THE LONELIEST MAN I EVER MET (THIRTY TIGERS-UNIVERSAL)
TOMPALL - WANTED AND LONELY
“Raise your glasses, one and all, drink a toast to the great Tompall/ last night he had them in his hands/ and kept them laughing til/ he left them there with nothing but the bottle and the bill/ and though it was the happy hour/ it wasn't any fun/ because the party again was just a party of one.” - The Loneliest Man I Ever Met - Kinky Friedman -Will Hoover.
The late Marty Robbins lured Tompall to Nashville in 1959 with his brothers Chuck and Jim and they recorded trio albums.
They also established Hillbilly Central - a publishing company, recording studio and legendary temple of sorts for songwriters.
So why was the 12 solo album veteran the subject of the septuagenarian's title track - his only new original tune?
“I think back to how Will Hoover my friend and I wrote The Loneliest Man I Ever Met about Tompall Glaser,” the Kinkster revealed of Hoover.
“That was in Nashville and we were struggling songwriters. I think that was the purest calling of my life. If I could be a struggling songwriter I would do it. It didn't seem that much fun then, maybe, but it is a very high calling. If you can recreate that ambience and get back to how you were as a struggling songwriter, that's probably chief of many reasons we're not getting any good songs written today in spite of the fact so many people can play guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“They appreciate Townes Van Zandt and you would think that a good song or two would come out of it, but ever since Willie got out of Dodge in 1971 and since the loss of Shel Silverstein and Kristofferson got out and Roger Miller, of course, it's kind of surprising. They don't seem to be able to write a song or inspire. If you want to be inspired you have to see handful of old geezers. I knew this song was finished when I got the first royalty cheque.”
Kinky also revives Freedom To Stay - an historic Hoover song recorded by Waylon.
The Kinkster regrets missing an opportunity to write with fellow songwriter-author Silverstein.
“Shel and I were friends in New York ,” Kinky explained.
“He said, ‘let's write some songs together.' The next morning I overslept so I didn't make it. I was kind of fucked up and Shel wasn't. Shel was writing great songs in those days, and he was furious. He called me and said, "That's why you are where you are." Handling failure is very easy. But, like Willie told me: If you fail at something long enough, you become a legend. It's just getting out of your own way that's important. Success is difficult to handle. The first half of Willie's life he was struggling, scraping by, and the second half was very successful. And I think the second half is the toughest one.”
The Kinkster bit on a tasty food analogy for his title track.
“If I had to compare The Loneliest Man I Ever Met with a food, the food would be an adult portion of Jack Daniels, straight up, with a Coke on the side,” the singer joked.
“The toast would be, ‘may the best of your past be the worst of your future.”
BLOODY MARY MORNING
“Well, it's a bloody Mary morning/ baby left me without warning/ sometime in the night/ so I'm flyin' down to Houston / forgetting her is the nature of my flight.” - Bloody Mary Morning - Willie Nelson.
It's no surprise Kinky kicks off his album with an inspired duet featuring octogenarian mentor Shotgun Willie.
Nelson and Friedman trade mellow lines about leaving L.A. in a funk - a salient signpost to the disc.
"Willie breaks every rule, he bucks every trend, and I kept thinking of Red Headed Stranger when we did this record," says Friedman.
"I wanted it stripped down to the soul, because I think with music, as in literature, nothing is really worth a damn except what's written between the lines."
So how did Kinky pay Willie for his input and studio time?
“The only reward he got, other than friendship, which is the cheapest form of payment, was a Zippo Air Force One lighter that Bill Clinton gave me, which Willie seemed to like, like a small child holding it and looking at me. Maybe he was just being humorous. But that was the payment.”
The Kinkster explained why he punctuated revamps of serious originals with tunes by his heroes.
“What I've tried to do is interpret some of these songs,” the prolific novelist explained.
“But it's not like Tony Bennett sings Willie Nelson; it's more spiritually halfway between those people and me. So if you're not a little bit melancholy, maybe you should be.
“A happy American creates nothing great. My definition of an artist is someone who's ahead of his time and behind on his rent. If you can figure out how to stay that way, you can write the great shit that Kristofferson and Willie were able to do. Look at what shape Willie was in when he was writing in Nashville , he had three little kids and was just broke, living in a trailer park. Willie wrote Night Life, Funny How Time Slips Away and Crazy all in one week, a terrible week in his life.”
So the secret to song-writing success is sorrow.
“Well, you've got to fight happiness at every turn,” he elaborated.
“If there's somebody that you truly love, deliberately, achingly, let them slip through your fingers, as I have done a number of times, inexplicably. I believe those are the only people that you truly keep, are the ones that you let get away.
“I asked Willie about that about a month ago. I was calling him in Hawaii . I was watching Matlock religiously, every night, by myself, with my dogs. Willie said, ‘that is really not healthy, it is really negative.'
“I said ‘also I'm beginning to watch Walker, Texas Ranger .' Willie said, ‘That's very bad, very dangerous, don't watch those anymore.'
“So I stopped watching them and things just turned around. I've been miserable for sixty eight years, but things are starting to look up now. Then I told Willie, ‘I wish I'd been married two or three times, just to see what it was like.'
“Willie said, ‘don't ever say that again. Even when you get divorced, you still feel married. Anything bad that happens to your kids or your wives you feel a part of and responsible for. He says I'm on the right track, this is perfect for me, exactly as it should be. And he appears to take this seriously, like a shrink talking to me, which he pretty much is.”
WAITS, CASH, DYLAN AND ZEVON
“Last Sunday morning when they passed the hat/ it was still nearly empty back where I sat/ but the preacher smiled and said that's fine/ the Lord will wait till pickin' time/ the Lord will wait till pickin' time.” - Pickin' Time - Johnny Cash.
Long-time manager Cleve Hattersley designed the cover.
Kinky also credits his professorial father Tom for alerting him as a child to Johnny Cash's historic Pickin' Time.
“Johnny Cash fans don't even know Pickin' Time ,” The Kinkster explained.
“It's such a simple song, "jug of coal-oil costs a dime / stay up late come pickin' time." That was my father's favourite song.”
He follows the Cash curio with Girl From The North Country by Bob Dylan with whom he had a cameo on the 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue.
“I look back at Bob Dylan, right after the Rolling Thunder Revue in '76, we went to Yelapa,” Kinky recalled.
“I went with Bob and Dennis Hopper and just a few friends, and Bob wanted to write songs with me. He wanted to do a record, wanted to do an album. And I didn't wanna do it. I was tired, and I said, ‘we're all tired, Bob. Let's rest up.' Looking back on it, he asked me a number of times. And I resisted doing it. Maybe that's why we're spiritually close now. Any songwriter in the world would do that; that's just practical, it just makes sense. You get a chance to do it, do it. Most songwriters wouldn't pass that up.”
But the singer expanded the theme of the late Warren Zevon's My Shit's Fucked Up to a wider malaise.
"It's a song that starts funny and ends tragic, and I think that song is not just a description of one guy dying of cancer, but of the whole condition of the world today," Kinky explained.
"I mean My Shit's Fucked Up describes it about as well as anything. That's really a significant song. You play it for someone and they laugh at the beginning. And then by the end they realise this is a very tragic song, and it is more than a song about a guy who's dying of cancer. It really accurately describes the state of the world today, probably better than anything else. Our shit's fucked up, and maybe irrevocably so. Warren nailed it; he was a visionary. It applies to today's world perfectly.”
The Kinkster follows Zevon's tune with his revamped Lady Yesterday originally on his 1976 album Lasso From El Paso .
In this version he changes the line “if I had the songs from David's old guitar” to “if I had the songs from Willie's old guitar.”
It was reputedly inspired by an embryonic girlfriend who died in a car crash.
“My first dead sweetheart kissed the windshield at 95 mph in a Ferrari,” the singer recalled.
“That was probably '82. She's another angel on my shoulder. Things you can count on when you're getting older. Another show in my hip pocket, another angel on my shoulder.”
The Kinkster fares better here on fellow septuagenarian Merle Haggard's Mama's Hungry Eyes than a fateful night at the Caravan Club in Oakleigh when he forgot the lyrical entrée.
“Merle's song Mama's Hungry Eyes is real,” says the singer.
“It's poetry, it's sociological, it's political, it's cultural. And dammit, it's just a great song, and it's something that none of the others were really writing about. That another class of people put us somewhere just below. That's a perfect description. Just a little loss of courage, as their age began to show."
BILLY BOB KINKSTER MOVIE
“I tied my bandana, took my pack from the floor/ you were still sleeping as I stood at the door/ once more I was heading to/ God only knows where/ that's when it hit me/ I was already there.” - Freedom To Stay - Will Hoover.
“It's a mystery in the series and it should be out some time this fall. We'll see what happens with that. And then there's a secret literary project I can't reveal. No, but it deals with somebody who's already been mentioned in this discussion here. But I can't go into it because it hasn't been sold yet. But it's got some really good, heavy people behind it and it's a great idea.”
And also equally overdue Kinky Friedman movie where Billy Bob is touted as director and also male lead.
“I've said that if Billy Bob makes a go at that this will be bigger than The Hobbit ,” The Kinkster opined.
“If you think about it, everything he touches becomes a classic of some sort. The guy may be the best actor we've got going. There ain't any question about it. He told me something very funny last week. I called him to wish him a chipper Yom Kippur and he said, ‘yes Yom Kippur , known to the Jewish people as a day of atonement and known to the rest of the world as Wednesday.'
“Nobody knows more about music than him! He's like an encyclopaedia,” The Kinkster added.
“Now he's interested in Van Dyke Parks. The last guy I brought over to meet Billy at his house was Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night , who's a prince of a guy. I mean Billy Bob is a fan, too. He knows more about Danny's history than Danny does. He knows which bass player they fired in 1942; he knows what you throw a drowning bass player - his amp.
Billy Bob, now 60 and six times wed, is equally enthused about Friedman - “But he's such a Renaissance man, it's impossible to pigeonhole him.”