Dale Watson & Ray Benson/City Winery/April 10, 2017
A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ray Benson formed western swing band Asleep At The Wheel in 1970 and in 1973 took the advice of Willie Nelson and relocated the band to Austin, Texas. Traditionalist country music artist Dale Watson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, grew up outside of Pasadena, Texas, and was based in Houston, Los Angeles and Nashville before settling in Austin. Since both musicians were based in the same town, it seemed inevitable that the two would eventually record together an album of vintage-sounding country music. Dale & Ray was released on January 6, 2017.
At City Winery, it became clear almost immediately that there would be as much joking as singing during the show, as the lively camaraderie between Dale Watson and Ray Benson led to more corny punch lines than an old-time episode of Hee-Haw. Fortunately, their larger-than-life personalities did not overshadow their music, but actually gave the songs a context. For instance, the audience learned that Watson bought a tour bus from Benson, but it turned out to be a lemon; instead of a bad deal turning their relationship sour, it inspired a tongue-in-cheek song, “Bus Breakdown.” The two baritones sang well, both separately and together, and led their band through original songs and covers of the Louvin Brothers’ “I Wish I Knew,” Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” Merle Haggard’s “Misery and Gin,” Willie Nelson’s “Write Your Own Songs” and others. The set was light and whimsical, occasionally a little naughty, with a deliberately unfiltered Texas swagger.
Dave Davies/City Winery/April 12, 2017
Dave Davies was born in North London, England, and grew up playing skiffle, but then bought an electric guitar and started experimenting with rock. Dave and his older brother Ray Davies jammed together in the front room of their house with and their friend, bassist Pete Quaife. Dave founded The Kinks with Quaife in 1963, Ray joined soon after and became the singer and leader of the band, and finally drummer Mick Avory joined and made the group a quintet. The Kinks joined the 1960s British Invasion and hit with “You Really Got Me” and several more singles. The band hit again with “Lola” in 1970 and again with a few more songs in the early 1980s. By 1985, The Kinks’ records failed to chart altogether. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, but this did not revive The Kinks’ popularity. The Kinks went on hiatus in 1996. Dave Davies released his first solo single in 1967 and his first solo album in 1980. His eighth and most recent solo album, Open Road, was released on March 31, 2017.
Dave Davies suffered a stroke in 2004, and by 2006 was able to resume walking, talking and playing guitar. At City Winery, he seemed back in form. Davies was the only guitarist on stage and seemed to play leads more prominently than on previous tours. This tour the music was considerably heavier, as Davies led a power trio with bassist David Nolte, formerly of The Last, and drummer Dennis Diken of The Smithereens; “You Really Got Me” sounded more like the Van Halen version than the original Kinks version. Never known to be a good singer, his vocals have improved consistently since his stroke, but still lack the finesse to reach a wider audience. The audience came to enjoy the legacy of The Kinks, however, and Davies responded by performing only two songs from his new album and all the rest from The Kinks era. Nearly all the songs were more hard rocking than their original versions and the mid-period songs lacked the intricate arrangements of the studio recordings, but perhaps this made the performance interesting rather than paint-by-numbers.
Robby Krieger Of The Doors/City Winery/April 16, 2017
Robby Krieger was born in Los Angeles, California, where his first exposure to music was classical. When he was seven, he began listening to early rock and roll on the radio. At age 10, he tried briefly to learn to play the trumpet, but soon preferred playing the blues on his parents’ piano. While in boarding school in Menlo Park, California, he used his nightly study time to teach himself the guitar. In the mid-1960s, Krieger took lessons in flamenco guitar, then learned folk, blues, and jazz, and played in a jug band, the Back Bay Chamber Pot Terriers. Krieger became a member of The Doors in 1965 after keyboard player Ray Manzarek’s brothers left the group. Led by vocalist Jim Morrison, The Doors became rock music royalty. After Morrison’s death in 1971, Krieger, Manzarek and drummer John Densmore continued The Doors as a trio until 1973. Krieger then formed the Butts Band with Densmore and then recorded solo albums as a jazz-fusion guitarist in the late 1970s and 1980s, and led bands called the Robby Krieger Organization and the Robby Krieger Band in the 1990s. Krieger and Manzarek reformed as The Doors Of The 21st Century in 2002 with vocalist Ian Astbury of The Cult. Densmore disputed the use of The Doors name, and so the band became Riders On The Storm, Ray Manzarek And Robby Krieger Of The Doors, and finally, Manzarek–Krieger. Krieger currently tours as Robby Krieger Of The Doors. His seventh and most recent solo album is 2010’s Singularity.
In recent years, Krieger reverted from jazz fusion experimentation to jamming with Doors cover bands. He relearned The Doors catalogue as it was originally recorded, without extra flourishes. The concert by “Robby Krieger Of The Doors” at City Winery was a Doors tribute concert from beginning to end, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album. For those who came to hear live versions of familiar favorites by what was essentially a Krieger-led cover band, they got what they needed. The band’s ability to mimic the classic records was also the downfall of the concert. Live, The Doors was the world’s most unpredictable band, but 50 years later its guitarist was leading the most predictable of all bands. Instead of volatile and alive, all the dynamics were pre-fitted and pre-fabricated to where one could only be in awe as to how inferior this band was compared to the original. Krieger’s son, Waylon Krieger, sang all the Morrison parts, and one could only speculate that nepotism secured him the job. The band stretched out a bit towards the end, but it was too little too late. The concert had no mojo rising.
Kinky Friedman/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/April 17, 2017
Richard “Kinky” Friedman was born in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up on a ranch in central Texas. In the mid-1960s, as a university student in Austin, Texas, Friedman formed his first band, King Arthur & The Carrots, which lampooned the then-current surf music fad. Chinga Chavin gave Friedman the nickname “Kinky” because of Friedman’s curly hair. By 1971, Friedman had formed his second band, Kinky Friedman & The Texas Jewboys. The band became known for satirical lyrics, social commentary and hard-luck country songs, but had little commercial success and split in 1979. Friedman moved to New York, where he performed regularly at the Lone Star Café. Friedman’s musical career stalled in the 1980s, and he began writing a series of mystery novels. He also entered into politics and was a candidate for Justice of the Peace in 1986 and governor of Texas in 2016, losing in both elections. Inspired by an encouraging telephone call from Willie Nelson, Friedman plans to release Zoey, an album of new songs, later this year. He is based near Kerrville, Texas, where he founded an animal rescue ranch to care for stray, abused and aging animals.
At B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Friedman initially took the stage alone with just an acoustic guitar. Later in the set, he welcomed the opening acts, Brian Molnar and Joe Cirotti, to play guitar with him. Compared to the raucous country singer he once was, this set was remarkably tame, as Friedman whispered into the microphone on most songs. Between songs, he told many stories, but sometimes got lost in the telling. Late into the set, he read a lengthy passage from one of his books, A Guide to Texas Etiquette. One of his colleagues, Brian Kanof, auctioned bottles of Friedman’s tequila to benefit Friedman’s animal rescue cause. While the set was filled with Friedman’s light-hearted witticisms, its lack of momentum kept the show perhaps too soft and slow. Friedman is still a character, but not the effervescent and energetic entertainer of his past.