Written Jane Ponte

A couple of weeks ago I was presented with the opportunity to chat with music provocateur Kinky Friedman. At first, I was a bit intimidated by the thought of having a conversation with the Kinkster. He’s the stuff legends are made of, in my humble opinion. And while his outspoken demeanor may occasionally ruffle a few feathers, the fact remains that he’s a national treasure and a Texas icon. So when I agreed to speak with Kinky about his current tour and new album, I wasn’t quite sure just what I’d just gotten myself into. Turns out he was every bit as kind and engaging as I’d hoped he’d be, and, at age 75, is still full of the same caustic wit and wisdom he’s bestowed upon the public since he hit the Texas music scene in the early 70s.

Friedman, who was a chess prodigy at age 7, a candidate for both agricultural commissioner and governor of Texas, and who has released almost 20 albums and written more than 30 books, is still going strong at the tender age of 75. Having just had a birthday, I was eager to chat with him, see what he’s been up to, and talk to him about his current tour in support of his newest release, Resurrection (Echo Hill Records, 2019).

One thing is for certain when it comes to dialing up the Kinkster on a random Saturday afternoon and expecting it to be a run-of-the-mill Q &A session—it’s not gonna go down like that. When it comes to talking to Kinky Friedman, it’s best to just hope he answers the phone, and then just sit back and enjoy the ride, which is exactly what I did.

After exchanging pleasantries and wishing him a happy belated birthday, Friedman launched into a lively spiel about the new album. It was clear that he’s extremely proud of it, and rightfully so. Produced by multi-instrumentalist, 3-time Grammy winner Larry Campbell, this 11-track release could, in my opinion, be Friedman’s best release yet. After going nearly 40 years without releasing any new music, Resurrection seems, in a way, to be the sequel to Circus of Life, (Echo Hill Records, 2018). But while Circus of Life was full of Friedman’s trademark sardonic wit and wry observations about life and its cast of characters in a more stripped-down, acoustic style of delivery, Resurrection seems to tie up a few loose ends from the previous release with a more rootsy, Americana-infused vibe that at times seems almost poignant, while at the same time sounding current, fresh, and radio-ready. “I wanted to make a record with the world’s greatest producer, but Phil Spector wasn’t available,” quipped Friedman. “So Larry and I decided to work together, and I’m very pleased with the results. Larry outdid himself on this record, and it’s just great. I think a lot of people are going to hear this record, which makes me very happy. You can do something great, but to get it played on the radio; well, that’s another story. It was Bob Dylan’s original goal and I think it is mine as well. I think that Larry has produced something that has a great shot of making it to the radio.”

The 11-track release consists of all original material, with 4 tracks co-written by Doc Elliot. Themes on this record range from love to mortality to the human condition in general, and Friedman’s somewhat raspy and gritty vocals are showcased in such a way that his humanity resonates throughout all 11 tracks. The record is real, it is relevant, and it is a breath of fresh air compared to much of the insipid drivel that is being overproduced and shoved down music aficionados’ throats these days. The title track, which features his long-time pal Willie Nelson, is a beautiful reflection about getting older, receiving second chances, and the mystery of how life isn’t always fair. It is a brilliant song that leaves the listener feeling a bit more grateful simply by having heard it and seems to be the most autobiographical tune on the album, with the exception of “Blind Kinky Friedman,” which—obviously– is also self-referential, but far less sentimental than “Resurrection.”

Other masterpieces on the release include “Dog in the Sky” and “Greater Cincinnati.” The former was written for his beloved 4-legged friend, Mr. P, who passed away a few years ago. “Really, I still miss Mr. P every day,“ Friedman stated. “The coyotes got him, and I’m still not over losing that dog. He was a best friend.”

The latter tune is getting some airplay, including being played on Outlaw Country stations on Sirius radio, and I recently heard it on one of the local college stations in the area, which is indicative of the notion that despite the Kinkster being a tad long in the tooth, he has garnered a following among a younger crowd. Part of that may be due to the 4 songs he co-wrote with Doc Elliot, a 23-year songwriter that Friedman met in San Diego. “I thought he was just some homeless kid,” said Friedman. “He ended up coming out to the ranch and we just clicked,” he said, referring to Echo Hill Ranch, where he and his 6 dogs (whom he affectionately refers to as “The Friedmans”) live. “Some of these songs had always been in my head, like ‘Greater Cincinnati.’ But working with Doc was great–our chemistry just works.”

What also works on this album are the arrangements by Campbell and the contributions by Bill Payne on keys, Campbell on pedal steel and backing vocals, Dennis McDermott on drums, and Lincoln Schleifer on bass. Their chemistry is also palpable, and shines a bright, refreshing light throughout the entire release. They are a far cry from Friedman’s days with The Texas Jewboys, when Friedman delighted in being as politically incorrect and outlandish as possible and wrote and performed songs such as “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” and “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed.”

These days, Friedman may seem a bit more sentimental and politically correct, but he was quick to tell me that the first cut on the album, “Mandela’s Blues,” written about Nelson Mandela’s 27-year long incarceration, stemmed from his finding out that night after night, when Mandela was locked away on Robben Island, he would play Friedman’s “Ride ‘em Jewboy” every night for 3 years straight. While on a book tour in South Africa, Friedman met Tokyo Sexwale, an anti-apartheid activist who occupied the cell next to Mandela and told Friedman that the song was “a lullaby of sorts” for Mandela all those years. In “Mandela’s Blues,” Friedman acknowledges Mandela’s sacrifice for the greater good of his country, but also told me, “Tokyo made sure to tell me not to get too excited over it all. Just because the guy listened to my song every night doesn’t mean I was his favorite singer—that honor went to Dolly Parton.”

Other gems on the new album include, “Me & Billy Swan, “ “The Bridge That Wouldn’t Burn,” and “Carryin’ the Torch.” All three songs are introspective, tender, and perfectly produced—“but not over-produced”—by Campbell. In short, the entire record is a masterpiece—one I am supremely grateful to have stumbled across, simply by agreeing to interview the iconic (and surprisingly sweet) Kinky Friedman.

Friedman is currently touring in support of Resurrection, and will be at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston, TX on November 23rd for 2 shows, and The Old Quarter Acoustic Café in Galveston on November 25th   for one show as well. Tickets are going fast, but there are still a few available for all 3 shows. Don’t miss your chance to see this iconic, legendary performer while he’s in town, and make sure you wish him a belated happy birthday. He’s come a long way from the days of The Texas Jewboys, to running for office and writing mystery novels (look for “The Tin Can Telephone” out sometime next year) and touring with Bob Dylan or partying with Iggy Pop, John Belushi, or Bill Clinton. He’s still rescuing stray dogs, plans to start a new foundation with his sister to help the children of first responders, and, according to him, is “pretty proud of the fact that I’m 75 and can read at a 77-year old level. I’m still making original, fresh music, and I’m not finished yet.” Finally, some good news we can all agree on. Thanks, Kinkster.

~Jane Ponte