Honky Tonk Masquerade
Sally O'Brien's Bar and Grill, Somerville, MA
April 15, 2014
A little bit of Texas just landed in Boston, Somerville to be precise, at Sally O’Brien’s Bar and Grill. Listen for a bit and you can picture some good ol’ boys sipping long necks, sliding nickels in a juke box in a small tumbleweed town in Texas. If there were ever a song to get an evening of honky-tonk music out of the chute, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, And Loud Loud Music" would be it. Just to be sure you get my drift, get a load of these lyrics.
Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud, loud music
Is the only kind of life you'll ever understand
Dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music
You'll never make a wife to a home-loving man
A home and little children mean nothing to you
A house filled with love and a husband so true
You'd rather have a drink with the first guy you meet
And the only home you'll know is the club down the street
A drinking and dancing to a honky tonk band
Is the only kind of life you'll ever understand
Go out and have your fun, you think you've played it smart
I'm sorry for you and your honky tonk heart
There are all kinds of ways to interpret the lyrics of this heart breaker, from versions by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to Dwight Yoakum. The band Honky Tonk Masquerade nails it down with tight, close harmonies between Susanne Salem-Schatz and Martin Grosswendt. Martin’s muscular guitar picking gives it the twangy sound that honky tonk deserves. Add Art Schatz on fiddle, Michael K. Harrist on stand-up bass, and Kathy “Boom Chick” Burkly on drums, and you have five musicians who play this music for keeps. A bunch of regulars bring their dancing shoes and wear the floor down about 1/32 of an inch during the next 2 1/2 hours.
Honky Tonk Masquerade puts on a fabulous musical seminar that highlights the awesome range of this particularly American genre. The set list for tonight’s show at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville is an education in the history of honky tonk music.
Honky Tonk has been around since the 1880s. The precise derivation of the term is obscured by the dust of cattle being herded from Oklahoma to Texas back in the day. By the time those Longhorns arrived in Fort Worth or Dallas, the cowboys herding them to market would have visited boisterous bars and venues for adult entertainment they referred to as "honky tonks.” Do a little research about this word and you'll find its connection to ragtime, barroom boogie, hillbilly and country music, and early Rock 'n Roll. That's a huge stretch over AM and FM radio.
Sometime after the great depression of the 1930s, the music industry began to confer the term honky tonk upon hillbilly music, country music, and Western Swing when it became popularized in Nashville.
Honky tonk themes – lost love, infidelity, loneliness, remorse, and problems with drinking - were totally understood, and often paralleled, by its earliest fans on country radio. To give you an idea how far the ripples of honky tonk reach, Ernest Tubbs, Jimmy Rogers, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and George Strait have all been associated with the genre. Heck, the Rolling Stones went solid gold with their rendition of "Honky Tonk Woman" In 1969.
Remember Fats Domino's piano riffs in "Blueberry Hill" and "Walkin’ To New Orleans"? That was honky-tonk style. Guitar and fiddle are two primary instruments in honky-tonk along with drums, bass guitar or stand up bass, the occasional banjo, and, if we’re talking Western swing, steel guitar and often electric piano.
The “stage” at Sally O’Brien’s, the size two ping pong tables, is perfect fit for Honky Tonk Masquerade’s tight arrangements for two guitars, a fiddle, stand up bass, and drums. Art Schatz’s fiddling announces a classic western swing arrangement of “Deep Water,” a tune Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys hit the charts with in 1948. During tonight's prodigiously packed two sets, Art , Susanne, Michael, Martin and have chances to shine with their instruments and their voices. The “Boom Chick” lives up to her name with crisp, steady percussion and skillful brush-work.
Close your eyes when Susanne and Martin duet in “That’s All It Took,” and you can imagine the juke box playing a two step in a forlorn tumbleweed bar somewhere in East Texas. It’s Susanne’s first chance to embed her smoldering vocal ballad chops into the hearts of every listener in Sally O’s. It takes a while for my heart to stop pounding. Written by George Jones, sung by Graham Parsons,1973, it's one of the songs that helped the country sound get a jump start with hippies like me, just about as twangy as it gets. No frills, high octane, pure country. Gotta love it
"Deep Water", a classic handed down from Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1948 and “Choo- Choo Cha Boogie,” show off the danceable cadences of Western swing – and we’re only four songs into a night that will feature more than 30 songs. Did I say that there was no cover charge? Susanne mentioned the ‘hat’ in front of the band but there’s no way it could have been big enough to hold the folding money the show was worth to me.
Researching the set list gave me an education in the wide range purely American genre, songs from Tennessee to Texas. Check it out.
Most songs feature short vocal solos or duets by Susanne or Martin, with occasional solos from Art and one by Michael. Art/fiddle and Martin/lead guitar take inventive solos on most songs.
Dim Lights Thick Smoke and Loud Loud Music
There are all kinds of ways, from ballad to uptempo, to interpret this classic, from Glen Glenn’s 1950s version all the way to a big hit by Dwight Yoakum. Great lyrics to introduce an evening of honky tonk music.
Bob Wills And the Texas Playboys around 1948, Susanne belts it out with conviction, Art weighs in on the fiddle, oh it’s gonna be a good night…
That’s All It Took
written by George Jones, sung by Graham Parsons,1973, one of the songs that helped the country sound get a jump start with hippies like me, just about as twangy as it gets, gotta love it
Choo Choo Ch’Boogie
made popular by Louis Jordan in 1946 easy to sing to an uptempo, frisky Western Swing sound. Honky Tonk Masquerade can do it all.
I’ll Go Down Swinging PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
popularized by Porter Wagoner, a pal of Glen Glenn, great western swing, an upbeat little heartbreaker, the band is getting into it and the dancers begin to fill the tiny dance space in front of the stage.
Together Again PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
made popular by Buck Owens, 1964, the steel guitarist performance on this song is considered one of the finest steel guitar solos in the history of country music. No worries. Guitar player Martin Groswendt on his pine body guitar box with the Telecaster rig can play riffs that give you the shivers. This is Susanne’s first chance to embed her smoldering vocal ballad chops into the hearts of every listener in Sally O’s. It takes a while for my heart to stop pounding.
If You're Not Gone Too Long
written by Wanda Ballman, sung by Loretta Lynn 1967, and Reba McIntyre, the song's not too well known but a great western swing rhythm. Suzanne has fun with this playfully forthright song, that fit right in with the late 1960s cultural shifts, the lyrics were still pretty unusual for a female country singer in the day. Its final chorus was a foreshadowing of women's anthems to come.
I'll be the truest love you've known
And for a while I'll stay at home
I'll be true to you honey while you're gone
If you're not gone too long
Oh yeah, if you're not gone too long
Streets Of Baltimore PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
written in 1966, it hit the charts with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris in 1973, same album as the song "That’s All It Took," GP 1973 Parsons was influential crossing genres from country to rock. Susanne wraps her supple voice around this wistful song, Martin and Art solo sweetly,somewhere between a latin and two step beat, fun to listen to, even more fun to dance to
Your Down-Home Is Uptown PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
popularized by the band Asleep at the Wheel, about as close to a commercial country western song you’ll hear from this group.
Loretta PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
Townes Van Zandt another two step with a wistful air, lots of that in country, familiar soap operas set to lyrics. This song is at the outside perimeter of honky tonk. The theme of a rambling man and an independent woman fits right in with the wide range of love relationships in the genre. Michael K. Harrist delivery sounds remarkably like Townes Van Zandt's original.
Blues for Dixie PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
Great song, covered by such notables as Bob Wills, Lyle Lovett, Merle Haggard and the band Asleep At The Wheel is a sunny, lilting western swing/Texas two step, take your pick, with great chance for Art to smoke the strings on his fiddle with some inspired licks (and most improbably by a guy I found singing it on youtube at Ginza Nashville in Tokyo! Gives you an idea of the global appeal of honky tonk music).
Susanne nails this with a mid-tempo groove, twang and conviction.
Cash on the Barrel Head PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
written by the Louvin Brothers in 1956 who wrote a ton of heartbreaker songs with lyrics I dare you to find anywhere else but honky tonk, lyrics like "You put tears in my eyes, must you throw dirt in my face." Their harmonies resemble another brother duo, the Everly Brothers,and tell an uptempo story about a guy who who didn’t pay cash on the barrelhead, then paid for it with 30 days in the slammer.
Take Me Back to Tulsa
a rollicking fast paced western swing made famous by fiddle legend Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1941, has been a staple in Honky Tonk repertoire since then for its goofy lyrics and energetic call to get off your butt and onto the dance floor. Art and Martin push each other with snazzy solos, fancy fretwork. This band plays with conviction, respect, and skill.
You Win Again PT VIDEO LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
Hank Williams, 1952, as bluesy as country and western gets, you’ve heard this song covered by singers as varied as Ray Charles, the Grateful Dead, and Martina McBride.
Once again, Susanne brings the torch to the song, the woman gets into another gear way down in her gut and sings with fills the song with the kind of desperation and futility of a lover in despair.
Quit Feelin Sorry For You
Bill Kirchen song http://www.allmusic.com/song/quit-feelin-sorry-for-you-mt0003498773
"I Like To LIsten to a Two Step but I Like Rock n Roll Too" PT VIDEO https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsTcIRcpFUg LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S
I dance more and take notes less. There's nary a tumbleweed in sight but this little bar in Somerville is becoming honky tonk heaven.
Just One More
written by George Jones 1957 another of those “Well, one more drink of wine,Then if you're still on my mind, One drink, just one more and then another” slow two step songs that’s been marinating in Honky Tonk play lists for fifty years, Art gives it a good twirl on the fiddle. George sings it here
Johnny Cash made his name on Grand Ol’ Opry and sang this one in 1962
What Am I Worth
recorded by George Jones in 1956, I guess you can’t have Honky Tonk without George Jones.
We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning
Gram Parsons from his seminal 1074 “GP” album, sung with Emmylou Harris. Susanne and Martin's voices are perfect haunting echoes of Parsons and Harris. Country and western meet honky tonk.
We know it's wrong to let this fire burn between us
We've got to stop this wild desire in you and in me
So we'll let the flame burn once again until the thrill is gone
Then we'll sweep out the ashes in the morning
God May Forgive You, But I Won't
recorded by Rosie Flores, 2011. Who says Honky Tonk has to have a fifty year provenance? Rosie sings this with enough grit to match Reba and Loretta and so does Susanne, yes siree, Bob. The song was also recorded by Iris DeMent with her distinctive Texas nasal twang.
Nothing But The Blues
recorded by The Time Jumpers, an all-star western swing band and jumped on energetically by Honky Tonk Masquerade.
Down South In New Orleans
recorded by Bobby Charles and The Band album “The Last Waltz” Honky Tonk goes rumba-ish with this lilting charmer, with a funky New Orleans beat, Martin and band give this one a good ride, an example of what's on the perimeter of honky tonk music.
The chorus goes like this…
Down south in New Orleans,
The prettiest girls I've ever seen.
Sparkling eyes, lips so sweet,
we make love to the Rumba beat.
Ship's at anchor, my suitcase packed,
Got a one way ticket, ain't comin' back.
Life's a pleasure, love's no dream,
Down south in New Orleans.
In The Corner, At The Table, By The Juke Box
written by James Hand and his no frills style on youtube 1969, about as lamentiing Honky Tonk as it gets and Martin proves it. Some honky tonk songs are as much testaments to resilience as immersion into self-pity. This song feels like one of them.
Guy Clark on an album released in 1976
Crying Over You
recorded by Rosie Flores an uptempo rockabilly/swing song about a woman jilted, a lover jilted, a common honky tonk theme.
He Stopped Loving Her Today
just look at the title and you could guess this was released by one George Jones (1980). It's been called the best country song of all time, certainly belongs in Honky Tonk Masquerades set list, about as big a tear jerker as you’ll ever hear.
recorded by Bob Wills in 1946, this is a western swing classic in spite of goofy lyrics such as
Roly Poly scrambled eggs for breakfast
Bread and jelly twenty times a day
Roly Poly eats a hearty dinner
It takes a lot of strength to run and play.
and to prove that one goofy set of lyrics deserves another, Martin Grosswendt penned these lyrics into HTM's version of this song:
Roly Poly tater tots and sushi
Okra fried in grease and Perrier
Roly Poly goes to brunch on Sunday
Waffle House or barbecue’s ok
He shoves that grub right down his neck
And never needs a Prilosec
He washes it all down with Chardonnay
Roly Poly, daddy’s little fatty
Bet he’s gonna be a man some day.
Tell Me Baby Why You Been Gone So Long
written by Mickey Newbury in 1973 album Heaven Help the Child and covered by Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Clark among others.
recorded by Bob Wills and His Texas Cowboys in 1942
Bobby Troup in 1946 and covered by more bands than you can count
The crowd had thinned to a handful by the time Honky Tonk Masquerade finished the final song on their set list. After 30 songs, the band had plenty left in the tank, and with encouragement of one or two patrons, played three more...and gave us an education in how honky tonk music is stll alive and well in America.
Great encore! Sin City written by Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons PT LIVE AT SALLY O'BRIEN'S VIDEO
Photos and videos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.