Jon Langford performing with the Waco Brothers on 9 July 2010 in Chicago, Illinois
11 October 1957 |
Newport, Wales, UK
Rock and Roll
The Three Johns
Wee Hairy Beasties
Jonathan "Jon" Denis Langford (born 11 October 1957) is a prolific Welsh musician and artist based in Chicago. He is one of the founders of the punk band, the Mekons, and has worked actively to campaign against the death penalty in Illinois.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Projects
- 4 Theater
- 5 Collaborations
- 6 Activism
- 7 Personal life
- 8 Solo discography
- 9 Works or publications
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Langford was born in Newport, Wales, the youngest son of Kit Langford and Denis Langford, an accountant for Lloyd's Brewery. Langford's older brother is science-fiction author and critic David Langford, who lives in Reading, England.
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. He attended Gaer Infants School and Gaer Junior School, then Brynglas Primary School, the Newport High School middle school, before Queen's Hill. 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.
Langford attended art school at University of Leeds as a painter. Langford said: "Music was exciting and painting for me wasn't exciting. I didn't really do anything. I met two freshers, Mark White and And Corrigany, who took me to the pub. We would go to Kevin Lycett's house to listen to music. We and Tom Greenhalgh became The Mekons." Langford said he later went back to college at Leeds and finished his degree.
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.
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. The Mekons were signed to Virgin Records, then, according to Langford, "got fired." They played their first U.S. appearance on New Year's Eve in 1980, gave up live performances for a while, and then released 1982's The Mekons Story, then began performing again in public in 1984, playing their first shows as benefits for the British miners' union. 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. They continue to perform live today. A documentary called The Revenge of the Mekons was released in 2014 by director Joe Angio.
The Waco Brothers
The Waco Brothers make country-punk music, and are a Chicago-based amalgam of players from the Pine Valley Cosmonauts family.
Langford is also a prolific and respected visual artist best known for his striking 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.
Langford is an accomplished artist and is renowned for his multi-layered paintings of famous and forgotten figures from the dawn of country music. His artwork is available from the Yard Dog Art Gallery in Austin, Texas. Nashville Radio, a collection of his artwork and writings, was published in 2006.
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. The cartoon strip ran in alternative weekly newspapers in Los Angeles and Chicago, and was a pen-and-ink history of rock-and-roll. An anthology of the best strips was published in a book of the same name.
- Since 2005, Langford co-hosted a weekly radio program called "The Eclectic Company" with Nicholas Tremulis, which is broadcast on WXRT 93.1 FM in Chicago.
- Langford has contributed to This American Life.
The Three Johns
Among Langford's musical side projects have been the Three Johns (with John Hyatt and John (Phillip) Brennan), who released several albums of drum-machine-fueled punk in the 1980s; the country-punk Waco Brothers (with Dean Schlabowske, Tracey Dear, Alan Doughty, Mark Durante, and Mekons drummer Steve Goulding), who have been recording since 1995; the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, a revolving assortment of Chicago musicians who have backed both Langford and other musicians such as Kelly Hogan; and Ship and Pilot. He became a father figure to the local music scene, encouraging many of his labelmates on Bloodshot Records and championing anyone he thought worthy of scrutiny, often lending his services as a musician or visual artist or inviting local musicians to guest on his releases. 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, and Old Devils in 2010.
Pine Valley Cosmonauts
Langford initiated a project, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, which performs the music of other country music groups. Several alternative country musicians have guested on these recordings.
In the late 2000s Langford came into contact with the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus based near Toronto, invited them first to accompany him at a CeltFest in Chicago in 2007, 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.
2010's Old Devils is a follow up to the first Skull Orchard album. "The first Skull Orchard release was an album that largely reflected on Langford's years in Wales, and did so with a dash of a sea chantey vibe. "Old Devils" also seemingly strikes a personal tone, and owns an intimate atmosphere."
- 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.
- 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.
- Langford has guested on numerous recordings, including with Dutch punk band the Ex, The Old 97s, Chip Taylor, as well as Austin, Texas legend Alejandro Escovedo, and has recorded joint albums with Sally Timms, Kevin Coyne, Richard Buckner, Kat Ex (as KatJonBand), Walter Salas-Humara, The Sadies and Rosie Flores.
- Langford also contributed and worked with Doorika, a defunct performance arts collective based in Chicago and New York City.
- Langford was Castee #00039 in Cynthia Plaster Caster's plaster castings. The piece is one of the more famous moldings of that project, and was named Long Dong Jon Langford.
Langford considers himself "working class socialist."
Anti-death penalty work
- Langford said he became politicized on the death penalty "when the murderer John Wayne Gacy was executed. He was revolting, but my opposition to the death penalty is not about the murderers, but what the death penalty, state-sponsored murder does to us. I became involved in the campaign to abolish it because people knew I was good at getting the message out. The current Illinois governor passed the statute abolishing it, but the process was started by a Republican governor, George Ryan. I never thought I would be standing up in a church applauding a Republican, but I did when he spoke."
- Langford is an honorary board member of the Chicago based nonprofit organisation Rock For Kids.
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. Langford said he met his wife in 1986 at a party after a gig in Chicago, her hometown: He "spoke to her briefly. One year later, I met her at another party and she said: 'Do you remember me?.' I told her I did! I didn't see her for another year. It was the slowest rock and roll encounter. We didn't get together for around six years from that first meeting, and we became good friends first. Helen had moved to France in 1991, but then said she was moving back to America to finish architecture school, she would be working seven days a week and the relationship was over. So I thought 'maybe I'll move to America.' It never seemed a big deal. I had been there lots of times before. While New York was a great place to visit, I couldn't see myself living there. But I felt very comfortable in Chicago."
- 1998: Skull Orchard (Bloodshot Records)
- 2003: Mayors Of The Moon (Bloodshot Records) - as Jon Langofrd 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
- 2014: Here Be Monsters (Bloodshot Records)
- 2014: Choice Cuts: Best of Jon Langford (Bloodshot Records)
- 1998: Gravestone EP (Bloodshot Records)
- 2000: Songs of False Hope & High Values (Bloodshot Records) - Sally Timms & Jon Langford
7 inch singles
- 2012: Drone Operator (Bloodshot Records) - as Jon Langford and Skull Orchard
Works or publications
- Langford, Jon, and David Langford. Skull Orchard Revisited: Art, Words & Music. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-891241-30-7
- Langford, Jon. Nashville Radio: Art, Words and Music. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-891-24119-2
- Morton, Colin B., and Chuck Death. Great Pop Things: The Real History of Rock and Roll from Elvis to Oasis. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus Press, 1998. ISBN 978-1-891-24108-6
- Christgau, Robert (27 May 2003). "Jon Langford Makes Friends and Influences People: Loser on a Roll". Village Voice. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Deming, Mark. "Jon Langford - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Bray, Ryan (29 April 2014). "Jon Langford: Sweet Home Chicago". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
- 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.
- "Skull Orchard Revisited". Verse Chorus Press. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
- Graham, William Harries (19 November 2012). "Jon Langford, Still Punk After All These Years". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Zimmerman, Lee (16 September 2010). "A Fat Welsh Bastard: Jon Langford". Blurt. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Dougan, John. "The Mekons - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Pareles, Jon (25 November 1988). "Pop/Jazz; Two Bands That Survived The Summer of Punk Rock". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- Parales, Jon (5 July 1991). "Pop/Jazz; The Mekons Shed a Label For a Curse That Works". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- 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.
- "Q&A: Punk rocker Jon Langford on death, digital art and Dogfish Head". Dogfish Head - Blogfish. 11 November 2013.
- Strauss, Neil (3 December 1998). "The Pop Life; Cartoons Dare To Mock Icons". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- "Great Pop Things". JonLangford.de. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
- "WXRT – The Eclectic Company". WXRT. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
- "This American Life". This American Life. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
- Kelly, Jennifer (3 June 2011). "Jon Langford and the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus - Skull Orchard Revisited". Dusted. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Martens, Todd (24 September 2010). "A Mekon reflects: 'We've always been stupid enough to keep doing this,' says punk survivor Jon Langford". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- "Goldbrick". Walkabout Theater Company. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- "All the Fame of Lofty Deeds". The House Theatre of Chicago. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- "KatJonBand". Carrot Top Records. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- "List of Castees and Failures". Cynthia Plaster Caster. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- "Nardwuar vs. Cynthia Plaster Caster". Nardwuar. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
- "Rock Candy by Helen - About". Rock Candy by Helen - Etsy. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- "Jon Langford". Time Out New York - Kids. 1 July 2006. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Jon Langford (official site)
- Jon Langford at Bloodshot Records
- Jon Langford at Yard Dog
- Jon Langford collection at the Internet Archive's Live Music Archive