Friday, 14 October 2016

Warren Zevon

An Excitable Boy

I don't think there's anyone who did wry, dark, impish, witty madness quite like Warren Zevon.

A talented pianist and guitarist, blessed with a commanding and theatrical but by no means conventional singing voice, and a sense of humour too twisted for conventional tastes, Zevon can be a marmite musician, but if you love him, you really love him.

His early career is like a who's who of random rock trivia; he played with The Everly Brothers, wrote for The Turtles, lived with Buckingham Nicks and was produced by Kim Fowley.
From the mid 70's, collaborations with and contributions from Jackson Browne and others from that Laurel Canyon LA scene (Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, The Eagles, Lowell George) ensured his place as a new force to be reckoned with. The Boss himself Bruce Springsteen said, when inducting Jackson Brown into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, that if Brian Wilson had settled down early in a kind of hypothetical Californian world utopia and had two sons, Jackson would have been the well-tempered Abel, and 'Cain of course, would have been Jackson's brother in arms, Warren Zevon.'

This sentiment has stuck with me for the years since I've seen it and I can't necessarily put my finger on why. Partly because it is delightfully poetic imagery, but partly because it reinforces this concept that Zevon was essentially one of the naughty ones. He obviously had an often difficult or wild nature, particularly when he was younger, but how much of that was a front? I feel the reputation may have overtaken the truth somewhat, as especially in the later years the romantic songs came as freely as the witty ones. They just were quite cloaked and witty still.

I was born to rock the boat
Some may sink but we will float
Grab your coat- let's get out of here
You're my witness
I'm your mutineer

His hit song Werewolves Of London is often seen as a novelty song, a viewpoint that only makes sense if you haven't heard it alongside the rest of his output. A lot of it is daft, a lot silly, but there's commitment to the comedy, and to the darkness. Whilst he has written some incredibly tender and heartfelt love songs, he has created his own particular niche for classic rock and roll storytelling songs with great wordplay and a dry twist. A great example is 'Poor Poor Pitiful Me', a hit for friend Linda Ronstadt and later Terri Clark, a martyr's take on life's various dissatisfactions; "these young girls won't let me be, poor poor pitiful me......."
In fact he does a pretty good line in tongue in cheek woe-is-me tracks, as classic 'Lawyers, Guns and Money' is a more urgent appeal for help from the pampered hedonistic protagonist. I think also you could say he writes damn good love songs for people who don't do love songs. Self depreciating and never overly sentimental yet all the more touching for it, his particular brand of romantic expression has surely been the open door or translation tool for many likeminded folk to get their feelings out there.

His parting shot in his final months? 
Enjoy every sandwich.

Some tunes for enjoying.....

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Jonny Strikes Up The Band

Frank and Jesse James


Joe Tex

Soul Country

For those musical adventurers in search for something special that lies nestled in the rock/soul/funk/country categories, Joe Tex is a winner.

This is my copy of country soul. There's almost more crackle than melody, which I know would drive some people up the wall, but sound quality in that sense has never really bothered me, which is helpful (and appropriately suited) for my bank balance.

Along with other soul artists of his generation, he touched on many musical genres throughout his career, but this is the style I prefer him doing.  Being based in Nashville he had plenty of access to country players, and as the sleeve notes say, one of his earliest idols was Hank Williams. It initially begins very much in soul territory (he covers Dark End of The Street, and Ode to Billie Joe) and ends side one somewhat bizarrely in country territory with Roger Miller's Engine Engine Number 9. Side two is mixed again with a lovely Green Green Grass of Home and By The Time I Get To Memphis, but let down by Set Me Free, which I think does not demonstrate his high vocal standard fairly. It's not tender enough and seems fairly throwaway.

So 9/10 ain't bad!
His voice is mellow and warm, and this is a lovely set of songs.

If you would like to follow up on some more Joe Tex, you could take the direction of his earlier work, tracks like Pneumonia (he wasn't allocated a writing credit for the song 'Fever' so wrote his own answer song based on the same theme). His sense of humour is often evident.

Skinny Legs
Bear in mind it's very much of it's time lyrically. 

Buying a Book

Or follow his later soul funk period, where his and James Brown's feud rumbled along for years, a bitchy whirl of capes, splits and sequins. James Brown thinks he's No 1, Joe Tex is offended because he thinks Little Willie John is No.1, Little Richard wades in and says James Brown stole all Joe Tex's moves, Joe Tex thinks James Brown stole his ex and backing singer, James Brown is generally dismissive, yaddayaddayadda....
This song is is directly to James Brown, and it's downright rude. Most offensively to her.
You Keep Her

I Gotcha
Check out the amazing Damita Jo Freeman, queen of moves on Soul Train