Afghan Whigs: Hello Goodbye

Mojo June 2006.

They met in the drunk tank and were off to the races. But a random act of violence sank the ship. This month it’s…Greg Dulli and The Afghan Whigs.

HELLO October 1986
I went to this Halloween celebration in Athens, Ohio. I was pissing on a wall and got put in jail, cited for indecent exposure. And in the drunk tank I met Rick McCollum [guitar], who had been selling weed. We had John Curley [bass] in common. Rick found Steve Earle, the first drummer. The first song we played was Psychedelic Shack by the Temptations. Curley named the band – I still don’t know what it means. He did a lot of acid back then…

I had played with John before, he joined my band, The Black Republicans, for the last six months. Great player. Rick looked like Jimmy Page, acted like Jimmy Page, so that boded well. I didn’t like Steve as a person, but could not deny his unbelievable drumming. The four of us played a gig two weeks after we met, and it didn’t suck. The fact that they were all willing to play electrified R&B sat well with me. Zeppelin, The Who, The Damned, Husker Du. Those were the touchstones.

I was studying in Cincinnati, as were Rick and Steve. John came from Washington DC, he was working as a photographer for the newspaper his father owned. His father’s a very rich man. We didn’t know at first, he kept it hidden. Reminded me of Clambake, that Elvis movie where he was rich but wanted the girl to love him for himself, so he switched to the poor kid. I was the poor kid, who wanted to be rich! We actually borrowed the money to make [debut album] Big Top Halloween from his parents. We made it in three days. It sounds terrible, the songs are terrible, but we were off to the races.

GOODBYE February 2001
The final album [1965] is my favorite. Probably the only time in my life that I made a record when I was completely happy. We wrote and recorded in four months, after not seeing each other for a year and a half. It was testimony to how well we knew each other.

On the 1965 tour – December 12, 1998 – I was assaulted at a club in Texas. Hit from behind. Fractured skull. Kicked in the ribs until my ribs broke. I nearly bled to death. I was in a coma for two days. After that, I don’t know if I had it in me to keep touring. It sucked something out of me – derailed things at a very crucial time for us. We never quite recovered. In the summer of 2000 we all met in Cincinnati for the next record. There was love, but it was three guys who’d moved on in life. No way we were going to do a complete record the shape we were in. My self-destructiveness is well documented [heroin, cocain, lots of booze]. After we split, I didn’t play music for a year and half. That’s when I bought a bar – packed my lunch and went to work. I liked the routine. And it saved me. Given the things I’ve done to my body, I am fortunate I’m alive.

It’s two years and two weeks since I touched class As. The difference it’s made in my life is outstanding. I’m doing music now ‘cos the act itself is the reward. When I made the conscious decision to either continue living or face my inevitable untimely end, I was able to grasp a moment of clarity. Had I been a betting man, I would not have bet on that.

As told to Keith Cameron

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