I’ve always had a place in my musical heart for Chicago’s Warren Zevon. I didn’t know the man personally, but he seemed like a regular guy with a regular voice. As someone who can’t sing a lick I have always identified with the so called average voiced Rock Star; the Bob Dylans and the Neil Youngs for example. These artists are so spectacularly great nobody cares if they are upper echelon singers. Warren Zevon had this booming baritone of a voice that got the job done. The feeling behind his music is what sold the public. Like most people I discovered Warren Zevon in the late 70′s when he released his fantastic Excitable Boy LP. I know every single one of you know the songs “Werewolves of London” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” You are probably sick to death of hearing them too, but if you don’t own a copy of 1978′s Excitable Boy too bad for you. The songs “Excitable Boy” and “Johnny Strikes Up The Band” were also fairly big hits for Warren, but still there is more great stuff on this record. “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” has always been a favorite of mine. Two more tracks “Nighttime in The Switching Yard” and “Tenderness On The Block” make this record a five star record. I say that without reservation and despite the fact that it has two absolute Classic Rock staples. I’m proud to be a Warren Zevon fan. He was fun, he sang with conviction and I thought he had great songs.
Warren William Zevon was born on January 24, 1947. Unfortunately for us, he died on September 7, 2003. He had a lifelong aversion to doctors and I guess it’s fair to say it may have cost him his life. According to our friends at Wikipedia, he died of a form of cancer called Mesothelioma, which I suppose translates into an asbestos poisoning of his lungs. He was a mere 56 years old when he died. He famously appeared on David Letterman for a full hour as the only guest on October 30, 2002 after his diagnosis. Talk about a tear jerker. That was a sad episode. Refusing treatment that he felt might prevent him from recording his final CD called The Wind, Zevon made sure he got one more record released while he still had the capacity. The record went Gold by December of 2003 and he was awarded five Grammy nominations posthumously. He won in two categories. Good for him I say. He did it his way. Warren Zevon started out writing jingles and doing session work. You know how I always keep telling you I find out things when I research these posts? Well, Warren Zevon wrote songs that were recorded by other artists. We all know “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” which a big hit for Linda Ronstadt in the mid 70′s, but I had no idea he wrote a song recorded by The Turtles called “Outside Chance.” I used to love The Turtles when I was a kid. I had a copy of The Turtles Greatest Hits and I played the living snot out of the thing before I was ten or eleven years old. My mother loved them too. “Happy Together” was a big favorite of hers. ‘Nuff said I guess, but The Turtles recorded a lot music written by others too. For instance, I had no idea “It Ain’t Me Babe” was a Bob Dylan song until my mid teens! “She’d Rather Be With Me” was another big hit for them and that was written by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon. It took a while before artists actually wrote their own music in the 60′s.
Warren Zevon had a song called “He Quit Me” that was included on the massively popular soundtrack to the movie “Midnight Cowboy” as well. Who could forget Harry Nilsson’s classic “Everybody’s Talkin’?” I believe “He Quit Me” was performed by Leslie Miller and Garry Sherman on the record, but who cared with a cast that included Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman? Warren Zevon was on his way. He hooked on with the legendary Everly Brothers after releasing a commercial flop for a debut called Wanted Dead Or Alive as 1969 turned into 1970. By 1975 he was living in Los Angeles and sharing an apartment with little known fledgling artists Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. He began working with Jackson Browne on another record just called Warren Zevon that was eventually released in 1976. That is where you will find his version of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” It had another soon to be famous Warren Zevon track called “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” I don’t have any sales figures to share, but I think it’s fair to say that this record met with more critical success than commercial success. “Mohammed’s Radio, Carmelita and Hasten Down The Wind” all became Zevon staples, but it wasn’t until Excitable Boy that the world knew his name. Jackson Browne produced both records although famous guitarist Waddy Wachtel also helped produce Excitable Boy. Another factoid that had escaped me until now is that Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac fame apparently played on “Werewolves of London.” Man I gotta wake up. I should know that!
He next foray brought us 1980′s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. His cover of Ernie K-Doe’s “A Certain Girl” was fun and whimsical, but the record was definitely a step backward for Warren. If I remember correctly I didn’t even buy it until I found it in a used record store many years later for 99 cents or something. I had moved on to other things. I snoozed through 1982′s The Envoy, but I happened to be working at a CD store in 1987 when Sentimental Hygiene was released. We listened to CDs night and day in that store as you can well imagine and I took a shine to Sentimental Hygiene. If you talk to the Zevon faithful, The Envoy represented his “return” after a shaky Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, but I didn’t know that at the time. Sentimental Hygiene had some classic Zevon songs on it. It was around this time that he began hanging around and working with R.E.M. minus Michael Stipe (at least at first), which eventually translated into a band and release called Hindu Love Gods in 1990. The Hindu Love Gods did a couple of covers in Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and Terry Anderson’s ”Battleship Chains” (made famous by The Georgia Satellites) which I enjoyed. This CD has become rather hard to locate I’m told. Bang Bang (I’ve Got Mine) as David Bowie once said. Zevon had an amazing capacity to have other famous musicians play on his albums. For instance Don Henley, Linda Ronstadt, Waddy Wachtel, Mike Campbell, Bob Dylan, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, David Lindley, Flea, Brian Setzer, Tony Levin, George Clinton, Jennifer Warnes and Neil Young all contributed to Sentimental Hygiene. By the time of the Hindu Love Gods I about to be overtaken by the Manchester Sound and totally forgot about Warren Zevon for many years. Sadly, it took his impending death to get me interested again.
I have since filled in the gaps in my Warren Zevon collection, but to be truthful I haven’t really combed through them like I should. I wish I could get paid to listen to music all day every day, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Still, I love to dig into an artist like Warren Zevon and play three or four of his records while I’m working on the computer or doing something that doesn’t require much brain power. One thing about doing these posts; it definitely makes you focus on that particular artist for a couple of hours while you crank one of them out. I suppose the takeaways here are get a copy of Excitable Boy if you don’t have one and listen to the B tracks. At the very least find copies of Warren Zevon, Sentimental Hygiene, The Envoy and The Wind if you consider yourself a fan. And remember the dignity and grace that Warren Zevon went out with. Though his ashes are allegedly scattered in the Pacific Ocean, the man’s spirit is still with us. He’s probably looking for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s in heaven trying order a big dish of beef chow mein. Happy Birthday Warren from The Giant Panther, wherever you are. Enjoy every sandwich up there.
Buy or Download Genuis: The Best of Warren Zevon From Amazon Here.