The internet is amazing, anything can happen, and for all that’s bad about it, when something good happens, it’s amazing.
I used to live at the Jersey Shore, and for many years I listened to the local modern rock station, WHTG. The station is long gone and now is remembered mostly for giving Matt Pinfield of 120 Minutes fame his start. When he was programming the music, the station literally played everything, and it was not uncommon, before it was phased out when grunge exploded, to go from Paul Simon to early Nirvana in one set.
One song that got played a bit the Moberlys with their song “Blow Your Life Away.” It’s anti-suicide, pro-gun control, and wonderful power pop. But because I wasn’t a hipster in the eyes of the local record store, they wouldn’t special order the album it was on. This was pre-internet, so I was stuck, until many years later, but I never forgot the song.
One day I went on You Tube, and there it was, with a comp it was on, We Rocked And Rolled (The First 25 Years Of Jim Basnight: The Moberlys And Beyond). Basnight was the leader of that band, also The Rockinghams, Jim Basnight Thing, and solo. I recommend the comp. He really is very good, and it’s a good summing up of everything.
Then one day, out of the blue, Basnight contacted me, I think because I’d reviewed a couple of albums from a label he’s put a single out on, Big Stir. Apparently he had read my blog and liked it. The review of his latest solo album is up alongside this interview, where he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Andrea Weiss: For those who don’t know who you are, could you tell us a little of your musical history?
Jim Basnight: I’m a guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, journalist, author. I started playing guitar in the mid to late 60’s, as a small child. I played my first gigs in school with school mates at 11. I loved the British bands and American rock and roll, R&B, and pop. I was a good student and also played a lot of basketball, so music was only a side thing. I was really inspired, though, by the glam artists of the early 70’s, which led me to write my first songs in 1975.
Once I wrote songs, I was hooked and I became a careerist. The Meyce, my first original band, opened for the Ramones the first time they played in my hometown. I then moved to NYC to be close to the scene there, came back to Seattle, and cut my first 45 in 1977 on my own Precedent label. I formed my second original band, the Moberlys, in 1978, who cut an LP in 1979 (Precedent), which got substantial coverage in the then underground rock press.
I moved back to NYC and formed a second version of the Moberlys there in 1980. I stayed New York based until early 1984, recording, writing, performing, and playing gigs with a number of notable folks. I cut a single and an EP in Vancouver, BC in 1983, which came out in 1984, right when I moved back to the Northwest. Formed a third version of the Moberlys and performed in Seattle, Vancouver, BC, and Portland in 1984-85 and cut an LP for the Lolita Records label in France.
Moved to LA with the Moberlys in 1985. In LA, recorded a lot of tracks with the Moberlys, including eight sides for EMI records in 1987 (which never came out, but I retained rights to, in 1990, later released) and played a lot of dates, mostly in LA, but some up the West Coast. The band split and I formed another band in 1989, while playing West Coast solo acoustic guitar dates. Cut my first CD in 1991-92 and released it on cassette and CD on my Precedent, after re-locating back to Seattle in 1992-93.
I formed a band called the Rockinghams with Seattle musicians in 1993, while also playing acoustic solo dates in the Northwest region. In 1994 I co-composed a musical based on the Little Rock Nine, titled “Little Rock,” and co-produced the original cast album, which I intend to release on Precedent in 2020. The Rockinghams released a CD EP in 1995 and a Moberlys re-issue CD in 1996, both on Precedent.
In 1997 I released a larger Moberlys CD package on the Bear Family (Germany) label and a solo acoustic rock album on Precedent. In 1998 the Rockinghams released a full length CD album on the Not Lame (US) label and started a booking agency. In 1999-2003 I played and booked gigs for a living all over the extended Northwest region of the US, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and California, and released a second Moberlys re-issue CD in 2001 on the Pop the Balloon label (France).
In 2004 I released my first album of new material since the Rockinghams LP on the Precedent label. In 2005 I discontinued my booking business and started working as a sports site publisher for Rivals, which became part of Yahoo in 2007, all the while traveling the extended Northwest region doing gigs. In 2006 I released a Moberlys re-issue LP on the Rave-UP label (Italy) and a different Moberlys re-issue CD on the Wizzard-In-Vinyl label (Japan).
In 2008 I left Yahoo to do an indie sports site, write a column for the Seattle ESPN-Radio affiliate’s website, and started raising a then seven-year-old, while playing gigs mostly within a smaller radius (300 miles from the Seattle area). Also in 2008 I released a career retrospective CD on the Disclosed label (US).
The combination of gigs, selling CD’s off the stage mostly, and sports journalism went on until late 2011, when I was hired to manage a research project on Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex “Rice” Miller), who passed on in 1965. In 2012 I released an album which I compiled from the best of my unreleased material, plus five new tracks. From 2012-2017 I worked on "Sonny Boy" while playing the same circuit of gigs to support myself and my family.
In 2018 I started putting together tunes for my new album, “Not Changing,” and finished co-producing it by early 2019, while working on “Sonny Boy,” getting my 450-page biography published, a documentary film released, and converting my screen play based on the story to a pilot and a series of episodes for TV. I also, as always, continue to play gigs as the majority of my income. In most every venue I perform, I play more original music than nearly every act who work there.
In June of 2019 my kid moved away to go to college. I’m also in the process of compiling an all covers album for release in 2020. I’ve participated in around 40 compilation albums, mostly with original material published prior, but I’ve also been involved with tribute CD’s, all of whom are going to be included in this covers album, as well as a three-song medley I recorded during the “Not Changing” sessions. There are a number of other cool cover cuts, most never before released.
My goal is to release an album of all new material and a live album in 2021. I would classify myself as an American musician, who loves rock and roll and great tunes of all styles. Some have classified me with different labels, but I prefer to call what I do just plain rock and roll. That’s all there is to my music and to me in general, other than the fact that I am heavily involved with caring for my brother, who has special needs. I also love a dog named Clyde, who is pictured on the back cover of “Not Changing.”
AW: Who are your influences?
JB: Far reaching, within the range of amplified and some fully acoustic American roots music. Not big on jazz or Classical. If you want me to name a decade, between the beginnings of the popularization of amplified blues-based music in the mid 1950’s, to the establishment of the digital age in the mid 90’s, I’d be happy to expand on that. To summarize, I’d probably name my personal stylistic favorites/obsessions from each decade as follows:
50’s: Sonny Boy Williamson and Lenny Bruce
60’s: Beatles and Jimi Hendrix
70’s: David Bowie and Johnny Thunders
80’s and 90’s: Moberlys, Rockinghams, and Jim Basnight solo
AW: I like that you talk about more than cars and girls in your songs. Do you feel that you're pushing power pop in new directions?
JB: I love power pop. The Hollies, The Kinks, The Who, Badfinger, Slade, The Raspberries, The Heats, Oasis are among my very favorites who slide somewhat easily into that classification. I think, if anything, I’m pushing power pop, because it’s pushing it that I am power pop. I really like blues and R&B, as well as rockabilly, classic C&W, early punk, garage, and grunge. Basically, it’s all rock and roll. If our music is considered power pop, that’s someone else’s idea.
AW: On "Not Changing," some of the references suggest it’s an older song. It’s a great song. How old is it?
JB: “Not Changing” is a song I finished in 2018, but pieces of it come from other songs which go back to 1988. I’ve written about 500 songs so far and sometimes I grab stuff from various unpublished tunes as I develop material.
AW: Are there any other older songs on the album?
JB: They are all new and old. As far as I’m concerned they are all new.
AW: Your music is pretty powerful, and I don’t hear a lot of power pop like this. Listening to your best known songs comp, it seems like this was always the case. Was it?
JB: I think so. I became a better guitar player over time, mostly because I had to in order to work. I’ve evolved by playing gigs, for the most part, by engaging with audiences and playing the music that moves them.
AW: Your tribute to Kurt Cobain is very powerful, and nicely grungy. Were you ever classified as grunge?
JB: In 1992-93 the Seattle scene didn’t exactly embrace me, coming back from LA. I made my own way, entirely independent from the powerful connected new money that resulted from grunge. I never tried to be grunge or any style, power pop included. I’ve always done it my own way, for better or worse. I love Kurt’s music. I think he was brilliant and transformational. I think the song speaks for itself.
AW: Some of these songs sound very much like blues. Do you see your music that way, or as something else?
JB: I’d be lying if I told you that researching “Sonny Boy” in depth and hanging out in Mississippi a lot has not rubbed off on me. Yes, I’ve been especially influenced by the masters of the blues over the past 7-8 years. Some of my favorites besides Miller include Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, BB King, Buddy Guy, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Wells, Robert Lockwood, Little Walter, Bobby Rush, and Jody Williams. I also appreciate British blues men like Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, and Mick Taylor more, since I’ve fallen in love with the blues.
Thanks for your excellent questions.