Trying to choose subject matters each week that takes a look at the past, present, and future of Americana and Country music is something I have struggled with a few times, but not this week. I had been anxiously waiting to see the movie Blaze, which is directed and co-written by Ethan Hawke and Sybil Rosen and based on her book Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley. I mentioned the film and inserted a trailer for it in my past blog Past, Present, and Future… as in Kris Kristofferson, Shooter Jennings, and Jaime Wyatt. I received an email from Lisa Kristofferson (Kris’ wife) from Ireland, where Kris was on tour, thanking me for including the trailer in my blog because she and Kris had not yet seen it (for your convenience here’s the Blaze trailer ). Lisa also let me know she thought the blog was “great” and that I was “spot on about Shooter”. It was humbling and moving to receive such an email, which portrayed the kindness and thoughtfulness of both Kris and Lisa.
Regardless if it’s music, paintings, photographs, or the beauty of one of God’s creations (including people), we all know the effect is subjective… in the eye of the beholder. This film was beautiful to me in so many ways. The acting, which included great performances in the lead roles by singer-songwriter Ben Dickey; making his acting debut as Blaze Foley, Alia Shawkat as Sybil, Charlie Sexton as Townes Van Zandt, as well as, all the minor roles played by Kris Kristofferson (his brief, powerful performance brought tears to my eyes), Richard Linklater, Sam Rockwell, Jenn Lyon, and several other performances stand as a strong testament to Ethan Hawke as a director.
Charlie Sexton, who I first met as a teenager when Joe Ely hired him to replace his guitar player Jesse Taylor, who had broken his hand just days before a tour, was remarkable in his ability to capture the look and mannerisms of Townes Van Zandt. Charlie’s role as Townes and how it’s used in the film helped make playing music and songs part of the narrative to the story and was masterfully done by Ethan Hawke throughout the movie, which he referred to in Rolling Stone as his “gonzo country western opera”. I appreciated and loved his gonzo style and the validation of the struggles, idiosyncrasies, and passions of singer-songwriters was exceptionally insightful and true to what I have witnessed for over forty years working with such talent. In one of the scenes Townes Van Zandt explains the two sides of Blaze Foley, which is something we all can identify with… we all have two (or more) sides. I walked away from the film reminded that all of us struggle with the task of how to balance our lives. Balance… that’s the trick.
I’m not a movie critic, but if you love music, digging deep into the soul of the human struggle with love and life, and the influence reflection has on our emotions… run to see this movie. I spent hours thinking about the power of the messages in this film and at about 4am a Rodney Crowell song jumped into my head. It’s a song that Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Van Morrison all recorded, but I had Jerry Jeff Walker’s voice in my head. I looked everywhere to find his version, but couldn’t. It must of been a version we recorded and didn’t put on a record or Jerry Jeff played it live… it drove me crazy trying to remember why and how that non-existent version was so vivid in my mind. After an exhaustive search of my personal music files, Apple Music, and YouTube, I decided to share this YouTube video of Waylon Jennings’ version because it displays both the greatness of Rodney’s song and is a beautiful video tribute to Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter.
I had read that Charlie would be in Nashville with Ethan Hawke and Ben Dickey for several showings of the movie to attend Q&A sessions and brief introductions to the film. I decided to reach out to Joe and Sharon Ely for Charlie’s contact information so I could call Charlie to tell him how happy I was for him and let him know about my blog and that I was going to write about him. Sharon, who I wrote about in my book Just Be, is a very special friend and is a loving wife and perfect partner with Joe in so many ways. As I described them in my book, she and Joe have a bond and genuine kindness they wore like an old, favorite shirt.
Sharon sent me Charlie’s contact information and Charlie and I connected the next day. I told him Joe had recently told me about the few days he and Charlie had spent together several weeks ago in Marfa, Texas, which included that he and Charlie had written several new songs. Charlie added to the story how and what the songs were written about, which added even more interest and enthusiasm to my craving to hear them. I know with Joe and Charlie involved together something truly special is coming down the road. I reminded him of the times we used to go bowling in L.A. after he moved there not long after the tour he had played lead guitar with Joe as a teenager. It’s strange sometimes what the mind remembers.
As I’ve gotten older, I find it’s genuinely nice to connect with someone from the past. If you don’t know who Charlie Sexton is, read about him here. After seeing his performance in Blaze, I believe we’ll be seeing more of Charlie Sexton on the big screen in the future and again, I can’t wait to see what comes about from the songs Charlie and Joe Ely wrote in the summer heat and magic of Marfa, Texas. One more thing… there’s a soundtrack to Blaze, which comes out on September 21st and includes Ben Dickey singing Blaze’s song Clay Pigeons. If ordered here , $1 for each CD & LP sold will be donated to fight homelessness. I found a version of Clay Pigeons on YouTube of Blaze Foley singing it live on the steps of a porch, as well as, the Ben Dickey version from the movie soundtrack. I always enjoy hearing the writer sing his or her song and thought you would enjoy hearing both versions, too.
This past week the Country Music Association announced their nominations. I read a very interesting article in Texas Monthly titled The CMA Nominations Prove That Texas Women are the Queens of Country, which includes the fact that three of the five women nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year are from Texas. I’ve written my feelings about Miranda Lambert as an artist a couple of times in past blogs, and have listened to both Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves a lot. But the fact that Kacey Musgraves’ album Golden Hour is the only female artist album nominated this year for Album of the Year and I have been listening to the songs High Horse, Space Cowboy, Butterflies, and Rainbow from that album since I added them to my 2018 Playlist the day the album came out in late March, I decided to write about her for this blog. I might as well mention that while I was reading the article in Texas Monthly, I saw a promo for The Ellen DeGeneres Show on television that included Kacey Musgraves as her guest. I rarely watch much television, but I tuned into that episode and watched her perform “Space Cowboy”. The unexpected coinencedensce confirmed my choice to write about Kacey Musgraves.
A friend of mine from Mercury Nashville told me about her and when they released her first album titled Same Trailer Different Park in 2013; the first single Merry Go Round said it all to me. Kacey Musgraves has a pure distinctive quality to her voice that is undeniable and her talent extends to writing and producing. Her talents in all areas reflect a taste of classic country but with the spice of enlightened ideas that represent today’s viewpoint. Merry Go Round won the 56th Annual Grammy Award for Best Country Song, but the song Follow Your Arrow, which she co-wrote with Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, signaled to me that she was someone very special and a voice to be heard for more reasons than one and for years to come. Follow Your Arrow won Song of the Year at the 2014 CMA Awards and Rolling Stone ranked it number 39 on its list of ‘100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time’.
She co-wrote all the songs and co-produced her follow-up album Pageant Material, which was released in June 2015 and made numerous “Best Albums of 2015” lists and was nominated for Best Country Album at the 58th Grammy Awards. I still listen to Somebody to Love from that album today on one of my many Playlists and the lyrics continue to move me and make me think about life. It’s a song that stands out as a true example of the power of music. I’ve yet to see her live, but her videos and charisma on television shows are undeniable and equal the brilliance of her vocals and songwriting. She’s already blazed a trail of her own and has miles to go on her journey as an artist to be counted on for moving the boundaries of greatness.
In my attempt to remain true to the past, present, and future, I searched for someone new to represent the future of Americana/Country music and decided to stick with the topic of a Texas female artist as a source. I found an up-and-coming young lady from just north of Dallas. Her name is Frankie Leonie and she is 16 years old. The first YouTube video I found was of her singing Waylon Jennings’ song Waymore Blues. How many 16 year olds sing that song?… or have even heard of that song? I discovered that she recently released a song she co-wrote called Johnny Cash… is this for real?
I read a recent interview she did for the Dallas Observer, which you can find here , and discovered her love of classic Country songs and the fact that she likes to cover them and old country songs nobody knows. The idea of singing old country songs nobody knows is proof she has her heart in a unique place for a teenager and justifies her reason for writing Johnny Cash. Her voice resembles the age and comfort of a vintage pair of Levi’s jeans. Check it out on Johnny Cash… Remember… she’s SIXTEEN!
I sent a cold-call email to her Contact email address on her website. I love to cold-call people and see if and when they respond. It’s amazing how many opportunities I have made in my life from cold-calls, which is why I tell people the first rule in business… and equally important in life… is to show up. I got a quick response and exchanged a few emails with her Mom/Manager, which included a couple of photos for me to choose from for a picture to use in this blog. I decided to use both… I like the contrast they provide:
I also asked Frankie to answer my Five With Fries questions, which she was kind enough to do. In getting the answers to my questions, Frankie’s Mom also shared another song Frankie wrote and recorded the same day she recorded Johnny Cash. I can’t share it here because it hasn’t been released, but hearing the beautiful ballad Taking All the Good Out of Bye added to my confidence that Frankie Leonie will blaze a long and noteworthy trail in Country music…
Here are her Five With Fries answers:
1. Who influenced you the most to pursue a career in music? My mom has probably been the biggest factor in all of this. She’s the one that realized my love for music, maybe before I had really even recognized it, and put me in lessons when I was younger.
2. What is your favorite song you have written or wish you had written? Probably any number of Townes Van Zandt songs. Also I really love Margo Price’s “Do Right By Me”. The harmonica, lyrics, her voice, and the groove of the whole song is just great.
3. What or who was the biggest obstacle in your career? I feel like writing has been a bit of an obstacle at times. I get lazy and sometimes just forget to write and the times that I make an effort to write, sometimes I just don’t feel it. If I start writing a song and feel like it just totally sucks, there’s no way I’m finishing it. I just can’t even bring myself to finish it if I hate it before it’s even done. That’s probably why I write about two songs a year (sorta joking, sort of not).
4. Do you still or did you ever have doubts? I have doubts all the time. Every time I think about the fact that there are millions of people trying to do the same thing I’m doing, it makes me feel like why would I out of all those people be able to do this? What makes me special? Truth is, I still don’t know, might never know. All I can say is, I hope it works out because I’m not very good at much else haha!
5. What is your favorite comfort food, or beverage… or both? I like a lot of food, but I gotta say, the thing that never gets old is Thai food. Specifically Pad See Ew with tofu from this Thai place up the street from my house.
Donna Britt’s Pad See Ew recipe:
When Witt asked if I cooked any Thai food I told him it had been awhile but I was up to the challenge of tracking down and testing a Pad See Ew recipe. If you don’t have a wok, you can do this in any large, heavy skillet (I like my big cast iron) but you must have fish sauce and oyster sauce and dark soy sauce if you want that traditional Thai flavor and those can usually be found in the Asian section of any major supermarket. You can use whatever protein you want as well, chicken, beef, pork or tofu as Frankie Leonie prefers.
Pad See Ew Pad See Ew is a street-food noodle dish made with extra thick rice noodles in a sweet and savory sauce. You can whip this up in about half an hour.
· 8 ounces extra wide rice noodles
· 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
· 1/4 cup canola oil divided
· 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
· 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
· 2 teaspoons fish sauce
· 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
· 1 tablespoon sugar
· 1 egg scrambled
· 3 cloves garlic minced
· 3 cups broccoli florets OR Chinese Broccoli if you can find it
· 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1. Soak the noodles for 30 minutes in cold water or boil them for one minute and steep them in the hot water for five minutes before draining.
2. Cut the chicken into thin strips and toss with a bit of soy sauce.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of canola oil to the wok or large skillet on medium high heat.
4. Sear the chicken on both sides for 2-3 minutes.
5. While the chicken is cooking add the soy sauce, dark soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce and sugar to a bowl and whisk them together. Set aside.
6. Remove chicken and set aside.
7. Add the egg to your wok or skillet and chop it up with a spatula while cooking.
8. Add in the garlic, broccoli and mushrooms along with the remaining oil.
9. Cook on high heat before adding in the noodles and putting the chicken back in.
10. Cook until the noodles get slightly crispy, about 2-3 minutes.
11. Add in the sauce, toss well and let cook for another 1-2 minutes.
Check out more from Donna at Donna Britt Cooks
Over the long Labor Day weekend I talked to Donna about the recipe and the next steps we need to take on our pilot Podcast. It’s been such a satisfying experience to connect with her on the blog and plans for our Podcast and it seems nearly every time we talk we discover something new about one another. I was telling her about this blog and how I found Frankie Leonie and how great Charlie Sexton was in Blaze. As we talked about the movie and how it had touched me in so many ways, I told her how a mysterious version of Jerry Jeff Walker singing the Rodney Crowell song Till I Gain Control Again had appeared so vividly in my mind to describe what the movie said to me. She giggled and told me that she had that song sang at her wedding.
I couldn’t believe it. Of all the songs in the world, that song came to my mind to describe a movie about singer-songwriters, love, and life, which happen to be the very same song she had someone sing at her wedding. What are the odds of that? Who has Till I Gain Control Again sung at their wedding? I’ll tell you… someone who has a deep understanding of her heart and mind and knows exactly who she is and what that song symbolizes about her to herself and others.
I told her that this Till I Gain Control Again coincidence, the Kacey Musgraves being mentioned on a television promo while I was reading about her in Texas Monthly, and the first song I find of Frankie Leonie singing was a Waylon Jennings song I had just written about in my last blog on the very day I started looking for a new singer to write about is why I think there are no accidents… there’s a reason for everything… but damn, sometimes it’s like the Twilight Zone. These were more examples of how the Universe never ceases to amaze me and why I pay attention to every little sign it reveals to me. Donna was kind enough to express her understanding and told me she thought it was great I was so open and willing to listen to what the world was saying to me. I told her that most of the conversations I have are with the Universe. She laughed at the idea that someone who talks and rambles as much as I do with people mostly communicates with himself and the Universe… but it’s true.