Kinky Friedman – 1976

We’re in Texas now, via a Chicago to Texas transplant, and I’m not talking about my bizarro self but about one of Texas’ treasures the great Kinky Friedman. His contributions to my August driving theme, now stationed in the South, are these pair of awesome country rock songs. Both of these songs are from the aptly titled Lasso from El Paso album one of his most distinctive country albums and a qualified masterpiece of that genre. “Catfish” is the greasy driver, and “Abbie” the hounddog meditative track of the day. There’s something about these two tracks that exemplify the blue color envelope pushing too many people up in the North, and elsewhere, can only feign at reaching through pretension.

Born in Chicago, but raised in a small Texas ranch town called Palestine (irony of ironies), this Jewish boy grew up and came of age in Austin only to form his first rock group called King Arthur and the Carrots as a way to spoof surfer groups, and be a bit subversive, while studying psychology at U of Texas. This self-titled Texas Jewboy who loved satire and music, eventually saw that his love of country music was as equal as his ability to create it. His first true “non-joke” band was named Kinky Friedman & His Texas Jewboys and was such a controversial band, using a lot of naughty lyrics going hand in hand with uproarious cowboy melodies to sly offend his audiences. 
This notoriety got landed him his first recording contract that allowed him to record the album Sold American an album that included such Texas hits like “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus No More” and some truly political ones like “The Ballad of Charles Whitman”. This first taste of Kinky started to clue in audiences to a new type of progressive country that existed outside of Nashville. Likewise, making Kinky the unlikeliest of musician’s musician, some of the artists that were huge fans were Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and Austinite Willie Nelson. Shortly thereafter he released his second album, a more personal self-titled affair (if Kinky can agree to that), but after some time building up his reputation playing with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue he decided to cash in some expensive checks for 1976’s Lasso from El Paso (a title he got from an even more racy self-described country porn singer).

Lasso From El Paso

Listen to Catfish at Grooveshark.

One of the checks he cashed among asking Ringo Starr to come sing as Jesus, Eric Clapton to play on a “kid’s” song, Roger McGuinn from the Byrds and Dr. John to contribute session work, was asking Bob Dylan’s permission to record his never released “Catfish” song. Dylan, the cool hombre that he was, let Kinky have at it. Man, did Kinky have at it. What was once this down tempo, kind of sombre country Dylan ode to baseball legend Catfish Hunter, the first big money free agent, turned into this almost sleazy country funk banger that injected some grime into what could have been a sung hagiography. Aided by the amazing production and straight up DIRRTY horn work of Van Dyke Parks, yes that Van Dyke Parks, Kinky does his best Dylanesque vocalization while Lowell George from Little Feat lays down some greasy funk links that matches Kinky’s attempt to take the song near, but just a bit, above, the gutter. Like Kinky says: “When it gets too kinky for the rest of the world, it’s getting just right for me.”

Kinky singing “Dear Abbie” on SNL circa 1976
Just like any other good-hearted Texan, we can’t help balance out our spirited hospitality with some degree of reflective melancholia, you know all that geographical expanse can’t but help create some degree of inborn loneliness. With that in mind, can you sorta understand why he would tack on one of his most beautiful ballads “Dear Abby” into his too smart for it’s own good cover of joke musical singer Ray Steven’s Ahab the Arab? Almost intoning some kind of Lou Reed vocalization, this spare electric piano lament for a lover left behind strikes those heart strings in ways you didn’t know he could.

This is a lament based on distance, not geographical in nature, since he can live with that, its the emotional/physical distance that gets to him. In a world where the US at large, was becoming more distant from the essence of its Bicentennial celebration, here’s this funny man being serious for a bit and ruminating openly about it. Can you blame him that later on he almost successfully ran for Texas Governor? Kinky was as passionate about making you laugh as he was about the world at large, and both things moved him so. Like Kinky says, “Telling the truth is what I do and as, you know, the old Turkish proverb … ‘If you tell the truth, have one foot in the stirrup.'” We’ll ride again, tomorrow with some great country and/or southern rock…

Bonus track time, an snippet of the uproarious performance of “I’m Proud to be an Asshole from El Paso” from Kinky’s unexplained banned performance on Austin City Limits, which earns a personal tip of my hat from a fellow El Pasoan…

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