Speaking from his London home a few days before launching a tour that will bring him to Dallas with surf/instrumental band Los Straitjackets, Nick Lowe chuckles about the first time he played Big D. Rockpile, the band he co-founded with Dave Edmunds, opened for Bad Company at Memorial Auditorium in 1977.
“Oh my God, I was so excited to be in Texas,” he says. “We were so green back then. I’d never played in great big places before. We were playing bars, really, up until we got on that tour.
“Surprisingly, we did extremely well almost from the first gig. We really didn’t think anyone was going to like us at all. But we went on and the crowd went mad. And I couldn’t understand,” Lowe laughs. “How could they hear us? We were using the same equipment that we were using the week before in some little bar. But I hadn’t really understood the huge PA systems that they had in the States then. You could be heard in a basketball arena or whatever the heck goes on in that place. We did so well on that tour that they threw us off.”
Straight ahead rock 'n' roll along with Lowe’s recent soulful music and a bit of a surf twist is what fans can expect when Lowe and Los Straitjackets play Sept. 29 at The Kessler Theater. Lowe admits that teaming up with a surf instrumental band was a happy accident. His manager also manages Los Straitjackets and suggested Lowe hire the band to back him when he toured behind a Christmas record (Quality Street) that he released in 2013. Promoters liked the pairing so much they asked to book Lowe with Los Straitjackets even after he was finished promoting the Christmas album.
“When we started out, they tried their best to copy my records," Lowe says. "But I didn’t want them to do that. I said to them, ‘Look, you really don’t have to do that. I don’t want to feel like you guys are backing me up. I want to feel much more like I’ve joined your group. So when we do these songs just do them the way you would do them and I’ll fit in with you.’ It’s much more interesting that way. They can play anything. They’re not just tied to (surf). How they interpret my stuff seems to work really well.”
The collaboration has gone so well that he now writes songs with Los Straitjackets in mind. Lowe and Los Straitjackets recently released a four-song EP, Tokyo Bay, that features two Lowe originals, plus songs associated with Dionne Warwick and Cliff Richard. Lowe revealed there are more recordings in the can. Plus, he and the Straitjackets will record again during a stop in Los Angeles on this tour. But don’t expect a full-length album from this collaboration.
“To be frank, I’ve sort of thought that I’m done with recording,” Lowe admits. “Not writing songs, but I’m much more interested in other people doing my songs than me recording my songs. It’s so expensive to make the kind of records I make, which is why nobody does it like that anymore, using a real studio and real musicians and that kind of thing.
“I don’t really feel like making a record in the old way like I used to do it, where you get 12 tunes and put them out. That to me seems like those days are kind of over. People consume music in a very different way now.”
He cites a 2018 cover by Candi Staton of perhaps his most famous song, "(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" as being his favorite recent version of one of his songs. But it was Curtis Stigers’ version on The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 that changed his life.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time, really,” he admits. “I was getting quite broke.”
The songwriting royalties from the soundtrack allowed him to pay for the recording and tour behind The Impossible Bird, a critically acclaimed 1994 release that Lowe credits with launching a new phase in his recording career.
“I felt that I was at a crossroads," Lowe says. "I had a spell as a pop star ('Cruel To Be Kind' hit No. 12 on the U.S. charts in 1979) and I’d enjoyed it. But I knew I wasn’t cut out to do that. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. It’s very, very hard work keeping a career going in that part of the music business. And I couldn’t do it. I tried but I couldn’t do it. I burned myself out, really.”
So Lowe made a strategic decision to change direction.
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“What I thought was that I would use the fact that I’m getting older as if it was an advantage,” he says. “Up to that stage you were too old by the time you were 30. But I thought that was crazy because it doesn’t exist in blues or jazz or, even at that time, country and western. So I thought, ‘I’m going to embrace the fact that I’m getting older.’ Now, of course, you can’t move for ancient pop singers. They’re four a penny."
Lowe’s albums since then live at the intersection of country and soul, always with respect for melody and even the occasional pre-rock 'n' roll balladeering. He promises that the Kessler gig will feature a mix of songs for which he’s best known, plus some deep tracks, and even a section in the middle where he leaves the stage to let Los Straitjackets play a mini surf-instrumental set.
“It’s quite a fast-paced show,” he promises. “They’re a really great group, fantastic musicians.”
Nick Lowe, with Los Straitjackets, play Saturday, Sept. 29 at The Kessler Theater. Tickets are $26.