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Channeling The Clash

Joe Strummer' s passion fuels the music of Willie Nile

By Dave Madeloni, Special to The Eagle
Updated:   01/11/2008 09:34:45 AM EST

Friday, January 11
NORTHAMPTON — An astute reviewer once tabbed Willie Nile "a one-man Clash." Over the course over three decades, the Big Apple-based singer-songwriter has channeled the tunefulness, humanity, and raw political passion that marked the artistry of the late Joe Strummer.

On his latest CD, "The Streets of New York," Nile makes the Clash link even more evident when he added a cover of "Police on My Back." Its inclusion was sparked by a call from producer/writer Jimmy Guterman who invited Nile to be part of the Sandanista 25th anniversary tribute album.

"When he asked what song I wanted to do, I said 'Police On My Back,' one of my all time favorites," explained Nile who will be playing The Iron Horse Sunday. "We cut it not too long after we cut the tracks for 'Streets.' It was so much fun to play and listen to I wanted to include it in 'Streets' and Jimmy was kind enough to say yes."

Another memorable track from Nile's most recent collection that resurrects the topical poignancy of The Clash is the urgent "Cellphones Ringing (in the Pockets of the Dead)," an homage to those lost and wounded in terrorist attacks.

"It was written in dedication to the victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombing," Nile recalled. "I was in New York on 9/11, living about a mile or so from the World Trade (Center), and I heard the second plane hit. I watched the buildings burn from Bleecker and 6th Avenue. I was in shock like everybody else.



Nile lost a friend in the attack, Jeff Hardy, who once played bass for the singer and was working for Cantor Fitzgerald at the time where the first plane hit.

"He didn't make it and left two young boys and a wife. Sad stuff," Niles said. "Four days after the attack I was on a plane heading to Spain for a short tour. I could see the smoke from the end of the runway.

"When I got to Spain I was struck at every venue I played by the compassion, humanity, sincerity and concern for their fellow man. People would come up to me and ask all about it and how people were doing, etc. Their compassion made a strong impression on me."

In March of 2004 the catastrophic Madrid train bombing brought all of the horror of 9/11 back to Nile.

"A chill went down my spine," Niles said. "Two days later I saw a headline in one of the New York papers: 'Cell Phones Ringing in the Pockets of the Dead.' Turns out there were some 192 body bags lined up along the tracks and cell phones were going off in the bags. Relatives and friends looking for their loved ones."

Nile was shaken and angry and looking for a way to fight back.

"So I turned and immediately started typing on my computer the lyrics. I finished it that night," he said. "Now, when I play it live, I tell the audiences about how I came to write it and dedicate to the victims of all terrorist attacks.

"It's surprising to me when the ... chant of the title comes up and the audiences start singing along in defiance of all the anger and terror in the world. It's quite striking and heartening to me to hear it."

Difficult year

2007 had its share of sadness and tragedy once again for Nile.

"It was a long and sometimes difficult year," he recalled. "My youngest brother died suddenly, a huge loss to our family. A lot of songs were written, about various subjects. It was a very productive year although heartbreaking at times."

However, the native of Buffalo is as energized as ever and looking forward to brighter times in 2008. "We're putting out a live DVD and separate CD full band show that I did. We're editing it now. It should be out in May. Then I want to put out a new album of songs in September. I'm excited about both projects. My focus now is on recording more and getting the songs out there."

An invigorated Nile will be sprinkling in some of his new material amongst his longtime favorites at The Iron Horse where he has built a rabid following.

"I love playing in Western Mass," he said. "The audiences are great. They are enthusiastic and warm and I love playing to them.

"For this show I will have the one and only Frankie Lee accompanying me on snare drum, tambourine, shaker and background vocals. Frankie and I write a lot of songs together so when we're on stage we can pull rabbits out of the hat more often. The show should be pretty rockin'.

Although he has been making music since before The Clash hit the airwaves, the resilient Nile has lost none of his passion over the years.

"I love to write, record and play music and it's still as fresh to me as the day I started," Nile said. "I don't tour all that often and I think that's kept it fresh for me. It's still a canyon full of fun."

In Concert
Who: Willie Nile

When: Sunday 7 p.m.

Where: The Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton.

Admission: $18

Reservations and imformation: (413) 586-8686;

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(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
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