Today would have been the 101st birthday of one of country music's greatest guitar pickers, singer and songwriters of his generation -- and, in my book, any generation -- Merle Travis.
Happy birthday, Merle!
Born in Rosewood, Kentucky (that's Muhlenberg County, John Prine fans) in 1917, He performed the song "Tiger Rag" on an Indiana radio show when he was 18 and soon began playing professionally. And he kept at it until his death in 1983.
In 1946 he recorded a "folk" album for Capitol records, Folk Songs of the Hills. But Travis himself wrote several of the "folk songs" here, including several of the songs for which he's best known. One of them, "Sixteen Tons" would become a huge crossover hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford nearly a decade later.
Here's a version by Merle.
Here's Travis' other famous coal-mining song.
Travis on TV in the mid '60s doing a hillbilly gospel blues tune.
And here he is in the '70s showing off his fancy picking. (Sorry, I'm not sure who the other folks are.)
Check out more coal-mining songs, including different versions of "Sixteen Tons" and "Dark as a Dungeon," HERE
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican Nov. 23, 2018
Recently, a music critic and Facebook friend of mine posted something stupid. No, he wasn’t agreeing with President Trump that the solution to forest fires was better raking. “Rock is dead. Who killed it?” he asked, then listed a few suspects, mainly bands he doesn’t care for.
My first reaction: “Oh no, not again.” The whole “rock is dead” debate has popped up again and again throughout the years, ever since the days when Elvis enlisted in the Army, and Buddy, Bopper, and Ritchie fell from the sky. Then there was wimp warrior Don McLean (whom Rolling Stone once dubbed “Nixon’s Dylan”) whimpering about “the day the music died.” Then there was the rise of disco — then hip-hop, then boy bands, then electronica. Then the demise of decent commercial radio, the birth of smartphones and streaming, then — who knows — some impending Bobby Goldsboro revival?
Rock is dead? Not on my watch.
Maybe you do need a metaphorical rake to get rid of some of the rotting foliage on the proverbial floor. But I’m firmly in the Neil Young camp here: “Hey hey. My my/Rock ’n’ roll can never die ...”
But, one might argue, today’s youth care a lot more about dumbed-down pop dreck and other non-rock sounds than actual rock ’n’ roll. Can’t deny that. But I’ll always remember the words of this crusty old guy who worked in The New Mexican’s backshop years ago talking about our beloved wild and primitive sounds: “This stuff is better when it’s coming from the underground.”
And in support of that contention, I offer two recent hard-charging, rocking guitar-centric albums with strong roots in the blues and creative recycling, both of which I’ve been loving a lot lately.
Black Joe Lewis in Santa Fe, Oct. 2012
* The Difference Between Me & You by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. Longtime fans of young Black Joe should immediately realize that this record, released in September, is a back-to-basics move for this Austin band.
It’s true: The Honeybears still have their excellent funky horn section, and a handful of songs here are closer to sweet soul ballads than rump-rousing rock.
And at least one track, the tasty “Suit or Soul?,” sounds so much like some long-lost blaxploitation soundtrack, I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up on some episode of The Deuce. But the overall sound of Difference is raw and rowdy, with roots stretching back to Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf.
The first song, a mid-tempo gem called “Nothing but a Cliché,” starts off with a guitar lick that evokes memories of classic Muscle Shoals soul. Wilson Pickett should return from the dead to cover this one.
Then there are tunes like “She Came Onto Me,” which has menacing echoes of ascended Fat Possum masters like R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, and Junior Kimbrough; “Hemmin’ & Hawin’,” which owes its lead hook to ZZ Top; and “Girls on Bikes,” which justifies the Diddley comparison above.
And in the category of strange cover songs that are better than the originals, Lewis and band do a version of Wilco’s “Handshake Drugs.” Wilco’s original, on the album A Ghost Is Born, is a lilting, pleasant little tune built around acoustic guitar and piano, colored by psychedelic electro-squiggles. Black Joe’s version is a ferocious ride into paranoia and insanity.
Lewis, by the way, is the second African-American singer (that I know of) who’s covered a Wilco song. A few years ago J.C. Brooks & The Uptown Sound did a rough-hewn, soulful version of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” What can I say? Jeff Tweedy is a soul man.
* See You in Miami by Charlie Pickett. Charlie Pickett & The Eggs was one of the coolest bands of the 1980s who I never heard until 20 years after they’d broken up. It wasn’t until Bloodshot Records released an amazing Pickett compilation called Bar Band Americanus in 2008. That one ended up on my Top 10 list that year.
But those of us who haven’t been able to catch the occasional Pickett gig in Florida have never heard another peep out of Pickett — who jettisoned his musical career to become a lawyer all those years ago — since that greatest non-hits collection 10 years ago.
The good news is that See You in Miami picks right up from Pickett’s music when he went off to law school. He still does songs that sound like ZZ Top (them again!) trying to rewrite Exile on Main Street. (Pickett has said in interviews that his favorite period in rock was the Stones’ Mick Taylor era.) R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who produced an Eggs album in the ’80s, supplies the lead guitar on several songs.
Starting off with “What I Like About Miami,” the joyful ode to his adopted hometown and its beaches, nightlife, empanadas, and Cuban girls, which could be a candidate for some future Miami tourism commercial, the album is full of south Florida references.
But not everything here is pretty girls and Cuban delicacies. “Bullshit Is Goin On” is a slow, menacing, and soulful protest against political skulduggery, while “So Long Johnny,” written by Buck, is a lament for Johnny Salton, a former Eggs guitarist who died of liver cancer in 2010. The “Spirit of Johnny Salton” is credited for “inspiration guitar” on the song.
The longest song here, the near-seven-minute “Four Chambered Heart,” is fortunately one of the strongest on Miami. Inspired by The Dream Syndicate, a neo-psychedelic 1980s band from California, after the four-minute mark it morphs into an instrumental version of Television’s “Marquee Moon.”
Like other Charlie-come-lately fans, I wish I could have seen Pickett & The Eggs tear up the stage in some Florida dive back in the day. But See You in Miami is so strong it’ll make you want to see him this weekend.
One of my very first Wacky Wednesday posts, back in late November 2014, was about a song by the late great song parodist Allan Sherman, "Pop Hates The Beatles." (I just fixed some broken YouTube links on that four-year-old post.)
Just last week Sherman (1934-1973) came up in conversation on a Facebook thread. It started out in a discussion of another foot soldier in the British Invasion, Petula Clark (who's currently touring the US at the age of 86!)
So I figured it's well past time to salute Camp Grenada's best-known camper again. Besides, his birthday is coming up on Nov. 30.. He would have been 84 -- two years younger than Petula Clark.)
Sunday, November 18, 2018 KSFR, Santa Fe, NM Webcasting! 10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org
Here's my playlist :
OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres
Gone to Texas by Terry Allen
Frenchmen Street by The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
Girls on Bikes by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
Voodoo Walking by Mama Rosin with Hipbone Slim
Let's Turkey Trot by Little Eva
Hainted by Churchwood
Speedy Quick by Dirk Geil
The Corner of Fuck and You by The Grannies
Secret Rendezvous by The Chocolate Watchband
David Cassidy by Betty & The Werewolves
Nerve Disorder by The Vagoos
Bad Day by He Who Cannot Be Named
Miami Interlude by Charlie Pickett
Buzz Buzz Buzz by The Blasters
Work for a Jerk by A Pony Named Olga
Guv'ment by John Goodman
God Damn USA by Trixie & The Trainwrecks
Turkey Jive by The Hormonauts
Vicksburg by Johnny Dowd
When the Hammer Came Down by House of Freaks
Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife by Drive-By Truckers
Death Row by Mike Zito
Turkey and the Rabbit by T-Model Ford
Part of the Deal by Western Star
I Loved Her So by Me & Them Guys
November by The Rockin' Guys
Lee Harvey by T. Tex Edwards & The Hickoids
Two White Horses by Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs
Garbage Patch by Ramblin' Deano
Aggie and the DA by Hamell on Trial
Wreck on the Highway by Stevie Tombstone
Unsatisfied by The Replacements
Thanksgiving by Loudon Wainwright III CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis
Steve Zahn with Kermit Ruffins and Wendell Pierce on Treme
Today, Nov. 14, is the 51st birthday of actor Steve Zahn.
Zahn became famous in 1994 for his role in Reality Bites, After that, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, "Zahn quickly gained a reputation for playing amiable stoners, slackers, and sidekicks in films such as That Thing You Do! (1996), You've Got Mail (1998), and Out of Sight (1998).
But I didn't become a Zahn fan until Treme, the HBO series (2010-2013) about post-Katrina New Orleans created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer.
Music was a major undercurrent in Treme, and Zahn portrayed Davis McAlary, a DJ on a public radio station, a frustrated musician and basically an amiable stoner and slacker.
Naturally, DJ Davis was one of my favorite characters on the show.
So here's a DJ Davis birthday/Treme salute to Mr. Zahn.
Here he is on stage,with his band The Brassy Knoll, singing James Brown's "Sex Machine."
Here's D.J. Davis doing "Shame Shame Shame" during band rehearsal.
D.J. Davis raps!
Besides his singing "career," DJ Davis had a lot of Louisiana greats on his radio show. The late Coco Robicheaux has to be the coolest who ever walked into that studio. (Too bad I couldn't find the clip of Coco sacrificing a chicken in the studio -- which got Davis in a lot of trouble with his boss.)
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican Nov. 9 , 2018
Peter Case 2010
The last time I saw Peter Case was in the summer of 2010 at one of Russ Gordon’s free shows at the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. Case was touring for his album Wig, a punchy, bare-boned, blues-infused record that rocked harder than anything he’d done since his tenure with The Plimsouls in the early ’80s. (And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still one of my favorite Case solo albums.) At the Los Alamos concert, he was backed only by longtime Santa Fe drummer Baird Banner. It was a terrific show, probably the best live Case set I’ve ever witnessed. Eight years later, I’m still jabbering on about it.
But maybe after next week, I’ll have something else to jabber about. Case is playing a show at Gig Performance Space (1808 Second St.), on Sunday, Nov. 11. (He’s also playing tonight, Friday, Nov. 9 at The Cooperage in Albuquerque.)
So who is this guy?
Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1954, Case grew up in a nearby small town called Hamburg. Inspired by the record collections of his older sisters, he found himself playing in local rock ’n’ roll bands. His love for folk music took a quantum leap after he found a Mississippi John Hurt record in his local library. Soon he was playing in coffeehouses and on the streets of Buffalo.
By the mid-’70s, he was busking on the streets of the North Beach district of San Francisco. “That period was really the last explosion of the 1960s,” he told me in an interview in 2000. “It was great. Allen Ginsberg might walk up while you’re playing and start making up new verses.”
It was there where Case met songwriter Jack Lee. Leaving the folk scene, the two started the Nerves, one of the first California punk bands. When they split up, Case formed The Plimsouls, a roots-conscious power pop band.
Although The Plimsouls achieved national acclaim — Case’s “A Million Miles Away” became an early-’80s rock classic — Case just wasn’t satisfied. And one night in 1983, on a stage in Lubbock, it hit Case. “I longed to do the type of music I used to do,” he said. Soon after, The Plimsouls broke up and Case, at least in a metaphorical sense, was on his way back to the street corner.
Case at SXSW 1996
Case’s self-titled 1986 solo debut album and, even more so, its successor, The Man with the Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, were so raw, so connected to musical, literary, and cultural undercurrents that had been repressed during the first half of the ’80s, they were downright jarring.
By the mid-’90s, Case was taking a dive into the deep end of folk music, signing to the venerated folkie label, Vanguard Records, which released Peter Case Sings Like Hell in 1993. It consisted of traditional roots songs on which he cut his proverbial teeth. Then came a string of strong records.
Case’s latest, On the Way Downtown, consists of live radio performances on FolkScene, a syndicated radio show from KPFK in Los Angeles. He played two performances there during his Vanguard years — one in 1998, the other in 2000.
The album features many of his best songs, including “Blue Distance,” “Icewater,” “Honey Child,” “Beyond the Blues,” “Still Playin’,” and the quirky “Coulda Shoulda Woulda,” which contains the immortal lyrics, “Coulda shoulda woulda stayed in school/James Brown was right/I was a fool.”
So here’s the deal: The chance to see Peter Case play in an intimate performing space like Gig is an opportunity not to be missed. Tickets to Case’s 7:30 p.m. gig are $22 in advance, $27 the day of show, at holdmyticket.com or 505-886-1251. Doors open at 7 p.m.
* Bad Mouthin’ by Tony Joe White. I never got to meet Tony Joe White. But just from his deep drawl, his music straight out of the swamp, the hat, the sunglasses — I naturally assumed that the man who brought us “Polk Salad Annie” was the coolest guy alive.
And I still believe that, except for the “alive” part. American music lost a giant on Oct. 24, the day that Tony Joe died at the age of seventy-five. If Tony Joe’s death wasn’t sad enough, the swamp reaper came for him just after he’d released what would be his final album.
Bad Mouthin’ is a collection of Tony Joe literally singing the blues — blues filtered through White’s Louisiana soul and backed only by a drummer and White’s guitar.
There are several standards here that any casual fan of the blues should recognize, including Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” Muddy Waters’ “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and “Heartbreak Hotel” — made famous by a man called Elvis, who did probably the second-greatest version of “Polk Salad Annie.”
And there are more obscure songs, like Charley Patton’s “Down the Dirt Road Blues” and several Tony Joe originals, including the title tune, “Cool Town Woman,” in which you can hear Hooker’s influence. “I dreamed about you baby and the dog just howled all night” may be the best line in the whole album.
But at the moment, my favorite track here is the longest: A six-minute-plus version of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Awful Dreams.” Like Hopkins, Tony Joe does “Awful Dreams” low and slow. But long as it is, the song never drags. “I don’t know if I’m goin’ to heaven or hell,” he moans near the end of the song.
I don’t know, but it seems to me any heaven without Tony Joe White wouldn’t be heaven at all.
It's video time!
Here's Peter Case singing one of my favorites, "Entella Hotel"
Here's a rocker, "New Old Blue Car." (Warning: long introduction. You can skip ahead to about the 1:15 mark)
And here is Tony Joe live ... about a month before he died
It was 130 years ago this Saturday -- Nov. 10, 1888 -- in the Spitalfields district in London that Thomas Bowyer, who was helping his boss collect back rent from a tenant, Irish-born Mary Jane Kelly, a 25-year-old prostitute, came upon a ghastly scene.
Kelly wouldn't be paying any back rent. She is believed to be the fifth and final victim of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.
When Bowyer arrived at #13 Miller’s Court, he knocked on the door twice. Receiving no answer, he rounded the corner of the yard to see that a couple of glass windowpanes were broken. He reached in through the knocked-out glass and moved the curtain to see whether Mary Kelly was at home or not. The first thing he saw were what looked like two lumps of meat sitting on the bedside table.
The autopsy by Dr. Thomas Bond describes what the killer had done to Kelly
"The body was lying naked in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. The left arm was close to the body with the forearm flexed at a right angle and lying across the abdomen. The right arm was slightly abducted from the body and rested on the mattress. The elbow was bent, the forearm supine with the fingers clenched. The legs were wide apart, the left thigh at right angles to the trunk and the right forming an obtuse angle with the pubes. The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone.
There are more gruesome details. You can read them all HERE.
If you must.
It's probably pretty twisted, but somehow Kelly's killer became a rock 'n' roll hero -- or at least the subject of a lot of songs.
Guitar hero Link Wray led the way with this rumbling instrumental in 1961. Below is a latter-day live performance.
A few years later, Screaming Lord Sutch was possessed by the spirit of the Ripper, at least during this performance:
Skip ahead a few decades to the early '90s and Nick Cave came up with this terrifying tune
Also in the '90s, another Jack did this version of Sutch's song
Finally, I'm not crazy about this next song by Danish pop-metal group Volbeat. But it's the only one I could find about Kelly herself .
Sunday, November 4, 2018 KSFR, Santa Fe, NM Webcasting! 10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org
Here's my playlist :
OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres
House Rent Jump by Peter Case
Go Loco by Gogo Loco
Hemmin' and Hawin' by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
The Wild Ride of Ichabod Crane by The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies
Marijuana Hell by The Rockin' Guys
We're Gonna Crash by The Electric Mess
Shirts Off by Armitage Shanks
My Love is a Monster by Compulsive Gamblers
Slap by Hamell on Trial
Bosco Stomp / Papa's on the Housetop by Bayou Seco
Hey You by Simon Stokes & The Heathen Angels
Bullshit is Going On by Charlie Pickett
Shallow Grave by The Nevermores
I'd Kill For Her by Black Angels
Bloodlines by Full Speed Veronica
Pretty Jane LeBeaux by Cedar Hill Refugees
Wirt by LaBrassBanda
Rockabilly Fart by A Pony Named Olga
Abysmal Urn by Thee Oh Sees
Riot City by Archie & The Bunkers
Step Aside by Sleater-Kinney
She Said by The Cramps
Pero Te Amo by Reverend Beat-Man & Izobel Garcia
Slowly Losing My Mind by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages
Cool Town Woman by Tony Joe White
Awful Dreams by Lightnin' Hopkins
One Dog Bark by Thought Gang
Cold Trail Blues/HW 62 by Peter Case CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis
Peter Case is playing at GIG Performing Space, Sunday, Nov. 11. Bayou Seco is playing there the night before. Details on both shows areHERE