Poet, musician, avant-garde musical thinker and doer, Johnny Dowd may live in upstate New York these days, but that fellow is 100 percent died-in-the-wool Okie through and through. When Dowd opens his mouth to sing, Dust Bowl dust and heat come out. In performance, Dowd's brain appears to be boiling in a pressure cooker that has no escape valve.
Dowd is a busy man, finishing up his next album Rainbow Queen, performing most weekends, and teaching a class at Cornell University this semester on "the use of music and poetry in performance." His catalog, much of it on Munich Records - Pictures From Life's Other Side (1999), Temporary Shelter (2000), The Pawnbroker's Wife (2002), Cemetery Shoes (2004), Cruel Words (2006), A Drunkard's Masterpiece (2008), and the brilliant Wake Up the Snakes (2010) - is an artistic cataclysm full of discord and anger, murk and danger.
If Dowd wrote fiction instead of lyrics, he'd rank with another famous Oklahoman, Jim Thompson, one of the fathers of pulp fiction.
Rocks Off occasionally instant-messages with Dowd and recently suggested that he list the people he thinks are the most important in Oklahoma music history. While his answers are terse and somewhat cryptic, they are also quite revealing about Dowd's own musical tastes and listening history.
Below are Dowd's seven ultimate Okies of musical distinction. Click the links if you are interested in photos and hearing these artists.
Charlie Christian: "Mr. Jazz Box - Wrote the book."
Gene Pitney: "Mr. Pity - Amazing singer-songwriter."
3. Woody Guthrie: "Mr. America - Where is he when we need him?"
J.J. Cale: "Mr. Funky - None more Okie."
Lowell Fulsom: "Mr. Blue Shadows - Elegant guitarist."
Wanda Jackson: "Mrs. Rock and Roll - Better than ever."
Jay McShann: "Mr. Swing - Schooled the be-boppers."
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Chet Baker: "Mr. Kool - Sweet tones."
Leon Russell "Mr. Soul - Leon can do anything."