T-Bone Hits the Target (with an homage to Mick Ronson)

I was driving to the ballpark the other day, streaming KTKE, my favorite radio station from Truckee, Ca., when through the speakers the opening bars of Counting Crows tune Murder of One came blasting (of course I turned the volume up even more) from their debut album, August and Everything After.

I cannot actually remember ever hearing Murder of One on the radio before (which is one reason I love KTKE as they surprise me like this constantly), and it had been years since I listened to August and Everything After, although it was on constant play for a long time following its 1992 release.

In fact, I saw Counting Crows open for Los Lobos when the Lobos were touring, promoting their great Kiko and the Lavender Moon disc. The Crows were very good, I might add, sounding kind of like The Band, and kind of like a  mix of LA roots bands like The Blasters and the Violent Femmes, but still with that San Francisco psychedelic core that a Bay Area band should have.

The band played mostly from their still be released debut, that became August and Everything After, and as stated, that disc was regularly in the CD rotation for months after.

As time passed I pretty much forgot about how much I liked it, and then when I heard Murder of One, I thought writing about the album, as I did XTC’s Skylarking a while back might be fun.

But, shortly after KTKE played Murder of One, I heard How Will the Wolf Survive?, from Los Lobos’ debut album of the same name, also a disc I love, and one that actually placed in my Top 50 album list we concocted a while back.

And, that made me think about writing the piece on the Lobos work, instead of the Crows. So, I went to my CDs, and pulled both out of the stacks so I could re-listen to both since it had been a while, and upon scouring the credits, was reminded that T-Bone Burnett produced both of them.

My first knowledge of Burnett was when I bought the third album by the Alpha Band, The Statue Makers of Hollywood, in 1978, some vinyl I still own.

A few years later I saw Burnett back Ian Hunter on guitar during the Your Never Alone With a Schizophrenic tour. In fact the wonderful  Mick Ronson was also part of that contingent and I saw the duo with Hunter twice.

But, I think it was the production job Burnett did on How Will the Wolf Survive? that really grabbed my attention, for I still remember the first time I heard the title track, on MTV believe it or not, and from the first pop of the snare I knew this was a group and album I had to check out.

Obviously it was a match for as I noted, the record is among my all time favorite Top 50 albums (I have it on vinyl and CD).

I did buy one of Burnett’s solo efforts–the fine 1992 The Criminal Under My Own Hat–but it is the work behind the dials that requires acknowledgement. For, the vast variety of great artists that Burnett produced since I discovered the Lobos that is really amazing. In fact, just for fun, here are a few of them:

  • Roy Orbison
  • Delbert McClinton
  • Peter Case
  • Elvis Costello
  • Kris Kristofferson
  • Leo Kottke
  • Spinal Tap
  • The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • Jimmy Dale Gilmore
  • Freedy Johnston
  • Gillian Welch
  • Tony Bennett
  • k.d. lang
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
  • B.B. King
  • Robert Randolf and the Family Band
  • Willie Nelson
  • Elton John and Leon Russell
  • Gregg Allman
  • Steve Earle
  • The Chieftens

Mind you, there are a ton more artists you probably know–and music you probably own–aside from the selection of musicians I listed.

Pretty amazing.

But, what also blew me out about Burnett was that he was also part of the Bob Dylan  Rolling Thunder Revue, a piece of information that somehow eluded me until I bought the 2002 Official Live Bootleg release, and while listening got  my socks knocked off by Mick Ronson’s blistering solo on It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (I cannot believe there is not a You Tube vid of it, but I did look.)

Who is that?” I asked myself the first time I heard, so naturally while looking through the printed materiel, I discovered that it was Ronson, but that Burnett played on the tour as well, as did Stephen Soles, Burnett’s eventual partner in The Alpha Band.

However, I am this deep into this piece, I have not even noted the terrific work Burnett has also done in film, and in particular with the Coen Brothers, having produced the music for The Big Lebowski and Oh Brother Where Art Thou, for which he won Oscar Nominations along with the Coens remake of The Ladykillers.

But, Burnett also produced the music to the fine Walk the Line, and actually won an Oscar for the tune he penned with Ryan Bingham, The Weary Kind, from another award winning film, Crazy Heart.

As I noted, pretty amazing, this all is. In fact, though I can think of many great and versatile artists, I am hard-pressed to think of a hands on player who wound up with a resume anything close to that of Burnett.

Although, I have to admit, I am seriously open to your suggestions.

4 thoughts on “T-Bone Hits the Target (with an homage to Mick Ronson)

  1. I bought that Counting Crows album (on cassette) because T-Bone produced it, and I played it and was appalled. I played it again and started to get the songs, but the more I got the melodies the more I hated the singer’s whiny complaints. Grow up dude! I played it a couple more times, to be sure, and then I passed it along. That guy just rubs me the wrong way.

    The T-Bone album to get is the plaintive and simple “T-Bone Burnett,” which has such simple and unornamented great songs you may find it boring at first. But then they’ll get under your skin.

  2. Point taken on Phillips, though I sort of thought it was rhetorical. Although I like girls named Samantha called Sam.

    Note, I do really like “August and Everything After,” but since then the work of the Crows has been spotty at best. However, it does not come close to the Lobos disc.

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