We previously reviewed Jim Basnight’s 2019 album “Not Changing.” Please click here to read the review.
We recently spoke with Jim about the path from his days in Seattle’s phenomenon The Moberlys to his most recent album, Jim Basnight: Not Changing:
Mike DeAngelis: “Bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones began their careers with a reliance on cover songs, before finding their own voice as songwriters. What was the first song you wrote that made you feel you’d found your own, unique voice?”
Jim Basnight: Probably “Live In The Sun.”
This was the first song where I was felt like I had captured a concrete focused theme of mine. My earlier songs were rather all over the place, some showing interesting passages, but mostly manic and scattered. One exception may have been “You Know I Know”, which I believe predates “Live In The Sun”, but I always thought it was too derivative of the British Invasion, despite the lyrics (which certainly reflected a 70’s proto-punk ethos, a la Jonathan Richman).
The Moberlys recorded “You Know I Know” in 1979, but my first original band, the Meyce (pronounced mice) did a demo of it in 1976 (along with “Live In The Sun” and others), which has yet to be released (except for “Brown Skin” on my own “Odd and Sods” album “Introducing Jim Basnight” in 2012). Here’s the Moberlys version:
Those were the first tunes of mine that stuck out. There are others I liked, which the Meyce recorded as demos in 1977, like “I Trust You” and “I Want You” and those were also recorded by the Moberlys in ’78 and ’79. To summarize, I felt I found my voice, when I wrote tunes that were straight ahead pop tunes, at least in my mind. Songs that belonged in a loose corral, somewhere between the Kinks and the Beatles in 1964-65, the Velvet Underground’s pop side and bands that sprung from their influence, like the Stooges, the early Modern Lovers, the New York Dolls and the Ramones. I also saw the late Jimi Hendrix as a musical mentor, along with other NW rock influences and was always very taken too by pop acts like the Hollies, the Raspberries, Badfinger, the Rascals and T-Rex. One reason my earlier songs were so purposely complicated, had a lot to do with my absolute passion for the late David Bowie‘s 1970’s work, which I perceived as complex. That continued to be an inspiration, but to directly answer your question, I felt I found myself best with “Live In The Sun”. That was the first one, where I said, that’s unique, simple and it’s mine.
MD: “I’ve seen The Moberlys described as the bridge between Garage Rock and Grunge Rock. Do you feel that’s an accurate assessment? What’s missing, or would you describe it differently?”
JB: The Moberlys went through a number of phases, as the late 70’s became the late 80’s, when we split up. The band started with the line-up on the “Moberlys” LP, which came out in early 1980. Though there were a number of personnel changes in that 1978-80 time frame, the main lineup was Ernie Sapiro on guitar, Steve Grindle on bass and Bill Walters on drums. That lineup’s work, with help from a few other folks, is best chronicled on the album “Sexteen”, which came out as a CD release on the Bear Family label in Germany in 1996.
The next phase of the Moberlys happened, because I moved to NYC in the fall of 1980, after working with a Seattle club band called the Pins, after the first version of the Moberlys broke up right when the album came out in January ’80. I saved enough money to move to NYC and to do a 2nd pressing of the album myself (It was originally released by a Seattle label called “Safety First” owned by a good friend of that first band Brian Fox). The 2nd pressing was the same, but I changed the artists name to Jim Basnight and the Moberlys, as I was setting out on my own in a new town and Fox and company were gracious enough to let me.
I joined with guitarist Jeremy Bar-Illan, and a number of other NY players, to form a new Moberlys, to support the album there, which garnered quite a bit of press, including Trouser Press, NY Rocker, “Who’s Who in Rock Music”, Billboard and others. But I wasn’t happy with the way the band sounded, other than Jeremy, so I recruited Seattle musicians, the late Dave Drewry on drums and bassist Al Bloch, to come out to NY to play. That didn’t last, mostly from the culture shock, but we did some recording there. That was the beginnings though of the band that stayed together until 1989.
But in ’84, Dave and I reformed a 3rd shot at the Moberlys in Seattle, with guitarist Glenn Oyabe and Bassist Toby Keil. I finally relocated completely back to Seattle to work with them by early 1984, but over the course of 1983, we recorded some tracks in Vancouver BC, which were released on vinyl as a 45 and then a four song EP. In spring ’84, we went back to Vancouver to record more tracks, while working the clubs and concert gigs in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and vicinity. That session, combined with tracks from the earlier BC tracks, the NYC sessions with Bloch and select tracks from the 1977-80 era, were licensed to the French Lolita label, which was released in Spring of ’85 as the “Sexteen” album.
We were known as a garage band live, sprinkling our original numbers with covers of The Heartbreakers (huge influence from my days in NYC) and other NY influences, the Sonics and long beloved NW influences and various American and British 60’s and 70’s garage, punk and pop odds and ends. In doing so, we also found our home at a Seattle club called the Central, which we turned into a home for that musical territory, rather than the hippie blues and country rock place it was, when we started there in early ’84.
The place became friendly to the early Seattle post New Wave original music scene that evolved into what later became known as “Grunge”. In fact, the managers of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and others first established offices above it. It was pretty much where that scene evolved. I think the Moberlys helped set the tone, just as we, along with a lot of my close friends growing up on Seattle, like Neil Hubbard, who released the “Seattle Syndrome” compilations in 1980 and 1982, helped establish a DIY record biz there. I don’t think it’s stuck up to say that.
To say that the “Grunge” acts owe us anything is kind of pointless. They did incredible work, but the Moberlys and a number of others, did a lot to build the embryo which gave birth to their vision. I’m extremely proud of that, but I also look at the “Grunge” bands and the mega-corporate bands that attached themselves from elsewhere to be a rather sad story. People made fortunes they are still living on, but it was also essentially the end of rock and roll, in the eyes of many. When I was at the Grammy Museum in Cleveland MS, working on my “Sonny Boy Williamson” (Alex “Rice” Miller) research in 2016, I saw an exhibit that correctly tracked the arc of rock and roll.
It aptly started in the Mississippi “Delta” with “Sonny Boy” and his band the King Biscuit Entertainers in the early 40’s, introducing electric guitars, kit drums, etc. playing American Roots Music, to broadcast media. In a half moon exhibit, It wound from there through Elvis (the first rock star) and the Golden Age of Rock and Roll (heavily influenced by exposure to those electric blues innovators through radio, jukeboxes and records), Surf, Girl Groups, the British Invasion, Motown, Stax, the Woodstock Generation, Glam, Funk, Disco, Punk, New Wave, Hip Hop, Heavy Metal and finally “Grunge”. In the segment about “Grunge” it spoke of Kurt Cobain as being “The last rock star”.
That made me reflect on the losses, including Cobain and a number of his peers to suicide and/or drugs. And why were they the “Last?” Why couldn’t rock and roll regenerate itself, as it had cyclically since it first rocked the boat of “White” supremacy and religious conservatism in the WW2 era? I felt that didn’t make sense. It was at that time, that I made up my mind to make a new statement, to take a full shot at this “sensible” resolution to the arc of rock and roll.
That decision is what led to “Not Changing”, which I finally self-generated into a reality in 2019, with the help of some very talented and long time fellow believers in bassist, co-producer and engineer Garey Shelton, drummer Dave Warburton, vocalist Steve Aliment and guitarist Bruce Hazen (also a currently revived Moberlys), with a nice hand from Seattle career DJ Jay Phillips.
MD: Peter Buck of R.E.M. produced a few songs for The Moberlys. What can you tell us about that?
JB: Peter Buck produced eight songs for EMI-America Records on the Moberlys in 1987, including 1. “Rest Up”, 2. “She Always Smiled”, 3. “Your Fool”, 4. “Evil Touch”, 5. “Stop The Words”, 6. “Hello Mary Jane“, 7. “Restless Night”, 8. “Can I Trust You”.
1-3 are on “Seattle-NY-LA”
4-7 are on “Pop Top”
8 is on “Introducing”
Peter Buck was a fan of the “The Moberlys” LP (1980), as were REM. According to conversations with them, they used to play it a lot in the van, while they traveled around doing dates prior to getting signed.
Buck came to see us in Seattle, while we were up there doing a gig (we’d already moved to LA at the time) and REM was there playing a concert in July 1985. He got up on stage with us and bought the “Sexteen” album, the next day at a local Tower Records. We exchanged phone numbers and started talking about working together towards him producing us. He played on stage with the band on a couple of other occasions in LA.
We did three songs at El Dorado Studios in Hollywood in 1987 and then the other five songs at Studio Two in Culver City later in the year. He appreciated the band and it helped us a lot to work with him, despite the fact that EMI-America was going through a merger with Manhattan Records at the time and consequently pulled the plug on our album, as well as a number of other cool rock acts. The label were nice enough to give me the masters in 1990.
MD: “’Not Changing” has 14 tracks that have a wide range of styles. Did you set out with an overall theme for the album, or did the songs all come to you individually and independently?”
JB: The songs came together independently. Garey and I recorded guitar and vocal demos of over 40 songs, which included a half dozen covers. The only covers that ended up getting produced were a three song medley I put together in my solo show, spanning three decades of genius songwriting, from the late Prince (1986), Bowie (1975) and Davies (1965). Three lesser played songs by all three, which went together without even trying. I felt it was my mission to connect them:
I intend to release a whole album of cover songs, including this one probably, as a follow up for “Not Changing”. That will be in 2020, along with plans to release the original cast album of a musical I co-composed with Rich Gray in the mid-90’s titled “Little Rock”, based on the story of the Little Rock Nine. The songs I wrote for “Not Changing” came from a number of sources. Some were unfinished tunes from various times in my writing career, which I added parts from other unfinished tunes and new parts. Some were brand new, if there is such a thing. Some were new, but embellished by pieces of older unpublished material. Some were old, but embellished by new twists.
It took a while to do all of that writing and editing and Garey really worked a miracle to help me pick the best 14 original tunes out of around 35 or so viable candidates, some of which I re-wrote while we were recording.
MD: “Your Website has the phrase ’25 years of power pop’ on its home page. If that term didn’t exist, how would you describe your music?”
JB: That phrase “Power Pop” has been used to describe it and I think that’s fair, but I prefer rock and roll. All that said, over years of being a professional musician and entertainer, I’ve learned to branch out to the blues, R+B, C+W and pure pop (not “For Now People”, with all due respect to Nick Lowe, I’m talking Carpenters). I still think it’s all rock and roll. I think rock and roll represents the best that we are as human beings on this planet. Unafraid of sharing each others music and collective experiences and rocking the boats of repression and oppression, while we’re at it.
MD: “You co-composed a musical in the mid-90s, and you’re planning to release the original cast album in 2020. What can you tell us about that?”
JB: I beat you to it and I think the timing is perfect. If I had a budget, I would look at re-doing it for a new theater, probably in Seattle, since I’m tied down here as a resident pretty tight. What it is, is a story, based on the kids who integrated the first notable high school in the “Deep South” in the 1957-58 school year, on the back of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. It’s based on nine kids who were integrated into a previously all “White” high school in Little Rock, kids still in segregated schools there, outside protestors, kids who had their school integrated, their families, teachers, school administrators and national guard soldiers brought in to protect the nine.
The music is heavily influenced by the masters of the blues, the golden age of rock and roll, rockabilly and C+W and pop of that time. It was well adapted to musical theater by Gray and we did a fine job of producing decent tracks and tough performances from the actors. I’ll probably give away copies of the script, programs from the first run in Seattle in 1995 and other goodies to the first folks who buy it by contacting me through Facebook or Twitter, once it comes out. It was also done by theaters in Pittsburg PA, Minneapolis MN, Washington DC (Kennedy Center) and Little Rock AR, but it was hard to do, because it required a very large cast.
I wouldn’t change that part of it much, if I was able to re-do it, but I would consider some new numbers. The subject matter is much better timed now and I’d like to tweak it just a bit. That said, I think it stands on it’s own as a completed work and if I never re-did it, I’d still be proud of what Rich and I, along with script writer Kermit Fraser and Director Linda Hartzell accomplished.
MD: “You’re completing a book on Sonny Boy Williamson. What can readers expect?”
JB: It will be the definitive biography, if it’s the last thing I do. It’s taken a long time, for reasons I’d rather not share at this point. Someday I hope to, but in the meantime, it’s going to be a very worthwhile read for people who are drawn to Rock and Roll history, African American history and of course the relevance of the blues.
Why is “Sonny Boy” (Alex “Rice” Miller) important? He became the star of the first broadcast media musical show where the sponsor’s primary focus was African American consumers. “King Biscuit Time” was also the first show of note to focus on electric guitar and kit drums performing blues based music.
It’s success, after its controversial debut in late 1941, led to knock off shows, which opened up opportunities for associates of “Sonny Boy” like “Howling Wolf”, “Muddy Waters”, the first “Black DJ” in the “Deep South” Early Wright, Ike Turner, “BB” King and many others. The success of these shows in the 40’s in and around the Mississippi “Delta” led to the debut of the first “Black Radio” station WDIA in Memphis in 1948.
The exposure of electric blues (the closest thing to rock and roll, which predates it), on radio in the region, combined with the Grand Ol’ Opry (1927) and Southern Gospel (where the juke joint and honkytonk players alike, cleaned it up on Sunday morning) created the embryo for the Golden Age of Rock and Roll.
Elvis first played blues songs he heard with his also 13-year old classmate Ronald Smith, which they learned from listening to “Sonny Boy” and Wolf on KWEM (West Memphis AR). Elvis became the first rock and roll star, because he performed blues authentically enough for Sam Phillips of Sun Records vision.
The birth of Rockabilly, Rock and Roll and R+B all would have had a difficult time being conceived without access to electric blues via the radio and jukeboxes, which played the blues masters, many of whom moved away from the “Delta” to record. I’ll explain a lot about the role of jukeboxes, independent record pressing and independent labels and how they were all directly connected to one lesser known and brilliant Mississippi born entrepreneur, also connected to Miller.
Though Rock and Roll kicked the bluesmen out of the way in the late 50’s, only to nearly die off in the early 60’s, both received a huge shot in the arm from the British Invasion. Miller (who died at the age of 52), spent his last two years mostly in Europe, primarily the UK, where he decided to stay on, after being the hit of the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival. He was the only major blues master of his time to reside there, at this pivotal time in British Rock History.
The list of British teenagers who backed him, covered him or just camp followed him there (he was a self-contained unit that either used pick-up bands or if they couldn’t play well enough to suit him, would do shows alone) is staggering, in terms of future star cachet.
A short list would have to include the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds (featuring Eric Clapton), Van Morrison, pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, The Who, Rod Stewart and the Faces, Joe Cocker, the Animals, Manfred Mann, Spencer Davies Group (featuring Steve Winwood), John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Savoy Brown, Cream, Moody Blues, Rory Gallagher, Eric Clapton and the Beatles.
After Miller’s success in enlightening these “British boys” (a famous “Sonny Boy” quote was telling people back in the states, “These British boys want to play the blues really bad, and they do”) with some tough love, American rockers joined the party albeit late.
Other than the late, great Mississippian Mose Allison, few American artists covered Miller in his lifetime, but in death the list grew to include the Allman Brothers, The Band, The Doobie Brothers, The New York Dolls, Johnny Winter, Bob Dylan, Canned Heat, Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, Aerosmith, Gary Moore, the Blues Brothers, Joan Osborne and Joe Bonamassa.
Nearly every blues band of note worldwide, has performed his materials at one time or another, especially icons like Junior Wells, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Waters, Wolf, BB, Charlie Musselwhite and Taj Mahal.
I tell the whole story with the help of literally 100’s of published and unpublished interviews, included many of those mentioned here. There is no one who has done the type of research into his early life, many lesser known subjects who he knew and/or worked with and unique interviews with family members. It was a major effort and I’m extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to track the roots of this mystery man of American Music.
MD: “What advice would you give to a young musician who came to see you perform in 2019 and said ‘I want to do that?’ The music business has changed, and you’ve adapted with it. Do you feel that artists starting out now have an accurate picture and realistic expectations?”
JB: Thanks for reading my long answers to these questions. I’ll make this one the shortest one. Don’t do this, or anything in the arts, unless you really love it and be prepared to have to take some difficult side roads that you won’t necessary love in real time, to get to where you envision. Love is the key. If you find it, you’ll feel it in your heart and it will never leave you, so listen to what your heart tells you.
Selected Discography: Jim Basnight & The Moberlys
Sexteen, Seattle-NY-LA, Pop Top, Makin’ Bacon, The Jim Basnight Thing, Recovery Room, Introducing, We Rocked & Rolled – The First 25 Years of Jim Basnight, The Moberlys, And Beyond and Not Changing may be ordered directly by contacting Jim via email at email@example.com. He can also be contacted via his Facebook and Twitter pages.
1993 – Jim Basnight – Pop Top
My Vision Of You, Don’t Dance With Strangers, Houston Street, Asphalt Field, Price Of Our Insanity, Love And Hate, Opportunity Knocks, Still A Part Of Me, Mr. Resident, Blue Moon Heart, Talk Is Cheap, Tears In The Rain, One Night Away, Hello Mary Jane, Evil Touch, Stop The Words, Jasmine Perfume, Restless Night
1997 – Jim Basnight – The Jim Basnight Thing
Alone With Her, Mexico, Hell In A Nutshell, No More War, Elma, I’ll Be There, Don’t Wait Up, Red Light Moon, Lattes, Cinderella Dreams, Happy Birthday, Summertime Again
2004 – The Moberlys – Sexteen
Live In The Sun, Sexteen, You Know I Know, Love Is Beautiful, Last Night, Lonesome Crying Sigh, I Return, She Go F****D, We’ll Always Be In Love, Blow Your Life Away, I Want You, Don’t Fall Into Darkness, Country Fair, Give Me Peace. Leave The Past Behind, I Trust You, When The Night Comes, Make A Baby, Love / Hate, Papa Loves Mama, You Don’t Give Me Love, I’m In Fire, Come And Gone.
2004 – The Moberlys – Makin’ Bacon
Played A Trick, Need A Car, Hello Mary Jane, Lattes, So glad You Came, Baby Jane, Space, More Than One Way, Middle Of The Night, She Give Me Everything I Want, Uncertain, Ho Chi Mihn, Rock And Roll Girlfriend, Rock And Roll Cowboy.
2004 – Jim Basnight – Recovery Room
Miss America, Guilty, Something Peculiar, Python Boogaloo, Microwave, The Heart, Look Inside, Minute Just A Minute, Comfort Me, Brother Louie, Riding Rainbows, Princess, Ripple In The Bag, Swoon.
2012 – Jim Basnight – Introducing Jim Basnight
Stay To The End, Midnight Mission Hit Parade. Sea Of Blue, Cameltoe, Stars In Time, Pop Shooter, Livin’ A Lie, White Socks, Bad And Beautiful, Burning Through Sand, Looking Through Glass, Promises, City Life, Open Letter, So Messed Up, Can I Trust You, Windy Night, BeBe Gonna Let You Down, I’m In Love With You, Show Who You Are, Brown Skin.
2019 – Jim Basnight – Not Changing
Code To Live By, Not Changing, Big Bang, Avenue of The Star, Making Love For A Living, Suicide Evening, Best Lover In The World, Kurt Cobain, Never Get Lost, Second Street, Saturday Dream, You Never Cease To Amaze, Having Fun, Living The Way I Want
2000 – Jim Basnight & The Moberlys – Seattle – New York – Los Angeles
I Wanna Be Yours, Rest Up, Lose Me, I Love You So, What I Wouldn’t Do, Bare My Soul, Tonight, Genius Of Love, Your Fool, Blood Beach, You Came And You Conquered, She Don’t Rock, Love So True, The Rebel Kind, She Always Smiled, Alone With Her, Elma, Summertime Again, Ugly Side, I Need Your Love, Wherever You Take Me, Ain’t It Funny, We Rocked And Rolled
2008 – Jim Basnight And The Moberlys – We Rocked & Rolled – The First 25 Years of Jim Basnight, The Moberlys, And Beyond
You Know, I Know, Blow Your Life Away, Live In The Sun, Last Night, Sexteen, I Wanna Be Yours, Lose Me, Tonight, I Need Your Love, Beat Up, We Rocked And Rolled, Hello Mary Jane, Opportunity Knocks, Stop The Words, Need A Car, Space, More Than One Way, Rock And Roll Girlfriend, Alone With Her, Summertime Again, Python Boogaloo, Riding Rainbows, We Rocked and Rolled