Category Archives: Country Western

Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver

Country music’s original outlaw singer talks about dogs, Jesus, and what it’s like to have a heart attack on stage.

November 24, 2011

“Oh, it’s you again,” says Billy Joe Shaver, laughing into the phone when I had to call him back to resume our interview after being disconnected. Shaver was right in the middle of an anecdote about riding around for a week with Waylon Jennings and songwriter, poet, and artist Shel Silverstein. Before we got cut off, he had begun the story: “Me and Waylon and Shel Silverstein were out [on the road] for about a week just ridin’ around. We got to tellin’ jokes, and we told so many of ‘em we started numberin’ our jokes!” When I got him back on the phone, I tried unsuccessfully to get him to finish the yarn but he just laughed and said, “Man, I got in trouble last time I told that one.” Regardless, a brief chat with the man hailed as the king of the honky-tonk singers as he drives from Texas to the Flora-Bama Lounge is warm and hilarious.

Billy Joe Shaver’s life has been one of trial, tribulation, and heartache. His father tried to kill his mother while she was still pregnant with Shaver. Later, she left him to be raised by his grandmother. He lost two fingers in a sawmill accident at age 28 and had a reputation as a drinker and brawler. He arrived in Nashville in 1966 to break into the music business. The singer eventually sobered up and changed his wild ways, but troubles continued to haunt his life. In 1999, Shaver buried his mother, then his wife Brenda (He divorced her twice and married her three times.), who died of cancer a month later. On New Year’s Eve 2000, his son (and guitarist/collaborator) Eddy died of a heroin overdose. The next year he had a heart attack on stage at a July 4 show in New Braunfels, Texas. Then in 2007, at Papa Joe’s Saloon in Lorena, Texas, near Shaver’s Waco home, he shot a man who had been harassing him while wielding a knife (Shaver said he thought the man was carrying a pistol as well.) The man was not severely injured, but Shaver was arraigned for aggravated assault. The jury concluded that the singer had acted in self-defense despite prosecutors’ shamelessly ridiculous attempts to portray him as a “honky-tonk bully” for going outside to confront the victim and not simply leaving the bar, according to reports from the court transcripts. His pals Robert Duvall, with whom he co-starred in The Apostle in 1997, and Willie Nelson appeared in court on his behalf. Earlier this year, Shaver penned a song with Nelson about the shooting incident called “Wacko from Waco.”

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The tunes Shaver writes are brilliant, melodic gems that tell stories about how tough but beautiful life can be. He’s been covered by numerous artists, such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1973, Waylon Jennings recorded an entire album of Shaver’s songs called Honky Tonk Heroes. That album launched the “outlaw” genre, which heavily influenced country music for the next couple of decades. Although Shaver never became as big a star as his musical buddies, he embraces life with a grateful, enthusiastic fervor and never hesitates to share with audiences how happy and blessed he is to still be alive at age 71; especially after the rough and tumble “outlaw singer” existence that so long defined him. One of the best songs ever written is “Live Forever,” which he wrote with his son Eddy. With a smile as warm as Texas sunshine, Shaver often introduces the song by telling audiences, “Live forever, y’all, whether you want to or not.” Billy Joe Shaver and his band will perform at The Nick on Friday, December 9, with local heroes Caddle opening. Call 252-3831 or go to for details.

Black & White: Have you still got your dogs? I heard a story about you and your buddy Kinky Friedman (singer, songwriter, and novelist who ran for governor of Texas in 2006 with Shaver as his “spiritual advisor”) rescuing a three-legged dog named Momma.
Billy Joe Shaver: Well, one of my dogs died but I’ve still got a pit bull—black one that’s six years old. When I was young we were too poor to have a dog. When I started gettin’ dogs I started out with pit bulls. They’re just as sweet as they can be. It just depends on how you raise em, you know? Her name is Honeybee . . . But yeah, Momma (the dog) had one leg torn off ’cause she had been in a fight. Kinky picked her up and brought her on in to his place (Friedman has a no-kill animal shelter on his Texas ranch) and kind of worked on her a little bit and she got real healthy. So I paid money to put up a pen for her and she didn’t have but three legs. We called it Billy Joe Shaver’s “underdog pen.” (Laughs) Finally, a Vietnam veteran who’d had his leg blow’d off came out there and fell in love with her and now she’s got her a nice home. Kinky’s got a big heart. We’ve been friends a long time, since about ’66.

How did you meet Kinky?
His father introduced me to him. His father was a big fan of mine, Tom Friedman. He was a World War II pilot and also head of psychiatry there at the University of Texas. Tom used to come to my shows. Tom and Kinky’s whole family would come to my shows when I was playin’ in Austin, and Kinky would be playin’ across town. Kinky came over to my show one time kind of mad and said (to his family), “Why don’t y’all come to see me?” And Tom would say, “Well, Kinky we can see you any time. Besides that, you need to get some new jokes. (Laughs) I’ve got Tom’s old jacket—it says “God Bless John Wayne” on it and everything. I’d pretty much do anything for Kinky. Kinky was the first one of us that hung out at (unintelligible) Bar that got to go on the Grand Ole Opry. He sang “Sold American.” Then he went on tour with Bob Dylan. Now he writes books and stuff.

When you played the Opry, how’d you get along with the establishment there in Nashville?
I never had any problems. I’ve been on it many times. I got along with ol’ whats-his-name—that tall, skinny guy— uh, uh, Porter Wagoner. He didn’t get along with very many people but he got along with me pretty good. One night he was tellin’ (the audience), “Billy Joe Shaver has songs recorded by Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, and Bob Dylan (Wagoner pronounced it “Die-lan”). And I said, “Naw, it ain’t ‘Die-lan’, his name’s Dylan!” And Porter said, “I said his name was ‘Die-lan!’ And I said, “Naw, it’s not either, it’s Dylan!” And people were laughin’ like hell, and Porter got a kick out of it, too. So we became pretty good friends.

I saw a picture of you at George Jones’ 80th birthday party this past September. How has George stayed alive so many years with all the drinking and hard living that he did all his life?
(Laughs) I don’t know, I think they ran a (George Jones) substitute in on us (from time to time). I love George. I’ve known him about 30 years.

You gave up that lifestyle years ago, didn’t you?
Yeah . . . I got in a shootin’ incident down there (in Texas) and I had to shoot an ‘ol boy—well, he was tryin’ to shoot me. But I was innocent; I was just tryin’ to defend myself. He’s the one who started the fight. I finally got off. I wrote a song about it called “Wacko from Waco.”

I read that when the prosecuting attorney asked why you didn’t just leave the bar after the man you shot had earlier appeared threatening, you replied, “Ma’am, I’m from Texas. If I were chicken shit, I would have left, but I’m not.” Is there anything that you’re scared of?
Naw. (Pauses for a few seconds) Naw, I’m not, but that’s kind of stupid of me. But I’m not ’cause I’ve got Jesus in my heart. I don’t care one way or the other. If it’s my turn to go, I’ll go.

How long ago did you find Jesus?
Oh, way back yonder. When I wrote “An ‘Ol Chunk of Coal” I got born again. I still make mistakes and stuff like that but that’s part of it. You get to start all over again with a clean slate.

You used to be a rodeo cowboy, didn’t you?
Yeah, I used to do that enough to know that I wasn’t cut out for it. (Laughs)

Tell me about having a heart attack on stage in 2001.
Yeah, I had a heart attack in Gruene Hall on stage. That was after my son Eddy had passed away. Jesse Taylor, an old friend of mine, was playin’ guitar for me. When Jesse was a child, they had a car wreck and one of his ears was kind of messed up and he couldn’t hear very good out of it. It would just be my luck: that ear was toward me and every time I’d put my finger up and say, “This is the last one,” he’d think I wanted to do one more. And this elephant is sittin’ on my chest and I’m tryin’ to get him to quit startin’ them durn things [songs]. I finally got off stage and I thought, “Well, God, you’re gonna let me die in the oldest honky tonk in Texas. Thank you very much.” Sure enough, I didn’t die. Then my T-shirt (merchandise) girl, she come and got me and took me down to Waco. They checked me out and I only had one artery workin’ and it was only 10 percent. So I was almost dead.

I didn’t realize until recently that “Live Forever” was originally your son Eddy’s idea.
Yeah, it was Eddy’s melody. I carried it around for durn near a year before I could figure out what to put with it. Then I put with it what I thought was right and I went to Eddy and we finished it together.

Did you ever see Hank Williams, Sr. play?
I saw him that one time when I was a kid. I walked down the railroad tracks about 10 miles to see him. I didn’t know he was goin’ to be on the show, he was a surprise guest. I crawled up a pole to keep people from sittin’ on my feet. They introduced Hank and said (to the crowd), “You ought to listen to this ‘ol boy. He’s gonna be alright.” This was before he was a star. He didn’t play but one song. People was doin’ their bootleggin’ and stuff during that time and wasn’t payin’ no attention to him ’cause they never heard of him. And that’s the way people are. But he saw I was listening and he looked up at me straight in the eye and just sung to me.

I guess you’ve been on Willie Nelson’s bus a few times. I don’t think anybody was surprised when Willie got arrested for pot during a bus search a few years ago but they might have been surprised about the funny mushrooms the cops found.
Yeah. (Laughs) I don’t imagine they [the police] went too deep into the bus before they kinda about half passed out. &

String Plucker

String Plucker

For 30 years, local guitarist Tim Boykin has been singing for his supper.


April 14, 2011

Tim Boykin has been playing guitar for a living since he was 15. Though Boykin once disdained the “have guitar, will travel” notion of performing whatever was necessary to pay the bills, he eventually discovered that such work wasn’t a bad way to earn his keep. He was born in Birmingham but because his father was in the military, Boykin moved frequently, returning to Alabama as a teen. He became a guitar wizard adept at playing practically any style of music, transforming from a teenage punk rocker to a versatile guitar sideman and respected studio musician over the past three decades.

“At that time [the early 1990s] there was still actually a real blues scene [in town] and Topper Price and the Upsetters were playing at the Nick,” recalls Boykin. “Leif [Bondarenko, legendary local drummer] asked if I would come play some gigs with the Upsetters and my dumb ass was like, ‘Well, man, I don’t know. You guys are a bar band, you’re a cover band. I don’t think I can do that.’ Leif called again and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ I went and played a gig with Topper and made like $30 and I was like, ‘Oh wow, I can actually get paid for playing music.’ So that ushered in this era of stability. I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’m playing, I’m doing what I love to do, and it’s like a jobby job.’ The Upsetters weren’t making huge money but it was steady money.”

Boykin knew early on what he wanted to do with his life. His first guitar was an acoustic instrument his mother had brought home for him when he was 12 years old. He soon learned “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count Five. Though he has taken a few lessons, Boykin is mostly self-taught.

Tim Boykin. (Photo: Scott Johnson) (click for larger version)

“I didn’t know that it was called this but there’s a part of ‘Psychotic Reaction’ where the rhythm guitarist makes what you call ‘ghost notes,’ where he’s just doing a purely rhythmic thing and not really playing notes on the guitar,” Boykin recalls. “And I figured out how to cop that and just thought that was incredibly fine and went crazy with it and broke all the picks I had.”

Boykin quickly latched onto the Ramones and Sex Pistols but also listened to classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. “The first two albums I bought on my 13th birthday were Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Armed Forces and Ted Nugent’s Weekend Warrior at the PX on Fort Bragg.”

Guitar provided him with an identity while growing up in North Carolina. “I had found my niche in my high school social life. It was really different culturally up there,” he says. “People were more interested in what you did than what you had. Word got around that I was a good guitar player. And so within my little group of stoner friends up there, it was like, ‘Kevin’s a good fighter, Steve can fix cars, and Tim can play guitar.’” When he moved back to Birmingham in his mid-teens, however, his new classmates weren’t very impressed that he was a musician. “When I was going to Berry [High School], the rules were all different. It didn’t matter what you could do, it mattered what you had, how much money your parents had, that kind of shit,” he says. “People knew I played guitar but they didn’t care. They were like, ‘Oh yeah? Well, I have a Z28 Camaro.’”

Boykin soon trumped his classmates, however, joining up with local punk outfit the Ether Dogs, and for the first time earning money playing his guitar. “Getting in the Ether Dogs while I was in high school brought me into this whole other social scene with older people and this whole other deal that was going on. So to me that was the real world.”

Boykin embraced the punk credo that stipulated attitude over ability. “I remember reading stuff where [music writer] Lester Bangs was saying, ‘You need to just get a guitar and go do this now. You don’t need to wait around until you’re good enough. You need to get a guitar, learn three chords, get on stage, and be playing now. Worry about the finer points later.’ And I took that to heart,” he says. “By the time I was 15 years old I was playing in bands and clubs and stuff. And I felt like that’s what I was supposed to be doing. So I was hearing the Ramones and going, ‘OK, cool. I can go ahead and be doing this. It was more about energy than finesse.’”

His first band was the Dead End Kids, which played parties at the homes of Mountain Brook teens since the band’s drummer was from that area of town. Boykin then joined the Ether Dogs and played regularly at The Cavern on Morris Avenue in the early 1980s. By 1984 he formed Carnival Season with Brad Quinn playing bass and Mark Reynolds on drums. (Disclosure: Ed Reynolds, author of this story, played guitar with Carnival Season briefly.)

“Tim was the most authentically punk-rock kid I’d ever met,” Quinn says of Boykin, with whom he shared a deep fondness for remedial algebra when the two were in school together. “He was an army brat and had moved around a lot with his family, and he was really steeped in the history of punk and its precursors—The Stooges, MC5, The New York Dolls, The Velvet Underground—all the stuff that everybody nowadays claimed they loved all along, even though they were probably listening to Yes or something. Tim was into Lester Bangs and had read a lot of the seminal rock writers, and so he was really thoughtful about rock ‘n’ roll. He was fairly class-conscious and saw things in a more politicized way than a lot of kids around Birmingham, at least. He was a big influence on me and a lot of other kids at the time. I’m sure he probably felt like a misfit, but that’s partly why it worked.”

Boykin’s ability to write catchy melodies and sing his own songs became evident when he joined Carnival Season at 18, right after graduating from high school. This was also his introduction to making records, with the band recording demo sessions for MCA Records before signing with U.K. indie label What Goes On. (Arena Rock Records reissued much of Carnival Season’s catalog on CD in 2010.) Underground pop phenomenon Tommy Keene produced the sessions that led to Carnival Season’s lone full-length album.

“That was the first album I’d done with anybody. It was very stressful,” Boykin recalls of those sessions. “We were young and everybody felt that there was a lot at stake. There was a lot of tension and conflict . . . some about creative decisions and stuff . . . Tommy kinda had this ’60s rootsy thing, which we had kinda moved away from. We had become more of a hard-rocking band. I had this little solid state Marshall half-stack that wasn’t real versatile but it was this sound [Tim loved]. That was my sound. That was kinda where my head was at, at that point, a lot of that early ’70s British rock kind of stuff. And Tommy was like, ‘Well, man, I have some perfectly nice amplifiers here. We can get you a good guitar sound. Here’s this lovely Fender Deluxe amp—which is a bitchin’ amp, a great amp—but it was like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine because I’ll just pack up my shit and go home.’ And I’m glad now that I held my ground about that stuff, but then on the other end of things I learned a lot of stuff and had some real first-time experiences. Tommy was real good at getting vocal performances. He made us work real hard. And you didn’t have any kind of [vocal enhancement] toys at that point [in time]. You couldn’t make a bad singer sound good, you really couldn’t. When you hear the Go Go’s and Belinda Carlisle singing on pitch? It’s because they made that poor child do take after take. A couple of vocal performances from me were like, ‘Yeah, we did that by the sweat of our brows.’ And I didn’t know before that that’s how you did that.”

The band lasted five years.

“After Carnival Season, it was kind of a learning process. I was still really young. When I quit Carnival Season, I was 23,” Boykin says. “At that point I felt like I had really been around the block. Initially, I thought that I had to be in a band that has a record deal. So I ended up being in the Barking Tribe—they had a record deal and got out on the road and worked real hard and made zero dollars. It kind of helped me assess more what my goals were and what I wanted to be doing.”

After a couple of years with Barking Tribe, Boykin began writing music again, forming Pinky the Stabber and then the Shame Idols, which caught the ear of Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows and REM. McCaughey hooked the Shame Idols up with Frontier Records, where the band recorded two critically-acclaimed albums. Boykin figured he had the best of both worlds, making money with one band and finding a creative outlet for his songwriting talents with his own group.

“I was making money playing with Topper [Price],” he says. “Then I’d tell him the Shame Idols were flying out to L.A. to play and that I’d be gone for a couple of dates. My spot [with the Upsetters] was secure. I’d either line up a sub or they’d get somebody to sub. I’d go play rock star and then come back home and get back to work. It was great.”

By 1998, Frontier Records no longer existed so Boykin decided to record a third Shame Idols album at his own expense.

“The Shame Idols always had a real strong pop sensibility. But the first couple of albums are really heavy guitar things, to me,” he explains. “At the time Frontier folded I was listening to a lot of more kind of power pop–oriented stuff like the Flamin’ Groovies, that kind of thing. I was getting more of a ’60s kind of vibe.”

The band broke up in the process of recording and Boykin decided to record the new material as the Lolas—his dog’s name. Around this time he also started the Tim Boykin Blues Band.

“It was me basically trying to still do what I had been doing when I was playing with Topper and doing the Shame Idols,” he explains—using one band to make a living and the other for his songwriting talents. “Boy, I was just trying to book my own life at that point. I was booking the blues band all over the place and at a lot of the same clubs I was actually booking the Lolas in there, too. And man, at some of those clubs the Lolas were a hard sell. We were doing covers but we weren’t doing the bullshit covers that they liked to hear down there. We were doing the Flamin’ Groovies and shit and they were like, ‘What the hell is that?’”

Boykin currently plays with Birmingham blues singer Shar Baby, recording her album Shar-Baby’s 11 O’Clock Blues at Boykin’s home recording studio, Bushido Sound.

“I think Tim’s one of the greatest guitar players here in the state of Alabama,” says Shar Baby. “That boy is somethin’ else. That guy is true. He’s over the top—off the chain, as they say.”

Boykin’s old bands rarely completely die; rather they seem to be in a temporary cryogenic state, ready for thawing out every few years to record a new CD or play a show. Carnival Season has done recent reunion gigs and there has been chatter among band members about a new record. The Lolas and Shame Idols rear their heads from time to time as well. When the Lolas “started to fizzle out” a few years ago, Boykin sought a different direction.

“I was starting to repeat myself and I was wanting to do something kind of different,” he says. “I initially got excited about what was going on with stoner rock, desert rock, doom metal, that kind of stuff. I was partly attracted to it because it was more of a grassroots, death metal scene that seemed analogous to the way the whole punk scene was. It seemed like indie rock had become this whole status quo. So I was really looking for something that kind of seemed counter culture.”

Moving in a metal band direction, Boykin worked with Annexed Asylum before forming Throng of Shaggoths with former GNP [Grossest National Product] guitarist Chris Hendrix on drums. “Annexed Asylum was a lot of fast stuff, showing off chops with various degrees of success,” he says, laughing. “Throng of Shoggoths is a slower, heavier band with weird time signatures. The songs are based in H.P. Lovecraft. It’s very weird stuff.”

There is a misperception that musicians must move away from Birmingham to truly be successful, Boykin says. However, he has found that living here has certain advantages, especially financially.

“I’m traveling so much. San Francisco is a beautiful city but people who live there will tell you that it’s absolutely brutal to live there. You have to work three jobs and you’re still almost living on skid row. There are other places that are a lot more laid back, like Seattle, Indianapolis. And those places are kind of like Birmingham. . . . There are big cities that I like but I’m not necessarily pissed off that I don’t live in them.” &

To contact Tim Boykin for guitar lessons and to access his performance schedule, go to

Tragic Song of Life

Tragic Song of Life

A new biography traces the career of a country music queen.

March 04, 2010
Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen
By Jimmy McDonough
Viking, 432 pages, $27.95Few things are more entertaining than Nashville’s colorful cavalcade of ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s country music icons, especially if any of those icons happened to have discovered drugs. Among the most hedonistic, in that context, were Tammy Wynette and George Jones, whose lifestyles are laid open by author Jimmy McDonough in Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen. Even those who loathe country music will be fascinated by this jaw-dropping tale.

Wynette’s dramatic, haunted existence (which lent itself to tabloid sensationalism) has always been realized in her music, thanks to producer Billy Sherrill, who frequently chose songs for Wynette that mirrored what the singer was experiencing in her life at the time, just as he did when producing records by her husband George Jones.

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Thoroughly researched, the book reads as if written by an obsessed fan, yet McDonough (author of the Neil Young biography Shakey and Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film) pulls no punches. He portrays Wynette as being perpetually out of control, on a downhill slide plagued by illnesses (real and imagined) that resulted in more than 30 surgeries during her 55 years. Her drug abuse is shocking. Fans are aware of Tammy’s battle with pills, but most may be stunned to learn of used hypodermic needles discovered beneath her mattress on her tour bus. She regularly injected herself with Dilaudid, Valium, or Demerol (or any combination thereof).

In the Beginning
Born in Tremont, Mississippi, Virginia Wynette Pugh married her first husband, Euple Byrd, shortly before graduating high school. When that marriage dissolved, she fled to Birmingham, where she worked as a beautician at the Midfield Beauty Salon. (Wynette kept her beautician’s license updated for 20 years after achieving success with “Stand By Your Man,” just in case her singing career faltered.) She supplemented her income by singing on “The Country Boy Eddie Show” in 1965. (McDonough devotes an entire chapter to “Country Boy” Eddie Burns, the retired Birmingham TV personality whose country music show aired from 5 to 7 a.m. for 37 years, mostly on WBRC Channel 6.) By year’s end, Wynette ventured to Nashville to record her first hit, “Apartment #9,” with producer Sherrill, who signed her to Epic Records and suggested that she change her name to Tammy Wynette.

When she had taken too many painkillers, a concert performance became a struggle. If Wynette was unable to hit a particular note, she’d give her backup singers hand signals so that they could cover for her.

Tragic Country Queen includes numerous anecdotes from Wynette’s fellow performers. Dolly Parton’s charms are recounted when the author describes Wynette at the 1968 Country Music Association Awards: “Skinny as a matchstick, wearing a fancy, futuristic housecoat dress, Tammy looks as though her ratted-out beehive and big lapels might consume her at any second. ‘Just a country girl’s idea of glamour,’ explains Parton. ‘Tammy didn’t have any more fashion sense than I did, really. I always say me and Tammy got our clothes from Fifth and Park—that is, the fifth trailer in the park.’”

Her life with third husband and singing partner George Jones was bizarre and unpredictable. In February of 1969, the couple was booked as a duo for the first time at the Playroom in Atlanta. A highly intoxicated Jones bolted mid-show on opening night. He hopped a ride to Las Vegas in a Lear jet with the club’s owner, forcing Wynette to finish the show alone. A few days later, Jones returned to tell Tammy he would never marry her. However, in classic Jones’ style he changed his mind and married her the next day.

Life is Hell
Wynette’s fourth marriage lasted only 44 days. After the divorce, painkillers played a larger role in the singer’s life due to her many physical ailments. Band members were instructed by her doctor on how to give Tammy her shots. Doctors in Nashville eventually caught on to her addictions and refused to prescribe any more narcotics, forcing her to search nationwide for doctors willing to write her prescriptions. In an attempt to score drugs, trips to emergency rooms after shows became routine.

McDonough writes of these indulgences as though Wynette had picked up a few tips from Keith Richards; she often had her supply of painkillers flown to her Nashville hometown. When she had taken too much, a concert performance became a struggle. If she couldn’t hit a particular note, she’d give her backup singers hand signals so that they could cover for her. A fist behind the back indicated she couldn’t sing the high F during the climactic final chorus in “Stand By Your Man,” while an open palm meant “Get this song over with as quick as possible.” During her final years, she sometimes nodded off between tunes. Her longtime drummer, Charley Abdern, bluntly observed: “She seemed kind of desperate to me. . . . I wish she would’ve quit. She really should’ve. It’s a sad story.”

In 1978, Wynette went missing for a few days, later claiming to have been kidnapped. Many doubted her story. She did not press for an investigation, and her daughter said the subject was taboo in the house. Two days after the alleged kidnapping, she performed in Columbia, South Carolina, her face still bruised. Tammy appeared nervous, whispering to the audience, “He could possibly be here, I just don’t know.” A mysterious, crumpled note was found backstage that read: “I’m still around, I’ll get you.”

Some ventured that it was George Jones trying to scare her, although Jones himself was skeptical that the kidnapping was real. “The whole affair was bullshit,” he surmised. “Somebody beat the hell out of Tammy, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it was a kidnapper.” Eight years after the incident, Wynette felt compelled to bring it up again, informing the press that she had received a letter from a prison inmate who told her that his cellmate had confessed to kidnapping her. Her daughter later wrote that Wynette told her the crime never occurred, and that fifth husband Richey, with whom Wynette reportedly had a rocky relationship, was the one who inflicted the bruises. Tammy’s hairdresser later confirmed that the singer shared the same story.

Hillary Clinton made headlines when she and husband Bill appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 1992. When asked about her husband’s alleged affair with Gennifer Flowers, Hillary responded, “I’m not sitting here like some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.” Wynette was watching that evening and exclaimed, “How dare that bitch say that about me!” She wrote Hillary a seething letter. Clinton attempted to call but Tammy refused to talk to her until Wynette’s sometime-boyfriend Burt Reynolds persuaded her to do so. Amid the controversy, Sony Records promptly re-released “Stand By Your Man.” Barbra Streisand later invited Tammy to her Malibu home to perform at a fundraiser for Bill Clinton. According to Tammy, a shocked Hillary refused to speak to her.

Wynette continued to record and tour in the 1990s, though her last five years were spent connected to a portable IV unit, which she removed only to appear on stage. UK dance music outfit KLF had Wynette sing on their track “Justified and Ancient,” which went to number one in 18 countries and introduced Wynette to a new audience. Wynette recorded Honky Tonk Angels with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn in 1993 and recorded a final duet album with George Jones. She was also the voice for Tillie Mae Hill (Hank Hill’s mother) on the animated TV series “King Of The Hill.”

Tragic Country Queen is a thoroughly entertaining read that tells a sad story loaded with enough sordid details for several albums’ worth of country songs. McDonough sums up Wynette’s tragic life: “Tammy Wynette never found what she was looking for. A white knight, a Prince Charming. . . . She wanted life to whisk her off her high-heeled feet, to be as passionate as the feverish cover of some romance novel. Instead Wynette wound up dying in public an inch at a time, her emaciated, addicted, tormented face plastered across the cover of every grocery store tabloid.” &

Author Jimmy McDonough will sign copies of Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen on March 8, 7 p.m., at the Colonial Brookwood Village location of Books-a-Million.


Elvis in Context

Elvis in Context

Elvis Presley on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”

August 23, 2007

On Sunday night, September 9, 1956, more than 72 million Americans (80 percent of the country’s television audience) tuned in to the “Ed Sullivan Show” to watch a cultural phenomenon named Elvis Presley. Presley had already appeared on several national television programs, but none as popular as Sullivan’s. The performance transformed Elvis into a controversial icon, creating the generation gap in the process.

(click for larger version)

Image Entertainment has released a DVD set of the three complete Sullivan shows on which Elvis appeared in 1956 and 1957. While most Elvis fans have seen these legendary performances, the opportunity to see these shows in their entirety is what makes this set unique.

On January 27, 1956, RCA released the single “Heartbreak Hotel.” The next day Elvis appeared on Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s “Stage Show,” a low-rated national television program. A week and a half later, Presley was on “The Milton Berle Show.” Ed Sullivan was watching that night and dismissed Elvis’s seductive leg movements as “unfit for family viewing.” Later that summer, Presley was booked on NBC’s “The Steve Allen Show,” which went head-to-head with the Sullivan show on CBS. That night Ed Sullivan devoted his entire program to director John Huston, whose film Moby Dick premiered that week. Steve Allen’s show trounced “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the ratings. Sullivan soon adjusted his definition of “unfit for family viewing.”

The night of Elvis’ Sullivan program debut, Sullivan was recuperating from a recent automobile accident. British actor Charles Laughton was the guest host. Sullivan asked the dignified actor to open the show with some poetry to “give a high tone to the proceedings,” according to Laughton. The actor chose a tasteless poem: “Willie in the best of sashes, fell in the fire, got burnt to ashes. Though the room got cold and chilly, no one liked to poke poor Willie.”

Sullivan’s was a true variety show, featuring eclectic acts that included acrobats, Irish children’s choirs, opera singers, and a couple of hilarious ventriloquists, Arthur Worsley and Señor Wences. A young Carol Burnett also made an unforgettable appearance.

The commercials are fascinating time capsules. One features a stunningly gorgeous woman behind the wheel of a 1957 Mercury convertible. “One touch of her pretty little finger to Mercury’s keyboard control” is all that’s needed to begin the dreamy ride, says the announcer as he’s chauffeured around a Universal Studios lot. Then, to exhibit the ample room available in the backseat, the car stops at a medieval castle on a Universal movie set where three knights in full armor awkwardly climb in.

Possum Finds Happiness in a Small Town

Possum Finds Happiness in a Small Town

Country singer George Jones moves to Enterprise to spend his tender years.

August 24, 2006The small Alabama town of Enterprise, known for its monument to the boll weevil, is welcoming a new icon: country singer George Jones. And like the boll weevil, Jones has a history that once classified him as a destructive little pest. Jones is the new national spokesman for Ronnie Gilley Properties, LLC, a real estate management, development, and marketing organization headquartered in Enterprise. The development, scheduled to begin construction in the fall of 2006, includes 220 residential estate-sized lots featuring gated manors and moderately priced garden homes.

Jones and his wife, Nancy, have made numerous trips to the southeastern Alabama community (population 27,000), about 70 miles south of Montgomery and 90 miles north of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The couple reportedly plan to live in the community two to three months out of the year. “The more we visit, the more we seem to like it,” says Jones. The town is touted as “a safe haven from hurricanes, yet still close enough to feel the ocean breeze.” The housing development, to be called The Legends, is situated on 200 acres directly across from the Enterprise Country Club, and according to the Enterprise Ledger, Jones has already signed up as a member.

George Jones has lent his name to a variety of products, from sausage to bottled water to “gourmet” pet food. (click for larger version)

“I’m working on a jingle for Enterprise to coincide with one of my hits,” Jones said at an Enterprise press conference several months ago. “I like the fact that life is slower here . . . It’s a lot less traffic and it’s peaceful and that’s what my wife and I are excited about moving here. It’s a nice place.”

Ronnie Gilley Properties has constructed residential communities and commercial projects that include restaurants, hotels, neighborhood retail centers, and office buildings in southern Alabama for two decades. The company’s partnerships include country music stars Alan Jackson, Kix Brooks, Tracy Lawrence, and Darryl Worley.

Jones and his wife Nancy also plan to open the Possum Holler Restaurant, a meat-and-three cafe that shares the same name of a nightclub Jones once owned in Nashville. Stamping his name on products is nothing new for the man whom country music stars revere as the greatest country singer of all time (“Hoss, if we could all sound like who we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones,” the late Waylon Jennings once claimed). Jones has marketed his own brand of pet food, bacon, barbecue sauce, country sausage, honey, and “White Lightning” bottled water. Earlier in his career, he even considered marketing “Possum Panties,” with his face emblazoned on the crotch.

No one knows for sure how he came to be called the “Possum.” It may have derived from Jones’ unpredictable behavior, such as pretending to be passed out drunk before suddenly leaping to his feet to brandish a notorious temper (especially while married to the late-singer Tammy Wynette). The stories are legendary. He once drove a riding lawn mower 10 miles into Nashville to a bar after Wynette hid the car keys from him. On another occasion, police found Jones in a stupor in a Cadillac that was littered with whiskey bottles, empty sardine cans, and a life-size cardboard figure of Hank Williams, Sr., sitting next to him. His career appeared to be on the rebound until an appearance in 1980 with Tammy Wynette on “The Tonight Show.” Jones stopped midway through the couple’s duet of “Two-Story House” and confessed to a television audience that he couldn’t remember the lyrics.


No one know for sure how Jones came to be called Possum. It may have derived from his pretending to be passed out drunk . . . especially while married to the late-singer Tammy Wynette.

Enterprise can be thankful that Jones’ notorious wild days appear to be far behind him. But with the 75-year-old Jones, one can never quite be sure. After several years of reported sobriety, in 1998 he crashed his car into a bridge, blaming the wreck on a cell-phone conversation with his daughter. A half-empty bottle of vodka beneath the Cadillac’s seat suggested otherwise. Rushed to the hospital in critical condition, it was doubtful that Jones would survive this latest episode, as his long-abused liver was severely lacerated as a result of the accident. A couple of weeks later he walked out of the hospital, and two months later he was performing again.

People from across the United States are already making deposits to secure acreage in The Legends. Jones’ future next-door neighbor is reportedly a couple who recently won the Florida state lottery and contacted Ronnie Gilley directly to plunk down a deposit next to Jones’ lot, site unseen. “I just want to live next to the Possum,” the lottery winner said. &


All Souled Out — The famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio closes.

All Souled Out

The famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio closes.

March 10, 2005

In the late 1960s, the small northwest Alabama town of Muscle Shoals became a magnet for many top recording stars. Attracted by a phenomenally tight and versatile house band later known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, many black rhythm and blues singers, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, and others, flocked to FAME Studios to discover that the studio’s legendary funky sound was created by a quartet of white men—Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Barry Beckett, and Roger Hawkins. “The Muscle Shoals Sound” soon was in such demand that the four musicians decided to start their own studio a few miles down the road in Sheffield, and in 1969 opened Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in an old casket warehouse. The first sessions at the new facility were for Cher’s album 3614 Jackson Highway, so named because it was the studio’s address. R.B. Greaves’ “Take a Letter Maria” was the studio’s first hit. Leon Russell dubbed them the Muscle Shoals Swampers on the back of one of his albums, and Lynyrd Skynyrd referenced “the Swampers” in the hit “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Mick Jagger twists the knobs on the console at Muscle Shoals Sound, where the Rolling Stones recorded three songs for the Sticky Fingers, including “Brown Sugar.” (click for larger version)

The Rolling Stones recorded three songs there (“Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” and “You Gotta Move”) for the album Sticky Fingers while on their 1969 tour. Bands not from the U.S. had to apply for either a touring or a recording visa to be permitted to work in the country. The Stones’ first choice had reportedly been Stax Records studio in Memphis, but since Memphis had a higher profile in the recording industry, the band opted for the relative obscurity of Muscle Shoals. Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bass player David Hood recalls that the Stones sessions were supposed to be top secret. “We worked during the day, then at night they brought in the Stones. We were supposed to keep it a secret that they were coming because they didn’t have the proper work permits to record in the United States,” says Hood. “They flew from Miami and had chartered an old Super Constellation four-motor prop plane. It was smoking and leaking oil, so half the group wouldn’t get on the plane (in Miami). So they flew in on Southern Airways, so it was kind of hard to keep it a secret.” The recording of “Wild Horses” is documented in the film Gimme Shelter. (In one memorable scene, Keith Richards smiles through rotten teeth as he proudly flashes a Minnie Pearl Fried Chicken souvenir.) The unassuming life of a small Alabama town was a perfect respite for rock stars accustomed to being mobbed by fans. One story has it that the Stones would tell curious waitresses in Muscle Shoals’ diners that they were Martha and the Vandellas. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards reportedly wrote “Wild Horses” while lounging in the grass in front of the Executive Inn in Florence (right across the river from Muscle Shoals). Hood remembers the Stones being very business-like. “When people come to a recording studio to work, they’re not doing a lot of showbiz stuff, they gotta work,” he explains. “The way [the Stones] worked up their songs, it was different from us. Whereas we were very quick and would learn a song in 30 or 40 minutes and have it recorded in an hour, they worked all night or sometimes a couple of days on one song. They pretty much knew what they wanted, but they would work a long time to get it because they weren’t polished musicians.”

Pops and Mavis Staples confer during the recording of the Staples Singers hit “I’ll Take You There.” Pops was reportedly disappointed that he didn’t get to play guitar on the session. (click for larger version)

In 1972, Paul Simon showed up in Muscle Shoals looking for the “black musicians” who had backed up Aretha Franklin. “We worked as a rhythm section together so much that we got really tight. We were very fast,” recalls Hood. “Paul Simon rented the studio and booked us for four or five days to cut one song. And we got it on the first or second take. So that’s what led to us recording ‘Kodachrome’ and ‘Love Me Like a Rock’ and other stuff. We had all this extra time.”

The tiny town was once a vital component of the recording industry.

Jimmy Cliff came to Muscle Shoals to record “Sitting Here in Limbo” for The Harder They Come soundtrack. “They sent him here trying to make him sound non-Jamaican,” says Hood. “This was before Bob Marley and the Jamaican thing caught hold, so they were trying to Americanize his sound.” Bob Seger cut “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Mainstreet” at Muscle Shoals Sound. When Bob Dylan was recording there, he brought in Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler to record Dylan’s gospel masterpiece Slow Train Coming. Hood said the Dylan sessions were the only ones to draw a crowd of people hanging around outside the studio. When asked if Dylan, who had just converted to Christianity at the time of Slow Train Coming, exhibited any signs of having become an evangelical Christian, Hood says, “I think more than anything else that was a way to cut a different kind of record, a different style. Jerry Wexler [Atlantic Records] is the one who brought him here. Jerry’s a very shrewd businessman, and he saw that this was a commercial thing here, Bob Dylan changing the message of his songs. He saw it as an opportunity. I’m afraid I’m taking a little of the glamour out of this stuff.”

Cher poses in front of the original studio location.

By 1978, the business had outgrown its Jackson Highway space and the studio moved into a 31,000-square-foot building. The company was sold to Malaco Records, based in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1985. Citing a lack of business, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio closed its doors in February 2005. As to the secret of the Muscle Shoals sound, Hood has a simple definition: “It was our goal not to sound like ourselves, but to sound like the band of the artist we were working with.” &

Dead Folks 2005, Music

Dead Folks 2005, Music

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.


By David Pelfrey, Ed Reynolds, J.R. Taylor

February 24, 2005
Artie Shaw

Artie Shaw (click for larger version)

Music fans, especially big band enthusiasts, love and respect Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. But if any were forced to take just one bandleader’s work to a desert island, or place the same CD or vinyl album in a time capsule, they might very well choose one by Artie Shaw (94). The clarinet-playing bandleader, in at least three recordings, offered definitive tracks of the swing era: the lilting “Frenesi” (a Shaw original last used to great effect in Woody Allen’s Radio Days), a flowing, magnificent arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” which practically blew Benny Goodman off the charts, and a stunning rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” one of the most instantly recognizable recordings in popular music. Another of Shaw’s compositions, “Nightmare,” is a sultry, gloomy three minutes that evolved into the distinctive sound of films noir, as the scores for countless detective thrillers and crime melodramas all hearken, in some way, to Shaw’s 1938 recording. Throw in the fact that Shaw was a virtuoso clarinetist with looks that made all the girls cry, and it’s understandable that in 1939 there wasn’t a bigger star in the music galaxy.

Shaw’s musical ability was not matched by an ability to win friends or influence people; he broke up bands almost as soon as they made the big time. He wasn’t an egotist, but as a pathological perfectionist he was often devoid of patience with anything or anybody. Oddly enough, that in no way prevented the exceedingly handsome musician from being a ladies’ man (Lana Turner and Ava Gardner are numbered among his many brides), nor did Shaw’s irascibility imply insensitivity. It was Shaw’s idea to work publicly with black composers and players (Billie Holiday was the band’s lead vocalist for a short while), and he was an outspoken advocate for black musicians throughout his career.

Nonetheless, he wasn’t called “the reluctant king of swing” for nothing. Shaw regarded celebrity as an impediment to creative excellence, so his public performances temporarily came to a halt just before 1940. He organized several other groups during the war years and began performing again, but he was never completely comfortable with touring. Although he was approaching new heights in the 1940s and 50s by moving away from swing and into jazz, in 1954 he simply walked away from the music scene to take up a number of other pursuits. —D.P.

Elmer Bernstein

Speaking of his collaboration with Bernstein (82), Martin Scorcese said, “It’s one thing to write music that reinforces a film, underscores it. It’s entirely another to write music that graces a film. That’s what Elmer Bernstein does, and that, for me, is his greatest gift.”

The gifted composer didn’t just create marvelous, memorable films scores; he elevated the lyric quality of incidental music in movies. Bernstein’s legacy includes more than 200 movie scores, 50 years in the film industry, and an inestimable influence on three generations of film composers. So engaging and appropriate were his best works that it is difficult to imagine certain films without their scores. The rousing theme to The Magnificent Seven (later the “Marlboro man” theme until cigarettes ads were banned from television) is a textbook example, being cowboy music par excellence; its distinct “great American West” motif derives from Aaron Copland, under whom Bernstein studied. The martial, upbeat march from The Great Escape (1963) is another instance where melody and tone perfectly suit subject and style. Yet if ever there was a movie score that defined a film’s style, it must be the pure jazz score (a first for a Hollywood film) for The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), a downbeat, gritty melodrama starring Frank Sinatra that dared to explore drug addiction. The first minutes of Bernstein’s gripping score pretty much establish that things aren’t going to go well.

Indeed, the composer had a natural ability to convey urban angst and mean-street sensibility, as the jazzy, sleazy themes for Sweet Smell of Success, Walk on the Wild Side, and Some Came Running indicate. Yet for minimal orchestration and gentle, lyric passages, Bernstein also displayed an innate skillfulness; the tender, wistful score for To Kill a Mockingbird is exhibit A in that regard. His music is also associated with Hollywood actors and icons, most obviously John Wayne, for whom Bernstein provided scores for The Sons of Katie Elder, True Grit, and several others. He worked with Martin Scorcese on seven projects, notably The Age of Innocence and The Grifters, the latter being an example of Bernstein’s interest in various offbeat and independent productions such as Rambling Rose, Far From Heaven, My Left Foot, and The Field.

Bernstein’s stunning versatility is apparent from this partial list of compositions: Hud, The World of Henry Orient, Animal House, The Gypsy Moths, An American Werewolf in London, The Carpetbaggers, The Great Santini, the ballet music for Oklahoma and Peter Pan, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, “The Films of Ray and Charles Eames,” and themes for “The Rookies,” “S.W.A.T.,” and “Ellery Queen.” —David Pelfrey


Jerry Goldsmith

Last year when the record label Varese Sarabande announced the release of a series of film scores entitled “Jerry Goldsmith at 20th Century Fox,” orders started coming in the next day. The first run of the boxed set sold out nine days later. Put another way, everybody digs Jerry Goldsmith (75). His name might not ring a bell, but the motion picture scores and television themes Goldsmith arranged or composed for more than half a century certainly do. A deadly serious student of music since the age of six, Goldsmith learned classical piano and absorbed music theory before taking a film music class at the University of Southern California (under legendary composer Miklos Rosza, no less). Afterwards he landed a pretty good gig at CBS, where he scored several episodes of a show that was getting a lot of attention called “The Twilight Zone.” Dozens more television commissions came, but Goldsmith’s acquaintance with another famous film composer, Alfred Newman, led to his long career in motion pictures. He began as a contract composer for 20th Century Fox, and then basically established himself as the sound of the movies. Even a partial list of his film scores and television themes is daunting: Alien, L.A. Confidential, Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, Patton, Seconds, Logan’s Run, In Like Flint, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Omen, Papillon, Basic Instinct, The Boys From Brazil, Poltergeist, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and “The Waltons.” —D.P.

John McGeogh

Like any founding guitarist who’d been in classic—and still listenable—bands such as Siouxsie & The Banshees, Public Image, and Magazine, John McGeogh (48) had both gotten a day job (as a nurse) and was trying to record dance music by the end of the ’90s. That’s kind of a shame since McGeogh was probably one of the rare punks who really had the versatility to thrive as a session man. It’s certainly no secret that he was a huge influence on subsequent generations. At least to those funky punks who don’t try to get away with citing old blues guys as their heroes. —J.R.T.

Johnny Ramone


Johnny Ramone’s headstone (click for larger version)

He didn’t have many songwriting credits, and that’s probably not even him playing guitar on some of your later favorite Ramones songs. Still, Johnny Ramone (55) got to retire as the wealthiest member of the band because he had 100 percent of the merchandising rights. How did that happen? It’s a long story that certain people can’t wait to tell if certain long-awaited books don’t reveal the whole story. Suffice to say that Johnny benefited from being one of rock ‘n’ roll’s proud conservatives, cashing in on the hypocritical peacenik attitude of certain other band members. The greatest testimony to Johnny, however, is that he was always well-loved in the music community, even after expressing his support for President Bush while being inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. We lost him to prostate cancer, which leaves C.J. and Marky to helm various tribute nights in the future. Jeffrey’s somewhere out there, too. —J.R.T.

Elvin Jones

The younger brother of pianist Hank and trumpeter/bandleader Thad was a drummer who changed the way we hear jazz. Jones (77) played with major figures like Sonny Rollins and J. J. Johnson in the ’50s, but it was with the iconoclastic quartet of John Coltrane (1960-66) that Jones’ fluid, polyrhythmic blankets of sound found their ideal setting. Jones’ beat was implied more than defined, and although one always knew where it was, the surrounding percussive accents and colors were endlessly fascinating, opening up the rhythmic options for the other players unlike what any drummer had done before, even since. Coltrane greatly appreciated Jones: “I especially like his ability to mix and juggle rhythms. He’s always aware of everything else that’s happening. I guess you could say he has the ability to be in three places at the same time.” Jones played on Coltrane’s classic albums My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme; he led his own bands from 1967 until his death, incubating such talent as Joe Farrell, Dave Liebman, Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman, and Ravi Coltrane early in their careers. His unique approach, seemingly limitless ideas, and sheer power led many to regard Jones as the world’s greatest drummer, and following a much-ballyhooed “battle” with Cream’s Ginger Baker in the early ’70s, Jones became something of a celebrity, even appearing in the cult film Zachariah. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever sounding like him again. —B.G.

Rick James


Rick James (click for larger version)

The guy would’ve made an interesting footnote just for signing to Motown with bandmate Neil Young as the Mynah Birds back in the ’60s. Of course, Rick James (54) had to take a stranger path to fortune and disgrace. He finally got to make a record for Motown in 1978 and was a popular R&B star until the release of Street Songs in 1981. “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” were huge hits that made James briefly seem like another Prince in the rock-crossover sweepstakes. He was a steady performer through 1989—following his move to the Reprise label—but it still felt like nostalgia to the masses when MC Hammer sampled James for “U Can’t Touch This.” By then, James’ drug problems had plunged him into several embarrassing legal situations. He spent the ’90s with critics hoping for a comeback, but James’ last high profile moment was as a punch line in sketches on “The Dave Chappelle Show.” He was probably pretty happy with that, but any future opportunities—say, on VH1′s “The Surreal Life”—were lost after James’ death from a heart attack. At least he got to date Linda Blair. —J.R.T.

Illinois Jacquet

Tenor sax man Illinois Jacquet (82) was one of the jazz piledrivers: he typically hit his solos full throttle, with clearly developed musical phrases based in the sophisticated vocabulary of the great Lester Young, but run through a rough-edged dialect of Jacquet’s own creation. The latter included “honking,” later to be overdone by a multitude of R&B and rock horn players, and squealing in the altissimo range (i. e., above where the tenor is normally supposed to sound), an effect that was also subsequently overdone by lesser players. He became a star at 19 when he recorded a rousing solo on Lionel Hampton’s “Flying Home” (1942), and was a featured player in the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts in the ’40s and ’50s. He also led a septet in that era that featured the likes of Fats Navarro and J. J. Johnson. After becoming the first jazz musician to serve a long-term residency at Harvard in the early 80s, Jacquet formed a his first big band, which had a big success, recording the irresistible Jacquet’s Got It (1987, Label M). Almost everyone who plays the tenor sax owes something to this guy. —B.G.

Robert Quine

Lefty hipsters were pissed off that Ronald Reagan’s death overshadowed not only the death of Ray Charles but that Robert Quine’s death was completely squeezed out of all the NYC newspapers. To be fair, Quine (61) was an innovative guitarist and overaged punk who—while unable to make Richard Hell & The Voidoids sound interesting—went on to a stellar career enhancing (and occasionally saving) the work of artists such as Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull. Quine was depressed over the recent death of his wife, but don’t believe anyone who called his heroin overdose a suicide. If you want to see Quine in action, track down the 1983 concert DVD A Night with Lou Reed. —J.R.T.

Barney Kessel

One of the greats of jazz guitar, Kessell (80) was one of the first generation of guitarists influenced by Charlie Christian, and as an Okie from Muskogee (literally), the sole white member of local jazz bands. It was in that setting that he met Christian, perhaps the most influential jazz guitarist of all, and his direction was set. Kessell played in big bands (Artie Shaw’s, Charlie Barnet’s, and even Chico Marx’s), when Gjon Mili made the short film Jammin’ the Blues in 1944, Kessell was again the only white face, but since an integrated ensemble was not to be shown on the screen, he remained in shadow or silhouette.

Kessel became famous after recording with Charlie Parker (1947) and touring with Oscar Peterson (1952-1953), but it’s likely that many more people heard his studio recordings with pop artists, from Julie London’s “Cry Me a River” to his work with Elvis, Rick Nelson, and the Beach Boys, to numerous movies and TV shows. Phil Spector was his student and protégé; Kessel advised the young man to get into record production and later played on almost all of Spector’s big hits (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” et al.). He introduced Brian Wilson to the theremin that was used on “Good Vibrations” and Pete Townshend wrote a song in honor of Kessel after the latter’s 1969-70 residency in London. Throughout, Kessel found time to make numerous jazz recordings, and from 1976 on toured with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as The Great Guitars. —Bart Grooms

Randy VanWarmer

There was a brief window of opportunity in the late ’70s when lite-pop songwriters discovered they could put on a skinny tie and seem vaguely cool while turning out mellow sounds. Randy VanWarmer was able to break through with the modest hit “Just When I Needed You Most”—modest in its humble wimpiness, that is. The song still made it to number four on the Billboard charts. The solo career went downhill from there, but VanWarmer (48) was already establishing himself as a hit songwriter for country acts. The band Alabama scored with “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why),” one of VanWarmer’s earliest compositions. VanWarmer would spend most of his subsequent career in Nashville—including a brief comeback as a solo artist in 1988—although he was settled in Seattle when he finally succumbed to leukemia. —J.R.T.

Jerry Scoggins

Jerry Scoggins’ (93) rendition of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” is one of the best known musical motifs in television history. The show originally ran from 1962 to 1971, with 60 million viewers at one point. Accompanying Scoggins on the theme were bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. —E.R.

Hank Garland

As king of the Nashville studio guitarists, Hank Garland (74) was in constant demand. Switching effortlessly between jazz and country, he played with an impressive list of performers ranging from Elvis Presley to Roy Orbison to Patsy Cline to Charlie Parker. He pioneered the use of the electric guitar at the Grand Ole Opry. A 1961 car wreck left Garland in a coma for months. When he regained consciousness, he received more than 100 electroshock treatments that forced him to relearn not only how to play the guitar, but also how to walk and talk again. —E.R.

Terry Melcher

Many people wanted to kill Terry Melcher (62) for co-writing “Kokomo” with the Beach Boys, but Charles Manson had a personal grudge against Doris Day’s son. As an A&R man in the wake of his early days guiding The Byrds, Melcher passed on Manson as a recording artist. Charlie was also still pissed about the Beach Boys altering his song “Cease to Exist,” so Melcher’s association with the band didn’t help matters. Anyway, Melcher moved out of the house he was renting, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate moved in, and the speculation continues about how things might have changed if Charlie had kept his address book up-to-date. Melcher kept working with some of the great pop acts of the era, and the ’60s lost a key figure when the California icon passed away from cancer. —J.R. Taylor


Billy May

He could have retired in 1942 as a brilliant arranger, but Billy May (87) was lured away from his staff position at Capitol Records to provide Frank Sinatra with some of his most unforgettable and brassy settings. The association began with “Come Fly With Me” in 1957 and continued to the end of the ’70s. —J.R.T.

Ernie Ball

Every would-be star who has attempted to play a screaming guitar solo is intimately familiar with Ernie Ball Slinky guitar strings and their neon-colored packages. Endorsed by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and a million other rock stars, Ernie Ball strings are sold in more than 5,500 music stores in the United States and 75 other countries. They were made to be stretched, but, inevitably, they do break, thereby simultaneously rendering them the most revered and cursed guitar string in the world. Ball was 74. —Ed Reynolds.

Jan Berry

As one half of the duo Jan and Dean, Jan Berry (62) and partner Dean Torrence pioneered the surf music sound with hits such as “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Surf City,” and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena).” Berry had been in poor health for much of his life after suffering brain damage in a car crash in 1966. —E.R.

Al Dvorin

Al Dvorin was the concert emcee who made the phrase “Elvis has left the building” a staple of pop culture. The 81-year-old Dvorin was thrown from his car following an accident on a California desert highway after delivering his famous line at the conclusion of an Elvis impersonator contest. —E.R.

Estelle Axton

Estelle Axton (85) was the “ax” in Stax Records, which she started with her brother James Stewart (he was the “St”). Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, and the Staple Singers were just a few on the Stax roster of hitmakers. Her son Packy Axton was saxophonist for the Mar-Keys, an instrumental group on the label that often accompanied the singers. She later took over her son’s record label Fretone Records, whose only hit was in 1976 with the novelty “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees. —E.R.

Johnny Bragg

Leader of The Prisonaires, a singing group composed of black Tennessee State Penitentiary inmates that put Sun Records on the map with the hit “Just Walkin’ in the Rain,” Johnny Bragg (79) and his fellow convicts traveled under heavy guard to Memphis to record in 1953. In 1961, Elvis Presley visited Bragg (who had been convicted of rape in 1943), in prison. The Prisonaires were among the first rhythm and blues groups to have hit records in the South. —E.R.

Alvino Rey

As a bandleader who made the steel guitar popular during the swing era, Rey (95) billed himself as “King of the Guitar.” Rey had a hit in 1942 with “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” —E.R.

John Peel

To discerning music fans, John Peel (65) was best known as the legendary BBC radio DJ who promoted any number of really forgettable ’80s acts via assorted live “Peel Sessions” releases. There’s certainly no denying that Peel got really excited about way too many forgettable art/punk/new-wave/grunge acts over the years. In his defense, though, Peel would often just as easily lose interest in the struggling acts that he would grace with needed airplay. At least he was always interested in new acts, which was pretty good for a guy who’d been spinning discs since 1965. Peel could legitimately claim much credit for breaking acts ranging from David Bowie to The Smiths. —J.R.T.

Lacy Van Zant

He couldn’t match the output of Olivia Osmond, but Lacy Van Zant (89) made an impressive musical contribution through his rockin’ DNA. This ultimate band parent oversaw the Southern Rock dynasty of Ronnie, Johnny, and Donnie—which covers two Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalists (one, sadly, deceased) and a member of the underrated .38 Special. Van Zant worked hard to help out his kids in their early musical years, and his home also served as a museum. Lacy looked the role, too, with a long white beard and a penchant for overalls. If his image hasn’t been put on an album cover, it should be. —J.R.T.

Timi Yuro

She was pretty much forgotten at the time of her death, but Timi Yuro (63) cast a striking figure while ruling the early ’60s charts with gloriously overwrought tunes such as “Hurt” and “I Apologize.” Despite the exotic name, she was pure American pop. Still, it didn’t even help her career when Morrissey singled her out as his favorite vocalist in the 1984 tour program for the Smiths’ Meat is Murder tour. While the subject matter helped, Morrissey might have also been influenced by Yuro’s bizarre ability to look androgynous even when dolled up in evening gowns. —J.R.T.

Lizzy Mercier Descloux

She made some forgettable Parisian punk, but Lizzy Mercier Descloux (47) went out as a goddess to French hipsters. The very young gal was hanging out in NYC during the days of the New York Dolls, and she made it back to Paris in time to start up a pioneering punk clothing boutique. Descloux eventually went into the studio with her musician pals to record two fairly useless albums at the end of the ’70s. (This past year’s CD reissues reminded us why she was promoted mainly as a moody sex symbol.) Nobody was paying much attention to Descloux when she suddenly came up with an international chart hit in 1984. “Mais où sont passées les gazelles” was recorded with South African musicians about two years before Paul Simon got the idea, and the World Music genre was suddenly off and running. Descloux didn’t benefit much, though. Her major-label career was over by the ’90s, and she had moved on to a successful career as a painter before succumbing to cancer. —J.R.T

Alf Bicknell

From 1964 to 1966, Alfred George Bicknell (75) chauffeured The Beatles to concerts and other appearances. The inspiration for the song “Drive My Car,” Bicknell wrote the 1999 autobiography Ticket to Ride: The Ultimate Beatles Tour Diary!, in which he recalled the moment John Lennon reportedly snatched his chauffeur’s cap from his head and declared, “You don’t need that anymore, Alf. You are one of us now.” After The Beatles ceased touring, the former circus clown began driving business executives. A chainsaw accident ended his driving career in 1980, and he joined a Beatles convention circuit giving speeches and selling memorabilia. —E.R.

Skeeter Davis

One of the few women who serve as both a footnote and a legend, Skeeter Davis (72) spent her very long career skirting the pop and country markets. She started out as a rockabilly pioneer with her partner Betty Jack Davis, in 1953, before the duo ended up in an automobile accident that left her as a solo act. It took another decade before she finally became a huge solo star with “The End of the World.” Her public profile would later be that of a one-hit wonder. Within the Nashville scene, though, Davis was much admired and often sought out for duets. She aged pretty well, too, as NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato noticed when he began courting her back in the ’80s. —J.R.T.

Arthur Kane

You can find at least two CD booklets from the ’90s that refer to the late Arthur Kane, while others believed that the New York Dolls’ bass player had simply disappeared after a jilted groupie cut off his thumbs. The only person who seemed willing to insist that Kane (55) was still alive was Keith Richards, and everybody probably thought that was just a hallucination. Anyway, Kane made a triumphant reemergence with his old band in 2004, after Morrissey invited the Dolls to perform at a UK music festival he was curating. Sadly, Kane succumbed to leukemia before the Dolls could follow up with any American dates. —J.R.T

Book Review: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?


Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?


The story of the Carter Family, also known as the First Family of country music.


July 29, 2004

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?
By Mark Zwonitzer with

Charles Hirshberg.
Simon and Schuster, 417 pages,

$15, softcover.

The story of the Carter Family is the story of Appalachian mountain music, the genre that would later spawn country, bluegrass, and folk music. Along with Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters were among the biggest stars of the late 1920s and ’30s. Their 78 rpm recordings of “Wildwood Flower” and “Keep on the Sunny Side” sold close to 100,000 copies at a time when the recording industry was still relatively new. Carter Family songs have been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie, among others. They’re also credited with the first recording of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Maybelle, Sara and A.P. Carter. (click for larger version)

For nearly half a century, the real story behind the breakup of the original Carter Family remained a mystery. Ensconced as the first family of country music, A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and her cousin Maybelle never spoke publicly of the split. Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?, however, reveals the family secrets in agonizing, intriguing detail worthy of a John Steinbeck novel. It’s a fascinating, eye-opening journey into the desperation that not only defined the Great Depression, but that also was the essence of Carter Family songs.

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? is more than the Carters’ story, though. It’s also the story of the birth of the recording industry and the hoodwinking quackery of a millionaire “medical practitioner” named Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, the man who broadcast the Carter Family to much of the western hemisphere over his million-watt border radio station XERA. In fact, it’s the bizarre introduction of Brinkley’s cure for male impotence (which he regularly hawked over the airwaves) during the book’s prologue that initially prompts the reader’s jaw to drop before the Carters ever show up in their own book. The doctor was pocketing $750 to $2,000 a pop in the 1930s performing operations that involved grafting bits of goat testicles onto the gonads of gullible men who were seeking to regain their virility. One can hardly wait to find the Carters’ connection to this freak show.

Raised in Poor Valley, Virginia, at the bottom of Clinch Mountain in the foothills of the Appalachians, Alvin Pleasant “A.P.” Carter possessed a slight tremor from childhood on. The affliction (“nervous energy” the locals called it, as A.P. constantly talked to himself and could not sit still) was attributed to his mother having been struck by lightning while pregnant. His constant shaking added a distinctive vocal quiver to his bass voice that lent an ethereal, tender quality to the Carter Family sound. On the other side of Clinch Mountain, his future wife Sara lived in Rich Valley, so named for its fertile soil. Sara’s cousin Maybelle eventually married A.P.’s brother Eck, and soon Maybelle and Sara were close as sisters, spending their free hours singing and playing guitars together.

Keep on the Sunny Side: a grinning June Carter and her first husband, singer Carl Smith, in the early 1950s. (click for larger version)

If having a woman [Sara] as lead singer made the Carters a unique act, A.P.’s role made them even odder. His bass dropped in and out of songs unpredictably, and there were some nights he didn’t bother to show up for concerts or recording sessions at all. A.P.’s number-one contribution was roaming the hills of Tennessee and Virginia in search of songs that he could adapt to the group’s sound. Though his name is listed as the writer on most of the Carter songs, he rarely wrote anything.

A.P. was unique in another way: he sometimes stayed with black families while traveling to collect blues songs and then reciprocated by allowing blacks to stay with him and Sara, much to the consternation of the locals. A.P.’s incessant travels left Sara to tend to the farm and raise the family, offering the first clue that their marriage would soon unravel. That Sara fell in love with his first cousin Coy, who moved into the Carter house to help Sara with the chores while A.P. traveled, made the divorce even more bitter.

Ralph Peer, the man who made a fortune off of musician Jimmie Rodgers and who introduced the terms “hillbilly” and “race” into the lexicon as new rural musical genres, recognized the Carter Family genius. Peer literally grew up with the recording industry. He was born in 1892, the same year that Thomas Edison introduced his Electric Motor Phonographs for $190 each. After the Carters’ audition in Bristol, Tennessee, Peer signed the trio to his Victor recording label, paying the group $50 for each song recorded. Steeped in opera and classical music, Peer despised the hillbilly and black blues from which he was making a fortune, but he made the Carter Family a household name by 1928. Soon, Maybelle’s graceful, thumping guitar style that incorporated rhythm and lead at the same time would be the most widely imitated picking technique around. Their harmonies grew incredibly tight. Because three minutes was the maximum space available on a 78 rpm record, they whittled a song down to its essence.

Maybelle and her husband Eck, however, stayed above the frayed edges that haunted A.P. and Sara’s lives. While singing songs about what the book refers to as “the fine art of hard living,” they lived like royalty, spending their money on cars, motorcycles, and other luxuries their neighbors could only dream about. Even Maybelle was a motorcycle enthusiast. The image of June and Maybelle careening around the dirt roads of Poor Valley at 100 miles per hour does not match the backwoods Grand Ole Opry image projected by the simplicity of their music or June’s dumb-girl comedy routine. Maybelle and her clan were actually quite sophisticated for a bunch of Clinch Mountain yokels. Eck, an entrepreneur at heart, introduced electricity to the valley in 1930 when he rigged a turbine wheel in a nearby creek. He was so successful that the Appalachian Power Company of Bristol bought him out when he began plugging in his neighbors. As part of the deal, Eck demanded—and received—every electrical appliance on exhibit at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Daughter Anita, the youngest of Maybelle and Eck’s three daughters, said she could not recall ever being without a dishwasher. It’s almost surreal, the way the Carters lived. Every Sunday afternoon, Eck would set up huge speakers in his yard and baffle the surrounding hillbillies by blasting Mozart and Beethoven into Poor Valley.


By the time Dr. John Romulus Brinkley entered their lives in 1938, Maybelle and family had been living well for quite some time. At Eck’s behest, Maybelle, Sara, and A.P. moved to Del Rio, Texas, where Brinkley paid them $75 a week each, with six months paid vacation thrown in. The Carters did two shows a day for six months on XERA, an outlaw radio station with the miraculous power to “shrink a vast continent down to the size of a small village.” Brinkley had been run out of Kansas after being stripped of his medical license. Fleeing to Texas, where medical standards were less stringent, he built a couple of hospitals for his libido-rejuvenating procedures. He even had pens out back for his many goats, allowing patients the opportunity to pick out their own goat testicles. Because of 50,000-watt restrictions on U.S. radio stations, Brinkley built XERA across the border in Mexico, where his million watts not only broadcast his surgical skills, but also sent the Carters across America, into Canada, and as far south as South America.

At this point, the story is only half-told. There’s still the anecdote of a drunken Hank Williams trying to shoot June Carter. And, of course, June will eventually marry Johnny Cash, who adds another dimension to Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? by performing such wild antics as kicking out the stage lights at the Grand Ole Opry. Night after night, the Carters went on perpetual searches of Cash’s dressing room to flush the many pills he had stashed away. Trying to find Cash’s pills was “like an Easter egg hunt,” said June’s sister Anita. A.P. does not have a happy ending, and most appropriately, neither does Dr. John Romulus Brinkley. Sara settles down in California with her true love, Coy. And as for Maybelle and her family, the best is yet to come. &

Set List: Ludacris, Tobi Keith, The Isley Brothers, and more


The Set List


July 29, 2004Little Charlie and the Nightcats
In a world saturated with bad blues acts, swing and jump blues masters Little Charlie and the Nightcats provide redemption for the most worn-out genre in the history of music. They’re the best blues band in the world. Despite Charlie Baty’s talent at dashing off clever and tasteful guitar licks, the real show-stealer is harmonica virtuoso and wry vocalist Rick Estrin. (Estrin’s immaculate, eye-popping suits are worth the price of admission alone.) His gangster persona never fails to entertain. (Saturday, July 31, at Workplay; 7 p.m.; $15-$17.) — Ed Reynolds

Mac McAnally
He started out as the Warren Zevon for the Jimmy Buffet set. Mac McAnally then spent the ’80s putting out great country-pop albums that could’ve spared us the Americana movement had they been more successful. Fortunately, he’s been covered enough to guarantee that labels would fund his own string of ’90s releases (most of which went straight to the cheap bins). The patronage of David Geffen has also ensured the occasional windfall from projects like the soundtrack to The Prince of Egypt. Europeans still haven’t discovered McAnally as a cult figure, though, most likely because very few recording artists can do justice to his unashamedly emotional tunes. Adrienne Barbeau has recorded an impressively torchy version of “All These Years,” though. (Tuesday, August 3, at Zydeco; 8 p.m. $15.) —J.R. Taylor

Little Charlie and the Nightcats (click for larger version)


Don’t mistake this for a KISS reunion tour. It’s really another fine summer cash-in, but it pales next to the potential of the Gene Simmons solo tour we should be enjoying. Poison deserves the privileged opening slot, though, since they were always The Ramones in spandex. Nobody wrote better pop songs about girls and best friends—at least, for about two years back in the ’80s. Here’s a Don Dokken quote that really sums up the band’s long career: “Poison’s having the last laugh on all of us. It makes me feel like I wasted a lot of time practicing guitar and reading poetry.” (Tuesday, August 3, at Verizon Music Center; 7:30 p.m. $25-$60 R.S.) —J.R. Taylor


Poison (click for larger version)

Garrison Starr
Don’t blame Hilary Duff because Garrison Starr isn’t on a major label. Airstreams & Satellites is an album worthy of any woman who’s been around long enough to be Duff’s mom. True adult pop still doesn’t sell—but if it did, Starr’s defiant jangle-pop would ensure that her posters covered the bedroom walls of many beleaguered adults. (Wednesday, August 4, at Workplay; 8 p.m. $17; Laser’s Edge in-store concert; TBA; free admission.) —J.R. Taylor

Toby Keith/Terri Clark
They’re still terrified of Southern rednecks, so Toby Keith has certainly done his part to keep country scary for the national media. The press will never get close enough to appreciate his complexity, either. In that same spirit, Terri Clark’s new Greatest Hits collection showcases one of country’s most bizarre femmes—or soft butches, as the case may be—who has an angry sexuality that doesn’t scare away the fans of her fun and tuneful work. (Thursday, August 5, at Verizon Music Center; 7:30 p.m. $32-$64.) —J.R. Taylor

Ludacris/Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz/Sleepy Brown/David Banner
Everybody knows Ludacris is so crazy, and Sleepy Brown is still an unknown quantity when not performing with Outkast. That leaves David Banner, who is this bill’s biggest deal as the critics’ darling of Crunk—mostly because he adds a spiritual spin to rapping about the joys of bouncing along in a Cadillac. Banner also has an impressive stash of instrumental tricks, and everyone likes the idea of storytellers coming out of Mississippi. Lil Jon & the East Side Boys, however, remain the true Kings of Crunk, and not just because they used the word as an album title back in 2002. Their big jeep beats are the closest that Southern hip-hop will ever get to matching the stigma of bad Southern Rock blaring from Camaros. (Friday, August 6, at Alabama State Fairgrounds; 7 p.m. $25 per day; $40 for weekend.) —J.R. Taylor

The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald Isley/The Gap Band/Bobby Womack/Avant/The Bar-Kays
The Isley Brothers are back to being chart-topping pop stars, so there’s little to add there. The Gap Band and The Bar-Kays are equally iconic as vanguards of funk. So that leaves Bobby Womack sorely in need of being remembered as a soulful crooner whose long, long career has him defining any number of genres. This singer/songwriter has plenty of hits to fill his stage time, but Womack could’ve also built an entire alternate career out of some stunning album tracks. He’s still a great live act, too. Avant also appears as the token young-blood soul man who’s probably thrilled to share a bill with guys who were legends before he was born. (Saturday, August 7, at Alabama State Fairgrounds; 5 p.m. $25 per day; $40 for weekend.) —J.R. Taylor


The Isley Brothers (click for larger version)

Bobby Womack
When Bobby Womack was a young man singing in a gospel group with his four brothers, his father, Friendly Sr., warned of eternal damnation if his son went secular, which acquaintance Sam Cooke was encouraging him to do. So what did Womack do? He convinced his brothers to join him on the secular circuit despite threats of damnation. They changed their name from the Womacks to the Valentinos, and released a pair of songs written by Bobby that would be famously recorded by The Rolling Stones ["It's All Over Now"] and The J. Geils Band ["Lookin' for a Love"]. After going solo, Womack later penned many songs for Wilson Pickett (including “I’m a Midnight Mover” and “I’m in Love”) and recorded in the studio or performed live with acts such as Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Sly & the Family Stone. As a solo artist, he had a string of R&B hits, including “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” and the blaxploitation classic “Across 110th Street” (last heard on the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown).

Bobby Womack (click for larger version)

But despite his success, Bobby Womack might have wondered if his dad had been right, because tragedy was not far behind. Womack married Sam Cooke’s wife a few months after Cooke’s murder. The resulting ill will in the R&B community stalled his career, and he began battling a drug addiction that almost killed him. In 1974, Womack’s brother was stabbed to death by his girlfriend at Bobby’s home, and in 1978, Womack’s son Truth Bobby died at the age of four months. Another son committed suicide at age 21.

Throughout his adversity, Womack continued to record and was generally known as a bit of an iconoclast. At one point in the late ’70s, Womack badgered his reluctant label into letting him do a full album of country music, something he’d always loved but that the label regarded as commercially inadvisable. The album, BW Goes C&W, sold poorly. What’s more unfortunate is that the label didn’t release it under the title Womack reportedly wanted: Step Aside, Charley Pride, Give Another Nigger a Try.

Womack’s output slowed throughout the ’80s and ’90s. His last studio recordings were a 1994 album for the label owned by friend Ron Wood and a 1997 gospel album, Back to My Roots. (Saturday, August 7 at Alabama State Fairgrounds, August 6 through 8; $25 per day, $40 for the weekend.) — Ed Reynolds

White Animals
The White Animals date back to precious days when a band had to be sure they had good songs before investing in studio time. They’d be D.I.Y. legends if they’d been turning out bad punk rock. Instead, the White Animals deserve to be heroes of jam bands everywhere for pioneering trashy frat-rock that bespoke a World Music collection instead of a token reggae LP. Actually, they’re probably responsible for a lot of really bad music from bands that followed in their wake. At least their recent originals are pretty good, and they’re touring seldom enough to make this show worth seeing. (Saturday, August 7, at Zydeco; 10 p.m. $10-$12.) —J.R. Taylor

Patterson Hood
In retrospect, Patterson Hood had little to worry about at the start of 2001. His band, the Drive-By Truckers, was already getting more press than any other project from this rapidly aging rocker. Any musician about to tour behind a popular album doesn’t get much sympathy for being recently divorced, either. Hood nevertheless worked out all of his bad feelings in his living room on his new solo album, Killers and Stars—a pleasant diversion from the determined Southern goth of the Truckers. The album is less of a singer/songwriter bid than a look at the self-loathing and self-obsession that eventually turn into grander obsessions for the band project. Hood’s feeling much better, of course, and maybe this solo appearance will bring up some of the poppier tendencies that some of us still hope to hear again. (Thursday, August 12, at Workplay; 9 p.m. $12.) —J.R. Taylor

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.