Whiskeytown don’t need no stinkin’ badges

WTNYEHere’s something that turned up recently, a long-ago token I’d forgotten all about. It’s a laminate designed by Whiskeytown drummer/noted graphic artist Skillet Gilmore, and it dates back to the band’s interminable period of limbo in 1999 after recording what eventually came out as the album Pneumonia in 2001 (more about that time is in “Losering” — Chapter 11, fittingly enough).

While the band waited around for its fate to be decided after the Universal/PolyGram merger vaporized its label Outpost Records, Ryan Adams played a solo tour that included a handful of epic Triangle shows in the fall of ’99. Whiskeytown was winding down and becoming less and less of a going concern as the stalemate dragged on; but the band was booked into Cat’s Cradle nightclub in Carrboro for a New Year’s Eve show on Dec. 31, 1999.

Even with Y2K paranoia in the air, a full house turned out that night hoping to hear some of the new songs from Pneumonia. None were in the setlist, but it was a fine evening nevertheless. What I remember most about the show was Ryan serenading Skillet and his fiance Caitlin Cary with the Faithless Street song “Matrimony,” singing it in his best Jagger-esque cockney yowl after introducing it with a disclaimer: “Alanis Morissette is not ironic; this is ironic.”

Whiskeytown hadn’t played a local show in a while, and this one was deemed to be enough of a big deal for the band to do up a few of these “LIMITED PRESS ACCESS” laminates. They were kind enough to give me one, although all these years later I cannot recall what access it granted. But I’m glad to still have it.

 

 

 

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American Music Series pursues T Bone Burnett

SachsTBoneDig if you will the cover of our next University of Texas Press American Music Series entry, “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit,” written by the Chicago-based writer Lloyd Sachs and due out on hardback in October. Among other things, this is the first book we’ve put out that will have pictures as well as prose. And as a longtime T Bone fan who cherishes my autographed copy of Proof Through the Night (which Burnett signed Help fight Truth Decay for me many years ago), I am excited and honored to be a part of this one.

“A Life in Pursuit” has gone through a number of titles along the way, including the original working title “The True True Identities.” Its publication will make it an even 10 titles for the American Music Series since it started up in the spring of 2012; and we’ll get to 11 books with “Chrissie Hynde Up the Neck” in the spring of 2017. A few more books are in the early stages at the moment, and I can’t really say anything about them just yet. But they’re going to be very cool.

For now, I’m enjoying this handsome cover — and the fact that we’ve reached the double-digit milestone, with more to come.

 

 

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Echoes of “Strangers Almanac”

WorldCafeNot sure why this particular artifact popped up today — maybe because of all the hideous things happening in North Carolina right now, and they figured we could use a break — but public radio station WXPN has resurrected a World Cafe broadcast from 1997, “Sense of Place North Carolina: Whiskeytown.” Dating back to shortly after Mike Daly‘s arrival in the lineup as a sideman, it features about three minutes of excruciating small talk followed by performances of five songs: “16 Days,” “Somebody Remembers the Rose,” “Too Drunk to Dream,” “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

This was recorded at WXPN during the Strangers Almanac tour, not much more than a month before Phil Wandscher’s departure from Whiskeytown. Not surprisingly, the vibe is…tense. Check it out here.

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“Heartbreaker” deluxe box will be out May 6

HeartbreakerDeluxeIt’s finally official: May 6 is the U.S. release date for the much-rumored-about Deluxe Edition Box Set of Ryan Adams’ 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker. The package includes lots of demos and outtakes plus a live DVD, dressed up in a fancy box that appears to involve a fair amount of photos and verbiage. Perusing the unreleased tracks on the list of song titles, I’m especially glad to see “Petal in a Rainstorm” (also known as “Oh My Sweet Valentine”) finally getting a proper release. “Locked Away” is a great rarity, too.

There’s a nice preview trailer; and you can check track-list details and/or pre-order it here.

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Merle Haggard’s fightin’ side, in Rolling Stone

In the wake of Merle Haggard’s death yesterday, Rolling Stone has run a brief excerpt from “Comin’ Right at Ya” — one in which Ray Benson recalls witnessing…let’s call it a frank, no-holds-barred and perhaps “colorful” 1986 exchange between The Hag and a hapless record executive foolish enough to cross him. Check that out here.

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Another man done gone: Merle Haggard

HaggardCoverMerle Haggard took his leave of this planet today, his 79th birthday, dying of pneumonia. And as I’ve had to do far too many times already this year in the wake of a famous musician’s death, I put on my obit-writer’s hat and got busy putting some remembrance-type content out there.

It was handy to have “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson’s number to call, since he was a longtime friend and collaborator of Merle’s, and he was quotable as always — see the bottom of this story. I’d also written a few entries a while back for this “30 Essential Songs” list (on “Hungry Eyes,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Ramblin’ Fever”), and that went online today at Rolling Stone.

Really, though, here’s the best Haggard piece you’ll read today. It’s an excerpt from our very fine American Music Series book on Haggard, 2013’s “The Running Kind” by the great David Cantwell, and this introduction masterfully sets the scene and the story. It’s worth your time. And while you’re giving it a read, dig this Whiskeytown cover of one of Merle’s classics.

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North Carolina passed over — again

The headline reads, “Ryan Adams Announces East Coast Dates” — and sure, I took a look even though I knew what East Coast state would be missing. Upon scanning the itinerary below, however, there was a brief moment when I thought that the end of Ryan’s boycott of his native state might be at hand.

Look at the bottom date, July 26, “Ryan Adams at Lincoln Theatre”; yes, there is indeed is a Lincoln Theatre in Ryan’s former hometown of Raleigh. But no, that date is scheduled for the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. (besides which, these days Ryan generally plays venues with far bigger capacities than what the Raleigh Lincoln Theatre can hold).

Oh well. I will note that, given the political drift in North Carolina nowadays and who else is boycotting the state, I can’t really blame Ryan for keeping his distance at this point.

DRA16tour

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Another landmark from Ryan’s Raleigh disappears: IHOP

IHOPDuring the Whiskeytown era, the mid-to-late 1990s, downtown Raleigh was still pretty much a ghost town after dark. Before downtown became the place to be, the center of Raleigh nightlife was a couple of miles west, along Hillsborough street — a strip that included Sadlack’s, the Brewery, Comet Lounge and other watering holes. And for late-night munchies, there was the 24-hour International House of Pancakes at the corner of Hillsborough and Park, near St. Mary’s School.

As often as not, following a Whiskeytown or Backsliders show at the Brewery, some of us would wind up at IHOP for 3 a.m. victuals before heading home. I paid tribute to that in chapter eight of “Losering,” the one about Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac album, by having young Ryan stumble into IHOP in the midst of that chapter’s imagined dark-night-of-the-soul narrative.

But time marches on. Recent years have seen Hillsborough street undergo a radical makeover with traffic circles, while Sadlack’s and the Brewery have both fallen to the wrecking ball to make way for fancy hotels and student housing. And now a similar fate awaits IHOP, which is closing this week for a still-to-be-determined redevelopment project. The small lot IHOP occupies is worth more than $500,000 now, so this was inevitable.

With the Brewery no longer there to draw me in that direction late at night, I’ve not eaten at IHOP in years. Still, I’ll miss seeing that bright blue roof — which was one more marker of the small town Raleigh used to be.

ADDENDUM (5/2/2016): Not quite one month later, the blue is off the roof and it looks like it won’t be long before the whole thing is torn down.

IHOPgrey

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Ryan Adams, April Fools’ Day pinball wizard

AprilFoolFor an April Fools’ Day gag to work, there has to be at least a modicum of plausibility to it. So yeah, on the one hand, the idea of Ryan Adams putting together an album composed entirely of audio snippets from his pinball-machine collection is ridiculous. But on the other hand, given some of the weird-ass stuff Ryan has done in the past (not to mention his love of all things pinball and crazy-prolific nature), this Pinball Blizzard almost seems possible; like something he would’ve done as DJ Reggie, The Shit or one of his many other guises.

Anyway, that’s the joke of this story on the site RiffYou — which promises an album that will “balance Heartbreaker-era melodies, Cold Roses‘ expansiveness and Gold’s eclectic twang-driven explorations, guided and influenced by the noises of arcade games – namely pinball machines.” It also has a faux-quote from Ryan, describing Pinball Blizzard as “so fucked up, I can’t help but love it.”

For those who might be slow on the uptake, there is a helpful April Fool disclaimer at the end.

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Patty Duke Syndrome’s namesake passes on

PattyDukeWay back in the long-ago days before Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams had a great little punk band called Patty Duke Syndrome — named after the television star and Oscar-winning actress Anna Marie “Patty” Duke, who had played “identical cousins” on “The Patty Duke Show” in the ’60s (and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder). Patty Duke Syndrome was around in the early 1990s, and I remember being surprised at the time to learn that the real-life Patty Duke was actually still alive.

But she was. It’s probably just as well that the trio of Ryan, Brian Walsby and Jere McIlwean didn’t get a record deal, which would have caused a lot of awkwardness and possibly litigation. Patty Duke Syndrome came to a bad end in 1994, with a breakup ugly enough that Ryan was still writing songs about it with Whiskeytown a year later (more on that is in chapter three of “Losering”). As for Patty Duke herself, she finally passed on today, at age 69.

Rest in peace, Ms. Duke. You were never forgotten, then or now.

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