Panic, Ginsberg, The Velvets & Exile : Daniel Hutchens talks about Bloodkin’s One Long Hustle
Were there any tunes that were tough to revisit as far as the emotions surrounding a particular period?
Yeah, there most definitely were. I kind of compare it to going back through an old family album, looking at snapshots and seeing pictures of people that are gone now, or remembering some tough times. That can be pretty heavy, especially where there were stretches in the studio over the years when I was really submerged in this stuff.
A lot of these songs – not all, but a good many of them – had, like, several takes, so it was a matter of listening to each of those and picking which take you wanted. But yeah – there were definitely some songs from rough patches of my life … but at the same time, the music was always how I dealt with stuff … it’s like the concept of blues. When I hear a great blues song, it’s tough, but also uplifting because there’s somebody out there who also felt that way. To me, the music was kind of my way of healing.
What was probably more straight-on tough for me was writing some of the liner notes, as that’s just a little more concrete rather than turning it into music. That was probably the very hardest task for me in a way.
Oh, I believe that – a song can twist and shift: is this autobiographical? Is this a reference to something else? Is this the character talking or is this the songwriter himself? It can be whatever the listener wants or needs it to be. But yeah, in the case of the liner notes – that’s you.
That’s right. Although it’s not like some sort of big confessional, as anyone who knew us at all already knew a lot of this stuff … I just felt like I didn’t want to bullshit about it. That’s what happened; and for whatever reason, it was important to get all of that off my chest.
*There have been so many great players that have crossed your paths musically over the years, but you and Eric have been the constant through some pretty tough shit. Again, it’s a measure of how close the two of you are and how secure you are in your friendship that you could write about some of the things that have gone on between the two of you. *
You make it clear that it was the music that you two bonded over right from the start – back in elementary school.
We both were always attracted to music that had a little more depth to it. We were always big Bob Dylan fans; old blues stuff. The Kinks were a great band for really catchy pop songs but you listen to the lyrics and (laughs) – they’re really sad, you know? I always kind of loved that stuff; not just always really sunshiny and phony, but talking about things both good and bad.
Eric has an effect on any tune he’s involved in with his playing, but is there a basic difference to you between a Hutchens/Carter tune as opposed to a Hutchens song?
A lot of the stuff that I have written with Eric have been my favorite songs, actually. Apart from the quality of the songs, it was just fun for us to hang out and write. It’s always been a really off-and-on thing; it’s not like we get together every day and do it; it just happens when it happens.
I have a notebook I carry around – or these days I’ll use a computer – with lyrics. How it usually works is Eric would come up with a piece of music and I would just put that in my files, so to speak. I just always loved the guitar riffs and the progressions that he came up with; it was my favorite stuff.
So like I said, it was a lot more fun when he and I would write together. But there was a lot of other stuff that I had to say, too.
Eric is a peculiar character. (laughs) He’s my favorite guitarist, but it’s almost like he can take it or leave it. He’s not one of those guys that has a 9-to-5 schedule about it. You don’t want to try to coerce him into it (laughs) – it just doesn’t work. You take it when you can get it.
I guess that makes the music he creates all the more real because it’s there when wants it to be, rather than on demand.
I didn’t know until I read the liner notes about you and Eric performing with Allen Ginsberg back in the 80s. You went from being in the audience at one of his readings to backing him with guitars the next day, right?
Yeah, pretty much. (laughs) Both Eric and I – in high school and immediately after – were both huge Beat Generation fans. Jack Kerouac was as much an influence on me as anything. I was way into that stuff and Eric was, too.
There was one summer when Allen Ginsberg was doing a tour of colleges and, yeah: we just went to a show and afterwards started talking to him. We just kind of hit it off. What Allen would do is – and he did this everywhere – he would have musicians do some improv while he read his poetry over it. He’d hire local musicians; that’s just part of what he did.
We did a couple shows with Allen that first summer – I think it was ’84 – and then we did it again the next summer when he came through. I think we did a total of four performances with him and did some classes with him when he was teaching modern literature or poetry or whatever it was … we’d go in with him and do a few songs and it was great.
To me at the time, it was like meeting a hero, you know? It was memorable, for sure.
Oh, yeah – for a couple of kids to not just meet the guy, but to perform with him …
Oh, man – at the time, it was like meeting Keith Richards or something … I was so consumed with all the Beat stuff. And Allen was great – just a genuine, down-to-earth nice guy. It fascinating to just sit around and listen to him – like when people would do interviews with him. It was a trip. (laughs) He was really cool.
I’ll just pull the cord and get out of the way as far as whatever you want to say about the Widespread Panic family. It seems like it’s been such a great friendship over the years, more than anything.
Yeah, that was the thing – it really didn’t start with any sort of musical connection, really. Eric and I got to Athens in ’86 and I think we met those guys in ’87. At the time, they were playing a weekly gig at the Uptown Lounge in Athens – every Monday night or Tuesday night or whatever. And there’d be, like, 10 people there every week. (laughs) Eric and I would go down there – we’d met those guys through some mutual friends and it was just a place to hang out and drink beer.
But then we started to really pay attention to them … they were really good. (laughs) I’ll never forget – and I think I wrote about this in the liner notes – we had a party one weekend at our house. It was just an all-day/all-night party with a PA set up in the back yard and the Widespread guys came and played. I remember sitting on the back porch right behind them, watching them and just kind of understanding what was going on.
For me, it really started with Todd playing drums – it was jaw-dropping. He was just so soulful … but like a drum machine with soul, you know? He never missed.
Later, when we ended up playing some with them, it was like that – you could trust your life with Todd. If you were hanging off a cliff and you wanted someone holding the rope … if you can relate that to playing drums, that’s how it felt. Security. People’s personality comes through in their playing and that’s what Todd’s like.
But all those guys were amazing in their own way. And they worked their asses off, too, man – they didn’t just walk into any kind of success; they worked hard at it.
I remember – at that same party – Mikey and Todd coming into my bedroom and just kind of digging through my notebooks of songs and stuff. It was just friendship; some kind of kindred spirits, you know? We started hanging out with them.