Article

Brass Ponies: Charlie Faye & Sturgill Simpson Make Americana Horny Again

The life and death of horns in Americana music produced by Caucasians can be traced back to two classic rockers, Bruce Springsteen and Glenn Frey. Watching Springsteen on his River tour last month in Seattle, Jake Clemons—succeeding his late uncle in a deftly touching manner—and his saxophone were absolutely central to the E Street Band’s instrumental milieu. Back to back with the boss, the Big Man’s little man had taken the brass baton and shepherded it across yet another generational divide.

As for Frey, I’m certainly among the minority of listeners who were more profoundly impacted by his January death than that of David Bowie’s eight days earlier. Bowie was unimpeachable and wholly original, whereas the polarizing Frey was ripe for analysis. He and his Eagles took an emerging sub-genre (alt-country), polished and buffed it, and made a ton of money off the more accessible result. This is musical capitalism at its most unfiltered, and led a lot of purists to demonize Frey and his bandmates. I, for one, am extremely fond of most Eagles songs—good in their own right, they serve as a gateway to the same artists the band borrowed from.

One thing Frey the solo artist should be universally loathed for, however, is his attempt to murder horns in popular music. “The Heat Is On” and “You Belong to the City” are among the worst songs in the the entire American canon, and the saxophone solos in each are enough to make you wish you were temporarily deaf.

But thanks to Charlie Faye and Sturgill Simpson, Americana’s horny again. After putting out several solid albums as a sort of indie Sheryl Crow, Faye’s taken a retro detour with her upcoming LP, Charlie Faye & The Fayettes (out June 10). The Fayettes are the Benetton of girl groups—Faye’s white, BettySoo’s Asian and Akina Adderley’s black—and Steve Elson’s saxophone, coupled with a tasty “Franklin’s Tower” guitar riff, makes “Eastside” one of the more danceable numbers of the year (note: the live version included below features no horns). There’s more to Faye, though: Alongside her obvious admiration for The Ronettes and Shirelles is a lyrical tendency to address modern themes—female sexuality and gentrification among them—in a manner that doesn’t wallop the listener over the head.

While Faye employs horns somewhat sparingly on her fine album, they’re all over Sturgill Simpson’s stunning new LP, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (out April 15). Despite being heralded as central to outlaw country’s new wave, Simpson recently told The New York Times that he’s far more influenced by Elvis Presley than Waylon Jennings. You’d have been forgiven for thinking the opposite after listening to Simpson’s last two albums, but on Sailor’s Guide, the Dap-Kings’ brass section is so muscular that it all but drowns out Laur Joamets’ great guitar runs. Simpson might call Nashville home, but just cut a metamodern Memphis classic that’s light years ahead of his peers.

 

 

 

It is well known that Clarence Clemmons was Jake Clemmons uncle.

Clarence Clemons was Jake Clemons' uncle, not his father.

The musical subgenre that you mention - the one the Eagles made a fortune off of by polishing and buffing it up - was called "country-rock." It took another 20 years or so for someone to someone dream up the label "alt-country." 

Nice review Mike...glad we're experiencing horny again...with a few notable exceptions it has been a while...glad to see "It's Time to Take it Easy on the Eagles" show up again too, though I notice the miles of commentary have been deleted...I had a hard time with Frey passing too, though it is hard to say exactly why...one of many things I agree with you about though is that "The Heat I On" and "You Belong to the City" do feature some of the worst horn lines ever, insufferable, but not to the masses apparently...when Glenn Frey was featured in the Eagles documentary talking about his solo career it hurts to watch him discuss that period, "adult rock stars", "just show up and good things happen"...especially the part where he tells Azoff he's only going to come back to the Eagles if he and Henley make more money because they kept the Eagles name alive while they were broken up...Glenn's solo career didn't kill the Eagles, but if anybody had taken it seriously it might have...

As for Sturgill, I preordered, and I love what I've heard so far, but Sturgill is obviously his own man...not sure what Atlantic is going to do with it, and what the guys that want to fight at his concerts are going to do with it either, but it will be interesting to see...

 

 

I'm not familiar with those two Glenn Frey songs with, reportedly, such horrible sax solos so now I'm curious. Any idea who played those solos? I find it hard to believe that an inept horn player would be hired for such sessions. What's so "horrible" about them?

They aren't badly played at all, the sax player was a session guy and no doubt quite skilled...just unimaginative pop drivel, IMO...superficial, bland, no heart, and the sax may be the best part of those songs..."The Heat Is On" prominently features a sax line over and over...it was in one of Eddie Murphy's early films..."You Belong To the City" was from the Miami Vice TV show, which also prominently featured Glenn's "Smuggler's Blues", ...it's just canned slick stuff, the sax solo and all...it is likely technically very well played, but it feels like just a guy playing a chart...I always liked Jack Tempchin, but some of the stuff he and Frey wrote together (they didn't write The Heat is On, but they did write UBTTC) in that period is far from their best work...but they were hits and I'm sure they paid well...doesn't make them good...however, had I written the song I would gladly have accepted the royalty check...as they did...

I suppose in retrospect I probably should have left the comment about those tunes from Glenn's solo career out as now you have me intrigued...for the record the Sax Player on "Heat" is uncredited, but the Sax Player on "You Belong" and several other songs Glenn Frey did in his solo career is a guy named Bill Bergman who is indeed an excellent player and member of a legendary LA soul and R&Bcover band called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack...if you have ever seen the "Heart Attack Horns" credited anywhere, he's one of those guys, and there were several well known players in that band from other well known successful bands (I believe it was started as a side project by Max Carl of 38 Special)...Bergman also has some easy listening jazz stuff ...Frey was a big fan of Jack Mack...and I'm sure there are lots of people who love the sax solo in "You Belong to the City".

 

Thanks Jim. Your knowledge continues to amaze me. I beieve I recall "The Heart Attack Horns" listed on song credits before.

They are still an active live band...I heard some live stuff by them I really liked back in the day, but I bought a studio album by them, and quite frankly the studio sanitized it...the live feel isn't there.  The've got a couple of live records, one very recent, that I might try at some point.  The thing about great live acts who don't quite capture that on record...like the J Geils Band...their studio records were ok, but live, they were crazy good, one of the best live bands I've ever seen...people made the same comment about Springsteen too...that his studio records didn't capture his live energy and feel, and it was true enough early in his career...ultimately the breadth of his recording career rendered that a moot point somewhere along the way...now there are bands like Lake Street Dive that fall into that category, although their latest is a lot closer to getting the live feel on record (Dave Cobb produced it).

As it is with you, music is a borderline obsession for me...so I have lots of "knowledge" about it that is probably useless...although I'm usually pretty good with the music catagories on Jeopardy!

Don't forget Mike "McDuck" Olson's awesome horns that are so much a part of Lake Street Dive's great sound. St. Paul & the Broken

Bones & The Dustbowl Revival also boast masterful horns.  Great horny music out there, folks! 

You are right Miss Holly...those bands all have great horns...horny music is everywhere!

Jake Clemons is actually Clarence's nephew (not son), just to let you know (and personally, I would capitilize Springsteen's nickname, The Boss...but then, I'm somewhat fanatical ;) ).  

When Miles Raymond said "I am not drinking fucking merlot!" in the movie Sideways, it reportedly resulted in thousands of acres of California's merlot vines being torn out in the following few years.  The same can't be said of The Eagles when Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski said, "I fucking hate The Eagles, man."  The Eagles abide.

The Eagles and country rock were my gateway drug to alt.country and old-school country, and I'll always be grateful.

Incidentally, my second Eagles concert had Roy Orbison opening, and Roy was amazing.  I'm sure that was Glenn's choice.

They became popular the year I graduated from high school...I was aware of their influences and even a fan of some of them, but I doubt I'd appreciate their influences as much if it hadn't been for the Eagles...so I'm grateful to them too...you can't help how you came to the music, the only thing that matters is that you got there...

I'll fix it. Sorry, gang!

Thanks for posting this.  I had to do a double take at the photo. Is BettySoo in the witness protection program? 

Speaking of gateway artists, I always liked the first two Thorogood albums but thought he started to go off the rails when he added the horns in the 80's.   It wasn't the best sound for George.      

Those two albums were awfully good—especially the second, when Thorogood branched out from doing strictly blues covers.  That second album included great covers of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Barry songs.  After those two albums, George churned out standard white-boy boogie blues with that honking sax for the rest of his career.