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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world









Trouble is a small dusty town. 50 years on Lee Hazelwood's fictional town is discovered all over again...



Mark: Hi, Charles, how are you? Thanks for taking the time to talk to us this morning. I’ve been listening to “Trouble is a Lonesome Town” all week, and reading the press release, it says you first heard the album in 2000, and I know you only started working on it back in 2007. Had it always been in your mind to recreate it?



Charles: It takes a while, it’s like you don’t decide to marry someone when you first meet them!! I heard it in winter time in Norway, which is not the most comfortable place to be, and I discovered this record and a bunch of other records, but this one in particular spoke to me. I found it in the second hand store in Oslo, and if you’re familiar with it, it’s Lee Hazelwood’s original album and it’s just him with an acoustic guitar, very sparse instrumentation. It’s the story of a small desert town in the American South West, and it just seemed exotic to me. If I’d have grown up in California, it wouldn’t have seemed exotic to me, but since I’ve been living in Norway for a couple of years, it was kind of like a message from home, I could close my eyes and listen to this record, and smell the prairie, and I can almost see the tumbleweeds going by. It’s a very visual album. I just lived with it for several years and would occasionally pick up a guitar and learn a couple of the songs, and was surprised when they only had two chords, most minimal songs have three at least! So I went on to discover new, and interesting parts of this album, and thought I’d do a couple of the songs live, and that went on to, wow, I can do a whole live album, with a narrator, like it’s a play. The record is basically a stage play, and then it just morphed in to wanting to re- record the whole album, and for some stupid reason, I did it and all these years later, it’s done!
Mark: It’s an interesting album when you listen to it, you already mentioned it’s like being on the blue highway, desert town, America’s forgotten places, but there’s also darker undertones to it too. Is that something that particularly attracted you?
Charles: I’m like a lot of people and get very nostalgic when I’m watching TV shows, those 50’s or 60’s shows with the idyllic small towns where everyone is innocent and naïve, and it just wasn’t like that. So, this album stuck a more realistic chord, no pun intended, because there are messed up characters, like you do find in town and especially small towns where everyone knows each other’s business! It’s easy to identify the small town drunk or the brothers that are in trouble with the law all the time! So, it lay more true than a lot of these whitewashed 50’s TV sitcoms we see. I’m sure it’s like that in Australia, I’m sure there’s some messed up people there too!!



Mark: I know what you mean! As soon as I had listened to the album, I picked up a book I have loved for a number of years, by a guy called William Least Heat Moon, it’s called “Blue Highways”, which chronicles a trek along the smaller roads (or blue highways as they appear on the map) far from the interstates, it’s about all those dusty old towns that people have forgotten and rarely visit. The book is a few years old, but very interesting. Anyway I digress! Is it true your mailman narrated the album?



Charles: Yeah, I was trying to keep the album local!! Most of the singers on the album live within about an hour of my house, which is in Oregon. There is an actor called Sam Elliott, who lives down the road from me, saying that, probably about two hours away! I thought I would be giving him a role, as he has a great voice; he was in the film “The Big Lebowski”, as a cowboy. I didn’t want to stalk him and go and knock on his door, so I was trying to figure out how we could do it and my mailman knocked on the door, with a package for me, and when he spoke to me, I thought, wow, he’s perfect!! So, I asked him if he’d be on the record and, he nailed it!! He sounds like someone straight out of central casting!



Mark: He is fantastic, I love it! There’s a lot of variety on the album as well, you get everything from a bar room stomp to the railroad, it almost had hints of The Isley Brothers, and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, it’s very diverse. Are there any tracks that stood out for you?



Charles: Well, of course, I’m attached to all of them. It was kind of based on ‘Blue Note’ records. What it was hard to do, was extract American stories, not exclusively American, and I thought it would be cool to do the songs in a different genre of Americana, so there is jazz, sort of be-bop jazz on the Isaac Brock song ‘The Railroad’ and the record that my brother Larry Norman sang, is kind of a hats off song to Ferde Grofe, who was one of the arrangers for George Gershwin, so I just got a bunch of musical genres that were developed in America, like surf music, and I’ll take a little piece of all these genres of American music and stick them all together. It turned out to be diverse, because the American cultural music scene is very diverse itself.



Mark: It does feel as a piece, very anachronistic, but then it almost transcends that as it reminds you of the entire heritage out there. “Peculiar Guy” was a track that stood out for us; it almost has a “poppy” feel to it.



Charles: Well that one wasn’t Americana necessarily! There was a great British rock band called Art Brut, who came to Oregon to record an album a couple of years ago, and they stayed at my house for about a month, very British!! It was like having The Beatles there, every night!! Awesome!! Eddie Argos is a very peculiar guy, he’s the singer with the band, I got him to sing on the record, when you’ve grown up in America, and you meet somebody British or Australian, it’s always very exotic!! This person speaks English, but they have this amazing accent, so, I thought it was ok to get away from the Americana thing.



Mark: He’s a great singer, and has a wonderful voice for it. What do you want to do with Thrift Store Masterpiece next, have you a new project in mind?



Charles: Yeah, we already have the wheels in motion, but just in the preliminary stages, we are not going to take years to do it, we are going to slam it out pretty quick. It’ll be a total curve ball; it’s not going to be another cowboy soap opera!!



Mark: I must admit, before I started listening to this, I didn’t know anything about Lee Hazelwood, apart from, he wrote, “These Boots are Made for Walking” for Nancy Sinatra, but there is a connection, back in the 60’s with Gram Parsons and The International Submarine Band.



Charles: Yeah, I just recently found out about that, they worked together briefly, did they?



Mark: Yeah, he was going to produce The International Submarine Band, and Gram walked out to join The Birds, and he tried to stop Gram singing on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album. Which, as you can imagine, if that would’ve happened, it would made a considerable change in popular music history!! I think he ended up singing on three songs on that album as it was.



Charles: I know Gram Parsons was influenced by Hazelwood.



Mark: Undoubtedly, listening to Hazelwood’s stuff around the time. He’s quite a great underground figure as well, he’s been covered by a lot of underground bands, I know Primal Scream, Nick Cave both covered him.



Charles: He’s definitely known amongst musicians, not all, like me, I didn’t know his entire catalogue, and I just knew the Sinatra hits. He lived in Sweden, and was apparently developing the album “Trouble is a Lonesome Town”, in to a teleplay for Swedish television, which never came to fruition, but that would have been fantastic to see this interpretation of his own work.



Mark: From what I’ve read, I think he did do something called Cowboy in Sweden, a one hour long show that was filmed for TV, so whether that still exists or not, I don’t know. I only have a couple of minutes left, and it’s been wonderful talking to you, so, if I could take you right back, tell us something you remember about being in Jetboy back in the day!



Charles: (laughs), I’m surprised you even know that!! I knew those guys when they were starting out in San Francisco, they were good friends, in fact, I was in a band with the singer when I was sixteen years old. They started being more and more popular and some other friends of mine were becoming more popular, they were Guns ‘n’ Roses, the bands came out at the same time, and I ended up joining later in the 1990’s, and there is a long story to go with that! There was some turmoil between Jetboy and G ‘n’ R, because one of the members’ died. But, it was fun being in Jetboy, in fact, I was going to do a couple of reunion shows with them, in the summer, but it didn’t work out with my schedule, or theirs. I was never really in to that LA Glam rock stuff, but they were my friends and they asked me to be in the band and tour, and I said, yeah, sure I wanted to see North America with my friends, and it was fun!



Mark: One of my final questions is, if you could have been a fly on the wall for the recording of any album, at any point in time, what would it have been for you and why?



Charles: The first Beatles album! That would have been amazing to see the entire 1960’s blueprint, in a room, in a recording studio, good question, I like it!!



Mark: Finally, what is the meaning of life?



Charles: What is it they say in Spinal Tap? Have a good time, all the time!! I have no idea, that’s why I’m doing all these strange projects to gratify my soul, doing obscure covers of Lee Hazelwood records!! There’s a meaning somewhere, I just haven’t found it yet!!



Mark: Well, I think you are well on your way!! It’s a fantastic album, and I’ve really enjoyed talking to you this morning. Best of luck with everything, and thank you again.



Charles: Thank you very much, I enjoyed your questions, I hope to talk to you again someday.







By Mark Diggins July 2013




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