All Fired Up: An Interview with Keith Nelson of
Back in 1999, Buckcherry’s remorselessly rocking self-titled debut, kicked pop music in the ass, foreshadowing the Los Angeles-based band’s future quest to reclaim rock’s lost throne. Who could forget their first single, the wildly popular “Lit Up”? A party anthem for all seasons with its addictive, sing-along chorus of “I love the cocaine! I love the cocaine!” “Lit Up,” according to Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson, never fails to inspire “Random acts of weirdness,” at every live performance. “Judging from fans’ reactions,” says Nelson, “they think that we’re all like Tony Montana, the guy from Scarface, because of that song.” And while the fans imaginations, he insists, “are a lot better than our reality,” one might tend to doubt it, after giving a listen to Buckcherry’s sophomore album, Time Bomb. Fans need only scan the lyrics to “Porno Star” — a gleefully blue romp through a day in the life of an Adult Film stud that makes “Lit Up” sound like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — to rest assured there’s been absolutely no toning-down of the band’s good-natured outrageousness. Time Bomb is a hormone-activating boost up from the gutter to the good life that’s a thrill ride from start to finish.
The members of Buckcherry — Nelson, second guitarist Yogi, vocalist Joshua Todd, drummer Devon Glenn, and bassist JB (who recently left the band) — bring their eclectic individual tastes along with a deep sense of musical history to their music. When it comes to successfully bringing one’s influences into the present and still keeping the music fresh and viable, Nelson realizes that keeping the past as your inspiration, rather than your destination, is the key. “[My favorite] records inspire me, but I don’t want to make those records again,” says the guitarist. “I already have Toys in the Attic and Rocks. Josh already has the Prince Black record and we already have Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC and The Sex Pistols. So, to make those records again is ridiculous. But, to draw inspiration from those records, and make our own music, I think that’s really the key to showing some sort of reverence. It really bums me out when kids today hear the name Beck and they think of the skinny kid from Silver Lake and not the really amazing guitarist from England who played with Rod Stewart. It just speaks of the lack of a history lesson that’s going on in music. If you can’t go from Rage Against the Machine and follow that all the way back to Robert Johnson, you don’t really know what’s going on.”
Rather than do just another typical interview with Keith, we decided it’d be cool to talk about some of the songs that have shaped the man Keith is today and have influenced the music he makes with Buckcherry, because, let’s face it, that band fucking rocks. “As much as I think I have a varied musical taste,” Keith admits, “I don’t really listen to jazz and I don’t listen to new country music or a lot of the new stuff that’s out — there’s no hip-hop on this list. But these are songs that give an overview of the stuff that I enjoy listening to. So many times, as a musician, you’re forced to listen to music — whether it’s yourself or whatever — and critique it. The music on this list is the music that I listen to because I love it. I’m not sitting down trying to figure the songs out or whatever. I listen to it because I love the way it sounds, or I love what it does for me. For whatever reason, it brings me joy.”
1. “Sick as a Dog” by Aerosmith
You know, that’s just one of my all-time favorite Aerosmith songs, off of Rocks, which is one of my favorite records by them if not my most favorite. It’s a toss up between that and Toys in the Attic, obviously. I just love everything about the song. I love to hear it, when we go into a radio station, and they say, “What do you wanna hear?,” I say “Sick as a Dog” by Aerosmith. It’s weird, because I’m such a huge Joe Perry fan, and Joe didn’t write that; Tom Hamilton wrote it. You know, the first real girlfriend I ever had had that record — and I know Slash has that story about hanging out with some chick and she puts that record on and he forgets all about the girl — but the first real girlfriend I had had that and Draw The Line on vinyl, and a couple other records, and I stole them off her [laughs]. And I still have it. That story’s not as cool as Slash’s, but I’m cool with that.
2. “Midnight Rambler” by The Rolling Stones
Wow, there’s a couple versions of that, you know? There’s the version that I believe is on Hot Rocks or maybe it’s on Let It Bleed, and then there’s a live version on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. It’s all over the place, a sloppy, rolling song, and it’s like the band’s following Keith, and you can totally hear that. They go to that mid section and they change the whole tempo of the song, change the whole feel of it, and when it goes down to the part where it’s just kind of Mick and Keith and then Charlie hitting the drums… it’s just brilliant, I think. It’s brilliant because of what they play and brilliant because of what they don’t play. They leave so much space in there and I think that’s such a great example of a band that knows where everyone else is and they can totally just feel it, and I love it. Plus, it’s about killing somebody, so, extra bonus points for death!
3. “Bottle Of Fur” by Urge Overkill
It’s about his voice. Nash Kato’s voice on that song just fucking kills me, and he’s probably — outside of my singer — one of my favorite singers in modern music right now. I just think the guy is brilliant. I really think that he’s an unsung hero of what’s going on today. It’s a drag that that band couldn’t stay together, but I loved his solo record, Debutante, as well. You know, when I have an Urge Overkill record on I tend to program out all the songs on the CD that he doesnÃt sing. That song, musically, it takes a little journey, but it’s really fucking catchy. I’m curious to know what a bottle of fur is. I love that.
4. “Nancy Sinatra” by The Bottle Rockets
In the age of rap metal and singers that bark, here’s a band that picks up right where The Georgia Satellites left off, and where ZZ Top left off, before Eliminator. They sound to me like ZZ Top meets Crazy Horse meets The Georgia Satellites, and they’re just a bunch of guys somewhere in a garage in America making really cool music. I’m glad people are still carrying on the tradition of actually playing their instruments and singing songs that you can remember. Bottle Rockets have a CD called Brand New Year and the first song on it is “Nancy Sinatra,” and it sounds great and it’s fuckin’ hilarious. There’s such a tongue in cheek humor in what they’re doing. I definitely recommend checking it out. At times it can be a little heavy on the shtick, lyrically, but I just think it’s a cool song by a really cool band. I’m trying to find out more about those guys. It’s weird, they put out these records and they never put a picture of the band out. I’m thinking they must be really ugly guys, or something.
5. “God Save the Queen” by The Sex Pistols
I’ve got a great story about that song. We were making our first record and Steve Jones was producing it. We were in the pre-production process where we were just in rehearsal, going through the songs and making little changes. Our singer, Josh, and me and Jonesy arrived at the studio early one day before anyone else was there. We were just fucking around, doing some Bowie covers and stuff like that and we were all taking our turns switching instruments. Jonesy was on the drums and I was on the guitar and I started playing “God Save the Queen.” I wasn’t sure how he was going to react, and Jonesy started playing the drums to it, and then Josh started singing it. So, I got to play “God Save the Queen” with Steve Jones — the Godfather of Punk — on drums. And Josh does a reeeaally good Johnny Rotten, if persuaded. And of course he was definitely up for it that day. Ever since then, it’s just been a cool memory for that song.
You know, when The Filth & the Fury came out, we were in LA and it was at one of those little art theaters. I called up Jonesy and said, “Hey Steve, this movie’s out, man, and Josh and I were thinking about going to see it. What do you think, is it worth it?” — because sometimes, you know they make movies and they just take the piss out of the band and it’s not really cool. But he said (slipping into cockney accent), “Oh no mate, it’s a good one, you’ve got to go see it.” So, he gave it the blessing and we went down and it was really fucking cool because, at the end of the movie, the crowd stood up and gave it a standing ovation, which is pretty cool for a bunch of jaded LA fuckers.
6. “The Woman in You” by Ben Harper
I’ve got every record since the first one of Ben’s, and I’m a huge fan. When I got Burn To Shine and I started listening to the record, and I heard that song, I got goosebumps. His voice just kind of transcends the song, and I think… god, I hate it when people use the word “amazing,” because I think it’s so overused, but it’s so appropriate in this instance. It’s fucking amazing! Everything about that song; it’s heavy and his voice is like completely the counter to how heavy the song gets. It’s just wonderful. There’s a guy right there, I think, whose career has been really interesting to watch. He’s been afforded the opportunity to really survive as a musician, and survive well, without having a super Top Ten smash, selling seven million records in the first week kind of success. The music keeps evolving, and he never makes the same record twice, but it always still sounds like him, and it all makes perfect sense. In a lot of ways, I guess that’s the kind of career that’s way more pleasing, if you can have it and can have the luxury of looking back on it. I really admire that he’s been able to do that.
7. “300 Pounds” by Howlin’ Wolf
I’ve got another good story about that. Before I moved to California, in the early ’90s, I had a job as a landscaper, cutting lawns and stuff. I was doing it in Cleveland, Ohio, actually, ’cause that’s where my Mom had lived and I moved there for a couple months to save up some bread to move to California. I was doing this job and it was about nine o’clock in the morning and I was running a weed whacker in this housing project in downtown Cleveland. I come around the corner and there’s this little parking lot and there’s this guy sitting there in his car — this old dude, drinking a 40 out of a paper bag, sitting in his car — listening to this blues music really loud. At the time, I was maybe 21 and I had just started to get into the blues, just started to become aware of them. I think I had just seen the John Hammond (outer city limits?) and I was completely blown away. I didn’t know where to turn for a good blues education. It wasn’t like finding some white dude with a Strat somewhere. So this guy was sitting in his car drinking beer at nine in the morning and I stopped my weed machine and I said, “Excuse me sir, who is that? Is that BB King?,” because that’s really all I knew. And he goes (adopting appropriate accent) “Boy? BB King? That’s Howlin’ Wolf! C’mere.” So, my boss was such a prick at the time, but I set the weed whacker down and I get in the car with him and he’s taking me through this Howlin’ Wolf tape. The tape that it was The Real Folk Blues. So he’s talking to me about the blues and he pops the tape out of the cassette player and he hands it to me and says, “Here, take it.” And I’d never met the guy before, I was just a guy trimming the fucking lawn. I took it and I put it in my coat pocket and that’s the first blues tape I ever got. That’s my favorite song off the record. It’s got a great sense of humor and, in the true blues fashion, he’s — I mean, Howlin’ was a big man — he’s describing himself, and I just love it. And those are some of the first guitar licks I tried to figure out. I’ve been a fan ever since. I finally found the record on CD just a couple weeks ago. It’s funny, I’ve never told that story before.
8. “Master Of Puppets” by Metallica
“Master Of Puppets” is everything that you need to get you going. Isn’t it such a fucking great song? ThatÃs my favorite Metallica record, and it’s also the first one I ever got. So I’m not one of those hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool Metallica fans — I don’t have a Metallica tattoo. But Master Of Puppets was the first record I got. At the time, I was hanging out with a bunch of guys that were definitely the headbangers, and that was kind of “the song.” That was the song: “Master Of Puppets.” I just have really great memories of that, being in college, drinking a lot of beer and listening to “Master Of Puppets.” A couple of the guys in Buckcherry have met a couple of those guys and they haven’t been that friendly. But you don’t have to like people to like their music.
9. “How Many More Times” by Led Zeppelin
Well, it’s about the riff on that song, for me. I remember being in college and being a little fucked up and being the only guy in the joint — a frat party in a basement — with long hair at a very, very fraternity-oriented school. But you know, you could go to the frats and drink free beer and it was all about the free beer because, you know, I was broke and definitely needed to get some beer in me. And there was a band playing in the basement and they were the only other guys there with long hair too, and they ripped into a version of “How Many More Times” that just fucking blew my head off. Ever since then, that song has been one of my favorite songs, and the Led Zeppelin version… as great as that experience was in that basement, it still doesn’t hold a candle to Led Zeppelin’s version. I just think that that was such a perfect band in so many ways: the singer, the guitar player, the drummer, and the quirky bass player. Jimmy wrote all the fucking riffs, man. Being a guitar player and a songwriter, the guy was just the king really.
10. “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen
That’s probably one of the all-time greatest songs ever written. I mean, Springsteen managed to orchestrate all those very rock and roll instruments, but it sounds so much bigger than just a band. When I put that song on, there’s so many things going on with it, and it’s four and a half minutes of an out-of-body experience, I think. One of my favorite things about Bruce Springsteen as a songwriter is his imagery and his ability to — at least for my money — take me there. Like a great movie, when you’re watching the movie, you don’t really realize you’re watching the movie, you’re just kind of in-the-moment there. That’s what I get out of listening to that song, more so than probably any of his other songs. I’ve been a Springsteen fan for such a long time. He really inspired me to become a songwriter.
One time, early on in the band, me and JB (former bass player) and Josh, were driving to rehearsal one night in JB’s car. You know, LA only has two kinds of radio stations: Classic Rock and K-Rock (KROQ). So, we’re listening to KLOS, the Classic Rock station — and you gotta understand, I’m from Pennsylvania, so I grew up listening to Springsteen and those guys really didn’t. Josh is a California kid, so it was more about punk rock than Bruce Rock for him. So the song comes on and I go, “You guys gotta listen to this, oh my god!” I turn it up, and for four and a half minutes, we all sat there in silence and listened to that song. Then, when it was over, it was like Wayne’s World,; we were all like “Whooaa! That was heavy, man!” [laughs]. And we weren’t even high. It was cool as fuck.
11. “Glory Of Love” by Otis Redding
It’s one of my all-time favorite songs by that guy. [Long pause] The mother of my daughter and I used to listen to that song together every time, before I went on the road, and that was the last thing we did before I walked out the door to go to the airport [for this tour]. It’s just got a very, very special place in my heart.
12. “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters
You know, Muddy is my favorite blues artist. As a consumer of music, and as a musician, to be into the blues is one thing, but… I don’t like all blues artists. When you go to one of these big record stores and there’s so many different blues artists, it’s really kind of weird. I want to listen to them all, but then again, who the fuck has time to listen to every single blues artist? I really just gravitate towards a handful of guys that I really love, and Muddy Waters is absolutely my favorite one. He did a couple of records right before he died that Johnny Winter produced and played on, and “Mannish Boy” is on one of those records…I believe it’s on Hard Again. When I listen to that record, it just sounds exactly like what was probably going on, which is a room full of people getting it on the first take. It’s just pretty awe-inspiring to me: it’s very simple and it’s very effective. I love stuff like that because, in this day and age of really over-thinking things and over-producing things and piling more shit on your record and making it sound all thick and not really having any dynamics, that song right there is just a perfect example of getting the vibe and having all the space in the sonic quality of the song and leaving it alone. It’s perfect.
13. “Miss Judy’s Farm” by The Faces
You’d think Chris Robinson would talk more about these guys, wouldn’t you? That’s off [A]Nod’s as Good as a Wink [to a Blind Horse], isn’t it? I believe so. I mean, what a great fucking band. All the guys in that band — Ronny Lane’s no longer with us — but Kenny Jones and Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, those guys all went on to become more famous doing other things. I just think that the sound of that recording and what’s going on there is just perfect. I wonder if, when they’re making records like that, if they know that they’ve got something that special. I don’t know if they really do, and at the time it probably wasnÃt as revered as it is today, obviously. It’s just one of my favorite songs by that band.
14. “Mean Street” by Van Halen
I can remember joining the record club, you know, back when the Columbia Record & Tape Club was the thing to do. Twelve records for a penny. And I got a box of cassettes delivered to my house that I’d been waiting on every day that summer. The box came and the first one I pulled out was that record. I just remember looking at the cover — it was brown and you really couldn’t tell what was going on with it — and putting that tape in, putting the headphones on and listening to that. It was a very, very magical experience for me. I found it dark and mysterious and I had no idea what Van Halen was about. I wasn’t really into Van Halen at all, but I put that on and it made me want to fucking rock really early on. I think it was as much the anticipation… remember when you didn’t have videos and all that other shit and you had to kind of make sense of it in your own head? It wasn’t as obvious as it is today. There was no Web site to go to, none of that bullshit. And yes, you can get more information now, but I don’t think it encourages people to use the creative side of their brain and fantasize and wonder. That was such a magical time of discovering music, when I got that. And that song just really kicked a whole in my head, which is still here, to this day [laughs].
15. “So Far Away” by Carol King
It really sums up what it’s like to be on the road, and we’ve been out seven months straight. That song really sums up, on a more melancholy day, what it’s like to be on the road and be away from people that you love. Even though we get to do what we love to do, and we have a really good time doing it, we’re not travelling at such a level and we can’t bring our families out with us, which some rock stars get to do. So there’s a lot of time away from the people that you love and there’s a lot of loneliness and things like that that come up on the road. I just think that on that song — and it’s what, 30 years old at this point? — she nailed it, and I think it really holds up. Plus everything about that record is just phenomenal — notice I didn’t use the “A” word. Her voice and her songwriting skill and all that together just make it a really great song.