Some people claim you spend the year repeating what you did on Jan. 1. if that’s true, I’ll be listening to a shit-ton of Johnny Dowd in 2022. Not that I’m complaining.
The idiosyncratic singer-songwriter’s umpteenth album Homemade Pie — which arrived as a pleasant surprise in my email in the waning hours of Dec. 31 — is hands-down his sharpest, stongest and most satisfying set in years. Switching off the beatboxes and noisy synths that have dominated some recent experimental outings, the 73-year-old oddball plugs in his guitar and gets back to where he once belonged with a gnarly batch of rough-hewn country, southern soul, garage-rock and blues — all cranked out on the fly in his home studio with his longtime touring band. Gritty and grisly, snappy and scrappy, these rambunctious and ramshackle nuggets capture Johhny-boy and his deadpan hickory twang at their backwoods best as he spins twisted, two-fisted tales of love, lust, death and religion that co-star everyone from travelling salesmen to Trump and Jesus to Jerry Lewis — topped with a large slice of the titular dessert. If you know a better way to start the year, you let me know. And you better save room for seconds — I just did a Zoom chat with the prolific eccentric, who told me he’s already got his next album in the can (and then threatened to turn the audio from our chat into yet another disc). Look for our interview on Saturday, score some Homemade Pie (and other goodies) at his website, and get ready for a helluva weird year.
THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Johnny Dowd’s new album Homemade Pie is out, and lately he’s added to his musical creative outlet and picked up a new medium, drawing at an almost frighteningly prolific rate. Suffice it to say much has happened in the life of Johnny Dowd, and he is adamant that most of it is absolutely not his fault.
What goes around, comes around, and Dowd shows us how to keep on going the way only the “scary troubadour” can — with a wry smile, a cut-off pool cue under the seat, and a sharp eye on the rear-view mirror. Along with Mike Edmondson, Willie B and Kim Sherwood-Caso, (the old band from Pictures from Life’s Other Side), Johnny covers the kind of emotional gamut he explored in his breakthrough album Wrong Side of Memphis. Be sure to get a copy of Homemade Pie. You won’t be sorry, or at least not any sorrier than you already are.
“I call my new album Homemade Pie because I recorded it at my house and I like pie,” Dowd says. ‘I could have called it Pie A La Mode but I didn’t. I think this is the best batch of songs I’ve written in long time. I had plenty of time last year to dig in so that’s what I did. I had one rule for writing and recording this record: No second guessing. In other words: DON’T BE CLEVER (nobody likes a wiseass). Musically the album was influenced by the music I grew up with: Soul, blues, country and a little garage rock. Like most records, it’s best listened to loud, with windows down and nothing but open road ahead. I hope you like it. If not, no hard feelings.”
Over the last 30 years, Dowd has been creating records that defy trends, a unique catalog of work that stands head and shoulders above many of his lauded contemporaries. Now in his 73rd year on God’s good earth, Dowd has lost none of the vigor, enthusiasm, and attitude that has seen him forge his position as one of America’s most inquisitive artistic minds, a musical explorer who has charted expeditions to genre-defying destinations that, at their heart, question, challenge, and dissect notions of the American Dream.
Born in Ft. Worth in 1948 and raised in Oklahoma, he attended high school in Memphis, crossed the pond to serve in the U.S. Army and then headed to California before landing in Ithaca, N.Y. At some point in these varied travels he picked up a guitar and never put it back down again. As Johnny says, “My childhood was normal as was my adulthood. At some point I learned to play guitar. The future is uncertain.”
He released his first album Wrong Side of Memphis in 1997, and in the wake of critical acclaim his second album in 1999, Pictures From Life’s Other Side, also to positive reviews. That year saw the first of Dowd’s U.S. and European tours. A Dutch TV documentary on Dowd was filmed in 2000, and in early 2001, the New York Times highlighted him as one of four Country Singers Who Still Display a Country Heart. He continued to release a record every year while touring both the U.S. and Europe, making his his major film appearance in 2003 with Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and winning the the alt-country award in the 7th Annual Independent Music Awards with Cruel Words in 2007, as well as acting as a judge for the 8th annual awards. Over the years, he has toured, recorded, produced or collaborated with such musical luminaries as Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Jim White and Amy LaVere to name a few (not in order of importance, and an unforgivably abbreviated list). He has contributed to numerous tribute albums, most recently The Wanderer: A Tribute To Jackie Leven.
According to Johnny, “I’ve toured the U.S. and Europe many times and even did a couple of gigs in Russia (unforgettable). It’s been an almost illegal amount of fun. But like most musicians, I feel my best gigs and finest recordings are still in front of me.”