Back in the day before CDs, downloads and streaming, people bought their music on vinyl albums from record stores. The 12” album covers often had extraordinary artwork but also were large enough to publish vast amounts of information – liner notes. They included biographical info, lyrics and production credits. I would occasionally be induced to give a record a listen because I read the liner notes and thought the instrumentation was interesting or found some familiar names in the musician credits.
That was the scenario that first led me to listen to singer/songwriter Dirk Hamilton’s debut album, You Can Sing On the Left or Bark On the Right (1976). The album was on ABC Records and was produced by Dan Katz who also produced Steely Dan (one of my favorite bands) on the same label. In fact Katz brought in a slew of the session musicians — Elliott Randall, Jeff Porcaro, Victor Feldman, Larry Carlton — that played on the Steely Dan albums to work on Hamilton’s record. Instinct told me this album would be good.
Well, I wasn’t disappointed but it wasn’t because of the crack musicians. It was Hamilton’s terrific songwriting that won me over. He writes with wit and humor, and has a keen eye for detail. His lyrics use clever wordplay and rhymes.
After two records for ABC, he moved on to Elektra/Asylum where he also made a couple of albums. The first for E/A was titled Meet Me At The Crux (1978) and received excellent critical notices. In 1990, Steve Pond of Rolling Stone included it on his list of “glorious one-shots and overlooked gems” of the 70s.
Here’s the cut that Hamilton refers to as his “least unknown song,” from Crux.
I liked these records so much that in the summer of 1978 I used my affiliation with WZBC (Boston College’s radio station) to arrange an interview with Hamilton before his gig at the Last Chance Saloon in Poughkeepsie, NY. (Before the interview I was having dinner with my girlfriend at a nice restaurant. I hurried through it fearing that I was going to be late for the interview. She accused me of caring more about the interview than being with her. At that moment I did.)
Fast forward to the present.
I was reading my Facebook news feed recently and what popped up? A notice that Dirk Hamilton would be performing at a funky little art gallery in Berkeley called the Art House. How this ended up on my feed I’ll never know, but I took it as a sign that I should check it out. My wife and I arrived early and were the first ones in the door other than the guy that runs the place – and Hamilton. In this intimate setting I was able to have a nice chat with him.
He told me that he dropped out of the music business for a few years back in the 80s, but quickly returned. He was born in Indiana, grew up in California and now lives in Texas where he’s still writing, recording and performing. He has a strong fan base in Italy and spends a couple of months doing concerts there every summer.
Sometimes the music business just isn’t fair. If it were, you all would already know about Hamilton and have some of his music in your collection. It’s not too late.
Enjoy… until next week.