David Dye is a Philadelphia radio icon who, since October 1991, has let us into the minds of established stars and up-and-comers alike—David Bowie, Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, Amos Lee and Mumford & Sons. The sigh of relief that Dye and his crew breathed after booking U2 in that first year on-air has led to two decades of memorable moments in music.
“The show has changed, has morphed somewhat,” says Dye. “It was very much more of a singer-song [writer] show in the beginning.” What started as a program showcasing up-and-comers and world music grew into the leader in new and significant artists, giving both celebrated and emerging musicians a platform for musical exploration and a chance to share an intimacy with listeners never before heard.
We caught up with Dye and asked him about his 20 year reign as host of World Cafe: the good, the bad and the completely bizarre. Whether you’re a longtime listener or a first-timer, read on for Dye’s list of unforgettable guests.
Performance Most Likely to Surprise You: Jeff Daniels
There’s nothing worse than an egomaniacal celebrity who tries to be an actor/model/singer-songwriter/handbag designer. But the Dumb and Dumber star, who Dye was not looking forward to having on the show, gets the host’s pick as the guest whose performance most altered his preconceptions. “He clearly had been doing this all his life. Rather than kind of thinking this was going to be an ego boost for him he actually even started doing music for all the right reasons: To fund a theater he started doing benefit concerts.”
Biggest Diva: Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star
When you hear the term diva, you might think of soulful ladies of R&B, bedazzled country vixens or the baby- prostitutes of pop. According to Dye, it was indie-darling Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star who was such a prima donna that the show never aired. After extending her studio session to three hours and generally giving everyone a hard time, Dye did the interview. “She started answering questions,” Dye gives a dramatic pause, “by nodding her head. That doesn’t really work on the radio.” They ended the interview and it remains in the World Cafe Vault of Dead Air.
Diva Runner-Up: NRBQ, who would only do the interview laying on the floor, flat on their backs.
Dye’s Most Disappointing Moment: Joni Mitchell
Dye says that, at first, Mitchell was happy to be talking about music and not personal matters. When Dye asked about “Not to Blame,” Mitchell’s tune changed. “It was about Jackson Browne when he was being accused of spousal abuse,” says Dye. “I was really disappointed that she denied it. She had the guts to write it in a song but wouldn’t own up to it.” Dye maintains that there is very little room for interpretation with “Not to Blame,” written two years after the incident between Jackson Browne and Darryl Hannah.
Most Down-to-Earth Star: Neil Young
Yes, Dye still gets star struck. When World Cafe brings in the big guns like Neil Young, he ends up doing more work so he’s not so nervous. But sometimes, it’s the musicians who end up putting Dye at ease. It was during a trip Dye took to Nashville, Tenn., for an interview with Young that makes for one of his favorite moments. “It was one of his last interviews (promoting Prairie Wind ) and we did it in the room at the hotel,” says Dye. “The people in the hallway were being kinda loud and he got up and opened the door and said, ‘Will you guys shut up!’ To have Neil do that was kinda cool.”
Musician Dye Felt Like He’d Known Forever: Rosanne Cash
Cash was on the show promoting her album Black Cadillac in 2006. Though it was the first time Dye and Cash had met, Dye says he felt like he’d known the musician for years. “I had that experience with Roseann Cash. We just really clicked ... I felt like we had some of the same experiences. She may have had a lot that I hadn’t,” laughs Dye. “It was just super warm and I felt that.”
Most Honest Interview: Tom Waits
“His brain is just wired differently and he’s also incredibly smart.” Dye says that after every interview, there is something he regrets not asking or something he wishes he pressed further. Waits is so forthcoming during his interviews with Dye that he doesn’t have to dig too far. “One of the questions I wanted to ask him was—there was a real shift in his career: he did almost straight singer-songwriter stuff early on and then he sort of went to the circus.” Waits straight answer: You kind of get bored with yourself.
Most Uncomfortable Interview: Jewel
When Jewel made her way to World Cafe, Dye was ... unenthused. Jewel is a prime example of what can go wrong when feigning interest in an artist. “I didn’t get along very well with Jewel. I phrased something poorly and she took offense. And got really quite unhappy about it.” Dye, in an attempt to address Jewel’s laid-back persona, made mention of her not being “ambitious.” Her comeback: “Well, you don’t seem very well groomed.” Dye has a good sense of humor about the incident. “She was accurate too, so at least she was observant. I don’t dress well.”
World Cafe airs weekdays on WXPN 88.5 at 2 p.m. Visit xpn.org for a list of scheduled performances taking place this month to celebrate its 20th year on air.
PW's Music Issue 2014