Singer-guitarist Jon Dee Graham first made his mark on the Texas music scene in the 70s with Austin punks the Skunks. In ’84 he hooked up with the True Believers, a roots-noir outfit that helped pave the way for the alt-country movement and showcased Graham’s gift for vividly drawn vignettes from the dark side of the arroyo. He released his first CD under his own name, the widely acclaimed Escape From Monster Island, on the Freedom label in ’96, and he’s been on his own ever since. Graham remains something of a cult figure, possibly because his style–bone-crunching rock ‘n’ roll with a beat/cowboy poetic sensibility–demonstrates a narcotrafficker’s border-crossing defiance. His voice is coarse and apparently unsupple but, as with Howlin’ Wolf, his breath control and subtle shifts in intensity, pitch, and timbre infuse this blunt instrument with texture and nuance. On his latest, 2002’s Hooray for the Moon (New West), his emotional palette ranges from ecstasy (the hellfire-driven gospel screamer “Way Down in the Hole”) to obsession (the stalker anthem “The Restraining Order Song,” on which he rasps “I pass by your house” like it’s a demented prayer). “Laredo (Small Dark Something)” finds the singer in the archetypal cowboy’s town of reckoning, “livin’ at a motel called ‘Motel'”–the cul-de-sac at the end of the rock ‘n’ roll highway. Even “I Go Too,” the tenderest love song on the disc, makes romance sound more like a sentence than a sanctuary: “Who wants to be haunted, yeah but who can refuse…with my heart in my throat and my hat in my hands, here I am.” Tuesday, June 10, 9 PM, FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.