Pin It

Kinky Friedman rises once again 

Kinky Friedman is a prolific and profane man in black with his fingers knuckle-deep in all sorts of pies. He is a sharp-tongued, satirical troubadour. He has run for office (including Governor of Texas in 2006, where he received 12.6 percent of the vote). He writes crime novels in the hardboiled pulp tradition of Chandler, Hammett, and Spillane.

Friedman has founded an animal rescue. He has his own line of Man in Black Tequila — which he refers to affectionately as "Mexican mouthwash" — and he smokes his own brand of cigars. He is a quick-witted, politically incorrect humorist who sees the world through irreverent yet astute Will Rogers-colored glasses.

"If you fail at something long enough, you become a legend," Friedman says over the phone from his Echo Hill Ranch in Kerrville, Texas. "I'm a drinker with a writing problem. It's the curse of being multi-talented. It makes for a good audience, but a fractured one."

When Friedman makes the scene, a lot of the people will be there because of the books, some for the music, and a few for the socio-political angle. "So you've got a very interesting crowd," he says. "It takes a genius audience to make a genius performance."

The rumblings of a career in music began in 1966 at the University of Texas, Austin, where Friedman formed the mock surf band King Arthur and The Carrots­­. The band was short-lived and recorded one single. Then it was on to Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys, which appeared around the same time as other country-influenced rock 'n' roll artists like Gram Parsons, The Eagles, and The Band.

With the help of Commander Cody, Friedman recorded his debut eponymous release in 1974 for ABC Records, which led to a tour with Bob Dylan the following year. Friedman was initially embraced as a serious country artist despite satirical tunes like "How Can I Tell You I Love You (When You're Sitting on My Face)," "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore," "Asshole From El Paso," or "Ride 'Em Jewboy."

Up until last year, Friedman rode on the success of those early ditties and assorted other projects. He hadn't written any new music since the 1970's. Then the phone rang. It was a red-headed stranger on the line.

"Willie Nelson asked me what I was doing when he called one night last year from Hawaii," Friedman says. "I said, 'I'm watching "Matlock."' And Willie said, 'That's a sure sign of depression' — and he's kinda my shrink — so he said, 'That's bad energy — turn it off and start writing, Kinky.' So I did. I think I had a warehouse of unused lyrics. And so for the first time in 40 years I produced around 14, 15 new songs." Some have made it to his latest CD, which he calls "Resurrection."

"They are arguably some of the best I've ever written," Friedman says. "And certainly better than the older stuff. Not that we won't do some of the old favorites, but about half the show will be the new stuff ... from the 'Matlock' collection.

"So I called up Willie in Hawaii about two months ago and at one point he said, 'By the way, Kinky, what channel is "Matlock" on?'"

When you achieve cult status, as Friedman has, you rub elbows with artists who want to cover your material — like Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, and Kelly Willis — or whose material you want to perform, from the likes of Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, and Warren Zevon. The mutual admiration makes sense, and Friedman's take on others' material with his dark baritone burns his brand into the hide of these songs.

"I always look for a personal angle," he says. "Virtually all those guys I spent some time with, hanging out with Tom Waits in Los Angeles, or Bob Dylan in Mexico, Johnny Cash ..." they all dig Kinky, including Nelson Mandela.

"Apparently so," says Friedman. "I first heard about it in 1996 when I went to South Africa. I was doing a TV show, and this fellow on the show was Tokyo Sexwale. He was Mandela's right-hand man, and he had the cell next to Mandela's when he was in prison on Robben Island. Tokyo told me, 'Dolly Parton was Mandela's favorite singer, but he was a big fan of yours.' And I thought he was talking about the books. But he said, 'No, he likes the music.'"

They would try to smuggle in cassette tapes as best they could. Tokyo said Mandela was playing "Sold American" from the album of the same name.

"We recorded that in Nashville in 1973 with no thought in our mind that Nelson Mandela would be listening from his jail cell," Friedman says. "Then Tokyo said Mandela discovered 'Ride 'Em Jewboy' — a song about the holocaust — and he'd play it every night. This went on the better part of three years, the last three that he was in prison. The very thought that Nelson Mandela would be listening to 'Ride 'Em Jewboy' in prison is like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. That is the definition of surrealistic."

Trophies don't matter much to Friedman — except perhaps for the Male Chauvinist Pig Award N.O.W. bestowed upon him in 1973.

"Waylon Jennings would never accept an award. I kind of feel that way too," he says. "They're mostly bullshit. But if there is an honor you can have, having Nelson Mandela as a fan is one of them. It's something you can't really put up on your mantle, but you can keep it in your heart. If he had been playing Bob Dylan, it wouldn't have even been a story."

It would appear that Friedman has more impact as a musician than as a politician. According to the man, being a musician is a higher calling. He doesn't plan on running for office again ... probably.

"Hey, you never know," he says. "I'm a little disappointed Bernie didn't win. It would have been historic. It would have been the first time a Jewish family moved into a place a black family had just moved out of.

"America is great, not for its mainstream successes, but for its troublemakers," he says. "You never know who the hero is until the ship sinks. You don't know whose cowering in the lifeboat dressed up as a woman or who goes back on the sinking ship to save someone else." Yup, they ain't making Jews like Kinky Friedman anymore.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Music Features

More by Frank De Blase

Readers also liked…

Latest in Music Features

More by Frank De Blase

Browse Listings

Submit an event

Tweets @RocCityNews

© 2017 City Newspaper.

Website powered by Foundation.