Friday, February 9, 2024

Outlaw Country Legend Mojo Nixon, R.I.P.

Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper's Free, Drunk and Horny LP
I first met Kim Buie, the underrated Island Records A&R genius who guided both Drivin’ N Cryin’ and Tom Waits to some of the best work of their careers, while she was working for the legendary Enigma Records label. Mojo Nixon was one of the better-selling artists among the label’s impressive roster of punk, metal, and fringe performers, falling somewhere in between John Trubee and Zoogz Rift as one of the most original and unique musicians to make a record in America.

Kim turned me onto the first Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper album, 1985’s
Free, Drunk and Horny, before she ended up moving from L.A. to Nashville for a job with Jack Emerson’s Praxis organization. I spoke with Mojo several times, usually while drinking beer at some Nashville bar. I came up with the Ed Anger/Mojo Nixon myth, a story that subsequently spread across the country, fueled partially by Mojo himself. This is the only interview that survived our many conversations, originally appearing in the November 1990 issue of Nashville’s The Metro music magazine.

Sadly, Mojo (nee Neill Kirby McMillan Jr.) passed away on Wednesday, February 7th from a “cardiac event” while on the Outlaw Country Cruise, where he had performed the night before. Nixon was 66 years old and enjoyed a full life as a beloved cult-rocker, occasional actor, radio DJ, and Americana iconoclast. Mojo will long be remembered for his contagious humor, quick wit, and rowdy, charismatic demeanor. R.I.P.

His origins are shrouded in mystery. From whence he comes, no one really knows…except for Mojo, and he’s not talkin’. Rumor has it that he comes from Pigfoot, Louisiana, while others say he grew up on the East Coast. Still others have said that he’s the long-lost twin brother of the Beat Farmers’ Country Dick. Yes, rumors abound, but one thing is for certain…Mojo Nixon and Weekly World News columnist Ed Anger have never been photographed together…but more about that later.

Mojo’s on his way to Nashville, you know, set to headline a massive all-ages show along with the Dead Milkmen and the Cavedogs. The enigmatic Mr. Nixon is overcome with joy at his impending return to the Music City. “I just wrote a song that I was thinking of pitching to Nashville,” says Mojo. It’s called ‘I’m Addicted To ESPN, The Total Sports Network Is My Friend.’” Does Mojo harbor aspirations towards becoming a Music Row songwriter and country performer?

Mojo Nixon
“That’ll be when I start my stock car racing career,” says Mojo. “Eventually there’ll be some sign from above or below that the rock ‘n’ roll thing has run its course. Then I’ll move back to North Carolina, where I grew up, and begin racing stock cars and I’ll make my Nashville debut. But I don’t think that Jimmy Bowen will be involved,” he adds, “Jack Clement, possibly, but not Jimmy Bowen…”

Nixon will be returning to Nashville as part of a tour in support of his latest vinyl triumph, Otis, a “big, large, stupid slab of vibrating thingamajig,” says Mojo. “We recorded it in Memphis with Jim Dickinson,” he continues, “who produced our last album. I got…somebody described it as ‘The All-Gator Band’…I describe it as the first post-cowpunk supergroup, with John Doe (X), and Country Dick of the Beat Farmers, Bill (Davis) from Dash Rip Rock, and Eric (Ambel) from the Del-Lords. We just got down there and drank a few beers and just started rocking and rolling. We had a lot of fun!”

Otis is the first record Nixon has recorded without partner Skid Roper; a mature, fully-realized exercise in musical mayhem and lyrical madness as only Mojo can deliver. “I wanted to make a much more rock ‘n’ roll album than I had before,” says Mojo. “I made five albums with Skid and each one of those is much more advanced than the last. The first one was just totally primitive; we did it on a four-track cassette. We didn’t even know that we were doing an album…they were supposed to be demos in case we ever did an album.”

Mojo Nixon's Otis
To be sure, that first Mojo and Skid disc, Free, Drunk and Horny, contained some Mojo classics, gems such as “Jesus At McDonald’s” and “Rockin’ Religion.” “Yeah, it’s got some ‘stream-of-consciousness’ on it,” says Mojo. “A lot of people say to me, ‘well, I like the first album’ or ‘I like the second album.’ I think that there’s a natural order to things. I had to do the first two albums to get to ‘Elvis Is Everywhere’ and I had to do the next two albums to get to ‘Don Henley Must Die.’ Sooner or later, this adding stuff will peter out and I’ll just go back to me and a guitar. It’s a process you have to go through and I don’t want to miss any of the steps. You know, sooner or later, I may have a hit in spite of my own stupid self!”

Mojo is known for tossing lyrical arrows at a wide range of targets. Otis pokes fun at or insults everyone from George Bush down to Don Henley. “There was some controversy even before the record came out on the Don Henley thing,” says Mojo of “Don Henley Must Die.” “My point is that rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be wild and crazy and free and fun and anarchy and sex and pandemonium and drive-in movie theaters with fake-I.D. beer! What the hell is Don Henley doing? Not that he’s not talented…but VH-1 is wide-open. Why not go there and stay?”

Most of the targets of Mojo’s musical missiles have been quite, shall we say…understanding. “They’re supposed to be funny, not hate-filled or anything,” says Mojo, “not even the most hate-filled ones. I don’t know Don Henley or Phil Collins or Sting…they might be good race car drivers for all I know, but it’s unlikely.” MTV’s Martha Quinn, an early recipient of a Mojo barb with the song “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin” actually brags about the encounter…

“Martha Quinn,” says Mojo, “I never talked to Martha but I just heard that she was on TV talking about the song just recently, says that she was the only VJ to have a song written about her.” Of others, Nixon says, “Debbie Gibson took it all in stride and Michael J. Fox…well, I’m not worried about him because he’s near dwarf-sized. What’s he going to do, hire somebody to beat me up? Get together with Prince and beat me up…a bunch of short guys whuppin’ up on me?!”

Mojo’s music is an eclectic blend of talking blues, old time R&B, and roots-rock. Says Mojo of influences, “the kind of John Lee Hooker, front-porch Delta blues thing is a big influence, as is Hunter Thompson’s ‘railing at the gods’ kind of thing, railing at the absurdities and injustices; and a lot of your basic rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues stuff that I derived out of Otis Redding, out of the gospel church…”

“I was thinking the other day,” says Mojo, “that rock ‘n’ roll seems to have forgotten somebody like Roger Miller. I think that he won something like six Grammys. He’s a funny guy and also a musical guy. There’s a long tradition in country and R&B of people who were funny but musical, whether it was Jerry Reed or the Coasters or the Big Bopper…you could name a whole slew of them. The concept that these were novelty acts or whatnot…well, the Coasters went to number one, as did Roger Miller. Somewhere along the way, rock ‘n’ roll forgot this.”

Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper's Bo-Day-Shus
Rock ‘n’ roll as a corporate entity has pretty well led to a cultural decline for, says Mojo, “the same reasons that the hamburgers at McDonald’s taste like cardboard compared to a hamburger at some Joe Bob’s hamburger stand that they run themselves. It’s a big business, a big corporate thing and they’re going for the lowest common denominator to sell the most units they can. They don’t give a flying fuck about whether it’s good or not!”

In a climate such as this, Nixon continues to deliver sincere, heartfelt, if decidedly non-mainstream discs to his adoring fans. Says Mojo, “I’m pretty much determined to have success on my own terms. People in suits recognize quickly that I have some talent that can be exploited, but none of them seems to have any clue as to how to do that. Until one of them does, I’m just going to keep doing what I do.”

As for the question of Mojo’s involvement with the pseudonymous Mr. Anger, well, let’s just check the facts, shall we. Ed Anger writes a column of patriotic, right-wing pap called “My America” in the Weekly World News tabloid, a column that many believe to be done with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Nixon has been known to comb the very same scandal sheet for song ideas, even going so far as to lifting headlines for song titles.

So how about it Mojo, what’s the scoop on you and Ed? “Some people think that we may be the same person,” says Mojo, “I’ve never seen me and Ed in the same room together! I’ve been pig-biting mad myself, you know.” The answer to this mystery? “Possibly aliens are channeling my energies and turning them into Ed’s column,” says Mojo. ‘Nuff said… (1990)

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