In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
In the year 2000, the musician known as Fantastic Negrito almost died. A car accident put him in a three-week coma before requiring months of brutal physical therapy. When he finally got out of the hospital, permanent damage to his guitar-playing hand forced him to retire from music. He eventually moved to Oakland and became an urban farmer growing vegetables and, as his new bio artfully puts it, “other, more profitable, green matter.”
A lot has happened since then. He eventually returned to music, and quickly achieved the sort of milestones he never did the first time around. He won the first-ever NPR Tiny Desk Contest in 2015, earned a longtime champion and mentor in Chris Cornell, and, just last year, won his first Grammy award, for Best Contemporary Blues Album. But the accident’s after-effects linger in his mind on new album Please Don’t Be Dead, which features a real photo from his hospital stay as its cover. Watch the music video for single “The Duffler”:
“I wrote this album because I fear for the life of my black son,” Negrito said in the press release. “I fear for the lives of my daughters. I am uncertain about what kind of future they will face. Will someone shoot up their school? Will they become addicted to prescription pills? Will they wind up on the street, sleeping under freeways and overpasses? Will the police murder my son? I came up with the name Please Don’t Be Dead because I felt like we’d lost our way as a society – and I know what happens when you chase the wrong things. It’s the story of my life.”
For his Pick Five, Fantastic Negrito aka. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz tells a different story of his life, picking five covers songs that have been important to him over the years.
Fugees – Killing Me Softly (Lori Lieberman cover)
Fantastic Negrito says: “I love what the Fugees did to ‘Killing Me Softly’. That completely owned it and made it their own. They took it to another galaxy. The original is still amazing, but it was good to see them have courage and freely express their version of the song.”
Elmore James – Dust My Broom (Robert Johnson cover)
Fantastic Negrito says: “Anything Elmore James sings has so much feeling in it and so much conviction. It’s very difficult to cover Robert Johnson, but Elmore James managed to make that one swing hard. It’s probably the only Robert Johnson cover I believe.”
Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks (Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie cover)
Fantastic Negrito says: “They had such a powerful sound and John Bonham was such a dynamic intense groove drummer. The pocket on that record is deeper than the Atlantic Ocean. I love how they covered this original blues song and put their stamp on it.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)
Fantastic Negrito says: “Arguably the greatest cover ever, so good that people rarely associate the song with Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix completely owned that song, brought it to life, and also played one of the greatest guitar solos ever. Just an incredible piece of work. It’s a classic.”
Donny Hathaway – Jealous Guy (John Lennon cover)
Fantastic Negrito says: “Donny Hathaway did this John Lennon song from such a different point of view. The band plays with such soulful conviction, it is one of my favorite covers of all time.”
Fantastic Negrito’s new album ‘Please Don’t Be Dead’ is out now. Buy it at his website.