MichaelCorcoran.net

Roy Head and the Traits

Posted by mcorcoran on January 7, 2017

1957traits

SAN MARCOS, 2007: It doesn’t get much more incongruous than this: a group of men in their 60s playing up-tempo sock-hop blues in a vacant house next door to the funeral home owned by their bassist. But the Traits, former San Marcos High School mates who had regional hits soon after forming in 1957, have been practicing almost daily for a month to get ready for a reunion of original members, including renowned singer Roy Head. Coming down from Nashville for the group’s 50th anniversary performance tonight (Oct. 20, 2007) at Texas State University’s student center are representatives of the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame, who will induct the Traits before the show. Since it’s also homecoming weekend for the San Marcos High School Rattlers, the sold-out program is the hottest ticket in San Marcos. But fans can also catch Roy Head and the Traits at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Cheatham Street Warehouse, where they’ll play a benefit for guitarist Bill York, whose medical bills have been mounting since he fell off the roof of his church while cleaning the gutters last month.

“That was a big setback when Bill got hurt,” says Traits piano man Dan Buie, “but we’re back into it hard and heavy and Bill might even play with us.” Although not an original Trait, York had been added to replace guitarist Tommy Bolton, who passed away in 2004. Besides Buie, original Traits who’ll back the ageless Head tonight and Sunday include bassist Bill “Hound Dog” Pennington, drummer Gerry Gibson and guitarist Clyde Causey. Repping the later version of Roy Head and the Traits, who had an international smash with “Treat Her Right” in 1965, is Gene Kurtz, who co-wrote the song.

Roy Head

Roy Head

The son of migrant farmers from South Texas, Head moved with his family to San Marcos when he was a high schooler and sought out musicians who shared an affinity for the hard-driving rhythm and blues he grew up loving. His first band was a trio with Bolton and Gibson called the Treys. Even after adding Buie, Pennington and Causey (who joined the service after high school and was replaced by George Frazier), the band was called the Treys. But one day a radio announcer mistakenly introduced them as “the Traits” and the name stuck. “It didn’t feel right being in a six-piece band called the Treys,” Buie says.

The group’s first single “One More Time,” which resembled “Summertime Blues” by band fave Eddie Cochran, came out on San Antonio’s TNT Records and got a lot of airplay from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin. Similar regional success with “Live It Up” and “Summertime Love” established the Traits as one of the top rock bands in Central Texas. The dancing dynamo Head set them apart from the breed of new bands and the Traits made good money playing frat parties.

Around 1960, the frontman asked that his name be put before the band’s and they became Roy Head and the Traits. “Roy was 110 percent into making a living from music,” Buie says, “but the rest of us kinda had the attitude that we were having fun and all, but it would soon be time to go to college and get jobs.” The exception was Gibson, who everyone agreed was the best drummer in these parts. Years later, he would tour with Sly and the Family Stone for a year and add drum parts to Sly’s 1971 magnum opus “There’s a Riot Goin’ On.”

Gibson will be flying in for tonight’s reunion from Nashville, where he works as a horticulturist for Lowe’s Home Improvement. Pennington quit the band, which was partially financed by his mother, Edra, in 1963 to work in his family’s mortuary business. Buie graduated from the University of Texas in 1970 and worked for many years as a health administrator specializing in substance abuse cases. Causey worked as an auditor for the IRS before retiring in 1995.royhead1

When Head moved the band’s headquarters to Houston around 1963, only drummer Gibson followed him from the original Traits.

Today, singer Head is best known to the “American Idol” generation as the father of last year’s hopeful Sundance Head. But in 1965, he was neck and neck on the charts with the Beatles. With its thumpin’ beat, blazing horns and Head’s soulful delivery, “Treat Her Right” was the hottest number on the radio, perched at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 40 and rarin’ to take over when “Help!” dropped down. But “Treat Her Right,” released on Don Robey’s Back Beat Records, was leapfrogged by another Beatles single. A little ditty called “Yesterday.”

Head and the Traits had two more minor hits in ’65, “Just a Little Bit” and “Apple of My Eye,” but the British Invasion wiped out the fiery R&B showband style that Head honed in Texas hotspots.

Ironically, Head remains a rock god in Britain and continues to tour sporadically both overseas and in the States. “There’s no drop off in the intensity of his performances,” says Dianne Scott of the Continental Club, where Head played last month. He’s become a cult artist for roots fanatics, a real deal marvel who can still do the splits.

But for a time there he was nipping at the heels of “Yesterday.” Chasing yesterday; a good theme for this weekend’s reunion shows, when the Traits try to bring it “One More Time.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Infamous rave review of the 3rd Oasis LP

Posted by mcorcoran on January 7, 2017

OASIS – `BE HERE NOW’ (Epic) * * * *

beherenow

Even when they were so unknown that they had to feud with Blur to get noticed, Manchester, England, band OASIS — led by a pair of uncouth party yobs named Gallagher — laid claim to the title of the best band on the planet. On their third album, “Be Here Now,” which hits stores today like a ton of neon molasses, the reasons why that’s a true boast have become clearer.

Quite simply, Liam Gallagher is an exceptionally instinctive and attractive singer with the power to, as Graham Parker once sang, “turn a cliche into a sensation.” Witness his treatment of “All Around the World,” with its feel-good lyrics and “Hey Jude”-like chorus, and you can also say he has the ability to turn a Coke commercial into a stirring anthem.

Meanwhile, older brother Noel Gallagher, the band’s songwriter and lead guitarist, is an awesome creature of melody with a supersonic guitar drive that, in conjunction with Paul Arthurs’ sheets of six-string rhythm and Paul McGuigan’s brazen bass lines, gives this pop band its edge. The songs have gotten a little slower and longer, with a more textured sound, but that doesn’t make them any less searing and exuberant.

Although there’s not much here that matches the melodic jolt of the band’s 1994 debut “Definitely Maybe” (“Columbia,” “Bring It on Down,” “Live Forever”) or “Some Might Say” and the title track of their second album “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory,” there’s also nothing as instantly skippable as “Shakermaker,” “Up in the Sky” or “She’s Electric” from the first two albums. “Be Here Now” is a pleasure-packed journey from the first cut to the last (not counting the pretentious string-laden outro).

Consistency is not a word you’d expect of a band whose songwriter seemingly loves his every burp, and in a way consistency also implies the backhanded compliment “maturity.” “Be Here Now” finds Oasis in a more satisfied mood befitting the Gallagher Brothers’ new marital states (24-year-old Liam to actress Patsy Kensit, 30-year-old Noel to longtime girlfriend Meg Matthews). To extend the Fab Four comparisons Oasis seems to thrive on — as evidenced by their use of Beatle titles in song lyrics (the latest: “Down the long and winding road … back home to you” from “My Big Mouth”) — this album is their “Rubber Soul.”

Lyrically, Noel sometimes sports a naive vision of brighter, better days ahead and leans toward the obvious (“Stand By Me,” “Don’t Go Away,” the “Get on the roller coaster/ The fair’s in town tonight” intro to “Fade In-Out”), but he writes melody lines that can elevate the simple sentiments into grandiose statements. Hearing Liam wrap himself around the stunningly gorgeous “Don’t Go Away,” for instance, is to erase every other song that has said the same thing. Then when the singer teeters between a whine and a wail on “My Big Mouth,” the album’s lone hard rocker, he gives it some much needed bite. And how’s this for a slice of autobiography: “Into my big mouth you could fly a plane/ Who’ll put on my shoes while they’re walking/ Slowly down the hall of fame?”

Besides being one of the most beloved of the newer bands, selling more than 4 million copies of “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory,” Oasis is also one of the most loathed. Their brash, beer-spilling attitude, mixed with the omnipresence of last year’s lighter-than-air hit “Wonderwall,” have made them the band that people love to hate. But Oasis generally gets tremendous respect from longtime rockhounds and people in the music industry. Plus, they receive the Johnny Depp seal of hip approval, as the music-crazed actor adds slide guitar to Fade In-Out.”

If you’ve been listening to rock music daily for decades or for only the past few years, you should be able to hear something special about Oasis. It’s pure pop music in the Beatles tradition, but it’s rougher and harder to reflect the changing times. The music of Oasis is as direct as a string of “yeah, yeah, yeahs,” but it’s also dense and evasive. It goes through walls, even with the front door open. It swaggers and it staggers, right back to loving arms.

Oasis is the last great true rock ‘n’ roll band (opposed to those grand bores like Smashing Pumpkins and U2), and their indelible link to the first great rock ‘n’ roll band symbolizes a full circle in the band era. After the Beatles caused hysteria in 1964, thousands and maybe millions of kids went on to start four-piece guitar bands, and the public developed an affinity for these musical teams through the ’90s. When Don Henley or Glenn Frey have released solo albums in recent years, for instance, these albums practically go straight to the cut-out bin. But when Henley and Frey call up fellow wash-ups Joe Walsh, Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmitt and call themselves the Eagles, they’re soon topping the charts and grossing millions per concert. Fans love bands.

If you watch MTV or listen to modern rock radio, however, doesn’t it seem easier to slip into Beavis and Butt-head-like mocking as bands have become increasingly vain and silly, while feigning aggression in their Fabian Cobain compositions? The current crop of rock bands has been sprayed by the pesticide of cynicism, selling their souls for one big hit as some twisted new sort of careerism. It’s no wonder that most of the hipper kids these days would rather listen to the electronic apocalypse harkened by the likes of Prodigy and Chemical Brothers.

Fifteen years ago, the same teen-agers looking for something harder, faster would discover Metallica or Anthrax. Nowadays, they’re cranking up studio nerds who can’t play “Louie Louie” on the guitar. It’s getting to be more about the sound than the process, and the idea of lovable lunkheads piling into a van and heading out to play music in the rock-in-a-box clubs of America is starting to seem ludicrous. One wonders how long before rock musicians are held in the low regard we now reserve for mimes.

Right here, right now, Oasis makes 95 percent of the other modern rock music being made sound like well-produced pablum. They’ve exposed all the tough poseurs by being real jerks, and they’ve brought personality, no matter how abrasive, back to a rock arena overrun with shave-headed politicians and leather-clad hawkers of sugar water. In the midst of so much personal chaos and turmoil, the brothers Gallagher have found order in their art and in turn have widened the gap between the fabulously mediocre and the truly gifted.

Oasis is a musical wolverine, eating as much as it can from a fresh kill. When they’re full and are ready to hang it up, they’ll urinate on the rest of the meat so no one else can eat it.

Posted in Music | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Punk Rock Alamo: Pistols in S.A.

Posted by mcorcoran on January 6, 2017

Originally published in the Austin American Statesman 1/6/13

pistolssa1

SAN ANTONIO. “Wow, 35 years!” exclaimed Ty Gavin, singer of the regrouped band the Next, whose members met at the infamous Sex Pistols show in San Antonio on Jan. 8, 1978. “Has it really been that long?”

Three days before the anniversary of the most notorious rock show in Texas history, downtown San Antonio nightclub Backstage Live paid tribute to the Sex Pistols, hosting 10 bands under the banner “The Filth and the Flautas,” which was a play on “The Filth and the Fury,” a famous headline about the Pistols in a London tabloid. Some of the acts on the bill had opened for the two Pistols shows in Texas on the punk band’s only U.S. tour, which lasted all of 12 days. Some acts were inspired to form after Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones and Paul Cook played a 1,200-capacity country nightclub on Bandera Road called Randy’s Rodeo.

pistols-at-randysThe punk rock Alamo, Randy’s is now a bingo parlor, run by a Catholic church. Although they’ve kept the name and the signage, Randy’s current operators wanted nothing to do with the anniversary show, said Margaret Moser, who co-curated a museum exhibit “We’re So Pretty: The Sex Pistols in San Antonio”, at the South Texas Popular Culture Center.

For 35 years, the Sex Pistols choosing to play San Antonio, “the Detroit of the Southwest,” instead of hipster haven Austin, remains a point of pride to the city located 70 miles to the South.

Although influenced musically by U.S. groups, Alice Cooper, the Ramones and the New York Dolls, the Pistols and their visionary manager Malcolm McLaren added their own theatrical sound, ripped fashion and nihilistic philosophy to create cultural upheaval in the U.K. They were a rude and snotty reaction to, not only corporate rock, but a future that held no allure for bored, jobless youth.

From across the Atlantic, their brilliant album Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols also stirred bold pockets of stagnant American youth. Their music was too rough for the masses, but in “God Save the Queen,” released during a national celebration honoring the Queen’s 25 years on the British throne, we heard a band of hoodlums get in the face of the establishment like never before. “God save the queen/ she ain’t no human being/ there is no future/ in England’s dreaming.” Rebellion isn’t hope, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got.pistolssa2

Banned to play public concerts in the U.K. after too many destructive incidents, the Pistols announced their first American tour, with only seven dates on the itinerary: Atlanta, Memphis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Tulsa and San Francisco.

San Antonio? A hotbed of hair bands and heavy metal, S.A. was an unlikely destination for the first U.S. tour by British sensations. But the Alamo City had robust concert promoters Stone City Attractions, who found Randy’s and also booked the Pistols into the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas.

McLaren intentionally bypassed the major metropoli in favor of mostly-southern cities where the encroachment would be more significant and confrontation more likely. In Texas and Oklahoma, McLaren booked his charges into country music clubs, including Cain’s in Tulsa, made famous by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. These were the same kinds of venues Elvis Presley played on his first tours and Presley’s death six months earlier provided a bit of subtext to the Pistols tour, which promised to usher in the death of rock n’ roll.

In actuality, the foray of January 1978, which ended with singer Rotten asking a crowd in San Francisco if they’d ever had the feeling they’d been cheated, was the Sex Pistols suicide tour. After that S.F. show, the band broke up and bassist Vicious died of a drug overdose while on bail for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

randysmarqueeBy the time the Pistols arrived in San Antonio, they already knew their demise was brewing. Band, crew and a legion of security guards arrived at Randy’s on a tour bus with “NOWHERE” on the destination sign. Bassist Vicious, a heroin addict, was so dope sick he carved the words “Gimme a Fix” on his chest.

Modeled, in part, on Iggy’s Stooges, the band members were fast becoming Malcolm’s stooges. Their manager seemed numb to the idea that the band and producer Chris Thomas had made a modern day classic with “Bollocks” and so he felt the need to market the Pistols as a shocking freak show.

Taunting them with homophobic slurs, the band carried utmost contempt for the Randy’s audience, which included everyone in the nascent Austin punk contingent, as well as curious Randy’s regulars who paid the $3.50 cover to watch the trainwreck. This was the show where Vicious, tired of the taunting from an audience member who admitted he had come to start trouble, viciously tomahawked his electric bass into the audience, barely missing heads that would’ve surely been cracked open. “Oh, dear, Sidney’s lost his guitar,” Rotten sneered.

Rotten later acknowleged the Randy’s show as the band’s best on the tour. And McLaren got what he wanted, as one British tabloid splashed the headline “Sid turns Vicious as the Sex Pistols battle with U.S. Fans.”

The Sex Pistols trafficked in chaos, putting violence of the mind into motion, but as testified by the last song they ever played, at Winterland in S.F. on Jan. 14, 1978, it was becoming “No Fun.”

Opening the Pistols’ swang song was the Nuns, whose guitarist Alejandro Escovedo was forever influenced by the experience. Never Mind the Bollocks has never lost its power and continues to inspire bored youths to pick up guitars.

In Texas, the shows are best remembered for what they inspired. A group of University of Texas film students who trekked to Randy’s would start a music and culture magazine called the Austin Chronicle. And many bands would spawn from the chaos, just as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the Beatles and Stones of punk, fortified after the Ramones played London on July 4, 1976.

sexpistolssa3

Opening the Randy’s show were a pair of quite different bands: Ultra, the S.A. prog-rock kingpins, and a new punk band called the Vamps, whose singer Frank Pugliese now fronts the Sons of Hercules. Ultra played earlier at the club and as the guitarist played a meandering lead to a roaring bass/drums rhythm, Austin singer Tex Edwards whispered in my ear, “this is the kind of music we were rebelling against in 1978.”

Edwards’ band the Nervebreakers opened for the Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas and were scheduled to reunite at Backstage Live, but because of a death in the family, the Nervebreakers were replaced by another Edwards band Purple Stickpin.

The Hickoids, whose S.A.-based singer Jeff Smith co-organized the “Flautas” show, had the privilege of recreating the Sex Pistols Randy’s set. At least that’s how it was was advertised. Instead, the band played such Pistols numbers as “Bodies,” “Anarchy In the UK,” “Holidays In the Sun” and “EMI” in no particular order and inexplicably omitted “God Save the Queen,” which opened the Randy’s set. Still, the Hickoids were tight and the crowd of about 800 was into it, even if singer Smith wandered the stage in a state of low interest in his duct-tape pants. Perhaps Smith, age 14 in 1978, is still upset about his older brother not taking him to the Randy’s show, as promised. “That song goes out to my brother Barry,” Smith said after singing “Liar.”

The Pistols broke up a week after the Randy’s show, with Rotten stranded in S.F. with no money or credit cards. The next year he would form Public Image Ltd., a band that would prove to be almost as influential as the Pistols, but in a more subtle way.

The Pistols show wasn’t the last punk rodeo at Randy’s, as the Ramones and the Runaways played the low-ceilinged country nightclub the next month, followed by Patti Smith and Squeeze a few months after that. But neither of those concerts had the lasting implications of the Sex Pistols set.

San Antonio must have a bit of an inferiority complex when it compares itself to Austin, with SXSW and an international reputation for live music. “Keep San Antonio Lame” is a t-shirt you can buy in the proudly unhip Alamo City.

But for a night in 1978 in a bowling alley turned country music nightclub, San Antonio was the center of the musical universe. Something that can’t be taken away. Something no one there will ever forget.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Sam Phillips drove the Mystery Train

Posted by mcorcoran on January 6, 2017

Sam Phillips 1994

Sam Phillips 1994

If he could find a white man who could sing like a black man, he could make a million dollars. That’s what Sam Phillips would say over and over again from his Memphis Recording Service on Union Avenue.

Then one day in 1953 Elvis Presley walked in, and the desire became a reality. Elvis, and the acts that the 1955 sale of his contract to RCA for $35,000 helped finance, rewrote the rules for popular music.

Through the years, however, Phillips’ white man/black man quote has been turned against him. Often the “N-word,” which associates say he didn’t use, is inserted to add fuel to the argument that Phillips was a brazen opportunist, co-opting the sound of rhythm and blues to sell to a white audience, while cutting out the innovators.

In reality, Phillips opened his studio in January of 1950 to record black musicians in the Memphis area who had no place else to go. Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Junior Parker were recorded by Phillips early in their careers. 1951’s “Rocket 88,” featuring a Mississippi born piano player named Ike Turner and credited as the link between R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, was produced by Phillips. Before he founded Sun Records in 1952, Phillips leased his recordings to labels like Chess in Chicago, which made stars out of the Wolf, Rufus Thomas, James Cotton, Little Milton and many others.

“When people come back to this music in a hundred years, they’ll see these were master painters,” Phillips told an interviewer about the blues musicians he recorded. “They can’t write a book about it. But they can make a song, and in three verses you’ll hear the greatest damn story you’ll ever hear in your life.”

suns-78logo_400x400All you have to do is listen to the music Phillips recorded, urged, forced out and exorcised from his artists to know that his musical heart was pure. He wouldn’t sign anyone just because they were white. They had to rage and swagger with the intensity of Howlin’ Wolf or rip it up like Billy “the Kid” Emerson. Listen to Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls Of Fire” or Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and you realize that skin color is not even a consideration.

Motivated by the music that moved him most, Phillips was the ultimate fan. He didn’t collect records, he made them. He didn’t complain about the state of popular music, he changed it. Music critics can debate the origins of other genres, from funk to rap to honky tonk to blues, but there’s no question that the big bang of rock ‘n’ roll exploded at Sun Records. Phillips was the engineer who drove the mystery train.

The story of the Memphis musical Mecca is one of blacks and whites working together, colorblinded by a love for music that took the boundaries for a walk and left them miles away. Sam Phillips, who grew up in Florence, Ala., picking cotton side by side with blacks, was the vortex of this integration of ideas and influences. He was the straw that stirred the pop music revolution that’s still going today; it’s hard to imagine Eminem without Elvis, 50 Cent without that blues gangsta Howlin’ Wolf, or Steve Earle without Johnny Cash.

Elvis hung around for almost a year before Phillips recorded him. When he finally did put the kid in front of a mike it wasn’t to put a white face on the blues, but to record “My Happiness,” a ballad. “That’s All Right,” the Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup cover that would become Presley’s first single, was worked up during a break.sam_phillips

Phillips possessed a producer’s most valuable gifts — an ear for the truth and the ability to light a fire under performers by the sheer force of his personality. And when his ears perked up while Elvis, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black were messing around with a combination of country and blues, that was all the encouragement they needed to make history. Phillips didn’t like dividing lines; he encouraged glorious collisions.

Think about all the songs that he was first to hear, but also think about what they might’ve sounded like if Phillips wasn’t there. In 1957, Johnny Cash brought him a slow, mournful song called “I Walk the Line” and Phillips kept urging him to quicken the tempo. Cash hated the new version and when he heard it on the radio for the first time, he pleaded with Phillips to stop sending it out. “Give it a chance, son,” Phillips said. The single became a smash hit and Cash’s signature tune.

Phillips eventually did make his million dollars and then some from the recordings he produced with his eyes on fire. But he made more money with other investments, including a fledgling motel chain called Holiday Inn.

It’s really hard to overstate the legacy that Sam Phillips leaves behind, both in blues and its offspring, rock ‘n’ roll. Of all the people who were ever moved by music, who ever let it get inside them and feel whole, if only for three minutes at a time, Phillips was the most successful. He didn’t play an instrument, he made the instruments play him. His talent was drawing genius out of other people, which he proved is a form of genius itself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Legendary Black Cat owner Paul Sessums (1941-1998)

Posted by mcorcoran on January 5, 2017

sessums2Paul Sessums loved the sound of loud electric guitars. When he’d stand on the Sixth Street sidewalk and rail about this and that, using a parking meter as his pulpit, everything was all right in his universe as long as the guitars were ringing through the doors of his Black Cat Lounge. He’d hire any band, practicing virtually any style of music, as long as they had a hot guitar player and could play for three hours without a break. Seemingly unconcerned about making money, Sessums gave the bands 100 percent of the door — which could be as high as $4,000 a night during the 1989-92 glory years — but in return he implemented a “my way or the highway” philosophy that pushed away some of the Cat’s signature acts, including Two Hoots and a Holler, Ian Moore, Soul Hat, Chaparral, Little Sister (now Sister7) and Joe Rockhead. Sessums saw his club as a launching pad, and he’d push the button when it was time to put the act in motion.

Above all else, the 57-year-old Sessums, who died early Monday when he lost control of his van near Bastrop, demanded loyalty and hard work, qualities he’d give in return. If you were on his side, he was a friend to the end, but if you were at cross purposes, as were the various downtown neighborhood groups seeking to gentrify or capitalize on his slice of Sixth Street, his vitriol flowed like the Buckhorn beer he swilled.

When promoter French Smith closed off part of the street for his various East Sixth Street Community Association-sanctioned festivals, for instance, Sessums undercut organizers’ beer sales by offering 24-ounce cans at $1.50 each. It didn’t matter that Sessums could barely realize a profit at such a price: He was messing with an event that he saw as an infringement, and seeing long lines in front of his door, while official vendors were unbusy, was all the gratification he needed.

When the Black Cat opened in ’85, it was your basic biker bar, but even as it evolved into a world-renowned live music venue, touted on VH1 and in magazines, the rebel spirit never waned. When the health department had a problem with the Black Cat selling hot dogs, Sessums gave them away. When police dragged daughter Sasha into jail for noise code violations, the Black Cat flew a banner welcoming fans to “The Dead Music Capital of the World” and warning them to be quiet. “Shhh!” the sign said sarcastically. “People are trying to sleep.” Sessums didn’t like people telling him what to do and he didn’t join clubs (even lucrative ones such as South by Southwest).

Roberta and Paul. Don't make 'em like this anymore.

Roberta and Paul. Don’t make ’em like this anymore.

It was such spunk, as well as a full-family effort from artist wife Roberta, son Paul Jr. (better known as “Martian”; he designed the club’s popular T-shirts) and daughter Sasha, that helped create the Cat’s distinctive personality. Even as bikers and druggies mingled with frat boys and sorority girls, the inherent danger of different types partying together was scented with an air of hominess.

When the Black Cat opened at its original location at 313 1/2 Sixth St., it was at a time when Sixth was even more homogenized than now, with even Steamboat featuring disco-funk cover bands. The Black Cat didn’t advertise and didn’t have a phone, but hip locals quickly found out about this funky cool outlaw club and came to see such acts as Donny Ray Ford and Evan Johns play for tips in a plastic jar that shimmied and moved above the crowd on a rope with pulleys. In late ’88, needing more space, Sessums moved the Cat to the 309 Sixth St. location where it stood until a 2006 fire demolished the building. (The Nook Amphitheater is currently in the space- and fighting the Westin Hotel, which had better be glad they weren’t going against Paul!)

When you consider how many kids first became exposed to the Austin live original music scene through the Black Cat’s all-ages policy and how many bands honed their repertoires in the little sweatbox — not to mention their financial survival — you have to realize that in his own iconoclastic way, Paul Sessums was the biggest supporter of live music in Austin during the past 13 years.

On Monday night, hours after its owner had been pronounced dead, the Black Cat Lounge was open for business as usual. There were signs galore outside the club, including one announcing that the Cat sold neither martinis nor cigars, but nothing marked the passing of Sixth Street’s beloved curmudgeon. But that was just the way he would’ve wanted it. Paul Sessums never could stand crybabies.

Paul Sessums, seated.

Paul Sessums, seated.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Frank Murray (1950- 2016): the Dublin-Austin Connection

Posted by mcorcoran on January 2, 2017

Frank Murray, in white shirt, behind the Continental Club, SXSW 2007.

Frank Murray, in white shirt, behind the Continental Club with the Mighty Stef and others. SXSW 2007.

Pogues fans on this side of the Pond are often unaware that the Celtic roots/punk band was from England, not Ireland. But when Dubliner Frank Murray became their manager and got them signed to Stiff Records in 1984, they were held in the embrace of Irish music royalty. Murray worked with traditional Irish acts such as the Dubliners and Ewan McColl’s daughter Kirsty, and teamed them with the Pogues to create two of the band’s most memorable numbers: “The Irish Rover” and “Fairytale of New York.”

Murray’s best friend since teen years was Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, and Frank began his remarkable music business career in the late ‘60s humping amps and driving vans for Lizzy predecessor Skid Row. When Thin Lizzy became Dublin’s first internationally-known rock band with Jailbreak (and smash hit “The Boys Are Back In Town”) in 1976, frank3Murray had a taste of the big time and wanted more. But he was not driven by the money and fame, though neither would be turned down. His fulfillment came from enabling his charges to reach the masses through their art. Frank Murray was the Great Connector.

“Frank loved good music,” one of his later clients, Stefan “the Mighty Stef” Murphy posted on Facebook after word spread Dec. 22 that Murray was dead of a heart attack at age 66.  “Being cool wasn’t enough. it had to be good.”

Cait O’Riordan, who left the Pogues in ’87 when she married Elvis Costello, posted on Twitter: “Please light a candle, say a little prayer for Frank Murray who left us today. RIP that wicked gleam in his eye, that kind heart.”

When not on the road with Lizzy in the ’70s, the level-headed Murray road-managed tours for Elton John and the Commodores. When ska/punk broke big, he handled the infamous 1979 2-Tone Tour and managed the very best band on it- the Specials. That all prepared him for his six years with the hard-drinking, hard-living Pogues, who would seem to have been the hardest band to handle, though Frank said UB40 was worse!

“Nobody I ever worked with was as charismatic, as knowledgeable or as truthful as Frank Murray,” wrote Murphy.  “God knows who I turn to now in moments of doubt.”

After he quit managing the Pogues in 1990, he took on the Frames, whose guitarist Glen Hansard soon got a role in The Commitments. Murray was a fixture on the Dublin film scene, co-founding the Maverick Film Festival, and helping former Frames bassist John Carney attain funds to make the 2007 film Once, which made Hansard a star.

Managing the Mighty Stef brought Frank to Austin in 2007, when he met Kay Gourley, a lifelong Austinite who showed him around town and eventually became his girlfriend. I had met Frank in 1988 when I was supposed to write a tour diary of the Pogues in the South (don’t bother Googling that story- I lasted only two nights). It was great to reconnect 20 years later and to get to

Frank, Kay and Frank's son Dara outside Ginny's

Frank, Kay and Frank’s son Dara outside Ginny’s

really know Frank Murray as a man deeply involved in the arts- film, painting, music, theater, dance, poetry. He was a facilitator of the first order. That was his great gift. The last time I had coffee with Frank- always at the Spiderhouse- he talked about ideas on how to better strengthen the musical bond between Ireland and Texas. I could name a Texas song, like “Streets of Laredo” and “The Old Chisholm Trail” and Frank could sing the Scotch-Irish song those tunes reworded.

Also, he was so proud of his children Shannon, Emmet, Darragh, Aran and Kay’s 16-year-old son Seamus, who Frank called his fifth.

“Frank was someone that I was friends with the second I met him,” said Joe Ely, speaking for multitudes. “He loved the Austin scene because it reminded him of Dublin, with all the little clubs and out-of-the-way places.”

Ely met Murray in the mid-‘80s while on tour in London. “He showed up with Shane MacGowan, who stayed backstage when we were onstage,” Ely recalled. “When the show was over, we found out he drank all the booze on the rider.”

After the Clash broke up, Murray helped get Ely’s good friend Joe Strummer back in the game with his new band the Mescaleros.

“It really does feel like the end of something,” Spider Stacy of the Pogues told Billboard. “He was brilliant. I loved him dearly.” Stacy and Murray reunited this past year when the New Orleans-based Stacy played the Continental Club with the Lost Bayou Ramblers.

“I had just seen Frank in Austin in July,” Ely said. “He was in great spirits and looked great. It was a real shock (Murray’s passing). I just sat down and cried.”

Posted Murphy: “Hope there is good music wherever you are Frank. I’ll keep singing my song and trying to make you proud.”

Posted in Music | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The House That Freddie King Built

Posted by mcorcoran on December 28, 2016

Photo by Scott Newton

Photo by Scott Newton

Sorry, the chapter on Freddie King in the upcoming book All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music was posted only one day, the 40th anniversary of Freddie’s death. The book, which features 41 other chapters on Texas music pioneers, will be in stores and online in late April via the University of North Texas Press.

Posted in Texas Music History | 2 Comments »

Souls On Fire: Gram and Emmy

Posted by mcorcoran on December 9, 2016

rs-168991-85217466His father committed suicide when he was 12. His mother drank herself to death on the day he graduated from high school. A trust fund junkie, Gram Parsons was doomed. He drank too much, stuck needles in his arms and seemed to be just passing through this life. His death at age 26 was shockingly young, but it did not seem too much before his time to those who knew a man who lived – and sang – as if he were prepared to die.

But before he succumbed to a morphine overdose in a motel in the California desert, the creatively restless Parsons packed in a lot of amazing music and spawned the country-rock genre at a time when the Eagles were just a football team out of Philadelphia and Linda Ronstadt was singing Peter, Paul and Mary songs.

You can argue over who created reggae or who was the first punk band or whether Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole pioneered the concept album, but there’s no question that Parsons was the first to play Nashville country music with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. He wore the sequined Nudie suits favored by the classic country singers, but Parsons had his decorated with marijuana leaves, pills and naked women where the glittery cacti, wagon wheels and lariats usually went. He was the original cosmic cowboy, recording songs by Merle Haggard and George Jones with the International Submarine Band way back in 1966.emmylou1

Parsons, whose short time with the Byrds produced the classic “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” in 1968 and who formed the Flying Burrito Brothers the same year, has sold many more albums in death than in life. The latest reissue (2006), is a three-disc box set of “The Complete Reprise Sessions” ($34.98), which combines Parsons’ two solo albums, 1972’s “G.P.” and his masterpiece, 1973’s “Grievous Angel,” with a disc of alternate takes.

Despite all the tumult in his personal life, Parsons managed to find enough pockets of clarity to make a pair of albums that tap into the full range of emotions, from the mournful “In My Hour of Darkness” and “A Song for You” to the flat-out exuberant “Cash on the Barrelhead” and “Big Mouth Blues.”

As chronicled in the 2004 Parsons documentary “Fallen Angel,” the troubled troubadour found an angel to pull him through the recordings. The new old set could be called “The Emmylou Harris Sessions.” After Parsons was kicked out of the Flying Burrito Brothers because he chose hanging out with Keith Richards over touring with the Burritos, he got a solo deal with Reprise and set out to look for “a chick singer” to soften his nasally lead vocals. He found her in a club in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Georgetown – a shy, pretty songbird who would be the Tammy to his George.emmygram

If Harris, who had a live-in boyfriend, and the married Parsons ever had a fling, Harris is not saying, and she’s the only one who knows for sure. But they certainly made love with their harmonies, with the cashmere-smooth Harris caressing Parsons’ stark leads. Their “Love Hurts” is not as seamless and luxurious as the original version, but the Everly Brothers didn’t sound like they were looking into each other’s eyes when they sang it.

If only love could be so natural, so forgiving, so consistently magical. There was just so much musical chemistry between these two, who were sitting together on a motorcycle on the original cover of “Grievous Angel,” until Parsons’ jealous wife nixed it after his death.

But Harris remains tireless as the ambassador for Parsons’ legacy. This model of integrity and grace has not only kept alive such Parsons compositions as “Luxury Liner,” “Ooh Las Vegas” and “Still Feeling Blue,” but she cherishes that bit of soul Parsons left with her. Parsons and Harris were, and still are, an incredible love story.

“I never knew what kind of music was inside me,” Harris once told a reporter, “until I met him.”

Such musicians as Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy from Uncle Tupelo and Ryan Adams could say the same thing, although they met him only through his records. Parsons is also the spiritual sponsor to Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Rodney Crowell and many more singer-songwriters who believe that you separate laundry, not country, folk and rock. Even the Rolling Stones owe a debt to Parsons, who showed them the way to “Dead Flowers” and “Country Honk” and “Sweet Virginia.” And if not for his versions of Parsons’ “Hot Burrito No. 1” and “How Much I Lied,” Elvis Costello’s 1981 country foray “Almost Blue” would’ve been a bust.

Elvis Presley was Parsons’ main musical idol, so it was a thrill for him to make his last two albums with the King’s final backing band – including guitarist James Burton, piano player Glen D. Hardin, bassist Emory Gordy and drummer Ronnie Tutt. Careerwise, Parsons was on an upswing when he and a few friends went on a vacation near Joshua Tree National Park in California, after completing “Grievous Angel.” But drugs and alcohol got the best of him at the Joshua Tree Inn on Sept. 19, 1973.gramemmy2

His body was supposed to be flown to New Orleans, where his stepfather Bob Parsons lived. But Gram Parsons’ friend Phil Kaufman (a former cellmate of Charles Manson) persuaded airport handlers to give him the coffin for transport on a private flight. Kaufman instead drove the body back to Joshua Tree, poured five gallons of gas on it and lit a match, later saying that it had been Parsons’ wish to be cremated in the desert.

Kaufman, who was arrested for stealing the casket (but not the body), didn’t know what he was doing and the remains ended up just being badly charred. The morbid act may titillate casual observers, but it cheapens the legend for fans. When you listen to the records Parsons and Harris made together, you don’t think of a burning body, but souls on fire. The music is so alive.

Posted in Music | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Reviews for “Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams”

Posted by mcorcoran on December 4, 2016

cloafing

New York Review of Books calls Manzarene Dreams “the authoritative new edition of Phillips’s music.”

Creative Loafing (Atlanta): This was the cover story by Chad Radford.“When Phillips died, a secret history of pre-war gospel blues was born; a mystery shrouded in speculation and mistaken identity. But through the legwork and dedication of semi-retired Texas music journalist Michael Corcoran and Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital archival record label, nearly 90 years after his final recordings were made, Phillips’ story can be told.

CNN’s religion editor Daniel Burke on “Gospel Music’s Greatest Disappearing Act.”   “He was a Main Street mystic, one of those ageless figures who haunt small-town America like real-life Boo Radleys…  In the few photos of Phillips, he looks stern and a little sad, as if disappointed by our downward drift into sin. The people of Simsboro thought he would never die.”

TEXAS MONTHLY REVIEW

Texas Monthly review by Michael Hall

 

Roots World’s Bruce Miller: “A stunning set that collects lore, scraps, and stories to paint the most complete picture we’re likely to get of the man responsible for music as striking as it is welcoming.”

Spectrum Culture magazine : “Through firsthand research and interviews, Corcoran presents for the first time a fully realized picture of one of pre-war music’s more mysterious figures. Featuring interviews with those who knew Phillips, along copies of an evidentiary paper trail that helped disprove a number of the previously held inaccuracies surrounding his life and work and a wealth of new information, Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams stands as the definitive statement on the man and his music.”

Radio New Zealand interview with Trevor Pagan. “Washington Phillips: Founding Father of American Gospel Music.”

D Magazine gets it. Dallas has an amazing history of recordings. Though I don’t think Blind Lemon Jefferson ever recorded in Dallas.

The Wire magazine:

wire-washington-phillips

 

Pitchfork (8.5 rating): “Best New Reissue.” No other gospel musician has come as close to convincing me that Jesus’ love might not stress me out.

Amanda Petrusich in the New Yorker led the charge.

Wash Phillips circa 1950.

Wash Phillips circa 1950.

Here’s a review from Dusted magazine.

Black Grooves says: “This deep dive into Phillips’ gospel blues has unearthed gems that are sure to make more converts of artists and fans alike.”

Fretboard Journal has a podcast interview with the author and says of “Manzarene” book/CD “We can’t recommend it enough.”

Here’s a second review from The Wire:

wire2

page1image488

Posted in Gospel, Music, Texas Music History | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The time Dale Watson went crazy

Posted by mcorcoran on November 24, 2016

dale2

 

First published in 2005

Local honky-tonk hero Dale Watson is the portrait of tranquility as he sits on a porch and tells the camera that he went crazy in 2002. He talks about hearing voices until finally committing himself to the Austin State Hospital. He describes torturous dealings with what he thinks was Satan, about losing the ability to distinguish between what was really happening and what was just in his mind. Hollywood director Zalman King (“9 1/2 Weeks,” “Red Shoe Diaries”) had come to Austin in 2003 to find an actor to play the lead in a Faustian flick about a country singer battling demons and ended up finding the real thing. Instead of making the intended “Austin Angel,” a Burnt Orange production that is on the back burner until next year, King made “Crazy Again,” an unflinching documentary about Watson that will premiere at South By Southwest in March.

I had similarly come looking for something else when I contacted Watson, a beloved presence on the local club scene the past 12 years. My focus would be his last shows in town, including Sunday’s traditional Christmas night fete, before he quits the music business temporarily to move to Baltimore to be closer to his daughters. Instead, I found a chilling tale about a man who says he went completely insane from grief and nursed himself back to mental health with the help of the Good Book, counseling and a cast of angels. This was a Dale Watson I didn’t know.

Everyone knew Watson had a hard time after his girlfriend Terri Herbert, “the love of my life,” got in a car, angry after a tiff with Watson, and died in a car accident in September 2000. Word was that a guilt-ridden Watson tried to take his own life three months later, holed up in the Town Lake Holiday Inn with two bottles of whiskey and a fist full of pills. But after his road manager, Donnie Knutson, found Watson and the singer spent a week at St. David’s Pavilion, Watson seemed to get back on course, dealing with his sorrow by recording the album “Every Song I Write Is For You” as an homage to Herbert.

But that’s actually when things really started to get weird, he says. In the documentary, which tempers the episodes recalling insanity with musical moments that show Watson in complete control, the singer chronicles a downward spiral of delusion that culminated in what he says was a psychotic episode in Rome.

Desperately missing Herbert, Watson went to psychics to contact her and bought a Ouija board. One night while he was talking to her, she answered, he says. “It was the most peaceful, blissful time of my life,” Watson tells me from the basement office of the Continental Club about an hour before the start of his regular Monday night gig. “I had created a world in my mind where we were still together, and it was magical.”

The voice of Jesus was also soon keeping him company in the fall of 2002. One night a fan in Glasgow, Scotland, ran into Watson’s Lone Stars and said she’d just seen Watson preaching in a train station, but the bandmates just laughed and said it must be someone else. Then, a few minutes later they watched Watson duck down the street clutching a Bible.

When the rest of the band went back to Texas after the European jaunt, Watson says the Jesus voice told him to go to the Vatican, to deliver parables Jesus had dictated to Watson to the pope. But after three days of futility, waiting to be whisked inside as a messenger of the Lord, Watson says he questioned the mission. “The Jesus voice told me that I wasn’t going crazy, I was just losing my faith,” Watson says.

At the end of the third day, however, the calming voice of Jesus suddenly revealed to Watson with a demonic laugh that it had actually been the devil all along. Satan got into Watson’s head and wouldn’t let up on the onslaught of obscenities and cruel epithets. “I went straight to the Rome airport,” Watson says, “and tried to get on the next plane to the States, but there were none left that night.” Back at the hotel, Watson writhed in mental anguish all night, as the devil taunted him.

When he finally got back to Austin, Watson admitted himself to the Austin State Hospital, where he was given Risperdal and Ambien, which calmed him and allowed him to sleep for the first time in five days. When he awoke, Satan was still in his ear, though over the next few days the voices faded and by the fourth day in the hospital, Watson told doctors Satan was no longer in him.

During a psychological evaluation for multiphasic personality invention on Oct. 8, 2002, the doctor recommended “long-term individual therapy to address past issues with which he had not dealt.” Watson had not fully come to terms with Herbert’s death. “I went crazy from grief,” he says.

As with many painful, as well as joyful, times of his life, Watson memorialized 2002 with a song. “Well they say I went crazy, by crazy I mean mentally insane/ Had a world where I still had you, and I wish I was crazy again,” he sings on “I Wish I Was Crazy Again,” a suitable choice to inspire the title of the documentary. The song will be on Watson’s next album, tentatively titled “Heeah!!” It hits stores in March on the Palo Duro label.

Watson says he had originally intended the album to be his swan song in the music biz. After 25 years of hard-core roadhousing, the 43-year-old Watson was ready to chuck the dream for what he calls “priority number one.” He wanted to see his daughters, ages 13 and 7, grow up, and they lived with their mom in Baltimore.

“I hadn’t planned to make an announcement,” Watson says, “I was just gonna do it.” But after he told his band of his plans, and when one of Watson’s closest friends was listed as a reference on a job application for a UPS driver in Baltimore, the word got out in a hurry.

Couldn’t Watson just start up a new band in Baltimore and come to Austin every couple months on tour? Why did he have to give up music to be with his kids?

“There’s only one way that I know how to be a musician,” he says, “and that’s being in it all the way. Even when I’m not on the road, I’m playing around town five nights a week.” Watson, who’s made a career out of bashing Nashville, writing and performing the classic style of country that used to get played on the radio, doesn’t have an ease-up button.

But he does have tons of dyed-in-the-wool supporters, who couldn’t believe this true soul of country music would pack up his coin-covered guitar for good.

“We held an intervention for Dale,” says publicist Pam Blanton. “A career intervention.” Director King flew in from Los Angeles; noted music publisher Chris Kozler arrived from New York. In all it was six friends telling Watson that he was one of the last pure honky-tonk singers, and that it would be a true shame if he stopped playing music.

The intense meeting, in the courtyard of the Hotel San Jose, went on for nearly three hours, each person taking the time to tell Dale what his music meant to them, and to all his other fans. “The thing that really got me was when George O’Dwyer (who owns the 501 Post production studio in town) said that I had a rare gift that was not mine to throw away,” says Watson. “They kept saying that I was put on this Earth to make music, and I got to thinking that if these friends — I call them my angels — believe in me that much then maybe I should think about (the move) a little more.”

Watson settled on a compromise: six months in Baltimore, then a re-assessment. He’d fulfill his commitments, including playing a wedding in Austin in February and doing SXSW in March, but his new full-time job would be as a UPS driver. Meanwhile, his angels are in talks with Continental Airlines about trading Watson’s services in fundraising events for the airline-supported mental illness awareness campaign in exchange for free air travel.

“There’s got to be a way for Dale to be a great daddy and a great musician,” says Blanton.

Watson says he misses Austin already, even though he still has three shows left at the Continental Club this week, including Sunday’s show. “Austin takes a lot of its musicians for granted,” Watson says, “but a lot of musicians take Austin for granted. This is a special city. There’s no place like it in the world.”

Watson says his spirit has been buoyed by all the people who’ve been coming out to his shows recently, who come up to him afterward and tell him he’s the real deal, that his music has touched them. Such an outpouring of affection doesn’t make his decision harder, he says. It makes it easier, knowing that he can always come back to an accepting audience.

“Carlyne Majer (ex-manager) used to say ‘Fair? The Fair’s in Dallas,’ ” Watson says. “The music business isn’t fair. There are so many obstacles that you really do have to make music your life if you’re going to succeed. I want to see what else there is in life for a while. Maybe I’ll be miserable not playing music. Maybe I’ll find true peace in Baltimore. I’m OK either way it turns out.”

Don’t worry, folks. Dale Watson will be back. He’ll reunite with the Lone Stars and play the best music of his life. His Austin angels were right: He was put here to play music from the heart. I know how this flick ends.

Besides, Dale looks lousy in brown.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »