Jon Langford

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Jon Langford
Jon Langford playing with The Mekons at the Hideout, Chicago, IL on 15 July 2015
Jon Langford performing with The Mekons at the Hideout in Chicago on 15 July 2015
Background information
Also known asJonboy Langford, Chuck Death, John Fanglord
Born (1957-10-11) 11 October 1957 (age 63)
Newport, Wales
OriginLeeds, West Yorkshire, England
Rock and Roll
Punk rock
Years active1977–present
LabelsBloodshot Records
Associated actsMekons
The Three Johns
Waco Brothers
The Killer Shrews
Pine Valley Cosmonauts
The Sadies
Wee Hairy Beasties
Skull Orchard
Bad Luck Jonathan
Men of Gwent
Four Lost Souls

Jonathan Denis Langford (born 11 October 1957) is a Welsh [1][2] musician and artist based in Chicago, Illinois, United States.[3]

He is a founder member of the punk band The Mekons, the post-punk group The Three Johns, and the alternative country ensembles The Waco Brothers and Pine Valley Cosmonauts. He has worked to campaign against the death penalty in Illinois.[4]

Early life[edit]

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]


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 Mekons[edit]

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 Johns[edit]

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]

Dim Subooteyo[edit]

With Brendan Croker Langford released an album titled Lakeside.

The Waco Brothers[edit]

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 Cosmonauts[edit]

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 Beasties[edit]

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 Gwent[edit]

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]

The Killer Shrews[edit]

The Killer Shrews were a group composed of Langford (lead vocals), Gary Lucas, and Tony Maimone. They released one self-titled album on Enemy Records in 1993.[34]


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,[35] 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 LeMieux Galleries in New Orleans, LA.

Nashville Radio, a collection of his artwork and writings, was published in 2006.[36]

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.[37] 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.[37] An anthology of the best strips was published in a book of the same name.[38]

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 27 March 2015.[39][40] That commission lead to a collaboration[41] 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",[42] a collaborative single by the Nightingales and Vic Godard.



  • 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.[45]
  • 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.[46]
  • 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."[47]


Politics and service[edit]

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...,[52] 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,[53] 2, & 3[54] record compilations to benefit charitable organizations working to end the death penalty (Artists Against the Death Penalty, the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project,[55] and the National Coalition To Abolish the Death Penalty). In 2006, Langford was commissioned to develop a performance[56] 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 life[edit]

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.[57] 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.[58] 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 discography[edit]


  • 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)[59]
  • 2017: Four Lost Souls (Bloodshot Records)

Compilation contributions[edit]

  • 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 RecordsChip 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)[60][61]
  • 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)[62][63]


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

7-inch singles[edit]

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

Works or publications[edit]

  • 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


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External links[edit]