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.
Homer Henderson opens for the Old 97's Thursday, June 19, at the Sons of Hermann Hall.
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.
The coda to the tale came last year when a man renting the cabin found tiny bits of paper around the fireplace. Attempting to locate their source, he removed the mantelpiece and surrounding stonework and revealed--decayed, shredded by mice, and eaten by insects--the huge but utterly worthless wad of paper that had been the Akemans' fortune.
Thus were the wheels behind reissuing The Stringbean Murders put into motion. The book is an interesting read, but suffers from some major problems. The first lies with Causey's decision to republish the book in its original form as a sort of nostalgic tribute to the times. One would have hoped that in the intervening 20 years, Causey would have learned tricks and style sufficient to improve on the somewhat jerky transitions and flat city-desk prose of the original. He may have a great appreciation for that time in his life, but we don't necessarily share it.
Although it's hard to come up with an alternative, the revelation of the story's ironic ending at the book's opening gives the rest of the tale a certain declining energy. The text is fraught with an inexcusable number of errors--one cop has a "grizzly" task, a character named Allen appears several times as "Alien," and at another point mention is made of the pop stars who would later flock to Opryland, the symbol of a slicker, more modern Nashville. In addition to names like Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney, one "Ferry Come" is mentioned. Could this be Perry Como, or did Opryland for a time book porn stars and exotic dancers? Although The Stringbean Murders is a fascinating story, you have to work at it; it's a better book to check out of the library than buy. The Stringbean Murders is available from Brendan Publishing of Kennesaw, Georgia.
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"The Show," to be held Saturday, June 21, at the Rehab Lounge, will feature performances by the cream of local hip-hop--Shabazz 3, Mental Chaos, Kinfolk Krew, and Subflo--topped off with a special late-night performance by the Jungle Brothers, founders of NYC-based Natice Tongue. The locals have been busy: Shabazz3 has just come off of opening for fellow Dallasite Erykah Badu, whose album Baduizm is nearing double platinum, and Subflo just released a new eight-song EP titled Fat Yacht. Mental Chaos has also released an EP, Quiet as Kept, and Kinfolk Krew's new demo shows real promise, as have their recent live shows...
Joe Ely will be at the Red Jacket June 25...Duncan Sheik and Trish Murphy will be performing at the Zone's (93.3 FM) live music series Thursday, June 19, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Quadrangle...area hipsters the Enablers have started to play outside of Dallas, appearing at Fort Worth's Electron Lounge. While still holding down their usual Wednesday-night slot at the Green Room, the bastion of old-school-new-wavers-gone-lounge members--including Bart Chaney, Neal Caldwell, and an occasional Mark Griffin--were most recently (and appropriately) paired there with the equally vintage Icicle and the Kid...the boom in nostalgia reaches a terrifying, tragic crescendo when Paul Revere and the Raiders play the 21st Annual Chisholm Trail Round-Up June 20. Note to Mr. Revere: the Cherokee Nation has returned--look busy...
KNON is hosting a reggae benefit to raise money for the station on June 20. Local artist Big Dread is the featured performer; look for him to perform songs off of his upcoming album, Free World Prisoner. The show will be at Tropical Cove.
Street Beat welcomes all input, help, and assistance, especially that of Brian Walker, who contributed to this week's effort. You may yourself direct any feedback to Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.