PORTLAND, Ore. — After “Giant recording artists” Big Car broke up in early 1992, bassist Jeff Groves sold everything he owned, including his home recording studio, and embarked on a gypsy adventure with his new bride, Laura. They just took off and drove all over the continent, from Mexico to Nova Scotia, Maine to San Diego, sleeping in the bed of their Toyota pickup and taking their time. When they rolled into Portland after a year on the road, however, the journey ended.
Jeff and Laura weren’t looking for anything in particular when they left Austin, but they ended up finding the hidden treasure of Portland. Looking and feeling a lot like the best part of Manhattan dropped down into a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, Portland shirks its repute as some Weegun-wearing yuppie Disneyland by being as real as Mary’s Club, whichis a cross between “Cheers,” where everyone knows your name, and an old-fashioned burlesque joint. All that’s missing at Mary’s is the comedy, but it’s easy to supply your own, especially when the “dancers” have conversations that could just as easily come in a laundromat: “What time do you have to pick up the kids?” “We’ve been here a year and a half, and it seems like every week I find another cool place,” Jeff Groves said over a beer in the bar of Hung Far Low, one of his latest discoveries. The upstairs Chinese restaurant, with its pristine ’50s furniture, dark-red lighting and jolly bartender, epitomizes the homey-eerie paradox of the town strapped by bridges and shaded by so many dark corners.
When Groves started talking about his band, the Raging Woodies (same name, different lineup than his old San Antonio combo) and their well-received show at Key Largo on Thursday, I was shaken from sweet affinity and reminded of why I had come to Portland. Last week, Thursday through Saturday, the town was host of the North by Northwest Music and Media Conference, and if the name sounds familiar to more than Hitchcock fans, it’s because the convention was organized by the folks who make Austinites willing hostages (mostly) of South by Southwest every March.
Tons of bands, lotsa clubs, tedious panels, parties every evening, schmooze or lose — you know the routine — but the Portland affair felt strange, like it was a pilot episode for a convention organizers are hoping will be picked up. Wristband sales picked up as the weekend neared, to save the conference financially, but attendance at the seminar measured less than 20 percent of the nearly 5,000 people who attended SXSW last March. Unlike the Austin conference, which puts our burg in a tizzy for about a week, NXNW had seemingly little affect on Portland as a whole. That’s partly because of the numbers, but it also could be that this is just too much town to be swept away by panels and showcases.
Like an episode of “Northern Exposure” directed by David Lynch, Portland is a strangely magnetic metropolis where the underlying tangles with the overwhelming, a city of layers begging to be peeled back. Andit’s a great town to walk in.
All within ten blocks of the Benson Hotel, I found 1) Dr. Bill’s Learning Center, a bizarre adult bookstore with cowboy boots and hats in the front window and shelves that display classic books next to skin mags and porno tapes; 2) The Rialto, a classic old man’s bar with an off-track betting parlor; 3) Powell’s World of Books, easily the best bookstore I’ve ever been in; it makes San Francisco’s City Lights look like an airport bookshop; 4) several great seafood restaurants, including the spectacular Jake’s; 5) Chinatown; 6) countless ethnic eateries, serving up Thai, Greek, Chinese, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Japanese and old Italian fare; and 7) more great coffee places than panhandlers. If I was a free man, I would live here.
I also walked to many of the clubs, which, like those of Austin, are mostly close to the downtown hotels. But the acts were generally so lame compared to the SXSW roster that the clubs were often the star attraction.
The Obvious, from Salt Lake City, were the perfect example, trotting out their tired affectation of Alice in Chains for a vaguely interested crowd that had been browbeaten into standing. Fortunately, the show was in the Paris Theatre, a brilliantly converted porno palace, so even as the band was spooning out its canned angst, there was plenty to keep your mind occupied in the venue haunted with the ghosts of a million gropes.
Other cases of bad band-good club were Portland’s pedestrian Gravelpit at the graffiti-covered punk mecca Satyricon; Billy Jack, from nearby Eugene, at the cavernous Roseland; and Truly at LaLuna. I loved Truly’s latest album on Capitol, but in concert the band’s extreme loudness couldn’t make up for a mysteriously missing ingredient in their sound. Something was wrong, but the band drove me out into the unseasonably cold night before I could figure out what it was.
The biting drizzle was Portland trying to show a downside to the countless out-of-town attendees who kept chanting, “I could live here/ I could definitely live here” like a mantra. But it was the chill of adventure that made Portland so alluring on the last weekend of September. The town may might seem bleak to some or as strangely sinister as a municipality from the mind of Stephen King, but it provided splendid diversions in the midst of yet another derby for the dull and derivative.
Above all, Portland tells us that there’s more to life than music.
A week after my ranking of the “25 Most Powerful People on the Austin Music Scene” made higherups at the Austin American-Statesman uncomfortable, I unleashed this column that got me called in on the carpet again. From Feb. 24, 2000 XL.
A few months ago, several music critics held an intervention of sorts on me. We were all sitting at a table at the Bitter End and I was updating everyone on the status of the Farrah Fawcett-Greg Lott romance, when suddenly they all turned on me. “Man, what happened to you?” said one guy. “Do you actually like writing a gossip column?” asked another. “Is that any way for a grown man to make a living?” These friends of mine were concerned that I’d gone over the edge, pushed to insanity by having to review one too many Lyle Lovett concerts. They couldn’t understand why anyone with a job as a music critic would suddenly decide to shift focus to a column about parties, local celebrities and inside media dirt.
But I think sharing secrets is a much more personal and worthwhile pursuit than listening to a record four times in a row and then writing if it’s any good. Music critics should have term limits and so, even though I still keep my hand in on the music side, I decided to try something different.
In a 1994 bio of Walter Winchell, who popularized the three-dot format to connect the tidbits, Neal Gabler wrote that “(Winchell) understood that gossip, far beyond its basic attraction as journalistic voyeurism, was a weapon of empowerment for the reader.” When I started my “Austin Inside/Out” column a little more than two years ago, I felt like a National Guardsman called into active duty.
The response was instant and often intense.
“Invading the lives of the famous humanizes them,” Gabler continued, “and in humanizing them demonstrates that they are no better than we are and in many cases worse.”
A theme of such lauded recent films as “Happiness,” “The Ice Storm” and “American Beauty,” is that if you go deeper than the facade of the good life you’ll find dysfunction. “Blue Velvet,” the pioneer of Hollywood’s new social pornography, laid it out with an opening that showed a beautifully green lawn, but then the camera zoomed beneath the lushness to show a couple of insects grappling. A good gossip column operates with a similar eye for the grimy truth.
But I don’t see the role as a three-dot columnist as digging for dirt as much as it is to be the great equalizer, building up those who deserve it and knocking down those who have too much. I’m the drawback to being rich and famous. In this game of pop culture, celebs are the quarterback and I’m the linebacker. If I get a good, unblocked hit/item on them, I can’t feel guilty if they lay there in pain. The fans/readers demand that I don’t hold back, though sometimes I do.
Writing gossip is a risky business and I’m constantly asking myself if running a certain item is going to be worth the screaming phone message or the call on the carpet. I try not to print anything that could have a profound effect on someone’s life or livelihood, so all you married philanderers are safe. But sometimes I just have to forge ahead and go with my instincts, prepared to deal with the consequences.
That this can be an emotionally hazardous occupation has been recently exemplified by the flap caused when Austin Internet movie newshound Harry Knowles posted what he believed to be the Oscar nominations the day before they were officially announced. In a remorseful, apologetic follow-up, Harry related that his list, which he touted as “deep from the halls of the Academy” a day earlier, had actually come from the computer of an ABC.com researcher who was digging up bios on probable nominees. Though Knowles’ list of eight names per category contained all the actor and actress nominees, it didn’t mention “The Cider House Rules,” up for the best picture nod, so Knowles was left with bits of omelet in his beard. Oscar’s head man Ric Robertson told Variety that the Academy was considering charges against Harry’s aint-it-cool-news.com pending an investigation to discover “how Knowles knew to hack into that particular database.” Knowles insists that he received the list from a first-time source and no hacking was involved.
I’ve also been burned by trusting a source who, it turned out, overstated their access to the truth. In the firestorm that followed, I just kept running all the details through my mind, like a football team watching film after a painful defeat, and in the end I became a better columnist because of that setback. Hair grows back thicker after a head is shaved.
I’m committed to the gossip biz, no matter how sissy such a job may seem on the surface and I hope to continue writing “Austin Inside/Out” until it’s no longer fun and challenging. Or until the day my son comes home from school all bruised and tattered and says, “Dad, the kids at school said you’re a gossip columnist.” If that happens, I’m back to asking the 17-year-old kid sitting next to me what song Bjork just played.
Published Feb. 17, 2000 in XL
drawings by Guy Juke.
Power. Clout. Influence. Juice. Who’s got it in the Austin music business?
Here they are: the scene’s heaviest hitters. These movers and shakers are the ones who get their phone calls returned in an instant and who can get an audience with national bigwigs.
1. BILL HAM
With his Lone Wolf management company out on Bee Cave Road, Ham kept ZZ Top prosperous years beyond their prime by embracing MTV during its early “synth years” and mining the Texas mythology. He’s also given hope to upstart rockers Pushmonkey, getting them gigs at Woodstock ’99 among other plums. His Hamstein Publishing arm, meanwhile, was recently ranked No. 2 in the country music field by Billboard, with five No. 1 singles in 1999. In the pop market, Hamstein co-owns such international smashes as “Believe” by Cher and “Bailamos” by Enrique Iglesias. Ham’s greatest accomplishment, however, is perhaps his most bittersweet: Just as country music was about to explode, he put a black cowboy hat on a kid singing James Taylor songs in a pizza parlor, but then was taken to court years later by that protege, Clint Black, who charged Ham with taking astronomical management fees. The suit was settled out of court, but Ham still owns Black’s publishing on his first three albums.
2. STEVE HICKS
After founding the Capstar radio giant in 1996, Hicks helped introduce the “virtual radio” concept, delivering major league homogeny to the minor markets. Radio Ink magazine’s “Executive of the Year” in 1998, Hicks quickly started acquiring stations, including the SFX group for just over a billion dollars. Locally, he paid $90 million for KASE and KVET and created a format sensation (since subsided) with the ’70s funk station KFMK (105.9). The biggest news came in October when Hicks’ stations (now under the AMFM umbrella held by brother Tom Hicks) were part of a $23.5 billion deal with Clear Channel of San Antonio, which created the largest radio group in the world. Real power is when you get Elton John, Jimmy Buffett and the Beach Boys to play for your friends, as Hicks will do later this month when he celebrates his 50th birthday in the Caribbean.
3. WILLIE NELSON
Willie calls his band Family, but that description extends throughout the local music scene, especially in the Pedernales and Arlyn studios owned by his nephew Freddy Fletcher and the venues owned by his longtime business associate Tim O’Connor. An American folk hero and Austin’s good-vibe ambassador to the world, Willie’s also been one of the scene’s major employers through the years. And Willie knows how to give back, doing countless benefits and helping out individuals in need.
4. ROLAND SWENSON
(with Louis Black, Nick Barbaro and Brent Grulke)
Willie may have given the Austin music scene a national profile in the early ’70s, but as the director of everybody’s favorite music conference, South By Southwest, Swenson keeps us vital in biz consciousness year after year. SXSW shows the crowd (800 bands, 7,000 badge-wearers, etc.) the best side of Austin and generates incredible press. What’s more, Austin’s often-strapped nightclubs get a windfall that will usually get them through the lean months. As editor and publisher of the Austin Chronicle, Black and Barbaro, respectively, could get their own entry on the list. But in terms of national influence, SXSW is the most important thing they’ve done for the local music community.
5. TIM O’CONNOR
O’Connor’s Direct Events business (with partner Tim Neece), which controls such venues as the Backyard, Austin Music Hall and La Zona Rosa, has prospered because of the flexibility in booking acts according to ticket demand. If a La Zona Rosa show sells out quickly, he can move it to the twice-as-big AMH. If a Music Hall concert is tanking, he can move it over to the 1,400-capacity La Zona. His next big project is expanding the capacity of the Backyard from 3,000 to 7,500, which will give Austin a much-needed mid-size venue. Tim’s a tough one. When all the other club owners in town were delighted with packed houses and happy to give SXSW the door proceeds, O’Connor demanded a cut — and he got it.
6. JODY DENBERG
The road to Susan Tedeschi’s Grammy nomination in the prestigious Best New Artist category began at KGSR, when program director Denberg and music director Susan Castle heard something they liked and started playing the record to their loyal listeners. The same thing is happening with Shelby Lynne, who’s starting to get a big push from her record label after being encouraged by early Austin sales due to KGSR airplay. Even more important, KGSR’s playlist is closely watched by other stations across the country, who’ve added such Jody-approved acts as R.L. Burnside, Buena Vista Social Club and Patty Griffin. Kelly Willis has sold 16,000 copies of her recent album in Austin, and a lot of that is because of KGSR’s support. What’s more, Denberg compiles the hugely successful “Broadcasts” CDs that benefit the SIMS Foundation to the tune of about $60,000 a year.
7. RAY BENSON
Most Austinites know him as the affable leader of Asleep at the Wheel, a group up for six Grammys Feb. 23. But Benson is also an astute studio owner, a co-founder of the R&B Foundation and a polished producer, whose most recent discovery, 11-year-old Billy Gilman, was recently signed to Sony Nashville. He not only sings on that McDonald’s commercial pushing breakfast burritos, but he produced the spot and snagged the account. Benson’s an old Austin icon who knows his way around the new Austin.
8. CARLYNE MAJER
As executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Majer has signed up more than 700 members and made Texas a real force in the Grammy voting body. They’ve even started a Tejano category because of the influence of NARAS Texas. Even more noteworthy, however, is the way this former Austin Music Commission chair is often consulted by politicians on issues pertinent to the local music scene. As a former club owner, band manager and song publisher, Carlyne has done it all, so her opinion weighs a lot.
9. JOHN KUNZ
His Waterloo Records store is nationally respected and locally loved for its selection and staff of music lovers. Not only has Waterloo been named Record Retailer of the Year by trade groups (it’s up against Amazon.com this year), but it’s the best place to find releases by obscure Austin artists. And this is one place where acts get a stage for in-store appearances.
10. TERRY LICKONA
The producer of “Austin City Limits,” Lickona decides which local acts get national exposure (Monte Montgomery, Mary Cutrufello) and which ones don’t (Alejandro Escovedo).
11. PETER BAY/JANE SIBLEY
Sibley kept the Austin Symphony going through the lean years, and just as it seemed to outgrow her guidance, along came conductor Bay, who instantly won the respect of his musicians and audiences. Bay has gone well beyond the core job description of leading the orchestra and doing a few pops concerts every year. By working with Austin songwriters like Darden Smith, Bay has expanded the boundaries of what a symphony can be, and through his charisma as a conductor, he leads the charge to turn Palmer Auditorium into a world-class concert hall.
12. DANNY LEVIN AND WALLY WILLIAMS
As owners of the Tequila Mockingbird studio, these guys have turned “keep your day job” from being an insult to musicians to one of the main ways they can survive strictly by playing music. Such local artists as Jon Blondell, Charlie Sexton, Lisa Tingle and David Halley have helped pay the bills by doing commercials for such T.M. clients as Southwest Airlines, Budweiser and Ex-Lax (Halley made $15,000 for singing “City of New Orleans,” also known as “Good Morning America,” on an Ex-Lax commercial). The top ad agencies in the world know about Tequila Mockingbird, which has turned out to be a great thing for local working musicians.
13. LOWELL FOWLER
He’s come a long way since he did psychedelic light shows at such legendary Austin clubs as the Vulcan Gas Co., Mother Earth and the Bucket. Today, Fowler’s the founder/chairman of High End Systems, one of the world’s largest concert lighting companies, with branch offices in London, L.A., Singapore and, in two weeks, New York City. Most of High End’s 350 employees work out of the headquarters on Braker Lane, where the state-of-the-art Wholehog lighting console is produced. Besides concerts, from Lilith Fair to Metallica, High End’s lights have also been used in the “Austin Powers” movies and in the most recent Super Bowl.
14. DAVIS McLARTY
Before this former Joe Ely drummer retired from playing to start a booking agency, Austin artists might’ve had to go through as many as four different regional agents to book a national tour. But McLarty, who knows through his playing experience how unforgiving a badly conceived tour can be, puts his stable of acts such as Kelly Willis, Reckless Kelly, Bad Livers and Ana Egge in clubs coast to coast, all from the garage office of his South Austin home. Business has gotten so good that McLarty recently took on Wayne Nagel to handle such newer clients as Soulhat and Mojo Nixon.
15. CHARLES ATTAL
The Stubb’s co-owner is also the manager of up-and-comers the Damnations. But the biggest thing is yet to come, when he partners with J-Net Ward and Mark Pratz on the new version of Liberty Lunch that will give Attal control of venues that can handle any crowd from 50 to 2,000.
16. CLIFFORD ANTONE
He may seem more like a figurehead or greeter at Austin’s most famous nightclub, especially with his impending sentencing for a marijuana trafficking conviction hanging over his head, but make no mistake about it, Antone’s is Clifford’s club.
17. CINDI LAZZARI/JOE PRIESNITZ
She’s the lawyer who helped get big settlements for Austin acts Gomez and Olive when European bands started using their names. She also sued for Dale Watson to get royalties owed by High Tone, and she’s the key figure on the side of acts in the ongoing Watermelon bankruptcy saga. He’s the manager of Eric Johnson, Kelly Willis, Chris Duarte and Charlie Robison whose clear-headed decision-making and personal attention inspires loyalty from his clients. Together, they’re married and the parents of three children.
18. CASEY MONAHAN
A matchmaker supreme, Monahan, of Gov. Bush’s Texas Music Office, is a one-man chamber of commerce for the music industry, helping to put the people together who make the deals. He also compiles the Bible of the biz, the Texas Music Industry Directory, perhaps the single most valuable resource for Texans who make their living in the music trade.
19. SUSAN WALKER
She didn’t write “Mr. Bojangles,” but her tenacity and commitment in guiding the career of husband Jerry Jeff has been even more important in building the Tried & True Music mini-empire. Every talented flake needs a Susan Walker in their life, but very few are lucky enough to get one.
20. BOB WOODY
Besides owning several Sixth Street clubs (the Ritz, Soho Lounge, Shakespeare’s, Blind Pig, the Ale House) and the Old Pecan Street Cafe, Woody is known as the guy who gets things done downtown through his leadership in the East Sixth Street Community Association and the Downtown Commission. He’s the unofficial “mayor of Sixth Street.”
21. BILL MARTIN
They call him “the Mailman” in reference to his former day job, but as president of the Texas Gospel Announcers Guild, Martin dedicates himself full-time to the effort to expand the reach of gospel music these days. He not only does a show on KIXL (970 AM), but has a hand in just about every major gospel event in the state, from promoting Kirk Franklin concerts to organizing the annual TGAG convention. The TGAG has also helped develop interest in secular sounds through its gospel workshops and a project coming soon, a play written by great gospel songwriter Thomas Dorsey called “Precious Lord.” There are 159 stations in Texas playing black gospel music, and “the Mailman” is known by the program directors at all of them.
22. PAUL LEARY
The guitarist for the Butthole Surfers has turned a gift for hard work and detail into traits that make him one of the most successful producers from Austin, with platinum albums by Sublime and Meat Puppets on his resume. He’s just wrapped up Reverend Horton Heat’s next LP and is working on Won Santo Condo before he gets back to his first love, the Butthole Surfers’ next album.
23. MARK PROCT
Two years ago he would’ve been in the top five, but after he was dropped by Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II and watched Storyville break up, Proct’s Mark I Management company had to start all over. His rebound has been remarkable, however, as he landed the most promising band in town in Vallejo and got them a nice deal with Sony offshoot Crescent Moon.
24. STEVE WERTHEIMER
If Wertheimer is a fan of your music, he’ll book you into his Continental Club and stick with you even if the crowds are slow coming. Such acts as Toni Price, Junior Brown, 8 1/2 Souvenirs (whose first record was a hot-seller for Continental Records) would not have reached their current level of success if not for Wertheimer’s loyalty. And with a second Continental Club opening soon in Houston, Steve will give Austin acts a new home on the road.
25. GARY POWELL
As the leading storybook and song album producer for Disney, (including “A Bug’s Life,” for which he’s up for a Grammy), Powell is the baby-sitter you only have to pay once. The longtime producer for Joe Scruggs helped take children’s music beyond the nursery rhymes. His studio in Oak Hill employs several local musicians and has had the likes of Goldie Hawn trudging out 290.
JUST MISSED THE LIST
* Paul Korzilius: As Bon Jovi’s manager, Korzilius handles a multiplatinum act about three years away from a lucrative reunion tour. But Korzilius resides on the outskirts of Austin in virtually every way. Not a force, locally.
* Jan Mirkin: This veteran manager has moved in major circles, but her main client, Ian Moore, has been on a fatherhood-related hiatus, which has taken Mirkin out of the flow. She does get extra power points for being the local ASCAP rep.
* Sandra Bullock: Yeah, she can get you on the “Tonight Show,” but only if you’re dating her.
* Charlie Jones: The unflappable Middleman Productions honcho did a great job with A2K and the Antone’s Blues Festival. He’s definitely one to watch in 2000.
* Andy Langer: He profiles local groups for the Chronicle, plays their music on 101-X and does weekly “Backstage Pass” segments for News 8 Austin, yet the biggest thing he’s done for Austin music was getting a tape of Magneto USA (now Fastball) into the hands of a Hollywood Records A&R rep.
* Willie Cisneros: Longtime Tejano promoter, who’s recently branched out into rap concerts.
published in Jan. 1996
We’re a racist society. You hear those words so often and so matter-of-factly these days that they’re rarely questioned, but charges of racism, even those with some merit, are often just a thick sheet of smoke that hides a far more reaching problem. We are a selfish society. It’s not so much the color of one’s skin as the inability to get out from under it that is responsible for many of our woes.
I’m a member of society, and I’m not a racist. All my friends and relatives are members of society, and none of them seem to be racist. But they’re selfish — every damn one of them — and so are the overwhelmingly white Nebraska Cornhusker fans who have cheered star running back Lawrence Phillips even after he had pleaded no contest to charges of assaulting his former girlfriend. He’s black, she’s white, but even more importantly to the self-image of Nebraskans, he can help bring another national championship back to Lincoln. Meanwhile, the victim is living proof of the down side of the “win at all costs” edict, and so she has been swept under the Astroturf.
Advancement has a funny way of showing itself, but let’s not dismiss the strides in civil rights that have been made in this country. Thirty years ago , blacks couldn’t use the same restrooms as whites in some parts of the country, but these days a black man can kill two white people and get away with it, so long as he can afford the best lawyers. Now, that’s equality.
Still, the stirrers of the melting pot always are looking to adda little spice, so they play up the negative. When Arizona citizens voted against a paid holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1992, the shouts of “racism” drowned out the reasoning that Arizona is full of elderly taxhaters on fixed incomes who would vote against a paid holiday for Christmas if given the chance.
The old want what’s best for the old. White people want what’s best for white people. Black people want what’s best for black people. This is a selfish society where the rich want to keep all their money, while the poor feel entitled to more of their own. People are insecure about what they want, so they just want everything.
If you come to your “secret” fishing hole and find a man with his line in the water, you’ll instantly dislike him, no matter who he is, because he’s taking away just a little bit of what was yours. I suppose if the angler was black, you’d call that racism, but really the negative feeling comes more from a general fear and mistrust of others. A lot of people who are considered racist really just don’t like anybody.
The public basically loves things that it can identify with. Women who just got dumped by some jerk love that Alanis Morissette song, while fans of felines laugh out loud at those stupid cat cartoon books. Meanwhile, the citizens of Dallas cheer for the Cowboys, while those in San Francisco root for the 49ers, regardless of the personnel, because those teams represent them, those sofa lumps who only touch a pigskin when picking up a slice of bacon.
The reason the horoscope is such a popular section of the newspaper is because, unless your name is Jim Bob Moffett or P.J. Harvey, it’s the only thing in the paper about you. George Carlin nailed this new egocentricity with a funny routine that traced the evolution of magazine names from populist themes such as Life and People to current exclusive and narcissistic titles such as Us and Self.
Whoever called the ’80s the “Me Generation” wasn’t thinking very broadly: The truth is that we’re residing in the “Me Millennium,” with the long and narrow road cutting across lines of sex, class, race, nationality, occupation and on and on. People don’t seem to care much about other people, period, but race gets most of the ink.
Once a year, it seems, a major news event or an overrated Spike Lee movie will force the race issue to the fore, and during 1995, it was the Simpson arrest and trial. During the famous low-speed chase, predominantly white crowds cheered on the white Bronco containing a black man accused of murdering two white people, and I thought to myself, “Well, at least they can’t cry `racism’ this time.” This handsome, well-spoken sports hero had crossed over so well to the “white world” that it seemed almost appropriate for a white cast member to portray him in the obligatory “Saturday Night Live” skit.
To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, however, no one ever will go broke betting on the race card. Johnny Cochran certainly beat the house, and
news organizations and networks have profited in fanning the flames. But the real problems never really are addressed because the malfunction is inside all of us. This is a self-centered world overun by useful oxymorons such as “reverse racism,” where politicians boast about their accomplishments and predict victory or run the risk of being perceived as soft.
Everybody’s looking for an excuse, from those on the psychiatrist’s couch struggling to understand how they turned out just like their parents to the street corner hustler who sells crack because at least he doesn’t have to ask if you want fries with that. Whenever hard-core liberals, black and white, cite a disturbingly high percentage of black males in prison, they never tell you how many are innocent, because that would screw up their tidy equation. What’s more, many in the equally close-minded, angry white sector still believe that women have babies to get more welfare, which is as ludicrous as thinking that a singer would commit suicide to sell more records.
It’s time to sink the slave ships that have made this society so queasy, but too many people are still aboard, refusing to trust the promise of liberation. People are afraid, and you really can’t blame them.
Instead, resign yourself to the fact that the center of the universe is inside every individual. We are a selfish society, with acts of racism falling under that umbrella.
But ask yourself two things: If this was truly a racist society, why would so many white people love Michael Jackson, an African American who was accused of molesting a white child and ended up paying the kid to drop the charges? Also, why would so many black people stand by the singer, who has gone through incredible lengths to look like a white person?
Also, if this society is indeed consumed by the disease of racism, with white supremacists training for a race war, then why is Simpson still alive?
published on Aug. 8, 1995
Looking out over the land from Abel Theriot’s 40-foot-high observation deck in the back of his Southpark Meadows venue, you can’t help but see the possibilities. With its natural slope, thick grass, shade trees and lack of neighbors, the Meadows lends an Austin air to the mega-concert experience. There are problems — chief among them a shortage of restroom facilities — but nothing that Houston-based Pace Concerts wouldn’t love to fix.
It’s no secret that Pace has been trying to get Theriot to sell the venue to it. And the 78-year-old semiretired rancher isn’t totally against the idea of selling. In the meantime, though, Theriot spends a lot of time looking over his spread, knowing he’s got something special. “I have a figure in my mind that I would consider selling at,” Theriot said Saturday before the Live concert, “but there’s quite a distancebetween what Pace is willing to give and what I’m willing to take.”
Ten miles south of Austin, off Slaughter Lane, Southpark Meadows is in the middle of nowhere. But at least it’s the middle of nowhere. With a succession of winner shows, enhanced by the intangible good-vibe factor, the Meadows is one of the hippest concert venues in the Southwest. And when the so
trendy-it’s-unhip-so-it’s-cool-again Lollapalooza comes to the Meadows on Wednesday, the venue’s spaciousness should give Perry Farrell’s carnival vision its best canvas of the tour.
Like Red Rocks in Colorado or Wolf Trap near Washington, D.C., Southpark Meadows has the potential of being one of those venues that’s almost as famous as the acts that play there. And since it easily can hold crowds of 35,000 and is only an hour’s drive from downtown San Antonio, the venue could be a big moneymaker — so long as someone with the clout of Pace is involved.
Theriot, a Cajun who moved to Texas from Louisiana in 1927, seems to relish his role as Austin’s Max Yasgur. And, like Yasgur’s sloped meadow where Woodstock Nation was born, the 200 acres of Southpark once operated as a dairy farm. Still another similarity to Yasgur, who refused to sell his famous farm, is that Theriot, too, doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to unload his “jewel.”
Still, at age 78, he says he’s looking to get away from the fancy footwork of the music business, like that used in the Pearl Jam shuffle. However, because he currently leases the venue to Pace on a per-show basis, Theriot stands to make nearly $100,000 from the upcoming Pearl Jam concert, — if it goes off. (The Pearl Jam show, originally scheduled for July 2, is slated for Sept. 16.)
Though the deal has not been made final, Theriot said he is close to structuring a long-term lease with Pace. But he has his reservations.
“I’m not so sure that it would be a good idea to sell to a promoter anyway,” Theriot said. “It would shut out all the other promoters, like 462 in Dallas and Stone City in San Antonio who want to do shows here.”
But, according to Pace, it doesn’t have to be that way. Pace currently co-owns two major amphitheatres (including Dallas’ Starplex) with MCA Concerts and nine venues in partnership with Sony/Blockbuster. “We work with other promoters all the time,” says Pace vice president Mickey Gayler. “But we do most of the shows ourselves because when you own the venue, you can usually give the act a better deal.”
Theriot, who made his first fortune as a sawdust contractor, says that a more fitting buyer for the Meadows would be the with a water park and a baseball stadium. He says he can see the crowds come from all over Texas, like little lambs to Slaughter Lane.
Although it had hosted a few random shows in the ’70s, promoter Jim Ramsey cleared the grounds and presented the first concert at the new Meadows in 1983, an all-local bill featuring Van Wilks and D-Day. During the first six months, activity at the site was fast and furious, as U2, the B-52’s, Peter Tosh and the Go-Go’s came through. Then in November, Ramsey hit paydirt when the Police drew more than 31,000 fans to the Meadows. Unfortunately, squabbles over concession rights led to a falling out with Theriot, and that was the last show Ramsey promoted at the venue he helped create.
Pace Concerts took over booking the Meadows, but they too butted heads with Theriot, and the venue was closed in 1985.
After several years of dormancy — aside from the Tejano Jam in 1993 — Theriot and Pace mended fences, and the Meadows was back on track, drawing more than 20,000 to see Smashing Pumpkins and Blind Melon in April ’94. Pace president Louis Messina particularly took note of the turnout, booking several big shows at the Meadows in 1995, including Hootie and the Blowfish (which drew 13,000), Live (14,000),
Lollapalooza and upcoming shows by Pearl Jam (Sept. 16), R.E.M. (Sept. 17) and Van Halen (Sept. 30). Also in the offing from Pace is an Oct. 14 double bill of David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails.
“Both Hootie and Live said they loved playing at Southpark,” Gayler says. “The place has just got some incredible natural ambience.”
And Theriot knows it.
“Abel’s a real character,” Ramsey says. “He doesn’t need Southpark Meadows. He has enough money to travel around the world and stay at four-star hotels if he wanted to, but the Meadows is like his toy.”
Theriot counters, as he looks out on his good earth, “Anybody who knows me knows that this is no hobby. Whether it’s sawdust business or the oil refineries or Southpark Meadows, when I go into something, I go into it whole hog.”
Since 1995, when this was written, Southpark Meadows was developed as a hideous shopping center that looks like all the others. Pace became SFX, which eventually became Live Nation.
Let’s go back to the time when music was packaged to create a continual listening experience, when songs were sequenced to sustain a mood or provide a chronological context. Here’s a list I put together years ago, during the glory years of Rhino Records. Things have changed, but all these songs are out there somewhere.
The Herald Recordings – Lightnin’ Hopkins (Collectables)
The king of boogie blues and a topical songwriter who wrote of war, prison, natural disasters, poverty and even the space race, Hopkins was a true original. This CD, from the early ‘50s, is cited above all the others for a hard driving sound that presaged rock ‘n’ roll.
The Chirping Crickets – Buddy Holly and the Crickets (Decca)
Released in late 1957, this was the influential Lubbock group’s debut LP, and it’s a clunker-free mix of hits (“Oh Boy,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Maybe Baby”) and shoulda-been-hits (“Lonesome Tears,” “Tell Me How”).
The Many Sounds Of Steve Jordan (Arhoolie)
Sequenced chronologically, you can trace El Parche’s journey from early ‘60s conjunto duets with then-wife Virginia Martinez to the squeezebox stratosphere on cuts like like the jazzy Johnny Mercer cover “Midnight Blues.”.
Texas Music, Vol. 2: Western Swing & Honky Tonk (Rhino)
This one covers all the bases, from Bob Wills and Milton Brown, the inventors of Western Swing, to the likes of Lefty Frizell and Hank Thompson, to the modern day acolytes Asleep At the Wheel and Alvin Crow.
Shine On Me – Soul Stirrers (Specialty)
R.H. Harris and Paul Foster duke it out on twin leads, but then Harris captures the spotlight on the title track, a work of shimmering beauty.
The Best of George Jones (Rhino)
The best pure singer in the country music field matures right before your ears.
Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams (Dust-To-Digital)
Slated for release in late spring 2015. This music is almost childlike in its simplicity and yet its so raw and primitive that songs like “I Had a Good Father and Mother” and “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today” hit deeply. No other music sounds like this.
Blues Masters: The Very Best Of T-Bone Walker (Rhino)
There are more exhaustive collections (“The Complete Capitol/ Black and White Recordings” is a wonderful three-disc set), but this single CD captures the essence of the first great electric blues guitarist.
The Best Of Lefty Frizzell (Rhino)
Even on a state-of-the-art music system, these songs sound like they’re coming out of the jukebox at a roadhouse on the border between wet and dry counties. “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” that slice of honky tonk heaven, kicks it all off.
Hideaway: the Best of Freddie King (Rhino)
Freddie’s guitar stings. It slices. It grooves. It soothes. It plays blues, country, rock, jazz. It does more than any appliance hawked on TV at 3 a.m. and it’s all here.
The Capitol Collectors Series – Ella Mae Morse (Capitol)
“Cow Cow Boogie” established not only this black sounding white singer, but a new record label called Capitol. This is post war West Coast swing led by an elastic voice that snapped all over the beat.
ZZ Top’s Greatest Hits (Warner Bros.)
The most Texan of all rock bands, the Top understands how to mix technology with mythology. If it wasn’t about a whorehouse, “La Grange” could be the Texas Anthem.
Tramp On Your Street – Shaver (Zoo)
Billy Joe Shaver and his guitarist son Eddy put it all together on this electrified 1993 set that delivers the best version of the oft-covered “Georgia On a Fast Train,” as well as the father and son co-write “Live Forever.”
Texas Music, Vol. 3: Garage Bands & Psychedelia (Rhino)
From Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right,” through Johnny Winter’s exploratory blues epic “Fast Life Rider,” this compiles the wild, raunchy, brain-fried ‘60s in Texas. Among the Lone Star nuggets here: “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the 13th Floor Elevators, “Thunderbird” by the Nitecaps and the early regional version of “She’s About a Mover.” Warning: there’s also a lot of crap here, like “A Public Execution” by Mouse and the Traps.
King Of the Country Blues – Blind Lemon Jefferson (Yazoo)
The first great country blues star, Jefferson created much of the blues language still popular with such songs as “Black Snake Moan,” “Matchbox Blues” and “Easy Rider Blues.” He packed a whole lot of music in his 32 years on Earth.
Dreaming My Dreams – Waylon Jennings (RCA)
The great country singer and bandleader at his moodiest. And angriest, as evidenced by the classic “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
In Step – Stevie Ray Vaughan (Epic)
The only solo studio album SRV made after getting off drugs and alcohol, it’s also his strongest from beginning to end. From the riveting “Riviera’s Paradise” to the incendiary “Crossfire,” this CD shows an artist at the top of his game.
The Best Of the Bobby Fuller Four (Rhino)
The term “ringing guitars” has been overused by critics, but there’s no better way to describe the core of this underrated outfit. There was much more to this group, which could’ve been the Texas version of Creedence Clearwater Revival if not for a tragic turn, then “I Fouhgt the Law.”
He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes (Tompkins Square)
Splendidly spiritual piano playing, often accompanied by Pentecostal-flavored mandolin, and a voice that couldn’t control itself. This is scary stuff.
Tejano Roots – various artists (Arhoolie)
A great primer for the conjunto-curious, this is a cost effective way to sample the sounds of Lydia Mendoza, Isidro Lopez, Narciso Martinez and many other great Tex-Mex pioneers.
Red Headed Stranger – Willie Nelson (Columbia)
This is a concept album not only in its story of sin and salvation, but in its overall sound. It’s a musical meditation. The concept is that if you listen to this album from beginning to end, you’ll find a measure of peace.
The Original Peacock Recordings – Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (Rounder)
These are the tracks, from the 1950s, that convinced Houston heavy Don Robey to go into the recording business. Brown is second only to T-Bone Walker in the pantheon of Texas blues guitarists, but “Gatemouth” was also proficient on country fiddle and big band jazz.
At My Window – Townes Van Zandt (Sugar Hill)
Townes purists prefer his stripped-down early albums, but this full band effort from 1987 is a mesmerizing romp, with such standouts as “Snowin’ On Raton” and “Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love.”
For the Lonely: 18 Greatest Hits – Roy Orbison (Virgin)
Pop music’s greatest male voice, this West Texan could sing the clouds away or make them darker.
The Complete Blind Willie Johnson (Sony/ Legacy)
A voice that sounded like he’d gargled with battery acid insures that this Marlin bottleneck wizard will remain obscure. But with wife Willie B. Harris smoothing the gravel and Johnson’s amazing guitar playing, this is some of the most otherworldly music you’ll ever hear.
Cindy Cashdollar has five Grammys from her 81/2 years of playing steel guitar for Asleep at the Wheel, but the statuettes didn’t come easily. “I was completely petrified that first year (1993),” says the Woodstock, N.Y., native, who has made Austin her home for 14 years. “I was in way over my head.” Although an accomplished dobro player who backed Leon Redbone the previous five years, Cashdollar was a mere dabbler at steel when she joined the veteran western swing band known for its virtuosity at every position. At Cashdollar’s audition to replace John Ely, Wheel boss Ray Benson went pre-Simon Cowell on her, saying, “Well, you’re obviously not a steel player.” But Benson, impressed with her dobro work and willingness to learn the language of western swing, gave Cashdollar a six-month tryout. It didn’t hurt that the striking blonde with a closet full of vintage western threads was that rare female steel guitarist.
A novelty no more, the air-sweetening Cashdollar has become not only one of the most in-demand session players in Austin, but an instrumentalist recruited nationally to play on records by Bob Dylan (“Time Out of Mind”), Ryan Adams and the Cardinals (“Cold Roses”), Graham Parker (“Struck By Lightning”) and many more. She’s also toured the past couple years with Van Morrison and Rod Stewart and has an open invitation to sit in with the “Prairie Home Companion” house band, with host Garrison Keillor usually pulling Cashdollar – he loves to say her name – out into the spotlight for a number or two.
“When I get a call about working on a project, they always say, ‘We want your sound,'” says Cashdollar, who’s been playing with James Hand lately. “But I really can’t tell you what my sound is.” Reviews have used such descriptions as “lush,” “atmospheric,” “emotive” and “diverse.”
Cashdollar’s sound is a combination of things, says guitarist Redd Volkaert, who often volleys solos with Cashdollar when she sits in with Heybale. “She’s a master of the nonpedal steel guitar,” he says of her main instrument, which looks like the traditional steel guitars you see at honky tonks, but the only pedal she uses is for volume control. “Most steel players can only do one thing – the lap steel players are more into rock and blues, and the pedal steel guys do all that corny country stuff – but Cindy can play it all.” Her 2004 debut album “Slide Show” displayed her range, from Hawaiian-style pieces to hardcore western swing and airy pop numbers.
“I’ve tried to play the pedal steel guitar, but it’s too mental, too mechanical,” Cashdollar says. “I like to keep it simple, if not a little left of center.”
And she’s learned that the key to progression is keeping an open mind. “When I was making that double album with Ryan Adams, he said he wanted to make my amp settings sound like Jerry Garcia’s,” Cashdollar says, “and I really didn’t understand what he was going for. Jerry Garcia was a great pedal steel player – just listen to the steel on ‘Teach Your Children.’ But our styles are so different.” After “Cold Roses” came out, a fellow musician told Cashdollar he liked her work on it. “I didn’t think you played pedal steel,” he said. Cashdollar smiled. Adams was right.
Cashdollar gets burnt out sticking with one style of music too long. That’s what happened when she left Asleep at the Wheel in 2001.
“I went to Ray and said, ‘I’m sorry, but I just can’t do this anymore,’ and he said, ‘What took you so long?'” The average stint for a steel or fiddle player in the hard-touring band is about six years.
But once liberated from the nightly salute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Cashdollar found herself in a slight state of panic. Now what? The life of a freelancer can be an insecure one.
She soon picked up a gig with BeauSoleil on its 25th anniversary tour. The western swing upstart who joined the Wheel had become a novice of Cajun music, playing in that genre’s most distinguished band. But if anything, Cashdollar’s a quick study, with an insatiable desire to learn different styles.
“She’s as eager now as she was 15 years ago,” says Volkaert. “Cindy listens to everything and is constantly asking questions.”
It’s funny to think that if Levon Helm had not accidentally shot himself in the leg practicing pistol techniques for a movie role in the mid 1980s, Cashdollar might never have taken up the steel guitar. Helm couldn’t play drums while he was recuperating, so he started an acoustic group with former Band bandmate Rick Danko and Cashdollar on dobro. After Helm’s leg healed, he went back to the drums with a vengeance and turned his acoustic group into a rockin’ bar band.
“You couldn’t hear the dobro at all, so Rick lent me an antique six-string lap steel to play in that group,” says Cashdollar, who grew up on a dairy farm not far from the Band’s famous “Big Pink” house.
She had started to play the guitar at age 11, but was so shy and insecure those first few years that she’d only play in the closet. When Cashdollar was 12 she went to her first concert, whose opening act was her guitar teacher Billy Faier. The headliner was Van Morrison.
The next time Cashdollar saw Morrison in concert, she was behind him, seated at her nonpedal steel guitar. Having seen her in Asleep at the Wheel, Morrison hired Cashdollar in 2006 to tour in support of “Pay the Devil,” his country departure album. “That tour was great,” she says, “very challenging.” For starters, Morrison wanted Cashdollar, who is used to well-timed fills, to play constantly. Then, when Morrison canned the horn section in mid-tour, Cashdollar and fiddler Jason Roberts (another Wheelster) had only four days to learn how to cover for the missing horns.
Perhaps the highlight of Cashdollar’s massive résumé was her time in Dylan’s studio band for 1997’s highly acclaimed “Time Out of Mind.” When she got the call, at first she thought someone was goofing on her but then realized that no one could be that cruel. “I don’t know how Dylan knew of me,” she says. “They just told me, ‘Well, we finally tracked you down.'”
Cashdollar’s name (it’s real) has made it to the top of the preferred-players list for the nonpedal steel guitar. She’s even released a trio of instructional DVDs. And to think that she used to be so insecure about her steel playing that she’d talk in her sleep about string gauges and tunings.
“I was just so determined to make it work,” she says of her tryout with the Wheel. Indeed, this player has always had a lot of pluck.
Trumpet players blew so hard to produce the slightest spit of sound that they almost passed out. Drummers snapped their sticks with all the rhythmic sense of a pair of tennis shoes in the dryer. The honks of confusion rang out in the music room on the first day of band practice.
It was 1950 and Austin native Alvin Patterson, a 27-year-old recent graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, sat in his office at Douglass High School in El Paso and wondered what he’d gotten himself into. The school had never had a band before. His thoughts turned to his mentor, B.L. Joyce, the larger-than-life band director at L.C. Anderson High School in East Austin.
Patterson wondered how the man he called “Prof” would handle the situation. He took a deep breath, thrust the door of his office open and stood firmly before his musical beginners, but the dissonance barely dispersed.
THWACK! Patterson brought his baton down hard on a table top. The room froze. “Rule number one,” Patterson intoned, sternly. “When I step up to the podium I want to be able to hear a pin drop.”
Patterson sits in his home office/Anderson High museum in East Austin and smiles at the memory. “I always thought Mr. Joyce was maybe a little too strict until I had to control a room full of kids with noisemakers in their hands,” says the 81-year-old recent retiree. “You’ve gotta demand discipline and respect or there’s gonna be chaos.”
The Anderson High School Yellow Jacket Band, whose lofty alumni include bop trumpet great Kenny Dorham and former Motown arranger Gil Askey, had only two directors in its 38-year history. Joyce founded the band in 1933 and ruled it with an iron baton until Patterson took over in 1955, when the old man was forced to resign because of a new statewide regulation that required high school band directors to have music degrees. That Joyce, who got his college degree in tailoring from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, didn’t step down voluntarily made for a rough return for Patterson.
“We gave (Patterson) some grief that first year,” says Joseph Reid, who played clarinet in Joyce’s last and Patterson’s first bands. “If there was anybody you could call a legend in East Austin during that time, it was B.L. Joyce.” Imagine replacing Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama or taking over “The Tonight Show” after Johnny Carson’s retirement. Several band members quit after Patterson’s first practices. But the 1940 Anderson grad didn’t shy from the challenge and was eventually able to carve his own imposing legacy until federal orders to desegregate closed Anderson, Austin’s historically black high school, in 1971.
Long before Janis Joplin sang at Threadgill’s and Willie Nelson got the heads and ‘necks together at the Armadillo, Austin’s reputation as a music town was forged by the Anderson High School band. Resplendent in uniforms as bright as a September sunrise, the Yellow Jacket Band would trek to the annual Prairie View Interscholastic League competitions and invariably come back with a trophy. Under Joyce’s directorship, the Jacket band won the state championship seven times from 1940-1953.
“If we got second place it was a big disappointment,” says Ernie Mae Miller, a tenor sax player with the band from 1940-43, who went on to a lengthy career as a singer/pianist. “We just sounded better than the other bands. When they called our name as the winner, we were like, ‘Of course!’ ”
For most of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, the East Side was invisible to most of Austin’s West Siders. The predominantly black neighborhood on the other side of the freeway might as well have been a town far away. But when the Yellow Jacket Band marched down Congress Avenue, its presence was full and pronounced.
They would span the full width of the street, causing rubberneckers to jump back on the curb or else be swallowed up in their swagger of brass. “We felt like we were representing not only our school, but our entire community,” says Reid, who heads the Original L.C. Anderson Alumni Association. “When we sang our school song (‘When the days are dark and dreary/We are never blue or weary/ It’s ever onward, upward, forward, marching AHS’), we really meant it.”
The Yellow Jackets were the first black band to march at a Texas inauguration, for Gov. John Connally in 1959. They were the first all-black band to play in the Austin Aqua Festival parade a few years later.
Besides Dorham, Miller and Askey, more than two dozen future band directors, including Ray Murphy (Hobbs, N.M.), T.W. Kincheon (Caldwell High), Richard Elder (Taylor High) and John Whitehurst (Boulder, Colo.), passed through the ranks, but then so did such notables as Travis County tax collector Nelda Wells Spears, Dr. James Hill (chief of the University of Texas community relations department), John Q. Taylor King (former Huston-Tillotson College president and head of King Tears Mortuary), longtime H-T music department head Beulah Curry Jones and educator Charles Akins, who became the first black principal of a predominantly white high school in Austin in 1973.
“Teach the whole person. That’s what I learned from Mr. Joyce,” says Patterson, who spent 32 more years in education after the original L.C. Anderson High closed. (The current Anderson High, at 8403 Mesa Drive on the West Side, was built in 1973.) “Being in the band was more than just playing the right notes. It was about building character and leadership skills. If you didn’t toe the line, we’d put you out of the band in a second.”
Jazz turns the tide
A tailor who made custom suits out of his house at 1706 E. 14th St. and taught the trade at Samuel Huston College, Benjamin Leo Joyce was also a musician who played tuba in the Army band during World War I. With a desire to give black students the same kind of musical training given in the white schools, Joyce started canvassing East Austin in late 1932 looking for kids who wanted to play. He also solicited neglected instruments. An Austin trumpeter, William Timmons, had been teaching a community band over at the youth center on Angelina Street but he was soon off to join the Ringling Bros. circus band. Joyce recruited four Timmons students — Alvin Patterson’s older brother Roy, Hermie Edwards, Ulysses Fowler and Raymond Edmondson — as the core of his first AHS band.
Joyce made the uniforms that first year; no beginning band ever looked so snappy.
The players were expected to carry themselves in a manner consistent with their sartorial splendor. “Mr. Joyce didn’t put up with an ounce of foolishness,” says Ernie Mae Miller, whose grandfather Laurine Cecil Anderson was the school’s namesake. “You couldn’t play no jazz either.”
Joyce bent his strict “no jazz” rule only one time that Patterson could remember. “We were playing football against Wheatley (the archrival from San Antonio) and they were beatin’ us,” he recalls. “But even worse, their band was showing us up, playing all these hot big band swing numbers. So Mr. Joyce called me over and said, ‘What was that swing thing you were playing the other day when you thought I was out of listening range?’ I said that was ‘Tuxedo Junction’ and he said, ‘OK, let’s hear it.’ ” The band also did Cab Calloway’s “Fat Foot Flewzy.”
Miller, who was also in the band at the time, recalls that the crowd went nuts when the precise, militaristic Yellow Jackets of marches and grand overtures turned to swing and jazz. “It lit a fire under the football team, too. We ended up winning the game,” she says, with a hearty laugh.
When Patterson was in the band with Dorham and Askey, the trio and such friends as trombonist Buford Banks (father of noted local jazzman Martin Banks) and trumpeters Paris Jones and Warner “Rip” Ross would meet in the back yard of Patterson’s house at 1709 Washington Ave. to play improvisational jazz. Though Dorham went on to iconic status, replacing Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker Quintet in 1948 and co-founding the influential Jazz Messengers in 1954, he often deferred to the older players in the back yard jam sessions, especially Hermie Edwards, recognized as the baddest horn player in East Austin at the time. “Kenny was quiet, deep,” Patterson recalls. “Very thoughtful and perceptive.”
After being drafted into the Navy in 1942 and stationed in Boston, where his job was playing “Taps” as the body bags from World War II were unloaded, Patterson met up with Dorham when the trumpet player was in Billy Eckstine’s band. “He used to copy Erskine Hawkins when we’d jam in Austin,” Patterson says, “but he started getting into his own thing.”
Dorham, known for his dark trumpet tone and graceful melodic flights, died in 1972. But Patterson was able to hang with him one more time, when Dorham returned home, with fellow native Austinite Teddy Wilson and an all-star cast, including John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Dave Brubeck, to play the 1966 Longhorn Jazz Fest at the old Disch Field (next to City Coliseum).
When Askey made his triumphant return to Austin in the mid-’60s, he brought a trio of singers from Detroit to a party at the Hamilton Avenue home of his mother, Ada Simonds. “Everybody was pretty much focused on the Supremes,” Patterson recalls of the special guests. Askey’s credits include arranging and producing the likes of Curtis Mayfield, the Four Tops and the soundtrack to “Lady Sings the Blues.”
Whatever success Askey achieved, he was quick to credit Joyce. When the old man passed away in 1980, Askey, who currently lives in Australia, wrote a poem called “I Am an Extension of Him” for the funeral program. “Mr. Joyce lives on in the things I do, for without him there’d be no me,” it ends.
The impeccably-dressed, well-spoken Joyce came from an era, Reid says, when educators were bigger heroes in East Austin than footballers or singers. “The legends you heard about growing up were Miss (Lucille) Frazier, the English teacher and Mr. (Lawrence) Britton, the track coach,” says Reid. “Even going back to when I was in elementary school, the older kids would say, ‘Just wait until you’ve gotta take Mr. Pickard’s science class.’ Anderson High was the thread that kept the community together.”
The school was all black until the late ’50s when a handful of Hispanics attended. The first white student to graduate from Anderson was in 1970. The next year, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that favored busing as a preferred method of integration, the federal government sued the Austin school district and ordered district schools to desegregate. As the first federal suit following the Supreme Court decision, the Austin case was a national news story for several months.
AISD’s decision in July 1971 to comply by closing Anderson High, which had fewer than 20 nonblack students (out of a student body of about 800), “just devastated us all,” says Patterson.
The one-way busing — with black students sent to white schools, but white students not sent to black schools — especially rankled East Austinites. On the first day of the new school year, 121 former Anderson High students did not report to their new schools.
“It’s like they ripped the heart out of East Austin,” says Reid. “You wanna know when the neighborhood started going downhill? It’s when they closed Anderson.”
Patterson moved to McCallum High School, where many of the black students were bused, and remained a counselor in the community relations department until 1984, when he took a position as assistant to the dean at St. Edward’s University. He retired last June at age 80. Fittingly, a Juneteenth parade of marching bands ended at Patterson’s doorstep in East Austin, a show of appreciation for the 16 years he led the best high school marching band in Texas.
The building at 1607 Pennsylvania Ave. that housed Anderson High School from 1913-1953 burned down 20 years ago. Kealing Junior High now sits on the site. The original Olive Street location of Anderson (1907-1913) — which was originally named E.H. Anderson High for L.C.’s older brother — burned down in 1947.
But the brick building on Thompson Street, which housed L.C. Anderson High (renamed after the 1938 passing of its first principal) from 1953-1971, still stands. Anderson alum Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson has restored the running track and the football field on the west side of the school, but the building, which now holds the Boys & Girls Club and an alternative learning center, does not resemble a place that once anchored an entire community.
Sometimes when Patterson drives on that street, his mind brakes for memories. Other times he drives by and looks away, not wanting to revisit what used to be.
But it’s a special place, this building where Joyce passed him the baton, where he became a father figure to a family of students, just like the old man had been.
“Mr. Joyce was as strict as they come — you sure didn’t want to feel his wrath,” Patterson says. “But I think you’ll find that, deep down, kids want someone riding them, demanding the best out of them.”
The fumbling disorder of a band practice can, with the right guidance, evolve into the sweetest sound.
7. Bob’s Burden
People make the place. Consider the Austin music scene, where a hideous National Guard armory (Armadillo World Headquarters), abandoned furniture warehouse (the original Antone’s on Sixth), and a lumberyard (Liberty Lunch) transformed into low-rent live music palaces because of the bands that played, the people who ran the joints, and the crowds that couldn’t believe they’d found such paradise on Earth.
In 1978, a Jewish accounting student from the Houston suburbs went to a West Campus blues club called the Rome Inn. In time, he became protégé of the old black man who ran the joint. Thirty-six years later, there’s a bright red and white awning on a hot new club on South Congress: “C-Boy’s Heart & Soul.” Inside glows tribute in the form of a Sixties juke joint, with vintage waterfall lamps and classic R&B sleeves, to a humble man who loved the blues.
“So, who’s C-Boy?”
Steve Wertheimer spent more than half a million dollars and 18 months of his life in order to answer the question he kept hearing over and over for the official grand opening on New Year’s Eve, 11 months ago.
“If it wasn’t for C-Boy Parks, I wouldn’t be in the music business,” he told a couple who asked him about the name of the club, which opened amid much oohing and ahhing at the former location of dive bar Trophy’s.
Dressed in a white suit jacket that matched white eyeglass frames, Wertheimer was more guide than host on opening night, returning again and again to old pictures on the wall around a heart-shaped mirror. There reside photographs of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan, playing a small stage in a packed club on West 29th, where Texas French Bread is now.
“Here’s a good one of me and C-Boy,” he pointed to a photo of a teenager with active skin and frizzy hair stretching out from under a cap. Next to him stands a black man 34 years his senior, with a big smile on his face. C-Boy grew up in Austin, but had a deep country accent.
“I grew up around black people,” explains the club owner. His father, Henry Wertheimer, owned the pharmacy on Rosenberg town square and many was the night little Stevie would ride with his dad to the “other” side of the tracks to deliver medicine to the elderly. “My dad taught me to respect everyone and to help whenever you can.”
Two years after Henry Wertheimer died in 2005, a middle school in Rosenberg was named after him. Many of his good deeds, including funding the school district’s free breakfast program, had not been made public until the dedication of the school in his name.
C-Boy Parks didn’t own the Rome Inn, where he came to work in the kitchen in 1967 when it was an Italian restaurant. But after it changed to a live music venue and he was promoted to manager, the Rome became C-Boy’s club, no doubt.
“C-Boy made everyone feel welcome,” says Wertheimer. “And he was always working.”
Two bedrock lessons learned by a young man who today owns Continental Clubs in Austin and Houston, buildings Downtown, pieces of successful restaurants including Perla’s and Elizabeth Street Cafe, the Lonestar Round Up car show, an auto repair business, and more. Even then, Wertheimer says his portfolio wasn’t complete until he honored C-Boy Parks with the club that bears his name.
“That’s always been my dream,” he says a few days into 2014. “I’ve been thinking about C-Boy’s for years and years.”
He’d drive by Trophy’s location, which had a brief run in the Eighties as one of Austin’s first Cajun restaurants (Big Mamou) and think, “That’s my C-Boy’s.” When word got out about his honoring Louis Charles “C-Boy” Parks, Wertheimer kept hearing from musicians who played the Rome Inn, whose heyday lasted only two years. Two spectacular years.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Jimmie Vaughan told him.
Wertheimer says he’s never been more sure about a business venture.
“He was a major part of my life for several years,” he says of Parks, who died in 1991 at age 66. “The Rome Inn has always been the standard, in my mind, for how to run a club.”
The blues scene integrated Austin like nothing before it, with UT students going to Charlie’s Playhouse on East 11th and bands like Clarence Smith & the Daylighters backing white singers. White blues musicians like Bill Campbell, the Vaughan brothers, and Angela Strehli sought out obscure Eastside blues players. Yet besides local African-American musicians W.C. Clark and Dr. James Polk, and deejays such as Tony Von and Lavada Durst, C-Boy Parks from East Austin had the greatest impact on the local blues scene.
“So, who’s C-Boy?”
There was a time, says Wertheimer, when everybody in town knew C-Boy Parks.
“He didn’t need a ticket or a backstage pass. If C-Boy wanted to go see Stevie Ray Vaughan or the T-Birds he’d just show up. And be treated like royalty.”
Antone’s, internationally renowned “Home of the Blues,” helped put Austin on the map, but from 1978 until its final blowout on April 20, 1980, the Rome Inn was the hottest club in town for local blues acts. SRV played every Sunday and Paul Ray’s Cobras had Tuesdays, but the hottest night was “Blue Monday,” with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
“Nobody would go down to Antone’s to see the T-Birds,” says former club owner Steve Dean, whose AusTex Lounge (at the current Magnolia Cafe location on South Congress) was a hub for roots rock. “But when C-Boy gave them Mondays, they slowly built it up to the point that if you didn’t get there by 8 o’clock, you might not get in.”
Billy Gibbons would take a busload of Houston friends to the Rome Inn on Mondays to see the T-Birds and immortalized the “fiend scene” on “Lowdown in the Street” from ZZ Top’s 1979 album Degüello: “So roam on in, it ain’t no sin to get low down in the street.” That same year, the T-Birds paid tribute to the lovable man in the sweat-stained blue T-shirt with slow harp instrumental “C-Boy’s Blues” from their debut LP Girls Go Wild.
“We went to all the clubs,” Wertheimer says, listing the Armadillo, Soap Creek, Antone’s, and Split Rail as regular haunts. “But there was something special about the Rome Inn. And that was C-Boy.”
Though there was no food service after the Italian restaurant closed, C-Boy cooked for the bands, who especially loved his “don’t need no teef to eat my beef” barbecue.
“He would work at the Rome Inn until 3am, have time to go home and take a shower, then he was back at the Night Hawk at 6am,” marvels Wertheimer. “He worked 20 hours a day.”
Parks staffed various Night Hawk diners for 45 years and was in the kitchen at Night Hawk No. 2 on Guadalupe in 1963 when Harry Akins became the first restaurant owner in town to integrate his dining rooms. He slept after his Night Hawk shift ended at 2pm, then was back at the Rome Inn by about 7pm to get ready for the crowd.
“C-Boy wasn’t there to party,” says Wertheimer. “He was there to work. But he had a blast, just being around all those people who loved him so much.”
The only time he’d take a break was when the T-Birds played swamp pop classic “Mathilda,” for which he’d cut up the dance floor.
C-Boy Parks had an especially patriarchal pull on Steve Wertheimer, who bugged the old man for a job until he was stationed behind the bar one night. Over the next few months, the pair became unlikely running buddies. There’s a photo of the two of them taking apart the bar after its final night.
Dean brought in floodlights and filmed the Rome Inn’s last waltz. He kept the footage on VHS somewhere in a box of tapes, but after C-Boy’s Heart & Soul opened, he found it and bought a VCR to watch it. Aside from eight seconds of live SRV that he sold to VH1 for a bio, the public hasn’t seen the footage. A collector of music memorabilia, Dean refuses to digitize the tape and put it online, but in it, a 25-year-old Stevie Ray Vaughan finds his power trio identity in the opening slot, and then the Fabulous Thunderbirds destroy the place with their swampy interpretation of Chicago blues. Dean’s footage also includes an interview with Parks, who speaks in such a country blues accent he’s a little hard to understand. You can feel the love he had for the Rome Inn and the people who made it.
Wertheimer graduated from UT with a degree in accounting in 1980, a bad year for Austin clubs in general and C-Boy Parks in particular. Not only did the Armadillo learn that it would close on the last day of the year, but C-Boy became “devastated” – Wertheimer’s description – when he learned the Rome Inn was closing at the end of its lease in April. The club’s owner, who lived in Burnet and only occasionally dropped in, had decided to shut down.
Parks also lost his job at Night Hawk No. 2, which closed in 1980, and worked at Night Hawk No. 1 on South Congress and Riverside, which burned down in 1985, and Akins’ eatery the Frisco on Burnet Road. During the next couple of years, Wertheimer dipped into his pocket a few times to help his friend pay bills, “but C-Boy was a proud man and didn’t like asking for money.”
“What he wanted to do was work,” says Wertheimer. “So me and a buddy bought him a [portable] barbecue pit and went into the catering business.”
Backstage, T-Bird Riverfests on Town Lake came well fed, but the jobs weren’t consistent. Then one day, Parks got a call from Hank Vick, who used to own Steamboat and other clubs. He’d just taken over the lease at Lake Austin boater hangout Ski Shores and wanted Parks to run the kitchen. “I don’t do anything without Mister Steve,” he told Vick. That’s how Wertheimer, who worked full-time as the controller for a real estate developer, received his entrée into the restaurant/club business, since Ski Shores also featured live music.
Vick, a legendary Austin raconteur who passed away several years ago, deserves his own story. Let’s just say he had to leave the country at some point, making Wertheimer the sole proprietor. With a lot of bills to pay – Vick had been writing checks on a closed account – Parks apologized profusely to Wertheimer for getting him involved.
And yet, if Wertheimer didn’t own Ski Shores, he wouldn’t have known the Continental Club was available in late 1987. The Schuler family, Ski Shores regulars, owned the building at 1315 S. Congress and approached Wertheimer about leasing the club.
“After the mess I’d gotten myself in, my first reaction was, ‘No, thanks,'” chuckles Wertheimer. “But working there with C-Boy every day started me thinking about the Rome Inn.”
Like C-Boy’s Heart & Soul 26 years later, Wertheimer’s Continental Club opened on New Year’s Eve.
After a near-disastrous first year, when Wertheimer recast the gritty Continental as a Fifties-style hamburger joint, the club started slowly finding its own identity. Key was Junior Brown on Sunday nights. Just as the T-Birds slowly built Mondays at the Rome Inn, Brown didn’t play to many folks in the beginning, and Wertheimer pulled money from the bar register to keep him coming back. After word got out there was a guy who sang like Ernest Tubb and played guitar like Jimi Hendrix, Sundays at the Continental became a thing in town.
C-Boy was there when his protégé turned things around and created the modern version of the Rome Inn. Then, in 1991, he was suddenly gone. C-Boy’s longtime girlfriend Frances called Wertheimer in hysterics to tell him the old man wouldn’t wake up. Steve bolted over to C-Boy’s place on East 12th and Airport Boulevard, but arrived just after the funeral home took the body. That was 22 and a half years ago.
“I think about him every day,” says Wertheimer.
Help people. That’s what Henry Wertheimer and C-Boy Parks taught their boy Steve. You help people to help yourself. Fill a room with music and folks who love it, and sometimes it becomes a palace. You’ve just gotta walk through that door.