A history of US music, the Foo Fighters version14 november 2014, 12:20
The history of rock 'n' roll has been attempted in exhaustive compilations and encyclopedic guides. The Foo Fighters are trying the feat in a 42-minute album, AFP reports.
The 1990s alternative rockers, whose frontman Dave Grohl first came to fame as Nirvana's drummer, decided for their latest album, "Sonic Highways," to travel to eight cities pivotal to US music and soak up the local scenes.
To complement the album released Tuesday, the Foo Fighters turned their experience into a series of one-hour documentaries that delve into each of the eight cities' cultural histories through interviews with a who's who in American music.
"I thought, rather than just go into a studio and make another record, we could go all over the country and make a record where each song is recorded in a different studio," Grohl says on the HBO series.
"I feel like, if everyone knew more about the people and the places where this music is made, they would feel more connected to it," he says.
Reinforcing the metaphor of "Sonic Highways" -- linkages that bring the United States together -- the series begins in Chicago where the exodus a century ago of African Americans from the South turned the Windy City into an adopted home for jazz and the blues.
Grohl starts with Buddy Guy, the blues guitarist who collaborated with Muddy Waters, and presents the city's other musical heavyweights ranging from alternative rock producer Steve Albini to crowd pleasers Cheap Trick to, of course, the band Chicago.
Elsewhere on his musical journey, Grohl chats with Chuck D of Public Enemy in New York, with Dolly Parton in Nashville and with Willie Nelson in Austin.
Grohl even interviews President Barack Obama, who tells the Foo Fighters frontman -- a longtime supporter of his Democratic Party -- that American music is "about people rejecting what is already there to create something entirely new."
Influences, not fusion
For all of the scope of "Sonic Highways," the album follows the time-tested Foo Fighters formula. The music is driven by alternative rock's signature power chords, with Grohl -- often dubbed rock's "Mr Nice Guy" for his kindness to fans and charitable work -- delivering far more soothing vocals than his late bandmate Kurt Cobain.
Instead of an ambitious attempt at fusion, "Sonic Highways" offers subtle musical hints of the eight cities. "In The Clear," recorded in New Orleans, features the Preservation Hall Jazz Band whose wind section peeps out occasionally behind the guitars.
The lyrics, however, each reach into the cities. Grohl is most passionate when he explores Washington, DC; he grew up in the capital's suburbs where he was raised on local punk icons Bad Brains and Minor Threat before moving to Seattle and joining Nirvana.
In "The Feast and the Famine," Grohl offers a punk retelling of Washington's riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr in 1968 -- a year before he was born. He sings: "They took your soul and they took you for fools / Took all the windows from prisons and schools / Now what's a poor man left to do?"
Ahead of the album's release, the Foo Fighters performed a surprise gig at an unusually small venue -- Washington's Black Cat, which is partly owned by Grohl.
To mark the band's 20th anniversary, the Foo Fighters will play Washington's RFK Stadium next year on July 4 alongside some of the music greats appearing on "Sonic Highways" including bluesmen Buddy Guy and Gary Clark Jr as well as rocker Joan Jett, whom Grohl profiled for the Los Angeles episode.
The Foo Fighters said that the journey gave them a new appreciation of US culture. In some cities, guitarist Pat Smear said, he had earlier seen little other than a concert venue and hotel room.
"I really liked falling in love with cities that I had actively disliked before," Smear said.