Warren Zevon talks Odds, “Werewolves”, scoring films, and managing to remain poor



By Steve Newton

Once upon a time, there were four young men who played in a band called Dawn Patrol. At a bar called the Roxy, they’d play fired-up versions of classic rock tunes and intersperse them with zany patter and goofy jokes. Then one day the band revealed the songwriting side of its split personality and, as the Odds, released an album. A guy from L.A. named Warren Zevon heard it. He wanted this band to be his band, so they went on the road together, and toured happily ever after—or at least until they came to a town called Vancouver.

This Wednesday (February 12) at 86 Street is the final date of the whirlwind North American tour by Zevon and the Odds, a fairy tale-like pairing if there ever was one. In the course of little more than a year, the Odds—singer/guitarists Craig Northey and Steven Drake, bassist Doug Elliott, and drummer Paul Brennan—have gone from being a Granville Mall house band to the driving force behind one of pop music’s most unique artists. On tour, they’re performing tunes from Zevon’s latest album, Mr. Bad Example, which features the likes of guitarists David Lindley and Waddy Wachtel, and drummers Jeff Porcaro and Jim Keltner.

Those are pretty big shoes to fill.

“Well, they’ve got pretty big feet,” says Zevon, calling during sound check from Gadsden, Alabama. “You can quote me on that. They’re very proficient players, so nothing has presented any kind of musical problem for them. Quite the opposite.”

According to the Odds’ Northey—whose band is doing double duty as both the opening act and the headliner’s band—the feeling is mutual.

“Warren is a great mentor to have,” Northey says. “He’s obviously a brilliant songwriter, and everybody who’s familiar with the Odds knows that’s one of our big interests—just being good songwriters. And in this instance, he wanted to hire somebody to come along that would put their own flavourings into the music, so he had us do ‘the Odds playing Warren Zevon’, and we didn’t really have to fill anybody’s shoes.

“We come from different musical backgrounds,” adds Northey, “so we’re rubbing off on each other. And our senses of humour have influenced each other. We’ve watched [the Bob and Doug McKenzie movie] Strange Brew a couple of times on the bus, and Warren claims to be turning into a Canadian, so we’ll see.”

On Mr. Bad Example, Zevon’s 11th album, tunes like the title track and “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” are typical of the 45-year-old singer’s quirky style; he’s noted for such eccentric numbers as “Detox Mansion”, “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”, and “Werewolves of London”. Local couch-taters might also be aware of Zevon’s music through the TV miniseries Drug Wars. He claims that composing scores to film is a lot easier than coming up with songs.

“It’s really much easier, because when you have a movie made and a picture in front of you, it’s like the lyrics are already written—and the lyrics are the most difficult part for me. In order to write a song, I might have to wait months or years to get some kind of whimsical idea, and then it might take another 12 years to write the song around it. But if I feel like working for 10 hours on instrumental composition, then I can usually write 10 minutes’ worth every day. So you actually see something at the end of the day.”

Zevon has also done soundtrack work for director Tom (Child’s Play) Holland, and had a tune from Mr. Bad Example (“Searching for a Heart”) included in the current flick Grand Canyon. But he doesn’t have any other film projects lined up at the moment.

“They’re hard to get,” he says. “My theory is that if they want a guy to sing ‘ah-oooo’, they can only hire one guy, but if they wanted the guy who wrote the score for Batman, and he’s not available, there’s another thousand guys that they can get.”

The “ah-oooo” Zevon refers to, of course, is the howling vocal from his biggest hit, “Werewolves of London”, which he claims wasn’t that big of a hit after all.

“I never really based my life around reading the charts,” he says, “but I don’t think it was as big a hit as people think it was. People remember it from year to year more—it’s been in movies and it gets trotted out regularly—but it’s not as if it sold four million copies, like a Paula Abdul single, you know what I mean?”

So Zevon’s mailman doesn’t have to deliver bulging bags of royalty cheques every day?

“No,” sighs Zevon. “I’ve managed to have a long and remarkably distinguished career and still remain poor.”

To hear my full interview with Warren Zevon from 1992 subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 275 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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Jeff Golub, 1989
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Matthew Sweet, 1995
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….with hundreds more to come

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