In a career that spans 30 years, Britain's Jon Langford has turned from a punk rocker
to crafty country musician. He'll lead the Waco Brothers on Saturday night in the finale of Twangfest 12.

By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

June 5, 2008



When: 9 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)
Where: Blueberry Hill Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Boulevard
How much: $20
More info: 314-727-0880 or ticketmaster.com


HOMETOWN: Austin, Texas
WHO: Multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith; Claude Bernard, accordion, keyboards; Keith Langford, drums; Max Johnston, banjo, fiddle, guitar.
On CD: "Noble Creatures," their 10th studio CD,
BOTTOM LINE: At once funky and twangy, the Gourds happily mix any and all American music forms into a distinctive, danceable stew. The band is blessed with multi-instrumentalists and four singers.


James Brown meets Otis Redding in this Nashville-based, old-school R&B band. The title of its new, horn-fueled CD says it all: "Kaboom."


These Detroit-based Twangfest veterans produce a heady mix of alt-country, heartland rock and Stonesy roots rock. Their latest CD is last year's "Silver Mountain."


WHEN: 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)
WHERE: The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard
MORE INFO: 314-726-6161 or ticketmaster.com

OLD 97'S

WHO: Singer-guitarist Rhett Miller; singer-bassist Murry Hammond; guitarist Ken Bethea; drummer Philip Peeples.
ON CD: The just-released "Blame It on Gravity"
BOTTOM LINE: Fueled by Miller's looks and the band's musical chops, the 97's (named for an old Johnny Cash song) take punk energy and cycle it through country, rock and power pop, and spice it with humor and hooks. The band's recordings are excellent, but their shows are even better.


Three CDs into his career, this Houston native just keeps getting better. Carll is a sharp writer of observational story songs informed by a keen sense of humor. His latest CD, "Trouble in Mind," is his first major-label release.


St. Louis' Raphael Maurice (guitar, vocals), Randall Eickmeyer (bass) and Adam Anglin (drums) mine the harder-rocking side of Americana music.


WHEN: 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)
WHERE: Off Broadway, 3511 Lemp Avenue
MORE INFO: 314-773-3363 or ticketweb.com


WHO: Jon Langford, vocals; Joe Camarillo, drums; Alan Doughty, bass; Dean “Deano” Schlabowske, guitar; and Tracy Dear, vocals and mandolin.
BOTTOM LINE: See accompanying story.


Springfield, Mo., rockers Ha Ha Tonka write with bite about the people, places and hardships of the Ozarks on their debut CD, "Buckle in the Bible Belt."


Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews of Johnson City, Tenn., take a melodic and harmonic journey through country, folk and rock. Their debut CD is "Nothing is Okay."


Travers is a St. Louis singer-songwriter who was a highlight of the recent Gram Parsons tribute concert at Off Broadway. His debut CD, "Blue Weathered Dreams," was produced by Scott Swartz of St. Louis country band, the Linemen.


WHAT: Bowling and music
WHEN: Noon-5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Saratoga Lanes, 2725 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood
HOW MUCH: $7 (benefit for KDHX Community Media)
More info: www.twangfest.com or 314-645-5308


WHAT: eBay auction of rare, collectible and signed posters, magazines, LPs, CDs etc.
WHEN: Runs through June 30.
WHERE: stores.ebay.com/twangfest
MORE INFO: twangfest.com and kdhx.org

When a British punk rocker rebels even against punk rock, and then turns to American country music, it's clear that he's following a distinct musical vision.

Over the past 30 years, Jon Langford's vision has led him from art college and punk rock in Leeds, to the punk-roots Mekons in the UK, to the punk-fueled, roots-country Waco Brothers in Chicago. Along the way, he has become an exhibited artist and a social activist for causes including the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois.

Jon Langford (center) and the Waco Brothers

Langford and the Wacos will close Twangfest 12, which continues tonight through Saturday at various venues. It's an encore performance for the band, which played the first Twangfest in 1997 at Off Broadway and will return to that stage Saturday night.

"We keep going, but we don't very often tour," Langford says from his home in Chicago. "I think we play Texas and Chicago, basically. So this is quite unusual for us, to be out doing a week's touring and being in St. Louis."

Despite fine studio albums such as "Freedom and Weep" (2005) and "New Deal" (2002), the band is at its best onstage, Langford says. The new live album, "Waco Express: Live & Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern," bears him out.

"We often make a studio album with a lot of stuff that's written, but it's not necessarily stuff that we've gigged," he says. "The versions on the live album feel fully worked out, seem much better than the versions on the studio albums. Maybe we should only do live albums."

Langford says the Wacos aren't "very ambitious, but we like playing together." But the word "ambitious" is surely a relative term when applied to Langford. His output as a Mekon, a Pine Valley Cosmonaut, a Waco Brother and a solo artist totals about 36 albums since 1979 - and that doesn't include countless projects backing up other artists or contributing to and compiling anthologies.

"Yeah, there's been quite a lot when you think about it, says Langford, 50, a native of southern Wales. "I just had to plow on a lot, leave a trail of dead behind me."

The trail to country music branched off from punk, when Langford and his band mates got bored with that musical genre in the mid-'80s.

"Punk rock had become very much of a cul de sac," he says "We always thought it was this thing of being free to do whatever you wanted to do. But by that time, actually, the industry had gotten a lid on it, and decided it was the freedom to have a ridiculous Mohican and wear a leather jacket and do speeded-up heavy metal."

About that time, Langford discovered Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Cajun music, and then a friend in Chicago sent him a mix tape of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb and Hank Thompson.

"It was kind of a revelation, because I thought I hated country music," he says. "I suddenly realized at the grand old age of 26 or 27 that the stuff was actually speaking to me about my life, probably because I was drinking too much at the time."

The qualities that attracted Langford to punk applied equally to country.

"I think there's a realism to it," he says. "The best punk rock music and the best country and Western music share a simplicity of form and a real directness with the lyrics, and a willingness to address real-life, everyday issues, often with kind of dark humor thrown in. That just really appealed to me."

Langford is not referring to modern mainstream country, which he calls "a cowboy hat pop factory," but the country of Haggard, Jones and Johnny Cash, among others. Indeed, he had an art exhibit titled "The Death of Country Music" in Nashville, Tenn., in 1998, and thought he'd be run out of town.

Instead, "people just came down and were like winking at me - 'Yeah, we agree.' It's one of those things with an industry like that," he says. "You can exist within it and feel removed from it, and feel like, well, 'I'm not really the problem, it's those other guys that are doing it. I get it.' The system is choking the culture."

Langford's primitive art style is based on etching and printmaking, and his layered technique includes everything from acrylics, oils and pastels to "office supplies (such as) Wite-Out, tape and a lot of blades for scratching things up."

Occasionally, he gets to show his work to its subjects and, occasionally, there is an unexpected benefit. Before a show in 1990, he presented Johnny Cash with a painting of the Man in Black. Langford had his mother with him, and Cash kissed her.

"We presented (the artwork) to him backstage at this gig, and he was talking to my mum - he had much more to talk to my mother about than he had to talk to me about," Langford says. "As he was leaving he said, 'Excuse me, I have to go onstage now,' and he planted one right on her lips.

"It was fantastic, it was like he gave me a get out of jail free card. She never ever questioned what I was doing after that. In her mind, I totally made it."