Q&A July 2012, Part II

Your aggressive technique with the plectrum makes me wonder how you settled on teardrop, jazz-style picks as opposed to standard, 3-corner picks. One would think it's easier to grip the larger pick.

I'm not sure 3-corner picks are exactly standard - that accolade may go to the 351 shape. I find 3-corner too big for comfort. I started on Ike Isaacs picks, which were the exact shape of the LA Kings logo - a square with a pointy side. This was back in the days when they really were made of tortoiseshell, and one pick had to last a year. I then moved, in the early 60s, to the Gibson Les Paul pick, basically the 347 shape. Gibson stopped making them, so then I got them from Guild (who also embossed your signature on them, and gave them to you for free). Then Guild stopped, and I switched to Fender. Now Fender have stopped, and the last people on earth who seem to make the 347 are D'Andrea, so I now use those.

Andy Murray's loss to Roger Federer must have been a disappointment for you, yes? Do you think he'll ever win the men's singles at Wimbledon? It has been a long time since a Brit won the men's finals!

I was discussing this with Teddy, who is a scary good tennis player, and he felt that Murray has the ability, but backed off and started playing defensively against Federer after the first set. So it's probably mental. Yes, I do think he will win Wimbledon. He also just thumped Federer in the Olympics, which will be a huge boost for next year's Wimbledon.

Considering that you've lived in California for over 30 years, where do you prefer to drive: in the U.S. or the U.K.? Which city is more of a driving nightmare, LA or London?

Both are pretty civilized, compared with Saudi Arabia (men AND women should be banned from driving), Turkey, Greece, etc. It's tougher to get a licence in the UK, so the driving standard is higher.

Finally, if money were no object, what would be your dream car?

I'm anticipating the next generation of electric car.

Do you follow any other forms of motorsport besides Formula One? As always, Richard, thank you for answering my endless queries! Cheers, Doug

I used to go to motor cycle scrambling, and speedway, if they count? I love the Monte Carlo Rally.

Here are some questions I've been jotting down between bouts of doing honest work. Thanks, as always-- Pam

(1) Have you ever played pipes?

I owned a set of Northumbrian Pipes, which seem to have gone missing. At my level, and not living in Northumbria, it was an effort to keep the reeds speaking, and to hold a decent drone.

(2) When you cowrote songs with Dave Swarbrick in the Fairport days, how did you split the duties? Did one of you write lyrics and the other music? Did you work them out together, with instruments, or did you pass notes back and forth? What advice would you offer people considering a songwriting partnership?

For the most part, Swarb came in with a tune, we would work out the chords together, and then I would go away and write the words. Swarb came up with great tunes, and the songs ended up truly unique.

There are all kinds of songwriting partnerships, and you can cut it any way you want to. I would think the most common is one doing the music, the other the words, but there is the Lennon/McCartney model, where both wrote music and words, but would refine each other's work; Berthold Brecht would write the words, and then hum an approximate tune and rhythm to Kurt Weill. In Nashville, sometimes writing the hook is worth a good share of the royalty. Holland/Dozier/Holland had Eddie Holland doing the lyrics, and ultimately all three involved in production…but usually when you see more than 2 names on the credit some manager or lawyer is taking a cut.

(3) At Frets and Refrains, one of the 3-a.m. jams featured a number of songs by the Decemberists and the Shins. What do you think of these groups and, in particular, of Colin Meloy and James Mercer as songwriters?

I think they are good writers, and I like this generation of roots-inspired musicians.

(4) What's the most inappropriate, improbable project you've ever been asked to join? On a somewhat related note, and I'm thinking of Springsteen and "Born in the USA" here, has anyone ever tried to co-opt your music for something way off base, and were you able to stop it?

I've been mostly lucky with managing to avoid being co-opted to unsuitable projects. I've done a few political fundraisers that were deeply regretted the minute I arrived - political egos eclipse any musician I've ever met. And I suppose it was a battle back in the 80s and 90s with labels over production values on records, and I didn't always win those.

(5) As I understand it, you've eschewed alcohol for years. How do you cope with being around pixilated folks at the inevitable meet-and-greets, industry parties, etc.? It must take a lot of patience.

Sometimes I do get that feeling of standing on the quayside as the ship sails off on a journey without me. I've been plastered enough times in my life to know where they're going, though. Me, I'm just high on life, man.

(6) Of the "greatest hits"-type compilations of your work--guitar, vocal, Watching the Dark, the RT box set, Action Packed, Walking on a Wire, and any I might have missed--how much hand did you have in choosing the tracks? Which collection, overall, would you say best represents your body of work?

They each serve their purpose well, and I suppose overlap. I'm feeling heavily anthologized at this point. If I had to choose, I'd say Walking On A Wire is best for the widest listenership.

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