Chris Davis and Billy Joe Shaver - Singer Songwriters In Memoriam 2020
Chris Davis and Billy Joe Shaver 2008

Rest in Peace – In Memoriam 2020. May each of these special souls rest in peace. This is a blog that I hate to write, but I wanted to remember some of the icons we lost this year. 

I know I will leave someone out, but these are the ones that hit me the hardest. – In Memoriam 2020.  

Billy Joe Shaver – He will “Live Forever” just like his song says. Music and songwriting legend that always took time for his fans. I wanted to write a blog when he passed, but I couldn’t write the words. Billy Joe meant a lot to mean and was a constant encourager to me in songwriting and keeping the creativity going. I can remember a lot of sweaty hugs after his shows where he told me loved me and to keep going. He never knew how much he meant to so many.

John Prine – Another void that will never be filled was created when Mr. Prine left us. Songs like “Sam Stone,” “Lake Marie,” and “Paradise” all coming from one writer? Are you kidding me? This guy will be remembered like Cole Porter or Shakespeare long after we are all gone. His Midwestern joy showed through in every thing he did. He was another hero that encouraged me to keep writing and keep going. Every album he did got better, and he was truly like a fine wine getting better with age. 

Charley Pride – He was a trailblazer in country music that was known for chart topping songs and a country styling that was bar none. “Is Anybody Goin to San Antone?” and “Snakes Crawl at Night” were two of my favorites. Who can forget to “Kiss an Angel Good Morning?” He will be remembered for breaking down barriers and taking music by storm. 

Jerry Jeff Walker – Writing “Mr. Bojangles” alone would make JJW immortal, but there were so many other songs like “Taking it as it Comes,” “LA Freeway” and on and on. Add to that the “gonzo” lifestyle, and Jerry Jeff proved what it meant to be an artist. 

Little Richard – No one influenced Rock and Roll more than Little Richard. Elvis and Bob Dylan all copied him. He continues to influence generations. We all know “Tutti Fruiti” by heart. One of my big regrets was not going to see him in Vegas one time when I was there.  I should’ve skipped that business meeting. He will be wailing away on a piano in the great beyond now. 

Johnny Bush – Texas dancehall stalwart, wrote “Whiskey River.” He was a very underrated talent all around. 

Justin Townes Earle – He left us much too soon. His body of work is outstanding for the short time we had him here. We’ll never forget. 

Joe Diffie – Nice guy and native Oklahoma, I can remember him before he had the hits. And, he had plenty of hits. Still was a nice guy, through and through. The last time I saw him was in the Las Vegas airport and was his usual friendly self. 

Paul English – If Willie Nelson writes a song about you, you know you are something special. Long-time drummer and moneyman for Willie, Mr. English had a rough exterior but was friendly, too. ‘They said we look suspicious, but I believe they like to pick on me and Paul.”

W.S. “Fluke” Holland –- Original drummer for Johnny Cash in the Tennessee Three. This guy saw a ton of music history. He will be missed. 

May God bless the families of all these special folks. May their spirits know how much them meant to each of us – In Memoriam 2020. 

vinyl player of 2020 albums of the year

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything for the site. I’ve been recording some covers and a few originals for YouTube and will be posting them on Facebook periodically. So, now’s the time to talk 2020 Albums of the Year!

Yes, I have grown out the beard. I’m still waiting on inspiration to see if it will make it into next year. I’m looking forward to a great 2021. Hopefully, the vaccine kicks in, and we can move back to some semblance of normal.

That being said, the vacuum created by 350k+ lost lives in America alone will leave an echo for the ages to come. Music has always gotten me through the hard time, and it was no different in 2020. Here are my top albums of the year.

2020 Album of the Year

Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways – I’ve written about this album before, so I won’t repeat all that. I’ll just say Bob was back and better than ever, just when we all needed him most. “Murder Most Foul” still makes me tear up. This was my number one in the 2020 Albums of the Year!

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order) 2020 Albums of the Year

Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos – Live at the Hollywood Palladium – An awesome reissue of this great concert shows why Keef is so great in his own right. “Happy” and “Connection” are clear favorites, but every song is a keeper with other standouts being “Too Rude” and “Take it So Hard,”

Elizabeth Cook – Aftermath – EC is back with a vengeance and rocking it through and through. I put this on the first time, and it blew me away. It continues to do so. Why she is not a bigger star, I don’t know, but you should check her out. Stand out tracks are “Bad Decisions” and “Girls of Perfect Pop.”

Jesse Dayton – Gulf Coast Sessions – Get it, son! This is a rollicking good time from one of our favorite Texas Rockers. He took us to his hometown of Beaumont and showed us what it was all about. “Mardi Gras Shake” was my favorite track, but put this one on and enjoy the evening. I’m a believer in Jesse Dayton, and I didn’t have to do it, and I do like it. 

Drive-by Truckers – The New OK – Right now, we need an album from DBT. They are speaking truth to power. “The Perilous Night” was a Record Store Day issue a while back about the Charlottesville White Supremacists. We need to reckon with the things going on in America, and DBT takes us there. “The New OK” title track and the Ramones cover “The KKK Took my Baby Away” are standouts. 

Old 97’s – Twelfth – One of my favorite bands is back with a new collection of songs that make you feel like you know them, even though they are new. These guys continue to bring it. “The Dropouts” and “Happy Hour” are the great ones here to me. 

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – Boots No. 2 & All the Good Times – These two are one of my all-time favorite duos, and they showed up strong with the first collection of reissues and then the collection of covers. Awesome songs, and there are too many to mention. Check them out if you don’t already know them. 

Supersuckers – Play that Rock-n-Roll – The greatest rock-n-roll band in the world was back with a new collection of awesomeness. The boys rock hard and make you want to get in a van and head out. “Bringin’ It Back” and “Dead Jail or Rock-n-Roll” are my favorites on this collection. 

Neil Young – Homegrown—I’ve written about how much I have been waiting for this album, so I’ll link to that and let you know here that this is just a damn fine record. Neil was at his best in this era. 

Tom Petty – Wildflowers & All the Rest – This reissue with unreleased tracks was a project that Tom wanted to release and tour before his untimely death. Wildflowers still ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite records. I can remember shooting pool at the bowling alley in Miami, OK and hearing “You Don’t Know How It Feels” on the jukebox for the first time. The outtakes are incredible and insightful. The live album makes you want to get back out (post-Covid) and see a real rock show. Long Live the Memory of Tom Petty!

I don’t know about you, but I’m missing live music. I miss seeing and experiencing it, and I miss playing it. There’s nothing like the connection between an artist and their audience. When the songs hit and the connection is there, energy exists that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the universe.

I love what Todd Snider says many times about music helping us escape our impending doom…at least for 75 minutes. But, it’s easy to get lost in a concert or lost in a song. This will be the first year in a long time that I haven’t seen Bob Dylan somewhere along the way. He just released a new episode of the “Theme Time Radio Hour” on SiriusXM, so at least I’ve got that, but I still miss seeing His Bobness on the stage and being constantly amazed at the metamorphosis occurring before us.

Of course, there’s a good reason that we’re not seeing live music now. COVID-19 is serious and continues to be a serious issue that we all have to face. If we ever want to see live music again, we need to adhere to what the scientists are saying and wear a damn mask, social distance from people, and be responsible. It’s not an outlaw thing to do to avoid wearing a mask — it’s stupidity personified.

Live venues are hurting. Artists are facing financial crises. Crews are missing income. Music industry employees being laid off. It’s up to us, the people, if we want to get back to having live events again. In the meantime, check out artists that are performing virtually. If you have the means to do so, send them some money to their virtual tip jars. Contact your Congressperson about the bills out there designed to help support live venues.

When the pandemic first hit, i had a burst of songwriting that I hadn’t had in quite a while. I’ll be doing some live versions of those songs soon and releasing the videos here.

In the meantime, stay safe out there, take care of your love ones, and let’s look to see each other sometime soon down the road.

Peace.

It’s not a secret how much of a Bob Dylan-head I am. I’ve followed Bob since I was in college and been to well over 35 shows over the years. So, his new records are events to me, not just normal releases. “Time Out of Mind” helped me get through the passing of two of my grandparents. “Love and Theft” was release on 9/11, and I’ll never forget the pain of that day and the hard lessons we all learned. I was already planning on picking up a copy, so I went ahead and bought it at the old Randy’s Music and Movies in Edmond with my good buddy Daveo. That record will always be etched in my mind. “I’m avoiding South Side as best I can.”

JFK Assassination Theory Inspiration

So, you can imagine my excitement when His Bobness dropped a new single this past March. “Murder Most Foul” was an unbelievable ode to the lost America. I’ll admit when I heard that he had a new single, even though I’m a believer, I doubted it a bit. But, when I listened to this new track walk through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I was more than blown away. Dylan name drops and ties everything together from “It was a dark day in Dallas” all through the song. This was a song that changed me and changed me for the better. It’s been a while since a song affected me like this.

A few weeks later, Dylan followed up this powerful single up with the great “I Contain Multitudes.” If “Murder Most Foul” took put the edge on life, this song took it the rest of the way home. Nothing describes Dylan better than saying that he contains multitudes. This song took the macro of the previous release and amplified it to the micro level. Now, we were all connected between the two. I thought Bob was just dropping singles, and then I heard an album was on the way. Holy shit.

On June 19, 2020, “Rough and Rowdy Ways” was released. I pre-ordered the cd on online (yes, I’m still old school and like to have physical copies), so mine came a few days later than the official release. But, this was an album of all albums. It rocked my world like nothing Dylan’s done since his last original work album 2012’s “Tempest.” I loved his recent work, and even appreciated his Sinatra cover albums over the last few years. But, his original work still speaks stronger, and “Rough and Rowdy Ways” delivers.

Album Highlights

The whole album reminds me of the power of the LP, and how these were always viewed as complete works rather than the way singles are viewed now in the download society we live in. “False Prophet” is one of my favorite tunes on the whole record and is lyrically amazing:

“You don’t know me darlin’
You never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest”

“Goodbye Jimmy Reed,” “Crossing the Rubicon,” and “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” are other highlights of this record. They alternate between the nostalgic and calls to arms. A recent documentary about the Band makes one wax poetic about how they truly crossed their own rubicon when Dylan went electric. The aforementioned “Murder Most Foul” is a capstone to the entire course.

It’s been written a million times that Bob Dylan is back. The reality is that he never went anywhere. He’s been here all along. It his and the cosmic’s decision what art he creates. We’re just luck to get to experience it.

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