Richard Samet Friedman
Richard Samet “Kinky” Friedman (born November 1, 1944) is an American Texas Country singer, songwriter, novelist, humorist, politician and former columnist for Texas Monthly who styles himself in the mold of popular American satirists Will Rogers and Mark Twain. He was one of two independent candidates in the 2006 election for the office of Governor of Texas. Receiving 12.6% of the vote, Friedman placed fourth in the six-person race.
Friedman was born in Chicago to Jewish parents, Dr. S. Thomas Friedman and his wife Minnie (Samet) Friedman. The family moved to a ranch in central Texas a few years later. Friedman had an early interest in both music and chess, and was chosen at age 7 as one of 50 local players to challenge U.S. grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky to simultaneous games in Houston. Reshevsky won all 50 games, but Friedman was, by far, the youngest competitor.
Friedman graduated from Austin High School in Austin, Texas in 1962 and earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin in 1966, majoring in Psychology. He took part in the Plan II Honors program and was a member of the Tau Delta Phi fraternity. During his freshman year, Chinga Chavin gave Friedman the nickname “Kinky” because of his curly hair.
Friedman served two years in the United States Peace Corps, teaching in Borneo in Indonesia with John Gross. During his service in the Peace Corps, he met future road manager Dylan Ferrero, with whom he still works today. Friedman lives at Echo Hill Ranch, his family’s summer camp near Kerrville, Texas. He founded Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, also located near Kerrville, whose mission is to care for stray, abused and aging animals; more than 1,000 dogs have been saved from animal euthanasia.
Friedman formed his first band, King Arthur & the Carrots, while a student at the University of Texas. The band – which poked fun at surf music – recorded only one single in 1966 (“Schwinn 24/Beach Party Boo Boo”).
By 1971, Friedman had formed his second band, Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys, which many took to be a play on the name of the famous band Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. In keeping with the band’s satirical nature, each member had a comical name: in addition to Kinky there was Little Jewford, Big Nig, Panama Red, Wichita Culpepper, Sky Cap Adams, Rainbow Colours, and Snakebite Jacobs. More conventionally named roadie Jack Slaughter and road manager Dylan Ferrero rounded out the crew and provided most of the driving of the “tour bus”, a Cadillac with 10-year-old expired license plates and a nasty predilection for going into a coma at the most inconvenient moment (but, according to Friedman, her talent lay in her ability to stop on a dime and pick up the change).
Friedman’s father objected to the name of the band, calling it a “negative, hostile, peculiar thing”, which gave Kinky even more reason to choose the name.
Arriving on the wave of country rock following on from Gram Parsons, The Band, and the Eagles, Friedman originally found cult fame as a country and western singer. His break came in 1973 thanks to Commander Cody, who contacted Vanguard Music on his behalf. Friedman released Kinky Friedman in 1974 for ABC Records, then toured with Bob Dylan in 1975-6. His repertoire mixed social commentary (“We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You”) and maudlin ballads (“Western Union Wire”) with raucous humor (such as “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed”). His “Ride ‘Em Jewboy” was an extended tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.
Some of his most famous numbers are “How Can I Tell You I Love You (When You’re Sitting On My Face)” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” a song in which Kinky verbally and physically beats up a drunken white racist who berates blacks, Jews, Greeks, and Sigma Nus in a bar.
“Oh, they ain’t makin’ Jews like Jesus anymore,
They ain’t makin’ carpenters that know what nails are for”
Other Friedman tunes include “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” in which Friedman lampooned Whitman’s sniper attack from the University of Texas at Austin’s Main Building tower on August 1, 1966. His cover of Chinga Chavin’s “Asshole from El Paso”, a parody of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” is, perhaps, his most famous song.
One of Friedman’s most infamous concerts was a 1973 performance in Buffalo, New York; upon performing “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed” (a song that lampoons feminism), a group of what Friedman described as “cranked-up lesbians” entered into a fight with the band and forced the concert to end early while Friedman and the band were escorted off stage. The National Organization for Women awarded Friedman the “Male Chauvinist Pig Award” later that year, an award Friedman took with pride. Friedman would not return to Buffalo until 2012.
In 1975, Friedman and his band taped an Austin City Limits show which was never aired. According to the show’s executive producer, Terry Lickona, this is the first and only time in the show’s long history that an episode went unaired. Lickona told the Austin Chronicle “I’ve seen it many times – it’s a very popular party tape among friends. I think it was a great show, and it might be as offensive today as it was back then.”
In early 1976, he joined Bob Dylan on the second leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
Friedman was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in October 1976.
Friedman claims to have been the first full-blooded Jew to take the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
In February 2007, Sustain Records released a compilation of the songs of Kinky Friedman sung by other artists called Why the Hell Not… The compilation includes contributions by Dwight Yoakam, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, and Kelly Willis.
On April 27, 2011 Friedman launched his Springtime For Kinky Tour (cf. “Springtime For Hitler”) in Kansas City, Missouri at Knuckleheads Saloon which includes dates in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky before heading towards the east coast. This will be followed by a tour of Australia with Van Dyke Parks.
On July 20, 2007, Friedman hosted the “Concert to Save Town Lake” to honor the memory of Lady Bird Johnson and her efforts to protect and preserve the shores of Town Lake in Austin, Texas.
After his music career stalled in the 1980s, Friedman shifted his creative focus to writing detective novels. His books have similarities to his music, featuring a fictionalized version of himself solving crimes in New York City and dispensing jokes, wisdom, recipes, charm and Jameson’s whiskey in equal measure. They are written in a straightforward style which owes a debt to Raymond Chandler. To date, he has written two novels that do not star the Kinky Friedman character: Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned and The Christmas Pig.
Friedman also wrote a regular column for the magazine Texas Monthly from April 2001 to March 2005 which was suspended during his run for governor of Texas. In 2008, Texas Monthly brought his column back on a bimonthly basis.
Two books have been published collecting some of these nonfiction writings, as well as previously unpublished ones: ‘Scuse Me While I Whip This Out and Texas Hold’em. He has also published a travelog (The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic) and an etiquette guide.
Friedman’s early books have been republished by Friedman’s own Vandam Press as ebooks. During March and April 2011 Vandam released seven of Friedman’s early titles including: Greenwich Killing Time, A Case of Lone Star, Musical Chairs, When The Cat’s Away, Frequent Flyer, Roadkill and the rarely seen Curse of the Missing Puppet Head. Elvis Jesus and Coca-Cola, God Bless John Wayne, Blast From The Past, Armadillos and Old Lace and two nonfiction books, Drinker With A Writing Problem and Heroes of A Texas Childhood were released in 2011. E-book releases are announced on Friedman’s Twitter feed and Facebook page, “TheRealKinkster”.
Friedman also announced (via Jim Bessman’s column at examiner.com) the upcoming release of all Vandam Press titles as unabridged audio books “read by the author”.
The recurring character “Rambam”, a New York private investigator and friend of the Friedman character in the books, is based on the real-life investigator, Steven Rombom, who acts as a technical advisor for the real Friedman. Old Peace Corps friend and long time road manager Dylan Ferrero is also a recurring character in Kinky’s mystery novels; his character is known for only speaking in rock and roll quotes, a trait taken from real life.
See also: Texas gubernatorial election, 2006
Friedman contemplates a question from the audience at a campaign rally in Bastrop during the 2006 Texas gubernatorial campaign.
In 1986, Friedman ran for Justice of the Peace in Kerrville, Texas, as a Republican but lost the election.
In 2004, Friedman began an ostensibly serious, though colorful, campaign to become the Governor of Texas in 2006. One of his stated goals is the “dewussification” of Texas. Among his campaign slogans were “How Hard Could It Be?”, “Why The Hell Not?”, “My Governor is a Jewish Cowboy” and “He ain’t Kinky, he’s my Governor” (cf. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”).
Friedman had hoped to follow in the footsteps of other entertainers-turned-governors, including Jimmie Davis, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ronald Reagan. Jesse Ventura even campaigned with Friedman for his election. When the campaign finance reports came out after the second quarter had ended, Friedman had raised more funds than the Democratic nominee, former Congressman Chris Bell.
On election day, however, Friedman was defeated, receiving 13% of the votes in the six-candidate matchup.
Friedman released a statement on October 15, 2013, announcing his attention to again run for Texas agriculture commissioner as a Democrat. Friedman previously ran for the post in 2010, losing in the Democratic primary.
Issues and positions
Kinky supports the full legalization and cultivation of hemp and marijuana, declaring that the end of the prohibition is a health, education funding, prison reduction, border security and state’s rights issue.
On education, he supports higher pay for teachers and working to lower Texas’s dropout rate. He supports more investment in harnessing Texas’s alternative fuel resources such as wind and biodiesel. Friedman is opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor since it relies on toll road construction.
On capital punishment, he previously summed up his position, “I am not anti-death penalty, but I’m damn sure anti-the-wrong-guy-getting-executed.”More recently, he has clarified his position: “The system is not perfect. Until it’s perfect, let’s do away with the death penalty.”
On illegal immigration, Kinky wants to increase the number of Texas National Guard troops on the border (from the current 1,500 to 10,000), impose $25,000 and $50,000 fines on companies that hire illegal immigrants and require foreign nationals seeking employment to purchase a foreign taxpayer ID card once they have passed a criminal background check. “Texas can no longer wait for our federal government to solve our illegal immigration problem,” Friedman said. “These are steps that Texas can immediately take to help stem the tide of illegal immigrants penetrating our border.” Had he been elected, he had promised to meet regularly Governor Bill Richardson (New Mexico) and then Governor Janet Napolitano (Arizona) to develop a coordinated border state plan to supplement federal efforts to curb illegal immigration.Previously, Kinky put forth the “Five Mexican Generals” Plan, to pay Mexican officials to halt immigration on their side of the border. Although he originally stated “When I talk about the five Mexican generals, people think I’m joking but I’m dead serious”,Friedman later told the Dallas Morning News that the plan, never meant to be carried out, was a joke with an element of seriousness.
According to his official Web site, Friedman’s answer to the question “How does Kinky feel about abortion?” is “Kinky believes in a woman’s right to choose.” In person, he hedges his bet, saying “I’m not pro-life, and I’m not pro-choice. I’m pro-football.” On social issues he has supported gay marriage, answering an Associated Press reporter’s question on the subject on Feb. 3, 2005, “I support gay marriage. I believe they have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.” (Friedman himself has never been married.)
According to Cigar Aficionado magazine, Friedman plans to roll back “any and all smoking bans” if elected. One of his favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain: “If smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go.” Friedman supports the decriminalization of marijuana, though he doesn’t advocate making its sale legal. “I’m not talking about like Amsterdam,” he noted, “We’ve got to clear some of the room out of the prisons so we can put the bad guys in there, like the pedophiles and the politicians.”
Further political activities
On August 9, 2007, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Friedman was considering another run for governor of Texas in 2010. “I’m open to running”, Friedman said, adding that he wouldn’t make a final decision until after the 2008 elections. On February 10, 2009, Friedman confirmed to the Associated Press that he was still interested in running.
In an August 23, 2007 interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a February 10, 2009 interview with the Associated Press, Friedman stated that if he did run in 2010, he would run as a Democrat, citing that “God probably couldn’t have won as an Independent” and that he was a Democrat all his life.
On April 14, 2009, Friedman announced in an email to supporters that he intended to make a second gubernatorial run, this time as a Democrat. Friedman then announced on December 14, 2009, that he was leaving the gubernatorial race and would instead seek the party nomination in March 2010 for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. He lost the nomination to rancher Hank Gilbert in the primary held on March 2, 2010. Gilbert was in turn defeated for a second time by the incumbent Republican Todd Staples of Palestine, who vacates the office in January 2015, following his defeat for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in the March 4, 2014 primary.
In 2014, Friedman made another bid for state agriculture commissioner. He finished a strong second in the Democratic primary, forcing a runoff election with his party’s top vote-getter, the politically unknown Jimmy Ray “Jim” Hogan (born c. 1950), a farmer and widower from Cleburne in Johnson County, southwest of Fort Worth, whose campaign was conducted mostly from the public computers in his hometown library. Friedman polled 184,992 (37.7 percent), behind Hogan’s 190,205 (38.8 percent), but ahead of rancher and former educator Hugh Asa Fitzsimons, III (born 1954), of San Antonio, who received a critical 114,953 votes (23.5 percent). Fitzsimons carried the endorsement of the Democrat nominee for lieutenant governor, his hometown State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who is running on the ticket headed by State Senator Wendy R. Davis of Fort Worth. Friedman lost the May runoff to Hogan, 54 percent to 46 percent, who then faced Republican Sid Miller in the November election.
Other work and references in popular culture
Friedman appeared in the 2004 documentary film Barbecue: A Texas Love Story by Austin-based director Chris Elley. In the film, narrated by Governor Ann Richards, Kinky exclaims that “Jesus loved Barbecue” and analyzes the speech patterns of Texans versus New Yorkers. Raw footage from Friedman’s interview appears in the 2005 DVD release of the film. He has appeared in other movies as well including Loose Shoes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Friedman’s persona as a politically incorrect raconteur has been likened to that of movie critic and commentator John Irving Bloom, better known in print as Joe Bob Briggs, with whom he appeared in the B movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Friedman prefers to smoke Montecristo No. 2 Cigars, the same brand once smoked by Fidel Castro. However, he also smokes Bolivars, noting that “Simón Bolívar is the only person in history to be exiled from a country named after him.” Friedman now makes eponymous cigars under the name Kinky Friedman Cigars.
Friedman is given brief praise in Joseph Heller’s 1976 novel, Good as Gold, in which a governor (meant to satirize Lyndon B. Johnson), tells the main character, Bruce Gold: “Gold, I like you. You remind me a lot of this famous country singer from Texas I’m crazy about, a fellow calls himself Kinky Friedman, the Original Texas Jewboy. Kinky’s smarter, but I like you more.”
Friedman is friends with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he has visited both at the White House. He wrote about his friendships with them in his November 2001 column (“Hail to the Kinkster”) for Texas Monthly.
The play Becoming Kinky: The World According to Kinky Friedman, directed by Ted Swindley (Always…Patsy Cline), starring Jesse Dayton, Little Jewford, Alan Lee and Andross Bautsch, premiered in Houston, Texas on March 28, 2011.