After his tenure in the proto-power pop band the Nerves, and following the dissolution of his early-'80s Los Angeles rock & roll band the Plimsouls, Peter Case launched a career as an influential American singer/songwriter specializing in fingerpicked acoustic guitar and redemptive story songs about society's outcasts and drifters, delivered in a uniquely soulful folk-rock style. Case's secret weapon is his powerhouse voice; combined with his imaginative and visionary songwriting and his ability to blow real harmonica licks, he's well respected among his peers and a perennial favorite among serious listeners. By the turn of the century, longevity was working in his favor as he continued to set the bar for contemporary singer/songwriter music.
Case grew up in the small town of Hamburg (near Buffalo), New York. Like any number of young men of his generation, Elvis Presley and the Beatles made a profound impression on him, but he was equally moved by the folk and blues sounds of Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly, and Woody Guthrie. As a teenager, he veered from rock bands to the troubadour's life, playing coffeehouses and busking for change. In 1974, he arrived in San Francisco and worked as a street musician in a scene that included Allen Ginsberg and the Cockettes, among others. By 1976, he had joined the Nerves at the invitation of Jack Lee; the meeting led to a move to Los Angeles and the formation of the guitar-driven soul-punk band the Plimsouls in 1979. The group found success with the power pop standard "A Million Miles Away," albeit shortly after they disbanded. Case debuted with Peter Case in 1986. The self-titled album was a collection of what Case called "tribal folk," produced by T-Bone Burnett and including collaborations with Burnett, Case's first wife, Victoria Williams, and musicians like John Hiatt and Roger McGuinn sitting in.
Case was among the handful of rockers who had honed his acoustic songs in clubs, helping to launch the so-called "unplugged" movement and, later, the singer/songwriter explosion of the '90s. In 1989, he released The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, again with the assistance of choice musicians like David Hidalgo, Ry Cooder, and Benmont Tench. In a 1989 Rolling Stone interview, Bruce Springsteen cited Case as the songwriter he was listening to most at the time. For 1992's Six-Pack of Love, Case chucked the folk aesthetic for something more rock-oriented, but the collection flopped, as did his liaison with Geffen. Galvanizing his forces, he self-released Sings Like Hell (1993), a stark collection of traditional folk songs, favorite covers, and originals, recorded with Marvin Etzioni in a Los Angeles living room. The bold move earned him a new recording contract with Vanguard, where he came on strong with Torn Again (1995), a set of visionary songs with potency reminiscent of Blue Guitar.
In 1996, the Plimsouls re-formed for some reunion shows and a recording session that yielded Kool Trash (Shaky City, 1998). Case remained active on the acoustic scene and hosted an evening for songwriters at Santa Monica's revived Ash Grove folk club. Between records for Vanguard -- Full Service No Waiting (1997) and Flying Saucer Blues (2000) -- Case curated a musical program for the Getty Museum and performed Beatles songs with Sir George Martin live at the Hollywood Bowl. In spring of 2001, he produced Avalon Blues, a Grammy-nominated tribute to his childhood hero, Mississippi John Hurt, featuring contributions from Lucinda Williams, Dave Alvin, and Steve Earle. That same year he self-released Thank You St. Jude, a collection of songs from his catalog recorded in solo acoustic arrangements with fiddle. Fall 2002 saw release of his ninth solo album, Beeline, which combined his rock-folk style with new rhythms and prepared guitar sounds.
In 2004, Case celebrated 20 years as a solo artist (and ten years with Vanguard Records) with the release of the compilation Who's Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile, featuring highlights from his catalog there, as well as three new recordings. In 2005, the Plimsouls performed another series of reunion shows; they remain on the touring circuit. In 2006, a three-disc, 47-track tribute to Case's songs, A Case for Case, featured versions of his songs recorded by fellow musicians Richard Buckner, James McMurtry, and Amy Rigby, among others. It was only a matter of time before Case would enter the spoken word/literature realm: turning his poetic visions into a six-song suite, Bomb Light Prayer Vigil was released by the literary audio magazine Verb in early 2006. Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John appeared in 2007. Following open-heart surgery, Case returned to life and music with renewed vigor, and released the raw and rocking Wig! in 2010. The Case Files, a collection of demos, outtakes, live tracks and other odds and ends drawn from Case's solo career between 1985 and 2010, appeared from Alive Records in 2011. ~ Denise Sullivan, Rovi