Music Review: Kevin Coyne Sugar Candy Taxi
When Kevin Coyne was asked to take over the lead singing duties in the Doors by his label, Elektra Records, after the death of Jim Morrison he refused. "I didn't like the leather trousers" was the excuse he gave for not even going to the States to meet with the head of the label to discuss it.
Kevin Coyne always did march to his own beat, in his life and his career. Like a lot of his United Kingdom contemporaries he learned to love the Blues through American influences and started to play guitar and sing after hearing that music. But instead of following a conventional path of playing in bands and getting gigs in pubs, he was working as a psychiatric nurse and social worker counselling patients with mental illnesses.
It wasn't until 1968, long after his contemporaries that he and his band Siren were signed to their first deal. But as you can tell by him turning down the Doors job he was not ready to compromise what he did musically for the sake of success. You could say that it was almost in spite of himself that he became famous.
Unfortunately by the 1980's he stopped being able to cope with the pressures of the music business and developed a serious drinking problem and following a nervous breakdown he left the United Kingdom and moved to Germany where he lived until his death in December of 2004 of a lung disease.
During his time in Germany he was probably at his most creative, constantly recording and touring , drawing and painting, and writing. Three of his last albums were released on the German Blues label Ruf Records and are still currently available in their catalogue.
Thomas Ruf, owner and founder of the label, commenting about watching Kevin record, said that he was always amazed at how he would come into the studio and be able to "create" a whole album in two days. His song lyrics were all improvised on the spot, and are amazing poems dealing with subjects, like the normally taboo topic of mental health, and the treatment of mental health patients.
His 1999 recording for Ruf, Sugar Candy Taxi, is a spectacular musical and lyrical odyssey. It's an example of how a Blues song is not necessarily defined by the music, but can also be given that designation via the emotional content and attitudes expressed by the lyrics. There may not be too much Mississippi Mud or Chicago grit on the music of these songs, but they still act upon you emotionally and intellectually like any Blues number should.
I'm looking for a paradise where the/Ones I love the don't tell lies/But I can't find that precious place I want you , I need you, I love you,/I'm almost dying,/I want you… "Almost Dying" Kevin Coyne Sugar Candy Taxi 1999, Ruf Records
But he's not just emotionally heavy, he's can also poke fun at himself. Like on "Porcupine People" when he says things like "(All shout) He's paranoid" in reference to himself, and in the next verse he says "I sure I'm paranoid, maybe I am? …There's not much joy in being paranoid, listen to me…" Remember this is the man who had a nervous break down, so to be able to sing lyrics like that takes a sense of humour most of us are lacking.
Or then there is the song "My Wife's Best Friend" where he revels in every man's fantasy of fooling around with his wife's best friend, because you know men are really like that don't you. Than there are the lines that just stick in your head because they are so real and fly in the face of convention, maybe not in the lyric, but in the way they are said and the inflection in his voice. "Even blondes girls get the blues" might not sound too biting sitting on it's own, but in the context of the title song "Sugar Candy Taxi" it gains a texture that doesn't show up on this page.
That brings me to Kevin Coyne's voice. Some people are said to have the voice of an Angel, but they weren't talking about Kevin. Unless of course your definition of Angel stretches to include imps with a voice that sounds like a mixture of Joe Cocker and Warren Zevon with the delivery of Randy Newman.
But unlike the latter two whose constant irony, bitterness and sarcasm can wear on you after a while, there's an honesty and rawness that will slip through in Kevin's delivery and voice that resonate on an emotional level instead of simply an intellectual level. Sure he uses clever arrangements of words, and quick turns of phrase to make some points, but he still knows the true strength of a Blues song resides in it's emotional honesty.
Before listening to Sugar Candy Taxi I had only heard one song of Kevin's, but that had been enough to make an impression on me. Sometimes though those first impressions can be misleading, and listening to a full disc of the person's music will be a disappointment. Not from this man though, and not from this disc.
Kevin Coyne's 1999 CD Sugar Candy Taxi is a disc that has already stood the test of time and sure sounds like it will continue to do so for many a year to come. Even though Kevin is no longer with us, he has left a wonderful legacy behind him.