Welcome to Playlists, a series where we turn over the reigns to artists to curate the next big playlist
Gun control. Your blood is probably boiling right now. Regardless the side you stand on, it is an issue at a fevered pitch in our society these days. But the tireless screaming at each other has got to stop. How ’bout we take a breather and just listen to some damn good music? That’s what Johnny Dango does in a brand new playlist, dropping today on B-Sides & Badlands. Understandably, when tasked with putting together this lineup, it was a behemoth of a task. “This was tougher than it sounded at first,” he tells us.
“Luckily, I have a brain trust of spiritual advisors and life coaches who were able to help me focus long enough to put this list together. Once it got started, it was hard to stop, as songs just kept demanding to be included,” he continues.
The playlist centers on the them of “Guns,” which he already knows is gonna stir some hearty emotions. “[This] is bound to piss some people off, but oh well” he shrugs off. “I’m one of those rare and bizarre gun-loving liberals, and I also happen to believe in natural selection, so maybe it’ll work out and the super-sensitive easily-offended among us will go the way of the dodo bird. We can always hope.”
Dango’s brand new record, Dear Everybody, I Love You, seems to be an appropriate companion piece, a collection of heartfelt tunes (recorded exactly two years ago and delayed ’cause life got in the way) based on a startling, profound dream he had. “I died in this dream. I was killed by a famous musician. He didn’t mean to kill me, though, at least I don’t think so,” he recalls. “But we died all the same, both of us, and my last thought was a little prayer: dear everybody, I love you. I woke up right as I died in the dream with those words seared into my brain. I thought about it all day. And what do you know, it seemed like a pretty good album title for the collection of songs I was sitting on, which just so happened to be in need of a name since these things are supposed to be named.”
Below, Dango gives us the low-down on his playlist, holding our hand and imparting some insight along the way.
“16 shells from a 30.6” by Tom Waits
From ‘Swordfishtrombones,’ it’s the first record Waits produced himself. This isn’t the hip Beat poet piano man anymore, this is the howling Waits, with weird and wild percussion, distorted guitars and lyrics getting more and more abstract— also clear as grain alcohol: “gonna whittle you into kindling”; “and I blew me a hole ‘bout the size of a kick drum.”
“Happiness is a Warm Gun” & “Rocky Raccoon” by The Beatles
Double shot here, both off ‘The White Album,’ from John and Paul, respectively. While the album cuts are the classics, of course, the early takes that were shared on ‘Anthology 3’ are really worth checking out, particularly “Rocky Raccoon,” where Paul tells a slightly different story, cracking himself up in the process. And the doctor really was sminking!
“Down by the River” & “Powderfinger” by Neil Young
Another double shot here, since this playlist is all about guns. This one comes from the double barrel of Mr. Neil Young. The album version of “Down By The River” is perfectly good early Crazy Horse crunch, but Buddy Miles’ version is definitely worth checking out. Highly recommended. “Powderfinger” has a fascinating history. It never made an actual studio album until real recently, when Neil released ‘Hitchhiker,’ which is a collection of solo acoustic tracks from 1975 that were intended for ‘Chrome Dreams,’ an album which was never released. Neil sent the tape to Ronnie Van Zandt, and Lynyrd Skynyrd was going to cover “Powderfinger” on their next record. But then the plane crash happened. I saw Neil play it with Crazy Horse at Red Rocks a couple weeks after that jerk shot up the movie theater in Colorado. It was super heavy with emotion. And the Horse.
“Gimme Back My Bullets” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Speaking of Lynryd Skynyrd, they have a great song about gunplay, but it seems they don’t want their music on Spotify! And who can blame them?! So, seek out their own original version — the best version — in an ethical way. But in the meantime, there is a live version by Cheap Trick that is pretty heavy. It’s on the ‘One More For The Fans’ live album, which has some really cool covers and some, shall we say, interesting ones.
“Shootout on the Plantation” by Leon Russell
If you don’t love Leon Russell, there’s something wrong with you…and I mean that. And I don’t just say it as a fellow Okie and because Leon Russell, JJ Cale and Woody Guthrie are the three greatest gifts the 47th state has given to these United States and the world. I say it because if you can’t hear all of American music, from blues to jazz to gospel to country to folk, all rolled up into one rock ‘n roll joint and lit up, well, you got no taste. Sorry but not sorry. Man, Leon was even rapping before rap was a thing. No joke. He’s the baddest man that ever got on stage, and “Shootout on the Plantation” may just be the baddest thing he ever did. Funky, slinky, grooving jive.
“The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton
The original is perfect… right up until you hear what Leon Russell and JJ Cale did with it on Leon’s ‘Hank Wilson’s Back!’ They had serious help from some country music heavy hitters, including Billy Byrd, Charlie McCoy, Johnny Gimble, Bob Moore, Pete Drake and more. This song is history, actual American history, and country & rock history, too.
“Mexicali Blues” & “Me and My Uncle” by The Grateful Dead
Along with Leon Russell, Grateful Dead are American music to me, the full synthesis of all the varying genres and styles of the late 19th and early 20th century, all stewed together and a bubbling cauldron of acid, I guess. The Dead often paired “Mexicali Blues” with “El Paso” in live performances, but I’ve got a separate entry for “El Paso” below, because this entire playlist could have just as easily been made of Marty Robbins songs. I love Bob Weir’s cowboy songs, even though I know they drive a lot of Deadheads crazy. I have to think Jerry loved just sitting back and ripping the guitar while Bob sang, doing his own peculiar version of those Grady Martin guitar lines. “Mexicali Blues” sounds pretty light and fun, but those lyrics… it’s dark stuff! Underage girls and murder. That’s the blues all right. “Me and My Uncle” was written by John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas and has one heck of a twist at the end of the song. I just can’t help but listen to it, along with “Jack Straw” every single time I’m driving from Texas to Colorado.
“Big Iron” & “El Paso” by Marty Robbins
As mentioned above, Grateful Dead covered “El Paso” a lot, and it’s probably the most famous story song ever, and for good reason. It’s romantic and tragic, and you can see the entire story in your mind listening to Marty sing it. And Grady Martin’s Spanish guitar is just gorgeous. But “Big Iron”… that’s pure poetry to me, with the lyrics again painting a perfect picture of the big showdown: “There was forty feet between them when they stopped to make their play / And the swiftness of the ranger is still talked about today / Texas Red had not cleared leather ‘fore a bullet fairly ripped / And the ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on his hip.” Are you kidding me?!
“I Shot The Sherif” by Bob Marley
Bob Marley is kind of like Leon Russell to me: if you can’t enjoy this music, I have to really wonder what’s wrong with you. Even when Bob is singing about some darker subject matter, which he did more often than a lot of people think, the music still makes you happy. That’s the power of music. There’s actually a rumor that some of the lyrics in this song are actually about Bob being very opposed to his girlfriend taking birth control pills, and he substituted the word “sherif” for “doctor.” Is it true? Who cares. We need myths.
“Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix
This song about a guy on the run to Mexico after shooting his unfaithful wife has a murky history. No one seems to know who really wrote it. But the version we all know and should love is by the one and only James Marshall Hendrix. By the time Jimi Hendrix got around to recording it for ‘Are You Experienced?,’ the song had already been recorded numerous times, including a version by The Byrds. It most likely got to Hendrix by way of Chas Chandler, who’d seen the folk singer Tim Rose performing a much slower version of the song.
“Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” by The Rolling Stones
I’ve gotta have a Stones song on any kind of list I make, and this one certainly fits the theme. Even in 1973, on ‘Goats Head Soup,’ we were dealing with police killing innocent people. It really is a heartbreaker. Doo doo doo doodie heads. Don’t kill people, ok?
“Keep It Warm” by Flo & Eddie
My pal Matt Williams turned me onto this one from Flo & Eddie, and it pretty much perfectly encapsulates these weird times we find ourselves in here in 2018. It brilliantly makes use of pop songcraft to lay out a blistering vision of our culture. It’s pretty withering, and I love it. “Kill another whale with your power / Or shoot a bunch of kids from a tower / Snipe them in their cars / Blood keeps them warm.” Whoa!
“That Man I Shot” by Drive-By Truckers
This song from ‘Brighter Than Creation’s Dark’ is just one of the reasons I love the Drive-By Truckers. I love the sound of the band and the way Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley work off of each other. It’s the same thing I’ve always looked for in bands I’ve joined because it makes for a creative tension that’s just impossible to get as a solo artist. That’s one of, if not the main reason, that being in The Memphis Strange is so enjoyable to me. This song, “That Man I Shot,” is heavy duty, sonically and in subject matter. I definitely cannot speak from experience, but it sure seems to me to capture the crisis of conscience faced by combat veterans who have to weigh taking another human life against the concept of “just doing my job.”
“Lawyers, Guns & Money” by Warren Zevon
Now for something a little more lighthearted. More people should listen to Warren Zevon. That’s a non-alternative fact. There’s no other male writer who writes about women anything at all like the way Zevon does. Which doesn’t have much to do with this particular song, although there is a waitress. This is funny stuff, and timely, too. It’s chock full of conspiracy and sex and violence and even Russia. We play this one a lot in The Memphis Strange, and it’s a lot of fun. Dad get me out of this!
“No Wedding Today” by The Memphis Strange
Speaking of The Memphis Strange, I guess I need to include one of my own songs on this list, so I will, in the form of this one, which both closes out this humble little list that sprawled on longer than I’d planned, as well as closes the last Strange record. It’s a simple story of a guy who finds his fiancee has been cheating on him. He loved, her but she done him wrong. He could call the wedding off. It would be embarrassing, but no one would blame him. Instead, he shoots her. Only in America, friends.
Photo Credit: Beck and Hall Photography