Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kentucky Derby, Larry Redmon and Mint Juleps

The first Saturday in May is the best day of the year. It is better than Christmas, birthday, golf weekend or the first day of quail season. If you have to ask what happens on the first Saturday in May.....hit delete now.

The Kentucky Derby is one of the premier sporting event in the world. For 135 years, the race has showcased top equine athletes at Churchill Downs, which is one of the great race tracks in the country. In addition to the horse racing, the Derby is a great spectacle of people watching. On Saturday, over 100,000 people from all walks of life will be at the track. There will be movie stars, rock stars, racing fans, show ponies and drunken college kids in the infield who might not even watch the race. There is a very wide range of fashion on display at the event.

I was lucky to be introduced to Derby in 1983 by a true gentleman and good friend from Louisville, Bill Blodgett. It was a great start on a lifetime of Derby experiences, because Bill has a true love for the Derby and everything that goes with it. Bill had access to a great box and the best parties in Louisville. He showed me the ropes of Derby, included how to "sweeten" a mint julep from a hip flask of bourbon. Over 25 years later, I am looking forward to seeing him at the track on Saturday.

In 1987, I joined the Walmac Derby posse. Since this group is based in Lexington, the Derby schedule is slightly different. It might seem strange to do the Derby from another city (Check with Perry S on this), but it does open up some other social events. When the Madden Party was still in existence, it was the only way to go. I could tell you more about the Madden Party, but this is a family blog. Seriously, it was a huge charity party on the night before Derby every year. Held at Hamburg Place Farm, the party was an extravagant event that included interesting costumes and usually some kind of nudity. Many lasting friendships were made under those big tents.

Part of our Derby routine is going to see Larry Redmon play on Thursday night. I have seen Larry at many places over the years, but recently he has been playing at his own club called Redmon's in downtown Lexington. If you have never heard Larry, you are missing a great live act.

Before a crowd of rowdy college kids with only an acoustic guitar, he holds court. Drawing on a lifetime in the Bluegrass and a love of real country music, he puts together a set that includes original songs like Garth Brooks Ain't Playing Here Tonight, Last Kiss, Another Blue Grass Morning, and Propane. The later is my personal favorite. Sung to the tune of Cocaine, it is a comic tale of white trash country life that includes the memorable lines: When your hands are hot/And your cousin's not/Propane. Redmon's show is a celebration of the music of the American South and it is damn good. He plays real country music and calls bullsh*t on what Nashville is putting out these days.

In the live show, Larry also covers a number of classic songs by John Prine, Chuck Berry, John Fogerty, Steve Earle and David Allan Coe. Every night ends with the unfurling of the confederate flag and a rousing version of Dixie that morphs into Sweet Home Alabama. I hope to see you there on Thursday night.

Being a wine and vodka drinker, I don't drink bourbon during the rest of the year. I guess I am scared if I drink any of that dirty water, I might end up on the ground or dancing that old Saratoga no-step. Mint juleps at the Derby are a different thing. I don't know what they put in those drinks, but they taste good and do enhance the whole Derby experience. I am looking forward to have more than one this weekend.

The Great White Wonder: Bootlegs and My Life Part 2

As we get ready for the release of Bob's 33rd studio album next week, I am thinking about all of the great music Bob has produced over the years. There are many classic official albums as well as so many great songs that would never have seen the light of day without the bootleg industry.

This has all become very commonplace today. Bob plays a live show and within a week or two, you can buy it on a bootleg CD. Ah, the modern world.

This was not always the case. Before September 1969, the only unofficial Dylan material I had ever heard was on the tape featured in a post from March 16th. During the summer of 1969, word filtered out through Rolling Stone that a bootleg album of unreleased Dylan material had been released in California. In September, I went to a record store in downtown Philadelphia and came home with a copy of The Great White Wonder.

It is hard today to describe my excitement at the time to own a double album of Dylan music that was all new to my ears. After playing all the official albums to death over the previous years, it was a big event to have some new Dylan material.

The four sides of the double album were filled with a curious collection of Dylan material. Two sides contained songs from the legendary 1961 Minneapolis Hotel Tape. There was also a sampling of mid-60's outtakes and of course the seven songs from the Basement Tapes.

Although at the time it was a treat to have any new Dylan material, the real joy of the record for me came from the seven tracks from the Basement Tapes that were found on the end of side two and all of side four. These were:
  1. Mighty Quinn (Take 1)
  2. This Wheel's On Fire
  3. I Shall Be Released
  4. Open the Door, Homer (Take 1)
  5. Too Much of Nothing (Take 2)
  6. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 1)
  7. Tears of Rage (Take 2)
First, it was a real improvement to have a few of the songs from the Basement Tapes on vinyl. It was a little easier than cranking up a reel to reel tape machine. Besides that, the highlight was to hear Dylan's version of Tears of Rage. Since it was released as the opening track on the classic Band album Music From Big Pink, Tears of Rage has always been one of my favorite Dylan songs. The fact that it was written with Richard Manuel, who met such a tragic end, makes the the sadness and emotion of the song that much more poignant to me. It is a beautiful song:


The Great White Wonder made an impressive debut as the first of many bootleg albums. I am proud to still have my original copy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


This is my 91st post since I started writing my blog a year ago today. Since I started tracking in June, the blog has had almost 27,000 hits from 77 different countries, including Egypt, Nepal, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia. I am amazed by the international interest in American country and roots music.

There are thousands of blogs out there, so finding an audience hasn't been easy. I have benefited from links at Expecting Rain, Setting the Woods on Fire and Robert Earl Keen. com, which are all great websites. My thanks to Karl, Paul and Robert for their help.

Thanks to everyone who has taken time to read the blog and especially those who have written comments and gotten involved in the process. I hope everyone has enjoyed the reading as much as I have enjoyed the writing. As long as I can get people to listen to good music, I guess I will keep it going a little while longer.

With that in mind, here is one of my favorite songs by Robert Earl Keen. It comes from his album A Bigger Piece of Sky, which you should buy if you don't own it already.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Riding My Thumb to Mexico by Johnny Rodriquez

Riding My Thumb To Mexico was on my satellite radio yesterday. As I drove down the road, I thought about hearing Robert Earl Keen play it live. At that time, I was not familiar with this original version by Johnny Rodriquez. In fact, I'm not sure then I even knew who wrote the song. Now I know it was a number 1 country hit for Rodriquez in 1973 . 

With a little Spanish guitar beginning and some tasty steel guitar behind Johnny's vocal, it is a very nice tune. Give it a listen:
Johnny Rodriquez was the first breakout Mexican country artist. Born in  Sabinal Texas in 1951, Johnny was the youngest of 10 children. After some troubled teen years, he was discovered by Tom T. Hall and Bobby Bare. They encouraged him to go to Nashville. According to the legend, he arrived there in 1971 was $14 in his pocket and an old guitar. He joined Hall's band and began writing songs.

It didn't take long for him to become famous. In 1973, he had two number one country hits with You Always Come Back and Riding My Thumb. In 1975, I Just Can't Get Her Out of My MindJust Get Up and Close the Door and Love Put a Song in my Heart went to number one as well.

Rodriquez has released 26 albums and had 45 singles that made the charts. He was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Basement Tape (Safety Master): Bootlegs and My Life Part 5

On Sunday afternoon I was writing a post about the Great White Wonder when I got an email from my friendly bootlegger about a new release of the the Basement Tapes called The Safety Master. Listening to this new version made me skip forward in my series on bootlegs to write immediately about the Basement Tapes.

In the history of bootlegs, there is no more important music than these songs that were recorded in 1967 by Bob Dylan and The Band in Woodstock, NY. The timing was perfect. Dylan was hiding out in Woodstock after the 66 World Tour and his motorcycle accident. The Band was getting ready to record their classic Music From Big Pink. In the meantime, there were songs being written and music being played that would have a major influence on the music world for years to come.

The existence of this tape was first revealed in a front page article in the June 22, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone. Written by editor Jann Wenner, the headline reported: "Dylan's Basement Tape Should Be Released." My first exposure came in early 1969 when seven of the songs were on the tape that I describe in my post from March 16th. Later, five of the same songs plus I Shall Be Released and Open the Door Homer were included on the Great White Wonder, which was the record that began the bootleg era when it was released in 1969.

Over the last 40 years, I have listened to these songs a million times. I have owned them on cassette tapes, on the very underwhelming official Robbie Robertson/Columbia Records 1975 version, and more recently on the excellent three disk CD A Tree With Roots. You might wonder why I need another copy of the same songs. After some very close listening, I can say that this new CD is a real improvement in fidelity and worth picking up.

It is hard to accurately describe the power and influence of these songs which were recorded over 40 years ago. I will not try to write about the global musical significance of these songs. Greil Marcus has done that in his excellent book Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes. Another book by Sid Griffin called Million Dollar Bash recreates the history of the sessions and the songs in great detail. I will leave most of the commentary to the experts.

All I can add is that these sessions were recorded under the best possible creative circumstances. Completely removed from the pressure of the studio or the influence of music industry executives, Dylan and The Band, who were at the peak of their creativity, recorded a body of work that shines today. These songs are among my favorites of the entire Dylan song book. Tears of Rage, I Shall Be Released and This Wheel's On Fire are beautiful songs and these early recordings are the definitive versions.

If I were trapped on that proverbial desert island with one CD, it would be the Basement Tapes. My apologies to Merle, Hank, REK, and Chris, but this is the one I would never get tired of. Here are two of my favorite tracks:


Sunday, April 12, 2009

BEECHWOOD 4-5789 by The Marvelettes

In the days before the Beatles hit the radio, one of my favorite songs was Beechwood 4-5789 by The Marvelettes. It was a big hit on AM radio in the summer of 1962. Co-written by Marvin Gaye, who also played drums on the track, the song got to number 17 on the pop charts that summer.
Although The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas ultimately had more success, it was The Marvelettes in 1961 who had the first number one hit with Please Mr. Postman. They got the ball rolling for the Motown girl groups.

 In an interesting connection, The Beatles recorded Please Mr. Postman on their album With The Beatles. With John Lennon on lead vocals, the boys from Liverpool did a pretty good job on their version:
In the next couple of years, The Marvelettes had hits with Too Many Fish in the Sea (#25 in 1964), Don't Mess With Bill (#7 in 1966), The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game (#13 in 1967) and My Baby Must Be a Magician (#17 in 1968). These are all very good examples of the Motown sound of that era. In fact, I prefer these songs to many of Motown's bigger hits by the Supremes and other groups.


The Very Best of The Marvelettes is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Writing the April 4th post about humorous country songs made me think about Todd Snider. I was not familiar with Todd or his music until I heard him on XM Satellite Radio about 5 years ago. As I was driving into Hebbronville one morning, he was live in the studio playing and talking. I really liked what I heard that day.

He really got my attention when he played Beer Run. If you are not familiar with the song, it is one of the funniest tunes you will ever hear. Snider totally captures the essence of the Robert Earl Keen fan with very humorous results. Give it a listen:
When I got back to Corpus, I asked local music fan Scott F*g*n if he had ever heard of Todd Snider. "He is very good," was the reply from Scott. I immediately bought Near Truths and Hotel Rooms Live, which is a great live CD. It captures all the cleverness of his songwriting and his rapport with a live audience. I recommend it highly if you are not familiar with Todd's work. It is available at iTunes and from Amazon.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Starting in the 1960's, Rolling Stone was like the bible to most music fans. Every issue reported on the music and artists that became my musical education. In those dark days before the internet, Rolling Stone was the only good source of information about music and 60's culture.

As the years went on, I began to feel less connected as a reader. The new music they covered did not interest me and the Bush bashing, anti-republican editorial stance got pretty old. The switch to the new format seemed like the last straw and I don't think I have read an issue in quite a while.

Yesterday at the airport, I saw that the current issue featured an article on Kris Kristofferson. As I have mentioned on this this blog many times, I have always been a huge fan of his songwriting, so I decided to buy it. The article, written by Ethan Hawke, is a very well written tribute to one of the best songwriters who has ever lived. Anyone who likes Kristofferson and his music should read it. Kris has lived a very colorful, amazing life which is captured nicely in this article.

The article begins with an exchange between Kris and Toby Keith backstage at the tribute concert for Willie Nelson's 70th birthday in 2003. If you have been reading my blog, you know I can't stand anything about Toby Keith or his music. In my world, if Kris represents everything that is honest and good about country music, then Toby represents everything that is wrong with the music coming out of Nashville today.

As reported in this Rolling Stone, Toby starts mouthing off to Kris backstage before the show. With the whole music world within earshot, Kris cuts him to the bone. You need to read the article for this alone.

After his exchange with Keith, Kris says: "You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him? They're doin to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hayes Carll - "She Left Me For Jesus"

She Left Me For Jesus by Hayes Carll

Most classic country songs are sad songs. They are written about the darker side of life: drinking, cheating, losing, lying and being in jail. I am thinking about Hank Williams songs like I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your Cheatin' Heart or Merle Haggard songs like I Am a Lonesome Fugitive and Kern River or Townes Van Zandt songs like Tecumseh Valley. None of these will put a smile on your face.

Occasionally, there are funny songs that are well written enough to be an exception. I'm not talking about the Nashville crap you hear Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith or Big and Rich singing on the radio, but songs that are humorous and still display some songwriting craft. Some examples from the past would be Merry Christmas From the Family and Copenhagen by Robert Earl Keen, Beer Run and Doublewide Blues by Todd Snider, the classic Okie From Muskogee by Merle Haggard and almost anything by David Allen Coe. These songs are funny without being an insult to your intelligence.

I heard a song recently called She Left Me For Jesus that really knocked me out. It is on the CD Trouble In Mind by Hayes Carll. I have been warming up to Carll's music since I heard his 2005 release Little Rock. That CD included a pretty good song called Down The Road Tonight, which got decent airplay on satellite radio. I like it because the song sounds like a modern version of Subterranean Homesick Blues. Hayes certainly studied his Dylan to cram that many words into one song.

I finally picked up his latest CD called Trouble In Mind, which has also gotten pretty good reviews. It was on many best of lists for 2008. Playing through Trouble In Mind, I was initially a little underwhelmed. The songs are good and the band is good, but there was nothing that really reached out and grabbed me. Nothing, until I got to the last cut on the CD. She Left Me For Jesus has got to the funniest song I have heard in a very long time. See what you think:

She Left Me For Jesus