Tuesday, May 17, 2016

He Ain't Going Nowhere - Guy Clark's Just Leaving

Texas singer/songwriter legend Guy Clark passed away today, he was 74 and was in ill health for some of the last years. 

I will not even try to attempt to write an obit on this master of words, there are only a few in this world, who have (had) that craft of writing. Hank Williams comes to mind, a big influence for Guy, whom he celebrated in his composition "Hank Williams Said It Best," his old friend the late Townes Van Zandt as well as John Prine and Leonard Cohen. 

The only thing I would love to share here, are a couple of personal memories. An after hours night of pickin' and grinnin' at the Singer/Songwriter Festival in Frutigen in 1989. After a great night of fabulous live performances, we (a radio friend of mine, the promoter's daughter, Billy Joe Shafer and his son Eddy as well as Johnny Rodriguez) all landed in one of the hotel rooms. Being in a mountain valley, "far" from any major city we weren't able to score any party accessories, so we had to pass the night by listening to songs, which was as a natural high as they seldom come. 

Fast forward several years to 1997 - attending Jack Ingram's record release party for "Livin' Or Dyin'" for Rising Tide Records (by then an MCA imprint) at Iron Works Barbecue in Austin during SXSW -Guy Clark was attending, because Ingram had covered "Rita Ballou" for his third studio album. Enjoying the lovely spring sun, my ex-wife and I joined by Guy were standing outside, smoking. At one point we were all considering to go inside to rub elbows with some of the producers, label-head Tony Brown and other people being present, but Guy insisting to just have another smoke. In the end all of the label royalty showed up on the terrace to say hello and pay homage to Clark. After some pleasantries, they all went back inside, while we kept smoking, laughing and exchanging old stories.  

You may wonder what that old defunct motel sign is doing here, two years ago on a working trip I actually visited Guy Clark's hometown Monahans in West Texas. The Sunset Motel has definitely seen better days and even though the town was booming, there was not a room to be found, because of the oil price surge, it had a forlorn feel to it. 

As the quintessential Texas tune smith, there are several obits out there worth reading - the main one in my honest opinion "He Ain't Going Nowhere," published by Texas Monthly magazine four years ago. It's an intimate read, perfectly showing Guy's personality. Rolling Stone magazine offers: Guy Clark: 12 Essential Songs, which is worth visiting as well. 

Two of my favorite Guy Clark songs need to be added here, as a European transplant in Texas an ode to the culinary values of the Lonestar State, "Texas Cooking" and a song Guy wrote with his late wife Susanna and another Texas master poet, with Richard Dobson, "Old Friends"

Texas Cooking

Old Friends

Emilio Navaira - "Garth Brooks" of Tejano - Passes

According to news reports, a massive heart attack - an autopsy was ordered - ended the live of Tejano singer Emilio Navaira. The 2003 Grammy winner for "Acuerdate" as "Tejano Album of the Year" was 53 years old and lived in New Braunfels, Texas. If murdered Selena was the Queen, Emilio was the undisputed king of Tejano, an amalgam of Texas and Hispanic music. His popularity was so huge, that he often got nicknamed the "Garth Brooks" of Tejano.

Born and raised in Southern San Antonio, he not only grew up with the typical Mexican-American background listening to Little Joe & La Familia or Mexican crooner Ramon Ayala, he also listened to Texas country music greats: Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and George Strait. After high school in San Antonio, he got a musical degree at Southwest Texas University in San Marcos (now Texas State) and in 1983 he joined "Los Musicales" and started singing with David Lee Garza.

By the end of the 80s, Navaira formed his own band Rio, got a major record deal, where he recorded more than a dozen albums under his full name and then from the mid-90's simply by his first name Emilio. One of his songs "Como Le Hare" (How Will I Do It) became so popular, even though it never charted as a single, that the title is now used as a catch phrase in Texas. His albums regularly started to show up in the US Latin (album) and his singles in the US Hot Latin (singles) charts.

His popularity was so big, that he started to get sponsored by Wrangler Jeans, Coca Cola & Miller Beer and was signed to Capitol Nashville, adroitly naming his first album "Life Is Good" after the beer slogan. A Larry Boone/Paul Nelson/Earl Clark penned ballad, "It's Not The End Of The World" got recorded in English and Spanish and charted in the top twenty of both the US Country and Hot Latin charts respectively.

His voice and distinctive style also convinced the prestigious "Country Night Gstaad" festival in Switzerland to have him perform there among other headliners, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea and Paul Brand, in 1997. So before his trip to Switzerland I had a chance to interview him at Austin's (now long gone Aqua Fest). The energy coming from that stage put the largely Tejano audience on fire, this was their king and he was celebrated that night with people hanging on Emilio's lips and singing with him during the whole set.

After two country inspired albums for Capitol and changing times in Nashville, Emilio went back to the Tejano market, but still including Spanish tracks, that could have been sung by country great George Strait. His mixture from love ballads to modern Tejano, from traditional Rancheras (story songs) to dance-able Cumbias, established him as one of the most diverse artists in the Texas music scene.

In March of 2008 Emilio almost lost his life, after having a tour bus accident in Bellaire outside of Houston. He was ejected through the windshield of the bus after he collided with traffic barrels. He was later being charged with "intoxication" and not having a license to drive the bus. Miraculously he had an impressive recovery after severe cranial damage and brain injuries and was able to come back onto the stage two years later.

With "El Regreso del Rey" (Return of the King) he released a fulminante Live-Album as a comeback. Even though not on major labels anymore, Emilio continued to release albums. Last year's "Juntos" and a biggest hit album "Siempre Grande" this year were released by Mexican imprint Apodaca. He also continued to tour in South Texas and Mexico, now with his own kids in his band Rio, his brother Raulito formed his own band "Remdio" with his kids, Destiny and Rigo.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Radiohead's Ninth, "A Moon Shaped Pool," Drops

Radiohead dropped their ninth album "A Moon Shaped Pool" on Sunday evening (5/8/16) only as digital downloads on iTunes ($ 10.99), Amazon ($ 9.49) and streaming services Apple Music and Tidal, as well as their own e-commerce site, named after the album title. ($ 13 as well as in a special edition package $ 86.50) Physical copies (CDs $ 14.50 & LPs $ 29) won't be available till June, 17th.

According to British newspaper The Guardian, a download was also available from Google Play for a short while, but was then removed from the platform. The 11-song, alphabetically sequenced album, their first since 2011's "The King Of Limbs" was announced 2 days ago, when Radiohead released the second video of their new album, "Daydreaming" directed by PT Anderson. After their last release, the band took a break, either with solo releases "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes" (Thom Yorke) and "Weatherhouse" (Phil Selway) while guitarist Jonny Greenwood worked on several movie projects. Yorke and Nigel Goodrick also released an album under their side moniker "Atoms For Peace."

In April, the band erased its Internet presence with "Dead Air Space," sent embossed cards out containing the lyrics to "Burn The Witch" and released this, the opener 5 days ago as an animated video on YouTube. The first video garnered more than 10 million views in less than a week.

The song list
1. Burn The Witch
2. Daydreaming
3. Decks Dark
4. Desert Island Disk
5. Ful Stop
6. Glass Eyes
7. Identikit
8. The Numbers
9. Present Tense
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
11. True Love Waits

Burn The Witch


Sources: The Guardian, Radiohead, AMoonShapedPool.com, itunes, Amazon

Saturday, May 7, 2016

From A Jack To A King - Ned Miller Passes

"I'll get an idea for a song," Ned Miller is quoted on his 1991 Bear Family retrospective, named after his biggest hit "From A Jack To A King" and it goes on "but then I think, 'Who wants to go through the hassle of getting someone to record it.' These days I have nothing to do with recording. My kids have nothing to do with the business. If you love shows and like to perform, it's a great business, but if you don't, you shouldn't be in it."

This pretty much sums up the short career of roughly 13 years. He then put his guitar up, quit writing songs and stopped performing. Henry Ned Miller, born in the mining town of Rains, Utah on April 12 in 1925 passed away on March, 18 in Medford, Oregon. His death which wasn't announced until this week, was confirmed by his wife of over 70 years, Sue to the New York Times.

According to liner notes, he bought his first guitar when he was nine, after splitting and selling wood. His mom taught him how to play, and he wrote his first song while still in High School in Salt Lake City. After a three year stint in the Marine Corps - he served in the Pacific theater during World War II - he went to college with the help of the G.I. Bill and became a pipe-fitter and later air-conditioning man by trade.

In July of 1956, Ned decided to try his wings in the music field and went to California where he met Fabor Robison of the Abbott, Fabor and Radio Record Companies who had discovered, developed and guided the early careers and first hits of such artists as Jim Reeves (who would later record several of Ned songs), Johnny Horton, Bonnie Guitar, The Browns and many others. Fabor saw the potential in Ned's abilities to write and sing and signed him to the label.

From the liner notes of Fabor's "From A Jack To A King" album: "The inspiration for "Dark Moon" came while Ned was driving along the Malibu, California beach one evening. Being a little depressed, he mentally drew a veil across the bright, full moon and immediately wrote the song "Dark Moon."

Dark Moon - Bonnie Guitar

Bonnie Guitar recorded the song for Fabor and even - according to an article in No Depression magazine - gave up her royalties: "I knew in my mind, as little as I knew, that that was a hit song. I just knew it. So, we went right in the studio and started working on it, and I played the lead guitar and everything."
Bonnie Guitar wasn't the only one who took the song into the US Billboard Top 100 (#6), shortly after her version peaked, Gale Storm took the song into the Top Five (#4). Guitar also charted in the Country Charts (#14) - at the same time another version of the song was also recorded by Hawkshaw Hawkins.

Bonnie returned the same year with "Mr. Fire Eyes" a song the two of them had written together. Other people started recording Ned's songs, but when he released "Roll O Rollin' Stone," in 1957 he didn't crack the charts, neither did he with the first time release of "From A Jack To A King" the same year. "Lights In The Street", "Gypsy" (1958) as well as the early Sixties songs "Cold Gray Bars" and his version of "Dark Moon" all failed to make a great impact.
No luck also with two songs, he recorded with Jan Howard for Jackpot "Girl From The Second World / Ring The Bell For Johnny," even though the songs got a favorable review in Billboard magazine.

On it's second go-round in '63, "From A Jack To A King" not only became his biggest hit and signature song, but made him a world wide star. The song crossed over onto the top of the pop charts of Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Ireland just to name a few, became a #2 in the US Billboard Hot Country Singles and also made the Top Ten in the Top 100 (#6). He was featured in March of '63 with a small bio in Billboard magazine, several artists recorded their own versions of the song, where love lifts a man from being a Jack to being the King, though among others by ElvisSlim Whitman and a quite a bluesy version by Jerry Lew Lewis as well as by a British glam rock quartet, past it's prime named Mud (watch at your own discretion.) Twenty five years later, Ricky Van Shelton recorded a remake on his second platinum selling album "Loving Proof" and took the song all the way to Number One, enabling Ned with a nice royalty retirement check. It's actually fun to watch this live recording of Shelton's version among some of the greats of country music.

Ned needed a big follow-up, and after a couple of duds came up with a song he'd written with his wife Sue, Invisible Tears. The married couple actually worked together on several of his songs, for instance "Behind The Tear," wich Sonny James took to the top of the country charts for three weeks in 1965. Miller came out the same year - now on Capitol Records with a song based on a saying he'd picked up from his father, "Do What You Do Do Well." It became his second biggest hit, reaching #7 on the country charts and #52 on the pop listings in 1965.

Do What You Do Do Well - Ned Miller

Behind The Tear - Sonny James

The crooner charted four more times albeit in the lower regions of the chart, with his sweet melancholy songs: "Whistle Walkin'" (#28),"Summer Roses" (#39), "Teardrop Lane" (#44) and "Hobo" (#53). Due to stage-fright and therefore not touring behind his songs, he got dropped by Capitol. On different labels he charted in 1968 with "Only a Fool" (#61) and two years later with "Lover's Song" (#39) and then he called it quits. Several of his songs, he has a catalog of almost 200 songs, were recorded by a big variety of stars and some even translated into other languages.

Next Time I Fall In Love, I Won't - Hank Thompson

Invisible Tears - Bobby Bare & Skeeter Davis

Some of his original Fabor and Capitol albums can still be found and there are several compilation albums (CDs) out there, but if you would like the comprehensive music history of Ned Miller, I would suggest to buy the German Bear Family album released in 1991, even though e.g. his Jackpot singles are missing, it's the most comprehensive collection with a rich 16-page booklet that can be found.

Sources: Bear Family CD "From A Jack To A King", Liner Notes of his UK release on London "From A Jack To A King", News Services, No Depression, Billboard, YouTube

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Kenny Chesney's "Noise" debuts in Rolling Stone

Kenny Chesney - Live                                 © Jill Turnell (courtesy EBMedia)
For once it's not pina coladas, sandy beaches and cladly dressed dancer babes in bikinis. It's neither a jocose
singer reminiscing about the quietude at a lovely hidden oasis where he shares a longneck with his honey on the back of a pickup truck while strummin' on his guitar.

In his new video "Noise," the lead-off single of his new album "Some Town Somewhere" which ships July 8th, Kenny Chesney actually inculpates all the white noise, the cacophony, the constant sound bytes, the tech overload around us.

Wrecking balls, downtown construction
Bottles breaking, jukebox buzzing
Cardboard sign says ‘The Lord Is Coming’
Tick tick tock
Rumors turn the mills back home
Parking lot kids with the speakers blown
We didn’t turn it on
but we can’t turn it off, off, off …”

While this topic is quite popular in pop and rock music, it's rather rare in country music to sing songs being critical of society or at least critical of part of society. "Atomic Power" by the Louvin Brothers, "Okie From Muskogee" by Merle Haggard come to mind. In order to convey this new message to an audience who would listen, Chesney's team didn't select the regular outlets like CMT, Vevo or a country music magazine, but choose RollingStone.com to premiere his chaotic video.

“They have been the cultural and societal touchstone since I was a kid,” Chesney explains in his press release, why he choose the music magazine as an outlet “and that gives them the gravitas to reflect what [director] Shaun [Silva] and I were trying to capture in the song. This is not political, so much as social... if you want to get people to take it all in, to step back and really reflect, let’s put the video at the heart of where people who sort those things are.”

The visual manifestation of the song is clear: distorted images changing in a fast cut, timely mentioning in passing, not only the current US election cycle, but also the daily overload of sound or video bytes that is thrown at us, basically a wall of noise imprisoning us. And even though everybody seems to communicate, there are no messages reaching the listener:

Twenty-four hour television,
get so loud that no one listens
Sex and money and politicians talk, talk, talk
But there really ain't no conversation
Ain't nothing left to the imagination
Trapped in our phones and we can't make it stop, stop, stop

Watch Kenny Chesney's Chaotic 'Noise' Video

As Rolling Stone knows: "Kenny Chesney already had the first single from his upcoming "Some Town Somewhere" album picked out when a bunch of talking - make that, yelling - heads on television threw a curveball..."

He was on the phone with Nashville tunesmith Shane McAnally on a way to a marketing meeting with his manager, when the idea of "Noise" came up. Two days later he went into the studio and recorded the song, which besides McAnally was written by Ross Copperman and Jon Nite.

But Chesney doesn't see himself as a messenger, as he told RollingStone.com "We're not preaching to anyone, we’re just making a statement about the way we live. The message is to try to be mindful of it. If you love someone, tell them you love them. Don’t text it to them! There is so much life to be lived outside our phones.”

Summary: A great move for the fluffy 8-time entertainer of the year, away from "Bro" country to an actual meaningful song. The other songs on "Some Town Somewhere" will have to prove the new thoughtfulness of Kenny Chesney. An ethereal follow up will render "Noise" as meaning less.

Sources: RollingStone.com, Essential Broadcast Media,