Reverend Freakchild mixes blues, Buddhism
FARMINGTON — Blues music and Buddhism aren't usually talked about in the same breath, but to Reverend Freakchild, they have a great deal in common.
In fact, Freakchild is writing a paper on the Buddha and the blues that he hopes to deliver at the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival in early October in Lowell, Mass., the hometown of the legendary beat writer Jack Kerouac.
"I try connecting it to the Buddhist stuff I'm studying," the veteran musician says of the music he plays while he pursues his master's degree in divinity at Naropa University, a private, Buddhist-inspired liberal arts college in Boulder, Colo., that is also home to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, co-founded by Allen Ginsberg. "If I don't sing the blues, I get depressed. This is the nature of reality. The blues is about the idea that singing about your hardships makes them better."
Freakchild — who performs Thursday, June 30 in Aztec — splits his time between academia and performing, hitting the road to play music once the weather turns warm, then making his way back to Boulder in the fall to resume his studies. He aspires to live a Buddhist lifestyle no matter what he's doing, but he acknowledged that moving from one world to another can be challenging.
"The road is good, but it's a transition to get on it," he said during a recent phone interview from Nashville, where he had performed the night before. "It's like a 70 mile-an-hour stream of consciousness."
One way Freakchild deals with that is by not taking himself too seriously. He acknowledges that the "Reverend" in his name is more or less a character he plays when he's on stage, asking audience members to buy his CDs, even though he knows most of his music can be found for free on the Internet. His irreverent approach to life probably isn't what most people expect from a guy with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and religion from Northeastern University in Boston, but Freakchild isn't much into expectations — other people's or even his own.
"I'm not Bob Dylan," he said, explaining in his rapid-fire delivery that when he sets out on the road each year, he views it more like an extended road trip than a conventional tour, picking up gigs where he can and keeping his expenses manageable by staying with friends whenever possible. "The music is a bonus. I've made a way for it to work. The expectations are lowered."
That's not to say Freakchild isn't a serious artist or that his music is largely an afterthought. His two most recent releases — 2015's "Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues" and 2016's "Illogical Optimism" — are both very appealing, filled with rootsy, adventurous and quirky songs.
On the former, Freakchild convened a first-rate studio band that includes veteran bluesman Hugh Pool (who also co-produced the disc) on lap steel and harmonica, and drummer Chris Parker, better known for his work with such acts as Paul Butterfield, John Hammond Jr., Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker. The album is anchored by the superb leadoff single “All I Got Is Now,” while his masterful take on the traditional “I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down” wraps up the collection and serves as the perfect bookend.
“Illogical Optimism” has a little something for everyone. The three-disc set, which features mostly covers that were recorded over the course of several years, opens with a bluesy take on the John Lennon anthem “Imagine” before the rev rolls into the funk standard “Hey Pocky A-Way” and rumbles through the Bo Diddley classic “Who Do You Love.” Freakchild also takes the listener through a reggae-tinged cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” a gospel-influenced version of Lennon’s “Yer Blues” and an appropriately angry, punked-out adaptation of Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.”
Freakchild said he was inspired to perform the latter after hearing Texas singer, writer and satirist Kinky Friedman play the song several years ago.
“I thought it was the perfect post-2008 crash anthem,” Freakchild said, explaining that Friedman performed a talking blues version of the song. “He’s not the greatest player, but he doesn’t care. It was the perfect tune for the financial B.S. that went down.”
Freakchild said he decided to devote the album to the work of other artists after hitting a dry spell in his writing, leaving him with no new songs to record. Since then, however, he has found his voice again and hopes to have a new disc out with original material by next year.
“I’ve been challenged by some of my New York friends to write some tunes,” he said. “So I’ll be working on that before I go back to Naropa in the fall. But I need to finish the scholarly side of the Reverend and (then) begin that (musical) side of the Reverend.”
Freakchild isn’t letting the pending completion of his master’s degree change the way he views himself. He said his diploma in divinity might make him a real reverend for the first time, but his post-graduation plan involves a lot of sitting under a tree and continuing to ponder the intersection of Buddhism and blues.
And if anyone gives him any trouble?
“I’ll say, ‘I’m licensed to meditate — leave me alone,” he said, laughing.
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Reverend Freakchild concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15, available online at crashmusicaztec.com or by phone at 505-427-6748
For more information: www-reverendfreakchild.org