This morning on Music City Roots, The Loveless Cafe is stompin’ with a Plowboy Records tribute to Eddy Arnold, featuring sets from the likes of Cheetah Chrome, Pete Mroz, Chuck Mead, Paul Burch, Buzz Cason, Bobby Bare Jr., and Jason Ringenberg. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
Though he didn’t manage to become rich and famous in the process, Cheetah Chrome was one of the first guitar heroes of American punk rock who helped give underground music a sorely needed kick in the ass in the mid-’70s as part of the vital Cleveland, OH, scene, while also helping launch the punk explosion at GBGB.
Born Gene O’Connor in Cleveland, OH, Cheetah Chrome got his first guitar as a Christmas present after having his head turned around by seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, but he found his first major inspiration as a guitarist when he heard the song “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. In the early ’70s, Chrome had become a major fan of the Stooges, the MC5, and Alice Cooper, and began playing in Cleveland-based cover bands with drummer John Madansky, who later took the stage name Johnny Blitz. Through a classified ad, Chrome and Blitz met Cleveland underground rock visionary Peter Laughner and soon joined his fabled pre-punk band Rocket From the Tombs. Creative squabbles broke up Rocket From the Tombs before they could make much of a dent outside of Cleveland; Laughner and Crocus Behemoth (aka David Thomas) went on to form Pere Ubu, and Chrome, Blitz, and singer Steve Bator — better-known as Stiv Bators, and very briefly a member of a late RFTT lineup — formed a hard rock band called Frankenstein. Frankenstein only lasted a few months, but when word about the nascent New York punk rock scene spearheaded by the Ramones filtered back to Cleveland, Chrome, Bators, and Blitz joined forces with guitarist William Wilden (aka Jimmy Zero) and bassist Jeff Halmagy (aka Jeff Magnum) and formed the Dead Boys. The band’s intense live show, sparked by Chrome’s powerful guitar work, made them a sensation after their New York debut at CBGB. The band was signed to Sire Records in 1977, releasing the classic album Young, Loud and Snotty that year. However, while the band was the talk of the punk scene, they were unable to break through to wider recognition, and a disappointing second album coupled with in-fighting and spiraling drug and alcohol problems led to the Dead Boys’ breakup in 1980, though the band would briefly reunite in the mid-’80s.
While Stiv Bators managed a fairly successful career after the Dead Boys, Cheetah Chrome kept a much lower profile, occasionally recording in collaboration with Angry Samoans founder Jeff Dahl and performing for a spell with the group the Ghetto Dogs. Chrome also played with a short-lived group called Shotgun Rationale with Sonny Vincent of the Testors and Bob Stinson of the Replacements; Chrome also contributed guitar work to Vincent’s album Pure Filth. In the mid-’90s, Chrome relocated to Nashville and began putting together a band; after recording a 1996 solo album that went unreleased due to record company problems (it was produced by Genya Ravan, who was also behind the board for Young, Loud and Snotty), Chrome began touring periodically. A 1999 live show in Detroit resulted in his first full-length solo release, Alive in Detroit, on which Chrome jokingly mentions a recurring rumor about his death that led to an obituary being published in a New York newspaper. Chrome continues to write new material and in 2001 was blocking out plans for a new solo album; he was also immortalized in song by Tommy Womack, whose 1998 album Positively Na Na featured the song “Whatever Happened to Cheetah Chrome?” (“the man with the orange Dead Boys dome?”).
Clean, clear, and precise with honestly holding it all together … this is color palette of Pete Mroz’s music. His music is Hot AC, AAA, Americana, or Pop … a love song, blues song, acoustic song, or a roots song … it is all about the soul of the music and sometimes that concept doesn’t fit a genre. Influenced by a wide range of artists like Robert Johnson, The Beatles, Clapton and Sting his music has been compared to artists like Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, and James Taylor … an old soul in a modern world some would say. Born in Indiana and raised in over 13 states he learned at a very young age the rhythm of the road which has served to be a priceless lesson in his life. He started playing guitar at 17 and moved to Nashville, TN at 19 to learn how to write songs. Pete has independently released his 3rd studio album We’ll Rise Above produced by Warren Huart and fully funded by his fans through Kickstarter.com. Pete is currently out on the road promoting and making new fans from town to town. He plays over 175 shows a year between on-line live broadcasts and shows on the road. He recently has been endorsed by longtime favorite guitar company Martin Guitars and Fishman. If asked the question what’s next Pete says, “Right now … onward and upward”!
After leading several popular ‘80s cult bands in and around his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, Chuck Mead landed on Nashville’s Lower Broadway where he co-founded the famed ‘90s Alternative Country quintet BR549. The band’s seven albums, three Grammy nominations and the Country Music Association Award for Best Overseas Touring Act would build an indelible bridge between authentic American Roots music and millions of fans worldwide. With BR on hiatus, Chuck formed The Hillbilly All-Stars featuring members of The Mavericks, co-produced popular tribute albums to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, guest-lectured at Vanderbilt University, and became a staff writer at one of Nashville’s top song publishers. In 2009, he released his acclaimed solo debut album, Journeyman’s Wager, and toured clubs, concert halls and international Rock, Country and Rockabilly festivals with his band The Grassy Knoll Boys.
As Music Director for the Broadway smash Million Dollar Quartet, Chuck began crafting the music arrangements during the show’s original Daytona and Seattle workshop productions, supervised the musical performances for its 2008 Chicago opening, created new music material for the show’s Tony-winning Broadway run, produced the original cast album, and oversaw the music for its smash 2011 premiere at London’s Noël Coward Theatre.
Chuck’s new album, Back At The Quonset Hut, was recorded at Nashville’s legendary Quonset Hut Studio where Patsy Cline, George Jones, Merle Haggard Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and more cut some of country’s greatest tracks. Produced by original BR549 producer Mike Janas and with the participation of students from Belmont University’s College of Entertainment and Music Business, the album of classic covers features surviving members of Music Row’s original ‘A Team’ studio musicians as well as guest appearances by Old Crow Medicine Show, Elizabeth Cook, Jamie Johnson and Bobby Bare. “It’s been incredibly liberating to do all these things I’ve never done before,” Chuck says. “I’ve already gone from the bars of Lower Broadway in Nashville to the Broadway stage, and the upcoming album is one of the most unique and rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of. I’m looking forward to where it all brings me next”.
Paul Burch, Nashville’s honky-tonk auteur and a writer of unmistakably modern but instantly classic songs, will release his new album, Fevers this fall on Plowboy Records. Backed by his redoubtable band the WPA Ballclub, Fevers reveals the side of Burch heard most often on stage—intense, unbridled, and full of bravado. Produced with multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin (Jack White, Buddy Miller, Third Man Records), Fevers is a riveting and haunting mix of honky tonk, stringband blues, and bop grooves that defies easy categories.
Critics have praised Burch’s albums as “music that sounds thoroughly modern but completely unlike contemporary country” (USA Today) and Entertainment Weekly has called him “a modern day Jimmie Rodgers.” The UK’s Uncut Magazine has awarded each of Burch’s past three albums a five star rating saying: “No one makes records like this anymore.”
Born in Washington D.C., Burch was first singled out when his 1996 debut, Pan American Flash, was named Amazon.com’s #5 Best Country Albums of the 90s and was described by Billboard’s Chet Flippo as “extraordinary…establishing Burch as a leader in marrying country’s roots tradition with a modern sensibility.”
Along with a GRAMMY nomination for his contribution to the album Charlie Louvin (Charlie Louvin), Burch has worked with a range of equally ineffable artists including: Ralph Stanley, Exene Cervenka of X, Mark Knopfler, Lambchop, Vic Chesnutt, and R&B great Candi Staton. Burch’s tribute to Buddy Holly, Words of Love, led to a new fan in Holly’s widow, Maria Elena. “Words of Love is a beautiful album,” said Maria Elena. “He has everything Buddy wanted to hear in an artist–his own style and his own sound.” Burch recently produced famed Nashville songwriter David Olney’s Predicting the Past, due in 2014.
In 2013, Burch contributed a song to Hip Hop for Public Health’s Songs for a Healthier America, an innovative collaboration between musicians and public health advocates to motivate kids to make healthier exercise and wellness choices. The album is being promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and will also be the first official free album released on iTunes September 30.
Peter Guralnick, author of biographies on Elvis Presley (Last Train to Memphis & Careless Love) and Sam Cooke (Dream Boogie) says: “I’m a Paul Burch fan. How could I not be? His music never fails to achieve its purpose, what Sun Records founder Sam Phillips has deemed the unequivocal purpose of every kind of music: to lift up, to deepen, to intensify the spirit of audience and musicians alike.”
Look for Fevers on vinyl and CD November 5 on Plowboy Records.
As 2006 arrived, Buzz Cason was the only songwriter credited with cuts by pop icons, the Beatles, Pearl Jam and U2. It started in 1956 when Buzz, then an Inglewood, TN teenager and junior at Isaac Litton High, was given the opportunity to lip-synch “White Christmas” on the Noel Ball Saturday Showcase, a local talent show on WSIX-TV (ABC), then Channel 8. Reluctant to delve into a television musical, Jim Seymore, a fellow art student organizing the show told him, “It’ll be fun and there’ll be lots of girls there!” His intent has been to be on the other side of the camera, possibly studying film directing in college, but the idea of performing (with girls!) suddenly appealed to Buzz. Musically in those days, rhythm and blues and early Elvis recordings were having their influence on him. Buzz sang in the youth choir at his local church, learning harmonies from his mother, Rosa, an alto.
Buzz indeed enjoyed performing on camera and met the musicians at the television station, soon forming a group they called, “The Casuals”, generally recognized as Nashville’s first rock-n-roll band. Ball produced the band. Their first album, which contained Buzz’s first song, “My Love Song For You”, co-written with Richard Williams, vocalist and keyboardist with the Casuals. The record came out first on Nu-Sound, Ball’s label and was later picked up by Dot where the song made the local top ten. By 1957, The Casuals had become a touring act, replacing The Everly Brothers on a tour of 60 fair dates. Later, legendary manager, Dub Albritton heard the group and The Casuals became Brenda Lee’s backing band. The original Casuals, in addition to Richard, were Billy Smith, Chester Power and Johnny McCreery.
During this same period, Buzz met Bobby Russell, an aspiring writer at the old Globe Recording Studio in Nashville located above Mom’s Tavern (now Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge) and the two began to co-write. At the urging and support of Gary Walker of Lowery Music, they wrote and recorded “Tennessee” as a studio group, The Todds, which also boasted Bergen White, now a noted arranger/composer, for Paul Cohen’s Todd Label. The song was covered in ’58 by Jan and Dean on Liberty, produced by Lou Adler. Thus came their first Hot 100 record on the BILLBOARD chart and an association of more than 25 years began. Prior to moving to California, Buzz wrote another Todd’s single with Russell. “Popsicle” was also covered by Jan and Dean and was a top 20 hit in 1963.
Meanwhile, he was introduced by former Jordanaire, Hugh Jarrett, to Snuff Garrett in between engagements and became a vocalist for Snuff’s first recording group called The Statues. The group, which included Buzz, Hugh Jarrett and Richard Williams, released a hit single, “Blue Velvet” on Liberty. In 1960, Buzz began to pursue a solo career and hastily recorded (under the name Garry Miles) “Look For A Star”, to beat British singer Garry Mills’ version to radio. His version hit #16 on the charts and outsold the British version. After this point, Buzz reinvented himself between each set. He would back up Lee with The Casuals, slip back stage, change his coat and his glasses and reappear as Garry Miles. Buzz and the group appeared with virtually every popular act of that era.
In 1962, Buzz moved to Los Angeles as Snuff Garrett’s assistant. During this period, Leon Russell was a session player. He and Buzz produced a group called The Crickets in a version of the song “La Bamba”. The song did well in England and he toured with the group. La Bamba was also featured in the film “Girls On The Beach”. When in Nashville, he worked for the noted arranger, Bill Justis, who was also known for his Memphis smash hit production of the song, “Raunchy”. Through Justis, Buzz met Bucky Wilkin, lead singer of Ronny and the Daytonas. They co-wrote “Sandy” and the song became an instant top 20 record. An album of the same name followed.
In 1966, Buzz and Bobby started a publishing and record company, Rising Songs, with Fred Foster (then president of Monument Records). From this association came “Everlasting Love”, co-written with Mac Gayden and recorded in 1967 by Robert Knight.
In 1967, Buzz and Bobby returned to their successful partnership by forming their own publishing company, Russell-Cason Music. Out of this partnership, they published and wrote songs including “The Joker Went Wild”, “Honey” and “Little Green Apples”. In addition to Rising Sons, the duo performed an innovative feat by founding yet another independent label, Elf, for their productions with Larry Uttal of Amy Mala Bell. “It was cool”, says Buzz, reflecting back on those exciting days. “I had a red phone on my desk. Larry wanted us to have a hotline to New York always clear to get right to his desk.” Buzz produced “She Shot A Hold In My Soul” on Knoxville R&B great, Clifford Curry and it was Elf’s first chart record. Other Elf hits included Russell’s “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” with Russell as the artist and “Cry Baby Cry” by Van and Titus, and R&B act co-produced and co-written by Buzz and Mac Gayden. Russell-Cason was quite a successful combination, but both men felt it was time to move on and the publishing company was sold to Welk Music in 1974. (Russell moved to Los Angeles and formed PixRuss Music).
The years to follow proved to be very successful for Buzz, not only as a vocalist behind superstars such as Elvis Presley and Kenny Rogers, but also as a songwriter. He felt the need for a studio to produce and bring writers and artists together in a relaxed, state-of-the-art atmosphere, so in 1970, he founded Creative Workshop, a two-studio recording facility where Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, The Judds, The Doobie Brothers and Emmylou Harris have recorded material. Papa Don Schroeder cut Carl Carlton’s million selling version of “Everlasting Love” for Duke Records there as well. This studio was the start of the Berry Hill Music Scene.
Just prior to the founding of Creative, Buzz had been introduced to Jimmy Buffett from Mobile by Travis Turk, an engineer at Spar Studio in the Baker Building. The pair had produced Jimmy’s first album for Barnaby, Down to Earth. The subsequent album, High Cumberland Jubilee, was cut in the new Creative Workshop, where Turk was its’ first engineer. Buzz continues to publish approximately 50 of Buffett’s early compositions. Buzz sang background on Buffett’s first five LPs for ABC, produced by Gant.
The formation of Southern Writers Group coincided with the opening of Creative Workshop, and the catalogue has been spawning hit songs ever since. “Bluer Than Blue”, written by Randy Goodrum, was produced there by Brent Maher and Steve Gibson and published by Maher and Cason. But the biggest copyright of the ’70s for Buzz came when piano bar entertainer Steve Gibb turned in “She Believes In Me”, a mega-hit for Kenny Rogers, produced by Larry Butler. The song has achieved sales of over 20 million units and also received a “Song of the Year” Grammy nomination.
Nominated for a Grammy at age five for doing a duo with his renowned country music dad, Bobby Bare, Jr., also managed to sing on the Ryman Auditorium stage on its closing night. Although his dad is remembered for contemporary country songs like “500 Miles Away from Home” and “Houston,” Bare, Jr. took off in a different direction, reflected in the name of his CD Young Criminals’ Starvation League, released in 2002 by Bloodshot. While the CD picks up the flavor of early-’70s classic country with Nashville soul, it also testifies to an angry and sad type of humor. An oddball combination of post-punk and psychedelic melancholy, the CD reflects Bare, Jr.’s skill and depth as a musical artist who doesn’t have to slouch in his father’s shadow. During the late ’90s, Bare, Jr. put together his own indie rock band, appropriately called Bare Jr., with Keith Brogdon (drums), Tracy Hackney (dulcimer, harmonies), and Dean Tomasek (bass). The band put out two CDs, Boo-Tay and Brainwasher, that twist the classic Nashville sounds in a joyous, delightful, devious, self-loathing way. In August 2003, Bare, Jr. performed at Bumbershoot 2003 in Seattle, and in October 2003, Bloodshot released OK – I’m Sorry... for Bare, Jr. as an individual, not as a band. From the End of Your Leash followed in 2004. Two years later, Bare, Jr. gathered friends from My Morning Jacket, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Lambchop, and Clem Snide to serve as his Young Criminals’ Starvation League on the live recording The Longest Meow. The oddly titled A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head, which was co-produced by Bare, Jr. and David Vandervelde, appeared in 2010.
A couple of years ago Jason Ringenberg and I were doing a run of dates together through the snowy Midwest. I was road-ragged and he was fresh as a daisy. He’d driven across Alaska not long before and spent six weeks in Sweden and England and Holland before that! We got to talking about farm life and how Jason and his brother grew up feeding the hogs at five in the morningeveryday. “You know,” Jason said to me, “My brother and I worked ALL the time. It was incredibly hard work for an adult, let alone a skinny 9 year old boy. It was a never ending cycle feeding the hogs, cleaning out the hog houses (by hand), hauling water and straw, or working the fields. It didn’t matter if it was New Years Day or 105 degrees in the shade, the work never stopped. We never thought a thing about it. It’s just what we did.” It’s still what he does. That work ethic learned early, and his boundless energy, came to make him the force he became in later years.
Something changed for young Jason when he heard George Jones & Tammy Wynette’s “Golden Ring” coming from the radio in the barn one morning, across the prairie wind to a nearby thoughtful, hard-working young man who fell in love with music then and there. From then on, Jason was going to be a musician, and he knew it there and then.
The Rock Island Line ran right past Jason’s family’s farm. After school, after chores were done, Jason would take off walking down the middle of the track, playing his harmonica, playing his guitar, and singing the way young singers belt it out when they know no one can hear them. To this day, there’s a bit of the Rock Island Line in Jason’s singing and playing. It comes honestly. In the fall of 1978, Jason’s life changed when he went off to college to Southern Illinois University, where it’s a party in Carbondale every night of the week, where it’s 300 miles south and actually gets warm, and it’s a place…where bands form!
Jason wasted no time. He was ready. There was another Jason to let loose. A Jason I think he cultivated walking the Rock Island Line blowing his harp; he was to become not Jason the hog farmer, but Jason “the rockingest folk singer that ever lived.”
His first band at college was Shakespeare’s Riot. For two years they made their name on the SUI club and frat circuit, and Jason, the new Jason, burst out at people. It was in Carbondale that Jason truly became Jason, part Hank Williams, and part Iggy Pop. Shakespeare’s Riot recorded once or twice, (including the first-ever rendition of the future Scorchers classic ”Help! There’s a Fire!”) and then they went the way of most college bands, with the shifting memberships and guys having to get real jobs and all. Besides, none of them were Jason, and he had a mission. After a brief stint in a new rockabilly band, the Catalinas, who never recorded, Jason set off on his mission. Fittingly on the birthday of our nation, July, 4, 1981,Jason Ringenberg took off in the van he’d bought for the bands (and which the Scorchers would later get two years use of), along with all the gear he owned, including a PA, he moved to Nashville, on the nation’s birthday, in search of his American Dream. “I went to Nashville to form a great American rock band.” Jason once said, “I wanted musicians who sounded like they had dirt under their fingernails. And I got that.” Did he ever.
He also got a taste of the Nashville underground: not the Music Row scene, but the seedy underbelly in clubs like Cantrell’s and Rooster’s and the Exit/In, where people dyed their hair black and smelled of patchouli. If Carbondale had been an eye-opener, this was something else! He was a fish out of water there, but that didn’t hamper him long.
It wasn’t long before Jason was out rocking in front of the first version of the Scorchers, decked in a cowboy hat and a silky fringed country opry shirt. This band then included Jack Emerson on bass, a man who would eventually quit the band in order to manage them. His replacement, Jeff Johnson, brought along his cohorts to round out the final quartet: Perry Baggs for the drums and for a lead guitarist, Warner Hodges, a stinging string-bender with an incendiary stage presence to match Jason’s. It was loud, it was maniacal, and it was so crazy that it was something new. Jason and the Nashville Scorchers were born.
They did originals, they did county classics the way the Ramones might do them, and every now and then they quieted all down and played a country weeper so sweet and true that everyone came away knowing they knew what they were doing inside-out. This wasn’t a joke; it was a new music and a new age.
Their first release, a 4 song EP on Jack Emerson’s new Praxis label, Reckless Country Soul (1982), smoked with that energy, and spread the word around the south as the Scorchers became a regular favorite opening act for the equally young, club-playing R.E.M. Their follow-up mini-LP, Fervor (’83) remains one of the great rock albums of all time. Practically every cut on it has been a Scorchers mainstay live. Classics like “Help! There’s A Fire” (resurrected from the Shakespeare’s riot days), the spooky “Pray for Me Mama” exposed their country roots and “I Can’t Help Myself” and “Both Sides of the Line” showcased the maniacal, beyond insane thing the Scorchers had, what I call that Sex Pistols thing, where you just want to bang your head and get lost in the rock. Jason & the Nashville Scorchers exploded further.
Then it happened nationwide when EMI signed them and re-released Fervor with an extra cut, another future staple, Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, a rare Dylan cover that’s damn near better than the original. The New York Times picked it as “EP of The Year”. They hit the road with a vengeance, every show a firestorm of rock and roll mayhem with a tender ballad here and there. The nation took notice. London took notice. When they played The Marquee Club it was so packed that Bill Wyman couldn’t get in and a reviewer wrote of it as one of the top 5 shows London had ever seen.
Next came Lost and Found in ’85, which was like “Fervor” with a budget. Warner’s crunchiest guitar sounds can be found here and “White Lies” was a bona fide MTV hit. They toured the world over some more, creating Scorchers acolytes wherever they went. “Still Standing” came in ’86. The title referred to the toll it takes being one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the world night after night and mile after mile. Another year of touring and the axe fell from EMI, because the Scorchers’ sales, while not bad, were never stratospheric; and Jeff left the band as well. It was a long three years before Thunder & Fire came out on A&M (1989) the debut (and swansong) of a second, short-lived Scorchers: a quintet with additional guitarist Andy York and bassist Ken Fox. Unfortunately, A&M was sold the same day the record was released and promotion didn’t happen. Not long after that, Perry Baggs collapsed in France with his first onset of serious diabetes. Jason & Warner did a couple of duo gigs opening for Bob Dylan to fulfill contracts, and then they flew home…. And it was over. No press release, no farewell tour. No nothing. One of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time was simply not around anymore.
After that, Jason decided to try Nashville the traditional way, and found himself on Liberty Records, giving a genuine Music Row album a chance, with professionally written songs from other people, session musicians and the whole slick ambience of a Music Row record. One Foot in the Honky Tonk (1992). The record didn’t catch on and it didn’t last as a career, but another miracle was in the offing.
The old band got back together in 1993, instigated by Johnson. He rallied the others to the cause of a trial reunion, and suddenly Jason and the Scorchers were out playing again, to audiences stunned to see their names on posters at clubs after all this time. And they still had it. Suddenly things were possible again. Mammoth signed them.
A Blazing Grace (’95) and Clear Impetuous Morning (’96) were great records and cemented that the Scorchers were back. Then Jeff left again, on good terms – he just didn’t like the road life anymore – and the other three soldiered on with Kenny Ames on bass. In 1998, they capped their career with a double CD live set Midnight Roads and Stages Seen. And then they were done. A second time. “After Midnight Roads, I felt the band had made all the statements it needed to make, and had in fact accomplished our creative goals.” Jason says, “I unilaterally put the band into semi-retirement, and moved on.”
Jason’s carried on into another fine period. He started his own Courageous Chicken label, and released the wistful, folkie, second shot at a solo debut. A Pocket Full of Soul (2000) earned rave reviews and put Jason Ringenberg as a solo act on the map. He dived into the way of life of the modern day troubadour. A solitary man on the road playing an acoustic guitar and singing, only solo Jason wasn’t really that much different from the Scorchers Jason! He rocked and flailed and danced as if Warner, Jeff and Perry were all around him. And his fans loved it. He found himself touring as much as the old days, even more. Next was All Over Creation (2002) with each track a duet with one of Jason favorite friends/artists (yours truly included) such as Todd Snider, Steve Earle, Swan Dive, Kristi Rose and Lambchop. Another year of touring followed.
2003 saw the evolution of yet another Jason, as a children’s music performer! With the release of A Day At The Farm With Farmer Jason (2003) Jason’s alter ego Farmer Jason became as big a hit as the original guy, and he’s donned overalls, a straw hat and sang about how there’s a “Moose On the Loose” and “Punk Rock Skunk” to squeals of children’s delight all over the world now. He was already touring 200 dates a year, now he’s winding up in cities early on so Farmer Jason can play for kids at an early show and then Jason Ringenberg can play that night. Rhino Entertainment recently released Rockin’ In the Forest With Farmer Jason! (2007) and much more is on the good farmer’s horizon. It’s hard work, but he never thinks about it.
In 2004, Jason made his most ambitious solo release of his career. Tying together American threads and characters from Chief Joseph to Link Wray, Empire Builders ultimately asks the question: What made America the beacon of freedom and opportunity in the 19th and 20th centuries, and where do we go from here? Songs like “Eddie Rode the Orphan Train”, “Tuskegee Pride”, and “Chief Joseph’s Last Dream” every effectively show real stories of real people at the intersection of where the personal meets the historical and political.
His new release Best Tracks and Side Tracks is a 30 year retrospective of Jason’s trip from the farm to the credible echelon of the music business. (Yes, it’s been 30 years!) It’s a “best of” but not quite. It plays like an album done at one place at one time which it certainly isn’t. There are some of the best tracks from Jason’s recent solo albums, and some damn fine nice renditions of Scorchers classics re-done in a very intelligent decision not to replicate the originals, with the possible exception of Jason & The Wildhearts tear-up thru “Jimmy Roger’s Last Blue Yodel”. There are also outtakes and history revealed for the first time: Jason’s long-delayed recorded debut of Shakespeare’s Riot.
In the coming year, around 200 days of it, a lanky gentleman with a hat on will stroll into yet another bar or school library or maybe both in one day. He’ll be alone, no tour manager, he’ll have found every place he needed to, he’ll set up his own gear, his own merch station, and somehow, with a reserve of energy he’s always quietly had, the Illinois farmhand will change into his silky fringe shirt and his leopard cowboy had and tear the place apart like he’d just had eight hours of sleep and a Cracker Barrel breakfast. And he’ll do it the next night too, and the next night, traveling alone with his gear, luggage, merch and thoughts.
In 30 years of this kind of life, he’s maintained a prolific catalog, a stellar reputation as a wild live performer and an ability to change with the times and the situations, one of them now his being a big hit with the pre-teen set. That young hog farmer made his way from Illinois prairie to Nashville and the sights he set on walking that Rock Island Line, he’s attained. He’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame; he changed the Nashville music scene for good. A whole lot of what’s considered the current “Americana” scene would be inconceivable without Jason & the Scorchers. And it’s a good world when Jason, at least, is still around, still creating, still working hard, feeding those hogs and not questioning it one bit.