I recently watched the documentary “Once Were Brothers” about the Band. I actually watched it twice, as anyone who knows me knows how much I love the Band. To me, they’re one of the most original and groundbreaking artists to come together in the history of our world. I know those are strong words, but you’ll have to work hard to challenge me with someone that melted more genres into one. “Don’t Do it,” “It Makes No Difference,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Weight,” and “Look Out Cleveland” are just a few of the songs that still rock me to this day.

As Bruce Springsteen notes in this movie, they had three lead singers that would’ve easily been the lead singer in any band on their own. Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel could carry the full weight of being the “man,” if called upon.

While I always enjoy anything with the Band‘s music in it, this would’ve been more aptly titled the “Robbie Robertson Story,” as it really focused on Robbie. Being fair, he and Garth Hudson are the only two members of the Band that are left, so I suppose Robbie gets the right to write the story. But, something just seems missing to not hear the other side, particularly, Levon Helm’s side. Levon’s book “This Wheel’s On Fire” details much of his thoughts on the dissolution of the group and of his/their relationship(s) with Robbie.

Anyone that’s ever been involved in the breakup of a band (of which I have) knows the pain, the anger, the denial, and all the usual suspects involved. Once you’ve had enough time to be away from the band and the breakup, though, you also have to readily admit that there are typically three sides to the story: your’s, the other member’s, and the truth – which lies somewhere in between. Sure, there’s usually a villain, but there’s also usually two ways to look at it. Robbie chooses to focus on the other members’, and in particular Levon’s, drug use, along with Richard’s alcoholism.

It’s clear in interviews, books, and even The Last Waltz, which documented their last concert as the full lineup, that other members were not as keen on breaking up as Robbie was. He was tired of the road – it really is an impossible way of life in music or other industries, had a family, and was ready to settle down and work on things like film scores. That’s cool, but I can’t help but think of what was missed by ending the collective so soon.

I don’t want this to seem like a total anti-Robbie blog. It’s not meant to be that way. He shepherded the songwriting and was the lead guitar player that this group needed, not to mention one of the greatest guitar slingers of all time. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of their songwriting arrangement. Different groups have different ideas about who gets the publishing rights and who gets included. That’s not for me to litigate here.

The remaining four played together in other iterations and eventually reformed another version of the Band sans Robbie. He was missed. It wasn’t the same. Sometimes the hell we go through or the battles we are in where we are, cloud our judgment in evaluating how good or bad our current situation is. That’s a shame, and it happens every day. I could list out an endless number of groups that split up over idiotic reasons or sometimes they were serious reasons, but they didn’t realize they were at their zenith.

I still recommend you check out “Once Were Brothers.” It’s on a lot of the streaming services now at no charge, and definitely worth the watch. For nothing else than to get to hear the world’s greatest band play and learn some of their history. Richard, Rick, and Levon are sadly all gone and sorely missed today.

The song Robbie used to title this was an outtake he found, and it’s a pretty poignant refrain:

“Once were brothers, brothers no more….”

I’ve got to admit that over the years, I feel that I”ve been very spoiled. There have been things I never thought I’d see or hear that have occurred. Maybe it’s the advent of the internet age? Maybe it’s the artists feeling their mortality? Maybe they need the money? Maybe it’s just the hands of time seeing fit to bless us all? Who knows? But, with all the unreleased music and especially Bob Dylan and Neil Young opening up their vaults has me salivating and getting my credit card(s) ready.

“Homegrown” by Mr. Young is one such pleasure that we’ve all been waiting on for years. We knew it existed, but didn’t know if we’d ever get to hear it. My copy was delivered at the house about a week and a half ago and between it and Bob Dylan’s new record, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” I’ve been toggling back and forth. Both are prescient to the times we’re in and were worth the wait, much long in the case of “Homegrown.”

The album was recorded in late 1974 and early 1975. This era of Neil’s music is holds a special place in my heart as it is around the time I was born, but also, while always a prolific creator, the output was incredible. Three of my favorite albums “On the Beach,” “Tonight’s the Night,” and “Zuma”all came out in this time. “Homegrown” was slated to be released after “On the Beach,” but “TTN” came out instead. And, “Homegrown” was shelved until now. The release in June of 2020 makes it, technically, the 40th studio album of Neil’s career. Talk about a long journey home.

Highlights of this record for me include, “Separate Ways,” “Kansas,” & “White Line” (the latter featuring Robbie Robertson of the Band guesting on guitar).  “Try” is a great country shuffle that features guest collaborators Emmylou Harris on vocals and Levon Helm on drums. “Love is a Rose” is a well known song that Linda Ronstadt took and made a hit with. “Star of Bethlehem” was included on “Decade,” so I’ve been familiar with it for a long time.

“We Don’t Smoke it No More” and “Homegrown” are both great toe-tappers and enjoyable. The whole album, and I do recommend you listen to it as a singular piece of work, feels like an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while. It is as comforting as a bourbon that you forgot about until a December evening. There’s an organic feel and a realization that this is how music was meant to be made. The production is just right and not over done.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Neil Young with Crazy Horse, but these albums with a more sparse sound seem to mean a lot to me. This could’ve been a wild, wild time however, if Rusty Kershaw would’ve shown up like he did during “On the Beach.”

I highly recommend you check “Homegrown” out. It’s a great album and super enjoyable. I’m hoping to see Neil in concert again some time when it is safe for everyone to gather together and get to hear some great tunes.

It’s been a tough couple of months for a lot of reasons. There’s too much death and sickness to talk about the negative things that some of us have experienced. It doesn’t feel on the same level. We lost John Prine to the virus and also Joe Diffie, who was a great Oklahoman musician. I last saw Joe a couple of years ago in the Las Vegas airport. We were just passing through, and I said hi to him when we passed in the terminal, and typical Joe Diffie, he was as nice as could be and headed for another show.

But, this whole pandemic has made me really reflect on the value of music to my life, and really what it means to me. First of all, as a performer and songwriter, may I never take for granted the opportunity to be able to gather with other likeminded souls to share in my musical thoughts and creations. What a privilege, it has been for me to get to do this over the years. I hope other musicians will reflect on this, as well. Without the folks paying for tickets, buying cds or merch, we wouldn’t get the chance to do what we do. I know that i am only a part-time player with a day job, so I’m not hurting as much as other musicians are.

Which brings me to my next point, as a fan, I appreciate the music and miss it so much. I miss getting to go see shows, feel the music, and getting the opportunity to interact with other fans and even the artists. As a live music lover, it’s been tough, but I also keep my thoughts not the positive and on doing the right thing…we have to wait until it’s safe for everyone. We can wait it out and enjoy a DVD or a stream a concert on our TV services. We can take the time to watch a live stream of one of our favorite artists and take the opportunity to send them a tip. Also, purchasing merch right now is a great way to support your favorites, so please, if you can afford it, please do so.

We’ll be seeing shows again some time down the road. I don’t want to say soon, because we don’t know when. My main goal is for everyone to stay safe and focus on gratitude in this time. Reflect on the great shows you have seen in the past. Watch a concert online or through your TV service. I watched the “Last Waltz” by the Band a couple of weeks ago, and it remind me how awesome they were. But, check out a documentary or a show digitally, it’s fun. If you’re a picker of any level, play some tunes for your family around the house. In many ways, we have gone back in time to an era when music on the radio or played in the house was the main form of entertainment. Embrace it.

What privilege we have to be alive…even during this tough time. Keep those that are sick or have lost loved ones in your thoughts and meditations. Let’s focus on good habits to stay safe and control this thing. We should listen to the scientists and avoid the politicians and do what is right by each other. With gratitude and grace, we will make it through this. Let’s use it as a way to be better people and to love the music. Hell, let’s put down the cell phones and just love the music. We can do it.

No photo on this blog. It’s a tough one to write. John Prine was my hero, my inspiration, and my friend from a distance. His passing last month hit me like a freight train echoing across the Neosho headed to Welch and then on to Miami. The lonesomeness of having him be gone is a hard hole to fill.

I have no illusion that I was “friends” with JP, but his music was there as a comfort for me. There are some people that them just being in the world makes you feel better. John Prinewas one of those. As far as music goes, he’s up there with Dylan, Willie, Kris, Buddy Guy & Macca of those that are still here with us. We were fortunate to have his music.

There’s been a lot of tributes already written for John Prine, and it’s hard to want to seem like I’m piling on, but I needed to get off my chest what he meant to me over the years. His early songs were and still cause me to pause and assess the human condition. “Paradise” was the first song I really learn how to play on guitar. My older brother taught me the chords. I played on my old Harmony that I bought at Wal-Mart as a kid with lawn mowing money, but this wasn’t until I was about 22 or 23. We were sitting in my brother’s living room on Manner Park in Edmond. Somewhere, there are some tapes of us playing many songs, and this was probably on there. We jokingly called them the “Manner Park Sessions,” but the tapes are out there. I need to check a box up in my music room and see if that’s where they are.

“Sam Stone” still gives me chills. The line, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm, where all the money goes…Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose” sums up the loneliness of a child of an addict. I am not the child of an addict, but this is exactly the power John Prine’swriting had…it made you relate. Relate, in many cases, to things you’ve never even experienced. He normalized the feelings of everyday people everywhere. I could list song after song that I loved of his music: Lake Marie (which Dylan called the best song), She is my Everything, Jesus (The Missing Years), When I get to Heaven, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, Illegal Smile, Daddy’s Little Pumpkin, et al. The list goes on and on, and his music will live forever. All facets of his career continue to amaze me when I go listen to them.

I got the chance to meet him twice, and he was overly gracious both times. The first time was in Midwest City after a concert, and he said, “If I’d known you were a-waitin’ out here, I’da had you come inside and warm up.” He then signed some LPs for me, and even asked if I wanted Iris Dement, who was in the car with him to sign my “In Spite of Ourselves” CD (which I took him up on.).

Then, my wife and I met him after a show in Wichita, KS. He, again, was super gracious. Talked to us for a long time. My wife twisted my arm and had me give him a couple of cds of my songs, and he said, “I’ll give them a listen…but do me a favor, keep on playing and singing. Don’t give up.” That inspiration has kept me going even when times and gigs have been lean. John Prine believed in me, that still matters, and just like an experience with Charlie Louvin, it was enough.

That first show in Midwest City will always be a special one for me. We had been married only a couple of months. And, the you know what had hit the fan. We had two mortgages and ended up with one job between us. I took a traveling sales job, so we could pay the bills, and money was T-I-G-H-T. I’ve never told this story, but I will for Prine. So, anyway, I heard Prine was coming, and I scraped up the money for the tickets. I also found a coupon for us to go to Logan’s Roadhouse and share a dinner beforehand. It was one of the first date nights we’d had since we got back from our honeymoon. And, it was an electric night. John commanded the stage, like he always did. This was my wife’s first time seeing him, and she fell in love…INSTANTLY. She still talks about how nonchalantly he walked on stage, and then the music transformed him.

That’s how I can best describe John Prine and his music…transformational. He stood up for the everyman that we all are. He told the truth, even when it was hard. He never lost the twinkle and wonder in his eye. And, he helped you experience a transformational empathy that can’t be re-created. Long live John Prine’s memory!

Kris Kristofferson - Outlaw Legend
Kris Kristofferson Photo by Chris Davis

Are you kidding me? That’s the first thought I had when I heard last April or May 2019 that Kris Kristofferson had been added to the Outlaw Country Cruise. I have been a fan of his as long as I can remember.

It really started back in 1980 when my parents took us on our first trip to Kansas City, MO for a summer vacation. This began many a summer trek to see the Kansas City Royals play and started my love for Major League Baseball. I can still vividly remember a lot of that trip.

Another stop on the trip was the theme park Worlds of Fun. Now, I’m like most midwestern kids…I loved theme parks back then, but if you ever went to one of these tourist traps in the summer time (especially in Oklahoma or Missouri), you know the heat you experienced on the asphalt walkways. It was no different at Worlds of Fun. My parents were and are great parents, though, as they persevered through all this and also got us tickets to see Kris Kristofferson in concert at the bandshell in the back of the park. This was some kind of upgrade to the trip. I can remember him being on stage and for some reason his beard stands out in my mind.

Fast forward through the years, and I have seen him in concert many times. Not to mention all of his acting gigs (one of my favorites was Fire Down Below the Steven Seagal Movie). But, all through the years, while his songs influenced me, I never had the chance to meet him. I’ve been very lucky being around the music business and have gotten to meet several of my heroes, but Kriseluded me. I had almost chalked it up to some of the big names that you never meet (Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings stand out), even though you feel like you know them.

Well, on the cruise, Kris was awesome. His solo show brought me to the verge of tears. With songs like “For the Good Times,” “Me & Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” and “Why Me, Lord?” it’s hard not to realize that you are witnessing greatness, as in if you had the chance to see Shakespeare, Whitman, or Twain in person. I was moved beyond being moved. Further, there was an awesome tribute show where various artists on the cruise shared their favorite songs. Jesse Dayton’s“Me & Bobby McGee” was a highlight here.

If that had been it, I would’ve been in starving songwriter heaven. But, then on the last night of the cruise, my wife and i were in the atrium and who do we literally run into? Mr. Kristofferson himself. He stopped and said hi and took a picture with us. It is a great memory that I am beaming about just thinking about right now. Dreams do come true.

KristoffersonChrisIrene

Supersuckers(Photo by Chris Davis)

The Supersuckers are one of those bands that make me smile, standup, and dance…and not necessarily in that order. They are still rockin’ after all of these years, and they are great fun.

I came to know the Supersuckers probably five years ago. I walked into a show on the Outlaw Country Cruise...I think it was the 2nd voyage, and they were rocking their asses off. I heard lead singer and bass man Eddie Spaghettisay, “Who hasn’t felt this way?’ and they busted into “Get the Hell Out,” which is a great ode to getting as far away from where you don’t want to be.

I’ve come to love a lot of their songs from “Born with a Tail” to “Pretty Fd Up” to the aforementioned “Get the Hell Out.” Their songs have the feeling that you can’t really describe other than that they have soul. When you find an artist like this, you connect with it, and there’s really no reason that you do. I feel that way about the Supersuckers.

Not only are they great songwriters and players but along with Eddie Spaghetti, guitar virtuoso Metal Marty and drummer Chris Von Streicher are great dudes. I’ve had the chance to meet them and visit with them, and they are super genuine. This last Outlaw Country Cruise, my wife and I had the chance to spend a little time with Eddie and his wife and they are super sweet people…the kind of folks that make you happy you met them.

The band has a new album out, Play that Rock-n-Roll, and it is great. Lots of great awesome toe-tappers and songs that make you feel like you’ve known them forever. You should go get a copy of it if you can. Their recent European tour was canceled mid-tour due to the COVID-19 virus spreading around Europe, and we all know what this has caused for touring musicians’ income. Eddie Spaghetti is also doing some Facebook Liveshows where he gives the history of Supersuckers songs. It’s a lot of fun, and you can use the virtual tip jar to support them while they are off the road.

Check them out. They are fun. They are hardworking. They are the greatest rock-n-roll band in the world. They are the Supersuckers.

JesseDayton

(photo by Chris Davis)

“What’s up Stardust Theater? We gonna do this or not?” – that was the first thing Jesse Dayton hit the crowd with on the recent Outlaw Country Cruise after his opening number. And, do it, we all did.

If you don’t know about Jesse Dayton by now, shame on you. He is bringing and swing East Texas honkytonk rock-n-roll that makes you want to dance and get on your feet, while at the same time get in a fight at the bar with the loudmouth guy in the corner. His songwriting keeps getting stronger and stronger, and he is also a world-class, Jerry Reed-level guitar picker (if you know guitar playing, you know that’s a high compliment).

Highlights of this show included “Daddy Was a Badass”, “May Have to Do it (But I don’t Have to Like it)”, “Bankrobber”, “Hurtin’ Behind the Pine Curtain”, “Tried to Quit”, “I’m at Home Gettin’ Hammered” and the list goes on and on. We were able catch Jesse’s solo shows and also saw him play on the Kris Kristofferson tribute, playing with Lee “Scratch” Perry, and sitting in on guitar with the world’s greatest rock-n-roll band the Supersuckers.

Jesse has a heart not only for this music but for being on the right side of history. His songs, “Charlottesville” and “Mrs. Victoria (Beautiful Thing)” strike strong chords against racism, anti-semitism, and all-in-all assholery. Jessespeaks an honest truth in his music. You don’t often hear this perspective coming out of what is known as “Outlaw Country,” but Jesse doesn’t care. He’ll pull on his boots and stand tall.

I know I use this column to promote the music that I love, but I mean it again…if Jesse Dayton comes close to you, make sure you go and see him. Buy a t-shirt or something else from the merchandise table, as all touring artists can use the support. I hope Jessemakes tons of music moving forward, and I look forward to seeing him again soon and hearing his future projects.

Old 97s Oklahoma City

(photo by Chris Davis)

Old 97s came to town earlier this month for their “Holiday Hoopla” tour, and we had a chance to check it out at the Tower Theater. They are still one of my favorite bands, and I recommend that you go check them out any time they come near your area. Hell, go see them on the road some time, as it’d make a great road trip, as well.

The guys have been playing together for a long time, yet the song sound fresh. Their last two albums “Graveyard Whistling”and “Most Messed Up”have also been some of their best. “I don’t want to die in this town” and “Bad Luck Charm” are two of my recent favorites. There’s a realism to their lyrics that sucks you in and makes you laugh at the same realities that you have faced or at least thought about before.

They played some of their past favorites during the show, as well. “Big Brown Eyes” is always a favorite, and so is “Doreen.” I love the way they play together and seem to genuinely have a good time. It also helps that Murray (bass) is from Oklahoma, so that always counts for points with me.

Rhett Miller, lead singer and rhythm guitar, opened the show with a solo acoustic set, which was rollicking and irreverent, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of having a conversation with Rhett, it was vintage Miller.

There was a magician in the middle Casey Magic, which was an interesting interlude between musical acts.

All in all, another great show. I’m glad that there are some medium size venues in Oklahoma City now that are attracting these acts, as in the past it was often overlooked for Tulsa or Dallas.

As 2019 fades, I hope everyone has a great end of the year with plenty of time with the people you want to be with. If things get too tough, as we all know they can, please reach out to someone and let them know. We are all here for each other. I’m here for you, even if we barely know each other. Drop me an email through the site, and I’ll be happy to chat or buy you a coffee or water, or whatever you want to drink. Don’t feel you’re alone.

To paraphrase the Old 97s...I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive…which is mostly true, but I still thank God for music and what it means to me. See you in 2020.

Flatlanders

(Photo by Chris Davis)

I had the pleasure of seeing the Flatlanders (Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock) on my birthday earlier this month. They are a real delight to see in person and have such a songwriting and musical craft about them that they captivate any stage they are covering.

I’ve seen Joe Ely several times, and he is always the essence of cool. One of my favorite Joe Ely stories is when he did a guitar pull with Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, and Ray Wylie Hubbard that I attended. Joe told the story of when he and Lu were on a tour back in the 80s that was sponsored by Jim Beam and what a tour it must’ve been.

This past January, my wife and I had the chance to see the Flatlanders together on the Outlaw Country Cruise, and they regulated during all of their concerts. They brought their solo songs, their group songs, and tackled deep catalog like no other group out there.

The show at the Tower Theater in Oklahoma City was no different. An acoustic affair that resembled a guitar pull with the three sitting on stools and having only a guitarist accompany them, the feeling was very intimate. It was a smaller crowd than it should’ve been (c’mon folks, get out and support live music while we still have it!), but everyone there was feeling the vibe.

The two biggest highlights for me were “Borderless Love” and “Dallas.” The former continues to be timely as we as a country continue to try to decide if we have any morality at all when it comes to how we treat people trying to come here for a better life. The refrain of “There’s no need for a wall” still resonates with me today.

The group traded stories about Townes Van Zandt and some of the experiences and dreams they’ve all had about him. This part of the show reminded those in attendance that we were witnessing historical figures that had connections to the roots of the very music that we all love and appreciate.

If you get a chance to go see the Flatlanders, do it. You’ll feel better and hear some great music. The same applies for Joe, Jimmie Dale, or Butch solo, as well.