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Shanghai Twang: Country music in the big city

Y’all come now, ya hear?

When you get an email from someone you don’t know telling you to go to a bar you’ve never heard of so you can hear a band “practice,” usually it’s a good idea to deposit that email into the trash. But something about this particular email grabbed me. Maybe it was the fact that it began not with Dear or Hello or Hi, but Y’all come!! Maybe it was the band’s name — the Shanghai Cowboys — and the promise of passable country music … in Shanghai. But likely it was the paragraph’s closing sentence that prompted me to head on over to a place called The Literature Club last night:

“Please pass the word and bring along some of your shit-kicking friends.”

Gary Flint looks like a country singer, or at least a slimmed-down Santa Claus with a cowboy hat. He’s from New Mexico and it turns out I had met him before, at a Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club function last spring. A rather interesting guy, Gary spends much of his time journeying all over China, seeking out poets and mountains, and poets who write about mountains. He maintains an amazingly extensive website about — you guessed it — Chinese mountains and the poems about them. Gary sometimes sits in and jams with the musicians at an Irish pub called the Blarney Stone — I saw him play there after that FCC function last spring.

But I had no idea that this Gary was the Gary behind the Shanghai Cowboys email. And I had no idea that Gary was an accomplished country performer — someone told me he has been playing shows all over the world since the 1970s — who has, in Tokyo I believe, mingled with the likes of some guy named Willie Nelson. Gary wrote a song about that encounter, and if you close your eyes while he sings it, it sounds quite a bit like Mr. Nelson himself is standing behind the microphone. Yes, Gary’s definitely got country credentials. He might be the only person in Shanghai who can sing the following verse without sounding like a complete idiot:

I’ve been to Georgia on a fast train, honey
I wudn’t born no yesterday
Got a good Christian raisin’ and an eighth grade education
Ain’t no need in y’all a treatin’ me this way

And what of the rest of the band, you ask? Well, on bass you have a Swedish journalist who used to play in a punk/hardcore group. The band’s three lead guitar players hail from South Carolina … Scotland … and Shanghai. Last night, an excellent fiddle player — Mark, a former engineer from San Francisco, who currently teaches English to the staff of a Shanghai hospital — was added to the mix … for the first time ever. Indeed, last night was billed as a practice session. Not many folks showed up to listen. Soccer was showing on the big screen TV behind the bar — and I can’t think of any honky-tonk joints in America that would ever allow that to happen.

But those who showed up, those who stuck around, were lucky. I thought the Shanghai Cowboys sounded pretty damn good. And all of my shit-kicking friends agreed.

Check back soon for future Shanghai Cowboys performance dates. I’ll post them here as soon as I hear something. Y’all come!

Click here for photos and videos of the Shanghai Cowboys in action.

12.11.2004, 7:21 PM · Music


  1. “Small world,Big lane…” ,Dan,I’m so suprised to see my husband Mark (the fiddle player)in your website. Funny how U travel so many miles to find what U can C in your own backyard at home.

  2. My buddy and I are the only foreign faces I’ve seen playing in the Tokyo country bars these days. I may be going to Shanghai a few days in March and does anyone know about country bars there or how I can hook up with Gary? By the way, I was in Beijing last spring and I found a country bar there called Nashville. I checked it out and it was pretty comfortable place to hang out and the food wasn’t bad. They feature live music there but I didn’t catch any of it.

  3. I just stumbled across this site and figured I would drop a line to anyone in Shanghai that is interested in trying to get a little poetry workshop going here in Shanghai. I’m orginally from Boston and have been working on a book of poetry for the past few months. Artistic expression comes easier for me if I have some other people interested in the expression of ideas around to work off of. Anybody thats interested drop me an email at Jsfuzzy2@yahoo.com and we can work something out.
    Thanks for the read Jason

  4. Looking for some fellow poets here in Shanghai interested in getting together for some drinks or what not. Drop me an email at Jsfuzzy2@yahoo.com and we can figure something out. Thanks for the read.


  5. Happy New Year, Gary;

    Claudette found your website. I’ve been praying for you; I haven’t heard from you since Mom’s memorial. I assume you are fine and doing fine. I keep going with my quilts, some subbing, keep up with my children and grandchildren etc. I wish you’d keep in touch. Love, Carolyn PS. I miss you.