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  • Jon Houlon

Musings on No 2 Unalike (# 2)


From Night One, November 4th, 2015 @ Ferg's Butch Hancock's "Split and Slide" and my own "Wonder and Pray"

I first heard of Butch Hancock in the Fall of 1987. Living in NYC at the time, I'd gone down to the Beacon Theater to see Dwight Yoakum. Opening the show was Joe Ely whose name I'd been hearing for a while but had never actually heard. On this particular night, Ely wasplaying solo and he knocked me out. In fact, Yoakum and his six piece band sounded pretty slight, to my ears, after hearing Joe Ely for the first time. Even in solo performance, Joe is a rockin' and dynamic performer. I recall him playing Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind" but what I remember most vividly is hearing "Boxcars" for the first time and Ely uttering the name "Butch Hancock" as the last E minor chord of that Hancock classic rang out. It was difficult back then -- pre-internet -- to locate people like Butch. But locate him I did and started ordering cassettes from him which he sent from his Airstream docked on Barton Springs Road in Austin. I was -- and remain -- obsessed with Butch's song craft and put it right in there with Bob Dylan's as the greatest ever. John Train has played many of Butch's songs over the years and, if we have a "signature" song, it's probably "Boxcars". One of the craziest songs on those cassettes I ordered was "Split and Slide", a shaggy dog story/talkin' blues whose wordplay never ceases to astound me. Butch has this unique ability to be funny and far-out but never corny -- a songwriting trick that not many (if any) others have. Of all the songs I learned for No 2 Unalike, Split and Slide was the hardest. Try, for instance, this on for size: "Split he picked the proper time and Slide he picked a good high mountain to climb // they got half way up and then they came back down // Split he slipped and started to slide and Slide he slipped and split his side // said 'Split, let's keep our feet on solid ground'". Check out Butch talking about his invention of "hard listening" (a term I borrowed for No 2 Unalike) in the attached video. I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Cactus Cafe in Austin a few years back when Butch performed Split and Slide III which clocked in at 37 minutes. Hard listening, indeed! I knew that those crazy characters Split and Slide would eventually pop up in one of my songs and lo and behold they did: on Wonder and Pray which appears here in a live version recorded by John Anthony at Fergie's pub in 2012. See if you can spot 'em! - Jon Houlon


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