Peter Case is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, who has a wide-ranging career ranging from new wave music to folk rock to solo acoustic performance.
Case was born in Buffalo, New York. A veteran of several rock bands and the local bar scene as a teenager, Case dropped out of high school when he was fifteen (he would later earn a GED), and after several years of traveling arrived in 1973 in San Francisco, where he performed as a street musician. During this period a documentary about the local music scene, Nightshift, directed by Bert Dievert, captured the young Case on film. In 1976, he teamed up with Jack Lee and Paul Collins in to form the early new wave band The Nerves in San Francisco. The group’s 1976 single, “Hanging on the Telephone,” was later recorded by Blondie.
When the Nerves disbanded, Case moved to Los Angeles and formed the pop-rock band The Plimsouls in 1980. The Plimsouls found a measure of success when their song, “A Million Miles Away,” was featured in the movie Valley Girl, but by that time the group had already broken up. Case briefly toured with Gurf Morlix, Victoria Williams (Case’s first wife), and Warren Tornado Klein as the Incredibly Strung Out Band, but their collaboration never resulted in a record.
Case struck out on his own with a self-titled album released in 1986 on Geffen Records. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the record included a number of songs co-written by Victoria Williams, and also featured the talents of John Hiatt and of Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. One of the songs on the album, “Old Blue Car,” was nominated for a Grammy award.
In 1989, Case released a second solo disc, The Man With the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, this time with the help of artists like David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Ry Cooder, and Benmont Tench. While not a major commercial success, the album was a favorite of critics and other musicians. Bruce Springsteen told Rolling Stone magazine that he was listening to Peter Case more than anyone else that year.
After a third album for Geffen, Six Pack of Love, and a live album of cover versions, Peter Case Sings Like Hell, which was released on Case’s own Travelin’ Light label, Case signed a contract with Vanguard Records. His first Vanguard record, Torn Again, was issued in 1995.
In 1996, the Plimsouls reunited for the first of several reunions. Throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, Case continued to release discs as a solo performer, moving in an increasingly acoustic-oriented direction, and playing clubs and small venues. Torn Again was followed by Full Service No Waiting (1998), Flying Saucer Blues (2000), and Beeline (2002) all on Vanguard, in addition to Thank You St. Jude (2001), a self-released CD that featured David Perales on fiddle and background vocals.
In 2004 Vanguard released Who’s Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile, a compilation of tracks from his albums for the label, which also included two previously unrecorded songs, “Wake Up Call” and “My Generation’s Golden Handcuff Blues.” Both tracks gave evidence of Case’s strongly held political convictions.
Case is an active musicologist; in the late 1990s, he curated the musical program for the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. In 2001, he organized, produced, and performed on Avalon Blues, a tribute album to blues music pioneer Mississippi John Hurt, which was nominated for the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. Case also had the chance to perform Beatles songs at the Hollywood Bowl with Sir George Martin. He frequently conducts songwriting workshops, both in California, where he now resides, and in other locations. Case’s solo performances have featured his own compositions as well as covers of songs by Memphis Minnie, Sleepy John Estes, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and others.
In February 2006, Hungry for Music, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, released a three-disc tribute to Case, entitled A Case for Case; the set featured cover versions of Case’s songs performed by various artists, including John Prine, Susan Cowsill, and others.
In 2006 Case began posting on his blog sections of a memoir entitled As Far As You Can Get Without a Passport, which was subsequently issued in book form in January 2007 by everthemore books. The memoir covers Case’s very early days from the time he left his native upstate New York and wound up singing and playing on the streets of San Francisco. This period inspired some of his most memorable songs, including “Entella Hotel “and “Travellin’ Light.” John Doe, co-leader of the Los Angeles punk band X, contributed an introduction to the book. Case has continued to write and post autobiographical additional material.
On December 6, 2007, Case’s Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John was nominated for a Grammy award in the Best Traditional Folk Album category.