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TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our country music week continues with a concert of classic country songs by John Doe. As the co-founder of the L.A.-based band X, John Doe was one of the leading voices and songwriters of punk rock in the '70s and '80s.

As our rock critic Ken Tucker has said, quote, when John Doe started the band X in the '70s, his voice always stood out for its tunefulness, a high, lonesome tenor that could sing country and pop, as well as the harsher punk rock he and his then-wife Exene were producing, unquote.

Last year, John Doe recorded an album called "Country Club," featuring his versions of country music classics written by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and others, along with a few originals.

When the album was released, he performed some of those songs on our show, backed up by two members of the band The Sadies: guitarist Travis Good and bass player Sean Dean, who are also featured on the album. We're going to listen back to that performance and interview.

Well, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's great to have you here. I'd like to start by asking you to play a song, and I have a request: "(Now and Then) There's A Fool Such as I." And do you want to say a few words about the song, John, before we hear it?

Mr. JOHN DOE (Musician): I heard it as a kid, for sure, and then somewhere in my mind there was a version - I mean, that was Hank Snow's version. Somewhere in my mind, Bob Dylan did a slower version of it, and I tried to find it, and all he did was the Elvis version, which is sort of rock 'n' rolly, not good. And someday I'll find the Bob Dylan version of "A Fool Such as I."

GROSS: Unless you invented it, and that version doesn't really exist.

Mr. DOE: I think maybe I did. Maybe I just blended the two or something. I don't know.

GROSS: Well let's hear your version.

(Soundbite of song, "(Now and Then) There's A Fool Such as I")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Pardon me if I'm sentimental when we say goodbye. Don't be angry with me should I cry. When you're gone, yeah, I'll dream a little dream as years go by. Now and then, there's a fool such as I.

Now and then, there's a fool such as I am over you. You taught me how to love, and now you say that we are through. I'm a fool, but I'll love you, dear, until the day I die. Now and then, there's a fool such as I.

Now and then, there's a fool such as I am over you. You taught me how to live, and now you say that we are through. I'm a fool, but I'll love you dear, until the day I die. Now and then, there's a fool such as I. Now and then, there's a fool such as I.

GROSS: That sounds great. Thank you for doing that, and that's John Doe singing and playing guitar, Travis Good on lead guitar, Sean Dean on Bass, and that's a song called "Country Club."

John, how did you decide to do a country album?

Mr. DOE: Well, for the last 20 years, maybe, people would say, oh, you should do a country record. And it always seemed like a snooze to me.

GROSS: Because?

Mr. DOE: Well, because my voice is a pleasant voice, not really crazy. You can't identify it like Janis Joplin or Bob Dylan or something. It's not this signature Macy Gray, like, wow, that's a crazy voice, or even, you know, modern Neko Case or something. So with that and the Nashville sort of smooth backing, it was like...

(Soundbite of snoring sound)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: So - and the Sadies and I played together, a festival in Canada, and it was like, this is what it should be.

GROSS: Okay, here's my take on you singing country.

Mr. DOE: Yeah.

GROSS: A lot of country is a kind of weepy singing because some of the songs are so sad about, like, tragic love, being an alcoholic, like all the horrible things that can happen to you. And I don't think you do weepy, but you have this kind of, like, desolate sound when you're singing some of these songs that really works.

Mr. DOE: Inside I'm weeping.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now I love "A Fool Such as I," and I sometimes think when I hear it how different would the song be if it was a fool just like me. It just doesn't quite work the same.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: Well that's the beauty of country music is it has this weird colloquial but sort of statesman prosaic. Like, I was thinking about -we do this song live "There Stands the Glass."

GROSS: I love that song. Oh, okay, now you've got to do a few bars of it. I was going to ask you to do it, but I figured well, they don't necessarily know it.

Mr. DOE: Okay. All right, but anyway, this is like "There Stands the Glass." That's a really weird sentence. It makes total sense, but it's like, aloft, the glass is before me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: Drinketh me down the glass of beer.

GROSS: Okay, do a few bars.

Mr. DOE: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "There Stands the Glass")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) There stands the glass that'll ease all my pain, that'll settle my brain. It's my first one today. There stands the glass that'll hide all my fears, that'll drown all my tears. Brother, I'm on my way.

I'm wondering where you are tonight. I'm wondering if you are all right. I'm wondering do you think of me in my misery. There stands the glass. Fill it up to the brim 'til all my troubles grow dim. It's my first one today.

Mr. DOE: The short version.

GROSS: It's amazing about how a song about such misery can make me so happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I loved hearing you. That's a great performance. I love what you did with the there. That was really so big, it was so great.

Mr. DOE: Well, Webb Pierce did a great version. I used to do it in a higher key. I had to accept that. And then Ted Hawkins did a great version of that.

GROSS: Oh, I know that version, too, that's a great version.

(Soundbite of bellowing)

Mr. DOE: And there would be like a five-minute there.

GROSS: Yeah, he was this, like, homeless singer in California or someplace.

Mr. DOE: Yeah.

GROSS: Okay, so when did you start listening to country music and liking it? I mean, did you ever just, like, write it off as something that you weren't about?

Mr. DOE: No, because I'm a white man, and white men listen to country music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: Well, over a long period of time, right, I heard country music early on as a kid. Folk music was, like, for kids back in the '60s and stuff. And then we all drew a line in, like, '74 of, like, everything that was before that, we put away, and then some time in '81, we started getting George Jones records for 50 cents at thrift stores, right, and then had a long period of idolizing that and feeling as though that was more valid than what we did.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. DOE: Sure.

GROSS: Because why?

Mr. DOE: Because it has a history, because, you know, it's just bigger. It's bigger than rock music. It's bigger than punk rock for sure. And so it took me a long time to realize that I was just fooling myself.

And I wasnt - you know, I had no connection to Johnny Cash or George Jones. I was just this, you know, kid from Maryland and whatever, and I'd learned how to play music and punk rock and stuff like that.

And then I eventually got sick of it, sick of country music. You can't listen to the same songs over and over and over and then just recently felt like, well, this is different. This is more like a Bakersfield sound. It's harder, and these guys do know bluegrass really well. And so it was a good combination.

GROSS: We'll get back to our concert and interview with John Doe after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to John Doe's 2009 FRESH AIR concert of classic country songs, recorded after the release of his album "Country Club." John Doe co-founded the punk band X in the '70s.

Let's do another song. By let's, I mean you, do another song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: You can join in.

GROSS: No, thank you.

Mr. DOE: Okay.

GROSS: From the new CD, and I have another request, and this is "Stop the World (And Let Me Off). Do you want to say a couple words about why you chose it?

Mr. DOE: Actually, James Intveld, who's a singer in Los Angeles, has done this song for years, and I would see him do it once in a while. There's a festival called the Hootenanny. I saw him do it there, and it's just such a great song, so let's get the tempo here.

(Soundbite of song, "Stop the World (And Let Me Off)")

Mr. DOE: Stop the world and let me off. I'm tired of goin' 'round and 'round. I played the game of love and loss. So stop the world and let me off.

My world is shattered, don't you see? You no longer care for me. I miss the wonder of your kiss. How could you leave me here like this?

Stop the world and let me off. I'm tired of goin' 'round and 'round. I played the game of love and loss. So stop the world and let me off.

Stop the world and let me off. I'm tired of goin' 'round and 'round. I played the game of love and loss. Oh, stop the world and let me off.

GROSS: That's great. That's "Stop the World" by John Doe and the Sadies, and they're here performing live in the studio. We have John Doe on vocals and guitar, Travis Good on lead guitar and Sean Dean on bass, and their CD, "Country Club," is an album of country classics and originals. I'm really grateful that they're here performing live for us today.

John, have you met any of the great country songwriters, either ones whose work you do on the CD - I know some of them are dead but not all of them - or other great ones over the years?

Mr. DOE: Yeah, I've met several singers. I met Johnny Cash at the first Farm Aid, and I've met Merle Haggard a few times. He's such a nut.

GROSS: Really? In what sense?

Mr. DOE: He just goes off on these tangents and he just, you know, holds forth, and he's just - but he's really good about it. You know, he's nice about it. There's a little bit of the, like, you know, jailhouse, like, I'm going to tell you a story and you're going to listen, you know, which is great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, he spent enough time in jail to justify that.

Mr. DOE: Well a little bit, you know, and there's plenty, of course, that you wish you would have met. I wish I wouldve met Roger Miller.

GROSS: Oh yeah, I'm glad you brought him up because you do a Roger Miller song I really love on the CD, "Husbands and Wives." And I'll confess, it took me a long time to come around to Roger Miller.

I'd always meet songwriters who admired Roger Miller, and all I knew were hits from the '60s that I really hated like "King of the Road," "Dang Me" and "England Swing Like A Pendulum Do," and I thought, what exactly do you like, you know? But it turns out he's really a great songwriter. He has great ballads.

Mr. DOE: Well, it was hard to find a song that we felt we could pull across because a lot of them are really sort of jokey. And it was sort of a great melody on all of them and great wordplay, but I think it was kind of common knowledge they were all taking amphetamines to beat The Band, and so...

GROSS: Was that right?

Mr. DOE: Oh, I think so. I don't think I'm blowing anybody's cover. I mean, Waylon Jennings talks about it all the time in his book. Anyway, that's sort of, I think, where some of it came from. And that's where the jokey, like, I'm really not taking this seriously, you know, but...

The one thing about country music, to go back to another question...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DOE: ...about why I wouldn't - people would say you have such a great voice, you should do this sort of record, and I thought well, if I do that, and it has this smooth Nashville background, it's going to be exactly what people hate about country music, which is too soft and too weepy and too, you know, all these negative things about country, whereas with the Sadies, it's really rough. Not - rough like rough and tumble, you know. It's got a serious edge, and even as much as we tried to smooth it out, you can't smooth that. You can't smooth these guys out.

GROSS: Yeah, I understand what you're saying. I want you to do "Husbands and Wives," the Roger Miller song. And I mean, yeah, he does have some great ballads, including "More and More I Miss You Less and Less." Why did you choose this one? You said you were looking for a ballad, didn't want to do one of the jokey songs, thank goodness.

Mr. DOE: I think it was - well, we thought about doing "Engine Engine Number 9," but that also has this sort of funny thing. I was hoping I could sing "Baltimore," and you know, bring back the hometown. But I think just people splitting up, you know, or the other people you admire who stay together, you know, and it's just a beautiful song.

GROSS: It is. Why don't you do it for us.

(Soundbite of song, "Husbands and Wives")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Two lonely hearts, broken, looking like houses where nobody lives. Two people each having so much pride inside neither side forgives.

The angry words spoken in haste, such a waste of two lives. It's my belief pride's the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands and wives. A woman and a man, a man and a woman. Some can, some can't, and some can.

Two lonely hearts, broken, looking like houses where nobody lives. Two people each having so much pride inside neither side forgives.

The angry words spoken in haste, such a waste of two lives. It's my belief pride's the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands and wives. A woman and a man, a man and a woman. Some can, some can't, and some can.

GROSS: That's great. That's John Doe singing and playing guitar in our studio with Travis Good featured on lead guitar and Sean Dean on bass.

Well, it has just been great to have you all here. I'm so grateful to you for performing for us. I really, really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.

Mr. DOE: It's an honor. It's an honor, you know.

GROSS: Our concert and interview with John Doe was recorded last year, after the release of his album "Country Club." Here's a track from it. The song "I Still Miss Someone" was written by Johnny Cash. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "I Still Miss Someone")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) At my door the leaves are falling. The cold hard wind will come. Sweethearts walk by together, and I still miss someone.

I go out on a party and look for a little fun, but I find a darkened corner 'cause I still miss someone.

I never got over those blues eyes. I see them everywhere. I miss those arms that held me when all the love was there.

I wonder if she's sorry for leavin' what we'd begun. There's someone for me somewhere, and I still miss someone.

Oh, I never got over those blues eyes. I see them everywhere. I miss those arms that held me when all the love was there.

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