Luther Russell Shares Late '80s Track With Pre-Wallflowers Jakob Dylan: Exclusive
Luther Russell cheerfully acknowledges that to even call his fan base a cult following is overstating things a bit. But the Freewheelers alumnus -- who's also worked with Robyn Hitchcock and with Big Star's Jody Stephens in Those Pretty Wrongs -- is happy to have collected nearly three decades of work into the forthcoming Selective Memories: An Anthology, an illuminating two-disc compendium that has plenty of surprises.
Among those are early unreleased tracks recorded with the Bootheels, a late '80s band that included Jakob Dylan and Tobi Miller just before they started the Wallflowers, is "Interstate 68 Blues," premiering exclusively below. "We were together the better part of a year," the Los Angeles-based Russell, who was 17 when the Bootheels formed, tells Billboard. "We did a few shows, places like the Troubadour and Madame Wongs, back when you had to pay to play. I think we had a demo tape of, like, 12 songs, and there are a lot of rehearsal tapes that have tons of other tunes. I was the lead singer and wrote most of the songs, but we co-wrote some things. We actually started to get quite good. I think we were better than we thought we were. I was listening back to these tapes and it was pretty good. Hell, I would've signed us."
Russell -- whose grandfather Bob Russell and great uncle Bud Green were successful songwriters in the Great American Songbook era -- actually met Miller first at Guitar Center. "At the time I fancied myself a bass player," Russell recalls, "and Tobi pulled into the parking lot in this car and was like, 'Hey, you a bass player?' I said yes so we exchanged numbers." But before playing music the first time they got together, Miller asked Russell to accompany him to the airport to pick up a friend, who happened to be Dylan.
"Yeah, on the way out Tobi says, 'Just a head's up -- Jake's dad is Bob.' 'OK, cool...'" Miller remembers. "I was staying at Tobi's and Jake called one day and I answered the phone. He said, 'Can I play with you guys?' "Hell yeah!' He had some pretty good tunes himself. He was starting to do (music) -- which made perfect sense to me, of course."
The Bootheels gave way to the Wallflowers, while Russell went on to the Freewheelers, his solo working and an assortment of collaborations -- including with Richmond Fontaine, Ned Roberts, Sarabeth Tucek and Fernando. He also wrote a pair of songs ("L.A. Girlz," "Endless Bummer") on Weezer's self-titled 2016 album. As presented on Selective Memories, out Feb. 23, Russell has created an eclectic body of work, from melodic Americana to gritty garage rock and psychedelia, which he says he's done little to pre-plan over the years.
"What I hear is my dad's record collection crossed with all the stuff I had to listen to to rebel against that," says Russell, who closes the collection with the brand new "The Sound Of Rock & Roll." "But it's funny how I perversely went in opposite directions, like, the Replacements are what made me want to do stuff and I figured, 'OK, that's probably what I'm gonna do,' and then when I started the Freewheelers I went way more into the Dylan, The Band direction, what they would call Americana now. I see it as normal; It's just whatever doing at this time and in this place, working my way to what I'm doing now. But it's cool to bring these old things to light."
Russell is working on a new solo record at the moment as well as on another Those Pretty Wrongs project with Stephens that's being recorded in spurts at Ardent Studios in Memphis. "There are a few projects going on," says Russell. "Everything has its order, I guess. It's worked for me so far, so I don't foresee a need to change."