Sam Shepard reveals shared music hobby with rocker Patti Smith

October 1, 2011

The success of Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids” has led the songwriter to venture onto old friend Sam Shepard’s cinematic turf, writing a screenplay based on the book. Now Shepard is entering Smith’s arena.

During a New York interview promoting his film “Blackthorn,” which opens in Washington on Oct. 14, the playwright and actor was asked about his days with Smith in the ’70s, when the two had a brief romance and co-wrote the play “Cowboy Mouth.”

After talk of the authors Smith exposed him to, the conversation turned to music; Shepard dabbled as a drummer in the ’60s. Asked how much he plays these days, he offhandedly admitted, “I’m doin’ some stuff with Patti.”

Smith is recording an album at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, it seems, and Shepard is “doin’ some old tunes” with her. And he’s singing, not playing drums.

Asked if “old tunes” means songs from Smith’s early career, he laughs. “No, no — old songs, before we met,” he explains, rattling off names of bluesmen, gospel singers and banjo players, most from the dawn of the recording era: “Ivory Joe Hunter, Richard ‘Rabbit’ Brown, Washington Phillips, Charlie Poole — those guys.”

Fans of the Holy Modal Rounders, the folk group Shepard once recorded with, will be happy to hear that “Hesitation Blues” (a traditional tune they famously covered) is on the set list.

— John DeFore

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