TRUE TALES OF THE ROAD: Peter Case escapes house of pigs

When you’ve been on the road more or less continuously since 1973, as Peter Case has, you meet a lot of people – a lot of famous people, in this case, so to speak, and he doesn’t want to be a name-dropper. Case is one of these unusual figures in the music world who are famous for not being as famous as they should be for great work the equal of any superstar, but for some unexplained reason, never caught that big break. Case’s work has garnered respect from a who’s who of big names, even as it remains relatively obscure.

“I guarantee you were we trying to make millions of dollars,” Case says of his critically-acclaimed yet largely obscure bands the Nerves and the Plimsouls, and their poke at the big-time in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. “We were trying to get a hit song. We really got close, you know? Close is no cigar, is it?”

It’s not over yet, of course. Like many lifetime singer-songwriters for whom the term “singer-songwriter” is a genre unto itself that transcends all others, Case gives his works human attributes.

“You never know. A song can go anywhere. It goes out there and has a life of its own,” he says. “They’re like people. Some make millions of dollars, some have something to say and don’t make any money. But they’re all worthy of being songs.”

Still “trying to write that perfect song,” Case plays Friday at the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre as part of the third annual Winter Roots and Blues Roundup. If you’re wondering what a punk rock guy is doing headlining a folk music festival, he explains that “punk is just where I came up to the surface where people could see me.” His roots go far deeper than punk rock.

Under the radar is where the best road tales come from, of course. Case has written two books on the subject and is working on a third – about any road at all, metaphorically or not.

Of the many tales he’s collected, one stands out. It was at a gig at a little club near a beach in the “middle of nowhere” in Southwestern New Jersey, he recalls. Case and his teenage son had been robbed of all their clothes in New York City the night before and had purchased matching “stupid-ass seashell beach shirts.” His friend Bruce Springsteen – a big fan of Case’s solo albums – walked into the club and complimented Case on his production values.

The gig was weird enough, Case says, but what happened afterwards was like something out of a David Lynch movie.

He says, “The club owner’s putting us up at his house, so we get in his truck, take the main road, down a side road, down a dirt road, and then he pulled through this barbed wire fence on a track going through the forest and my son is like, ‘what if this guy is going to kill us?’ So we get to this big white farmhouse with all the lights out and the guy says, ‘go inside and make yourself comfortable.’ We open the door and the house is all dark and you can hear all this grunting in the house. It was kind of shocking. We hit the lights and the house was full of pigs.”

Case and his son are assured that there’s nothing to worry about, that pigs are cleaner than people and actually make great pets. The guy introduced a pig named Jerry Lee and asked if they wanted to see it play piano. How could they refuse?

“So the guy pulled out this little piano and the pig started playing piano – and it was good, too. For a pig. Then the guy went upstairs to get the rooms ready and we’re there with the pigs, and there was a like an electric pig, like it wasn’t grounded. Every time you touched it, it would hum. And on the wall of the room, there was a newspaper clipping of what looked a lot like the guy, saying he’d been acquitted of horrible crimes in the Midwest. So he puts my son in one room and me at the other end of the hall, these rooms with huge overstuffed dusty mattresses that hadn’t been used in 100 years. So I’m lying there, I’m trying to sleep, I’m kind of nervous, and all of the sudden the door opens up and it’s my son. ‘A pig tried to get in my room,’ he says. ‘I’m sleeping in here.’

“The guy was gone the next day. He left a note: ‘Great gig, guys. Help yourself to anything. There’s bacon on the stove.’”

There’s a song in there somewhere.

In addition to Friday’s concert and film presentation, Case will be participating in talks and workshops throughout the weekend. Click here for details.