Interview: Joe Buck On How Eddie Vedder The Man Differs From The Performer

As we previewed with early Stone Temple Pilots collaborator Corey Hickok’s recent in-depth piece on Scott Weiland with Brett Buchanan, this is the first article for our ‘Deep Cuts’ section, which focused on longform musical journalism and commentary.

Last week you heard Joe Buck calling the NFC championship game on Fox. Come Wednesday, you will find Buck hosting Undeniable on DIRECTV’s Audience network. Then, once spring rolls around, Buck will be back at the ballpark as baseball kicks into high gear, eventually leading to working a double when the NFL starts back up again in the fall. What’s the trick to keeping focused while having to often switch gears? Music.

Alternative Nation recently had the opportunity to catch up with Buck to discuss many things Pearl Jam, how the power of music impacts his life, aids his preparation and enhances sports.

How important is music to you?

It’s what makes me concentrate. I equate different years and different events that I’ve done with what music was out or what’s on my radar at that moment. Specifically with regards to Pearl Jam, when Backspacer came out, it was around the time where I met Eddie. I was doing the World Series in 2009 between Philadelphia and New York. Just going back to listening to that album over and over and over, whether it was after a game late at night, in preparation before the game or even during the game.

We have this great audio guy named Joe Carpenter. If something is hot on both of our lists, he’ll play it out over the PA that goes into everyone’s headset; whether it’s camera operator, audio personnel or my headset in the both. It really calms me. It lets me know, as I’m about to get ready to do the game – which at the time feels like everybody is paying every seconds worth of attention to and it’s the biggest thing in the world, it reminds you that you are just part of a bigger picture going on in the United States and nobody really cares how you do or what you do. You just do your best and have fun.

So music holds a valuable spot in your preparation and how you go about your work?

Yes, definitely. I’m not a huge numbers guy. I’ll sit at my desk and put down every relevant statistic to the game I am about to do with music going on in the background. It’s not always the same music. It’s usually something that is soothing to me, like Chris Cornell’s latest album. It can be older stuff as well, that takes me back a little bit. I think when you do TV you kind of have the ability to separate different tracks in your head. I can concentrate on the numbers better and what I’m putting in, if I have something else going on. That’s why I text people during games and during breaks. It keeps my mind active. Music provides me with that opportunity during my preparation.

I love Cornell’s latest album as well and often have it accompany me in the same exact way.

His voice is just ridiculous. Even just the instrumental portion of the new album – what they’ve done with arrangements and how it just highlights what he can do vocally, it’s mind-blowing.

His voice is an instrument in itself.

It is, and it’s pretty damn unique. It’s the same for Eddie. I think in today’s pop world, a lot of people ending up sounding a lot alike. You can listen to some performers and say, “well is that X, Y or Z?” Then you hear Eddie’s voice or Chris’ voice, it’s so unique and the sound is so distinct that there’s no mistaking it for anybody else. It’s a great fingerprint.

Has music always been a big part of your life even going back to early memories growing up?

Yes, my mom was on Broadway and was a singer and a dancer. The way I was brought up, most other kids were probably listening to Boston, and I was too, but I was also subjected to the soundtracks of Oklahoma or Guys and Dolls around my house at the same time. So I have a wide range of music that has influenced me over the course of my life.

A lot of people tell me that about my dad, who did the Cardinals baseball games for so many years. They tell me how his voice was kind of a soundtrack to their lives growing up, being around St. Louis in the summer and hearing him while they’re mowing the grass or hearing him bouncing off the walls in their kitchen. That was usually the case for me too, but I was usually down at the ballpark. When I wasn’t at the park with him, I was really into music. I saw that as a kid; my parents having friends and family over, standing around singing, that’s really how I grew up.

Are you able to influence what songs are played on-air, into break or that are run over highlights? Or are those all outside deals?

There was a time, yeah. I could be wrong about this, but I’m 99.9% sure that it was Fox that got all of the television networks that cover sports into some trouble when we did a Super Bowl a few years ago and we played a track over highlights, like a pre-packaged piece during the Super Bowl. It was to Arcade Fire. Someone from their camp heard it and said, “Hey, we didn’t give authorization for Fox to use that.” A lawsuit followed and it made things really difficult to get cleared. To me, and I’ve talked to Vedder about this, that’s such a feather in their cap. Vedder is such a crazy sports fan and Pearl Jam actually did a deal with Fox a few years ago during the baseball postseason. They like it. Arcade Fire obviously did not or at least didn’t like that they didn’t know about it. The deal settled, but it made everybody gun-shy. For a while there at Fox, we were using basically a studio greatest hits album where notes are just off enough or it’s not done by the original artist, where it kind of sounds like the song that everybody is listening to right now, but it’s not it. That’s how they got away with it. It’s basically studio generic stuff. That was crushing to me. As a sports fan, and as somebody who takes pride in everything we put out over the air, to not have the ability to then pair it up with music that fits or can inspire or put an emotional accent to something, it just kills me.

We’ve kind of come out of those woods a little bit, more so doing specific deals. We did one with The Who years ago and I think Jack Black did the same with us. For sure Pearl Jam did which was great. Then you can play different cuts off a specific catalog that they’ll give you. It adds a lot to what we do, it’s as important as the voice that’s on there calling the play-by-play.

I remember we were doing a World Series game and Tim Wakefield, a knuckleball pitcher, was pitching. I’ve always been a huge XTC fan and the song “Knuckle Down” was one I told someone working in our truck to check out. Then one of our rolls out of the break was “Knuckle Down” by XTC with a little knuckleball dancing all over the place. It doesn’t always have to be literal but it can be. To me, it adds a lot of depth to what we do.

You mentioned the 2009 World Series. I’m a Yankee fan and after they won, Fox ran the highlights of the series with Pearl Jam’s “Amongst the Waves” playing as the backing music. It was amazing, couldn’t have been more perfect.

That’s the stuff, when we go off the air, I just think – wow, that was awesome. It’s like sports movies. Sports movies are some of the most powerful out there. They don’t always get the teams right and it doesn’t always look all that realistic, but you put certain scenes in The Natural up against anything that’s been directed and produced in film – as far as powerful moments and beautiful pictures, paired with music. In my mind, it’s right up there with the best when Roy Hobbs hits the ball up into the lights and it’s almost like fireworks coming down. Then the music hits and he’s rounding the bases in the dark. That’s as strong as it gets. It shows you the power of not just sports in those emotional moments that we all click into, but how they can be enhanced by the right piece of music.

Having a personal connection with Pearl Jam now, what’s it like for you being such a fan of the band? Is it hard to separate the band and music you’ve loved for so long from the relationship of being friends?

It’s really just Eddie. I have mutual friends with Stone, but I don’t know him at all. It’s surreal to me. I know Eddie and then you hear Eddie Vedder as the frontman of Pearl Jam, and they are like two different people to me. I’ll find myself texting with him and I almost have to remind myself who I’m texting with. It’s funny; my wife will roll her eyes at me and say, “oh let me guess, Eddie?” But we’ll go back and forth because he’s a legitimate sports fan. That’s how we got to know each other. Pearl Jam came into St. Louis in 2010 and in one of their encores he dedicated “Alive” to me. He said something along the lines of, “I don’t know if you’re still in here, but this one’s for you Joe Buck.” I didn’t know him really. He just knew through this company that I had gotten seats through people in his group and he was a sports fan so he threw that out there. I had met him a year or so before, we had just a brief encounter and we ended talking mostly about our daughters. He’s basically my age. I find myself texting more about kids and family. He’ll text me during the month of October and I’ll be texting with him during games and will send him a little video of what’s going on in our booth and he’ll send me a video of what’s going on backstage or even onstage. It’s just crazy. But he’s just genuinely the nicest guy. I had him in the booth for last year’s NFC championship game in Seattle. He flew in from Hawaii to go to it. I took him down onto the field, which was crazy scene. People were just going nuts. He met Pete Carroll before kickoff and then came up in the booth and stayed in the back the whole time. He was sending me notes of different things he observed to get into the broadcast. What made me feel great though was how he treated the spotter in the booth, the makeup person or anyone that came in. He could not have been sweeter. He never comes off as bothered and that’s a unique trait – to be as recognizable and be as polite as he is. I really think Hawaii has really been that refuge for him where he can go and hideout. I’ll text him and he’ll tell me he’s going out for evening surf. I think he really gets to shut down when he’s there. Consequently, when he comes back into the real world, he’s kind of languid and tranquil. Everything you’d hope he would be and probably more. I’m awe, believe me. I’m awe of his talent and of his brain. Some of his texts should be set to music, they’re so deep and well thought out. He’s just a brilliant writer and creative person. You realize why the guy is who he is and why that band is as great as it is, because their front-guy is just kind of on a different level. I’m much more in awe of anything he does that when I do. What he likes about my world is that he is a sincere sports fan, not just something that would look good. He’s got trunks with the Cubs stickers on them. He sent me pictures from inside the Cubs clubhouse and talking with Joe Maddon. He’s like a little kid when it comes to that so it’s neat to be around that too.

The pairing of the two worlds; sports and music, always intrigues me. The mutual admiration and respect is fascinating.

It’s true. I’ve talked with friends of mine about trying to produce a show like that – trying to have these two worlds marry up for a day. It was done on IFC with the show Iconoclasts. Michael Stipe and Mario Batalli in particular. They spend a day in one guys world and then the next day in the others and you can just see them in awe of what the other person does. So, it’s cool to give Eddie that kind of peak behind the curtain of what we do in a NFC championship game and then to go down into his dressing room after that 2010 show, and talk about everything but music was great.

With your new show Undeniable, to me, it comes across as an E:60 meets, CenterStage, meets a Howard Stern interview. Is that a fair assessment?

I think so. Anytime you mention Stern, that’s the ultimate. I would even throw James Lipton in there from Inside the Actors Studio. It’s one thing to ask somebody to sit down and talk about the team, talk about the next game or talk about a cover two defense. It’s another to say – let’s sit down and talk about the beginnings of your life, how you were shaped, where you didn’t meet expectations, where you failed and how you picked yourself back up and succeeded after that. I think that’s where it struck a chord with people, meaning the interview guests. I never expected to have the kind of cooperation that we ended up having. To sit there for two and half hours with Jeter, Gretzky or Michael Phelps and talk about suicide, how low he got and what it was like going to rehab, you realize these people really do want to talk. They want to talk more than just a Sunday conversation on ESPN and more than just five minutes. These are people more than they are sports stars. That’s really what the objective was. Vince Vaughn, Peter Billingsly and I are the producers on it with DIRECTV. That’s what we determined we would go after on this when we met two and half years ago and it’s what we’ve achieved to some degree with the show. For the athlete, it’s almost like therapy and they get up really happy that they were there. The crowd and the actual venue where we do it, certainly the host, is really glad that they were there.

Do you film in New York?

We filmed the first thirteen episodes in Manhattan Beach at Manhattan Beach Studios. I had to work that in and around my calendar. My wife and I rented a place out there. Then we are doing seven more around the Super Bowl in San Francisco. That will be an even 20 for year one and then we’ll see where we go for year two. It’s to a point now where hopefully the show sells itself. It’s one thing to get Derek Jeter and think – here’s what we hope to do. It’s another to talk to Jeter, show it, put it on the air and have other sports stars in that same echelon see it and think it would be something fun to do.

You’ve had Kelly Slater too. I know he’s a big Pearl Jam fan.

Yeah. He was great. He’s another guy who came from nothing. He really worked hard and found his own way. A part of that takes a turn like Phelps episode, and you realize how low he got. He’s a lot like Eddie Vedder. He’s just on a different level. He’s always developing, he’s always thinking and he’s a very creative person; whether it’s creating on a wave or a clothing line or just contemplating life. He’s a unique dude.

In the Michael Phelps episode, there’s a small part where he says – “I don’t know if I’m somebody different because of what I’ve done? This is the real Michael Phelps.” I feel like that really encapsulates what the show is all about.

Exactly. It’s perception too. People even have a perception of me where they think they know me. Everybody wants to put somebody in a box. They hear me call touchdown or homeruns and know that I’m somebodies kid too and think I got into the business because of my dad. Now they got me pegged. We see Derek Jeter’s success or Michael Phelps getting gold medals around his neck and we think – this guy believes he’s better than everybody else. But then you realize, he is a flawed human being that has been scared to death. It’s kind of self-help series. That’s what Vince Vaughn wants to sell it as. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, you can take a lesson out of this and apply it to what you do or where you’ve been or what you hope to become. That’s been the most satisfying part of it. It’s not just talking about when you hit the double into right center field its more about what the athlete was feeling before the World Series. Did you want the ball hit to you? It doesn’t matter if you are in an office building or fixing a pipe, do you want the pressure on you?

FOLLOW JEFF GORRA ON TWITTER HERE:

Contact: JeffGorra@gmail.com; @JeffGorra on twitter REPORTER: Jeff Gorra Bio: Jeff has been in and around the Rock/Alternative world for many years having spent time at K-Rock radio in New York and Live Nation. Additionally, Jeff served as a street team director under the Chris Cornell camp from 2005-2009. During the years of 2003-2011, Jeff found himself on the other side of the guitar having fronted the New York City band Breakerfall and The Jeff Gorra Band. His first solo effort Jeff Gorra – The Reins was released in late 2010 and still resides on iTunes. Now a New England resident, Jeff came aboard Alternative Nation in 2013 focusing on interviews, after years of being a faithful reader. Fun facts: Jeff is a die-hard New York Giants fan. Some of his favorite artists include; Pearl Jam, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and anything Chris Cornell. Contact Jeff at Jeffgorra @gmail.com
  • — J —

    Good interview. He’s an interesting dude.

  • Felonious Punk

    I guess Dave Grohl was too busy rocking the planet on one leg for an interview, so Joe Buck had to settle for Eddie Vedder instead..

    • Matt Russell

      Yeah, rockin’ the planet with a Greatest Hits setlist every night. Yawn… see them once and that’s enough.

      • Felonious Punk

        And if they did a set full of deep cuts (which they’ve done before), people like you would be bitching on Alt Nation about how the band sucks because they aren’t playing the hits on tour

        • Matt Russell

          Ha. Yeah. Check out Better Than Nothing Videos on Youtube. I do the multicam full shows of PJ. You think I’m clamoring for a hits set? Hardly. Nice try.

          • Jimmy Intense

            Now there’s a band with better deep cuts than most band’s hits.

          • Felonious Punk

            Not a big Pearl Jam fan these days, so I’ll pass. But rock on with your bad self, camera man. Hopefully when PJ starts touring in a few months, it will keep you busy and we won’t have to hear how upset you are that Dave is playing to what his audience wants to hear

          • Corndog

            Why is it ok for Dave to do it but not ok for Tool to do it?

          • Matt Russell

            There’s a fair bit of inconsistency in his argument here. I saw FF twice last year, in Philly and much earlier at the crowdsource Richmond show. Of the 20 some songs, I think 19 were played at both shows. I agree with Felonious that it’s what his fans want. But I think that’s because A. their fans are more casual and B. their albums are not nearly as deep in quality as PJ. PJ fans want deep cuts and varied sets. That’s why they travel. It’s a whole different kind of fan base between the two bands.

          • Corndog

            I was only kidding to get a rise out of Punky:)

          • Felonious Punk

            Because the Foo Fighters actually mix up their setlist once every five years or so

            Usually to include songs from a new album, which Tool also doesn’t do anymore..

          • Corndog

            I was only kidding man. I knew what you meant. I get it; they may play their hits but there at least is a little rotation in the setlist. I just wanted to poke you a little:)

          • Felonious Punk

            Oh, I know. I was only kidding too. It’s not like I actually believe you about Dave being an insufferable douchebag or anything 😀

          • Corndog

            Nope, that part i was serious about:)

          • Corndog

            Hey i’ve watched a bunch of those videos on Youtube! That’s you?

            Well done fella. Much appreciated.

          • Matt Russell

            Yeah, that’s me and a friend of mine. We split the work. St Paul was just released the other day, definitely had the best footage to work with, which was nice. Glad you are enjoying them. It’s a hobby of ours and people appreciate it.

          • Corndog

            I watch a lot of PJ live stuff on YouTube so yes your efforts are much appreciated.

    • Jimmy Intense

      I think the world could use a breather from all things Grohl for 2-3 years.

      • Felonious Punk

        lol probably. Let the rock world go without a rock star of his caliber for three years and people will change their tune. And still waiting for the new Tool album, most likely

        • Jimmy Intense

          Oh 100% I’ll be missing some Grohl and even Foo Fighters after a little time away.

          At least Tool can entertain some of us by wearing animal fuzzies and playing Stinkfist every night until that next album is released.

          I mean…what animal has Uncle Dave dressed up as!? :p

          • Felonious Punk

            Are you shitting me? He BEAT “The Animal” in a drum-off on Animal’s own show. That alone should tell you Dave doesn’t need to dress up in a rabbit suit while he wastes time on a tour and avoiding his next album

          • Jimmy Intense

            I dunno, those one-legged shows were lacking a certain je na s’ais paw 😉

          • Felonious Punk

            Truuuuue. Dave could’ve dressed up as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, and still kicked everyone’s ass with the way he soldiered on with that tour. But I have in fact noticed a steep decline in Dave Grohl news and a steady increase in Eddie Vedder/PJ news ever since the new year. Maybe Corndog knows a little somethin’-somethin’ about that…

          • Jimmy Intense

            They took what might have been a shitty situation and ended up doing a pretty great and successful tour. I will give credit where it’s due although I groaned when reading their set lists and seeing Queen and Van Halen covers among other choices. I’m telling you man, Dave needs to do another TCV album or something else before more FF. The general public may eat whatever dog food they’re selling these days but it’s been a bit over the top since In Your Honor IMHO

          • Felonious Punk

            Yea, to be honest, IYH was the last “great” album the Foos did, in my opinion. ESPG was my least favourite of their albums, and Wasting Light was pretty overrated for what it really was. I liked Sonic Highways more than most people, but in the end, it wasn’t up there with the albums they released in that 1995-2005 run. I wish he’d play some Dead Kennedys or Minor Threat covers in their setlists today, but again…he’s playing to his audience. The Foos are just as much a brand as they are a band at this point, and considering that, I think he’s doing a pretty terrific job of “keepin’ it real” and making as many people happy as possible.

            A guy like Dave can be the ripest peach on the tree, but there’s still going to be someone out there who hates peaches. So it goes with anything. But yea, I’m with ya: I definitely want something else, like a new TCV album, before another Foos record. Not sure what the hold up is there, but it’s getting aggravating..

          • Jimmy Intense

            Right? John Paul Jones isn’t getting any younger. But yeah, well said. Pretty much sums up how I feel about FF post-2005 as well although I preferred Wasting Light to their last 2 despite it being overrated as you mentioned. Dave is one cool dude though. He would be the first rock star I would jam with. He’s been a massive influence on my approach to writing and recording music.

          • Felonious Punk

            And that’s what *great* musicians, artists, filmmakers, writers, etc *should* be: an inspiration to others to do the same. Not trying to suck Dave’s dick here (any more than usual, that is), but he truly is THE rock star of his generation. Nobody else in the last 20 years since Cobain committed suicide has had anywhere near the prominence or the longevity. Some have certainly flown very high and very close to the sun, but none have had the stronghold on popularity or overall shadow-casting the way Dave has. Dude seriously seems to be in multiple places at once, as far as his footprint on modern music is concerned

            A funny thing about Wasting Light: when it came out, the vinyl format was delayed by several weeks, which has unfortunately become commonplace nowadays. I was so amped to hear it after the TCV album that I bought a CD copy to hold me over until the LP arrived. And the CD sounded like SHIT. Flat, compressed, no dynamics…just blah. This was before I was ear-trained to vinyl and listening to all music that way. So when my vinyl copy finally arrived, I just set it aside for like a month. And when I finally gave it a whirl, it was like listening to an entirely different album, as far as sound is concerned. That album sounds fucking SERIOUS on vinyl, man. Thankfully, it came with a download card of MP3s ripped straight from the vinyl, because that’s the only way I’ll listen to that album — or any of his music — now.

          • Jimmy Intense

            Vinyl is a much more rewarding listening experience

          • Felonious Punk

            Goddamn right it is!

          • Corndog

            Peaches suck;)

          • Corndog

            Nope, nothing to do with me. Not complaining thought. Dave is an insufferable douchebag so the less he is covered the better far as i’m concerned.

          • Felonious Punk

            What was I just saying about peaches again?

          • Corndog

            Something about wishing Dave’s ass was a peach so you could take a big juicy bite out of it?

          • Felonious Punk

            Would probably happen, yea.

      • Corndog

        Why trouble the guy? Once he’s gone, let him stay gone.

  • Billy

    i am a bigger sports fan, than a music fan so as someone who respects Joe Buck (terrific broadcasting voice) this was an awesome read. I am recently building a uber playlist on my ipod which is up to 2300 songs at the moment, but there have been many times so far where i’ve just stopped the random shuffle in the middle of a song and just put the Higher Truth album on instead….soothing is a great way to describe that album.

    • Corndog

      I think I was born without the gene necessary for appreciating sport. I’ve never been able to get into football or tennis or any of that jazz.

      The only sport that I’ve ever had any interest in is F1. Been watching that for over twenty years, but only that.

      • Billy

        Being a good ol’ Canadian boy, Hockey is the essence of my soul lol I used to follow all the big north american sports religiously, but as i’ve gotten older i only have time to care about NHL,NFL, CFL (canadian football league lol)
        Stats my friend, sports has so many statistics, so much to analyze and figure out

        • Corndog

          In my neck of the woods the big thing is football (soccer) but to me it’s always just been a bunch of guys running around a field in their undercrackers.

          If it’s stats you like you should give F1 a go. It’s full of stats to pour over if you wish.

          • Billy

            with soccor/football there is not enough scoring and it also boasts the wimpiest athletes in the world. The dramatics and injury faking is at the same time both hilarious and embarrassing lol

            Never been a race car fan tho i do respect F1 more than nascar,etc. At least in F1 the race tracks have personality, better than watching cars drive around the same oval hundreds of times lol

          • Corndog

            I respect drivers that race on ovals because i know it is much more difficult than it would appear, but i don’t think it makes for much of a spectacle for the audience. I’ve been into F1 for a long time now though. Always fascinates me how fractions of a second can make so much difference.

  • Stone Gossardish

    That’s great stuff about Vedder. But good luck making Phelps likable. That ship’s long since sailed.