Field Reportings from Issue #61
PILGRIM’S PROGRESS: Now that PETER GURALNICK’S long-awaited biography, Dream Boogie: The Triumph Of Sam Cooke, takes its place alongside the author’s definitive writing on the lives of Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke and others, the obvious question is: What’s next?
Guralnick, who spent seven straight years on the Cooke project but had been collecting interviews and information on the project for decades, says the most immediate item on his radar is writing liner notes for Jerry Lee Lewis’ star-studded album The Pilgrim, which has been in the works for more than two years. On the face of it, the album follows the template of Carlos Santana’s Grammy-winning comeback (i.e., surround a neglected music legend with contemporary hitmakers), but Guralnick says The Pilgrim shows depth.
“The duets are by everyone from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, to Rod Stewart and Kid Rock and a variety of others,” he says. “But for me, the high point are [Jerry Lee’s] parts. I think if the album does for him what Johnny Cash’s American Recordings did, in bringing him back to the public eye…then it will have accomplished its purpose. From my perspective, the core of it is Jerry Lee singing and playing. It is really extraordinary.”
Hollywood might also have Guralnick on its radar. He acknowledges that the Oscar-winning success of the Ray Charles biopic Ray has sparked interest in movies about influential music figures. The Johnny Cash story, Walk The Line, has already hit theaters, and movies about James Brown and the Stax music scene are reportedly in the works. So interest in a Sam Cooke picture may also move to the front burner.
“The first time I met [Cooke’s manager] Allen Klein in 1984, he was talking about a Sam Cooke movie,” says Guralnick. “He was then talking about August Wilson writing the script…something that broad and encompassing. With my biography out now, there is more of an impetus, but the impetus has never gone away.”
With his two-volume Presley biography, Guralnick holds the source material for the mother of all music bio movies. Although Fox owns the rights to Last Train To Memphis, an Elvis dramatic feature film has mysteriously languished. Guralnick says two seasoned screenwriters were hired to prepare separate treatments for a Presley movie based on his book, neither of which passed muster. Guralnick then worked up his own scenario that zeroed in on the two pivotal teenage years leading up to Elvis’ breakthrough. British director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Grifters) was enthusiastic for Guralnick’s take, and in 2000, director and writer pitched the studio. Neither heard from the studio again, he says.
“It is a great subject and it is a youth movie. It is about a kid on the rise, who believes in himself,” Guralnick says of the Elvis scenario. “It would thrill me to be involved in that kind of project. But to do something that turned Elvis into a religious icon or turned him into a face on a cereal box, that wouldn’t interest me much.”
BEFORE THE FLOOD: The long-awaited studio follow-up to NEKO CASE’S 2002’s Blacklisted will be released March 7 on Anti-, titled Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. The set includes a diverse guest list, including Jon Rauhouse, Tom Ray, the Sadies, Kelly Hogan, Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, Visqueen’s Rachel Flotard, former Flat Duo Jet Dexter Romweber, and The Band’s Garth Hudson. “I recorded the album intermittently over the past couple years,” Neko says. “With each record, you think you’ve figured it out, but once you get into the studio, you realize there’s always more to learn. But I feel like we managed to get all my ideas to tape.”
KRIS MASS PRESENT: New West Records has set March 7 for the release of a new KRIS KRISTOFFERSON album, This Old Road. Don Was produced and played bass at the sessions, which were conducted at Western Recorders in Los Angeles. Also taking part were Stephen Bruton on guitar and mandolin and Jim Keltner on drums.
HARD TRUCK STORY: The latest from the DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS, A Blessing And A Curse, is due in April, also on New West. “The title is a pretty good description of the things we’ve been writing about, the dualities of the day-to-day,” says Patterson Hood. “Most of the songs were written this summer (many within hours of being recorded), so it’s far more immediate than anything we’ve recorded so far. ”
MEET THE PRESS: It has been said that everything short of BOB DYLAN’S Bar Mitzvah tapes has been bootlegged at one time or another. The notion of historical press conference recordings might seem similarly excessive, but Dylan’s 1965 session with San Francisco journalists, which was carried on local TV and can be glimpsed in Martin Scorsese’s recent No Direction Home documentary, has a deserved reputation as a fascinating non-musical Dylan performance. Now the full press conference will be released on DVD in late 2006 (under the title A Poet’s Press Conference), via Eagle Rock Entertainment and Jazz Casual, the production company owned by the family of the late music critic Ralph J. Gleason, who moderated the historic Q&A. Gleason’s son, Toby, says the original 2-inch master of the KQED telecast was in the family’s possession, although the formal release was delayed while some rights issues were sorted out. “There wasn’t home video in those days, and very few people owned broadcast video decks at home; my father was one of the few,” Gleason says. “If he, or anyone else involved, had realized the historic quality of the productions, I’m sure they would have left a more definitive paper trail.”
CLINCH TIME: Fans who purchased RYAN ADAMS’ recent album, Jacksonville City Nights, at selected retail outlets also received a DVD titled September, an arrestingly shot 20-minute documentary following the singer on and offstage and in the studio with his band the Cardinals. It’s the work of photographer Danny Clinch and is a foretaste of an as-yet untitled feature-length documentary on Adams and company.
NOT THE ONLY FLAME: A pair of ELVIS COSTELLO projects are lined up in the new year. Due February 28 via Deutsche Grammophon, My Flame Burns Blue was recorded live in The Hague, Netherlands, with Costello backed by the Dutch jazz orchestra Metropole Orkest. The other project is a collaboration with New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, produced by Joe Henry for Verve Records. Toussaint and Costello had recently teamed up for some Katrina benefits in New York City (Toussaint played on Costello’s Punch The Clock and Out Of Our Idiot).
CASHED OUT: A DVD set drawn from ABC’s The Johnny Cash Show, which we told you about last issue, has now been withdrawn from release schedules. JOHNNY CASH fans can get their fix from the New West DVD Johnny Cash: Live From Austin TX, which documents the Man in Black’s 1987 appearance on “Austin City Limits”….
Singer Amy Lavere, who portrays Wanda Jackson in the Cash biopic Walk The Line, has released her album This World Is Not My Home via Archer Records. Lavere, who sings and plays stand-up bass “like Willie Dixon on steroids,” according to legendary producer Jim Dickinson, also went back before the cameras opposite Samuel L. Jackson in Black Snake Moan, under the direction of Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer.
BUSY BELA: The Hidden Land, the eleventh album from BELA FLECK & THE FLECKTONES, is due January 31 on Columbia. A film about the group’s first year off in seventeen years, titled Bring It Home, by director Sascha Paladino, has also been completed too, as has a documentary tracing the banjo’s roots in Africa. A “triple concerto” Fleck created with Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussein will debut next September with the Nashville Symphony.
PASSENGER SIDE PROJECTS: Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy recently told Billboard he was nearing completion on a second album by his side project LOOSE FUR. Collaborating once again with producer/musician Jim O’Rourke and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Tweedy described the results as “maybe a little more prog rock”. Plans are also in the works with Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy for another GOLDEN SMOG album.
FOUNTAINS OF FULKS: A recent highlight of Robbie Fulks’ live show, the hilarious “Fountains of Wayne Hotline”, is now available as an exclusive download via iTunes. Fulks says, “It was the band’s super-competency and amazing consistency that made me imagine them as operators of a crisis hotline for songwriters.” For their part, FoW get the joke and appreciate the backhanded compliment. Says Adam Schlesinger: “If Robbie Fulks wants to ride someone’s coattails, he ought to pick someone more famous than us.”
BITS & PIECES: A host of roots-music acts have contributed tracks to the Hurricane Rita benefit record The Greater Sounds Of The South. The disc, available through Musicland, includes tracks by the Jayhawks, Drive-By Truckers, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Old 97s, Blue Rodeo, Jay Farrar, Townes Van Zandt and Golden Smog….
American music master Van Dyke Parks and cartoonist R. Crumb contribute to the new album by MARLEY’S GHOST, Spooked, due February 21 on Sage Art/Ryko. Crumb illustrated the cover; Parks produced and played keyboards. Other contributors include guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Buell Neidlinger, and drummer Don Heffington….
Reissue specialist Sundazed continues rooting through BUCK OWENS catalogue and has reissued his 1969 concert LP Live In London….
Rounder has uploaded a second series of ultra-rare online-only releases. This batch includes hard-to-find sets by Andy Statman, Butch Robins, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, available at rounderarchive.com….
The online-only Brit folk label Free Reed has prepared a five-disc collection of unreleased RICHARD THOMPSON material. The Life And Times Of Richard Thompson includes “cover versions from ancient British to modern Britney; astonishing one-off performances; previously unreleased original songs; history, tragedy and comedy,” according to the label. More info at www.free-reed.co.uk/rt….
The WHITE STRIPES have performed and recorded ten completely different live versions of their song “The Denial Twist” during their recent U.K. tour. Fans can buy and download all versions (with specific downloadable art for each track) at their label’s website, xlrecordings.com….
GEORGE JONES is the subject of a major exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville running through May.
TRIED & TRUE: Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham tear it up onstage at Austin nightclub Antone’s on October 27 during a True Believers reunion show that also featured Los Lobos, in a a rare reprisal of the two bands’ now legendary 1984 dual tour. (They also teamed up on December 16 at the Fillmore in San Francisco.) The show was a benefit for Jon Dee Graham’s son Willie, who suffers from Legg-Perthes Syndrome. Freedom Records recently issued both a CD and DVD of other recent benefit performances, featuring Graham’s songs performed by the likes of Patty Griffin, Kelly Willis and the Gourds (on the DVD) and Escovedo, James McMurtry and Charlie Sexton (on the CD). Escovedo, meanwhile, has signed with Back Porch Records and is in the studio with John Cale working on a new record due out this year.