Musician Peter Case focuses less on genre, more on the songwriting

Peter Case, known for his new wave, straight rock and folk-acoustic releases, will open the Acoustic Brew concert series season on Oct. 4.
Peter Case, known for his new wave, straight rock and folk-acoustic releases, will open the Acoustic Brew concert series season on Oct. 4. Photo provided

The Acoustic Brew concert series will kick off its fall 2014 season with a performance by folk-rock singer-songwriter and guitarist Peter Case. The multiple Grammy nominee’s music has ranged from new wave to folk rock and for years has gravitated to the intimacy of acoustic performances in smaller venues.

After dropping out of high school in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1973, Case moved to San Francisco, where he performed as a street musician. In 1976, Case teamed up with Jack Lee and Paul Collins to form the early new-wave band The Nerves. The group’s single “Hanging on the Telephone,” written by Lee, later was recorded by Blondie.

The short-lived trio disbanded, so Case moved to Los Angeles and formed the pop-rock band The Plimsouls in 1979. The group saw some measure of success when a few of their songs were featured in the 1983 romantic comedy “Valley Girl.”

Growing up in a household that was always full of music, Case came to it very easily. His two older sisters introduced him to early rock and roll favorites such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers. After they went to college, his sisters came back with even more music. Folk artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez influenced the young man even further. Of course the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were always there as well, but the main thing for Case has always been great singers and great songwriting.

“Every style I’ve played has been based on the songs,” said Case, who grew up on rock-and-roll and folk classics. “The recipe changes slightly — sometimes it’s more focused on rock and roll and sometimes it’s more focused on folk; but it’s always based on songwriting. That’s what I’ve always believed in, reaching out to people through the material, as opposed to just being a hot guitar player.”

After the breakup of The Plimsouls, Case struck out on his own, playing with a number of well-known musicians, including John Hiatt, Jim Keltner, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, and singer-songwriter, composer and record producer Van Dyke Parks — all of whom appear on Case’s self-titled album in 1986.

In 1989, Case released his second solo album, “The Man With the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar,” featuring artists like Ry Cooder, Benmont Tench and David Hidalgo, of Los Lobos. In 1992, Case scored a hit record with the song “Dream About You,” which peaked at No. 16 on the U.S. Billboard Modern Rock charts.

In recent years, Case has continued to release several albums as a solo performer, moving increasingly toward acoustic-oriented styles and performing in smaller venues.

While Case may have a diverse musical background, he doesn’t consider himself experimental.

“I was experimenting with different styles when I was a teenager because I learned how to play rock and roll and folk music on the guitar, and I was influenced by blues, rock and roll and folk music,” he said.

Case revealed that a new album is in the works.

“I’ve got a new album that I’m working on and I’m going to play some of the new songs,” he said. “I’ve been trying them at different places on the road.”

Now making his home in Northern California, Case, 60, has been touring as a solo act for nearly 30 years, so performing these acoustic shows for smaller crowds is nothing new.

“It’s something I’ve done and loved for years and years,” he said. “I’ve been a solo act five times longer than I was in The Plimsouls. It’s really fun and also very satisfying. I like it because you get to really put your songs across the people and get in really close contact with the audience in a really nice way.”

For Case, what has been just as satisfying as the music has been the warm reception he’s been given everywhere he has traveled and performed.

“A lot of people really listen to the songs and get a message out of them,” he said. “I’m telling stories about life in America and people seem to relate to it. I’m talking about people making things happen without a lot of resources — people making good things happen out of hard times. It’s a message people seem to really enjoy. They seem to get a lot of sustenance out of it.”

Like every artist, Case can’t be sure of what opportunities may lie ahead in the future for his music, but at the end of the day, what’s most important to him is to just try to write the best music that he can, be creative, reach out to people, and to try to bring a powerful message.

“I just try to get better and better at that — that’s really my goal,” he said. “I’m just trying to bring a powerful message to people and bring them a night that they will remember. I remember hearing great music as a kid and being inspired. Now, I’m trying to bring that too, maybe give a little of that back if I can.”