The tale of the rambling man is a nostalgic throwback to American music and pop culture of decades past. Traditional rhythm and blues, country, roots, folk, rock ‘n’ roll—and in particular Waylon Jennings and the Allman Brothers—have notated the journey from New Orleans through the Midwest to California, a route modern-day rambling man Todd Wait retraces almost to a turn.
With a few contemporary adjustments, Wait tours the country year ’round in a veggie oil-fueled van, dabbling in several different music endeavors. His most-traveled project is Todd Day Wait’s Pigpen, an old-timey, New Orleans-inspired acoustic group, which features a different lineup almost every time the Pigpen hits the road. Currently, the trio features Wait on the guitar, Midwesterner Paul Weber on the harmonica and former Flagstaff resident Matt Dethrow on standup bass (also formally of Flagstaff funk band, the Infidelics).
Wait called in recently from Denver, Colo., where the Pigpen was finishing mastering their latest album, titled Shamtastic!, and offered insight on how he keeps content with daily life on the road. Shamtastic! will be ready to pick up at their show at Flagstaff Brewing Co., 16 E. Rte. 66, on Thu, March 29. The Pigpen takes the stage at 10 p.m. Dial 773-1442 for more info and check out their Web site at www.twdpigpen.com.
Ren Clark: Give us the crash course on the many facets of Todd Wait.
Todd Wait: Right now the lineup is an acoustic trio and we’re playing folk, country, blues and rhythm and blues. This is about the fifth time I’ve done this tour, and every time the [lineup] is different, that’s why the group’s name is Pigpen.
I play in a different band as well in San Diego and play psych blues. But [the current Pigpen has] recorded two albums so far—one in San Diego before this tour and then we just recorded a new one in Missouri, and mixed it in Denver. We recorded both of those albums on our own reel-to-reel machine, so that was pretty cool.
There’s a duo in there as well, right?
Yeah, so me and the harmonica player, Paul Weber, have a duo called Wait and Weber and have an album out and play shows as well. We all try to stay pretty busy. These are all our full-time jobs so we all have different projects.
I play solo a lot too and play everything from acoustic guitar to, you know, heavy rock ‘n’ roll on the Fender Rhodes piano and the Hammond organ.
So, how long have you, Matt and Paul been playing music together as Pigpen?
Matt and Paul met for the first time ever when we played a roots and blues festival in Missouri. Relatively, we left on tour Jan. 21 and that was the first time we actually played shows together as a trio.
Something I’ve noticed going through this whole tour is that our music attracts the young and the old. We’ve played house parties for people in their 50s and 60s and we’ve played in places where it’s just college crowds, and we’ve also played for little kids at farmers markets. That’s what’s really cool about our music is we can play a smoking barroom to a festival to a farmers market.
Is the rotation of musicians in your circle intentional or more because of circumstance?
It kind of came from me just touring around the country a lot and it was kind of hard in the beginning to get people to come on full time to tour the country. It was easier to play with people in their region. It wasn’t intentional—the people I played with had time to do their other projects but had time to do this project as well, so it makes it nice, and everyone is really fresh to the project.
You recorded one of your previous tracks, “Nowhere to Be,” in Flagstaff and you have Matt, who lived here for a bit—any other Flagstaff connections?
Actually me and Matt grew up together in Missouri, and we’ve known each other for a very long time. I was touring through when he was living there—that recording came from just showing up one night and setting up the recording gear and I played with him and his roommate.
Tell me about the Veggie Bus!
The Veggie Bus was an airport shuttle bus from Detroit. I’ve had it for about three years now. I ended up acquiring it, tore all the seats out of it, built bunks inside and a little kitchen so it’s like a little mini mobile apartment and runs on veggie oil.
I promote that kind of alternative energy a lot. It actually runs on diesel and veggie oil. You start them up on diesel and then switch over to veggie when the engine gets hot. It’s a great way to fuel your vehicle.
You really are on the road constantly ...
Yeah, I’d say most of the time I stay put is in San Diego, but that’s only about two or three weeks at a time. I pretty much tour fulltime. There’s a lot of subcultures in the United States, and they all have their own culture and music, lifestyles and cooking and stuff and it’s nice to take part in all those. A big part of my touring is, you know, learning and absorbing the cultures in those areas, absorbing the language and the way they talk and write and communicate. You can kind of add them all together into a cool American sound.
Is there a venue, city or region that feels most like home?
New Orleans is a spot I hit every year and I do a residency there, anywhere from two to five weeks, during the carnival time. I also really enjoy California and I spend a lot of time on the West Coast. And growing up in the Midwest, I try to spend a few weeks out of the year there as well. You know, home is where you make it.