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Musician John Doe’s legacy still evolving and growing

John Doe will perform at Knuckleheads on Monday and at the Bottleneck in Lawrence on Tuesday. Jesse Dayton will open for both shows.
John Doe will perform at Knuckleheads on Monday and at the Bottleneck in Lawrence on Tuesday. Jesse Dayton will open for both shows. File photo

After he released “Keeper,” his eighth solo album, in 2011, John Doe took stock in his music catalog.

“I realized I’d put out more solo records than X records,” he told The Star recently, referring to the legendary Los Angeles punk band he started in 1977. “A couple of friends I respect had told me, ‘You should put out a Best of John Doe.’ I thought, ‘Sure, whatever … Why not now?’”

So last year, he released “The Best of John Doe: This Far,” a retrospective compiled as a double-vinyl release.

“It’s a best-of, not a greatest hits, because there really aren’t any hits, which is OK with me. I did what anyone would do: I picked my favorites, I picked the ones that get requested when I’m playing live,” the singer/songwriter said.

“I asked my sweetheart what she thought. And I picked some songs I felt like might have been pushed aside and didn’t get the recognition I felt they deserved.”

The process inspired no epiphanies, he said, but it did reveal a few things, including an appreciation for what he’d accomplished.

“The main realization I had was how (producer) Dave Way and I hadn’t done anything that really dated (the recordings). One of my goals has always been to make things sound current and not to use lame tricks that will date you five or 10 years from now.

“It was also rewarding to see the range between some of the songs. Some of the later albums, like from ‘Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet’ onward, seem a little more cohesive. Dave and I had figured out ways to serve the songs better and make things less eclectic.”

The process also reminded him of how many artists he had collaborated with over the years, including Kathleen Edwards, Neko Case, Jill Sobule, Aimee Mann and Grant-Lee Phillips.

“That’s the advantage of staying alive and not being dead,” he said. “You get to work with people you’ve toured with or met along the way. I have a lot of friendships with people whose work I respect. And I like singing with a female counterpart. A lot of my songs are about relationships, and it’s like they’re telling their side of the story.”

Doe, who performs in Kansas City and Lawrence this week, has been looking back in more ways than one. Recently he’s been performing with the Flesh Eaters, a Los Angeles punk band that formed in the late 1970s. Doe hooked up with them in 1983, joining Chuck Desjardin, the group’s founder, Dave Alvin, Bill Bateman, Steve Berlin and DJ Bonebrake, Doe’s bandmate in X. The Flesh Eaters recently played five dates in California.

“It has been like a dream come true,” he said. “The last time we played together was in 2006. Even back in 1983 or around then, we didn’t play much together because the Blasters were busy — I think Steve Berlin was still with the Blasters and hadn’t moved over to Los Lobos yet — and X was busy. We only played maybe 10 shows.

“I love playing with Bill Bateman, and having DJ play vibes is kind of crazy. It’s like no other band. It’s a weird hybrid of punk, jazz and garage rock. Chuck D is like no other singer. He kind of chews up his words and screams. They’re more like incantations than songs. He’s a true artist, a poet. He’s deep, a really deep character.”

Next month Doe will be part of a tribute to Bob Dylan, who is the 2015 MusicCares Person of the Year. On Feb. 6, two days before the Grammy Awards show, Doe and a host of other musicians, including Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jack White, Tom Jones and Los Lobos, will perform a concert in Dylan’s honor.

“It’s really flattering,” said Doe, who recorded two songs for the soundtrack to the Dylan biopic, “I’m Not There.”

“He and I have hung out a couple of times over the years. To have him kind of lay his hand gently upon your shoulder (laughs) … ‘Oh, I am honored, kind sir.’ I’m sure he asked me because of that cool Todd Haynes movie. But it’s a bunch of really famous people. I was like, ‘Are you kidding? Are you sure you called the right guy?’ But, it’s a little bit of validation.”

Doe is doing plenty of looking forward, too. X will be touring this spring, and he will join Dave Alvin for part of his railroad tour of the West and Southwest, promoting Alvin’s album “West of the West.” Having finished a recording with Howe Gelb, Doe said he’s working on some solo material.

“I’ve got a bunch of half-baked ideas I need to finish,” he said. “X is always playing and has a tour in April.”

In addition to X, which released seven studio albums, Doe has put out two with the Knitters plus collaborative albums with the Sadies and Sobule. (He also has a vast and impressive filmography). Asked about songwriting and finding inspiration, the subject turns to parenthood.

At 60, Doe has three daughters, all grown and into professional careers. One is in event planning, one is in the film business and another has a marine biology degree but is more interested in her minor, dance.

His retrospective on parenthood seems to parallel his creative spirit: Give them guidance, support and inspiration, but also the freedom to explore, take risks and succeed or fail on their own.

“They have the agency to make right or wrong decisions, and you’ve got to leave them alone to do that. I mean, you have to set boundaries for them so they’re not living in your ****ing basement when they’re 30.

“Maybe I’m selfish,” he said. “Some people say their lives were completely changed when they had kids. It changed my life, but not completely. It’s a wonderful thing, but for people who don’t have kids — it’s not like it’s the only way you can be a complete human being.”

He acknowledges his fortune, that all his girls are healthy and smart and doing what they love.

“It’s a great, enriching experience, especially as the kids get older, and you get to share more things with them. If I had any advice for myself, I would have realized sooner they’re fully functional human beings who need to be steered and encouraged. But I would probably have told them what to do less.”

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


John Doe performs Monday at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester Ave. Jesse Dayton opens at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance at Doe and Dayton also perform Tuesday at the Bottleneck, 737 New Hampshire St., Lawrence. Doe will be interviewed and perform on the Bridge (90.9 FM) at 3 p.m. Monday.