Q&A: Jun/Jul/Aug, Part VI
9/1/2010 (updated 1/3/2011)

Beyond amazed with your recent activity - extended visibility, playing in varying ensembles, widely different venues be it Spectacle, Rhino Records, museum in Los Angeles, forthcoming Camayo Cruise, fundraisers, political songs show, Cabaret of Souls, soundtracks, recording of Dream Attic. You're on fire. You truly are, in the footsteps of Louie, becoming an ambassador... in this case, Western Hemisphere's troubadour in the real sense of the word and tradition. I have to remind myself about the ordinary everyday Richard. Among other things, I'm grateful for the inspiration I receive watching your career. Bruce Young, Santa Cruz, CA

Have you read any of Cormac McCarthy's books especially "The Road". If so what are your thoughts on his writing and does it inspire you that he's writing so brilliantly in his seventies. Mike McCarthy (no relation)

"The Road" is one of the most affecting books I've ever read. When I meet people who have read it, there is no discussion, just knowing nods. I like all his books, he is quite extraordinary, and yes, may he be an inspiration to us all.

Please could you let me know how I could get hold of the tab for Sunset Song? I heard Richard play it at Glastobury Festival and was totally amazed. I would love to learn how to play it. Converted with many thanks. Alan

When I have time, I'll do TABs for more recent songs that missed the songbook set. The tuning is CGDGBE, capo 7.

I understand that Dave Pegg beat Janis Joplin in a drinking competition in LA when you guys were touring over there in 1970. Did you meet her, and what did you think of her music? Jamie

Peggy may have written about this somewhere himself, in a more authoritative version, but here was the onlooker's perspective:

Fairport were playing the Troubadour in West Hollywood, and Zeppelin were in town. There was a jam session (captured on tape, tape missing from the A&M vaults), a bizarre near-arrest at a drinking club, and at some point Peggy and Bonham repaired to Barney's Beanery for a few drinks, where they ran into Janis Joplin, and it became a matter of who was left standing. Janis was the first to quit, some time in the small hours, and the next morning Bonham was found unconscious by the Tropicana swimming pool, stark naked (not unusual at the Tropicana). Peggy seemed in reasonable shape by the next evening's performance, but Bonham was supposed to be on a plane to Hawaii the next morning, and missed the flight. I heard the Zep had to cancel a show in Honolulu, but I'm not certain that's true. I did meet Janis, not that time, but at another sleazy Hollywood motel. She seemed a nice lady, if a little overwrought. I thought she was a good blues/soul singer, but not really in the class of Etta James or Lorraine Ellison. Here's where I get into trouble: I thought her version of "Me And Bobby McGhee", endlessly championed on oldies stations, was insensitive, stomping all over the virtues of the song - it just doesn't adapt to that treatment (Rambling Jack Elliot's version is definitive). I feel she was ill-served by the Holding Company, who really do not sound good on record - maybe you had to be there at the Fillmore in '68 to get the effect, but they are too sloppy for soul music. She might have enjoyed doing a "Dusty" and recording in Memphis, with Cropper, Jackson, Dunne and Jones.

Any chance that Richard will play Dublin on his January tour? Hopefully with the band. Must be five years since he played here. Just the thing to brighten up the dullest month of the year. Looking forward to the release of the new album. Regards, Shay Dempsey

I'm sorry to miss Dublin, I love playing there. Sometimes I don't get the offers, so please hassle your local promoter.

Oh woe, why is Sunnyvista so expensive? I'm sure the answer is legalistic, but can I urge and beg all parties to sort this out? It's a vital part of the canon and a personal fave of mine. I dread that my ancient cassette will biodegrade any day now. Love to you and the bees, Ghosh

Sunnyvista crops up in every mailbag, and when I get some time, I will attempt to track it down. The masters are missing. All best wishes to you, Mr.G.

As a fellow ex-pat and fan of your Sights And Sounds Of London Town, I wonder if you would like to share an opinion as to why our capital city appears to be in such a state of decline ? Morally, socially, culturally as well as musically. There's a youtube video of a gig you played in Canada in 1999 where you describe London as a "real dump". How have we let this happen ? Regards from Peru, Simon McMillan

My comment in Canada was for comedic effect only. London is one of the most vital, livable and enjoyable cities in the world. "Sights and Sounds" was an underbelly look at London in reverse order - a verse each on the 80s, 70s, 60s, and 50s, and negative taken on its own, but not intended to tell the whole story of my favourite city.

Are there any Sufi musicians that you listen to? I've been listening to the two South Asian vocalists Abida Parveen and Sain Zahoor Ahmed, who sing poetry/ghazals. I'm struck by two qualities in their vocals, first, the emotional quality channels Lorca's duende and then secondly, how the elemental/simple language of the sung poems is a powerful carrier of the first. The experience (listening) is almost pre verbal. I believe I hear that in a great deal of your work, perhaps what draws on Scottish vocals/sounds. Is there a connection? All the Best, Samina

I sat at the feet of the Sabri Brothers back in the 1960s, and have since listened to some Kowwali music, but mostly I've heard North African (see above), and mostly singers I could not name. Sufi music at its truest is a science of unlocking the heart. Other music styles would certainly aspire to this, and sometimes that happens more instinctively in forms like Scottish music.