Warren Zevon is the son of a Russian immigrant and a Midwestern girl; he was born in Chicago but raised in California and Arizona. Although he had little formal musical training, while in junior high in Los Angeles he became acquainted with the conductor and writer Robert Craft, who gave him advice and guidance, and introduced him to Igor Stravinsky, whose house he was honored to visit several times.
Also interested in singing, Zevon taught himself to play guitar by listening to folk music. "I think I was trying to learn the banjo parts," he muses. "My guitar playing has always been a little bizarre." Most would agree.
He began to write songs for recording groups, and radio and TV commercials, although he was finally ostracized from the ad business for insubordination.
Then he spent a couple of years touring as the Everly Brothers' pianist/bandleader. After the Everlys' break-up, he worked alternately with Phil and Don, sang for a while in Bay Area clubs, played free-lance piano and sojourned in Aspen long enough to be appointed honorary coroner of Pitkin County, Colorado (late one night in the Hotel Jerome bar).
In 1975, he left for a year's self-imposed exile in Spain, where he ended up singing country-and-western tunes in an Irish bar. In the meantime, Zevon's closest friend, Jackson Browne, was spreading Warrens music and setting up a recording contract for him Stateside. Stopping off in London to arrange a Phil Everly album (and earn plane fare), he returned to Los Angeles, where Browne produced his first Asylum album, Warren Zevon, released in May '76. Linda Ronstadt recorded four songs from that album, including the hit single "Poor Poor Pitiful Me." The January 7, 1980 edition of Time magazine named the LP one of the ten best rock albums of the Seventies.
Warren toured the U.S., then Europe with Jackson Browne, after which he took off for Spain and East Africa to visit friends and begin writing songs for his second Elektra/Asylum album, Excitable Boy. The album, produced by Jackson Browne and Waddy Wachtel (guitar wizard and crony from the Everly Brothers band), was released in January '78 and ascended briskly to the Top 10, also yielding the hit single, "Werewolves Of London."
Often called the "Peckinpah Of Rock," Zevon was also dubbed "F. Scott Fitzevon" for his legendary capacity for vodka. In the fall of '78, with encouragement from his wife Crystal and his friends, he admitted himself to a month's term in an alcohol rehabilitation hospital.
In the beginning of '79 Zevon met Irving Azoff, and is now represented by Front Line Management.
After an amicable divorce, he spent the year in Hollywood working on his next album, Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, recording as he wrote, with Greg Ladanyi co-producing. At the same time, he studied dance with Joanne DeVito, a ballet choreographer who had also helped coach John Travolta.
Later in the year, Warren met actress Kim Lankford (of TV's "Knot's Landing"), and the two have been inseparable ever since. "Love at first sight," said the National Enquirer. What else is there to say?
After Kim acted in "The Octagon," she introduced Zevon to the world of martial arts; he has become Aaron Norris's only private student.
Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School was released in January '80. A controversial record, it was generally regarded as his most violent and at the same time vulnerable and self-revelatory work.
After a year in the studio and "in training," Zevon was eager to tour. First, he enlisted the aid of East Coast guitar ace David Landau ("The Jaguar"). Then he met a group called Boulder, which had recorded a harrowing and intelligent version of Zevons "Join Me In LA.," included on their debut album. The "audition" consisted of a spirited rendition of "Johnny B. Goode," and the touring band was born. The band (including Warren and show were titled "The Dog Ate The Part We Didn't Like," a line borrowed from Zevon's friend, novelist Thomas McGuane.
The tour was a great success. Rolling Stone wrote of an April concert at L.A.'s Universal Amphitheatre: "In response to the audience's ovation, Zevon announced ungrammatically, 'I sing as good as I can, and I dance as well as I want.' As he skillfully demonstrated that evening, he manages pretty damn good and pretty damn well."
Reflecting on his somewhat sudden decision to record the few-months-new group in concert, the Excitable Boy says: "Strike while the iron's hot."
Zevon wrote two new songs for The Roxy and the record. "Stand In The Fire" is a get-go rocker extolling the virtues of electric guitarists and red-haired girls. "The Sin" begins as a punk homily on the need for human kindness, but is wrenched into a nightmare of Warren's indictment for emotional war crimes.
The singer says he's fulfilled one of his greatest artistic ambitions in recording "Bo Diddley," his all-time favorite song. "Lyrically and musically, I consider it the apotheosis of the rock 'n' roll song. It's a whole world view.
"We did it very Lorca."
Warren and Kim live together in Los Angeles, with friend and aide-de-camp George Gruel (a man described by Clarence Clemmons as " The Right Size") nearby, and visitors Jordan, Zevon's eleven-year-old son, and four-year-old daughter Ariel. His enthusiasms, apart from physical fitness, are still Scorcese and Eastwood movies, James Joyce, James Bond, target practice, and playing dead.