News Column

Foo for thought: Rocker explores country side

June 5, 2013


June 05--When Foo Fighters returned from their latest tour around the globe, guitarist Chris Shiflett didn't just go home.

He went country.

Shedding his hard-rocking persona for a project dear to his musical roots, the busy musician set his sights on hitting all the right notes with a new tribute to classic country, focusing on the Bakersfield Sound.

Backed by his band, the Dead Peasants, Shiflett will showcase material from the group's upcoming new album, "All Hat and No Cattle," with a free show at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace on June 13.

"Bakersfield is kind of the spiritual home of my favorite country music, whether it's Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, Wynn Stewart, Lefty Frizzell, all those cats that were around that scene," said Shiflett, 42, during a phone interview. "That's really the stuff I like the most and the biggest influence on what we're doing right now."

Shiflett is no stranger to the streets of Bakersfield. Over the years, he and Foo Fighters bandmate Dave Grohl have been spotted at various locations between tour rehearsal sessions at Rabobank Arena, a venue that's become a popular wood-shedding hideaway for the platinum-selling act.

"I've actually been through Bakersfield a lot. I drove up there and saw the Pixies play at the Fox one night, I saw Merle Haggard a couple years ago. I always pop up into Front Porch Music. They have a great selection of Mosrite guitars in there. Most of them, for some reason, aren't for sale. I still like to go in and look at 'em."

Shiflett is such a regular, he knows where to go to get the good stuff when it comes to food and confections.

"There's those great Basque restaurants, and Dewar's. Every time I'm in Bakersfield I stock up on the saltwater taffy."

Shiflett described the formation of the Dead Peasants as the result of an ongoing journey dating back to his early years.

"I grew up listening to rock and roll and heavy metal. But I always liked the early Beatles, the Stones and Elvis, who had that twangy thing going on. It always appealed to me. I was a fan of the Stray Cats and Robert Gordon. Through that I discovered a lot of the obvious Sun Records music."

Helping bridge the gap was a friend of Shiflett's who pointed him to the recordings of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and the Bakersfield Sound, which took hold of his creative spirit.

"I just dug into those catalogs. It all just struck a chord with me. It's like, how do you describe what it did to you emotionally? I don't know why; it just does."

After a few intense years touring and recording with the Foo Fighters, Shiflett debuted the all-star Dead Peasants lineup in 2010 with a self-titled album of originals, which were met with critical acclaim. But following the release of the Foo Fighters "Wasting Light," Shiflett pulled back on his side project.

"The initial idea for the Dead Peasants I had during that tour was that we should learn a bunch of old honky-tonk cover songs and get a residency for a month in Bakersfield and play every Tuesday or something. We never had a chance to do that, because logistically it would have been too challenging. Then I thought maybe we should go play up in Bakersfield and record one of our gigs, and put out a live record. We eventually ended up in the studio."

Kicking off the 10 tracks on "All Hat and No Cattle" is a cover of the Don Rich/Buckaroos classic, "Guitar Pickin' Man," followed by Del Reeves' "Good Time Charlies." Shiflett pays his homage to Merle Haggard with "Skid Row" and covers Buck Owens' "King of Fools," before tearing into Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"

The album comes off not as a vain attempt at modernizing the classics to appeal to hip crowds, but as a heartfelt love letter to a bygone era of whiskey-soaked honky-tonk. This set may turn some young heads, but it's sure to please the purists as well.

"It's very special to us that we're not only finally playing in Bakersfield but it's at the Crystal Palace. We're going to be playing as long as they'll have us. It'll be a good time for sure."


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