A Walk On The Psych Side Of Early Rock 'N' Roll JD McPherson discusses his latest album, Let the Good Times Roll, and how the sonic experimentation associated with 1960s rock was really birthed a decade earlier.

JD McPherson: A Walk On The Psych Side Of Early Rock 'N' Roll

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Roots rocker JD McPherson says the song you're about to hear is the best record ever made.


LITTLE RICHARD: (Singing) Keep a knockin' but you can't come in. Keep a knockin' but you can't come in. Keep a knockin' but you can't come in. Come back tomorrow night and try it again.

MARTIN: That's Little Richard's "Keep A-Knockin'." And with that as his touchtone, it is no wonder that McPherson's latest album, called "Let The Good Times Roll," sounds like this.


JD MCPHERSON: (Singing) Didn't get what I wanted from the world today. Didn't get all the edges to square away. And the motion that I started didn't follow through. And I didn't get some time with you.

MARTIN: For his sophomore CD, JD McPherson says he wanted to make a '50s psychedelic record. Now, I'm pretty sure the 1950s were a good decade before LSD made an impact on the music world. So JD, we've got you in a studio in Oklahoma City. Explain yourself - '50s psychedelic, what do you mean?

MCPHERSON: I just like the idea of mixing things that should not be together together. You know there, it probably seemed pretty strange to put peanut butter and chocolate together at some point, until someone did it.

MARTIN: That sounds genius to me.

MCPHERSON: (Laughter). Well, maybe so but that's 'cause you're used to it.


MCPHERSON: But I really loved the daring way in which the engineers and producers at that time - when rock and roll was kind of in its early state, there was some pretty crazy stuff happening sonically with tape echo and tremolo and different effects. And some of those things were pushed to an extreme level. And that stuff is fascinating to me.

MARTIN: OK, there's another song on this album called, "It's All Over But The Shouting."


MARTIN: Which you have characterized as Psychedelic Coasters, which is the band famous in the '50s and '60s for songs like "Love Potion No. 9" and "Poison Ivy."


MCPHERSON: (Singing) It's all over but the shouting. It's all done but the deed. It's all (unintelligible) but the hurting. It's all taken but the heed. It's all over but the shouting. It's all gone but the need.

MCPHERSON: I had some really - and I don't really know where they were coming from - but the first set of lyrics for that song were some of the most venomous stuff I had ever written.

MARTIN: Really?

MCPHERSON: And I don't know, it was just a place I was at one time. And as the thing started to come together, I sort of fell in love with this track. And I just love the more kind of meditative, primitive rhythm and blues rhythms. And I'm just like, why can't we mix that all up and juxtapose it with everything else?

MARTIN: So let's back up a little bit. You grew up on a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma. Is that right?

MCPHERSON: Yeah. I did (laughter).

MARTIN: What was the soundtrack to the McPherson household?

MCPHERSON: You know, my dad liked some pretty hip stuff. But I didn't really wake up to that.

MARTIN: Like what?

MCPHERSON: My dad was into Thelonious Monk and some Delta blues stuff. But all that went out the window when I discovered the punk rock music, the music of causeless anger when your 15, 16 years old.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MCPHERSON: But I could identify more with the first rock and roll stuff 'cause, like, I could identify more with, like, a guy from Lubbock, Tex., than I could, you know, some dude from the East End of London or something. (Laughter) I don't know. I don't even know what that means, East End of London.


MARTIN: Just someplace else.


MARTIN: Someplace not where you're from. OK, so let's delve a little deeper into this album and to this sound that you discovered. Let's hear the title cut, "Let The Good Times Roll."


MCPHERSON: (Singing) I miss you so every time I fall away. I miss you so every time I fall away. Let the sky open up, little darling. Follow me when I go. Let the sky open up and let the good times roll.

MARTIN: So I read that you credit this song to some expired Tylenol PM and an episode of "Frasier." Even if that's a lie...

MCPHERSON: (Laughter). Well, no...

MARTIN: Just go with it 'cause that's provocative.

MCPHERSON: It's absolutely 100 percent true. And I wish that I could be more beatnik than expired cold medicine, but...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MCPHERSON: I took it. And I was in bed watching TV, and "Frasier" was on. It was an episode where they were digging up the floorboards of their old house, and they found a skull. And it turns out, it was a "Hamlet" prop from their high school "Hamlet" production. But while I was watching this, I was going on this horrifying trip of, like, time slowing down and panic. But I also had this incredible focus. OK, this is really, really ridiculous. But I will reveal to you - I will reveal to NPR...

MARTIN: OK, can't wait.

MCPHERSON: Now, the true meaning of the song. In "Romeo And Juliet," the end of the story, (laughter) Juliet appears to be dead. Romeo is dead.


MCPHERSON: It occurred to me there's another tragedy in the story where his ghost can't find Juliet. He's, like, expecting to see Juliet, and he doesn't for a minute.

MARTIN: Oh, in the afterlife.

MCPHERSON: Yeah. And so in this fever dream thing I was having, this all made perfect sense. And I wrote it all out, and I went to sleep. And I woke up, and I'm like, what was I thinking about? But I liked the song, so there it is. And it's kind of like the "Let The Good Times Roll" moniker, that's sort of, like, just a ubiquitous phrase that means we're having fun now, but...

MARTIN: Except they're not together in the afterlife.

MCPHERSON: Yeah. It's, hey, come on, let's get on with it. Let's move on

MARTIN: Oh, let's move on.

MCPHERSON: Yeah, that's what it was.


MCPHERSON: (Singing) Let the good times roll.

MARTIN: I want to play another track off the album which illustrates a little bit of what we were talking about earlier, some of that kind of cool sound with reverb and a lot of different effects. Let's play this cut called "Bridge Building."


MCPHERSON: (Singing) I'll build something that is real and true, building bridges to you. I'll build something that is real and true, building bridges to you.

MARTIN: Do you ever feel like you were just born in the wrong time period?

MCPHERSON: No. No, I like being - I like being here now. I like having access to everything from now previous. I love - I mean, I wouldn't want to live in a world without Madonna.


MARTIN: Neither would I - or Tylenol PM for that matter.

MCPHERSON: Oh boy, man... Never again.

MARTIN: (Laughter). JD McPherson. His new album is called "Let The Good Times Roll." JD, it was so fun to talk with you. Thanks so much.

MCPHERSON: Thank you so much.


MCPHERSON: (Singing) I'll build something...

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