DIARY - 22 MARCH 2009 - HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN
HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN SONG SEQUEL
beautiful well we were on blackout again/ we lost yet some more soldiers/
I cant wait to get out of this place and return to you where I belong/
I don't know how much more of this place I can take/ I try to be hard
and brave for my guys." -
Hey Beautiful - Elana James-Juan Campos.
Elana James was at her kitchen table searching for inspiration one spring
day - it came in a New York minute.
Well, it actually took her more than a few minutes to read her manna from
heaven - the New York Times.
There, in vivid black and white were letters from a slain Texan soldier
to his widow on the eve of his death in Iraq.
It was an email from Iraq one Tuesday morning in December 2006 from Staff
Sgt. Juan Campos to wife, Jamie, back home in McAllen in the Rio Grande
Campos' words were published in New York Times - March 25, 2008, under
the headline Six of the Fallen, in Words They Sent Home.
"I was trying to write songs for our record," James told Beat
on the eve of her second Australian tour - this time with western swing
band Hot Club Of Cowtown.
"You become very porous and open. I was feeling as open to things
as possible and started reading that New York Times article with the letters.
It was fascinating the more I read.
There were more passages and entries. There were six different people
and their email letters. It was incredible to read - amazing how articulate
these people are and the ways they reported about their lives. It was
so personal and so vivid - we were petrified about how vivid it is. The
fact he wrote such a great letter to his wife. The family made his writings
public for this article that ran in the Times. It was a little less than
a year after he died - they took the writings of people who had been killed
in Iraq and underscored the humanity of these people."
James wrote Hey Beautiful in her Austin kitchen and contacted Jamie
Campos to obtain permission to record the song, now on the Hot
Club Of Cowtown web page.
FLOW IN RIO GRANDE VALLEY
was just four when his father died.
His single mother raised him, his three brothers and two sisters.
In 2000 when Juan was at McAllen nightclub A.K.'s he met bartender/waitress
They began dating, married in 2003, and Juan adopted Jamie's young
Campos enlisted for a year hitch after graduating Nikki Rowe High
School in McAllen in 1998.
for U.S. Customs & Border Protection before re-enlisting in 2003.
In 2007, Campos, three years in Iraq under his belt, was in First Battalion,
26th Infantry, Charlie Company.
the volatile Adhamiya neighborhood in north Baghdad - a place where soldiers
knew that when away from their barracks, they could be killed at any time.
In April 2007, Campos enjoyed a two-week break back home visiting family
members and taking Jamie, Andre and her mum Birdie McVaney on a trip to
But as the vacation drew to a close, a sense of foreboding hung over the
On May 3 he headed back to Iraq.
Eleven days later, on May 14, 2007, a roadside bomb blew up a Humvee in
which Campos was riding.
He suffered burns over 80 percent of his body; despite multiple skin grafts
at a San Antonio Army hospital, he died two weeks later.
He was 27. A few days before he died, Jamie had told him she was one month
pregnant with their child, conceived during his last leave.
She later miscarried.
Juan Campos is buried in a military cemetery in McAllen.
As is usual in such places, his tombstone is a simple marker inscribed
with a cross, his name, rank and dates of birth and death.
The final words on the stone, however, are not military issue:
"We'll meet in our dreams"
kept in touch with his family," Kansas City born James explained.
"I wanted to get their permission to use song in that way. It was
a very personal thing even if they made that letter public. It's not on
the next Hot Club album but it's going to be on mine. I love that song
and I love the letters. We were honoured we got to do that. I hope the
song continues to live on. It will sprout wings and keep on. We put it
out digitally on our web page. I haven't performed it often in concerts
because it's hard to sing. It has so many words. It's so sad it's also
hard to sing it. We don't plan to do it in Australia, but you never know
if we have special requests."
James admires the courage of the Campos family but is unsure how much
a tragedy impacts on general society.
"His was a large family raised by a single mother," James, now
"There are songs coming out of Nashville about letters but this is
a real song about a letter coming home, what he said. The choice of things
he said and the way he said it. It was just unbelievably moving in the
style and honesty and love, so strong. That's what captured my attention
- I can't even imagine what that family has gone through. I know in America
in the people I'm among it's not in the forefront of their minds, not
like families with members in the military service. I know the community
I'm in Austin are not particularly focussed on that. It's something we
shouldn't forget - these are people whose lives are of much more immediate
importance with the issues they deal with for us."
trio, touring to promote a compilation of first five albums, has finished
its sixth CD Wishful Thinking.
"It's mainly original material, a couple of standards and couple
of public domain songs we re-arranged," James added.
"I really think it's cool and we're proud of it.
People see the band as happy. We are happy and we love to play but
I think it's interesting this new record has a lot of more ruminative
darker kind of things to it but it still sounds happy. But if you
listen to the words it's darker and deeper. The songs Whit (Smith)
and I wrote are the best we've done. The time away from each other
has really helped that."
The trio, formed in 1998, but split in 2005 and reformed shortly after
James toured here in 2008.
James was touring to promote her self-titled 2007 debut solo disc
on Shock Records.
was such a great time we had there last year," James added.
had couple of days off in St Kilda. We were able to relax and enjoy it
before tour. One song on our new record, Heart Of Romain, we started
rehearsing that down in Australia.
Several songs started in Australia but it's the only one we finished that
got on the record.
It's very happy beautiful song - instrumental. It captures the feel of
visit - irrepressible buoyant melody, spirit. I feel a country settled
by convicts had a much different freer way of being than ours that was
settled by Puritans. I could feel sea air and the Sangria - it was just
SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS
James returns within a year after the trio landed its Smith-Dave Stuckey
penned song Paradise With You in the 2008 movie In Search of
a Midnight Kiss.
"We haven't been home for more than a couple of weeks since then,"
"I was speaking with our publishing company today. The song ends
up in a movie and you finish up with something like $1.79, it should be
at least $2.79. But it's really exciting - that movie's really cool. They
used that song in whole opening movie scene - it was so cool. I was thinking
about that today. I don't even have some of our records. It's a good thing.
You have enough material out there you can't keep track of it."
keeps track of a career begun as a horse wrangler and elk-hunting guide
in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
That was after graduating Missouri University with a degree in comparative
religion and studying in India.
"I worked as a horse wrangler in Colorado," James said.
"It was the last job I had before I went into music full time. You
have that down there too.
I wrangled at a dude ranch then craved for something more rugged and authentic
so I worked for an elk-hunting outfit in the Rockies in Colorado - I worked
as a packer and guide. I didn't really like it as a guide. Whatever they
were hunting I said it had left - it didn't deserve to die. It was near
Dennison and Steamboat.
"The guy I worked for was very eccentric and true cowboy. We were
packing hunters all night. We would make several trips to the trail houses.
I had a string of five or six horses.
It would be 3 in the morning and 20 degrees out with full moon. I would
be out singing to them, singing to the packhorses. I also used to love
singing cowboy songs in a cowboy band. But even up in that spectacular
beauty I knew if I didn't pursue my music it would pass me by - music
is a jealous mistress."
Hot Club of Cowtown in 1998 after meting singer and guitarist Whit Smith
in 1994 in New York City.
Smith, then working at Tower Records, was born in Connecticut and raised
in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
White answered an advertisement in the Village Voice placed by Elana James
(then known as Elana Fremerman), a classically trained violinist from
Kansas City who was looking to get into a working band.
Smith was an aspiring musician who played in a few rock bands in New York
before getting turned on to Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys and other
Western swing pioneers.
The band's name is a nod to Quintette of the Hot Club of France, the famed
thirties European jazz group that included Stefan Grappeli and Django
Hot Club of Cowtown, featuring upright bassist Jake Erwin, cut five records
after settling in Austin, Texas.
But, by 2005, the gruelling road had impacted and the band quit performing.
James joined Dylan's band in 2005 shortly after being recruited to play
on Shotgun Willie Nelson's tribute disc to octogenarian Texan songwriter
She was the first female member of Dylan's band in 30 years - Hot Club
Of Cowtown had opened for Dylan and Willie on their joint 2004 tour.
Nelson, 75, released Fred Foster produced You Don't Know Me - The Songs
of Cindy Walker (Lost Highway) just nine days before Walker's death
at 85 on March 23, 2006.
Walker had an amazing career that started almost a century ago on a farm
near Mart, Texas.
She wrote country songs that became hits in every decade since the forties
after her first song written at the age of 12.
PRICE AND MERLE HAGGARD
out on playing on Songs Of Cindy Walker because I went on the road
with Bob Dylan, that was excruciating," James quipped.
"I played on one song on Dylan's North Country soundtrack.
But I did play on Last Of The Breed with Ray Price, Willie and
Merle Haggard. I was very proud of Johnny Gimble and me playing twin fiddles
on that. It was great. I first heard him in New York - I had never heard
anything like it. I never heard any person who had that feel and approach
to violin playing in a non-classical style. I had no idea it was out there.
I was sheltered. I thought if that man can play like that it's good enough
for me. I should be so lucky to play close to that ever in a lifetime.
He is one of many but is the definitive twin fiddle player - an absolute
Price, 83, former Cherokees bassist Willie and Merle released their epic
Last Of The Breed (Lost Highway-Universal) in 2007.
was an extension of the maternal influence as a teenager in Kansas
"My mother passed down a great wonderful tradition and thing
to me in music," James added.
"She made me practise - I wish I had practiced more with that.
I would never have stuck with it without her pushing me.
It was a miracle. I was born in Missouri in Kansas City, near the
state line in the metro area sitting in the middle of the state line.
Five houses down the block you could be over the state line. It's
kind of confusing. She was a psychiatric nurse - she still plays in
Michigan where she lives now. Dad was in advertising industry and
loves entertaining. He would like to be a stand-up comic."
James followed her sister to India after high school.
new record is the first one that incorporated what I learned in India
- gypsy music," James says.
Hot Club Of Cowtown plays Thornbury Theatre on April 3 and Oakleigh Bowling
on April 4.
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