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An Interview With Bob Frank And John Murry

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Bob Frank and John Murry released World Without End in the States late in 2006, picking up friends new and old, and glowing reviews as its sand blasted country rasp exposes the rotting, black underbelly of the human psyche; Murder and Death.

Many would recoil from such a topic to hang your songwriting hat on for one tune, let alone make it the barbarous backbone of a score of tales on their album World Without End. Bob and John have stepped up to the dock and sworn themselves in as storytellers of the most compelling order.

The gruesome twosome connected through mutual friend and Memphisonian Don McGregor, who taught John his best licks, often unbeknown to John, playing songs written by Bob from his 1972 album on Vanguard. When they first met up, John and Bob found themselves playing the same tunes together; Bob having written them, John having learnt the guitar on them.

They decided they would record an albums worth of old murder ballads together, but found something was restricting the feel and the flow, so they did their research and wrote World Without End. All with the same black backbone. Beautifully produced by Tim Mooney, the music matches the subject matter, dark and mournful, yet also takes on a mysticism all of its own, with some seriously heart felt playing and immortal arrangements.

John and Bob have caught the ears of Rolling Stone`s David Fricke, who draws comparisons with such luminaries as Leonard Cohen and Warren Zevon in calling their album being "all bullets, blades and guilt without end".

UNCUT Magazine hears a "dazzling collection of blasted country folk and grimly haunting murder ballads, shot through with harrowing images of death, damnation and eternal suffering".

Memphis Guru Jim Dickinson pulls the best accolade out of the hat, declaring World Without End is "as timeless as death". You can`t get more paradoxically real than that.

I had the real pleasure of catching up with Bob and John as they prepare to take their songs out on a European Tour. It was refreshing to hear their thoughts on all manner of things going on in the world, as well as their music.

How`s life treating you currently?

John: Not well, Paul. I mean, we do have this album coming out on May 7 in Europe, the tour lined up, etc. Some things are going good. Fuck it: not well. My wife and I are separated. Not well. On the other hand, not well.

Bob: Fine. Some things are very good, some things not so much. Overall I suppose it's better than it used to be.

Sorry to hear that John, I hope the dust settles soon. What do you make of the recent tragic shootings on that College Campus?

John: I honestly don't know. A smart Asian kid in the south can't take it. It's tragic, like you said. But goddamn if Americans don't immediately jump on the "crazy kid" bandwagon every fucking time. No one even tries to understand.

Bob: I can't call it.

Just out of curiosity, are any of you member`s of the NRA?

Bob: I have been in the past, but am not now. I do own guns. I don't think they are of any use in settling disputes.

John: Yes, because I took hunter's safety in middle school and they make you a Lifetime Member. Not saying I'm proud, though. I own a .357 revolver. I'm not so sure they don't settle disputes, but…

Yeah, I could find a .357 having a certain persuasive quality. OK, so whats chopping your musical kindling at the moment?

John: I been digging through my older stuff a lot lately. I've been listening to a bunch of Mississippi hill country stuff like Junior Kimbrough, RL Burnside, Jesse Mae Hemphill, etc. Also, I'm still really obsessed with Dylan's last release, Modern Times. Also, I think all the Makeshift Records stuff coming out of Memphis, TN right now is genius.

Bob: John turned me onto a bunch of interesting stuff recently like the Drive By Truckers, The Compulsive Gamblers, and I've been listening to a good bit of Warren Zevon since David Fricke compared me to him. I didn't even know who he was before that.

I really must get hold of a copy of Dylan's last album. You have a busy time ahead of you, tell me about the tour?

John: It begins with us leaving San Francisco on May 3rd and getting to Kilkenny, Ireland on the 4th. Our first couple of dates are at a festival there. The rest span the Scandinavian countries, Austria, Germany, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It looks like a lot of fucking driving, Paul. I don't drive well.

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Bob: John doesn't drive well? He drives me insane. I guess John will have to drive in the morning and I'll smoke hash in the afternoon and take a nap. I sorta feel like I'm going back to Vietnam. Twelve hours on a plane going to a place where I don't know anyone.

Tell me about the subject matter of World Without End, and why you picked this topic?

John: I wanted to explore the more forgotten side of American destruction on a personal level and try to understand why people did what they did. I still don't know. I don't agree with Hannah Arendt anymore, though. There's nothing banal about the stories we wrote about.

Bob: I though they were fascinating stories; people walking around with guns and shooting each other. Lots of violence in this world. It's a commentary on that.

There is some great playing on the album, tell me about the musicians on World Without End?

John: Well, a shit load of people played on the thing but the core of it was Quinn Miller on bass, me and Bob on guitars, Tim Mooney on drums, and Nate Cavalieri on keys. Nate and Tim are fucking geniuses. Nate essentially took on the role accidentally of the arrangement of the songs through his choices musically. Often what he chose to play would dictate the direction the songs went sonically. Tim Mooney, for me anyway, epitomizes what the rock and roll ethos is really all about. He still believes in it. That can't be said for many folks anymore.

Bob: It was a different scenario because all the parts were made on the spot. It became a very synergistic environment where everyone played off of everyone else. It worked well. Really well.

How was the song writing process? What was it like writing those dark songs that appear on World Without End?

John: Writing them involved research, etc, and wasn't particularly taxing. It wasn't until we began listening to playbacks that I felt horrified myself. What had really happened hit me then. Somewhat like what a seance must feel like.

Bob: We told each other stories and then started writing. Before we knew it they'd be done. We'd sit on the deck, smoke cigarettes, and they'd be done. Then we'd write another. They don't hit you until later.

You recently changed record labels, who do you record for now?

Bob: I was on Vanguard back in the early 70`s, but that ended way back then. I was on any Bowstring in the US for 10 years, then this happened; John got it all worked out.

John: Chris Metzler in the UK got us on at Decor through Undertow and we're on Evangeline Records in the States (not the European one) with a bunch of great artists. We just wanted some changes, ya know?

Evangeline Records, thats with the Go Go Market then, isn't it? Lets talk about governments and politicians, what's your take on the state of current American politics?

John: I'll be happy to see Bush go and happy to see U.S. and foreign troops removed from Iraq. This shit runs so deep, though, it seems ultimately unsolvable. It makes me wish for isolationism sometimes. I`m simply sick of foreign powers controlling foreign powers. We've got enough shit to deal with here at home. Hell, there's more than enough to deal with in my own city. Money. We got it? Where is it. I know some folks that could use some healthcare.

Bob: I'll be happy to see him go but have enjoyed disliking him so much. In a sense, it's just so easy to pick on him. Will the next one be as dumb?

The incarceration of suspects without trial in Guantanamo Bay has caused a huge amount of criticism of the American government, what do you think of it?

John: It's in Cuba. Why do we keep forgetting that? Give it back. Plus, I wanna go to Havana. I wanna take a bucketload of Bibles into Jerry Falwell`s house and see how he feels when I piss on `em.

Bob: Maybe the guys like Rumsfeld and Bush should spend a few nights there with Dick Cheney in his hood and whip, see how they like it. (Or is that what they already do in their undisclosed location ?)

Have you ever come across a CIA agent? Maybe accidentally spilt coffee or a coke on one?

John: Seriously, Paul, I don't want to get all fucked up like Scooter did. No comment.

Bob: How would I know? I have a friend who used to work for the FBI.

I respect your right to no comment John,  Scooter got into all sorts of deep shit, didn't he? There is a moral in that story, for sure. I would like an opinion on this next question, if you can. Should all drugs be legalized?

Bob: Sure. Especially weed. It is very medicinal, in many ways. Much safer than alcohol or cigarettes.

John: At least opiates. Those are nice. Weed is disgusting. It smells like Bob. Honestly, yes, I think all drugs should be legalized. Who am I to decide what someone chooses to do with their time, money, or body? The drugs would be cleaner (and better), cheaper, and controlled and taxed. Sounds good to me.

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Bob, you are right there. The medicinal qualities are wide and far, and there`s no tax on weed currently, is there ? Wonder how they would work out the duty? Anyways, let's move on. In one song on the album, you wrote about the Klu Klux Clan and a gruesome lynching. Have either of you ever experienced institutional racism?

Bob: Racism is a very subtle thing sometimes. Sometimes people can mistake other things for racism. And not notice that something else really is racism. You can't legislate this.

John: Sure. Anyone who says they haven't is either dead or is a neo-con. Frankly, liberals (and I'm a liberal guy) miss it more than anyone. San Francisco is at least as fucked up as Memphis, if not more. Blacks live in neighborhoods and liberals lock the doors when they drive through them, saying "it's so dangerous there". In the South they just say nigger.

You have a busy time ahead of you. Tell me about the tour?

John: It begins with us leaving San Francisco on May 3rd and getting to Kilkenny, Ireland on the 4th. Our first couple of dates are at a festival there. The rest span the Scandinavian countries, Austria, Germany, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It looks like a lot of fucking driving, Paul. I don't drive well.

Bob: John doesn't drive well? He drives me insane. I guess John will have to drive in the morning and I'll smoke hash in the afternoon and take a nap. I sorta feel like I'm going back to Vietnam. Twelve hours on a plane going to a place where I don't know anyone.

Jesus, is he that bad ? Better not forget your seatbelt, Bob, or your medicinal supply. Who are you taking on the road with you, band wise?

Bob: This time, just me and John.

John: It's just me, Bob, and the version of Bob that gets mad at me for stupid shit like losing his house painting supplies (I have repeatedly apologized).

Ok, so a pared back sound. It will be good to hear those songs breathe with that arrangement. What guitar set up do you have for this tour?

Bob: A small acoustic parlor body Martin, with a Fishman pickup.

John: A '69 Fender Telecaster with a P-94 in the neck and a Lil'59 in the bridge and a Bigsby, a newer Les Paul Special with P-90's, a Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb, some weird old vintage pedals, and a Guild acoustic.

You have quite a few dates on the shores of the United Kingdom. What comes to mind when you think of the English, as a race of people?

Bob: The fact that my first album after a thirty year layoff, was "A Little Gest of Robin Hood". It's a 600 year old English ballad, the oldest Robin Hood song in existence, and the longest. It lasts an hour and a half. I got it all on one CD. Barely. I took the old Middle English and turned it into modern English, and then set it to some guitar picking, and sing it like a talking blues. Oxford dons love it. They say with my Southern accent, I sound more like Middle English than a modern Englishman does. That's what I mainly think about when I think about England nowadays. We sing a lot of outlaw ballads on World Without End, and the Gest is the granddaddy of them all. Check it out. The same language pops up in these newly written songs. It becomes a tradition.

John: I like 'em. They've always liked the South, too. As a race of people though: damn if y'all didn't start this fucked up colonialism shit. Little man syndrome? Just kidding (sort of). Y'all really did a number on the Scottish and the Irish, too. Cut it out, kids…

Yeah, guilty as charged on the colonialist trip, been paying for it ever since. Not so sure we started it though. If you do the Robin Hood number, thats going to be a long set boys. Now, what do you know about the game of cricket?

Bob: It's like baseball, but they use a flat bat, like a paddle. I think. I don't know shit about cricket.

John: You mean like for baiting hooks? Fishing?

Lets get back towards home, whats your favourite brand of coffee?

Bob: Max Blend. From a coffee shop in Oakland.

John: I don't drink coffee. Also, I think that Fair Trade shit is a fucking ridiculous hoax. Somebody gets an extra goat once a year? Yippee!

John, interesting you should say that about Fair Trade goods. I am very interested in examining the hollow construction of the genre of World Music, what do you understand by it?

Bob: I guess it means music from all over the world, or music that is an organic soup of all the music from all over the world. Or music that is soupy and falls in your lap.

John: Jesus I hate that phrase. "World Music". I think it can be translated to mean "music for white people made by people who aren't white for white people to vulturize culturally".

I know where you`re coming from there, literature is an active agent within constructions of culture too, indelibly. Who is your favourite author?

Bob: August Wilson.

John: Graham Greene (so damn underrated), William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Dostoevsky.

Thats a good mixture there, maybe next time we will discuss literature and its different genres. Moving on to God. Have you any spiritual beliefs?

Bob: Yes, many. They have to do with the nature of reality and the evolution of consciousness, are related directly to behavior.

John: I'm a Roman Catholic. Don't laugh. I'm not kidding. And no, I wasn't raised as one.

I`m not laughing, I was bought up a Catholic too, try not to feel too guilty about it, John. Talking of good healthy Catholic guilt, the devil, is he all bad?

Bob: No worse than the mind conceiving him.

John: Not so much. Kinda a kinky fella. Chuck Prophet knows him real well, says he has a great singing voice and plays soccer like a mother fucker. I mean, where would we be without the guy? Does anyone really want to die, go to heaven, and praise God endlessly. The devil doesn't ask for that kind of grandiosity.

Really? I must check out the Papal team in the Italian League. What are your views on the death penalty?

Bob: I think it is self-contradictory. The penalty is the same as the crime. If it's such a terrible thing to kill somebody, why is it okay for the state to do it?

John: I don't think "the state" has the the right to determine who lives or dies. It's equally absurd, if not more so, to kill people to show others not to kill. I'm not a pacifist, though. Fuck with my family or the people I love, that's another thing not involving the state at all.

Bob, I agree, its a walking contradiction, just happens to be a popular walking contradiction, like so many things in the world. How do you relax?

Bob: Different ways. Stretching helps a lot. But as far as truly deep relaxation, I have to meditate.

John: I argue with people.

No you don't John. You do not. Who is your rock`n`roll hero?

Bob: Jim Dickinson.

John: Jim Dickinson.

Do you have any other projects planned?

John: We already recorded it.

Bob: We recorded a bunch of tunes I wrote after I got back from Vietnam. It's kinda a southern white boy soul thing, The ladies will love it, it's some very pretty music. We got the same musicians on it, so we got that same good solid feel to it.

Ok, just one more, given Dan Stuart`s involvement in an Enviromental Think Tank he told me about. Are you offsetting any contribution towards Global Warming that you may make on your coming tour?

Bob: Not that I know of.

John: We're riding with another band, so they'll be seven of us in the fucking thing. I think that counts.

Yes, it does count John, you may even be able to claim some kind of tax break on that, check it out.

Bob Frank and John Murry`s album, World Without End is out on Decor Records (DECOR011CD) on May 7th in Europe. It is already released in the States on Evangeline Records at all reputable music outlets, and selected disreputable ones too.

Catch Bob and John on tour across Europe. Tour starts on May 5 at Ryans, Friary Street, Kilkenny, Ireland and ends up on May 27 at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Check out all the info at their website. Be their friend on Mydisgrace. Many warm thanks to Bob, John and Chris at Undertow Management.

Undertaken with a smile, zero stress (apart from maybe Bob looking forward to John`s driving in Europe) and a slack bowline.

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