Friday, April 24, 2009

Slaid Cleaves: Drinkin' Days

SONG Drinkin' Days

SONGWRITERS Slaid Cleaves and Karen Poston

PERFORMER Slaid Cleaves

APPEARS ON Wishbones (2004)

NOTES 1. The Carousel, The Horseshoe, The Broken Spoke, and The Gaslight are all bars and clubs in Austin, Texas. 2. "Huntsville" refers to the state prison in Huntsville, Texas. 3. Last week, Slaid Cleaves released a new CD called Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away.

Slaid Cleaves' official biography is deceptively simple on the one hand and perfectly accurate on the other: Slaid Cleaves. Grew up in Maine. Lives in Texas. Writes songs. Makes records. Travels around. Tries to be good. According to,
Cleaves majored in English and philosophy at Tufts University in his native New England, and began playing music in garage rock bands while still in high school. While in college, he learned guitar, and later spent a summer in Ireland. He began busking on the streets in Cork, and that was the turning point when he decided to become a folksinger. At Tufts, he developed his guitar skills and studied the music of Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen. He recalled that he had listened to the music of Woody Guthrie, Carl Perkins, and Hank Williams as a child, so he went back into his parents' attic to discover a treasure trove of albums. After many years in Portland, ME, he sought new mountains to climb, and found some of them after moving to Austin, TX, in 1992.
This bio omits both Cleaves' pleasing Jackson Browne-like tenor and his gift for telling stories via terrific hooks. Although difficult to classify, Cleaves' music clearly draws on country and folk-rock. His vocals have a wry, rueful presence that he puts to excellent use in "Drinkin' Days."

Austin-based performers often refer to the city as if it were an exclusive club. Slaid Cleaves takes a different approach: His references to the city make it open to everyone. The Carousel, the Broken Spoke, the Horseshoe, and the Gaslight could be anywhere, and indeed probably are. (O.K., maybe not the Broken Spoke, pictured below.) "Drinkin' Days" combines the classic folk and country themes of drinking, fighting, and prison, as its protagonist finds himself suddenly sober and on his way to prison after inadvertently brawling with a police officer.

The Broken Spoke:

My drinkin' days are over
No more nights at the Carousel
My buddies say they're gonna miss me but
Who could ever tell
I never knew what time it was
'Til closing time came 'round
My drinkin' days are over
I'm still trouble bound

I used to hang out at the Horseshoe
You'd see me spinning at the Broken Spoke
I'd take my gal to the Gaslight
We lived on whiskey and smoke
Don't know how it all got started
Didn't want to hurt no one
Some bad luck and what's done can't be undone

Well it was way past midnight
Anetta hollered out last call
I turned around and Wranglin' Ron
Was headed for a brawl
I didn't know that other guy was a cop
I guess I didn't care
Sometimes you gotta act like you've got a pair

My drinkin' days are over...

I got a ride out to Huntsville
I'll be there a while
I don't have any regrets, well
Maybe just a few
A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do

My drinkin' days are over...


  1. I discovered Cleaves in 2002 - he was the opening act in the Saturday line-up of the Newport Folk Festival that year. I was impressed, and I've been listening to him off and on ever since. Good choice for a Just a Song post!

  2. I read a good review of Wishbones when it came out in 2004. I've been a big fan ever since. Making it as a singer-songwriter in Austin is like making it in New York: The competition is at the high a level.

  3. I was an instant fan when I heard Drinkin' Days on the radio around 2004.
    The line "We lived on whiskey and smoke" is shear poetry compressing so much meaning into so few words.

  4. Anonymous: That's one terrific lyric. Thanks for dropping by!