Volume 4, July 2020

Buenos Dios, buckaroos and buckarettes!

I'm Bob. You may know me from the band Big Medicine Head or daytime television.  This monthly missive from the land of tumbleweeds and the lonesome six string guitar features news from the frontier, music and prose.  Each issue will have a downloadable track and lyrics, along with the backstory of the song.

If you'd like to revisit past issues of Tales of the Western Hemisphere you can find them at bobgemmell.com

This month the Dirt Preachers Union would like to welcome new member Tom MelanconTom was with The Pods, a band out of Reno that played with Big Medicine Head. Tom will be working with us to create the virtual Dirt Preachers Union Hall. Tom and I have a commitment to one day do an album of the songs of our dear departed friend Michael Clark, formerly of The Boston Wranglers. Tom is now a songwriter out of Seattle, playing with the band American Flats. 

Tom is a swell guy.  Please join me in welcoming Tom to our fraternal sorority. Tom will be representing Dirt Preachers Union Local 6.

The Dirt Preachers Union is affiliated with Sterno Bums International in association with The Railroad Bum Songwriters Guild.

Individuals of Great Distinction

Peter Nelson

I wonder about people some time. We all have some measure of creativity. Some of us are adequate in that regard, some of us are sub-standard, and a few of us explode with energy, creativity and a blinding life force. It is the latter corridor of existence that Peter Nelson inhabits.

Peter is a master craftsman and photographer, and a gold-standard father. His creations are on display in homes and gardens across San Diego county. One of his recent efforts is a table he shaped from the wood of an apricot tree that had reached the end of life. 

The  beauty of this table is intrinsic, and evident at a glance. It isn't until the drawer is removed and turned over, however, that we discover that a piece of furniture can have a soul. For inscribed on the underside is the history and dedication of this fine piece: 

"Our granddaughter, Olivia, was born to our daughter Lea Renee with the help of a midwife on September 4th, 1994 in our house. According to ancient custom her placenta was buried in the planting of an apricot sapling to fertilize and add their very special DNA to the fiber of the new tree. Sadly, the tree...died in 2018 at the age of 24.  The wood from that tree was used in the making of this small table to commemorate the beautiful spirits of the two women whose bodies helped to nourish it."

The wood chosen for this table is rippled and burled, and the edges are rough hewn, as though Peter shaped the wood with his bare hands and willed it into being. 

This much we can say about Peter Nelson's beau chef-d'oeuvre: you and I may spend the rest of our lives trying to create something only a fraction as cool as this table. 


Lee Takasugi

Our theme for this edition is boundless creativity, and any such discussion that doesn't fold in Lee Takasugi is wasted breath.  In the tradition of cross-medium artists Joni Mitchell, Jean Michel-Basquiat, JD Devros and Leonard Cohen, Lee Takasugi reaches into a fragile crease in the fabric of the universe with a brush, a pen, and 88 black and white keys, to pull back beauty, truth and light with aching poignance.  

I first heard Lee sing in person with fellow Visiting Violette bandmates Glen Suravech and Shin Kawasaki. The occasion was her wedding in Kauai, where she married Big Medicine Head's JeffyD. The sound of these three playing together - teasing out rhythm and melody as though they came out of the womb together - wafted out the door, across the fauna, and down to the shore, finally released into the warm Hawaiian night.

Lee punctuates her sonic output with beautiful paintings. If I were an adequate art critic I would spin up an elegant description of her work, but perhaps it's best to let it speak for itself.

If you'd like to witness more of Lee's creations and support her art, you can do so visit the Smiling Buddha Art Gallery.

Songs From The Bunker

Each month we spin up a new song from the foxhole we find ourselves in. Sometimes it's a reimagining of a Big Medicine Head song. 

America, After the War is new, and if there is resonance during this time of pandemic then on some level it must be intentional. 

The song is based on a photograph. In 1947 a shot by Andreas Feineger appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine. The image describes a stretch of Route 66 in Arizona when the world was clean and wide open. 

I first came across this photo as wall art in the men's room of a Borders book store in Monterey, California. I made the manager of the store promise me that when they were done with it they would sell it to me, or give it to me, or whatever.

It has haunted me for years, and I can't say why. A few people, a few cars and a bus going somewhere. Do the people in the photo know they're immortalized? Are they still alive? Did they have happy lives? Maybe I just want to climb inside to find out what happened next.

We have this photo framed on the wall outside the bunker. One day I was peering into it, and I wondered "What if I could write my way into that photo? What if I could inhabit that space with a song?" 

America, After the War is what I came up with. Let me know how I did. Just click here to listen, or anywhere on the photo of me and Rex!

Me and Rex

The Cat

I was driving home one day, thinking about everything and thinking about nothing. Thinking about the pandemic, and all that has been tainted and removed from us. I was thinking about the Joepalooza festival in Austin and the South by Southwest gigs that were cancelled, and the AmericanaFest in Nashville that me and the boys from the Dirt Preachers Union won't be attending. 

It was morning, and the light angled in such a way that I had to squint to see the road. I was driving past a parking lot that sat adjacent to another parking lot.

The light and my lack of focus caused me almost not to see the cat on the side of the road. It was a grey tabby, and it was sitting alone in the parking lot near the edge of the asphalt. As I drove past I thought to myself, “I sure would like to pet that cat”. I continued a bit further, glanced in the rear view mirror, and saw that the cat hadn’t moved. I pulled my car over to the side of the road. I had decided to pet the cat.

Traffic was such that I felt it would be safer to exit on the passenger side. I crawled over the gear shift and the emergency brake, stretched to maneuver the handle of the door, and crawled out of the car.

I was standing on the sidewalk and I looked back toward the cat. It was still there. I began walking toward it. As I drew nearer I heard a faint ticking sound, which grew louder as I approached. It wasn’t until I was almost within reach that I realized the cat was wired to explosives.

Song of the Month 

We're reaching back now, people. Jesus' Favorite Dress is from the first Big Medicine Head album, Rex Hotel. Here's the story:

My roommate and good friend Eric Quinn had a girlfriend, who was pretty religious. One day she came over to the house in a delightful sun dress - white cotton and flowers that were explosions of color. I commented how much I liked her dress, and she said, "Thank you - it's Jesus' favorite dress."  I asked her what she meant, and she said "I'm closer to Jesus when I wear this dress."

There was no way in hell that was not going to turn into a song before nightfall.

I hope you dig it!

To stream this song, follow this link

To download this song, follow the instructions below - see you next month!

Jesus’ Favorite Dress

The warm light of a liquor store
glowing neon red
the warm sound of the traffic
through the window by my bed
I ran my fingers through my hair
and stumbled down the stairs

I saw a girl on a corner
in a beat up summer dress
she was shouting at the crowd
the crowd was not impressed
nobody listened to her message
singing, swaying, ranting, raving

Enter into the Kingdom and be blessed
the good book has a tonic for your stress
she shook her fist in the air
and then she said a prayer for our salvation
she was wearing Jesus’ favorite dress

The old guy in the doorway
took a sip from his best friend
just him and a bottle
and a building that’s condemned
propped up on his elbow with no schedule or itinerary…

the cops in this town
are heating dimes with cigarettes
and when they’re hot they throw them to
the people god forgets
and when they get home to the their
wife and kids they read the evening paper

Enter into the Kingdom and be blessed
the good book has a tonic for your stress
she shook her fist in the air
and then she said a prayer for our salvation
she was wearing Jesus’ favorite dress