Lou Cowboy Blonde Concrete Junkies Reed

A guitar-playing friend mentioned he was learning Concrete Blonde’s “Joey”, which of course made me think of Cowboy Junkies since they melded in my mind years ago, so I started talking about Lou Reed.

When I first heard the Cowboy Junkies doing a song the DJ claimed was called “Sweet Jane”, just like the Lou Reed song, I thought he was mistaken, then I thought it was just the same title. Those sentimental lyrics and the delicate melody certainly weren’t the rock and roll animal.

Wrong wrong wrong.

Add two really loud distorted guitars and speed it up slightly, and it’s the latter half of the vocal half of Lou Reed’s monster.

Which is the song Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” was trying to be, only without the anger and mayhem.


Twenty-six years later I finally got around to tracking down the video to Michael Nesmith’s ‘Rio’ and I ask you: has there been even a single music video better?

(Ah; sadly, the video is no longer available online. Perhaps I’ll check with Nez about sharing an officially authorised version.)

I think not.

A-Ha’s “Take On Me” comes close as a video, but when you compare the songs themselves, contest over. And when you consider that, until Nez blazed across the sky, ‘music video’ meant film of a band performing, not visions of Salvador Dali, it’s even more remarkable to see him flying through the sky with three Carmen Mirandas aboard.

The song stops me in my tracks every time I hear it (I own both ‘The Older Stuff’ and ‘The Newer Stuff’) but watching the video again for the first time in 20 years was overwhelming. I officially don’t care if my own genius goes unrecognized by the masses; Nez has been his fans’ best-kept secret for four decades and he don’t care.

The first music video to win a Grammy, ‘Rio’ was first featured in ‘Elephant Parts’ the same year MTV played their first video. (Guess who invented MTV? Yup; Nez. Bonus Question: What was the first video MTV played?)

You could buy ‘Elephant Parts’ at Amazon (and I’d get fifty cents) but buy it from Nez’s Video Ranch instead. Yeah, I need the money more than he does, but there are loftier ideals at work this morning.

In a Barn with Berkley Hart

Upstairs at Kevin’s Acoustic Barn in Newcastle, Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart were amazing. The last time I found a musical performance anywhere near this entertaining was when Best Beloved took me to see Michelle Shocked at Marilyn’s in Sacramento.

The artists and venue graciously allowed me to video the event, so hopefully there’ll be clips of some of my favorite moments posted here soon.

Up the River with Berkley Hart

Hard to believe it’s been over five years since I wrote about ‘Elvis Einstein Rockefeller Jones‘ (and almost as long since I’ve seen my older kids, one of whom introduced me to ‘Wake Up, Charlie’ way back then; both songs and more are included on 2002’s ‘Wreck ‘n’ Sow’)

I found out earlier this week that Jeff and Calman will be doing a house concert at The Acoustic Barn, just up the road from us in Newcastle, a hilly town between Sacramento and Auburn, the seat of Placer County (Placerville, of course, is in El Dorado County; Yuba City, rather than being in Yuba County is in Sutter; I wonder how Sacramento ended up in Sacramento County?)

Listening to Calman Hart’s ‘Up the River’ from the unavailable ‘John Boy Drum’ reminds me that these guys aren’t a small-time bar band. Opening with a flute way off in the distance, ‘Up the River’ is a complex and painful song about loving too much and not too wisely.

For your love there's not much I wouldn't doBut I never dreamed I would sail up the river for you . . .

Why is it that what we all think of as love is so often just a peculiar sort of brain damage? Even now, after nearly four years married to the right person, painful memories are still just below the surface. Sometimes letting them out just a little relieves the pressure enough to move on again.

But, tonight, it’s just us and BH and the music. Thanks to Kevin and Co. at The Acoustic Barn; Best Beloved and the Little One and I intend to enjoy ourselves.

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Heart Like a Train

One thing I love about blues is that they don’t have to be sad, despite the lyrics.

Chris Isaak’s “You Took My Heart” from his eponymous 1987 release is a two-chord rockabilly blues song with the kind of freight-train snare drumming you really don’t hear in any other genre. Despite Chris singing “There will be no more love for me . . . ” it’s hard to believe he’s all broken up about it as he repeats the line over and over, louder and angrier (or more exuberantly, perhaps?) Bass, drums, and guitars all drive like Jehu behind but not beneath the vocals. It leaves me smiling every time.

Quality Shoe

We finally got Mark Knopfler’s “Ragpicker’s Dream” and started wearing it out. It’s not really a concept album, since the songs aren’t really interrelated, but Knopfler’s ties to movie soundtracks are evident in the overall feeling of depression-era America. Though it contains some sad (or angry) songs, it’s not a depressing collection. Most of it feels just plain fun (it’s hard not to smile during the last verse of “Devil Baby”, a paean to circus freaks; in fact, it’s hard not to smile just writing that ridiculous sentence.)

Three tracks get played over and over, when I’m not playing the whole album: the single, “Why Aye Man”, a western swing thing called “Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville”, and a tribute to Roger Miller’s unique musical style, “Quality Shoe.”

Seen as a modern rock song from the leader of Dire Straits, “Quality Shoe” makes no sense; it really is about a pair of shoes. Seen, however, from the perspective of the album’s 20s/30s feel, it’s a simple sales pitch, back when all you had to do to sell something was explain to someone who trusted you why it was a good purchase (a bizarre marketing technique which might actually work, even today.)

After my 936th listen, I realized a connection to my own music. Though I pitch myself as a swingabilly writer, half or more of my tunes are heavily influenced by a complete immersion in Roger Miller beginning some time before my memories do.

Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Roger.

Driving Miss Minnie

Although I’m not completely up to date on actresses half my age (well, not quite) it was impossible to ignore Minnie Driver’s cuteness (I mean it in the best possible way) in the movie ‘Return to Me.’

Not long after I saw it for the first time one of my music magazines, probably the now-defunct ‘Tracks’, delivered a sampler CD with Minnie’s “Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket” on it. Driver was a singer before her acting career, so it’s no surprise that the vocals on the tune are warm and personal; just enough breathiness to sound intimate without losing the open friendliness in the lyrics.

Her second album was just released, meaning I’m falling behind, as usual.

On Winter Trees, the Fruit of Rain

David Gray’s “Life in Slow Motion” has spent a lot of driving time with me of late, and I especially find myself waiting for “Ain’t No Love.” Gray has a way of playing the piano slowly while rushing through the lyrics at double-speed, creating tension that still seems to flow without effort.

About a man trying to convince himself that he’s lost faith (okay, in my head that’s what it’s about, but when I listen to a song, it’s about what I say it’s about, right?) there’s plenty of sad imagery involving a little girl which tugs at me with thoughts of my own little one, but there’s also enough word painting to make it a lyric-writing lesson. I especially like the opening of the last verse:

 On winter trees the fruit of rain Is hanging trembling in the branches Like a thousand diamond buds

As always, it’s surrounded by an album full of excellent writing and performing, and includes lots of groovy extras on the DVD side of the dual-disc format.