Jonathan Denis Langford (born 11 October 1957) is a Welsh[1][2] musician and artist based in Chicago, Illinois, United States.[3] He is one of the founders of punk band The Mekons, post-punk group The Three Johns, and alternative country ensembles The Waco Brothers and Pine Valley Cosmonauts. He has worked to campaign against the death penalty in Illinois.[4]

Jon Langford
Jon Langford playing with The Mekons at the Hideout, Chicago, IL on July 15, 2015
Jon Langford performing with The Mekons at the Hideout in Chicago on July 15, 2015
Background information
Also known asChuck Death
Born (1957-10-11) 11 October 1957 (age 62)
Newport, Wales
OriginLeeds, West Yorkshire, England
GenresSinger-songwriter
Alt-Country
Rock and Roll
Punk rock
Occupation(s)Musician
InstrumentsGuitar
Drums
Years active1977-present
LabelsBloodshot Records
Associated actsMekons
The Three Johns
Waco Brothers
KatJonBand
The Killer Shrews
Pine Valley Cosmonauts
The Sadies
Wee Hairy Beasties
Skull Orchard
Bad Luck Jonathan
Men of Gwent
Four Lost Souls
Websitejonlangford.de

Early lifeEdit

Langford was born in Newport, Wales, the youngest son of Kit Langford and Denis Langford, a Registered Chartered Accountant for Lloyd's Brewery.[4][5] Langford's older brother is science-fiction author and critic David Langford, who lives in Reading, England.[4]

When he was young, Langford would visit his grandparents in Croesyceiliog, whose family friend ran two pubs, the Cambrian Arms and The Six In Hand.[4] He attended Gaer Infants School and Gaer Junior School, then Brynglas Primary School, the Newport High School middle school, before Queen's Hill.[4] In 1972-1973, after playing rugby and football, at the age of 15 Langford decided he liked playing music better. He played a lot of David Bowie and was listening to a lot of Man.[4]

Langford attended art school at University of Leeds as a painter.[6] He left school temporarily when the Mekons were founded, but later went back to college and finished his degree.[4]

MusicEdit

Since the mid-1980s, Langford has been one of the leaders in incorporating folk and country music into punk rock. He has released a number of solo recordings as well as recordings with other bands outside of The Mekons, most notably the Waco Brothers, which he co-founded after moving to Chicago in the early 1990s. He is involved with the Chicago-based independent record label Bloodshot.

In a 2010 interview, Langford said his earliest influences were Tom Jones, Slade, T. Rex, The Kinks, Johnny Cash, Man and Black Sabbath.[7]

The MekonsEdit

Langford was originally the drummer for the punk band The Mekons when it formed at the University of Leeds in 1977, but he later took up the guitar as other band members left.[8] The Mekons were signed to Virgin Records but according to Langford they "got fired."[4] They played their first US appearance on New Year's Eve in 1980, gave up live performances for a while, and released 1982's The Mekons Story. They began performing again in public in 1984, playing their first shows as benefits for the British miners' union.[9] After being signed by major American label A&M Records in the late 1980s, label shuffling resulted in the band trying to leave the label. In response, they gave the label, The Curse of the Mekons, which became only available overseas as an import.[10] A documentary called The Revenge of the Mekons was released in 2014 by director Joe Angio.[11] The Mekons continue to record and perform live, as of 2019.[citation needed]

The Three JohnsEdit

With John Hyatt and Phillip Brennan, Langford released several albums of drum-machine-fueled punk between 1982 and 1987. A retrospective box set was released in August 2015.[12]

The Waco BrothersEdit

The Waco Brothers make country-punk music, and are a Chicago-based amalgam of players from the Pine Valley Cosmonauts family and others, who have been recording since 1995. For their first albums, they included Dean Schlabowske (guitar/vocal), Tracey Dear (mandolin/vocal), Alan Doughty (bass/vocal), Mark Durante (pedal steel guitar), and Mekons drummer Steve Goulding) By 2015, Goulding, now based in New York City, had been replaced by Joe Camarillo (drums), and Durante had left.

Pine Valley CosmonautsEdit

Langford initiated another project, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, which performs the music of other country music groups. Several alternative country musicians have guested alongside a revolving assortment of Chicago musicians who have backed both Langford and other musicians such as Kelly Hogan.

Wee Hairy BeastiesEdit

Wee Hairy Beasties were a children's music group based in Chicago, composed of Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, and Devil in a Woodpile. They played their first gig together at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, and released two albums in 2006 and 2008.[13][14]

Solo, Skull Orchard, etc.Edit

Langford's first official solo album, Skull Orchard, a look back at his hometown of Newport, Wales, was released in 1998. He followed it with All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, in 2004, Gold Brick in 2006, Old Devils in 2010 and Here Be Monsters in 2014.

Langford and Sally Timms, the other Chicago-based member of the Mekons, continue to collaborate on various recording and performance projects, as of 2020.[15]

Circa 2003, Langford started the band "Ship & Pilot", to perform his songs. It continued to perform into 2006, and very occasionally since. Ship & Pilot also included Sally Timms, Tony Maimone, Jean Cook, and on drums variously Steve Goulding or Dan Massey.[16][17][18][19][20]

In the late 2000s Langford came into contact with the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus based near Toronto. He invited them first to accompany him at a CeltFest in Chicago in 2007, and then to re-record the whole of the Skull Orchard. The album Skull Orchard Revisited (credited to Jon Langford and the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus) was released on 3 June 2011 by Bloodshot Records.[21]

2010's Old Devils is a follow up to the first Skull Orchard album.[22]

At the 2014 Hideout Block Party in Chicago, Langford debuted the band Bad Luck Jonathan (a name likely inspired by that of then-president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan).[23][24] The band, described as "socialist voodoo space boogie",[25] featured Alan Doughty and Joe Camarillo from the Waco Brothers, Phil Wandscher from Whiskeytown, and Martin Billheimer from Chicago's Pritzker Military Museum and Library.[26]

Four Lost Souls is a collaboration between Langford, John Szymanski, Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas. Their eponymous debut album was produced by Norbert Putnam and released in 2017.[27][28]

Men of GwentEdit

Are a group of mainly Newport-based musicians, including members of Give Me Memphis and The Darling Buds. Previously known as LL, the group have written and recorded intermittently for over 20 years[when?], and have been playing live since 2007.[29][30] As LL, their only release was a demo track ("Rechem") on the 1999 compilation Fear of a Red Planet.[31] Debut album The Legend of LL was released on Country Mile Records in 2015 and included reworkings of several songs from the same LL demos, as well as a new version of "Pill Sailor", first released on Skull Orchard in 1998.[32] Second album President of Wales was released in November 2019.[33]

ArtEdit

Langford has produced portraits of country music icons including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. His paintings appear on bottles and other items for the Dogfish Head Brewery[34], and Few Spirits.

Langford has produced paintings of famous and forgotten figures from the dawn of country music. His artwork is available from the Yard Dog Art Gallery in Austin, TX and Le Miuex Gallery in New Orleans, LA.

Nashville Radio, a collection of his artwork and writings, was published in 2006.[35]

For over 10 years, Langford illustrated the comic strip Great Pop Things under the pseudonym Chuck Death with a friend from his hometown, Newport, Wales, Colin B. Morton, who wrote the text.[36] The cartoon strip was published in alternative weekly newspapers in Los Angeles and Chicago, and was a pen-and-ink history of rock-and-roll.[36] An anthology of the best strips was published in a book of the same name.[37]

In 2015, Langford was commissioned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to paint a series of portraits for its "Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City" exhibition, which opened on March 27, 2015.[38][39] That commission lead to a collaboration[40] between Langford and Hatch Showprint Master Printer Jim Sherraden. Out of this collaboration, their artwork was adapted for the album cover of the 2016 double-LP Trio: Farther Along by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris.

Since 2015, Langford has designed covers for a series of novels by author Jay Spencer Green, including Breakfast at Cannibal Joe's and Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love.

In 2018, Langford designed the cover for "Commercial Suicide Man",[41] a collaborative single by the Nightingales and Vic Godard.

RadioEdit

TheatreEdit

  • In 2005, Langford's multimedia music/spoken-word/video performance, The Executioner's Last Songs, premiered at Alverno College, and has been performed in several other cities.
  • In January and February 2009, Chicago's Walkabout Theater Company and Collaboraction premiered a stage adaptation of Langford's Goldbrick that featured a live band, two actors and video projections.[44]
  • In November and December 2009, The House Theatre of Chicago staged a production of All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, written by rock journalist Mark Guarino and based on Langford's art and 2004 solo album of the same name.[45]
  • In November 2018, scored Mark Guarino's play Take Me, produced at Straw Dog Theater Company. Chris Jones, theater critic for The Chicago Tribune stated "if you’re a fan of Langford’s work, you’ll find plenty here to merit a trip to Strawdog: At times, I was tempted to close my eyes, getting lost in the Bowie-esque longing you can find in these lush and potent melodies, true and vital feeling hidden in pastiche."[46]

CollaborationsEdit

Politics and serviceEdit

Langford considers himself "working class socialist."[4] Langford said he became politicized on the death penalty after the execution of John Wayne Gacy.[4]

In 1988, Langford co-produced (with Mark Riley) a Johnny Cash tribute album, 'Til Things are Brighter...[51], to raise funds for the Terrence Higgins Trust. The album was endorsed and admired by Cash himself who is featured alongside Langford and Riley on its cover.

Langford is an honorary board member of the Chicago-based nonprofit organisation Rock for Kids.

Langford produced The Executioner's Last Songs, Vols. 1[52], 2, & 3[53] record compilations to benefit charitable organizations working to end the death penalty (Artists Against the Death Penalty, the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project[54], and the National Coalition To Abolish the Death Penalty). In 2006, Langford was commissioned to develop a performance[55] based on the compilations for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; the show was also performed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Personal lifeEdit

Langford is married to architect and jewelry designer, Helen Tsatsos. Tsatsos' jewelry was awarded Macy's "Designer of Distinction" award in 2010 and has a line of pieces that incorporate Langford's artwork.[56] Langford met his wife in 1986 at a party after a gig in her home town of Chicago.[4] They currently live in Chicago and have two children, Jame and Tommy.[57] Jame Langford is a clothing designer and, while in high school, was in a band called the Ungnomes; Tommy is a songwriter and lead singer in a band called Mock Nine.[4]

Solo discographyEdit

AlbumsEdit

  • 1998: Skull Orchard (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2003: Mayors Of The Moon (Bloodshot Records) - as Jon Langford and his Sadies
  • 2004: All the Fame of Lofty Deeds (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2006: Gold Brick (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2009: All the Fame of Lofty Deeds - The Soundtrack (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2010: Live At The Hideout: Jon Langford and Walter Salas-Humara (Bloodshot Records) - digital only
  • 2010: Old Devils (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2011: Skull Orchard Revisited - debut album Skull Orchard re-recorded with the Burlington Welsh Male Choir; book + CD (Verse Chorus Press)
  • 2014: Here Be Monsters (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2014: Choice Cuts: Best of Jon Langford (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2014: Bad Luck Jonathan - as Bad Luck Jonathan (Blue Arrow Records)[58]
  • 2017: Four Lost Souls (Bloodshot Records)

Compilation contributionsEdit

  • 1994: "Over the Cliff" - For a Life of Sin: A Compilation of Insurgent Chicago Country - as Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild (w/ Tony Maimone, Brian Doherty, & Tracy Dear; Bloodshot Records)
  • 2000: "Brixton" - Down to the Promised Land: 5 Years of Bloodshot Records - Chip Taylor w/ Jon Langford (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2002: "Nashville Radio" - Making Singles, Drinking Doubles (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2007: "Junco Partner" and "Version Pardner" - The Sandinista! Project - A Tribute to The Clash - Jon Langford and Sally Timms with Ship & Pilot (00:02:59 Records/MRI Associated Labels)[59][60]
  • 2019: "I Am a Big Town" - Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots - as Jon Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild (w/ Tony Maimone, Steve Albini, & John Szymanski; Bloodshot Records)[61][62]

EPsEdit

  • 1998: Gravestone EP (Bloodshot Records)
  • 2000: Songs of False Hope & High Values (Bloodshot Records) - Sally Timms & Jon Langford

7 inch singlesEdit

  • 2012: Drone Operator (Bloodshot Records) - as Jon Langford and Skull Orchard

Works or publicationsEdit

  • Morton, Colin B., Chuck Death, and Greil Marcus. Great Pop Things. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1992. ISBN 978-0-140-17156-3 OCLC 441310470
  • Morton, Colin B., and Chuck Death. The Real History of Rock and Roll from Elvis to Oasis. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus Press, 1998. ISBN 978-1-891-24108-6 OCLC 41108753
  • Langford, Jon. Nashville Radio: Art, Words and Music. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-891-24119-2 OCLC 65470084
  • Langford, Jon, and David Langford. Skull Orchard Revisited: Art, Words & Music. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-891-24130-7 OCLC 670481762

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Christgau, Robert (27 May 2003). "Jon Langford Makes Friends and Influences People: Loser on a Roll". Village Voice. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  2. ^ Deming, Mark. "Jon Langford - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  3. ^ Bray, Ryan (29 April 2014). "Jon Langford: Sweet Home Chicago". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Williams, Maria (11 September 2013). "First Person: Newport musician and artist Jon Langford talks to Maria Williams about punk, meeting Johnny Cash and moving to the USA". South Wales Argus. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Skull Orchard Revisited". Verse Chorus Press. Archived from the original on 21 December 2014. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
  6. ^ Graham, William Harries (19 November 2012). "Jon Langford, Still Punk After All These Years". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  7. ^ Zimmerman, Lee (16 September 2010). "A Fat Welsh Bastard: Jon Langford". Blurt. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  8. ^ Dougan, John. "The Mekons - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  9. ^ Pareles, Jon (25 November 1988). "Pop/Jazz; Two Bands That Survived The Summer of Punk Rock". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  10. ^ Pareles, Jon (5 July 1991). "Pop/Jazz; The Mekons Shed a Label For a Curse That Works". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  11. ^ Tannenbaum, Rob (24 October 2014). "The Cult Band That Keeps on Chugging: A Documentary Celebrates the Mekons". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 July 2015. Retrieved 14 July 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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  16. ^ "Brooklyn Nightlife: Southpaw" (PDF). Brooklyn Paper. 8 December 2003. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  17. ^ Jon Langford (25 October 2004). "Jon Langford Live at Southpaw on 2004-10-15". Retrieved 2 January 2020.
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  19. ^ "Jon Langford & Jenny Lewis Review". Sound Opinions, WBEZ Chicago. 21 January 2006. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
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  24. ^ "Hideout Block Party/AV Fest". Undergroundbee.com.
  25. ^ "Oct 23 - Bad Luck Jonathan with Jon ... - FitzGerald's". Fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.
  26. ^ "Jon Langford Live at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival on 2014-10-04". 4 October 2014 – via Internet Archive.
  27. ^ "Jon Langford Four Lost Souls". Exclaim.ca.
  28. ^ "Four Lost Souls - Jon Langford | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 27 October 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ "Jon Langford - live in London". Louderthanwar.com. 24 August 2011.
  31. ^ "Various - Fear Of A Red Planet". Discogs.com.
  32. ^ "The Legend of LL". Countrymile.org.
  33. ^ "Men of Gwent – 'President of Wales' (Country mile records)". Rpmonline.co.uk.
  34. ^ "Q&A: Punk rocker Jon Langford on death, digital art and Dogfish Head". Dogfish Head - Blogfish. 11 November 2013. Archived from the original on 23 December 2014.
  35. ^ "Jon Langford - Nashville Radio..." Pastemagazine.com. 30 June 2008.
  36. ^ a b Strauss, Neil (3 December 1998). "The Pop Life; Cartoons Dare To Mock Icons". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  37. ^ "Great Pop Things". JonLangford.de. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  38. ^ Light, Alan (27 March 2015). "'Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats,' an Unlikely Alliance of Rock and Country". Nytimes.com.
  39. ^ "Newport musician features alongside Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash in Nashville exhibition". South Wales Argus.
  40. ^ "JON LANGFORD & JIM SHERRADEN – Hatch Show Print". Nashvillescene.com. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  41. ^ "The Nightingales with Vic Godard release joint single in May!". Louderthanwar.com. 8 March 2018.
  42. ^ "WXRT – The Eclectic Company". WXRT. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
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  45. ^ "All the Fame of Lofty Deeds". The House Theatre of Chicago. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  46. ^ Jones, Chris. "Strawdog Theatre's 'Take Me' has music by Jon Langford and a story of alien conspiracy theories". Chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  47. ^ "KatJonBand". Carrot Top Records. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  48. ^ Deming, Mark. "KatJonBand Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  49. ^ "List of Castees and Failures". Cynthia Plaster Caster. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  50. ^ "Nardwuar vs. Cynthia Plaster Caster". Nardwuar. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
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  56. ^ "Rock Candy by Helen - About". Rock Candy by Helen - Etsy. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
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  60. ^ Deming, Mark. "Various Artists: The Sandinista! Project". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
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External linksEdit