“I agree with Will Rogers,
who said, “If there are
no dogs in heaven
I want to go where
they went.”

Kinky says his
Man in Black Tequila "is
not your father’s tequila,
it’s your grandfather’s
gardener’s tequila.”

“I don’t smoke dope usually,
but I do with Willie.
It’s a Texas etiquette
kind of a thing.”

Kinky Boots

The irascible Kinky Friedman talks about
music, writing, tequila, cigars, politics, and dogs.

an interview by Andrew Elias

KINKY FRIEDMAN IS A TRUE AMERICAN ICON – a singer, songwriter, musician, author, satirist, politician, activist, raconteur, entrepeneur, and all-around rabble-rouser and hell-raiser. After college he joined the Peace Corps before returning to Texas, forming a band and recording politically-incorrect songs such as ‘They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore,’ ‘Asshole from El Paso,’ ‘Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed,’ and ‘How Can I Tell You I Love You (When You’re Sitting On My Face.’

A close friend of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan, Kinky joined Dylan for a portion of his Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and claims to be the first full-blooded Jew to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. He recently released his 15th album.

Kinky has also written a dozen books, many a series of mystery crime novels in a style owing much to Raymond Chandler, featuring a fictionalized version of himself and his real-life cohorts.

In 2004, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Texas with campaign slogans like “How Hard Can It Be?’ and ‘Why the Hell Not?’

Kinky also has his own brand of cigars and his own brand of tequila, and has turned his ranch outside Austin into a sanctuary for abused and aged dogs.

I recently phoned Kinky, who proudly calls himself The Original Texas Jewboy, as he prepared for a tour supporting his highly-acclaimed new release, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.

ANDREW: First of all, I want to say that your new album is an excellent record.

KINKY: Thank you. Well it’s a bit eccentric I must say. It seems very melancholy. There’s a lot of longing. It seems kind of sad, as the title might imply.

For 32 years you hadn’t released a new record so I’m wondering why now?

I think if you’re going to be an artist you need to be miserable. A happy person has never created anything great. Also, I would say melancholy is the link between classical music, which is what I listen to mostly, and great country music. They’re both created by really miserable people, and I would say the record is romantic, and out of necessity that means it’s going to be tragic. All true love ends in a hostage situation.

The first song is the most upbeat on the entire album, your duet with Willie Nelson, ‘Bloody Mary Morning.’ What’s it like recording with Willie? Have you ever recorded with him before?

No, I don’t think I have. I’ve played golf with him. You know the only two good balls I ever hit was when I stepped on the garden rake! It was fun recording with him – very spontaneous. It sounds like it’s done in a barroom in West Texas or something. I got so high I needed a step ladder to scratch my ass. I don’t smoke dope usually, but I do with Willie. It’s kind of a Texas etiquette kind of a thing. For me, it threw my timing off. I thought the song was about an hour and a half long, but really it’s under three minutes. But in general it’s a spirited cut. It works. It’s kind of a leg opener for the rest of the record.

His guitar playing is just fantastic and your voice sounds great.

He’s a jazz cowboy. That’s the work of Brian Molnar, the producer, a kid from New Jersey. To me he’s a kid. He could be 47 years old. He got the sound right. A lot of the songs are not really covers – they are more like interpretations.

As far as the covers… What made you do a Tom Waits song and Merle Haggard’s ‘Hungry Eyes’ and the Johnny Cash song and even Dylan’s ‘Girl From the North Country’? Why did you want to do those songs?

Well, it’s mostly personal. There’s a connection between me and every song. ‘Picking Time,’ by Johnny Cash, was my father’s favorite song. ‘Girl From the North Country’… I had a girl from the North Country and lost her, probably the way Bob did, and I really like [Waits’] ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.’ I had one of those, too. And Warren Zevon was a friend of mine and his song ‘My Shit's Fucked Up’ – I think that song is more than just a song about a guy who’s dying of cancer. It starts funny and ends tragically, but it’s also very visionary. I can’t think of a better description of the world today than “our shit’s fucked up.” It could be irrevocably so.

About the title song, ‘The Loneliest Man I Ever Met’… I read that you wrote that 20 years ago and never recorded it. Why now?

Well, I guess I never had an opportunity to do it until now. It’s Tompall Glaser. ’Put Another Log on the Fire’ was his biggest hit, but he also co-wrote ‘Streets of Baltimore’ and he was a pioneer of the outlaw movement and he was the only one of those guys who was really a successful, establishment figure. He really didn’t have to do it. In other words, he didn’t have to open up his studio to weird people in the middle of the night, but he did. He’s kind of an unsung hero of mine.

‘My Shit's Fucked Up’ really hit me because it just so happens the day after I got the record my friend was diagnosed with cancer. So it really hit home.

Lance Armstrong once told me it’s bigger than terrorism or anything else. It going to hit one out of three of us.

There are two songs, ‘Freedom to Stay’ and ‘Wild Man From Borneo’ that you had recorded years ago. I actually like the new version better. Again, your voice is just great.

I don’t know how Brian did it. I’ll tell you right now, we used the Frank Sinatra method – which is one take, maybe two if we didn’t like the first one. But we didn’t spend all night redoing this stuff and the record breaks a lot of rules. It’s very sparse and it doesn’t have click tracks [audio cues used to synchronize recording] like they use in Nashville now. The songs aren’t written by committees. It would not make good background music for a frat party.

It sounds like we are in the room when you guys recorded it.

It really sounds intimate and personal and it leaves some space between the lines for people to bring their imagination to the party. With cultural ADD as it is, that’s unusual. You don’t see much of that. Usually the records don’t give you time to think and frankly they may sell millions of copies, which makes them important, but they’re not significant.

It might make them wealthy, but I’m not sure how important.

That’s right, the important stuff would be from the geezers, the old guys. I’m one of the younger ones from that crowd – Bob or Willie or Kris or Merle – and the numbers are diminishing all the time.

‘Wild Man of Borneo’ is like a completely different song now than when you recorded it 30-40 years ago and it fits into the melancholy and romantic theme of the album. I didn’t think of it as that kind of a song in the original version, but now it’s so obviously that kind of a song.

You’re right. Are you familiar with ‘Pickin' Time’ by Johnny Cash?

No, and I’m surprised.

Boy, almost nobody is. I don’t know how that one fell between the tracks because it’s a beautiful song.

And ‘Hungry Eyes’ can make you cry.

Yeah, that’s not a well known song. People think of Merle and they think of ‘Okie from Muskogee.’

And ‘Silver Wings.’

‘Silver Wings’ is a beauty. We haven’t had a song like that come out of Nashville in 20-30 years, probably. It’s that good. Why would that be? Why would it be that there isn’t something like ‘Hello, Walls’ coming out of Nashville or something like Kristofferson’s work? I wonder.

You would know better than me.

I wonder how many people know these songs. You know these songs, but not many people do.

And ‘Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis’ has always been one of my favorite Tom Waits’ songs.

Me, too. That’s always been a favorite of mine, but I talk to Tom Waits fans and they don’t know it.

And Lerner & Loewe’s ‘Wandrin’ Star’ is a gem. It’s now featured on an Amazon Prime commercial. They use Lee Marvin’s version of it. I was not familiar with it and it’s a beautiful song.

It’s great. Isn’t it a beauty? My God, Mickey Raphael. He plays harmonica on it. He’s Willie’s harp player. He’s just spectacular. I mean Mickey really makes the record. It’s a good thing he did because that’s about the only musicality on the tracks. That and the guitar player, Joe Cirotti, who did some beautiful work.

What do you like most and what do you like least about touring?

It’s something to look forward to. 35 consecutive shows without a day off is going to create a situation where I am running on pure adrenaline.

You are not a young man anymore. How are you going to do it?

We are going to find out. I’ve done 16 in a row in Germany and for the young people there I’m the new thinking man’s David Hasselhoff. I had sold out shows in Germany and they get it. They are a great audience and I think they are the only people on earth who have learned something from their own history. We certainly haven’t.

You’re working on a project with Billy Bob Thornton? What’s that all about?

That’s in the works – a television episode kind of thing. That could be great, could be bigger than The Hobbit. Those television deals. If it hits it’s big. The other thing is there’s a new book out in the fall, The Hard Boiled Computer.

Is that in the same series of mystery novels?

Yes. And there’s another secret project that I wish I could talk about, but I can’t just yet.

Can you tell me about the long lost Austin City Limits show that you recorded that they never aired for some reason. What’s the story behind that?

That was in 1975, something like that. I don’t know why they never aired it. You’ll have to ask them. They just said do the show the way you do it and we’ll edit out what we don’t like and what can’t be used, and they made a big Lenny Bruce deal out of it. That was the only show that was shitcanned. Now they’ve released it on video.

How did the Peace Corp shape your world view?

Well, working with a bunch of different tribes in the jungles of Borneo, with people who are supposedly working at a primitive level, but you see these people really have a code that may be higher than ours. For instance, the Pygmies, with the blow pipes, will not shoot an animal that doesn’t see them. If there is a deer or something staring off at the sunset they won’t shoot it until the animal sees them. They give it that break. They eat monkey brains. Borneo was a real experience. Some of it was being so far away from home and being isolated.

How long were you there?

I was there two years. Then I had to be returned to my own culture. That was one of the first cases of PTSD, but we call it culture shock!

I want to ask you about your sanctuary for the stray dogs.

UtopiaRescue.com. Utopia Rescue Animal Ranch. We take stray and abused animals – we’ve been doing it about 20 years – and it has been very successful. I agree with Will Rogers, who said, “If there are no dogs in heaven I want to go where they went.”

Do you have anything you want to say about the current state of our Presidential campaigns and candidates?

I think that I’d much rather be a musician than a politician.

You ran for office twice. I have a t-shirt from when you ran for Governor in 2004.

We won that race everywhere but Texas.

And then you ran again in 2013 for Texas’ Agriculture Commissioner.

We ran on a marijuana/hemp kind of ticket and that also didn’t fly, but it should have. I could have won, but the Democrats, the state structure, they kind of let me down. They campaigned against me. I would have gotten a lot of the Democrats and Independent votes and won, but instead the state is run by the Republicans, so that’s what the Democrats here deserve. The people have spoken, the bastards.

You were for legalization and they were not happy with that?

Yes, and it makes a lot of sense for Texas to do it. It would have turned our image on a dime in a very positive way. It would have been a progressive and positive thing to do because the revenues alone – Colorado is a little piss ant state...

They say the revenues are double what they thought it was going to be.

I know. It’s a sanctuary place you can go to if you have an autistic kid or have a kid with epilepsy. I mean the Israelis are giving pot to Alzheimer patients, to autistic children and the people in hospitals because the chemo is killing more people than cancer and if you can get over the byproducts of it – being sick all the time and not sleeping – one of the best ways to get over that is pot. I’m not a pot smoker like I said, I only smoked with Willie, that’s it.

That doesn’t even address the cost of law enforcement and jailing all those people.

From every standpoint. The time we waste on domestic squabbles. You won’t find domestic squabbles Nobody smokes a joint and gets violent. It doesn’t really happen.

Let me ask you about some of your other products. What makes a good tequila?

Nobody knows that. That’s in the ear of the beer holder, as they say. We don’t know. What we do know is we’ve got a great product in Man in Black Tequila. We do know it’s not your father’s tequila, it’s your grandfather’s gardeners tequila. I will be drinking it on the road for sure.

What makes a good cigar?

I think the Cuban cigars. I think there’s lithium in the soil there. Just a puff immediately makes you feel better. And of course I’ve smoked so many cigars I have only two taste buds left, but they are having a hell of a party!

What makes a good song?

A good song is one that you carry with you longer than – like these guys like Garth Brooks, I call him the anti-Hank, and Barry Manilow – they make you feel good for a short period of time. A good song will stay with you and possibly make you think and it may stay with you a lifetime.

A song like ‘Hungry Eyes.’

Absolutely. Anybody whose ever had a mother loves it and knows what that song is about.

What makes a good dog?

Well, a good dog has all the qualities that we don’t have. He’s spontaneous, he’s loyal, he’s ready to party, sensitive, protective, kind. I think Mark Twain, as he often does, said it best, talking about when you get to heaven, when you get to St Peter, don’t try to bring your dog in, they won’t let you do it because heaven operates on protocol. If it operated on merit your dog would go in and you would stay outside.

What makes a good woman?

That’s the one I can’t answer! •

Kinky Friedman’s albums, including his new record, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met is available on iTunes and from Amazon.com. His books are available at Barnes & Noble.com and Amazon.com and his E-books, read by Kinky himself, are available for Nook, Kindle, and iPhones, iPads. Visit kinkyfriedman.com for more information.

November-December 2015