Don Henley
Austin City Limits Taping
September 1, 2015

View from our seats. Obviously, photos were not allowed during the show.

View from our seats. Obviously, photos were not allowed during the show.

I took some notes last night at the ‪#‎acltv taping and thought I’d post them as I transcribe them (my handwriting looks horrible when I write in the dark). As you’ve probably seen from the set list, Don opened with “Dirty Laundry”. We wondered going into the show how much of the new album Don would be sharing. We figured that the ACL folks would want some hits. When Don opened with this song, we were a bit disappointed and afraid that the show would be like a typical Henley solo show. We didn’t know how wrong we were about to be proven.

After the song, the crowd went WILD. Here’s what Don said, “Calm down, I’m gonna talk to you for a minute. I’ve got a bit of a bronchial thing going on tonight, but through the miracle of American pharmacology I’m going to be okay. Here’s to American pharmaceuticals. Obviously that song is NOT from the new album. It’s about my long term love affair with the media which has gotten rather contentious at times, but I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. I figured out they always have the last word so I stopped writing letters. We all grew up. I grew up, they grew up. What’s that saying? Ugly buildings, politicians and whores all gain respect if they stick around long enough. I don’t know which one of those categories I fall into. Anyway, tonight it’s going to be a little different than what we’re used to. The folks who produce this show wanted a career retrospective. They wanted me to cover my whole solo career. Dirty Laundry was my first solo hit back in 1982. What we’re going to be doing tonight, we’re going to be flip-flopping back and forth between the new stuff and the old stuff. It’s going to be eclectic. It’s not all going to fit in the same little box. People like to put things in boxes these days. This stuff doesn’t fit in any box”

No Thank You

This was the first of the new songs that we heard at the ACL taping. It’s a honkytonk number (you could actually line dance to this one) that features Vince Gill on harmonies. Because Vince wasn’t there, the backing vocals were handled by Laura Johnson who Don joked was easier to look at than Vince.

Don introduced the song by saying it was from his new album, out in 3 weeks entitled Cass County. Don said that Cass County was in the north eastern corner of the state that “…ain’t nobody pays attention to”.

Don admitted that the song was a little political in that it was about how he didn’t buy what either party was selling. He then went into a mini-rant about Austin, “Austin…You’ve got all this progressive stuff. You’ve got music and art and food and then you’ve got this little dark island over on 12th street. It’s confusing.” For those not from here, 12th street is where the Texas capitol is located and it is far from progressive!

Don also talked a bit about how the song was a tribute to Buck Owens and that even though Buck was long associated with the Bakersfield sound, he was actually born in Sherman, Texas.

We really liked the song. It’s fun and frolicking and there’s even some self-deprecating humor. The chorus changes each time and I never managed to quite get a full chorus, but this bit illustrates how it shows that Don can poke fun at himself a little.

No Thank You
I don’t think so
something something something la la
Don’t tell me to Take it Easy
I’ve Been There, Done That

That song only set the stage for what would be an amazing evening of music. I guess now would be a good time to talk about the hats. You’ve probably seen the photos, but all of the guys in the band (except for Steuart ) were wearing hats. I think they were intended to look like a wandering band of Texas minstrels, but they kind of looked like a collection of Brooklyn hipsters. Best hat goes to Scott Crago who was wearing one of those newsies caps that he sometimes wears on his own. With a buttoned down shirt and rolled up sleeves and a vest, he looked the least “costumed”. The musician who had it the worst, in our opinion, was bass player Lance Morrison who was wearing a long black coat and a flattened “preacher style” black hat. Maybe some of the costumes will disappear for the regular tour and the guys will be allowed to look more natural (though the pedal steel player looked like he wore this type of clothing and hat on a regular basis).

After Don finished performing “No Thank You” he laughed and said that if anyone wanted to line dance, they were welcome to. He pointed to the standing only section in front of the stage and called it a “mosh pit”.

Don then said that he was pretty excited about his new CD because “…in that other band I’m in, I don’t get to sing with women much.” He said it was a treat to do this album and include all of the “…wonderful female vocalists.” He said that in his opinion there just weren’t enough female vocalists represented on the country charts. The crowd agreed and that it was “…just dudes.” He then chuckled to himself and said, “Shut up, Don!”
Don then introduced Ashley Monroe. It sounded like he was reading from notes as he explained all of her credits and awards, but we couldn’t figure out if it was from a teleprompter or from notes placed on the floor. When Don talked about her new song, “The Blade” he said, “if you can listen to that song without crying, then you are a better man than I.”

He welcomed Ashley to the stage and they sang “When I Stop Dreaming”. We actually liked her singing on it a little more than Dolly. Ashley does have, though, an old-school country voice…like Lynn Anderson or Tammy Wynette.

This turned out to be the only song that Don went back and redid all night, but we’ll talk more about that later.

When they finished the song, Don joked “I looked at her and I couldn’t sing.”

The Cost of Living

First of all, after hearing this song, we can’t wait to hear the album version with Merle Haggard. Don said that he wrote this with Merle in mind. Don said that Merle couldn’t be at the taping because he was on vacation in Hawaii with “…Willie and Kris Kristofferson. I wonder what they’re doin’?”. Don then introduced Jamey Johnson who would sing the song with him live. Don said that Jamey had “…one of the more authentic voices in country music.” Don read some of his credentials and mentioned a glowing review from the New York Times and added that praise from that publication was hard to come by. He said that Johnson had recently written a song for Willie and Merle called “It’s All Going to Pot”.

Don told the story of how he first heard of Jamey. “I was looking through that Internet, there and came upon a video on YouTube” (he did say this a bit sheepishly, to his credit). Don said he heard him sing with a group called Blackberry Smoke and wondered to himself, “…who is that guy? That guy is something else.” Don said that he tracked him down and got him for his record.

Don then called Jamey out on stage. Jamey presented his guitar to Don and had him sign it there. You could tell there were several other signatures on the guitar, but it was a really sweet moment. Don then told him, “I figure petty soon, you’ll have to sign that yourself.”

The song itself is a real pretty country ballad. I can’t wait to hear it all again, but the song is all about the trials and tribulations of life and getting older. “It’s the cost of living…and everyone pays.” Jamey has a voice like Merle’s…all twangy and authentic and it fits the song really well. I wrote down a few of my favorite lyrics as best I could:

“I look in the mirror now
and see that time can be unkind
I know every wrinkle and I earned every line
Something something something
It’s the cost of living and (that?) everyone pays.”

As I said, hearing this on the album with Merle will be a big treat.
Bramble Rose with Jamey Johnson and Ashley Monroe
End of the Innocence

After performing “The Cost of Living”, Don remarked that “…somewhere, George Jones is smiling.” Don said he was going to bring Miss Monroe back out and someone in the audience hooted and hollered. Don used one of his tried-but-true come-backs by muttering, “I remember my first beer.”

Don introduced “Bramble Rose” as a song by Tift Merritt and explained that when he heard it, he wanted to do it as a trio. Don explained that the original version is sung in the first person and that in order to make it work for a trio, he had to change around some personal pronouns. “Being a song-writer and having respect for other songwriters, I didn’t want to do that without permission” He then muttered something else about getting permission. He explained that Tift told him he could do anything he wanted to.

I’m anxious to hear this song again. I don’t know if it was where we were sitting or the mix of the song or what, but I had a hard time figuring out what anyone was singing. The song seemed to drag a big and sounded a bit muddled. I’m willing to give it another chance, though, when I hear it on the album with Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert.

After performing “Bramble Rose”, Don mentioned that there was a possibility that they would have to do one of these songs again and that BR might be one of them. I figured that the sound quality that I experienced was what he was referring to (but they didn’t re-record this one). Don then mentioned that they were going to go back to the 80s and do something that was written by his friend and fellow musician, Bruce Hornsby. He said that Bruce was busy writing a Broadway musical at the moment and that it was going to be interesting…..and darkly humorous.

The version of End of the Innocence that they played was the album version. It’s funny, but because Don has been changing this one up in concert, it was odd to hear it played as it was recorded. It sounded very fast. What made it special was that the keyboard solo in the middle was actually played on a real fiddle. It was cool. I felt bad, though, because even though I understood that Don had to play some of his hits, I felt like songs like this were taking away from the opportunity to hear new material. I didn’t realize there was a lot more coming down the pike.

Talking to the Moon

Don introduced the next song by saying it was about small towns and that he’s from a very small town. Some yahoo in the audience shouted out “Yeah! Lindale”. Don corrected him and said that it wasn’t LinDALE, but rather LinDEN. I think someone else then shouted out “Gilmer!” but again, Don patiently explained that he was only born in Gilmer because they had a clinic. Don further explained that he was raised in Linden, but that Lindale is where Miranda Lambert is from.

Don then mentioned that during the 60s, he and his friend Richard had bands and that they played in Austin a lot. He mentioned some of the clubs he played at…The New Orleans Club and Club Saracen, but they were long gone now. He said he cut his teeth in Austin and really learned how to sing. Don mentioned that he loves Austin…that he has family in town and that he loves the bar-b-que. He said that in fact, his record company was going to fly in 3 British journalists and that they were going to “…get educated”.

He went on to talk about how like many small towns, Linden has experienced a population decrease over the years as people have moved away. He said that he started writing the next song when he lived there but that it never got finished. One night, though, he was at his friend, JD Souther’s house and that JD is from Amarillo, Texas. Don called JD one of the finest singer/songwriters he knows and plugged his new album. Don said that one night, they stayed up until the wee hours and finished this song. He said that he only does this song now when he’s in Texas and then launched into Talking to the Moon.

I know that some of the folks reading this may not be familiar with Don’s early solo career, but this is some of his most exquisite songwriting and if you’ve never heard it before, you have to. It’s always a treat to hear it. The vocals are haunting and the lyrics masterfully paint the picture of life in a small town anywhere.

Such a privilege to hear it. I know Don was asked to do his solo HITS, but we’re so glad he chose this one from his catalogue. In fact, it wouldn’t have felt right if he didn’t do it.

That Old Flame and Train in the Distance

After “Talking to the Moon” (which got a fantastic response from the crowd), Don launched right into his introduction of Martina McBride. When she came out on stage, the crowd went really wild. She’s a tiny, little thing and had a handler help her up on stage. There wasn’t any fanfare after that. Don just said the name of the song “That Old Flame” and they kicked right into it. I will say this song has really good energy on stage. Don and Martina played really well off of each other and the crowd really bopped along to the infectious beat.

Afterwards, Don kind of fanned himself and said, “I’ve got to calm down.” Don joked again that he was going to plug his new album. He talked about how Cass County will be available on CD as well as vinyl. Someone in the audience yelled out “…and 8 track”. Don laughed and said he didn’t know about that but that “…sounded pretty good, didn’t they? In the car?” Don said it was a thrill for him to be on Capitol because that was the label the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Don said he was especially pleased because Capitol let him use the purple label on the vinyl.

Don then said that the next song was the most autobiographical song on the new album. He explained that his dad had an auto parts store and that Don would work in the store sometimes selling spark plugs and other stuff. His grandparents lived in the same town where the store was located and sometimes he’d spend the night at their house. There was a train track nearby and that he’d listen to the trains go by in the night. During the daytime, he and his buddies would put pennies and nickels on the track (side note…my Dad was a life-long railroad man and he would warn us that putting stuff on the tracks could derail a train…we did it anyway.) but that you’d get arrested if you did that now.

What they do with instruments in “Train in the Distance” to replicate the sound of a train is really amazing. You’ve heard snippets of this song in the Cass County preview video where he sort of tells the story of putting loose change on the track. There’s more, though, that makes the song quite profound.

Now I am a grown man
Turning in my sleep
Debts and obligations
Family ties run deep (not sure about this line)
Promises to keep
Promises to keep

There’s a train in the distance
There’s a whistle calling
There’s a train in the distance
Light rain is falling

You can ride that train
To the far end of creation
Far from everything and everyone you know
You better make friends with your angels and your demons….

(please note that these lyrics are my best guess after hearing the song once and writing the lyrics down in a notebook in the dark. If I’m wrong about a line I apologize to the songwriter. I can’t wait to get my hands on the official lyric book).

The song fades out as the music replicates the sound of a train growing farther and farther away.

This really is a special song and is an appropriate compliment to Talking to the Moon.

Heart of the Matter, Words Can Break Your Heart and Where I Am Now

Heart of the Matter was introduced simply as “…you know this one.” It was done in the traditional, album style. After it was finished, it probably got the biggest reception of the evening from the crowd who gave it a standing ovation. Don then remember to acknowledge his songwriting partners on that number, Mike Campbell and John David Souther. Don then said that maybe in time, people will feel the same way about songs on the new album.

Don then introduced his next guest. He said he didn’t know what to say because she was a dear friend and has been for a very long time. He said, “It’s hard to say what I like better…her singing or her cookbooks.” Don then listed all the songs he’s recorded with her over the years. He said she was a good person and one of the best singers he knows. He even said that he likes the guy she’s married to and that he refers to her as “Miss Yearwood.” At this point, Trisha bounded up on stage with a huge smile on her face and Don said that he was a lucky guy. They then launched into a new song called “Words Can Break Your Heart.”

I’d classify this as a simple, pop-country number about how couples know just how to push each other’s buttons and say the one thing that can never be taken back during the heat of a fight. It’s got a really infectious melody and will get stuck in your head.

“It only takes a breath or two
To tear your world apart
Sticks and Stones will break your bones
But words can break your heart.”

I love how Don and Trisha sing together and the play off each other so naturally on stage. They really are a joy to watch.

Next up was one of our favorites of the night. “Where I Am Now”. Trisha stayed on stage, but was kind of hanging in the back until Don called her up to the front. This song is kind of a country version of “I Will Not Go Quietly” melded with the album ending reflection last seen on “My Thanksgiving.” It is just so fun and rollicking and Don and Trisha obviously had a great time singing it.

“I’ve done some foolish things
I’ve been downright stupid
Been a sucker for a pretty face
Lord I’ve been polluted
Something about would I go back?
No way, no how
“Cause I like it…where I am now”

This is great, great stuff. What I like is that it’s deeply personal, but universal at the same time. This is some of Don’s best songwriting and why I think this album is his masterpiece.