Posts Tagged ‘Stand In The Fire’

Stand In The Fire: Warren Zevon’s Incendiary Live Album

Warren Zevon (1947-2003) – 1970s – The excitable boy, Mr. bad Example himself, Warren Zevon, a songwriter with few equals who is best remembered for his 1978 hit “Werewolves of London,” But Zevon was so much more than his signature song. Beginning in 1976 with his debut album on Asylum Records, “Warren Zevon”, He captured the attention of Linda Ronstadt who recorded “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” a Zevon penned tune which she turned into a Top 30 hit in 1978. Songs like “Mohammed’s Radio,” “Frank and Jesse James,” “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” and “Hasten Down the Wind,” (also covered by Ronstadt), all on his debut album displayed Zevon’s penchant for history and a soft, sweet side. It was his second Asylum album “Excitable Boy,” (1978) that established Zevon as a writer of great wit, skill, and whimsy.

The disc was filled with Zevon gems: “Johnny Strikes Up the Band” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” and “Accidentally Like a Martyr” and had the added cachet of being produced by Zevon’s pal Jackson Browne. Although Zevon’s career didn’t have the upward trajectory of Browne’s, He was a cult favourite, knocking out crowd pleasers at his often unrestrained lives shows. With titles like “If You Won’t Leave Me I’ll Find Somebody Who Will” “Gorilla You’re a Desperado” and “Detox Mansion,” he endeared himself to his legion of followers. In the early 2000s, he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, which cut his life and art short. But he began work on his final album “The Wind,” in early 2003, completing it in time to see it rise high into the Top 10 with songs like his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and the heartbreaking “Keep Me in Your Heart,” Zevon was buoyed on the album by help from his friends including Bruce Springsteen on the barnburner “Disorder in the Court.” Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, David Lindley, and Dwight Yoakam all lent their talents to the album as well. Zevon made appearances on the David Letterman show right up until the end when the talk show host and his friend turned over the entire hour to him. It was during this final appearance on Letterman on October 30th, 2002, that Zevon repeated his oft-quoted advice on dying: “Enjoy every sandwich,” Zevon’s acerbic wit, great sensitivity, and writing prowess will keep him in the hearts of those who loved his style for a long time to come.

Warren Zevon’s  “Stand In The Fire”, recorded over a five-night period at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood in August 1980, is not only one of Zevon’s best albums, it is also one of the most affecting live albums of the decade.

After more than ten years of drink and drugs excesses, the newly-sober Zevon, then 33, was in a better place when it came to this run of summer gigs. He was in jocular form, joking that the concerts should be called “The Dog Ate The Part We Didn’t Like Tour”, and said he was happy to be back performing in Los Angeles, the city where he had grown up. Asked by Rolling Stone magazine how it felt to be on stage in front of an enthusiastic home crowd, Zevon replied, “Let’s just say that it was like rescuing the little boy who’d fallen through the ice. Rescuing him while the whole world was watching.”

Stand In The Fire, which was released by Asylum Records on 26th December 1980, carried the dedication “For Marty”, in tribute to Zevon’s friend, the film director Martin Scorsese. The album opened with the previously unreleased title track, which was immediately followed by “Jenny Needs A Shooter”, a song co-written with Zevon’s friend Bruce Springsteen.

Though Zevon was taking prescription painkillers and steroids for a strained nerve in his back, the singer-songwriter was remarkably full of energy for the gigs, in which he displayed his usual mordant wit. For the live version of On “Mohammed’s Radio”, Zevon altered the original lyrics from “You know the sheriff’s got his problems, too/He will surely take them out on you” to “Ayatollah’s got his problems, too/Even Jimmy Carter’s got the highway blues”, in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Iran hostage crisis that was dominating the news at the time.

Despite being harvested from multiple performances, “Stand In The Fire” feels cohesive, which is partly down to the excellence and consistency of the terrific backing musicians, who were largely unknown at the time. The band, who called themselves Boulder, comprised Zevon on vocals, piano and 12-string guitar, Roberto Piñón on bass and backing vocals, Marty Stinger on drums, Zeke Zirngiebel on rhythm, lead, and slide guitar, Bob Harris on synthesiser and piano, and David Landau on lead guitar.

The shows were produced by Zevon and Greg Ladanyi. During the rocking performance of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, one of the stand-out songs from Zevon’s self-titled debut album, Zevon halts midway through the track and drags George Gruel, his then “road manager and best friend”, on stage to fire up the crowd. Gruel grabbed the microphone and gleefully announced, “Get up and dance, or I’ll kill ya. And I’ve got the means!”

Zevon’s version of his perennially popular “Werewolves Of London” is peppered with witty ad libs about the musicians Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and director Brian De Palma, whose violent film Dressed To Kill had been one of the most talked about releases that summer. Zevon also performed a slowed down version of “Lawyers, Guns And Money” along with high-energy versions of “Excitable Boy” and “The Sin”. He also growled his way through the autobiographical song “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, before the album ended with a cover of Bo Diddley’s “A Gunslinger”, which had been a R&B hit in 1960 for an artist that Zevon admired deeply.

There were ten tracks on the original 1980 release of Stand In The Fire, but when Asylum/Rhino remastered the album in 2007, they added four additional songs: “Johnny Strikes Up The Band, Play It All Night Long, Frank And Jesse James” and “Hasten Down The Wind”.

On the final two tracks, Zevon played piano and first delivered a poignant, reflective version of a song about two cowboy legends before launching into one of his most affecting compositions about love, “Hasten Down The Wind”. Zevon first recorded the song in 1976.

Zevon’s version at the Roxy was preceded with a moving speech, in which he explained the song’s meaning to the audience. “This is a song that I’d like to play for you that I wrote a decade ago, just about. This is the song that came along and intervened between myself and starvation, thanks to Miss Ronstadt. In those days, you know, when I wrote this song, I was not a very happy fellow. I was poor and strung out and screwed up… and now I’m just screwed up. No, I’m very happy, thank you, thank you very much. Because everybody gotta change sometimes. Speaking as one who has abused privilege for a long time, I tell you, it’s great to be alive. Thank you.”

It was a fitting way to close a splendid live album that captures all that is great about Warren Zevon, who died at the age of 56 in 2003.

The Curmudgeon: Does Warren Zevon Belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Surely does Warren Zevon  not belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Well, there are two ways of looking at this. On the one hand, Zevon is more deserving than a lot of selections already in the Hall: Kiss, Yes, Rush, Chicago, Journey, Bon Jovi and so on. On the other hand, Zevon is less deserving than some acts still waiting to get in like: Radiohead, Whitney Houston, Gram Parsons, Graham Parker, the Replacements, the Zombies.

So let’s look at a  proper evaluation of Warren Zevon’s place in music history? Last week marked the 15th anniversary of his death at all too young an age of 56 on September. 7th, 2003. This summer James Campion published his critical biography, Accidentally Like a Martyr: The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon, a 290-page argument that the singer/songwriter deserves better from rock history than he’s gotten so far.

In his gushing, heart-on-his-sleeve prose, heavy on first-person pronouns, Campion is trying to transform the standard critical take on Zevon: that the tremendous promise of his early work was left unfulfilled by his struggles with drugs, alcohol and self-aggrandizement. Campion doesn’t evade those struggles, but he argues that Zevon was able to use those challenges as the raw materials for some of his best work on his final records.

accidentally-martyr.jpg

Campion has some famous musicians willing to testify on his behalf. In 2004, the posthumous tribute album ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich’—The Songs of Warren Zevon featured contributions from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder, often performing songs from later in the songwriter’s career. The author calls on many of them and their peers in the book to bolster his case.

In the end, though Warren Zevon made one brilliant album, his 1976 breakthrough “Warren Zevon”, almost duplicated it on his 1978 follow-up, “Excitable Boy”, but never came close to such a triumph again. Individual songs stood out subsequently, but they were eclipsed by a lot of showboating, and the recycled musical motifs and underwhelming singing . Zevon never lost his facility with words, but mere cleverness is not the same as great art.

Campion undermines his own argument with the examples he selects. He justifiably raves about the lyrics in “Desperadoes Under the Eaves” (“Don’t the sun look angry through the trees? Don’t the trees look like crucified thieves? Don’t you feel like desperados under the eaves? Heaven help the one who leaves…. I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel; I was listening to the air conditioner hum.”). But then he later extends the same enthusiasm for the much clumsier lyrics on 2000’s “Fistful of Rain” (“You can dream the American dream, but you sleep with the lights on and wake up with a scream. You can hope against hope that nothing will change; grab a hold of that fistful of rain.”).

Campion devotes each chapter to a song or sometimes an album using that as a lens for examining a certain stage and/or a certain aspect of Zevon’s career. For example, the biographer uses “Desperadoes Under the Eaves” to examine both the events that led up to the 1976 eponymous disc and the colorful songwriting that gave the record its impact.

Then Campion backtracks in the second chapter to examine Zevon’s pre-fame career as an L.A. session musician, jingle composer, songwriter, unsuccessful recording artist and eventually music director for the Everly Brothers’ touring band. To focus this chapter, the biographer uses “Studebaker,” a romantic ballad about an unreliable car, a song that Zevon never released nor performed live during his lifetime.

Zevon struggled to have a solo career until his music was performed by Linda Rondstadt. This launched a cult following that lasted for 25 years with Zevon making occasional returns to album and single charts until his death from cancer in 2003. He briefly found a new audience in the 1980s by teaming up with members of R.E.M. in the rock outfit Hindu Love Gods.

Known for his dry wit and acerbic lyrics, he was a guest several times on Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show with David Letterman.

Then it’s back to Warren Zevon, this time analyzed through the prism of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” a song sung most lustrously by Linda Ronstadt. Then it’s on to Zevon’s highest-charting album, “Excitable Boy”, which yielded his only top-40 single, “Werewolves of London,” a song that compares bohemian hipsters out on the town to marauding canines.

And yet it still stands as Zevon’s most accessible, most pleasurable recording. It’s precisely because he didn’t take the song seriously that the singer was able to drop his pretentious posturing and artistic mannerisms and just have fun with his natural instincts for melodic hooks and irreverent satire. The fact that he never made such a carefree track again is a clue into his failure to deliver on his promise.

The title track of Excitable Boy offered a similarly hyperbolic satire of masculinity, but the chorus wasn’t as catchy and the vocal wasn’t as relaxed. And by playing the rape and murder of a junior-prom date for laughs, This is even more obvious in his admiration for the mercenary soldier who pillages and massacres his way across the Third World in the ghost story, “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” And in the braggadocio and self-entitlement of “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”

This is where biography and art intersect. Campion is frank about Zevon’s weakness for alcohol, drugs, guns and womanizing. But he discusses these matters as if they were merely obstacles getting in the way of the songwriter doing his work. The biographer never recognizes the ways that weakness seeped into the work. But anyone who has spent much time around alcoholics and gun fanatics can recognize the self-importance and bar-room boasting that increasingly informed Zevon’s work from Excitable Boy onwards.

The singer had constructed a persona—that of a hard-drinking, gun-firing, thesaurus-toting wild man—and that character served him well in winning a following that remained loyal through the subsequent years of sporadic and uneven albums and tours.

Warren Zevon (1976)

Zevon had returned to Los Angeles from Spain, He then roomed with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who had by now gained fame as members of Fleetwood Mac. There he collaborated with Jackson Browne, who produced and promoted Zevon’s self-titled major-label debut in 1976. Contributors to this album included Nicks, Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Linda Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt. Ronstadt elected to record many of his songs, including “Hasten Down the Wind”, “Carmelita”, “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, and “Mohammed’s Radio”. Zevon’s first tour, in 1977, included guest appearances in the middle of Jackson Browne concerts, one of which is documented on a widely circulated bootleg recording of a Dutch radio program under the title The Offender Meets the Pretender.

Produced by Browne, was his first album to chart .The first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide (published in 1979) called it a masterpiece. Zevon’s most realized work. Representative tracks include the junkie’s lament “Carmelita”; the Copland-esque outlaw ballad “Frank and Jesse James”; “The French Inhaler”, a scathing insider’s look at life and lust in the L.A. music business (which was, in fact, about his long-time girlfriend and mother of his son and “Desperados Under the Eaves”, a chronicle of Zevon’s increasing alcoholism.

Excitable Boy (1978)

In 1978, Zevon released Excitable Boy (produced by Jackson Browne and guitarist Waddy Wachtel) to critical acclaim and popular success. The title tune is about a juvenile sociopath’s murderous prom night, referred to “Little Susie”, the heroine of his former employer the Everly Brothers’s song “Wake Up Little Susie”, while songs such as “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money” used deadpan humor to wed geopolitical subtexts to hard-boiled narratives. Tracks from this album received heavy FM airplay, and the single release “Werewolves of London”, which featured Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, was a relatively lighthearted version of Zevon’s signature macabre outlook .

“Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”  Who better to explain the origins of the final song Zevon ever played live (on The Late Show with David Letterman) than Zevon himself? As he wrote in the liner notes of his anthology, “In 1974 I ran off to Spain and got a job in an Irish bar called the Dubliner, in Sitges, on the Costa Brava. The proprietor was a piratical ex-merc named David Lindell. He and I wrote this song at the bar one afternoon, over many jars.”

“Werewolves of London”  Although it was cowritten with guitarist Waddy Wachtel, the title of Zevon’s signature song – at least amongst mainstream audiences – came from Phil Everly who, while Waddy and Warren were part of the Everly Brothers’ backing band, asked them to write a dance song for the Everlys called “Werewolves of London.” Zevon reportedly came up with the opening line (“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand”), after which he and Wachtel traded lyrics back and forth until the thoroughly absurd song was complete.

The rock critic Dave Marsh, called Zevon “one of the toughest rockers ever to come out of Southern California”.. Rolling Stone called the album one of the most significant releases of the 1970s and placed him alongside Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen as the four most important new artists to emerge in the decade. On May 11th, 1980, Zevon along with Willie Nile appeared on the King Biscuit Flower Hour. 

His decline wasn’t sudden, and it was never complete. For all its flaws, Excitable Boy was a nearly the greatest album, containing not only “Werewolves” but also Zevon’s most heartfelt ballad (“Accidentally like a Martyr”), his best historical evocation (“Veracruz”) and the funkiest track he ever released (“Nighttime in the Switching Yard”).

Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School

Bad Luck Street in Dancing School (1980)

Zevon followed Excitable Boy with Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, in 1980. This album was dedicated to Ken Millar, better known under his nom-de-plume as the detective novelist Ross Macdonald. Millar was a literary hero of Zevon’s, who met the singer for the first time while participating in an intervention organized by Rolling Stone record reviews editor Paul Nelson, which helped Zevon temporarily curtail his addictions. Featuring a modest hit with the single “A Certain Girl” (Zevon’s cover of an R&B record by Ernie K-Doe) the album sold briskly but was uneven, and represented a decline rather than commercial and critical consistency. It contained a collaboration with Bruce Springsteen, the most negligible song Bruce Springsteen ever co-wrote (“Jeannie Needs a Shooter”) and the ballad “Empty-Handed Heart” featuring a descant sung by Linda Ronstadt, which dealt with Zevon’s divorce from his wife, Crystal, the mother of his daughter Ariel; she has been erroneously described in some sources as his “second wife” (Marilyn “Tule” Livingston, the mother of his son, Jordan, and Zevon had been in a long-term relationship but never married.)

“Play It All Night Long” Although best remembered by many for its reference to “Sweet Home Alabama” and its follow-up lyric (“Play that dead band’s song”), it should never be forgotten that it’s arguably the only song of note to prominently feature the word “brucellosis” in its lyrics, thanks to Zevon having read Newton Thornburg’s Black Angus around the same time that he penned the tune.

“A Certain Girl” Although Zevon’s cover song inclusions were few, he invariably made the most of them, as was the case with this track by Allen Toussaint. It’s actually credited to Naomi Neville, but that was the name of Toussaint’s mother, who – along with his father, Clarence – occasionally found themselves the beneficiaries of his song writing royalties.

The slide began here earnest on the 1980 follow-up, Bad Luck Street in Dancing School, whose silly title track was only made sillier by its clunky chamber-music frame. and the most formulaic song ever written about teen rebellion (“Wild Age”). On the other hand, the album includes “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado,” a sequel to “Werewolves” that’s even funnier than the original though not as catchy, and “Play It All Night Long,” a fitting answer song to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Neil Young’s “Southern Man.”

Zevon also had a knack for writing good songs about athletes, such as baseball pitcher “Bill Lee,” boxer “Boom Boom Mancini” and the fictional hockey player in “Hit Somebody.” And every album seemed to have flashes of the old talent.

Stand In The Fire (Expanded & Remastered) by Warren Zevon (2007-04-09)

Stand in the Fire (1980)

Later in 1980, he released the live album Stand in the Fire (dedicated to Martin Scorsese), recorded over five nights at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles.

“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”  Between being utilized as the title of a two disc anthlogy featuring his best songs as well as the title of the memoir written by his ex wife, Crystal Zevon, it’s fair to say that this was one of Warren’s best-known songs, not to mention the one that summed up his predominant mindset for much of his hard-lived life.

The Envoy  (1982)

Zevon’s 1982 release, The Envoy, returned to the high standard of Excitable Boy but was not a commercial success It was an eclectic but characteristic set that included such compositions as “Ain’t That Pretty at All”, “Charlie’s Medicine” and “Jesus Mentioned”, the first of Zevon’s two musical reactions to the death of Elvis Presley; the other is the song “Porcelain Monkey” on Life’ll Kill Ya in 2000. The album also contains the first of Zevon’s writing collaborations with well-known, often respected, writers of fiction: “The Overdraft” , co-written with Thomas McGuane. The title track was dedicated to Philip Habib, U.S. special envoy to the Middle East during the early 1980s. In the liner notes for the 1996 anthology I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Zevon stated that after the song came out, Habib sent him “a very nice letter of appreciation on State Department stationery”. The lyrics of another track, “The Hula Hula Boys”, were excerpted in Hunter S. Thompson’s 1983 book, The Curse of Lono.

“The Envoy” Inspired by the career of Philip Habib, American diplomat and special envoy to the Middle East, Zevon later received what he described as “a very nice letter of appreciation on State Department stationery.”

“The Hula Hula Boys” This particular track is a family affair, as it features Warren’s son Jordan providing harmony vocals, but as far as Jackson Browne is concerned, it’s predominantly prime Warren. “Do you know what the chorus of ‘The Hula Hula Boys’ actually means?” Browne asked during an interview. “It’s a saying in Hawaii that loosely means ‘get to the point’, but literally means ‘sing the chorus’. So when they sing the chorus, they’re singing ‘sing the chorus’. That is the funniest f—ing thing I have ever f—ing heard! That’s Warren Zevon at his best. With one stroke, he’s saying nothing and everything. Zevon is a singular writer.”

In 1983, the recently divorced Zevon became engaged to Philadelphia disc jockey Anita Gevinson and moved to the East Coast. After the disappointing reception for The Envoy, Zevon’s distributor, Asylum Records, ended their business relationship, which Zevon only discovered when he read about it in the “Random Notes” column of Rolling Stone. The trauma allegedly caused him to relapse into serious alcoholism and drug abuse. In 1984, he voluntarily checked himself into an unnamed rehab clinic in Minnesota. Zevon retreated from the music business for several years, except for playing some live solo shows, a period of time during which he finally overcame severe alcohol and drug addictions.

Sentimental Hygiene (1987) and The Hindu Love Gods

From his 1976 self-titled “Warren Zevon” LP to his final album, 2003’s The Wind, Warren Zevon regularly garnered some incredible assistance on his recordings. A-list rock stars and music legends happily played second banana to the singer-songwriter on his records – either producing, acting like sidemen or singing backup.

In Zevon’s career, no lineup is more remarkable than the one that helped him make 1987’s Sentimental Hygiene. Guests included old compatriots such as Don Henley, David Lindley and Waddy Wachtel alongside luminaries from a variety of genres, like P-Funk master George Clinton, rockabilly revivalist Brian Setzer, soundtrack star Jennifer Warnes, Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch, Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea, not to mention legends such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan. The core group for the sessions was three-fourths of R.E.M.: guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry. “Bad Karma”While we could’ve included a number of different tunes from Zevon’s “comeback” album, including the title track and the closing track, “Leave My Monkey Alone,” we’re opting for this one for a very specific reason: like the rest of the album, it features Zevon backed by Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry, but unlike the rest of the album, it features backing vocals by Michael Stipe. That’s right, you get 100% of R.E.M. on this track!.

At the time, R.E.M. was on the precipice of massive success (“The One I Love” and the platinum Document would arrive just after Sentimental Hygiene), although Zevon had begun working with the band a few years earlier. A big fan of R.E.M.’s debut LP, Murmur, the singer had traveled to Athens, Ga., in February 1984 to record some demos of his newest material with the group.

Berry, Buck and Mills became the core of Zevon’s next studio band when he re-emerged in 1987 by signing with Virgin Records and recording the album Sentimental Hygiene. The release, hailed as his best since Excitable Boy, featured a thicker rock sound and taut, often humorous songs like “Detox Mansion”, “Bad Karma” (which featured R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe on backup vocals), and “Reconsider Me”.

During the Sentimental Hygiene sessions, Zevon also participated in an all-night jam session with Berry, Buck and Mills, as they worked their way through rock and blues numbers by the likes of Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Robert JohnsonandPrince. Though the sessions were not initially intended for release, they eventually saw the light of day as a Hindu Love Gods album.  Zevon even joined the newly born R.E.M. side project called Hindu Love Gods for some in concert performances, in which they played some of his new tunes (“Boom Boom Mancini” and “Trouble Waiting to Happen”) as well as “Werewolves of London” and an assortment of covers.

It was a bright spot in a dark time for Zevon, who had recently hit rock-bottom. After 1982’s The Envoy had fizzled commercially, he was dropped from Asylum Records,

Writing was part of the process. For instance, “Trouble Waiting to Happen,” which referenced Rolling Stone and obliquely mentioned his ouster from Asylum: “I read things I didn’t know I’d done / It sounded like a lot of fun / I guess I’ve been bad or something.” Meanwhile, “Detox Mansion” was more specific, but still characteristically tongue-in-cheek, with mentions of “rakin’ leaves with Liza” [Minnelli] and cleaning up the yard with Liz [Elizabeth Taylor].

“I was sitting with Jorge [career-long collaborator Jorge Calderon], and he said, ‘I see you’re drinking Coca-Cola. I guess you don’t wanna go back to Detox Mansion’,” Zevon revealed about the song’s sardonic inspiration.

But Zevon wrote nakedly heartfelt songs about his struggles, too. “Reconsider Me” was about a relationship that his bad behavior had destroyed and a plea for his estranged lover to return. The singer-songwriter would later say that “Reconsider Me” (along with “Hasten Down the Wind”) were the most personal songs he’d ever released.

“Those are about as close as it gets,” Zevon said “Those are close like, ‘Maybe she’ll hear this…’ They’re that kind of close. The women don’t come back, though. They’re impressed, but they don’t come back. They’ll tell their friends.”

Because Zevon was unsigned when he wrote “Reconsider Me,” he offered it to former roommate and collaborator Stevie Nicks, but the album on which she recorded it was shelved (the song was eventually released on a box set in 1998). So the tender ballad was still up for grabs after Zevon was eventually signed to Virgin Records and began making his comeback.

Having kept in contact with R.E.M. – Zevon did a guest spot at an ’85 concert to sing “The Factory” with the gang and Buck showed up to play at one of his solo shows – he invited the group to back him on his new album. They agreed, joining forces to record the bulk of the material in January and February of 1987 at Record One in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Even Michael Stipe got involved, singing backing vocals on “Bad Karma.”

“Warren Zevon is the quintessential L.A. songwriter,” Mills said “I’ve learned to find the good things about Los Angeles and Warren tends to remind both of those and the darker, seamier side.”

In fact, the sessions went so well that the boys ended up with extra time on their hands. After a dinner at which some members were over-served (but not the recently sober Zevon), the quartet decided to return to the studio and bash their way through an assortment of covers – mostly blues classics, but also Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.” Those recordings would have nothing to do with Sentimental Hygiene, but would cause controversy in 1990 when the guys felt that Zevon’s management wanted to capitalize on R.E.M.’s new status as rock stars by putting the session out as Hindu Love Gods.

“I think it’s really great, but unfortunately there’s a whole side to it that’s very black and ugly,” Berry “Basically we were exploited. We love Warren and don’t regret doing it at all, but his management and record company kept begging us to support it with publicity and a tour or something. But we can’t just drop what we’re doing. It was just one fun drunken night long ago.”

After R.E.M.’s involvement with the sessions ended, they continued, with the likes of Jennifer Warnes and Don Henley adding backing harmonies to tracks, as well as other legends stopping by. Neil Young agreed to play dirty lead guitar on Sentimental Hygiene’s title track. And then Bob Dylan also showed up.

“When I walked into the studio and they said, ‘Bob Dylan’s here,’ I said, ‘Why?’ Zevon recalled To see you.’ That’s worth a million records to me.”

Dylan, who Zevon often called one of the greatest (if not the greatest) of his influences, contributed a harmonica part to “The Factory.” In addition, a couple of tracks were recorded without R.E.M.’s involvement. One of them was “Leave My Monkey Alone,” a song about the ’50s Mau Mau uprisings that became a funk tune with the help of Flea and George Clinton. Released as a single, the song earned a unique honor as Zevon’s lone entry on the Dance chart (No. 18) and also turned into a very ’80s music video, complete with awkward dance moves from the singer-songwriter. It was all part of the comeback package when Virgin issued Sentimental Hygiene on August. 29th, 1987. Although Zevon’s sixth album would re-establish him in the music industry the level of success that was achieved was clearly less than Virgin expected. After the follow-up, Transverse City, came out in 1989, Zevon was dropped from a label again. At least this time, he didn’t have to find out in the pages of Rolling Stone.

Transverse City

Transverse City (1989),

The immediate follow-up to Sentimental Hygiene was 1989’s Transverse City, a futuristic concept album inspired by Zevon’s interest in the work of cyberpunk science fiction author William Gibson. It featured guests including the Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna bassist Jack Casady, the noted jazz keyboardist Chick Corea and various guitarists, including Wachtel, David Lindley, Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, David Gilmour and Neil Young.

“Splendid Isolation” Zevon always managed to score a number of high-profile musicians for his albums, but this LP had the deck stacked in a big way, thanks to appearances by Jack Casady, Chick Corea, Jerry Garcia, David Gilmour, Mark Isham, Jorma Kaukonen, and J.D. Souther. In addition, you’ve got this track, which features guitar work by Mike Campbell of The Heartbreakers and harmony vocals by Neil Young.

Key tracks include the title song, “Splendid Isolation”, “Run Straight Down” (which had a promotional video that featured Zevon singing in a factory while Gilmour played guitar solos), and “They Moved the Moon” (one of Zevon’s eerier ballads).

Mr. Bad Example

Mr. Bad Example (1991)

In 1991, Zevon, once again a solo artist, released Mr. Bad Example. This album featured the modest pop hit “Searching for a Heart” and the rocker “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”, later used as the title of the neo-noir film of the same name, directed by Gary Fleder; after some skirmishing over the unauthorized use of Zevon’s song title, the Zevon track was licensed to play over the film’s end credits.

On “Mr. Bad Example”  Zevon goes polka! This title track to Warren’s ’91 LP tells the tale of a con-man with an impressive resume of chicanery. Plus, you can do a jig to it!

Zevon also sang lead vocals on the song “Casey Jones” from the Grateful Dead tribute album Deadicated, although the cut is credited to his regular collaborator David Lindley.

Learning to Flinch(1993)

Owing to his reduced circumstances and his health, his performances were often true solo efforts with minimal accompaniment on piano and guitar the live album Learning to Flinch(1993) documents such a tour. The disc received some airplay on college radio and was considered to be Zevon’s version of the MTV series Unplugged. Zevon often played in Colorado around this time to allow for an opportunity to visit with his longtime friend writer Hunter S. Thompson. Zevon also appeared on the Larry Sanders Show on HBO, in 1993, playing himself as a guest on the show, promoting Learning to Flinch. Zevon also played himself on two episodes of Suddenly Susan in 1999, along with singer and actor Rick Springfield.

The Mutineer (1995)

In 1995, Zevon released the self-produced Mutineer. The title track was frequently covered by Bob Dylan on his U.S. fall tour in 2002. Zevon’s cover of cult artist Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Crossmaker” predated the wider rediscovery of her work a decade later. The album, however, suffered the worst sales of Zevon’s career, in part because his label, superagent Irving Azoff’s short-lived Giant Records, was in the process of going out of business.

“Mutineer”  Another title track, this was originally going to be the final song Zevon performed live, but when he made that appearance on Letterman’s show, there was some confusion over the order of Zevon’s three planned songs, so Zevon rolled with it and performed “Mutineer” first. In the wake of Zevon’s death, Letterman showed the performances again, and this time he rejiggered the running order made sure that Zevon got his wish: “Mutineer” was played last.

Rhino Records released a Zevon “Best-of” compilation in 1996, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”.

Life Will Kill Ya

Life’ll Kill Ya (2000)

After another five-year layoff, Zevon signed with industry veteran Danny Goldberg’s Artemis Records and again rebounded with the mortality-themed 2000 release Life’ll Kill Ya, containing the hymn-like “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” and an austere version of Steve Winwood’s 1980s hit “Back in the High Life Again”.

“My Shit’s Fucked Up”  The song evolved out of Zevon’s lifelong fear of doctors, with its narrator finally visiting his practitioner and being informed, “Your shit’s fucked up.” Ironically – and in a big, big way – this was prior to Zevon actually getting said diagnosis himself. “I might’ve made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years,” Zevon admitted to David Letterman during his final appearance on the Late Show. “It was one of those phobias that didn’t really pay off.”

With record sale brisk and music critics giving Zevon his best notices since Excitable Boy, Life’ll Kill Ya is seen as his second comeback.

My Ride's Here

My Ride’s Here (2002)

He followed with the album My Ride’s Here (2002), with its morbid prescience of things to come; the album included “Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)” (co-written by Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, and featuring Paul Shaffer, and the Late Night band, and a spoken vocal from TV host David Letterman) and the ballad “Genius” (later used as the title of an anthology of Zevon’s recordings, in 2002), with a string section that attests to the lasting influence of Stravinsky on Zevon’s work. Comedian and TV host David Letterman was credited by Zevon as “being the best friend my music ever had”

At about this time, he and the actor Billy Bob Thornton formed a close friendship, catalyzed by their common experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the fact they lived in the same apartment building.

“Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)” This song is a rarity for a couple of reasons, starting with the fact that the lyrics were actually penned by Mitch Albom, best known as the author of “Tuesday’s With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet In Heaven”. More importantly, though, the voice you hear shouting “Hit somebody!” is none other than David Letterman. Even though Zevon played the song on The Late Show, Paul Shaffer actually does the yelling during the performance, which is why we’ve gone with the studio version that features Dave in all his glory.

One of Zevon’s compulsions was buying and hoarding identical grey Calvin Klein T-shirts.

The Wind

The Wind

Zevon began recording his final album, The Wind, which includes performances by close friends including Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh, David Lindley, Billy Bob Thornton, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Dwight Yoakam. At the request of the music television channel VH1, documentarian Nick Read was given access to the sessions and made the television film Inside Out: Warren Zevon.

“Keep Me in Your Heart” How better to end things than with the last song written and recorded by Zevon before succumbing to cancer. By this point, he was too weak to keep going back and forth to the studio, so a studio was set up in his home to record this swan song. Just knowing that it was on his last album makes it sad enough, but now that you know the specifics, just go ahead and let the waterworks flow.

The Wind won two Grammys, with the album itself receiving the award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, while “Disorder in the House”, Zevon’s duet with Bruce Springsteen, was awarded Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings by Warren Zevon (2007-05-03)

Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings (2007)

Ammal Records, a new label started up as a partnership with New West Records by Zevon’s former boss at ArtemisDanny Goldberg, released Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings, a two-disc anthology of Zevon demos and alternate versions culled from 126 pre-1976 recordings that were kept in a suitcase. The album contains five previously unreleased songs: “Empty Hearted Town”, “Going All the Way”, “Steady Rain”, “Stop Rainin’ Lord” and “The Rosarita Beach Cafe”, along with Zevon’s original demo of “Studebaker”.

Reissues of the Zevon albums Stand in the Fire and The Envoy were released on March 27th, 2007, by Rhino Records, alongside a Rhino re-issue of Excitable Boy, with all three CDs having four unreleased bonus tracks each. Noteworthy rarities include the outtakes “Word of Mouth” and “The Risk” from the Envoy sessions and “Frozen Notes (Strings Version)”, a melancholy outtake from Excitable Boy performed on acoustic piano with a string quartet.

Check out this documentary about the making of the Grammy nominated album The Wind, Warren Zevon’s final recording Featuring guest appearances: Jackson Browne, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Springsteen, Jorge Calderon, Ry Cooder, Waddy Wachtel, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Mike Fleetwood, Tom Petty, Timothy B.Schmit, Joe Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, David Lindley, David Letterman… With additional Extras.

So what is Zevon’s place in pop music history? He was too talented to be forgotten, and too self-sabotaging to be lionized. Warren Zevon and Excitable Boy are still classic must have albums.

In the end, Zevon is overshadowed by two other misanthropic, piano-playing singer/songwriters who were working in Southern California at the same time he was: Randy Newman and Tom Waits, both deservedly in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The songs of Newman and Waits sound timeless today, while Zevon’s sound like artifacts of a particular time and place in L.A. warped by alcohol, cocaine, gunpowder and testosterone.

But even when he wrote a song as promising as “Reconsider Me,” “The Indifference of Heaven,” “Splendid Isolation” or “I Was in the House when the House Burned Down,” he often undermined it with a poor performance.

Campion’s is the third book about Warren Zevon, following 2017’s academic study, Warren Zevon: Desperado of Los Angeles,by George Plasketes, and 2007’s oral history, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevonorganized by ex-wife Crystal Zevon .

Get ready to howl!  Run Out Groove has announced its latest fan-voted release, and it’s from the late singer-songwriter Warren Zevon.  The label will press a limited and numbered Deluxe Edition of Zevon’s live album “Stand in the Fire – Recorded Live at The Roxy” in a generously expanded format.  The original LP was originally released at the tail end of 1980 and was recorded over a five-night stand in August of that year at the famed West Hollywood venue.  It boasted ten tracks – including mordant favourites “Werewolves of London,” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” and “Excitable Boy” – and the 2007 CD reissue added four more including “Hasten Down the Wind.”  Now, RUG will not only carry over those four additional cuts in their vinyl debut but will also add six previously unreleased bonus tracks including “Roland, The Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School,” “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado,” “Night Time in the Switching Yard,” an alternate version of “The Sin,” and a cover of Allen Toussaint’s “A Certain Girl.”

The double-vinyl set will be cut to lacquer and will feature previously unseen photos and deluxe packaging in the Run Out Groove tradition; it will be pressed on 180-gram heavyweight black vinyl.  Stand in the Fire is available for pre-order until October 8th, at which time it will be pressed to the quantity ordered.  Members of the band Boulder (signed to Elektra Records, sister imprint of Zevon’s home of Asylum Records) supported the iconoclastic, much-missed songwriter on a strong setlist (which boasted new songs “The Sin” and the title track).  Stand in the Fire has always been an integral part of the Zevon discography; with these six new cuts, this release should prove definitive.

As always, with the announcement of a new ROG title comes the opportunity to vote for the next one.  These are your choices, and voting is open now at Run Out Groove’s website.  All descriptions below have been provided by the label.

For much of his career, Warren Zevon particular brand of genius relied on A-list Los Angeles session pros and friends like Jackson Browne Linda Rondstadt and Neil Young to help out on his records. But for his first live album, 1980’s “Stand in the Fire”, he called in a group comprised mostly of comparative amateurs.

He enlisted Boulder, a Colorado bar band that had been signed to Zevon’s record label, Elektra Records, and whose debut included a cover of his “Join Me in L.A.” Boulder—who already did some of his songs. After auditioning them solely by running them through Chuck Berry’s classic “Johnny B. Goode,” Zevon hired them and brought along studio ace David Landau to play lead guitar. They then hit the road together for the Dog Ate the Part We Didn’t Like tour.

Released on December. 26th, 1980, Stand in the Fire was culled from performances recorded during a multi-night stand at Los Angeles’ Roxy in West Hollywood. It’s the most full-blooded rock ‘n’ roll Zevon ever released fully capturing the bar-band flavor of the performances, with two strong new songs “Stand In The Fire” and “The Sin” joining Zevon’s mix of sentimental and sardonic tunes . His earlier albums — great as they are — suffer from the genteel production techniques of the day, but he’s positively unleashed here. The whole thing threatens to come apart on a few occasions, but Zevon manages to hold it all together. “Excitable Boy, Werewolves Of London”  with an aside about Brian DePalma, and a powerful version of “Mohammed Radio”. It helps that he’s egged on by Boulder, who bring out the savage wit of such Zevon favorites as “Excitable Boy,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and, especially, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” with a rewritten verse to reflect the Iranian hostage situation — is particularly powerful, and “Jeannie Needs a Shooter” and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” are beautifully bludgeoned within an inch of their lives.

 Must-hear tracks are the medley of Bo Diddleys A Gunslinger and Bo Diddley , which closed the original vinyl version, let Zevon get downright guttural in his homage to a rock ‘n’ roll hero.

Zevon throws no small degree of spontaneity into the equation. He ad libs some new lyrics in “Werewolves of London” to take jabs at friends (“And he’s looking for James Taylor,” “I saw Jackson Browne walking slow down the avenue / You know, his heart is perfect”) and, at the end of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” calls out his road manager and best friend George “Gorilla” Gruel: “Gorilla, get up and dance. Get up and dance or I’ll kill you. And I got the means!”

Despite its standing among Zevon fans, Stand in the Fire wasn’t released on CD when the rest of his catalog hit the format. Instead, it was delayed until 2007. But it was worth the wait: Four additional songs from the shows (“Johnny Strikes Up the Band,” “Play It All Night Long” and solo piano renditions of “Frank and Jesse James” and “Hasten Down the Wind”) were added to the mix.

The album was originally dedicated to Martin Scorsese, and it’s a bit ironic considering the live record basically disappeared but around half a decade later Scorsese’s use of the original studio version of “Werewolves of London” in The Color of Money (one of the masters all-time great music in film moments) added some needed bite to Zevon’s name .

Warren Zevon - Stand In The Fire Artwork