Elvis Costello & the Roots: Questlove’s Pipe Dream Isn’t Over
It's a safe bet that when the Recording Academy announces the nominees for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards on Dec. 6, you'll be hearing the names Elvis Costello and the Roots. That is, if Grammy members can figure out in which category — or categories — the genre-bending collaboration Wake Up Ghost & Other Stories best fits.
Mixing Costello's legendary wordplay with the Roots' down-and-dirty, funky grooves, the album has already roused one-time Costello devotees from their slumber and has likely converted some Roots followers into Elvis fans, impressed with how the bespectacled Englishman can throw down a rhyme.
If you're already hip to the album, which was released in mid-September, there's good news. More music from the pairing is on the way. Roots drummer and co-leader Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson tells us that there will be a new release by Costello & the Roots on the Black Friday version of Record Store Day, fitting since it was on the annual springtime celebration of independent record stores that first saw the release of Wake Up Ghost as a limited-run while label test pressing. "We got something really special coming for that day," he says. And that's not all, Questlove tells us that their live performance at the Brooklyn Bowl on Sept. 16, the eve of the album's official release, "really opened up a whole new good can of worms," hinting there may be even more to come.
The "roots" of the unlikely pairing can be traced to Costello's three appearances on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" on which the Roots serve as the house band, usually jamming with the evening's musical guests. Unbeknownst to Costello, Questlove was a huge fan. But there were clues. During one of his guest spots, Questlove and the Roots dug up music from a U.K. commercial for R White's Lemonade written by Elvis' father, Ross MacManus, and featuring a young Costello, then known as Declan MacManus, on backing vocals and bass. "We found it on the Internet and decided to do it," Questlove says, "and it really floored him. He was like, 'How did you know about that?'"
Little did Costello know, Questlove had been obsessing over him and his music for years. In fact, part of the reason he agreed to take the Fallon gig was that Costello's name was dropped during a meeting with the future talk show host and producer Lorne Michaels. "The scenario that Jimmy said was, 'The cool thing is you can have your friends in, so you can have Q Tip sit in on Tuesday, Herbie Hancock could sit in on Wednesday, and Elvis Costello could sit in on a Thursday.' And when I went home to tell [friend and producer] Steve [Mandel] how the meeting went and gave him those hypothetical examples, a light bulb went off in his head and he said, 'Yo, now you must take this 'Late Night' gig so we can be down can be down with Elvis.' It was like a pipe dream."