Chris enjoying the Oklahoma Heat in September 2022

It has been a while since I last wrote one of these blogs. I have had several things that I have wanted to get down in writing, but honestly, have been so slammed with a lot of things going on professionally and personally. All have been good things, it is just that my schedule has been a bit crazy. Every feel that way?

Summer was a great season, even though it was hotter than a two dollar pistol in Oklahoma. We did not get out to a lot of shows, and I am still in a holding pattern on booking shows. Will hopefully get started back up with some live shows after the first of the year, but I have been writing a lot and working on some brand new music that I hope to share in project format during 2023. I have enough songs to do about three albums, but not sure I will put that much music out just yet.

We did get a chance to see Willie Nelson and the Who earlier this year. Both were phenomenal shows, and I wrote about Willie. We also had the pleasure of being guests at the Bonnie Raitt/Lucinda Williams show in Tulsa. I have also been going back and going through some early bluegrass music that influenced me (Jim & Jesse, the Osborne Brothers, & Bill Monroe) along with some live Bob Dylan show bootlegs (please don’t sue me, Bob) that I found in my shed when cleaning out some boxes of music paraphernalia. These show reminded me what I love about live music and how the master, Dylan himself, crafted shows around his immense catalog, along with a smattering of covers that influenced him. You can tell, even to this day, that Bob plays what inspires him, not what other people want to hear.

We are hoping to get out to the Blue Door and possibly the new Beer City Music Hall in Oklahoma City this month and next month to catch a few shows and friends that we have not seen in a while. If you are not familiar with Corb Lund or Nikki Lane, please check out their music.

It has been a while, and I will be back soon with some project updates and hopefully some new music for those that read this and are interested. In the mean time, take care of yourselves and here’s one of my recordings back during COVID that I recorded in the backroom of our house and when I was growing my beard with anticipation of joining ZZ Top.

An out of focus picture in the rain of Willie Nelson by Chris Davis

What would Willie do? And the Willie I reference is, of course, Willie Nelson. The Wednesday after Memorial Day this year, we trudged out to the Oklahoma City Zoo Amphitheater to see the Last Outlaw Standing – King Willie, himself. Now 89 years old, Willie is still going and still draws good crowds.

Will the weather win?

On this particular night, it was raining intermittently with a chance for severe thunderstorms, yet the Zoo Amp was virtually full. The crowds wanted to see Willie. There were two opening acts Charley Crockett, who I really want to see more of some time was first. Then, Lukas Nelson/Promise of the Real, Willie’s son. We tried to wait out the ran and missed Charley and caught the tail end of Lukas’s set.

About 15 minutes after Lukas ended, Willie’s bus came pulling up behind the stage, and you could feel the excitement go across the crowd. Shortly thereafter, Trigger, Willie’s signature Martin guitar was brought out on stage. Then came the moment we had all been waiting for as Willie was walking out on stage and waving at the crowd.

Short But Awesome Set List

Taking a seat center stage, Willie was between Lukas on his right and youngest son Micah on his left. As usual, a huge Texas flag was the backdrop. Then, Willie launched into staple opener, the Johnny Bush penned “Whisky River.” The crowd went crazy, and so did I.

I’ve probably seen Willie & Family in concert 15 times. This, however, was the first time I’d seen him since his sister and longtime band mate Bobbie Nelson passed away. And, I also believe this is the first time I have seen him without long time drummer/road king Paul English. While the band was still good, I definitely could feel the void left by these two.

Willie’s guitar playing was still good, though not as sharp due to age and probably the weather, as well. I can tell you this, I did not care one bit. Fans can feel the energy coming from Willie, and it is all pure love.

It was a short set due to severe weather causing the concert to be shut down. The setlist included Bob Wills cover “Stay A Little Longer”, which was followed by Nelson favorites “Still is Still Moving to Me,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” and “I Never Cared For You.”

Lukas Nelson then played the cover song “Texas Flood” which was fitting due to the weather at the Zoo Amp. Son Micah then played a tune he had penned based on something Willie had said, “If I Die When I’m High, I’ll Be Halfway to Heaven.” This song was a funny, irreverent take on Willie’s passion for herbal remedies and provided some levity to the brooding storm coming overhead.

The concert was closed out with favorite “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” followed by “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” The last song was “On the Road Again,” which was cut short about halfway through when security came to the stage, as the thunderstorm moved closer, and Willie said, “We’re sorry but they say we gotta go. We love you.” And, then came the mass, muddy exodus up the hill and to the parking lots.

Summary

Even though the weather did not cooperate and the show was cut short, it was well worth it. I hate to think this way, but you never know when it will be the last time. We have lost many legends in the last few years. When he comes around again, I’ll be the first one in line. It always makes you feel good to see Willie. I started this blog by saying, “What would Willie do?” I can tell you, he would show up and have a good time. Which is what I did, and what I think you should do too the next time you are able to see live music.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Columbia Recording Artist Bob Dylan

It has taken me awhile to get around to writing this but back in April, we were blessed to get to be witnesses as Bob Dylan showed his Rough and Rowdy Ways in Oklahoma City.

As a long-time Dylan fan and 30+-concert veteran, I always look forward to seeing the Bard perform. Further, I am happy to report, he was in great form at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. Bob has never been known as a great singer, and his voice through the years has become more of a growl. But on this night, he seemed to feel good and his voice was clearer than I remember it pre-pandemic. 

Opening up with what pass as recent set list standards “Watching the River Flow” and “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine),” the set was rollicking from the get-go. From there, Dylan peppered in some great versions of his latest studio album cuts “I Contain Multitudes” and “False Prophet.”  Both songs were solid and well received by Dylan aficionados in the crowd. 

A challenge with any Dylan show is that, like most artists with a deep catalog, there are long-time fans that love when deep cuts are played, but on the flipside, there are first timers or those who want a “greatest hits” show. Dylan has been reliably unpredictable over the years, even changing arrangements on familiar tunes. I noticed a few folks in my section of the balcony appearing to get restless, yet they were somewhat placated by the always fun and rocking “When I Paint My Masterpiece,’” which gained fame with the Band’s cover, but then Dylan went back to Rough and Rowdy Ways with “Black Rider.”

This back and forth tennis match between the old and the new continued for the rest of the 82-minute set with Nashville Skyline favorite “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” followed by returning to R&RW’s tunes “My Own Version of You” and one of the highlights for me “Cross the Rubicon.” This song speaks a lot of truth to me about not looking back and dealing head on with the problems one has to face on a daily basis. 

“To Be Alone with You” took us back to Nashville Skyline followed by the return to the new with “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” which always makes me think back to good times and sunsets in that great southernmost point of the United States. 

The last six songs of the show were bookended by gospel-era Dylan tunes starting with the iconic, and one of my favorites, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Of the next four newer songs, they were all from Rough and Rowdy Ways starting with “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to you.” A one-song detour to the 2016 album Fallen Angels featured “Melancholy Mood.” Then, the night was rounded out with two final tunes from Rough and Rowdy Ways“Mother of Muses” and the fun and frisky “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.” The last song was the powerful “Every Grain of Sand” from Dylan’s 1981 album Shot of Love.

I walked away with a smile on my face and for the brief amount of time I was in Bob’s presence; I felt that the world was going to be all right. Bob Dylan showed his Rough and Rowdy Ways in Oklahoma City.

Dylan’s shows today are not for everyone. As I mentioned and as the set list shows, you will not get the greatest hits. Maybe if he is ever convinced to play a Las Vegas residency, he will get back to some of the huge songs, but I doubt it. Bob only seems interested in following the music where it takes him, not where people want him to go. That’s a lesson in and of itself. 

My copy of Beaumonster

In his new memoir Beaumonster, Jesse Dayton delivers Outlaw Country tales in a fantastic manner from behind the scenes in the Outlaw Country, Punk, and Americana music scenes. Jesse is uniquely experienced to tell these stories as he, of course, lived them, but also is genre-defying, multi-platform artist that continues to deliver with each project he outputs.

Jesse’s music catalog has long been defined by his background and roots in Beaumont, Texas, yet his mind and spirit are encapsulated by his long-time residency in Austin. The old mantra of “Keep Austin Weird” comes to mind when I think about Jesse and how his career and music have evolved. With a knack for being in the right place at the right time (with the also right amount of hard work and dedication), Jesse takes the reader on a fascinating journey through his meetings and collaborations with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, John Doe & Exene of X, Mike Ness of Social Distortion, Rob Zombie, the Supersuckers and countless others. It is great to see the curtain pulled back a little an to hear JD’s take on his experiences. That’s not to say this is some type of rumor-mongering, tell all, much to the contrary. In Beaumonster: Dayton delivers tales from his perspective with respect for his subjects and respect for the life of a traveling, gypsy musician. He even tells it like it is when it’s not so flattering to himself (see Dick Dale strings story).

One of my favorite parts of the book is the way Jesse shows his love for his wife Emily, his son Sam, and his other family. It is clear that family is important to JD, and he tugs at the old heartstrings by showing multiple ways how much he loves his parents, Emily and Sam, and many others.

It would not be a Jesse Dayton written word project without some political talk. If you follow him on social media, you know that JD is opinionated yet open minded to those who might disagree with him. In all fairness, I agree with most everything he said, although I tend to me a little further left. But, even in the political sections of Beaumonster, Jesse Dayton delivers his stories and ideas with humor and fun.

I first really became a fan of Jesse’s music on the inaugural Outlaw Country Cruise. Then, when my wife and I met him, we became even bigger fans of Jesse Dayton the person. We have continued to follow and watch his career just keep on going and rising. I highly recommend that music fans of any stripe read this book. Also, get out and see ol’ Jesse the next time he is in your town. You won’t be disappointed, as this dude brings it every single song of every single night.

I do not know what I can write about the Peter Jackson produced documentary the Beatles: Get Back that has not already been written. I choose to add to the title the Beatles: Get Back to Where They Once Belonged because this seems about as organic as it gets. Having had the chance to watch this over the last few weeks has been incredible. To be able to watch one of the, if not the greatest rock-n-roll bands behind the scenes is literally a dream come true, as we Beatle fans have been 

Growing Up With the Beatles

Most of us in the Western world grew up with The Beatles music. Even those of us born after they broke up could feel their influence. I readily admit, I was a Beatles freak in high school. I could not get ehttp://www.georgeharrison.comnough of their music. And, this was the pre-Internet days when you either mail ordered compact discs, bought vinyl at used stores or flea markets, or just bought what the local music stores had in stock. I can remember having my hear set on buying Abbey Road only to settle for Hard Day’s Night because that is all that the store had. Not that I didn’t love their early stuff, as well. It got so bad that on high school band trips, my friends and I blared so much Beatles music that many students would shift to other buses to avoid us. 

Takeaways from the Documentary

  1. Being in a Band is Hard – If you have ever been in a band, you know how hard it can be to balance literally everything. Egos, schedules, singers, songs, dates, tours, merchandise, photos – you name it, it gets out of hand quickly because the members are people.  The Beatles are no different. Watching the frustration on George Harrison’s face when he tries to pitch his songs and his ideas is truly tough to watch for anyone that has had the same pain. Also, as Paul McCartney tries to guide the band through the deadline of learning new songs in time for a live performance, it is clear that his vision is not being seen. Ringo Starr seems aloof at times, but he is definitely a key to make everything happen. John Lennon is also a leader and is the balance between the other members. But, the overall lesson is that it is hard to be in an equal share partnership like a band. It is why so many bands meet the same fate as the Beatles. 
  • Creative Processes are Fascinating – watching the Beatles: Get Back to Where They Once Belonged allows us to see songs that we have heard over the years be written and edited on the spot. Roadie Mal Evans is a hero for watching out for the needs of the band and even jotting down lyric changes. To see these virtuosos play with songs, melodies, and chords is refreshing for any artist that has gone through creative challenges. Even seeing the doubt that they had at times allows for aspiring artists to realize that every creative process is different and has its own set of unique challenges. At one point, the Beatles consider older material that they haven’t recorded due to creative block. 
  • No One Wants to See the Sausage Get Made, Unless It is the Beatles – The mundane rehearsals, the hours put in, the fights, the challenges mentioned above can be cumbersome at times to watch. However, because it’s the Beatles, it is beyond fascinating. I once received some advice when I remarked to a friend that I was “weary of the small details,” and my friend replied, “Life is nothing but small details stitched together.” It is so true and makes it so interesting to watch. 

Grateful for it All

All in all, this documentary reminds me, yet again, why I have missed live music so much during the pandemic. While some shows have started back up, many are not happening due to the resurgence of the Omicron variant. 

I’m grateful the Beatles opened the vault and took us all back to where they once belonged. The songs here speak for themselves and are classics: “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “One After 909” are the standouts to me. This documentary shows what happens when greatness gets backed into a corner. We all get to benefit while the Beatles: Get Back to Where They Once Belonged. 

It is that time again for my picks for Chris Davis’s 2021 Albums of the Year. These are not in any particular order and are the ten best, in my opinion. I am sure they will be some left out, but I always factor in what I listened to most and what stands out to me as I look back. So, here goes:

  1. Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series, Volume 16: Springtime in New York – I have written extensively about this set. The early 1980s for Bob Dylan have been much maligned by a lot of critics, but I always found the albums represented here to hold up against the hands of time. Particularly, Empire Burlesque is a solid record with many great songsGo back and give this era a listen. You will not be disappointed. 
  2. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: The Legendary No Nukes Concerts – This live album took me back to the first time I saw the Boss in Dallas. While many years after this show, the energy was still the same. Bruce and boys and girls from E Street create a feeling that contagious and gets you ready to dance. “Legendary” is not hyperbole here. “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” “Born to Run,” and “Jungleland” all shine. 
  3. Chrissie Hynde: Standing in the Doorway – Ms. Hynde made a splash during the early days of the pandemic with live shows and releases of Bob Dylan classics and covers. This albums fantastic and conveys the heartache, mysticism, and longing that is Dylan to the core. The title track from Time Out of Mind along with “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight,” “In the Summertime,” and “Every Grain of Sand” are true standouts, but the whole album is awesome. 
  4. Emmylou Harris and the Nash RamblersRamble in Music City Another album that I previously reviewed. It reminds us how great Ms. Harris is and how she surrounded each era of her career with top notch musicians that match her ability to sing, write, and choose material that reaches back and takes us forward at the same time. 
  5. James McMurtryThe Horses and the Hounds – New music from one of the best songwriters around captivated longtime fans like myself. I have heard it described as a “California feel,” but I am willing to follow this guy to the ends of the earth, as he seeks to find the great American song. (Spoiler alert: he has probably already written it.) “What’s the Matter Now” is so catchy that I have been singing it ever since first hearing it. 
  6. Cooley, Hood, & Isbell: Live at the Shoals Another previously reviewed collection of great songs. 
  7. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Barn – A new studio album from Neil and the Horse – count me in! This album stacks up to previously releases. I know I am a fan, but the Horse and Neil are soundtracks to my life. “Don’t Forget Love” and “Canerican” are my favorites. Keep on rockin’ in the free world, Bernard Shakey.
  8. Rodney Crowell: Triage – Mr. Crowell sometimes gets forgotten or overshadowed, but is a true singer-songwriter legend, and this new collection shows that he still has the goods to make his claim today. I saw him on the Outlaw Country Cruise a few years ago, and he still rocks live, too. The title track along with “Transient Global Amnesia Blues” stand out to me. 
  9. Shannon McNally: The Waylon SessionsIt takes guts to do a full album of Waylon Jennings covers, and Ms. McNally has the guts to do it. She brings the songs home and owns them. The Rodney Crowell penned “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” and “You Asked Me To” soar to Outlaw Country heights. Check her out today!
  10. Steve Earle & The Dukes: J.T. –Mr. Earle’s poignant tribute to his deceased son Justin Townes Earle makes you want to tap your feet, shout, and cry. It is a terrible loss to the world in general, but especially the music world. However, Steve does a more than admirable job of paying respectful homage. This album ranks up with other memorial albums that SE has done in recent years: Townes and Guy. “Champagne Corolla” and “Harlem River Blues” are standouts. 

Well, there you have it – Chris Davis’s 2021 Albums of the Year. Here is hoping that 2022 will be a great year for music and a great year for you and your family and friends. I wish you all blessings, peace, health, and love. 

On Bob Dylan’s Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 (1980-1985), the king troubadour is looking back at a period of his career that is much maligned and often ignored. This project clearly is the 1980s Revisited and Bob Dylan’s Latest effort to pull back the curtains and let his fans get a true picture of what was going on in his creative process and his mind as he navigated a career of multiple highs and critically acclaimed lows.

I know I make a lot of admissions in these columns of my personal preference and nothing will be new about that in this column. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Dylan album “Empire Burlesque.” There are so many great songs on that album that when I heard this version of the Bootleg Series was coming out, I was very excited. One of my favorite songs is the ballad “Emotionally Yours.”

Furthermore more, the three album arc on this set includes outtakes from two other underrated albums “Shot of Love” and “Infidels.” Both albums have songs they’re known for, but they tend to get lost between the power house albums of the pre-Christian mid-1970s and the comeback records of the late 1990s early 2000s.

The Albums Broken Down

The first disc starts off with rehearsal outtakes of several older Dylan songs and some covers, as well. “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” kicks of the disc and then the rehearsal moves through other Dylan gems. This disc would be more than enough for me, but it’s just the appetizer. There are also some interesting covers on this disc, as well including “Sweet Caroline” and “Abraham, Martin, & John.”

Disc two delves into “Shot of Love.” Knowing either lovingly or disparagingly by fans as “the last Christian record” of Dylan’s evangelical era. I can remember some great live versions of “In the Summertime” back in the 2000s featuring Larry Campbell on mandolin. But, alas, it is not featured on this set. There are great versions of “Lenny Bruce,” “Borrowed Time,” and “Is It Worth It?” Also, another interesting cover is featured here which is the Hank Williams classic “Cold, Cold Heart.”

On disc three, “Infidels” is the subject matter, and this disc really delivers. “Jokerman” is a classic, and the version here gives it new life. One of my all-time favorite tunes, which didn’t make the original album, “Blind Willie McTell” is featured in a faster version than has been played live in recent years. And, there are two great takes of “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight.”

The fourth disc in this set contains more outtakes from the “Infidels” sessions and again there are some remarkable covers. Many musicians want to try songs in the studio and use them to get the band warmed up and look for cohesiveness. The old Porter Wagoner favorite “Green, Green Grass of Home,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and “Union Sundown” make we wonder if at some point, there would (or in my opinion should) be Bootleg Series edition dedicated to covers.

The final disc tackles the aforementioned “Empire Burlesque,” and it is truly remarkable to hear these versions. “I’ll Remember You,” “Seeing the Real You At Last,” and “Emotionally Yours” are songs that stand the test of time. This makes me really want to go back and dig through the deep catalog of Dylan during the 1980s and work some of these tunes up myself.

Recommendation

While I was excited for this box set to come out, I was not sure how solid the complete set would be. Let me be clear – I was blown away by how powerful it is from beginning to end. It is a great study of this time period of Dylan’s career and can be a good way to view some of his newer works. The set is highly recommended to music fans of all ages and interests as it truly is the 1980s Revisited, Bob Dylan’s Latest.

Album Cover for Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers: Ramble in Music City.

Every so often, there’s an unreleased recording that really is a gem. That term “gem” gets thrown around a lot, but with the release of Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers: Ramble in Music City, it’s proven true.

I make no bones about it, I am a huge Emmylou Harris fan. One of my favorite albums is the Live at the Ryman album. I once saw a Nash Rambler reunion at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie, OK hosted by Byron Berline. Her connection with Gram Parson at the beginning of her career is a huge influence. This led to her connection to the Louvin Brothers. These foundations in music prove all roads lead back to Emmylou for me. She’s one of the pillars of country music and a Country Music Hall of Famer. It should be noted that we had a beloved dog named Emmylou that lived a beautiful 19 years.

A Trip Back in Time

This album takes listeners back in time 30 years ago to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. From the opening number of Bill Monroe’s classic Roses in the Snow to the last note of Boulder to Birmingham, listeners are kept on the edge of their seat. Classic tunes and covers include The Boxer (Paul Simon), Two More Bottles of Wine (Delbert McClinton), If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt), and Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight Daylight (Rodney Crowell). My favorite cut on the album is, not surprisingly, If I Could Only Win Your Love a Louvin Brothers classic. Having known Charlie Louvin personally, this cut always gets to me, and Emmylou does a phenomenal version of it.

The Band

The Nash Ramblers were/are one awesome ensemble of outstanding musicians. This iteration featured virtuoso Sam Bush (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), everyone’s bluegrass go to the late Roy Huskey Jr. (bass), Larry Atamanuik (drums), Al Perkins (dobro, banjo, vocals), and Jon Randall Stewart (acoustic guitar, mandolin, vocals). This group was a perfect transition for Emmylou from the Hot Band. Listeners will enjoy this trip back in time and at the same time feel the connection across the years of the music world.

Recommendation

Give this album a listen. It will make you smile and also make you remember a time when we took live music for granted. The power in the songs of this Find of the Year: Emmylou Harris & the Nash Ramblers will transform how and what you are listening to today.

Bob Dylan performs during Shadow Kingdom.

It was clear that it would be huge when the word came out that Bob Dylan would be performing in his first virtual concert on July 18th, 2021. It was titled Shadow Kingdom: and clearly Bob Dylan is Back. While the description of the show said he would have an opportunity to perform songs off his latest album “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” instead Dylan opted for a pre-recorded set of deep catalog songs, many of which have not been performed for years. In any case, it was awesome to have Bob back.

Clocking in at under an hour, fifty minutes to be exact, this 13-song set that was shot in black and white proved that Bob has had time to rest his vocal chords during the pandemic, as his voice sounded great. Set in a jazz club/speakeasy vibe, with audience members smoking and a completely new set of musicians backing him, Bob also featured new arrangements of many of the songs. Anyone that has followed Dylan over the years knows that this is nothing new as he has been rearranging his songs forever. Whether it’s a natural evolution or just boredom of the road, you can count on Bob to come up with different interpretations on almost every leg of each tour.

The setlist included these songs:

  • When I Paint My Masterpiece
  • Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine
  • Queen Jane Approximately
  • I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
  • Just Like Tom Thumb Blues
  • Tombstone Blues
  • To Be Alone with You
  • What Was it You Wanted (from Oh Mercy)
  • Forever Young
  • Pledging My Time
  • Wicked Messenger
  • Watching the River Flow
  • It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

Particular highlights to me included “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “Queen Jane Approximately,” “Tombstone Blues,” and “Pledging My Time.” The concert was highly entertaining and with editing, it moved rapidly between songs. There was a notation that this was the first volume, so the assumption could be that there will be other editions. However, Dylan’s autobiography “Chronicles” also said Volume 1 on it, and it came out in 2004 without a peep about the second volume since.

Shadow Kingdom was a fun event to participate in and be a part of, and it was satisfying to sit back and appreciate the 80 year old bard’s stage presence, phrasing, and overall slyness in performing in this medium. It reminded me of what I’ve been missing and how much I can’t wait to get back out there and see some live music. Let’s beat this pandemic and get back to normal and get back to concerts!