Q&A With J.D. McPherson, Retro-Rock Badass


BY JONATHAN VALANIA I have seen the future of the past, and his name is J.D. McPherson, a thirtysomething cuffed-denim Okie with lacquered hair, iron lungs and, goodness gracious, great balls of fire. Back in 2012, McPherson and his gifted retro-rock posse released Signs & Signifiers, a bracing collection of tailfin rockabilly, rawboned R&B and sultry moonstruck balladeering. It was hands-down the feel-good record of the year. He plays Underground Arts Wednesday December 5th in support of JD McPherson_SocksSocks, his new Christmas album, which is why we’re re-running this fun and informative Q&A we did with Mr. McPherson back in 2012. We talked about the usual rockabilly guy stuff:  pomade, semiotics, Larry Clark’s Tulsa, early 60s ska, Greg Ginn, Esquerita vs. Little Richard, the sexiest Buzzcocks album, the majesty of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, how a white man from 2012 can sing like a black man from 1957 and what is the greatest baby-making music ever made.

PHAWKER: Riddle me this, Batman, you sing like a black man from 1957 who’s got a maraca man named Jerome Green and a sister named The Duchess and yet you’re white, you’re alive right now, and you have a name that sounds like a chain of Irish pubs where the bartender’s dress like leprechauns and dispense green beer to steroidal date rapists and the girls who love them. Please explain.

JD MCPHERSON: I just I have a loud voice and I have Scotch-Irish ancestors and I’ve listened to so much black music that I suppose it’s rubbed off on me a little bit and my dad is a singer and he has soul. Maybe that’s where I get it.

PHAWKER: You have great hair. What’s your secret? Are you a Dapper Dan man? What’s your pomade of choice?

JD MCPHERSON: You know what? Lately I used to have really, really coiffured hair but lately I haven’t really been doing a lot. I’ll just throw some junk in it but [when we play] I’m a heavy sweater so it just kind of goes down bad. The guy with the good hair in the band is Jimmy Sutton. That guy’s got great hair. My hair’s just kind of falls down, but thank you. You know as a young greaser I would get the real hard stuff. The Murray’s Superior, the Black and White, the New Nile, and these days I’ll just use some tonic. I’ve sort of fallen out a little bit of the trying to make it stick like glue.

PHAWKER: Most guys making the kind of music that you make try to pretend they have no more education than the average grease monkey hotrod mechanic yet your album is called Sounds and Signifiers which makes me think that maybe you went to Brown and studied semiotics. Please clarify.

JD MCPHERSON: Well I touched a little bit on the world of semiotics as it’s applicable to fine arts. I’ve got a MFA in what they call ‘open media’ which is a real loosey-goosey self-designed contemporary art program which was a mixture of video manipulation, sculpture, painting, performing arts, card magic and jazz guitar. I had a great professor, Glen Herbert Davis, whose like he’s like the Greg Ginn of photography and artists. And he’s a really really cool guy. He was a Minneapolis punk rocker skater that became an art professor and he gave us a crash course in semiotics because you have to in today’s art world. You know these days you have to talk about Roland Barthes and heavily coded messages. But yeah man it was almost a tongue in cheek thing because we’ve made a really straightforward album or tried to. So I wanted to hint at some over-extending complexities there and I look at the album cover and I crack myself up because that’s biggest joke I’ve ever pulled.

PHAWKER: And where did you get your MFA from?

JD MCPHERSON: University of Tulsa. It’s a private university right in the middle of midtown Tulsa and when I went there it was a very exciting program. It was actually really great. I’m 100% happy that I went through with it.

PHAWKER: You live in Broken Arrow Oklahoma, why?

JD MCPHERSON: Well I loved Tulsa and Broken Arrow is right next to Tulsa and my wife’s family lives here and we have kids. So you know you need a support group when you have kids. Especially when you have a family and you’re on the road a lot. So Broken Arrow is not bad. We actually have some of the best al Pastor tacos I’ve ever had anywhere here. And I’ve had them all over the world. You’re not really going get al pastor tacos in Dublin. Tulsa is a wonderful thing. I have absolutely no intention of leaving the Tulsa metro area. It’s a fabulous city.

PHAWKER: Whenever I hear of Tulsa I just think of that Larry Clark book.

JD MCPHERSON: Right. You know my Tulsa is not the same Tulsa as Larry Clark’s Tulsa but that’s certainly part of it. But man, that’s a crazy intense book.

PHAWKER: Ok very good. Judging from your albums you have an impeccable record collection. I wanted ask you a couple of record collection related questions. What is your go to make out record?

JD MCPHERSON: Oh man, we were having a conversation the other day about baby-making music. And we have all agreed that “I Only Have Eyes For You” is probably the most awesome. One record that I think is a very sexy record (which is a really slutty thing to say) is The Buzzcocks’ Another Music in a Different Kitchen. That record’s awesome.

PHAWKER: What do you put on when you really want to rip it up? What’s a Saturday night record for you?

JD MCPHERSON: Clifton Chenier. He’s a cajun singer and accordion player but he has a total New Orleans R&B band with him and it is killer. That stuff is awesome. Little Richard is always great, you know it’s an obvious choice but it’s because it’s true. It’s the most rocking stuff ever.

PHAWKER: So who do you like better? Little Richard or Esquerita?

JD MCPHERSON: I prefer Little Richard. I mean I understand that Little Richard lifted you know 95% of Esquerita’s schtick but Little Richard’s band is better and the records are better. The songs are better. It’s perfect.

PHAWKER: Agreed. What is your go to Sunday morning coming down record?

JD MCPHERSON: Man I want everyone to give this record a chance. I love it so much. That is the Rounder release of Alison Krauss’s and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand.

PHAWKER: Oh yeah!

JD MCPHERSON: That is like the most atmospheric moving album. It really really got a nice flow. Like there’s a couple of up tempo things but for the most part it’s just this huge, expansive, atmospheric record. It’s amazing.

PHAWKER: Agreed, agreed. That song “Killing the Blues”? Slays me every time.

JD MCPHERSON: Dude that’s one of my Favorite Five Songs Ever.

PHAWKER: I’m hi-fiving you right now through the phone.

JD MCPHERSON: Right on, man.

PHAWKER: Ok. Last record then is what is your go-to, never-lets-you-down surefire ray-of sunshine-on-an-otherwise-cloudy-day record you put on when you got the blues and you need some cheering up?

JD MCPHERSON: Well I have to say that’s probably it’ll probably be something Jamaican. I would say “We Two Happy People” by Stranger & Patsy.

PHAWKER: OK, you’ve stumped me on that. I will look this up.

JD MCPHERSON: Stranger & Patsy were a Jamaican duo. They did their own things separately but this is the song they made together. It’s a ska tune from the early 60s. It is the happiest song ever made. It’s awesome.

PHAWKER: Cool, man. Thanks for your time. Keep on rocking in the free world!