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Kinky Friedman, Texas Troubadour, Boots Politics for Music Tour

Author and musician Kinky Friedman. Friedman ran for state agriculture commissioner late last year, which he calls a mistake and says he won't run for office again. Source: Kinky Freidman via Bloomberg
Author and musician Kinky Friedman. Friedman ran for state agriculture commissioner late last year, which he calls a mistake and says he won't run for office again. Source: Kinky Freidman via Bloomberg

June 28 (Bloomberg) -- Richard “Kinky” Friedman, the country singer and detective novelist who has twice run for Texas governor, says he’s through with politics.

“It’s finally dawned on me that it’s a far better thing to be a musician than it is to be a politician,” Friedman says, smoking an ever-present cigar at his ranch about an hour’s drive from San Antonio. “If you’ve ever been in a room with a bunch of musicians, they’re decent people. And you can’t say that about politicians.”

The sprawling, hill-country ranch is home to a collection of cabins used by a summer camp that’s been in operation since 1953, when his parents bought the property and ran the camp for a time, and to the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, which typically has about 50 dogs up for adoption.

The ranch’s main house, where Friedman lives and works, has one bedroom, a tiny bathroom, an office with a framed White House letter from former President Bill Clinton on the wall, and dog biscuits scattered about the floors for two aging mutts he calls “The Friedmans.”

Friedman, 65, ran for state agriculture commissioner this year, which he calls a mistake, and says he won’t run for office again. Now he’s focused on his first West Coast concert tour in almost two decades, “Go West Young Kinky,” which starts July 26 in Vancouver.

He’s also resuming his column for Texas Monthly magazine, which drops Friedman when he runs for office, and he’s writing a book with his friend Billy Bob Thornton, the actor.

“It’s about philosophy -- his philosophy, mine -- just a couple of guys putting a book together about what we think about stuff,” says Thornton, the star of “Sling Blade” and “Bad Santa.” “Kinky’s sort of in charge of this. I’m just a guy sitting around spouting off philosophy and stories.”

‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’

Friedman attracted a cult following starting in the early 1970s with his band the Texas Jewboys. The group performed a mix of such satirical songs as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and serious ones, including “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” a rare country song about the Holocaust.

In the 1980s, Friedman began writing detective novels featuring a character named Kinky Friedman who solved fictional crimes involving members of the Jewboys, singer Willie Nelson and other actual people. In recent years, Friedman has focused on nonfiction books, including last year’s “Heroes of a Texas Childhood,” with essays on statesman Sam Houston, former Texas Governor Ann Richards and others who inspired him.

Friedman ran for governor for the first time in 2006, as an independent, and received 12.4 percent of the vote, placing him fourth in a field of six. One of his campaign slogans was “How Hard Could It Be?” In the Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner in March -- Friedman’s slogan was “No Cow Left Behind” -- he received almost 48 percent of the vote while losing to Hank Gilbert.

Nazi-Hunting

Friedman’s also writing a book on the real-life Nazi-hunting, missing-person and homicide cases of Steve Rambam, a private investigator who, like Friedman’s other friends, regularly appeared as a character in his novels.

“I’ve never machine-gunned four Colombians in an elevator, but I am a real investigator,” Rambam says. “And Kinky and I, over the years, have talked about most of the cases I’ve really done. And it’s time for a book.”

Even with his various projects, Friedman remains fixated on politics. He’s dismayed that Texas Governor Rick Perry, who defeated Friedman in 2006 and is running for re-election this year, and his Democratic rival, Bill White, both support the death penalty in Texas, which leads the U.S. in executions.

Friedman points to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of the 1991 arson murder of his three daughters and executed in 2004. Perry wouldn’t grant him a stay, and doubt has since been cast on the evidence against Willingham.

‘Killed in This State’

“People have been killed in this state -- executed -- that were innocent,” Friedman says. He believes Texas should end the death penalty and that Perry’s “got some blood on his white, Christian, churchgoing hands.”

Opinions are mixed on whether Friedman can stay out of politics. Jimmy Kessler, a Galveston rabbi who has known Friedman since childhood, and Cleve Hattersley, who first met him in 1976 and books his gigs, both say he’s unlikely to make another run. Marcie Friedman, his sister, disagrees.

“There’s a chance that he would run,” she says. “It’s clear that the state needs something, and the people need something, so I wouldn’t rule it out.”

For now, Friedman spends most of his time at the ranch, where he writes his books and columns on an electric typewriter because, he says, computers make revisions too tempting. Friedman, who has never been married, is kept company by Brownie and Chumley, his two elderly dogs, and a rotation of friends and relatives who stay at the ranch.

“I’ve got a pretty good life,” he says. “Get to hang out with Willie Nelson, go on vacation to Hawaii, have a number of attractive young women in your life. Very nice.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Taub in Los Angeles at dtaub@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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