(Some of The Cedar Hill Refugees: Dave Evans, Jack Clift, John C. Cash and Elizabeth LaPrelle.)
An interview with Jack Clift, award-winning music producer at Effigy Records, whose vision perfectly blends American bluegrass and folk ballads with traditional Uzbek instrumentation.
Together with John Carter Cash, Jack created the album Pale Imperfect Diamond and it is a unique blend of eastern and western cultural influences. I interviewed my high school pal this week to learn more about the future of this important international collaboration. You will see him playing the guitar in a number of the videos in this post.
(Members of Jadoo: Bakhtiyar Kabilov, Maxim Pension, Jack Clift, Olim Khakimov, Toir Kuziev.)
Jack, we went to high school together in Santa Fe in the early 1970s and I remember you as sweet kid, all angles, and with a mischievous smile, but I understand that you were born in Oklahoma. When did you move to New Mexico and what was that change like for you?
Jack Clift: I moved to Santa Fe, just before my 13th birthday. My dad's half of the family, as well as my godparents, were based out here and we'd spent at least part of each summer in New Mexico since I was an infant. Frankly, it was more than a bit of culture shock going into the New Mexico schools at this stage of my life, but I've always loved the land, the food, and the people in northern New Mexico. It's hard for me to imagine living somewhere else.
I know exactly what you mean about the New Mexico public schools having moved to Santa Fe from the east coast around the same time that you moved there from Oklahoma. In Virginia where I am from originally, there is a well established heritage of bluegrass, but in New Mexico not so much. While other boys were learning to play the Stairway to Heaven riff, how is it that you became interested in authentic folk music?
My maternal grandfather, C. W. Clift, was Kentucky born and certainly there was some early exposure to bluegrass and country from that, but Oklahoma City was a real musical crossroad and WKY radio played an incredibly diverse and colorblind array of styles through my '60s childhood.
(John Sample, Jack Clift, and Jay Watson circa 1976. Photo by Brian Gregory Wilson.)
Are you a classically trained musician? Did you attend a university?
I did a couple of years at the College of Santa Fe and another two at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music at Claremore Junior College (Now Rogers State) in Claremore, Oklahoma and then a bit of field school with the University of New Mexico. I took music theory and some related composition courses throughout, but I wasn't one of these kids who came out of school band and read notation like a whiz. Claremore was a total gas and, in addition to traditional music classes, we learned about PA equipment, stagecraft, etc. The school sent us out in various band configurations and I learned a lot about group dynamics and such. It was a wonderful, priceless experience, but it would be a real stretch to call myself classically trained.
Who was the first bluegrass superstar you ever met with and collaborated?
I did some recordings with Mark O'Conner back in the '80s--none of which have been released, and one song with Edgar Meyer, but in 2006 I met and recorded with Dr. Ralph Stanley the legendary bluegrass superstar and that was a real milestone for me.
(Cedar Hill Refugees: Jack Clift, Dr. Ralph Stanley, John C. Cash and James Shelton.)
Your partner in this venture is John Carter Cash, son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. I am a huge fan of the Carter-Cashes. Did you ever get to meet Mother Maybelle Carter or Johnny Cash?
How did you become affliated with the Carter-Cash clan?
I met John Carter Cash in '06 through a mutual friend, Jack Propps, and the real mischief began when we decided to combine our benches and see what might transpire. I was already working in Uzbekistan with a group--even doing some traditional American material, but John with his crew and vision, brought it into a whole new realm. Things really caught fire when we started combining these two traditional styles with taproot musicians and singers from both sides.
(The Amazing Jackalopes with Jack Propps, Brian Wilson, Jeff Donachy, Jeff Hett, Jack Clift.)
I thought the following video about the project that you posted on Youtube was just wonderful and would like to quote the text that accompanies it for our readers:
"Pale Imperfect Diamond is an ambitious collection of roots music standards and original tracks recorded in cultural poles. Co-producer Jack Clift met with John Carter Cash and the idea to marry the musical styles with an album formed; the two producers were committed to unifying American folk ballads and traditional Uzbek instrumentation from the album's inception.
"Jadoo, an American-Uzbek band Jack Clift co-founded while living in Uzbekistan, recorded Pale Imperfect Diamond's base tracks in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The bones of the album were then taken to Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee where they were masterfully blended and complemented with American roots music instrumentation and vocals. The lustrous cast that assembled at Cash Cabin included The Peasall Sisters, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Marty Stuart and John Cowan. The collective of participants from both countries, including Jack Clift and Cash, became known as Cedar Hill Refugees."
When did you first become interested in the music of Uzbekistan?
I had worked in Turkey since the mid '90s and met an Uzbek singer who was working in Istanbul. She piqued my interest in Central Asian music and I pursued it East.
Is there a similar tonic scale or rhythm that both types of mountain music share?
Though it might not be obvious, if you listened to Turgun Alimatov back-to-back with Doc Boggs, there is more common ground than one might expect. The musicians certainly respond to each other's tonal, rhythmic, and timbral elements, but there is an elusive "feel" factor that's hard to define. I would highly recommend Ted Levin's excellent 100,000 Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia for anyone interested in the music of Uzbekistan.
How does the Pale Imperfect Diamond project work?
For the first album, Pale Imperfect Diamond, I took a batch of songs from John's and my own collections--traditional and original--for my group, Jadoo, in Tashkent to choose from. Tatar guitarist, Enver Izmaylov, and I started arranging and recording our guys there and I brought those tracks back and had the U.S. vocalists and musicians sing and play to that.
During this upcoming round (our second, yet-to-be-named album), we've done the opposite. We recorded the vocalists--Dr. Ralph, Rosanne Cash, The Peasall Sisters, John Cowan, Elizabeth LaPrelle and Dave Evans first, and I took those tracks to Uzbekistan to have the musicians there respond to more specific performances. Just to inject some fairness into the dynamic, this time I did bring a traditional Uzbek instrumental home for some of our more daring players. I was thrilled when Bela Fleck agreed to come in and play on that one.
Here is your video of The Peasall Sisters. Were you involved in the amazing and haunting puppeteering?
Let's discuss the country of Uzbekistan. How was it affected by the Soviet occupation?
Profoundly. And not all of it good-- as with the Aral Sea situation shown in the video below. Uzbekistan faces an incredibly shaky future challenged by the lack of water in this doubly landlocked country.
But musically, the Russian influence added a deep classical dimension to the mix. Yo-Yo Ma referred to the Silk Road as "the internet of antiquity." The Uzbeks have been assimilating cultural information from a vast array of sources and are uniquely skilled, as individuals and as a people, at putting their own cultural stamp on these various influences to stunning effect.
Is the capital Tashkent a western style city or is it more tribal?
Tashkent certainly has some elements of both. It is much less isolated than in the Soviet era, but geography alone dictates a certain degree of filtering, so there is something pristine in the music and yet amazingly dynamic and receptive.
(Photo of magnificent architecture in Samarkand, Uzbekistan by Jack Clift.)
I read where the population of Uzbekistan is young. Wikipedia states that 34.1% of the population is under that age of 14. What age group would you say is your demographic?
Like the musicians involved, it spans from teenagers to, well, Dr. Ralph is 84. So, I guess I'm in the middle there somewhere.
Your Uzbek wife is very beautiful. Are you newlyweds?
Kind of. We're approaching our first anniversary in December.
Are you a folk hero in Uzbekistan?
Ha! Nope, but don't tell my wife.
What is the inspiration for the names of your groups? Jadoo and Cedar Hill Refugees?
Jadoo is Farsi for "magic." Okay, Uzbek isn't in the Farsi family, but we do have a Tajik member. Anyway, we thought it sounded cool and it stuck. Cedar Hill Refugees was the name of Johnny Cash's fishing/writing and, later, recording retreat in Hendersonville, Tennessee that evolved into the Cash Cabin Studio.
What is the makeup of each group and how are they inter-related?
There are over musical 40 contributors. Let's call it a loose confederation. Definitely inter-related at this point!
(Photo of Arab style dancers performing with Jadoo by Jack Clift.)
I can’t take my eyes off of the mesmerizing traditional dancers. How are the western style dancers received? In their black boots and doing the hair whip, they look frankly like tacky strippers.
Okay, first of all, Jadoo generally performs live with dancers, but not with traditional Uzbek style. The Eastern dancers that appear with us are considered "Arab style" over there. In the 2006 concert on YouTube they were joined by the dancers from the club that are considered "Russian style"--though one of them seems to have seen Blue Velvet. Anyway, we like working with dancers,even the tacky ones.
No doubt! The following video shows the contrast of the "Arab style" belly dancers and the "Russian style" dancers. The dancing girls kick in at about 3:00.
What are you doing now?
I'm finishing up the tracking and getting into the mixing phase of the next album.We've got pretty much the same crew as Pale Imperfect Diamond and some notable folks that are new to the project. In addition to the singers mentioned above and Bela Fleck, we've had Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Tony Rice--the list is still growing!
In 2009, I was contacted by by director Susan McNally about having Jadoo perform in an episode of Rudy Maxa's World that they were getting ready to shoot in Uzbekistan. I joined them and we did the performance that is now on YouTube.
They were really great folks and we have been discussing doing a concert documentary where we'd bring Jadoo to the U.S. and, for the first time, actually have all the players assemble in the same place. We've written up a proposal that we're sending out to potential investors. All of the key musical contributors have signed on and this is what I'm going to concentrate on when I've finished mixing and releasing the album.
Thanks so much for granting me this interview to share with the Open Salon, Jack. I enjoyed it and learned a lot, too.