Shotgun Franny

Local blues diva gets some Texas-size love from the Red-Headed Stranger

When she traveled to Austin last November to make a guest appearance on Willie Nelson's new album, Milk Cow Blues, veteran Phoenix diva Francine Reed expected only to contribute vocals to the title track. But things got interesting after she and Nelson wrapped up their languid reworking of the 1934 Kokomo Arnold classic. Nelson was so impressed by her performance that he insisted she stick around and help out on another song.

"He said, 'I wrote a song called "Funny How Time Slips Away" many years ago. Do you know it, Francine?'" Reed recalls. "I said, 'Of course I know it.'"

As a result, that's Reed you hear crooning with Nelson on the signature 1961 weeper. "Everybody thought it came out really well," adds Reed, who relocated to Atlanta some eight years ago but continues to make regular Valley appearances. "Willie gave me a lot of props there. He's just an absolute sweetheart of a guy."

Boston pop-punk legends the Real Kids rave on at the 
Emerald Lounge this week.
Boston pop-punk legends the Real Kids rave on at the Emerald Lounge this week.
It could happen: Dead Hot Workshop kicks off a 
mini-reunion tour this Thursday at Long Wong's.
It could happen: Dead Hot Workshop kicks off a mini-reunion tour this Thursday at Long Wong's.

Reed gives the song a brilliant reading, her sweet-soul vocals and jazzy phrasing evoking memories of Carla Thomas and Etta James. In fact, the Nelson/Reed effort is one of the better versions of a song which has been covered to death (200-plus times according to the All Music Guide) by everyone from Elvis Presley to Jim Nabors.

Reed wasn't the only guest star on the album, an exercise in the blues on which B.B. King, Dr. John, Jonny Lang and Jimmie Vaughn help Nelson rework standards both old ("Ain't Nobody's Business," "Outskirts of Town") and relatively new ("Texas Flood," "The Thrill Is Gone"). And though Reed got more than she bargained for in Austin, the initial invitation was no surprise. Nelson's wife is a longtime admirer of Reed's work, including the 10 years she spent as part of Lyle Lovett's Large Band.

Meanwhile, Reed's in the early stages of what looks to be a lengthy period of preproduction for her own album, a follow-up to 1999's Shades of Blue (still available on her Web site, Contributing to the delay: the fact that Reed's label, Platinum Records, went out of business earlier this year.

"That's the second record company that's closed their doors on me," says Reed. "I'm not real lucky with those things. So I'm shopping for a new record company, or I may sell my CDs online. Or if somebody wants to give me a whole lot of money to put out a record, I'll do that. Whichever comes first, I'll bite."

Dead Hot Comeback: In a local music scene where genuine "events" are few and far between, the rapid-fire reunion of Dead Hot Workshop's classic lineup certainly qualifies. There wasn't much advance notice on this one, but the band members -- Brent Babb, Steve Larson, Curtis Grippe and G. Brian Scott -- wanted it that way. Their hastily announced 9 p.m. appearance Thursday (yes, that's this Thursday, October 12) at Long Wong's in Tempe is the first step in a mini-reunion tour that will see the group perform several other "secret" shows before staging a full-scale outdoor extravaganza in November.

Thursday's show will mark the first time the quartet has performed together in nearly four years, but it's not the first time the group has attempted a comeback. Dead Hot made an ill-fated return just last year, adding two new members, bassist Steve Flores and guitarist Chris Whitehouse. The combo performed semi-regularly in town, and played a truly stellar set at Austin's South by Southwest conference. However, the chemistry of the band -- Whitehouse's woefully misplaced playing in particular -- was clearly flawed.

With the return of guitarist Larson (who spends most of his time these days being underused in Roger Clyne's Peacemakers) and bassist Scott (back performing after his departure from the Gas Giants), the stage is set for some heavy nostalgia Thursday night. The band's setlist will be comprised entirely of older material, including some long-forgotten chestnuts. Call us sentimental, but we're especially looking forward to the "Taco Bell Song/Fuck No" medley.

Felice Navidad: Listening to a band in a Tempe club a few years back, a friend turned and pointed to a group of women standing at the bar.

"You see the one in the middle? That's John Felice's sister."

This was an exciting moment, a fleeting brush with royalty.

"Wow, that's John Felice's sister?"

Unfortunately, most folks -- even those enlightened souls who own and cherish their Flamin' Groovies and Sneakers albums -- wouldn't know John Felice from John Tesh, and certainly wouldn't know his sister Mary Jo, a longtime Valley scenester, at all.

Among the scores of overlooked and unappreciated power-pop stars, Felice and his band, The Real Kids, rank high on the all-time list. And in what's a likely bet for the rock 'n' roll show of the year, the Boston-based band will make a stop in the Valley next Thursday, October 19, for a 9 p.m. show at the Emerald Lounge. (The triple bill also includes a pair of girl guitar groups, L.A.'s the Pinkz -- going strong with a new single, featuring a cover of the Beat's "USA" -- and locals the Peeps.)

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