Kinky Friedman, Alt-Country Musician and Celebrated Humorist, Dies at 79

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Kinky Friedman, the tongue-in-cheek humorist and alt-country musician of the Texas Jewboys, has died, bandmate Little Jewford confirmed to The New York Times. “Kinky Friedman stepped on a rainbow at his beloved Echo Hill surrounded by family & friends,” reads a statement posted to the late artist’s social media. “Kinkster endured tremendous pain & unthinkable loss in recent years but he never lost his fighting spirit and quick wit. Kinky will live on as his books are read and his songs are sung.” Friedman was 79.

Born Richard Samet Friedman on Halloween in 1944, he was raised by his parents—both the children of Russian Jewish immigrants—in Chicago, Illinois, before the family moved to Texas Hill Country when Friedman was a young boy. While majoring in psychology at University of Texas at Austin, Friedman formed his first band, the surf-rock parody group King Arthur & the Carrots, whetting his appetite for satirical music. He graduated in 1966 with his degree and the nickname “Kinky,” given to him by fellow student and musician Chinga Chavin for his curly hair.

Come 1973, he started Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, a country rock group bent on parodying taboo subjects and everyday topics alike. Friedman initially found underground fame as a Western singer, and a charmed Commander Cody (of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen) connected him with Vanguard Music, on which Friedman released his debut, Sold American. The next year, Kinky Friedman, the highest-charting album of his career, came out on ABC Records. After releasing Lasso From El Paso, in 1976, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys were invited to open the second leg of Bob Dylan’s famed Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

With the Texas Jewboys, Friedman regularly sang about taking pride in his Jewish heritage, often funneled through raucous jokes (“They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore”) and occasionally sobering tributes (“Ride ’Em Jewboy”). His lyrics also took aim at social prejudices (“We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You”), mass shooters (“The Ballad of Charles Whitman”), and feminism (“Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns into Bed”), among other topics.

While Friedman’s lyrics were intended to lampoon subjects, not everyone was laughing. During a 1973 concert in Buffalo, New York, a group of women whom Friedman described as “cranked-up lesbians” got into a fight with his band during their performance of “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns into Bed,” forcing the show to end early. Later that year, the National Organization for Women awarded Friedman the Male Chauvinist Pig Award, much to his delight. Two years later, Buffy Sainte-Marie stormed the stage at Friedman’s San Francisco show to seize the war bonnet off his head; Friedman had donned the garment while performing “Miss Nickelodeon,” a song parodying Indigenous people.

While Friedman went on to release over a dozen more albums in his lifetime, he also turned toward publishing novels, with a focus on detective beats that blended comedy and thrillers. Friedman also pursed a life in politics, most notably running for governor of Texas in 2006. While he got just about 12% of the vote as an independent candidate, he did get to participate in a spirited Dallas debate with incumbent Rick Perry and fellow challengers Chris Bell and Carole Keeton Strayhorn. As a Democrat, Friedman unsuccessfully ran to be Texas’ state agriculture commissioner in 2010 and 2014.

The independent filmmaker Michael Glover Smith was among the public figures to pay tribute to Friedman, calling him a “legendary songwriter and mystery novelist and one of the funniest motherfuckers who ever lived” in a post on X.

The New York author Larry “Ratso” Sloman added in a post of his own on X, “I lost my best friend and the world lost a giant today. Kinky Friedman was the sweetest, most generous, and compassionate person I’d ever met. May his memory be a blessing.”