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A call or package from local DJ/archivist Johnny Dixon is usually cause for celebration. The noted Arizona musicologist has an encyclopedic knowledge of the state's rich musical heritage and an ear for the obscure. While Dixon is usually touting the unknown, the most recent project he's connected with is a new concert album from Phoenix's preeminent country legend Waylon Jennings. The disc, The Restless Kid: Live at JD's, captures Jennings and band in top form during some of their regular gigs at the legendary honky-tonk in 1964 and 1965. As Dixon's authoritative liner notes point out, the club, once located near the river bottom on the Tempe/Scottsdale border, was an aesthetic rarity in the world of Valley nightlife -- a double-decker stage and dance floor built specifically to house Jennings' prodigious talents by promoter Jim Musil. If memory serves, the location is currently home to a futon store or waterbed outlet, instead of the protected historical site it rightly should be (the original JD's building, later renamed Scene West, burned to the ground in 1976).The cover-heavy set is at times stunningly intimate (check the audible intra-band banter on the opener "Just to Satisfy You") and equally raucous, especially on get-'em-dancing interpretations of "Memphis, Tennessee" and "Hi Heeled Sneakers." The disc features plenty of other stabs at early rock 'n' roll, including Jennings' takes on a pair of Roy Orbison signatures: "Dream Baby" and "Candy Man."
As one might expect, there are plenty of country standards included in the set, with Jennings favoring the work of twang tunesmiths like Harlan Howard ("Heartaches for a Dime," "Still in Town"), John D. Loudermilk ("Th' Wife") and Whisperin' Bill Anderson ("Alpha and Omega"), as well as traditional arcana like "Sloop John B," "I'm Gonna Marry Polly Ann" and "Streets of Laredo."
He also takes on Dylan, a fairly bold move for a hard-core honky-tonk artist at the time, considering that the Great White Wonder was just then raising hackles for "going electric" at Newport. But Jennings summons his best efforts for the lilting "Girl From the North Country" and a Johnny Cash-styled redux of "It Ain't Me Babe."
Jennings' original backing band, the Waylors -- longtime drummer Ritchie Albright, bassist Paul Foster and guitarist Jerry Groop -- aims for and captures the tight-knit Tele-kineticism that marked the work of Buck Owens and his Buckaroos, especially on Owens staples like "Excuse Me" and "I Don't Care." Still, Jennings' big pipes keep most of the focus front and center, as he showcases both the brilliant range and singular style that would earn him a contract with RCA and see him move to Nashville just a few months later.
Taken from never-before-released tapes recorded by bassist Foster, the album's release comes courtesy of Germany's Bear Family imprint. Last year the label put out a pair of multidisc Jennings boxed sets. The first, The Journey: Destiny's Child, is a compilation documenting his pre-1968 material (which includes a complete version of Jennings' debut album, Waylon at JD's-- actually a batch of early '60s Phoenix studio recordings). The second, Six Strings Away, chronicles his post-Arizona, pre-Outlaw period offerings. For those not in the habit of dropping two to three hundred dollars for exhaustive boxed sets, a more modestly priced (and sized) Bear Family collection is 1995's single-disc anthology Clovis to Phoenix: The Early Years. All of those selections and the new The Restless Kid: Live at JD's are available in stores or from Bear Family online at www.bear-family.de/.
Number Crunching: It's been a busy week for 4614, the local hard-core funk-rap combo led by former Bldg 5 guitarist Kevin Dye. First, they followed in the footsteps of local rap-metalers Bionic Jive by taping an appearance on the USA Network's music talent search program Farmclub.com. The group is also putting the finishing touches on its debut full-length, Cut Throat Logic. Reportedly, the band is shopping the disc, with interested parties including the DreamWorks label. In fact, the group is set to open a show for potential labelmate Henry Rollins at the Nile Theater this weekend (see the story).
The band will also shoot footage for a video during its June 17 performance with Oil at the Bash on Ash. Group members have been involved in a spate of side projects and guest work recently. 4614 mouthpiece Brian Hacker is set to work on a song with local boys Big Shot Allstars for its upcoming Mammoth Records debut. Meanwhile, guitarist Dye has lent his talents to a local hip-hop side project called The 10 Commandments, which features members of Underground Empire and Know Qwestion. The 10 Commandments, by the way, opened up a show for Def Jam rapper Jay-Z this past week in Philadelphia.
Mind Jam Traffic Report: The past few weeks have brought a deluge of calls about the annual Earth Mother Mind Jam. In its 10th year, the two-day event held in Flagstaff is being billed as an "independent multicultural art festival with a focus on sustainable living that celebrates the family and respect for Mother Earth. Seeking to create a better global community one community at a time." Right. While we could happily spend the remainder of this column making snide-assed remarks and wisecracks about wheat germ and basket weaving, we will instead use the space to expound on the festival's merits, of which there are many.
Chief among them is the scheduled appearance of Native American rock trio Blackfire. The group, which hails from Black Mesa, plays a socially and politically charged blend of alt-rock, punk and ska that separates them from the bulk of FM party radio fodder. Blackfire's punk cred is bolstered by the fact that C.J. Ward of Ramones fame served as producer for the group's last long-player.
The trio -- composed of siblings Klee (guitar, vocals), Clayson (drums) and Jeneda Benally (bass) -- has been making waves with its focused and serious message, which stems from the Benallys' birth into the Big Mountain section of the Navajo Nation, an area whose recent history has been marked by a serious land dispute. While its success at home and abroad (the group recently toured Europe and won raves in the overseas music press) has been growing, the group continues to keep its connection to the indigenous community with day jobs as breeders, raising churro sheep, whose wool is used to create hand-woven rugs, a key cultural and religious element of Navajo life. The musicians also double as part of their father's traditional dance troupe, the Jones Benally Dancers. Jones Benally and his wife, Berta (an Anglo folk artist), are also scheduled to perform at the Mind Jam.
The Mind Jam will have plenty of local flavor as well. A small army of Valley bands will make the trek north, including Big Blue Couch, Tolerance, Fred Green, Buddha Base Process and the Hammertoes, among many others.
The event will also feature daily screenings of independent films focusing on the environment, poetry and spoken-word readings and, get this, daily workshops featuring healing arts demos, Zen shiatsu, intuition, incense making, t'ai chi, reflexology, yoga, live paintings and chi lel and chi gung. Anyone who knows Bash & Pop knows there's nothing I enjoy more than some serious chi lel and chi gung action.
The festival is being held at the Coconino County Fairgrounds (off I-17 at Pullman exit 337) on Saturday and Sunday, May 27 and 28, starting at 10 a.m. For more information, go online to www.earthmothermindjam.org or call Zepicon Productions at 480-894-9894.