Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dys-fun-ctional Christmas

Not always is Christmas happy and merry.

Conflicts with the law, broken relationships, loneliness or simply dysfunctional families can put a burden on these holy Holidays.

Good part about it is, that they also inspire songwriters to tell about it. It's basically a reality show wrapped in the soothing sounds of Christmas music. So in this third part of a "Honky Tonk Christmas" let's put the fun back into dysfunctional (my Saloon ornament is hanging) and listen to some tunes, that aren't your standards accompanying "Silent Night," "Oh Tannenbaum" or more secular ditties like "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty The Snowman," "White Christmas," "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" or even "Feliz Navidad."

First in my list of a half dozen not so PC-friendly, dysfunctional songs is an over 25-year old classic done by Irish punkers The Pogues together with Kirsty MacColl (who passed away in 2000) called "Fairytale Of New York." Even though the song only reached #2 in the British Charts during it's initial release in 1987, it's this season (2013) most downloaded Christmas song in the UK.  Though the protagonist of the song is in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve to sober up, he sees quite a rosy future with his loved one.

And what you may have realized is that my definition of Honky Tonk music is quite wide and yes it includes Tom Waits. According to Wikipedia - even though the quote can't be traced anymore - he was quoted about "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minnepolis" as follows:

"I was in Minneapolis - it was 200 degrees below zero - I know - you think I'm bullshitting, no, I swear to God, I was wearing just a bra and a slip and a kind of dead squirrel around my neck - he was colder than I was. The police cars would go by and they'd wave... Merry Xmas, Merry Xmas, Merry Xmas - anyway - I got caught in the middle of a pimp war between 2 kids in Chinchilla coats, they couldn't have been more than 13 years old - they're throwing knives and forks and spoons out into the street - it was deep - so I grabbed a ladle - and Dinah Washington was singing "Our Day Will Come" and I knew that was it."

I can't say it much better, besides mentioning, that we are all looking for Valentine's day coming up.

I knew that John Prine had a song called "Christmas In Prison" of his 1994 Holiday album "A John Prine Christmas" but after re-listening to the whole album, I decided to use a the only (at least that I know of) song that cynically compares a broken up relationship with a decaying Christmas tree and how bittersweet it is to wish the former lover
"All The Best." Definitely a Christmas song, no department store would use as elevator music.

Alcohol also can be (is) a specific Christmas problem and leads to a crossroad of possibilities:

- a) drinking out of joy and celebrating (for some reason the most kids in the US are born roughly nine months after the Holidays - http://www.labnol.org/internet/most-popular-birthday-months/21283/ - longer, darker nights may be playing a role too)

- b) others may indulge due to dysfunctional relationships, insane family ties and trying to cope with that in a buzzed or even drunk state of mind

- c) and finally all the people who are alone and don't have anybody to celebrate the festivities with

In 1973, John Denver released "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas," a song written by husband and then-wife team, Bill Danoff and Mary "Taffy" Nivert. The couple was quite successful and had other hits with "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (Denver), "Boulder To Birmingham" (Emmylou Harris) and their self-recorded, as the Starland Vocal Band, #1 hit "Afternoon Delight."

Twenty years later, Alan Jackson spiffed that little ditty about wishful soberness a bit up, put a shuffle beat to it, uped the giddy and the steel guitar replacing the dobro made it more jukebox friendly.

Alan Jackson - Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk On Christmas

John Rich, Jimmy Fallon - Drunk On Christmas

Boxcar Willie - Hee Haw Honey

How can I pass up lyrics like "I need some Christmas spirit, and by spirit I mean booze; I'm getting drunk, drunk, drunk on Christmas." This song was written by Late Night TV host Jimmy Fallon and a writer of the show, Gerard Bradford and premiered three years ago, with special guest John Rich (Big & Rich) sitting in with Fallon and back-up band, The Roots.

"Hee Haw" Host Roy Clark With Some Of The Honeys
Lecil Travis Martin aka Boxcar Willie, even though only remotely popular in the United States was a superstar overseas and is believed to have sold more than 100 million albums. His carnal wish was infused by the beautiful Southern ladies in the TV show "Hee Haw" and Hugh Hefner's playboy bunnies - and yes that simply is all he wanted under his Christmas tree.

One of my all-time favorite

dysfunctional Christmas songs is "Merry Christmas From The  Family" penned by Texan Robert Earl Keen. With a sharp wit, he describes the Christmas needs and family relationships as it would be part of a reality show. The parents are getting drunk, the sister shows up with a new Mexican boyfriend, who woos everybody with "Feliz Navidad," brother Ken who arrives with wife #3 brings his five kids out of two earlier relationships. And it's Turkey, football and more booze - trips to the convenient store to restock with cigarettes, diapers, tampons and whatever you need in the 24/7 world that America is.

And with this - I can only wish everybody of you - Merry Christmas Y'All


This blog was orginally published here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ray Price - Honky Tonk Hero

We all knew it would happen. The pancreatic cancer was back and Ray refused to go through another strain of chemo and decided to die peacefully in hospice care in his Texas house in Mount Pleasant. A rushed statement by his son made him die premature, but this afternoon 4:43pm he did pass away.

I'm sure there will be many (better and extensive) obituaries covering his six decades in the music scene. I thought I will just remember him with some anecdotes, trivia and personal experiences.

Ray Price single handedly changed country music a decade before Willie and Waylon started their outlaw waves in the music business. After being a disciple (actually room mate) of Hank Williams, his early albums were pure Hank influenced, songs right on the edge between sin and salvation. With the emergence of Rock'n'Roll, Ray changed the old solemn sounds with his signature hard driving, jazz-influenced 4/4 shuffle into a highly dance-able Honky Tonk sound which up to this day still exists in every "true" Texas jukebox. Just listen to "Home In San Antone" from his album "San Antonio Rose" - you may have to do that several times to get actually get the different layers - first just listen to the tight rhythm work of the drums and the bass, add the "classic" fiddlin' by Tommy Jackson, then indulge in the mastery of Jimmy Day on the steel guitar and then give a listen to Ray vocal acrobatics. Piece the pieces together and the sum is way bigger than it's parts. And please be warned this stuff is addictive.

Yes I'm bluntly honest - some of his next invention, the cosmopolitan Nashville sound turned me off, all the strings were layered so thick and smooth, that at the time it was barely listenable to. I did change my mind in retrospect. And the BS (yes that stands also for a musician) crap that Nashville is now releasing, elevates these tunes like gems in a field of burnt coal pieces.
When he was introduced into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996 I was there at the Grand Ole Opry working the event for several European radio stations and will never forget his quip "Well It's About Time." And right he was, having changed the sound of country music twice. In substance he was the Tony Bennett of Country Music, where George Jones was Frank Sinatra.

In 2000 Ray made a trip to SXSW (music fair) to perform a free concert at Waterloo Park. Despite a cold front who dropped the balmy afternoon temperatures 30 degrees into the 40s, there were more than a thousand attending and enjoying that show (which also featured the Derailers and Hank Williams III).
Still remember dancing on the lawn of the park - mostly to stay warm - when someone poked me in the back - they were some old friends of mine, members of BR5-49 who also attended the music fair and came out that night to check out and pay tribute to the Cherokee Cowboy. 
This is from later years, but pretty much sums up the experience at Waterloo Park - two Kris Kristofferson penned hits for Price - "Help Me Make Through The Night" / "For The Good Times"

By 2007 I was struggling, living out of my car - but Ray announced two concerts in Austin, together with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Asleep At The Wheel as part of the "Last Of The Breed"-Tour. Sure glad I was able to work "parking" these two magical nights and seeing that show twice.
After the show we all rushed to Poodie's (Willie's former road manager's place - RIP) to see who would show up for the after party, some of the Cherokee Cowboys did, but it never became that much wished for Jam-Session for all the musicians involved. Nevertheless Ray stole the show these two nights.
A year later he returned with "Time" actually touching some of the old shuffle themes who made him so famous. "You Just Don't Love Me Anymore" became an instant favorite.

A must have for every true Honky Tonk fan is Ray Price's 10 CD box by Bear Family which chronicles the years from 1950 - 1966.