Ramblin’ Jack at 91 ~ NYT

Ranblin’ Jack Elliot

crédito total, Lisa Issenberg

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By Erin Osmon

  • Sept. 28, 2022

TOMALES, Calif. — At a friend’s rustic home in a tiny village about an hour north of San Francisco, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott was trying to decide what to eat for breakfast. But he couldn’t resist telling a story.

“Some of the best oatmeal I ever had was in the L.A. County Jail,” the singer said from beneath an old felt cowboy hat, a blue bandanna tied around his neck. In 1955, while living in Topanga Canyon, he was pulled over on the Pacific Coast Highway because the taillight on his Ford Model A was broken. “They told me I could pay a $25 fine or spend six days in the clink.”

He was interested in religion at the time, and thought he’d finally have the chance to read the Bible, but his cellmates were too noisy. “I was extremely bored, and the police needed the space for more bona fide criminals, so they kicked me out on the second day,” he said. “They even gave me bus fare to get home.”

In his decades as a wayfaring folk singer, Elliott, who turned 91 in August, has amassed volumes of such tales, stories that blur the line between reality and fantasy, and translate as a particular, increasingly endangered strain of American folklore. He’s released nearly two dozen albums since 1956, alone and with the banjo player Derroll Adams (who died in 2000), but wasn’t recognized with a Grammy until 1995.

He’s known as an interpreter rather than a writer, singing beloved versions of “If I Were a Carpenter” by Tim Hardin, “San Francisco Bay Blues” by Jesse Fuller and the traditional “South Coast.” Though he hasn’t put out an album since “A Stranger Here” in 2009, he continues to perform live. His gigs this fall included a show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Sept. 24; a short run of concerts in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina start this week, followed by a tribute to John Prine and stops in California.

It’s a welcome return to the road. Elliott played 44 concerts in 2019 before the pandemic forced a 15-month pause, the longest he’s ever gone without stepping onstage. In August, he rescheduled two shows after contracting the coronavirus, though he described his case as “mild” after taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid.

Born Elliot Charles Adnopoz to middle class, Lithuanian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, he became so enamored with our nation’s iconography — the rodeo, merchant vessels, boxcar-hopping folkies, Peterbilt trucks — that he transformed himself into a peripatetic cowboy, a maritime enthusiast and a troubadour chasing the wind.

Today, he’s one of the last of the ’50s era folk music revivalists and beatniks who eschewed their parents’ conventions. He studied with Woody Guthrie, inspired Bob Dylan and hung out with Jack Kerouac. He was recorded by Alan Lomax, and has performed with Phil Ochs, Nico and Prine. He has covered, befriended and worked alongside American folk icons for so long that he’s become one.

“He wears the cloak and scepter of the American minstrel; he’s that guy,” said Bob Weir, a founding member of the Grateful Dead and Elliott’s longtime friend. The pair met in the ’60s when Elliott was opening for Lightnin’ Hopkins at a club in Berkley, and Weir, who was 16 at the time, crashed into the dressing room through a skylight to avoid being carded. “He dropped me into a conversation that we’ve been having for incarnations; he pretty much had me nailed to the wall,” he said. “I became acutely aware of who he was and why they call him Ramblin’ Jack.”

After decades of touring, the nonagenarian is resilient. He moves with swagger in his carefully chosen outfits.
After decades of touring, the nonagenarian is resilient. He moves with swagger in his carefully chosen outfits.Credit…Aubrey Trinnaman for The New York Times

As the legend goes, Elliott’s nickname originated with the folk singer Odetta’s mother. “I knocked, and the door opened a crack, and I heard her say, ‘Odetta, Ramblin’ Jack is here,’” Elliott said. “I adopted it right away.”

Since then, Elliott has spent much of his life traveling between the East and West Coasts, with a little Texas in between. He finally settled in a modest rental in rural West Marin, an arresting stretch along coastal Highway 1. In these parts, Elliott’s become a sort of mythological figure, recognized because of his career but also, more generally, for his vibe, a kind soul in Western wear who cares just as much about the local postman as he does about his days on the Rolling Thunder Review.

“He doesn’t distinguish between the Joan Baezes and the Bob Dylans, and the person who’s driving the bus or the truck,” his daughter Aiyana Elliott said in an interview in nearby Marshall, Calif. “He loves working people, but also all people who he comes in contact with.”

In 2000, Aiyana made a documentary about her father, “The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack,” that explored the real-life costs of building a mythic artistic persona and finds Aiyana grappling with Elliott’s unrelenting restlessness. In a moment of frustration, she begs for alone time with him, which he never grants. That plotline, she revealed, was more loaded than it seemed. “If there was anything keeping me from my father,” she explained, “it was that he had abominably bad taste in women for decades.”

At the behest of his daughter, Elliott has been recording his tales for posterity at the home of his friend Peter Coyote, the actor, author and ’60s era counter cultural activist. “They trusted I could keep him on track,” Coyote said in an interview at his home. “He comes over here with a really good sound man, and people like Bobby Weir, Peter Rowan and all these other musicians he’s known drop in.”

He lives quite modestly, a lot of people don’t realize just how modestly,” Elliott’s daughter Aiyana said. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so rich in friends.”
He lives quite modestly, a lot of people don’t realize just how modestly,” Elliott’s daughter Aiyana said. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so rich in friends.”Credit…Aubrey Trinnaman for The New York Times

Weir emphasized the importance of capturing Elliott’s history: “I’m a big proponent of making some space for him in the Smithsonian,” he said, “because an enormous part of America’s musical heritage lives in that body.”

Known for his storytelling and larger-than-life stage presence, Elliott’s greatest superpower may be his way with the guitar. “The way he attacks it, I only hear that in him,” Weir said. Elliott’s mighty flatpicking is also what made Frank Hamilton take notice amid the American folk music revival, when the two musicians were drawn to Washington Square Park. The former Weavers member and a founder of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, called Elliott a “folk guitarist par excellence” and a “very good raconteur.” “He and I, and a lot of other young men at the time, were imbued with a romanticism of the open road,” he said in a phone interview.

Though Elliott has written few songs, a road trip with Hamilton spurred his most famous original, “912 Greens,” inspired by the house of a folk singer they crashed with in New Orleans. “That’s a talkin’ song,” Elliott said, meaning that he’s telling a story over acoustic guitar. “Guy Clark told me he stole the guitar part I’m playing for one of his songs, and I was honored.” Another conversational composition, “Cup of Coffee” was covered by Johnny Cash on his 1966 album of novelty songs “Everybody Loves a Nut.”

Recalling his earliest encounter with Dylan, Elliott described him as “a nifty little kid with peach fuzz, he couldn’t shave yet.” (The future Nobel Prize winner was then a teenager visiting Guthrie at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.) Elliott wrote “Bleeker Street Blues” for Dylan in 1997, after the singer-songwriter was hospitalized with severe chest pains from histoplasmosis, a fungal infection. “Later on, we’ll join Woody and Jerry and Townes/But right now we all need you, so stick around,” Elliott speak-sings over acoustic guitar.

From left: Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Elliott and Dylan onstage in 1975. Elliott performed as part of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue that year.
From left: Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Elliott and Dylan onstage in 1975. Elliott performed as part of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue that year.Credit…Bettmann, via Getty Images

The pair grew close when they were neighbors in the Hotel Earle in Greenwich Village, where they bonded over a shared love of Guthrie, and other music of the burgeoning folk revival. Since then, fans have accused Dylan of aping Elliott’s style in his early days, particularly his nasally delivery, but that doesn’t bother the elder. “I helped him get into the musician’s union,” he said. Today, the pair aren’t in regular contact, but when they do cross paths, it’s with a great deal of warmth. “Love you Jack,” Elliot recalled Dylan saying after a gig in Oakland in 2014. “I thought, ‘Wow, you’ve never told me that before,’” Elliott said.

Unlike Dylan, and many of his other peers, Elliott hasn’t seen much commercial success — partly because he deals in niche genres, but also because “he’s not been great at managing his career, per se,” according to Aiyana. Because he hasn’t written many songs, he receives far fewer royalties on album sales and streams. The bulk of his income comes from touring, which has its own risks. More than anything, Elliott has sought freedom, and human connection. “He lives quite modestly, a lot of people don’t realize just how modestly,” Aiyana said. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so rich in friends.”

After decades of touring, the nonagenarian is resilient. He’s recovered from triple bypass surgery and two “little strokes” that left him unable to play the guitar for about a week. His hearing is assisted by small aids, but his mobility and stamina befit a much younger man. He moves with swagger in his carefully chosen outfits.

After a breakfast of oatmeal with berries and chopped pecans, and a plethora of stories about schooner ships, James Dean, big rigs, Leon Russell and other subjects between, Elliott loaded into his Volvo station wagon to wind through the cypress-lined roads overlooking the inlet Tomales Bay. He passed through his friend Nancy’s lavender field, and by the dunes at Dillon Beach where he and his friend Venta hike. In a vulnerable moment, he recalled his wife, Jan, the last of five, who died from alcoholism in 2001. “I was very devastated when she left us,” he said.

In 1995, the pair were living in a motor home in Point Reyes while she worked for Ridgetop Music, owned by Jesse Colin Young of the Youngbloods. One day, they decided to head north to sight see. “I was driving and admiring the bay on the left, and she was in the passenger seat and saw a sign on the right,” he said. “We pulled in and rented the house on the spot.” He’s lived in it ever since.

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“An enormous part of America’s musical heritage lives in that body,” Bob Weir said of Elliott.
“An enormous part of America’s musical heritage lives in that body,” Bob Weir said of Elliott.Credit…Aubrey Trinnaman for The New York Times

During the hourlong drive, Elliott’s profile set against the bucolic pastures rolling by and magnificent views of the ocean, he recalled other friends and acquaintances he’s known over the years, some who’ve moved away or died. Pointing to a run-down farmhouse, he wondered what happened to its owner: “I haven’t seen him in years, and I hope he’s OK.” Though Elliott lives in one of the most beautiful places in America, it’s clear that, for him, the landscapes are an added benefit. It’s the people here that truly nourish him.

Later, at Nick’s Cove, a local restaurant with a pier that stretches over the bay, Elliott chatted with a woman who had bellied up to the bar to watch a baseball game. “She runs a big dairy,” he explained as he headed toward a table facing the night’s performer. “Hey, I know that guy!” He lit up at the sight of Danny Montana, a fellow cowboy folk singer dressed in a hat and boots. On this September night, he covered many of Elliott’s friends, like John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy Clark, and Elliott hummed along in between bites of a hamburger. When he finished his set, Elliott invited Montana to sit at our table, and then complimented his “rig” as he packed up his gear to leave.

In just a few weeks, Elliott’s own show would be hitting the road once again. He was particularly excited about his travel companion, a former Navy pilot who also loves horses. “He just got a brand-new, red, Ford F-350 diesel pickup truck, and he’s going to be my driver,” he said with a grin. “He’s a good driver and a great guy.”

The Creedence Clearwater Revival Revival ~ The New Yorker

How can a band as beloved as C.C.R. still seem underappreciated? And is that finally beginning to change?

By David Cantwell

August 17, 2022

The faces of C.C.R. members in profile.

When Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up fifty years ago this fall, they were critically respected, hugely influential, and popular almost beyond belief. Billboard credits the band with nine Top Ten singles in just two and a half years, from early 1969 to the summer of ’71—an amazing stat, but one that still undercounts the band’s success. The fanciful twang of “Down on the Corner” and the blue-collar rage of “Fortunate Son” were each tremendously popular, but, because they were pressed on flip sides of the same 45, Billboard counted them as only one hit record. C.C.R. also has the most No. 2 hits—five—of any band that never scored a No. 1. In 1969, as John Lingan notes in his new book, “A Song for Everyone,” Creedence Clearwater Revival even reportedly achieved “something that no other group had done in America since 1964: They outsold the Beatles.”

Somehow, the sheer scope of what they accomplished has always seemed underappreciated. “Everyone has the most fucking respect for the Beatles,” C.C.R.’s drummer, Doug Clifford, complained to Hit Parader, adding, “Well, we’re the biggest American group.” Granted, Clifford’s comment reflects a sense of grievance that the band—consisting of Clifford, bassist Stu Cook; guitarist Tom Fogerty; and singer-guitarist-songwriter-producer John Fogerty, Tom’s younger brother—had nursed for years. They emerged from a transformative Bay Area music scene that included Sly and the Family Stone and Jefferson Airplane. But, because they performed notably sober and straight, and were all married—and especially because they favored two-to-three-minute-long pop gems, tightly rehearsed, rather than improvised jams—they were perceived as squares even in their own scene. Hip crowds at the Fillmore jokingly referred to them, Lingan writes, as “the Boy Scouts of Rock and Roll.” When the critic Ralph J. Gleason referred to the band as “an excellent example of the Third Generation of San Francisco bands,” they felt disrespected again: they’d been performing together in the area, first as the Blue Velvets, then as the Golliwogs, since the late fifties. Look closely at the cover of their 1970 album “Cosmo’s Factory,” and you’ll see an embittered, handmade motivational poster tacked up in their rehearsal space: “3rd GENERATION.”

But even admiring critics acknowledged that the public image of the band wasn’t equal to their greatness. “For all Creedence’s immense popularity, John Fogerty has never made it as a media hero, and the group has never crossed the line from best-selling rock band to cultural phenomenon,” Ellen Willis wrote in this magazine, in 1972. Willis attributed this partly to the fact that Fogerty projected “intelligence and moderation,” rather than, for instance, “freakiness, messianism, sex, violence.” (This was also, she noted, “probably the main reason I have come to prefer him to Mick Jagger,” and partly why C.C.R. had become her favorite rock-and-roll band.)

There were other reasons, too: “Proud Mary,” the first of the band’s several signature tunes, almost immediately became better known as Ike and Tina Turner’s signature tune. At Woodstock, C.C.R. took the stage between the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, but, after Fogerty deemed the experience unsatisfactory, they were left out of the subsequent concert film, and off its soundtrack. Fogerty’s bandmates were frequently put off by his imperiousness: he’d instituted a strict no-encores policy, for instance, which translated to less fun for audience and band alike. Tom Fogerty quit the band first, tired of “eternally strumming” rhythm guitar—as Lingan describes the situation—for a group he used to front. And, by the fall of 1972, exhausted from near-constant touring and a recording pace that produced seven albums in less than five years, Cook and Clifford had had enough, too. John Fogerty agreed with them. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” he told one of his bandmates, according to Lingan.

~~~ CONTINUE READING THE NEW YORKER ~~~

Willie Nelson’s Long Encore ~ NYT

By Jody Rosen

  • Aug. 17, 2022

Listen 54:07 

Willie Nelson has a long history of tempting, and cheating, death. In 1969, when his home in Ridgetop, Tenn., caught fire, he raced into the burning house to save two prized possessions, his guitar and a pound of “Colombian grass.” He has emphysema, the consequence of a near-lifetime of chain smoking that began in childhood, when he puffed on cedar bark and grapevines, before turning to cigarettes and then — famously, prodigiously — to marijuana. In 1981, he was taken to a hospital in Hawaii after his left lung collapsed while he was swimming. He underwent a voluntary stem-cell procedure in 2015, in an effort to repair his damaged lungs. Smoking has endangered his life, but it also, he thinks, saved it: He has often said that he would have died long ago had he not taken up weed and laid off drinking, which made him rowdy and self-destructive. Now, in his late 80s, he has reached the age where getting out of bed each morning can be construed as a feat of survival. “Last night I had a dream that I died twice yesterday,” he sang in 2017, “But I woke up still not dead again today.”

Still, some close calls are closer than others. One evening in early March 2020, the singer and his wife, Annie, were sitting outside the sprawling log cabin residence at their ranch in Spicewood, Texas, in the Hill Country about 30 miles northwest of Austin. It was warm and clear. The sun was going down. “We were watching the sunset,” Annie recalled not long ago. “And these little lights started to zip across the sky. The first one kind of flashed past in the distance. Then there was a second, which went by a little closer. All of a sudden, the light went right past us — like, two feet over Will’s head.”

The couple scrambled into the house and got down on the floor. According to Annie, the neighbors were “having another one of their gun parties. Apparently they got drunk and left a bunch of kids with semiautomatic rifles.” The police, she said, explained that the lights came from tracer bullets. “I said, ‘Are those even legal?’ But of course, nuclear weapons are legal in Texas. I told the police to please just pass along this message: ‘Dude, you don’t want to be the one that kills Willie Nelson. Especially in Texas.’” 

~~~ CONTINUE READING NYT ~~~

Where Did The Blind & Black Musician Trope Come From? ~ PBS

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~~~ WATCH ~~

There’s a long history of blind Black musicians in the US dating back to the 19th century, from Blind Tom to Ray Charles. Join recording artist Lachi and Professor Danielle Bainbridge to discuss the history on why blindness seems like a common thread among Black musicians. And how modern musicians have changed the narrative on disability in performance.

KEITH JARRETT’S ETERNAL BALANCING ACT ~ NPR

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‘During a concert, certain things are not nonexistent,’ Jarrett shares

August 4, 20225:00 AM ET

NATE CHINEN

Almost two years ago, pianist Keith Jarrett shared publicly that he had suffered two strokes in 2018 and would likely never perform again. That revelation, which I reported in a piece for the New York Times, shook Jarrett’s worldwide audience, eliciting sympathy and concern along with sorrow over the end of an illustrious concert career.

Jarrett’s longtime label, ECM Records, cushioned the devastating news with some extraordinary music: Budapest Concert, recorded at the beginning of his final European tour. The conclusion of that tour had already been chronicled the previous year, on an album titled Munich 2016. Now, in addition to those bookends, ECM is preparing to release Bordeaux ConcertRecorded on July 6, 2016, a few days after Budapest, it’s another balancing act of consonance and dissonance from a pianist whose blank-slate solo improvisations have always been valorized.

That legend has continued to grow in Jarrett’s absence; there’s even a film now in pre-production titled Köln 75about the circumstances around his best-selling album The Köln Concert. As for the man himself, he’s been quietly rehabilitating at home in rural northwest New Jersey. He’s an avid reader — among his recent recommendations is Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane by Paul Auster — and a conscientious objector to internet culture. “Everybody’s looking for the next technological leap,” he said this week. “But all I need is two chairs and another person.”

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I reached Jarrett by telephone to talk about Bordeaux Concert, and in particular the deeply lyrical track “Part III,” which ECM has made available prior to the album’s release on Sept. 30. We were indeed both in chairs, if not in person, and Jarrett spoke not only about the recording but also his changed (and still-changing) relationship to the piano. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

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Nate Chinen: It was September of 2020 when we last spoke. How are you feeling now? 

Keith Jarrett: I’m doing fine. I’m presently sitting on my front porch, which I now have called my office. And we’ve got a stream. We’ve got flowers, plants, butterflies, birds, everything. Oh, that’s right — you were here. 

It’s a beautiful place in the summertime. That sounds really nice. And how has recovery been? Have you been doing a lot of physical therapy?

Well, I don’t know if I’d call it therapy, but I’ve been using my legs more. And walking with and without a cane in different circumstances. So today I went walking down our private road to the beach across from the road, where there’s a lake. As for recovering, I mean, I’m not sure. My right hand is not like my right hand was, and my left hand is not at all. 

Well, I know that with these things, progress comes slowly.

The only thing I can relate this to is the chronic fatigue syndrome problem that I had [in the late 1990s]. And I usually was fairly Christian Scientistic about it. My mother having, and father having been that — and my grandmother. 

When you say that you relate this to chronic fatigue syndrome, how would you differentiate the two experiences?

Well, that was the pure feeling of: if I look at my piano, I shouldn’t play it. I should just look at it. Compared to what I have now, which is a right hand I try to assume is capable of something. The fatigue is not the same. I had a good doctor for that.

Good. I’ve thought about calling you a few times to check in, and then I had an excellent excuse, because ECM is about to release Bordeaux Concert. How much have you listened to the recording in preparation for the release? 

The something I succeed at is to not prepare.

Keith Jarrett

I didn’t focus much on it before now. But I did listen to it several times along with the other concerts I did not release [from that tour], which are Vienna and Rome. 

This was the concert right after Budapest. Last time we spoke, we talked about the Budapest concert quite a bit. Do you feel that the two are in dialogue with each other in some way, musically?

Well, I’d have to listen to both of them again. I think I’m always in dialogue with something other than what I’ve just played. That’s the essence of improvisation.

~~~ CONTINUE ON NPR ~~~

DEATH LETTER BLUES

Son House

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Casandra Wilson

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“Death Letter,” is heard during True Detective Season 3 in the first few moments and was recorded by singer Cassandra Wilson in 1995. T Bone Burnett, who handles the soundtrack and writes the scores for each season of the HBO series, told Esquire  that Wilson “is the greatest living jazz singer, and maybe the greatest singer living right now in the United States.”

Wilson’s haunting version of the song actually isn’t the original. It was first written and performed by blues icon Son House during the 1960s.  The lyrics aren’t exactly upbeat. The original words — gender-flipped for Wilson’s cover — come from the perspective of a man who receives a letter in the mail telling him the women he loves is dead. The song follows him all the way through her funeral, and into the aftermath of life without her.

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Death Letter Blues ~ Son House

I got a letter this morning, how do you reckon it read?
Say, “Hurry, hurry! The gal you love is dead.”
I got a letter this morning, I say how you reckon it read?
It say, “Hurry, hurry! The gal you love is dead.”

You know I grabbed up my suitcase, took off down the road
When I got there, she was laying on the cooling board
I grabbed up my suitcase, I said I took off down the road
I said when I got there, she was laying on the cooling board

You know, I walked up close, looked down in her face
She’s a good old girl, and today had her Judgment Day
I say I walked up close, and I looked down in her face
I say she’s a good old girl and today had her Judgment Day

You know, looked like 10,000 people
Were standin’ around the buryin’ ground
I didn’t know I loved her, until I let her down
Looked like 10,000 standin’ around the buryin ground
You know I didn’t know that I loved her
UntiI I began to let her down

You know I didn’t feel so bad
Till the good Lord’s sun went down
I didn’t have a soul to throw my arms around
I didn’t feel so bad until the good Lord’s sun went down
I say I didn’t have a soul to throw my arms around

You know it’s so hard to love when someone don’t love you
Don’t look like satisfaction, don’t care what you do
It’s so hard to love someone that don’t love you
You know you don’t get no satisfaction
Don’t care what you do

You know love had a fault
Make you do things you don’t want to do
Love sometimes leave you feelin sad and blue
Love had a fault, make you do things you don’t want to do
Love sometimes leave you feelin sad and blue

Major bummer … . …. The Washington Post

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Robert Earl Keen’s melancholy but raucous farewell at the Birchmere 

The Texas troubadour makes a sentimental and satisfying stop on what he says will be his final tour

Review by Dave McKenna

July 24, 2022

Listen

Partying can be such sweet sorrow. Robert Earl Keen’s Friday show at the Birchmere, on a tour designed to let the Texas troubadour say farewell to fans and vice versa, was full of melancholy raucousness.

Keen announced earlier this year that he would stop performing for good after this summer, and the flock that packed the club for the first of two sold-out nights seemed very conscious that the hourglass is running out of sand. Keen, 66, has said health is not a factor in his decision to give up the road; he just had an epiphany during yet another overnight tour bus ride that he didn’t want to die far from home and alone. 

Yet Keen seemed frailer than normal on this night. He took a seat at the center of the stage and stayed there, a departure from the stand-and-deliver format of his previous tours. And before he sang a note, Keen gave a long and nostalgic monologue on how hard he had to work as a young artist, back when he was best known for being Lyle Lovett’s college roommate, just to get to a slot as an opening act at the Birchmere, and how much it still means to play the exalted concert hall.

Given the heavy prologue, one couldn’t help but look for deeper meaning in the lyrics. Keen sometimes made it easy. He turned his opening song, “What I Really Mean,” a sweet ballad from 2005 that was originally a love letter to folks back home whom he missed while on the road, into a thank-you to folks who filled the club to say goodbye, changing its last line, “Wish you were here,” to, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Then again, words have always mattered at Keen’s shows, where it sometimes seems as if every fan not only knows every lyric, but also wants everybody to know that they know every lyric, and to prove it by outshouting the next guy. The decibel competition was predictably fierce on “Gringo Honeymoon,” “Corpus Christi Bay” and “Merry Christmas From the Family.”

“Amarillo Highway,” an anthem written by fellow Texan and singing storyteller Terry Allen, was delivered over a ZZ Top-like boogie beat. “Dreadful Selfish Crime” had even Keen banging his head and dancing in his chair. “Shades of Gray,” one of Keen’s many up-tempo crime tunes, came complete with a shredding solo from guitarist Brian Beken. Keen seemed amused by the ferocity of the arrangement. “Turn that crap down, son!” he joked to Beken, the youngest member of his backing trio. (Beken signed on with Keen in 2015. The rhythm section of drummer Tom Van Schaik and bassist Bill Whitbeck has been with Keen since the 1990s.) But nobody really wanted the din diminished.

The glorious noise peaked on “The Road Goes On Forever,” Keen’s best-known story song, as he got to its climactic line, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.” That song closes as Sonny, its anti-hero protagonist, gets arrested for murder and is condemned to death. In the real world, Keen has sentenced himself only to rest and relaxation. But as Keen ambled back to the dressing room and the lights came up, there was an overwhelming sense that nothing really goes on forever and that something wonderful was ending. Keen, like everybody else in the room, is going to miss this.

RED, WHITE AND THE BLUES ~ 1A

July 5, 2021

~~~ LISTEN· 49:20 ~~~

American guitarist B.B. King (1925 – 2015) performs at the Apollo Theater in New York City, around 1965.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The blues grew out of the Black experience in the American South. It generated jazz, R&B, rock and roll, rap – virtually every piece of modern music.

We’re spotlighting blues recordings selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry. These recordings have been chosen for their historic, aesthetic or cultural importance to American society.

On this holiday weekend, we celebrate America’s birthday with music from John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Minnie, Jimi Hendrix and others.

And we hear from legends like BB King, Angela Davis, Dan Aykroyd, Maria Muldaur, Vernon Reid and many more.