Tag Archives: The Devil’s Buttermilk

When a Guitar & A Piano Play The Blues


I have been enjoying so much having the opportunity to perform with Jon “Captain Ahab” Dryden on piano—and when I say “piano,” I mean piano with a capital P. Piano. Acoustic. Wood. Wire. Keys. Life.

Ahab’s abilities are vast, virtually limitless, and beyond classification. His ear is extraordinary, his versatility unrivaled, his grace at the keys sublime. I simply LOVE what he makes of the songs we play together.

We’ve been playing so many different things, and it’s been a total joy. Whether it’s gems from Victoria Spivey, Leroy Car, Jelly Roll Morton, or Bessie Smith with The Westside Sheiks, selections from past Preacher Boy albums like Demanding to be Next or The Devil’s Buttermilk, vintage country blues workout from the likes of Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, or Tommy Johnson, or experiments with brand-new songs, it’s all just been magic.

This past Tuesday night, we pulled a couple of rather groovy rabbits out of the hat. Two debut runs at songs from Estate Bottled Blues, and a rather rollicking Piano-National take on Seven’s In The Middle, Son from The National Blues.

Here are some guerrilla-live bootlegs (mastered, but rough!) to give you an aural snapshot of what was afoot!

Pulling Black Flowers From An Hourglass – LIVE

Seven’s In The Middle, Son – LIVE

Fever Moon – LIVE

Stream ’em, download ’em, share ’em, enjoy ’em, do with them what you will. I just hope you dig!

Lyrics below, should you wish to follow along!

Pulling Black Flowers From An Hourglass

There’s nothing quite so lonesome as an empty Ferris Wheel,
rusting on its hinges in the rain,
save for that feeling when you’re driving down a lonely stretch of 5,
next to tracks that are carrying no train.

And I can see the body of a bird that met its doom,
just another case of roadkill for the highway to consume.
And you know that I’ve been feeling every life that I pass,
pulling black flowers from an hourglass.

I can see the fog come tumbling down the hillside,
like a tree whose will has been broke.
I can hear the raindrops spattering on my hood,
like a playing card pinned to a spoke.

And I can see a scarecrow with nothing to protect,
just another broken phantom in the caverns of neglect.
And you know that I’ve been feeling every life that I pass,
pulling black flowers from an hourglass.

The lake moves left to right, and the old men do the same,
when they take their favorite circuits ’round the shore.
But there’s a mighty hidden shadow looming out over the blissful,
and it’s too hard for the old men to ignore.

Saint Helens had a fire buried well within her soul,
it’s so frightening how the relapse of a saint can take its toll.
And you know that I’ve been feeling every life that I pass,
pulling black flowers from an hourglass.

Seven’s In The Middle, Son

made a deal with a strange man
he could deal his deck with either hand
winked at me and said goodbye
then switched his patch to the other eye
i did my best to play my song
but he stopped me before too long
took my guitar off my lap
tuned it up and then gave it back
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory
wrapped himself in an overcoat
silver necklace ’round his throat
rattlin’ keychain in his pants
sounded like bones when he danced
i faced myself in the mirror glass
swear to god i heard him laugh
felt his name rise in my gut
seven years of bad luck
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory
he said “seven is in the middle, son
pick a side and ride that one”
like jewels hangin’ on the vine
it’s a pendulum that’s drowning time
i lay my head down window-side
neon lights like a reaper’s bride
i tried to sleep beneath the black
of the space behind that devil’s patch
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory
he put a shiver in my soul
shook my hand and froze it cold
walked me ’round that endless shore
’til i knew i’d never been before
i hear him singin’ from the road
it’s a children’s song he knows i know
i lay myself down on the ground
emptied both my ears of sound
rise and shine, and give god the glory, glory
rise and shine, and give god the glory

Fever Moon

i saw grey at the temple
i saw blue in the sky
i saw white at the castle
with a black eye

night sweat, soak, broke, hallucination
not yet doc, i like this prescription
deep pill chill, refill my irrigation
back in the cups, i changed up my station
from pirate to tycoon, fever moon

i saw red at the rose
spreading green on the lawn
i saw brown at the derby
but the gold was gone

night sweat, soak, broke, hallucination
not yet doc, i like this prescription
deep pill chill, refill my irrigation
back in the cups, i changed my station
from pirate to tycoon, fever moon

i saw bronze take an age
i saw silver place
i saw rust take a belt
from an ashen face

night sweat, soak, broke, hallucination
not yet doc, i like this prescription
deep pill chill, refill my irrigation
back in the cups, i changed my station
from pirate to tycoon, fever moon

A Taste of The Devil’s Buttermilk


If you’ve heard The Devil’s Buttermilk before, you know it’s a bit of a different record in the Preacher Boy canon. In my mind, it’s almost a sort of collection of shorts, combined into a larger, longer film.  Every song was really recorded to be its own self-contained universe, it’s own completed circle. The songs seemed to ask for that, and so that’s what I did. There is very little sonic continuity from song to song; this one is lighting fast and loaded with electric guitars, that one is soft, quiet, acoustic. This one is whispery and spooky and moody, that one is full bore and monstrous.

The album is populated with a lot of different characters. The destructive, white -trash-noir anti-hero of “On and on it goes,” the cracked Wiseblood-ian preacher of “Glory Man,” Patrick Jones, whose white bones close “The Dogs,” the neighborhood drunk in “Spaceman,” and more.

The theatricality and comparatively complicated instrumentation has meant that these songs don’t get played live very often—some of them I’ve never played live. But recently, I’ve committed to working out arrangements of a great many songs that I haven’t given much stage time to, and songs from The Devil’s Buttermilk are looming large on that list. Last night I played “On and on it goes,” “Rust,” and “Spaceman.” Two of those I’ve NEVER played live before, and “Spaceman” I haven’t performed live in over a decade. It was an adventurous evening.

Here’s a raw and straight-from-the-stage recording of “Spaceman” from last night:

if you don’t see the embedded media player above, please click below to stream:
Preacher Boy – Spaceman [LIVE]

(lyrics are at the bottom of this post)

The whole show was a bit of a journey song-wise … a pretty diverse mix of country blues workouts, and a great many album tracks I don’t often play. Here’s the whole set list:

  1. if i had possession over my judgement day (robert johnson)
  2. rollin’ stone (rev. robert wilkins)
  3. evil blues (mance lipscomb)
  4. rust (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  5. levee camp blues (fred mcdowell)
  6. my gold canoe (from “demanding to be next”)
  7. black crow (from “crow”)
  8. gun (from “gutters & pews”)
  9. jake j. thomas’ ol’ mission st blues (new)
  10. catfish (willie doss)
  11. chop wood, carry water (new)
  12. that’s no way to get along (rev. robert wilkins)
  13. down south blues (sleepy john estes)
  14. my car walks on water (from “the national blues”)
  15. nehemiah james (from “demanding to be next”)
  16. down and out in this town (from “gutters & pews”)
  17. spaceman (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  18. on and on it goes (from “the devil’s buttermilk”)
  19. change (from “demanding to be next”)
  20. setting sun (from “the national blues”)
  21. motherless children (blind willie johnson/mance lipscomb/dave van ronk)
  22. a little better when it rains (from “demanding to be next”)


Finally, here are the lyrics to Spaceman, if you want to read along!


god knows where they go, i only know his name was bob
he had a job somewhere, some office that paid him well
he spent his science fiction days dreaming up
all the things that he’d invent, but never sell
i used to see him whenever i was down at “george & walt’s”
and he’d tell me again, like i didn’t already know
that he preferred to start his nights out with three brandy twists
and then finish two beers before he had to go
the bartender, dave, gave bob his nickname
they’d yell out “spaceman!” whenever he walked in
but he confessed to me, in that weary voice that only drunkards get,
that he was pretty sure they were making fun of him
making fun of him
well, they’ve always been
give him half the chance, and bob could talk for half the year
with a mouth full of nothing but an overbite
he was so far past alone not even pity helped
so i’d just sit with him and drink away the nights
the money he earned would have loved to burn his pocket full of holes
but he had no one to spend it upon
for him, love had become some magic instance that never lasts
like the moment when the street lights first come on
sometimes, if bob got a little too drunk
my friend and i, we’d drive him to his house
and we’d talk and sit, and i’d play a bit on his little guitar
and then we’d leave whenever he passed out
whenever he passed out
we’d just let ourselves out
i haven’t been back to “george & walt’s” for so many years
maybe bob doesn’t mean too much to me now
but i’ve always kept that little guitar he insisted that i take
so i guess he still matters somehow
and if you see him, buy him a brandy for me
tell him the kid that took his guitar says hello
and do me a favor, sit and listen to his stories for a while
he’ll appreciate it more than you know
more than you could know
and i ought to know


Setlist Chronicles -or- The Strange Bird Songs I Played Tonight

Preacher Boy, Mission St. BBQ, photo by Jake J. Thomas

(Preacher Boy, live at Mission St. BBQ. Photo by Jake J. Thomas.)

Kind of an intriguing set tonight, if I do say so myself. I certainly bookended with a pair of the usual suspects, and there were a few other familiar chirps throughout as well, but all in all, quite a lot of strange birds making sonic appearances tonight. Lots of country blues in here. Here’s the full list of what I ran down:

  1. If I Had Possession Over My Judgement Day (Robert Johnson, arr. PB)
  2. Preachin’ Blues (Son House, arr. PB)
  3. Levee Camp Blues (Mississippi Fred McDowell, arr. PB)
  4. Old Jim Granger (from the Preacher Boy album “The Tenderloin EP”)
  5. Diving Duck Blues (Sleepy John Estes, arr. PB)
  6. Evil Blues (Mance Lipscomb, arr. PB)
  7. A Little More Evil (from the Preacher Boy album “The National Blues”)
  8. Revenue Man Blues (Charley Patton, arr. PB)
  9. Milk Cow Blues (Mississippi Fred McDowell, arr. PB)
  10. Catfish Blues (Willie Doss, arr. PB)
  11. The Dogs (from the Preacher Boy album “The Devil’s Buttermilk”)
  12. Spoonful Blues (Charley Patton, arr. PB)
  13. Down And Out In This Town (from the Preacher Boy album “Gutters & Pews”)
  14. Sliding Delta (Mississippi John Hurt, arr. PB)
  15. Stagolee (Mississippi John Hurt, arr. PB)
  16. A Person’s Mind (from the Preacher Boy album “The National Blues”)
  17. Down South Blues (Sleepy John Estes, arr. PB)
  18. Coal Black Dirt Sky (from the Preacher Boy album “Crow”)
  19. Black Crow (from the Preacher Boy album “Crow”)
  20. Railroad (from the Preacher Boy album “Gutters & Pews”)
  21. Motherless Children (Blind Willie Johnson,/Mance Lipscomb/Dave Van Ronk, arr. PB)
  22. Shake ‘Em On Down (Bukka White)

And for your listening pleasure, two straight-from-the-stage-to-yer-ear-buds guerrilla-live tracks:

Preacher Boy – Sliding Delta [LIVE]

(arrangement based on the Mississippi John Hurt version)

Preacher Boy – Levee Camp Blues [LIVE]

(arrangement based on a recorded performance by Mississippi Fred McDowell)

For the guitar heads amongst ye, this version of Sliding Delta is performed on a ’36 National (Grandpa’s National), which is set up for standard tuning. This chords are based on Key of E forms, but the guitar is capo’d at the 4th fret. Levee Camp Blues is performed on a different ’36 National (THE National), and the guitar is tuned to an Open G tuning, then capo’d at the 2nd fret.

For the footwear fanatics amongst ye, the stomps come courtesy of my cowboy boots, which are a Size 13.


The Dogs: An Irish Ghost Story Set To Minor-Key Slide Guitar

The Dogs [LIVE]

It was written while the missus and I were living in Ireland. In the wild barren west of County Clare. In The Burren. In a 200-year-old stone house that was once the parochial house for the small village down the coast road. Under Jameson’s. Under a peet fire. It was written in Ireland.

It was recorded for “The Devil’s Buttermilk.”

It has never been performed live. Until last week.

Raw, guerrilla-audio. Live. The almighty Virgil Thrasher on harmonica. Meself on 1936 National Resophonic, in Open Dm. Stomps via boots.

The Dogs [LIVE] (click to listen)

the dogs
the trees, come the nightfall
turn a deeper shade of purple
and their gnarled limbs tighten into fists

the webbing of the spiders
gets sewn ever tighter
a latticework of silver in the mist

the trails, clearly marked
dissolve in the dark
and the bog creeps in upon the ankles

the wind blows a foul breath
the last glow is extinguished
and the stars are cut down from where they dangle

it’s said that in the bogs
lay the skeletons of dogs
never buried, only thrown to the ground

into the bog, they were delivered
with no pity or grave-digger
and with time their lonely bodies sank down

in the midnight’s darkest center
when even summer nights are winter
and silence presses into the dark like a fossil

comes the lonely anguished howling
the barking and the growling
and the hot breath of a thousand nostrils

oh, the sad, hopeless panting
from the ghosts of the abandoned
searching restlessly for the masters that left them

but the masters, long deceased
have left the ghosts eternally
on a cursed hunt that’s doomed to not end

so, of this place, you must beware
let not the nightfall catch you there
and if you doubt it, remember what happened to patrick jones

who swore he’d prove our fears unfounded
and in the morning, when we found him
there was nothing but tooth-marks on his bones

One Of The Old Songs


I played 3 hours straight, no break. Solo acoustic. Just me and my two Nationals. It was a night of rarities. Preachorum Obscurata. In no particular order, I am pretty sure I played:

De Vamp (from debut album Preacher Boy & The Natural Blues)

Dead, Boy (ditto)

The Cross Must Move (ditto)

Like Me (PBATNB again)

Down & Out In This Town (from 2nd album, Gutters & Pews)

In The Darkened Night (G&P again. Last time I played this live? 2001, in Boulder, CO, methinks …)

Railroad (from G&P. This was my Grandpa’s favorite Preacher Boy song …)

Ugly (G&P)

Old Jim Granger (from The Tenderloin EP)

Black Crow (from Crow)

A Golden Thimble (from The Devil’s Buttermilk)

At The Corner Of The Top & The Bottom (fromTDBM again. Written about a lil’ corner just up the street from Biscuits & Blues in SF)

Friend’s Lament (also from TDBM. As far as I can recall, I only ever performed this song once live before tonight. On a radio show in Brighton, England)

Whistleman (from Demanding To Be Next)

Rock Skipper (also DTBN)

My Gold Canoe (DTBN again. Written with the very great Colin Brooks)

Comin’ Up Aces (DTBN)

Jackson Street (DTBN)

99 Bottles (DTBN)

West of the River (new/unreleased. NEVER performed this live EVER before)

Envelope (I think the last time I performed this live was at Two Boots in Park Slope)

My Car Walks On Water (unreleased)

Down The Drain (unreleased)

Cornbread (unreleased)

A Little More Evil (unreleased)

Blister and a Bottlecap (unreleased)

… and some other things as well, which I cannot currently remember. Other than “Sliding Delta.” I know I played that too …

The show was at Jerry’s Front Pocket in Santa Cruz. The cleanest dirty bar in world. Jerry is fantastic. We talked Nick Cave after the show, and MC 900 Foot Jesus.



It was epic.

Preach In The Pocket

Droppin’ into a new venue for the first time tomorrow night (1.4.15): Jerry’s Front Pocket. Gonna run the sound down with a trio: myself, harmonica ace Virgil Thrasher, and Zack Olsen on the skins.

I don’t know the place yet, but they’re pullin’ in some killer talent, including a couple of my ol’ Blind Pig Records stablemates: Debbie Davies & Popa Chubby.

This is gonna be a great chance to reunite with my new fave drummer pardner Zack Olsen, whom you can hear here poundin’ the tubs with me and Big Bones at Biscuits & Blues:

And as to Virgil and I, we were most recently caught together on New Year’s Day at my new weekly musical home Aptos St. BBQ, runnin’ down an alt. blues stomp-off of “If I Had Possession Over My Judgement Day”:

This particular trio format is a pretty odd one (National, Harmonica, Drums), but it’s a gas, with a lot of space for everyone to fill, and big responsibilities for the right hand thump; as there’s no bass …

Gon’ be playin’ tunes from the whole history; pre-Blind Pig, some Blind Pig era cuts, lil’ something from Tenderloin, even a cut from Crow, and of course some things from Devil’s Buttermilk and Demanding To Be Next.

Not to mention a whole slew of Bukka White, Son House, Fred MacDowell, Blind Willie Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, etc.

Gon’ be in the pocket. Dig.

What A Difference An Arrangement Makes! Lonesome Traveler Two Ways

Songs are strange animals. Little chameleons. Remarkable how differently they behave in different outfits. It’s pretty rare to find a song that, no matter how you arrange it, it always sounds fundamentally the same. Blowin’ in the Wind maybe? Pretty much every version of that still sounds like Blowin’ in the Wind. But All Along The Watchtower, Dylan vs. Hendrix? Totally different songs …

Which brings me to a song called Lonesome Traveler that I recently rediscovered. I was reminded of the lyric by a good friend (the brilliant poet Robert Lavett Smith), who started quoting it to me during soundcheck at a recent show; he started in, and I found myself saying the words right along with him, even though I hadn’t sung it in probably a decade:

Someone left their teeth at The Tip Top,
and the lights in Vesuvio are dim.

Patrick is still looking for hemlock,
but nobody’s looking for him.

The next day, I pulled out my National (in standard tuning), and put down a lil’ demo of a new arrangement that came to me as I was falling asleep. Funky-ish, lots of 7 chords in the verses, and straight 4/4 time throughout. By comparison, the first proper recording of the tune had been during the sessions for The Devil’s Buttermilk. We did it in 6/8 time, with lots of piano and strings and such, and it has kind of a waltzy, boozy, dreamy and melancholy-dirty kind of vibe (gratitude and praise to Steve Pigott, who played keys and arranged the strings; crazy player, been w/ everyone from Joe Cocker to Debbie Harry to Uriah Heep to Rod Stewart!).

Anyhow, very different from the new incarnation, which is sort of funky and stark and blues-thumped.

You can compare the two versions here, if you’d like:

Lonesome Traveler (from The Devil’s Buttermilk)

Lonesome Traveler (new solo acoustic/national arrangement)

If you feel so inclined, let me know what ya think, and if ya have a preference!

Here’s the lyric, by the way; the title was inspired by a Jack Kerouac collection of short stories, and the references are to real things seen and experienced whilst walking about in San Francisco:


Lonesome Traveler

On the street, the dawn is descending,
Over mascara, grease-paint, and dirt.
The six o’ clock shakes are just ending,
And the bartender has stains on her skirt.

The daisy days have made way for silver,
And the leaves are entombed in brass,
And there’s a junkiedom backpacking Hitler
Writing his name in red lipstick on the grass.

The moon has a saddle full of splinters,
And the rain reminds you of home.
Gamblers sleep in the park in the winter,
And count chain links on the side of the road.

The last living heir of a princess
Keeps her rubies in an old pair of nylons.
“The bounties of Heaven are endless!”
Shouts Little Christ through his big orange pylon.

Someone left their teeth at The Tip Top,
And the lights in Vesuvio are dim.
Patrick is still looking for hemlock,
But nobody’s is looking for him.

The moon has a saddle full of splinters,
And the rain reminds you of home.
Gamblers sleep in the park in the winter,
And count chain links on the side of the road.

There’s a silver keychain dagger,
And Arthur has nicotine nails.
On a saxophone crutch he staggers,
As roof tar pelts down like hail.

The lonesome travelers crash down,
And 3rd street is surrounded by rust.
Bums sleep on pillows of hash browns,
And leave angel silhouettes in the dust.

Preacher Boy: FAQs

Q: Where does the name Preacher Boy come from?
A: Well, it started out essentially as a demi-derisive nickname a good friend used to call me when I’d get to soapboxing too much; sort of a Hazel Motes call out.

Q: How many Preacher Boy albums are there?
A: 6, if you include the 4-song Tenderloin EP:


Q: Best gigs ever?
A: Too many to count! How about favorite acts I’ve gotten to perform with? Some highlights:

  • Opening for Taj Mahal in Denver, Colorado
  • With Los Lobos at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and then with JJ Cale at The Catalyst
  • Opening for Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) at his annual X-mas show in London, ON my 30th birthday!
  • The San Francisco Blues Festival, the same day and stage as John Lee Hooker
  • Guesting in the set with Eagle-Eye Cherry, for his live concert film at Shepherd’s Bush, in London
  • Opening for Clarence Gatemouth Brown at The Great American Music Hall
  • With Sonny Landreth at The Great American Music Hall
  • 4 different shows at Slim’s in SF, opening for Bob Geldof, Peter Wolf, Jimmy Vaughan, and The Texas Tornadoes
  • With AJ Croce at Moulin Blues in The Netherlands
  • Opening for Cracker at The Warfield
  • Playing the Glastonbury Festival on the same bill as Portishead, Nick Cave, and Bob Dylan
  • Opening for CJ Chenier in LA, and for Buckwheat Zydeco at Bimbo’s in SF
  • Opening for Chris Whitley in Portland, OR
  • Playing opposite Chris Isaak at The Paradise Lounge in SF
  • Opening for Charlie Musselwhite at The House of Blues in New Orleans


Q: How old is your National?
A: 1936! And actually, I’m so fortunate, I have two now, both from 1936!

Q: What tunings do you use on your Nationals?
A: Well, as I said, I have two, and I use them differently; what I call “The National” (the one my Grandpa gave me) is my slide instrument, so on that one, I use primarily Open G and Open D, and the minors of each as well. My second National (the one that belonged to my Grandpa, and was passed down to me when he passed) I keep mainly in standard, though I’ll occasionally do Drop D or something like that. I have one tune for which I use a really strange tuning (Open C, essentially, but with no 3rd: CGCGCC), and I generally do that on this second National as well.

Q: What do you think about all the Tom Waits comparisons you’ve received over the years?
A: Well, two things, I suppose: 1) High praise, and 2) A lot of people need to go listen to Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Charley Patton, Dave Van Ronk, Lemmy, Louis Armstrong, and Captain Beefheart.

Q: What’s the most successful song you’ve ever recorded?
A: Depends on the criteria for judging, really, so, four answers:

  • If you ask my bank account, it’s “Long Way Around” which I wrote with Eagle-Cherry. We recorded it at The Magic Shop in New York with Rick Rubin producing, and Eagle-Eye’s sister Neneh sung on it, and it went on to be certified Gold in Europe.
  • If you ask iTunes, it’s probably the version of “Old Boyfriends” I did for a Waits tribute album. Per the question above, I was a little put out by the request initially, but decided to do it as I found what I thought was a clever way to circumnavigate the vocal comparisons; Waits never sung “Old Boyfriends,” Crystal Gayle did, on the One From The Heart Soundtrack. So that’s the one I covered!
  • If you ask my discography, it would probably be “I Won’t Be There” from Gutters & Pews, as I think that’s the one that’s been anthologized the most. Or perhaps “This Is New York,” because that made it onto the Approaching Union Square soundtrack.
  • “Dead, Boy!” Because that was the first “professional” song I recorded with my National, and it was for my debut album, for my first record label! Thus, the beginning of it all …

Q: What got you into this music in the first place?
A: Simple. Side 1, song 1, of a Vanguard Twofer that collected all the great country blues performers who had performed at the Newport Folk Festival in the 60s. I put it on my record player with NO idea what to expect, and along came the first song: Mississippi John Hurt playing “Sliding Delta.” And that was it, man. I heard it, and I said, “I’m sorry Joe Strummer, but THAT! I want to be able to do THAT!”

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