Is Kinky Friedman ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met’?

UPDATED WITH VIDEOS

Notorious Texas Troubadour Wraps Coast-to-Coast ‘Bi-Polar’ Tour at McCabe’s Dec. 5-6

By Stephen K. Peeples

The night after Kinky Friedman finished recording “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met,” between the epic floods of spring 2015, the Texas-based singer-songwriter, humorist, entrepreneur and raconteur played the rough mixes for a couple of visitors.

kinky-friedman-loneliest-man-cover-no-titleFriedman had invited famous Texas artist Boyd Elder and this California-based writer, a mutual friend, to bivouac overnight on his secluded, rustic Echo Hill Ranch as we road-tripped from West Texas through the Texas Hill Country to a big event in San Marcos.

The album blew us away, for a bunch of reasons.

Kinky swore us to secrecy then. But now, all can be revealed, since “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” has been on the loose as of Oct. 2, and he’s been plugging it for the past several weeks on a major coast-to-coast performance and media trek.

His final “Bi-Polar Tour” dates for 2015 are at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5-6, Sunday being the first night of Hanukkah.

‘Loneliest Man…’ Bucks the Trends

Released by New Jersey-based indie label Avenue A Records, in association with Thirty Tigers, the Nashville-based boutique marketing-distribution-management outfit, “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” is Friedman’s first new studio album in nearly 40 years.

But the long-awaited follow-up to 1978’s notorious “Lasso from El Paso” (so named because ABC Records wouldn’t go for naming the album after the intended title track, “Asshole from El Paso”) sounds nothing like his longtime fans might expect.

Brian Molnar

Kinky collaborator Brian Molnor.

Spare, mostly acoustic, poignant, aching, melancholy, Friedman, 71, sings of pain, suffering, lost lovers and departed friends, his pipes weathered by time (and his ever-present cigars), but still in pretty good shape, all things considered.

“The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” is “bucking the trends,” as he put it.

“There’re no click tracks and the songs weren’t written by committee, and they don’t sound like background music for a frat party,” Friedman said of the stripped-down production when we spoke again by phone for almost an hour in late September, just before the album dropped.

Brian Molnar, the producer from New Jersey, he’s a kid – well, I call him a kid, he’s maybe 45 years old – but he did a great job,” he said. “It really sounds very, very good.”

Listen to SKP’s entire hour-long Kinky Friedman Q&A

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Scene of the rhyme: Echo Hill Studios in late April 2015, the day after sessions wrapped for Kinky Friedman’s ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met,’ returned to guest quarters.

Friedman recorded all but one track at Echo Hill Studios – a one-room efficiency guest house adjacent to his cabin on the family ranch outside of Medina, Texas. So there’s an intimacy to the sound one might not get in a formal studio.

He chose the 12 songs very carefully. Among them are hits and rarities by contemporary songwriting greats like longtime Kinky pal Willie Nelson (“Bloody Mary Morning”); Tom Waits (“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”); Warren Zevon (“My Shit’s Fucked Up”); Johnny Cash (“Pickin’ Time”); Bob Dylan (“Girl from the North Country”); Merle Haggard (“Hungry Eyes”); and Will Hoover (“Freedom to Stay”).

The album also includes a couple classics from the Great American songbook by Alan J. Lerner & Frederick Loewe (“Wand’rin Star”) and Eric Maschwitz & Manning Sherwin (“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”), plus a few Friedman originals, including “Lady Yesterday,” “Wild Man from Borneo” and the decades-old title track, also written with Hoover.

“Each song has a deep, personal connection,” Friedman told me back in April, adding that different women were involved in the backstories of several (left off the record, so to speak).

Little Jewford and Kinky

Little Jewford and Kinky.

You get that impression from his devastatingly honest, unvarnished vocal performances, accompanied primarily by session producer Molnar and Joe Cirotti on acoustic guitars, with Cirotti adding mandolin and bass.

(When not working with Friedman, Molnar leads and produces The Naked Hearts, a New Jersey-based roots-country Americana band, also on Avenue A Records; Cirotti gigs with Only Living Boy, also a Jersey-based acoustic group.)

Longtime Texas Jewboy piano player Jeff “Little Jewford” Shelby and Kinky pal Mickey Raphael, also from Willie Nelson’s band, guested on the sessions as well. Both contributed sparingly to many of the songs, beautifully augmenting their pensive, melancholy groove.

Mickey Raphael in the studio. Photo: Danny Clinch.

Mickey Raphael in the studio. Photo: Danny Clinch.

“This was a more organic and simple interpretation of his songs,” texted Raphael, who recorded his parts at his home studio in Nashville.

You’d never guess Mickey and Jewford weren’t in the room with Kinky, Joe and Brian. You gotta love airmail. (!)

“Boy, I think Mickey Raphael is just a monster on the harmonica,” Friedman said. “It’s not just the licks you play, it’s knowing what to leave out – what you do between the lines. It’s really what you write and perform between the lines. It lets people bring their imagination to the party. That’s a big thing.”

I noted that Raphael definitely has that sixth sense about what to play when and when not to play.

“An example of that is on ‘Girl From the North Country,'” Friedman said. “I asked Mickey to play something that sounds really Bob Dylan. He said, ‘This isn’t karaoke, you know.’ (laughs) I said, ‘OK, play whatever you feel,’ which he did. The whole cut becomes not a cover, but halfway between Bob Dylan and Kinky Friedman.”

High Times with Willie Nelson on ‘Bloody Mary Morning’

The final mix of “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” opens with the only track not recorded at the Echo Hill guest house.

This take of Nelson’s immortal “Bloody Mary Morning” is a fast and loose jazzy duet by Kinky and Willie, driven by the unmistakable Western twang and gypsy swing of Trigger, Nelson’s trusty hole-y Martin acoustic.

Willie and Kinky

Willie and Kinky test-drive “The Willie” cigars by Friedman.

Nelson and Molnar co-produced the session at Willie’s Pedernales Studio near Austin, with further backing by Sister Bobbie Nelson (piano) and Kevin Smith (bass) from the Willie & Family band.

“It sounds very spontaneous,” Friedman said. “You’ll notice it’s a little out of rhythm in some places, but it’s got the spirit. It really conveys the song.”

Which begged the question: Did he and Willie get baked before, during or after the Pedernales session?

“All three,” Kinky said. “You know I don’t basically smoke pot. I only do it with Willie as a form of Texas etiquette, but I can’t control what I’m smoking. I can smoke 10 joints and suddenly, I get so high I need a stepladder to scratch my ass.

“I think I smoked dope with Willie when we were playing golf,” he said. “I’m not really his golf partner – I don’t play golf. The only two good balls I ever hit was when I stepped on the garden rake.”

OK, so we know the Kinkster is still a non-PC wise-ass. That’s a bleeping relief.

“Willie told me that many, many years ago, Glen Campbell gave him $25,000 to have his publishing for a year – every song Willie published would be through Glen,” Friedman said. “Unfortunately that year, Willie wrote only one song, ‘Bloody Mary Morning,’ which Glen was not that impressed with for his investment. But I am impressed with this song. I think it’s really one of his very best.”

They Don’t Make Jews Like Kinky Friedman Anymore

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Kinky Friedman walks on the creek that runs through Echo Hill Ranch.

Now, going on four decades after “Lasso from El Paso” (coincidentally, the last time I sat down with Friedman for an interview was during those 1978 sessions), Kinky has indeed flipped the mode with “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.” As 2015 segues to 2016, he’s vibrating at a quieter, deeper frequency. But I find his latest work just as compelling on its own simple merits, if not more so, as the vintage Kinky was outrageous.

A colorful character in Texas music for more than 40 years, Richard “Kinky” Friedman is, of course, best-known to music fans for the hilariously politically incorrect Jewish redneck shit-kicking country-rock stuff he wrote and recorded in the ’70s and ’80s.

Songs like “Sold American,” “They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Asshole From El Paso” earned him local, then national and international fame.

The scene of the crimes: Kinky Friedman's home office.

The scene of the crimes: Kinky Friedman caught readin’ and writin’ in his home office.

Friedman spread the Kinky gospel, you should pardon the expression, touring the world fronting a band of hippie-gypsy musicians called The Texas Jewboys.

They shared his brainy, twisted sense of humor, informed by the irony of being an educated Jew from Chicago who’s lived most of his adult life on a big, remote ranch in the south-central Texas Hill Country, among serious rednecks, racists, anti-Semites and evangelicals.

Friedman may have been born in the Midwest, and grown up to be an educated, Peace Corps-volunteering smart-ass political maverick, but his adopted home state nonetheless adopted him as a favorite son decades ago.

Over the years, on a nondescript electric typewriter (he eschews computers, email and social media), Friedman has authored more than 30 books and novels, among them “Texas Hold ‘Em,” “A Case of Lone Star,” “How I Was Born in a Manger” and “Died in a Saddle, and Came Back as a Horny Toad.”

Many available as ebooks, the tomes have earned an international following. Right now he’s finishing up a new novel, “The Return of Kinky Friedman,” having jettisoned the novel-in-progress he titled, “The Hardboiled Computer,” which “went into the shitter,” he said.

Friedman’s also been a candidate for public office (placed fourth in Texas’ 2006 gubernatorial race, running as an independent), co-founded and helps run the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch (close to his ranch), and has his own specially branded cigars and “Man in Black” label tequila.

All that colorful history aside, to these ears, “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” stands as the most honest, authentic collection of musical performances in the Kinky Friedman catalog.

Sneak Preview at Echo Hill: ‘It’s Kinky Being Richard’

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Kinky and canine companion Winston Randolph Spencer Churchill Friedman on the kitchen porch at Echo Hill Ranch.

Back at Echo Hill Ranch in late April ’15, Friedman surprised Elder and me with a sneak preview of the album. Cirotti, who hung out for a few days decompressing after the sessions, joined us as Friedman cued up a CD loaded with the tracks.

Kinky’s portable Bose player threw out enough sound to fill his living room, a wood-lined rectangular space where we sat in big wooden chairs opposite the fireplace, smoking cigars and drinking, in the company of Winston and the rest of Kinky’s canine menagerie.

A slowed-down, solo acoustic version of Nelson’s “Bloody Mary Morning” opened the album then, before Kinky and Willie re-recorded it.

We listened intently as the songs and Friedman’s sober, emotive vocal performances unfolded.

“Kinky! You’re not trying to be funny on this album!” I remarked with genuine surprise after the first few songs.

“No,” he said, emphatically, without hesitation, no trace of a smirk, just taking another pull on his stogie.

Mickey Raphael, Joe Cirotti and Kinky Friedman hold forth at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville on Friedman's fall 2015 tour supporting 'The Loneliest Man I Ever Met."

Mickey Raphael, Joe Cirotti and Kinky Friedman hold forth at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville on Friedman’s fall 2015 tour supporting ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.”

I’m reluctant to make comparisons between artists because it’s usually apples-oranges subjective, but the tracks brought to my mind Johnny Cash’s later sessions with producer Rick Rubin.

I didn’t mention this to Kinky at the time – he’s not anywhere near terminal.

But later that evening, shooting the breeze with Cirotti in the front yard, we agreed there was a naked-truth element to both the Rubin sessions with Cash and the Molnar sessions with Freidman.

“It’s Kinky being Richard,” as John M. Thornton, a Texas writer and another longtime Friedman fan, would comment a few days later in San Marcos, when Elder and I filled him in about our visit to Echo Hill.

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John Thorton and Boyd Elder, San Marcos, April 2015. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Other than the “Bloody Mary Morning” redo, even after final mixes and mastering, the final version of “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” still presents Friedman’s from-the-soul reinventions pretty much as Elder and I heard them in April.

My sense is that his latest work just needs to be heard and appreciated on its own merits. Considering the repertoire and quality of performances, it has the potential to reach a wider audience than any of his previous records.

At the very least, it’s an honest record that should bring Friedman newfound respect, if not a whole bunch of new music-buying fans who can read their own backstories into these songs.

“I think we’ve got a great record,” he said. “Now the question is, in this day and age, with political correctness and cultural ADD running rampant, can something like this break through?”

As to the album’s title, “I don’t think I’m the loneliest man I’ve ever met,” Friedman said. “There’s lots of us out there. Very common affliction.”

Since he lives a mostly solitary life at Echo Hill, he thought touring to support his latest album would be a good excuse to get out and mix it up with friends and fans around the country.

“Yeah, and it calls for an adjustment,” he said. “But I do like to meet just about everybody on the road, and if my career goes south, I will be a Walmart greeter. I enjoy meeting people (at the shows). I’ll sign anything but bad legislation.”

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Kinky Friedman, Van Dyke Parks & Mojo Nixon Backstage at McCabe’s 12-05-15

Kinky at McCabe’s — Video Playlist

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Extra: Kinky Friedman & Joe Cirotti – Warren Zevon’s “My Shit’s Fucked Up”

For more Kinky Friedman info, visit his website.

Special thanks to Paige Hagen and Cary Baker. Photos courtesy Kinky Friedman, Brian Molnar, Joe Cirotti and Danny Clinch.

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kinky-friedman-skp-echo-hill-sign
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy nominee, and an entertainment reporter for Santa Clarita television station SCVTV and its website SCVNews.com, and Santa Clarita radio station KHTS AM 1220 and its website HometownStation.com. He was the award-winning writer-producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One in 1988-1990. Peeples hosted and co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview show for five seasons, 2010-2015, creating 69 shows spotlighting local artists performing their original material. He blogs at his personal site, http://www.stephenkpeeples.com.


Article: Is Kinky Friedman ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met’?
Category: News & Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com


Is Kinky Friedman ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met’?

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