Saturday, November 27, 2010

From The Austin Chronicle Archives: Willie Nelson at a crossroads....

Most assuredly NOT how Willie Nelson looked the day I interviewed him....
TIM SEZ: In light of Willie Nelson's recent pot bust (another great moment in Texas law enforcement stupidity), I bring you the article I did for The Austin Chronicle on Willie, published February 9, 1996. (BTW, Chronicle, why am I no longer credited for having written this in the archived version on your website?) Thus began a series of interviews with country music greats (Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard) that I'm sure were initially a novelty to the paper's editors ("Ha! The punk rocker is gonna talk to Willie Nelson! Hilarious!"). They served to prove I could write about more than pogo music. Titled "Twisted Williemania: On The Bus Again With Willie Nelson," the article commences upon the release of the Twisted Willie tribute record of alt-rockers surveying Willie's back catalog, mere months after Willie's longtime label (Columbia Records) had dropped him. So let's jump aboard Willie's tour bus, as I'm seconds away from an unexpected meeting with Bruce Springsteen before I meet Willie....

Mother never said there'd be days like these. She never said that 12 years of professional rock journalism wouldn't be enough preparation for this spectacle: sitting in the driver's seat of the sort of deluxe tour bus strictly reserved for Nashville's royalty, waiting to do an interview, watching a near-Beatlemania crush of humanity outside on Sixth Street. Watching an audience waiting for at least a glimpse of the bus' cargo, 63-year-old Willie Hugh Nelson, son of Ira and Myrtle, native son of Abbott, Texas.

And the mob scene just a windshield away is nothing compared to the one that could be seen inside the Hang 'Em High Saloon, where Nelson had minutes earlier completed a set that was his usual updated and expanded version of Willie and Family Live, right down to the traditional fanfare of "Whiskey River" into "Stay a Little Longer" into his And-Then-I-Wrote medley of Nashville songmill standards a la "Crazy" and "Funny How Time Slips Away." So intense was that crush, that the cabbie taking me home would grouse about he and his wife sitting inside Hang 'Em High for several hours before the concert and getting pushed out into the melée once Nelson and Family took the stage some five-odd hours later, never to reclaim their seats.

Outside, part of that melée, young nubile women flirting hard with stony security, are hoping to god for a chance to share their dangerous charms with a man old enough to be their father twice over. Inside the bus, Nelson does have a visitor: Bruce Springsteen, in town to play a show of his own. He's come by with Joe Ely to pay his respects. The only sane reaction to this whole scene has to be, "What in Christendom's name was Columbia Records thinking, dropping any artist who can inspire this?"

What, indeed. Nashville's none too kind to its veteran artists these days. To listen to modern country radio is to believe the music's history started with "Achy Breaky Heart." Eighteen years' worth of remarkable songs, adventurous records, and music governed by nothing but sheer artistry that somehow manages to play with the masses... all that apparently means nil to Columbia, outside of a three-disc box set. Maybe radio is too preoccupied with hat acts to give Nelson some play, but surely anyone who can inspire such rampant Williemania can still sell records.

"You would think so," muses Willie Nelson, a man remarkably unaffected by 18 years of scenes like the one above. "You would hope that they would think that," he laughs. "But in reality, maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they still don't get it.

"But it's a fad, it's a phase," he reasons, graciously pouring another cup of strong black coffee for himself and his visitor. "It's... something that will pass. The good artists will survive, and the soundalikes... Somebody said the other day that country music, nowadays, sounds a lot like bad rock & roll." He laughs.

It sounds like the Eagles, a band that ruined rock & roll in the Seventies and is now ruining country music in the Nineties.

"A lot of it does sound like the Eagles," agrees Nelson. "But it's hard to water it down. It won't water down. Once you start watering a little bit, it's so obvious: to me, to you, to most people out there. But there's some point or other, I think, where if you water it down just enough, spread it out into each market, you might tag a few of these and tag a few of those, or you might fool some of the new folks coming in and tell 'em, `This is country music.' But when they come out tonight or whenever, they know better. They know what they like. They might not be able to hear it on this station, but they can hear it across the street at this other station."

Or they could go to Emo's. It's getting to where the best place for country legends to find some appreciation is the alternative rock scene. (Neighbor, can ya say "Johnny Cash?" I think ya can.) The honesty and spirit of the music appears to resonate with that crowd. And Willie Nelson cuts as punk rock a figure as anyone: the man has continually followed no master save for his own creativity and imagination, told any record company or anyone else who advised him to do otherwise to kindly go fuck themselves, and has been (oddly) commercially rewarded for doing so. Therefore, it makes total sense that Justice Records, the Houston indie that has released the most recent Willie Nelson records, has put together Twisted Willie, a collection of the man's stuff interpreted by several punk and grunge icons.

"I like the idea that it's happening," Willie says of the tribute record. "I like [the] idea that the young kids are into my music. It's flattering." He admits he hadn't heard much alternative music before hearing the record. "I'd heard some of the names of the bands, but as far as hearing them, I've never had an opportunity to. Now that I've heard 'em, they're bands that I'd go see. I'd go see the Supersuckers. I'd go see L7 or the Reverend Horton Heat. There's some good entertainers there."

"Why's Willie suddenly a hit with grunge bands and punkers?" a friend asked as we sat around his living room one night, giving Twisted Willie a listen. I replied that it probably wasn't an instant phenomenon. The selection of tunes is too much the work of a batch of connoisseurs: not just classics like "Time of the Preacher" (sung by Johnny Cash, backed by a band consisting of folks from Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains), "Shotgun Willie" (Tenderloin) or "I Gotta Get Drunk" (Gas Huffer), but ultraobscurities like "Three Days" (by L7 receiving an assist from Waylon Jennings) and "Hotel Motel" (X). There's such an innate familiarity with the guy's work present on Twisted Willie that Nelson's music had to be a daily fact of household life among these musicians in their youth.

Nelson agrees. "That's the only thing that I can figure out. They must have heard them a long time ago. Most of the songs -- all of 'em! -- are obscure songs that you just don't turn on the radio and hear. None of 'em really got a lot of airplay. `Sad Songs and Waltzes' (rendered by Jesse Dayton) is from the time I was living in Nashville, and sad songs and waltzes just weren't selling that year!" He grins.

"But I don't know where they heard some of these songs. Some of 'em, like `Bloody Mary Morning,' I do every night in my show. The Supersuckers, I know where they got that one. That song, `I've Seen All This World I Care To See' (Jerry Cantrell)? Where in the world did they find that one? I don't think that I ever recorded it, unless there's an old demo of it or something somewhere."

Which isn't to say old demos are where Nelson's music is currently residing. In point of fact, Nelson has just signed a three-album deal with Island Records. And true to form, he already has two records in the can, with a third in progress. There's a fairly straight CD's worth of music, titled Spirit, on the way, some of which was previewed at Hang 'Em High (including a title track featuring a long, flamenco-tinged intro). Hot on its heels is...

...a reggae record.

No, today's date is not April 1.

"It was [producer] Don Was' idea," Nelson explains as he reaches for his bus' sound system and punches in a cassette. What comes out is heavy, deep, classic, late-Seventies-style reggae, backing Nelson's unmistakable tenor sax-like vocals and the Django-toned bark of his battered classical guitar, Trigger. The versions of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" and "The Harder They Come" that are previewed are easily solid enough that the man should consider releasing a companion dub version of the record.

Also in progress is an electric blues record, featuring the talents of Austin's finer blues players, including George Rains, Derek O'Brien, and Jon Blondell. "Actually," remarks Nelson as we listen to a crying, B.B.-like track from that project, "Island wants the third album to be a best-of or something, where I go back and redo all the old stuff. But since I have this blues album, I might try to talk them into putting that one out, instead. We can always go back and do a best-of!"

Nelson envisions the latter album as having new versions of all the old faves like "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," "On the Road Again," and the like, plus true and ancient artifacts like "Crazy," "Night Life," and "Funny How Time Slips Away." The record could work in ways such records rarely work, considering how Nelson continually reinterprets even his own material, all but sticking to the recorded arrangement. "That's mainly because I can't remember how it goes!" he jokes.

If that's not enough to keep the man occupied, there's his tour schedule. "I play 150-date[s]-a-year, between what I do with my band and what I do with the Highwaymen. Leon Russell and I are gonna be doing some dates together, just he and I. Gregg Allman and I are doing some dates together, just he and I. Merle Haggard and I are gonna be doing some dates together this year. We're just gonna go out with a couple of guitars."

That's a nice way to live your life: free to work with people you admire, free to work in ways that feel good to yourself, free from having to work for the marketplace. You have to wonder if Nelson will cut the 3,998,413th version of "Got My Mojo Workin'" for his blues record, as the man appears to have had a mojo working on his behalf since "Hello, Walls." And that mojo's made him impervious to the tax men, to Columbia Records, to sinking commercial prospects, to writer's block, and artistic bankruptcy. (Although, by all reports, it hasn't improved his golf game any.)

It also must have granted him the strength to remain realistic and centered enough to withstand mob scenes rocking his plush Country and Western Legend Tour Bus on Sixth Street in our town or any other. And Williemania's only a tenth as maniacal as the insanity that surrounded less hardy souls like Elvis Presley. Maybe Willie Nelson can earn a little extra pocket change loaning little pieces of that mojo to upstart legends in the making and help reduce the world's tragedy quotient. I know a few folks who could use some of that mojo now.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

And on this day of giving thanks (or of robbing the Indians of their land, however you choose to look at it)....

Professor John Harrelson, my distinguished rock 'n' roll elder, asked via FaceSpace if "some friends had the good sense to include (me) in some misadventure or something." As it were, things didn't work out that way, actually. Blame it on logistics, really. This doesn't mean I wasn't able to find misadventure of my own....

Thanks to an ex-nun I work with who knows every social services or charity function going on in this city, I was aware of a Thanksgiving feast with music being offered at a neighborhood rec center today. When it finally became obvious that the one orphan's Thanksgiving I was offered was gonna end up a logistical nightmare, I finally cleaned up and hopped a subway and a bus to get to the rec center about 30 minutes before the 'do was to wind down. As I walked up, I heard a massive African-American gospel choir backed by a tight, solid, rockin' rhythm section. Which was fine by me, black gospel being some of the finest music you can possibly hear, and as fiery as the best rock 'n' roll.

When I walked in, I realized the song they were wailing: "My Way."

Really? "My Way?" The most arrogant, self-aggrandizing anthem of ego ever? Done by a black Baptist church choir?!

I must have looked more lost than Chris Columbus when he hit these shores back in 1492. I soon found a gorgeous, exotic black woman wrapped around me. And believe me, I was thankful this day to have those abundant curves pressed against me.

She whispered in my ear, "Do you want to eat dinner too, baby?" Um, sure. What are you offering besides dinner and incongruous gospel, darlin'?

She led me and my leather jacket and now-tighter-than-before stretch jeans to a table and placed a wonderfully piled-up plate before me. I was very thankful as I huffed my food, which was amazing. But I was not so thankful she had disappeared, never to be seen again. "My Way" was followed by "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." I wasn't too thankful to hear Xmas carols this early. Damn.

35 minutes later, I was back on the subway, heading back to Napalm HQ West, to meet with one of the few things I miss about Austin. (I'm trying to convince her to move out here. Dunno if I'm succeeding.) (And no, it ain't like that between us, smutbrains! At least, it hasn't been since maybe 12 years back.)  And I walk into the subway car...and see a gypsy accordionist in full "Lady Of Spain" mode, orange soda-colored shiny silk shirt, black crushed velvet trousers and vest, accompanying gypsy woman in blue crushed velvet gypsy woman dress passing the cup. 

Black Baptist church versions of "My Way" and fleshly temptation all at once. Gypsies "Lady Of Spain"-ing their way across my subway car. How could a day get any more bizarre?

I'm thankful to be able to relate such oddities to you.

I'm also thankful to have a life bizarre enough to write about.

I'm thankful I have a roof over my head and a job, modest as they may be.

I'm thankful to have my first guitar in two years.

I'm thankful for the friends I have. I have lost way too many friends the last few years. Yet the ones who've stuck by me have proven to be golden and true. And I couldn't keep going without you.

I'm thankful to be able to tell a story and sing you a song, and maybe give you a little thrill or a laugh in the process. And I'm thankful to have all of you wanting to read or hear whatever I have to offer.

I'm thankful for what family I have left in this world. They've been getting awfully thin on the ground the last few years, too.

I'm thankful to have inherited the best qualities of one of those I've lost the last few years, my mother: Her wit, her wisdom, her huge and open and generous heart, her love of language and literature. I'm proud to be your son, Judy Stegall, as we enter the fourth anniversary of your passing. I love you, Mom. Por vida.

I'm thankful the woman who re-opened what I thought was a permanently cold and closed-down heart seems to have won the battle for her life she's been waging for the past year. And I look forward to being reunited with her in the near future.

I'm thankful to be alive. I wasn't always, and this life isn't always that easy. But the alternatives kinds suck. And they would suck more for those I'd leave behind, I now see. I just have to keep mindful of these things.

I haven't got a lot. But I do have a lot to be thankful for. And I'm especially thankful I finally learned to count my blessings, not just on this day. Taking that inventory every morning keeps me going, keeps me humble, keeps me mindful of all that's at stake. Guess it's never too late to learn that lesson.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. And thanks for reading this

Soundtrack for this post: Best Of by The Q65, who are sorta how you say "The Pretty Things" in Dutch. Thanks to Mike Stax from the brilliant Ugly Things fanzine for turning me on to these '60s Big Beat snotrockers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sick Of Being Sick

Greetings, all. Been out for the count since Sunday night with some sorta weird alien stomach voodoo - couldn't hold down food or get out of bed all day yesterday, running a fever, simultaneous chills, complete lack of energy. Doing much better today, but I'm still taking it easy. I appreciate all the well-wishes I got at Facebook. Thanks.

Meantime, I thought I'd present the one thing that'll cure anyone's ills: Some vintage Damned footage. Film or video of the original Brian James lineup is more scarce than a stray hair on Rick Perry's head. Capt. Sensible once told me that we have then-manager Jake Riviera to blame for that, as he'd ask anyone like Don Letts who approached with a film camera for insane sums of money, all for the privilege of filming his charges. Too bad - the existing footage displays a raw, powerhouse, chaotic world-beater of a band. It's no mistake they arrested the interests of so many of us.

First up, a version of "Fan Club" mistakenly mislabled at YouTube as being from 1978 - were that the case, we'd be seeing short-lived second guitarist Lu Edmunds and no Rat Scabies behind the traps. This looks to have been filmed at the Marquee, and I love it for the claustrophobic feel of band and audience squashed together in tight quarters as The Damned rip the shit out of this 1st LP highlight:

Next we have two parts of an NBC TV news report that was America's first real exposure to English punk. It was broadcast on a great Saturday night news show called "Weekend" which ran once a month in what was usually "Saturday Night Live's" slot. This footage is incredible, as we not only get to see the band onstage at a few different venues, but at a mixing session for "Neat Neat Neat" (complete with a cameo from producer Nick Lowe in the control booth), at the photo session for the single's cover, and overall takes a less sensational tone than UK media coverage of the time.

Okay, enough from me for today. Enjoy these blasts from the past. Thanks for reading this.

POSTSCRIPT: Rat Scabies himself wrote me at Facebook with the following info on these clips: "Hi Tim, thanks for the link, I've never seen it all before, but now that I have, I'm certain it's not the Marquee, but could possibly be at the Roxy ~ if it's not the Roxy then it must be some dodgy shithole somewhere in the north ;-)"

Let my fave British punk rock drummer-cum-grail hunter have the last word. Amen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Deniz Tek Music: Deniz Joins Klondike's North 40 On Stage

From Radio Birdman great Deniz Tek's blog: My buddy and (Tek's fellow Birdman) Chris "Klondike" Masuak is fixin' to up stakes from Australia and move to Spain pretty durned quick. He's currently in the process of playing a series of farewell-to-Oz gigs with his band, Klondike's North 40. And look who drops in for a few songs at their October 12th gig at the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown? Yep, Dr. Tek, M.D. himself! Is that a metal body Telecaster you're sporting, Deniz?

 Here's early Birdman fave "Smith & Wesson Blues" from that gig:

And not presented in Deniz' blog, here's that other Birdman fave "Aloha Steve & Danno" from the same gig. BTW, I believe this is the first time I've ever seen Klondike look at his fretboard!

Glad to see this happen!  Go to Deniz' original blog post here: Deniz Tek Music: Deniz Joins Klondike's North 40 On Stage

Saturday, November 6, 2010

And don't forget the joker....

Yes, to my right is a drunk-and-bored-looking Lemmy Kilmister, the man who basically, for all intents, is Motorhead . To Lemmy's left is a very goofy-looking Tim Napalm.

Yes, I'm a dork.

Which leads me to an old story....

1997 or thereabouts. I'm in NYC on assignment, I think for CMJ New Music Monthly. I'm at the late, great Coney Island High - I forget who's playing. I look up from my drink...and Lemmy is playing pinball just yards away.

I grab my friend's arm and probably leave big, red welts with my fingernails. "Look!" I hiss at her. "It's Lemmy!" Now she's leaving claw marks in my arm, before turning to her friend and alerting her to Lemmy's presence.

"Go talk to him!" my friend urges me.

"No! You go talk to him!"

We do this for about five minutes, Lemmy obliviously pounding the flippers. Finally, I look at my friends and inform them, "You realize we have just proven to ourselves we are nowhere near as cool as we think we are!"

I'm still not. Thanks to Patti Johnsen for making the introduction and taking the photo last Sunday night at the Rainbow. I'm soooo not worthy.


That last post was tapped out to the sublime strains of Grinderman 2. Nick Cave and his boys know a punishing riff when they write one!

"Tea Party Tidalwave?" More like a tempest in a tea cup....

So, America went predictably Red in the mid-terms, handing the keys to the House Of Representatives while letting the Democrats keep the Senate, which seemed an odd goodwill gesture. The West Coast went almost universally Democratic, surprisingly. Harry Reid got to keep his seat, which was more a sign that Sharron Angle scared the bejesus outta Nevada as much as she scared the rest of us!

 Sharron Angle pressing the flesh: "I'm a lil' teapot, short and stout...."
Jerry Brown has been returned to California's governor's mansion nearly 30 years after he left, and Barbara Boxer's been granted another term. Also, against most predictions, the marijuana-legalizing Prop 19 didn't pass, yet neither did the energy-industry-sponsored anti-anti-climate change bill Prop 23.

What does it all mean? It looks, from many angles, like America was letting the Obama White House and Congressional Democrats know they'd banked on 'em, felt they weren't being listened to, and were disappointed. Change was desired, but the American public seem to feel the bill they're having to pay for it is too high. They're also confused as to what the Obama Administration has really done. (Might I suggest poking around this handy site?)

What it isn't, is the "Tea Party tidalwave" Rand Paul was crowing about in his cocky victory speech Tuesday night. Only 30 Tea Party candidates apparently passed approval at the polls, including Paul. In fact, the biggest, most vocal nutjobs the Tea Party backed - Angle, Carl Palladino, Christine O'Donnell - received a major smackdown from voters. (Palladino and O'Donnell especially got curbstomped!) If anything, America said "no" to loonbag extremism.

Christine O'Donnell will now hold her breath until you tell her she won!
The public clearly feels either over- or underwhelmed by Obama's activist agenda - not sure which. They're certainly cranky about jobs and the economy. They're hoping to be listened to, finally. And they're wanting reason and moderation. (Unless they live in Kentucky, in which case they want Rand Paul. And by golly, they've got him.)

If you live in California, witchy, extremely conservative women with several semi's filled with cash can't spend a semi or two to buy an office. California would prefer experience, it seems. They just don't wanna experience legal weed. And they also see through corporate assholism that attempts to block anti-global warming measures.

Meg Whitman appears to be taking her gubernatorial defeat with grace and dignity.

Now, where do we go from here? Well, the Los Angeles Times a few weeks back predicted the President would begin relying far more on executive orders than legislation to pass his agenda. That could go in either direction, depending on how quickly he gets results, and if the American people like those results. Obama could also pull a full Bill Clinton and pull to the center, working with John Boehner and the new GOP House majority. Somehow, that seems doubtful: Presumptive new Speaker Of The House John Boehner and his orange skin have let it be known the GOP will work with Obama only if he does what they want. (Besides, Clinton's not exactly a fave of mine. True, he balanced the budget and gave America its' first-ever budget surplus by the time he left office. But he also got us into a lot of poisonous crap like NAFTA in his time.)

"I DO NOT look like an orange toad!"
Mostly, though, America has just doomed itself to two years of House Republicans passing all manner of noxious horseshit that will never make it past the Senate. What does pass will most certainly meet a Presidential veto. And Rand Paul and his fellow Congressional Tea Baggers will meet the culture of Washington they so (rightfully) despise and find they can't topple it or change it, and their heads will pop off and orbit Mars.

In short, you think nothing gets done in Washington now? Then, America: You ain't seen nuthin' yet!


Yes, I finally had it. After years of MySpazz loyalty (and for why?!), I finally knocked my old blog on the head there and set up one of these newfangled Blogspot pages the kids are all goin' whacky over. I know this'll please many who now refuse to go to MySpazz since the ascendance and ubiquity of Facebook. But MySpazz finally lost me when their much-touted redesign seemed to lose all the features about the blog section I liked the most.

So, fuck 'em. I'll bring my musings about whatever the hell crosses my mind - life, love, rock 'n' roll, politics, books, movies, how little is in my bank account - to this site. Maybe it'll work better, and possibly become accessible to more people? Who knows?

Anyway, welcome. Now on to more important stuff. Like, for example....