Saturday, May 31, 2008

Favorite Country Artists Standings, Second Update...

With just a few weeks left in the voting, Johnny has a comfortable--but Hank has more than twice as many first place votes.

A few commenters noted the absence of women from the top 10 after the first update. The ladies are doing a little better now with Patsy and Emmylou sneaking into the top 10 and Loretta at No. 11.

Now for the bad news. Despite all of my efforts here, Tom T. Hall and John Hartford have dropped out of the Top 20. Sigh.

1. Johnny Cash
2. Hank Williams
3. Merle Haggard
4. George Jones
5. Willie Nelson
6. Townes Van Zandt
7. Waylon Jennings
8. Patsy Cline
9. Gram Parsons
10. Emmylou Harris
11. Loretta Lynn
12. Buck Owens
13. Bob Wills
14. Louvin Brothers
15. The Carter Family
16. Steve Earle
17. Dwight Yoakam
18. Lucinda Williams
19. Gillian Welch
20. Doug Sahm

Others receiving multiple votes: Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Iris Dement, John Hartford, Jimmie Rodgers, Roger Miller, Tammy Wynette, Tom T. Hall, Flatlanders, Bill Monroe, Lefty Frizzell, Kris Kristofferson, Ralph Stanley/Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Marty Robbins, Uncle Tupelo, Hank Thompson, Randy Travis, Hank Williams Jr, Old Crow Medicine Show, Gene Clark, Terry Allen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Jason & The Scorchers, Ray Charles, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, George Strait, Merle Travis, Doc Watson, The Jayhawks, Robbie Fulks, Alison Krauss, Son Volt, Roseanne Cash, The Handsome Family, The Be Good Tanyas.

Here's a good one from the coal miner's daughter (written by Shel Silverstein):

Loretta Lynn - One's On The Way (buy album)

It's not too late for you to be heard. While I continue my semi-hiatus from blogging, the voting continues. If you haven't already chimed in, please leave a ranked ballot of your top to favorite country artists in the comments. For more details, see original post.

And now for a video from a pretty country gal:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Guest Blogger Dave: Who You Calling Punk?

This post about KROQ and the Los Angeles post-punk scene of the early 1980's comes from my poker buddy Dave (a.k.a. "davesap"). Dave was the first person ever to post a comment on STWOF. His comment inspired me to ask him to put together this guest post--and here it is! Take it away Dave...

Dave here. After a business trip to Seattle, I had a few hours to kill and decided to rent a bicycle next to the Green Lake pathway. Unfortunately, it was raining (in Seattle?), and the rental shop was closed. When I ducked into a Starbucks, a machine in the corner caught my eye, “Make Your Own CD.” Four hours, a healthy dose of caffeine, and many stops and starts later, I walked out of Starbucks the proud new owner of my own compilation, called Who You Calling Punk?, complete with a picture for the cover.

Track List:
The Buggles - Video Killed the Radio Star
X - Breathless (buy album)
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Christine
The Talking Heads - Psycho Killer
The Pretenders - Brass in Pocket
The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays
The Alarm - Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?
The Clash - London Calling
Blondie - Rip Her To Shreds
The Surf Punks – My Beach (buy album)
Oingo Boingo – Only A Lad (buy album)
Suicidal Tendencies - Institutionalized
Jim Carroll Band - People Who Died
Bow Wow Wow - I Want Candy
Go-Go's – We Got The Beat (buy album)
The B-52's - Rock Lobster
Squeeze - Black Coffee In Bed
Soft Cell - Tainted Love
The Jam - Town Called Malice
The English Beat - I Confess
the Special A.K.A. - Free Nelson Mandela (buy album)

The songs were loosely selected from the playlists of my favorite radio station growing up, KROQ in Pasadena. In those few, but pivotal, years, KROQ went from playing the Circle Jerks and the Dead Kennedys to Duran Duran and a Flock of Seagulls. The destination was okay, the origin better, but the journey sublime. This post focuses on a few of the local songs that defined for me the post-punk LA music scene. A special shout-out goes to my sister Sheri who introduced me to all these bands.


X exploded onto the scene with their debut album Los Angeles. The title track Los Angeles is one of those songs that remains in your head long after it finishes. Somehow, even though I had listened to this song hundreds of times during the 1980’s, it was only in the last couple years that I understood the song’s lyrics.

I was stunned by what I heard:

She started to hate every n**ger and jew
Every Mexican that gave her a lotta sh*t
Every homosexual and the idle rich
She had to get out

X - Los Angeles (buy album)

How do you make sense of a song whose subject is so irredeemable? Even though the punk movement at the time was identified with skinheads and neo-Nazis, I did not want to believe that the band I loved shared that sordid affinity. I wanted to believe that John Doe and Exene Cervenka were above that.

Fortunately, when I google’d the song, I found a commentary that made sense to me. The commentary reminded me that Los Angeles (the album) is not warm and fuzzy. Its themes run from drug abuse to date rape, and the album even contains a song aptly titled Nausea. In this context, the title track was not glorifying the narrowmindness of its subject, but instead vividly depicting the neglected underbelly of the city.

That explanation fits logically with the rest of the song. The subject is not revered, but rather someone who “gets confused, flying over the dateline.” The epitome of her shallowness is her consumerism. She buys a clock on Hollywood Boulevard the day she leaves Los Angeles. “It felt sad. It felt sad.” I think I get it, John and Exene. It is the subject that is sad.

The Surf Punks

One of the iconic landmarks of Los Angeles are the Santa Monica Mountains. They not only divide “the City” from “the Valley” geographically, but also socially. The Valley may have spawned Moonunit Zappa’s Valley Girl, but the City gave us My Beach.

Oingo Boingo

Perhaps no band better symbolizes the transition (sell-out?) from punk to new wave than Oingo Boingo. In Only a Lad, a song from the band’s first EP, the band angrily depicts a justice system that coddles criminals and keeps them on the street:

You really can’t blame him (Only a lad)/Society made him (Only a lad)
Hes our responsibility (Only a lad)/He really couldn’t help it (Only a lad)/He didn’t want to do it (Only a lad)
He’s underprivileged and abused/Perhaps a little bit confused.

The track ends with a call for frontier justice:

Hey there Johnny boy, you really don’t fool me
You get away with murder
And you think it’s funny
You don’t give a damn if we live or if we die
Hey there Johnny boy
I hope you fry!

Years later, as the band became more popular, they started playing larger venues. I knew they had jumped the shark even before they took the stage at the Universal Amphitheatre. Their now pop audience was so out-of-touch with the band’s roots that they booed off the stage a fantastic, unknown warm-up act that was delivering an energetic, power-filled set. The band’s sin: playing punk-tinged music that could have played back-to-back with Only a Lad without skipping a beat. The band’s name: The Red Hot Chili Peppers.


If I am going to blast Oingo Boingo for their forays into pop, why on earth did I put the Go-Go’s onto this compilation? As Walt Whitman said, “You say I contradict myself. So I contradict myself. I am full. I contain multitudes.” Long before the Go-Go’s went on “Vacation,” they were rocking venues like the Whisky with tracks like their unforgettable cover of Cool Jerk. And if you are cool with the Mayor of the Sunset Strip, you are cool with me.

Go-Go's – Cool Jerk (buy album)

The Untouchables & The Specials

My compilation ends with one of my favorite ska songs, The Specials’ Free Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the database did not have the song that I would have used for my penultimate song (or for that matter any of the Violent Femmes catalog or the Little Girls’ Earthquake Song). That song would have been Twist ‘n’ Shake, a hip-shaking, dance number from LA’s ultimate ska band, The Untouchables. If you think you like this song, try it out with the under 10 crowd.

Untouchables – Twist 'n' Shake (buy album)

Happy trails to all.

Paul Here. Thanks for the great post Dave! I'm still on blogging hiatus. While I'm "gone" please vote in the STWOF favorite country artists poll if you haven't already.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Favorite Country Artist Standings

After a week of voting, here are the current standings in the STWOF All-Time Favorite Country Artists poll:

1. Johnny Cash
2. Hank Williams
3. George Jones
4. Merle Haggard
5. Willie Nelson
6. Townes Van Zandt
7. Buck Owens
8. Waylon Jennings
9. Gram Parsons
10. The Louvin Brothers
11. Patsy Cline
12. Emmylou Harris
13. Bob Wills
14. John Hartford
15. Tom T. Hall
16. Dwight Yoakam
17. Iris Dement
18. Steve Earle
19. Marty Robbins
20. Roger Miller

Roger Miller – King Of The Road (buy album)

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: Jerry Jeff Walker, Old Crow Medicine Show, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmie Rodgers, Doug Sahm, The Flatlanders, The Jayhawks, Gene Clark, Son Volt, Alison Krauss, The Carter Family, Kitty Wells, Lucinda Williams, Robbie Fulks, Uncle Tupelo, Flatt and Scruggs, Merle Travis, Ralph Stanley/Stanley Brothers, Don Williams, Hank Thompson, Billy Joe Shaver, The Band, Mike Ireland & The Holler, Gary Stewart, Jim Reeves, Dave Alvin, The Souvenirs, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Charles, West Valley Highway, Jerry Lee Lewis, Clarence White, Alejandro Escovedo, The Gibson Brothers, The Gosdin Brothers, Mary Gauthier, Jason & The Scorchers, Lyle Lovett, Randy Travis, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Horton, Tim McGraw, Doc Watson, Maddox Brothers and Rose, The Dixie Chicks, Kenny Chesney, Charlie Rich, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Mickey Newbury, Slaid Cleaves, Hank Williams Jr., Nanci Griffith, Charline Arthur, Laurie Lewis, Willis Alan Ramsey, The Handsome Family, Dale Watson, Richie Furay, Toby Keith, Laura Cantrell, Johnny Paycheck, Terry Allen, John Prine, Bobby Bare Jr., The Johnson Mountain Boys, Jimmy LaFave, Faith Hill, Keith Whitley, Delmore Brothers, The Bottle Rockets, Katy Moffat, and The Unknown Hinson.

I'm hoping to get a lot more ballots. If you have not already done so, please take a moment to post a comment with a ranked list of your top 10 favorite country artists. There are still at least three more weeks to have your say, but don't wait until the last minute.

For more details, see original post.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Slammin' to the Oldies: X at the Majestic

The Rock'n'Bowl Outside Detroit's Majestic Theatre

I'm taking a temporary break from my blogging "hiatus" to tell you all about a fun show by X and The Detroit Cobras that I was lucky enough to attend this past Thursday.

The members of the band X are a bit old for a "punk" band, but they still sound great together. They play a very tight and energetic set, dominated by Billy Zoom's crunchy Les Paul Gretsch Billy Zoom Tribute Model guitar. John Doe and Exene were in fine voice, though Exene's mic was a little bit too low in the mix.

It still works because their music is more than just a punk attitude: X plays some of the greatest American rock music ever made. I really can't imagine them sounding all that much better back in the 1980's. But the atmosphere was more subdued than during the heyday of the L.A. punk scene. The crowd, mostly in their 30s, gently "slam danced" for awhile, but that hardcore nostalgia petered out after about three or four songs.

The set list consisted mostly of great songs from X's first four classic albums. Here's a sampling:

X – White Girl (buy album)
X – Blue Spark (buy album)
X – The New World (buy album)

And here's a good one from the Detroit Cobras:

The Detroit Cobras – As Long As I Have You (buy album)

Billy Zoom and John Doe of X

The Detroit Cobras

And now for a word about a worthy charity, the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund:

Sweet Relief is working with X on a series fundraisers offering tickets and VIP passes along with a CD signed by the band for shows on the legendary band's 13 – 31 Tour. Ticket & CD packages will be auctioned on eBay, and will be-available for bidding 2 – 3 weeks prior to the concert date. Each 10-day auction will be posted on eBay at

Sweet Relief Musicians Fund is a Los Angeles-based national charity providing financial assistance to musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. There are many talented artists who will never be rich or famous, but who play essential roles in the transcendent connection between fans and music. Sweet Relief tries to redress some of the imbalance between the few in music who have a lot and the many who struggle; but persist in their art. For more information about Sweet Relief, please visit or their MySpace page at


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Give Me Your List, Please!

I'm taking a break.

I'll be back in a month or so. Until then I’ll still be posting a few tracks over at Star Maker Machine and occasionally updating the sidebar here.

While I'm gone, you can check here for some great stuff on other blogs.

Now for the real purpose of this post: I love lists. I made one (below) and I want to see yours.

Please submit a ranked list of your top 10 favorite country artists/bands of all time. (Feel free to include explanations of your choices if you wish, or even an mp3 link, but all that's required is a ranked list.)

When the lists start coming in, the Classic Country Research Department here at STWOF will begin crunching the numbers. Then, after a month or so, I'll return with a highly entertaining and informative post about the results. It should be fun! And the more submissions the better, so let’s set a new record for the number of comments here.

Who’s eligible? Any country artist or band. (If in doubt, check AMG to see if the artist or band in question fits into any of these style categories. Feel free to include bluegrass, country-folk, country-rock, and alt-country performers. Note, however, that if you pick a performer who only occasionally dabbled in country styles, like Bob Dylan for instance, your vote should be based only on that artist’s country material. No extra credit for Like A Rolling Stone.)

I’m looking forward to reading your lists. Here’s mine (for the moment):

1. Hank Williams. No explanation necessary. He set the rules for all who followed.

Hank Williams – Jambalaya (On The Bayou) (buy album).

2. Tom T. Hall. A little high you say? Maybe. But this project is not about an objective view of accomplishments. It’s about individual favorites. Tom T. Hall’s funny and insightful songs really get me.

Tom T. Hall – The Year That Clayton Delaney Died (buy album).

3. George Jones. That voice. Nobody can deliver a country song like the possum.

George Jones - A Girl I Used To Know (buy album)

4. Merle Haggard. George had the voice. Merle had the attitude and he wrote a ton of brilliant country songs.

Merle Haggard – I Can't Hold Myself In Line (buy album).

5. Johnny Cash. The Man in Black might be the most enduring of the 1950's pop artists (including Elvis Presley). Cash made his name and his best material in 1950’s, but his legacy was sealed by the great work he did in the 1990’s. A true giant.

Johnny Cash – Drive On (buy album).

6. Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys. No music makes me happier than western swing. Bob’s band wrote the book on that style.

Bob Wills – Bring It On Down To My House (buy album).

7. Gram Parsons. The kid with a big trust fund wasn’t the greatest live performer, but he was also an innovator and a great songwriter responsible for an impressive number of classic tunes in his short life.

Gram Parsons – Brass Buttons (buy album).

8. Townes Van Zandt. I’m a sucker for Texas-based songwriting geniuses.

Townes Van Zandt – To Live Is To Fly (buy album).

9. John Hartford. See here for the explanation.

John Hartford – Back In The Goodle Days (out of print)

10. Buck Owens. Love that Bakersfield sound.

Buck Owens – Act Naturally (buy album)

Some more contenders for my list: Patsy Cline, The Flatlanders, Lefty Frizzell, Jason & The Scorchers, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb

I'm looking forward to reading your top ten lists!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Gonna be a rumble out on the promenade...

I'm taking a break from Hank Cover Friday this week. So how about a Springsteen cover instead?

This out-of-print gem comes from the Austin, Texas-based jangle-rock band Zeitgeist. They later changed their name to The Reivers for legal reasons (bummer). I've always liked this song and this version, so without further ado, please dig Zeitgeist, circa 1986:

Zeitgeist/The Reivers – Atlantic City (buy album)

As a bonus, here's another nice cover from Zeitgeist's first album:

Zeitgeist/The Reivers - Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain (buy album)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Don't miss The Adios Lounge!

If you like what I'm doing here at Setting The Woods On Fire then you'll love the brand-new music blog called The Adios Lounge.

Author Lance Davis (an insightful commenter here at STWOF) has only been at it for a couple of weeks, but you can tell already that he's onto something really good. The proof is in today's brilliant post about country music performed by black artists. It's very well-written and interesting stuff! Check it out.

Oh yeah, here's an mp3 for your listening enjoyment:

Charley Pride – Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone? (buy album)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Drive-By Truckers - May 6, 2008

This old man's ears are still ringing from last night's Drive-By Truckers show at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac. The opening act were southern-rockers The Dexateens. Both bands hail from the great State of Alabama. (For those keeping score, the evening featured ten players, six beards, two drummers, and 44 loudly amplified guitar strings).

If you like loud and fun rock shows with a good dose of intelligence and twang, be sure to check out the DBT's current world tour. The crowd at last night's show (which appeared to consist primarily of record store employees with a few lumberjacks and girlfriends sprinkled in) definitely got their money's worth.

In my opinion, the Drive-By Truckers are the best thing going in the field of "alt-country"* these days. I just wish they had been around back when I was 20 years old. As much as I like them now, I really would have loved them then. (Uncle Tupelo were great back in my time, but the DBT's seem a lot looser and generally more fun than I remember Uncle Tupelo being.)

Probably the coolest thing about the show was the encore when the DBT's invited some random Dexateens and a few female fans on stage for a jamming version of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died."

So here are some tracks for your listening enjoyment. The first two come from The DBT's new release Brighter Than Creation's Dark, which is my favorite album of 2008 so far. It's highly recommended if you are into rock or alt-country. For further details, check this insta-review or AMG.

Drive-By Truckers – Self Destructive Zones (buy album)
Drive-By Truckers – The Opening Act (buy album)
The Dexateens – Slender Thread (free album download)
The Jim Carroll Band – People Who Died (buy album)

Also check out this great live recording over at Captain’s Dead. Make sure you listen to "The Three Great Alabama Icons" and "George Wallace." (But note that the greatest Alabama icon goes unmentioned.)

All concert photos in this post were taken by me.

*We could get into a big discussion about whether the Drive-By Truckers really are "alt-country." The phrase is vague and ever-changing, much like the definition of alternative rock. To me it just means twangy rock. If you've got a drummer and a peddle steel player in the band, and you aren't playing straight country, there's a pretty good chance you're playing "alt-country." The first bands I ever heard described as "alt-country" were Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown. (Before then we had "cowpunk," "Americana," and "jangle rock.") The DBT's share a lot of common ground with those bands, so I'm sticking with the "alt-country" description.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sally Take My Hand

You all know the song Baba O’Riley.

In case you need a refresher, check out this post over at Star Maker Machine. Much like that guy over at SMM, The Who were the first musical group that really grabbed me by the shirt collar and said "music is important!" (Hank was the artist who put the twang into the mix for me, but that’s another story.)

So, as a little tribute to Pete and The Who, here is a great demo of a song called Teenage Wasteland. It’s pretty much just a slowed down version of Baba O’Riley, but Who fanatics insist that it’s a different song. It was originally intended to be a companion piece to Baba O’Riley on the abandoned Lifehouse project.

Anyway, enough of my yakking. Please enjoy this really cool Pete Townshend demo:

Pete Townshend – Teenage Wasteland (buy album).

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Jazz 101: Herbie Hancock - Watermelon Man

The point of this series is to identify great jazz tracks that are most likely appeal to music fans who are new to the genre.

My path to jazz (which I suspect is fairly common) was from rock to blues to jazz. As I started to tire of the repetition of straight blues, I gradually ventured into jazz with blues elements. The familiarity of the blues eased the transition. And it just sounds good!

The other tracks featured in this series (Cristo Redentor and The Sidewinder) also have blues elements, but today's entry, Watermelon Man by Herbie Hancock, might be the best example yet of the sort of blues-based jazz that appeals to both beginners and longtime fans.

Herbie Hancock cut his jazz teeth as a member of Miles Davis' band. This superb blues track comes from Hancock's brilliant first album, Takin' Off, released in 1962. His impressive backing band on this album includes trupeter Freddie Hubbard, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Billy Higgins. Takin' Off is not Hancock's greatest achievement (I'd pick Maiden Voyage) but it's a great place to start.

Herbie Hancock – Watermelon Man (buy album)

Cuban percussionist/bandleader Mongo Sanatmaria had a top 10 hit in 1963 with a latin-style cover of Watermelon Man in 1963. Santamaria got the idea to cover the song at a gig when Herbie Hancock sat for Mongo's regular keyboardist, Chick Corea.

Mongo Santamaria – Watermelon Man (buy album)

I like both versions. Herbie's is more enduring, but Mongo's is especially good for use at late-night, torch-lit, summertime cocktail parties.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A trip to the record store

On a recent work trip to Ann Arbor the other day I snuck off to a few record stores and picked up these great L.P.s.

George Jones - I'll Share My World With You (Purchased at Encore Records for $10). This one, on the Musicor label, was my favorite pick of the day. Lot's of great (and humorous) tunes like these:

George Jones – I Don't Have Sense Enough (To Come Out Of The Pain)

George Jones – When The Wife Runs Off

Jeannie C. Riley - Harper Valley P.T.A. (Purchased at Wazoo Records for $5). I mostly bought this one for the cover, but it's actually pretty interesting. (Read the AMG review.) Here is a Tom T. Hall-penned track that gives the back story about Shirley Thompson, who, as you all know from the album's title track, "sure uses a lot of ice whenever [her husband's] away":

Jeannie C. Riley – Sippin' Shirley Thompson (buy album)

Ernest Tubb - Ernest Tubb And His Texas Troubadours (Purchased at Wazoo Records for $3). I always pick up a new Tubb album whenever I see one. On this one, from the Vocalion label, Ernest shows his sensitive side:

Ernest Tubb – You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry

Buck Owens - In Japan! (Purchased at Wazoo Records for $4). I loved the cover on this one too. It's funny to hear Buck speak really slow English to his Japanese audience (not on this track).

Buck Owens – Roll Out The Red Carpet (buy album)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hank Cover Friday: I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whinin' low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawlin' by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry

The Cowboy Junkies' cover of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, from their famous Trinity Sessions, is regarded as one of the best. I like the bass opening:

The Cowboy Junkies – I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (buy album)

Jimmie Dale Gilmore does a version in his classic West Texas twang:

Jimmie Dale Gilmore – I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (buy album)

One of my personal favorite Hank covers is Little Richard's unique rendering of the song:

Little Richard – I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (buy album)

And now for this week's sound effect: Whippoorwill call (mp3)