Tuesday, February 26

The Bostonians #20: Asa Brebner

Asa Brebner was the guitarist who replaced Curly on bass for the first Jonathan European tour.

He is a Modern Lover. He kept on playing with Jonathan through the years recording on the "back in your Life" and "now it's time for Jonathan Richman .." albums. Asa has also had his own band, the Mezz and was part of Robin Lane's Chartbusters. His talent has become more and more apparent through the years specially on his solo work and his guitar playing is just amazing to me. He is one of those hidden Boston magicians who deserve to get a recognition which is late to come. Those of us who saw him on stage backing Jonathan know all about it. Asa has a web page, the link is on the right column. He has kindly agreed to answer my questions and I would like to thank him here .

(photo: Shaun Wolf Wortis)

- Did you ever see the Original Modern Lovers on stage ? If you had that luck, what are the memories you keep from that time ?
I never saw the original modern lovers. I was travelling in South America. I was 19 years old. I got arrested in Ecuador and did 6 months jail time.

- You are the guy who started to play at the Rat, a mythic place of all, with your band the Mezz. When did Leroy Radcliffe join your band ?
Leroy joined the Mezz after my first few tours with Jonathan. He produced a single for co-pilot records for I think a French guy named Jean Touitou(I am sure I am not spelling that correctly) and an older partner named Gilles They were somehow involved in the French fashion industry.
(Jean Touitou is still directing APC a French fashion company and he is a true Jonathan fan, released the "Mustapha" sessions)

Jonathan and Asa (courtesy of Joe Harvard)

- You became part of the Modern Lovers #2 before the 79 European tour to replace Greg “Curly” Keranen who could not make it. How did Jonathan pick you up ?

When I was released from jail, I worked in a health food store that Jonathan frequented. We began a friendship then and I began auditioning for his first European tour.

Do you remember how was that first European tour. I read that you had often to confront puzzled audiences which were expecting a more rock sound, in the “roadrunner “ vein when Jonathan was singing “Affection” ?
Audiences who had only heard Roadrunner were very perplexed by Jonathan's "new" sound. He is very good at winning people over in a live situation although it was a little difficult on some occasions

- You got involved in the “Back in your life” album. How come this album recorded with different musicians and different sessions still sounded coherent ?
Back in your life was produced by Kenny Laguna who went on to manage Joan Jett -He kept the production cohesive.

- You took also part of other tours in Europe. Would you remember the 1985 one where you were paired with Andy Paley to back Jonathan ? What did you think of this reduced format, which eventually has reduced to a drummer since 15 years ?
I used to play bass for Jonathan then switched to guitar in the eighties. I prefer the old style format but I appreciate Jonathan for doing things "his way"

Jonathan, Andy Paley and Asa in Reims (courtesy of JC Brochard)

- Any particular memories of the gig in Reims set by the local radio station ? JC, one of the organisers of the event is one of our friends.
I don't remember Reims specifically but along with Bordeaux, they were the 2 places in France where the audience had rythym and clapped in time. Very magical shows

I like very much Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. You played in that band too and reconnected with Leroy Radcliffe in the band. Would you consider Robin as a female Jonathan Richman ? Personnally I have this feeling when I am listening to her music, but you were actually in the band so…

Robin is definitely different than Jonathan- I think Leroy and I saw her as a really "commercial" possibility. She had a classic folk song singer voice but could belt out tunes rock style. I think we just hoped to make millions. and we tried. Leroy and Robin had a kid together. who is all grown up now.

Second LP cover for Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, Asa is on the left and Leroy is second right.

- What would be your favourite Jonathan song ?
My fave Jonathan song is "The Ancient Long Ago"

- I have seen this video clip where you are playing with Joe Howard and covering the Velvets’ “I am sticking with you” which was also covered on a single by Jonathan and Moe Tucker. What Jonathan songs would you think to cover ?
I cover "Roadrunner" and "Someone I care About"

Speaking of the Velvet Underground, did you seem them when they were playing at the Boston Tea Party ? Some souvenirs ?
I never saw the Velvets but I listened to them a lot.

- You have done your own records, and you are considered as a crucial singer/guitar player. How would you define your music and is Boston, the city, some kind of influence ? After all you did this song “I walk the streets”, and Jonathan had “walkin’ up the streets”. This town fascinates me as well as its musical scene.
Boston has a lot of old world magic(Not as much as France) but it is rapidly disappearing. I am sure I was inspired by a lot of the same streets as Jonathan.

- Are the former Modern Lovers still in touch with each other ?
I think all of the M.L. alumni are in touch in some way or another. I went out with John Felice to see Irma Thomas just the other night

- Would you have any anecdote related to Jonathan to share with us?
Once in Germany he took his shoes and socks off on stage to dig at a splinter on front of a hostile audience who yelled abuse at us.

He said "Wait a minute, I've got a splinter!"

He won them over after that but I thought we were about to be lynched. It's funny now.

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