Musings on No 2 Unalike (part 1)
Just when you thought you'd escaped the clutches of No 2 Unalike, it's BACK!
As you know, the premise of the shows was to feature 75 of my songs with the 75 that influenced them in some way. Sometimes the connections were obvious; other times perhaps not. In any case, I've
decided to write some mini-essays describing a bunch of the No 2 Unalike pairings.
Here's the first from Night One, Nov. 4th, 2015 @ Ferg's:
Woody Guthrie's "Great Philadelphia Lawyer"
and my own "Texas Eagle"
Growing up in a Republican household in Rockville, Maryland, it wasn't so easy to find out about Woody Guthrie! But despite my folks being Republicans, they weren't all bad! My dad took me to see Bob Dylan in
1978 (I was ten) and it wasn't long before I started collecting his records. On Bob's debut, there are only two original compositions. One is "Song to Woody."
A few years later, my dad took me to see Springsteen on the River tour where the boss was frequently performing "This Land is your Land" as well mentioning a book by Joe Klein called "Woody Guthrie: A Life."
I was a little tardy in actually listening to Woody's music but when I moved to Austin, Texas in the early 90s, I picked up his Dust Bowl Ballads on cassette and listened to it repeatedly in my Chevy cab. I started singing some of Woody's songs at open mic's around Austin.
Once at the Cactus Cafe, I was gently asked to "wrap it up, son" after playing Woody's "Tom Joad" -- all 32 verses. I thought I was allowed to play two songs but apparently that one counted twice! Eventually I tracked down Joe Klein's book and took some notes.
"Texas Eagle" is a sketch of Woody. He had a real troubled life and I tried to capture that aspect of his story vs. his legend as the grandfather of all singer-songwriters (I guess that makes Bob the father but more on him later).
In 1996, John Train travelled to Boston to record with Joseph Payne (another father ... this time the one of my college roommate Chris Payne). Mr. Payne was a world renowned classical organist but somehow agreed to capture John Train's folky stylings in the foyer of the Payne family home in Dorchester.
"Texas Eagle" was cut with just Steve Demarest and me. So I send this out to the memories of Steve, Mr. Payne, and Woody! I must also acknowledge Moped Bob and his girlfriend Kim who somehow heard the Dorchester recording and would literally scream out their request for "Texas Eagle" every Wednesday night at the North Star Bar. I can't recall if I ever played it for 'em. But I couldn't resist opening No 2 Unalike with Woody's "Great Philadelphia Lawyer" and pairing it up
with my tribute to the man.
- Jon Houlon
"No 2 Unalike" Preview by Dan Deluca from the Philadelphia Inquirer...
"Among the lesser known dependable pleasures of the Philadelphia music scene are the free Friday night happy hour shows with John Train, the rootsy sextet fronted by superb story telling singer-songwriter Jon Houlon, a prolific sort who is also the lead singer from the more garage-rock oriented band The Donuts." Read more here!
The wayback machine...
Many thanks to Tommy T for sending us a DVD of something that he and Jeff DiBlasi shot back in 2004 while John Train was playing regularly at Jack's Firehouse. While the whole band wasn't there on this night, it still captures a time that was important to us. It's dedicated to Steve Demarest.
Isn't That So?
A Jesse Winchester cover live from Fergie's Pub on 1/23/15... Thanks to the Phantom Engineer for capturing the moment.
A Wig and a Wonder available on Chapter 7 Records
After releasing two concept albums, The Sugar Ditch (centered around a murder in a septic run-off ditch in Mississippi) and Mesopotamia Blues (centered around an unpopular war), John Train returns to action without a unifying theme. Jon Houlon, singer-songwriter for the band, claims that he came to the realization that songs about murder and war – arguably, the same topic, he winces – may not be commercially viable. “I’m back to gazing at my own navel!,” Houlon quips.
Still, John Train’s new Chapter 7 release, A Wig and a Wonder, contains more than your usual singer-songwriter fare. Song topics range from a visit to the Rothko Chapel in Houston (the title track), adultery informed by Houlon’s fascination with John Updike (“Lord Baltimore”), a divorcing couple who buries a religious idol in their front yard to help sell their house (“Praying to St. Joe”), and the craft of songwriting itself (“Who Needs the Muse?”). Houlon, who works in the field of child welfare, for the first time in John Train’s 18 year history, offers up a song about the death of a child (“Las Galares”). “I’ve tried to keep work and music separate,” he says, “but there was just something about this particular story that I had to tell.”
Devoted followers of John Train (known as the “Train Army”) have been asking for a new Train album for several years. Why the recording hiatus? Houlon says there are two reasons: “One, I figure that considering that between John Train and my other band, the Donuts, I’ve got 10 cds already floating around out there, if someone wanted to hear what I had to say, there was plenty to dig into. Two, in a world where many people seem satisfied listening to music recorded on a phone and posted on You-Tube, the idea of putting out another disc seemed quaint and maybe even irrelevant.”
What changed? Legendary Philadelphia engineer, John Anthony (formerly of Sigma and Maja, now of Philly Post) began recording some of John Train’s weekly gigs at Fergie’s Pub. Anthony, a great supporter of John Train, felt that “what the band is doing over there was too good not to be documented.” A couple of the songs recorded at Fergie’s are actually included on A Wig and a Wonder (“Lord Baltimore” and the title track).
Anthony was so enthused by the Fergie’s recordings that he invited the band into Philly Post to do some more work. Houlon indicates: “We basically set up the same way we do at Ferg’s and spent a couple weekends laying down my new songs that we’ve been playing for the past few years. I looked up and realized we had another album on our hands.”
As usual, Houlon’s songwriting is strongly supported by his bandmates Mike “Slo-Mo Brenner (dobro), Bill Fergusson (mandolin), Mark Tucker (steel and electric guitar), Steve Demarest (bass), and Mark Schreiber (drums). Houlon says, “I feel blessed to have worked with these guys for this long. They are all fantastic musicians who know how to listen to a song and support it. And after 18 years, we still get along and still have a great time playing together.”