By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Simpson recorded four albums for Capitol, got dropped, then was wooed back after the independent-release single “I’m a Truck” started breaking out. He put out another four albums, but by 1975 it had all soured on him. “They had me on a long list of releases by Glen Campbell, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Freddie Hart — I go on down this long list and I’m at the bottom. I said the heck with this and told them to terminate my contract.” An incident with Owens may have hastened his retreat. “Just a little misunderstanding in New York,” Simpson says. “I had a little too much to drink one night, voiced my opinion and Buck didn’t like it. I shouldn’t have done that. It’s all smoothed over now. I’ve never worked at [Owens’ showplace] the Crystal Palace, but every time I go there, he gets me up to sing.”
While the potential for “Hey Bin Laden,” recorded with Los Angeles country cat Cody Bryant, to become a bona fide hit seems a safe bet, in a way it’s almost a shame, simply because Red Simpson, the artist and lyricist, is capable of such subtle, affecting grace that the last thing a fan wants to see is another “I’m a Truck” novelty twist to spiral the point of focus away from his real artistic strengths. But Simpson could surely use the approval; he still doesn’t seem to hold any trust in his talent. In 1992, when he was making his first appearance at the North Hollywood shrine the Palomino since his “I’m a Truck” heyday, when the promoter stepped backstage with his cue call, Simpson’s eyes oozed high-velocity stress as he grimly inhaled an entire can of beer in about five seconds flat. He seemed more like a timorous young comer preparing for an Opry debut than a 40-year veteran returning to familiar territory. But then again, that’s Red Simpson — a genuine, guileless poet incapable of pretense.
“I figured I was just used up, that everybody was tired of me. I was workin’ this one club here, and this gal came in, said she’d just mentioned to a guy that she was coming to see me, and he said, ‘Aw, hell, he’s just an old has-been. You don’t want to go see him.’ I just feel it’s so hard now to get anything recorded, and down in Nashville it ain’t what it used to be. Everybody I knew is dead or out of the business. I didn’t even want to get back into writin’ and recordin’ until Cody [Bryant] kept after me. I was just gonna work here, ’cause I enjoy it. But Cody, he came into Trouts one night, introduced himself, got up to play, we became friends, and he got me back into this whole mess.”
Red Simpson appears at Viva Cantina, Friday, December 7.
The Best of Red Simpson is available on BMG/Razor & Tie records.