Warren Zevon

By Mark Arbuckle: Glasgow, April 2023


I first became aware of American singer songwriter Warren Zevon in 1979.

My mate Rikki and were discussing music and he was amazed nay disgusted that I’d never heard of this artist/band/??

‘Goan get an album’ he commanded! 

However as Rikki talked, and still talks, very fast, what I heard was 


Thinking it was a middle east, political protest thingy, I went into the HMV shop next door to our Top Man shop in Union Street and asked for the ‘WAR ON ZION’ album. 

The assistant looked very puzzled then laughed and said ‘Oh ye mean Warren Zevon!’ and went to the vinyl bay marked ‘Z’ He returned, to a suitably embarrassed ME, with ‘Excitable Boy’ 

I thought he looked like an adult version of The Milky Bar Kid and I certainly didn’t recognise any of the songs. 

However I did note that it was produced by Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt was listed on backing vocals! 

As soon as I listened to his deep baritone voice and amazing lyrics, I was hooked. 

I liked the macabre lyrics of “WEREWOLVES OF LONDON
(featuring a rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie)

How’s this for alliteration?!

‘Little ol’ lady got mutilated late last night’
Werewolves of London Again!

But I much preferred


‘I went home with a waitress the way I always do’
How was I to know she was with the Russians too!’

The lyrics of the title track completely shocked me!


‘He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom

Excitable boy, they all said

And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home.

Excitable boy, they all said

Well, he’s just an excitable boy

After ten long years they let him out of the home.

Excitable boy, they all said

And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones

Excitable boy, they all said

Well, he’s just an excitable boy

This most definitely wasn’t your standard rock & roll lyric about girls, cars and the high school prom!….
I was intrigued and immediately read everything I could on Warren and bought his back catalogue.

I think the quote below from biographer – Mark Deming, captures Zevon’s appeal. 

Few of rock & roll’s great misanthropes were as talented, as charming, or as committed to their cynicism as Warren Zevon. A singer and songwriter whose music often dealt with outlaws, mercenaries, sociopaths, and villains of all stripes, Zevon’s lyrics displayed a keen and ready wit despite their often uncomfortable narrative, and while he could write of love and gentler emotions, he did so with the firm conviction that such stories rarely end happily.’ 

Warren William Zevon was born in Chicago on January 24, 1947. In his early teens his family moved to California where he developed his interest in music,  learning to play the guitar and piano. Zevon also had a fascination with classical music.

In the early 70’s he joined the Everly Brothers’ touring band as pianist, and following the duo’s acrimonious split in 1973, he would work with both Don and Phil as solo artists. 

In 1974 he left the USA for Spain and spent a summer playing in a small tavern and writing songs. He returned to Los Angeles, and shared an apartment with two aspiring performers, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. 

He’d already struck up a friendship with Jackson Browne, who was on the brink of stardom and one of the most respected songwriters on the West Coast.

Browne greatly admired Warren’s talent, helped him to get a deal with Asylum Records and produced his first album for the label. 

Simply titled Warren Zevon, it featured his former roommates Buckingham and Nicks, (who had gone on to find stardom with Fleetwood Mac), Bonnie Raitt and several members of the Eagles.

It didn’t sell well but won rave reviews. Linda Ronstadt gave her seal of approval by covering three songs from the album.

Any excuse to have a pic of Linda

Browne took Zevon on tour to support the album, and in 1978, they returned to the studio to record ‘Excitable Boy’ It was a huge success and remains his best selling album.

The financial rewards however, rekindled Warren’s addiction to alcohol and drugs and he checked into rehab for treatment. 

Jackson Browne named him…

The first and foremost proponent of song noir” 

‘A supreme collision of acerbic wit, dark irreverent humour, bittersweet romance, and uncomfortable truths.’

Zevon was clean and sober for the tour and one of the shows was recorded and released as ‘Stand in the Fire’ 

It is superb and in my humble opinion, one of the greatest live rock albums ever 

Subsequent albums had contributions from Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry of R.E.M. and guest spots from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jerry Garcia and David Gilmour but sadly the records never matched the commercial and chart success of Excitable Boy

Throughout his career many wonderful musicians and songwriters contributed to his various musical projects.

A veritable Who’s Who of American Music.

Neil Young, David Lindley, Waddy Wachtel, Bonnie Raitt, Bobby Keys, J.D. Souther, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Carl Wilson, Leland Sklar, Jeff Porcaro, Gary Mallaber, Bob Glaub, Rick Marotta, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel and longtime collaborator Jorge Calderón.

He also had long friendships with authors Hunter S Thompson and Stephen King

King said that it was a deep personal regret that he and Warren ‘hadn’t got around to creating something together’

In 2013 King dedicated his novel ‘Doctor Sleep” to Warren.

David Letterman was a huge fan of Warren’s music and made him a frequent guest on his show. 

This television exposure reminded audiences of his biting wit and musical talents.

In a famous quote Letterman said Warren must be the only writer in history to have the word ‘Brucellosis’ in a song.


‘Daddy’s doing Sister Sally

Grandma’s dying of cancer now.

The cattle all have brucellosis

We’ll get through somehow.

Sweet home Alabama

Play that dead band’s song

Turn those speakers up full blast.

Play it all night long.’

Zevon never enjoyed the massive commercial success and vast riches that his peers, Springsteen, Browne, Ronstadt, Eagles all did in their careers, but in some ways, to me at least, this fact make his music even more endearing and enjoyable.

In August 2002 Zevon began experiencing dizziness and shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, an inoperable form of lung cancer, and was told he had a few months to live.

He went public with his condition on September 12, 2002 and  began recording his final album. 

His friends, including Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Dwight Yoakam, Ry Cooder, and Don Henley all rallied to help.

He lived long enough to see the release of this final album, THE WIND, on August 26, 2003

He died on September 7, 2003. 

THE WIND earned him two posthumous Grammy Awards, for Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Rock Duo Performance for “Disorder in the House” with Bruce Springsteen.

Rikki, myself and four other friends were very fortunate to see Warren perform live in a smallish Glasgow venue in 2000. 

Just him, piano and acoustic guitar. (A drummer joined him for his rockier songs) 

I admit that I would’ve dearly loved to have seen him with his full band in their prime in the 1980’s but he really excelled in this intimate environment too. 

He sang and played his heart out, bantering, as only he could with lots of industrial language, back and forth with the adoring crowd who sang every word and danced and cheered throughout the entire gig.

He told stories of his life, friends, family and his own addictions and the events that had inspired his wonderful songs.

One of the guys I was with at the gig knew one of the security men. There was even a brief excited chat about being invited back stage to meet the great man!

Aaaand even go out for a drink with him after the gig!!

But alas, when considering the prospect of painting the town red with six already Excitable Glaswegian Boys…..Warren (the recovering alcoholic and addict) very wisely demurred.

I had taken along the booklet from Warren’s Greatest Hits Album ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’ 

I was initially ridiculed by my fellow concert goers but they soon realised that THEY also should’ve brought something to be signed!! I asked our friendly security man to take it to Warren to have it autographed. 

Warren wrote:

To Mark – 


Warren Zevon. 

Glasgow 100

The security guy explained that Warren had been so blown away by the reaction of the crowd and had never dreamt that he even HAD 100 fans in Glasgow!

It remains one of my most treasured possessions!

9 thoughts on “Warren Zevon”

  1. Great read Mark,I first heard of him through my love for everything Jackson Browne. First heard his music (as with many others) on Jonnie Walker’s radio show, when J.W. played Desperado Under The Eaves. I was hooked,bought Excitable Boy,loved it ,every track a masterpiece. A regular listen for me, as is all his catalogue of brilliant songs..

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Me too! I am pretty ignorant of his work, apart from THAT one. And I seem to remember it took a while for that one to gain traction here in UK? I seem to recall hearing it quite a lot on late night radio well before the daytime Jocks took up on it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great story – hang onto that booklet! Warren had great talent and even greater friends, it’s sometimes hard to figure out how he sold so few records relatively with Asylum behind him, Linda R, Jackson B, Eagles, Neil Young etc all helping him out. Perhaps was just too smart for his own good; his music was too deep and ‘alternative’ (before that was a thing in music) for the masses. It is nice to see though that he’s polling well in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voting this year… obviously he has loyal fans.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Dave, I think you’re correct about Warren being too deep and alternative for mass consumption. Also ‘Werewolves’ albeit a massive success, maybe labelled him as a novelty act.

      I’ve been voting for him regularly in the quest to have him inducted into RRHoF….I can’t really understand why he’s not already in there!! 😠

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thnnks for reminding me of an artist I’ve yet to explore. While I knew most of the tunes you highlighted in the post, I haven’t listened to Zevon’s albums. I think I also agree with Nostalgicitalian there’s more to Zevon than “Werewolves of London,” a song I feel is a bit overrated.

    Liked by 2 people

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