Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Journey Through the Past.

You regulars here at Percy Me! are no doubt asking right now, "Hey, what's a dang ol' hippy like Neil Young doing all up in here?". Now, before you think we've gone and abandoned our format, thereby betraying America and all that is right and proper, allow me to explain: you see, back in the 60's and early 70's, Percy was employed as a propane truck hauler around the Northern California area. One of his regular stops? A certain ranch on the Woodside hills, near La Honda, later purchased by Mr. Young himself (ca. 1970), and christened Broken Arrow. Percy delivered propane there on a regular basis for a number of years, even taking my brother along for the ride on at least one occasion. I've long wondered if he had any interactions with the foreman of the ranch, Louis Avala, a Portugese immigrant who, of course, was the subject and addressee of "Old Man". Seems possible, if not downright likely - who else at Broken Arrow would be dealing with the propane delivery man, right?

I never heard of any actual Neil sightings, but it was generally agreed upon in the family that he must have been a decent fellow. And when he showed up on The Johnny Cash Show in 1971? Well, his status was confirmed: Neil Young might have needed a haircut, but he was good people. (And check out the standing ovations - Johnny's audience certainly agreed.)

"Needle and the Damage Done" and "Journey Through the Past", from The Johnny Cash Show, 1971.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fist City.

I'll be coming back for some deeper insight (hopefully) on the Coal Miner's Daughter, but for now, this is one of my favorite Loretta Lynn tunes, taken from an appearance on The Wilburn Brothers Show. I'll also be writing more about the Wilburns in future posts; they were an integral part of post-war country music, if for no other reason than their highly influential Nashville TV show, which ran during the prime Percy Me! years of 1963-1974.

Loretta Lynn can't be oversold - she's simply the most talented female songwriter, guitarist, and singer that country music has ever produced, bar none (although Dolly Parton fans might disagree). "You better move your feet/ if you don't want to eat/ A meal that's called Fist City." Straight up gangsta.

Tough as nails, sweet as pie, and crazier than a shithouse rat: ladies and gentlemen, Miss Loretta Lynn.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Conway Twitty sings Hank Williams while looking pained.

In the 1950's, Conway Twitty (aka Harold Jenkins) sounded so much like Elvis Presley that one of his early hits, "It's Only Make Believe", was rumored to be the work of the King himself. Rather than continue a career as a nascent Elvis impersonator, Twitty wisely switched to country in 1965, and had his first Number One in 1968 with "Next in Line". His 70's duets with Loretta Lynn cemented his status as a country superstar; his slicked-back pompadour, unnerving glare and soulful vocal style made him a unique character in country music - a little dangerous, possibly crazy, and (unbelievably) something of a sex symbol with the ladies. He had a short life (he died at 59 of an aneurysm), and left behind a debt-riddled, tax-dodging mess of an estate, but for 20-plus years, he was a living legend in American country music.

From what appears to be some kind of tribute to Hank Williams, here's Twitty doing a haunting medley of the best of the best: "Cold, Cold Heart", "I Can't Help it if I'm Still in Love With You", "You Win Again", "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me", "Take These Chains From My Heart", and "Your Cheatin' Heart". This is primal, mainline stuff.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Charlie Walker: Honky Tonker.

Charlie Walker's career started in Texas in the 1940's with Bill Boyd & the Cowboy Ramblers, a sort of poorer, poor man's version of the Light Crust Doughboys (with whom they shared personnel), specializing in the Dixieland jazz-inflected Western swing popular at the time. World War Two ended all that (and effectively killed off all of Western swing in the process), but Walker returned to the music scene as a disc jockey in the early 50's. His fortunes were resurrected again after signing a deal with Columbia Records, and he struck gold in 1958 with Harlan Howard's "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down". From then on straight through the early 70's he was never far from the charts, occasionally joined by Ray Price, and he even had a bit part in Sweet Dreams, the 1985 Patsy Cline biopic, playing doomed country crooner Hawkshaw Hawkins.

Walker's sound here is no-frills, unadorned Texas honky-tonk, straight out of Copeland, TX. It's a safe bet you can still walk into any dancehall in Texas (and plenty of nightclubs for that matter) and find this sound, and any band with even a modicum of taste (or sense) will know this one when it's requested.

From The Grand Ole Opry TV show, 1967, the same year Walker became a member of the Opry, and also featuring the ubiquitous and amazing Walter Haynes on the Sho-Bud pedal steel.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Help Me Make It Through the Night.

Our Kristofferson homage continues...and now that we've seen Cisco Pike in its entirety, we're even more convinced of the man's genius, if not his acting chops. Here's a short rundown of the film, if you dare: bisexual, pregnant Warhol Factory Girl Viva shoots dope in her father's mansion and instigates orgies; Harry Dean Stanton shoots speed, can't get it up, and tragically OD's, after playing the most convincing speed-freak in counter-culture cinema; Doug Sahm raps like a complete hillbilly lunatic, with rare shots of Sir Douglas Quintet playing live in the studio; Doug's "manager" is played by Allen Arbus, who the following year will go on to play Dr. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H*, and is just recently divorced from photographer Diane Arbus (who, perhaps not coincidentally, commits suicide the same year Cisco Pike is filmed); Gene Hackman plays a paranoid, corrupt, drug-dealing cop with serious health issues and a death wish; Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney) wanders in playing a clueless dope connection who nearly gets busted (a theatrical stretch, no doubt); and Karen Black is, as always, beautifully clueless, yet stylish, as Cisco's long-suffering girlfriend...Cisco Pike is a trainwreck of amped-up 60's decadence crashing headlong into the miasma, anomie, and bum trips of the 70's, leaving everyone confused, empty, and depressed. And that was just me...nevermind the cast.

In a somewhat more mellow, er...vein, here's Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge performing on The Old Grey Whistle Test (UK), 1972. They were married and had a kid the following year, and it's not too hard to see why: this is a 2 minute, 27 second-long PDA...utterly romantic and charming, if slightly uncomfortable, and played with tasteful restraint by the band (I'd love to know who's backing them up here).

Saturday, April 10, 2010


The treasure trove of The Porter Wagoner Show continues to yield gems like this one from 1968: Porter and Dolly, completely bumming you out with the tragic tale of "Malina", a textbook example of the fine line separating Scotch/Irish hill-people music (Dolly), and the English folk/death ballads of her ancestors. Porter solemnly delivers the bad news in a spoken monologue worthy of a high school drunk-driving filmstrip.

"Malina", Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, The Porter Wagoner Show, 1968.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I Dream of Jeannie.

Jeannie Seely scored a Grammy in 1967 for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her big hit, "Don't Touch Me". She never reached that peak again, but went on to have a successful career during the 70's paired with Jack Greene and hits like "Can I Sleep In Your Arms?" The combination of a near-fatal car crash in 1977 and a disastrous marriage to songwriter Hank Cochran doomed any chance of long-term chart success for Jeannie, but in this clip, she's on top of the country world. And she's still at it today at the age of 69.

Here's her take on the Willie Nelson song "Mr. Record Man", accompanied by some of the greatest Nashville session men of all time: Buddy Emmons on steel (that's him in the intro, a former Cherokee Cowboy and Ernest Tubb sideman, playing the Emmons steel guitar he designed); Walter Haynes (who sadly died just last year in Tyler, Texas at the age of 80) on the Sho-Bud steel guitar (which Buddy also designed - he's the "Bud") ; Floyd Cramer on piano - easily the greatest country piano player of all time; Jerry Byrd on rhythm guitar - a steel guitar legend in his own right, who taught Jerry Garcia (among others) how to play the instrument, and later moved to Hawaii to pursue the lap steel; Joe Zinkan on bass; and God knows who else up there. An embarrassment of riches, from 1967:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Yeah, but are you sure Hank done it THIS way?

If this isn't the avant-garde of country music circa 1970, I'm not sure what is. It starts out normal enough, with some homespun chatter between former roommates Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings (the mind reels at the thought of what that house must have been like), and then Waylon steps over to play with...The Waylons. Double-neck guitar! Flower sticker on the bass! Freaky mod suits that look like they were designed for The Standells. And a dolled-up Jessi Colter playing a keyboard better-suited for Stereolab than your typical Nashville act of the time. Fresh off winning a Grammy for his version of "Macarthur Park" (which seems to be lost to time, sadly...not that I won't keep looking), Jennings is pushing the stylistic envelope here in a way that undoubtedly blew a few minds at the time...it's still kind of blowing mine every time I watch it.

"Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man", from The Johnny Cash Show, March 25, 1970.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Border Lord.

As promised, a fuzzy Saturday afternoon tribute to the songwriter behind "Sunday Mornin', Comin' Down" and so many other stoned-out, memorable tunes of the era. Army captain, helicopter pilot, Rhodes scholar, actor, left-wing activist...Brownsville native Kris Kristofferson has worn many hats, but he'll probably always be remembered best for the string of hits other people had with his songs in the early 70's: "Me and Bobby McGee" (Janis Joplin); "For the Good Times" (Ray Price); "Help Me Make it Through the Night" (Sammi Smith, dozens more); and of course Cash's version of "Sunday Mornin'", the CMA Song of the Year for 1970. In a way, he was really the last of a dying breed - a smash hit, popular songwriter who was also an artist in his own right. Nashville prefers to keep those roles and those revenue streams divided, thank you very much.

Here's some really cool footage from the 1972 film Cisco Pike, which apparently I need to watch, if for nothing else than the awesome shots of Southern California circa '71 or so. Is that an Automat where he's meeting his connection, fer chrissakes? Also starring Karen Black and Gene Hackman, who between them were in every single movie made between 1970-1974. Oh, and Harry Dean Stanton. What? Seriously? I need to watch this movie NOW!

"Breakdown", from the film Cisco Pike (1972):

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Price is Right.

Eunice's favorite singer, the original Cherokee Cowboy, Mr. Ray Price. His schmaltzy, string-drenched 70's output was hugely successful, especially his hits penned by Kris Kristofferson: "For the Good Times", and "Help Me Make It Through the Night", which were always in heavy rotation around the house (8-tracks, naturally).

Come to think of it, Kristofferson wrote "Sunday Morning, Coming Down" too, our theme song here at Percy Me! I guess that makes him something of a patron saint, a common thread...a hirsute and manly common thread, if you will. Look for our all-Kristofferson episode soon, which I just thought up.

But "City Lights"...this is a classic honky-tonk country shuffle, written by Bill Anderson, and indicative of Price's 50's and 60's sound with his band, The Cherokee Cowboys (nice suits). From 1958: