Mar 6, 2014
"Greatest American Rock and Roll Band Ever" is something of a dubious honor, I know. It feels like I'm handing the boys a trucker cap to wear, instead of a crown. When you think of the greatest rock and roll bands, ever, the giants tend to be British, right? Rolling Stones, Beatles, Who, Led Zep, Kinks. (Or British Isles, in the case of U2, a band you might still want in the conversation, but don't on my account). I'd vote for the Band -- the most American band, ever, though only one-fifth American. My theory is that Americans can't get along with each other well enough to stick together, whereas the British are somehow wired to solider on together even if they hate each other. That's just a theory, but look at the evidence.
Anyway: The new Drive-By Truckers record is damn fine and you should get yourself to a record store and buy the thing. Play it loud. There are a couple of political songs and an epic called "Grand Canyon" and tons of moments that are just-plain-good DBT.
Rolling Stone, of course, gives it three-and-a-half stars. Rolling Stone gives everything three-and-a-half stars. I could break the Edge's guitar over Bono's head, record it and release it, and Rolling Stone would give it three-and-a-half stars.
Mar 4, 2014
Coffee and writing. Son Volt singing, "Catching an all-night radio station, somewhere in Louisiana. It sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven."
Mar 1, 2014
I always pray to Saint Joey Ramone
-- "The Straight Mile," Barton Carroll
Hank Williams said it best
He said it a long time ago
"Unless you have made no mistakes in your life
Be careful of stones that you throw"
-- "Hank Williams Said It Best," Guy Clark
I got a cravin' love for blazing speed
Got a hopped-up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard
-- "High Water (For Charley Patton)," Bob Dylan
What was it Hank Williams said about God moving the pen in his hand? Ivy wondered if Hank meant just the sacred songs, or was God collecting royalties on “Mind Your Own Business” and “Move It On Over,” too?”
-- from my novel in digress, "Strange Things Happening Every Day"
2. "Hank Williams Said It Best," Guy Clark
3. "High Water (For Charley Patton)," Bob Dylan
4. "Hang It On the Wall," Charley Patton
5. "The Straight Mile," Barton Carroll
6. "Mama's Boy," Ramones
7. "The Return of Jackie and Judy," Tom Waits
8. "Down There By the Train," Johnny Cash
9. "Get Behind the Mule," John Hammond
10. "Way Down in the Hole," Blind Boys of Alabama
11. "Alabama Pines," Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
12-14. "Tennessee Border," "Cherokee Boogie" and "Honky Tonk Blues," Hank Williams
15-18. "Rural Route," "Kerosene," "Trailer Mama" and "Gas Girl," Bottle Rockets
19-20. “Mind Your Own Business” and “Move It On Over,” Hank Williams
Well, I left my home down on the rural route
I told my folks I'm going stepping out
and get the Honky Tonk Blues
-- "Honky Tonk Blues," Hank Williams
Feb 21, 2014
She'd rather drink whiskey
than to eat a Southern-cooked meal
-- "Juice Head Baby," Charlie Rich
-- from my novel, "Poor Boy, Long Way From Home"
1. "Somebody Buy Me a Drink," David Johansen & The Harry Smiths
2. "Juice Head Baby," Charlie Rich
3. "Streams of Whiskey," The Pogues
4. "Give Me a Pig's Foot and a Bottle of Beer," Frankie 'Half-Pint' Jaxon
5. "Hide the Whiskey (Blues for the Colonel)," Jack Rose
6. "Learning to Drink Whiskey," Doug & Telisha Williams
7. "Whiskey Girl," Gillian Welch
8. "There Stands the Glass," Gal Holiday & the Honky Tonk Revue
9. "Goin' to a Party," Alabama Shakes
10. "I Was Drunk," Alejandro Escovedo
11-12. "Drink 'Til We're Gone" and "Kiss the Bottle," Lucero
14. "Bottle in My Hand," Hayes Carll
15. "Blues in the Bottle," Holy Modal Rounders
Don't wanna punch a clock
or kiss no one's ass
Work is the curse
of the drinking class
-- "Work is the Curse," Oakland Wine Drinkers Union
Feb 17, 2014
Coffee and writing and listening to a band named after a Barry Hannah short story (Rolling into battle with Water Liars)
This happened, just not yet.
-- from my story, "City upon a Bluff"
Coffee. Writing. Water Liars singing from their new record,
My sisters were the heavens
My brothers were the depths
Now I'm rolling into battle with a smoke between my lips
It's a short story, one I started probably six or eight years ago and have been trying to finish ever since. I pick it up and start over with the thing, try for some momentum. If you're jumping off a cliff, you at least ought to give yourself a fighting chance at flying. The story has been called "High Water Everywhere" and "The Floods" and "I Feel Like Going Home," and now "City Upon a Bluff." Unless it's "Her Better Devils." See, I can't even settle on a title, much less finish the damn thing.
Except, I have. I finished writing it, finally, partly (mostly) because I have a (sort of) deadline. So the thing's written. Now, to cut and shape, to edit, rearrange, cut some more, hack and burn. Now, to unwrite.
Feb 9, 2014
A new old desire
The sound of the whistle ’cross radio wires
Love in your future
I’ll wait for you there
With 50,000 watts of common prayer
-- "50,000 Watts of Common Prayer," Rosanne Cash
" ... make me a mystic, immediately."
-- "A Prayer Journal," Flannery O'Connor
“I know, Mama. And Jesus, he’s a mighty good leader.”
“Don’t you mock,” her mama said. “You need to get right, girl. You need to get you some of that old-time religion.” She about broke into song, the way she said it.
Religion, Ivy thought. Why couldn’t they just stop at faith? You could keep faith in your pocket, like a lucky stone or that one quarter she had from her girlhood, smashed by the Chickasaw & Arkansas passenger train as it left Memphis for points west. Nobody even had to know it was in there. Ivy Coldwater didn’t have much faith, but it was hers and she kept it close.
“Oh me of little faith,” she said.
-- from a work in digress, "Strange Things Happening"
2. "Wrapped Up, Tied Up, Tangled Up," Rev. Cleophus Robinson
3. "God Don't Never Change," Blind Willie Johnson
4. "Property of Jesus," Bob Dylan
5. "50,000 Watts of Common Prayer," Rosanne Cash
6. "Lord Have Mercy" and "I Am the Resurrection," John Fahey
7-8. "All I Want is The Pure Religion" and "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," Blind Lemon Jefferson
9. "Devil in the Lion's Den," Sam Collins
11. "Dust on the Bible," Stanley Brothers
12. "I'm Not Afraid to Die," Gillian Welch
13-15. "Blessed Assurance," "The Night I Learned How Not to Pray," and "Let the Mystery Be," Iris DeMent
16. "Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down," R.L. Burnside
17. "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car," Iron & Wine
18. "Jesus Hits Like An Atom Bomb," Pilgrim Travelers
19. "Jesus is My Air-O-Plane," Mother McCollom
20. "Snap a Finger, Jesus," Ralph Stanley
21. "Jesus Christ with Signs Following," the Gourds
22. "Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)," Drive-By Truckers
23. "Plastic Jesus," Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue
24. "Jesus & Elvis," Greg Brown
25. "Personal Jesus," Johnny Cash
26. "Down to the River to Pray," Alison Krauss
27-30. "Jesus is Waiting," "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," "Love & Happiness," and "Take Me to the River," Al Green
Jan 24, 2014
-- "Black Wings," Tom Waits
The only girl a boy can trust is his guitar
-- "My Best Girl," Lucero
“He’ll take me with him. We’ll go together.”
“The three of you.”
“If I can’t win out over a box of pine, I’ll go home and stay.”
“I don’t think they’re made of pine. You’re thinking of a casket. Guitars are made of, I don’t know. Birch or something.”
Souse laughed for no reason but that he’d had enough wine to laugh. He ran a hand across Sara’s cheek. It felt warm. He leaned in and kissed her there. She turned to him then, full lips.
-- "Long Gone Daddies," John F. Blair, Publisher
St. Blues two-strong, candy-tin guitar.
1. "Red Guitar," Cassandra Wilson
2. "Come On In My Kitchen," Guitar Slim
3. "Bottleneck Blues," Blind Willie Johnson
4. "Guitar Blues," Lonnie Johnson
5-6. "Dixie Pig Bar-B-Q Blues" and "Layla," John Fahey
7-8. "Lick Mountain Ramble" and "Tree in the Valley," Jack Rose
11. "Put Your Guitars Where Your Mouth Is," Wrinkle Neck Mules
12. "Real Live Bleeding Fingers & Broken Guitar Strings," Lucinda Williams
13. "Black Wings" Tom Waits
14. "My Best Girl," Lucero
15. "Heart on a String," Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
Jan 21, 2014
He liked to read books and drink alcohol
Talked of a place that wasn't on no map
Said, 'I don't know where it is
but I do know where it's at
It's called Yoknapatawpha
-- "Yoknapatawpha," Delta Joe Sanders
Sixteen songs with titles that sound like they could be Faulkner short stories (A Tuesday playlist):
2. "Wild Old Dog," Patty Griffin
3. "Live Oak," Jason Isbell
4. "Ancient Youth," John Moreland
5. "Country Darkness," Elvis Costello & the Imposters
6. "Dark was the Night (Cold was the Ground)," Blind Willie Johnson
7. "I Feel Like Going Home," Muddy Waters
8. "Drifter's Escape," Bob Dylan
9. "Tear My Stillhouse Down," Gillian Welch
10. "Get Behind the Mule," Tom Waits
11. "The Other Side of Lonesome," Lucero
12. "Windswept Plains of Memphis," Delta Joe Sanders
13. "Jailhouse Tears," Lucinda Williams
14. "Ten Cent Pistol," the Black Keys
15. "Southern Anthem," Iron & Wine
16. "Go On Ahead and Go Home," Iris DeMent
Carved in cursive with a table fork
And some bootmarks where you'd been
-- "Muddy Hymnal," Iron & Wine
Jan 11, 2014
-- "Honey Don't," Carl Perkins
Well, you may go to college, you may go to school
You may have a pink Cadillac, but don't you be nobody's fool
-- "Baby Let's Play House," Elvis Presley
We’re going to Memphis, the sacred muck, the shining jewel of all sad backwaters. We’re going to Memphis, great lost city of sound. You can walk on whiskey in Memphis. You can bang your blue guitar.
-- from "Long Gone Daddies," John F. Blair, Publisher
1. "Mystery Train," Little Junior's Blue Flames
2. "Come Back Baby," Doctor Ross
3. "Gospel Train," Jones Brothers
4. "Cotton Crop Blues," James Cotton
5. "Flypaper Boogie," L.B. Lawson and James Scott Jr.
6. "Rocket '88,'" Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats
7. "Baby Let's Play House," Elvis Presley
8-9. "Elvis Presley Blues" and "Honey Now," Gillian Welch
10-11. "Honey Don't," and "Dixie Fried," Carl Perkins
12. "Carl Perkins' Cadillac," Drive-By Truckers
13. "Cadillac Man," The Jesters
14. "Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache," Bob Dylan
15. "Ubangi Stomp," Warren Smith
16. "Ubangi Stomp," John Prine
17. "Get Rhythm," Johnny Cash
18. "Johnny Cash," Fred Eaglesmith
19. "Crazy Arms," Jerry Lee Lewis
20-21. "Moanin' at Midnight" and "How Many More Years," Howlin' Wolf
22. "Who Will the Next Fool Be," Charlie Rich
23. "Defrost Your Heart," Charlie Feathers
24. "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll," Billy Riley
25. "Ooby Dooby," Roy Orbison
26. "B.B. Blues," B.B. King
27. "Gotta Let You Go," Joe Louis Hill
28. "Let's Get High," Roscoe Gordon
29. "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby," Pat Hare
30. "Feelin' Good," Little Junior's Blue Flames
like the Blue Flames do
-- "Feelin' Good," Little Junior's Blue Flames
Jan 2, 2014
And my new home has a flashing neon sign
Stop by and see me any time you want to
'Cause I'm always here at home 'til closing time
-- "Swinging Doors," Merle Haggard
Elsewhere about the place there were tables, arranged haphazardly on a smooth, dark concrete floor, some space set aside for dancing, or a fight, should either break out. There was a row of booths along two walls, and an old Wurlitzer jukebox, a steel giant from the early Sixties, in the back corner. Across one table, two old men played knock poker over highballs, and at another table not far away, another old man sat alone with his beer in a short glass, holding a Daily Racing Form at arm’s length and frowning at the thing, as if reading unfortunate news in an unfamiliar language.
-- from "Poor Boy, Long Way From Home"
Dec 31, 2013
The stars looked like diamonds
Then came the sirens
And everyone started to cuss
-- "New Year's Eve," Tom Waits
From the S&F archives:
New Year's Eve morning. Coffee and blogging and putting together a playlist for tonight's revelry -- everything from "Sweet to Mama" to the "Georgia Crawl." Lots of old blues and string-band numbers. Some good ruckus. Jug bands and jazz kings, R&B shouters. ... And I've got the Black Keys and R.L. Burnside, Old Crow Medicine Show and The Clash. I've got Gillian Welch singing Radiohead and Gillian Welch singing Dylan and Gillian Welch singing Gillian Welch -- "The Way the Whole Thing Ends," in a nod, you know, to the passing year. I've got Radiohead singing Radiohead, and Dylan singing whatever the hell he wants. ... And Tom Waits singing about, of all things, New Year's Eve. I do love a beautiful lament. And some Pogues, too, "Broad Majestic Shannon" and "Turkish Song of the Damned." And Van Morrison, "Astral Weeks." Van singing, "If I ventured in the slipstream / Between the viaducts of your dream ... " And some soul, must have soul: Otis singing "Champagne & Wine," just for starters. A mess of electrified blues: Albert King walking the back streets and crying, B.B. King singing, "Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving, too." ... And I've got all of side 2 of Neil Young's "Hawks & Doves," my favorite second side of any album, ever; Neil singing, "Got rock and roll, got country music playin' / If you hate us, you just don't know what you're sayin'." ... Maybe some Kinks. Love the Kinks. No Beatles, but some solo George and John and maybe even one by Paul. Love that "Monkberry Moon Delight." Bottle that shit, boys, and pass it over this way. ... Oh, let's see, and Michelle Shocked singing "Anchorage," the only song that can make me cry. And then, to bring me back up, maybe some Hank Williams -- ah, Hank, who died on this night, or the next morning, one, in 1952/53. God bless you, Hank. Come back and sing us a good one. Make it one of those happy songs with the sad-sack titles, "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" or "Moanin' the Blues."
Dec 25, 2013
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night
-- "Fairytale of New York," The Pogues
From the S&F archives: A Christmas playlist (with sermons and dancing) ...
1. "Gettin' Ready for Christmas," Rev. J.M. Gates (sermon).
2. "Getting Ready for Christmas," Paul Simon.
3. "Christmas in Prison," John Prine.
4. "It's Christmas Time," The Qualities.
5. "At the Christmas Ball," Bessie Smith.
6. "Santa Claus," Sonny Boy Williamson.
7. "The Christmas Blues," Bob Dylan.
8. "Blue Christmas," Johnny Cash
9. "I Saw Three Ships," Bruce Cockburn.
10. "Christmas Time's A-Coming," Emmylou Harris.
11. "The Skater's Waltz," John Fahey.
12. "The Rebel Jesus," The Chieftains with Jackson Brown.
13. "Death May Be Your Santa Claus," Rev. J.M. Gates (sermon).
14-15. "White Christmas" and "Merry Christmas, Baby," Otis Redding.
16. "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas," Okkervil River.
17. "Santa Claus' Daughter," Charlie Rich
18. "Santa Claus," Bo Carter
19. "Grateful for Christmas," Hayes Carll.
20. "Fairytale of New York," The Pogues.
Dec 13, 2013
Truth, lies, and second chances in the year of listening hard (The Soundcheck & the Fury 2013 Music Awards)
-- from my novel "Long Gone Daddies" (John F. Blair, Publisher)
Bang out a tune on a beat-up guitar. Sing of soldiers and old dogs, rivers and rails. Put out a record that owes nothing to the fashions of the day. Sing about what matters, mine those good, old, enduring themes -- the lure of the road and the tug of home, the ghosts in our midst, what happens when we die (and when, somehow, we live to fuck up another day). Soothe me, stir me, call me late for last call. Be unflinchingly honest, but truth is optional. Lie to me. Kick this old arse of mine. Take me places. Let's get long gone and lost. Then let's long for some better place, for Beulah Land, or Chicago in the time of hot jazz, or Memphis circa 3 a.m. Let's light out for those better places ...
1. Patty Griffin, 'American Kid'
2. John Murry, 'The Graceless Age'
3. Jason Isbell, 'Southeastern'
4. Rob Jungklas, 'The Spirit and the Spine'
5. John Moreland, 'In the Throes'
6. John Paul Keith, 'Memphis Circa 3AM'
7. Josh Ritter, 'The Beast In Its Tracks'
8. Okkervil River, 'The Silver Gymnasium'
9. Shinyribs, 'Gulf Coast Museum'
10. Water Liars, 'Wyoming'
11. Valerie June, 'Pushin' Against A Stone'
12. Iron And Wine, 'Ghost On Ghost'
13. Gregory Alan Isakov, 'The Weatherman'
14. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, 'Mark Kozelek & Desertshore'
15. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, 'Push The Sky Away'
16. Laura Veirs, 'Warp And Weft'
17. Son Volt, 'Honky Tonk'
19. Sam Amidon, 'Bright Sunny South'
20. (tie) Steve Earle, 'The Low Highway' and Guy Clark, 'My Favorite Picture of You'
Notes on the year: I'll say what I always say. It was a good year for music. They're all good, if you listen hard. Patty Griffin made a record that plays, in its best moments, like the soundtrack to a wake. Which is what it was, in a way -- a tribute to her late dad. John Murry came back from the dead -- literally: see the overdose ode, "Little Colored Balloons" -- to make his record. It's harrowing but no bummer; it buzzes and fritzes with life and the occasional loud guitar. It feels odd calling it the second-best album of the year -- it may well turn out to be the best of the decade. Jason Isbell's "Southeastern," then, is the second-best record this year by a songwriter who survived despite his best efforts, who lived to sing about it. ... Nos. 5 through 17 could be shuffled all the day long. Water Liars, John Moreland and Gregory Alan Isakov are new finds. Josh Ritter, Okkervil River and Son Volt are old faves. The Rob Jungklas and John Paul Keith records are late additions, based on just a few listens. But in Memphis music, I trust. Amen.
Best EP: Lucero, 'Texas & Tennessee'
Best live album: Mary Gauthier, 'Live at Blue Rock'
Best live show: Dylan's AmericanaramA Festival of Music at AutoZone Park in Memphis, with Richard Thompson, My Morning Jacket (with John Prine on "All the Best"), Wilco (playing Uncle Tupelo's "New Madrid"). Seen there: a leopard-skin pillbox hat, and a T-shirt that read, "Vinyl is killing the MP3 industry."
Best new discovery: The coolest thing about reading from my novel "Long Gone Daddies" on Thacker Mountain Radio in Oxford (besides actually, you know, reading from my novel on Thacker Mountain Radio) was meeting one of the musical guests, a yodeling Canadian who goes by Petunia. We talked Charlie Feathers backstage. (And I can't express, strongly enough, how thrilling it is to be able to write that last sentence. Yeah, I'm strange. But so are we all, pals.)
I'm just a cowboy singin'
and I'm tryin' all I can
to wake the spirit and the soul
and to place it in your hand
I'll take the Holy Bible
and make you all liable
to sing in every church
and every bar in every land
-- "Mercy," Petunia
Favorite lyrics of the year:
You can go wherever you wanna go
Go to where the time’s wound all the way down
Put a penny on the track and wait for train sounds
-- "Wherever You Wanna Go," Patty Griffin
I heard truth is what songs are for
Nobody gives a damn about songs anymore
"Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore," John Moreland
There’s no ghosts in the graveyard
That’s not where they live
They float in between of
What is and what if
-- "Joy to You Baby," Josh Ritter
If it weren't for second chances
we'd all be alone
-- "Second Chances," Gregory Alan Isakov
Dec 4, 2013
-- Tennessee Williams
So we had this antique library table and I had the idea to convert it into -- you'll never guess -- a combination library table-bar cart. I know, I know, rare bit of brilliance here by your boy. Kinda makes Jeff Bezos look like a tot playing toy drones, by comparison. So my new contraption is stocked with whiskey and the written word -- "stuff that works," like in that song by Guy Clark.
Nov 22, 2013
I roll both night and day
-- "Steady Rollin' Man," Robert Johnson
Crossing into Coahoma County, she came upon a little country crossroads. There she stopped. She did not see the Satan, prince of darkness, in his pinstripes and spats, drumming up some of his dirty business, or Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, strumming his blue guitar and singing about hellhounds and hot tamales, dead shrimp and kitchen sex with some dusky gal. She cut the engine and listened to that sad Mississippi morning, to the stir and creak of the coming day. She thought Jesus might then appear, from up the road a piece. But no. She gave him some more time, but still nothing. It would not be like Jesus to keep a regular schedule, like a train. We know not when the hour, and Jesus was not the Delta Limited.
-- from a novel in progress, "Strange Things Happening Every Day"
2. "Wanna Be On Your Mind," Valerie June
3. "Black Mud," Black Keys
4. "Streamline Woman," Muddy Waters
5. "Steady Rollin' Man," Robert Johnson
6. "Crow Jane," Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
7. "The Blues Jumped a Rabbit," The Wandering
8-10. "Mississippi Moan," "Fake Hex," and "Cling to the Roots," James Mathus & His Knockdown Society
11-12. "Grind So Fine" and "He Calls That Religion," Mississippi Sheiks
13. "Down in Mississippi," James Luther Dickinson
14-16. "Mississippi," "Blood in My Eyes," and "Sugar Baby," Bob Dylan
17-20. "Has Anyone Seen My Man," "I'd Rather See Him Dead," "I'm Going Back Home," and "Me And My Chauffeur Blues," Memphis Minnie
"There is everything from Elvis to Howlin' Wolf. There is Memphis to draw from. There is the Delta. There is Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. There is every great writer you can shake a stick at, from William Faulkner to Larry Brown. The list goes on and on. ... Man, I couldn't imagine being from any other place."
-- Jimbo Mathus, in the Lexington Herald-Leader