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

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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?

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