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Warm Rain and Lightning by Red Hawkins

The first time I ran into Red Hawkins was back in November 1977. He had hitchhiked out of the Cumberland Plateau over to the northeast end of Tennessee during a break from his job as an electrician on a corporate farm. He was looking for a lover in the mountains but found a muse instead. They can both be enchanting at first, but have a double-edged back swing from the blind side of life. His songs show it and tell it. A few days later I dropped him off on a rainy winter morning at the on-ramp of 17th Street and I-40 in Knoxville and never expected to see him again. Who ever said that lightning never strikes the same place twice had better be ready to stand corrected when listening to this collection of songs by someone I've known for 29 years and counting. Not only has it struck many times in the songs and voice of Red Hawkins, but it has honed and purified that voice into a mirror of life as wild, ragged, and wide-ranging as the path he's traveled.

Warm Rain and Lightning brings together a wide range of influences and inspirations like the first collection of any songwriter is going to do. Few could aspire to such a range or have a varied list of experiences to draw from as Red does. This is Tom Paxton or Tom Rush without the sugar-coating. Townes Van Zant without the manic depression. It's been almost forty years since Red was walking past gatherings for the Free Speech Movement or down the same sidewalk that Victor Jara was walking down, but that time hasn't damped Red's voice any in songs like Freedom's On The Wane. Hell, most singer/songwriters haven't even heard of Victor Jara, never mind shared the same air he breathed during his short life. If that isn't enough, one feels like the muse that drove Hoyt Axton to write flew in from the West Coast and woke Red up a few times in the middle of the night during the writing of this collection. That isn't the only muse that would be guilty of sprinkling dust from her wings into a few songs in this collection. One hears a timbre and refrain in the voice of someone who lived and loved a few miles up the Clinch River from where Jimmy Martin found his muse. Red might give a nod to Woody Guthrie as a musical mentor, but before that came A.P. Carter, who would relate to I Was Walking more than any songwriter living or dead in my opinion. They just lived on opposite sides of the Clinch Mountain. That's all.

Enough about lightning striking twice, let's talk about Warm Rain and summer wine. Red can write a bittersweet song about a past lover or working songs or cast an unflinching gaze in the same direction as Richard Farina did in his rendering of "The Bold Marauder", but Red brings his pen and tongue to higher levels with songs like In Church On Sunday. Few songs have measured up to "After The Song" by John Hambrick in giving credence to those home-grown family values learned in church on Sunday morning, but this one does. A song like Guide Me Upon My Way might sound natural when sang in church, but it would find a place in a Buddhist service or Native American ceremony as well. It isn't by accident that Red can write with an ear tuned so well towards multi-cultural diversity, but that's another chapter best left for another telling. Red stands somewhere between the rough and real voice of Rambling Jack Elliot on the one hand and the poetic renderings of life by the Native American poet, John Trudell, on the other side. His musical ear might reflect the singing voice of Dave Van Ronk in one song or yield the power combined with grace that Michael Murphy aspired for in another song. If these are diamonds in the rough, forget the diamond cutter's chisel and throw another stick of wood on the camp fire. That's where these songs are best heard and sang, and hopefully refined over time. Red's songs invoke that feeling and I look forward to many more renderings from his work. A year ago I suggested that he not quit his day job just yet. I would hate to see Red reduced to writing about life from the back end of the tour bus like so many other singer/songwriters have done after fame ruined their best voice. That's a healthy fear from where I'm standing and I know one day Red will call me from a truck stop in Tucson and tell me to shove it. These songs show that degree of promise. Twenty-nine years later, here's a thumb's up from one hitch-hiker to another. The accolade is as real as Red's songs and well deserved.

Oliver Loveday, September 15, 2006
(c) 2006 Used By Permission.

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This page last revised: March 9, 2008