Interview by: Mike Farley and Jamey Codding
Click here for a review of Ape of the Kings from Stickfigure. Plus, don't forget to check out Mike Farley's review of a recent Stickfigure concert in Cleveland.
Jack McDowell just may live every man's fantasy lifestyle. For 12 years he was a Major League pitcher, winning 127 career games with a 3.85 ERA while playing for the Chicago White Sox (1987-94), New York Yankees (1995), Cleveland Indians (1996-97) and Anaheim Angels (1998-99). From 1990-93, "Black" Jack was one of the finest pitchers in the American League, owning a 73-48 record during that four-year stretch and winning the 1993 Cy Young after going 22-10 with a 3.37 ERA, 10 complete games and four shutouts.
Unfortunately for McDowell, though, 1993 would mark his baseball peak. Arm troubles limited his effectiveness throughout the final six years of his career, culminating with an 8-10 record in just 136 innings pitched from 1997-99. No longer the dominating pitcher he once was, McDowell retired from baseball after the 1999 season.
So what next for the former ace? How about a music career? McDowell had been with the band V.I.E.W. since 1989 before forming a new group, Stickfigure, in 1992 with current guitarist Mike Hamilton. With his baseball days now behind him and Stickfigure's first album, Just a Thought, released in the spring of 1995, McDowell could finally devote his full attention to music and songwriting. Stickfigure released Feedbag in February of 2000 and just this month, their third full-length album, Ape of the Kings, hit stores nationwide.
Recently, Mike Farley and Jamey Codding sat down with Jack to talk about his baseball past, his current music career and his good friend, Eddie Vedder.
Jamey Codding: Everyone grows up wanting to be a baseball player, but did you grow up wanting to be a musician too?
Jack McDowell: I just grew up doing both. I didn't really dream of doing anything -- I just did it. I was kind of more of a "doer" kid who just played and kept playing. I kept making the teams and so I played. Got recruited by colleges so I went to college. And music -- I played guitar since I was nine and started writing songs, and when I had a bunch of them I was like, "What do you do with a bunch of songs?" You put them on a record. Go out and do it -- that's just how it all started.
Mike Farley: What do you think about the state of the music industry today?
JM: I think it's sad, as it usually is. There are so many bands that are great that don't get heard -- bands like Wilco that are fighting to even get their records out there that are probably one of the best bands going now. But at least radio gave a shot to Travis or Jack Johnson or Coldplay, where it's not somebody screaming at you. I mean, there's a place for that but when it's every single band doing the same thing, and that's all you're getting, that gets old. That's just not where we're coming from.
MF: Have you had any interest from the major labels at all?
JM: We're signed with What Are Records, WAR. I talked to people when I was shopping us beforehand and they just didn't get it. I needed desperately for someone to get this and not make it stupid. And the minute you get to a major, the chance of having it become stupid would be horrible. We talked to a couple people and I actually told my manager, "I need this, this, this and this," and he goes, "Well, you just described WAR in a nutshell." So he gave me the whole spiel of how they do things, and I was like, "Yeah, let's do it." They were down with it so we did it.
MF: How's that worked out so far?
JM: Well, we'll see. The record comes out in another week (May 15), so we'll see what happens. It's gone good so far.
MF: Are the satellite guys giving you guys any play -- XM? Has that been an outlet for you at all?
JM: We haven't hit it but it's funny, because (Pat) DiNizio from the Smithereens runs the unsigned garage band who does that on XM. But I haven't hit them up to do anything yet.
MF: What are some of your favorite artists or song-writing influences?
JM: (Paul) Westerberg is a huge influence, thus Ape of the Kings -- it's a total Westerbergian twist of a common phrase that he often does. Also, I was a big REM fan -- still am, but their early stuff was really where I learned to play guitar and realized that you could actually be in a band and not sing love songs and sing songs about your friends and your hometown, and have it be cool.
JC: Scott Spiezio from Anaheim has a band and Peter Gammons always talks about ballplayers and their bands -- he's mentioned Stickfigure on several occasions….
JM: Yeah, Gammons used to play in a band in college.
JC: Who are some of the other ballplayers who have bands?
JM: The only other guy I know that has a band is (Scott) Radinsky. I played with him in Chicago.
JC: Do you guys talk often?
JM: I haven't talked to Rad in years. I haven't talked to him in a long time.
JC: What about Spiezio?
JM: We used to hang out a lot -- I keep telling him to send me stuff and I'll mix it for him. But he hasn't yet -- hopefully he will.
MF: So who has better groupies, baseball players or musicians?
JM: Well, I think you'd have a better shot, if you were going to go down that road, in baseball because you're in town for three nights. So, if it's not going to happen for someone on night one, you can always set stuff up for night two or three. Here (as a musician), you're just in and out.
JC: What was the biggest thrill for you: winning your first big league game, winning the Cy Young in 1993 or recording your first album?
JM: Obviously, the Cy Young. I mean, you're talking about something that's an achievement. Music, there's really no level of achievement -- it's all just kind of bullshit, if you ask me.
MF: Has being a celebrity made your music career easier or more difficult?
JM: More difficult to this point because I wasn't able to do it full time. But like I've always said, even when I was shopping the record, they're like, "What do we do with this," looking at it like it's something different. I said, "We're just a band that has a record -- put it out like any other band." And then different avenues that open up because of the baseball thing, they should take them. That's what we're doing with WAR -- they're just putting it out like they do with every other record, doing what they do. And all these different things that pop up, we take what we want to take.
MF: Are they getting you radio airplay?
JM: Actually, we're getting about a thousand spins a week in small- to medium-markets, and then we go to big-time next week.
JC: You have to either dispel or confirm this rumor for me, because my buddies and I are huge Pearl Jam fans. We've heard a rumor that you and Eddie Vedder are good friends. Is that true?
JM: Yeah, I've known Ed since right around when Pearl Jam started. My wife lived with his girlfriend at the time in San Diego when he was doing the San Diego stuff. I met her in Chicago and we were introduced, I think, on Pearl Jam's first opening tour.
JC: I was at a Pearl Jam show in Toledo in September of 1996 and Eddie came on and said something like, "We heard John was in the house and we wanted to say hey." We were all wondering who the hell John was and someone told us, "It's Jack McDowell -- he's here." Was that you?
JM: It was Johnny Ramone -- we were both there. They (Pearl Jam) went to the ballpark then they had a limo that took Johnny and me to the show that night. The best part of that whole night was, we were backstage after the show and Weird Al came backstage. Absolutely -- it was great. He's a nut.
JC: Are those guys from Pearl Jam great to party with?
JM: Yeah, they're just normal, great guys. Fun guys.
JC: Switching gears to baseball for a second…. You threw a ton of innings for the White Sox at a young age -- your career high in innings pitched was 260 in 1992 at the age of 27, your fourth-straight season with 200-plus innings. Statistically speaking, you enjoyed more success earlier in your career, winning an average of more than 18 games a year from 1990-1993. Do you buy into the theory that managers overuse young pitchers?
JM: No. All the generations before were four-man rotations -- I think it's a bunch of crap.
JC: What attributed to the arm troubles you had near the end of your career if it wasn't overuse?
JM: I had arm troubles because Dr. James Andrews severed a nerve and killed a muscle in my arm, that's what happened. They sent me down there and he fucking butchered me.
JC: Finally, good or bad, what are some of the memories you have from your two years in Cleveland?
JM: The good part was everything until we had to get out there and play. I wasn't real fond of the baseball going on there. I mean, we had a good team but it just wasn't my style. But I love the city -- we lived down in Chagrin Falls, it was great. I can sum it up with one story: Mike Hargrove called me, Orel Hersheiser, Dennis Martinez and Charles Nagy into the clubhouse because we were getting taken out in the sixth inning of, like, every game. He told us that his whole plan was to get the ball into the bullpen's hands. So that kind of went against my philosophy -- my philosophy was, "aren't you trying to use as few pitchers as possible per game?" It didn't make any sense. We had a great bullpen, but use it correctly.
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