If you don’t want to feel anything, don’t listen.
In the early 1980’s, Lone Justice emerged as part of the Cowpunk scene. Cowpunk brought together elements of the punk scene, alternative country, Rockabilly, folk and blues. Other notable bands driving the genre included The Beat Farmers, Meat Puppets , Social Distortion, and Jason & the Scorchers.
But Lone Justice stuck with me. Amid all the repetitive glam-rock and hair band ooze on MTV, their video “Ways to Be Wicked” was the one I would wait to see again. I love the song – penned by Tom Petty. But the images of little blond powerhouse Maria McKee belting it out and falling off her skateboard was everything I wanted to be.
She wasn’t the flowy gypsy of Stevie Nicks nor the dour, matter-of-fact beauty of Chryssie Hynde. Patty Smythe had a similar attitude, but Scandal had crappy, pop junk music. Maria was 19, feisty and loud!
They were signed to Geffen Records with the help of Linda Ronstadt. They only made two albums and disbanded after only four years. Although their second album “Shelter” was panned by critics for not having a flow or balance, I love every song on it. Maria McKee’s voice and lyrics and Steven Van Zandt’s guidance and production make for a list of solitary gems. Of course the songs don’t all sound the same – McKee takes us on a ride of fierceness and tenderness, ambition and love, loss and courage. Here are links to the top songs:
I Found Love “The beginning and end of every wish/are balanced in the center of a vision like this”
Shelter (title track) “Your struggle with darkness has eft you blind/I’ll light the fire in your eyes”
Wheels “Every trace, every vision brings my emotions to a collision”
Stand Up and Take It “Am I not the worse for trying/neither useless nor improved”
Inspiration “I was spent, I lacked inspiration/too many false attempts had only left me vacant”
Dixie Storms “When I was younger how I would wonder/what made the sweet Georgia rain make me feel to warm/and how God made a Dixie Storm”
I took a cassette of this with me to France. I shared it with people from all over the world as American music. My Moroccan neighbor Kadar had only heard Elvis – he wanted to BE Elvis. He loved it right away. He then played a 3 hour Arabic yodeling track for me, explaining it in French.
What happened to Maria? She went on to a solo career – and thank God she never stopped. Notable contributions include “Never Be You” from the “Streets of Fire” Soundtrack and “Love Is A Red Dress” – the only original song on the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack.
I’ve watched interviews where she explains the origin of cowpunk and how she writes songs. She wrote Feargal Sharkey’s “A Good Heart”. Bette Midler and Dixie Chicks have covered her music.
When I listen to her – I feel everything in the song. Every nuance, every possibility, every word. She gets inside it and tells you the story.
My favorite of all time is a live version of “The Wichita Lineman”. She delivers it with a vulnerable ache that stays with you.
Did Lone Justice influence a ton of people? I don’t know. But I still listen to Maria at least once a week. She is a permanent fixture in my mix since 1985. I would like to thank her for reminding me that it’s okay to feel everything and to express it creatively. As for cowpunk? Like every other box music critics like to put people in, it was made to be broken and discarded.