Kinky Friedman may be the self-proclaimed “Governor of the Heart of Texas,” but the multitalented musician counts one of Oklahoma's most revered singer-songwriters among the inspirations for his new tour.
“The ‘Bi-Polar Tour' now is 28 shows in 27 days, all solo. So it evokes the spirit of Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt and Judy Garland,” Friedman, also a self-described gambling addict, said in a phone interview last week from Las Vegas.
“That's a good role model, Woody, and I don't know, we'll see how this thing goes. You know, I don't want to become bipolar on this tour. But anything's possible.”
Well, almost anything is possible. At any rate, the “Jewish Troubadour,” 68, is launching the second leg of his tour Friday night in Kansas City, Mo., and making his way to Oklahoma City's Blue Door on Sunday night.
“My goal, of course, has always been to be an elderly black blues singer. But it doesn't look like that's gonna be possible. I mean, I don't care about money. You know, the only currency I value is the coin of the spirit, and let's hope we have a lot of that going for us on the ‘Bi-Polar Tour,'” Friedman said.
The exception to that rule may be Monday night when he returns to Tulsa to play his annual benefit concert for the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
“I will keep us out of war with Oklahoma; I promise that,” he joked about his Sooner State dates.
The Texas Hill Country denizen also promises that each “Bi-Polar Tour” stop will be just him and his guitar, playing his classic songs such as “Sold American,” “Wild Man From Borneo,” “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service Unto You,” “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed” and “They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”
That the show will include storytelling, humor and politics probably goes without saying, but he also plans to do a reading from his nonfiction book “Heroes of a Texas Childhood.”
“Of course, I will sign anything but bad legislation,” he quipped. “There will even be some new jokes.”
No time to be idle
What won't be new are the songs, mostly because Friedman hasn't written one in a quarter-century. Not that he has been idle.
In the 1980s, he shifted his attention to writing detective novels featuring a fictionalized version of himself and boasting appropriately outrageous titles such as “Armadillos & Old Lace,” “Greenwich Killing Time” and “A Case of Lone Star.”
He also has penned several nonfiction books, including two collaborations with famed friends that were released this year: “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road” with Willie Nelson and “The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts” with Billy Bob Thornton.
Along with writing books, Friedman has developed his own brand of his signature cigar, called the Kinkycristo, and a new spirit, Man in Black Tequila. Proceeds from tastings and auctions of his tequila, like sales of his Private Stock Salsa, benefit the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, which he operates with “Cousin Nancy” Parker-Simons and her husband, Tony Simons, in Medina, Texas.
Running on adrenaline
In addition, Friedman ran for governor of Texas in 2006 — “we won that race in everyplace but Texas,” he said — and he is contemplating another campaign for the office in 2014. That may well be why his “Bi-Polar Tour” has been subtitled “A Fact Finding Mission.”
“I'm looking at the Democratic primary. I mean running as an old-fashioned Harry Truman blue-dog Democrat. Being serious. I mean, if I can. For the most part. And if I can win that primary, I think I'm gonna be the governor, 'cause I'm the only Democrat in Texas who can draw votes from the two-party and the Libertarians and the Independents,” he said.
“I think being a musician is a much higher calling than being a politician,” he added.
“And I think Willie's right, that a tour like this every night where you don't take a night off runs on adrenaline and the audience. And that's great. That's a great feeling. I mean, there's nothing purer than that. It's just an acoustic guitar and singing your own songs, and they come across well.”
Audience plays role
With his wildly varied resume, it's hard to imagine that there's anything Friedman hasn't done at least once. But he tried the show-a-night model of the “Bi-Polar Tour” for the first time over the summer on the East Coast.
He liked it enough to record an album, “Live From Woodstock,” and plan his fall trek across the Midwest, Southwest and West Coast. In March, he will take the tour to Europe and then Australia.
“I haven't performed all that much really in many, many years, since with Bob Dylan in '76. I mean, I did some shows, but nothing intense like this. And this is interesting. And the audience is what makes it interesting,” he said.
“My crowd ... is a really interesting, fractured bunch of people. I mean, some of them have read the books but are not that fascinated with the music or vice versa, or they're there for the politics or they're young people who know every lyric.
“But in general, the songs, well, I mean, they were never mainstream, so I guess that may be why I haven't written a song in 25 years. And stuff like ‘They Ain't Making Jews like Jesus Anymore' really works.”