Interview With Marc Ribot

tweety stuff @ronanfromcork

This was first published in The Evening Echo [Cork] on 2018-1-11


Marc Ribot, who plays De Barras in Clonakilty on Sunday 21 January, is one of the most revered guitarists in the world, he has released over 20 albums of his own various projects, and his work as a collaborator stretches back to the 1970s when he started performing live with luminaries such as Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas and Chuck Berry. His first major studio recording was alongside Tom Waits in 1985 on his ‘Rain Dogs’ album and they have continued working together on albums such as ‘Franks Wild Years’, ‘Mule Variations and ‘Bad As Me’. The long list of artists he has also played with includes Elton John, T-Bone Burnett, Norah Jones, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and extensively with Elvis Costello.

He rang in the New Year in central Italy where he played several shows at the Umbria Jazz festival with both his Marc Ribot Trio, as well as The Young Philadelphians – where he is joined by three other improvisers interpreting classic ‘Philly Soul’. Speaking from the airport on his way to USA, he was delighted in the completed residency, “I was playing at Umbria for a few days in a row, it was a lot of fun it’s nice to play every day and not have to travel, it’s rare luxury to be able to play and to be able to sleep!”

Marc Ribot was returning to the US for the New York Winter Jazz Festival to play a concert with Ceramic Dog, his free/punk/funk/experimental group, and also to perform a solo set playing collected ‘songs of resistance’. Activism is something that is important to him, “these are very difficult times, I’m not shy about saying Mr Trump poses a danger of fascism in the United States, and anyone who doesn’t like that idea needs to be active now in opposition and resistance.”

His sights are then set on a ten date tour of Europe playing sets of improvised guitar, having released so many records in different styles and with 15 bands/projects listed on his own website – some more active than others – to try and predict what will be played is a difficult task, he continued “certain pieces of music I do can drift between the projects, such as my trio that performs the music of Albert Ayler and sometimes I do one of those pieces solo, but generally each project I do is a distinct concept so there’s not tonnes of crossover. Having said that when I play solo it’s as close a chance you can get to hearing anything I’ve done, anything I’ve ever done at any point in my life could end up in my set. It’s improvised, and everything is bubbling around there in the soup so you never know what will come to the top in any particular moment.”

Bearing his first well received 2016 Clonakilty show in mind, Marc is aware of not repeating himself, “playing a venue a second time always has an impact, it’s almost unconscious but I don’t want to do the same thing in the same place. Fortunately my memory helps there, let’s just say that sometimes not remembering things perfectly is a blessing! Improvising covers a wide area and can take in everything from ‘Free Improv’ like the Derek Bailey model, where you attempt to create something from nothing each time. Then there are various traditions and levels of improvising, even Western Classic players improvise a bit when they embellish. I’m very influenced by the ‘Free Improv’ movement and from ‘Free Jazz’, which have two very different histories and ways of doing things. As other improvisers would agree even when in a completely free improv situation where you are trying to do things completely from scratch, what comes out of your brain is largely what went in to your brain at some point, it might be scrambled, or with mistakes, or worn by time and use, but you can hear where someone’s been when they improvise.”

While the content of the shows will change from concert to concert Marc is touring with both acoustic and electric guitars, “with this tour I’m thinking of largely improvising mainly on acoustic, but I’ve been working on some John Cage pipe organ pieces called ‘Some Of The Harmony Of Maine’, which I’ve transcribed for guitar, that might show up on the electric. John Cage essentially put an old hymnal in a blender, by cutting and pasting lines of music together and creating new pieces that sound like the old hymns but don’t tend to move in the same way. So there’ll be quiet acoustic parts and then some pretty raucous parts!”

The concert is being presented by the 2018 Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, an organisation that Ribot admires, “I think it’s great when people are enthusiastic first of all, and when a local team comes together – especially when they also include local musicians – then there’s nothing better.”

Marc Ribot plays De Barras on Sunday 21 January, tickets available via

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