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Posted October 20, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

The Loneliest Man I Ever Met: A convo with Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman photo by Brian Kanof
Kinky Friedman photo by Brian Kanof

Veteran singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman has lived quite a life. He’s written best-selling novels, released a handful of albums, toured with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and recorded with Eric Clapton. His latest studio album The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, features originals such as “Sold American,” “Nashville Casualty and Life” and “Ride ’Em Jewboy,” the song that Nelson Mandela reportedly fell in love with while he was in prison. The album also includes Friedman’s take on tunes by Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and friend Willie Nelson, who produced and performs on his own “Bloody Mary Morning.” The album features guitarist Joe Cirotti with harmonica by Willie’s Family Band mate Mickey Raphael and piano contributions by Little Jewford, the bandleader of the Texas Jewboys. He recently phoned us from his Texas ranch to talk about the album.

You’ve just released your first album in decades. Did you lose track of time?
It’s the first one in 32 years. Life gets in the way. I’ve been writing books and columns. Politics gets in the way. Then, until I met Brian Molnar the guy who produced the record, I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do. He did the thing at the ranch and found a great guitar player along with an engineer. They were from Jersey. I called them the Jersey Boys. They’re the only sound you hear on the record. There are three original songs and nine interpretative renderings. Elvis never wrote a song and Sinatra never wrote a song. The interpretation is what’s happening here. I’m not doing this to educate millennials. It’s a record of songs that I love. The more I play the record, the more it seems like a mirror. “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” might be known by two percent of the audience. It’s halfway between Bob and Kinky. It’s right in the middle, I think. Of course, “My Shit’s Fucked Up” isn’t so much about Warren Zevon dying of cancer as it is a visionary song. It’s a perfect description of our country and our world today. Our shit’s fucked up. It might not be fixable this time.

How has your music found an audience?
It’s world-wide. You know the story of how Nelson Mandela listened to the smuggled cassette tape of Sold American? He was in prison for 17 years. The guy in the cell next to him was Tokyo Sexwale. I met him when I was traveling. I met Tokyo Sexwale, one of his right-hand men, when I was in South Africa. He told me that Mandela was a big fan. He said, “We smuggled what we could. I was in the cell next to him and the signoff song that he played every night was ‘Ride Em Jewboy.’ That went on for the better part of three years.” He told me, “Kinky, don’t get a swelled head.” His favorite singer was Dolly Parton. I think back to recording the album. We were worrying if the disc jockeys would play it. The last thing on my mind was that Nelson Mandela would be listening to it in a prison cell. That makes the song and the whole career significant. It’s maybe not important like Miley Cyrus or Garth Brooks or Toby Keith. There’s nothing wrong with those people; it’s just that the songs that are coming out now sound like they’re music for frat parties. They were written by committees of four and five people. They have click tracks. “Bloody Mary Morning” is out of rhythm but that’s its charm. It’s spontaneous and has spirit. It’s a perfect song. Willie is the jazz cowboy on that one.

When you started playing in the ‘70s, did you feel connected to the alt-country of the time? Did you like Gram Parsons?
Yes. That’s a perfect example. That’s the difference between important and significant. Toby Keith is pushing one billion dollars now in profit. I never met and have nothing against him. That’s important to his publishers and fanbase and all that shit but it’s not significant. Gram Parsons is significant. Shel Silverstein is. Warren Zevon is. Tom Waits is. Kinky Friedman would love to be part of that group instead of the other group. That is a group that can inspire young people and the geezers. You can’t fail to see a show by Willie or Bob or Billy Joe Shaver or Merle and not go away with a little different sensibility.

I always like Neil Young.
You can add Neil to that list.

What’s the story behind the album’s title track?
I wrote that when I was a struggling singer-songwriter in Nashville. That’s as close to Jesus as you’ll ever get. It’s a really pure calling. It’s a wonderful thing to be. These guys can’t do it again—Willie and Bob. They’re distanced from their art by their success. If they did do it and wrote some great stuff, they’re so good that you can’t tell if the stuff is great or if it’s just the doing it. There are a lot of factors at work here but the big one is cultural ADD. No one is going to listen to a record any more. They don’t even listen to a whole song. They can’t keep it in their heads. In politics, it’s the same damn thing. Look at the continent of Africa. Do you see any Mandelas rising there? No, you don’t. You see a bunch of brutal corrupt black leaders who are just as corrupt as the white leaders before them. You don’t see a Churchill or an Abe Lincoln.

You know who the Americans are. Our politicians fulfill our definition of politics. Poly means more than one and ticks are bloodsucking parasites.

Is it an older tune?
It was written about 25 years ago by me and Will Hoover in Nashville. It’s about our friend Tompall Glaser who we feel is an outsider in the Outlaw movement He burned more bridges and had a lot more to lose than Willie and Waylon who were like gypsies. Tompall was already the king of the hill.

You ran for governor in 2004. What was that experience like?
Jamey Johnson wants me to run for governor againand he’ll run for lieutenant governor. We’ll call it the “Kinky Johnson” ticket. Willie gave me some great advice when I ran for governor. He said, “If you’re going to have sex with an animal, always make it a horse. That way, if things don’t work out, you’ll always have a ride home.”

Are you a Republican?
No. I’m not picking on Obama anymore because he’s on his way out and he shouldn’t let the White House door slam him on the way out. Rick Perry, who is my favorite nemesis, to pick on, is out. I can’t do jokes about him anymore. The crowd always picks Barabbas. You can bet if there’s anyone good there, they don’t pick them. They’ll kill him. There’s only one thing I don’t like about Trump. I prefer Mr. Anonymous. If you give money to a children’s hospital, you shouldn’t put your name up there in big letters. He’s not corrupt. Neither is Bernie Sanders. Those two are not. I don’t know, though. We need to limit everyone to two terms — one in office and one in prison. That would go a long way to help. Musicians could run the world. We won’t get much done in the morning but we’ll work late. And we’ll be honest and creative. Something has got to happen. It’s shocking that Obama turned out the way he did. He’s like Forrest Gump or something. Nobody would have thought that. They thought he would be stronger. Maybe more of a leader. Maybe whoever we get will be better.

What do you have planned for the live show?
There will be some stuff from the new record, of course. There will be old favorites. I can’t get around to not doing “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “I’m Proud to be an Asshole from El Paso.” I will have Joe Cirotti with me who did some beautiful guitar work on the record. We have a lot of merch. We have T-shirts and sweatshirts. I will sign anything but bad legislation.

Won’t you miss the ranch?
It’s a month-and-a-half tour. I’m sad about leaving my four dogs. I explained to them what I have to do. This is a tour on the Hank Williams level. When you’re doing back-to-back shows with no nights off, you are going to be running on pure adrenaline. You’ll be raw and pure and hearing voices and all your good angels will hopefully be there with you. It’s really a test. I’m 70 years old, though I read at the 72-year-old level. I feel like the white Richard Pryor, who would probably be a homeless person if he were around today.

Upcoming 2015 Shows

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NORTHAMPTON, MA  Iron Horse Music Hall

NEW HAVEN, CT  Cafe Nine

SOMERVILLE, MA  Johnny D’s

PAWLING, NY  Daryl’s House Club

BORDENTOWN, NJ  The Record Collector

FALL RIVER, MA  Narrows Center for the Arts

NEW YORK, NY B.B. Kings

PIERMONT, NY   The Turning Point

FORT WORTH, TX  Texas Council of Social Studies

COLLINSVILLE, CT  Bridge Street Live

RINGWOOD, NJ  Live at Drew’s House Concert

COLUMBUS, OH  Woodlands Tavern

CLEVELAND, OH  Wilbert’s

EVANSTON (CHICAGO), IL SPACE

LOUIS, MO  Off Broadway

KANSAS CITY, MO  Knuckleheads

CHARLESTON, WV  Mountain Stage

NEWPORT, KY   Southgate House

NASHVILLE, TN  Bluebird Cafe


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.