The seam between tradition and exploration in American music is long and winding, but one name has kept coming along every few stitches for the last forty years: Marc Ribot.
In the late seventies and early eighties, the man whom Rolling Stone later called “the go-to guitar guy for all kinds of roots-music adventurers” helped to set the no wave mold, most prominently with John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, while sidelining with the likes of Wilson Pickett and Chuck Berry. Greater fame and a new kind of artistry followed when he put his certain stamp on the clangorous yet delicate sound world of Tom Waits’s eighties classics Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Years. While creating wild odysseys with John Zorn, he was also creating deathless pop music, through an association with producer T Bone Burnett, with the likes of Sam Phillips, Elton John, and especially Elvis Costello.
Now Ribot is an atlas and archive of American music unto himself, having lent his endlessly versatile and imaginative style to songs by Neko Case, Caetano Veloso, Laurie Anderson, McCoy Tyner, Allen Toussaint, The Black Keys, and countless others from every corner of genre. He has released more than two dozen albums as a bandleader, which might take up anything from Albert Ayler to Cuban son. Especially active lately is Ribot’s noise-rock band, Ceramic Dog, which carries the anarchic spirit of his earliest music into his masterful present.
Ribot plays in several lineups at Big Ears this year: in a solo concert of the music of his first mentor, Frantz Casséus; in Joe Henry’s 115th Dream band with Jason Moran; and in a duo with the free-jazz pioneer Andrew Cyrille. He’ll also give a reading from his new book, Unstrung: Rants and Stories of a Noise Guitarist, a collection of essays, short stories, and imaginary film treatments as only an American original like Ribot could conceive of them.