Who’s Next for Johnny Cash-style Career Revitalization? Jose Feliciano

Today, my vote goes to Jose Feliciano.

You know, the easy-listening star who had a hit in 1968 covering the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” Who sings the theme to TV’s “Chico and the Man.” Who is these days probably best known for “Feliz Navidad.”

After hearing a few tracks from his late ‘60s output, I’m convinced that Feliciano – now age 63 and still going strong – is one of those incredible talents we simply take for granted. And shouldn’t. Because this man has an incredible cluster of gifts – not only is he an intensely expressive singer, he possesses truly wicked, totally idiosyncratic guitar technique. When he plays, you can hear flamenco, classical and jazz traditions all intertwining, but in the here and now. He makes gentle music with a sly renegade streak.

The song that tipped it for me is “Little Red Rooster,” the Willie Dixon blues tune made famous by the Rolling Stones and others. Feliciano recorded it in 1969, on the album called 10 To 23, which followed his biggest hit, “Light My Fire.” Now Feliciano isn’t anyone’s idea of a bluesman, but somehow his terse, highly rhythmic version is mesmerizing, an entirely fresh take on a warhorse.

As best as I could tell, that track isn’t available for purchase as a download. There may be some searching involved. That’s what got me thinking it would be tremendous if Rick Rubin or one of the hotshot producers who’ve been reviving the careers of legends would take an interest in Feliciano. And set out to create a simple, timeless recording that makes his strengths unmissable. Set up a small, sympathetic backing crew. Give him some unexpected covers (Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”?!!). Allow room for some guitar fireworks. Let the world be astounded by Jose Feliciano all over again.

OK, so maybe you’re a bit skeptical. I don't blame you.

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#1 from Adam, New Jersey - 07/14/2009 4:17

OK - I’ll deal with all of the Rx’s to make a comment.  Let’s start with Carlene Carter - she is a professional, she has the pedigree, I saw her recently and she is an entertainer, and, ok, let’s say it, she’s sober.  How about Dave Edmunds (he and Carlene had a great duet) - he could really use it.  He was a great producer and bandmate, but then he fell under the wing of the evil dude from ELO.  How about a country-ish album, or some contemporary covers a la the latest Glen Campbell album (which was terrific).  Or Roger McGuinn - how about putting some gas in his tank - have Dwight Yoakam do the production.  Or Carla Thomas - can she sing some Elvis Costello songs?  How’s this - John Mellencamp doing stripped down versions of his 80s hits - heard it on Fresh Air and it sounded hot.

#2 from frankenslade - 07/14/2009 9:09

Isn’t Feliciano appearing at a bar during a scene in the Coen brothers’ Fargo? Maybe T-Bone Burnett will produce this comeback album.

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