Ryan Adams, “Flying Dracula”

It’s been years since Ryan Adams has lived in (or even visited) the setting for “Losering,” his old pre-fame stomping grounds of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. A lot has changed in the years since Ryan has been gone, but a few traces of his time here linger into the present day. And below is an artifact, if you could call off-color graffiti an artifact.

This is written on a bathroom wall of The Cave, a cool subterranean nightspot over in Chapel Hill whose co-owners include Van Alston (Ryan’s “Come Pick Me Up” co-writer). It is of uncertain provenance and looks like something Ryan could have written himself, based on the handwriting and how often he has used variations of “Dracula” as a pseudonym over the years — including “Sad Dracula” and, going way back, “Count Chocula.”. And for a limited time, you can get this on a T-shirt, red print on black. They’re gong for $20 while they last. Email MarkConnor@mac.com to check on availability.

FlyingDracula

 

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The late great Stevie Ray Vaughan: dynamicals

RIPSRVI went to college in and around Austin, Texas, during the first half of the 1980s, right before Stevie Ray Vaughan launched to fame. Even then, Stevie Ray was pretty much the last word in guitar flash. I used to see him playing clubs there quite a bit, probably scores of times, and I rarely had to pay more than a couple of bucks (at least up until the point he played lead guitar on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, got on MTV himself and became huge). But what I remember most is the time I missed Stevie Ray, and it was my own damn fault.

It was in July of 1990 and by then I had moved on from school to the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, Colo. Stevie Ray was playing down the road in Denver, and I went to the show mostly because I’d never seen his opening act, Joe Cocker. There was some other band I wanted to see playing elsewhere in town later that night; more than a quarter-century after the fact, I can’t even recall who it was — just that I left before Stevie Ray came on. I figured I’d always have another chance.

Well, you know how that turned out. On Aug. 27, 1990, Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin. That was 26 years ago today. Years later, when I was working on “Comin’ Right at Ya” with subject/star/co-writer Ray Benson and recounted that story, he told me I was a dumb-ass. He was not wrong about that, either. Ray and Stevie Ray were tight, and we talked about him a good bit. Below is some of it, from the book chapter titled “Deadly Sins.”

Stoned or straight, Stevie Ray was always an astonishing player to watch, even if he could be hard to take for anybody onstage with him. I went to see him play this all-star thing before he sobered up and he was coked out, twitching, all over the place and not leaving a bit of room for anyone else. Dr. John, a man who knows a thing or two about mind-altering substances himself, was onstage, too, and he could tell what was happening. He called it to a halt and announced, “What we NEED here is some, uh, DYNAMICALS.”

Everybody who ever jammed with Stevie Ray had a similar experience, but it wasn’t just the drugs talking. I remember one late-night jam in this old union hall near where he lived. When you’re jamming like that, you play until you relinquish the solo spot; go until you run out of ideas and then let somebody else jump in. Stevie Ray, however, just would not let up. He kept on playing and playing and playing, to the point where everybody else got fed up. Nobody got mad, exactly, but we were all a little irritated because he was hogging the jam.

The line you always heard about the Vaughan brothers was that Jimmie only played some of what he knew because he’s a great, understated player, while Stevie Ray played every last thing he knew every time. Which was true, and after he died, I thought back to that jam session. Somewhere deep down, it almost seemed like Stevie Ray knew he would not be here for long. So he put it all out there and never held back a thing. Playing guitar was a full-body experience for him. I went to his house once and found him practicing making faces like B.B. King, getting his whole body into it.

He never stopped, even when he was asleep. His wife Lenny has talked about waking up at night beside Stevie Ray and seeing that he was moving his hands – playing guitar in his sleep. Sleep guitar. She’d just watch, and listen. I bet it was worth hearing.

I miss him.

 

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Connells greatest hits, and mine

ConnellsSCYIt’s not a book, exactly, but it’s something that appears in a compact disc booklet (remember those?). That would be Stone Cold Yesterday: Best of The Connells, a greatest-hits package that Concord Music Group is releasing on Sept. 9, with liner notes written by yours truly. These are the first liner notes I’ve done since Tres Chicas’ debut album Sweetwater way back in 2004, and it was a great honor to be asked. The Connells are a group I’ve been writing about ever since I moved to Raleigh 25 years ago, and regular readers of this space might recall the most recent instance of that — the “’74-’75” video remake we put together for the News & Observer last fall.

Of course, “’74-’75” is on the 16-song track list, which you’ll find below. And for those in the general Triangle vicinity, The Connells will play a free show Sept. 7 at Raleigh’s Schoolkids Records (for the store’s Hopscotch Day Party); and an outdoor show at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre on Sept. 17, on a bill with modern-day local stars The Old Ceremony and David J of Bauahus/Love and Rockets fame.

 

1. Stone Cold Yesterday
2.’74 – ‘75
3. Still Life
4. One Simple Word
5. Crown
6. Carry My Picture
7. Slackjawed
8. Something To Say
9. Scotty’s Lament
10. Over There
11. Fun & Games
12. Get A Gun
13. Maybe
14. Uninspired
15. Just Like That
16. New Boy

ConnellsLiner

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Bruce Springsteen rocks the forest

ForestFBThe latest news in my bookish world is a somewhat unusual project: a coffee-table book about a football stadium. I’m one of several contributors to Lee Pace’s “Football in a Forest: The Life and Times of Kenan Memorial Stadium,” a lavishly illustrated history of the University of North Carolina’s sports stadium in Chapel Hill. Kenan has also been the site of a few concerts over the years, most notably a September 2003 Bruce Springsteen show that I attended.

The show was great, of course, and I reviewed it for the News & Observer. But the most memorable part actually happened long before showtime, when I got to accompany a well-connected friend on a backstage visit. That’s where we encountered the late great Terry Magovern, a former Navy Seal who worked for many years as Springsteen’s personal assistant. Magovern was also in charge of gathering “local-color research,” which was how my friend and I found ourselves being grilled about North Carolina trivia “in case Bruce wants to say something onstage.” Turned out he did!

That wound up being the basis of my contribution to this book, an essay titled “A Visit From The Boss,” which can be found on pages 130-133 (accompanied by a spectacular onstage concert photo shot by Bernard Harris from the Durham Herald-Sun). Priced at $39.95, “Football in a Forest” is available at various brick-and-mortar stores around the Triangle including Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, where Pace will do a reading-and-discussion event on Sept. 14; and Johnny T-Shirt, where Pace will be on Sept. 16. You can also order the book online here.

BossKenan

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“1989 Is Hell”

The “Ryan Adams Covers 1989″ concept grows ever more meta. The latest wrinkle comes from Babetown, (Jessica Leibowitz and Danny Ross), a self-described “surf-rock duo based in New York.” They’ve made 1989 Is Hell, a remake of Ryan’s 2003 album Love Is Hell with the songs rearranged as Taylor Swift-style pop — including “Wonderwall,” which is itself a cover of a 1995 Oasis song. Wow.

Release date is Aug. 31, but you can preview three of its tracks below or on the group’s Soundcloud. And Ryan himself has given the project his enthusiastic blessing via Instagram post (“SO RAD!”), which is also below.

DRA1989HellReact2

 

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Ryan Adams forsakes electricity

DissapointmentRyan Adams recently played a well-received acoustic bluegrass set with Infamous Stringdusters at last month’s Newport Folk Festival, long-ago site of one of the the rock era’s great confrontations. Newport was where Bob Dylan horrified and enraged folkie purists back in 1965 by putting aside his acoustic guitar to play loud electric-guitar rock backed up by the Butterfield Blues Band. Rock-mythology enthusiast that he is, Ryan made a nod to that history as well as his own penchant for confounding the expectations of his fanbase with the for-the-occasion T-shirts he was selling at the gig:

I would go electric but my fans are already used to disappointment.

The shirts are now available for $19.99 at his online Pax Am store. I’ve gotta say, I like this almost as much as my vintage Ryan Adams Is On Fire T-shirt. And along these lines, there’s a Bob Mould song I’d like to hear Ryan cover.

 

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Losering 3: Somebody Remembers the Rose

LoseringBoardWhile I wouldn’t exactly call it a headphones record, I’ve always considered Whiskeytown’s 1997 magnum opus Strangers Almanac to be more of a private home-listening experience than a live-performance artifact. It’s a truly brilliant album and one of my favorites, but it also has enough radical shifts in tempo, tone, mood and instrumentation to seem truly daunting to pull off onstage.

Nevertheless, I’m here to tell you that Raleigh’s Antique Hearts absolutely nailed it Friday night at our third “Losering” tribute show at Deep South The Bar. Playing the album start to finish and in order, they pulled off everything with an aplomb that left me awestruck, even the album-closing “Not Home Anymore” (which frontman Zach Gregory jokingly called “a studio song”). I cannot imagine how much work it took to get to this level; everyone involved did the material and themselves proud.

So did the opening acts, who both played some non-Strangers Ryan Adams songs. Shane Smith went deep into the catalog with “Wish You Were” from 2003’s unjustly maligned Rock n Roll, and also worked in Ryan’s arrangement of the Taylor Swift 1989 song “Shake It Off.” Ryan Kennemur went deeper still (assisted by Stacy Chandler in the role of vocal/fiddle foil) into the way-back Whiskeytown catalog with “Desperate Ain’t Lonely” and even “Lo Fi Tennessee Mountain Angel.”

All in all, it was another lovely evening, and it raised $724 for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. I expect we’ll do this again next year on or about the same date, July 29, for the 20-year anniversary of Strangers Almanac. Thanks to Dave Rose, John Booker and the rest of the Deep South staff for making it happen — and to Antique Hearts, who put a massive amount of work into getting this right and did it brilliantly.

AntiqueHearts

Shane Smith
“Firecracker”
“Wish You Were Here”
“Touch, Feel & Lose”
“My Winding Wheel”/”Shake It Off”
“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High”

Ryan Kennemur with Stacy Chandler
“Starting to Hurt”
“I Don’t Care What You Think About Me”
“Angels Are Messengers From God”
“Desperate Ain’t Lonely”
“Bar Lights”
“Don’t Wanna Know Why”
“Lo Fi Tennessee Mountain Angel”
“If He Can’t Have You”

Antique Hearts, Strangers Almanac
“Inn Town”
“Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”
“Yesterday’s News”
“16 Days”
“Everything I Do”
“Houses on the Hill”
“Turn Around”
“Dancing With the Women at the Bar”
“Waiting to Derail”
“Avenues”
“Losering”
“Somebody Remembers the Rose”
“Not Home Anymore”
Encore: “Drank Like a River”

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Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight

Losering3As covered at length in “Losering” as well as on this very blog, Whiskeytown’s 1997 masterpiece Strangers Almanac is an album I’ve never quite gotten over. Alas, Ryan Adams doesn’t seem to have much use for it himself these days, as evidenced by the fact that his current live setlist doesn’t include a single Strangers song (which is too bad, because those songs would fit his current bluegrass direction perfectly). Nevertheless, Strangers still means a great deal to a lot of Ryan’s oldest fans — especially those of us in his long-ago hometown of Raleigh, where it remains an essential local-music artifact.

This Friday, July 29, marks 19 years to the day since Strangers Almanac was first released, but I very much doubt that Ryan will mark the occasion in any way. So what the heck, we’ll do it for him. Friday night, Raleigh nightspot Deep South The Bar will host another “Losering”-themed tribute show, with Raleigh’s own Antique Hearts and friends playing all 13 Strangers tracks. Opening the proceedings will be Ryan “Showtime” Kennemur (veteran of the first two “Losering” events, in 2013 and 2015) and Shane Smith; yours truly also returns to serve as MC.

With proceeds earmarked for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, it’s for a good cause. So come on out and sing along if you’re in the vicinity, or even if you’re not.

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Who owns Vic Chesnutt’s story?

Coming up on seven years since his death on Christmas Day 2009, the late great James Victor “Vic” Chesnutt remains a sadly obscure figure to the mainstream at large. He has his fans, of course, many of them quite famous. But that hasn’t been enough to spread Chesnutt’s reputation much further than the cult following he had when he was alive, and that is too bad.

The music Chesnutt left behind speaks for itself, 18 albums of rough-cut brilliance (1996’s About to Choke, which is Chesnutt at his most accessible, is a good place to start). If you’re interested in his story, I can’t help but steer you toward the AMS/UTP book “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by Kristin Hersh, a beautiful, harrowing and deeply personal portrait of Chesnutt written by one of the artist’s closest friends and fellow travelers.

And for an accompanying macro view, there’s a rough cut of an amazing little documentary film making the Youtube rounds — “What Doesn’t Kill Me: The Life and Music of Vic Chesnutt.” Assembled by obsessive Chesnutt fan Scott Stuckey, “What Doesn’t Kill Me” deftly captures the artist’s twisted charisma and onstage brilliance, with testimonials from numerous friends and fellow fans (including Kristin).

But Chesnutt was a complicated artist and human, who left an equally complicated legacy in his wake. So it’s not at all surprising that this film has been a source of controversy, even though it’s never been conventionally released. Over the past year or so, there’s been a heated war of words between filmmaker Stuckey on one side and Chesnutt’s widow, Tina Whatley Chesnutt, on the other.

Who is right? And will things ever be resolved enough for some version of “What Doesn’t Kill Me” to someday show in theaters? I sure don’t know. Nevertheless, I still appreciated seeing it, and knowing this film is out there for however long that might be. If you’re interested, I’d advise watching it sooner rather than later.

 

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“Ballad of a Detroit Spider”

Toward the end of “Losering,” I wrote that if Ryan Adams ever did a comedy album I would buy it the day it came out. That was in response to a death-metal version of “16 Days” he’s been known to play onstage. And in a similar vein, here’s another DRA novelty album that would be fun to put together: A compilation of the impromptu onstage songs he makes up during shows, like this one from Detroit the other night. After rescuing a spider from guitarist Mike Viola’s microphone, Ryan launched into “Ballad of a Detroit Spider,” with the rest of the band gradually joining in. As onstage messing-around goes, it’s actually pretty good (even if it does go on a touch too long).

 

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