Monthly Archives: June 2004

Dave Alvin


Dave Alvin


June 17, 2004

Dave Alvin staked his claim as a guitar-ripping hero during a rockabilly revival on the West Coast in 1980, forming The Blasters with his brother Phil and a couple of friends from their hometown of Downey, California. Their song “American Music” found a home as the theme for the campy, late-night television show “New Wave Theater,” a sort of post-modern “American Bandstand” that featured some of the art punk world’s more obscure acts, with a little frantic California rock ‘n’ roll tossed in for good measure. Alvin’s incessant feuds with his brother were legendary, as battles often erupted in public, like the famous bout that occurred on NBC’s “The Today Show,” which forced the band’s manager to forbid the two from giving interviews together. Phil Alvin quit playing for a few years in the late 1980s to pursue his dream of writing a mathematical thesis, while Dave eventually joined the band X and its offshoot, The Knitters, before settling into a solo career in 1987. His songwriting has drifted brilliantly through lovely Mexican ballads, country-flavored folk rock, and bone-crushing rockabilly blues. On his latest album, Ashgrove, Alvin returns to his electric guitar roots.

Black & White: What prompted you to return to electric guitars on Ashgrove as opposed to the acoustic style you’ve used for the past several years?
Dave Alvin:
I always let the songs dictate the way they wanted to sound, whereas years ago in The Blasters it was the other way around—the band sort of dictated how the songs would sound. I’ve done a couple of live albums to placate the fans who like the loud stuff, and then in the studio I’ve sort of enjoyed doing the more acoustic stuff. But part of it was also economics. It’s difficult to record loud live in the studio. But we found a great little studio to cut the basics in, and it was very inexpensive with a good, young engineer and the right players and everything . . . It was right for me. I had the amp right next to me. I knew that the bulk of the songs were saying, “Play me loud [laughs].”



Dave Alvin (click for larger version)


The Blasters opened for Queen during the early days. That’s a very odd pairing.
They were very nice guys. I can’t say the same for their audience [laughs]. The three guys—Brian May, Roger Taylor, and I can’t think of the bass player’s name right off the top of my head—but they came into a club one night where we were playing. And we hadn’t made any real records yet on a national label, and they saw us and decided to put us on their tour. Yeah, there were some brutal nights when you had 17,000 people booing you. But I’ll say one thing for that kind of experience when you’re a young band. It’ll either break you up or make you stronger. In our case, it made us stronger. Our deal was always, “Hey we’re getting paid to be here, and you people paid to be here! Who’s cooler?” [Laughs] In those days, we were working for maybe 75 bucks and free beer. We were getting paid 500 bucks opening for Queen—five nights a week. We were eating steak every night.

Was there a good bit of camaraderie in the early L.A. punk days?
Yeah, there was. When nobody’s really rich and famous. L.A. had so many bands back then, and there wasn’t a cookie-cutter approach to music. It was all kinda lumped under punk rock, which a lot of it was. These days, punk rock means something else. We did shows with people like the early Go-Go’s, before they became the famous, wealthy Go-Go’s. Then we did shows with Asleep at the Wheel, Queen, Black Flag. I think a lot of times club owners or concert promoters these days—maybe it was true back then, too—tend to think the audience is not very smart [laughs].

Did your song “Border Radio” come from fond memories of listening to Mexican stations when you were growing up in California?
Those stations were definitely a huge influence on my life. There was just something wonderfully magical– and there still is–about finding a good station in the middle of the night when you’re driving in the darkness; this stuff coming at you in the dark. Especially as a kid, we traveled a lot throughout the West. And you’d have the transistor radio, and you’d get stations from 500 miles away, and you’d hear Howlin’ Wolf or Sam Cooke or Hank Williams.


Yeah, there were some brutal nights when you had 17,000 people booing you. But I’ll say one thing for that kind of experience when you’re a young band. It’ll either break you up or make you stronger. —Dave Alvin, on opening for Queen

You have defined time spent touring as “elastic time.”
Well, it’s a good thing, and it’s a bad thing. It’s a good thing when you’re actually playing, you know, you really do live in the present in the best sense of that phrase in that, for me, if I get to that—I’m going to sound very California here—to that place in my brain where you don’t feel anything. You get like a runner’s high or something. All the old songs are brand new, and all the new songs are old. Everybody that you’ve loved and who’s influenced you and taught you who has passed away, are up there alive for a little while. Your parents are alive, Big Joe Turner is alive, Lightnin’ Hopkins is alive, Hank Williams is getting out of the Cadillac to come over and see you. I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of musicians that don’t need to tour still do it. I don’t think Bob Dylan needs to tour.

Rockabilly legend Ronnie Dawson [who passed away last year of cancer] was a label mate of yours on Yep Roc Records. Were you friends?
Yeah, I knew Ronnie. We were talking for a while about me producing a record for him. Ike Turner had a band in the early ’50s called the Kings of Rhythm. It was a horns, piano, and guitar kind of outfit. And Ronnie was a big fan of that sound, that Kings of Rhythm sound. So we talked about doing a record like that, an R&B blues record. But with schedules and this, that, and the other, it never came to pass. I remember the first time I saw him when he played this little club here in L.A. He completely blew my mind. I was just stunned, because you tend to think of guys who made records in the ’50s as being 10 years older than Bob Dylan and all that. So I’m watching him and sort of did the math and realized he was 15 when he did “Action-Packed.” And I realized he was maybe two years older than Bob Dylan and basically a contemporary. I was watching these clips of Eddie Cochran from this show out here called “Town Hall Party,” which was a local country and western TV show. And so I was watching Eddie, and the kid had everything. He could play, he could sing, he had charisma, he had the looks, he just had everything. I was sitting there thinking what a tragedy it was that he passed away so young. Then I did the math on that and realized the same thing with him, that he was only maybe one or two years older than Bob Dylan. So if he would have lived he could have become like a Bobby Darin kind of guy. Same thing with Bobby Fuller . . . So in Ronnie’s case, the tragedy is that he had another 10 or 20 years of great music.

I read that your dad’s death influenced one of the songs on Ashgrove.
There’s one song on there called “Man in the Bed” that’s definitely about him, but it’s about anybody who’s sick in the hospital.

Was he a fan of the band?

He only came to one gig, but he was a fan. Especially later in life. His main concern was, like all parents, can you pay the rent doing this? [Adopting a grumpy, authoritative voice] “Are you making any money, are you paying your bills?” Being a musician has always been an unstable career choice. You don’t know if you’re gonna make the next mortgage payment. But when I was a kid, the pressure was to get a job in a factory or go to school somehow and get a degree and become white-collar. The sad reality is that the blue-collar jobs are basically gone, and now the white collar jobs are leaving [laughs]. In a way, I made the right choice [laughs]! They’ll figure out a way to outsource singer/songwriters at some point [laughs], but they haven’t done it yet.

How did The Blasters reunion gigs go last year?
They were fun . . . to a point.

Did you and your brother get along?
To a point . . . pretty much. We don’t go camping [laughs]. But he’s my brother, yeah, I love him. All the guys are like brothers. We’re five guys who literally grew up together. So, to paraphrase the World War II TV show, it’s “a band of brothers,” and everybody screams at each other. The very last gig we did, the piano player tried to kill me [laughs]. We had a brotherly disagreement.

What did you disagree about?
Awww, the way a song ended. The thing about The Blasters is that you get away from them and you become yourself, then you go back to them and you become that other guy. But it was great. We’ll do it again at some point. The thing was, Rhino Records was putting out that anthology of all the stuff we had recorded. I have no interest in going and making a studio record. You know, writing 10 songs for my brother to sing. But it just seemed silly that we couldn’t play together and go out and do some gigs. And it just meant the world to a certain group of people, to see five schmoes from Downey on stage together.

Do you share your brother’s love of mathematics?
I respect it from a distance [laughs]. He went back to school after I left [The Blasters] and got his master’s degree and taught for a little while. But the thing is, when you’re teaching a math class or doing some sort of theorem or something, you can’t dance to it. Once you get that in your blood, it’s difficult to give up having that kind of effect on people. &

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men perform at City Stages Sunday, June 20, on the Blockbuster Stage from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.

City Hall






June 17, 2004 

On May 24 the Jefferson County Commission sent the City of Birmingham a revised draft of the proposed animal control contract with BJC Animal Control, which was awarded the bid for animal control services in April. A memo from assistant City attorney Pat Burns expressed concern that there is no provision for how fees collected by BJC Animal Control are to be used. A second memo from Kevin Owens, administrative assistant to the mayor, pointed to the omission of audit requirements of BJC Animal Control. Lack of accountability has been one of the main complaints regarding the vendor for the seven years he has held the contract. Another grievance from the mayor’s office is the requirement that the City pay the contractor directly rather than through the County. The memo recommends that the City hold a separate contract with BJC Animal Control if payments are paid directly to the vendor.

During a June 8 interview, Mayor Bernard Kincaid said he had forwarded the revised draft of the new contract, along with the law department’s recommendations, to the Birmingham City Council. Kincaid said his next move would be to convene the task force that was earlier created to review whether the City should weigh options to break away from the County for animal control services. The task force includes Kincaid, Council President Lee Loder, Councilor Valerie Abbott, and Councilor Joel Montgomery.

Due to the lack of accountability on the part of Birmingham/Jefferson County Animal Control, Mayor Kincaid believes, “We don’t get a very good return on our investment.”

When asked about a possible recommendation to sign off on the contract with the County, Kincaid responded: “I’m not sure at this point. Quite frankly, I would rather not have a 27th department. We have 26 in the City [currently]. I would much rather our being able to work out an arrangement with the County. But it has to inure to the benefit of the citizens of Birmingham. I say unabashedly that I don’t think the arrangement that we have currently— and if that paradigm were followed in the future—it does not serve the citizens of Birmingham well. We are putting $55,000 plus a month into this project, which means we’re putting in more than $660,000 [yearly]. It’s my understanding that surrounding municipalities can purchase animal control services for $75 an hour . . . I don’t feel the City’s citizens are getting their money’s worth. That’s just being candid. But I think the telling statistic is when you examine how much the proposed vendor charges the County and City collectively, and how much that vendor will charge the County individually, it shows you that we are paying the freight on that, and I just don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth. That’s just for the catching of the animals. There are elements such as adoption programs. What about spay and neutering? What about public education? I feel strongly that the funds that we’re paying should cover that. We don’t get, in my opinion, a very good return on our investment.”

Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White


“Nobody knows if I’m white or black” has always been one of Tony Joe White’s favorite descriptions of himself. On the telephone, it really is impossible to distinguish his heritage, but there’s no mistaking the deep voice with the exotic Louisiana drawl on the other end of the line. It’s the growl heard on the spoken introduction to “Polk Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White’s signature tune and one of the classic examples of a lost genre known as Southern soul music. “I was raised on polk, and my momma used to get us to eat it all the time,” White says of the inspiration for his 1969 hit during a telephone conversation from his Nashville home. “We lived in a cotton field down there [in Louisiana]. It was growin’ wild, and she’d cook it like greens.” 

(click for larger version)


Raised in the swamps of Goodwill, Louisiana, Tony Joe White had little interest in music until one day his brother brought home a Lightnin’ Hopkins record. “Yeah, when I was 15 or 16 my brother played that thing for me. Before that, music meant nothing.” White began playing in roadhouses several years later. “Well, at that time I was playin’ clubs in Texas and Louisiana, doin’ Elvis covers, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins covers . . . In the early days I used to comb my hair like Elvis [who recorded a dynamite version of 'Polk Salad Annie']. Before I started writin’, I had him down pretty good . . . I actually had a little microphone that fit around my neck, and I could play the guitar and do the legs [like Elvis] all at the same time. He was a heavy influence on them early days for me,” White remembers.

But it was the Bobbie Gentry hit “Ode to Billie Joe” that inspired White to give songwriting a shot. “I heard that song on the radio, and I thought, ‘Man, how real can it get. I am Billie Joe.’ So, I decided that if I ever was goin’ to sit down and try to write, I was goin’ to try to write somethin’ I knew about, and somethin’ that was real. And in a couple of weeks time I started on ‘Polk’ and ‘Rainy Night in Georgia.’ So both them tunes came about the same time.”

In 1970, singer Brook Benton recorded “Rainy Night in Georgia,” an intensely gorgeous tune whose inspiration holds less mystique than its timeless quality might suggest. “Later on after high school, I went to Marietta, Georgia, and drove a dump truck for the highway department, stayed with my sister some,” White explains. “Down there when it was rainin,’ I knew I didn’t have to go to work the next day, and I could sit and play my guitars.”


“Meetin’ Lightnin’ Hopkins was just like meetin’ Elvis or Tina Turner for me.”

White eventually met his boyhood idol Lightnin’ Hopkins thanks to an invitation to play on a session with the blues singer. “Yeah, that was after ‘Polk’ was out, and he was in L.A. at the same time I was. And the record company invited me down to play guitar and a little harmonica with him on the album called L.A. Mudslide. Meetin’ him was just like meetin’ Elvis or Tina Turner for me.” Meeting Tina Turner, however, was more than a simple thrill for Tony Joe White. The introduction resurrected his career, which had entered a lull in the late 1980s. In 1990, Turner recorded four of White’s tunes on her multi-platinum Foreign Affairs album. One, “Steamy Windows,” was a worldwide hit. He’ll never forget Turner’s reaction the day he walked into the studio. “She just died laughing when she met me. Her manager and me came into the studio, gettin’ ready to do that album with her and she looked up and just started rollin.’ Yeah, she said she always thought I was a black man,” he remembers, laughing.

Among White’s lasting memories of his many years on the road were the shows in the 1970s that he did with Sly Stone, who had a reputation for making audiences wait, if he bothered to show up at all. “Sly was always a problem. He was always late for the show, and the crowd was always nearly in an uproar,” White says with amusement. “And when a white boy started walkin’ out on stage in front of all them people, they was hollerin’ at me and everything. As soon as I’d talk or hit a lick on my guitar, they’d go, ‘Hey, alright!’ It was pretty spooky. In fact, a couple of times up north, I’ve had promoters offer to pay me my money not to go out on the stage. They said it’d be too rough on me. I’d say, ‘Well, I flew a long ways, man, to play some music. Sure hate to go back and not play nothing.’ Yeah, Sly always made sure he was an hour late. He was at the Isle of Wight Festival with me in 1970 [Jimi Hendrix was on the same bill]. Anyway, Sly wanted to come on at sunrise instead of his regular time [earlier in the evening]. There was 600,000 people there. Well, here comes Sly and the band up through the woods, all these tambourines shaking and making this beat and smoking and singing. And 600,000 people are in their sleeping bags asleep. And, man, he kicked into one song and a few woke up and kinda got up, and he played another and a few more got up. And he started into a third one, and all of a sudden he just walked off stage,” White said, laughing throughout the story.

Jimi Hendrix also left a lasting impression on White at the Isle of Wight. “I saw him on the airport runway there where they had a little four-seater carrying us back and forth over to the island. And he had managed to get out on the runway in a very high state of mind, and he was thumbing the plane when we landed—like he was trying to hitch a ride. He had on plaid pants, a leather jacket, and a big quilt. And he almost got hit by the damn plane. And then a few days later he died.”

The lack of interest in rhythm and blues among the current crop of black musicians is disappointing to White. “There’s more white people playin’ blues now than there are the other way,” he says with more than a hint of resignation. “I think rap knocked it all the way out. Most bluesy people, you know, all blacks and everything, they’d rather have an electric drum kit and sit there and yak about what happened in the street that day than learn how to play a B3 organ or learn how to do an Otis Redding moan or shout.” &

Tony Joe White performs at the Blockbuster stage on Sunday, June 20, from 4:20 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.

Loretta Lynn

By Ed Reynolds

Loretta Lynn has always cherished her role as a rebel in the country music industry. In perhaps the oddest collaboration in Nashville’s storied history, Lynn’s newest release, Van Lear Rose, was produced by rocker Jack White of The White Stripes (the band dedicated its third album, White Blood Cells, to Lynn, and White has called her the greatest female singer/songwriter of the 20th century). The result is the most gloriously unrefined recording of Lynn’s long career. White’s signature guitar is evident throughout the CD, especially his red-hot slide work. He even joins Lynn at the microphone on “Portland, Oregon,” a charming duet about a drunken one-night stand, an endearing track since White is 28 while Lynn is 70 years old.

An afternoon telephone conversation with Lynn that took place before her new album was recorded reveals a woman completely unaffected by notoriety. Lynn sounds as though she were still a Butcher Holler farm girl, speaking in a rural dialect that contradicts her stardom. The singer doesn’t pull any punches. Hit her once and she’ll hit back twice. Her husband Doolittle’s (Doo) philandering and chronic alcoholism provoked more than a few violent episodes during their 48-year marriage. She knocked two of his front teeth out one night, pleased as she could be that his cheating was put to rest until he could get new teeth. Their marriage is tumultuously detailed in her second autobiography Still Woman Enough, an entertaining but brutally honest account of Lynn’s life as one of America’s greatest country music performers.

Loretta Lynn

. . . Lynn told Sinatra it was the worst song she’d ever heard and suggested they sing “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Sinatra told her when she had her own television show she could sing whatever she wanted.

Lynn literally defines country. The names of her children read like a hillbilly sitcom: Betty Sue, Ernest Ray, Patsy, Cissie, and Jack Benny. Married at age 13 in Kentucky coal-mining country, Lynn and her husband moved to Washington State a year later so Doo could pan for gold and Loretta could pick strawberries. Though noting there were anecdotes in her autobiography that she couldn’t have written if her husband were still alive, Lynn is unwavering in her devotion to the man directly responsible for her success. Doo convinced Loretta to sing in Northwest honky tonks despite her severe stage fright. Lynn began to build a following in Canada but noticed that her most loyal fans were suddenly absent for a couple of months. When she finally confronted them about where they’d been, they explained that they had given up Loretta for Lent. The singer said the only “Lent” she was familiar with was the kind that gets on your clothes. Doo later chauffeured her on a blitz tour of radio stations around the country to convince disc jockeys to play her first single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” And it was her husband who got her on the Grand Ole Opry after her first record entered the charts. She was invited to sing on the Opry for the next 17 weeks, receiving $18 per night (with three additional bucks if she sang an extra song).

Being an Opry star didn’t change Lynn much. She continued to slaughter her barnyard chickens for dinner and shop for material at the Salvation Army thrift store to make her own stage outfits. She was once chastised by a ranking Opry official who saw her coming out of the store. He told her it “cast a bad light on the Opry when local folks saw the show’s singers acting like poor people.” She didn’t know how to use a credit card until Conway Twitty instructed her in the late 1970s.

Influenced by nothing more than Saturday night Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and her delight in rhyming words with siblings as a child, Lynn displayed a remarkable ability for writing songs. “Doo got me a book that showed how you wrote ‘em. It was called Country Roundup, I think. I just looked at the songs and I said, ‘Anybody can do this.’ The first spanking Doo ever give me was because I rhymed a word. And it rhymed with door—you know what it was—and I didn’t know what it meant. It was raining and cold and he let the door open and I said, ‘Shut the door you little. . . .’ And I got a whippin’ for that—and he’d promised Daddy he’d never put a hand on me. And that was the next day after he’d married me. He throwed me over his knee and busted my butt.”

In 1963, the singer was asked by her childhood idol Ernest Tubb to record a series of duets. “I never dreamed I’d ever sing with him, ’cause when Daddy had that little radio, we’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night and the news, ’cause the war was goin’ on. But I’d start to cry when Ernest Tubb started to sing. And Mama would say, ‘I’m gonna turn the radio off if you don’t quit cryin’.’” Tubb was instrumental in establishing Lynn as a country institution. “When I come to Nashville, MCA Records, which was Decca at the time, they asked Ernest to record with a girl. And he said he wanted to record with me. He did so much for me. The last time I sang with him, it was like standin’ up by a big monument. I even went to Billy Bob’s [famed Fort Worth bar, the largest honky-tonk in the world] and did a show for him to buy medicine with, ’cause he had run out of money. He helped everybody in Nashville, but no one would go help him.”

But it was her series of duets with Conway Twitty that placed Lynn on the same “classic duo” pedestal occupied by George Jones and Tammy Wynette. “Yeah, I loved Conway. He was like a brother, and he would give me advice. If he thought I wasn’t doing things right, he’d tell me, ‘This is how you do it,’ and I’d say, ‘No, that’s how you do it. This is how I’d do it,’” she laughs. Their string of soap-opera-style hits included “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” and “Backstreet Affair.” In a strange twist of fate, Conway Twitty unexpectedly died with Lynn at his bedside in a Missouri hospital in 1991 after Twitty was overcome with a stomach aneurysm while touring the Midwest. He was rushed to the nearest hospital, where Lynn happened to be waiting as Doo recovered from open-heart surgery. She thought that Twitty had decided to drop by to visit her husband. “I watched Conway’s bus come off the exit. I run downstairs to let him know what room Doo was in, and they come draggin’ him in. Blood’s comin’ out of his mouth and his eyes was tryin’ to focus on me and he couldn’t. I almost fell out right there. The chaplain came in and told me that Conway would not live through the night, so he told me if I wanted to see him I should go on back there. I went in his room and patted him on the arm and said, ‘Conway, you love to sing, honey, don’t you leave me.’”

Staunchly defiant, Lynn was a fly in the conservative ointment of the Nashville music industry. She was the first to write and sing about women’s issues. “The Pill” was the first of several of her songs to be banned, but Lynn was smart enough to recognize a marketing opportunity as women flocked to her side. “It’s all because I’d get down and talk to the women. All of ‘em were taking the pill and they weren’t wearin’ bras [pronounced 'braws']. Everybody was taking the pill, why not talk about it. Everybody was havin’ kids just like I was, why not say, ‘One’s on the way.’ I couldn’t understand why the public was worried about my songs. And when ‘Rated X’ come out, just the title of it, they started banning the record. And they didn’t listen to it. It was about a divorced woman. Nothin’ in it was bad. When ‘Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin” come out, the big 50-watt [sic] station in Chicago didn’t play it, ’cause they thought it was dirty. It went number one, they started playin’ it.”
Loretta Lynn’s music was a stark contrast to Tammy Wynette’s songs that advised women to stick with their man, regardless. Ironically, Wynette went through five husbands, while Lynn’s only husband was Doo. “Tammy Wynette was outspoken about standing by her man, and I’d done hit mine over the head with a rollin’ pin,” Lynn laughs. “Tammy said, ‘I’d be afraid to sing that, afraid they wouldn’t play my record.’ But it didn’t hurt me. They’d ban ‘em and they’d go number one.” Lynn took Wynette under her wing when she arrived in Nashville, just as Patsy Cline had done for her when Lynn first moved to town as an unknown. “Oh, Tammy was my best girlfriend. First girlfriend I had, except Patsy. I never did get that close to all the artists. All of ‘em have their own way of doin’ things, and I think they kinda stayed away from me because of the songs I wrote. They shoulda liked ‘em, they might’ve rubbed off on ‘em. They could’ve wrote their own.”

Lynn also didn’t think twice about crossing racial divides. “When Charlie Pride won Singer of the Year, I was the one that was supposed to give the award. So they said, ‘Loretta, if Charlie wins, step back one foot and don’t touch him.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearin’ ’cause I’d been livin’ on the West Coast for 13 or 14 years,” Lynn remembers, still appalled. “Charlie is just another singer to me. When it comes to color, I’m colorblind, ’cause I’m part Cherokee. So when Charlie won, I stepped up and hugged him and kissed him. They got a little upset about it. I thought, ‘Well, Charlie shouldn’t even sing for ‘em if that’s the way they feel about him.’”

One of her champions in Nashville was the Carter Family, who at one time asked her to join the group. Lynn refused because she felt she couldn’t sing their harmonies properly. She remembers trying to get a sulking Johnny Cash on stage. “Poor little ol’ Johnny. They couldn’t get him out on stage. Johnny Cash has always been good to me. He was the first one that took me out of Nashville on a tour. Him and the Carter Family, we went to Toronto and Ontario [sic]. He was not having too good a night. Mother Maybelle, June . . . they were all mad at him. I said, ‘Come on, baby, it’s time for you to go on.’ He jerked his coat down and there was a bottle of pills—a hundred-aspirin bottle of pills, but it wasn’t aspirin. I didn’t know what they was ’cause I’d never seen a diet pill in my life. And they went all over the floor and they was all different colors. And Johnny said, ‘Don’t leave any,’ and I sat down on that floor and picked up every pill and put them back.”

Refusing to sway from her convictions, Loretta Lynn has remained her own woman. Her forthright honesty provoked a showdown with Frank Sinatra, who invited Lynn to duet on what had been his first hit, “All or Nothing at All.” She told Sinatra it was the worst song she’d ever heard and suggested they sing “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Sinatra told her when she had her own television show she could sing whatever she wanted.

Her simple approach to life and refusal to bow to showbiz expectations also left a lasting impression on Dean Martin. Martin had been so taken with the Carter Family’s performance on his show that he asked them to recommend another Nashville artist. They suggested Lynn, who refused to sit in Martin’s lap, as was customary when he sang duets with female performers. Instead of being offended, Martin decided her spunk was the perfect ingredient to spice up the “Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roast” show featuring Jack Lemmon. Lynn picks up the story in her autobiography: “Well, I’d never heard of a ‘roast.’ I thought Dean Martin was inviting me to dinner with his Hollywood friends. So I dressed up real nice. They made a special dress for me out of material flown from Paris, France. I couldn’t understand why they wanted me to eat in that fancy dress. They made me read from a Teleprompter and I told Dean I was scared to death and didn’t read so good. But I didn’t have a choice. I was stuck. Making me feel worse, I started in saying the most awful things about Jack Lemmon. I didn’t know they was jokes. So each time I said something, I turned to Jack and said, ‘I didn’t mean that, honey. I don’t even know you. I’m just saying what’s on that there card.’” &

Loretta Lynn performs at the Blockbuster stage on Sunday, June 20, from 8:40 p.m. to 9:55 p.m.

Editor’s note: After this issue went to press, Loretta Lynn cancelled her tour due to back problems. She will not appear at this year’s City Stages.

Gyrations Galore

Gyrations Galore


Dressed to Kill: Elvis impersonator David Lee. The 4th Annual Elvis in Dixieland competition will take place at the BJCC on Saturday, June 19.

Ladies, it’s that time of year again, when plunging necklines on rhinestone-studded jumpsuits reveal hairy chests glistening with sweat as grown men imitate the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. On June 19, at 2 p.m., popular Elvis impersonator David Lee stages his Fourth Annual Elvis in Dixieland competition in Ballroom A at the BJCC. Past contestants in the impersonator showdown have presented every phase imaginable in the King’s celebrated career: the dashing 1950s Elvis with hips too hot for “The Ed Sullivan Show;” the Las Vegas Elvis (including a couple of guys who look as though they might have eaten too many fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches in preparation for their roles); and one inventive fellow who recreated Presley’s character in the film G.I. Blues.

This year’s festivities include special guest Edie Hand, Elvis’s cousin and a former actress on the soap opera “As the World Turns.” And if that’s not excitement enough, there will be children impersonating Elvis in two categories, one for contestants younger than five, and another for older kids. Imagine, a three-year-old sporting phony sideburns and singing “In the Ghetto.” Proceeds from the competition benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. For more information, call 205-266-3030 or visit

City Stages 2004

Blockbuster Stage

Friday, June 186:30 p.m. Ray Lamontagne7:50 p.m. Los Lonely Boys

9:15 p.m. Keb’ Mo’

11 p.m. The Robert Cray Band

Saturday, June 19

1:45 p.m. June Star

Shelby Lynne (click for larger version)



2:40 p.m. Clare Burson

3:45 p.m. D.B. Harris


inclusion image

4:50 p.m. Chris Knight

6 p.m. Steve Forbert

7:25 p.m. Drive-By Truckers

8:50 p.m. Lynyrd Skynyrd

Sunday, June 20

1 p.m. The Scott Ivey Band

2 p.m. Adam Hood

3:05 p.m. Meteorite

4:20 p.m. Tony Joe White

5:45 p.m. Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men

7:10 p.m. Shelby Lynne

8:40 p.m. Loretta Lynn

(Artists are listed alphabetically by first name.)

Adam Hood

Currently based in Auburn, Hood sounds a lot like Steve Earle searching for long-lost James Taylor and Joni Mitchell roots. —Ed Reynolds (Sunday, June 20, 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.)

Clare Burson

Clare Burson’s voice has a particular lucidity—a Southern ease. Though most of the tracks on her 2003 full-length debut album, The In-Between, are forgettable, Burson has her moments. The subtle, girlish vocals that dominate most of the album turn unexpectedly sultry with “Don’t You Do Me,” a song with a sedated yet seductive sound (Old World-inspired accordion, and mandolin riffs) and vocals that are reminiscent of—dare I say—Fiona Apple? Burson’s overall style is no doubt influenced by her ear for bluegrass and Irish-inspired music, which she learned from playing violin for more than 18 years. But it wasn’t until her college years that she taught herself to play guitar and write songs—most of which are lyrically sweet and innocuous.

The In-Between is just what one would expect in a first effort from a 28-year-old singer/songwriter steeped in her Tennessee roots—plainspoken love songs, earnest musings about long dusty roads to Memphis, and a crew of acclaimed Nashville musicians to beef up her songs with bass, drums, lap steel, organ, and accordion. —Danielle McClure (Saturday, June 19, 2:40 p.m. to 3:25 p.m.; and also at City Stages Unplugged: Friday, June 18, 11:55 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.)

D.B. Harris

Now based in Austin, Texas, this Birmingham native’s band features cry-in-your-beer country music, Tejano, rockabilly, and some material that wouldn’t sound strange coming from Joe Ely. Definitely worth checking out. —Bart Grooms (Saturday, June 19, 1:10 p.m. to 2:10 p.m.; and also at the Blockbuster Stage: Saturday, June 19, 3:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men

Any hack will tell you that Dave Alvin grew up under the buzz of the high-tension wires strung across rural California. Big deal. There’s plenty of old folks living under high-tension wires strung across suburban America, and you don’t see them churning out terse, bluesy tunes. Alvin’s spent more than 20 years as a critic’s darling, and that might help explain why his best album remains a live effort that frees him from his studio indulgences. He seems to understand better than his supporters that his music only truly matters when he’s playing with his longstanding touring band. A live set from Alvin can even make his crappy old college-rock tunes (anybody remember The Blasters or X?) sound fresh, immediate, and really, really important. —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.)

Drive-By Truckers

Sure, they’ve cornered the market on Southern Rock, but how hard was that when the competition was Nashville Pussy? Last year’s Decoration Day has now lead to a solo album, Killers & Stars, from band leader Patterson Hood, and both projects suggest that the Drive-By Truckers are, in fact, doomed to be constantly undervalued in the musical marketplace. They might as well reject the rock world that will only marginalize them and begin their rightful stance as displaced folkies simply trying to make sense of their surroundings. Lesser albums such as Warren Zevon’s The Wind and Neil Young’s Greendale will get more unabashed hype, but that’s okay. England Dan & John Ford Coley outsold Dirk Hamilton, too. —J.R. Taylor (Saturday, June 19, 7:25 p.m. to 8:25 p.m.)

June Star

These guys like to crank up the alt-country rock, beer-joint shit-kicker style, but they truly shine when easing into country ballads that feature pedal steel, harmonica, and mandolin. Andrew Grimm has a melancholy voice that is both gruff and twangy, and his songs fall somewhere between Gram Parsons and early R.E.M., but they are definitely rougher around the edges (a good thing in this case). Although June Star often recall late-model Byrds, Neil Young’s all-but-forgotten outfit The Stray Gators, or even Poco, it’s difficult to say if this versatile band is better suited to “Austin City Limits” or “A Prairie Home Companion.” —David Pelfrey (Saturday, June 19, 1:45 p.m. to 2:20 p.m.)

Keb’ Mo’

Keb’ Mo’ (that’s Swahili for Kevin Moore . . .) has a new album called Keep It Simple. The CD’s cover pictures the artist in Depression-era costume, seated in what looks like an old shack somewhere along the Mississippi Delta. On the title track, our back-to-basics bluesman sings, “I just wanna go somewhere and use my hands and keep it simple, real simple.”

Well, actions speak louder than lyrics, and here’s how Mr. “Mo’” keeps it simple: keyboards, violin, dobro, several guitars, synthesizers, a few back-up singers, six contributing artists from as many labels, four different recording studios, five engineers, and one assistant engineer.

There’s nothing wrong with taking full-blown, obsessively detailed advantage of today’s recording resources, unless you are posing as an authentic Delta blues artist cranking out some gritty, raw masterpieces for Fat Possum Records. Keb’ Mo’, by way of contrast, is making slick, blues-lite music that Disney might commission for its next big animated feature, assuming NPR doesn’t get to him first. Honestly, it makes Eric Clapton look like Howlin’ Wolf. This is music for fans of Randy Newman, Phil Collins, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, and sundry other middle-of-the-road, over-the-hill performers who, by the way, do indeed find gainful employment with Disney from time to time. “But wait,” Keb’ Mo’ fans and enablers reply, “He’s won two Grammy Awards.” To which one can only say, “Precisely.” —David Pelfrey (Friday, June 18, 9:15 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.)

Loretta Lynn

There’s not a single Trent Reznor song to be found on Van Lear Rose. In fact, 70-year-old Lynn has wisely dodged Johnny Cash’s mistakes and has utilized an influential young connection—that being highly-touted producer Jack White of the White Stripes—to record her first album comprised solely of originals. (At least, as far as I can tell from my collection of Lynn 8-track tapes. Is there anything more irritating than rock critics who suddenly become experts on country music once there’s a hipster angle?)

Anyway, Van Lear Rose snuffs out a thousand snide comments by being a truly great album. It doesn’t even sound like White had to step in to save the compositions. He’s still certainly responsible for several amazing moments where Lynn’s country stance succumbs to a British blues influence. A striking range of emotions is clearly the Lynn legacy, though. Now, there’s still the small matter of finding out how much daring new material will be sacrificed in favor of crowd-pleasing classics. Actually, who cares? (See interview, this issue.) —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 8:40 p.m. to 9:55 p.m.)

Los Lonely Boys

Not since Mick Ronson co-produced the band Los Illegals has . . . oh, wait, nobody bought that Los Illegals album. Come to think of it, that whole thing was a crappy generic-rock effort distinguished only by some Spanish vocals. In sharp contrast, the self-titled debut of Los Lonely Boys features only a couple of crappy power ballads. The rest of the album—co-produced by Keb’ Mo’—is perfectly swell blues-rock. Never mind that the slick production makes the band sound more like Carlos Santana than Doug Sahm. Their shallow attempt at mining rhythm ‘n’ blues still allows the band to stumble upon plenty of greatness. Maybe they’ll even become successful enough to finally bury the Tejano genre. —J.R. Taylor (Friday, June 18, 7:50 p.m. to 8:50 p.m.; and also at City Stages Unplugged: Friday, June 18, 1:15 p.m. to 1:40 p.m.)

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd have always been way over the top, whether it’s the barrage of three guitars when two would do or the incessant, countless guitar solos that made each weary version of “Free Bird” seemingly never end. The band transformed the Confederate flag into a worshipped icon while making the term “redneck” a proud label for men sporting mullets and women wrapped in halter tops. (Appropriately, the original Skynyrd boys were dropouts from—you guessed it—Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida.) Lynyrd Skynyrd simply refuses to go away. They’re back with their first studio album in three years, and, quite frankly, it’s the same tired Southern boogie-woogie they’ve recycled for years. It’s no surprise that they named it Vicious Cycle.

When original singer Ronnie Van Zant, who was fondly remembered by his wife in a VH-1 special as “just a redneck who loved to fight,” died in a 1977 plane crash, many thought that “Free Bird” had finally been grounded. Instead, the song became a request literally screamed at every concert, regardless of which band was performing. The only bright spot in the ongoing saga is the return of Blackfoot guitarist Rickey Medlocke to the Skynyrd fold. Medlocke played drums in the band in 1971, left for a year, and then returned briefly when the band featured a two-drummer lineup. The next time around, Medlocke returned as the third guitarist.

Guitarist Gary Rossington and keyboardist Billy Powell are the only other original members. Johnny Van Zant, who was 13 when Skynyrd first hit the big time, replaced his late brother as lead vocalist. He was recently interviewed by comedic hipster Dennis Miller, who asked Van Zant if he realized the band had a monster hit in the works when he recorded the vocals for “Free Bird.” Van Zant simply smiled and politely told Miller that it was his late brother Ronnie who had originally sung the song. Lucky for Miller that Ronnie’s dead, because he would have kicked Miller’s ass all over the television studio. (See interview, this issue.) —Ed Reynolds (Saturday, June 19, 8:50 p.m. to 10:35 p.m.)

The Robert Cray Band

Although guitarist/vocalist Cray inevitably gets called a bluesman, he’s never stayed in the blues mainstream. With a smooth vocal style that owes more to soul and gospel than any blues singer you can name, Cray and his longtime mates (keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Karl Sevareid, drummer Kevin Hayes) continue to work at evolving a blues-influenced mainstream R&B/rock hybrid. Cray and Co. may not always hit the heights of early successes like the breakthrough Strong Persuader album (1986), but at their best, they make terrific, moving music indeed. Cray’s songs have been covered by artists as diverse as Albert King, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Del McCoury, and Tony Bennett, and Mick Jagger has been heard to kvetch admiringly about Cray’s vocals, instrumental talents, and the fact that he’s good looking as well. “It’s not fair,” whined the Stone. See for yourself. (See interview, this issue.) —Bart Grooms (Friday, June 18, 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.)

Shelby Lynne

2000′s I Am Shelby Lynne was a brilliant pop album that defied years of record company oppression. The record’s surprising success put the country songstress in an ideal position to dictate her next big move, which turned out to be the moronic sellout of 2001′s Love, Shelby. That joke just gets funnier every time it’s told. Anyway, Lynne tried rebounding with last year’s Identity Crisis, and it was a nice step away from the gloss toward minimalism. Interestingly enough, it’s even as much a step away from I Am Shelby Lynne as it is from her previous disaster. The only problem is that Lynne’s true love seems to be slick balladry. She remains a fine songwriter, but that haphazard career still makes her the kind of musician who makes illegal downloading seem totally understandable. (See interview, this issue.) —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 7:10 p.m. to 8:10 p.m.)

Steve Forbert

See interview, this issue. (Saturday, June 19, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.)

Tony Joe White

Tina Turner opened the door for his European comeback in the early ’90s, but Tony Joe White is mostly forgotten in the places he defines. Even the most suburban Southerner can relate to White’s “Homemade Ice Cream” and “Rainy Night In Georgia,” although his “Polk Salad Annie” remains a novelty on the level of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses.” On the other hand, Tom Jones and Elvis Presley both found “Polk Salad Annie” worth covering. There was a time when White was positioned as a similar chest-hair-sporting stud during his short heyday as the Swamp Fox. He even attempted a perfectly legitimate bid for disco stardom back in ’76. Today, however, White’s very reliable as a funky bluesman with an offhand manner toward his fine guitar work. Fans on other continents already know all this, but here’s a rare chance for his countryfolk to catch up with the legend. (See interview, this issue.) —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 4:20 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.) &