Chuck Prophet is one of those wonderful artists a person discovers and takes pleasure in sharing with friends like some great treasure, knowing the music will inspire the same kind of admiration and appreciation in them.
It’s been that way for the better part of a quarter century as the 49-year-old songwriter/performer continues to tour and release remarkable music, while remaining under the radar in many ways. Prophet has been revered by serious music aficionados since anchoring the paisley-punk band Green On Red in the 1980s.
There was a time Prophet recalled when Europe was “the only market” for his music, because the first few records were released on British record labels without much U.S. distribution. That has changed in recent years as Prophet’s music's gotten considerable exposure through such hit television shows as Showtime’s “Californication,” HBO’s “True Blood,” and FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.” Prophet’s fan base has also grown through the critical acclaim given to various recording projects both collaborative with other artists and with his group, The Mission Express.
As a songwriter, Prophet has been favorably compared to everyone from Leonard Cohen to Alex Chilton to Tom Petty. As for who has influenced his own writing, Prophet said, “Waylon (Jennings) ‘Dreaming My Dream’ was really big for me. It was a record with a certain sound and a point of view.” Others include Richard and Linda Thompson, David Bowie, and Alan Vega. “Too many really,” he said.
Prophet’s latest CD, “Temple Beautiful,” is a well-crafted tribute to his adopted city of San Francisco and named after one of its most historic concert venues, now gone. Touring behind it brings Prophet’s Mission Express chugging into Valparaiso’s historic Memorial Street Theater this Saturday for his first ever Northwest Indiana performance at 7:30 p.m.
“San Francisco has been an education for me,” said Prophet a resident of the city since in his mid-teens. “What I came to realize while making this record is that San Francisco opened my mind to so many things – sex, politics, art, films music. You take one hit of San Francisco and it’s all over, you’re addicted. That first hit is a killer and if you’re like me, you can find yourself chasing the San Francisco dragon for the rest of your life. I have many memories here. I supposed nostalgia had something to do with (making this record). I just wanted to tap into the music that made me pick up the guitar and return to the music first that inspired me.”
Prophet told how seeing bands like The Dead Kennedys and old Slash Records bands of the era like Rank And File strongly impacted him. Prophet showed his thanks years later by co-writing the songs on Rank and File guitarist Alejandro Escoveda’s critically acclaimed solo album, “Real Animal.”
“One of the first gigs I saw at Temple Beautiful after coming to San Francisco was the Flaming Groovies, so it seemed right for (Groovies singer) Roy Loney to sing on the song named after the club,” said Prophet on recruiting his early rock hero to guest on the CD’s title track. “I’d seen Roy on the street for years, but was always too shy to introduce myself. When we were recording ‘Temple Beautiful,’ I finally reached out and asked if he’d be willing to lend his voice to the track. A couple of hours later Roy was standing in the studio. In 15 minutes he’d chewed through the tape, signed my lyric sheet and disappeared into the fog.” The Mission Express has since backed up Loney on stage a few times.
Many fans and critics hail “Temple Beautiful” as being among Prophet’s greatest work to date, but the artist says the album came about organically and he simply channeled the spirit of the city he has come to love.
“I knew I wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll record, a guitar record and cast it like a movie with characters working their way into the songs. We didn’t use Wiki or Google or a fact checker, we just leaned on the mythical side of the street when writing these songs. Every myth needs a hero and you just can’t beat (‘60s San Francisco Giants baseball great) Willie Mays. He’s larger than life. Downtown at the (Giants) stadium is a bronze statue of Mays 10 feet tall. We went and stood under it (for inspiration).”
Many songs from “Temple Beautiful” will be featured in Saturday’s live set at Memorial Opera House, along with a mix of material spanning Prophet’s career. “We try to keep enough crown pleasers in there, but also play songs that mean the most to us,” said Prophet. “A good set list is a trip with peaks and valleys. The set should take you somewhere and show different sides of the band.”
Prophet is currently working in collaboration on an album with Aidan Hawken called “Thee Palace Steps.” “It’s a collection of songs we’ve been working on for years and we’re very close (to completion),” he said. “It’s a real personal record for us and I’m really proud of it. It’s not just another project. There was a lot of blood on the floor when we were making this one and it was worth it.”
Although Prophet has collaborated with a myriad of gifted artists during the course of his long career on various recording projects and performed live on stage with many others, there is still one on his creative bucket list. “I’m still waiting for Bob Dylan to call,” he joked. Wait...is that the phone ringing?