30 Days Out Interview: Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet is a great guitarist and an excellent songwriter.

Chuck Prophet is one of those musicians that opens your ears the first time you hear him. He’s a blistering guitarist and a singer who is rock and roll rough but tender when he needs to be. And he is a great songwriter.

Old-timers will remember Prophet as the guitarist and songwriter who teamed up with Dan Stuart for Green On Red in the 1980s, or they will remember him as the guy who co-wrote Alejandro Escovedo’s breakthrough record Real Animal. Entry-level fans looking for fresh rock should pick up Prophet’s newest album, Temple Beautiful, which has been described as a love letter to his hometown of San Francisco.

Playing multiple gigs at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Prophet sat briefly and shot the breeze with us. He said he didn’t set out to create a “theme” record with Temple Beautiful, the songs just shook out that way.

Chuck's wife Stephanie Finch, left, plays in his band.

“It was just kind of aimless, at one point we realized we had a batch of songs and it started to be a record about San Francisco,” Prophet says. Once he realized that was the direction it was taking, Prophet aimed to give it some true local flavor. He wrote one song, “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat” about the Giants Hall of Famer.

“Every good tragedy has to have a hero, so we got Willie Mays in there,” he explains. “It’s kind of fun for me as a songwriter, if I’m excited about what I’m doing then it’s no effort.”

Another song, “The Left Hand and the Right Hand” has a couple more colorful characters. “It’s about Jim and Artie Mitchell, they had a strip club and a theater in San Francisco, they were kind of pioneers in the pornography business. They made Behind the Green Door, and they owned the O’Farrell Theatre, which was one of the most notorious adult establishments,” Prophet says. “They knew how to party, and one day the party got out of hand and Jim wound up killing his brother Artie. So it’s a Cain and Abel story, and we got to thinking about Phil and Don (Everly) and Phil and Dave (Alvin) and all these brothers.”

Colorful storytelling aside, Temple Beautiful is getting kudos for its back-to-basics rock sound and for its vocals. Some have compared it to a “lost Kinks record,” an observation that Prophet accepts gladly. “This record is the one where everyone is saying that,” he adds. “I do listen to a lot of 1970s and 1980s Kinks, so yeah, I’ll take that.”

Austinites who know and love Texas rocker Alejandro Escovedo know Prophet well, because the two are great friends and easy collaborators. They’ve written together for years, penning all of the songs for Escovedo’s Real Animal in 2008, and they wrote together for Street Songs Of Love in 2010.

“Above and beyond the songs, Al is easy company,” Prophet says. “When we’re in the room, it’s like touching two jumper cables together. Sometimes we just fall into songwriting, other times it’s too hard and we just turn out the lights and listen to Mott the Hoople records. But it’s great working with him, we both speak the secret language.”

So we should thank Chuck Prophet, for continuing to make real rock and roll for grown up adults. Temple Beautiful is some of the best work of his career, and the songs flat out rock. So when he comes to a city near you, check ‘em out live. You won’t be disappointed.

Chuck Prophet official website

YouTube: “Temple Beautiful” Live on KEXP (Seattle)

YouTube: “The Left Hand and the Right Hand” Live on KEXP

YouTube: “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat” Live on KEXP

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