Punk rock persona turns a little bit country
Former L.A. punk rocker John Doe teams up with Canadian Kathleen Edwards for a stripped down show
In 1977, more than three decades ago, musician John Doe met a woman named Exene Cervenka in a poetry class in Los Angeles. He invited her to sing in a band he was forming that only three years later would release the defining album of punk rock in Los Angeles.
Cast with a black-and-white photo of a wooden X engulfed in flames, the aptly titled "Los Angeles" was a demonstration of inter-genre mingling that spoke eloquently of the jaded nihilism that perpetuated through much of West Hollywood in the 1980s.
Together, Doe and Cervenka wrote melodies and sang in harmonies that were off-kilter, dark and haunting, and produced the group's most distinctive sonic element. The two formed a musical bond that many musicians could spend their whole lives seeking but never find. Now, after meeting alt-country singer Kathleen Edwards, Doe has found a new, more country-twanged harmony with another musical counterpart. That harmony will be on full display tonight at John Henry's.
"We're kindred spirits," Doe said of Edwards. "You don't meet people you see musically eye-to-eye with very often. So when you do, you keep them around."
"We have a connection musically and friendship-wise," said Edwards. "It makes it fun getting up there (and performing)."
Doe and Edwards first met at a tribute concert for Gram Parsons in Los Angeles in 2004. The show featured a who's who of country and pop stars - most notably Parsons' long-time friend Keith Richards - who performed their own renditions of some of the best of the country legend's catalogue.
The two bonded over the Parsons and Emmylou Harris duet classic "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes in The Morning." They quickly burgeoned a friendship and found a seamless musical compatibility that reverberates organically in their duets and collaborations.
"People who do collaborations sometimes don't even know each other and just have the tracks just flown in," said Edwards. "When you do it with people you like, the music just comes out as so much more authentic and real."
Doe's musical career was approaching the quarter-century mark when Edwards released her first full-length album in 2003. Edwards is from Ottawa, Canada, on the opposite side of North America from Los Angeles, and was raised in an entirely different generation than Doe. Despite any categorical and cultural differences, the musical balance and chemistry of the duo possess show that music is a universal language that anyone can speak.
"You either write good songs or you write shit songs; it doesn't really matter what era you come from as long as you keep that open mind," said Doe.
X played a rugged and hard-lined variation of punk rock on its first three albums, but Billy Zoom's rockabilly guitar routinely bled in the group's country and blues influences. Going solo in the 1990s, Doe would drop the bass he played in X and pick up an acoustic guitar that he used as the vehicle for his stripped-down, rooted country-folk song style. Aesthetically, punk rock and country do not share many similarities, but socially, the two can be seen as cut from the same cloth.
"It's the way they relate to the audience," Doe said. "It's music of and for the people. There's a simplicity, a sense of humor, some heartfelt feelings. Even some unrequited love in a romantic world of punk rock."
Going from playing in front of frantic crowds at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, as documented in 'The Decline of Western Civilization," to singing acoustic country ballads is a dramatic shift. But for Doe, who will also be playing shows with X next month, his long tenure as a performer has turned his versatile playing into an unconscious skill.
"After awhile you just ignore it and just sort of play. You don't play differently. Though I would say that playing with X takes a lot more energy, while performing solo is often more intimate."
Doe and Edwards are both supporting 2008 releases on their two-week, 11-date tour that found them playing before an audience at Carnegie Hall in New York earlier this month. The two will share the stage as they each perform their own solo material along with their duets that include 'The Golden State" off Doe's "A Year in The Wilderness" and the aforementioned "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning."
"People don't necessarily know both of us," said Edwards. "Some know me, some know John. I like getting on stage and giving people something they might not necessarily expect."
Oregon Daily Emerald