Thursday, July 29, 2010

LARRY JON WILSON "Life Of a Good Man" is still yours in his songs

Larry Jon Wilson (October 7, 1940-June 21, 2010) was an unusual artist who made some fine albums nobody paid much attention to in the early 70's…and came back with one last one that also was neglected.

The problem with C&W artists is that so many are predictable; they sound alike. You have to really listen or care to notice something a little special. How often will a reviewer, who usually has limited space to promote this genre, not even crack open the album from an unknown artist and only cover the latest album from the biggest star? A disc jockey might only pay attention to a lesser known practitioner if the album jacket is a knock-out or the name is catchy...and "Larry Jon Wilson" was not a catchy name and he didn't have knock-out looks.

And so a troubadour with some slyly good songs and an easygoing delivery was mostly ignored. Raised in Augusta, Georgia, the unusual Mr. Wilson favored a stylistic mix of blues and folk, but didn't consider writing or singing professionally till he was past 30. He lived in South Carolina where he had a wife, three kids and a secure job as a technical consultant for a fiberglass manufacturer. He finally got some steam going toward a full-time musical career when he began publishing some songs. Monument, the label that had done so well with quirky Roy Orbison, signed Larry for four albums that began with the 1975 release of "New Beginnings," quickly followed by the rather desperately titled "Let Me Sing My Song To You," and the even more depressingly christened "Loose Change" and the aimless "Sojourner."

Luck is a factor in any career. He thought he had some back in 1975 when Saturday Review noted of his debut album, "Larry Jon Wilson's New Beginnings is, to sum up, the best thing I have heard in country, rock, pop, or you-name-it for a very long time." But it takes publicity, a hit song, and a lot of other factors to build momentum and create stardom, and that impressive line wasn't enough. Larry and his song "Ohoopee River Bottomland" was chosen for a movie called "Heartworn Highways," about the new breed of C&W artists, including David Allan Coe, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earl, John Hiatt and Rodney Crowell. He was in good company, but the film did not get released till 1981. He was out of the business by then.

One of his last write-ups was in the Tennessean, in 1979. Writer Robert K. Oermann asked Larry why he hadn't been able to promote himself into a bigger career. Larry replied, "I just did what I could afford to do." Oermann thought that another reason might've been the intimate nature of Larry's songs, which were perhaps not too commercial: "…his songs are intensely personal, so painfully moving. He can break your heart, bring on tears, and exhaust you in a single evening…"

That's certainly an apt description for a song such as "Bertrand my Son," which opened Larry's first album and included a spoken introduction:"I have a little boy, Bertrand Tyler Wilson is his name…he was born with his feet and legs different than ours….had a lot of casts and braces and things…so I wrote a song for him." And with lyrics that would bring tears to Shel Silverstein, he sang: "If living on the fruit of the tree of love can help your chances, you'll be runnin' and playin' with me soon, I know."

Larry sang sometimes in small clubs in Georgia and Florida, and in June 2000 his first two albums got a CD re-issue, which led him to realize he was far from forgotten. In fact Mojo called it the "Re-Issue of the Month." He finally released a new album in 2007, simply titled "Larry Jon Wilson." Your download offers tracks from a variety of his albums: "Goodbye Eyes," "Bertrand my Son," "Life of a Good Man," "Drowning in the Mainstream," "Sheldon Churchyard," and "Melt Not My Igloo."

Sorry for the delay in acknowledging Larry (as well as Joya Sherrill), but this blog only posts on the 9th, 19th and 29th of the month, and tries not to be morbidly overloaded with musical obits each time. It also sometimes takes a little extra time to properly research and present the tribute.


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