Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

SXSW Stories #1: The Russians Ain’t Goin,’ the Russians Ain’t Goin’

Posted by mcorcoran on March 9, 2017

International housing: Marriage, MTV, half-hearted defections and Taco Bell!

Was that Russian band serious about wanting to defect after a SXSW showcase? Or did they just want to stay in Austin for free as long as they could?

It was in the early ‘90s, soon after implementation of SXSW’s international housing program, where bands from overseas are put up in local homes at no cost. The Russians (nobody can remember the name) were matched with someone who gave up their space and privacy for a few days in exchange for a pair of wristbands. So, SXSW ended on Sunday and by about Tuesday the hosts realized the Russians were staying, the Russians were staying! The distraught couple called SXSW, which sent over a van to pick up the group and take them to a cheap motel near Ben White. The reasoning was that the band would get sick and bored at the fleabag and start heading to Florida, where they could get a flight back to Moscow. “The only problem was that the motel had MTV, which they had never seen before,” says Roland Swenson of SXSW. “They just sat in their room watching MTV all day, happy as shit.”

After SXSW stopped paying for the room, the band would try to hang out all day at SXSW, having announced their intention to defect. But nobody really took them seriously.

The Russians were stranded because they had spent all their money buying a van in Florida that broke down in Austin. When SXSW suggested the band sell their van for bus tickets to Florida, that’s what finally got them on their way. “We heard they were really insulted because (another Russian visitor) told them only the lower class rides buses in the U.S.,” Swenson says. Whatever, it did the trick, as the group got their van fixed and headed out.

There have been far more positive stories about the international housing setup,

like when Casis Elementary teacher Celeste Hackney hosted a Danish band and ended up marrying the sound man and moving to Copenhagen. And there’s the time computer engineer Mitch Gottlieb put up a broke, unknown British rock band, then toured Europe with them after the Darkness became huge.

The housing program is not for the picky or deluded. “Two guys are going to have to sleep together, so if you have some macho problem, either get over it or get a hotel room,” reads part of the form e-mail that goes to prospective ocean-crossing lodgers.

The hosts aren’t responsible for food or transportation, but most pick up the bands at the airport, feed them and cart them around town to music stores, thrift shops, barbecue joints and Western wear shops. It’s fun to show off the cool parts of Austin, but sometimes you have to adjust quickly, as one host learned when he tried to take a band from Iceland to his favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. “Taco Bell!” they chanted until he succumbed.

Although the bands are sometimes stars in their home country, they are almost always unknown in the United States. Some bands just don’t get it. “One year a band had sent emissaries to check out the house ahead of time, to make sure the mattresses were firm enough and the place was clean, that sort of stuff,” SXSW international housing director Marilyn Faust recalled in 2006. “The host family was hurt. The manager was saying, ‘Do you know who this band is? They’re big stars,’ and so I said, ‘Then they can afford to stay in a hotel.’ ”

About 90% of the overseas acts at SXSW do just that.


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Infamous rave review of the 3rd Oasis LP

Posted by mcorcoran on January 7, 2017

OASIS – `BE HERE NOW’ (Epic) * * * *


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.

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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.”

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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.

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Reviews for “Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams”

Posted by mcorcoran on December 4, 2016


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 by Michael Hall

Michael Hoinski of Texas Monthly previewed the booksigning event in Teague on Jan. 28. He also included Arizona Dranes and Blind Willie Johnson in the Holy Trinity of 1920’s Texas gospel pioneers I’ve been researching for years.

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:



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.”

The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger raves.

Here’s a second review from The Wire:



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Blaze Foley: Killing of a Songwriter

Posted by mcorcoran on October 7, 2016

Blaze Foley by C.P. Vaughn

Blaze Foley by C.P. Vaughn

The years since his 1989 passing have been kind to Blaze Foley.

While he was alive, the singer-songwriter had released only a single and an LP that was never distributed aside from a box full of vinyl albums he would barter for beers and cab rides.

In recent years, the “derelict in duct tape shoes” of the 1998 Lucinda Williams’ song “Drunken Angel,” has vaulted to folk hero status. Merle Haggard and Lyle Lovett are among those who have recorded his compositions, plus he’s inspired four tribute albums and is the subject of two upcoming films.

His killing at age 39 continues to haunt an Austin music community that has suffered its share of cancer fatalities, drug overdoses, suicides and car wrecks, but has had little experience coping with the shooting death of one who writes songs.

All these years later, his friends and fans still question the jury’s verdict that acquitted Carey January of Foley’s murder by reason of self-defense. Saying he feared for his life, January admitted shooting Foley, a friend of his father, Concho January, with a .22-caliber rifle in the predawn hours of Feb. 1, 1989. When the defense portrayed the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Foley as a menacing bully, violently injecting himself into a family dispute, several of Foley’s supporters walked out of the courtroom in disgust. That was not the Blaze Foley they knew.

An ice storm blew into Austin the day of Foley’s funeral. At the jam-packed service, guitarist Mickey White passed out the lyrics to “If I Could Only Fly,” Foley’s trademark song, and as the ragtag congregation sang those words about wanting to soar above human limitations, the song grew spiritual wings. Without the money for a police escort, the funeral procession got smaller with each red light and almost everyone got lost. Cars did doughnuts on the ice and packs of autos tore down South Austin streets in all directions. Many of the mourners didn’t make it to the burial at Live Oak Cemetery.

Someone at the grave site busted out a roll of duct tape, Foley’s favorite fashion accessory, and folks started adorning the casket. Some of his friends made duct tape armbands or placed pieces over their hearts. Kimmie Rhodes started singing an old gospel song when the body was lowered and the tears nearly froze before they hit the ground.

“The whole day was so chaotic, yet so beautiful,” guitarist Gurf Morlix recalled in 2004. “It was exactly the way Blaze would’ve wanted it.”

They always talk about his eyes, how he could fix a glance on you and make you feel either two feet tall or like a million bucks. Those who knew him well — a number that seems to grow every year — use words like compassionate, honest and courageous to describe a lumbering giant whose songs could make hard men cry. But his friends also remember Foley as belligerent, abrasive, highly opinionated and drunk more often than not.

There were two Blaze Foleys, and if you didn’t know both of them you didn’t know either.

Songwriter Mandy Mercier, who Foley lived with from 1980 to 1982, knew both Blazes. While Mercier worked temp office jobs to pay the bills, Foley would stay home with a pack of fellow ne’er-do-wells who passed around guitars and bottles of hooch. Folks would ask Mercier and her roommate Lucinda Williams — who shared a soft spot for self-destructive rogues — what they saw in such men. “They had something that we wanted,” Mercier said. “Creative conviction. They would explore difficult subjects, but they could walk the walk.”

There was a hobo camp near the railroad tracks behind Spellman’s, the former folkie haven on West Fifth Street, and Foley would tell Mercier that if she had any guts, she’d quit her job and live there and write songs all day.

During the times he was without a girlfriend or a friendly couch, he’d sleep wherever — and whenever — he could. Though he preferred flopping on top of pool tables (or below them during hours of operation), he’d sometimes sleep in dumpsters on cold nights. “See that ‘BFI’?” he’d say, pointing to the logo of the waste removal company seen on dumpsters. “That stands for ‘Blaze Foley’s Inside.’”

Foley lived on the edge because that’s where the best stories drift off to. “There’s a scene in the movie Salvador where one of the characters is telling a wartime photographer that the key is to get close enough to the subject to get the truth, but not too close or you’ll get killed,” said Mercier. “That’s how Blaze wrote songs, from the front lines of experience.”

Foley was fearless, all his former associates agree. “Blaze had no doubts about his immortality. He thought he was bulletproof,” said songwriter Carlene (Jones) Neuenschwander, living in Colorado in 2004. “I guess that proved to be his undoing.”


Common sense told Blaze Foley to keep out of a father-and-son relationship that he saw as abusive. After all, Blaze’s friend Tony “Di Roadie” Scarano gave statements to police that they had heard Carey January, a 39-year-old black male known as J.J., threaten to kill Foley if he didn’t stop coming around the house at 706 W. Mary St. in South Austin. But then, common sense didn’t pull much weight with this wild-eyed maverick, who delighted in newspaper headlines like “Blaze Destroys Warehouse.” He was 100-percent songwriter and nothing cool rhymes with logic.

Foley had met 66-year-old Concho January in June ’88. The singer was living two blocks away, on the old man’s route to David’s Food Store, and one afternoon Blaze and a half dozen other songwriters were picking on the porch when Concho stood to listen for a few moments before heading on for a bottle of Thunderbird wine. On the way back, Foley waved the elderly black man inside the gate.

After about an hour Carey showed up and started yelling at Concho to get home. “Blaze didn’t like the way J.J. was talking to the old man,” says Neuenschwander, one of the pickers. Foley started dropping in on Concho and the two became drinking buddies. If Foley could borrow a car, he’d take Concho, who had a broken hip, on errands, including cashing his Social Security check the first of the month. Stories about “my old pal, Concho” started creeping into Foley’s between-song chatter.

“That was just like Blaze to latch on to some poor, old, lonely man who’d been through some rough times,” says musician Lost John Casner.

The teeth-baring acrimony grew between Foley and Carey January, an ex-con who had spent four years in prison for a 1975 charge of heroin delivery. It escalated into violence on Aug. 9, 1988.

Police received a disturbance call at 706 W. Mary St. that afternoon and found Foley and a neighbor sitting on the steps holding ax handles with black electrical tape for grips. Carey was across the street, yelling to the cops that those men beat him with the clubs. Foley admitted hitting Carey across the back and on the head, but said he was just defending Concho from the latest beating at the hands of his son. The police report described Foley as “very intoxicated.”

Foley pleaded nolo contendre to unlawful possession of a weapon and received 180-days probation and a court order to attend at least two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week.

Friends say that the singer managed to stay sober for a couple weeks at a time but then would fall off the wagon hard, going on drinking binges.

Foley seemed to have been on a tear the last night of his life. Early in the evening, he was 86-ed from the Austin Outhouse when he got in the face of a regular who had used an anti-Arab slur while watching the 6 o’clock news.

The next stop was the Hole In the Wall, which had recently lifted a longtime Blaze ban at the behest of Timbuk 3, who were at the height of their “Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” phase. The duo of Pat MacDonald and Barbara K didn’t forget that Foley was their first Austin friend and supporter. It didn’t take long for Blaze, who always seemed to be ranting about something, to be shown the door at the Hole.

He ended up at the South Austin home of fellow hard-living songwriter Jubal Clark, then borrowed a friend’s Suburban, without permission, to drop in on Concho at about 5 in the morning. The old man had a lady friend over and the three drank cheap wine until Carey emerged from his bedroom and a single gunshot broke up the party. Foley was shot at about 5:30 a.m. He was pronounced dead at Brackenridge at 8:14 a.m.

“I got home from a gig late one night and there was a phone message from Lucinda (Williams),” Morlix recalled. “She said there was something she had to tell me but that she’d call me back in the morning. I just sat down and cried. I knew it was Blaze. I knew something bad had happened.”

Defendant Carey January talked about Foley’s eyes when he took the stand in September 1989 to claim that he shot the songwriter out of fear for his life. “He was coming at me,” January testified. “I could see fire in his eyes. … I had seen that look before, when he hit me with the ax handle.”

When police arrived at 706 Mary St. minutes after the shooting, Foley was outside, lying face down on the ground, clutching a blue notebook. When they asked him what happened, Carey January said, “I don’t know.” Foley, still conscious but bleeding badly, was able to answer. “He shot me.” Who? the officer asked. “The guy you’re talking to,” said Foley.

Concho January told police that Carey killed Foley without provocation, as the songwriter was sitting in a bedside chair, showing the old man a book of his drawings.

Twelve days after the killing, someone set Concho’s house on fire while he slept. Though the arsonist was never found, the police report noted that Concho was a state’s witness against Carey, who was in jail. But Concho, who died in 1994 at age 71, was not intimidated. He testified at the trial that Carey shot Foley without justification. The elder January, whom defense attorneys dismissed as “an old fool” and “the world’s most reliable drunk,” proved to be ineffective.

“You don’t choose your eyewitnesses. That’s the risk of every prosecution,” says attorney Kent Anschutz, who still pains over losing the case when he was assistant district attorney. “But I have to tell you that my heart sank when Concho got up on the stand and couldn’t even point out his son right in front of him.”

The jury deliberated just over two hours before finding Carey January not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of self-defense.


The release party for the essential Live At the Austin Outhouse cassette, recorded a month before Foley died and featuring such signature Blaze tunes as “Clay Pigeons,” “Small Town Hero,” “If I Could Only Fly” and “Election Day,” was intended to be a benefit for a local organization for the homeless. Instead, proceeds went to cover the balance due on Foley’s funeral costs.

It seemed, at the time, that the cassette would be the last anyone heard of Blaze Foley, but friends, including singer-songwriters Rich Minus, Calvin Russell and Pat Mears, have done much to keep Foley’s songs alive, recording three albums of Blaze covers and one album of odes to the songwriter. Live At the Austin Outhouse, released on CD in 2000, has become a cult favorite, especially in Europe.

It doesn’t hurt that the songwriter’s biggest fan was country music’s greatest living legend (until 2016). “Merle Haggard’s obsessed,” said Mercier, who like several former Foley associates had been summoned to Haggard’s bus. “He wanted to know about Blaze’s life experiences. I told him that Blaze had had polio as a child, so one leg was shorter than the other and he’d sorta drag his foot when he walked. Merle was so moved by that image.”

Haggard wanted to hear all the old Blaze stories, like the time Foley lay in Guadalupe Street to prove his love for Mercier and indeed stopped traffic — including the cop car that took him away. “See how much I love you,” he shouted to Mercier as he was led away in handcuffs.

Michael David Fuller, who was born in Malvern, Arkansas and raised in Marfa and San Antonio, performed his first set as “Blaze Foley” in 1977 at an Austin dance club behind the Hole In the Wall that booked singer-songwriters during happy hour. “He was hilarious and his songs were great,” says Morlix, one of six audience members. “He’d pull stuff out of his bag and give a little show-and-tell presentation between songs.”

For the next three years Foley and Morlix were inseparable, moving to Houston and inhaling the fragrant Montrose folk scene, where Shake Russell, John Vandiver, Nanci Griffith and Townes Van Zandt were regulars.

Foley had started writing songs in Georgia in 1975, where he billed himself “Dep’ty Dawg” and tried not to sound too much like his model John Prine. But he truly came into his own in Houston. “There were better singers, better songwriters, but no one was more committed to his songs than Blaze,” Morlix said.

It was inevitable that he and Van Zandt would become hard-drinking runnin’ buddies. “Blaze idolized Townes — not only his songs, but his lifestyle. He started drinking vodka, Townes’ drink,” said Morlix. “Sometimes it got out of hand.”

Of Foley, whom he immortalized with 1994’s “Blaze’s Blues,” Van Zandt used to say, “Blaze has only gone crazy once. Decided to stay.”

Van Zandt, who passed away the first day of 1997, credited Foley with inspiring “Marie,” his bleak masterpiece. “Blaze was real interested in the dispossessed,” Van Zandt told KUT radio’s Larry Monroe in 1991. “I thought a lot about Blaze when I wrote ‘Marie’ because he had so much to do with turning me on to that problem.”

Morlix recalled that whenever Foley raged — and it was often — the subject was almost always some sort of injustice, real or perceived. But sometimes his unwillingness to back down from any confrontation was just plain scary. Once in Los Angeles, when Foley was talking to a topless dancer outside on her break, her jealous boyfriend pulled a gun and said to get lost. “Blaze said, ‘Just go ahead and shoot me,’” said Morlix, a stunned witness. “I’d bet Blaze said the same thing to the guy who shot him in Austin.”


At the 35th reunion of the old L.C. Anderson High School class of ’68 in 2003, one former student brought framed certificates to the Hilton gathering. But, then, perhaps Carey January felt he had a lot more to prove than his classmates, who passed around wallet-sized photos and business cards.

“We were all so happy to see J.J.,” said fellow alumnus William Ward. “Everybody knew about that problem he had with the shooting, so it was so good to know that he had turned his life around.” Ward said he spent a long time talking to January about how life is just a series of choices and all you have to do is make the right ones.

“How did you get my number?” asked a 54-year-old January in 2004. He has lived for 10 years in Los Angeles, where he says he is an outreach specialist. He says he’s received several citations, including one from then-Gov. Gray Davis commending his efforts to get health insurance for the underprivileged. He strongly declined to comment on any aspect of the Foley murder case.

“It was 15 years ago,” he said. “I was acquitted. I’ve moved on with my life. I’m not O.J. Simpson. I don’t want any publicity.”

Sometimes in death you get what you deserved in life. Foley always wanted to be considered a great writer, not just a good one, mentioned alongside his heroes Prine, Haggard and Van Zandt. In 2005, Prine covered Foley’s “Clay Pigeons,” to make the circle complete.

All these years after his final entry in the blue notebook he clutched outside 706 W. Mary St. on Feb. 1. 1989, Blaze Foley’s legacy is as rich as he could’ve hoped for. Like the homemade trinkets and little Goodwill toys he would slide into the hands of friends, his songs are the humble, well-worn gifts he left behind.

Posted in Music, Texas Music History | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

Rupert Neve, the Wizard of Wimberley, turns 90

Posted by mcorcoran on July 30, 2016


Vintage Neve board from Sound City

WIMBERLEY — Nobody ends up here by mistake. This quaint Hill Country town 40 miles southwest of Austin is not on the way to anywhere else, but a destination. And home to about 3,900.

The unlikeliest of those residents is Rupert Neve, the British recording icon who first came to Wimberley in 1980 to visit a friend and finally moved from England to this “lovely part of the world” in 1994.

Neve is the father of the recording console, that behemoth board that dominates studio control rooms like a slanted dinner table with knobs and faders. Cherished by analog apostles, his boards from the ’60s and ’70s sell today for up to five times what they originally cost.

The Neve name got a boost in 2013 with Sound City, a documentary by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters that debuted at South by Southwest. Bought new in 1972 for $75,000, Sound City’s Neve board captured such landmark recordings as Why Can’t We Be Friends by War, Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac,” Pinkerton by Weezer and the self-titled debut from Rage Against the Machine. Each completely different, having only a Neve 8028 in common. “Rupert Neve is a genius,” Grohl stated in Sound City, a love letter to the old-fashioned record-making process, before such software as Pro Tools puts the means for production in the hands of anyone with a laptop.


Rupert, which he prefers to “Mr. Neve,” turns 90 today, July 31. The photo above is the early birthday celebration from the shop in Wimberley where he still works about three days a week. His focus, when I last visited him in 2013, was on his latest analog console the 5088, which was a late-career smash hit.

But to most of the music world he’s best known for his work 50 years ago. “He designed the audio apparatus for the British Invasion!” declared Billy Crockett, whose Wimberley recording oasis Blue Rock recently installed a 5088, with Neve as a hands-on consultant.

In 1961, Neve built two consoles for London’s Recorded Sound Ltd. — one for the studio and the other to record remotes for the highly influential Radio Luxembourg. He designed a transistor-based mixing console with an equalizer in 1964 for Phillips Recording Ltd., another hot London studio in that time of Beatlemania.

Neve also built a reputation for producing robust consoles. He recalled a recent visit to a radio station in Singapore, which owned a console Neve built in 1967. “I went to fiddle with it and they said ‘Don’t touch it!’ I said ‘Why not?’ and they said it was being used on the air at the moment.” Reliability was foremost in Neve’s mind, he said. “I was terrified of having an equipment failure in the middle of a recording session or a radio program.”

Evelyn and Rupert 2011.

Evelyn and Rupert 2011.

Neve’s boards, from his valve consoles in the early ’60s to the powerful 5088, have always recorded to tape. It doesn’t take much prodding to get Neve, a Christian who rarely has a bad word for anyone, to put down digital recording systems. “Basically, (it) chops up the analog signal into a lot of little pieces and stores it in a digital process,” he told me in 2004. “Each of these steps has a switch, a click which is processed in the region above human hearing.” Neve cited a Japanese study that found listening to incomplete sound starts electric frequencies in the brain that are associated with anger and frustration.

Spoon drummer Jim Eno, who has a restored 1969 Neve console in his Public Hi-Fi studio in Austin, says the analog appeal is in the way “a Neve board colors the sound pleasantly and adds to the musicality. It’s the difference between a photograph and a painting. The painting is fuller, deeper and ultimately more satisfying.” To Neve, such “coloring” is just distortion that his old boards weren’t good enough to lower.

“Rupert’s a funny man about his old consoles,” said Fred Remmert, whose Cedar Creek studio sports a 1972 Neve console that used to belong to Elvis Presley. “He’s like an artist who’s still making records and doesn’t want to always be reminded about the songs he cut 30 years ago.” When Remmert proudly showed off his console to the man who designed it, Neve told him that he should sell it while it still had value and buy one of his new boards.
During his ’70s renaissance period, Neve battled American-made API consoles for market share. These days, studio owners have to decide whether to shell out around $100,000 for the 5088 or at least twice that for a vintage Neve.

“I find myself constantly in the position of competing with myself,” he said recently from the workshop in the rocky hills outside Wimberley, where he has a staff of 14 full-time employees.

For such an industry giant to live in this small Texas town is as incongruous as Jack Nicklaus living in Alaska. But Rupert and Evelyn, his wife of 66 years, love their lives out of the music business spotlight. They work and they go to church and they socialize. Until recently, Rupert Neve Designs was listed in the local phone book under “electronics” and folks would call to ask about getting their DVD players repaired.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t do that sort of work,” Neve told one man on the phone in 2004. The caller was persistent, so to send him on his way Neve announced, in his stately British accent, “our going rate is a thousand dollars an hour.” Click. Back to work.

Rupert was raised in Argentina, the son of missionaries, while Evelyn grew up in British India (now Pakistan), where her father was a schoolmaster.  They’ll take the heat of Texas to the constant cold drizzle of England, where their five grown children live. They also prefer the enterprising climate of their new home country to the more socialist stature of the heavily taxed United Kingdom. Rupert and Evelyn became proud U.S. citizens in 2002.

Prominently placed on a living room wall in the Neves’ home in Wimberley is an overhead shot of an old church rectory in Cambridge. “This is the place where a lot of things started,” said Evelyn. The family lived in the 27-room building from 1964 to 1975. At the start, the Neves had th


ree employees and Rupert worked out of the carriage house. By 1973, the company, then called Rupert Neve International, had 500 employees worldwide with factories in England and Scotland. In the ’70s, Neve consoles became synonymous with a warm, rich, organic sound. Every studio had to have one.

Needing an infusion of capital and wanting to concentrate on design, Neve sold his company in 1975 to ESE, a corporation that made its money primarily in oil exploration. The Neves were paid mainly in company stock, and when the stock plummeted to pennies on the dollar, they virtually gave the company away. Creatively, however, Rupert Neve was on a roll. He designed the first automated console, which stored and recalled the sliding fader positions, saving producers hours of time per session.

In January 1976, Beatles producer George Martin stopped by Neve’s studio to try out this new “moving fader automation,” as Neve’s new product was called. “We thought he might stop by for a couple hours, but he was mixing until late in the night,” Neve recalls. The next day Martin sent a note: “How soon can I have one?”

An inventor without an off switch, Neve’s mind is always at work, even at 90. “Once when I was on vacation with Evelyn in Spain, I had an idea on the beach and started drawing schematics (circuit designs) on the wet sand and photographing them,” he said with a laugh. “My work is my hobby.” A self-taught electrical wiz, Neve started building radios as a hobby at age 13 in Buenos Aires. He made it a business a few years later when World War II broke out and radios stopped coming from U.S. manufacturers. Neve was able to buy the components and build radios that he sold to stores in Argentina. “Even as a boy, my product had to sound better than everybody else’s,” he said. “I’d listen for hours and tinker with all sorts of ways to reduce the distortion.” At 17 he joined the British Army and sailed to England.

After the war, Neve bought a U.S. Army ambulance, which he converted into a mobile recording and public address system. His first “hit” was a policy speech by Winston Churchill, which Neve recorded straight to vinyl for worldwide release.

He met Evelyn through his sister — “sparks flew straight away” — but when he asked her father for permission to marry her, the old man said he didn’t see much future in the PA system business. “You can’t support my daughter in a style she’s accustomed to on that kind of money,” he said — so Neve moved to London and got a job designing transformers. The owner of the company also manufactured enormous loudspeaker units. “The thinking then was that quality speakers had to be huge,” Neve said.

Neve in 1968 in England.

Neve in 1968 in England.

Neve designed a unit that was just as powerful, but at about a quarter of the size. When the company balked on manufacturing the bookcase speakers, the Neves formed their own company, CQ Audio, in 1957. Undercapitalized, the fledgling enterprise struggled initially and there was no money to pay mounting bills. Even worse, the Neves’ infant son, John, was rejecting his mother’s milk and was in danger of dying of malnutrition. “I wondered what my parents would have done,” Rupert said in 2004. “They would have prayed — and so about 3 a.m. one night I fell to my knees and said, ‘If you’re really out there, please do something.’ In that instant, I could sense that someone was listening.”

Although his parents were missionaries, Rupert Neve “grew up a grandson of God, not a son of God,” he said. “I thought religion was for the old, the weak. I didn’t need God in my life. But in that moment of clarity at 3 a.m., I realized that I’d been given a gift.” The Neves’ son recovered and they’ve been devout Christians ever since.

“I’m not educated,” Neve stated. “Nobody taught me how to do what I do. From that day forward I’ve never forgotten that I owe everything to God’s grace. There’s no other way to explain it.”

Rupert and Evelyn initiated the Cambridge Radio Course in 1973 to train Christian broadcasters. It was one of his former Cambridge radio tutors whom Neve visited in Wimberley in 1980. When he returned to England, he told Evelyn that if they ever decided to move to the States, he found the perfect place, with a clean river running through it and amazingly friendly people.

The Neves invited me to seniors Bible study class at the First Baptist Church of Wimberley in 2004, when I first wrote about Rupert for the Austin American Statesman. It was his week to lead.  “Nobody knows the Bible better than Rupert,” said class leader Sue Baker. Putting on his name tag, Rupert joked that it was so he wouldn’t forget his own name. But his talk was sharp, weaving Patrick Henry’s defiant “give me liberty or give me death” speech of 1775 with Old Testament narratives concerning the prophet Elisha, who put himself in danger for his beliefs.

“Sometimes we have to take an aggressive action and risk the consequences,” Neve said, closing his binder full of notes. “Be bold.”

Wimberley is no place for the lost. When you end up here, it’s usually meant to be.


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GUY CLARK 1941-2016: Songs That Work

Posted by mcorcoran on May 17, 2016

Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark 1977. Austin Opera House photo by Scott Newton.

Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark 1977. Austin Opera House photo by Scott Newton.

by Michael Corcoran, Sept. 2006

If there’s an overall theme to the songwriting of Guy Clark, Nashville’s ambassador to Texas music for more than 35 years, it’s that if you want to explore the poetry of life, go all the way. Duly inspired, a Texas A&M student got in his car one day in the early ’80s and, on a whim, drove eight or nine hours to Monahans, in West Texas, to wait for a train that never came.

That Aggie, Mayor Will Wynn, is such a Guy Clark fan that he wanted to feel like the 6-year-old Clark in “Texas 1947,” which Wynn calls the greatest train song of all time. In the song, the anticipation of a child is validated by a souvenir nickel, smashed flat by “a mad-dog, runaway red-silver streamline train.”

After several hours, Wynn headed back to the dorm, driving all night, his nickel still on the track. His friends said he was crazy, but Wynn just told ’em that he would’ve stayed all night if he’d had a sleeping bag.

“His lyrics speak to me like no other songwriter, author or poet ever has,” Wynn explained of his affinity for Clark, who makes his Austin City Limits Music Festival debut Saturday.

Townes and Guy

Townes and Guy

The deeply honest songs of Guy Clark, including the cosmic cowboy classics, “Desperados Waiting For a Train” and “L.A. Freeway,” both covered by Jerry Jeff Walker, can have that effect on people. He’s not easily accessible – when he’s called “a songwriter’s songwriter” it means he has a voice that will ensure cult status – and his gold records are sung by others (Ricky Skaggs’ version of “Heartbroke” helped kickstart the bluegrass revival in 1982), but Clark’s body of work and continued influence on newer singer-songwriters gives him a face on the Texas singer-songwriter Mount Rushmore.

Although Clark hasn’t lived in Texas since 1970, when he was based in Houston, he’s considered a Texas writer because so much of his material is set in his home state. Plus he’s most often associated with Texans such as Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, whom he helped get signed to MCA, and, of course, Townes Van Zandt, the Sundance Kid to Clark’s Butch Cassidy (only in this one, Butch got the girl).

“Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are the front axle and rear axle of the whole Texas singer-songwriter machine,” said Joe Ely, who was also helped by Clark early on. “It’s so weird that they gravitated to Nashville, because they were both really the antithesis of what was going on there.”

Ely said he was worried for Clark after Van Zandt died of a heart attack in 1997 at 52.

“Guy’s whole demeanor went into a slump for two years,” Ely said.

Concern intensified early this year when Clark, 64, played a few concerts looking worn and aged, his hair gone. The CD booklet for “Workbench Songs” – which has been pushed back to an Oct. 17 release – contains photos showing a very different Clark than the “Nick Nolte with a guitar” fans are used to seeing.

Diagnosed with lymphoma early this year, Clark underwent chemotherapy.

“Everything’s fine now,” he said in August from the basement workshop of the Nashville house he shares with fellow songwriter and painter Susanna Clark, his wife of 34 years. He’s rebounded visibly in recent months and the disease is reportedly in remission.

guyclark3His workshop is perhaps the most productive 8-by-12-foot room in Nashville. It’s there, at a worn and sturdy work table that Clark makes guitars as well as plays them. This is also where he writes songs. Every stanza, every line, every word, every letter has to be perfect.

“Guy’s a masterful self-editor,” said songwriter Rodney Crowell, a close friend for more than 30 years. “I’ve seen him throw away lines that other writers would die for, because they didn’t serve the truth of the song.”

Even the best songwriters occasionally toss in a throwaway line to make a rhyme, but it would be difficult to find any pieces of Guy Clark songs that don’t ring true. Every song he’s written is based on his personal experience, or something that happened to a friend.

“He pays incredible attention to detail,” says Hayes Carll, one of many young songwriters who’ve come to Nashville to write with Clark. “He’ll make the most minute changes, but they’ll end up making a huge difference.”

It’s because of this meticulous process, as well as his skill as a woodworker, that Clark is often pegged as a song “craftsman,” usually in the first sentence of a review or profile. It’s a description, although fitting, that he has come to dislike.

“I think of my work as, like, poetry. I’m not building shelves,” he said.

The Clarks moved to Nashville in 1971 because they didn’t like Los Angeles and wanted to make a living as songwriters.

“I wanted to go where the best writers were, the best musicians,” he said.

Through the years, the Clark home has served as “an outpost for wayward Texas songwriters,” he joked. Van Zandt crashed with the Clarks for months at a time; Earle was also quite familiar with the guest room when he was starting out.

“You see, early on I decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, not a Texas songwriter,” Clark said, yet through the years he’s come to be referred to as “the dean of Texas songwriters.” He relishes his role as a mentor.

“I’m always interested in what newer writers are up to,” he said.

In 1983, a friend at a music publishing company gave Clark a demo tape of a new kid from the Houston area named Lyle Lovett.

“I listened to that tape every day for a week,” he said. “It was the best thing I’d heard in years.” He brought it by for MCA President Tony Brown to hear and Brown agreed. “I’ve gotta sign this guy,” Brown said halfway through the demo. And he did.

Lovett returned the favor by calling the tribute album to his early influences “Step Inside This Houguycolorse,” after the first song Clark ever wrote.

As he talked about his comfortable, yet not financially spectacular, career as a songsmith, Clark hand-rolled and chain-smoked cigarettes, seemingly as hooked on the process as the nicotine. Behind him was a wall of cassettes, their plain white covers tidily marked with inscriptions such as “Emmylou at Xmas,” “John Prine 11/4” and “Steve’s birthday.”

The first time he co-wrote with Clark, Carll said, he was mesmerized by all the incredible artists and songs that had been recorded, on the fly, in that little room. “There was one tape of Emmylou Harris singing ‘Fort Worth Blues,’ ” Carll said. “Let that sink in: Emmylou Harris singing a Steve Earle song about Townes Van Zandt to Guy Clark.” Sitting under a portrait of Van Zandt, no less.

Clark doesn’t speak easily about himself. He saves his insights for his songs. But he talks eloquently of Van Zandt, whose sets at Houston’s Jester Lounge in the late ’60s encouraged Clark to write deeper songs.

“We respected each other’s music immensely, but that’s not why me and Townes were such good friends,” Clark said. “He was smart – real smart – and really, really funny. Just a great guy to hang out with.”

Ely described the Guy-Townes relationship this way: “Townes came over for breakfast one day and it lasted 20 years.” Clark rarely does covers, but he records one Townes song on every album.

The biggest difference between the two, who could outdrink an Australian metal band, was spelled out by Crowell: “Townes wouldn’t share his genius. He was competitive with other writers, but Guy is incredibly generous. He showed me how the process worked. No one helped me more than Guy.”

Van Zandt was a notoriously private writer. He’d draw the blinds on a cheap motel and emerge three days later in a vodka haze with a masterpiece he couldn’t wait to play for Clark. But Clark likes to show his work in progress and has really taken to the role as collaborator. On his near-perfect 1975 debut “Old No. 1,” Clark wrote all the songs himself. On “Workbench Songs,” every cut is a collaboration.

“When you’re co-writing and you have an idea, you have to say it out loud, so you know right away if it’s a dumb one,” he said, with a laugh.

Although he started playing guitar at Aransas County High School in South Texas and came of age during Beatlemania, Clark has never been in a band. He didn’t want to rock with a Rickenbacker; he wanted to write songs that make people say, “I know exactly how that feels.”

He was drawn to a life playing music at an office party hosted by his father, a lawyer in Rockport, near Corpus Christi. A new associate at the firm, Lola Bonner, played a traditional Spanish song on the guitar, then passed it to someone who played another song, and a young Clark was fascinated.

“I thought, ‘This is won-der-ful,’ ” he said, his eyes wide open. Bonner taught Clark his first few songs, which he sang in Spanish.

When he started writing his own songs, Clark leaned on his memories of hanging out at his grandmother’s hotel in Monahans as a boy. The washed-up wildcatter of “Desperados Waiting For a Train” was based on Clark’s adventures with Jack Prigg, who lived at the hotel and filled the boy’s head with stories and life lessons.

“He wanted to have a home and a family, so he took me under his wing,” Clark said. “He was like a grandfather to me.”

Prigg was also the inspiration for “Let Him Roll,” a song about a man who falls in love with a prostitute, then goes on to destroy his life with wine when she chooses to stay in the street life.

“Guy will write lines that just rip your head off,” said Ely, who occasionally tours with Lovett, Clark and John Hiatt in a “guitar pull” format. “We always sit alphabetically, so I follow Guy, which is not always an easy thing. He’ll be singing ‘He always said that heaven/Was just a Dallas whore’ (at the end of ‘Let Him Roll’) and I’d have tears in my eyes, then it’s my turn to sing.” Ely laughed. “I’d look over at Guy and think, ‘Man, you got me again.’ ”


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Blues bassist Sarah Brown, descendant of famous slave owners

Posted by mcorcoran on April 20, 2015

Sarah Brown. Photo by Todd V. Wolfson.

Sarah Brown. Photo by Todd V. Wolfson.

You’ve seen Sarah Brown on-stage if you ever went to Antone’s in the ’80s or early ’90s. She was the house bass player when Antone’s was a blues club, period, and so she backed everyone from Big Joe Turner and Sunnyland Slim to Buddy Guy and Albert Collins and Otis Rush. For almost 30 years, Brown has been one of Austin’s most valuable – and visible – side musicians. But something only her closest friends knew until recently is that Brown, in her early sixties, is a descendant of John Augustine Washington, the youngest brother of George Washington. Although Brown is a blood relative of our first president, George Washington, she’s not a direct descendant, as George and Martha Washington had no children. Nor did John Augustine’s son Bushrod Washington, who inherited Mount Vernon and became a Supreme Court justice.

“Being a blues musician, it just wasn’t relevant to me to be a Washington,” said Brown, a Michigan native who has lived in Austin since 1982. The Washingtons she was committed to follow in the tradition of were Dinah and Walter “Wolfman” Washington, not America’s first family. “Our grandmother told us that we must amount to something in our own right because whatever blue blood we had was thin,” Brown said. George Washington is her great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle.

She knew her ancestors had slaves – it’s well-known that the father of our country owned human property – and she had a problem with that, but “it just wasn’t something that I thought about too much,” she said. The African Americans she worked with were heroes and legends; why dwell on an ugly past?

But in January 2011, her family’s legacy as slaveholders came to visit her in books and papers that she helped her cousin Tom Washington prepare for auction. When Brown’s uncle Nathaniel Washington Jr. died in 2007, his will stated that the family’s artifacts, including a piece of George Washington’s original coffin and papers that go back to 1662, were to be sold at auction with the proceeds to be divided between Brown, her sister and nine cousins.

A rare book auction in New York City in 2011 drew $31,000 for a pair of Revolutionary War-era books that had belonged to the Washington family. A memorabilia auction in Dallas was expected to attract much more money, with estimates in the six figures for surveying tools George Washington owned at age 16.


Glenn Fukunaga

Brown received the books and papers because friend and fellow Austin bassist Glenn Fukunaga is one of the country’s top experts in the restoration of old books. As the material sat there on Brown’s dining room table, awaiting appraisal and repair, Brown started reading. She found family papers in which slaves, with dollar value attached, were listed as assets alongside livestock, farm tools and furniture. She read about slaves being bought and sold by family members, some of whom fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War.

“It was all very disturbing,” she said. “The more I read, the more it made me wonder if some of the people I’ve been playing with all these years are descendants of slaves once owned by my family.”

One of the most telling books was a record of the Fifth Virginia Convention, held in Williamsburg, Va., in May 1776, just two months before the Declaration of Independence was signed. An early version of the U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted at the convention, a galvanizing moment in the American Revolution.

“I’d read in one part (of the book) that all men are created equal, but then there were many pages that told of plantation owners seeking restitution for slaves who had been jailed and killed when they tried to escape to the British side,” Brown said.

George Washington, who inherited 10 slaves from his father as an 11-year-old, was conflicted about slavery, according to the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Washington: A Life” by Ron Chernow. Even as he came to believe that human bondage ran against the principles on which the new nation was founded, he kept slaves until he died in 1799. His will, however, provided that all 124 of the black people – and a few white people – he owned be set free after the death of wife Martha. He also provided pensions for the older slaves.

The more Brown has found out about her famous family, the more she wants to know, especially since she’s found evidence, though inconclusive, that one or more of her ancestors fathered children with their slaves. “I may have African American cousins I don’t know about,” said Brown, who has spent many late nights searching sites such as www.afrigeneas.com and comingtothetable.org, which serve as a connection for the descendants of slaves and slaveowners.

An intriguing letter from abolitionist Urbain Barbier to Bushrod Washington, George’s nephew, led Brown to “Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon” by Scott Casper. She’s also been in communication with the author through email. “It’s a great, close-in look at slavery through the history of slaves and free African Americans who worked at Mount Vernon, from General Washington’s day through the 1980s,” said Brown. Her research, which she hopes will be the basis for a book about her family and her life interacting with blues royalty, has also turned up some brighter moments. Last month, Brown found a letter from Laurence Washington dated Aug. 27, 1816, that detailed a decision to free slaves owned by him and wife Mary. “We are both decidedly of the opinion that God of nature made them as free as ourselves,” the letter said, “and they are held in bondage by ruffian force and savage violence.” Freeing their slaves “was an act that could no longer be postponed.”

Brown said “it really made my day” to find that letter. “There’s such a fissure in this country between slavery and democracy,” said Brown. “It runs like a fault line from the American Revolution to modern times. People are still suffering from its effects.”

Before poring over the auction materials, Brown’s knowledge of her family’s history centered on the Washingtons who moved from West Virginia to Washington state around 1905 to homestead.

Brown’s mother, Glenora Washington Brown, told Sarah stories of her lawyer father, Sarah’s grandfather, Nathaniel, who drowned in the Columbia River in 1926 trying to save his brother and sister, who also drowned after being swept downstream in a powerful current.

Brown was born in Chicago, but moved at age 6 to Ann Arbor, Mich., where her father, Deming Brown, taught Russian literature at the University of Michigan. Her first instrument was the cello, but then the Beatles played “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, and Brown switched to electric bass. “I took the backward route in discovering the blues,” she said. “From the Beatles I found out about Chuck Berry and from there I found Chess Records and the world of the blues.” In her early 20s Brown moved to Boston, which had a vibrant blues scene. She often played the Speakeasy in Cambridge and backed her “first blues genius” in Big Walter Horton.

Needing a change of scenery after a bad breakup, Brown moved to Austin and got a gig playing bass for the Leroi Brothers, whose drummer Mike Buck she knew from the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

It was as the bassist in the Antone’s house band that Brown built her reputation and made her gender a nonissue. “If anyone had a problem with me being a female bass player, I didn’t hear any of it,” she said. “Sometimes, they’d come to the club and look at me a little strange when I put on my bass, but it’s really all about the music. If you could play, you were cool.”

Along with guitarists Denny Freeman and Derek O’Brien, drummer George Rains, guitarist/organist Mel Brown and sax player Kaz Kazanoff, Sarah Brown backed almost every blues great of note during the ’80s and early ’90s at Antone’s glorious location at 2915 Guadalupe St.

“What’s central to my life is the music created by slaves,” she said, underlining why her new research project has become almost an obsession. Blues grew out of the so-called Negro spirituals, or slave songs, sung in the sweltering fields of the South. In singing about troubles and hardships, often to a call-and-response cadence, the days became more bearable. The music soothed the souls.

Some of those slaves had children who had children who had children who made guitars out of cigar boxes and screen door wires, then grew up to create the music that inspired rock ‘n’ roll.

And many have, no doubt, been backed by an Austin woman, a descendant of exalted American Revolutionaries, who has walked those bass lines from the South to Chicago and back.


Seven generations from George Washington

Sarah Brown’s lineage:

Sarah’s mother Glenora (b. 1917) was the daughter of Nathaniel Willis Washington (b. 1881). His father, Bushrod Corbin Washington (b. 1839) moved his family from Charles Town, WV to Washington state in 1905. Bushrod’s father was Thomas Washington (b. 1812), whose father was also named Bushrod Corbin Washington (b. 1790). That Bushrod was the son of Corbin Washington (b. 1764), whose father was George Washington’s youngest brother, John Augustine Washington (b. 1736).

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To C-Boy, With Love

Posted by mcorcoran on October 15, 2014



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 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 at the Frisco

C-Boy at the Frisco
Courtesy of John Mintz

“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.”

To C-Boy, With Love

Courtesy of Steve Wertheimer

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.

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