20 Questions with Rajah Cheech Beldone, King of the Gypsies

Lost-WeekendLet’s get to know…


Rajah Cheech Beldone, King of the Gypsies.

Place of origin?

Technically Edmonton, Alberta, but practically a whole bunch of places. Jeez, I was just looking at the map, if you draw a line across Alberta, east to west, at Edmonton, almost anywhere south of that line I’ve spent SOME time at least, and it’s pretty much all where I consider myself to “come from”. I was born in Lacombe, which is pretty close to being in the middle of that block.

Instrument(s) played?

Ah crap. Sorry to be a dick, but can you sort of narrow the definition of “play”? You get to be my age, you can probably make noise on all kinds of shit, but I’m not sure I’d say I can “play” them.

First single purchased with your own money?

As we were talking about last week, I’m pretty sure it was “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Magga, off of Ram. Many people attribute this as a Wings song, partly because it often gets absorbed into their body of work for convenience, but technically it’s a recording by Paul & Linda McCartney.

First album purchased with your own money?

The Stones’ Get Your Ya-Yas Out. I had a small knot of friends from junior high who were just basically thieves. They would just plain steal shit and sell it, pawn it, or fence it, or would steal credit cards and use them for a little while to buy shit they wanted. In those days it wasn’t unheard of for it to take a month or even longer for stolen card numbers to be published to merchants. One or two of them had drug habits that needed support.

After them bugging me for quite some time to do so, I went along on this one criminal enterprise. My share of the proceeds was sufficient for me to get a carton of smokes and the Stones LP. Pretty good bargain, really, aside from a shitload of great performances and Mick Taylor especially, it served as my first meaningful exposure to BOTH Chuck Berry AND Robert Johnson. Hell of a deal.

First concert attended without parental supervision?

Hmmm. I think it would have been summer of about…1972 or so? If there was one thing that Edmonton had buttloads of, when I was a kid, it was land. And not far from the house where we lived there was this mammoth development center, with two HUGE High Schools; one Catholic, one public, both of which combined academic and vocational programs, I ended up graduating from the public one and my graduating class was 900-plus students. Each of the schools had a field with two full-size soccer pitches, and between the two was a full-on track and field stadium with a full—Canadian-sized, mind you—football field in the middle, with an adjacent full size indoor hockey rink—year round, like—and indoor full size swimming pool with standard and 3m boards and 5m platform.
Anyways, especially during the summer, there would be all kinds of community deals at The Bowl, as we called it. And I tagged along with my older sister who had a couple of girlfriends who knew some of the guys who were playing in like a three-band festival there.

The city had brought in one of those portable stages and provided genny [generator] support and personnel and stuff. Because it was summer, and because it was pretty much impossible to see live rock and roll if you weren’t old enough to get in the bar, the field was jam packed. The bands were basically just high school kids who had put something together, but they all had tons of beautiful hair and flamboyant clothes and were cooler than anything I’d ever seen.

I can’t remember any of their names or anything, or much of what they played, but Deep Purple (Machine Head-era) and, like, Three Dog Night and stuff were definitely on heavy rotation. I was pretty stricken, even though I’d actually been performing in front of people for a good 4 or 5 years at that point, I couldn’t really imagine anything I wanted worse than to be able to stand up there and play rock and roll music for people.

My sister ended up a while later going out with the front guy from the “headliner” band, so I kind of got to know them. The bass player later gave me my first and last bass lesson (“Goin’ Down” from The Jeff Beck Group—the one with the orange on the front)…and you NEVER, NEVER use a pick!

That was also the day my next next door neighbor Kevin Darke taught me how to inhale cigarettes.

I know you’ve played in countless bands over the years, what’s your favorite of the lot?

Ahhh, jeez. They’re like your kids, really, you know, there were things I liked about all of them. I’m trying really hard not to get all fucking Glory Days on you here.

Oh, I think I can say the D-grade country cover band I went out on the road with in like ‘87 was the worst, I got zero fond memories of that one, for sure. We were backing up this chick who was trying to become a big time C&W chantoozy there, and this fuckin’ freak of a guy, an ex-prison guard, had signed on as her exclusive manager, and he hired the band and did all the road management and stuff. I got about a billion stories about that one, it was fuckin miserable.

My last band before I left, Lost Weekend (see poster), the one I blogged about Miles getting injured with (Chicks Dig Scars 2), I’d say they were pretty good.


If only because everyone was talented, we were all a little older so there was a lot less horseshit, and we all kind of wanted the same things. Also we were really together for quite some time, so we actually got to be pretty proficient technically. Yeah, I might say, that band, we actually even had a bit of a (gasp) following, dare I say it?

There were a couple Bill & Ted type guys who were really into my bass sound/style (thanks, Miles), and I do remember, for a while we had about three or four Clash tunes in the repertoire, and there was this little sort of 2nd Gen punk girlie that used to come out, sort of an English punk-style Lisbeth Salander sort of deal, she would just sit all alone in the corner of the room nursing a drink and smoking, and every time we’d hit the opening bar of “Should I Stay” or “I Fought the Law” or “London Calling”, she’d fucking LAUNCH out of her chair and just fucking ZOOM onto the dance floor and commence to just go fuckin’ ber-SERK, dancing by herself. Stuff like that was pretty cool.

Evil Dr. Zaius has banished you to the Forbidden Zone, but he has generously allowed you to take three records with you. Name them.

Damn. This would have been easier a few years ago, but I seem to have changed. Back when I was an official “bass player” I used to say that if I was going to be stuck on a desert island for 2 or 3 years, and I had Miles and a copy of Diamond Dave’s Eat ‘Em and Smile, I would be OK and would probably send away the rescue boat because I wasn’t done yet. But that ain’t this. OK, first one’s easy: [Little Feat’s] Waiting for Columbus. Second, uh…The Mountain by Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band.

Solid old-school blu’grace, None of that upstart Newgrass Allison Krauss shit, or even what Del and the boys do on their own. Everything good about Steve Earle without any of the BS. Four corners, containment. Exquisite stuff. When Ronnie McCoury was awarded Mandolin Player of the Year at the Annual Bluegrass Awards, he walked down from the stage over to where Bill [Monroe] was sitting (real shortly before he died) and handed the award to him. I get a lump in my throat every time I tell that story.

Third. Crap. I’ll tell you what, either Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs or AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge, you pick one and I’ll be OK with either.

You’re on death row and it’s time to plan your “last meal”. OK, so…do it.

Did you see my blog post on this? I was reading what some of these cats order, and kept seeing these guys asking for DIET Coke. Thank about that for a minute. You’re punching your ticket in like 12 hours or so. What the FUCK is the point in getting a DIET coke? I mean, if there was ever ONE time in your fucking life when it’s probably OK to let go and have a real fucking Coke, you know??? A lot of people didn’t get it.

OK, me? I’d probably pile it on, some of these fuckers have like two buckets of chicken and three double cheeseburgers and shit, so I won’t be shy. I mean, if you don’t finish it all, what are they goin’ to do to you? For posterity, I’d just do a Charlie Parker/Jake Blues and order like 5 fried chickens and a (REGULAR) Coke, but I’d probably prefer something like:

A slab of Jack Daniels-honey sauced pig ribs (sorry Rabbi), five pieces of Mary Brown’s fried chicken, a slice of rare prime rib, and a lamb chop (blood rare) with mint SAUCE not jelly, mint jelly is for retards. Mary Brown’s fries with sage dressing and gravy, scalloped potatoes, steamed spinach, and beets. Strawberry shortcake (proper shortcake, not spongecake), and sour cream pie, me sainted Ma’s recipe (may she rest in peace). Oh, and a Mexican strawberry soda.

What event or series of events led you to being a musician. For instance, for me, it was hearing John Bonham and “When the Levee Breaks” that made me say, “Shit, man, I wanna play drums.”

IMG_5807webLARGEAhhhhh, sorry to be a semantic A-hole again. If you mean, like making music for others to hear/enjoy, well, I’ve pretty much always been one. I mean I was singing in the choir from when I was, like…8 years old? Soloing from when I was 10 or so. But I can say, in addition to that moment discussed earlier, uh, there are about three significant moments I recall. I DID see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I was about four years old, I thought what they were doing looked cool.

I remember listening to a borrowed 45 of “Hey Jude” at about age 10 and listening to the guitar solo and really FEELING it down in my bones and thinking, man, if I could make that kind of thing happen to someone else, it would be something. At this point I should note that, contrary to how it might appear here, I don’t particularly even LIKE the fucking Beatles.

And then, and this was pretty serious shit, in the mid to late 70s I saw a truncated version of this (now quite well-known) clip of The Boss in Phoenix. As well, my head was completely spun around by the camaraderie of the band, the obvious blood closeness that these guys shared as a result of years together playing it up night after night after night, with the attendant tightness and unity of output. That became another thing that I felt I wanted to be an important part of my musical experience.

And I realized that as much as I wanted to play rock and roll live, it was equally critical to me that there be a Show, that while it was good to make good music for people, it was great to give them a time they’d talk about for years to come.

This is a riff on the Onion’s AV Club “Hatesong” but what’s the song that really, I mean really puts a bee in your bonnet? Not a band, a song. Discuss.

Well, off the top of my head, I can certainly cite the execrable “Pina Colada Song” [actually titled “Escape” by Rupert Holmes], but that’s pretty easy pickings. [Editor’s note: Don’t blame me if that fucking song gets stuck in your head.]

I’ll tell you one that might not be so obvious, and that’s “In the City” by Joe Walsh. You might say, well sure, that’s obvious, it’s on The Eagles’ The Long Run, but first, you have to admit there’s a decent toe-tapper or two on there [Editor’s note: I will not admit any such thing – that record blows, they blow, anything with Glenn Frey sucks balls, and that’s that], but , and this swinal secretion is worse than any of them, but, what’s even more nausea-inducing is its appearance on the otherwise fantastic soundtrack to The Warriors, which includes a track by one of my 80’s faves, the one and only Genya Ravan (look her up), in the incomparable Lizzies scene

Shit, there are like about 30 different things going on in that scene that you’d NEVER see today. But the Joe Walsh, it’s just fucking DRECK, the most painfully water-headed attempt at some kind of “gritty” urban lyrics, the main rhythm guitar part sounds like something a chimp would play, and the production of both the vocals and the solo sounds like it was done by Christopher Cross’ mom.

Beldone jungle bandWho wrote the Book of Love?

Uh, me. Is this a trick question?

Where were you and what were you doing when John Lennon was killed? I was down in the basement listening to The Beatles 1967-70, when my mom screamed at me to come upstairs. I thought I was in trouble.

I was over at my Ma’s house—the house I grew up in—with the first ex-Mrs Beldone. We were just watching the end of the 10 pm Sunday Night News (on CTV) after Sunday dinner, and were getting ready to go home. She [the ex] was a giant fan. I was not. She was devastated. I was, well, ambivalent.

What’s your favorite film genre?

Whoo, tough one. There are several genres in which films have been made that I hold near and dear to my heart, but there’s no guarantee that everything made in that style is going to appeal to me. Even so, a couple that have a better-than-normal chance of interesting me are: Comic book films, Post-modern Westerns (from The Searchers/The Wild Bunch on), Post -Apocalyptia/Dystopia, and Baseball movies.

Who’s (one of) your favorite comedians?

Well, I got a lot of guys that always make me laugh. As you know, going 10 minutes without a laugh is, for me, like doing life in Chino, so… I have a real weak spot for the old school Catskills Jewish comics, especially if you can get hold of some uncensored/not-cleaned-up-for-Carson stuff. Jackie Mason, [Don] Rickles (the Great One), stuff like that. [A friend] sent me these two YouTube links called “Old Jews Telling Jokes”, and that’s all they are, and I just end up pissing down both legs. Surprisingly, not everyone feels the same. Your man Rodney can certainly raise a chuckle. Bernie Mac, funniest motherfucker to ever walk on two legs. I liked Sam [Kinison], although some of his stuff doesn’t age well. Paul Mooney, kills me every time.

Sarah Silverman, although there’s a bit of cringing involved, I’m sure she wouldn’t have it any other way. Uh… Oh yeah, Chris Rock, I love him. Louis CK is pretty funny, for that angry/disappointed middle aged white guy stuff. Joan Rivers. Oh, and The Aristocrats. I can watch that every couple of months and it makes me crap myself every fucking time. Which I’ve certainly aspired to whenever possible since.

Raquel Welch or Sophia Loren?

Um, if it was just a matter of which set of attributes I’d kill to get access to, it might be a tossup. Raq’s, well…rack, it’s kind of like Mount Olympus-type stuff. BUT, I’ve never had the impression that she was either smart or a very nice person, and she definitely comes across as a chick who would (figuratively) dangle her wares just out of reach in order to manipulate you, she doesn’t strike me as someone who’s ever had even a little bit of fun in the hay. Signora Loren, however, mamma mia, the lush bounteous form, the smoldering passion in her eyes, and, yes, the hearty lusty laugh, she deffo seems to be the sort of girl who’s equally as much fun to talk and laugh with under the covers as she is to fool around with.

Let’s say that within your lifetime, they find the fountain of youth, so to speak, which would allow you to prolong your lifespan indefinitely. Would you really want to live forever?

I don’t think so, man, but if I could stay, you know, healthy and intact, physically and mentationally, who can say? Certainly, any inclination I have toward even achievable longevity is motivated by a desire to spend more of my life with my daughter, and I can certainly imagine feeling the same about HER kids and THEIR kids, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ve been given a time machine. Whatchu gonna do with it?

Beats me, man. Kill Hitler? Tell Sam Phillips not to sell Elvis’ contract to RCA? Plant some nasty story about Steve Jobs with Woz so they never end up being pals? Remix Exile? Buy up most of the Xinyi District in 1960 when it was crappy rice paddies?

If Jimi Hendrix had survived, what do you think he’d be doing now (musically)?

Probably something you’d hate. Kidding. I shouldn’t have been surprised if he just put the guitar down in 1980 and moved on. Probably the closest comparison I can think of (and this is not really close) would be Frank [Zappa], who went on to deal with the music that he heard on a scale astronomically out-sizing the limitations of the original rock and roll band parameters. Like symphonies and oratoria in all kinds of bizarre otherworldly modals and shit. Maybe even discover acoustical/aural areas that are imperceptible to humans but can be demonstrated to exist nonetheless.

Everybody knows O.J. did it. How about Michael Jackson? Was he a pedophile or just incredibly misunderstood?

I don’t believe in use of the term “pedophile”, it makes it sound like a hobby where you go to club meetings once a week – NAMBLA notwithstanding. Was MJ a sexual predator? It’s entirely possible, he was pretty damaged fucking goods, man. I don’t really have much invested in that either way, I certainly wouldn’t argue either side.

4 replies on “20 Questions with Rajah Cheech Beldone, King of the Gypsies”

It’s good that you forgot, since I would have pounced on that like cat on a mouse. Back in ’99, I was scheduled to audition with a cover band (on bass), but I backed out partially due to the fact that their set included a Springsteen-style introduction and solo section for each instrumentalist. The guy asked me, “Do you have a problem with the intro or the solos?” And I replied, “Yes.”

I’m not allowed to listen to “Hey Jude”, so I wouldn’t know if it has a solo or not.

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