Bocephus King – Beyond Hank
Having lost a year of his life there, Jamie Perry will argue that no place on earth is as hellishly strange as Nashville, Tennessee. Convinced he’d have no trouble making it as a songwriter, the Canadian artist moved to the country music capital in 1990 at age 19. Through family connections, he landed a job at a Music City hit factory. On his first day of work, he quickly realized he had no idea what he was doing.
“I’d sent them some Johnny Cash-type stuff, and they seemed to like it,” says the unapologetically scruffy singer. “I guess they figured they could polish them up. But once I got down there, all I heard were the most brutal insults on a daily basis about how terrible I was.”
Recognizing Perry was more interested in paying homage to Hank Williams than coming up with the next Garth Brooks smash, his fellow songwriters started referring to him by the same nickname used by Hank Sr.’s son, and it ended up sticking.
“I was writing all these Hank Williams songs and drinking a lot,” Perry recalls. “They’d come in and be like, ‘What have you got for us today, Bocephus?’ Their whole point was, ‘I’ve heard this song you just wrote 50,000 times. What else do you have?'”
Despite the cracks, the job had its interesting aspects. “Nashville is the craziest city that I have ever been to — and that includes L.A.,” Perry says. “You had these successful songwriter guys walking around in giant rabbit-skin coats. And I’ve never seen anything like the drug use. If there was someone you met who thought you were even partially cool, they’d just whip out whatever they had. It was really nuts.”
Since returning to Vancouver from his Nashville misadventures, Perry has released four albums under the name Bocephus King. His past efforts — Joco Music, Small Good Thing and The Blue Sickness — found the singer at the same end of the blue-collar Americana whiskey bar as Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Green On Red’s Dan Stuart. On his new album, the hyper-ambitious All Children Believe In Heaven, Perry shoots for something more.
“I’ve been compared to other artists in the past, and I consciously tried to make sure that didn’t happen with this record,” he says. “For example, the Tom Waits growly thing that I used to have is gone — maybe because I used to chain-smoke but I don’t anymore. I really wanted to make sure the songs were out there for people to judge on their own.”
Long fascinated by filmmakers, Perry sees the fabulously lush album as a kind of homage to soundtrack sculptors such as Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone. The album kicks off with “St. Hallelujah”, a ten-minute-plus whirl of desert-scorched guitar, stoned-on-Floyd keyboards, and ghosts-of-the-Andrews Sisters backing vocals. From there, he pulls the rocking chair out onto the pine-splintered porch for “Stella Bella Blue”, plays space cowboy on the flamenco-tinted “Goodnight Forever Montgomery Clift”, and blends calypso country with two dashes of cocktail-nation kitsch on “Lullabye Blues”.
The disc’s bong-bombed vision of Americana is — in a delicious bit of irony — entirely too weird for Nashville. Perry has no problem with that. The man who was once written off as too old-school for Music City has become hell-bent on dragging country into surreal new territory. As much as he’d still love to go out drinking with Hank and Johnny, Perry somehow sounds more interested in the likes of David Lynch and Federico Fellini.
“Movies have become my biggest influence — that largely explains the lushness in the production on All Children Believe In Heaven,” he explains. “I’m after that trippy high that you sometimes get from watching a really great film. I also love that moviemakers are still out there pushing boundaries. I mean, let’s face it — the best things in music have already been done.”