Vienna-based, US-born, multi-creative Tav Falco is a singer, songwriter, musician and pioneer of underground music, art and literature.
He’s a photographer, maker of films, actor and a historian. Raconteur writ large. He’s a one-off and impossible to categorise. He has the suave look of the male lead in a silent movie of the 1920s.
Tav and his Italian band play nine dates in the UK from 19th to 27th November, kicking off in Ramsgate and closing in Norwich, to mark the 40th anniversary of his revered roots/garage combo, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns and four decades of recording and touring globally.
Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, Jon Spencer of Blues Explosion and Nick Power from the Coral, just a few artists who count Tav as an influence.
On the last date of the UK tour, Tav is special guest on Jools Holland’s BBC Radio 2 show where he will be interviewed and the pair will perform a song together. Tav also has Italian, Spanish, French, and Scandinavian concert dates for his “40th Anniversary Howl” tour.
Released in November 2018, Falco’s Cabaret of Daggers is the best-reviewed album of his circa 18-album career, featuring newly-penned originals which question the sanity of our troubled times, alongside carefully-curated selections from the Great American Songbook.
Cabaret of Daggers was recorded in Rome, with vocals recorded at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis. Two of the musicians on the album will accompany Falco on the European tour dates: producer/arranger/guitarist Mario Monterosso and bassist Giuseppe Sangirardi. The drummer on the tour will be Walter Brunetti, also from Rome.
In June 2019, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns completed an acclaimed coast-to-coast tour of the U.S.A. Falco is the only constant member of Panther Burns. The group played its first show in 1979. The lineup for that show comprised Falco (vocals, guitar), former Box Tops and Big Star frontman Alex Chilton (lead guitar, vocals), Ross Johnson (drums) and Eric Hill (synthesizer).
Early years featured a revolving door of underground rock luminaries entering and exiting the band, including noted producer/session musician Jim Dickinson and Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave multi-instrumentalist Jim Sclavunos. Panther Burns thrived on the early 1980s music circuit and were a popular draw at such storied New York City clubs as The Peppermint Lounge and Danceteria.
After Chilton’s exit from the live lineup in 1984, the band has carried on and released numerous albums, EPs, singles, and compilations. His debut release came out in 1981, the album “Behind The Magnolia Curtains”.
Gustavo Antonio Falco was raised in rural Arkansas and coming to musical prominence in Memphis, Falco eventually took up residence in Europe in the 1990s. After a transition in 2004 from Paris to Vienna, the splendor of the old Imperial City on the Danube has infused the mood and spirit of Cabaret of Daggers.
His admirers have their say:
“Tav has long been a hero/inspiration to Primal Scream. A true master of rock and roll and a cultural ditch digger on the same level as The Cramps. Thanks for all the great music, Tav. Stay Free!” Bobby Gillespie, Primal Scream.
“I have been listening to Tav Falco’s Panther Burns since his first LP, Behind the Magnolia Curtain (1981), when Tav, along with The Cramps, turned a whole new generation onto the twisted pleasure of rock ‘n’ roll. He’s got everything… rock ‘n’ roll, blues, tango, style in abundance, and most important, but never overrated, SOUL.” – Jason Pierce, Spiritualized.
“I don’t think folks give Tav Falco and the Panther Burns enough credit… Tav Falco is hip!” – Jon Spencer, Blues Explosion. As for Tav, his biggest British influences is “Undoubtedly” Joe Meek.
Now it’s Tav’s turn to sit in the big chair with the spotlight on his face, and answer a few questions to see if we can uncover some of the mystique wafting around this larger than life performer for nigh on 40 years.
You ready, Tav? Yeah…then we shall being. Easy one to get started. How do you describe Panther Burns and your own musical style to someone who has not heard your music?
“Flowery psychotropic ballroom with doses of primal rock ‘n’ roll, deviant hill country blues, and avant-garde art. Watch for thematic parallels in the songs reflecting gender-inflected issues, political subterfuge, narcotic-induced lethargy, lynching balladry, the pale spectre of unrequited love, identity loss and existential tango”. As clear as mud. Next…
40 years later, how do you keep this music fresh and relevant today? “Living and breathing the tissues of word, gesture and tone, as filtered through the experience of day-to-day existence”.
How does it sit with this man, that many successful bands and artists cite Tav as an influence? Our music is tender and virile, witty and flamboyant. If someone is stoked by the thrust of our art, we urge them to express it. If enough people raise their arms and legs high enough, maybe we’ll get another gig”. Well, you’ve got nine across this land in a few days’ time, to be going on with.
How does current album ‘Cabaret Of Daggers’ compare to his previous work, and what differences are there to previous releases? “Our current album, Cabaret Of Daggers, contains all of the dramatic threads which have run through previous releases. What distinguishes the new album, is the challenging nature of the material and the refinement of execution.
“I can play a blues tune like falling off a log, but to do justice to a Chet Baker ballad is another matter. There are songs on this album which I had always admired, but never felt competent to undertake until the very day I walked into the studio in Rome, to record Cabaret Of Daggers.
“Now, I am at the height of my powers as a performer, but that did not happen overnight. It required a gradual evolution, four decades in fact, to reach my current level as an artist. In my case, it took a long time because I got a late start in life”.
The labels “cult artist” and “star of the underground rock scene” are often attached to you. Do you kick back at those labels or agree with them? “Such labels are created by press editors. Handles often serve a purpose. Sometimes, I utilise them myself”.
Did he ever crave mainstream fame and fortune, and to break out of that so-called cult and underground status? “What I crave is a 1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto, and a 1964 Norton 650 Dominator SS motorcycle, built new by Norvil in Burntwood”. Me, a Jensen Interceptor and an Aston Martin DB5, please.
Were Panther Burns ahead of their time, late to the party or around at the right moment? Tav is short and sweet on this one. “All of that, actually”. OK, OK, do you need a break? I’ll try this one then: Did you/they get enough recognition as one of the pioneers of country blended with rock and more?
“Although we have celebrated pioneers from many genres in our music, I do not consider myself among them. I am an interpreter. A medium who mitigates between lost genres and the deprivations of today”.
Which one recording is he most proud of? The latest one, of course. Which track from his catalogue best sums up Tav Falco musically? “My composition, ‘Born Too Late’.
An “advice” question usually prompts some deep thought and a meaningful answer. So. What advice would today’s 74-year-old Tav Falco give the young Tav, when you were just starting out in the music business?
“To the young Tav, I would say: ‘It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going… forces deep within will take you there’ ”.
I could do anything…
Staying with that theme: Best advice you were ever given, and by whom? “Charlie Feathers once said to me: ‘Tav, if you’re not doing something different, you’re doing nothing at all’ ”.
It’s ‘Best Moments’ time? “In terms of shows, it was our appearance at Le Poisson Rouge (former Village Gate) in New York City this past May. The audience went completely mad, and the band was dancing on tabletops.
“It was a magical suspension of time. It felt like the coalescence of our career, where everything came together, and I could do anything on stage because I’d reached the top of my form.
So of course, we follow up with “Worst Moment?”, hoping he would not name this interview…He didn’t: “Opening for The Clash at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Panther Burns precipitated a near riot with fist fights busting out everywhere in the Women’s Gym.
They hated us!
“The audience really hated us, and they would have killed us if there were any beer bottles to throw. After the set, The Clash and their crew came to our dressing room to celebrate our glorious defeat”.
Regrets? “Lots. Every time I am robbed. This past spring, I had my 1963 Höfner, my one and only electric guitar, stolen in Memphis. I had to replace it at huge personal expense”.
What does he most remember of your band’s first show, in a cotton loft in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 10th, 1979? “We schlepped heavy wooden stage risers up three flights of narrow stairs into an expansive cotton grading room. Panther Burns performed eight songs: four blues standards, a pair of rock ‘n’ roll tunes, and one tango.
“It seemed as though the entire Memphis underground had climbed those stairs to howl with us. For our second set, we repeated those eight songs. We still play that very first tango in our current set”.
Any memories of previous UK trips that stand out? “The first that comes to mind was playing Dingwalls (Camden, London) on our first UK tour.
“It was quite a cacophonic quagmire. Later, our lead guitarist passed out midway through our set at The Mean Fiddler (London music club). “Which was later matched by an appearance on The Barbican (major London concert hall) main stage, during which band member Jim Dickinson started a song a half step flat (and I had even rehearsed with him!). That became another cacophony”.
I doubt there’ll be anyone hitting social media with negative feedback about these imminent UK shows, somehow. A Tav Falco concert: not so much a gig as perhaps a onetime spectacular event and a sneaky attack of the senses, indelibly etched on the memory cells. Simon Cowell would have a seizure!
By Simon Redley
- UK Tour Dates:
19: Ramsgate, UK — Ramsgate Music Hall
20: Milton Keynes, UK — Esquires
21: Halifax, UK — The Lantern
22: Hull, UK — The New Adelphi
23: Glasgow, UK — Broadcast
24: Newcastle, UK — The Cluny
25: Edinburgh, UK — Voodoo Rooms
26: London, UK — Oslo
27: Norwich, UK — Norwich Arts Centre