Jeff Dodge is a historian at heart. He uses different kinds of mediums, rock music and music videos, to immerse himself and his audience in a unique historical experience. The resulting subconscious alchemy of musical and lyrical interpretations is based on the research and contemplation of Jeff’s latest obsession Kent State. A interview with him racks up footnotes that can be found in this interview in their modern form of hyperlinks that lead to multiple rabbit holes. On this 52nd anniversary of Kent State, I’m looking for a few good readers to take a deeper dive into a Jeff’s wild history lecture in a concept album form.
Jeff Dodge: Yes, yes it is,
Portland Orbit: Okay, just double checking.
JD: The Portland Orbit, I presume.
Portland Orbit: (laughs) Yes it is.
JD: Very punctual.
PO: Man, I’ve got nothing if I’m not punctual.
JD: On the money.
PO: Yeah, I’m about to get fired from The Portland Orbit but I’m just gonna keep trying.
JD: Well, hang in there, hang in there, change is always coming.
PO: Yes I am hanging in there. I thought maybe I’d try to do these questions for you real quick.
JD: Is this the conspiracy theory album we’re talking about?
PO: We are talking about Kent State isn’t that the latest?
JD: Oh, the other conspiracy album, yes, yes, Kent State that’s our newest.
PO: Yeah, actually I think what I want, I usually do an intro write up, I think what I’m going to try to do is ask the questions and then make sure at the end if I feel like there’s some loose ends or just get a better idea of how this concept came about but I think you probably will obviously answer that question based on these questions so I’m gonna start.
JD: Let’s do it
PO: Oh good, if you’re ready then I’ll be ready. What occurred to me is, is this the first Kent State concept album or are you modeling this album after another Kent State concept album?
JD: Well, you know that’s a good question in all the research for this I didn’t research that. I think I came a long this concept when I was in college actually and I think I got a book at a book sale, James Mitchener’s Kent State book, a book that people criticized as being very wrong and one-sided but what many people feel is a somewhat right wing version of it. Anyway, that book haunted me throughout college. I really identified, I guess, with the situation. I was born 20 days after that day happened in 1970.
JD: By the time I got to Portland State, where I finished college, I found out they had a little mini riot in reaction to that riot a couple of weeks later. There’s another famous shooting that doesn’t get as much attention. I think it might’ve been in Missouri. It was at an all black student campus and some National Guardsmen took shots, killed a few people in the dormitories there. So yeah, yeah, everything was erupting. At that time, (Jeff’s college years) if you recall, the Gulf War was going on so there were kind of similar vibes and stuff going on. I ended up with this book and so the concept was kind of out of that. I always had elements of it. The book is basically a timeline. It really concentrates on the four, it actually concentrates on five students and goes through the events that build up to that moment and follows those days that led up to it and so that is essentially what I had in mind for this album, to try and create that weekend in a concept album. So I don’t know if anyone ever did that before musically but as I was finishing up I also wanted to mention Derf Backderf, he had a graphic novel that did the same thing I did. I bought it. Phil Jefferson has it. I need to get it back from him. We were kind of in the final stages of overdubs and so I wouldn’t say that it completely influenced me but it definitely has some imagery and yeah I wouldn’t mind trying to connect with this guy to trade some favors for each other hopefully. It’s brilliant art and he has done a really good job, a great depiction of it with details I didn’t know. It was different from Mitchener‘s book.
PO: Um, I’ll apologize in advance for the snark but are historical concept albums the best use of your history degree?
PO: I’m glad you’re laughing.
JD: Well my parents, my dad would probably say no, my mom would probably say yes. That’s me in a nutshell, but yeah, I don’t know for the time being, but things are weird right now and I’m trying to give voice to ideas especially if they’re controversial. I don’t know, I’ve been studying a lot of these things, a long time, so it just seemed like a natural way for me to communicate the ideas or this is my version of it right?
PO: Right. That nicely brings me up to the next question. In researching this project and doing this album what did you learn about the shootings?
JD: Well, I’d say the timeline of it is interesting because we recorded the music first and we didn’t have the lyrics. We did kind of have rough themes of that weekend but the fun part of the music was very light, the initial tracks and then we’d layer tons textures on top of that so we were pretty loose. It was an interesting go, but as we started getting into the lyrics, the writing of it, was in 2019, actually. That was as we were finishing up Saul that we recorded those tracks then kind of snuck in some sessions and I said okay, I’ll sit with them. The overdubbing and lyrics really took another year to write, I’d say, so it would be unfair not to mention that. The protest and riots that were going on in Portland over that last summer definitely played some context in sort of like the chants, this might be an opportunity to throw in some more new chants because things were getting so redundant on all sides. I don’t know, I think the conspiracy album (Love and Anti-War) had a chant song like that, lot’s of songs are about Presidents LBJ, Tricky Dick. Anytime you can get lyrics in about Tricky Dick–
JD: When we do these things everyone throws in their ten cents. When I was thinking about the concept of the kids that died in Kent State, it was really interesting to think of kind of how much has changed and how little has changed, I mean, in some ways, it’s almost like the opposite is going on, a pro-authoritarian in the guise of being anti-authoritarian, you know. So the big difference is the kids back then were protesting the Vietnam war. It was a mistake and another conspiracy onto its own. Check out our songs about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution if you have any questions there. I believe that’s on (the recording) Love and Anti-War.
JD: Yeah the Vietnam protest led to the entire confusion and I also noticed the guardsmen and the situation they were in and researching what led to those decisions. They decided to make these things, you know, it’s very similar to the police dealing with the protests. Both situations were looking at the low hanging fruit. We’re not talking about the politicians, the Governors, you know, the people who should know better, the administrators, to calm the stuff down. Instead it was similar and they were just throwing more grease onto the fire. So there’s a big word salad of things I’ve learned.
PO: Well, that was what inspired me to want to interview you because you had sent me some research material it was like, oh yeah, this is not a new thing where politicians are lying and blatantly distorting facts and I think that what led up to the shooting was a lot of misinformation/disinformation coming from the Governor and the Mayor they were getting from advisers.
JD: Interesting parallel. Do you know when the shooting happened, the town of Kent, they blamed the students? The overwhelming majority of the people said the kids had it coming. How dare they provoke the guard like that and they’re unpatriotic and all that stuff. The kids on campus actually had an 8 o’clock curfew for the next six months or something weird like that at least for that summer so Kent State was locked down the entire time. I think what happened to Portland was kinda like a weird reversed version of that, it’s kind of a mirror.
PO: It seems like that’s part of this whole mystery. I don’t mean to give it away but there’s probably a trigger warning in this too but you will never know, you’ll never really know why those guys started shooting and it felt like there was no general instigation. The kids that were shot were really from a far distance. We’ll never really know how that started.
JD: There are a lot of theories. I mean at the end of the day for me it’s that it’s that low hanging fruit. It never should’ve escalated that far. It was a lot of people with big egos trying to, as they still do, it’s all about the egos and the innocent get left behind when that happens.
PO: Let me get back to the music here for a second because you brought in Lindt Chocolate.
PO: How great was that to have him on board for this project?
JD: Well, he was on tour recently he stopped in town to do some specials with Jackie Wolffmann.
JD: So I just said Lindt can I grab you for a couple of tracks? Here I got him, I guess before Jackie and him had a last final show. There were some tech glitches and there was an incident. So we got him while he was still hot and added into it and yeah we gave him two star tracks Jeff’s War and Kent State, Ohio. Jeff’s War is about the student Jeffrey Miller who I kind of felt somewhat attached to. He was the one flipping the guard off and got shot.
JD: It’s not funny but…
PO: Oh, that’s all it takes huh?
JD: I relate to that.
PO: Yeah. You flip somebody off and they shoot you. I mean that’s—
JD: Yeah. I mean you know it seems very—I could be heading in that direction myself.
PO: It’s possible you were named after this guy, I don’t know.
JD: I don’t think so.
JD: The interesting thing was that in May 1970 I think Jeff and Heather were very popular names.
JD: And I have to say when I was at Hollyrood Elementary in second grade I was Jeff D. because there were three or four Jeffs. Jeff Somerville, Jeff Taylor something like that Jeff well Jeff Tiffany had a G so he kind of didn’t count.
PO: Ah, Jeff with a G. That’s a whole other ball game. And the layered sound and the recording techniques, what’s your methodology for making the music portion of this?
JD: I guess that’s sort of developed over the years. I suppose the technology and my learning of the technology too and I’ve got a lot of experience doing live music so I have a philosophy about capturing the live sound one way but when you’re putting it all together it’s a tapestry with various textures. I tend to one track at a time turn it into a Brian Wilson scientist thing and oh, we better get a horse in here for this part.
JD: Let’s take each track at a time, each section and this album was probably more painstakingly done that way than past albums and it might have been because the tracks were so loose that when we recorded them there just ended up being a lot of room, a lot of like how do we keep this interesting? How do we keep this moving along? Personally, I took it as a challenge and I think everyone else, Steve Cebula (bassist) and (drummer) Johnny Spezza, were basically done when they recorded. The Commander and I jumped on. Phil Jefferson’s on a bunch of tracks.
PO: Oh nice.
JD: The Commander (Sonny Boy Curtis) actually emailed me a bunch of his vocals. That was the first time we did that. It was just wonderful. It was a blast as well as you, Mr. David Craig giving me his audio samples online somewhat randomly, I’m sure. It really helped illustrate the vibe of those two songs The Second of May and the other song, I put you on. What did we put you on? The Informant?
PO: Yeah, I might have done the Mayor, the Governor.
JD: I know you did the Governor, oh you’re the Mayor on Water Street Riots.
PO: Yeah, I just tried to call up my—
JD: Mayor LeRoy Satrom, Water Street Riots.
PO: I was calling up my brother’s impersonation of our old elementary school principal, you know just sort of trying to get that authoritarian feel.
JD: And that Ohioan accent.
PO: I did a little bit of research. Would you say there’s a poppy number in the vein of Saul MacGarvey’s “Love Me Too,” anything like that jumping out or are these more of that layered sound?
JD: I think the obvious nod we were throwing at everything especially when we started the basic tracks, we had no idea what we were doing, that was all kind of, well we know Devo went there, I was just beginning to research a lot of that so we decided to try and give kind of our own subconscious Devo impulses to everything as we went through it so that was definitely there and as I started to learn and research more I found things out like Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders was there so I think there are elements of her song Ohio we’re kind of throwing a nod to. Of course Joe Walsh was, he was a student not during the time but he was in The James Gang at the time and probably playing there every couple of weeks, you know the bar there yeah.
PO: Oh, wow!
JD: Jeff’s War is definitely more kind of a nod to Joe Walsh style singing I guess you’d say. The cartoony voice.
PO: Did you get any kind of inspiration from the most obvious song that I think, again draws everyone’s attention away from the real story? I mean I feel like Kent State, nobody’s ever really thought much more beyond that photo and that Neil Young song.
JD: Four Dead in Ohio, yeah it was a tall order for Lindt Chocolate to try and capture our version of that but I think he did a wonderful job. He did all that magic on his own, no idea, I didn’t witness it. He has a home studio, you know, give me the song and here it is. It’s great.
PO: (laughs) I think that, again, I would emphasize this particular event. I never thought beyond that one day I just assumed they got up, you know there’s this whole build up to this situation which I think is really fascinating. You’re trying to introduce that and give people more perspective on what really happened. What’s going to be the next best topic for a concept album for you? I had something in mind but I forgot it but then I was like—one example would be the insurrection you know would that be something that makes a concept album?
JD: Well, on a similar note I think that one of the things this album is doing is kind of—Kent State to me, the historic significance of it, is similar to what Altamont did to rock and roll after you had Woodstock and oh my God they came together and a baby was born and nobody died or I think some people died—it was an amazing communal be-in. Four months later you have Altamont, you know drug pushers and stabbings and the, you know—
DC: Hell’s Angels
JD: The Hell’s Angels, the security force for The Rolling Stones and yeah some great Gram Parsons stuff in there but you know I think it sort of ended a lot of the optimism of the 60’s and then sort of rolled out this defused 70’s vibe where people—yeah, you throw in all the political assassinations, I think Kent State was kind of like a breaking point on some levels. So where I go to next now I don’t know because I think in some ways the insurrection was part of that broken dream from then, you know, there’s just a lot of things we thought we were going to get after and, (laughs) there’s a real tribalization now. It’s hard to say. I tend to, when things get really crazy, chaotic, I tend to want to look to the past for inspiration when you can’t really see what’s around you being too inspiring but you know there are always opportunities for change. I’m kind of done with this time period here because I feel the real future is in the youth. I don’t know. I think I’d like to go somewhere that doesn’t involve the baby boomers so much. I think that’s where I’d like to go. They’ve been involved in a lot of my concept albums. I’d like to give them a break.
PO: Well, that might lead up to my last question here nicely. Hamilton, big fan?
JD: You know, I gotta say I still haven’t seen it. There’s so many things I still haven’t seen yet. Yeah, how is it? Did you see it?
PO: (laughs) No, I’ve seen bits and pieces.
JD: I’ve seen bits and pieces. I did a gig where they were—it was that music academy.
JD: Yeah, they did something where Hamilton was the theme throughout so I got a good taste of it from that but I don’t know how they were originally sung or written plus they were rewriting the lyrics to fit their event.
PO: I never really had to see it. I got the gist of it and this was like I’m probably not that into it and I didn’t really think it was up your alley other than it’s sort of a concept album brought to life.
JD: Yeah, that’s a good point. I’ve been so lost in the Civil War stuff that I didn’t really leave a lot of room for the Revolutionary War. I’ve been fascinated by that period but for me to approach Hamilton. Really I’d have to do some research to know all about all the characters before I watched it.
PO: Nice! That’s good.