It's been an eventful week for Hank Williams, Jr. who on Monday compared President Obama to Hitler in a Fox News interview, which cost him his longtime association with ESPN and Monday Night Football, where his theme song based on his 1984 top ten hit "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" had been the opener since the late 1980s. I'll have more to say on that at the end, but Hank Jr, aka "Bocephus" (a nickname his daddy gave him in infancy) has had, to say the least, an interesting career, from the start, to the peak, to the inevitable decline. Here's an indepth look.
This week's "Believe Your Ears" podcast reviews Merle Haggard's album Working in Tennessee, out next Tuesday. This is a bit of the title track, performed onstage with son Ben Haggard on guitar. It's basically Merle adding new lyrics to the traditional fiddle tune "Don't Let The Deal Go Down," a song long associated with his hero, Western Swing bandleader Bob Wills.
Johnnie Wright, half of the respected vocal duo of Johnnie and Jack and husband and singing \partner of country legend Kitty Wells, died Tuesday at his home in Madison, Tennessee, just outside Nashville. He was 97 and had been in failing health. Wright and Wells had retired from active touring after performing together over 60 years. Funeral services will be held Friday in Madison.
In my Sunday PG article on Joe Negri, I mentioned his roots in Italian music, which he grew up with as a kid in Mt Washington. His grandparents and parents appreciated opera, Neapolitan music and singers like Carlo Buti. I also said he's been known to insert Italian medleys into jazz presentations.
Jake Owen's 2009 album Easy Does It reflected the sort of lowest-common-denominator fare even Nashville insiders will admit (off the record, of course), gives the place a bad name. Easy Does It reached # 2 on Billboard's Top Country Albums charts. Barefoot Blue Jean Night spent a week at # 1 until George Strait's new album nudged it out. Owen's title song spent a week at # 1 on the singles chart until Rodney Atkins' "Take A Back Road" knocked it off. The question: does such success indicate this new release is even more cliché-ridden and formulaic than his previous effort?
This week's "Believe Your Ears" music podcast examines a new reissue: Hank Williams: The Legend Begins which includes the first two recordings he ever made, songs that might surprise most of his fans, as well as various radio shows for the 1950's patent medicine Hadacol and a 1951 March of Dimes broadcast.
Legacy Recordings has just announced the pending release of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Last Time Out: December 26 1967. It chronicles the final concert by the "classic" Brubeck Quartet (Brubeck, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello). This 13-song, two-CD set will appear November 11. It would be a significant historical release for that alone. What makes it even more significant is that the concert took place in a city with a distinctive jazz heritage acknowledged worldwide: here in Pittsburgh, at the Hilton, in front of a crowd of 1700. The tapes are not from Columbia Records; Brubeck ended up with a mono tape made almost surely from the soundboard.
The deaths of Wade Mainer at 104 and Wilma Lee Cooper at 90 may seem to have little connection. Mainer, after all, was known mainly to hardcore devotees of Appalachian music and until late in his life, mainly to historians of that better known but complex musical form. Cooper in her prime was a commercial performer, a Grand Ole Opry star known for he work with her husband, fiddler Stoney Cooper. In truth each had deep and solid roots in Appalachian music and made their own distinctive contributions.
Cable's Bio Channel, part of the A&E networks (where the original Biography series began) is often filled with programs that manage, amid recycled episodes of Biography, to trivialize crime, life and death, mystery and plenty of other things. But every once in a while they manage to do it right. A good example is one of several commercial-free special programs produced to commemorate 9/11. One of these "Pop Culture Saved America," is an especially compelling look at the reaction of TV, film, comedy, Broadway and music to the September 11 attacks, with comments from Regis Philbin, Rescue Me's Denis Leary, Dan Rather, Broadway actress Kristen Chenoweth, various Law & Order cast members, Alan Jackson and others describing how those events affected and colored their creative processes.