Jerry Lee, Dino, and Homer Henderson
It's the damnedest collaboration in recent rock-and-roll history--then again, maybe not. On the one hand is Homer Henderson, who's all alley and not a little tin-pan. The self-proclaimed "Amazing One-Man Band" is the kingshit anthem writer for all the losers, loners, and little people out there--in time, his "Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine" may come to be remembered as the greatest song ever written, better even than Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman."
On the other hand is Nick Tosches, one of the most poetic writers who ever deigned to pen a few million words about the mundane subject of rock and roll. When Tosches wrote Hellfire and Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, he not only chronicled the lives of Jerry Lee Lewis and Dean Martin, he reached into their coffins and came up holding their souls like trouts on a fishing line.
That the Newark-born Tosches should be drawn to Dallas boy Henderson (born Phil Bennison)is not at all surprising--after all, Tosches spent years tracking down and giving voice to the Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll, and there ain't no more unsung rock-and-roll hero in this world than Homer Henderson. But theirs is more than a casual friendship: Turns out Henderson and Tosches are collaborating on a handful of songs that may well turn out to be a full-length album featuring Tosches' words and Homer's music. "I don't know what the hell we're doing," Henderson says in that weary twang of his. "I really don't."
Henderson says he and Tosches were introduced "years ago" by Texas Monthly Senior Editor Joe Nick Patoski, after Tosches came across some of Henderson's old 45s and was born again. "Some crazy person was playin' 'em, and Joe Nick told him to call me," says Homer. So he did, and the two men began corresponding with each other, leading to Tosches' writing the liner notes to Henderson's forthcoming CD on Bill Logan's Honey Records label Greatest Flops and Golden Filler--which was completed six months ago and is scheduled for release...well, even Homer doesn't really know when. He shrugs and just says that the album, which compiles Henderson's old 45s (including "Lee Harvey," "Hillbilly Pecker," "Picking Up Beer Cans on the Highway" and myriad other should-be classics), has been delayed because of artwork problems.
In the meantime, the two began writing songs for what was initially supposed to be a present for some of Tosches' friends. But one song led to another to another, and now, communicating via the post office--they can't seem to ever get each other on the phone--they've got three completed, with a handful more on the way.
"Ihad some songs lying around, and a series of musicians were going to do them," Tosches explains. "One was an off-center religious song, and I thought it would make a great limited-edition thing for the upcoming Christmas season. I said, 'Phil, put this to music,' and he came up with something pretty amazing. Bill Logan wanted to do it as a vinyl single, so that meant we had to come up with another side, and Igave Phil an even longer song, which came out even better. Then I realized that Phil, beneath that surface, has a wellspring of genius waiting to come forth. He has not failed to completely surprise and captivate me."
Henderson says Tosches will perform on at least one song ("Pizza Man," as close to hip-hop as Henderson can get), and the record will be a pastiche of country, pop, and blues songs. Hell, they've even done a photo shoot for the record, if that's what it is.
"He's got a whole bunch of new lyrics," says Henderson, who is heading to New York City on August 21 to work on the project with Tosches. "And they're good songs: One's called 'The Sweet Thighs of Mother Mary,' and it's real sicko stuff--he dreams of sucking on the Virgin Mary's breasts, and instead of milk coming out, it's whiskey. He has a line, 'I dreamt last night of a bosom divine...and up from it bubbled whiskey like milk.' The way it works is he sends me the lyrics, and I write the music. It's kind of like a junior-college homework assignment. But he's a good writer, and he's a nice guy too."
This isn't the first time Tosches has recorded with someone else. He and Last Exit to Brooklyn author Hubert Selby Jr. have just released Blue Eyes and Exit Wounds, a spoken-word collection of their previously unreleased poetry. And you can see what kind of songwriter he'd make: The poem "My Kind of Loving" contains such memorable couplets as "Kill me a Kennedy; that's my idea of foreplay / Bring me his fucking pig-faced mick head / on a silver platter." Sicko? What, are you kidding? Tosches is also finishing Night Train, his Sonny Liston bio; The Nick Tosches Reader, featuring published and unpublished work; and Chaldea, a collection of poetry.
So, is Homer as much a fan of Tosches' as the writer is of his? Henderson grunts, then offers what is for him the most glowing of praise: "I've read all his books. I was a fan of his. Kinda. I read books. I don't give a shit who they're by. But some of this stuff we're doing is pretty good. Not that I have any idea what we're doing."
Centro-matic is in Illinois, finishing up work on its as-yet-untitled second album, the follow-up to 1997's brilliant Redo the Stacks. The new album will be the band's first for Austin-based Doolittle Records, and drummer Matt Pence is once again producing, this time at Jay Farrar's (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo) studio-warehouse. "We're kind of plodding along, trying to make as many recordings as we possibly can right now," says Will Johnson. "We're just kind of holed up here in rock camp, so to speak."
Farrar's studio is located in Millstadt, a bump in the road on the way to St. Louis with a smaller population than the Bronco Bowl on a good night, giving the band nothing to focus on other than its music. "Simply put, in Millstadt there are no distractions," Johnson says. "There's a basketball court across the street, so we're all humongously buff and tan now. I think there's a Subway too. And there's stock-car races on Friday nights. That's been kind of a carrot in front of our faces."
Son Volt's reticent frontman won't be guesting on centro-matic's record, but Johnson says that he has been a constant presence around the studio. "[Farrar] comes in every couple of days," he says. "He's a totally nice guy, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. He's got this way of carrying himself. Kind of quiet, but he's very, very congenial, a very kind person. He's letting us borrow a whole lot of stuff, which is real cool."
The new album--due late this year or early next--will feature tracks recorded at Farrar's studio, as well as some of the songs Johnson has recorded at home by himself since Pence moved to St. Louis in February. The band is coming back at the end of the month to play a couple of local shows, before possibly heading out on tour in October and November. Johnson, who quit his job at a University of North Texas library before heading to Illinois, is anxious to get back on the road.
"I need the money. I don't have a job," Johnson laughs. "I've been calling my girlfriend down in Denton asking about temp services. Maybe I'll pick up some janitorial position for a while."
Cowboys and Indians has--finally--finished its second record, the follow-up to 1995's The Western Life. The forthcoming disc, Big Night in Cowtown, was recorded at Crystal Clear during July and August and will be mixed in the next few weeks, and frontman Erik Swanson says it's due for release sometime in late September or early October. Bless 'em, they're releasing it all by their lonesomes again--unless some label smart enough to cash in on the jumpin'-jive craze with a real swing band instead of a bunch of polyester phonies ponies up the dough-re-me. "It's even more Texas and more swing," Swanson promises of the new album, as though such a thing is possible...
Pump'n Ethyl, having been dropped from Dragon Street Records, has completed its second album--what's with these second records, anyway?--and is currently shopping it to labels looking for beautiful punk-rock men and their beautiful punk-rock dreams. "We did everything after hours and under tables," says frontman Turner Van Blarcum. "We got some nibbles from some record-fuckers, but I don't want to say anything yet. We got dropped because David Dennard said our new material is more 'punkier' than our first album, and I laughed and asked him, 'What do you mean--like Punky Brewster?' I think he wanted a cross between the Hanson brothers and the Spice Girls with a ska twist." The eight-song disc (titled Shopping Sessions, which features such upcoming classics as "What a Ho, Janet Reno") will indeed be released by the band in the next few weeks, though in limited quantity on the band's Thrift Towne Records label. On Sept. 19, the band--which includes recent addition Mark Ehr on bass and Mark Baker on drums--will perform at the Bar of Soap's "12 Years of Good Clean Fun Anniversary..."
Late Dallas blues great ZuZu Bollin appears, like an apparition, on the forthcoming soundtrack to the Nastassja Kinski-John Savage low-budget indie thriller Little Boy Blue. Appearing alongside fellow Texans Asleep at the Wheel, Doug Sahm, and The Derailers, the guitarist can be heard performing his legendary "Why Don't You Eat Where You Slept Last Night," one of the most wrenching songs ever recorded by a local artist. Sure beats the hell out of "Tonight," Deep Blue Something's contribution to the BASEketball soundtrack--then again, so does a sharp stick in the ear...
The Colin Boyd-Monte Warden collaboration--ongoing for a while now, though far less famous than, say, that John Lennon-Paul McCartney thing awhile back--has yielded yet another recorded song, this time on one of Warden's records. "It's Only Love," taken from the upcoming Stranger to Me Now--Warden's debut on Asylum Records, scheduled for release on October 13--will make it to radio in late August, with a video to be aired around that time on Country Music Television. Though Boyd does not appear on the song or in the video, he says of the single, "I'm a happy camper--a happy songwriter...We get together every month, unless one of us can't, and we're at song number 19. We've got a good partnership. I'm happy with this song we wrote in May, and I was happier that when they made the last decision of what goes on the record, the song made it on there." The duo may yet record together, though that was not the original intention. "We've talked about it, but at first, we just wanted to become better songwriters and write more. His original goal was to write a lot of songs for his own deal and get cuts on albums by other artists, but now that he's on Asylum, the idea is, 'Let's write songs for the second record.'" Boyd, incidentally, is starting work on his third solo record, due whenever the hell he feels like it.
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