The Music of The Blacklist: Q&A with Charles Baker
The character, Mr. Grey ( Charles Baker) on The Blacklist, spoke the very first line of dialogue in the pilot episode. Join me for a Q&A with actor Charles Baker and read what else he has to say about his love for music on and off The Blacklist.
PC: I’m very happy to be speaking to you and grateful you agreed to take part.
CB: Yes, I really like the idea of this. Music is a big thing for me.
PC: Me too, I’m really interested in what people listen to and what music influences them. What was the first record you bought?
CB: I honestly couldn’t tell you the first one I bought. The first album I really remember getting into, strangely enough, was because of my older brother he gave me a copy of Pink Floyd – The Final Cut, I was probably like 15. Most of the music I listened to as a kid was stuff from my older brothers, so I grew up listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The Beatles, I listened to all the time. I kind of wanted to be John Lennon.
PC: That classic question “Were you Beatles or Stones” you definitely were Beatles?
CB: Definitely Beatles. I loved the harmonies. I loved the simplicity, I learned from them the complexity that can come from simplicity, how keeping it simple a lot of times you can make things a lot better than trying to be way more complicated.
PC: Are those the groups you still like today, are they still on your playlist?
CB: Pink Floyd they have remained one of my absolute favorites. The Beatles, I will always listen to them, I’m teaching my kids how to sing Beatles tunes. My son loves music, he really seems to get it. He turns 4 this month. He loves strumming on the guitar and he loves singing along to the piano, guitar or ukulele. My oldest and youngest are 25 years apart, my older son is a big music fan, he is a big influence on his little brother.
PC: My son is 22 and we share a love of music, we go to concerts together.
CB: It’s really neat, my oldest and I share music, we have a lot of the same tastes, some of the music he’s introducing me to is similar to some of my old favorites.
PC: Which song do you just have to play at full volume?
CB: Actually Maverick Sabre “I Need” is just one I really identify with, his lyrics they hit me in the right spot, that’s one song that makes me really want to belt it out when I sing along, I crank it up. His song “Shooting the Stars” I’m normally not into that kind of music but the rhythm and depth of his lyrics just kind of took me by surprise. Rarely do I find an entire album where I can just immerse myself. I love the diversity of Lonely Are The Brave, Big Band meets Hip Hop meets R&B I’m kind of in awe of what he does.
PC: Which song soothes your troubled mind or heart or just makes you feel better?
CB: That’s a tough one because that’s what music is to me, all of my favorite songs that’s why they are my favorite songs. I have a deep connection to music. I once told somebody music was my favorite way to cry, I think more, it’s just my favorite way to feel. I’ve always looked at music as a soundtrack to life. I know people who just listen to music as a background noise but for me if I say “Hey listen to this song” I expect you to listen to every word or note because that’s how important music it is to me.
PC: The last concert I went to was Kris Kristofferson and the best was Bruce Springsteen. Do you have a favorite concert? Tell me about the last concert you went to?
CB: The last concert I went to was Andrew Belle, he does a lot of songs that are on American TV shows, actually his father (Rick Fortson) is an artist who worked on the Breaking Bad series, I became friends with him and he introduced me to his music, he said “Check out this video my son made” I was kind of like “oh goody I get to listen to some kid”, then when I heard it I was kind of blown away by it, a song called “Oh My Stars” by Andrew Belle.
PC: I will listen to that, and what about your favorite concert?
CB: I actually got to see David Bowie. Spiders From Mars the Ziggy Stardust tour it was the very last time he did those songs before he decided to reinvent himself again. I wasn’t necessarily in a straight state of mind throughout the whole concert but it was defiantly an awesome concert. Seeing him do “Space Oddity” live was just pretty amazing.
PC: I’m so jealous as David Bowie is my all time favorite and I never got to see him perform.
CB: I got to see Elvis on his Aloha tour which was actually my very first concert ever, I was probably 6 or 7 I can’t remember exactly. My older brothers had tickets but they weren’t allowed to go unless they took me with them. I have very vague memories of a very large Elvis Presley in a very flashy white outfit hovering over me singing, that’s my favorite claim to fame.
I had a wonderful job at a place in Fort Worth, Texas called, Caravan of Dreams. It was a Jazz club. it’s closed down since but it used to have really intimate concerts by really big stars. My job was waiting tables serving the stars backstage so I got to see so many wonderful musicians, I saw Ramsey Lewis play piano there, he’s an amazing musician that was a great experience just watching so many great live acts. Then afterwards I ended up working as a stage hand where I set up lights and stages for concerts. Sometimes I got to work those concerts so I got to work behind the scenes of some major bands, you know it was pretty cool.
PC: I just started taking piano lessons, obviously you can play the piano very well. Are you self-taught or did you have training?
CB: I started off self-taught, I had one lesson from a guy who was horrified by my technique, he spent the one lesson trying to fix it but then I couldn’t afford anymore. Later in College, I was on a vocal scholarship. I was a Classical Baritone and I had to pick a secondary instrument so I chose piano. I wanted to be like Billy Joel for a while but I worked out that meant having to show up to gigs with a piano so I taught myself to play guitar instead. I sang and played guitar in bars around Fort Worth, some of my own tunes and a lot of covers and then I sang for an alternative rock band that did okay. We got on the radio and released one album then kind of just drifted apart.
PC: Can you tell me what the band was called or are we keeping that under wraps?
CB: (Laughs) The band was called Stargazer.
PC: Do you have a movie soundtrack you never tire of listening to?
CB: You know there’s a lot of them, obviously because it’s all Beatles music, I Am Sam, I love Beatles covers, I love hearing variations of Beatles tunes. The movie is alright but the music I really liked especially “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Across The Universe that was one of my favorites. One of the most surprising soundtracks was from Great Expectations, De Niro was in it with Ethan Hawke, that soundtrack is incredible and still pretty relevant. It has such a wide range of styles, it’s a really good soundtrack if you haven’t heard it.
PC: Do you have a song you hate to admit you like?
CB: Oh gosh. There’s a lot of those. I used to like to listen to Roger Whittaker when I was a kid, he did an album of greatest hits which my Mom had on 8 track, he did a cover of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler On the Roof. That whole 8 track is one of my guilty pleasures, I put on YouTube a few of his songs to show my wife, she was kinda mortified!
PC: Which is your most worn band t-shirt?
CB: I’m getting repetitive because it’s The Beatles and Pink Floyd. I have a huge collection of concert t-shirts from when I was a stagehand, I don’t really wear a lot of them out in public so I just kept them in a pile now my daughter wears them as nightshirts, she’s often seen wearing Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd t-shirts. I have two Beatles t-shirts I wear a lot, one of them is actually a John Lennon “Imagine” t-shirt with just a quote from “Imagine” on it with John and Yoko. The other is a picture of a group shot of I guess around the White Album time.
PC: Which song or piece of music would you like to be played at your funeral?
CB: I’ve had that one planned for so long now, it’s from Shakespeare, where the words come from is a composer named John Rutter. He took Shakespeare’s plays and put a few of them to music and there’s a song called “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind”. When I came up with the idea of having a song at my funeral I was in a lot bleaker times, it’s a very melancholy kind of song but the harmony is just gorgeous. Definitely not a rock tune!
PC: What would be your favorite track on The Blacklist soundtrack?
CB: You know, I don’t necessarily have a favorite on that one. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I’m going to be honest and ever since they killed me off on The Blacklist, I watched a few more episodes but because I travel so much it’s kind of hard to keep track and we don’t have cable at home. I do know Dave Porter who did the music on Breaking Bad does the music.
PC: Yes, that’s right, you need to listen to the Spotify playlist if nothing else, they have all the music from the episodes on the playlist, there are some really good songs on there.
CB: Yeah, I need to check it out, I love what television has been doing with music recently, I don’t know if you have watched Sons of Anarchy?
PC: I haven’t actually because like you I’m not a great TV watcher so really The Blacklist and The Walking Dead are the only two shows I watch (religiously), but they both have great music.
CB: I love the way they use music, using different eras of music as opposed to those cheesy tunes.
PC: That’s what’s good about The Blacklist, there are some artists I’d never heard of but now really like.
CB: Yeah, it’s completely different now, I do remember in the episodes I watched, they used the music very well ,they had some great moments where the music was so fitting to the imagery, I’ve always been impressed. I do know that Dave Porter is mostly a composer but I think he has a lot to do with picking the music.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to talk about of your future projects?
CB: Gosh, I have so many future projects coming out I don’t know which one to talk about, none of them have any solid dates yet. I have one of them I’m kind of excited about, it’s a very small part I’m only in it for a short time. It’s in a movie with Keanu Reeves called The Neon Demon, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. I think it’s coming out sometime in the spring, it has an incredible cast. I was only allowed to see my scenes, the scenes I were in were pretty fun so I’m really looking forward to seeing it when it does come out, he is a really interesting film maker.
I’m in six films, several different films, a Sci-fi comedy, Sci-fi drama a Mission to Mars drama, a mystery and a historical kind of piece set in 1920 it’s a biographical picture. I’m really looking forward to seeing all of them. A couple of these films I’m one of the leads or the lead actor and I had discussions with the directors about music, specifically how important it is to me that the music fits and most of them reassured me that that’s an important aspect of the film.
PC: Thank you so much for your time.