Kinky Friedman performs "Resurrection"
Outlaw country music legend Kinky Friedman, who went 40 years without a studio album of new original material prior to last year’s acclaimed Circus of Life, has incredibly released another album of top-shelf all-new songs.
And his new Resurrection (Echo Hill Records) surprises even The Kinkster himself.
“Writing songs at the age of 75 is ridiculous!” he says. “Almost nobody does it, or if they do, it’s a pale shadow of when they did their best work. But I think Resurrection is right up there with the best songs I’ve ever done, and Larry just knocked it out of the park!”
He’s speaking of Larry Campbell, the renowned multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with everyone from Bob Dylan and Levon Helm to Willie Nelson and Little Feat.
“Larry produced and arranged everything—and didn’t overproduce, which so often happens today. But he did it in a way that radio stations all over the place are playing it.”
The focus track so far is “Greater Cincinnati,” “but I know ‘Resurrection’ is out there,” says Friedman. Of the latter cut, he adds, “It’s a duet with Willie Nelson—kind of a ‘dream sequence’ duet, not the standard thing he does. It sounds like Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston driving down the road somewhere—and it’s very powerful.”
It was Nelson, actually, who inspired Friedman’s return to songwriting when he phoned Friedman one night at 3 a.m and found him watching a Matlock rerun—a sure sign of depression, Nelson said, then instructed Friedman to start writing songs again instead. Sure enough, when Friedman called Nelson a month later to report that he had in fact penned a dozen new songs thanks to the advice, Nelson, now himself depressed, asked which channel Matlock was on.
“He got the ball rolling, but it’s a whole different world here in the music business now: Every song on the record is getting airplay somewhere, and we might be able to break through the white noise of the system without the help of some big record label that’s in the process of turning into a dinosaur.”
Speaking of the songs on Resurrection, the titletrack movingly relates where Friedman is in his life now, while looking back at his past. “Blind Kinky Friedman” is likewise self-referential.
“I’ve joined the ranks of people—Willie, Hank Williams, Jr., David Allan Coe--who use their own name in a song,” he says. “It takes a certain amount of vanity to do that!”
“Me & Billy Swan” visits the ghosts of the country music outlaws who emerged along with Friedman from Nashville’s Music Row in the 1970s, while lead track “Mandela’s Blues” recounts the “long walk to freedom” of Nelson Mandela--whom Kinky learned was a fan of his in prison. The mournful “A Dog in the Sky” honors the memory of his beloved Mister P, who “was dropped off by a friend who was dying of cancer and became my shadow until he disappeared.”
The songs are full of the sensitivity and humanism that were often overlooked in Friedman’s earlier work, what with a backing band called the Texas Jewboys and politically incorrect song titles like “Ride ’Em, Jewboy”—actually a sober yet remarkably hopeful lonesome trail song about the Holocaust that was Mandela’s favorite. “The Bridge That Wouldn’t Burn” teaches that “lessons that you can’t forget are the only ones you learn, and love’s a gift you sometimes can’t return.” “Carryin’ the Torch” surprisingly turns out to be about the Statue of Liberty: “It sounds like Hank Williams--old Hank Williams.”
Unlike the sparse and simple sound of Circus of Life, on Resurrection, “Larry’s proved that you can make a great record with a recording studio,” declares Friedman, who goes way back with the heavy in-demand producer/musician. “He was in The Entire Polish Army--my band at [New York’s fabled] the Lone Star Cafe--for years.”
But the new album also features a new Friedman recruit in Doc Elliot, who co-wrote four of the songs and adds backup vocals.
“He’s a 23-year-old kid I met in San Diego, and thought he was a homeless person!” says Friedman, “He was wandering around behind the club and then came by the ranch [Echo Hill Ranch, where Friedman lives, near Kerrville] and hung out for a year-and-a-half, and somewhere in there he and I sat down and co-wrote four songs. Some had always been in my head, like ‘Cincinnati’--which I’d thought about for 40 years and had the melody. Something about our chemistry really works.”
On the road now for the East Coast/Midwest swing of his 2019 Merry Kinkster Tour, Friedman is joined on many shows by his long-time Austin cohort Cleve Hattersley, whose new book Life Is a Butt Dial documents their past adventures, and opener Brian Molnar, who produced Circus of Life and is promoting his own new album One of Them. Western tour dates will be announced soon.
“I think it’s amazing that a 75-year-old man who reads at a 77-year-old level can make fresh, original music,” says Friedman, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Lubbock a couple months back from the CMA of Texas, and feels that finding out that Nelson Mandela was listening to him in prison “is really better than winning a Grammy.”
He adds that the tour “is going very well. We subscribe to the school of not taking a night off: The crowds are great, and it should turn into a financial pleasure for The Kinkster. I think I’ll get a check for $18!”
Meanwhile, Friedman has already written a new song with Chuck E. Weiss called “See You Down the Highway.”
“I’m just deciding if I want to do more [writing], or open heaven’s door wider!” he says. To the latter end--and in keeping with his Resurrection theme--he’s conceived a charitable organization to revive his parents’ long-running but now dormant children’s camp at Echo Hill Ranch.
“It’s a magical place, and me and my sister want to bring it back for Gold Star and first responders families’ kids,” says Friedman, who still has six dogs and remains active in supporting the nearby Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch.