I had the pleasure of sitting down with Peter Rowan after his solo acoustic performance at the Suwannee Roots Revival 2017. We talked about his spiritualism, new music and many other things. Through the years, Peter has played with Bill Monroe and Old & In The Way and many, many others and although his music is mostly rooted in bluegrass music, he has also reinvented himself with Reggae, Country & other versions of his songs as well. Later this evening Peter will be performing his album Dharma Blues with the musicians that he recorded it with including Hot Tuna’s Jack Casady (featured above w/Peter Rowan performing Dharma Blues). Here’s the interview:
Peter Rowan: Who are you with?
Tom Wickstrom: I have my own blog called Tie Dyed Tunes and I also contribute to Jamwich Magazine.
TW: First off, you opened your set with My Aloha, a cut off your recent CD of the same name. The first time I have seen that CD was here at Suwannee.
PR: Well, there’s no place to put it anymore. It’s on Amazon & a few other places. We’re going to do a feed off my Instagram onto Facebook. My daughter is going to organize that so that will be announced some time in the future.
TW: I’d like to hear more about that. I did have a chance to sit down with your brothers, Chris & Lorin at Hickoryfest. It was such a beautiful setting in the Poconos and was one of those festivals that I will try to go to for years to come. Your brothers told me that the three of you are working on a Christmas album. Will that be coming out this year?
PR: No, it won’t be out this year. We do get together once a week to sing together though.
TW: You mentioned a new project you are working on. Can you elaborate?
PR: Yes, bluegrass. That’s gong to come out on Rebel Records. I guess it’s the same old story about how we get the word out on it. We’ve got to use social media and announce it on a broader scale. Music can be found, but as far a doing an ad with point-of-sale but as far as getting everywhere, that’s the challenge. Somewhere between Instagram & Facebook.
TW: I consider you a true renaissance man in the way you have reinvented & reinterpreted your music many times over. Crucial Reggae is one of my favorite reinterpretations. How has your relationship or spirituality through Buddhism influenced your music?
PR: It’s given me enough clean energy to keep going. Buddhism is the kind of thing that makes it hard to articulate that thing that you don’t know. It’s all how you relate to your own practice and for me it’s how that stuff seeps over into the music because a lot of the practice I do is with Tibetan music. Westerners quest and there’s a lot of cultural things to work through. In the Tibetan tradition there can be a danger of a lot of cultural disguise. So finding the essence and I do think it keeps you alive. If you’re on the path, it does keep you strong in that questioning mind of devotion. It’s a precious thing. Basically, to live in this world having a good heart with all the virtues of all the religions like forgiveness & compassion. That’s the basis. The Buddhism kind of takes off on a different level where it starts to look at phenomena. Everything you see, hear, touch, taste & smell through your five senses is examined as…rather be fixated that everything is in a state of flux. It may take 1,000 years for something to change or it may just take the life of a tree, but then again time seems to be speeding up now. This is a big phenomena it seems. It could be that our perceptions through the digital media is speeding things up. It does seem like there are more fires & hurricanes happening now. Like right now! That’s sort of prophesizing the signs of the degeneration of what they call the last part of the Kali Yuga, the last part of this eon , which is still going to go on for at least the next half million years or so. I think we are getting closer to the sun, which is part of the heat & environmental disasters and whether directly related to humans misstep or not, we’ve kind of lost track of the essential healths for the planet. It’s definitely making a difference on global warming thing.
TW: What has music taught you about yourself?
PR: I don’t use drugs. I mean I did for a long time. I’d just wallow in the music to take a puff and kind of go into a state where everything seems very musical & I would write a lot of songs. I don’t do that anymore and I haven’t for a number of years. My thing now is sort of with patience and it is related to the Buddhist practice of trusting the natural mind. Just trusting instead of panicking to do this, do that and change something to make our lives better. Just trust your natural mind and that can take the form of some sort of stillness that I think is important. Basically, taking a nice big breath and relaxing. We tend to do that but everything is moving so fast. Even the machines are moving faster. The weather changes are moving faster and it’s hard to put the breaks on and just really sit down and really let things be for just 40 minutes. That’s a big gift of a practice. So, the very first virtue that is practiced is formally considered a gratitude, but in practicality it’s actually patience. The Bodhisattva virtue means someone who lives with a good heart. Compassion. They are always a step back from pushing themselves first. It’s sort of anti-career, but that’s a commitment I made a long time ago. That my music would be healing and I’m seeing that now. Just like tonight’s Dharma Blues performance, because the whole thing is just a healing prayer.
TW: So you try to leave politics ad all the crazy things going on in the world out of the equation?
PR: Yeah, but it’s so crazy in terms of its inception in history. I’ve got a sun I’ve never put on a record called “The Slave And Opium Trade”. It’s a valid historical point that these people were running sugar cane and rum to New England from Jamaica and distilling in Boston. They would then take the rum to England to get more money, then they would sail down the coast of Africa to pick up textiles and slaves and then bring them to Jamaica. In terms of cause and effect, it was a big part of a cause of something, but a deeper cause is really just the madness of the human ego. In those days not everyone was doing then and the Buddhist teachings were going all over the world. I grew up in an area where the beginnings of Buddhist teachings were starting to show themselves in Massachusetts with the Transcendentalists. Buddhism was showing up among the literati: Thoreau, Emerson and those guys. So that was an atmosphere or something like that when I was growing up. That and the American Indian thing too. I seem to have a large perception of residues of former inhabitants. I don’t know why but I became very interested in that and the names of the local roads that came from Indians. Then I left home to follow that trail out in the west. The southwest and the land of the Navajo and then I ended up in California. I’m back out there now. I really like it, bit’s a little dangerous right now because of wildfires.
TW: Are your brothers anywhere near the fires?
PR: I just talked to Chris. He just celebrated his 70th birthday and he’s okay. Nothing bad happened to them.
TW: How is your good friend, David Nelson? Have you talked to him?
PR: People have talked to David. He’s almost ready to get out and play, but he’s still too weak. He’s still undergoing treatment.
TW: One last thing, do you have a good David Nelson or Jerry Garcia story that you can share?
PR: I remember one time coming off the stage with Garcia up in Oregon. There seemed to be a little mumbling going on in the dressing room by the rest of the band about how this didn’t go right or this was all wrong. I just remember him looking at them with the eyes of a tiger: giving no thoughts. Let it go. So he definitely had that presence. There are dangers along the path. Jerry seems to be everyone’s favorite psychedelic explorer and I think it’s unfortunate for that to be looked upon as his highest achievement. He was a very compassionate guy, but by becoming attached to non-attachment, that was a pitfall. His heart was in the right place, for sure. Old “Buzz” Garcia (chuckles). He was a great guy. Any other questions?
TW: That’s all I have. I appreciate your time Thank you very much.
TW: I’m looking forward to the Dharma Blues show tonight.
PR: Thank you
Here’s video of Peter Rowan performing Dharma Blues at the 2017 Suwannee Fall Roots Revival.
Here’s a video of Peter performing one of his most recognized songs called “Midnight Moonlight”.