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Kinky Friedman

The Texas singer/songwriter community has always championed their outlaws and eccentrics, but few Lone Star country artists have built a career out of creative outrage like Kinky Friedman. The self-proclaimed "Texas Jewboy," Friedman is capable of writing smart and perceptive tunes about life's other side, but he's best known for pointedly satirical numbers that revel in creative lowbrow humor and sharp satire. Songs like "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore," "Asshole from El Paso," "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You," and "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed" found Friedman flipping the bird to Political Correctness decades before the phrase gained common currency. Friedman was the sort of artist who was destined to become a cult favorite rather than a mainstream success, but he's won a loyal following in America and abroad, as well as a certain genuine stardom in his native Texas (where he's mounted several tongue-in-cheek campaigns to become governor of the state), and he's enjoyed a successful career as an author, particularly for a string of crime novels he penned in the '80s and '90s. Friedman's first three albums -- 1973's Sold American, 1974's Kinky Friedman, and 1976's Lasso from El Paso -- were attempts to fuse his rollicking blend of country, rock, and boogie with major-label production values, while the lion's share of his later releases appeared on smaller independent labels and as often as not were live recordings that captured Friedman's playful anarchy in its most natural setting (the best examples being 1992's Old Testaments & New Revelations and 2007's Live from Austin, TX, the latter taken from an unaired 1975 episode of Austin City Limits). In the 2010s, Friedman returned to serious record making with the relatively thoughtful and downbeat The Loneliest Man I Ever Met in 2015. The son of a University of Texas professor who raised his children on the family ranch, Rio Duckworth, Kinky Friedman was born Richard F. Friedman. He studied psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and founded his first band while there, King Arthur & the Carrots, a group that poked fun at surf music and put out a single in 1966. After graduation, Friedman served three years in the Peace Corps; he was stationed in Borneo, where he was an agricultural extension worker. By 1971 he had founded his second band, Kinky Friedman & the Texas Jewboys. In keeping with the group's satirical songs, each member had a deliberately politically incorrect name: they called themselves Little Jewford, Big Nig, Panama Red, Rainbow Colors, and Snakebite Jacobs. Friedman got his break in 1973 thanks to Commander Cody, who contacted Vanguard Records on behalf of the acerbic young performer. Vanguard signed Friedman and issued his first LP, Sold American, which featured guest appearances from John Hartford and Tompall Glaser. The title track, a bitter tale of a forgotten country singer dying an alcoholic death, barely made it onto the charts, but Friedman did attract enough attention to be invited to the Grand Ole Opry. In 1974, he recorded an eponymously titled album for ABC Records. Produced by Los Angeles pop helmsman Steve Barri, the album confounded whatever pure country listenership Friedman might have attracted, but it delighted his growing core of fans with satirical pieces such as his response to anti-Semitism, "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore," as well as quieter sketches of American hard luck such as "Rapid City, South Dakota." In the mid-'70s, Friedman and his band toured with Bob Dylan during the celebrated Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and in the wake of that he cut his third album for Epic, 1976's Lasso from El Paso, that featuring Dylan, Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton. The Texas Jewboys disbanded three years later, and Friedman moved to New York, where he was a frequent attraction at the city's country and roots music venue The Lone Star Cafe. In 1983, he released Under the Double Ego for Sunrise Records. After that, Friedman turned toward writing, publishing his first novel, Greenwich Killing Time, in 1986. Though he continued to make occasional nightclub appearances, his mystery novels, including A Case of Lone Star, The Mile High Club, and Elvis, Jesus and Coca-Cola, became frequent best-sellers, blurring fiction and reality as a Texas singer turned Greenwich Village private eye named Kinky Friedman was drawn into adventures that were equal parts whimsy and metaphysics, and often included appearances from his friends and collaborators in both Texas and the Big Apple. Friedman's books boosted interest in his music, and many of his songs of the '70s and early '80s were collected on a pair of CD compilations, Old Testaments & New Revelations (1992) and From One Good American to Another (1995). In 1999, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, and other friends and admirers covered Friedman's music on the tribute album Pearls in the Snow: The Songs of Kinky Friedman; a second tribute set, Why the Hell Not … : The Songs of Kinky Friedman, followed in 2006. In 2003, Friedman appeared in naked, cigar-smoking triplicate on the cover of the Dallas Observer magazine in a parody of the Dixie Chicks' nude Entertainment Weekly pose of that year, for a piece on his political aspirations. Vanguard released a 30th anniversary edition of Sold American (which included a couple of bonus tracks) in 2003. A previously unreleased 1973 live studio concert called Mayhem Aforethought appeared in June of 2005, followed by the compilation They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore later that October, which featured Kinky Friedman and Lasso from El Paso in full. An Austin City Limits appearance from 1975 that was deemed unfit to air finally saw the light of day thanks to New West Records' 2007 release of Live from Austin, TX. In 2015, Friedman returned with his first proper studio album since Lasso from El Paso in 1976. Released by Avenue A Records, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met featured a number of new originals, along with covers by Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson, who also guest on the album. After Nelson encouraged Friedman to get back to writing songs, he responded with 2018's Circus of Life, another warm, acoustic-oriented project. Former Bob Dylan and Levon Helm collaborator Larry Campbell produced Friedman's next studio album, 2019's Resurrection.
© Sandra Brennan & James Manheim /TiVo
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