If any music journalist working today has stories, it’s David Fricke. Over a career that stretches back four decades, the longtime Rolling Stone writer — who has also contributed to Mojo, Melody Maker, Trouser Press, People and others over the years — has interviewed virtually every major rock artist and written Grammy-nominated liner notes for many of the rest. Since leaving his fulltime post at Rolling Stone in June, he’s returned to his first love, radio, with The Writer’s Block, a weekly show on SiriusXM’s Spectrum channel that sees him sharing stories and his favorite music from artists old and new.
Where did you get your start in radio?
I started like pretty much everybody else in this kind of line of work: in college radio. [In the early 1970s] I was a DJ and program director at WMUH-FM — Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania — and after I got out of school, I did a year on a non-commercial station in Philadelphia called WUHY [now WHYY]. I had a midnight show, one hour every Saturday night, and they let me run riot. It was a lot more loopy than what I’m doing now, but the spirit of it was very much the same — which is experimenting, exploring, and trying to share the joy I get out of music. I always thought of writing as a kind of radio because you’re basically trying to share information and a certain expression about music, which isn’t that easily articulated. The best people in radio, the people who influenced me the most, like [late, longtime BBC DJ] John Peel, the great early Philly people that I listened to like Michael Tearson, Dave Herman, and Ed Sciaky, and Vin Scelsa up in New York, of course — to me, what they did was a kind of emotional journalism, and I think there’s no reason why the two should really be separate.
What’s your show’s theme?
The tag I came up with is that it’s a radio show about writing about music, so it really stems from my experience: What I’m listening to, shows or an experience that really woke something up in me, or to talk about people that I’ve recently interviewed. I’m able to discuss my life in music and writing on a level that’s not just about trying to prepare for print — it can be a little more personal. I’m still learning what can be done. On the show I taped yesterday I talked about Gail Zappa [Frank’s longtime wife, who died Oct. 7], who I knew, so I played something by the Mothers of Invention to give her a little thank you for her support. [Another week] I devoted the whole show to an interview with [Black Keys/Arcs frontman] Dan Auerbach. The two of us were able to talk not just about the records that he plays on and the artists that have mattered to him, but how he was discovering records as a young man. We talked about soul by playing the Jerry Butler version of “Never Give You Up,” which the Black Keys covered. Sirius has been very, very supportive, and they’ve also given me the chance to be a journalist by interviewing Keith Richards, I did an “Artist Confidential” with Chris Cornell, I got to do a Buddy Guy “Town Hall.” The journalism never ends.
What are some of the newer artists that you’re really excited about?
I really like that Arcs album, I played the Foals record recently, I love the Dead Weather album. I’ve got a lot of stuff that I haven’t gotten to yet — it’s only an hour-long show. There’s a new reissue of the Muffs’ first Reprise album, so I played that and got to talk about the fact that that record was really the reason Green Day hired Rob Cavallo to produce Dookie. It’s little stories like that.
What’s your situation with Rolling Stone these days?
I have a contract with them, which I’m very pleased about. I’m still a senior writer, which was my original title, so I guess it was mostly a change in geography: I work at home. I’m also continuing to contribute to Mojo, and I’ve done a lot of liner notes: I did the Velvet Underground’s [forthcoming four-CD live 1969 album] Matrix Tapes, I did a live Arthur Lee and Love retrospective — it’s called Coming Through To You, like 1970 – 2004 — I did The Essential Van Morrison. I also contributed an essay to the Grateful Dead live Fare Thee Well set, and I did a Relix cover story where Trey Anastasio talked about about his Fare Thee Well experience — it’s the only interview he’s done. This never gets old. Even if I wasn’t writing, even if I wasn’t doing radio, even if I wasn’t getting paid, I would be immersed in music somehow. It’s just that I get to do this other stuff and turn the karma wheel around for others.
But I’m very pleased and relieved that I’ve been as busy as I have, given changes have gone on elsewhere, like at the [New York] Daily News and the [New Orleans] Times-Picayune. It’s not an easy season to be doing what I do. And right now I’ve been able to continue that in what for many folks has been pretty heavy weather.
What was your first concert?
I still have my ticket stub. I’d just turned 16 and I lived in Philly, and there was this big outdoor show in July of ’68 at the old JFK Stadium — one of the the Schaefer [Beer] Music Festival bills for a dollar. In descending order it was The Who, Procol Harum, I believe the Troggs were supposed to be on the bill, a band called Mandela from Canada, Pink Floyd were like way at the bottom of the bill, and a local band opened called Friends of the Family. So I get there, and Friends of the Family played — they were really cool, I ended up buying their single — and then the Floyd came out. This was David Gilmour’s first tour U.S. tour with the band and they were doing Saucerful of Secrets, really getting into deep, inner space, and it just wasted my teenage mind. I immediately went out and bought that record and that was the beginning of my Floyd obsession. Then Mandela came on — and there was a thunderstorm. One of the guitarists got an electrical shock — he was fine — but then they just shut the f—ing thing down and I had to wait until 1973 to see The Who. Still it was an amazing gig, man. Amazing gig.