EUGENE CHADBOURNE ON COUNTRY
Jimmy Carl Black and Eugene
Interview, Part II by J. Vognsen
Continued from Part I of our Eugene Chadbourne interview
Also see Part III and Part IV of the interview
PSF: Let's turn to what you earlier called "the politically treacherous ground of what we call country and western." What role does it play for you?
Much country music leans politically right, sometimes religiously so. You yourself identify with the left. Does this affect the way you listen to or perform country music? Do the politics ever interfere with - or perhaps amplify - your ability to enjoy the music?
EC: I think that in both the cultures I know you have lived in--Denmark, Japan--politics is more nuanced than simply the matter of left and right.
You have factions, left and right, this and that in the so-called "center."
Looking at country and western in its history and development in American society, one can see a shift in the political position, a boat following the currents.
"Old-time" music that helped birth modern country and western was loaded with songs about working conditions, usually critical (little kvelling!). I look at all this material as protest songs and in American society fighting for the rights of the laborer is usually considered a left wing cause.
Nonetheless during the Vietnam war, many blue collar laborers came out for the right.
Another way to examine the politics of C&W is to look at the careers of major artists and their political affiliations, if they have them. This approach also reveals changing tides and shifts in politics.
Johnny Cash was just being discussed in the press as it is the anniversary of the release of his famous "Man in Black" song and album. In that song, he associated himself with fighting for the cause of the downtrodden--in American culture, usually something the left wing or Democrats are more concerned with. More importantly for the culture at the time, he came out against the Vietnam war during this period. As I am sure you are aware, he has a whole history of clashes with the Nashville establishment, which would have been more pro-Vietnam war at the time.
Cash also continually made problems with the sponsors of his popular network television show by inviting on the likes of Bob Dylan. Revealing the complexity of politics though, another issue that got him in hot water with the networks was including his gospel material, religious songs with June Carter and films of their trip to the "Holy Land" (Israel). This was considered not a mainstream interest.
Merle Haggard was strongly associated with right wing politics and while he later dismissed "Okie From Muskogee" as a joke, material such as "Fightin' Side of Me" and "I'm A White Boy (Just Lookin' For a Place to Do My Thing)" espouse typical right wing philosophy of the day, anti-welfare "if you don't love it, leave it."
From an aesthetic point of view, I am keen to point out that the way these songs are delivered have so much spirit that it always made the hairs on my arms stand up straight, despite not agreeing with the politics, I enjoyed the experience of listening.
I was still happy that Merle swung to the left during the second Bush administration, criticizing attorney general John Ashcroft onstage and penning the profound "That's the News"--more than just an anti-Iraq war song, it takes apart the entire way news events were being processed and fed to the American public at the time.
The final comment that is important to make is in the last four years we have had Trumpism, the Trump era, whatever you want to call it, so we have another even more extreme faction splitting off to the right. While the country and western establishment cozied up to Reagan and the Bushes, shooing the Dixie Chicks off the radio for daring the challenge the regime, Trump offended so many with his policies that I am sure you saw the effect on various branches of the entertainment establishment, bands suing him for using their songs without permission and a complete lack of any acts interested in performing at his events--it was funny that one of the only country acts that would perform for Trump was the morally bankrupt Hank Williams Jr, hardly an example of good clean right wing living!
You might want to research right wing country songs that came out during the Reagan era onward, as I stopped listening to modern country so much I don't have the best knowledge. I remember an MTV video with Charlie Daniels accosting Gorbachev with his lyrics!
Obviously, the singular country and western hero during the COVID era is Dolly Parton who had already established a golden reputation as a human being--and she never has come across as right wing in the least. She cut an whole album of sixties era protest songs and in her own songwriting such as "Coat of Many Colors" and "The Party," she cuts deep into the intense conflicts of her background.
Circling back around to the lyrics I remembered another pivotal moment in country politics during the Trump era--okay, the C&W music crowd is strongly pro-immigration, they are not your Build the Wall types and of course C&W is popular with Mexicans, they drive around wearing cowboy hats.
The country star Brad Paisley went on the Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel show and premiered a new song called "Welcome to America" that was all about how new immigrants were going to enjoy all the wonderful things about life in America, the lyrics range from sarcasm to sentimentality and the optics of the event were great with him bringing onstage immigrants that had just gotten their citizenship that week.
PSF: What about more extreme cases, such as the blatant racism of Johnny Rebel, the pornographic sexism of David Allan Coe or the comical putridness of Larry Pierce? Are you able to appreciate any of their music?
EC: David Allan Coe: oh God!
After hearing 'about' these infamous recordings for years, finally one morning in a drive from my lodgings to the Roma Termini, one of the hosts of the gig the night before played me a cassette of David Allan Coe with a song about interracial marriage, another about "Johnny Fuckerfaster" (and that is a joke I had not heard since fourth grade). I wish I had never heard this material, it is hard to unhear.
Mr. Coe must be one of the most overtly racist and creepy performers in music period, let alone country and western... Yes, he wrote at least two great songs, "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," in which the performance includes delicious imitations of other country performers and of course he may have lived for a few years off. "Take This Job and Shove It," mentioned before, as a huge hit for Johnny Paycheck.
Coe is one of the most (perhaps only?) country performer affiliated with bikers. Jimmy Carl gave me some career advice: "If bikers start following your band, you are fucked. Don't let it happen!"
Biker gangs are notoriously racist, a sub plot on one of my favorite shows The Sons of Anarchy was all about a light-skinned black passing for white and keeping it secret from the other bikers.
I had a David Allan Coe Greatest Hits and would have to say it is a rare example of a greatest hits in which one entire side and part of the other is a pile of shit. Was "Divers Do It Deeper?" really a hit? He wrote "Will You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone" which was provocative when recorded by (14 year old?) Tanya Tucker.
So obviously he is a boring character trying to be outrageous, it may have been last year that the New York Times ran a piece about these records he sells only at his shows and how material like this was going to fare in the new era of Black Lives Matter and Me Too.
The other people you mention I have never heard of. One could create an entire archive of smutty song material--remember The Mentors?
PSF: At the end of the preface to the third edition of his book Country, Nick Tosches writes something very striking:"At once so real and so fraudulent, so repressed and so uncontrollable, it's like the species itself. And ultimately there's something about the depths of the human soul expressed in the context of a rhinestone-embroidered puce suit - something not only of innocence and demonology but of proper perspective as well - that can't quite be found elsewhere in the garbage heap that we call culture."Tosches' lines are about early country, but I think his point sums up a lot of what I find effective about the genre in general: the existence of a kind of duality, or an internal contrast, that makes the music work at several levels at the same time. Sentimentality will clash with grim realism, the most beautiful voices will describe the worst of tragedies, artists with backstories of private extravaganza and debauchery will praise the simple life, the phoniest and most theatrical performers claim their authenticity. Your thoughts?
EC: You both do a vivid job of describing the brilliance and impact of good country and western and I agree with everything written above by both you and Tosches. The only thing I would add is that as an instrumentalist and composer fascinated by combining genres and blending them, I have always singled out country and western as a rare example of music that establishes its very nature simply by the sound of the instruments featured most often and the way they are played.
One chord played on the pedal steel establishes a country and western vibe no matter what the hell else is going on. Others: fiddle, banjo, Fender Tele or Strat twang, Floyd Cramer style piano tinkling.
Similarly when I was involved in the so-called "downtown scene" in New York City and a main collaborator was John Zorn, we were always looking in our music for ways to make things more precise, move quicker, change faster. He did not really share my interest in artists such as Johnny Paycheck but I remember pointing out how quickly the members of the band moved through their solos, 4 bars each, the ever shifting textures were the same thing I loved about Duke Ellington and the best work of the Beatles.
And this is such a country and western thing I want to close with an anecdote from one of the "Action" avant garde festivals held in the suburbs of Nancy, France annually, not the year I had a week of "carte blanche" but an earlier appearance when I had a duet concert with drummer Paul Lovens and organized an additional event attempting to play my version of country and western music. I used Paul on drums, the viola player Eena Ballard from Milwaukee who had done some concerts with versions of the Insect and Western Party and been featured as a soloist on my CD Horror Part III: X The Man With the X Ray Eyes. I brought bassist Ashley Adams from San Francisco and from Kansas City invited an actual young pedal steel player who did only straight country. This gig was known forever after as "the night Eugene and Paul played country with students" because the other musicians were all so young. When I told the pedal steel player we were going to play full chorus solos on "Hickory Wind"--not 4 bars, the whole structure, he absolutely froze. "I can't do it!" he said. "That's not right!" I thought I could make him go for it anyway, but after 4 bars he would just stop and stare at me, he did that on every song!
PSF: Speaking of the instruments of country, it is a frustrating fact that in the older days in particular, many country records - like in many genres - did not list the individual musicians performing, making it hard to keep track. Have you been able to dig out of obscurity the names of any outstanding players? More broadly, who do you think are the greatest instrumentalists in country? Are there any players you think deserve wider recognition than usually given?
EC: This will take a bit of research- I am going to have to pull out sides and copy down the names as I just don't have all of that falling off the top of my head.
The harmonica players are easy because there aren't that many of them--Mickey Raphael in Willie Nelson's band and P.T. Gazell in the Johnny Paycheck West Texas Music Company are outstanding. The big session guy was Charlie McCoy, who also played guitar?
You are totally right about the lack of credits- that is a good thing about internet researchers that have thrown themselves into the studio session player scholarly research. Some of the research can be tough- the way some records are made, the session players don't even know whose record it is. I did a biography on the harmonica player Chris Turner, active on the British scene before moving to North Carolina, then Rhode Island. He was on a bunch of recordings in the UK but had no idea even whose records they were- they just had him overdub with the instrumental track.
With some of the country greats, you see some session credits. Some of them always do it. I am going to do a bit of research to remember the names of the great steel soloists for example on Loretta Lynn albums.
The country history parallels rock and roll in that at some point, session players get replaced by the artist's own bands.
Chet Atkins recorded a lot of the session scene in Nashville. I think he was country A&R for RCA. Anyway, he used the same people even as the music changed. The story I always heard was that Waylon Jennings went to RCA in New York City and made quite an impression. He said his road band sounded more like the Rolling Stones, so wouldn't they rather be putting out those records? When they did, they sold a lot better and Atkins switched to more of a performance career as a middle of the road but brilliant picker- Christmas shows with orchestras, you name it.
The drummer Paul English in Willie Nelson's band is certainly great. Sadly, I have watched him physically deteriorate before my eyes as part of my life with country music. He is one of an elite group of players to have a song named after him, "Me and Paul," and then Paul Lovens and I stole that as a band name. Circa 2018, English's son was playing the drums in Nelson's band and he was assisting on light percussion, a shadow of former weight.
Meanwhile, you could go in many directions with Willie Nelson. Members of his band overlapped into the recordings he would do on his home ranch plus he seems to have other groups of players he uses. A really nice example is the Somewhere Over the Rainbow LP- it was a follow up to Stardust which had been a huge seller. Here he was, very early on in the trend to record standards, unlike the previous LP produced with Booker T. Jones that had more of a pop band sound, timeless. Rainbow focused on an acoustic band sound, almost like a Django Reinhardt outing. Fiddle player Johnny Gimble, bassists Bob Moore and Dean Reynolds, mandolinists Fred die Powers and Paul Buskirk: each of these names have their own lineage through many different types of recording sessions and artists.
Likewise, the history of Merle Haggard's band The Strangers brings up the names of many great session players. These instrumentalists who would show up as all or part of his backing on recordings, were, in some cases, involved in co-writing songs and/or producing.
Lead guitarist Roy Nichols
Steel guitarists Ralph Mooney, Norm Hamlet
Willard "Gene" Price, bass, also sings
Roy Burns, drums
Ronnie Reno, guitar, vocals
Johnny Meeks, bass
Don Markham, saxophone (one of the few in C&W)
Eldon Shamblin, guitar (one of the alumni of the original Bob Wills' Texas Playboys)
Tiny Moore mandolin
James Burton, guitar
Anyway, that is a kind of a lick at the ice cream cone. Looking at the great CD If I Could Only Fly, we find Don Markham but a different crew of studio players including the magnificent Redd Volkaert from Austin, Texas. Here we have a session musician that I have actually worked with as well, just like Nashville studio denizens drummer Kenny Malone, steel player Don Helms and bassist Michael Rhodes.
Haggard's tightknit group of studio players create an intimate sound. Besides Volkaert, there are two other guitarists, Joe Manuel and Randy Mason and Norm Hamlet on steel guitar.
When I commented to Redd that I particularly enjoyed the track "Listening to the Wind," he provided an interesting commentary on the travails of a studio player (Redd, by the way, charged $50 a song and an additional fee for any overdubbing per track). He told me "Merle just kept doing that song over and over again." he never seemed to get what he wanted and he finally gave up on the (can't remember the number) take. They ended up using the (also can't remember the number) take." To me, this evocative song, describing being away from home and hearing the sounds all around you, using your mind to connect, communicate, escape. It was very profound and I thought a perfect setting to combine other sorts of instrumentalists. The song has three chords that keep repeating so I could provide that and the vocals and the others could create a soundscape. I had little success with this!
Pat Thomas didn't think I wanted him to play, so he didn't, just stared into space, while the audience wondered what was going on.
I also remember a concert in Rotterdam in a small venue under a bridge, with guitarist Lukas Simonis. He did all kinds of great sounds in the background and I thought it was going well so I must have even repeated a verse, maybe two. When we were packing up, he said, "this song Listening to the Wind." It is really quite horrible, isn't it?"
PSF: As a listener, do you mainly enjoy country on records or are you also a fan of the live experience? Are there any concerts that you remember with particular fondness, or performers you think were particularly good live?
EC: With country and western music, there is a third option besides either recordings or live shows---television.
This was not such an option for jazz although I actually did see some of my first interesting jazz on television. And of course, lots of rock and roll including psychedelic stuff.
It has gotten so easy to watch, and if you want binge, classic videos of country performers on different variety shows, clips taken from Hee-Haw or the Johnny Cash Show. There were lots of variety shows and with the cable TV and beyond to whatever they call it now with thousands of stations. There is 24-hour Nashville network and many of the videos are simple shots of the bands playing, lots of close ups of the singer.
For live shows, I would divide my life into three periods- Calgary, New York City and Greensboro. I don't remember ever going to see live country and western music when I lived in Colorado.
In Calgary, I reviewed some shows for the Calgary Herald.
Buck Owens at the Stampede Corral. I don't think he had a good crowd, and this was an empty looking venue. So they kind of lacked spirit, but the sound of the guitars was cool.
Double bill at the Jubilee Auditorium of Waylon Jennings and Mel Tillis. Now this is where the symphony played, Miles Davis. It was a fancy venue. The Jennings band sounded horrible- they seemed to be coked-up. Mel Tillis was a much more traditional performer but really projected and kept the show cooking! So he got the better side of my review.
Kris Kristofferson--is he country? Drunken, rambling show with continual promises to refund the audience's money. Which he made them do, although he still made the promoter pay him! I found out about this nosing about as a reporter and had a fun time writing follow up pieces teasing Kris.
Johnny Cash and June Carter, Tommy Cash... the show they did at the time, the really classic numbers sounded great but they wasted a lot of time with stuff like the Tommy Cash part of the set and showing slides of Israel!! Yuck.
In Greensboro, I passed up on going to country and western concerts for quite a while. Strangely, I remember going with Shockabilly and some Greensboro friends to a Holiday Inn to see a band that did impersonations of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson!!
Finally, a few years ago we started going to more concerts with a vengeance almost, we had more money and sometimes there was something worth seeing.
We went to a Willie Nelson concert out in a farm near the South Carolina border that was fantastic. At both this and a later event I attended in Berkeley, I got to witness the scaling down of his band from the larger instrumentation with electric guitar, pedal steel, etc to more of a jazz sound with stand-up bass and much lighter drumming... partly, as I mentioned, Paul English taking it much easier. I thought it could be an economic consideration as well. It was a brilliant show.
The whole family went to see the Dixie Chicks in Raleigh and that was a great show, much of a modern presentation with high tech videos, making fun of Trump, etc.
On my own one night when my wife was out of town, I walked over to the War Memorial Auditorium, now demolished, and saw Merle Haggard live for the first time, a great experience... Except, I mention this finally and it applies also to the Willie Nelson event in the south (not the California one)... The audience gets really fucking drunk, it seems like they are there more for the booze than the music.
[Chadbourne takes a break to cook to some fish. The following day he continues.]
As I mentioned, I went alone to the Merle Haggard concert, smoking a joint on the walk!
By the time I bought tickets, most of the better seats were gone, but the woman got me a single seat in an aisle with pretty good visibility.
This War Memorial Auditorium was not for the biggest acts. For example, we saw the Crosby Stills and Nash reunion tour there but Paul McCartney played the adjoining Coliseum, that was also where I took my daughters to a rap show (DMX etc.) which had the worst sound I have ever heard, and in an earlier era, my older daughter and her friend to Huey Lewis and the News with Robert Cray opening (terrible sound).
There was a lot of criticism of the sound at War Memorial Auditorium, nonetheless CSNY sounded superb in there, whereas Merle Haggard was sometimes difficult to hear!! The telecasters, which were invented to drown out rednecks in bars. I am not sure what was happening to the sound.
The maestro came on after a few opening acts. I am not completely sure but I think all were relations in some way... His son, his son's fiance (anyway, there was a kind of a trashy woman who sang a song about being happy because she had $10 and it was a Saturday night). The opening acts were brief, the whole experience was brief, I think I was home within two hours of leaving, but that was enough time for most of the audience to get really drunk.
Sitting next to me was a daughter and her father. I thought this was nice because my daughters and I share the love of country and western and Merle Haggard songs- they have performed "The Way I Am" with me frequently, so in replacement of being with them I could kind of bond with this young lady and her father. They talked about hoping Haggard would play "That's the Way Love Goes"---another favorite of mine from the Lefty Frizzell song book, and also a favorite of my daughters in general. But pretty soon, all they were talking about what "Gettin' more vodka!" and "I'm goin' back there to get some more vodka!" and "time for a refill." By the time Merle did That's the Way Love Goes," the old gent was passed out, slumped in his chair, and the daughter could not wake him up.
Merle ended with "Okie from Muskogee" and the band swung out instrumentally on the chords while Merle himself, I think left the building! This gave me the idea of doing my own version bebop style as well.
When he had started "The Way I Am" after a brief intro about the songwriter Sonny Throckmorton, his acoustic guitar was inaudible and the audience was yabbering. He told them to shut up.
I don't think I have witnessed such bad drinking at gigs since the days of reviewing shows like Blue Oyster Cult in Calgary at the hockey rink! And they had to sneak that drinking- it was not legal in there. But now, the way these shows are, they have a bar open the whole time and it isn't like the bartender is turning anyone down when they are staggering.
But I don't go to that many shows!
PSF: How do you feel about the later recordings by Johnny Cash?
EC: Cashing in, are you?
Have I told you the story about the Swedish cab driver who got to host Johnny Cash and June Carter for the evening? Let me know.
I am guessing you are referring to the body of work done by Rick Rubin for Def American/American Recordings though I am going to mention a few other things as well.
I am not sure if Mr. Rubin is responsible for other productions in this vein with Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot (?)... I suppose there are lots of performers you could sit down with just an acoustic guitar and come up with great albums.
For a producer to understand such a simple idea in the midst of an industry drowning in waves of unneeded complication is something I always watch for... Like the idea to record "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd practically live.
It is hard to say enough about these Rubin recordings of Cash, the experience inspired Cash so much! I really love The Man Comes Around. But I would like to be even more familiar with these discs, I don't own them all. Cash's performance of "If You Could Read My Mind" is something I remember hearing and thinking it was breathtaking. Also later in Johnny's career, he was part of several all-star enterprises that I find enjoyable. The Highwaymen was maybe not so memorable to me for any recordings, although I am sure they are all enjoyable enough. I just remember a television special where the four of them were high in the Swiss Alps- Waylon, Willie, Johnny, Kris. And they were being serenaded at a fruhstucke by waitresses in drindls yodeling and dudes in lederhosen blasting away on Alpen horns. The four guys looked like they had not been up that early and out in the sunshine forever... overstoned.
A record I do think gets overlooked is Cash and Nelson, a concert or broadcast trading songs on stage, they really do some great versions of the songs, especially "Drive On."
PSF: You know how much I love stories about Swedish cab drivers! What happened to the one who met Cash and Carter?
EC: One of my favorite travel "legs" is the overnight boat between Stockholm and Helsinki... "The "Silja Line." I am already excited to be starting another journey on this boat, this time with my eventual destination St. Petersburg and Moscow.
I am picked up by a cabbie at the home of Larry, owner of Larry's Bookstore where I did a gig the night before. The first thing the driver does is put on "Crazy" by Patsy Cline, so I said 'good choice.' He praised me for recognizing but said 'of course, you are a musician.'
Then he tells me how his best friend was the biggest country and western promoter in Sweden, the first guy to bring the big stars, and he goes through a whole list of all the people he met because he got to help out with the shows, especially the hospitality. "The nicest, kindest, best people were Johnny Cash and June Carter!" he says.
He goes on to say the couple had a night off during their Swedish dates and he was put in charge of entertaining them. He met them at their hotel and went through various options including a nighttime sightseeing tour, hitting nightclubs, fancy restaurant blah blah. He says June Carter asked if there was any way they could have an evening at a family home, sit by a fire and just relax? "This was something we could easily do at my house, and my wife would be thrilled, so I said, well, you could come to my house and we have a nice downstairs den with a fireplace, and we could make some food. "They were thrilled! It was just what they wanted to do." And when June got into the kitchen she asked if they could make spaghetti." That's what she wanted. I think they made it with Bolognese sauce (hamburger) but I am not sure on that detail. I always loved this story.
When the guy dropped me off he claimed playing the Patsy Cline track was a test he did for every passenger--"If they recognize it, they ride for free!' But I had already paid him... refund? "No," he said, "Musicians are not allowed free. They will always know Patsy Cline."
And as detailed in Dreamory having her playing in the car kept us from trouble with the police late at night between Chapel Hill and Greensboro.
Coincidentally, the morning I asked if I had told you this story, I read an amusing article about the tendency to try to sanitize the English language and not use certain insulting terms, one of which is to describe something as "crazy." This was an insult to mentally ill people, but the writer asked if seriously we were going to be made to stop listening to Patsy Cline!
I don't know if this is going on in Danish or Japanese... well I am happy they want to retire calling a muscle shirt a "wife beater" but as for some of it...
PSF: Earlier you brought up the issue of race, which is also something you touched upon in your writing for AllMusic. In your review of Pickin' the Blues by Doc & Merle Watson write:"[A] great amount of work has gone into segregating black and white music throughout the United States (...) Jesse Helms would no doubt be proud of how much energy has gone into making it seem like the black and white musicians of his home state of North Carolina had absolutely nothing to do with each other over the years."As you said, Charlie Pride is probably the most well-know example of a black country artist. On p. 20 of his book Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes, Willie Nelson calls him "One of the best country singers I know."
Another fascinating example is Swamp Dogg, who co-wrote "She's All I Got" which got recorded by Johnny Paycheck and also put out country-tinged material himself- for example on his most recent album, Sorry You Couldn't Make It (2020).
Have you listened much to either Pride or Swamp Dogg? Are they important to you?
EC: I have not heard Swamp Dogg. As for Pride he is admirable but I couldn't tell you the name of one of his songs so obviously he is not so important to me. My only reference to his is the little imitation of his singing that is part of the lyrics to "You Never Even Called Me By My Name."
PSF: Apparently Frank Zappa was quite ambivalent about country, but he did write a couple of songs drawing on the style: "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" (1971: 200 Motels), "It Just Might Be A One-Shot Deal" (1972: Waka/Jawaka), "Harder Than Your Husband" (1981: You Are What You Is) and "Truck Driver Divorce" (1984: Them Or Us), and probably more I can't think of right now. Do you think Zappa contributed anything of interest here?
EC: Unexpected! But I guess I can comment, since I like any excuse to complain about Zappa but more important, I did study and work up a couple of those songs during the relationship with Jimmy Carl.
For me, the most important influence of Zappa was his editing techniques, undoubtedly. The revelation that I could make fun of the hippies was of much less value in terms of my life. In music, in general, he changed the perception of what a so-called "rock band" could perform onstage. From this point of view and the fact that many musicians of all persuasions like Zappa, I would imagine he would have had such influence on just about any kind of music, yet his influence on C&W is probably less than a good macaroni and cheese recipe.
"Lonesome Cowboy Bert" is classic Zappa and not so much anti-country or country deconstruction as a laugh about certain types of rednecks, of which there are many such songs in country music.. It is also Zappa whipping out a complex song structure--different sections and bridges, key changes, a choral section--that was something of a challenge to pull off as a duo, but necessary because people were going to request it every night. During our last tour of Japan, Jimmy was against singing it. Initially, he said he'd grown tired of it but later admitted the real reason was because of his lung cancer (yet to be diagnosed) something felt wrong and couldn't yodel- that ruined it for him.
My associate David Doyle pointed out "Harder Than Your Husband" to me when I first was gathering material for the duo with Jimmy Carl. Doyle had been keeping up with Zappa more than me. I found this to be a "one joke" country song and a stupid one at that, in line with the basic level of Zappa's humor as it became pitched at 14 year olds? If you can get beyond the one joke, then there is some pathos as the narrator is basically putting himself down and warning away the lover---again, fairly typical country and western material.
I am not aware of the other pieces you mention, I have heard bits of country, rockabilly and so forth mixed into the arrangements of various live Zappa I have listened to. Schroeder arranges his driving listening in alphabetical order so there was a tour where there was quite a bit. He does create a pastiche that over the years that quotes from just about any pop music style. And to put a bit of country into that here and there is easy to pull off. I was happy to hear Jimmy was paid well and treated like royalty when he went out to LA to record "Harder."
See Part III of our Eugene Chadbourne interview
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