I was just listening to Ned Sublette's Cowboy Rumba, which was released by Palm Pictures in 1999 and which is still available through Rykodisc. Sublette is a Texan who I first became aware of through his recording of the traditional cowboy song, Rye Whiskey, 20 years ago. And while he's still lyrically influenced by American country traditions, he's also very involved in Latin music — particularly from Cuba. Cowboy Rumba takes Latin music played by musicians from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and uses it to propel his hurtin' tales. It's a unique amalgamation and it's been too long since I've played it. If you can't imagine Ghost Riders In The Sky as a merengue, go to http://www.rykodisc.com/RykoInternal/Features/435/tracks.htm for a sample.
I discovered Sublette's version of Rye Whiskey on a 1985 compilation from the British label, Anagram Records. The album was called Leather Chaps And Lace Petticoats: Welcome To Alternative Country. In David Goodman's 1999 book, Modern Twang: An Alternative Country Music Guide and Directory, he cites this album as being the first place to use the phrase "alternative country."
Though the album is long out of print, it's a treasured part of my collection. Here's the track list:
Bluberry Hellbellies - Hootin' And A Howlin'
Peter Rowan with Flaco Jimenez & The San Antonio Tex Mex Band - Free Mexican Air Force
Bad Mad Missouri Buffalo and The Everglade Alligators - Kickin' Som'
Mighty Lights Of Paradise - Foundations Of Love
Boothill Foot Tappers - Get Your Feet Out Of My Shoes
Meat Puppets - Magic Toy Missing
Ned Sublette - Rye Whiskey
Screamin' Sirens - Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad
Helen and The Horns - Freight Train
Riverside Trio - I've Only Just Turned 21
Way Out West - Mystery Blonde
Dolly Parton - Two Little Orphans
The Orson Family - Pointed Bra
Raunch Hands - Stomp It
Speaking of British alt.country, I struck up a friendship with the pioneer of the genre in that country, Hank Wangford, when I lived in London during the summer of 1987. I'm not sure why he didn't make it on to the album.
In his other life, Hank is a respected doctor (Dr. Sam Hutt) specializing in sexual healthcare, contraception and gynaecology and become friends with Gram Parsons (who played Hank's guitar and helped introduce him to country music), Keith Richards, Pink Floyd, The Who and the Grateful Dead. He's also the man who turned Billy Bragg on to country music. Hank has recorded albums, toured extensively, written books and travel articles for the Guardian, shot BBC documentaries, hosted BBC Radio shows, starred in a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, appeared in TV commercials, continued to serve as the president of the Nude Mountaineering Society, trained doctors and nurses in Bosnia and Georgia and set up a women's health clinic in Transylvania, Romania.
Hank gave me a Hank Wangford Band EP, which I donated to my campus radio station, and his Rodeo Radio album, which I still have. Neither are in print any longer. Hank and I kept in touch briefly after I returned to Canada, but we haven't been in contact since 1987. While he's still active musically, I haven't heard any of his recent material and I'm positive that he's ever played in Toronto. If any of you are familiar with his recent work, which is probably only available in the U.K. or via the Internet, I'd love to get your feedback.
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