- 05 Dec 11
Christmas – a time of love, peace, universal brotherhood and, if you are listening to certain country and folk artists, unrestrained misery.
Silly jumpers, tinsel, fairy lights wound round computer monitors, drinking to excess – that’s a Hot Press production weekend for you! Seriously, though, Christmas is a funny time of year.
It’s all systems go for heads-down, no nonsense, recession-denial partying. A time when grown men pack themselves into city-centre shops and don’t even mind that they have to queue to pay for presents they wouldn’t dream of buying any other time of year. Everybody’s happy, happy, happy.
Except for those who aren’t. Because, as is well known, if you’re feeling low to begin with, Christmas is the mother of all bummers. This Christmas, like every other, there’ll be those unlucky few for whom all that gushing joy only serves to act as a counterpoint to the pain.
Every Christmas for a long number of years now, Kimmie Rhodes has written a song for the season. She’s friendly with Willie Nelson (he lives close by) and seeing the success he had with ‘Pretty Paper’ she made a decision to try and pen an original tune to mark December 25th. These were gathered together as the album Miracles On Christmas Day last year. This time around, the Texan singer-songwriter is coming to terms with the death of her husband Joe Gracey. Anyone who has seen Kimmie perform – and she has been to Ireland on a regular basis over the last few years – will have known the long, tall, perennially stooped (so that he didn’t completely tower over his diminutive wife) figure of Joe Gracey, playing beautifully restrained bass and grinning beatifically.
Once a talented singer in his own right, his voice was taken by cancer of the larynx in the late ‘70s although on her last visit here it seemed, astonishingly, as if he might regain some power of speech. His difficulties, though, made him the kind of cool, laid-back guy who observed life with a wry smile as he moved quietly through the world. He exuded a warmth and an ease with his lot.
His sense of calm acceptance and self-assurance probably came from the fact that his achievements were many and that he had been central in building what we now know of as alternative country. In the early ’70s he had been a disc jockey at Austin’s legendary KOKE-FM where he played Willie Nelson (whom he described as the Bob Dylan of country music), Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Commander Cody and Kinky Friedman, laying down the foundations of what would come to be called ‘redneck rock’. He was also a rock critic and at a time when music itself was increasingly flaccid, he pointed his readers towards the fledgling outlaw country movement.
He was also the original talent coordinator for the Austin City Limits television series. It was his booking policy that ensured Townes van Zandt, Clifton Chenier, Marcia Ball, and Asleep At The Wheel were all recorded for posterity. His forward thinking approach meant the series was unmissable for any right-thinking music fan and in no small way helped build a reputation so solid that the show is still running.
After his initial tussle with cancer, his days as a radio presenter were at an end. However, encouraged by his friend Cowboy Jack Clement, he opened Electric Graceyland studios where he recorded, amongst others, Alejandro Escovedo, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and a young Stevie Ray Vaughan. It was there, too, that he first met Kimmie Rhodes, who at the time had not fully developed as a musician. She wrote – plays and poetry mainly – but had not yet become the songwriter that she would develop into with his encouragement.
He continued to record and most recently featured as rhythm guitarist on the Willie Nelson and Ray Price duet album Run That By Me One More Time. As a radio presenter his catchphrase was ‘another day in paradise’. I hope that’s how it plays out for him.
Although the nation’s venues tend to be swamped with office parties and Christmas do’s at this time of year, there are still a few gigs out there worth catching. Doing a couple of nights in Whelan’s on Friday December 9 and Saturday 10, Mick Flannery attempts to redress the balance after a year in which we haven’t had too many chances to see him around these parts. He’ll be joined for both nights by Marc O’Reilly. After that he strikes out for a series of gigs nearer to home as he covers all points south, showing up in The Spaniard, Kinsale (December 16); The Thatch, Rahan (18); White Horse, Ballincollig (22); INEC Acoustic Club, Killarney (27); Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick (28); De Barras, Clonakilty (29) and in Galway’s Roisin Dubh (30).
The Seamus Ennis Centre in Naul also has a solid line-up of events in the lead-up to Christmas, kicking off with Ciara Sidine (Saturday December 3); the traditional Sunday Session the following afternoon; Cois Tine (9); Gerry O’Connor, Gabriel McArdle and Martin Quinn, who recently collaborated on the album Jig Away The Donkey – Music And Song Of South Ulster – which they have stretched graciously to include the Cooley Peninsula from whence fiddler Gerry O’Connor emanates. With singer Gabriel McArdle hailing from south Fermanagh and accordion player Martin Quinn coming from south Armagh, they’re well placed to illustrate the subtleties of a regional style that doesn’t get trumpeted as loudly as the likes of Sliabh Luachra for example but which has its moments all the same (December 17). Piper In The Parlour (18) is the Centre’s last gig this side of Christmas.