Marshall Crenshaw’s career spans a ridiculously huge range, from playing Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba to filling in for Fred “Sonic” Smith during the 2004 MC5 reunion. But when we get talking, we start with Richard Thompson, since David M.—opening for Crenshaw at his upcoming Rickshaw show—has called Crenshaw “the American Richard Thompson”.
To the initiated, that’s heavy praise indeed, and Crenshaw, reached at his home in New York, is obviously flattered. “Really? My God, that’s an awfully nice thing to say.”
Crenshaw knows Thompson a little, having opened for Richard and Linda Thompson during the strained days of the Shoot Out the Lights tour in 1982, when Crenshaw’s eponymous first album had just been released. It takes serious cojones to not only cover a Richard Thompson song but make changes to it, as Crenshaw did, successfully, with his 1989 version of “Valerie”.
“Yeah, that turned out pretty good,” he acknowledges. “I’m just goin’ by instinct here: I chopped out part of a verse, messed with it a little. I never got any complaints from him about it, so it’s all good, I guess.”
Crenshaw is presently touring with Los Straitjackets, a Nashville instrumental surf-rock unit noted for their deft musicianship (and for wearing Mexican wrestling masks on-stage). When the tour began, Crenshaw figured “the common ground would be old rock ’n’ roll, so we did some rockabilly tunes.” But audiences complained that he wasn’t playing enough of his own material.
Sunday’s set will include songs from “across the chronology of my stuff”, including at least one tune off his essential, soon-to-be-reissued 1983 LP Field Day.
“We do this one called ‘Monday Morning Rock’, which is about this sorta fast-paced life that I lived for a short time. I’m sure you’ve had the experience, where you walk out of the club and find out that it’s the next day, that the sun is out, and you didn’t know.”
Crenshaw, in a DVD release of a 2001 acoustic set at New Jersey’s Stone Pony, had previously sworn off playing loud music. “It’s obviously bad for you,” he observes, adding that his hearing is terrible from years of touring with Marshall amps or Vox AC30s. (“Those things will absolutely tear your head off.”)
He’s “dialled it back a little bit” since those days, he explains: “Now I just use a 15-watt amp, and so do most of the guys in the band. But this is definitely going to be a rock ’n’ roll show, all the way, and I still love playing in a rock ’n’ roll band. I intend to do it for as long as I physically can.”
Marshall Crenshaw y Los Straitjackets play the Rickshaw on Sunday (September 17).