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New EarBurner: Ken Bethea of the Old 97’s Wants to Find the Women Whose Lives He Helped Save, And Other Stories

Including how author David Sedaris probably stole his famous poop tale. Read on.

Ken Bethea, the guitarist for the Old 97’s, is a helluva storyteller. And he has two for us to choose from. One has to do with poop. It’s so good that even David Sedaris maybe, probably, stole it. Or at least borrowed elements from it. The other one involves an awkward fight that lasted a half hour and ended with Bethea and some buddies saving the lives of seven young women on Good Lattimer in the late 1980s.

He would like to find those young women, so he told EarBurner that story. And then he told us the poop one, for good measure. Because he’s spent more than two decades pleasing crowds.

The Old 97’s were signed to Elektra in 1996 after a showcase at South by Southwest, a show in which all they really wanted to do was to blow Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown off the stage. They were already on Bloodshot Records—and happy—but they were, in Bethea’s words, a “Naomi’s, Bar of Soap, Barley House band.” That show launched them into the stratosphere. This month, they’re celebrating 25 years together. Bethea believes all they have to do to last another 25 is keep Rhett Miller alive.

He bellied up to  Table No. 1 at the Old Monk to tell a bunch of stories, including the closers mentioned at the start of this post. I’ll step aside and let Ken tell it. He’s the one who should. Show notes after the jump.


1. Congratulations to us, one of FOLIO’s Eddie & Ozzie Magazine of the Year finalists.

2. If you need some background on the Old 97’s, or you’re a big fan of the group and haven’t read Zac Crain’s story, I’ll direct you to this piece chronicling their 25 years in existence.

3. Here is all of our coverage on the shooting of Botham Jean, the 26-year-old who was killed in his apartment by an off-duty Dallas police officer last week. Please note that this podcast was recorded Friday afternoon, when little information was available about what had happened.

4. Here’s the Wikipedia page on the explosion of the New London School in East Texas, which was renamed the West Rusk High School by the time Bethea got to it.

5. The Marquita Courts Apartments are still standing decades after Rhett and Ken and Murray lived in them, still providing beer-drenched memories for a new round of 30somethings.

6. Here’s an Observer-era Wilonsky diddy from 2012 about the long-dead Chumley’s in Deep Ellum.

7. Here’s a brief history of SXSW 1996, when the boys got signed to Elektra.

8. And, finally, here is the famous poop story, in text form. Compare and contrast to the one he tells today.

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