“This Son Is A Stranger To You” is a posthumous release by Texas singer/songwriter Rich Minus. These previously unreleased tracks are taken from his last recording sessions at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee and were produced by Grammy award-winner Matt Ross-Spang. Something of a well-kept secret, the rough and tumble Minus was part of a clatch of songwriters that included Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley and Clavin Russell. He released 3 full-length albums for the legendary New Rose Records imprint in France in the 90’s and the Texas Tornados recorded his songs. Now Saustex brings you his first-ever official U.S. release that features the cream of his catalog with a great backing band that includes Steve Potts (drums - Al Green, Neil Young, Gov’t Mule), Dave Roe (bass - Johnny Cash, Sturgill Simpson) and firebrand guitarist John Paul Keith (Ryan Adams, Jack Oblivian, The One Four Fives).
1. A Laredo Rose 4:13
2. Blue Stockings 4:23
3. Connie 3:40
4. Penny For Your Thoughts 3:37
5. Be Good To Me 5:26
6. Last Night 4:22
7. The Most Beautiful Waltz 3:43
Rich Minus’ roots as a songwriter rested in a loose clatch of fellows that included most notably Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley and Calvin Russell, among others. This hard-living bunch represented a movement grounded in 60’s folk, reworked with elements of country and western swing, resulting in a Cosmic Cowboy aesthetic made famous by Willie Nelson, Michael Martin Murphey and others, but with a sadder edge of desperation. Their lyrics carried an empathy for those living on society’s margins. Townes achieved a small level of tortured commercial success in the U.S. while Russell became a bona-fide cult hero in Europe. Blaze Foley was relatively unknown for years before being shot and killed by a son’s friend in Austin in 1989; two decades later a documentary, along with some re-issues, piqued fresh interest in his music . Minus, arguably the most itinerate of them all from a reliability standpoint, left behind a legacy in songs that his more famous friends admired. All of them left behind some powerful tunes if only vague footprints.
In choosing a title for this posthumous Rich Minus release I wanted it to say something about Rich. After quite a bit of thought I settled upon “This Son Is A Stranger To You”, borrowing and altering the line “the sun is a stranger to you” from one his best known tunes “Laredo Rose”. I won’t go so far as to say it’s perfect - but it reflects his almost total anonymity in the United States, even extending to his dueling home bases of Austin and San Antonio, Texas.
During the vaguely six-year period from 1990-1996 Rich was on a roll and had a promising songwriting career, releasing 3 full-length solo albums for the French indie-powerhouse New Rose Records and a fourth for Last Call Records as well as having his song “Rockin’ the Republicans” (covered by old friend Calvin Russell) become a minor hit in France, and, “Laredo Rose” and “Rosa de Amor” (a Spanish re-interpretation of “Laredo Rose”) recorded by the international Tex-Mex supergroup Texas Tornados.
So, what went wrong? The answer is multi-layered for certain. His songs and style weren’t in step with the times. He never did any extensive touring and missed as many or more shows than he made. He never had a domestic release in distribution, and the recorded music industry in general began taking a dive in the second half of the 1990’s. It would be easy to blame Rich’s lack of recognition on his drinking and reputation as a rounder which was legendary in certain circles. All too true tragi-comic tales of Rich’s misadventures near and distant from a guitar but close to a beer are too numerous to detail here. Suffice it to say that Rich loved to drink and was a self-saboteur par excellence. Recently New Rose Records co-owner Patrick Mathé offered this: “The problem is that most people did not take him seriously because of the image he gave of himself when he was drunk. That was very frustrating. I know if he could have been in the right condition to promote and play his music, he could have been big, but I’m not sure he cared much about that. He would not have changed his life just for commercial success, and maybe it was good that way.”
Still, all of the above and a lack of public consciousness and commercial success do not diminish the enduring beauty of the songs or the ability of Rich Minus as a songwriter. These songs were recorded in December of 2014 at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis. Although all the tunes been previously recorded and released, the opportunity to record with top-flight players at Sun, a place steeped in the history of musicians Rich revered, must have represented something of a dream. Despite his failing health and not having the benefit of a bottom set of teeth (which he had recently lost back in Texas) his vocal performances sparkle and the songs absolutely shine and offer an all too brief glimpse of his depth as a writer. Mathé offered this final piece of world-class praise: “To me, Rich is one of the greatest songwriters of all times. My friend Jim Dickinson thought he was on the same level as Bob Dylan, and I totally agree. Rich was a fabulous poet.”
Jeff Smith - February 2017