Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman will perform Thursday night at the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez.

There are many ways to trigger the writing of songs. But leave it to Kinky Friedman to be inspired by turning off the television.

That’s where his latest batch of songs, which he calls “The Matlock Collection,” comes from. Or more specifically, it comes out of a late-night conversation Friedman had with another, very well-known songwriter.

“Willie Nelson called me last year,” Friedman said. “It was about three in the morning and he asked, What are you doing? I said, ‘Watching ‘Matlock.’ He said, ‘That’s a sure sign of depression. Turn ‘Matlock’ off and start writing, Kinky.’ I got kind of a spark. Willie’s an older guy and he doesn’t have to take an interest in what anybody’s writing. I started writing for the first time in 40 years and got a batch of songs that we’re going to be recording this year.

“When I finished the songs, I sent them to Willie. He’d asked me to send them,” Friedman said. “I called him up, he was out in Hawaii. I asked him, ‘How you doing, Willle?’ He said, ‘A little up, a little down.’ Then he said, ‘Kinky, by the way, what channel is 'Matlock' on?’”

Friedman doesn’t neglect the songs his fans want to hear at his shows, most from his 1973 album “Sold American.”

“We’ll still do the classics -- ‘They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,’ ‘Sold American’ and those,” Friedman said. “Then we’ll do stuff from the ‘Matlock Collection.' The new stuff is some of the best I’ve written. It’s very different. It’s going over great.”

It’s going over, Friedman said, because he’s never been in the mainstream. But he’s a household name to some, known as much by some folks for his series of mystery novels featuring a detective named Kinky Friedman and his run for governor of Texas as he is for his music.

“They’re not treating me like they do the Rolling Stones or Jimmy Buffett, where if they try to play new stuff, no one wants to hear that,” Friedman said. “That’s because they were mainstream successes. Mainstream people want to hear the hits, they want the nostalgia.

“It’s always been that way. Look back to Van Gogh. You know, he died alone in an asylum with a cat and he only sold one painting in his life to his brother, Theo. There surely was a Justin Bieber artist in (Van Gogh’s) day, who was really successful whose name we don’t know now. We know Van Gogh. That’s the mainstream.”

The mainstream, Friedman maintained, isn’t a place where artists who want to be remembered want to be.

“There will always be a Justin Bieber,” he said. “He will sell millions of records and be quickly forgotten. That’s kind of the Barry Manilow effect: It makes you feel good for a short period of time. Then, people like Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie, Bob (Dylan), some of those guys, give a performance that lasts a lifetime. That’s what I’m aiming for.”

The funny, cigar-chomping, tequila-swilling Friedman has long been memorable for his ’70s country output that irritated the Nashville establishment, throwing him in with Willie, Waylon Jennings and the rest of the outlaws for his participation in Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975-76 and his turn to politics.

Using the slogan “How hard can it be?," Friedman ran for governor of Texas in 2006, and received 12.6 percent of the vote, finishing fourth in the six-person race.

His foray into politics proved one thing to Friedman: that it’s harder, and more important, to write songs than it is run for office.

“It’s tough and it’s a calling. Being a musician, being a songwriter is a much higher calling than being a politician,” he said. “The trick is to sail as close to the truth as you can get without sinking the ship.”

Friedman, who stopped writing songs when he started writing his detective novels three decades ago, is back in the writing business as well. He’s penned another mystery novel, “The Return of Kinky Friedman or The Tin Can Telephone,” the 20th in the series and first in more than a decade.

He co-wrote “The Boys from the North Country: My Life with Robert Zimmerman and Bob Dylan," with Louie Kemp, “Dylan’s childhood toboggan companion.”

“Louie has about 27 stories that are amazing, that only he could tell,” Friedman said. “He was the only guy there. When you read it, it’s a very different view of Bob. It’s kind of like a Mark Twain book -- Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.”

There’s even a new biography of “The Kinkster”: “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman,” written by Mary Lou Sullivan, who did a Johnny Winter biography.

“I haven’t read it ... I’ve read the first couple chapters where I’m presented as a very happy child,” Friedman said. “I wrote the introduction for it. Every self-absorbed (ass) in America would jump at the opportunity to write the intro for their own biography.”

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