In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Memphis rock-and-roll lifers Lucero celebrate 20 years together, and they’ve never been better. Their last album, 2015’s All a Man Should Do, was low-key the best of their career – just listen to the fiery horn blast “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” if you’re not convinced. This Friday they will return with the follow-up, Among the Ghosts. Early signs point to another classic; I mean, how can you go wrong with a song titled “Cover Me”?
“Cover Me” is an original Lucero song, but the band does record actual covers regularly. Their last album’s Big Star cover even earned a spot on our Best of 2015 list. So in honor of their covers, and their “Cover Me,” we spoke with founding member John C. Stubblefield about his five favorite cover songs. He takes on a musical and personal tour of growing up in Memphis, a punk-rock kid discovering his city’s musical heritage.
1. Agent Orange – Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers cover)
John C. says: “When I was a kid in Memphis, TN, my first memories were driving around with my dad in his orange Chevy Luv pickup truck with a Johnny Rivers cassette constantly in play, with this song on it. It was my jam. When I started listening to and going to punk rock shows at the Antenna Club at the age of twelve (where I met Brian Venable, lead guitarist and visionary of Lucero), he and I had a little bit of a disconnect. Then one day I discovered the Agent Orange cassette with the ‘Secret Agent Man’ cover on it. I played it for him in the lil’ orange truck, and he was an instant fan of their version of the song and the rest of the album. It totally bridged the generation gap and opened a dialogue for a general understanding that was lacking before.”
2. Social Distortion – Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover)
John C. says: “Again, being a kid from Memphis, it was a California punk-rock band that made me fully aware of what was really going on in my own neighborhood at Sun Records. [Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’] was literally recorded down the street from my house. And yet again, my dad heard this version and informed me of the legacy of Sun Records and all of the legendary artists that recorded there. Most importantly was my dad’s favorite: Howlin Wolf! Thanks, Mike Ness! I’m forever indebted to you for opening my young punk ears to the visceral plethora of rock n roll in my own backyard!”
3. 7 Seconds – 99 Red Balloons (Nena cover)
John C. says: “This is an anti-war anthem where a random person releases 99 red balloons into the sky that are mistaken on the early-warning radar for missiles, then nuclear war ensues. Seemed a bit far fetched at the time, but the rally cry for unity and solidarity for peace in the gang vocals of the cover (we’re gonna fight, we know who’s right, make our own rules!) rings true now more than ever!”
4. Al Green – The Letter (The Box Tops cover)
John C. says: “It was originally written and recorded in Memphis, TN at American Studio by The Box Tops, one of the top blue-eyed soul bands of the time, with a teenage Alex Chilton (who would later go on to front the very influential Memphis band, Big Star). To have the song covered by Al Green at Royal Studios across town, ‘on the other side of the tracks,’ is a testament to the tradition of Memphis music crossing all cultural and racial barriers. Here we believe: good music for good people, plain and simple – and it doesn’t get any simpler than this powerful juxtaposition here!”
5. James Luther Dickinson – Dixie Fried (Carl Perkins cover)
John C. says: “James aka Jim was a producer (he produced Lucero’s Nobody’s Darlings, The Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me amongst countless other ‘victims’), piano player (The Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses,’ Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan), singer/songwriter, cultural visionary and all things Memphis Music Shaman. His cover of Carl Perkins ‘Dixie Fried’ and his solo album by the same title are a musical road map to the elusive, swampy, psychedelic, ragged-but-right stylings that would harken the new era of an entire new Memphis Sound, which folks are still drawn here to try and emulate to this day! World Boogie is Coming!!”