Unless you're a professional Trivial Pursuit player, chances are high you've never heard of Larry Hosford. But there was a time when Hosford was hailed as the next Bob Dylan and was hanging around Shelter Records with the likes of George Harrison, Leon Russell and J.J. Cale. Lonesome, Onry and Mean had never heard of Hosford until about two years ago, when Los Angeles producer Charlie McGovern forwarded a copy of Hosford's long-in-the-making album, High on Livin', to us. We began to investigate Hosford and fill our hole of knowledge. What we discovered was little short of amazing. To make a long story short, Hosford is a Darwinian link in the California music scene that we were completely ignorant of. So why didn't this super-talented Northern California Okie transplant become the mega-star that Shelter and Warner Bros. hoped? Well, a friend who requested to remain anonymous says Hosford never became a major star because "that brilliant son-of-a-bitch is one of the most obstinate people on the planet. I'm sure no one could handle him back in the day. Really, I don't know what they were thinking."
McGovern recently sent LOM a demo of Hosford doing his song "Reno Is A Late Night Town," and it cut deep and brutally the first time we heard it. We didn't realize it, but we'd heard Mike Stinson sing the tune at a Mucky Duck writers-in-the-round a few months back. According to an email from Hosford, who lives in John Steinbeck's hometown, Salinas, "The song dates to 1983, a period when I had married, fathered a son, and hung up my pickin' fingers for a year or two. I wound up driving for the Whittlesea Taxi Co. in Reno," Hosford wrote.
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"Most all of my stuff is slice-of-life, and the tune is a cabbie's-eye view of a scene I saw repeated with amazing regularity," he says. "I started my shift at 6 in the morning and many, many times the fares at that early hour had just been cleaned out by - (fill in the blank with the name of the last casino visited). "MGM Grand was especially hard on those folks, be they Fresno Joes or Josephines. Story was always the same: kicked ass all night all over town, got ripped on the free booze, lost it all on the last go-round in the wee hours. There's a reason, folks, why them drinks come 'round."
Stinson, who says Hosford has "balls like a Brahma bull," reflects on Hosford's move to Reno and out of the music business. "That had to be a heartbreaking decision to make, to tell yourself after putting all the time into it that maybe this music business is just not going to pan out. That took a lot of balls," says Stinson. "The guy's just been there is all I'm trying to say. That's why I see him as a survivor, the fact that he still plays a weekly gig and he's fucking' great." For his part, Hosford is happy that the next generation is still covering his work. "There is a line at the end that mentions, referencing the booze = broke thing, 'You'll lose more than your head when that sun's gone down,'" he says. "I think that's the one Mike uses, though I often alternate it with 'that's exactly the way they built this town.' "It didn't take all that long to write the song, a few days humming to myself as I wheeled about The Biggest Little City In The World. I remember making a point of not fiddling with it unless I was in the cab. Proper perspective, y'know?" Hosford has never done the song for an audience. "I have lots of tunes like that; just figure the honky-tonk crowd will not get the subtleties. Such is my fine sense of judgment," he says. "I have seen Mike wow 'em several times with it, so there y'go - one more reason I am not rich and famous. "Mike has a fine ear for my more esoteric tunes. I don't think he does yet, but ask him if he knows 'Twice The Man'." Come back tomorrow, when McGovern and others wax nostalgic about Larry "Lorenzo" Hosford.