Lost Classics! Lone Justice/Maria McKee

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In the 1980s, Los Angeles was the birthplace of a curious genre called cowpunk, a mashup of punk rock with roots music.  Among the more famous practitioners were the Beat Farmers, the Blasters, Los Lobos, Green on Red and of course, Lone Justice. 

Lone Justice came together in 1982 under the guidance of guitarist Ryan Hedgecock and singer Maria McKee, an L.A. singer whose half brother was Bryan McLean from the psychedelic band Love.  In their early days, Lone Justice was a hot band in the L.A. area – thanks in part to having famous champions and fans like Linda Ronstadt and Benmont Tench, Tom Petty’s keyboardist and Maria McKee’s boyfriend.

Geffen Records put out Lone Justice’s self-titled debut album in 1985 and although a few songs (most notably the Tom Petty-penned “Ways To Be Wicked”) got radio airplay, the album didn’t sell as well as everyone hoped it would.  Maybe Lone Justice wasn’t really a true cowpunk band – the first album showed evidence of ambition beyond the boundaries of the genre.  To my ears, Lone Justice sounded more like a California-style U2 rather than the other bolo tie bands that were out at the time.

Lone Justice played a number of big-time live dates but broke up after the disappointment of the first album.  McKee hired some seasoned studio hands to fill out the band for their second album, Shelter (1986).  Produced by “Miami” Steve Van Zandt, Shelter took Lone Justice further away from their roots/punk influences and although there were some cool pop songs (some co-written by McKee and Van Zandt) it sold even fewer copies than the debut.

McKee disbanded Lone Justice once and for all, and became a reasonably successful solo act.  She popped up as a guest on some big-time albums of the era (catch her in the video of Robbie Robertson’s “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” and she also sang with U2 and Counting Crows).  McKee also was a pretty good songwriter: the Dixie Chicks cut her “Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)?” on their breakthrough album Wide Open Spaces.  McKee continues to record solo albums and perform live, although it’s tough to follow her these days because her official website is completely out of date. 

MP3: “Ways To Be Wicked” by Lone Justice (1985)

MP3: “Sweet Sweet Baby (I’m Falling)” by Lone Justice (1985)

MP3: “Shelter”  by Lone Justice (1986)

MP3: “Wheels” by Lone Justice (1986)

MP3: “Dixie Storms” by Lone Justice (1986)

MP3: “Absolutely Barking Stars” by Maria McKee

MP3: “If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)” by Maria McKee

MP3: “Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)?” by Maria McKee

Maria McKee official website 

5 Responses to “Lost Classics! Lone Justice/Maria McKee”

  1. There was a time when Maria McKee could do no wrong … and then came Absolutely Barking Stars and suddenly, without explanation, the wheels all fell off. W.

  2. Larry Hogue Says:

    Glad to see Lone Justice getting some attention. I went to their shows in Los Angeles starting in 1983. They were a “hot band” because of the strength and energy of their shows and McKee’s vocals. There are some videos on YouTube of them at the Palomino in 1984 which show what they were like at the time.

    Then the hype machine and the rock stars descended on them and virtually destroyed them. I always attributed the new sounds on their “first” album (which really should have been their second) torecord company interference. But McKee obviously has very eclectic tastes, so maybe she was happy to branch out.

    I’m just becoming familiar with McKee’s work in later years, but I’d have to disagree with W. and say that “Absolutely Barking Stars” is one of the most amazing things she ever recorded. I can see how the punk spirit that Lone Justice grew up with in the early 80s influenced that song, plus there’s a lot of David Bowie. Some people consider the “Life is Sweet” album to be terrible, but others think it’s the best album of the 90s. Cheers to her for daring to be independent.

  3. Derek Moore Says:

    “Life is Sweet” is one of the best albums I have ever heard. What a great artist & vocal talent.

  4. I have to admit I prefer Maria’s solo stuff to her Lone Justice output although there’s still some good stuff in that earlier material. “Life is Sweet” is, however, a complete and total masterpiece.

  5. A bunch of us from various Philadelphia bands are going to cover the first Lone Justice album start to finish sometime this Fall.

    We’re still working out the details of where and when and when we have that sorted out, we’ll post it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/cLone-Justice/191797797555291?sk=info

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