Concert Highlights–The Graham Parker Duo Featuring Brinsley Schwarz at City Winery, 4/7/2016

I really can’t say enough in praise of Graham Parker.

I remember years ago at The Bottom Line he joked about how he’d been signed to and dropped by almost every major label and a lot of minor ones, and how he was dropped by Atlantic before they even put out an album!

After two great albums with the reunited Rumour, I don’t know if he still has a deal, but I do know that there will be more albums, and as tired of it as he said he was after his April 7 City Winery gig (he likened himself to the Energizer Bunny), more touring. Like all great ones, it’s in his blood.

He can also play in any kind of situation, in bands (besides The Rumour, he toured and recorded extensviley with the much younger Figgs, and has had bands of other musicians backing him) and solo. He’s currently touring with the Rumour’s guitarist Brinsley Schwarz as The Graham Parker Duo Featuring Brinsley Schwarz, Brinsley on gold Les Paul and G.P. on acoustic guitar and harmonica—and, of course, storytelling.

As for singing and songwriting, he remains one of the most dependable artists 40 years following the release of his landmark debut album with the Rumour, Howlin’ Wind. As evidenced at City Winery—where he returns with Schwarz tonight—his voice hasn’t changed a whit, nor has his wit, for that matter. In a typical set that spanned his entire career, he leavened his repertoire both with surprise selections and signature self-deprecation, as in “Turned Up Too Late,” from the Howlin’ Wind followup album Heat Treatment (also ’76), but here referenced by its Pointer Sisters’ 1979 Priority album version.

Priority, Parker noted, went more rock than the pop-R&B sound that established the Pointers, and also including songs by Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

“Unfortunately, it was just past their prime,” reported Parker with customary resignation. “But [their cover] was very good. I was waiting for the swimming pools to come in!”

Here he motioned with his arms as if sweeping the swimming pools that never came in onto the vast estate he never had—but should have.

Then there was “When the Lights Go Down,” which was completely obscure even to a guy in France who calls himself Parker’s No. 1 fan and thereby attempting to usurp my position; after all, I did write the CD booklet notes for the 2001 Hip-O label Graham Parker Ultimate Collection, when G.P. himself called me and asked me to do them, since he was tired of writing them himself. But in all fairness, the French guy–Eric Naulleau—actually wrote a book, Parkeromane (Parker Maniac) about his experiences seeing Parker play in various places. Turns out he heard a Parker bootleg tape with a song he didn’t know on one of his travels—“When the Lights Go Down”—that Parker had penned at Rick Springfield’s request over dinner, for Springfield’s 1984 Hard to Hold film soundtrack, which resurfaced in 2005 on the Parker compilation The Official Art Vandelay Tapes, Volume Two.

“In those days if you coughed loudly and called it a soundtrack album, you sold a million copies,” said Parker, and he wasn’t altogether wrong.

“You’ve all seen Hard to Hold. What? No takers? It must be some kind of classic.” This time he was altogether wrong, though I’m sorely tempted to Netflix it after hearing the song, which Parker said plays in the background when the car with Springfield and Patti Hansen crashes.

Parker recently had to learn “When the Lights Go Down” in French in order to accompanying Naulleau on a novel tour where the author read from his book and the singer-songwriter-muse performed a corresponding song.

“I have no idea what he was talking about, but I don’t care—just pay me Euros!” said Parker. But he had to look up the song on YouTube, he said, and then “stick it on poor Brinsley here.”

Schwarz acquitted himself well, though, also on songs he originally played on back in the day with Parker and the Rumour (“Watch the Moon Come Down,” “Fool’s Gold,” “Stick To Me,” “White Honey,” “Don’t Ask Me Questions,” “Silly Thing,” “Passion is No Ordinary Word,” “You Can’t Be Too Strong”) and those Parker wrote and recorded post-Rumour (“You’re Not Where You Think You Are,” “Under the Mask of Happiness”). The duo also delved into the reunion albums with “Stop Crying’ About the Rain” from 2012’s Three Chords Good and “Flying Into London” from its 2015 followup Mystery Glue.

It being New York, it was nice they threw in “The New York Shuffle,” from Graham Parker & the Rumour’s third album Stick To Me (1977). But it was somewhat different from the near-40-year-old recording.

“We did everything in those days at breakneck speed,” said Parker, and indeed, he and the Rumour in those days played fast and hard.

“But with the word ‘shuffle’ in it, it should really sound like a shuffle.”

And so it was at City Winery, a right New York shuffle slowed down to audience clap-along time.

Of Ray Stevens and Shakespeare

I got called out—rightly—for my piece yesterday on Ray Stevens’ new comedy box set Encyclopedia Of Recorded Comedy Music.

“Sadly,” commented maybe the one Facebook friend who actually saw the piece (sadly!), “Stevens has become a voice for the Tea Party with a focus on virulent anti-Obama songs.”

“That’s true,” I responded, meekly, embarrassed. “I felt guilty writing the piece but did it for everything else in the set.”

To continue the rationalization, the set is quite extraordinary. Without reprinting the entire Examiner piece, I’ll just say it’s got 108 songs on nine discs and includes comedy song classics ranging from the likes of The Coasters (“Poison Ivy,” “Yakety-Yak”), Bobby “Boris” Pickett (“Monster Mash”) and Allan Sherman (“Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”), to Stevens’ own signature hits including “Ahab The Arab,” “Gitarzan” and “The Streak.”

But the ninth disc is actually a bonus disc of new and recent originals including the scornful “Obama Budget Plan”—which I had heard, but let it slide. I also knew Stevens was likely appearing on Fox News while he was in town, but a lot of other country stars whom I’m fans of go there, so I let that go as well.

But then I started researching and found an essay Stevens wrote for last summer, “The Blamer-in-Chief.” Find it yourself if you care to read the usual right-wing tripe. I’ll just quote from the middle:

“I try to find the humor in everything but there is nothing funny about what the president, his policies and his associates are doing to this country with the help of a political party that obviously cares more about elections than the great nation they have sworn to protect and defend.

“I’m tired of it. I’ve heard it all before and don’t want to hear it anymore.

“I’m tired of hearing how we have lost a war and how our troops terrorize and kill innocent people in the dead of night.

“I’m tired of hearing good, honest, caring people like the Tea Party folks being referred to as ‘terrorists’ by people who won’t even call a real terrorist a terrorist.”

Tiresome? Yes. Should I have given Stevens any coverage? Arguable.

Regular readers will know I’ve written about right-wing artists before, and may have correctly surmised that some of them I’m friendly with, if not very friendly with–and for many years.

Most recently, of course, I chose to cut Hank Williams, Jr. some slack—a whole lot of slack, admittedly—for his infamous Obama-Hitler analogy.

“That’s just Hank being Hank,” I felt. Not the smartest guy politically, way too gun-crazy, but still such a great artist–and he showed guts as well as class in going to The View to take his lumps, as well as Fox to get his sugar.

I gave the Bellamy Brothers a Brother Pass, too, after satisfying myself that their 2010 hit video for “Jalapeno” was not gratuitous Obama bashing. Here I figured that the guys who gave us “Get Into Reggae Cowboy” and “Old Hippie” deserved the benefit of some doubt.

Larry Gatlin? I wrote the liner notes for the 1996 Galtin restrospective Best Of The Gatlins: All The Gold In California. Known him since he opened for someone at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, Wis., in the mid-’70s when we were both starting out (I want to say Conway Twitty, with or without Loretta, maybe). Great artist. Great guy. Did one of those Broadway AIDS benefit shows a few years ago at B.B. King’s (I saw him play the lead in The Will Rogers Follies on Browadway, brilliantly).

He’s in town a lot now doing Fox News right-wing commentary. I went with him to do Huckabee a few years ago and much to my embarrassment, was spotted in the studio audience by a couple dubious Facebook friends. I also met Huck, and told him I was pals with his former campaign manager Ed Rollins. “I’m sorry for you!” Huck joked—at least I think he was joking.

But I do love Larry, and Ed. And Wagner, as in Richard.

I have a Jewish friend, an intense right-wing Zionist, who loves the opera but won’t go to any Wagner. I don’t’ know how he feels about Shakespeare and Shylock, Dickens and Fagin. I’m not going to ask.

I love the Stones, but always felt a tinge of guilt for loving “Midnight Rambler” so much: “I’m a hit-and-run raper, in anger….stick my knife right down your throat, and it hurts.” Remember the billboard campaign for Black And Blue, the one with the girl tied up and beaten, yet chirping, “I’m black and blue from the Rolling Stones—and I love it!”? Feminists hated the album. I still love it.

I’ve defended with pride Phil Spector here and elsewhere as one of the kindest, most generous and thoughtful people I’ve ever known. I’ve never met him, but anyone I’ve met who’s ever worked with Mel Gibson says pretty much the same thing. I still love his films, still love Phil’s records.

I don’t know that I’m making a point or that I have one to make, other than that I will continue to enjoy Ray Stevens, and not listen to the bonus disc of Encyclopedia.

And I will continue to repudiate his politics, and suggest he just take a good long nap.