Folk Music Center
April 25, 2014
Photos and writing by TourBusLive.com
A long time ago, in a decade far, far away, a young band named THE PLIMSOULS rocked their way into popular culture in the 1983 film Valley Girl. With hits such as “A Million Miles Away” and “Oldest Story in the World”, that group could do no wrong.
Yet, only a short time later, the band went their separate ways, and The Plimsouls (and former Nerves) lead singer and guitarist PETER CASE branched out on his own, defying everything that one might have expected him to do with his solo career – he didn’t become a punk icon or a rock and roll star – he instead became a bona fide folk/blues singer/songwriter. Throughout the years, Case has earned the respect of some of the most notable musicians around, and has worked with so many of them that listing here would be futile. During his long stay as a Los Angeles resident, we were very fortunate to have been able to see Peter perform often (especially around the time of his Grammy-nominated 2007 album Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John). But since Case has moved northward to the City by the Bay, his LA area dates have been less frequent, so we consider ourselves very lucky to have caught up with this traveling blues man recently at the Folk Music Center in Claremont.
Like a true troubadour, Case showed up to this intimate venue with nothing more than two guitars – one his hand and one strapped to his back. As he set up for the show (what little set up there was), he took some time and looked around the room at the instruments for sale that hung on the Center’s walls. After a few minutes, a weathered, but beautiful, 12-string Gibson acoustic caught his eye and he took it down to try it out. The sale ticket (one of those old-fashioned stringed paper tags) only stated that the guitar was from “the 60s”, and revealed its very reasonable price. The next few minutes were special, as Case warmed up by strumming out a tune on the old guitar, which surely had its own story to tell.
And speaking of stories to tell – the FOLK MUSIC CENTER is a story in itself! We were lucky to have a ‘guide’ (a friend of the Center for decades named Doug), who showed us around the building – and even took us out back where sculptures and paintings adorn the exterior of the rear walls. The Center’s rich history is all around you the second you set foot in their door. First opened in 1958 as a music store in the back of a real estate office in Claremont, California, the tiny shop quickly outgrew that spot and moved just down the street to their own storefront, where owner Charles Chase expertly provided instrument repair in the back, while his wife Dorothy taught music lessons in the front. People began to congregate more at the shop, and when some people returned from their travels, they’d bring the Chases unique musical instruments from all over the world to display. After a while, it just became part music store, part museum, part meeting place, and part performance venue. These many years later, Charles and Dorothy’s daughter Ellen is now the owner. Her famous son, Ben Harper, a noted musician, bought the store to keep it in the family when his grandfather Charles Chase passed away. His brother Peter was working the day we called about coming to this show – and upon discovering his last name as Harper at the end of our delightful phone call, we did a little research and realized he too is a very gifted musician, and has just released a new album!!
But I digress. Back at the Music Center on this slightly rainy night in Southern California, Peter Case sat himself down in the single chair on the tiny stage and proceeded to sing his own stories for the audience who had gathered to hear him play. His songs, such as “House Rent Party,” “The Long Good Time,” “Every 24 Hours,” and “Aint Gonna Worry No More” are must-hears, in our opinion, although he varies his set lists to include songs from the entire arc of his career (we even occasionally get very eclectic covers of Plimsouls or Nerves songs), as well as covers of blues and folk favorites from the likes of Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, and even the infamous Robert Johnson. And to the delight of everyone in attendance, the storytelling in between songs became as important as the musical performance itself. Revealing what a genuinely funny guy he is (he and his ‘hippie’ roommates in upstate New York in the 1960s living directly across from a noted motorcycle gang definitely led to some pretty entertaining tales), Case cleverly walks his listeners through the experiences that created the music he plays. And then the music takes the storytelling to another level completely. It simply speaks for itself. And if hearing his tales on stage isn’t enough, Case has published the stories of his younger years in his book “As Far As You Can Get Without a Passport.” That book, along with his numerous albums, is available at PeterCase.com.
So definitely keep an eye out for his schedule – and the next time Peter Case is in town, do yourself a favor and don’t miss him. If we’re lucky, we’ll be seeing him again very soon.
For more on PETER CASE, or to shop his music and books, check his website:
For information on visiting the FOLK MUSIC CENTER, check their website:
For information or tickets to the upcoming Claremont Folk Festival on May 31, 2014, go to: