Originally created 05/12/00

Songwriter hears heartbeat of America in blues music



Whether delving into folk, the blues or rock anthems, Peter Case has built a career around sharp, insightful songs rooted in the idiom of American music.

Mr. Case will pay tribute to an American music legend and personal hero Saturday when he performs at the Blind Willie McTell Music Festival in Thomson.

A fan of rockers such as the Beatles and Elvis Presley, Mr. Case first became aware of something musically different, a deeper kind of music, at a relatively young age.

"I remember hearing a Mississippi John Hurt record when I was about 14, and I just flipped out over it. The thing that got me is you could just understand everything he was saying. He was the voice of a whole side of America that I hadn't known about."

Setting off on a musical journey, Mr. Case would develop a deep affection for blues music, although he would make his name playing in the seminal California power-pop band the Plimsouls, best remembered for the hit A Million Miles Away. After the band broke up in the early 1980s, Mr. Case released albums that highlighted his songwriting skills and brittle pop musical sensibility. Later solo projects would find him experimenting with folk and blues forms, although always with his own sonic stamp.

"I feel like it's my right to use all this music, these American forms," he said. "I feel it's my entitlement. What I am is essentially a storyteller who uses this music to tell my stories. The stuff I've done has always been in my own voice. It's just that sometimes the recipe varies."

Re-forming the Plimsouls briefly in 1998 reminded Mr. Case of his rock roots and has left him eager to explore that venue again, although not necessarily with his former band mates.

"There were a lot of problems with the Plimsouls," he explained. "I'd really like to do another rock record, but I'm not sure I'd do it with the Plimsouls. We're all really busy now, and that last time kind of helped me remember why we broke up."

Mr. Case's last two albums, the decidedly folk Full Service, No Waiting and the more poplike Flying Saucer Blues represent what Mr. Case considers his professional zenith and are representative of things to come.

"I feel those last two have been the best records of my career, the closest to what I want to do. Now I have this record that's kind of burning in me that combines all the things I've done on my previous stuff, and yeah, I think that will be the best thing I've ever done."

A songwriter at heart, Mr. Case says his favorite moments are when he sees his songs take their first tentative steps.

"I love performing, playing for people in a club atmosphere," Mr. Case said. "But my favorite thing is I write a really good song and I know it and I play it for someone for the very first time. That's the best."

He said that for him, writing and playing music is a kind of duty or trust, a responsibility almost, and therefore must be taken seriously.

`I think music is important and that the most important thing you can do with music is really move people," he said. "When I play, I always hope that I'm able to really blind-side people -- send them off on a trip of their own."

On stage

What: Peter Case

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.