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Steve Earle: Outlaw Attitude

Steve Earle is a country-rock singer with an attitude, both poetic and angry, perceptive and stark, often in the same song. Having just released his 16th album, So You Wannabe an Outlaw, he's hit the road and will be in Memphis on Saturday. As I'd always been impressed with Earle's dexterity at injecting political awareness into his songs, the lack of lyrics about the current state of our union in his first post-Trump release came as a bit of a surprise. Naturally, that was the first thing I asked him about.

The Memphis Flyer: You've often expressed a level of political awareness in your music that you don't often hear from other country-rockers, but I don't get that as much from the new record.

Steve Earle: Well, I try to find the human part of it — to tell stories and create characters that are affected by the things that I see happening politically. And I still write political songs. I wrote one for Joan Baez, for her record she's working on with Joe Henry right now. But this record I just made because I was reconnecting to where I came in when I got to Nashville in 1974. That became interesting to me musically for a lot of reasons. Basically, I wrote the songs not knowing that this [presidency] was gonna happen, and then the election happened in November. It was literally three weeks later that we started the record. And I thought about scuttling it and writing some new songs quickly and making it more political. But I said, You know what? Let's just let this record be what it is.

I supported Bernie Sanders, until he was out of the race, and then I voted for Hillary Clinton. I went on stage November 8th, thinking the worst that was gonna happen was Hillary Clinton being president of the United States, which ... we know what that is, and it would have been the first woman to be president of the United States. And I came off stage, and we had elected the first orangutan to be president of the United States. So I just wasn't prepared for that. I guess you can let diversity go too far sometimes.

So this record is inspired by the first days of Outlaw Country?

I kinda have this unique perspective on the term "Outlaw." I'm from Texas. I was at the Dripping Springs Reunion — I bought tickets; about that time, all of the sudden Willie Nelson moves back, and Doug Sahm moves back, which a lot of people forget about. And it was Doug who suggested to Willie that he play [Austin counterculture hot spot] Armadillo World Headquarters. Doug introduced Willie to Jerry Wexler, and that's how Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages got made. And then Waylon Jennings hears those records.

Those guys figured out that rock acts had artistic freedom they didn't have. And that's what Outlaw's about; it's not about getting f*cked up. Look, George Jones was not going to a liquor store at 4:30 in the morning on a lawn mower. There aren't any liquor stores open in Tennessee at 4:30 in the morning. He was going someplace else, to get something else. Country singers have always taken drugs, all that shit. But these guys wanted to make records the way they wanted to, that's why they got called Outlaws.

Waylon Jennings' Honky Tonk Heroes is one of my very favorite records. And that record sounds like it does because Waylon got to do what he wanted to do. It's all built around his electric guitar. And this new record is built around me on the back pickup of a Fender Telecaster. It's full of great guitar tones.

It's a 1955 Telecaster through an AC50 [Vox amp]. And then Chris [Masterson] is playing a lot of baritone guitar on this record, a Collings baritone that he used. This record is a connection to the past, but it's also the future. It's new a musical direction. I love this band, this configuration with Ricky Ray Jackson on steel and Brad Pemberton on drums. The rest of the band [including Masterson, Kelly Looney on bass, and Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle] has been together for a long time and Ricky's come along and made it hit this other level. And I'm really interested in that musically, so. ... Now we'll be on tour, and I'll start writing songs for this band. And the next record will be just as country as this one, and way more political, is my guess.

Steve Earle and the Dukes play Minglewood Hall Saturday, July 8th, at 8 p.m., with opening band The Mastersons.

Herman Green: Then & Now
(image) After last week's cover story on Dr. Herman Green, we realized that Memphis Magazine had featured him over three decades ago. It's telling that he has carried on here in his hometown ever since. One notable similarity: it was just as hard to make a living playing jazz in Memphis back then. 

But it's worth a read just to learn more telling details about making it, or not,  in the jazz scene of 1950's New York. Green's perseverance paid off. By now, it's little wonder that he has received the Lifetime Music Achievement Award at the 13th annual W.C. Handy Heritage Awards, and multiple Premier Player awards (as a saxophonist and a teacher) from the local chapter of The Recording Academy.

With decades of performances and recognition under his belt, you would think you could find more of Green's work on record. But the only documentation of his solo jazz career here in Memphis, backed up by The Green Machine, exists on two CDs: Who is Herman Green? and Inspirations: Family and Friends, both on private labels from the mid-1990s. Tracks from both are included on The Best of the Green Machine, Vol. 1, released by Green Machine Enterprises in 2011, but even that is hard to track down. Ask for it at your local record shop, and happy record hunting!
Action-packed weekend awaits!
(image) The Memphis music scene surely has its ups and downs, like any city, but sometimes a weekend slate of shows appears that promises one grand-slam band after another, and one is left stunned by the sheer quantity of good music being produced in this city. Here's a subjective overview of some dynamite LIVE performances you should check out, not mentioned elsewhere in our music column or the Steppin' Out or After Dark sections. Get up offa that thing! "That thing" being your sofa, where you'll be tempted to sit with your device of choic while all this swirls around you.

Don Bryant at the Levitt Shell (Free): Don Bryant, soul singer extraordinaire and writer of many great songs for other artists, including wife Ann Peebles, doesn't play his hometown that often. He'll be backed by the Bo-Keys and members of the Hi Rhythm Section – truly a Wrecking Crew of our own, here and now in Memphis. Take a blanket, some mosquito repellent, and get outside. (7:30 pm)

Tony Manard CD release party at 831 S. Cooper (Donations accepted): Many bands, finding their favorite clubs booked months in advance now (I told you Memphis was hopping), are experimenting with new, alternative venues. This space is the hallowed ground of our beloved Black Lodge Video, which hosted many a throw-down in its heyday, and now can be rented for parties such as this. Tony is a songwriter and guitarist who you've seen in many a Memphis band, most recently the Low Life Leakers super group at the fundraiser for the Victims of the Bowling Green Massacre. His "Know Why" CD has a host of local greats playing behind him, and most of them will be at this show. Jeremy Scott will play a solo set as opener. (8 pm)

The Margins at Murphy's: Perhaps the city's best kept secret, the Margins rock minimalist guitar textures and intriguing rhythms for a unique blend that recalls early Wire. They'll be joined by genre-benders Los Psychosis and that perennial favorite, one man show Johnny Lowebow. (9 pm)

Sweat Fest 3 at the Hi Tone (Free): Shangri-La Records have created a mini-fest of their own in recent years, celebrating the sheer audacity of surviving another Memphis summer. A gaggle of groups always plays, often some of their best shows, because they know record buyers are the best listeners. This year's Sweatfest will make summer more survivable than ever, as it's being held inside the Hi Tone rather than the store parking lot. But never fear! Crates upon crates of records will be toted by the Shangri-La minions into the club, so the deals can be had by all. This is the lineup:
5:30 pm: YESSE YAVIS

NOTS Homecoming at Bar DKDC: The NOTS have just completed a tour of Europe. This band, already incendiary, have surely benefited from what all bands know as Post-tour Peak Performance Potential. If you liked them already, or even if you were just NOTS-curious, this is a must:  they will surely be firing on all cylinders with this triumphant return. (10:30 pm)

Snowglobe at the Harbert Avenue Porch Show (Donations accepted):  This venerable group make a rare appearance at what has become an annual tradition. Since 2012, Robert Jethro Wyatt has been the curator of performances on his front porch, complete with free beer. And he knows how to pick 'em: members of Snowglobe have gone out into the world seeking their fortunes since they formed in the 1990s. So it's a special treat for fans to see them reunited. Did we ever imagine we would be nostalgic for the 90s? Well, we are. (6 pm)

Jack Oblivian at Bar DKDC: What more can be said of Jack O? Have they named a drink after him yet? He's a seasoned observer of humanity in his witty, bristling songs, no matter what band is backing him. Now with longtime comrades-in-arms The Sheiks, he's playing old favorites and material from last year's stunning "The Lone Ranger of Love" . A new project by Graham Winchester and Seth Moody, Turnstyles, will be opening the set, so arrive early for something fresh on the scene. (10 pm)
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