Ry Cooder completes his California trilogy (which began with 2005’s Chavez Ravine and 2007’s My Name Is Buddy) with I, Flathead, an album of music by the fictional musician Kash Buk and his band the Klowns, characters in Cooder’s 95-page novella. The album and novella were released together on June 24, 2008, by Nonesuch / Perro Verde Records.
The novella tells the story of Kash Buk and his friend Shakey the alien, along with various friends, lovers, enemies, and associates in a bygone California filled with deserts, salt-flat racing, Native Americans, seedy dance halls, amusement parks, and sinister plots. The album comprises fourteen songs by Buk, a hard-boiled salt flat racer and roadhouse musician. With the story and the music, Cooder creates a universe where “strange people are the norm,” drawing from country western music, popular mechanics magazines, and science fiction films.
Following Chavez Ravine, which examined loss of place and history, and My Name Is Buddy, which explored the loss of solidarity and unity, I, Flathead reflects change and disruption in a young, post-war, do-it-yourself culture of outsiders obsessed with racing cars fashioned from military surplus parts and flathead engines.
As Kash Buk explains, “You got your hard times, your good times, a dog story for you animal lovers, and a forbidden-race love song, which every record ought to have at least one of. You’re going to meet the ghost of Dick Nixon the drag racer, plus a bonus Red-Scare speciality for all you politically-minded hi-brow foot-stompers out there. I felt it was important to include a circus story since most people agree the circus is a mirror for ‘life itself.’ And you can’t say you got a record album unless there is a selection of honky-tonk heart-ache ballats, so I took care of the ballat chores for you.” He continues, “And I spatially wanted to pay o-mage to the steel guitar legends of yore. It has been my privilege to know quite a few. That’s a hard-bitten, un-sung fraternity, and I figured if I remember them, some body might remember me some day and raise a glass some where and put a nickel in the juke-box.”
Cooder produced the album and wrote or co-wrote all the songs. He sings and plays mandolin, guitar, and bass on the album, along with Mariachi Los Camperos; Joachim Cooder, and Jim Keltner on drums; Rene Camacho on bass; Francisco Torres on trombone; Ron Blake and Jon Hassell on trumpet; Anthony Gil on bass sax; Flaco Jimenez on accordion, Gil Bernal on tenor sax; Jared Smith on keyboards; Martin Pradler on electric piano and drums; and Juliette Commagere on vocals.