Warren Zevon: Desperate Folk

Isaiah Trost, Guitar World Acoustic, Issue 35 (Spring 2000)

"The songs I write are not the romantic kind," explains Warren Zevon - he of "Werewolves of London" and "Excitable Boy" fame.  On his new album, a brutally funny and honest examination of aging, illness and death called Life'll Kill Ya (Artemis), Zevon remains proudly out of tune with the love-oriented majority of songwriters.

"I always thought people like Rodgers and Hart, Bacharach and David, J D Souther, Jimmy Webb and lots of other people had done love songs really well," he says.   "But no one was really writing Hunter S Thompson or Norman Mailer kinds of songs; nobody, except now and then, was even writing songs where there was an 'R-rated' point of view, with adult language, adult violence and graphic nudity."

Best known as a pianist, Zevon is also a very capable guitar player.  Though his childhood years were spent immersed in the study of classical piano, Warren found himself drawn to folk music as a teen and, quite logically, moved to the guitar without abandoning the keyboard.  "You can't play folk music on the piano," states Zevon.   "Many have tried, all fail."

The sound of Life'll Kill Ya is both intimate and acoustic, with Zevon playing everything except drums and bass.  Why?  Says Zevon: "They're not glamorous reasons, but rather brutal practicalities: given the vicissitudes of my career, and what I can afford, it's very likely that I'll end up playing these songs alone.  It's a good discipline because it forces you to write that fourth verse instead of allowing for a guitar solo.  And it's good to write with the idea that I might have to play these songs in some bar and it'll have to work.  I've built up more experience playing alone than as a rock band guy."

Zevon, who mainly plays a beautiful black Gibson Blues-King, describes his playing as "self-taught, really bad fingering," a characterization once confirmed by Neil Young.  "We were sharign a stage," recalls Zevon, "and Neil said, 'I'll just watch your hands and follow along.'  I replied, 'My fingering is weird.'   He looked over and said, 'You're right, it is.'"