Revising History: Wooden Wand On Guided By Voices, Black Flag, Rolling Stones, More

Over the years, James Jackson Toth has quietly proven himself to be one of the more undervalued American songwriters out there. Calling to mind a broad array of characters from the canon of great music – Captain Beefheart, Willie Nelson, Sun Ra and more – the man better known as Wooden Wand has been making a case that, perhaps, eventually, he should stack right up there with those legends. For the most poetic edition yet in the Bad Penny’s “Revising History” series, Toth touched on the Rolling Stones’ “Coming Down Again,” Guided by Voices’ “Chicken Blows,” Black Flag’s “Three Nights” and other songs he wishes he had made.

For their own part, Wooden Wand’s new album, Death Seat, just dropped yesterday on the Young God label helmed by Michael Gira (the Angels of Light, Swans). Gira also produced the record and had this to say about Toth: “If Nashville were a place where one could peddle great songs anymore, James would be the king of the place. He’s a passionate singer and guitar player, and inhabits the songs as he performs them with straightforward, unpretentious, and confident gravitas.”

Death Seat is the first Young God release by Toth, who previously put out albums on Kill Rock Stars, Ecstatic Peace, Ryko and other labels. Filling the shoes of his previous backing band, the Vanishing Voice, are members of Lambchop, Silver Jews and Mercury Rev, who handle the duties not taken on by the vocalist/guitarist/mandolinist Toth.

With the 12-track Death Seat under his belt, here’s a look at the songs that Toth most wishes he had also crafted, presented in the order in which he gave them to the Bad Penny:

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee – “Old Lost John”
Forever linked in your mind to the Herzog film “Stroszek,” this ebullient, uplifting and raucous music transforms your initial hungover-ass bad mood into a glee bordering on giddiness. The ideal kickoff track.

Dr. Feelgood – “Roxette”
You’re a sucker for “pub rock”‘ and this is the jam to clear the cobwebs after copious Waffle House coffee and an early check-out at the Motel 666.

Jim Ford – “Big Mouth USA”
You listen to this one on repeat a few times, singing along to warm up your voice (just an excuse to belt it out in private, really).

Cockney Rebel – “Cavaliers”
Slowing it down a little now. You’re out of the town you were in and begin settling in for a few hours of lonesome interstate. Risky to put such a long song on a mix (and while we’re being all Nick Hornby about it and making dumb “rules,” no metal or free jazz, either – shit is intrusive), but this song’s a staple.

The Rolling Stones – “Coming Down Again”
Once you’ve absorbed Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Let It Bleed, etc, you come to realize that the Stones were at the peak of their powers on Goats Head Soup and Tattoo You. This reflective junkie yarn acts as Road Warrior Balm. No turning back now.

The Roches – “Losing True”
When you walk around with “The Hammond Song” in your brain at all times, as you do, you’ll opt for this lesser known masterpiece for the road mix. You only know two other people who are as into the Roches as you are. You’ve been looking for a Roches T-shirt for years. Can’t find one.

Tom Verlaine – “Postcard From Waterloo”
Picking it up again. Great fucking guitar playing. Slowpokes in the left lane make you wish your headlights dispensed heavy artillery.

Royal Trux – “Stevie”
The quintessential Royal Trux tune. Rock and roll distilled to it’s very essence. Perfection.

Johnny Dowd – “Cradle to the Grave”
Shit’s getting weird. You imagine the lines on the highway ahead of you are little lasers being projected into your front bumper. You’re suitably paranoid now. Was that a cop? You hate when they hide in the brush. Lousy nuisance cops. Like mosquitos of the blacktop. You better stop and pee.

The Cure – “Babble”
You stop. You catch the “ice grill” from the truckers at the rest stop, but there are sex toys in the bathroom vending machine. You purchase one to amuse yourself and look forward to hopping back in the mothership because you know this song is on deck.

Ace Frehley – “Snow Blind”
Fact: All songs called “Snowblind” are awesome. There are at least four you can think of off the top of your head, not counting Hoyt Axton’s awesome “Snowblind Friend.” Ace’s solo album is the only thing associated with Kiss, save “Beth,” that you like at all. This song rules.

Black Flag – “Three Nights”
Ponderosa sounds good, but all you see are Subways. “Three Nights” is affirming. Roll on, daddy. You can never go fast enough.

Tompall Glaser – “What Are We Doing With Our Lives”
You wish this opening riff would play on a loop for hours. Highway mirages. Local jerky. This bottled water tastes different from that other bottled water. Compulsory glances into the rearview to confront your own gaze.

The Durutti Column – “The Missing Boy”
Roadkill. Weigh station closed. Buckle up, Columbus. Uneven shoulders. Bumper sticker lore.

Slaughter Joe – “Positively Something Wild”
… or something by the Gris-Gris.

Guided by Voices – “Chicken Blows”
Sorry, cuz, it’s genius.

Deniz Tek – “RPM”
Duh.

The Feelies – “Away”
“I feel good, I can take it all the way.” You mad as Moses, cousin. Godspeed and good luck.

Previous editions of “Revising History”:

• Mike Watt On John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sun Ra, More
• Kathryn Williams On Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter, Björk’s Homogenic, More

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