which Clark says was certainly an influence on the entire band’s development as musicians.
“The thing is, until you meet The Beatles, you’re lost,” Clark says as we approach the overstuffed section of Fab Four recordings. “I think every kid kinda goes through that. I got into them when I was around 16, which likely coincided with certainherbal experiments. I thought they were these total squares dressed in suits, man. But I was into the hair metal stuff at that time, so I didn’t really get that they were what rock n roll was really all about and the stuff I was listening to was mostly bullshit. Then I got into Magical Mystery Tour from my buddy Mark and listened to “I Am the Walrus,” and specifically that line, Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye.’ That pretty much changed it all. That was the end. They were the beginning of the end.”
Junior Brown, Guit with It The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour The Band, The Last Waltz Nirvana, Bleach Poison, Flesh and Blood