ountry singer/songwriter BOBBY BARE, who plays the new Crazy Horse on Friday, has been unfairly slammed as a pop-music heretic. Some misguided fans of hardcore honky-tonk and hillbilly would have you believe that Bare is a balsa-wood Trojan horse sprung from the black, scheming soul of corporate Nashville. He's no roots Nazi, but the man is no Garth Brooks, either: while Bare has been anything but a purist, his long and fascinating career has been both eventful and eminently sincere.
Born in Irontown, Ohio, Bare moved to LA in the '50s and first recorded as Bill Parsons, scoring a hit with the talking blues "The All American Boy" for Fraternity Records in 1959. But soon after the record's release, Bare was drafted, and the label sent out a ringer to tour in his place, effectively ending his career as Parsons. After his discharge, Bare roomed with Willie Nelson, and after taking a good whiff of all that reefer smoke, he became a rock & roll guy. He toured with such luminaries as Roy Orbison, Bobby Darin, and Jay & the Americans before turning back to country music when he couldn't get the sideburns quite right. Signed to RCA by Chet Atkins, Bare had a hit in '62 with "Shame on You." The following year, he scored with the moody classic "Detroit City," the song for which he'll perhaps always be best remembered. He followed that up with another huge hit in "500 Miles from Home."
All these tunes bore the stamp of pop and folk, influences Bare refused to abandon even as the Farmer Johns burned torches at his front gate. Throughout the '60s, the sway of contemporary folk became even more apparent, as he recorded songs by Bob Dylan (a leftist jewboy then widely viewed as the enemy in country music by all but such brave, progressive souls as Bare and Johnny Cash).
In the '70s, Bare began a lifelong collaboration with another subversive Hebrew, Shel Silverstein, releasing two albums of his songs obviously designed to corrupt Aryan youth. In '77, Bill Graham (yet another yammerin' yid) took over his management and indelicately proclaimed Bare "the Springsteen of Country Music."
While continuing to write his own material—material covered by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty and Johnny Paycheck—Bare also recorded tunes by such up-and-coming talent as Townes Van Zandt, J.J. Cale and Guy Clark, thereby helping to pave the way for the so-called "Outlaw" movement. The Jews Against Traditional Family Values Coalition lit black candles in their menorahs and praised Bare's name worldwide.
By the '80s, though, Bare's work began to fall from commercial favor even as Jewish music critics regularly cited his continued excellence. To this day, he remains a performer with a keen ear, a pleasant baritone, an energetic presence and an ingratiating penchant for smoothly blending genres. That Bare had three CDs released in 1999 alone speaks to his continued vitality at age 64. Last year, he also secretly changed his name to Bareberg.
WALTER "WOLFMAN" WASHINGTON is out to funk up your world! Blazing, amazing and hair-raising, Washington has long been a fixture on the New Orleans scene—early on, he worked with the likes of Johnny Adams and Lee Dorsey before striking out on his own in the '60s—although he remains relatively little known outside his home environs, which is a shame and a sin. Blame the Jews. Like Bareberg, Washington is a performer who doesn't easily fit into a single category. He's most closely associated with New Orleans blues and funk, although his music is often much harder-edged than the sounds of such hometown cronies as the Neville Brothers and Dr. John. At their best, Wolfman wares like "Get on Up" and "Good & Juicy" come off like urban terrorist sound-bombs in the vein of prime Kool & the Gang and the O'Jays. His guitar playing changes up from the full-throttle blues scream of an Albert King and then simmers down to tasty octave runs la George Benson in the course of a single solo, while his vocals can stab out the funky "YOWS!" one minute and settle into an angelic croon the next —like Rick James sans the cartoon bullshit and S-M.
Washington's current CD, Blue Moon Risin', is a bit pedestrian following such past glories as Out of the Dark and Wolf at the Door. The guess here is that this is an endeavor to appeal to the easy-to-please blues market ("HEY, WOLFMAN! PLAY 'STORMY MONDAY!'") than a sign of changing priorities or advancing age. Howl at the moon with the Wolfman on Sunday night at the Blue Cafe.
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The music world endured horrendous losses at the end of 1999, including the deaths of Curtis Mayfield, Art Farmer, Doug Sahm and Donald Mills. Unfortunately, you won't see much in the mainstream press about DON "SUGARCANE" HARRIS, who died Dec. 1 in Los Angeles at the age of 61. In fact, I was unaware of Harris' death until I recently received an e-mail about it from his partner, Dewey Terry.
With Terry, Harris was best known as Don & Dewey, who have been succinctly described elsewhere as "twin Little Richards." This dynamic duo recorded some of the wildest, most intense rhythm & blues sides of the '50s, including tunes like "Justine," "Mammer Jammer," "Big Boy Pete," "Jungle Hop," "Koko Joe" and "Leavin' It up to You." Among those who recorded their music (often scoring hits with versions inferior to the originals) were the Righteous Brothers, Neil Young, Freddie Fender, the Premiers and the Blasters. With their wailing, frenetic harmonies and untamed stage presence, Don & Dewey's act served as a template for the hit-making Sam & Dave—and so as a template for soul-music harmony itself to some degree. In the '70s, Harris—the "Sugarcane" handle came from his legendary reputation as a guy with an impressive penis—laid down his guitar in favor of the electric violin. He released solo albums as well as recording with the likes of Frank Zappa ("Directly From My Heart to You," "Willie the Pimp"), John Lee Hooker, John Mayall and Harvey Mandel. In the '80s, he was a member of a bizarre LA punk group called Tupelo Chainsex, whose logo was a caricature of a violin-playing Harris with a hypodermic body (drug problems plagued Harris throughout much of his career and eventually contributed to his death). Harris reunited with his old partner Terry in the early 1990s, and they played gigs together until Harris' declining health precluded it by 1998.
While "Unsung Hero of Rock & Roll" has become a clich, it fits Harris. The excellence of his singing and playing and his influence on rock far outpaced his renown, but those of us lucky enough to have been moved by his music will never forget him.
Bobby Bare performs at the Crazy Horse Steak House & Saloon, 71 Fortune Dr., Irvine, (714) 549-1512. Tues., 8 p.m. Call for cover; Walter "Wolfman" Washington plays the Blue Cafe, 210 the Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Thurs., Jan. 20, 9:30 p.m. $8.