Blood In The Water

Revving up that old time rock and roll with Dennis Quaid and his Sharks

GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, Dennis Quaid, 1989, (c) Orion

“I’m not a human being, I’m a human doing,” Dennis Quaid says. “I’m always busy. I never rest. I prefer it that way.”

Quaid is in a trailer, gobbling down a sandwich on his lunch break. He’s working with Billy Bob Thornton on season three of Thornton’s Amazon Prime Series, Goliath. “I only work two days a week, which is great. At this point in my life, I’m building everything around the music. It’s going to be my main thing for a while. We’re planning to do more than 100 gigs this year to support the album.”

The album in question is Out of The Box, an energetic, 13-track, pumped up dose of old-fashioned rock and roll. Omnivore Records released it on November 30. It includes rockers like “Peaches No. 9” and “After the Fall,” reggae flavored love songs like “You’re So Fine” and rousing covers of “LA Woman” and “Gloria.” It’s one of the most energetic albums you’re likely to hear.

Dennis Quaid and The Sharks Out Of The Box, Omnivore Recordings 2018

Despite his impressive credentials as an actor – he played Jerry Lee Lewis in the biopic Great Balls of Fire, astronaut Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff and voiced Grandpappy the Pirate on SpongeBob SquarePants – Quaid started his career as a singer, songwriter and guitar player. “My dad and grandmother played piano and my cousin is Gene Autry. I started writing songs after I picked up the guitar, when I was 12. I was alone in my room as a teen, listening to records and practicing. I knew I’d never shred as a guitar player, so I wrote songs.”

He left Dallas to pursue an acting career in California, but he never stopped playing music. He put together his band, Dennis Quaid and The Sharks, in 2000 playing gigs between, and during, acting jobs.

 

How did The Sharks come together?

When I came to LA, Harry Dean Stanton was one of the first people I met. He invited me to The Mint, one of the oldest clubs in town, to see his band. I sat in for a couple of songs – Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and “Gloria.” I had an instant connection with his guitar player, Jamie James. We loved the same music, the same songs. Harry Dean told us to start our own band, so we did. I’d been away from music for several years, but I fell right back into it. We started doing covers and slowly added more of my songs. Over the years, we’ve made a bunch of CDRs to sell at shows, so it was finally time for a real record.

 

Why did you release Out of The Box on Omnivore, a small indie label?

The label was started by a group of people who worked in the record industry for decades. They found themselves not enjoying what they were doing and formed their own company. They mostly do reissues. They won a Grammy for remastering the songs of Hank Williams. The music they love is the kind of music we play. We didn’t want to get lost in a big record company and wanted people who had as much drive as we did. We’re the oldest guys to ever make their first rock record. Other bands from the 60s, 70s and 80s may still out there playing, but we’re a new band of oldies.

We cut the tracks live in the big room at Village Recording Studios in LA.  Then we came back and played around with them. We put in trains, church bells, a lot of Ohms, the Gayatri Mantra – probably the oldest prayer know to man – the bustle of city streets. We put the effects in on the beats of the Fibonacci numbers, to form a perfect sonic curve. The sound rises from silence to the highest volume, creating a perfect fade in and fade out.

Dennis Quaid on film poster for Dreamscape (1984)

It was like making a whole movie, rather than scenes in a film. We wanted it to reflect us, as a band, and make a statement about were I am, and where we are, and what’s going on in the world. At the same time, we were trying to remain optimistic in the face of all the shit around us. The songs are all true fiction. They’re always about you, as a writer, even if they’re stories told by characters or stories that create a scene. People go to movies and go out to hear music because they want to feel things – laugh, cry, rock out, rage, pray, be thankful, fall in love, whatever comes up.

 

What’s a live show like? Do people come to see you or hear the music?

Some people come to see the movie star, but I don’t care, as long as they stay for the music. I put on a personna on stage, a guy who goes out to look people in the eye and have a great time, but it’s still me. It’s like doing a movie. You may lose yourself in a character, but you always have thoughts going on in your head. You can never lose yourself entirely, so it’s always presentational theater.

 

 

j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste, Grammy.com, PlanetOut.com, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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