Violent Femmes’ Brian Ritchie on his influences and going “beserk” watching Beatles on “Ed Sullivan”

In a special interview for the 40th anniversary of the “Violent Femmes” album, bassist and band co-founder Brian Ritchie joined host Kenneth Womack to talk Beatles and more on a bonus episode of “Everything Fab Four,” a podcast co-produced by me and Womack (a music scholar who also writes about pop music for Salon) and distributed by Salon.

Violent Femmes, the folk-punk rockers behind such songs as “Blister in the Sun” and “Add it Up,” started out playing coffee houses and busking on the streets of Milwaukee, where in 1981 they got their big break by being asked to open for the Pretenders. Years prior, though, Ritchie was growing up playing jazz and acoustic guitar in a family that thought his interest in music was just “a weird hobby.” 

As he told Womack, the bug really hit him at the age of nine when he attended George Harrison’s famed Concert for Bangladesh in New York City. “When I heard the electric guitar on ‘My Sweet Lord,’ I turned to my friend who was next to me and said, ‘What’s that?’ I made a note right then: electric guitar, gotta learn that.”

Ritchie also counts buying Beatles singles from a yard sale (calling John Lennon’s vocals on “Twist & Shout” one of the “greatest performances in rock”) and listening to “A Hard Day’s Night” and the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud” with his cousin as his earliest musical memories. And although he doesn’t remember it, his parents told him he “immediately went berserk and started jumping around the house” when the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February of 1964. As he explained to Womack, “I just loved music.”

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His later influences included Iggy Pop, T.Rex and Roxy Music, and he currently enjoys artists such as Courtney Barnett, who recently performed at the annual Mona Foma music festival he produces in Australia, where he and his wife now live. Even still, he marvels at the fact that in 2023 people are still talking about the Beatles and the Stones, with members of each of them having new concert tours and records out. 

As for the timeless quality of the Violent Femmes’ eponymous first album? Though Ritchie doesn’t prefer to listen to his own music, he says sometimes a car will be driving by playing one of their songs, “and I’ll hear it and think wow, that still sounds great.”

Listen to the entire conversation with Brian Ritchie on “Everything Fab Four,” including what the Beatles’ “biggest joy and thrill and excitement” was in America, and subscribe via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google, or wherever you’re listening. “Everything Fab Four” is distributed by Salon.

Host Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography on Beatles producer George Martin and the bestselling books “Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles” and “John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life.” His latest book is the authorized biography of Beatles road manager Mal Evans, “Living the Beatles Legend,” out now.

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