Singer-Songwriter and Humorist Kinky Friedman to Debut New Songs When He Performs at Nighttown

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Veteran singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman has done it all.

Over the course of a career that stretches back to the ’60s when he played with the surf spoof act King Arthur & the Charlottes — a group known for its one and only single, “Schwinn 24/Beach Party Boo Boo” — he’s toured with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, recorded with Eric Clapton, appeared on Saturday Night Live and played at the Grand Ole Opry.

Friedman has also written a slew of detective novels and once ran for governor of Texas.

And, oh yeah, he wrote a song that became the tune that the late Nelson Mandela counted as one of his favorites. As the story goes, during his 17-year stint in the pen, Mandela listened to the smuggled cassette tape featuring Friedman tunes. The guy in the cell next to him was Tokyo Sexwale. When Friedman met Sexwale, one of Mandela’s right-hand men after Mandela became President of South Africa, he told him that the late Mandela was a big fan and that the signoff song that he played every night was Friedman's “Ride ’Em Jewboy.”

Friedman’s latest studio album, 2015’s The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, features Friedman’s take on tunes by Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and friend Willie Nelson, who produced and performs on his own “Bloody Mary Morning.” Guests include guitarist Joe Cirotti, the Willie Nelson Family Band's Mickey Raphael and Little Jewford, the bandleader of the Texas Jewboys. The album represents Friedman’s first effort in over three decades.

Friedman credits Brian Molnar, who produced the album, with pointing him in the right direction.

“He got a better sound on that thing just doing it here at my ranch with mobile equipment than anything I’ve done,” says Friedman via phone from his Texas home. “When you listen to ‘Wand'rin Star,’ I have the Lee Marvin impersonation down pretty good, and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ is perfect. It’s a song in tune with our times. and almost nobody but old farts know it. A lot of people who heard it for the first time really dug it because it’s a great fuckin’ song.”

One standout track, “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” comes courtesy of the late, great Warren Zevon. The tune provides what Friedman has described as “a perfect description of our country and our world today.” That notion — that the world is broken and can’t be fixed — inspired the sentiments found on many of the album’s tunes.

A tune he wrote years ago, the album’s somber title track which features a gentle guitar riff and nearly whispered vocals, refers to Will Hoover, a struggling singer-songwriter from Nashville whom Friedman says never got his due.

And Friedman says it’s hard to find songwriters as good as guys like his pal Nelson, who penned the track “Bloody Mary Morning.” In fact, Wilson recently inspired him to start writing new tunes. Friedman says he’ll play many of the as-yet-unrecorded tunes at Nighttown, where he performs on April 27.

“He called me one night and asked me what I was doing,” Friedman says, adding that Nelson acts as his shrink. “I was watching Matlock. He said that was a sure sign of depression. He told me to turn it off and start writing. Songwriting is really tough. You have to sail as close to the truth as you can without sinking the ship. There is no higher calling than being a struggling songwriter. I wrote these 14 or 15 tunes that we haven't recorded yet.”

Friedman only thinks some music and writing classifies as “significant.” Most of it, he says, will go down in history as “insignificant.” What’s the criteria?

“I can say that a Van Gogh is the first example that leaps to mind of a brilliant genius who died in a sanitarium with only a stray cat as his friend,” he says. “He sold only one painting to his brother Theo. Everything else was stacked up in the attic. If you think about it, in Van Gogh’s day, there had to be a — what’s the name of that motherfucker in Canada? — Justin Bieber. There had to be a Justin Bieber of the art world. There had to be that guy, but here we are more than a 100 years later after Van Gogh’s death. We don’t know that fucker’s name. But we do know Van Goh. That’s how important the mainstream is. A lot of it is our fault. Mozart was successful early in his life, and in the end, he was not. We buried him in a pauper’s grave. He surprised us and had a post-mortem comeback. Most of the people I love and admire died broke.”

When Friedman ran for governor in 2004, he used a variety of slogans, including “My governor is a Jewish cowboy” and “He Ain’t Kinky, He’s My Governor.” Those didn’t win him the election though they did get him some attention in the media. He continues to follow politics and says doesn’t care for the way the media has attacked Donald Trump.

“We don’t know who the hero is until the ship crashes or the plane goes down,” he says. “We don’t know who will jump in and try to save someone. We don’t know that. For us to criticize Trump for the life he’s lived thus far and for a man who brags about his golf courses isn’t fair. Why not have a guy like Trump up there? He’s not one of my heroes. I don’t admire anyone who leaves a ton of steel with his name on it. That’s not important but maybe the office will make him a man. After all, Jesus rode in on a jackass.”

Also in the works: Mary Lou Sullivan’s comprehensive Friedman bio, Everything’s Bigger in Texas — The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman. It will come out in November. And Friedman and co-author Louie Kemp, Bob Dylan’s childhood toboggan companion and the producer of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour, have penned The Boys from the North Country: My Life with Robert Zimmerman and Bob Dylan.

“There’s great stuff in the book,” says Friedman when asked about the book about Dylan. “There are hundreds of Dylan books, and I would contend that not one of the authors ever met the man. Louie has these crazy stories that are all true.”

Friedman also says he’s written a mystery novel called either The Return of Kinky Friedman or The Tin Can Telephone.

“I think it’s the best thing I’ve done in the mystery genre,” he says. “I have some good consultants on it. It’s not just funny but procedurely accurate about what really happens when murder occurs on this earth.”

Friedman says that being a musician is "a much higher calling than being a politician.”

With that in mind, he adds that at the Nighttown show, he’ll sign “anything but bad legislation.”

“It’s great to do a tour like this one," he says. "It’s a spiritual Bataan Death March with 30 shows in 35 days. I’ll be running on pure adrenaline. If I take a night off, the next show will suck. But this will be raw and pure.”




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