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The time Dale Watson went crazy

Posted by mcorcoran on November 24, 2016



First published in 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Besides, Dale looks lousy in brown.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »


Posted by mcorcoran on September 4, 2016

ORG XMIT: S0390660178_STAFF undated_ UT quarterback James Street talks to coach Darrell Royal during the 1970 Cotton Bowl where the Longhorns defeated Notre Dame. 231XSports2 1231XSports2 12312004xSports 01022006xSports 12242006xSPORTS2 02282007xQUICK 11082012xSPORTS // jamesstreet //

Article from Jan. 1, 2006 AAS

by Michael Corcoran

On a wall in a conference room in the shadow of the state Capitol hangs a painting that freezes the pivotal moment of the Texas victory over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl that sewed up the 1969 national championship. Senior quarterback James Street is on the sidelines talking to Coach Darrell Royal under a scoreboard showing that it’s fourth-and-two on the Notre Dame 10-yard line with just over two minutes to go and Texas trailing 17-14.

The quarterback known for clutch play and the folksy coach who always played for the win could not have looked calmer. After all, this situation was nothing compared with the heart-stopping fourth-and-three call in the fourth quarter at Arkansas a few weeks earlier. In that Game of the Century, as the contest between the top two undefeated teams was hyped, the power-running Horns uncharacteristically called a long pass to tight end Randy Peschel and went on to win 15-14 with President Nixon in the stands in Fayetteville and a spellbound nation watching on TV. That perfectly thrown pass cemented Street as a Longhorn legend, but the Notre Dame game would seal his legacy.

Under pressure from an Irish pass rush on that crucial fourth-down play, Street rolled left and hit a diving Cotton Speyrer for an 8-yard completion. Texas would score the winning touchdown three plays later on a plunge by Billy Dale. “James Street gave 110 percent on every play,” says Happy Feller, whose extra point made the final score Texas 21, Notre Dame 17. “He led by example, was always positive, and the entire team responded to that leadership.”

Street’s hustle and toughness have also paid off in his business career and are qualities passed down to his sons, including 22-year-old Huston, a star relief pitcher for the Oakland A’s who was named the 2005 American League Rookie of the Year. Sitting in the memorabilia-filled offices of the James Street Group, the ex-quarterback says the painting tells only a part of the story. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” he says, reciting his favorite Royal quote. “We got a lot of good bounces, and the defense came through when it had to.” Now 57, Street is head of a company that specializes in “structured settlements,” giving long-term financial advice to plaintiffs who’ve recently settled wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits. He’ll talk football — twist his arm and he’ll tell you about “The Play,” as the pass to Peschel has been tagged in Longhorn lore — but family and business come first.

“I didn’t want to be one of those guys sitting on a bar stool and talking about the glory days and then realizing, one day, that it was 35 years ago and I was still telling the same stories,” he says.

If Vince Young wakes up Thursday as the quarterback who led Texas to a national title, the only man in Austin who can truly identify is Street, who won 20 straight games in almost two full seasons as UT’s starter. But where Wednesday’s Rose Bowl game against the University of Southern California is an important steppingstone for a quarterback seemingly headed for an illustrious pro football campaign, the Jan. 1, 1970, Cotton Bowl marked the end of Street’s football career. He was the prototype wishbone quarterback, a sleight of handoff wizard nicknamed “Slick,” but they didn’t use the wishbone in the NFL. Also a standout pitcher at UT, with a perfect game against Texas Tech in 1970, Street figured his best chance at pro ball was on the mound. But when that career also didn’t pan out, he spent a year capitalizing on his Longhorn exploits by singing country standards, Elvis covers and “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” in Steiner rodeos all over Texas. He even hung out with Presley, who said he cheered for Texas against Arkansas, for a few hours one night in Las Vegas.

When the Longview product came down to Earth, he took a job as an insurance agent in Austin. “The transition from full-time athlete was difficult,” Street says. “From the time I was 9 years old, I always had to be someplace at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” he says. “Little League practice. Pee Wee football. Pop Warner. Track. Most kids need to learn self-discipline to survive college, but not athletes. You knew, every day, that you had to be someplace at 3 o’clock. Then you get out of school and 3 o’clock comes around, and you don’t have to be anywhere and you don’t know what to do.”

Street’s first marriage, to Shanny Lott (the sister of Farrah Fawcett’s college boyfriend Greg Lott), ended in divorce after six years of marriage right out of college. Their only son, Ryan Street, 31, is an architect in town who’s designed Lance Armstrong’s homes in Dripping Springs and Spain and the new one in Tarrytown. Street married his second wife, Janie, who like him has a twin sister, in 1981. Huston was born two years later, followed two years after that by twins Jordon and Juston, both 20-year-old pitchers for the Longhorn baseball team. Westlake High senior Hanson rounds out the Streets.

Friends say James Street’s relatively low profile through the years has less to do with an aversion to the limelight than being the father of five active, athletic sons. “If James is not working, he’s coaching kids or watching his sons play,” says Feller, who has remained close to Street, as have most members of the ’69 team.

James Street’s name started popping up in the press again in 2002, when Huston Street became a star relief pitcher for the national champion Texas baseball team. “It’s unfair having to be compared to someone else all the time,” says the elder Street. “Huston had

to grow up as ‘James Street’s son,’ and now that he’s having all that success, Jordon and Juston are going to be known as ‘Huston Street’s brothers.’ That’s tough. But you just have to be yourself and forget about other people’s expectations.” Looking a little like Wayne Newton with graying hair and delivering his “life-isms” with a preacher’s flair for drawn-out storytelling, Street could be one heckuva motivational speaker. But even though he occasionally gives formal talks at alumni functions, he says he prefers to impart “all the wisdom I’ve got from steppin’ in chugholes” in a more person-to-person way, especially with his sons. When Huston played in the College World Series as a freshman, his father pulled him aside and said, “You’re gonna see all those people in the stands, and you’re gonna think, ‘This is the big show — I’ve gotta do more!’ But all you’ve gotta do is throw strikes and get people out, just like in all the other games you’ve played. Here’s what I want you to do: Pick out a stitch on the catcher’s mitt and focus on hitting it. Forget about all those people and what’s at stake. Hit that seam.”

The Longhorns won that 2002 championship in Omaha, Neb., and Huston Street was named the tournament’s outstanding player. Three years later, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, his father, forever the cautionary, ego-checking coach, said, “That award is for something you’ve already done. What are you gonna do next?” Last year, the elder Street watched on TV as Huston walked out to the mound at Yankee Stadium to face Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth to preserve an Oakland lead. The closer did his job, calmly retired the big bats in order, and on the phone that night, James told Huston he was proud of the way his son was able to concentrate on the task without getting caught in the fanfare. James Street was thinking back to the lesson in Omaha. Huston said, “Are you kidding, Dad? I kept looking up in the stands and all around me, thinking, ‘Oh, my God: Yankee Stadium!’ I was nervous as hell!”

James Street says he’s also a bundle of nerves when he watches his sons in competition. “I’m a lot more nervous during their games than I was when I played,” he says with a laugh. Game of the Century Teammates certainly witnessed no jitters when Street came back in the huddle during that 1969 Arkansas game and relayed the call from Royal on fourth-and-three with 4:47 left and Texas down 14-8. “You’re not going to believe this play, but it’s gonna work,” Street said to the other 10 players, each bearing a reflection of Street’s steely gaze. “It’s gonna work,” he repeated, and then he called the famous right 53 veer pass to tight end Peschel. Almost everyone in the audience was sure the Horns, with the full house backfield of Steve Worster, Jim Bertelsen and Ted Koy, would run for the first down. “Now I’m lookin’ at you, Cotton,” Street said to Speyrer in the huddle, “but I’m talking to you, Randy,” he said to Peschel, trying to throw off any Razorback spies. “If you get behind ’em, run like hell.” Peschel was covered by a pair of fast-closing defensive backs, but Street laid the ball in perfectly, over the tight end’s shoulder and into his hands.

The gamble paid off, going for 44 yards to the Arkansas 13; Bertelsen ran it in from the two for a TD a couple of plays later. The Game of the Century lived up to its billing, with Texas coming back from a 14-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to win 15-14. Besides having the undefeated No. 1 team face off against the undefeated No. 2 team, in the 100th anniversary of college football, the Texas-Arkansas game gained importance because it came in the midst of so much cultural upheaval. 1969 was the year of Manson, moonwalks, Chappaquiddick, Woodstock, “Midnight Cowboy” and Vietnam. Especially Vietnam. The game took place the same day a young concertgoer was stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels at a free Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in California. In 1969, America was very much a polarized nation.

“I think a lot of people wanted to watch a football game to get their minds off the other stuff,” Street says. But in the Horns’ jubilant locker room after the game, when Nixon declared Texas the national champion, the timbre of the times became evident when a Horn player thanked Nixon. When Nixon said the thanks belonged to the players for such an incredible game, the Horn shot back, “I’m thanking you because my lottery number was 350!” The government had implemented a military draft lottery to shore up troops in Vietnam just six days earlier.

At Robert Mueller Municipal Airport the night of the big win, about 20,000 fans greeted the team, toppling barricades and running out to the taxiing plane as though it carried the Beatles. Fans clawed at Street’s hair and clothes until he asked one of his burly linemen to run a little interference: “Just give me an opening, and I’m gone,” and he was. All Street ever needed was a little daylight.

 James Street 2005. Photo by Jay Janner for AAS.

James Street 2005. Photo by Jay Janner for AAS.

The old and the new Street has remained close to the Texas program, and every year, Coach Mack Brown invites the leader of the last Longhorn team to win a consensus national championship to address the team that hopes to be the next one. “The gist of what I tell them is to be prepared for a life that’s completely different from football,” he says. “In football, you know your opponent well in advance. You study his moves. You look for his weaknesses, and if you and all your teammates do their jobs, you look up at the scoreboard and it declares you the winner. But there’s no scoreboard in life. And you don’t always know your opponent.”

Street never misses a home game, nor the Red River Shootout, so long as one of his boys doesn’t have a game the same day. What impresses him most about Vince Young, he says, is the way the people in the stands seem to exhale when No. 10 trots out on the field. “He just instills so much confidence. There’s no panic in that guy.” The same could be said for the man who wore No. 16 from ’67 to ’69.

“I see similarities between Vince Young and James Street in terms of leadership,” says Feller, who owns TeleDynamics, a wholesale distributor of consumer electronics in Austin. “With James at the helm, we just knew we were gonna win. Never gave a second to the notion we might lose. I can sense the same thing happening now.”

Last year, the 1969 Arkansas team invited its legendary adversaries up to Fayetteville for a 35th anniversary reunion, a players-only event Street calls “probably the neatest experience I’ve had as an ex-player.” Street counts Arkansas quarterback Bill Montgomery, now a successful businessman in Dallas, among his closest friends. Players gave testimonials about how The Game changed their lives. Several choked back tears. Street started thinking about what was his favorite memory of the game that will forever define him to many. “I remembered just being spent — emotionally, physically — as I walked off the field, but also completely re-energized because we won,” Street says. “And in the middle of all that pandemonium, I saw (Arkansas Coach) Frank Broyles’ kids run over to him and hug him. He had just lost the biggest game of the year, giving up a 14-point lead, no less, and yet his family was there to support him. It didn’t mean much to me at the time, but that’s what I was thinking about” at the reunion.

“We were kids, just playing a game and living a dream. And then it was over. But the love of your family or your work ethic, or just, I don’t know, teaching a Little Leaguer how to hit — those are the things that really matter in life.”

James Street passed away Monday Sept 30, 2013.

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Cindy Walker: First Lady of Texas Song

Posted by mcorcoran on July 20, 2016


“Do you want to hear my new song?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked, as giddy as a teenager. “I just got it back from my demo guys in Fort Worth and I think it’s a real good ’un.” The recording started with a gentle guitar strum from Rich O’Brien, leading into the yearning voice of former Texas Playboys singer Leon Rausch, and out rolled, at a lingering, lovelorn pace, a timeless song that could’ve just as easily been pitched to Lefty Frizzell as Clay Walker. “The woman, the other woman in my life/Is the woman I love besides my wife,” the song opened. But it’s not a cheating song. After a couple verses it turned out that the other woman is “the mother that God gave to me.”
When the tune was over, an 85-year-old Cindy Walker asked, “Do I still have a hit in me?” then let out the hearty, husky laugh of a Western movie saloon keep.
She played a couple other new tunes over the phone, just like they did in the days when MP3 could’ve been the name for some kind of war ration. “Highway 80” rambled down that coast-to-coast stretch of blacktop like a carefree travelogue, while the torchy “Is It Love” conjured a wine glass lying on the floor, either the litter of love or the vessel of empty promises.
The royalty checks mailed to her hometown of Mexia, about 50 miles due east of Waco, may have lost a few zeros since the ’40s and ’50s, when Walker tailor-made hits for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and got her material onto the charts via Roy Orbison (“Dream Baby”), Jim Reeves (“Distant Drums”), Webb Pierce (“I Don’t Care”) and Eddy Arnold (“You Don’t Know Me”). But until she passed away in 2006 at age 87, Walker never stopped writing songs and pitching them. Her favorite tune was always the one she just wrote.
“Cindy Walker has never written a bad song in her life,” said Orbison’s producer Fred Foster, who discovered Dolly Parton, the only female songwriter of country music whose output rivals Walker’s. “She’s just this incredible bundle of talent and energy.” Foster said he once asked Walker how she could write one of the best drinking songs ever, 1948’s “Bubbles In My Beer,” without having ever stepped inside a honky-tonk. “The imagination is a wonderful thing,” she answered.
Her songs, in the hundreds, have been recorded, by everyone from Elvis Presley to Michael Bolton, and yet most people who hear the name Cindy Walker would probably think she’s the actress from Laverne & Shirley. The first woman inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (in 1970) is only the second most famous person from Mexia, right behind Anna Nicole Smith. But where the stripper-turned-national-curiosity painted her fame in gaudy strokes, songwriter Walker was a portrait of class, happily toiling in relative obscurity with the knowledge that notoriety is fleeting, but great songs live forever.


When Cindy Walker declined to give her age, it seemed less an act of vanity than one of compassion for those who whine of burnout at half the years. Her career as a songwriter lasted 65 years, with her first break coming at age 22, when she accompanied her father, a cotton buyer, and mother on a business trip to Los Angeles. The headstrong Cindy wasn’t just there to gawk at movie stars and studio lots. She wanted to pitch the songs she’d been writing on her Martin guitar since she was 12.
“I saw a building called the Crosby Building,” Walker recalled of a drive down Sunset Boulevard. “I told my daddy to pull over, I wanted to get one of my songs to Bing Crosby, but he just laughed.” Just because it was called the Crosby Building, he said, that didn’t mean it had anything to do with Bing Crosby.
The parents humored their daughter, but then were stunned when she ran outside a few minutes later and practically pulled her mother out of the car. It turned out that, indeed, Bing’s brother and manager Larry Crosby was in the building and he just so happened, in that era of Western movies and Zane Grey novels, to be looking for the sort of cowboy songs this gal from Texas wrote.
“I said, ‘Mama, c’mon, you gotta back me up,’” Walker said. Her mother, Oree Walker, the daughter of noted hymn writer F.L. Eiland, was an exceptional piano player who fashioned her daughter’s hummed melodies into full-fledged compositions.
“I was nothing without my Mama,” Walker said, “but she said she wouldn’t do it, she wasn’t prepared.” After some cajoling, Cindy’s mom finally relented under the condition that Cindy not tell anyone that Oree, who could’ve passed for her sister, was her mother.
Larry Crosby liked “Lone Star Trail” so much he set up a time the next day for Cindy to play it for Bing, who claimed the tune on the spot.
“I’m a natural-born song plugger,” Walker said. “I’m not intimidated by anyone. My father didn’t know the music business at all, but he told me to treat it like any other business. Know the market and sell, sell, sell.”Cindy-Walker
When the Crosbys sent Cindy to record demos of other songs, the head of the Decca label happened to be in the studio, and he offered Walker a record deal as an artist. After just two weeks in Los Angeles, Walker had the country’s biggest recording artist cut one of her songs and she had her own record deal. The Walker family decided to stay.
Cindy had a No. 5 hit singing “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” (which she didn’t write) in 1944 and starred in several “soundies,” three-minute snippets that played between Western double features. But in 1947 she returned to her true calling — full-time songwriting.
“The label was seeing songs that I wrote for other people become hits and so they’d say, ‘Why didn’t you sing that one for us?’ I’d say, ‘Well, I didn’t write that song for me to sing, I wrote it for the one who did it.’”
Besides a gift for simple, evocative lyrics and swaying melodies, Walker had a knack for crafting songs to the strengths of certain artists, like the smooth ballad “Anne Marie” for country crooner Reeves or the wacky “Barstool Cowboy From Old Barstow” for Spike Jones and the City Slickers.
But her most special writer/artist relationship was with “The King of Western Swing,” Bob Wills, who recorded more than 50 Cindy songs. Although Walker had quickly become a favorite writer of such fellow Texpatriates as Tex Ritter, Dale Evans, Al Dexter and Gene Autry, she longed to get songs to Wills and his spectacular band, who were living in Tulsa at the time.
Walker was on her way to the corner mailbox one day to send off a package of songs to Wills when she saw a tour bus with “Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys” emblazoned on the side. “I called up just about every hotel in L.A. looking for Bob Wills,” she said. The persistence proved profitable when Walker finally got ahold of Wills’ manager O.W. Mayo, who said to bring her guitar and her best new songs to his hotel. That afternoon, Walker pitched “Cherokee Maiden,” “Dusty Skies” and “Blue Bonnet Lane,” which would all become Wills standards.
When Wills and the Playboys were tapped by Columbia Pictures to make eight films, they hired Walker to write songs to go with the plots. She wrote 39 tunes for the Wills movies, and not a single one was turned down.

Oree Walker and daughter Cindy

Oree Walker and daughter Cindy

It never dawned on Walker that, as that rare female hit songwriter, she was bucking tradition. The acts having hits with her material certainly weren’t making gender an issue.
“The one thing that everybody in the music business is always looking for is a good song,” she says. “If you could write some, it didn’t matter if you were male, female, orangutan.” Success is a great equalizer.
She didn’t let the guys push her around, either. Ernest Tubb wanted to record Walker’s “China Doll,” for instance, but he wanted to change the line “tiny pale hands” to “little brown hands,” but Walker refused. Tubb declined to record the song as is, but it was eventually taken to the pop charts by the Ames Brothers and George Hamilton IV.
“I don’t feel rejected if someone passes on one of my songs,” Walker says. “I just think, ‘Well, it’s not right for them, but it’s right for someone.’”
Despite a vibrant personality, Cindy Walker had a reputation for being shy of the spotlight. In fact, she initially declined to show up for her own tribute at the Paramount Theater in Austin in 2004, telling organizers she just didn’t want people to make a big fuss over her. But when her close friends Leon Rausch, Rich O’Brien, Ray Benson and Johnny Gimble signed on, Walker had a change of heart. She ended up getting so into the Paramount gala she made song requests to bandleader Sarah Brown (whose all-star cohorts included Lisa Pankratz on drums, Redd Volkaert on guitar, Earl Poole Ball on piano and Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar) and ended up dancing a jig in front of the stage to the delight of 1,100 on hand.
Cindy Walker, who calls everyone “honey” or “dear,” was not an opera-box kinda gal. Although her mother was able to bring elegant accompaniment to Cindy’s songs, she was unable to get her Rebecca off Sunnybrook Farm. “Mama was just so prim and proper and I was the opposite,” Walker said, with a laugh.cindywalker5

“They were quite a mother and daughter team,” producer Foster said of the Walkers, who stayed at the Continental Apartments on Nashville’s West End for six months out of the year to pitch songs. “They related so well to each other. There was always a lot of banter back and forth when they played. And, oh, how Mama could cook! Her Southern cooking was legendary in Nashville.” Everybody called Oree Walker “Mama,” even those who were older.
So tight were the mother and daughter (Cindy’s father died in 1948) that when Oree Walker passed away in 1991, some friends worried that Cindy, who was married only once and only briefly, would have trouble finding the strength to go on. She still had her songs, though the one who helped give them lift was gone. “I miss Mama every day,” she says. “Every time I sit at the piano, Mama’s grand piano, I remember how she played ‘In the Misty Moonlight’ the day before she died,” Cindy recalled, with a smile you could practically see over the phone. She remembered how she’d get so excited when she finished a song that she’d sometimes wake her mother in the middle of the night to get her to play it. A song was never finished until Mama gave it her touch. “It’ll be just as good in the morning,” Oree Walker would say, then doze on back to sleep.
When Cindy Walker was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997, she brought many in the crowd to tears when she recited a poem about the dress she was wearing, which her mother made. The free-spirited Cindy, then 79, also brought a bit of refreshing energy to the staid proceedings, just by being her buoyant, unpretentious, non-frilly self.
She seemed like someone who could’ve settled the West, instead of just writing songs about the new frontier.
It was a quiet life in Mexia, where Walker lived in the three-bedroom, brick house for 50 years. Although old friends adored her and younger artists and songwriters figuratively kissed her feet at any opportunity, Walker said she didn’t really like too many visitors. You can’t write hit songs with company coming around, after all.
The honors and tributes stacked up, like her 2003 induction into Broadcast Music Inc.’s exclusive “Million-Aires” club, signifying that her songs have been played on the radio more than a million times through the years.
But hearing those songs sung and played masterfully, as Ray Charles did with “You Don’t Know Me” in 1962 and George Jones with “The Warm Red Wine” the same year, is all the reward she ever needed.
“Do you want to hear my new song?” From the lips of Cindy Walker, a true Texas treasure, those words were precious.


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Posted by mcorcoran on July 18, 2016

When you go to see an act at a record store appearance, you’re not expecting musical magic or spontaneity, but a sampler set on the way to the autograph booth. The acoustics are not great, the sun’s still out and half the folks are there for the free beer.

But country singer James Hand’s March 1, 2006 set celebrating the release of his Rounder Records debut, “The Truth Will Set You Free,” just seemed to mean more and with the packed store in full support, he turned Waterloo Records into a moving, stirring, thrilling box full of memories. Remember the ’50s and ’60s heyday of country music? The 53-year-old Hand is not a throwback, but a continuation.

“We’ve got time for one more,” the native son of “Last Picture Show” Texas said introducing the uptempo “Little Bitty Slip.” But when that number was over, Hand and band played another one and then another, pulling out a Hank Williams song Hand rarely sings anymore because he’s become weary of comparisons to the tragic country legend. The crowd, which ranged from couples that could’ve met at the old Skyline to tattooed hipsters, hung on every vocal swoop and moan, cheering Hand on like a marathoner at the 20-mile mark. The lovefest ended with Hand singing an a capella tune, accompanied only by the tears streaking down his cheeks.

James Hand had done a lot of living, a lot of losing to get to this point, the release of his first nationally-distributed CD. Nobody from Waterloo even considered making the “wrap it up” sign until this last of the true blue honky tonk originals had stepped off the bandstand.

A day earlier, Hand sat in a beer joint disguised as the “Willis Country Store,” near his home in Tokio, about 10 miles north of Waco. He’s exceedingly polite, answering questions with “yes sir” and “no sir” and calling everyone Mister or Miz. But he often slides into gutters of gloom. He bears little resemblance to a man on the verge of national attention for the first time since playing country dancehalls 40 years ago.

“I don’t know if I’ve been more blessed or cursed,” Hand said, looking back at the hard life he sings so beautifully about.”But I been diversified.” He’s one of those guys who taps your forearm when he throws out a good line. In the blessed column you’ve got the gift for honest, direct songwriting and the voice to match. Hand was raised by a loving family, embraced by neighbors who look after him. He’s got the backroads and woods of northern McLennan County as getaways for his soul. He’s got Willie Nelson in his corner.

On the cursed side, Hand will tell you – tap, tap- is everything else.

“I just want to feel worthy,” he said, staring down at a trio of Coor’s Light bottles sent over by fellow customers. “Right now, my life ain’t worth a damn.”

His happiest years, he said, were from 1990 to 1993, when he lived with a schoolteacher and drove a gas truck from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. for $270 a week. “The straight life suited me just fine,” he said. “If they didn’t sell the company, I’d still be working there.”

Just as at his concerts, when he measures the moments of despair with jitterbug numbers and an oddball sense of downhome humor, Hand swings the full emotional pendulum when he’s just hanging out. Ol’ Slim, as he’s known back home, is a constant jokester who recently bought the boys at Willis’ a round by announcing, “Country music’s been very good to me: I made $15 last weekend.” When the barflies chuckled, Hand said, “If you think $15 ain’t much money, try to borrow it.” He’s got a quick quip for everything. Asked if he’s Internet savvy, he said he’s had a laptop since he was 8 years old. Pause. “It was the Etch-a-Sketch model.”

Moments later, the singer’s eyes welled up as he pointed out the farm house his parents built on 14 acres of land they bought in 1959. His mother passed on in 2002, his father in 2005, both from lung cancer. Hand lived with them at that house for most of his life. His loneliness thickens the air around him.

His father, a horse trainer, took a turn for the worse in early 2005, just as Hand had finished the basic tracks of “The Truth Will Set You Free,” which features several re-recordings of songs from Hand’s three previous, locally-released albums. With the elder Hand given just a few more weeks to live, Hand headed back to Tokio, with the album 90% done and a block of studio time put on hold.

“I sat at Daddy’s bed for 60 days in a row,” Hand said, then thought about something. “Well, I done told a lie there. There was one Sunday afternoon I came down to Austin to redo a couple vocals. I hired a policeman friend from Cleburne to drive me down because he could drive as fast as he wanted and not get a ticket.”

Before he signed his deal with prominent roots music label Rounder in 2004, Hand wasn’t sure he’d ever make another record. Although it was praised by critics, he disowned his previous studio album, 2000’s “Evil Things.” 2003’s “Live at the Saxon Pub,” meanwhile, was merely a souvenir of Hand’s Thursday residency at the South Lamar club.

But Hand had his champions, such as KUT deejay Tom Pittman, who craved another minor masterpiece like the 1996 debut “Shadows Where the Magic Was.” Pittman put Hand’s ffarm noir sound in the hands of Rounder label head Ken Irwin, who caught an especially frisky set at the Saxon and offered a deal.

“Ken asked me, ‘How’s his business sense?’” Pittman recalled, “And I told him, ‘It’s the worst you’ve ever seen.’ James is even uncomfortable selling you a CD after a show. He thinks that if you give him $15, he should come over and mow your lawn.”

But Hand’s “aw shucks” humility is one of the reasons he’s probably the most beloved figure on the local country scene since National Guard retiree Don Walser started singing at Henry’s about 15 years ago.

Like Walser, Hand wears his authenticity like cologne. He’s as backwoods as moonshine, able to name more rodeo clowns than former U.S. Presidents. “I used to drive to West High with a shotgun in my truck and nobody thought nothing ’bout it back then,” Hand said. These days that would draw a SWAT team.

Hand is so country he can introduce a song as “one of the bestest I ever wrote” without a tinge of affectation. Who else can look and sound so much like Hank Williams (“you even walk like him” Ray Price told Hand a few years back) and not come off as a wannabe. When Hand sings that he’s “Just an Old Man with an Old Song,” it sounds as if he was born with that tune in 1952, the same year Hank Williams died. There’s such a depth of expression in Hand’s songs such as “If I Live Long Enough To Heal” and “When You Stopped Loving Me, So Did I,” that this music is truly his own.

“I’ve gotta believe that the same forces that moved Hank, also move James,” Pittman said of the Hank-like way Hand’s shoulders jump to the rhythm.

“I guess I’ve just been a haunted bastard my whole life,” Hand said. He said he first knew he was different in the first grade. “They made us put our heads down on a towel and take a nap,” he said. “Then they’d play a lullabye and I’d just start sobbing. Nobody could tell me why.”

Like Williams, who died at age 29 from drug and alcohol abuse, Hand has tried to negotiate his partying ways with God-fearing beliefs. “I pray every night,” Hand said, “but I also like to drink just ’bout every night.”

Unlike most real-life honky tonk outlaws, Hand doesn’t swagger, he shuffles. Other hard-life models parlay a week in the pokey into “doin’ time,” but when Hand was asked about his scrapes with the law, he deferred. “Now, when I put on my hat and sing, that’s the public’s business,” he said. “But when a door closes behind me, that’s my business.” Records show, however, that Hand was convicted of possession of amphetamine in 1988 and sent to prison, where he served nine months. To not put that marketing bonanza out there, is kinda like a gangsta rapper trying to pass off bullet wounds as birthmarks.

Rounder is not shy about promoting that Hand has a big fan in Willie Nelson, whose proclamation of “the real deal” is on the back cover of every CD. The two met in 1980 when Hand was a bouncer at Wolf’s in West and Nelson was showing his “Honeysuckle Rose” co-star Amy Irving around his old stomping grounds. “It was Halloween and when they came up to the door I said, ‘Well, if you ain’t him, you sure look like him,” Hand said, “and Mr. Nelson said, ‘I’m him.’” The two talked music for a while, then Hand went home and got his guitar. After he played Nelson a few originals, Willie grabbed a napkin and scribbled on it, “James Hand can record for free.” Several months later, Hand made it to Nelson’s Pedernales studio to lay down some demos for a few hours. Sheepishly asking how much he owed, the engineer held up the napkin Hand had presented and said “Paid in full.” Nelson has also taken Hand out on tour with him several times as the opening act.

Much more often, though, Hand plays beer joints back home, where it could be anyone playing in the corner. On such nights, when Hand’s guitar struggles to be heard over the chatter, Hand sometimes introduces classics as originals, just to see if anyone’s paying attention. “Here’s another one that done real good for us,” he said recently, then went into “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” His son Tracer, a former bullriding champion, fell to the floor laughing, but everyone else just kept on yapping.

When the crowd is enrapt in Hand’s performance, like at the Waterloo instore, the songs can be spellbinding. Every one of Hand’s songs is about something that happened to him, every lyric means something, which is why he often cries when he’s singing.

“I don’t believe that crap about how you have to make yourself happy before you can make other people happy,” he said at Wolf’s, nibbling on orange crackers from the vending machine. “Until I can make people happy first, then I can’t even think about feeling better about myself.”

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Texas Guinan: From Waco To the Great White Way

Posted by mcorcoran on June 23, 2016

Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan

Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan, circa 1904

During Prohibition, the life of New York City’s illegal party was a former cowgirl from Waco named Mary Louise “Texas” Guinan. Greeting customers with “Hello, Sucker!” and deci-bellowing “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”, Guinan turned pure brass into gold during the Roaring Twenties. Her talent to

foster excitement “from eleven to seven” made her the richest hostess on Broadway. Newspaperman Edmund Wilson described her as “this prodigious woman, with her pearls, her glittering bossom, her abundant, beautifully bleached yellow coiffure, her formidable trap of shining white teeth, her broad back behind its grating of green velvet, the full-blown peony as big as a cabbage on her broad green thigh.” Guinan was a genius at making an impression.

Enamored of the pearls which hung from her patter were columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan, who dotted their columns with Tex’s witticisms. Once taking a chug of water, she said, “This is great stuff… for going under bridges.” She once put down an unnamed Broadway actress by saying “Her brain is as good as new.” She hated prudes and once said, “Some people are so narrow-minded their ears touch in the back.”

Texas Guinan

Texas Guinan

Guinan (b. 1884) left Waco with her Irish immigrant parents at age 14 when her father took a job as solicitor in Denver. There, she married commercial artist John Moynahan at age 20. Guinan had a brief movie career as a cowgirl in 1918-1919, which is how she got her nickname. The Moynahans moved to Boston, where her husband got a job with the newspaper. They had no children.

The former Mary Moynahan, freshly divorced, moved to Manhattan in the early ‘20s to become an actress. But wherever she went, a party broke out, so she was hired as mistress of ceremonies at the Beaux Arts Hotel. There she attracted the attention of Irish bootlegger Larry Fay, who set her up at his new El Fey Club on West 47th St. in 1924.

The liquor flowed illegally, but as long as the bulls were paid off everything was cool. Still, there were frequent busts from the feds. One of Guinan’s signature lines was “Give the little ladies a great big hand” and one night an officer stood up right after and said “Give the little lady a great big handcuff!” As always, the band played “The Prisoner’s Song” when Guinan was taken away for the night.

Ironically, the bold and sassy saloon moll who was the inspiration for Mae West’s routine was a devout Catholic who didn’t drink. Her parents, Michael and the former Bridget Duffy, lived with her at 17 W. 8th St. in Greenwich Village.

Neither Guinan nor Fay (who employed Owney Madden as muscle) would live to see the repeal of Prohibition in December 1933. Fay was shot to death the first day of the year by a liquored-up doorman in a pay  dispute. Texas Guinan died in November 1933 of acute infection of the intestines while on tour with her “Too Hot For Paris Revue” in Vancouver, BC. She was 49.

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Charles Stagg house (abandoned) Vidor, TX

Posted by mcorcoran on May 1, 2016











More on Charlie Stagg.


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Blues In the Night: Ricky Broussard

Posted by mcorcoran on April 17, 2016

by Michael Corcoran, AAS 2004

His eyes were darting, terrified, like an animal not yet used to a new cage. Ricky Broussard looked spooked as he waited to take the stage at the Hole In the Wall — a territory he once utterly owned — on June 7, 2002. He stiffly nodded and smiled at well-wishers. When he stepped up, strapped on his guitar and plugged it into his amp, it was with the gleeful anticipation of a dicey medical procedure. He looked around the club and saw the guy he used to buy cocaine from, the folks he used to drink with until the sun came up and more than a couple of fellas he’d battled in drunken bouts. Broussard took a deep breath and then got ready to play stone-cold sober for the first time in more than two decades.

“We used to fuss, we used to fight,” he sang, separating the lines with four curt guitar notes, then repeated the words as the crowd erupted. “We used to hoot and holler late into the night and let the shotgun blast/We’re plumb out of our minds/we’re twohootsblackcatgoing nowhere fast.”

Halfway through that first song, Broussard settled down and his band, Two Hoots and a Holler, played one of its best sets since its Black Cat Lounge heyday in the late ’80s/early ’90s. And when the crowd screamed and stomped for one more encore, Broussard and a friend from his support group back in Seguin were already in the car. The Austin music scene’s notorious symbol of unrealized potential, who never let something trifling like morning light break up a party, was heading home before last call.

“I’d played the Hole hundreds, maybe even thousands of times,” Broussard recalls of that gig, “but that was the first time I ever really felt the love from the people. It was like, everybody in the place was in my corner.”

It was really always like that, but Broussard had previously been too messed up, too insecure, too defensive to notice. The local music community fell in love with the ragin’ Cajun since he started coming here from Seguin as guitarist in the Surfin’ Cajuns in the early ’80s. Fronting his next band, Two Hoots and a Holler, Broussard dripped with star power. Such catchy, faintly exotic rock songs as “Blues in the Night,” “Step Fast” and “Middle of the Night” defined Monday nights at the Black Cat, where the crowds lined up hours before showtime and didn’t let up all night.

Local musicians, meanwhile, were awed by Broussard’s instinctive grace on the guitar; his single-string runs were songs within the songs. “When you looked into the crowd at those early Two Hoots shows, you’d see a couple dozen guitar players,” says musician Jesse Dayton. “A bunch of us would follow them from gig to gig because Ricky was doing something different than all the other roots or rockabilly bands in town. He wasn’t mimicking his idols; he had his own hybrid that was like Joe Strummer and Bobby Fuller rolled into one guy that you absolutely couldn’t take your eyes off.”

Managers, label owners, club bookers, other musicians were always there to slip a business card or scribbled phone number into Ricky’s hands. But for every person out to help Ricky’s career, there were 50 who just wanted to hang out with him after a gig. Fans passed packets of cocaine and methamphetamine to him through their handshakes, young women yanked him into spare bedrooms, bartenders looked the other way as Broussard loaded cases of beer into the van after a show.

“I got swept up in it, big time,” Broussard says. “The first time I saw people in the audience mouthing the lyrics to songs I wrote, that just blew me away. I was connecting, man, for the first time. It felt so good that I didn’t want the party to stop.”

He was the chosen one, blessed with so much talent, so much intensity. Everyone wanted a piece of Ricky Broussard before he got famous and moved away.

The singer/guitarist, meanwhile, was paralyzed with self-doubt and attendant substance abuse. “I kept wondering, ‘Am I the real deal or have I been able to fool everybody?’ ” He self-medicated with heroin, whiskey, crack cocaine, really anything he could get his hands on. In true self-destructive form, Broussard’s rage was often leveled at fawning supporters. One night, members of a University of Texas fraternity approached him to play a party for several thousands of dollars, and Broussard hurled obscenities at them and had to be restrained from fighting the whole group of them.

“I had 100 forms of fear running through my mind,” Broussard says. “I started questioning the motives of everyone who was close to me. When (bandmates) Vic and Chris would come to me and say, ‘We’re worried about you,’ I’d think, ‘Yeah, they’re worried about their gravy train going dry.’ I pushed everybody away.”

During the second South by Southwest Music Festival in March 1988, Two Hoots attracted the attention of Oakland-based Hightone Records, which had money to put into new bands after releasing a couple million-sellers by Robert Cray. “The label owner, Larry Sloven, came up to us after the set and said he really wanted to take us to lunch the next day,” Two Hoots bassist Vic Gerard recalls. “I picked a spot that was a couple blocks from one of Rick’s haunts, but he never showed up. Me and Sloven sat there for two hours and then he got up and said, ‘Well, if he can’t even meet me for lunch . . .’ ”

Even his favorite club owners struggled with the singer’s erratic behavior. In 1992, Broussard quit the Black Cat, a gig that was paying the group as much as $2,000 every Monday, after owner Paul Sessums made a crack about the singer’s masculinity when Broussard bowed out early one set after hurting his leg on one of his trademark leaps.

“One night they had a sold-out crowd at the Continental Club and Ricky played about four songs and then handed me his guitar,” says Dayton. ” ‘Here, finish for me, man. I gotta score,’ ” Broussard told Dayton, then disappeared out the back door. Broussard’s association with the Continental Club ended in 1993 when he got in a drunken fight with a popular local singer he had been seeing. The angry words turned to blows and things really got ugly. “I just snapped,” Broussard recalls.

The next afternoon, Broussard woke up with the worst kind of hangover, the kind when you piece together the events of the night before and go: “Oh, my God. Did I really do that?” Gerard called the singer at home on, appropriately, Jinx Street, with a solemn tone. Broussard was banned from the Continental, disowned by a family of club employees that he’d been very close to.

“I couldn’t face what I had done to (the singer),” Broussard says. He went right to the liquor store and, for the next few months, was drinking booze every waking moment. His wife, who’d put up with so much in three years of marriage and about seven years of being together before that, finally left him. Then, Gerard joined the Derailers and drummer Chris Staples got a job with Whole Foods. Two Hoots and a Holler, once Austin’s most promising band had hung it up after just one album, 1990’s “No Man’s Land” on France’s New Rose label, only to play occasional reunion gigs at friends’ weddings.

Addicted to heroin, going through withdrawals when he was sent to jail twice for DWI arrests, Broussard hit rock bottom. In 1996, the SIMS Foundation musicians assistance program stepped in and offered to send Broussard through rehab. He took them up on it but was back on the hard stuff a few weeks after his discharge. A second rehab stint a couple years later also failed to take hold, though Broussard says he was starting to learn the tools of recovery, of coping with his guilt.

“A lot of people knew the maverick, wild-eyed showman,” says Gerard, “because Rick did his best to mask the super-sensitive side. He feels things very deeply.”

The ninth of 10 children of a civil service worker at a San Antonio Air Force base, Broussard grew up idolizing his older brothers, two of whom were the only white members of soul band C.L. and the Teardrops. When drummer brother David, a Vietnam vet, died of a heroin overdose in 1979, it hit Ricky hard.

A year earlier he had a musical epiphany when he saw the Sex Pistols at Randy’s Rodeo in San Antonio. “There was a real division between the metalheads and the punks and the local rock stations had been badmouthing the Pistols,” Broussard says. “That’s when I said ‘I’m there.’ ” Galvanized by the Pistols’ swagger in the face of their musical primitiveness, Broussard dropped out of school in the ninth grade and put together the trailer park anarchist punk band 60 Inch Bazookas. But his guitar playing, heavily influenced by Duane Eddy instrumentals, was taking him in a different direction.

“I saw Gene Vincent and Sid Vicious as connected,” Broussard says. “The rage of rockabilly and punk came from the same place.” Vincent and Vicious were also linked through heavy use of drugs and alcohol. Broussard could identify with the demons and struggled with the idea that the only way to get sober was to hang up the Fender Telecaster.

In early 2002, facing a third DWI conviction, Broussard entered rehab in Fredericksburg and says he’s been clean and sober ever since. He’s back with Two Hoots and a Holler, who’ve just released a CD of covers called “Songs Our Vinyl Taught Us” on Freedom Records.

“That was a fun album to bash out,” Broussard says. “It was a way to get reacclimated to the studio and to have something to sell at the shows, but I’m really excited about the next studio album.”

Broussard, Gerard and Staples are currently mixing the album, with Jesse Dayton producing. “Rick Broussard’s Two Hoots and a Holler,” which mixes newly recorded old songs such as “Katy Ann” and Broussard’s amazing claiming of “Sukiyaki” with new material, will hit stores in January.

Austin Music Journal 2013

Austin Music Journal 2013

“Ricky’s really the same guy, with the same intensity,” says Dayton, adding that Broussard was the last guy he thought would get sober. “When he plays, there’s still a lot of anger there, but he’s figured out how to bottle it in more productive ways.” Dayton says Broussard’s new material, including the brand new “I Cried the Day Doug Sahm Died,” is as good as anything he’s ever written. “One thing that hasn’t changed is Rick’s commitment to not do a boring show,” Gerard says. “He still hates a crowd that just sits there politely.”

When you get sober, the days get longer. And with all this new time, Broussard not only plays with Two Hoots, but he does solo acoustic shows and performs occasionally with the Mersey Lords, a Beatlesque cover band that includes Fastball’s Tony Scalzo and songwriter Kevin Brown.

It was a spectacular Two Hoots set at SXSW 2003, in a tent in back of Opal Divine’s, that convinced Broussard to quit his construction job in Seguin and concentrate on making a living playing music. “Man, we were firing on all cylinders that night,” he says. “It was just like the old days, only I wasn’t sticking a needle in my arm afterward.”

The SXSW set, just a few days after the death of his idol Joe Strummer, concluded with Two Hoots covering the Clash’s “Career Opportunities,” a song of bleak prospects. At the end of the number, Broussard swung his guitar over his head and pounded the stage with it until it smashed into bits. Many in the crowd, longtime Broussard watchers, no doubt thought the violent burst signaled a return to past ways. Dayton, who stood near the side of the stage laughs when asked if the destruction was part of the show.

“That was just some Telecaster copy piece of crap guitar,” Dayton says. “That was just Ricky’s way of saying goodbye to Joe Strummer.” Dayton pauses, as an out-of-control Broussard reel seems to run through his head for a few seconds. “Now there was a time when, if Ricky smashed a guitar, you could be sure it was his most precious, cherished, best-sounding one.”

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A phone call for Mr. Amos Milburn

Posted by mcorcoran on March 23, 2016

It sometimes takes just one person to make the rest of us look bad.

Lola Anne Cullum was the African American talent scout in Houston who discovered both Amos Milburn and Lightnin’ Hopkins and signed them to a deal with Aladdin Records in Los Angeles. Milburn was the fantastic piano player and singer who profoundly influenced Fats Domino, right to the scrunched-down singing posture. Hopkins had a piano player named Wilson “Thunder” Smith and so Cullum dubbed him “Lightnin’.” Mrs. Cullum, married to a prosperous Third Ward dentist, was a major figure in Texas music from ’46 until about ’50 when competing with Don Robey soured her on the business. She died in 1970.


This front page story of the Houston Informer black newspaper dated June 19, 1948, is just another sad example of the treatment of blacks in the south during Jim Crow segregation. Cullum was trying to call a venue owner about an upcoming booking for Milburn, who was red-hot at the time with “Down the Road Apiece,” “Chicken Shack Boogie” and “Bewildered.”

We’ll let the newspaper article, sent to me by the great Texas music researcher Andrew Brown, tell the rest of the story:



Negroes Are Not Called Mr. – Says Phone Operator

Houston – A complaint that an operator for long distance service in Houston refused to complete a call and ordered her to release the line was made to the Southwestern Bell telephone company, June 14, by Mrs. Lola Ann Cullum, prominent wife of a local doctor.

Mrs. Cullum reported that when she asked the operator to contact her party she called him “Mr.,” and the person answering at the other end informed the operator here that he would have to go next door to get her party for her.

During the pause, while the person went in search of the party Mrs. Cullum had requested, and had addressed by the title of respect, “Mr.,” the operator here asked Mrs. Cullum if the party she wanted was a colored person.

Unaware of the operator’s motive for the question, Mrs. Cullum answered yes, and said she was shocked when the operator told her:

No Negro Is “Mr.”

“Why, you don’t call no colored people Mr. over long distance telephone. No Negroes are a Mr. over the telephone,” and after an exchange of words, ordered Mrs. Cullum to release the line.

Mrs. Cullum insisted on talking to the party who answered, and the long distance operator insisted on Mrs. Cullum releasing the line, stating she could not complete the call, Mrs. Cullum said.

Mrs. Cullum is the wife of Dr. S.J. Cullum, prominent dentist in the city. She and her husband live in their residence at 3238 Alabama [in the Third Ward], and Mrs. Cullum is a booking agent and manager of the popular recording artist Amos Milburn who is currently playing Texas towns.

She is licensed under James Petrillo, national music head (i.e., president of the National Federation of Musicians), and books under Silbia (illegible) Agency out of Hollywood, Calif.

It was an engagement for Mr. Milburn, who played West Columbia (Texas) Sunday night, that Mrs. Cullum placed the long distance call to a Mr. Patterson in West Columbia, about 3:15 p.m. Monday. (sic) The engagement was to be made for Houston this week.  Due to the hour or more delay after the operator refused to complete the call, Mrs. Cullum was not able to contact her party when the call was finally completed a few minutes after 4 p.m., she said. As a consequence, she had to substitute for the West Columbia engagement, she said.

Heads Investigate

Lola Anne Cullum in 1940

Lola Anne Cullum in 1940

Mrs. Cullum’s complaint was investigated by several supervisors at the telephone company, and each of them called her and talked to her about the incident, she said. One of the supervisors, apparently the one under whom the operator works, told Mrs. Cullum she understood after questioning the operator that Mrs. Cullum had ‘cancelled’ the call, Mrs. Cullum said.

Mrs. Cullum said she thinks that the supervisor understands, now, that because of the nature of the business with the party in West Columbia whom she tried to contact by long distance, “there simply would be no point in my canceling it.”

District Manager Scruggs, who investigated the complaint Tuesday, told an Informer reporter who contacted him by telephone that Mrs. Cullum had made the complaint that the reporter repeated to him.

Although a regrettable and unfortunate incident, Mr. Scruggs said he thinks the company, through the chief operator in that department, has assured Mrs. Cullum that the operator had certainly violated the policies of the company.

He pointed out that such incidents are widely isolated and happen hardly one time in a thousand. He regrets that the operator’s action has resulted in publicity which can probably lead to resentment.




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Maud Cuney-Hare, a former Austinite you need to know about

Posted by mcorcoran on March 21, 2016

by Michael Corcoran

In the spring of 1897, renowned Austin pianist Edmund Ludwig (originally of Heidelberg, Germany), arranged a dual recital at the Millett Opera House on Ninth Street with pianist Maud Cuney, the head of the music department for the Texas Institute of Deaf, Dumb, Blind Colored Youth. But when Cuney discovered that opera house management required blacks to sit in the balcony, separated from whites, she urged Ludwig to cancel the contract and he did. With no venue available, the

Cuney-Hare 1910

Cuney-Hare 1910

concert was held at the black blind school on Bull Creek Road. In attendance was an 8-year-old student named Arizona Dranes, who would go on to pioneer “the gospel beat,” with piano-driven recordings on OKeh Records in 1926.

Maud Cuney-Hare, her married name, left the Austin school after just two years and went on to an illustrious career herself, as a musician, folklorist and writer. Of light skin and European features (both her parents had white fathers and mulatto slave mothers), Maud could’ve passed as white, but didn’t, as her father taught her her to be proud of her ancestry. Cuney-Hare was briefly engaged to author and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, whom she met when she was a student at the New England Conservatory fighting eviction from the dorm when it was discovered she had African blood. Du Bois was at Harvard and a member of the black students group that came to her defense. She stayed in the dorm. Though the romantic relationship didn’t last, they remained friends and Cuney-Hare wrote an arts and music column for the NAACP publication, The Crisis, that Du Bois edited.

As a musicologist, Cuney was one of the first to explore the African roots of American music, and published the first book of Creole songs in 1921. Her landmark 1936 book Negro Musicians and Their Music was, sadly, released months after she died of cancer at age 61. She lived most of her adult life in Boston, aside from her two years in Austin music teaching at the blind school and a short stint at the present Prairie View A&M.

She was also married, from 1902- 1906, to a doctor 20 years her senior, and the couple went to live in Chicago. The doctor insisted that they try to pass as Spanish American, and she maybe went along with it at first, but that’s not how she was raised. Her red blood ran dark.

Her grandfather Phillip Cuney was a white slave-owner who had a bunch of farmland outside Hempstead, TX that he called “Sunnyside Plantation.” In order to make slavery seem acceptable, some owners developed an ideology that they were providers to a people who couldn’t make it on their own. Cuney had eight children with his slave Adeline Stuart, and raised them as his own. He freed Maud’s father Norris Wright Cuney at age 13 and sent him to school in Pittsburgh. When Norris returned to Texas after the Civil War, he settled in Galveston where he organized black longshoremen into a union and was elected alderman. Eventually, he would be elected chairman of the Republican Party in Texas. His politican fight against the “Lily White Republicans” (they called themselves that) is chronicled by Maud Cuney-Hare in Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People, a biography she wrote in 1913. The information on Cuney-Hare’s time in Austin 1897-99 comes from that book.

Here’s an entry on Cuney-Hare in the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Rensaissance.

And through the beauty of this free and instant digital age, the very rare and out-of-print Negro Musicians and Their Music can be found here in its entirety.

Black blind institute superindendent's report 1895.

Black blind institute report 1895.

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Henry Lebermann: Secret History of Austin Music #1

Posted by mcorcoran on March 21, 2016

When Henry Lebermann was 6 years old in 1879, his mother, Alice Marie, born and raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans, took him from their home in Galveston to visit her parents’ native Paris. What a glorious time it must have been in young Henry’s life, meeting relatives he didn’t know he had and discovering that there was so much more to the world than Texas.

Secret History of Austin Music: Henry Lebermann photoIn 1929, the family — from left, Lowell, Virginia, daughter Virginia, Henry and Jeanne — moved to 3110 Walling Drive, in the same North Campus neighborhood where John A. Lomax lived.

The next year, the boy was stricken with spinal meningitis, which left him completely blind. Without the ability to read music as he played, it seemed impossible that Henry would equal the musical accomplishments of his father, noted Galveston composer and music professor Heinrich August Lebermann. But Henry Lebermann, the grandfather of late Austin City Council veteran Lowell H. Lebermann Jr., in many ways surpassed the high standard set by his father.

As a music teacher and orchestra leader at the Texas School for the Blind from 1901 to 1938, Henry Lebermann had a positive influence on such students as Fred Lowery, “the King of the Whistlers” of the Big Band era; legendary sheriff Pat Garrett’s daughter Elizabeth Garrett, who would go on to write the state song of New Mexico; and country songwriter Leon Payne, who wrote “Lost Highway” for Hank Williams, among other classics.

But perhaps Lebermann’s most wide-reaching musical contribution was when he, assisted by his sighted wife, Virginia, transcribed scratchy field recordings for John A. Lomax, setting such standards as “Home on the Range,” “Git Along Lil Dogies” and “The Old Chisholm Trail” into sheet music for the first time. Those songs and 25 others transcribed by the couple were collected for posterity in the landmark 1910 Lomax songbook “Cowboys Songs and Other Frontier Ballads.”

Secret History of Austin Music: Henry Lebermann photoVirginia Leberman with daughters Virginia, left, and Jeanne outside the family home.

The longtime organist for the Central Christian Church at 12th and Guadalupe streets, Lebermann was a well-known Austin figure who was often seen walking to and from his home on East 23rd Street and the Texas School for the Blind at 45th Street and North Lamar Boulevard, more than three miles away. He’d meet his co-worker R.M. Perrenot at 30th and Guadalupe streets each morning, and the blind friends would walk together the rest of the way.

“Lowell Jr. was only about 2 when his grandfather Henry died and so had no clear personal memories of him,” said Lois Pattie, who was Lowell H. Lebermann Jr.’s personal assistant from 1982 until about five years ago. “But he always spoke of him with pride, particularly in relation to his having played the organ at the Paramount Theatre during the Depression.” Lowell H. Lebermann Jr., who passed away in July 2009, was instrumental in the efforts to restore the Paramount in the 1970s.

Before he was a teacher at the Texas School for the Blind, Henry Lebermann was a student there, enrolled in 1883 at age 10 and graduating in 1894. At that time, the school was located at the University of Texas “Little Campus” in what is now known as the Arno Nowotny Building next to the Erwin Center. The current location was built in 1917 on 73 donated acres.

During his time as a student, Lebermann benefited from the leadership of Superintendent Frank Rainey, who emphasized musical training as a way for the blind to make a living and appealed to the board to spend money on instruments.

Rainey also encouraged innovative instructional methods and was overjoyed when one of his young teachers, Elizabeth Sthreshley, invented a Braille typewriter called the punctograph in 1890. Four years later, she married noted Congress Avenue photographer George Townsend and would assist him in his work with new X-ray technology.

Disaster in Galveston

After graduation, Lebermann moved back to Galveston and then to nearby Alvin to become a farmer. Besides music, Lebermann had a lifelong passion for growing and tended a vibrantly colorful garden until his death from congestive heart failure at age 68 in 1941.

In 1900, a hurricane destroyed Galveston, killing Lebermann’s father and brother Lee. According to a 1937 Austin Statesman article, Henry Lebermann and another blind farmer spent seven days with water up to their waists, with no food, abandoned by their terrified hired hand.

With a heart heavy with grief, Lebermann went back to the place in Austin that had been his home, his musical training ground, for 11 years. But this time, he would be an educator and leader. Kristi Sprinkle, a historian of the school, found records that Lebermann gave a classical music recital at the school in January 1901 and lectured on the life and work of Chopin in March of that year.

The school orchestra he led was one of the finest in Austin and was hired in 1904 to play a concert at Central Christian Church welcoming new students to UT. There, a 33-year-old Lebermann met an 18-year-old church member named Virginia Carrington, whose father, Leonidas, owned the prosperous L.D. Carrington and Co. retail business on Congress Avenue.

Henry with Lowell, Sr.

Henry with Lowell, Sr.

After a year’s courtship, Henry and Virginia were married. Son Lowell was born in 1906, with daughters Virginia and Jeanne soon following. As the family grew, the Lebermanns moved out of a house at 902 Manor Road and into a bigger place at 906 E. 23rd St., where they lived for almost 20 years. Both houses were torn down when the university expanded east.

In 1929, the family moved to 3110 Walling Drive, in the same North Campus neighborhood where the Lomax family lived.

The subject of a 1994 master’s thesis by Baylor student Kelly Stott entitled “The Emerging Woman,” Virginia Leberman (1886-1968), who went with a one “n” spelling, was shown to be a progressive thinker and painter who spent summers at the Taos, N.M., artist community as early as the 1930s. She also co-owned the successful Christianson-Leberman Photography business at a time when female entrepreneurship was rare. Among the subjects she photographed were Eleanor Roosevelt and Will Rogers.

“We are perhaps more properly balanced than most married people,” Virginia Leberman told The Dallas Morning News in a 1925 profile of her husband with the headline “Blind Genius at State Capital.” “Each approves so entirely of the actions of the other that there is no friction in our home.”

Encouraged to follow her artistic and philosophical pursuits, Virginia Leberman was new age before the term was invented.

“This social grande dame was quite bohemian to her core,” Stott observed of Virginia’s fascination with the Pueblo Indians and their customs and beliefs.

When he accepted UT’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000, Lowell Lebermann Jr., who was blinded after a shooting accident at age 12, credited his grandmother with expanding his cultural curiosity. “I’d go by the studio behind her house, and she’d be beating a tom-tom, breathing deeply and chanting,” he said. “How many grandmothers that you know do that sort of thing?”

In correspondence with Stott, Virginia Leberman’s friend Lady Bird Johnson recalled the night of a full moon in New Mexico, when Virginia asked their driver to pull over so they could get out and take in the view. “It was a high moment filled with respect for our surroundings and an experience that was a typical part of Virginia Leberman’s personality.”

Although it was prevalent in that era of raging anti-German sentiments during World War I to alter a name to sound less German, it’s not known if Virginia dropped the second “n” for her children’s surname as well for that reason. But Henry Lebermann kept the original spelling, perhaps in homage to his beloved father, as well as his first teacher at the School for the Blind, Edmund Ludwig of Heidelberg. Though his father, prominent Commerce doctor Lowell Sr., used just one “n,” Lowell Lebermann Jr. reverted to the original two “n” spelling after college and was “Lebermann” in 1971 when first elected to three consecutive terms on the City Council.

Successful students

In returning to the School for the Blind, Henry Lebermann may have hoped to have the same impact on his charges as Ludwig had on him. One such student was Fred Lowery, a native of Palestine in East Texas who was blinded at age 2 by scarlet fever. Lowery came to the school in 1917 at age 7 and took to the musical training with dreams of becoming a concert violinist.

In his autobiography, “Whistling In the Dark,” Lowery recalls a “long, fatherly talk” he had with Lebermann about the steep odds facing a blind classical musician. “Here at the Blind School we can make music together because we use a system designed for the sightless,” Lowery quotes Lebermann (blind musicians received their cues from the tapping of the leader’s baton). “Sighted musicians are trained in a different system. They play by sight, reading the score, watching the conductor. Their system and our system won’t mix.”

Although the reality check discouraged him, Lowery credited Lebermann with sending him on the path of being a big-band whistler. Having noticed Lowery whistling around school, Lebermann asked him to stay after band rehearsal one day. “I think we could use your whistle in the orchestra,” Lebermann said, astounding Lowery, who had never heard of such instrumentation. But Lebermann said he heard tones that suggested Lowery could mimic the sound of a piccolo, which the orchestra didn’t have. Lebermann craved a piccolo sound on the John Philip Sousa marches that were crowd favorites.

Lowery went on to a great career as a whistler, making his name in the 1930s with the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, whose arranger was a trombone player named Glenn Miller. Perhaps best known for whistling the theme to “Lassie” and his TV duets with Bing Crosby, Lowery was a virtuoso who perfected the double-note whistle and performed such complex material as “The William Tell Overture.” (Hear samples of Lowery’s whistling with this story at austin360.com/music.)

Entering the School for the Blind in 1923 was Leon Payne from the Northeast Texas town of Alba. Under the tutelage of Lebermann and other teachers, Payne (1917-1969) became proficient in guitar, keyboards, trombone and drums and joined Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys just three years after graduating.

As a solo artist, Payne had a No. 1 country hit in 1949 with “I Love You Because,” written for his wife, Myrtie, a former classmate at the School for the Blind he reconnected with and married in 1948. Payne is best known today as a songwriter, penning big hits for Hank Williams (“They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me”), Jim Reeves (“Blue Side of Lonesome”), Carl Smith (“You Are the One”) and many more. Elvis Presley recorded “I Love You Because” at one of his first sessions with Sun Records.

As a teacher, your students’ success becomes your own, in a way. But as a musician and scholar, Lebermann left his own legacy. Among his compositions were “Spring Song” and “The Blue Bonnet Song,” but his invaluable preservation work with John A. Lomax deserves special citation in this 100th anniversary year of “Cowboy Songs.”

Lomax first heard “Home on the Range” in 1908 from a black saloonkeeper in San Antonio who had been a camp cook on the Chisholm Trail for years. Lomax lugged an old Edison wax cylinder recording machine to record the barkeep. Lomax took the a capella recording to Lebermann, who, according to Lomax’s notes, “used earphones and played the record over and over again until he felt he had captured the music as the Negro saloon keeper had rendered it.” As Lebermann listened and played the piano, Virginia Leberman wrote the notes on sheet music.

“The original cylindrical record of the song has crumbled into dust, but the music that Henry Lebermann set down from the record I made still survives,” Lomax wrote.

According to Stott’s thesis, Virginia Leberman used to say that “a great mind is always humble and curious.” It was an adage lived out by her and her husband and passed on to their children and grandchildren.

Henry Lebermann was blind, but not before he saw Paris. In darkness he created his own “City of Light” in a town he loved. As a conductor of music and life he led in the most meaningful way — by example.


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