Joe Restivo's new debut album on Blue Barrel Records asks the musical question, Where's Joe? But a better question might be, where is he not? The seasoned guitarist and native Memphian keeps busy with a cornucopia of projects, notably the Love Light Orchestra, the Bo-Keys, the City Champs, and more, but since the album dropped a month ago, his own group, the Joe Restivo 4, has been revving into high gear.
And yet there's another project with the Restivo stamp on it that, while not having released any product, has been turning the heads of jazz aficionados in this town for years. Detective Bureau may not play as often as some of the aforementioned groups, but the level of the players is such that the group guarantees a fascinating and danceable performance.
This weekend will witness an even more rare event than a mere Detective Bureau gig. This Friday at the Green Room at Crosstown Arts, they'll be accompanying the very Japanese gangster film that inspired the band's name in the first place. I gave Joe a shout between woodshedding sessions to hear the details on his venture into the world of live film soundtracking, and more.
The Memphis Flyer: Seijun Suzuki's Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!, aka (探偵事務所２３ くたばれ悪党ども, must be dear to your heart, as the namesake of this band. Out of all of Suzuki's B-movie 'yakuza' films, what's the significance of this particular one?
Joe Restivo: I think it's Suzuki's first film with Joe Shishido, the chipmunk-like lead.They went on to make films together that culminated in Branded to Kill, which was his existentialist crime drama, where the studio was like, "What? No, this is not what we wanted you to make. You're fired." They wanted him to make campy B movies. I don't know, what do you call that kind of movie?
This one we're doing has elements of James Bond. The first time you meet him, he's at a poker table. And they have a shot coming at him from behind, and you expect him to turn around and order a martini. He's kind of goofy. He's also a bit of Phillip Marlowe. There's no narrator, but he's a detective. A wacky private eye who goes to the local hard nosed police chief to tell him he's the only one who can infiltrate this yakuza clan. There's a yakuza war going on, and he can straighten this all out. Using his wit and his savvy and his chipmunk cheeks... he had plastic surgery, the actor. That's why he looks like that. To look more leading-man-esque, I guess.
Anyway, I fell in love with these movies years ago, even back when we were doing a lot of City Champs stuff. I actually wrote a piece of music on our second record, "Shishido Joe," after the great actor. We're gonna use some of that music in the score on Friday.
I talked to Crosstown Arts about doing a live score, and asked about a couple films. I actually was thinking about doing Branded to Kill. And that wasn't available, so we did this one. And that's cool, 'cos it's the first Suzuki film with Joe Shishido, and hopefully one of the first of these that we do, with more to come.
Aside from digging the film generally, were you inspired by its original soundtrack?
The original score is jazzy, and pretty sparse. There's a lot of flute, baritone saxophone, organ. We are using a couple of elements from the original score, including the main theme; and there's a love interest, and we're gonna use her theme.But there's actually not a lot of music in the movie.
We're not doing a silent film, and you can't really separate the score from the rest of the audio; you can't have stems, in other words. So we're gonna be playing 90 minutes of continuous music while the film is shown with the subtitles. It's a live score, but it's almost like we're playing a Detective Bureau show with a visual element. We're playing continuously through the whole film. Marc Franklin and I developed cues from our book of music ,and it seems to be working. A lot of it was original music that me and Marc have written. Because a lot of the vibe of the band has been influenced by great B film composers like Morricone, Piero Piccioni , who's a big hero, Lalo Schifrin, and Henry Mancini, of course.
I'm a huge fan, but I wouldn't say we've pulled a lot from him. Maybe some of his later stuff. We tend toward some of the campier movies.
And there's a huge Cuban influence in this genre and your sound as well.
Yeah, we have a great conguero [conga player], Felix Hernandez, in the band. And the band is a band. We've played live and done a lot of music from the CTI Label, Creed Taylor's label, which has a lot of Brazilian and Afro-Cuban influences. Some of the boogaloo artists. Willie Bobo is a big influence on the band. And Felix is the heart and soul of the band. He's a real, sanctified Puerto Rican conguero. And we absolutely learn from him. We were at rehearsal the other day and he was giving us a lesson on the samba. 'Cos he knows the Brazilian stuff and the Cuban stuff. He's just a master of rhythm.
He'll say, "This is what the rhythm feels like. This is what it is, and this is how it should be interpreted." 'Cos it's one thing to analytically diagram what a samba rhythm is, but there's a whole other element to how these things are supposed to feel. That's why it's cool to have him in the band. His pocket, his feel is incredible. Especially in Memphis, where we have our own pocket and feel.
And he knows that stuff too, he's been here so long. I was in a band with him for years called A440. We played every Friday night. I sat next to him. We were playing R&B. He brings this incredible rhythmic knowledge and experience to any group I've been in with him. He's all over the score for Craig Brewer's new film, Dolemite Is My Name. I was there the day he cut his parts and everybody was going crazy, 'cos he's so good and adds so much flavor to a project. So we're really lucky to have him.
Who else is in the group?
Our regular drummer is on tour so we're having George Sluppick. Our regular drummer is Clifford "Peewee" Jackson. He's fantastic, but couldn't make it. Nearly everyone knows George. He was my partner in City Champs. Landon Moore is on bass, who's in a million projects and an incredible first call bass player here in town. Pat Fusco, a great keyboard player who's been in the band from day one, plays all the analog keys: Rhodes, organ, etc. And of course Marc Franklin, who's our trumpet player and resident arranger. We sat and sussed out the score together and he actually arranged it into a written score. So he's our resident professor. And then we have a special guest, a guy named John Lux. He was at the University of Memphis in the early 80s. He's an incredible doubler, playing baritone saxophone, alto, and flute. So we're excited to have his skills.
And Landon brings such a creative energy to anything. He has a producer brain. For instance, I'm in this group the MD's, and we're doing this Beatles thing, "The MD's perform The Beatles' Revolver," that he totally conceived of and arranged. He's always got something to offer creatively, besides getting the right sound and feel. He just gets it immediately.
Art Edmiston, Mark Franklin and Joe Restivo at Rhythm on the River.
It's a busy weekend for you. You'll also be playing the River Series at Harbor Town Amphitheater on Sunday afternoon.
Yeah, that will be the other group that made my record. Tom Lonardo, Tim Goodwin and Art Edmaiston. We're honored to play this series. It's a really cool outdoor space. We're excited. If anybody didn't go to the release party, this will give you another chance to see the group in a really cool setting. We'll play all the music from the album. It's been getting a really great response, and the band is tighter than ever. We always have a lot of fun. We've been playing a residency in Oxford, at Proud Larry's, and on September 19th we'll be on Thacker Mountain Radio down there, followed by an after show at Proud Larry's. So we're reaching to our Mississippi brethren.
This is the same band you appear with every Sunday afternoon at Lafayette's, isn't it?
Yeah, the Joe Restivo 4. We've been together for five years this week, playing every Sunday. Now, sometimes I'm on tour and the great Dave Cousar has filled in admirably. Sometimes the other guys can't make it and we'll have others as guests. But we've held that gig down for five years. It's crazy to think about. It's been really great, and an opportunity to develop a sound. Because I don't think you can really develop a band's sound unless you play a lot of gigs. You have to hash it out on the bandstand and find your group dynamic and group sound. That's what I wanted this thing to be and that's what it turned out to be. And when we got to the point of saying, "This is our sound," that's when we recorded. So my philosophy is: have a band, play a bunch of gigs, find your sound, and then document it. That seems to be a good process, you know?
That's why it's great to go right into a recording studio after a tour.
Exactly, yeah. I heard an interview about Chess Records the other day, I think it was Buddy Guy. And they would record at 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 in the morning, after the gigs. 'Cos Leonard Chess wanted that energy from the live shows on the records.
And speaking of documenting a band sound, Detective Bureau's got future plans. I'm in talks with a local label, so hopefully we're gonna be releasing a 45 by next year. We have the compositions, and they're gonna be very film score-oriented. One piece of music is "Apollonia's Sunday Drive." Apollonia's from The Godfather, Michael Corleone's love interest in Sicily, who one day got in the car, and shouldn't have gotten in the car. I wrote a theme for her, and I think we're gonna record it. So we'll have that 45, something to show for ourselves as a group.
You do have a knack for starting and picking cool projects.
Well, I'm lucky. Just to play with the really fantastic musicians we have here. I've been really lucky to work with Marc Franklin. He's an incredible figure in the scene here. His arranging and organizational skills are fantastic. He brings a really creative and focusing energy to a project. He's been huge for this band.
Detective Bureau's Live Score to Seijun Suzuki’s Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! happens Friday, September 6, 7:30 PM at the Green Room at Crosstown, $10.