Okay, I know, it's not his first album. But it's really the first one that counts. I have a copy of the real first album on vinyl, that I bought in a department store for 99 cents! But this one is his first album on Asylum Records. Produced by Jackson Browne and featuring some of LA's elite as backup singers, and musicians. It introduced Zevon's peculiar brand of songwriting to the world in a big way. And even more than 30 years later it sounds bright and different than all the other country-rock stuff that was pouring out of LA in those days.
Rhino has put together a 2-disc deluxe set, with the original album on the first disc, and a second disc of demos and alternate takes that serve to flesh out the original album and show us just how fully formed these songs were when Warren and Jackson went into the studio. The demos include "Frank and Jesse James" which was even more fascinating since I had just watched Brad Pitt in the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in the past week. Other demos? "The French Inhaler", "Hasten Down the Wind" (in a full band version), "Carmelita", and others. Some solo piano, others with backup (alternate takes) and even a live version of "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" from a radio show.
The historical value of these tracks overtakes the limited audio quality of some of the early demos. The warmth of Zevon's voice, the comfortable piano work, gives a hint of the man behind the myth.
Have you read I'll Sleep When I'm Dead? An amazing biography by Warren's ex-wife, it left me wondering what people saw in this virtually irredeemable drunken bully. But there's always real humanity in the lyrics and melodies. He didn't write songs like all those other Rodeo Drive cowboys. There are no werewolves or mercenaries on this album...but the citizens of Zevon's world are us, and our neighbors. "He agrees, he thinks she needs to be free, then she says she'd rather be free..." life is confusing and Zevon captures all that confusion, and gives the listener a sense that...there's somebody out there who understands.
Read the book about Warren's parents, and then listen to "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded". You'll see what I'm talking about.
The demos were beautifully translated by Jackson Browne's sensitive production to create what has to be one of the 70's classic albums. Phil Everly, a couple of Eagles, some Fleetwood Mac, a Beach Boy and Bonnie Raitt join some of LA's choice session guys (David Lindley, Bob Glaub, Bobby Keys et al) are all here, but this is Warren Zevon's show, his songs, his voice, his vision. And I for one, am glad to have this deluxe package to enjoy.