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Singer-songwriter and once politician Kinky Friedman is slated to perform in El Paso on Friday, Nov. 29.

If Kinky Friedman was a hyphenate and not a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood Jewish icon from Texas, his hyphenate would be something like singer-songwriter-humorist-novelist-pundit-raconteur-provocateur-columnist-entrepreneur-politician-commentator-intellectual, and maybe part myth. 

Since 2015, Friedman has forsaken his recent political ambitions for a full-bodied return to music. The kind of irreverent, politically incorrect songs that dominated his ’70s heyday have given way to the soul-searching, reflective songs of a resurgent artist in his mid-70s.

We thought his impending show at Buddy and Pat Winston’s Star City Studios in West El Paso on Nov. 29 was a good reason to dredge up the Kinkster’s colorful past and acquaint you with his more circumspect present.

The man, the myth 

The cigar-chomping jokester was born Richard Samet Friedman on Nov. 1, 1944, in the Texas Hill Country near Kerrville.

Kinky formed his first band, a surf music send-up called King Arthur and the Carrots at UT Austin, where he graduated in 1966. The Carrots were the forerunner of the infamous Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, a play on the Texas swing music pioneers Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. 

The first, highest-profile phase of the Kinkster’s career was in the 1970s, a decade he spent writing satirical songs like “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” addressed to a drunken white racist, and the feminist-tweaking “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed.” 

He toured with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975 and ’76, which, he wrote, “traveled across America that year leaving behind some satisfied women, some wildly enthusiastic audiences, and some brain cells that promised they’d get back to us later.”

Friedman released the album “Lasso From El Paso” in 1976, with contributions from Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Ron Wood and The Band.

 

A couple of lassos

Back then, Kinky was best known for his version of  “Asshole From El Paso,” a parody of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” which included references to streets “knee-deep in tacos,” deflowered virgins, “wetbacks” and performing unthinkable acts on sheep. The song was co-written by Nick “Chinga” Chavin, a member of the Carrots and the Jewboys from El Paso who earned his infamous nickname bartending  in Juárez. Chavin first dubbed Kinky “Kinky” at UT, “because I had an Angela Davis-style haircut,” Friedman told biographer Mary Lou Sullivan for her book “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life & Times of Kinky Friedman.”

Novel politician

When Kinky’s music career stalled in the 1980s, he turned to writing detective novels in the vein of Raymond Chandler that focused on a fictional gumshoe named, what else, Kinky Friedman. Starting with “Greenwich Killing Time” in 1986, Friedman wrote more than two dozen books, eventually moving away from the gumshoe stuff to write two more novels and 10 nonfiction books, including “You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Think.” 

He wrote a column for Texas Monthly from 2001 to 2003, and periodically after that.

Kinky turned to politics, most notably a run for governor in 2006, receiving more than 12% of the votes (Rick Perry won). 

Resurrecting Kinky

Before a more full-fledged return to music a few years ago, Kinky turned entrepreneur, with businesses that made tequila, coffee and cigars (Kinky Friedman Cigars took off). He’s rarely pictured without a stogie these days. His musical resurrection began with 2015s “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met,” his 11th studio album overall and first in 39 years.

Now comes the aptly titled new album “Resurrection,” released Oct. 25. The sparse arrangements of the last two albums have given way to a much fuller production, courtesy of three-time Grammy winner Larry Campbell (Dylan, Levon Helm, the Gourds). 

“Resurrection” is getting some of the best reviews of Kinky’s career. The Boot raved: “If resurrection grounds one’s faith in something bigger than themselves, than Friedman’s ‘Resurrection’ will inarguably serve as the unshakeable and life-changing foundation of a legacy that has been decades in the making — and that will stand strong long after he heads to that big cigar lounge in the sky.”

The Merry Kinkster Tour

Friedman’s current 25-city The Merry Kinkster Tour runs through Dec. 21. Kinky accompanist Brian Molnar will open the El Paso show. Former Greezy Wheels frontman Cleve Hattersley, Kinky’s longtime manager, also will perform songs accompanied by his wife, fiddler Sweet Mary Hattersley, and tell stories from his new book “Life Is a Butt Dial.” 


El Paso Inc. contributor Doug Pullen is the program director for the El Paso Community Foundation and the Plaza Classic Film Festival.

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