Bukowski once told me in the late 70s that he did not like writing reviews and usually declined when asked to do so.
20 plus years later I can see why and have only written two reviews. One for a Commander Cody album after Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen broke up as a group and one for a poet’s chapbook.
When I was asked to review Tough Company by Tom Russell I couldn’t refuse because the person who asked me to do it is a friend I could not say no to.
After getting the book and seeing the Bukowski-Russell connection I immediately wished I had told my friend no. And I approached the task with great trepidation.
Why? Because I don’t like most poetry being published today because it seems like they all want to be the next Bukowski. And that ain’t gonna happen. The few good poets today are the ones who went beyond the influence Bukowski might have had on them and found their own voices.
Russell is not only one of the good ones but he has a voice of his own and it stands out with style. I can see why he and Bukowski developed a friendship. One born out of mutual respect it appears.
I was surprised I hadn’t heard much of Russell before since he is also a singer and I spent about a dozen years in the retail end of the record biz. Especially since he has recorded for Rounder Records which a friend of mine co-founded.
Before reviewing the book I ordered 2 CDs by Russell. One of them being Hotwalkerwhich is connected to this book so much they should be offered as a package deal if ever possible.
The other CD was Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs.
One reviewer has said Bukowski was not only an influence on the poets but also an inspiration for a whole generation of musicians including Tom Russell and Tom Waits.
I beg to differ with him. Anyone who knows Waits would know Kerouac was the major influence on him and that he once (still may as far as I know) collected Kerouac first editions.
I think to Russell’s credit Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Dave Van Ronk, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan were bigger influences on Russell than Bukowski.
Bottom line though is: Tough Company is one helluva read and Hotwalkera great ride to go with it.
My recommendation is to begin with these two Tom Russell offerings and enter the world of a unique voice to American poetry and music!
I should add that the “Van Ronk” poem was one of my favorites. Perhaps because I encountered Van Ronk in the late 60s and saw him perform at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California. A few years later I would see Bukowski read there.
I also learned that I had been a “Hotwalker” as a small child and didn’t know that. My Grandfather trained horses for a living and had a tack room out at the county fair grounds until his death. Sometimes he would have me walking a horse on a rope in a circle that had just been raced around the track several times real hard.
To this day I love the smell of horse sweat on leather, liniment, horse shit and hay. Russell brought back these memories and smells and I guarantee I will be listening to more of his music and reading any new poems he may write.
HOTWALKER & OTHER RUSSELL ALBUMS
MORE MYSTERY ISLAND REVIEWS
TOM RUSSELL WEBSITE
THE ART OF F.N. WRIGHT