Jason Ringenberg hasn't made much music as either himself or with his longtime band The Scorchers in recent years, spending most of his time in the guise of family music act Farmer Jason. But an invitation from the National Parks Service to spend a month in northern California's Sequoia National Park creating music was too good to pass up -- and resulted in the new Stand Tall album, whose feral "God Bless the Ramones" is premiering exclusively below.
"The National Park Service called me up and said, 'Would you like to be the Artist in Residence at Sequoia National Park for a month?' and before they said 'month' I said yes," says Ringenberg, who's releasing the partly crowd-funded Stand Tall Feb. 7 on his own Courageous Chicken Entertainment label.
He did a couple of shows during that time, both as himself and as Farmer Jason, but mostly Ringenberg says "they just wanted me to wander around and write songs. I didn't even have to write songs about sequoias. I could write what I wanted to write about.
"It was a life-changing experience. Any time you spend that much time in one of our great national parks, it's gonna change you, no question about it."
The experience led to Ringenberg's "first adult music in a long, long time" -- since 2004 on his own and since 2010 with the Scorchers (if you consider that adult). He took the Sequoia songs to Murphysboro, Ill, where Ringenberg recorded the 11-song set with co-producer Mike Lescelius, blending anthems such as the title track with cheeky historical observations ("Lookin' Back Blues," "John the Baptist Was a Real Humdinger," "John Muir Stood Here"), the solemn "Hobo Bill's Last Ride" and, yes, a song about his circumstances in "Here in the Sequoias." And, Ringenberg notes, "I wrote a song about the Ramones and us opening for the Ramones underneath this giant Sequoia tree named after the first African-American colonel in the U.S. Army (Charles Young) and also the first African-American commandant of the National Park Service -- how can that go wrong?"
"God Bless the Ramones" is, in fact, a real-life musical memoir of the week the Scorchers spent opening for the iconic punk troupe in Texas back in 1982. "We were just a bunch of hillbillies from Nashville; We'd done shows around the country, but this was a whole new level," Ringenberg recalls. "We didn't have a clue what was going to happen. I have nothing but good things to say about how they treated us -- Dee Dee, especially. He gave us bass strings, chicken wings, beer from their dressing room. Everybody was really nice to us -- except the crowd.
"This was before you could check things out on the Internet. We had no idea that it was tradition at Ramones shows to absolutely bombard the opening band with...well, things I can't repeat in a publication. Very, very vile stuff. Having said that, we got a lot of fans out of it, too, because we didn't back down."
Ringenberg is planning to support Stand Tall with four weekly residency shows starting Feb. 7 at the 5 Spot in Nashville along with a March 9 show in Carbondale, Ill., followed by a U.K. tour -- in addition to Farmer Jason concerts. He also has "another half a record" written that he hopes to settle into recording at some point soon. "This is challenging me enough, I can tell ya," Ringenberg says of Stand Tall. "There’s a lot more to keep up with in the music business now than there was 10 years ago. I really can't believe the response we got for this; People were just stepping up and contributing a lot of money. It really touched me, actually -- very deeply."