Review & Interview: John Doe Folk Trio @ The Hangar, 04/28/2023

“The minute I walked into this place, I thought of this song-it’s a murder ballad, I’ll leave it at that!” said John Doe as he surveyed a packed Hangar on the Hudson on Friday night before launching his trio into “Destroying Angels” from his fine new release Fables in a Foreign Land.  The John Doe Folk trio, with bassist Kevin Smith (Willie Nelson) and drummer Lisa Pankratz (Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones), served up a very satisfying evening of excellent music from Doe’s solo career and his work with The Knitters and choice picks from the X catalog.  And yes, with these professionals and with Doe’s voice as big as the Western sky, punk classics in a folk frame still pack a punch.

Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

I spoke with John Doe after the show:

Leif Zurmuhlen: ” Do you think folk can be punk?”

John Doe: “Sure, it’s got a lot of elements that are the same; it’s political…it can be.  The melodies are simple. It’s not about being a virtuoso; it’s about using your heart.”

Doe’s croon elicited a collective romantic swoon with a lovely version of “I Only Have Eyes For You”.  The man can sing.  Google his version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”.  If that doesn’t start to form a tear in the corner of your dusty eye, you’re not a true cowboy.  Speaking of which, both members of Cowboys in the Campfire were spotted in the crowd-Tommy Stinson and Chip Roberts, confirming that the Hangar was the place to be that night.

L.Z: “I notice the poetry in your recent lyrics becoming more simplified and straightforward.”

J.D: “Oh, I don’t know about straightforward, but I do try to be economical.  I think you can do a lot with a little.  I’m learning one more time that less is more!”

L.Z.: “Have people commented to you that your voice is reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s?”

J.D.: “Oh, a long time ago, maybe.  Yeah, I was a fan.”

L.Z.: “I hear it more in your current work, the strength and clarity.”

J.D.: “Oh, right on!  I take that as a compliment.”

Ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek produced X’s debut album, which includes a cover of the 1967 Doors song “Soul Kitchen.”

Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

“Burning House of Love,” “White Girl,” “The New World”, and “The Have Nots” had the crowd saying to each other, “See you in July!” when the original X lineup: Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake will play at Empire Live on July 3.  Finally able to tour after lockdown with their splendid album Alphabetland (their first album in 35 years with the original lineup)released in April 2020 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of their debut Los Angeles.

In his book Under The Big Black Sun, a Personal History of LA Punk, Doe and friends chronicle the West Coast punk scene in the late 70s and early 80s.

L.Z.: “What do you think of young, new bands from LA like Starcrawler?”

J.D.: “I think they’re great!  You know, they remind me a bit of Alice Cooper, in that they’re using shock value to get people’s attention, and I wish them all the best, you know, it’s good to see.”

Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

The X video for “Alphabetland” depicts the band kicking around LA with Starcrawler’s Henri Cash as a young John Doe and Kelli Mayo from Skating Polly as Exene.

J.D.: “Kelli’s a dear friend.  Exene produced a record of theirs; I think when Kelli was like 12 or 13 and Peyton (Bighorse) was 15 or something like that.”

L.Z.: “I see Gilbert Trejo directed the “Alphabetland” video and your new video for “El Romance-O.””

J.D.: “Gilbert’s a friend through movie stuff.  He tried to do an indie movie, and we filmed for about four days to do sort of a teaser, and I got poison oak, and my right arm blew up like as big as a fucking sausage, like twice the size and, uh, so he owes me!”

A next-generation Harry Dean Stanton, Doe has appeared in over 50 films-from the bartender skimming from the register in Roadhouse to Julianne Moore’s ex-husband asserting his right to custody of their child in Boogie Nights.

L.Z.: “What is your favorite part that you have played?  It seems like DOA is the largest role you have had so far.”

J.D.: “It’s not out yet. DOA should be out by September, so maybe that one or Roadside Prophets.  But DOA was much more rewarding.”

L.Z.: “Does this place (The Hangar) make you feel like Patrick Swayze is going to kick your ass?”

J.D: “No (laughs), it’s not tough enough!”

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