Muschamp Rd

Jon Langford is Undersung

February 16th, 2007
The Sadies

Jon Langford was a Welsh punk rocker who somehow ended up in Chicago fronting an alt-country side project. A funny thing happened on the way to irrelevance though, some really great song lyrics were written. People bought into the fact that the attitude and politics of punk wasn’t always missing from country music, that there was still a place if not on mainstream radio, then in your record collection for an boozed up, iconoclastic Welshman who despises the death penalty and his angry aging friends who don’t want to go gently into the night.

The fact that I learned about the Waco Brothers through the Rust mailing list, when they covered “The Revolution Blues” and Bloodshot went on to become my favourite record label didn’t hurt their cause. The ability of Jon and friends to continually write thought provoking lyrics, delivered with a surly snarl and a knowing nod, keeps them relevant, whenever they deem it time to release another record.

I’ve never seen the Wacos play live, as near as I can tell, they play in Chicago and at the South By Southwest festival and that is it. A bunch of unused song lyrics of Jon’s were taken by Canada’s own the Sadies and with the help of Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor and Jon himself was turned into Mayors of the Moon which made a lot critics best of lists for Americana, which was ironic as not a single American played on the record.

I tried to see the Sadies during my MBA but fate conspired against me. I saw Neko Case concert posters when I was in Vancouver recently, but I’m not sure who was backing her this tour.

I was trying to double check the lyrics to a newer Wacos song “Missing Link” which came on randomly in iTunes when I stumbled across a bunch of video footage from a DVD I’ll have to buy when I get a job. The folks at Bloodshoot made the following performance available on YouTube. It is of the song “Nashville Radio” which perhaps is a bit slower and sadder in its original incarnation, but live the Wacos are known more for volume and alcohol consumption than ballads. This song was originally a 45 vinyl single or something, I don’t think it appears on any Waco album, it is Langford solo song.

During my MBA I even quoted a Wacos song in a paper I had to write on marketing in the Californian wine industry. I thought Mike LeRoy might appreciate the irony.

Ripened in the sun,
Hanging on the vine.
Crushed like stupid dreams,
To make cheap wine.

I also quoted Merle Haggard’s “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me”.

During my time on exchange in China I hung around with a Welshman. I gave Jon Langford as an example of both a songwriter I admired and a fellow musical countryman of his. Emlyn had never heard of Langford, the Waco Brothers or even the Mekons. Maybe this blog posting and pingback will jar his memory and spur him into action.

I still think the best Wacos album is the one that was never intended to be released, the first one I bought, on which they cover Neil Young. It was a collection of tracks that didn’t make previous albums.

On September 11th, 2001 while walking to work due to a transit strike in Vancouver I was singing a Waco’s song, which included the line:

She’s in New York and I can’t phone her

I never learned of the plane crashes until I arrived at work…


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