Veracruz1I saw Warren Zevon live at the Roundhouse some time in the 1970s – it was pretty much a one-man show so far as I remember (there may have been a small backing band). I went because I had bought and enjoyed Excitable Boy, Zevon’s breakthrough album of 1976. I liked West Coast country rock at the time, but Zevon stood out from the likes of The Eagles and Jackson Browne because of the harder, unpredictable edge and dark humour found in many of his songs – often side-by-side against more familiar country rock material. It’s also partly due to his somewhat gruff vocal style, The juxtaposition is evident on “Tenderness on the Block”, for instance. Listening back though, my favourite track is probably “Veracruz”, which depicts the US occupation of the port of Veracruz (in April 1914) from the point of view of a resident. The contrast here comes between the main body of the song, which leads straight in with the chorus on the words “I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns”, and a new section introduced towards the end of the song, sung in Spanish and contributed and sung by Zevon’s regular collaborator Jorge Calderon: “On that day I swore, to the port I will return….in Veracruz I will die”. Zevon, who sadly died of cancer in 2003, was never a huge star, but he was one of the most individual and quirky songwriters to emerge from the 1970s West Coast, and there’s a lot of interest to discover on the 12 studio albums he completed.

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