Funky honest country soul produced by J J Cale and mixed by Waylon Jennings.
Everyone at Americana UK is always thinking of new ideas to present music to our readers, and the latest is to periodically feature albums that are not currently available physically which, in the opinion of our various writers, warrant a physical re-release. We can only hope against hope that someone out there will actually pick up on our suggestions and re-release a lost gem of an album. To make this remote possibility a bit more likely, it would be great if everyone reading these articles could leave feedback as to whether they themselves would be interested in a potential re-release, and it will then be up to whichever gods are currently looking after vinyl and CD re-releases.
I first came across Gordon Payne’s eponymous and only album as I was browsing in the Record & Tape Exchange in Notting Hill sometime in the late ‘70s. For some reason, the cover caught my eye and I had a vague recollection of Gordon Payne being credited on J J Cale’s ‘Troubadour’ and Waylon Jennings’s ‘Are You Ready For The Country’. In those long lost halcyon days, it was extremely difficult to get information about music and musicians, you couldn’t just google a question, and therefore information on album sleeves was vital in building your own personal knowledge base. Having been drawn to ‘Gordon Payne’ by the front cover, I flipped it over to read the credits, no gatefold sleeve for Gordon, and while I had never heard of the album the musicians on it were all familiar coming from the Memphis, Nashville, and Tulsa musical mafias, but what really intrigued me was that J J Cale co-produced it with his manager and producer Audie Ashworth, and the fact that Waylon Jennings did the mixing was an added bonus and stamp of approval. It was a must-buy, particularly as it was only 50p.
Gordon Payne came from a musical and literary family and his father had originally wanted him to become an opera singer. However, while always interested in music generally, it was songwriting and rock & roll that were the true passions of the young Gordon Payne as he gravitated to the club scene of Tulsa at the start of the ‘70s. It was at this time he struck up what was to become a long-term friendship with J J Cale that would influence his whole musical career. Following a stint in the army and six months working with Tulsa legend Don White, he made the Okie trek to Los Angeles where he was helped to get some local gigs by The Cricket’s Jerry Allison, who he had been introduced to in Tulsa by Cale’s bassist Bill Raffensperger, and Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osbourne. Cale’s influence was felt again when he prompted Waylon Jennings to give Gordon Payne an audition to join the Waylors, a gig he kept throughout Waylon’s outlaw years.
It was while Payne was with Waylon that J J Cale and Audie Ashworth started recording demos of Payne’s songs, and it was these demos that formed the basis of ‘Gordon Payne’ when A&M expressed an interest after Waylon played them some of the demos during the recording of Paul Kennerley’s ‘White Mansions’ and subsequently lead to its release in 1978. The opening track ‘Down On Love’ was covered later by Rosanne Cash, and is a co-write with Don White, and it is funky in a country funk rather than James Brown funk way with Cale’s guitar to the fore. ‘Blackmail’ was later recorded by The Crickets, and is great country rock & roll as well as being Gordon Payne’s first copyrighted song. While J J Cale’s influence is certainly felt on ‘Gordon Payne’ the Payne sound has a bit more muscle and grit which is in evidence on ‘Bare Naked’. The track that first piqued A&M’s interest was ‘Oklahoma Posse’ and it is easy to hear what made A&M put their money where their mouth was. There is a wry humour to a lot of Gordon Payne’s songs and ‘Red Light/Fumblin With The Blues’ which stitches together his own ‘Red Light’ with the Tom Waits song ‘Fumblin With The Blues’ is a near-perfect example. The rhythm of ‘Green Eyes’ has a ramshackle feel that is supported and enhanced by the piano. One of Gordon Payne’s earliest musical experiences was singing in a Baptist choir, and you can’t help but think that the lyrics of ‘Flow River Flow’ were at least in part, influenced by that formative experience.
Gordon Payne’s songs have sold over 10 million copies over the years and therefore there is a big question as to why he only ever released one solo album. It has been said the sound of the album was ahead of its time, or it could be that with his income from his songwriting, and recording and touring with Waylon Jennings and then The Crickets from 1985, Gordon Payne simply didn’t need to vigorously pursue a solo career. He came off the road in 1994 to spend more time with his family, and is now a successful author, following in the footsteps of his author cousin Peggy Goodin who wrote ‘My Darling Clementine’ and ‘Take Care Of My Little Girl’, both of which were made into successful films.
Gordon Payne’s sole solo album is not just a great listen in its own right, it is an important link in the histories of J J Cale and Waylon Jennings and therefore has a historical as well as artistic importance. Jeb Loy Nichols, who knows a thing or two about country soul, has sung the album’s praises after being turned on to it by no less than the Swamp Fox himself, Tony Joe White. So, to whoever has the A&M catalogue at the moment and all you re-issue labels both big and small, do yourselves and all us potential listeners a favour and re-release Gordon Payne’s ‘Gordon Payne’ album for the great music it contains and its historical significance. If you need any more encouragement, then in the words of Jeb Loy Nichols, “I’m not saying that listening to Gordon Payne is going to fix anything, but it might, for a few minutes, ease your heart. And what more can we ask?”.