This is a companion picture to this. The ensuing meal introduced me to that culinary marvel which would sustain me for many summer nights in the thirty years that has passed between then and now: the Mountain Pie. The girl in the photo was my date for my senior prom.
So, it’s not Saturday. I know. I didn’t want to wait another week to get this series on track. I’m not a photographer, but I’ve taken a few dozen pictures over the years that I liked–some of them, like this one, are scans of ancient film shots. Enjoy the pretentious effects–I thought I was being pretty arty at the time.
Lydia Loveless–what a voice. Classic, yet transcendent.
Another great, slightly under-the-radar singer/songwriter: Lindi Ortega doing “All My Friends.” I picked this song in particular because not only is it a fantastic song by a talented artist with a mesmerizing voice, it would make the perfect opening song on a soundtrack of my nearly-finished novel, which opens with a whole lot of the protagonist’s friends wanting to see him dead. Of course, with Ms. Ortega as the soundtrack, there would definitely be worse ways to go.
It’s been rewarding to have hip people falling all over themselves, infatuated with American “roots music,” having put in my time as a kid in the back seat of cars without seatbelts, subjected to sonic brainwashing from the old country radio my dad would blare: all that Hank and Merle, Willie and Waylon–the long trips to Tammy Wynette concerts, the all-day music festival in muddy second rate fairground with Roy Clark and The Statler Brothers at the top of the bill. The countless hours of Hee Haw, The Grand Ol’ Opry, and even Pop! Goes The Country–how I hated it all, how I yearned for the King Biscuit Flour Hour, how I cursed Buck Owens and that bitch, Loretta Lynn.
After an embarrassing daliance with moribund art rock (I own several Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer LPs on vinyl) I turned to punk, new wave, even a little bit of proto-goth (I own all the Siouxsie & The Banshees up to Tinder, also on vinyl) although I was an unkempt, wool and flannel rural kid who would have slit his wrist before wearing eye shadow.) I’d give anything a chance except hard metal, twinkly R&B, and country.
I guess it was Stockholm Syndrome. My dad, long estranged, got into oldies and I fell in love with pedal steel guitar. When, after close to two decades out of touch, we found common ground, I was excited to share with him infatuations like Uncle Tupelo, Lone Justice, The Cowboy Junkies–and my full blown love for Gram, Emmylou, Johnny Cash–and don’t even get me started on Townes Van Zandt. I thought I cold burn him some discs, you know, but he’d given up country for Sha Na Na. It was hard to blame him–there’s little in the world more cloying, more bile-inducing than mainstream radio country. When it comes down to it, my dad didn’t turn on Nashville–Nashville gave up on him. I might have shown him the light, but he died before I burned those discs, or conned him into seeing a Lucinda Williams concert. Man, he would have loved Lucinda Williams.
There’s an old song–not that old–“I lost you but I found country music.”
And all of the sudden the Avett Brothers are the biggest band around, selling out shows wherever they go. Old Crow Medicine Show got inducted into the Opry, and the Lumineers are on magazine covers. Banjos are cool. Kids are agog over Mumford & Sons.
It’s against this backdrop that I want to introduce you to The Maddox Brothers and Rose–not a roots music band, they ARE roots music, and they’re incredible. A hard-driving, pure and wild and unsophisticated, boot-stompin’ blur of attitude who billed themselves as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band,” not necessarily because of their penchant for brightly colored, highly ornate costumes. The group ripped it up some and Rose Maddox, known for her “reputation as a lusty firebrand”, which in pre-feminist days likely meant she had a mind of her own and didn’t take any shit from the country music patriarchy, was one of the most unapologetic in-your-face lead singers in the history of country music. She was, by all accounts, an absolute force of nature compared to her contemporaries. She was also a fashion trend-setter, one of the early musical customers of legendary rodeo tailor Nudie Cohn–whose work would become popular with many of the greatest
names in music and who deserves his own post.
The Maddox Brothers weren’t incredible musicians, and they weren’t middle class kids finding themselves while trying to find something to do with all those violin lessons foisted on them when they were in Montessori school. The progeny of failed sharecroppers, they turned to music because their wasn’t much else, and they had that rare illusive quality so many more refined acts have lacked–they “rocked.” Or, as I’ve put it in posts about other bands, “they got it.”
Lone Justice. If you don’t recognized the name of the band, you’re not alone–they burned bright and brilliant for a few short years in the mid-1980s, an edgy country-blues-pop band that defied the classifications of the time, too hard edged and rock and roll for Nashville, too country for pop, and eventually too commercially viable for the “cowpunk” scene they slotted into. They were a big presence on indie and college radio at a time where the number of successful bands who leaned towards traditional could fit, albeit uncomfortably, in the round corner booth at Denny’s. The Beat Farmers and come to mind, and giants like the inimitable band “X,” and maybe The Meat Puppets–but I’d most closely associate them with another great little band called The Blasters, in that their country roots showed a little darker than most, and even then Lone Justice had some strong southern blues undercurrents that placed them left of center of one of the more unwieldy sub-genres of music.
I got the first Lone Justice album from the RCA Record club–the greatest thing ever. It seems silly now in the midst of almost universal digital access, but music used to be expensive, and kids in small towns like mine were at the mercy of our record sellers. Now, we had a good, non-corporate record store, but they leaned more towards bands like Yes and Edgar Winter and sold a lot of bongs. Rowdy kids jamming old-fashioned country revved up with alternative vigor weren’t on their radar. RCA ran advertisements in newspapers and magazines along with their glossier rival, Columbia House, which was bigger and fancier but required a much larger commitment–get 12 records for free, a 13th for $3.99, and agree to buy 5 or 6 more at “regular club” prices, which were on the high side, and the old “shipping and handling” scam. RCA only gave you 6 free, but you just had to buy one at a discount and two more at those club prices.. You could be out of there with nine records for $30, wait a couple months, and sign up again–and RCA had a small but interesting selection of “interesting” recording.
I didn’t know much about Lone Justice expect that the sounded great, but when the album arrived and I threw it on the turntable, it was like BAM–my tastes in music changed. Not completely, but more than a little. I’d already had my alternative tastes challenged by a friend who kept giving me Grateful Dead tapes, and turning me on to all the country-blues-roots that come with the Dead, but Lone Justice sent me deep into the barnyard. A few years later I would buy the Cowboy Junkies “Trinity Sessions,” and that band would instantly become–and it still remains–my absolute favorite, while my musical tastes are best described as “confused.’
So, I owe you an extra poem–yesterday got busy, man–and a real live handwritten homespun entry–and both are on the way, I promise. But, in the meantime, I’ll hand over another interesting photo I stumbled by at some point and saved for just such an occasion. How about this one; I think it’s from Tumblr, and like all things Tumblr had been reposted a gigazillion times, so I don’t have a credit, but it’s cute and just what I need for my grumpy, slightly hungover mood:
We had yet another trip to Pittsburgh in store for us Saturday–my fourth in a row, as I’d been in the suburbs Wednesday to help my mom pick out and negotiate for a new car–a long but unexpectedly pleasant experience with Day Chevrolet in Murrysville, PA. We got her an almost new Chevy Cruze–a perfect Grandma-car, but still a little sporty, a little perky to drive. Way to go, Detroit–this one brings a hammer to the Compact Dance, and has the Asian marques in a tizzy, I’d wager.
After that, and the two days of swim meet, let’s just say I was less than enthusiastic about another day crammed into a car, even though the plans for the evening were for recreation. I was grumpy all day, sick of restaurant food, weary of having a seat belt carving into my cartoid, and just plain tired. If we hadn’t been locked in to the tune of $130 I would have been tempted to bail. I just wanted to sleep.
That would have been a shame, because we had a semi-potluck in the mid-afternoon: ham, oven-baked herbed potatoes, salad, lots of fresh fruit and tasty bread, and apple pie for desert, with 4 friends and our kids, then the grown-ups saddled up and made the very familiar drive back to Cardiac Hill. This time, after hours on a weekend, the parking was easy. We quickly found a space in a small garage, downed some beers in the van–the garage was full of folks sitting in their vehicles, bartending out of their trunks. Soon enough it was time, and we strolled up to the Peterson Center, a pretty fantastic venue on the Pitt campus. We were there to see The Old Crow Medicine Show and The Avett Brothers, and it turned out we got enviable, fantastic seats, just above floor level.
And man, it was awesome. Old Crow opened with a boisterous cover of John Denver’s seminal kneeslappin’ Thank God I’m A Country Boy and the crowd roared into Full Whoop–where is stayed through their too short 50-minute opening set. I loved the crowd–more beards per capita than anyplace but downtown Islamabad– so I felt right at home, enjoying the irony of realizing that at the same moment Old Crow was jamming out genuine old-school Grand Old Opry-grade country to 35,000 hipsters in Pittsburgh, PA all over the country so-called Country Bands were shoveling candy-coated bubblegum pop to hundreds of thousands of rednecks. The energy was pure and joyful–especially during the most popular songs, when the bands and 35,000 background singers–just listen to the voices….
By the time the Avetts ripped through more than two hours (!!) of their show then re-emerged onstage the crowd was in a danced-up, full-flowering bliss, seemingly impossible to improve–until they called Old Crow out on the stage for a magnum freaking opus encore medley of Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again, The Carter Family’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken (you know an alt.country band is certified when they cover The Carters in their encore), and–finally–an inspired cover of the Spaniels’ Goodnight, Sweetheart. Freaking awesome, and utterly perfect. A stop for take out from Mineo’s Pizza on the way home, and the night was complete.