Fools on Stools
Skip Heller celebrates his songwriter showcase’s one-year anniversary and his new Floyd Tillman tribute album Sunday
By Bliss Bowen 12/12/2013
Best known as a hellacious picker, Skip Heller wanted to showcase the diversity of “the wide world of songs in Los Angeles” when he was organizing his first Fools on Stools event. He also wanted to study how other artists present their music.
“The first thing I sought to achieve was to shame myself for not writing often enough,” the Philly-raised guitarist jokes. “I wanted to inspire myself to write more by being around people I think have good songs and who represent a certain place in the community. They don’t all come from the same world; they’re not all blues or country or rock ‘n’ roll or punk. I put different combinations of people together because you always see what they have in common.
“I have very few rules, but one is that you can’t bring anyone with you to perform the songs; you have to perform them. [And] everyone on the bandstand should get to control it as much as I do. It should be like a very dysfunctional panel show.”
It’s more convivial than dysfunctional but, from the artists’ POV — speaking as one who’s guested on Heller’s stage — it can be intimidating to swap songs with a player who’s so much more accomplished with his instrument. But that’s Heller’s intent.
“I try to match people together who don’t have the same exact skill set,” he says. “I always try to get somebody who’s not necessarily a guitar player, who can sing really good harmony or play percussion or harmonica or fiddle, because they’ll add something different. It really is about the resourcefulness of songwriters together, away from a band setting. Songwriters think differently from pickers.”
Past guests include Dave Stuckey, Anny Celsi, Claire Holley, Fur Dixon, Dave Gleason and Brian Wilson sideman Nelson Bragg. This Sunday, the one-year Fools on Stools anniversary, Heller will host fiddler Edie Murphy, Black Tongued Bells frontman Dee Miner, and Bill Frenzer, who “wrote and recorded one of the five most requested songs in the history of Dr. Demento, ‘Dead Puppies,’” Heller gleefully points out.
Heller will also celebrate his latest album, “Songs With Memories: Skip Heller and Friends Play Floyd Tillman,” a tribute to the prolific guitarist/composer he describes as “just the weirdest singer I’ve ever heard, like Bing Crosby on acid. I knew of his songs by Ray Charles doing them on ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’ and John Prine on his ‘Pink Cadillac’ album.” Heller does a dead-on impression of Tillman’s drawl while recounting the day he tracked him down in a library phone book and called his home in Marble Falls, Texas.
“He was an important guy. I thought, ‘There’s somebody who really deserves a tribute.’ So I called on my friends. Why not?” n
Skip Heller hosts Fools on Stools with Bill Frenzer, Dee Miner and Edie Murphy, followed by Heller’s band Hollywood Blues Destroyers, at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Redwood Bar, 316 W. 2nd St., downtown LA; $3. Info: (213) 680-2600. Skiphellermusic.net, theredwoodbar.com