Meet the New Boss: Pat Green

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

Pat Green may be a country singer from Texas, but his inspiration is a rock star from New Jersey.

“I’m trying to do what (Bruce) Springsteen did,” he said. “Jersey knew all about Springsteen before ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ came out and launched him.”

“Texas knows what I’m about. I can sell out as big of an arena as you want in Texas, but in Kansas City I’m playing a thousand-seater.”

Green will bring the music he describes as “if Springsteen and Willie Nelson had a kid” on Saturday to the Granada Theater in Lawrence. He’ll also be previewing his new album, “What I’m For,” which comes out Tuesday.

“When I get a new record out, I do like Springsteen and just make the shows longer. All the new stuff gets added to the old,” Green said. “You identify the bigger songs from that and throw them in the every-night pile.”

One new song he’s playing is “Country Star,” a country rewrite of Nickelback’s “Rock Star.” Green said he’s not sure if everyone will get the joke, and he’s fine with that.

“It’s a laughable notion to think of myself as a star,” he said. “Some of my guys know I’m kidding, that I’m not going to buy a shiny belt buckle and 10-gallon hat. But I like to write ambiguously, so that my songs can mean more than one thing to people. Others will laugh. Just picturing it is kind of funny.”

The flip side of that coin is “In It for the Money,” a soul-searching song about finding the right motivation.

“There is a quote by William Jennings I’m sure I’m going to butcher, but you have to do it for the right reasons. You have to care. This is not a dress rehearsal,” Green said. “Do you do it for love or do you do it for money?”

“What I’m For” also features a new arrangement of “Carry On,” a song Green has been carrying for more than a decade. The Police remake of their hit “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” inspired Green to take a different approach to his warhorse.

“That song is just part of my soul,” Green said. “Because I love it so much, I can move the furniture around without everyone getting upset with me. I never know how I’m going to play it in concert. Sometimes it’s just me and the guitar like a ballad. It’s been worn in every way you can wear it.”

Assisting Green for the first time is producer Dann Huff. The award-winning veteran has worked with artists as diverse as Bon Jovi, Megadeth and LeAnn Rimes.

“Keith Urban was mostly responsible for me hiring Dann Huff,” Green said. “I compared his work with Rascal Flatts and Faith Hill. Those albums sound completely different. They made me aware of Dan’s ability to wrap his hands around the individual artist and make the record toward them, rather than bending the artist to his vision.”

Pushing aside notions of trying to recapture the success of “Wave on Wave,” Green’s 2003 breakthrough hit, Green wrote an album that captured his life now as a father and family man.

“I’m not just going to sing anything to have a radio hit. I have to love it and believe it to sell it,” Green said. “I write about what I’m in tune with in this space, and that’s what Springsteen does, as well.”

Green, who happens to have his album coming out the same day as Springsteen’s “Working on a Dream,” has paid homage to the Boss by performing “Atlantic City” at his shows for years. For this tour he’s adding a new wrinkle.

“I think for this next tour I’m going to pull something off ‘The Rising’ for our encore,” Green said. “I have several songs in mind, but I don’t want to say what. If I go a different way, I won’t be caught lying.”

“Willie Nelson: An Epic Life” by Joe Nick Patoski

willie2By Joel Francis

“Epic” is the key word in the title of Joe Nick Patoski’s 567-page biography on Willie Nelson. Drawn from dozens of interviews and scores of oral histories, books and articles, Patoski paints a comprehensive picture of his fellow Texan.

If Patoski skimps on Nelson’s childhood – less than 50 pages are devoted to his years as a minor – he makes up for it by piling chapter on top of chapter about Nelson’s early family life, struggles as a disc jockey and songwriter for hire and, finally, as a nascent country performer. Patoski also devotes an entire chapter on IRS struggles and puts in strong perspective how such horrible accounting could have transpired.

But while Patoski’s journalism skills and research is impeccable, he spends too much of his time telling and not enough showing. For example, there piles of anecdotes about Nelson’s generosity and his inability to say no. He sticks around for hours after concerts to sign autographs, and lavishly gifts his friends and family. When a credit card company asked him to put his face on their card, he said yes without thinking of the consequences. Manager Mark Rothbaum has to explain the implications.

“Well think about it: A third of all credit cards go into receivership, so a third of your fans will go bankrupt, and they will have to look at your picture on that card,” Rothbaum tells Nelson. “Every time they see your picture they will think, That prick is making money off of me.”

Nelson asked Rothbaum to get him out of the deal, but the reader is never given understanding of what compels Nelson to be so affable.

The person who shines best is Nelson’s longtime drummer Paul English. English doesn’t appear until a third of the way through, where he initially surfaces as a pimp who drills and robs pinball machines and operates backroom card games. When Nelson’s drummer failed to show up for a radio session, English is recruited. Even though he had never played drums before, but the experience went well enough English accepted Nelson’s invitation to walk away from the lucrative prostitution business and join the band on the road.

English’s skills with a gun and knife were handing in prying a reticent promoter away from the band’s money and bailing Nelson’s smart mouth out of fight. English was never shy about displaying the pistol he always carried, which was usually all it took to calm any disagreements. English’s black market background also came in handy procuring marijuana for the band.

Patoski’s meticulous exploration sheds light on Nelson’s long walk to fame, where record labels and producers try in vain to pigeonhole the artist, and Nelson’s inability to fit into their boxes, even when he gamely goes along. Later, as Nelson’s fame and wealth grows, he builds a studio on his Texas estate. Patoski conveys a laid-back atmosphere where music flows as freely as beer and songs are recorded as effortlessly as lighting a roach. That Nelson practically lived in his studio explains the prolificacy of his catalog (he released two albums in 2008), and the easygoing environment explains how his financial problems reached the boiling point.

The vision of Nelson unearthed in the book refuses to be worried about anything except his music, even when doing so compromised his family and friends. His nature reminds me of a line from the film “Walk the Line.” When Johnny Cash tells June Carter on the back of the tour bus that everything will work itself out, she replies “No, John. People work them out for you, and you think they work themselves out.”

That Nelson’s music has attracted rednecks and hipsters alike is less mystifying after this thorough examination of the man. The songs are merely an extension of the personality: Nelson is willing to meet anyone anywhere for a good time. The access Nelson provided for this thick tome can rest proudly alongside his albums as a testament to the man’s generosity.

Too Close To Ground at Willie Nelson Concert

By Joel Francis

I’d love to discuss tonight’s Willie Nelson concert, but what I really want to tell you about is the crowd at the Willie Nelson show. You see, the good folks in Marshall, Mo. decided to host Willie and throw a concert in their city park. Now normally when a park contains a large hill, as the Indian Foothills Park does, one would place the stage at the bottom of the hill. Not the folks in Marshall, no sir. They put that stage right in the middle of the hill and made all of us watch it at a 15 degree angle.
Knowing what I do about angles and intoxication, I knew I would be in for some laughs, but I had no idea how big. The fun started before the show when the two white trash couples decided to punctuate their beers with some weed. The foursome passed a very small roach around for about 20 minutes before a Gatorade bottle was produced, which contained, I am very sure, not Gatorade. After a few swigs of whatever magic potion this bottle contained everyone seemed to be feeling a lot better. Coincidentally this is when Willie took the stage. So as the man in the Alan Jackson t-shirt put down the not-Gatorade and proceeded to line dance to the opening strains of “Whiskey River” he drew the ire of the crowd behind him. They needn’t of worried; it was the only time he was on his feet for the rest of the night.
You see, there was something in this wonderful concoction of weed and magic juice that when combined with the aforementioned 15 degree slope made it impossible to maintain a center of gravity. Not that our inebriated, high friend didn’t try. After tumbling too the ground he’d gingerly right himself by clinging to the lighting scaffolding. He’d tepidly place himself in his camping chair, but damn if that slope didn’t get him every time. Why if he could stay in that chair for more than 30 seconds without tumbling out and hitting his head on his scaffolding his wife was impressed.
The recumbent wife was not only not impressed – she was a little upset, too. Once, after her husband managed to place himself in his chair – and this was not an easy process for him – she started yelling at him. Expecting praise for completing such a difficult task, he started yelling back. Eventually the yelling got so intense that her chair toppled onto his, knocking both of them clean onto the ground. The Three Stooges would have been proud. Charlie Chaplain would have sued.
After much of the falling-down-bracing-on-the-scaffolding-sitting-in-the-chair-falling-down shenanigans (and they didn’t always happen in this order), the man decided all might be better if he just laid down for the remainder of the evening. This is pretty much what he did, except when the pesky police got involved. It seemed they didn’t believe a man could just lie unconscious of his own volution at a Willie Nelson concert. After shining a light in his eyes and lightly slapping his face, the boys in blue decided the best course of action would be to place him safely in his chair. I was silently praying they would, because I knew he would inevitably topple out and likely hit his head. Willie was churning through the hits – “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Always on My Mind,” “All of Me” – but there was no way he could compete with this.
Of course as we all expected, the man in the Alan Jackson t-shirt promptly tumbled to the ground, nearly taking an officer with him. I would have felt guilty at laughing at all this had I not witnessed these people gleefully bringing themselves to this state. Using his classic deductive police logic, one of the officers inquired of the other white trash couple if they may have any idea what could have happened to this stupefied stranger. Despite supplying the marijuana and not-Gatorade, they had no ideas. Unfortunately they also had no balance. As the shirtless, white trash supplier leaned in to spill his guts to the officer (the guilty are very willing to be helpful, up until the point they know they have implicated themselves), he started to fall, nearly taking yet another officer with him. Luckily our public servant remained upright, but the man did not fare so well, falling not only down, but over the milk crate that was doubling as his seat. Our topless sage wisely decided this was the safest position for him and remained doubled over the crate for the duration of the evening. Meanwhile, the unconscious blot was left upright in his chair by the police, who decided since he couldn’t hurt anyone, let alone move, they would leave him be. On cue, once their backs were turned, the man rolled out of the chair and sprawled on the ground leaving passers-by to fend for themselves to maneuver around his carcass.
You might think this would be the end. You might think that, but you would be wrong. You see, there were a couple thousand people at this concert, hundreds of gallons of alcohol consumed and still that pesky 15 degree incline.
A few yards past all this excitement, a woman in her late 50s was gleefully imbibing and dancing to the strains of “Seven Spanish Angels,” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” that were now filling the air. To say this woman was of generous girth would be an understatement, but this did not prevent her from flailing around like Greta Garbo. Fortunately this also did not prevent gravity from taking her on several sideways caterwauls. After several near-falls, the plump peasant managed to rapidly meet the earth, taking her husband with her. I only wish I could have seen it with both eyes, for my gaze was fixed up Sir Willie performing “Always on My Mind,” “On the Road Again” or some obscure number, and I only caught the tumble peripherally. My concert compatriot, Alan, though, saw the whole thing, the lucky so-and-so.
After that, my fantasy became that some poor bastard would stumble over the unconscious guy and be clumsily propelled into the fat woman, whereupon the two of them would topple over and take down a whole crowd. Think of it as human bowling.
It never happened, though. Last I saw them, the woman had – with the help of many friends – tepidly placed herself in a camping chair (it appeared to be more sturdy and did not spill its contents, unfortunately). The wife of the senseless man suddenly reappeared (she was gone for quite a while and I didn’t think to ask her what had taken so long), and loving place his head in her lap and gently ran her fingers through his hair as she spoke to him softly. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but she was probably reminisce about the times they had growing up together and what bears mom and dad could be.
Prior to this, the most fun I had experienced with a concert crowd was when we went to the Foo Fighters/Red Hot Chili Peppers show at Blandstone. It was just a couple days after Ozzfest had been through town and the turf back on the lawn was pretty torn up so to save the ground, the crew laid down mesh tarps. Unfortunately they got kicked up, revealing the slick underside, wet with the ground’s moisture. Understandably, no one wanted to stand on this slippery surface so it created what appeared to be a path in the swarm of people on the lawn. Many a sap unwittingly charged onto this lubricated runway, only to have their feet and head exchange places. I nearly fell down myself laughing at these poor souls.
That night had nothing on this, though. Why for the modest price of $25, I not only got two hours of Willie’s serenades, but so much slapstick tomfoolery that Buster Keaton would have blushed. Oh there was a lot more that happened that night – like the music itself, or the time I and a host of others were tricked into believe that we had met Willie himself – but that is another story altogether.