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Rocker Chuck Prophet taps into ‘California noir’

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Chuck Prophet’s new album is “Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins.” (Courtesy Andrew Diffee)

San Francisco songwriter Chuck Prophet had a reason for calling his new album “Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins” and echoing Fuller’s hit “I Fought the Law” in its title track. As a kid in 1960s El Paso, Fuller was so obsessed with Buddy Holly, he and his brother drove to the New Mexico studio where Holly recorded, studied it, then constructed a replica in their parents’ living room. But by the time the Fullers moved to California, the Beatles and Beach Boys had usurped the charts, making them, as “greasers from Texas, totally out of time,” Prophet says, adding, “Then, sadly, Fuller was murdered at 23. So much of my record is California noir: People who came to California chasing a golden dream, with the noir being the difference between dream and reality.”

Your “Sins” song “In The Mausoleum” was penned for the late Alan Vega. And it even taps into his classic techno-rockabilly sound.

While this record was being made in 2016, we lost a lot of our heroes, Alan Vega among them. And obviously, there’s another track called “Bad Year For Rock and Roll” which is not just about losing heroes, it’s about losing faith. I don’t care who you are or whatever your beliefs are — I think 2016 really put your faith to the test. And there were a lot of things that happened last year that were just raw meat for me to gobble up as a songwriter. But I’m just a photographer. I just try to capture what I see.

What did you see on “Rider or the Train”?

That song is character-driven, and it’s for a lot of forgotten people, a lot of people who, for one reason or another, are on the streets. When they asked Jim Thompson how he wrote so many novels, he said, “Well, it’s easy, because they’re all the same. The stories may be different, but the plot is always the same, which is that nothing is what it seems.” And I feel like the homeless epidemic is just a manifestation of that. Nothing is what it seems, and everybody’s got a story to tell.

Judging by the satiric “If I Was Connie Britton,” another thing you observed was the TV series “Nashville.”

Connie Britton leads a charmed life, and I thought, “Now there’s a song!” But I’m amazed how much stuff they get right on “Nashville,” like the mechanization of the publishing deals, the lot of the working-class musician in Nashville. They get the structure right, and then pour a nice, fat dollop of “Melrose Place” on top of it. I don’t watch it compulsively, but I have watched it.

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. April 15
Tickets: $20
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.slimspresents.com

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