One-time street musician Peter Case has come a long way since entering the San Francisco music scene way back in 1976. Case's first band, The Nerves, had a regional hit with "Hanging on the Telephone," a song Blondie would later make famous. Case's next band, The Plimsouls, did a bit better with its first single, the semi-legendary "Million Miles Away," but a brief flirtation with a major label ended with the band breaking up.
Since 1986, Case has kept it solo and gained quite the notoriety as a primarily acoustic singer/songwriter. It wasn't until a near brush with death in 2009 that Case decided to regain a harder edge. While recovering from heart surgery, Case agreed to remaster The Nerves and Plimsouls' albums for eventual reissue. Only a few seconds of listening to his classic material prompted Case to form a more electric ensemble and record Wig! From his home in California, Case took some time to talk about his history and his renewed future.
He performs tonight at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton.
Wig! sounds like a very cathartic record. Was it as much fun to record as it sounds?
It really was fun. It went down very quickly and that makes it more fun in a lot of ways. It was certainly exciting. It was surprising to make it so fast. The songs were brand new and we went into the studio. Most of the album was done between 11 a.m. and midnight in one day.
The album is quite a change of pace from your other solo material. Does this mean that you will continue to record harder material?
I really don't know. Even as a little kid, I went back and forth between acoustic and electric guitars. Bit I am really enjoying what I am doing right now and this record has some acoustic moments as well. Even though the new album is mostly electric, I think it covers all of the different areas of what I do. I think I can do it all. Maybe.
Is it true you decided to play more electric guitar because you were asked to remaster material from The Nerves and The Plimsouls?
Yes, that is true. There is a new audience that just discovered The Nerves and that is really weird and interesting, an audience that is 20 and 21 years old. That was inspiring in a way. I had forgotten about it for a really long time and it kind of got me going again.
You've done a few Plimsouls reunion gigs. Any chance of a Nerves reunion?
I don't know if The Nerves can ever have a reunion. I've played with those guys at various times over my career and there might be some interest in that. The Plimsouls just played a gig last February, so I'm always doing a little bit of that kind of stuff. It's hard to say what I am going to do, but I am trying to stay focused on playing electric guitar and getting this new album across.
What are the set lists consisting of on this current tour?
I am pretty much sticking to the new album and then I am playing songs from all of my albums, songs that fit my new mood. I am carrying along on this tour an electric guitar and a 12-string acoustic and I'll play any song that I can play on one of those. I am playing stuff from all of my different albums, but I am concentrating, of course, on the new stuff.
On your first solo album, Roger McGuinn from The Byrds made an appearance. Seeing how much of an influence McGuinn's music was on your early songs, were you intimidated?
Probably, yes. I was a pretty confident guy when I was in The Plimsouls, but when I went solo, it was kind of intense. And then T-Bone Burnett brought in McGuinn. But McGuinn was a really a nice guy. We walked around New York together and he showed me all of the places where he has played.
In 2006, a label issued a three-CD tribute album featuring artists covering your material. Does such validate you as a songwriter?
I thought it was pretty crazy to put out that three-CD thing. It was like super intense. They somehow found a lot of people who wanted to play my songs. It is pretty mind-boggling. All of a sudden, I had 46 new cover versions of my songs. That record featured John Prine and James McMurtry and a lot of those people put those songs on their own records.
The Goo Goo Dolls is one of many bands that have covered "Million Miles Away." Why do you think that song has held up so well over the years?
I don't know. Maybe it's all there in the song. It's Rock and Roll 101. If you can get your hands around those basic chords, you can make a decent piece of music. Kids like to play it because it's just not that hard to play and it sounds full.
You had heart surgery in 2009 and incurred a huge hospital bill that friends helped you pay down. Is everything squared away?
Yes, it's pretty much problem solved. I had a lot of help. T-Bone Burnett, Richard Thompson and all these people did benefit concerts for me. They bailed me out of a lot of trouble. It pays to have good friends. It really does.