Shipe is a singer/songwriter based in Eugene, OR, who is currently camped out in San Diego and en route to Yellowstone National Park for a spell. He’s been playing in the Pacific Northwest for about 20 years, and has developed a strong following up there through his solo work and his time with bands like The Renegade Saints and The Blue Rebekahs. He’s warm and thoughtful and talented, and here are his answers to round one of Leona’s 20 Questions experiment (in his own words…):
Long and not very interesting story. As a musical artist, I’m known as John Shipe, been known as such since the late 80’s when I started playing professionally. At birth, I was named John Matthew Shipe, after a writer named John Matthews who had been killed in a car accident. After parental un-marrying and re-marrying, I was renamed John Matthew Schwartzman. (I eventually retained the “Shipe” for entertainment business purposes, as “Schwartzman” is too difficult to pronounce after several Jaggermeisters.)
Upon my own marriage, I dropped the original middle name, and added my Mother’s maiden name at the end—“Wray.” My current legal name is “John Schwartzman Wray.”
When I have had full bands with me, we have been known as “John Shipe Band,” “John Shipe & The Scapegoats,” and “John Shipe & The Blue Rebekahs.”
–1994 (as “The Renegade Saints”) Fear of the Sky (produced by a guy who had assisted-engineered on Pearl Jam’s Ten. “Delivered,” which I helped keyboard player Mike Walker write, nearly propelled us to commercial fame and fortune.
–1999 Sudden & Merciless Joy, my debut solo effort. “Hunger Artist” was a radio single, loosely based on a Franz Kafka story by the same title.
–2000 A Stealthy Portion, a very rough, live acoustic trio w/ cello. It got me the first real praised in Performing Songwriter magazine.
–2003 Pollyanna Loves Cassandra, a double album with extreme variety.
–2004 The John Shipe Song Clearance, exactly as the title suggests, a collection of misfit Shipe tunes and relics. I blush at how “Pit Bull Blues,” has become an international audio mascot for Pit Bull rescue.
–2005 John Shipe & The Blue Rebekahs, my personal favorite.
–2008 (as The Renegade Saints) Mercy Saints Alive, the live album that Saints fans alw ays wanted.
–2008 Yellow House, almost acoustic, but not really. My other personal favorite, it gets more airplay than the others.
3) 3 key songs?
“The Kid,” from Sudden & Merciless Joy
“King Alexander” from The Blue Rebekahs
“Yellow House,” from Yellow House
4) Background on those 3 songs?
“The Kid” is actually an excerpt from the Charlie Chaplin film score by the same title. It was a difficult and ambitious idea that I couldn’t get The Renegade Saints to get excited about it. I painfully doubted my arrangement talents and leadership skills until I could guide a band to such a gorgeous musical accomplishment.
I had to get personal permission from the Chaplin estate to release our version. I cried when I got e-mails back from France saying that Chaplin family members had heard the song and had given it their blessing.
“King Alexander” is a disguised autobiographical self-portrait in the form of archetype as hero. It mournfully celebrates the restless soul who is never satisfied. Technically, the song strikes me as a flawless arrangement, epitomizing the incredibly imaginative way that The Blue Rebekahs could interpret my songs. (I have a special place in my heart for that lineup.)
“Yellow House.” I used to be inept and unable to write “story songs.” I spent years honing that aspect of my song craft. After “Yellow House,” I realized that stories, with interesting characters, are exactly what I’ve become good at.
5) Sweetest on stage moment?
Two of them:
When The Renegade Saints opened for Bob Dylan at the Hult Center in our hometown of Eugene, Oregon, we were hired to play as an acoustic trio. While Dylan’s stage-manager was out for dinner we snuck our drums and organ on stage. He was livid when he returned to the Hult Center, but we played as a full rock band to a few thousand excited folks
The final Blue Rebekahs performance, at Eugene Celebration in 2006. The band tapped into something special and reached heights of performance we hadn’t felt before, and everybody knew it—ourselves, our friends, and the audience.
6) Sweetest off-stage moment.
The aforementioned across-the-seas encounter with the Chaplin family. As a devotee of the great comedian director, I was very emotionally involved in my tribute to him.
Aside from that, it’s always a sweet moment when boxes full of 1000 of my latest CD arrive at my doorstep.
7) Biggest Supporters?
My brother, Joel, is the only one who has never uttered a word of doubt, no matter how low things have gotten for me.
Of course, family and friends are always supportive, and have loaned me resources they may never see returned. But it’s hard to watch a son or a husband go broke, and hard to hold back sound advice when it’s seems best to pack it in and get a real job.
Colleague-wise, I have always been able to count on my friend Ehren Ebbage., since I first went solo in 1996. He lends a hand on every Shipe project, no matter how busy he is. He even has a way of leaving your band without making you feel abandoned.
8) Favorite places to play?
New to this region, I don’t have a lot of California venues under my belt. Various coffee houses and bars still blend into one, and I’m looking forward to a few of them becoming a regular stomping ground.
Nothing beats the big shows in my hometown of Eugene—Oregon Country Fair, Eugene Celebration, The Cuthbert Amphitheatre and my regular CD release shows at Sam Bond’s Garage.
I also have an enclave of fans in Northern Idaho—Moscow, at a venue called John’s Alley—a great stage and a great room.
9) The only times I ever feel like a success is during the 30 minutes after I finish writing a good song, and, like I said, when the new CD arrives at my doorstep.
10) If I weren’t a musician, I would be a writer of fiction. I seem to be unable to aspire to reasonable professions.
11) The Irish owners of the Irish pubs I play here in North San Diego County—they are world class chefs who throw fantastically indulgent eating festivals in their condo. All manner of living flesh smothered in all manner of sauces and gravies. I don’t know what’s what—mutton, pork, guinea hen? But I gained 9 pounds, an I’m no longer fit to appear shirtless at the beach.
12) 5 desert island albums:
- Grace, Jeff Buckley
- Abbey Road, The Beatles
- Layla and other Assorted Love Songs, Derek & The Dominoes
- Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, The Moody Blues
- Fragile, Yes
13) Skateboard tricks?
While standing on a skateboard, fixed into place so that it won’t roll, I can turn my eyelids inside out. And maybe juggle three tennis balls to make it interesting.
I had a cat for 8 years named Gus, who terrorized the neighbors Dachsunds. (The neighbors demanded that I do something about it. I gave Gus a very serious lecture about treating our German friends with respect.)
Between 2001 & 2008, my wife and I had Zoe the Pumpkin Pie Pit Bull. She passed away of old age last summer, but is immortalized in the songs “Pit Bull Blues” and “Sun Dog Ranch Road.”
15) When I was 12, the ultimate in cool was bell-bottom blue jeans, feathered hair parted in the middle, and a comb in the back pocket… and carrying around a boom box playing “Renegade” by Styx, or “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas.
A biography of Franz Kafka. It sent me on an lamentable trajectory towards despair. Currently, a biography of W.C. Fields tends to cheer me up, but it threatens to u-turn back to despair as I get closer to his sad end.
17) Favorite outfit?
My wife threw it out and replaced it with something much more respectable. All in all, if I could wear a Mandarin tuxedo every day, I would… with my hair dyed black, my nails polished black, and my barefoot toes polished black.
18) Favorite John Hughes movie?
As director? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It is one of my generations film anthems, and a good “boy movie.” Most of the other’s were kind of, uh, chick flicks. But wrote the script to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…brilliant!
19) Coveted piece of Art?
Edward Munch’s “The Scream.”
20) Favorite joke?
Q: How many feminist’s does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: That’s not funny!
You can visit John Shipe online at www.johnshipe.com, or on MySpace at www.myspace.com/johnshipemusic.