In case you haven't dug into your DVR yet (don't worry, we all have that last season of 24 to get through too) for the Friday premiere of Sonic Highways, here is a little something to get you nudged in the right direction. To sum it up in short (the long version is below), this is definitely for you if you like music. Let's keep it that simple. You don't need to know every Foo Fighters B-side or have the lyrics to "Everlong" tattooed on your arm to thoroughly enjoy this hour-long musical geekfest. All you need is a healthy appreciation for all types of music and the unknown connections that bring nearly every genre together in some shape or form.
The first episode takes us to Chicago, home of the blues and, as we find out, Dave Grohl's first concert. The frontman went to visit his cousin Tracey, who took him to The Cubby Bear and changed his life forever (Thanks, Tracey) after he saw a Naked Raygun show. Among those making an appearance in the episode included blues legend Buddy Guy, James Murphy, Steve Albini, Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan and Rick Nielsen, who plays with the band at the end of the episode on their new song, "Something From Nothing." As you'd expect, these characters combined with the Foos delivered some A1 quotes. Here are the top five.
"Man, don't you know if you feed a dog he won't hunt?" -Muddy Waters to Buddy Guy
Focusing a musical story on Chicago and not talking about the blues would be criminal, so of course that's where this series begins. And naturally, the guy to go to (pun intended) is Buddy Guy. While Guy may be the main source, as they say within the first five minutes, everything started with Muddy Waters. Coming from New Orleans, Guy was looking for work in the late 50s when he ran into a fellow guitarist (Waters) who invited him to sit-in at the 708 Club. After Guy said he'd play for Waters if he bought him a hamburger, the established Chicago blues guitarist fired back with, "man, don't you know if you feed a dog he won't hunt?"
Guy, as you'd expect, impressed (and hopefully earned that hamburger) during his jam session with Waters and Co. "The owner was walking out the door and said, 'I don't know who that is, but hire him,'" Guy recounts. And Muddy did just that. "When I walked outside the door somebody said, 'I heard you can play the guitar. I'm Muddy Waters, I heard you're hungry.' I said, 'Not if you're Muddy Waters, I'm full.' From then until the day he died we were best friends."
Guy sums it up beautifully, with a smile: "When I went to Chicago, I'll put it like this: I was looking for a dime and I found a quarter."
"I love Chicago. I know the girls are really hot and the weather fucking sucks." -Pat Smear
Pat Smear: Guitarist, Rock Star, Future Fodor Contributor.
"He makes great records. I don't know how." -James Murphy on Steve Albini
One of the characters profiled throughout the episode is none other than the evil genius himself, Steve Albini. "Genius" isn't used loosely here, either. The guy is an actual genius. James Murphy recounts writing the noted produced a letter when he was trying to build his own studio. Albini responded with pages and pages of plans, charts and graphs about how to build your own studio. That's just one of the selfless acts attributed to a guy who is also referred to as a "cynical prick" throughout.
Another one of those acts is his financial policy with bands he records. Albini doesn't accept royalties, but rather charges a rate to use his studio (Grohl relates it to getting paid like a plumber, "a badass plumber"). Albini and Grohl worked together on Nirvana's follow up to Nevermind, 1993's In Utero, an album that's sold 5 million copies in the United States alone. As Naked Raygun frontman Jeff Pezzati says to Grohl, "You, of all people, know how much he left on the table."
"Hey, motherfucker." -Buddy Guy
Back to the blues for a second, Buddy Guy delivers the biggest laugh of the episode when he describes how the blues musicians used to talk to each other. Even funnier than the guys referring to each other as "motherfuckers" is Guy asking Grohl if he knows what "MF" means. Buddy, have you heard Dave's on-stage banter?
"They had a great combination of energy, piss and vinegar but beauty buried in there." -Jason Narducy
Along with the blues, Chicago's underground punk rock scene is highlighted in the second half of the episode. Since this is where Grohl experienced his first concert, it seems appropriate. To start, Steve Albini cautioned the audience on several fronts, the first of those being to never let your punk rock friends lay the brick on your studio walls, especially after a three-martini lunch. The second, is that punk rockers also dabble in arson from time to time. After several of the popular punk rock clubs in the city mysteriously burned down, the scene was in a dire place. Enter, Naked Raygun.
The band, sensing their musical careers slipping away, enlisted The Cubby Bear to throw an all-ages show one night every week. The result was not just the future Nirvana drummer/Foo Fighters frontman's musical discovery ("I was just a kid with an Izod. It turned my world upside down," Grohl says) but the birth of a thriving punk rock scene in the city. Kid-punk band Verboten guitarist Jason Narducy sums up the effect and appeal of the music with the quote above, along with the importance of the thriving scene in Chicago.
Sonic Highways continues this Friday where the series will shift towards Washington, DC. The band will perform their new song "Feast and the Famine" at the end of the episode. Watch a preview below.