The world of rock and roll music is filled with great bands that never quite got the recognition that they deserved. Portland, Oregon’s three-piece garage rock band Dead Moon is a prime example. Formed in 1987 by singer/guitarist Fred Cole, singer/bassist Kathleen "Toody" Cole (Fred Cole’s wife), and drummer Andrew Loomis, Dead Moon forged a fiercely independent path through the music industry for more than 20 years. Musically, they combined the jangly guitar sound of the 13th Floor Elevators, the downtrodden sadness of country, and the urgency of punk rock into a musical construct that always felt like it was on the verge of falling apart.
The song “Parchment Farm” is from Dead Moon’s first album, In the Graveyard, released in 1988. It is a cover of jazz pianist Mose Allison's "Parchman Farm," which is itself a reworking of a song of the same name by the Delta Blues musician Bukka White:
White's song was about his own experiences in Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm, where he was sentenced to hard labor for being convicted of a self-defense shooting. Allison's reworking of the song bears little resemblance to White's, replacing the acoustic guitar and blues chords with a jaunty piano line:
Allison's song is also about doing time on Parchman Farm (though Allison’s song is not autobiographical):
"Well, I'm sittin' over here on Parchman Farm. And I ain't never done no man no harm."
The song closes with Allison revealing that he will be on Parchman Farm for the rest of his life, because he shot his wife.
Dead Moon makes the song their own, sonically sounding very distinct from Allison’s song, with a driving drumline and a remarkably catchy guitar riff lording overtop. Fred Cole belts out Allison’s lyrics in a reedy shout, with Toody Cole yelling alongside in harmony. Unlike Allison’s song, Dead Moon wastes no time informing you that the song narrator shot his wife, revealing it in the second verse:
“Well, I feel like I'll be here for the rest of my life. All I did was shoot my wife.”
The song never lets up on its rollicking pace and is over in just 3.5 short minutes, beckoning me to hit the repeat button. I am not much of a fan of Mose Allison's "Parchman Farm," but both Dead Moon’s and Bukka White’s are essential listening.
Buy Dead Moon’s music here, and help them get the recognition that they deserve.