By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
For a couple of years now, Homer Henderson (Phil Bennison) has provided folks who like to mix tapes for their friends with an infallible indicator of just when those tapes get listened to. Put one of Henderson's sardonic ditties--"Nightclub Cancer" or "Lee Harvey was a Friend of Mine"--on the tape, and you're guaranteed a phone call: "Where the hell did that song come from? Is there more?"
For ages, those songs have been available only as hard-to-find singles, or as favors from Homer himself or one of his pals. Now, they're finally available in CD form on Henderson's Live From the City of Hate, a recording from a recent performance of Homer's Amazing One Man Band at the Barley House.
For the uninitiated, the longtime local music fixture in one-man band mode is amazing. A series of pedals beats a couple of drums and a hi-hat, while various effects make his one guitar sound like several. A harmonica duct-taped to a mike affords Homer another way to solo; next to it is his vocal mike, into which he sings his own tunes and a variety of obscure covers and requests, often sounding better than many three- and four-man aggregations.
"'The City of Hate' was what they called Dallas for a long time after JFK got shot," Henderson explains. His "Lee Harvey" is a doubtful reminiscence of a young man befriended by Oswald: "He used to throw the ball to me/When I was just a kid/They say he shot the President/I don't think he did." City of Hate's version is--like all the originals and roots-rock cover songs on the disc--a trenchant, often pungent, recreation of the Henderson magic, which is equal parts trailer-park obscurist, musical archivist, and that most enduring of archetypes, Rockus Wildcattus Dementus.
And no dummy, either: Oswald's li'l fishin' buddy is up on his conspiracy theories--"Seen him in that photo/With pamphlets and a gun/Shadows pointin' every which way/But there's only just one sun."
The album captures Henderson accurately, although without the impressive visual element. Rest assured, however; what comes oozing out of your speakers when you play Live From the City of Hate is every bit the stuff that Henderson gets all over the stage when he plays. The music is a tad different--no ascending-angels choir on "Lee Harvey" that you've come to expect from the jukebox version, and "Nightclub Cancer" didn't make the cut at all--but Live is 100 percent deep-fried Homer Henderson, batteries and curb feelers included. The covers range from novelty--"Witch Doctor," with its helium-elf chorus--to down and dirty, like the obscure Jimmy Reed songs and Homer's lecherous take on "King Bee."The unique vocal and maraca stylings of bodyguard, equipment tech, and utility man Beer Belly Slim (aka Lewis Brown) are present in abundance, making "Picking Up Beer Cans on the Highway" so poignant and immediate that you might almost swear you can smell the roadkill and feel the whoosh of the big rigs as they speed past.
The disc is available on local label Honey, which has previously issued other examples of the Henderson oeuvre, including the deliciously greasy 45 "Love on You" b/w "Drag Strip," a triumphant slice of lo-fi that makes the Centromatic Band sound like the Vienna Philharmonic. Henderson is currently selling the disc at his shows, and it's also available direct from Honey (P.O. Box 141199-672, Dallas, TX 75214). Check it out.
A murder in Nashville
Twenty-four years ago, Nashville was a very different
place: The Grand Ole Opry was still at the Ryman, and Hee Haw was about the extent of country music's penetration into mass culture. The murder of popular Opry entertainer David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife Estelle--gunned down in the course of a robbery attempt--was in many ways a wake-up call for an insular and insulated community that had been spared many of the new decade's upheavals.
Warren Causey was a newspaper reporter who covered the case, which resulted in the arrest and conviction of two of the perpetrators. He first published The Stringbean Murders in 1975, co-writing the book with Thomas Jacobs, one of the policemen who investigated the crime. One of the enduring mysteries of the time was that which had lured the killers to Stringbean in the first place--the rumor that he, like many country people, had a distrust of banks that led him to hoard his cash at home. No such stash was ever discovered; the killers certainly didn't get it--they were so rattled (or incompetent) that they overlooked thousands of bucks that Stringbean and Estelle had on them when they were murdered.
Causey does a credible job of painting a picture of a simpler Nashville--exactly the kind of tranquilized backwater that uberproducer and record company honcho Jimmy Bowen (see last week's Street Beat review of Bowen's autobiography) renovated a few years later with his West Coast pop savvy. One of the striking points of The Stringbean Murders was the extreme simplicity of the Akemans' existence; they lived in a three-room shack heated only by a fireplace (Stringbean chopped the wood himself) and serviced by an outhouse. The Akemans were truly the last of a generation, and their murders were a portent of changes to come.