He has 10 albums. He's funny and witty. He rocks. He sings as if he swallowed a badger and a Toro lawn mower. Famous rock stars play on his albums. He had a hit song about a werewolf. He's coming to the Ventura Theatre Saturday night. Hey, it must be Warren Zevon.
The tour is billed as the Warren Zevon Acoustic Trio, or, according to Zevon, the Patrician Home Boys. Dan Dugmore, who plays with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, is the guitarist and Gurf Morlix from the Michael Penn Band is the final third. Either he has no friends or simply likes variety because Zevon's backup musicians always change. "It's always been that way," Zevon said in a recent telephone interview.
A couple of albums ago, on "Sentimental Hygiene," Zevon's supporting cast included Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Neil Young, Jennifer Warnes, George Clinton, Brian Setzer and three members of R.E.M. The latest album is an unrehearsed, let-the-tape-roll effort titled "Hindu Love Gods." This one features covers of classic blues rockers such as Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle." There are also covers of tunes by Prince, Woody Gutherie and Robert Johnson. The album features the same three members of R.E.M.--Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills--and no Michael Stipe. Maybe he's on loan to Wilson Phillips, who knows?
"I've known those guys for years," Zevon said. "My manager for eight years, Andrew Slater, met Peter Buck when they were both in school at Emory University in Georgia. Anyway, the 'Hindu Love Gods' thing was just this spontaneous, unplanned thing. And for whatever reason, it's selling surprisingly well. 'Sentimental Hygiene' did OK, while the next one, 'Transverse City,' was on the other side of OK. As a trio, we'll do some 'Hindu Love Gods' stuff, but mostly my songs."
So what do they have planned for the local crowd?
"There's no playlist or anything; we just do it and see what happens. For example, we were doing 'Ain't That Pretty at All' last night in Seattle and Joe Walsh came up from out of the crowd and jammed with us. Tonight, we're in San Francisco--maybe we can do that song for four hours, if you know what I mean."
A lifelong musician, Zevon switched from piano to guitar after high school and played folk rock for a while, then graduated into writing and performing commercials and playing as a studio musician. He toured with the Everly Brothers as a pianist in the early '70s, and released his first album in 1976 with help from his buddy, Jackson Browne. Ronstadt recorded several songs off the album, including "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," which was a big hit for her. Zevon's next album, "Excitable Boy," contained his biggest hit so far, "Werewolves of London."
"I've been playing music since I was a little kid," Zevon said. "When I was in junior high school in San Pedro, my teacher took me to meet Igor Stravinsky, who became sort of the Elvis influence for me. I also liked Bob Dylan and Van Morrison a lot. Then I got into the folk/hootenanny scene for a while, playing at the local pizza parlors and like that.
"I guess the first time someone bought me a cheeseburger is when I technically became a professional. Later, I got to tour with the Everly Brothers. That was a dream job. I went all over the world with two guys who sang great every, single night. That was a lot more fun than the time I ended up singing country songs before 60,000 punks in Denmark waiting for U2."
Zevon's witty lyrics are often buried by the ubiquitous loud guitars. Since he and the others will be performing as an acoustic trio this time, perhaps there will be more people laughing in the crowd.
"It's really nice when the audience gets the joke," Zevon said. "And they usually do--sometimes before I do. I love going on the road. It gets me out of my apartment in Hollywood, and I'm able to write a lot of songs. At least that's what I tell the record company. As a trio, we'll just tour for a few months, then I'll start working on a new album the day I get back."