Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Old Angel: The Lost Dogs on Route 66
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- I distinctly remember the first time I heard the album, Scenic Routes, by The Lost Dogs. I was living in Modesto, California, playing with the folk-rock group Canterbury. The year was somewhere between 1992 and 1993.
Dave was right on. I was smitten.
This group of five guys (later to turn to four after the death of Gene Eugene) was unique in the world of Christian music: they wrote amazing songs full of sorrow, humor, and earthly, real-life themes. In other words, they were bona fide: authentic and full of life.
Scenic Routes became the soundtrack for a period in my musical journey. And later, the album acted as the pre-concert music for all Widow’s Mite’s concerts. In short, we played the album to the point of insanity.
For those not familiar with The Lost Dogs, they have been called the “super group” of Christian music. The Dogs consist of Terry Taylor (from the 70s band Daniel Amos), Mike Roe (from the 80s band The 77’s) Steve Hindalong (from the 80s/90s band The Choir), and Derri Daugherty (also from The Choir).
I was pleased to catch the Lost Dogs at a recent concert at Calvary of Albuquerque. The songs and performance are some of the finest the Dogs have put down on audio recording. Once again I was blown away by both the quality of songs and the performance.
With song titles such as “Israelites and Okies,” “Dancing on the Devil’s Elbow,” and “Dead End Diner,” one can get a sense of the evening--a kind mixture of humor and gut honesty.
The album---and concert--ranged from folk-tinged rock to Americana-based music, hitting on various themes of travel: from the Steinbeck-influenced songs reminiscent of the Dust Bowl days to music haunted with tunes of redemption: the gospel road, if you will.
In all, the music paints a particular portrait of the American landscape with beauty, hope, and mystery, complete with a smile.
The whole evening was a great ride.
He grabbed a coffee and I, a tea. We sat at Solomon’s Porch Café speaking of music, literature, and American life.
I began by asking him if he learned anything new about America--and our people--during his travels along Route 66.
“I was again reminded that there is much kindness and openness in human nature. I met tremendous people who shared their stories and lives with me.
“As an example I spoke with a man from Devil’s Elbow, Missouri, who told me of his family business and how they have had to survive through the worst and best of times. He was a gem.
“I also met a man who bought an old Phillips gas station. He was restoring it to its former glory. I asked the man what he did before this, since he said he lived in California for a time. His reply surprised me: ‘I robbed trains.’ I sat stunned. He continued, ‘I worked for Knots Berry Farms in the Old West section. I was one of the actors in the show. I left California to follow my dreams of building this station.’”
“Overall, I discovered the salt of the earth along Route 66: warm and open people.”
“What’s interesting,” Terry continued enthusiastically, “is that many Europeans come to America to travel Route 66. They come to discover the U.S., sensing that this Route is the heartbeat of the American life. In a sense, I think they are correct.”
I then asked Terry if he discovered anything new about God. I figured that in his life of travel and song, God must reveal new things to him along the way.
“I continually learn that all of life is holy to the Lord. There is no experience--big or small--that is outside of God’s careful care.
“But more specifically I have found that fellowship is essential to our Christian life. Traveling with friends, in this case The Lost Dogs, has brought tremendous joy. We travel together, camp together, and sing together. It really is true companionship.”
I asked him to clarify the camping aspect of his answer.
“Yeah, as we travel along Route 66 we are camping along the way, putting down roots, if but for a little time, in communities and different cities. We wanted to experience what the travelers during the Dust Bowl days must have felt like. We are making a documentary about our travels along Route 66. It’s been quite fun. We listen to Woody Guthrie, watch the Grapes of Wrath, and write songs.
“One of the things I’ve sensed,” he continued, “is that the folks during the Great Depression era must have been a lot like the Israelites. The only thing both groups had to hang onto was prayer to lead them to the Promised Land. With one group it was Israel; the other, California.”
I asked him if he saw a connection between people in moments of depression and disaster, being related at certain points.
“Yes, there is an interesting parallel to the history of the Israelites and the American people, especially during the Depression era.”
How did the concept for Old Angel come about?
“Two things actually influenced the album. Both going way back.
“During the Dogs early days, I would dream of getting an R.V and travel across Route 66.
“My idea stemmed from my grandparents who were from Kansas and traveled to California via 66. They loved the Route and the love of travel was passed on to me.
“The second thing that influenced me was an old convertible a friend bought years ago. As I was sitting in the Greenroom Studios in Huntington Beach, California with Gene Eugene, our friend pulled up in the convertible. I thought, ‘Boy that would be fun to drive across the country.’
“Well years passed, but the Lord kept the vision in my mind. And when the time was right, we did it.“
I told him I’d noticed many influences of literature in his songs, especially John Steinbeck.
“Yeah, I’ve been an admirer of Steinbeck for years. I think it stemmed back to my high school days in Los Gatos, California. There I had an English teacher that I was not particularly fond of. But every now and then she began to speak of Ernest Hemingway in glowing terms. As a matter of fact, she would often stare out into space with a tear in her eye reciting Hemingway. I was struck by her love of literature.
“Later, when I discovered Hemingway’s contemporary--Steinbeck--I was maddened at my teacher for not letting us know that he wrote part of the Grapes of Wrath in Los Gatos. We should have gone on a field trip to his house!
“In preparation of our travels across Route 66 I re-read the Grapes of Wrath. It is an amazing book. The ending shows the sadness and state of American life like no other book written during the period.
My next question: As an amazing songwriter yourself who influenced you in your craft?
“As a kid it was definitely Lennon and McCartny, as well as Bob Dylan. But I consider Paul Simon’s album, Graceland, a masterpiece. When young songwriters come to me asking how to write a great song, I say listen to Graceland--the words and music.
“I also like Tom Petty. He is concise and poignant.”
How about Tom Waits? I asked.
“Of course. Tom is one of the best. Throughout my career Tom’s influence has snuck in now and then, especially with my group The Swirling Eddies.
“I have a great story concerning Tom. My son’s best friend was driving through L.A. and saw Tom walking along the street. Being a huge fan, he pulled up along side Tom and asked if he needed a ride. Tom complied. They talked music and life. All the while Tom is giving directions, saying, ‘Turn right here, turn left there.’ Well after a period of time, upon which my son’s friend lost track of where they were, Tom said, ‘Drop me off over there.’ As it turned out, it was the same place he picked him up. Tom went along for the ride only to be dropped off at the exact location he was picked up. A very Waitsian thing to do!”
We both laughed.
To be honest, I could have asked Terry many more questions. His career is so far reaching, that an hour or so of conversation is just a drop in the bucket. But Terry had to get ready for his morning performance.
Maybe there will be another time, somewhere along his journeys, that our paths will cross to discuss more books, music, and life with God. Until then, I will attend the concert at the El Rey Theatre in downtown Albuquerque and dream of the open road.
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.