An Earle-y Death

Over the centuries of my existence I have developed a liking for what is currently known as Alt Country music…in other words anything that isn’t country music. 😀

Ooo…that’s just a wee bit mean of me.

I suppose it all stemmed from the fact that my dad liked traditional country…and I hated the type of country he liked.  It was part of the unwritten agreement between generations.  It was mandatory to detest your parents’ music and damned cool to boot.  Like your parents music and you would become a social pariah in quick time.  In the ’70’s country music to Scots meant “Oor Sidney”, the dreaded Sidney Devine.  Mind you I ‘m not sure if my folks liked Sidney...but you couldn’t take a chance on that sort of thing.  Better pledging your undying allegiance to Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin if you wanted to keep some measure of peer credibility.

Sadly this natural order of things has broken down over the  years with Cap’n Jack exploring my music…and me being partial to Green Day and  Placebo.  This would have been unthinkable 40 years ago…my God THAT long!

Admittedly the more extreme ends of the spectrum received equal measure of contempt from both parties, Cap’n Jack having nothing to do with the Incredible String Band and me likewise with some of his bands hell bent on promoting all things on the anti-Christ front and other such jolly japes!   However we both come together in condemning “The Bleating Sheep” who’s a big fan of modern R&B, soul, hip hop and other such unspeakable varieties of…no I refuse to acknowledge them as a form of music.

Anyway back to the country thingy…

I’d listened to The Byrds (in the Gram Parsons era) knock out some decent country numbers.  I’d followed the shambling wanderings of the Grateful Dead, the more conservative New Riders of the Purple Sage, the country-pop orientated  Eagles…but I’d still to find that alt country musician who could produce an album I would listen to all the way through.

Many years later along came Steve Earle.  At last, my kind of country music.

Just to be perverse I’m not going to play anything by Steve Earle just now, but here’s a video of his son Justin Townes Earle  bashing out the happiest suicide song ever!  Does your heart proud to listen to that happy beat and hear the thoughts of some poor sod all hell bent on doing away with himself.  He’s a quair lookin’ character altogether…

While the younger Earle sings of self destruction the elder Earle is a big supporter of the campaign against the death penalty in the US, with a number of his songs based on the last moments of prisoners on death row.  I recall playing “Ellis Unit One” at the local folk club – hard going on the emotions.  Never tried to play it again.

On the subject of death and in particular contemplating suicide –  Bryan Ferry had a much more reflective approach to the extreme end of self harm and bumped out a brilliant version of that old country classic “Goodnight Irene”.  I first remember hearing that song on that bastion of unintended racism “The Black and White Minstrel Show” where I, as a pre 12 year old, made no connection whatsoever between those painted faces and coloured people.  Such a sheltered upbringing.  Oddly my mind still doesn’t make that connection but that’s probably because there is no cultural background to that particular scenario where I come from.  We much preferred sectarianism.

And…by the way…don’t you just love that big bass “I play in a pished sectarian flute band” drum on its big single beat in the background starting in the second chorus.  Gotta love it!

So that was Bryan Ferry and “Goodnight Irene” – depression and death…now that’s alt country!

So…why am I so happy?  ‘Cause I’m on holiday for 2 weeks 😀  and I’ve just cooked a couple of nice steaks and opened a v-e-r-y nice bottle of red.

Tonight’s red wine is a pinot noir from the Robert Mondavi Winery in California’s Napa Valley and I’m impressed at the number of semi-coherent words (with little by way of spelling mistakes) it can knock out in 30 minutes.

Hope you enjoyed the music and next time I may even have gotten around to finishing the “Tail” of our walk along The Fife Coastal Path.

OK…I relent…here’s Steve Earle on the more uplifting “I don’t want to die” track that is “Transendental Blues”  Remember…bang up the volume! 😉

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24 thoughts on “An Earle-y Death”

  1. I had my fill of country music as a child, living in Oklahoma and Texas much of the time. In later years I set aside my prejudice, and found I liked SOME of it. “Goodnight, Irene” was certainly a standard, sung here by good ol’ Willie Nelson:

    Wine is another issue altogether! Living right in the middle of a primary wine country region of California in the 80’s, and vacationing there every year now, we’re surrounded by wonderful wines. Napa Valley is one great area, but it’s joined by many others in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Napa was the biggie, but no more. When Clay and I were in the hospitality field, we learned so much about wines. One of our favorites is Navarro, but you can buy it only at the winery. We stop every trip to Mendocino to replenish our “cellar” (actually the food pantry).

    Vacation? Look forward to photos and travelogues, if you’ll be doing that.


  2. That’s twice you’ve mentioned The Incredible String Band. And I thought I was the only fan left.

    Last saw them in 1970 I think at the Roundhouse, performing their stage show ‘U’. Happy daze 😉

  3. Florene, you lived in the prime wine area of California! How could you leave? 😦 😆

    Like the look of your favourite vineyard…we have enjoyed visiting a few in France – last time was near Bordeaux…I think we still have a couple of bottles left…must go and investigate! 😉

    Not sure about trips this holiday…we’re doggysitting Maisie’s brother…and after that it depends on the weather. But you never know…

    Steve’s done pretty well for himself…Om. Keep meaning to put together a playlist “best of” for my ipod…but I like so many of the tracks! Unusual for me.

    Phil, there are at least 4 of us! Oldmortality has posted a video, I’ve made comment, Russell, who lives nr Stirling who drops in on the blog is a fan. It’s an unusually high number for such a small group of people.

    I missed them when I was in my teens…I was sixteen in 1970 so they were about finished by the time I “discovered” them.

    I saw the original 3-some reform in the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh a number of years ago but they had Robin Williamson’s wife singing. Sadly she wasn’t very good and frankly ruined the show for me. Harsh – but that’s showbiz! I was disappointed I never got to see them in my younger days.

  4. Hi Ken. Something else in common. – Alt Country. – Although the term “Americana” seems to be getting used more often these days. By coincidence, Steve Earle CD “El Corazon” arrived from Amazon yesterday. Love CD “Trancendental Blues”, especially the two Irish tracks. Have you heard Tom Waites singing “Goodnight Irene” on the triple CD “Orphans”? Not everybody’s cup of tea, but I really like it. All the best, Russell.

  5. I can see the music taking over this blog 😆 .

    I had a Steve Earle coincidence as well. My old pirate copy of Transcendental Blues was gubbed so I sent off for a new one…it arrived a week past Friday. On the Saturday I was in HMV in Glasgow and no prizes for guessing what they were playing in the shop as a featured album…Transcendental Blues. Weird coincidence for an album that’s years old!

    Reminds me I’ll have to re-visit El Corazon.

    Haven’t heard the Tom Waits version of Goodnight Irene – but I’m off to remedy that now – thanks Russell! 😀

    Cancel the last statement – just tracked down the Tom Waits version…it was, how can I put this, um….interesting. 😆 It was certainly different. Mind you I never used to like olives until I went to Portugal and they were put in front of me before every meal – I love olives now. You never know I may even grow to like the music of Mr. Waits. I’m off to check out some more! 😀

  6. And, never one to miss a Warren Zevon tie up, Steve Earle was on the cover versions album “Enjoy Every Sandwich”. (He did Reconsider Me, with a band called Reckless Kelly, who are also worth checking oot.)

    It’s quite…organic, all this music stuff, eh?


    1. Ah, Warren Zevon, Scott. Writer of the truest words I’ve ever hear. -“You’ve got to sit on your ass and nod at stupid things. Boy, that’s hard to do. But if you don’t they’ll screw you. and if you do they’ll screw you too.” After 38 years in education I’ve done a lot of nodding at stupid things.Russell

  7. An odd (or not so odd when you think about the style of some of his music) was The Pogues playing the backing for Steve Earle’s “Johnny Come Lately”.

    I didn’t think (until this morning) that they’d played together on stage but it seemes they did – for 4 nights before recording the song in the studio.

    Apparently SE is still recovering from the hangover….

  8. Thought you`d disappeared from the blogosphere Ken 🙂

    Another Alt Counry/americana fan here.Always liked Steve Earle ever since Copperhead Road was released.I usually go on spec to see any Americana gigs in the area as listed on the Americana-uk site. Best surprise I ever had was a guy called Tom Ovans…he wandered on to the stage at the Tron theatre with a battered old guitar and a bottle of whisky and he was fantastic.! Tom Pacheco ( old hippy folkie ) usually tours every November and plays the Falkirk folk club.Will remind you when the time comes..!

    It may be of interest to note that my uncle owns a vineyard at Kelseyville in the Napa Valley.His son brought a case of very expensive swally over to Oklahoma for me to sample a few years ago. Pity you weren`t there Ken 🙂

  9. Naw…still here Alex 😀 …just the way things have been working out recently I haven’t had as much blogging time.

    Don’t think I’ve heard of Tom Ovens…will have to check him out. I’ve seen Tom Pacheco at Falkirk…his first visit. I used to go to Falkirk Folk Club – roughly 2002 to 2005 – I think. We’ll have to arrange to meet for a gig Alex! I haven’t been to the new venue. Just remembered I have a few CD’s from those days from visiting acts – might put a few tracks on the blog.

    Uncle has a vineyard…aaarrgghhhh!

    1. Thanks Florene 😆

      Made wine circa 1979. Everybody used to have demi-johns bubbling in their hot-cupboards. In general the wine was crap but the beer was rather good…or at least one batch was! 😀

      Think I’ll stick to raiding Majestic now and again

  10. Just to show that I’m keeping up, I had to smile when Bob Harris referred to Johnny Come Lately as “Steve Earle’s song about the Vietnam war”. I felt like sending him an email on the tech spec’s of P-47s. (And asking which parts of Vietnam London and Camden were in.)


    I have 2 copies the CD of Copperhead Road (don’t ask); anyone fancy one.

    Ken – I am having to enter my details AGAIN to get this posted! If you are trying to get rid of me you will have to come up with something more cunning.

    1. Couldn’t standing old “Whispering BH”. The Old Grey Whistle Test should have been a dynamic portrayal of modern music but that man had me asleep by the time the first chords were played!

      Bad news MrP – as I recall the last verse of JCL is about “him” returning from Vietnam and the comparison between the welcome back for the WW2 vets and the Vietnam vets. Or that’s what I thought it was? I am glad you are keeping up though! 😆

      Sorry about the details thing – I’ve no idea what causes it! I’ve got a problem, myself, with my OpenID which should allow me to post easily on other blogs – ain’t happening. Happened when I opened this new blog – I reckon I’ve confused something, somewhere!

      I am however amazed that anyone wants to come back – I assumed that most returns were made by someone pressing the wrong button on their keyboard!

  11. “Does your heart proud to listen to that happy beat and hear the thoughts of some poor sod all hell bent on doing away with himself.”

    I’ve still got a cassette tape with Marianne Faithful’s Broken English on one side and Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate on the other. It is labled “Songs to Commit Suicide To”. 🙂

    Oh, I do like a bit of truely miserable Americana.

    1. We’ll have to see what else we can dig up on the “miserable Americana” front.

      We could have a competition to find the most miserable americana song of all time…with the winner identified by the most number of suicides attributed to his/her song. First prize – um – a pre-arranged suicide for the winner with an accompanying Sidney Devine soundtrack. If the attempted suicide doesn’t do the business then the voice of good ol’ Sidney will most certainly do the trick.

  12. “Transendental Blues”. Not a version I have heard before, so tell me Ken, is the quality of the reproduction poor on your site, is Mr Earle drunk, did he record it in an underground car park using an amplifier he had purchased for $27, or some combination?

    1. Sounds ok on mine Simon 😀 ….pretty grungy guitar sound at times…but deliberately so. Voice also sounds grungy…but that’s Steve Earle for you! The live version on the DVD I have sounds a lot worse! 😆

  13. Ah. “Grungy”. That’s where it already sounds as if it were being played on a cheap car stereo whilst travelling at speed down the Loch Arkaig road. Like Mr Springsteen’s Nebraska – good songs rendered unlistenable to.

    I had always assumed that this effect was due to cock ups in the production process, rather than an effect to be striven for.

    1. What an old fogie you are MrP…next you’ll be complaining it’s too loud or has too much bass

      I wait for the cry of “Turn that bloody racket down!” “It wasn’t like that when I was young…we played real music then!”


  14. Nah, I just miss the point of writing good lyrics and then quite deliberately turning out a finished product in which you can’t tell what they are. If you write rubbish and/or repetitive lyrics (eg you’re a rock or pop band) then fair enough.

    Happily the Steve Earle numbers which I possess all have clear lyrics, showing that he can do it , when he can be bothered.

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