By Raiza Giorgi
Karen Jones of Santa Ynez has been immortalized by outlaw country musician Kinky Friedman in the title track of his new album, “Resurrection.”
The opening lyrics talk about Jones and her decision to change her life’s path after a troubled start:
”Karen Jones was just 15, coulda been homecoming queen, but she had a child and she lived at the Salvation Army. Now she has a thrift store of her own, raising money for folks without a home. Too bad she’ll never find a home for me,” the song starts.
“I met Kinky about a decade ago after being a lifelong fan of his. In his earlier life he was a mystery writer, and my mom and I would share his books. I was so excited when he was playing in Los Angeles and ended up meeting him with my daughter Kara, and we struck up a friendship,” Jones said.
Jones is originally from Taft, where she had a rough start in life. As a teenager she was sexually assaulted at a party and became pregnant.
“I was terrified of my parents’ reaction, because in those days it wasn’t looked at as assault. It was assumed it was the girl’s fault — so I ran away,” Jones said.
She ended up in Oakland, where she connected with a distant aunt and uncle who helped get her get into a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers.
“It was a culture shock to say the least, but I ended up having my son Dylan and getting my GED and a good job at a local hospital,” Jones said.
She met her husband Rob a few years later. They married and had two more children, Alex and Kara. They first lived in Bakersfield and then moved to Santa Ynez in 1996, to her husband’s family’s home on Edison Street.
“I am not ashamed of where I came from because it got me to where I am now. I got to change my life and make the choice to make a bad situation into a positive,” she said.
Jones is the president of the SYV Opportunity Shop, which was started during World War II in Buellton as a “canteen” for soldiers. When it reincorporated in 2010, its mission statement was created to include help for veterans and other worthy causes, Jones said. The shop also annually gives thousands of dollars in scholarships to local high school students. It recently gave $10,000 to the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down event.
“In getting to know Karen over the years, she was the epitome of ‘resurrection.’ Unfortunately, all the other people I sing about in the song are dead, and in some way I wanted to resurrect and make this tribute to them, and Karen because she is a veteran soul and a great person in my life,” Friedman said.
Friedman, known in the music industry as an iconoclast and satirist, said he hopes this album will break through the white nose of “crap coming from Nashville” and really be heard. He said he has no problem in “telling it like it is,” a trait he said he shares with Jones.
Friedman was born in 1944 to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Dr. Thomas and Minnie Friedman. His father was away fighting in World War II when he was born. His family moved to Texas and opened a summer camp for Jewish kids called Echo Hill. Friedman learned to play guitar and spent two years with the Peace Corps in Borneo, Indonesia.
In 1973 started the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, which was apparently a parody on the famous Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, just as country rock was starting to take off. He is known for his parodies and raunchy humor in his music. One of his songs, “Get your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed,” started a fight at a concert between his band members and a group of women whom he called “‘cranky lesbians.”
“They just wrecked all our equipment (and) they were winning, which was the funny thing,” he recalled.
A song that was meant in jest earned him the only award he’s ever received — Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year in 1973 from the National Organization for Women. Now, just before his 75th birthday, he will be receiving his second award — for Lifetime Achievement from the Country Music Association of Texas.
“I start this tour November 1 on the East Coast, and I feel that I am definitely a creature of the road,” he added.
Friedman has sung alongside a lot of the biggest names in music, from Bob Dylan, touring with him in 1976, and Willie Nelson. A group of his famous friends did an entire album of Friedman’s songs in 2007, with contributors including Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and Kelly Willis.
His current album is a collaboration with Nelson.
“I took a long time off music, about 40 years or so, but I look back and think I am pretty lucky to be this old and still make music with my friends and hopefully someone will listen to it. I wanted to make some music to tip my hat to those I’ve lost and want to remember,” he said.
Friedman said if there is any credit to be given for this album it goes to his superstar producer, multi-instrumentalist and three-time Grammy winner Larry Campbell. Friedman said he found the perfect complement to his jagged-edge Texas Hill Country persona in Campbell.
The album will be available October 15.