John Doe has covered a lot of ground, as founder of seminal Los Angeles punks X, actor, member of The Knitters and rootsy solo performer. But he's just getting to a project that's been in the back of his mind for 20 years: Country Club (Yep Roc), a collection of suave, croony "countrypolitan" covers, recorded in collaboration with Canadian roots band The Sadies. "It's not yee-haw, backslappin' old string-band country," says Doe. "It's country from the city." In addition to songs by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette and Roger Miller, the album features fiery instrumentals and a song Doe co-wrote with X's Exene Cervenka, entitled "It Just Dawned on Me." Doe spoke with CP from Denver, where he was on a tour with X, before hitting the road with The Sadies.
One song, Merle Haggard's "Are the Good Times Really Over for Good," expresses nostalgia for traditional gender roles -- do you play that song with a wink?
Of course. I think that's why Kathleen [Edwards] whispers in the background, "blow me," when it says "when a girl could still cook and still would." But I think it's fair. It says "when a man could still work and still would" -- yeah, it is defining these gender roles, but on the other hand, I think there are a lot of people, in general, that don't want to work. And stuff that doesn't apply -- just like in life, or religion -- you just ignore it. [Laughs]. And it's humorous.
I used to sing that when it was first written, during the Reagan era, and it would always get boos and stuff like that. And that's fun! Fuck it, if you can't take a joke! Obviously, I'm fairly radical and left-wing. And nowadays, I think there is that sense of hope, and people can identify with that title by saying, "No, the good times aren't over for good."
Many musicians who start in punk and rock seem to end up playing rockabilly and country. Why is that?
Well, there's a couple reasons. One is, unfortunately, people think it's more valid than punk rock or whatever hybrid of rock 'n' roll they might come up with. I definitely fell into that with the first solo record, and then just after X had taken a break. Which is just bullshit -- it's totally wrong. I'd rather listen to the Replacements or the Rolling Stones play their version of country music than three-quarters of the people who are actually playing country music.
And I think the other reason is because it's something that white guys can sell. Not sell in a bad way, but sell in making it believable.
Perhaps behind punk's distortion and attitude, there are often some fairly sentimental people, people with vulnerabilities?
I think so. Anyone who's a skeptic was once a romantic. And that romance was certainly everywhere in punk-rock music: the romance of the bohemian lifestyle; the romance to drug use and all that stuff; living on the edge and seeing yourself in a movie or some literary sense. That was all there.
John Doe & The Sadies with Sarah Borges & Broken Singles. 8 p.m. Sat., May 9. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $15 ($18 at the door). 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net
- Photo: Amanda Schenk
- Gone country: John Doe & The Sadies