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Episode 119 : Michael Simmons on country punk + '60s counterculture + Van Dyke Parks

24 January 2022

In this episode, Barney, Mark & Jasper invite counterculture chronicler and "father of country punk" Michael Simmons to join them in RBP's virtual cupboard… all the way from his Culver City lair in small-hours Southern California.

Michael talks very entertainingly about his dad Matty's '60s "hippie mag" Cheetah and about National Lampoon, the satirical '70s institution that succeeded it. Yarns about John Belushi and chums lead into Simmons Jr.'s unlikely but lifelong love of country music; his New York band Slewfoot; depping for George Jones at the Bottom Line; and his late '70s stint as one of Kinky Friedman's self-styled "Texas Jewboys".

We also hear about our guest's parallel writing career and his move to Los Angeles, from whence he has long contributed to such outlets as the L.A. Weekly and (from the mid-noughties on) MOJO. He reminisces about his teenage Greenwich Village obsession with Bob Dylan, and talks about the liner notes he's penned for three of Bob's Bootleg Series box sets.

Mention of a Van Dyke Parks piece Michael wrote in 2013 takes us into clips from John Tobler's long 1973 audio interview with that eccentric L.A. genius & Beach Boys/Randy Newman acolyte. At the end of the episode you will hear amusing banter between Van Dyke and a passing Lowell George (who'd just been interviewed next door by Pete "Family Trees" Frame).

After paying our respects to departed heroes Ronnie Spector and Michael Lang, Mark & Jasper take us out with quotes from their favourite new additions to the RBP library. Mark mentions the late Maureen Cleave's 1965 interview with Nina Simone, Lon Goddard's 1970 encounter with Joni Mitchell & Ed Jones' 1975 review of Motörhead at the Roundhouse, while Jasper cites a Simon Reynolds special on "digital maximalism" and Mark Sinker's reflections on COVID and rock nostalgia.

Watch a video clip from this recording

Please note that this episode was recorded before news of Meat Loaf's death reached us.

Many thanks to special guest Michael Simmons; find his writing on RBP as well as in the Huffington Post and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @the1stmunz.