Lone Justice began as part of the so-called cowpunk-scene in Los Angeles, early 1980’s. Along the way they developed into a band writing their own material. They stood out to, primarily, critics and (fellow) musicians, and particularly for singer Maria McKee. At the insistence of Linda Ronstadt, supported by big names like Bob Dylan, producer Jimmy Iovine, Steven Van Zandt, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and U2, they were offered a contract by Geffen Records.
The first album, called Lone Justice, was released in 1985. Despite favorable reviews (one influential Rolling Stone critic proclaimed the album, upon release, one of the best albums ever made), the album sold poorly. The combination of country and rock led to the album being bought by neither of the music category lovers.
After a tour the complete band left (out of frustration?), and Maria McKee was left alone and started collecting new musicians. The second album Shelter was produced by Steven Van Zandt (he also played guitar on the first album), famous from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band fame. The cowpunk roots were abandoned and replaced by a typical eighties production: massive (electronic) drumsound (mixed to the fore) and lots of synthesizers. Shelter fared, as if it were possible, even less than Lone Justice. After the release the band toured relentlessly, but disbanded nevertheless.
In 1999 the excellent compilation This World Is Not My Home was released.
Maria McKee consequently started a (beautiful) solo career.
Luckily I Have seen the band just in time. On June 8th 1987 the band was added to the line-up of the Pinkpop festival at the last minute, after The Mission had cancelled their gig. Glad that they did! I clearly remember three men next to each other in the (pouring) rain when Lone Justice began. We didn’t know the band or Maria McKee: open mouthed, amazed, excited and chicken-skinned watching what happened on the stage. A whirlwind, who in a, because of the rain, heavily shortened set, rampaged the stage. That voice, that inspiration, that conviction: sensational!
The day after Pinkpop Martin and I went into the Utrechtsestraat in Amsterdam to go to the cities’ best recordshops at the time: Concerto and Get Records. We wanted to get the albums and succeeded (I recall it was at Get Records). It turned out to be unknown (to me) masterpieces. It is sometimes hard to believe that one artist (like the fantastic Maria McKee) can barely fill a living room and others (like Dutch camp act De Toppers) effortlessly sell out stadium after stadium.
Album Lone Justice
The first album from 1985 was composed and performed by the original band and has strong country influences, as well as rock influences. It’s a phenomenally beautiful album, wherein Maria McKee steals the show. Not every song work equally well, but Maria McKee’s unique voice does give something extra to each song. That voice on Don’t Toss Us Away convinces and moves so much, that it, besides inducing chicken-skin, can reduce you to tears. To realize that Maria McKee was only 20 years old while recording this album, is unbelievable. Particularly given the adult themes on the album, like in Wait ‘Till We Get Home and Working Late, you would expect someone older. Nonetheless she seems completely authentic.
The second album from 1986 is the result of a band trying to conform to the wishes of the record-company. The sound is too pompous (Steven Van Zandt produced the album and he seems to have looked at the, in my view, ugly Born In The USA production of his former boss, for inspiration) and too timephased. The songs on the other hand are great and often phenomenal. I Found Love, Shelter, Reflected (On My Side) and The Gift are all beautiful songs. The songs Wheels and Dixie Storms, written by Maria McKee, are stunning. Listening to those songs and not being moved by them is nearly impossible.
After disbanding Lone Justice Radio 1 Live In Concert was released in 1994, containing a fine concert. The already mentioned compilation album, containing a beautiful live rendition of Wheels, was released in 1999. And, lastly, This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983 was released in 2014, which shows the band in all its cowpunk glory. A must on which the band is and plays freely; the excitement bursts. Highly recommended!
Should you bump into Lone Justice records, buy them! The albums are very hard to find, and are frequently subject in ‘the best albums you never heard’ like sections. And with good reason!
The record-company (of course) early on realized that Maria McKee was the most important feature within the band and wanted the band disbanded, so Maria McKee could start a solo-career. Which happened. The first Maria McKee solo album turned out to be a beautiful, warm record (listen to Has he Got A Friend For Me?). Maria McKee will be the subject of her own post later.
Lone Justice – Don’t Toss Us Away, 09/18/1985 New York
Lone Justice – Wheels, 12/13/1986 New York
Do you know Lone Justice and/or Maria McKee? What do you think?
Let me know and leave behind your comment(s)!
Alle album images: amazon.com
Lone Justice Geffen promo: Geffen Records
Lone Justice live: gettyimages.com
Lone Justice movies: youtube.com
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