In his work as a visual artist, writer and rock and roll musician Tav Falco has crafted an immediately recognizable blend of all things unique, visionary, familiar and yet obscure, dark/light and straight up stylish and rockin’. His recent book – Ghosts Behind the Sun: Splendor, Enigma & Death (Creation Books) – is a trip through the city of Memphis’ history that is part Falco biography, surreal fiction, crime noir and hipster gutter trawl. Fact mingles with hallucination and Tav pins the throttle.
If Tav comes to town with his Unapproachable Panther Burns combo or to do a book reading and presentation be sure not to miss it. They don’t often come as cool as Mr. Falco…
01 The book (Ghosts Behind the Sun: Splendor, Enigma & Death) was fabulous. I have to say though that some of the folks scared the bejeezus out of me – and I’m not talking here more about the wild ones from a hundred years ago either! My guess is there were more than a few dark, hot and humid nights that you found your pace quicken on a walk home?
Although I am now far away, the dark nights and steamy red/gray dawns of Memphis by the torrential Mississippi still haunt me… the world ends at dawn, right?
02 I’d like to ask you a little about motorbikes. My guess is you don’t have one now, or do you? Further to that, any interest in vintage scooters?
Just sold a 1969 Norton Commando to Germany, but I’ve already placed a deposit on a black & beige 1961 Norton Dominator 99 in England. I’m an inveterate Norton rider, though there is a place in the stable for a late 60s BSA Thunderbolt and an early 50s Triumph Speed Twin. For a mid-60s Lambretta 150, I once drove from Paris to L’Aquila (The Eagle), Italy (now destroyed by earthquake). I spent a summer with the scooter in Ljubljana. It was a fun machine with great character.
03 While a percentage of your audience and fan base are more than likely familiar with the artistic concepts behind Panther Burns, those that aren’t – at least as far as I see it – are still getting a heck of a rockin’ combo on top of some of the more heady ideas. What are your feelings on that component of your audience and how much your skill as a musician has developed?
Panther Burns are a vision. It is an Orphic vision… not of the cosmos, nor of the mystic and the airy heavens, but a vision of the underground, of the unconscious where dark waters swirl. We have one song to sing, and we sing it different ways: with a hoodoo gait, or with the shimmer of falling moonlight over burning mansions, or with the sensual curve of a farewell embrace as the master rides off to battle with coat tails flying, never to be seen again….
04 Well then it completely makes sense that you and your musical contributors also have a taste for vintage and exotic guitars. What is the story behind that beautiful black Hofner of yours anyway? I admit to have been admiring it from afar for a great many years now.
My association with the Höfner violin-shaped 6-string guitar began rather early in the trajectory of Panther Burns. The first one I played was found in a Memphis attic around 1980 by a guitarist in the Randy Band. It was brown. I bought it and played it for awhile. Then I traded it for a Gretsch (seen on the Red Devil record cover). The Gretsch hardly had the sound and character of the Höfner, and when I saw a black one appear in a vintage shop in Memphis, I pounced on it. The black Höfner has the same factory installed active, push-button fuzz tone and treble boost that the brown one had. The guitar has become the signature sound of the Panther Burns, and I have not played another guitar over the past 30 years. It has a neck like a baseball bat, but it is an indestructible German workhorse.
05 Ghosts Behind the Sun discusses a number of the great Memphis music legends, are there any new things coming out of Memphis that you have heard lately that piqued your interest?
Sam Phillips, I once heard say that Nashville has a great thing going, but Memphis will always be a place for innovation. Let’s put it this way: in my mind, the Blues are eternal, and Saturday nights on Beale St., there will always be somebody picking a guitar on the corner or in a back alley evoking the twangs of love lost and won, of a working stiff’s misery, of the whip of the boss man, of the moans of hungry children, of mean women and the curse of betrayal, of dice tumbling in a leather horn, of the reaching arm of the law, of the pleasures of the brothel, and the laughter and tears of the Devil’s own music.
06 Your new home of Vienna is famous for a number of things including cafes. Have you found one that you can call your own?
Of the many cafés and Kaffehäuser in merry, sinister old Vienna, I have a number of favorites. If I were to name one that is my Stammcafe or regular haunt, I would say Café Central in the 1st district. It is a part of the neo-Gothic Palais Ferstil with vaulted high ceilings, enamel inlays, geometric frescoes, and lofty paintings of faded nobility. There is a fleet of waiters or Kellners scurrying over the parquet floors, serving coffee, champagne, and chocolate on small silver trays along with tasty, yet affordable meals. The Viennese tortes served there are exquisite. One can hardly be surprised that Café Central was the Stammcafe of choice by Sigmund Freud and his coterie of psychoanalysts. A place for camaraderie, it was the café where Leon Trotsky played his habitual games of chess, while the Viennese pooh-poohed his dreams of revolution.
07 Sounds fabulous. Of course you have also lived in some pretty diverse places including Paris and New York but what intrigues me too is your time spent in Buenos Aries. How did that all come about?
What drew me to Buenos Aires was the lure of the Tango, which I still dance religiously. In the words of Isadora Duncan in 1916 when she visited Argentina,
“My first steps were timid, but the feeling of the languid music caused my body to respond to the voluptuousness of the dance. Soft as a caress, toxic as love under the midday sun, cruel and dangerous as a tropical forest.”
08 Let’s get back to motorcycles here for a moment… Full face helmet? Half helmet and goggles? Gloves? I imagine driving in old cities like Paris and Vienna being quite a challenge in comparison to the open highways of the south. Apart from you are certainly less likely to run into an armadillo of course…
Although the occasional armadillo crossing the road can prove to be a daunting hazard, one thing I do miss about Arkansas is riding the unfettered, leafy back roads. In Europe riding the country lanes on my Norton Dominator 99 is kind of like a sultry burn through Camelot. For a short burn say around the Ringstrasse of Vienna or a fast burn around the Trocadéro, I wear a half-helmet with a leather chinstrap leather gloves, and aviator goggles. For a medium run over the Höhenstrasse (High Road), a scenic road built in 1937 through the Vienna Woods overlooking the city, I put on a jet-helmet that is black with a white center stripe. For long hauls at maximum thrust, I wear a solid white full coverage casque and put on long gauntlet gloves. Invariably, I ride wearing the black and silver trimmed net-vest of the PBMC (Panther Burns Motorcycle Club).
09 Do you miss the comfort food of the south very often or was that never really your thing?
If you mean God’s own watermelon, Yes.
10 Ghosts Behind the Sun has been out a good 7 or 8 months now. I know you have mixed up readings with a photo display and even screenings of your video work and a performance by Panther Burns. Probably a bit hard to get a rock and roll crowd to be quiet during a reading, no?
Reading in London at Rough Trade Records East on May 30th, you could hear a pin drop. Geoff Travis, president of RT, was there and can attest to that.
11 Could you see yourself moving back to the US at some point or is life in Europe somehow better suited to your interests?
Life in Europe holds the utmost fascination, and I am living in a neutral country far removed from the aggression of war profiteering and the poisonous campaigns of Monsanto.
12 What’s next musically and artistically, if that isn’t gonna give too much away?
Presently I am editing my new 16mm film, URANIA DESCENDING: an intrigue featuring VIA KALI and KARL-HEINZ von RIEGL. Set in the old world of Vienna on the Danube, the narrative follows the precipitous descent of an American innocent who falls into discreet, yet decadent dalliances at Hotel Orient and her ultimate submersion beneath the dark, swirling waters of Lake Atter.
Photo: Via Kali
Tav on Myspace
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- Perry Michael Allen: keyboards, backing vocals: 1995
- David Berger — drums: 2002
- Barri Bob — percussion, rhythm guitar: some 1980s gigs
- Orazio Brando — guest guitarist: 2005
- Roy Brewer — violin: 1980s and 1990s
- Benny Carter — drums: 1994
- Grégoire Cat (real name: Grégoire Garrigues) — lead guitar: early 2000s onwards
- Ben Cauley (also of The Bar-Kays) — trumpet: 1990s
- Raymond Cavaioli — lead guitar: some 1980s gigs
- Alex Chilton (aka L X Chilton) — lead guitar: 1979–early 1980s and occasional appearances thereafter; produced several of the albums
- Rene Coman (also of The Iguanas/New Orleans) — bass: early to mid-1980s and occasionally thereafter
- Peter Dark (also of Bellmer Dolls, real name: Peter Mavrogeorgis) — guitar: early 2000s; 2011
- Jim Dickinson — producer and keyboardist: occasionally 1980s and 1990s
- Peter Dopita — singing saw: 1991
- Jim Duckworth (also of The Gun Club) — drums: 1981, lead guitar: early 1980s & 1989
- Doug Easley — bass: occasionally
- Ron Easley (aka Durand Mysterion; also of the Country Rockers) — lead guitar: 1980s and 1990s sporadically; producer: 1989
- James Enck (later of Linda Heck and the Train Wreck) — lead guitar: 1984, 1991 (appears on bass on “Cuban Rebel Girl” from the “1984” cassette release)
- Kai Eric (aka Red West) — bass: mid-1980s–2000 on most tours except some in the South U.S.
- Tav Falco — band leader, lead vocals, guitar: since 1979
- Cyd Fenwick — backing vocals, dancing: 1979– 1981
- Kitty Fires 1 (real name: Sue Easley) — backing vocals: 1984; Kitty Fires 2 (different woman) — guitar: 2000
- Bob Fordyce (also of the Odd Jobs) — drums: 1989
- Doug Garrison (also of The Iguanas/New Orleans) — drums: 1996
- Diane Green (also of The Hellcats/Memphis and the Odd Jobs) — theatrics, tambourine, dancing: occasional 1980s appearances
- Alex Greene (also of Big Ass Truck and Reigning Sound) — organ: 1989–1990
- Jim Harper — snare drum: 1981
- Mark Harrison — guitar: 1984–1985
- Linda Heck (later of Linda Heck and the Train Wreck) — bass: 1984
- Jessie Mae Hemphill — snare drum: 1981
- Eric Hill — synthesizer: 1979–1980; 1989
- Douglas Hodges (aka Tall Cash) — drums: 2001–2002
- Teenie Hodges — lead guitar: 1990s
- Michael Hurt (also of The Royal Pendletons) — bass: 1999
- Rick Ivy — trumpet: 1979
- Cathy Johnson — backing vocals, dancing: 1979–1981
- Ross Johnson — drums: since 1979 on a number of albums
- Amanda Jones — backing vocals: 1984
- Jules Jones -artistic collaborator for publicity flyers and costumes, Backing vocals in studio and live shows 1979
- Via Kali — tango dancer at live shows: 2006 onwards
- Kye Kennedy — lead guitar: mid-1980s touring
- Gabriele Kepplinger — backing vocals: 1991
- Little Victor — guitar, harmonica: 2005
- Laurent Lanouzière — bass: 2002 onwards
- Michael Lo (real name: Michael Rafalowitch) — bass: early 2000s
- Andrew Love (also of The Memphis Horns) — saxophone: 1990s
- Vickie Loveland — backing vocals: 1991
- Tammo Lüers — guitar: 1995
- Randall Lyon — theremin: 1991
- Olivier Manoury — bandoneon: 1995
- Bob Marbach — piano: 1991, 1995
- Lisa McGaughran (aka Lisa Burnette on one compilation; also of The Hellcats/Memphis) — backing vocals, bass: 1984–1990
- Ron Miller — bass: early 1980s
- Jack Oblivian — bass, organ: 2000
- Warren Scott (Band’s agent) 1980s
- Robert Palmer — clarinet: 1989
- Giovanna Pizzorno (also of The Hellcats/Memphis) — drums: first sporadic tours began 1986; steady member since early 2000s
- Jon Ramos — bass: 2002
- George Reinecke (also of Busted Flush) — lead guitar: 1980s and 1990s
- Will Rigby (also of The dB’s, Steve Earle) — drums: 1980, 1999
- Jimmy Ripp — guitar: 1983
- Roland Robinson — bass: 1992
- Kurt Ruleman — drums: 1984–1989
- Raffaele Santoro — keyboards: 2010 onwards
- Harris Scheuner — drums: 1989
- Jim Sclavunos — drums: since about 1982 on a few albums, beginning with Blow Your Top
- Jim Spake — saxophone: 1991
- Brendan Lee Spengler — keyboards: 2000
- Ken Stringfellow — bass: 2011
- Nokie Taylor — trumpet: 1991, 1995
- Nina Tischler — backing vocals: 1991
- Lorette Velvette (real name: Lori Greene; also of The Hellcats/Memphis and The Kropotkins) — backing vocals: 1984–1990; guitar: 1984 briefly
- Misty White (also of The Hellcats/Memphis and Alluring Strange) — drums: 1988
- Vincent Wrenn — synthesizer: 1979–1980
- Abe Young — bass drum: 1981
- Behind the Magnolia Curtain, 1981 (re-released 1994 and 2011)
- Blow Your Top EP, 1983 (re-released 1994 and 2011)
- Now, 1984
- Shake Rag, 1985
- Sugar Ditch Revisited EP, 1985 (re-released 1994)
- Swamp Surfing in Memphis (various artists), 1986
- The World We Knew, 1987
- Play New Rose for Me (various artists), 1987
- Red Devil, 1988 (re-released 1994)
- Live Atlanta Metroplex 10-3-87, 1988
- Midnight in Memphis (live), 1989
- Return of the Blue Panther, 1990
- Life Sentence in the Cathouse, 1992
- Unreleased Sessions, 1994 (recorded 1980)
- Deep in the Shadows, 1994
- Shadow Dancer, 1995
- Disappearing Angels, 1996
- 2 Sides of Tav Falco, 1996
- Love’s Last Warning, 1996 (best of collection)
- Shadow Angels & Disappearing Dancers, 1997
- Panther Phobia, 2000
- Live at Subsonic, 2002
- CONJURATIONS: Séance for Deranged Lovers, 2010