Kinky Friedman on 12/02/12

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Kinky Friedman -- Larry Pullen

Photo by Larry Pullen

Like so many cool people in the boom generation, Kinky Friedman first saw the world through the Peace Corps in the sixties. Kinky did his PC time in Borneo as an agriculture extension worker, wherein he introduced the Frisbee to the natives and taught farming techniques to people who had been farming successfully for thousands of years. But it was in Borneo that Kinky began to write the tunes that would propel the rest of his life.

Kinky had formed his first band, King Arthur & the Carrots while a student at the University of Texas, prior to his Peace Corps stint, but when he returned to the states, he really got serious with his second band, Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys, the unit for which he is most famous, musically.

For his first album, Kinky released ‘Sold American’ in 1973 for Vanguard Records. His repertoire mixed social commentary (‘We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You’) and maudlin ballads (‘Western Union Wire’) with raucous humor (such as ‘Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed’). His ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ was an extended tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, and one of his most famous tunes from this session, ‘They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,’ is still on many hip playlists.

In the mid-’70s, Friedman and the Jewboys toured with Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Revue. By 1976 he had recorded his third album, ‘Lasso From El Paso,’ featuring appearances by Dylan and Eric Clapton. The Texas Jewboys disbanded less than three years later, and Friedman moved to New York, where he became a Sunday night fixture at the legendary Lone Star Cafe. His performances, often featuring guests like Robin Williams and John Belushi, were equally legendary.

During the seventies, Kinky set several high water marks in his early performance career. In 1975, Friedman and the band taped an Austin City Limits show which was never aired. According to the show’s executive producer, Terry Lickona, this was the only time in the show’s long history that an episode went unaired. Lickona told the Austin Chronicle “I’ve seen it many times – I think it was a great show, and it might be as offensive today as it was back then.”

Kinky was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in October 1976, the first year of SNL, and he claims to have been the first full-blooded Jew to take the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Apparently, this is true.

Starting in the early eighties, Friedman shifted his creative focus to writing detective novels, after a bizarre incident at an ATM machine. Kinky spotted a woman being robbed and dashed to her rescue. The episode unleashed Kinky Friedman the private detective and sparked a series of detective novels that have become world-famous. Featuring a fictionalized version of himself solving crimes in New York City and dispensing jokes, wisdom, recipes, charm and Jameson’s whiskey in equal measure, the books are written in a straightforward style which owes a certain debt to Raymond Chandler, though Kinky has also quite fairly been referred to as the “Mark Twain of Texas.”

Kinky continued to tour throughout the eighties, this time in support of his novels, and a series of international publishing deals took that touring around the globe. During this period, his musings began appearing in such places as the New York Times, Playboy and Texas Monthly (where he later began a regular column).

Ebooks and audio books (read by Kinky, himself) of all his great detective novels are all available on line.

In 1986, Kinky took a break from writing and touring to try something new – politics. He ran for justice of the peace in his home town of Kerrville, Texas. Though he lost the race, he did discover a passion for politics. It would be another eighteen years, but he would revisit that arena.

In the nineties, Kinky began branching out with more personal writings, as he wound down the detective series. Since then he has discussed everything from social mores (‘Kinky Friedman’s Guide To Texas Etiquette: Or How To Get To Heaven Or Hell Without Going Through Dallas-Fort Worth’) to armadillos (‘The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic: A “Walk” In Austin’). He’s even written a hit children’s book (‘The Christmas Pig: A Fable’).

In 2004, the Kinkster returned to the political field, this time daring the state of Texas to think big and elect him governor in 2006. Running on a shoestring budget, with help from folks like Jesse Ventura and his Minnesota team of political handlers, Kinky garnered over a half million votes – not good enough to win it, but good enough to influence Texas politics long onto the future. Kinky was the first candidate in the history of the state to make it onto the November ballot as an Independent candidate – astounding, considering his campaign motto: “Why the hell not?”

Kinky has become a darling of the cable news set, with appearances with folks as diverse as John Seigenthaler and Bill O’Reilly. He has also become a favorite featured speaker for all types of political events, left and right of the aisle.

In February 2007, Sustain Records released a compilation of the songs of Kinky Friedman sung by other artists called ‘Why the Hell Not…’ The compilation includes contributions by Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Kelly Willis, and is one of two Kinky tribute albums available today. More recently, hot rising star Jesse Dayton recorded a full cd of Kinky songs, which has been getting enormous interest in Nashville and around the US.

Meanwhile, Kinky continues to “spit out books like sunflower seeds,” with one currently available at his tour stops, ‘Heroes of a Texas Childhood,’ and a brand new co-write with old pal, Billy Bob Thornton, called ‘The Billy Bob Tapes – A Cave Full Of Ghosts’ (foreword by Angelina Jolie) now in stores everywhere. Even more exciting is the upcoming co-write with Willie Nelson, due in the fall of 2012, and titled, ‘Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I’m Gone.’

As if he needed to be more legendary, Kinky has now been immortalized on stage, with a play called ‘Becoming Kinky….the World According to Kinky Friedman.’ Written by Ted Swindley, who created the long-running hit ‘Always….Patsy Cline,’ the work is in previews in 2012, starring the afore-mentioned Jesse Dayton.

As the summer of 2012 heats up, Kinky has just finished the first leg of his fourth major tour in the last three years, Kinky Friedman’s BiPolar Tour. It followed his Springtime For Kinky Tour of middle America, his Go West Young Kinky west coast tour, and his tour of Australia with another legend, Van Dyke Parks, which some were tempted to call, Asunder Down Under, but which was a huge success. In the works for 2012-2013 are a Russian movie production of one of his books, another fantastic co-write with a good friend (details of which cannot be released yet), and a full Euro-tour. Meanwhile, the Kinkster, who has not officially ruled out another shot in the political arena, insists he be addressed by his proper and rightful title: ‘Governor of the Heart of Texas.’ The boot fits. And he’s wearing it.

(Photo by Brian Kanof.)