Who else could have written a country song about the Holocaust ("Ride 'Em Jewboy"), or about a human being kept in a cage as part of a circus ("Wild Man from Borneo")? Outrageous and irreverent but nearly always thought-provoking, Kinky Friedman wrote and performed satirical country songs during the 1970s and has been hailed the Frank Zappa of country music. The son of a University of Texas professor who raised his children on the family ranch, Rio Duckworth, he was born Richard F. Friedman. He studied psychology at Texas and founded his first band while there. However, King Arthur & the Carrots -- a group that poked fun at surf music -- recorded only one single in 1966. After graduation, Friedman served three years in the Peace Corps; he was stationed in Borneo, where he was an agricultural extension worker.
By 1971 he had founded his second band, Kinky Friedman & the Texas Jewboys. In keeping with the group's satirical songs, each member had a deliberately politically incorrect name: they called themselves Little Jewford, Big Nig, Panama Red, Rainbow Colors, and Snakebite Jacobs. Friedman got his break in 1973 thanks to Commander Cody, who contacted Vanguard Music on behalf of the acerbic young performer. That was the year he and his group made their debut album, Sold American, featuring John Hartford and Tompall Glaser. The title track, a bitter tale of a forgotten country singer dying an alcoholic death, barely made it onto the charts, but Friedman did attract enough attention to be invited to the Grand Ole Opry. In 1974, he recorded an eponymously titled album for ABC Records. Produced by Los Angeles pop helmsman Steve Barri, the album dissolved whatever pure country listenership Friedman might have had but delighted his growing core of fans with satirical pieces such as his response to anti-Semitism, "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore." Along with the satires, Friedman offered quieter sketches of American hard luck such as "Rapid City, South Dakota." In the mid-'70s, Friedman and his band began touring with Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Revue. In 1976 he made his third album, Lasso from El Paso, featuring Dylan and Eric Clapton. The Texas Jewboys disbanded three years later, and Friedman moved to New York, where he often appeared at the Lone Star Cafe. In 1983, he released Under the Double Ego for Sunrise Records.
After that, Friedman turned primarily toward writing, although he continued to make occasional nightclub appearances. He has written for Rolling Stone and Texas Monthly magazines and, most famously, has become a writer of unique and outrageous mystery novels such as Greenwich Killing Time, A Case of Lone Star, and The Mile High Club. Equal parts whimsy and metaphysics, the books blur fiction and reality. They feature a Jewish country singer turned Greenwich Village private eye named Kinky Friedman, who sometimes returns to his native Texas; other characters are drawn from Friedman's circle of friends in both New York and Texas. Many of Friedman's songs of the '70s and early '80s were collected on two CD compilations, Old Testaments & New Revelations (1994) and From One Good American to Another (1995). In 1999, the likes of Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, and Lyle Lovett covered Friedman's music on the tribute album Pearls in the Snow: The Songs of Kinky Friedman, and a second tribute volume was planned. In 2003 Friedman appeared in a nude, cigar-smoking triplicate on the cover of the Dallas Observer magazine, in a parody of the Dixie Chicks' nude Entertainment Weekly pose of that year. Vanguard released a 30th anniversary edition of Sold American (which included a couple of bonus tracks) in 2003. A previously unreleased 1973 live studio concert called Mayhem Aforethought appeared in June of 2005, followed by the compilation They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore later that October. An Austin City Limits appearance from 1975 that was deemed unfit to air finally saw the light of day thanks to New West Records' 2007 release of Live from Austin, TX. In 2015, Friedman returned with his first proper studio album since 1976's landmark Lasso From El Paso. Released by Avenue A Records, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met features a number of new originals, along with covers by Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson, who also guest on the album. ~ Sandra Brennan & James Manheim