Joe Sun Live

First published in Country Music People, January 1981

The Venue, London, November 1980

The pairing of Hank Wangford and Joe Sun at The Venue on a wet Tuesday evening turned out to be both a compatible and entertaining one. It drew some of the heavyweights of the British scene in the audience, and they surely must have thought it worth venturing out to such a unique musical event. It was a good night for British ‘country’ music when Hank Wangford displayed his new band. They stumbled on stage looking like rejects from an old Ronald Reagan cowboy epic. 

They certainly proved, however, that they are not country bumpkins when it comes to music. Mixing country, swing, gospel, blues and much of their own original material, they won the audience over from the start. Wangford and his boys (plus a delightful lady singer) don’t look like your average British country band because they are not. They poke fun at the false sincerity of the music, send themselves up, and have the ability to move the music out of the woods into the hands of the British rock scene. Yet they accomplish that by playing more ‘traditionally’ than the majority of British outfits. The major difference is that this band never copies American country music, but simply uses it as a basis for their own brand of music.

I guess that in a way Joe Sun also uses American country music, without ever really being a part of it. True, he is based in Nashville and has scored on the country charts, but he creates a unique sound by pitting a traditional blues vocal against a more contemporary funky sound, and the result works nicely on a number of different levels. His band, Shotgun, have really matured and tightened up since I previously saw them at Wembley last Easter, and they were mighty good then. 

In Mark Edwards, Sun has a hard-hitting tough and business-like drummer, who sets his seal right from the beginning of the act; Britisher Ray Flacke is a fast, fluent, guitarist who solos well and combines with Neil Flanz on steel and Dobro and L.D Stamp on the other guitar. Joe plays some rhythm guitar, but that is clearly secondary to his voice, which contains the gravelly influences of black r&b artists. 

He succeeds in making Allen Reynolds’ Ready For The Times To Get Better his very own, and sticking my neck out, I would love to see this put out as a single. In complete contrast is the 1950s-styled Please Pull Away From Me, which shows that when it comes to the real thing in country music these contemporary and progressive acts are streets ahead of the mainstream Nashville acts. He even threw in a stunning version of Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door alongside his regular favourites Old Flames, Why You Been Gone So Long and the little-known Hank Williams’ song My Sweet Love Ain’t Around.

Joe Sun’s style is an example of just one direction that country music can be taken without losing its identity. No way is he everybody’s cup of tea, but for me it sure makes a change from listening to Crystal Chandeliers, Some Broken Hearts Never Mend and the other staple diets of the average British country band down in the local clubs.