Late Actor Harry Dean Stanton Shows His Musical Side With The Cheap Dates on ‘October 1993’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The late beloved actor Harry Dean Stanton appeared in well over 30 films but musically, other than a few cameos, there’s only one of his albums available.  The same company, Omnivore, who delivered the 2014 Partly Fiction, now finds a bit more Stanton material in collaboration with the band, The Cheap Dates, for a combination of studio and live tracks on October1993. The Cheap dates are comprised by members with resumes of the Kingbees, Stray Cats, Doobie Brothers and Iggy Pop/David Bowie.  As you may know, Stanton loved to sing and did record a couple of albums with Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. Yet, his trusted musical partner for over 15 years was guitarist/vocalist Jamie James (The Kingbees, Dennis Quaid & the Sharks) who authored the liner notes.

This represents never-heard-before music in a set of highly familiar tunes to most. As James states, “Together, Harry and I had been doing some dates around Los Angeles as a duo. And I remember suggesting to Harry to have Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats) come over and play drums with us. In doing so, he brought along Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (The Doobie Brothers) to play pedal steel, which then led to Slim and I asking Tony Sales (Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Todd Rundgren) to play bass, and that’s how we became the Cheap Dates.”

These guys threw any degree of caution to the wind and were bent on having fun, the epitome of which is heard in their whooping and holler version of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” They display their country tendencies on Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and their glorious harmonies in the Gram Parson-like version of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Stanton not only sings but plays acoustic guitar and blows a decent harmonica, heard on the Berry and Bell track.  Stanton’s best vocal on these four studio cuts is on the Cooder/Hiatt/Dickinson “Across the Borderline,” a tune that Willie Nelson also covered beautifully. It’s especially suited to Stanton, whose film career was largely dominated by westerns.

The live tracks were recorded at L.A.s famous Troubadour, presumably on the date of the album title. Again, they show a penchant for Chuck Berry and flat-out rock n’ roll by leading with “Never Can Tell” with Stanton sounding like a bluesman on his harp. “Spanish Harlem” follows delicately, another exercise in strong vocal harmony and impressive Baxter pedal steel work. The rocket blasts off with blistering rock and raw harp from Stanton on “Miss Froggie.” Consistent with the pacing of the album, they next settle into a relaxed version of “Bright Lights, Big City” and then close in Spanish with a delicate reading of the traditional Mexican folk song “Cancion Mixteca,” easily Stanton’s superior vocal in the live set. 

Rather obviously, this is a recording that breaks no new ground, but it is a rare opportunity to hear Stanton in his other passion – music and singing. It leaves one wishing we had more recordings as he proves to be quite the vocalist.

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