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Bobby Ramirez: Everybody’s Brother

Posted by mcorcoran on February 15, 2017

Bobby Ramirez (top left) came from a big family, a musical family.

Drummer Bobby Ramirez was the golden boy of the Golden Triangle in the ’60s, the 11-year-old who played with teenagers, the 14-year old who played with men. He didn’t just keep the beat, he BECAME the beat, with a natural rhythm that was not above further education. When Edgar Winters and singer Jerry LaCroix set out to assemble a “blue-eyed soul” band to beat them all in 1970, they searched the country before realizing that they already had the best players for their vision in the Gulf Coast. The first to join Edgar Winter’s White Trash was the brown-eyed handsome man with the sticks from Port Arthur who would anchor the sound. Next call was to guitarist Rick Derringer who told Modern Drummer magazine that Ramirez laid down “the best groove of any drummer I’ve ever played with.”

Taught to play by his uncle, a big band drummer, Ramirez was well on his way to becoming the Bernard Purdie, the John Jabo Starks of Texas rock and blues … and then senseless tragedy stopped the roll. In July 1972, Ramirez was stomped to death on Chicago’s Rush Street, by a man who had punched him over his long hair earlier in the night and had friends waiting outside. Ramirez was just 23.

His best drummer friend Willie Ornelas, then living in Houston, was “just numb” when he heard the news. “Nobody could believe it. Everybody loved Bobby. He was such a mellow cat,” said Ornelas, who often competed with Ramirez for gigs, yet they shared percussion patterns and other tips.

“The first time Bobby blew me away was when I was with Jerry and the Dominoes, playing some club in Houston, and Jerry [LaCroix] called him up on ‘Harlem Shuffle,’” recalls Ornelas, who has enjoyed session success in L.A. since the ’80s. “Afterwards I went up to him and said ‘hey, man, that was great. What was that one thing you kept doing?’ And Bobby stood right in front of me, put his hands on my shoulders and he showed me [the beat], with the right hand being the bass drum and the left hand being the snare.” When Ramirez heard a cool twist from Ornelas, Willie would show Bobby the same way. Sometimes when they drove, one would sit behind the other and show him new beats on the shoulders. Then they’d pull over and change seats. “We did that for years,” Ornelas says. “You know, we were both good drummers, but Bobby was the real talent. I’ve never bullshitted myself on that point. Bobby had a feel that we all could duplicate technically, but it was real for him.”

Edgar Winter and the White Trash Revue, 1971. Ramirez far right.

Born in Mexico, Ramirez was raised near the oil refineries in Port Arthur in a large, working class household. He became hooked on drums since the first time his uncle let him mess around on his kit. P.A.’s proximity to the Louisiana border, where the drinking age was 18, proved essential to the education of young Bobby. Vinton, Louisiana, had such hotspots as Big Oaks Club, Lou Anne’s, and the Texas Pelican Club, where drummers could make a lot more money than factory workers or farmhands. The music was for dancing, so every band played soul music, rock stuff, some ballads for slow dances, some Fats Domino to remind everybody what state they were in. If you had horns, your man was Bobby Blue Bland, whose drummer Starks was a Ramirez role model. “If you couldn’t play ‘Turn On Your Love Light,’ you couldn’t work,” Ornelas said.

Ramirez was also heavily influenced by Louisiana drummer Clint West (nee Guillory), who led the Boogie Kings until 1965. “Clint West used to set up his drums at the front of the stage, with the band behind him,” laughed Ornelas. “We thought that was the coolest.”

When West split from the Boogie Kings (losing the band’s name in a court battle with the other members), LaCroix took over the raucous swamprock party band and tapped Ramirez to replace his idol. Finally making some decent pay, Ramirez dropped out of high school to tour. After a few stints in Las Vegas with the Kings, word got out on Ramirez and he was hired to play some dates with Ike and Tina Turner, then a more extended gig with Hawaiian singer Dick Jensen. Ramirez was in Hawaii when he got the call to join Edgar Winter’s band. “Bobby was making something like $750 a week with Dick Jensen, but he quit that to make $50 a week to play with Edgar and Jerry,” said Ornelas. Bobby Ramirez wanted to rock out, Golden Triangle style.

A teenaged Ramirez on drums, with Jerry LaCroix on vocals. Early ’60s in Vinton, LA

He played on the first two White Trash albums, including live LP Roadwork, which has become a favorite YouTube stop for drummers, especially “Love Light” and the gospel-fueled “Save the Planet.” “When I met [iconic modern drummer] Steve Gadd and I told him I used to play with White Trash, he said [excitedly] ‘Is that you on ‘Save the Planet?,’” said Ornelas. “That was a big drum part for him. And I said, ‘no, that was my brother Bobby Ramirez.’ I didn’t think, like ‘oh, why didn’t he say one of my tracks?’ I was proud to tell him about Bobby. He was on his way, man. He was going to be one of the all-time greats.”

For years, LaCroix declined to talk about that dreadful night of July 24, 1972, in Chicago. It hurt too much. LaCroix and Ramirez were quite a soulful tandem and the chemistry continued offstage. In 2000, the Louisiana-born/Texas-raised singer finally opened up in an interview that was later posted on www.swampland.com.

Edgar Winter disbanded White Trash in ’72 to assemble the group, with Ronnie Montrose and Dan Hartman, that recorded “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride,” so his former mates toured as LaCroix. They had just played a great set opening for Uriah Heep in Chicago and went out to see an all-girl band called Bertha whom they had met months earlier in L.A. It was a great, fun night for everybody.

“The show was over and Bobby went downstairs to take a leak,” LaCroix recalled. “Our road manager came back upstairs and anxiously reported that Bobby had had an altercation in the bathroom.” A Hispanic man with short, slicked-back hair had remarked that, because of his long hair, Ramirez should be in the ladies’ room, which led to cross words, then a punch to the face that bloodied the drummer’s nose. Bouncers heard the ruckus and broke it up, but the club manager declined to call the police. LaCroix said he tried to get Ramirez “to just blow if off, but he couldn’t believe that someone could assault him in a public place and get away with it!” Ramirez went outside to look for the guy who punched him.

But it turned out that the man had friends and when Ramirez turned the corner, they jumped him and kicked him in the head over and over with their pointed, steel-toe shoes. LaCroix was also beaten when he tried to help. As he sat up in his fog, LaCroix saw Ramirez, his face a pulpy mess, cradled on the ground by the group’s manager. It’s not known if the assailants were ever caught.

Why did this have to happen? It made no sense. These guys were not fighters, they were musicians. And now one of them was dead and the rest had to carry on with such a tragic memory. Death has no groove whatsoever.

“There’s hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about dear Bobby and what 1,000 things I could have done differently,” LaCroix said in 2000. The Bob Seeger of Southeast Texas, LaCroix died in May 2014 at age 70. The great drummer Bobby Ramirez would be in his 60s if he had lived. And he’d still be playing, you can be sure.

email Michael Corcoran at yikescrawford@gmail.com

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25 Most Significant Nights In Austin Music History

Posted by mcorcoran on January 24, 2017

Counting down the 25 most “significant,” meaning shows with lasting cultural implications, and/or “notorious” nights in Austin music history. Big outdoor festivals are excluded because they’re multi-act extravaganzas take place in parks, not clubs or auditoriums. I’ve also put SXSW into exclude mode because it’s got its own history and Austin isn’t really Austin in the middle of March.

#1 Willie Nelson at the Armadillo August 12, 1972

This concert was the Big Bang of modern Austin Music, the show that begat the “progressive country” movement that put Austin on the map as the anti-Nashville. Willie Nelson had discovered, on previous trips to Austin, especially the musically-thrilling financial disaster that was the Dripping Springs Reunion in March 1972, that Texas hippies loved country music. After years of wearing a suit and short hair, trying to get the country mainstream to accept him, Willie said “screw it” and moved to where his true audience was.

One of the longhairs who loved his music was Armadillo World Headquarters ringleader Eddie Wilson, who wore out the grooves of Willie’s <em>Live At Panther Hall</em> album while homesick in the Bay Area for a month. When Wilson returned to Austin and the Armadillo and heard Willie, wife Connie and the kids had moved to nearby Riverside Drive, he made it his mission to book the straight-laced Nelson into his hippie beer joint. It wasn’t hard, as Willie stopped by the Armadillo soon after getting his utilities turned on. “I’ve been looking for you,” Eddie said. “Well, you found me,” answered Willie.

You have to realize that 1972 was still the Sixties in Austin, with the thick air of conflict whenever crewcutted rednecks and longhaired peaceniks were in the same establishment. It was jocks vs. nerds, bullies against the passive, with the war in Vietnam drawing a line that felt like a moat. But the debut of Willie and his band, with the wildly popular bluegrass stoners Greezy Wheels opening, brought both sides together without incident. As conducted by Willie, who had just started growing out his hair, two quite divergent groups of people realized, through the shared experience of music, that they had more in common than they had thought. A cliché brought to life on Aug. 12, 1965, when the Vulcan Gas Company merged with the Broken Spoke.

As the creator of songs (“Crazy,” “Hello Walls” etc.) that made a lot of people a lot of money, Willie came with heavy music business connections, which was something the Austin music scene needed badly, lest all this heartfelt music disappear at the end of the night. He bought a complex on Academy Drive near South Congress Avenue and opened Arlyn Studio- Austin’s first world class recording facility- and the Austin Opera House, which took over as the best place to see shows after the Armadillo closed on New Year’s Eve 1980.

After Willie’s successful debut at the Armadillo, he started getting his country rebel friends like Waylon Jennings to play there, and stoked a national fascination with “Waylon and Willie and the boys.” Austin earned an identity in the ‘70s as the capital of outlaw country music. Then came the Vaughan Brothers and Clifford Antone and the blues. Then came all the indie rock guitar bands.

There’s been amazing music in town since the German singing societies in the late 1800s. This is the town of the Lomax family, who saved folk songs like children in burning buildings, where Kenneth Threadgill gave a foul-mouthed free spirit named Janis Joplin a place to sing. The wealth of live music continues today, with nurturing venues like the Mohawk, Beerland, the Continental Club, Hole In the Wall and on and on keeping the legacy alive. Willie didn’t start great live music in Austin, but he became its spiritual leader. Like his close friend Coach Darrell Royal, Willie set a high standard. It’s OK if you can’t reach it, but not cool if you don’t even try.

#2 Bob Dylan at Municipal Auditorium Sept. 24, 1965

The first time Bob Dylan was ever backed by Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm in concert was in Austin in the fall of ’65. Dylan was 24 and had just released the controversial, unfolky masterpiece <em>Highway 61 Revisited</em>. The first set was Dylan acoustic- “Gates Of Eden,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Desolation Row” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”- and then out came the five guys who would later be called the Band. It was The First Waltz.

The Austin show was only the fourth time Dylan had played electric, and the first time he hadn’t heard boos from folk purists who pegged him as a pop sellout trying to glom onto the Beatles phenomenon.

“It never entered my mind — or heart — not to love the electric stuff,” said NYC photographer Stephanie Chernikowski, a former Austinite who was at the show. “It was so in-your-face,” promoter Angus Wynne recalls of the Austin electric segment. “You couldn’t really understand the words — quality concert sound systems were nonexistent back then — but you could feel the energy. It was like being knocked over by this huge burst of sound.”

Wynne, a 21-year-old fledgling promoter, had decided to try to book Dylan in Austin and at Dallas’ Moody Coliseum the next night after repeatedly hearing “Like a Rolling Stone” on the radio after its July 20, 1965 release. “I looked at the back of a Dylan album and it said he was managed by Albert Grossman, so I called information in New York and got the number,” Wynne recalls. “When I called and made my pitch, someone yelled to the other room, ‘Hey, do you want to go play in Texas?’ and someone yelled back ‘Yeah, sure.'” That’s how things went back in the days before big-scale national tours.

Dylan had met the Band when they were the Hawks, the former backing band of Ronnie Hawkins, a year earlier. They were reacquainted in August 1965, according to Clinton Heylin’s “A Life In Stolen Moments: Day By Day 1941-1995,” when Grossman’s secretary took Dylan to see the Hawks at a club in New Jersey. He hired away guitarist Robertson and drummer Helm, an Arkansas native, to play somewhat coldly-received concerts in Forest Hills, N.Y., on Aug. 28 and the Hollywood Bowl Sept. 3. Bassist Harvey Brooks and keyboardist Al Kooper rounded out that band.

Dylan flew up to Toronto on Sept. 15, nine days before the Austin show, to rehearse with the Hawks. Three nights later he was back in New York. The Band was ready.

Although Helm quit the group two months later, due to an aversion to being booed night after night, Dylan and the rest of the Hawks forged on to Australia and Europe with a series of fill-in drummers before settling on Mickey Jones of Dallas. Then came Dylan’s motorcycle accident in July 1966, which, though not seriously injuring him, gave Dylan an excuse to lay low for a while.

During this period of mental healing, Dylan woodshedded daily with the Band, the informal sessions captured on an Ampex reel-to-reel tape machine. May to August 1967 was a summer of inspiration, as a relaxed Dylan started to get more of a feel for the Band’s earthy instincts. The oft-bootlegged sessions (officially released in 1975) were called The Basement Tapes.

After blaring a hundred frantic solos a night behind Dylan’s spitfire lyrics (and the gritty Southern roots of Ronnie Hawkins before that) the Band, off the road for the first time in years, fell into a more unforced approach to collective song making, and painted the masterpieces <em>Music From Big Pink </em>(1968) and <em>The Band</em> (1969).

When Dylan toured again, almost eight years after his 1966 world tour ended with the legendary concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, his backing group was once again the Band. This time they weren’t anonymous sidemen but artistic peers.

When the Band played for the last time all together on Thanksgiving night 1976, Dylan joined them to perform “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” which front row-seated Don Hyde, inspired to co-found the Vulcan Gas Company two years later, said opened the electric segment on Sept. 24, 1965.

It was a glorious and enriching collaboration, which began in Austin, Texas, and will be commemorated with a 50th anniversary tribute concert next September at the Long Center, where Municipal Auditorium once stood.

#3 Hank Williams at the Skyline Club Dec. 19, 1952

Skyline Club owner Warren Stark drove Hank Williams from Dallas, where he’d played on Wednesday Dec. 17, because that was the only way to ensure that the greatest country songwriter of all time would show up for the gig. “Mr. Lovesick Blues” was in a bad way with drink and drugs, traveling with his own phony doctor a la Elvis Presley to stay medicated on a roller coaster of ups and downs. But the Friday night show at the Skyline, which turned out to be the legend’s final public performance, was one of his best of the tour according to brother-sister opening acts Tommy and Goldie Hill of San Antonio. Backed by the house band, Hank played two sets and, according to Chet Flippo’s essential biography, threw in a few gospel songs, which was rare for Hank at a honky tonk.

Former Austin singer Jerry Green, who went on to be a regular on the Louisiana Hayride, spent the day of Dec. 19 with Williams. “Justin Tubb (Ernest’s son) was going to UT at the time and I was friends with him and the Tubb Boys, so we spent the day with Hank Williams,” Green told me in 2011. They all visited the Hays Record Shop (916 E. First St.) and then Green dropped Williams off at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. “Hank was trembling something fierce that day,” said Green, “but when he played, he did a fine job.” No doubt a little help from Dr. Toby.

Williams had married the former Billie Jean Eshlimar, a 19-year-old divorcee from Bossier City, LA, just two and a half months earlier, at two ceremonies- one for family and one for anyone who’d bought a ticket. She accompanied him to a private party for the musicians union in Montgomery, AL, Hank’s hometown, on Dec. 28, 1952, when Williams got up from his steak dinner to sing a few songs on an acoustic guitar. But the Skyline, way outta town on the section of far North Lamar called the Dallas Highway, hosted his last concert.

Hank Williams died of a hemorrhage of the heart, brought on by drug and alcohol abuse, 12 days after the Skyline show. His body was discovered without breath in Oak Hill, WV, when his driver came out of the Skyline Drive-In (!!!) with coffee for the drive to a gig in Ohio. Billy Jean performed for about a year as “Mrs. Hank Williams,” but then met and married an up-and-coming Johnny Horton in September 1953, and let him do all the performing. Horton had his first hit three years later with “Honky Tonk Man,” though he was best known for history-based songs such as “North To Alaska” and “The Battle of New Orleans,” both #1 smashes.

In an eerie coincidence, Johnny Horton’s last show was also at the Skyline. After playing a show there on Nov. 4, 1960, Horton was killed driving home to Shreveport by a drunk driver in Milano, TX. You can be sure Billie Jean’s next husband wouldn’t go within 10 miles of the Skyline, which was built in 1946 and torn down in 1989 to make way for the expansion of Braker Lane. Everyone from Elvis Presley (1955) and Scratch Acid, who played their very first show there, had graced the Skyline stage. During the early ’80s it served as the second location of Soap Creek. A CVS drug store now stands at the former Skyline location at North Lamar and Braker Lane.

#4 Louis Armstrong at the Driskill Oct. 12, 1931

This list has mainly been about what’s happened onstage, but this entry makes the top five because of what was going on with someone in the audience. Charles L. Black Jr. was a white Austin teenager, a freshman at the University of Texas attracted to Sixth Street for the possibility of meeting those of the opposite sex. He saw a placard advertising “Louis Armstrong, King of the Trumpet, and His Orchestra” for 75 cents admission and, though he had never heard of Armstrong at the time, he bought a ticket.

That jazz concert was the pivotal moment in the life of a local kid who became a noted Civil Rights attorney and taught constitutional law at Columbia and then Yale for almost 50 years. Black helped Thurgood Marshall draft the brief for the 1954 Supreme Court victory in the case known as <em>Brown vs. Board of Education</em>, a decision which declared school segregation unlawful and galvanized the movement to end the racist white regime in the South.

“It is impossible to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old Southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black,” he wrote in a 1979 essay “My World With Louis Armstrong” which was published in the Yale Review. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns quoted Black’s piece, in the lengthy segment of the 10-hour documentary Jazz about Louis Armstrong, the greatest musician America has ever produced. “We literally never saw a black man, then, in any but a servant’s capacity,” Black wrote.

The fall of 1931 was an interesting juncture in Armstrong’s career. He had lived in California briefly, but was exiled by a pot bust. Meanwhile, his manager Johnny Collins was mixed up with the mob, so Chicago and New York were too “hot,” which sent Satchmo out on tour in the Midwest and South with his new orchestra, led by arranger/trumpeter Zilner Randolph. Armstrong had just turned 30 and had already given birth to swing with adventurous Hot Five and Hot Seven combos that helped popularize the Lindy Hop. His singing on such numbers as “Ain’t Misbehaving” and “Heebie Jeebies” invented a phrasing style that defines jazz vocals to this day.

Just three weeks after his Driskill gigs, Armstrong and his orchestra stepped into a Chicago studio and changed jazz forever again. Recasting Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” and “Georgia On My Mind” as jazz expressions, the American Songbook became a favorite platform for improvisation. With his frequent flights of innovation, no musician better deserves to have an airport named after him than Louis Armstrong in his native New Orleans. “Pops” returned to play in his hometown for the first time in nine years in 1931, the week after the Driskill stint, but was disgusted by the racism he encountered daily.

Charles L. Black would help write legislation to sweep away such Jim Crow nonsense and we have to wonder where would his studies have pointed him if not for that night of Oct. 12, 1931. The hold of Armstrong never left him. “All through those years, he was letting flow, from that inner space of music, things that had never before existed,” wrote Black, who died in 2001 at age 86. When they say the Driskill Hotel is haunted, they’re right.

 

#5 Muddy Waters with Johnny Winter opening at the Vulcan Gas Company August 2 & 3, 1968

 

Electrifying Beaumont guitarist Johnny Winter was instrumental in exposing the legendary Chicago bluesman Muddy Waters to ‘70s rock audiences, producing and playing guitar on the 1977 comeback album <em>Hard Again</em> and its crossover gem “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll.” But the duo had never met before playing on a bill together- Winter’s trio opening- at the Vulcan Gas Company in the summer of ’68.

On the first night, a Friday, the Waters band didn’t arrive at the Congress Avenue club until after Winter finished. “They did a standard 45-minute set,” Vulcan co-owner Don Hyde recalls. The band wasn’t even wearing their customary suits, as the photo by Burton Wilson above shows, with piano player Otis Spann’s glare at the camera underlining the mood of the set. “It was only 10:45 (when they were done), so I asked Johnny if he would play for a couple hours more and he said sure.”

Muddy was still in his dressing room when Winter came back out and blew the doors off the place. The blues great came out to the side of the stage and his jaw dropped at the albino’s authentic blues style. He found a pay phone backstage and put in a collect call to a friend in Memphis. Hyde was standing next to Muddy when he held up the phone for about a minute during Winter’s set and then returned to the receiver. “He white!” Waters exclaimed. “I mean, he REALLY white! Can you believe this shit?”

The next night, the Waters band showed up in sharp suits and played a magnificent two-hour set that left no question about who was the master and who was the protégé. Muddy called Johnny up for a couple songs and a bond built of mutual respect was born.

Muddy’s harmonica player at the time, Paul Oscher, now lives in Austin and plays C-Boy’s every Thursday evening. “I think maybe we’d been driving all day Friday and we were tired,” he said, when asked about the quite-different sets the band played. “And then we were well-rested on Saturday and got down to business.” According to Waters itinerary records, the band drove all the way from Chicago to play the Vulcan.

Two weeks after the gig with Muddy, Johnny and his rhythm section of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner recorded their first album <em>The Progressive Blues Experiment</em> live at the Vulcan during the day, without an audience. The LP, originally released on Austin’s Sonobeat label, then sold to Imperial, contains the Winter’s original “Tribute To Muddy.”

After the Vulcan closed in the summer of ’70, Muddy moved over to the Armadillo for Austin shows, but found a new home in 1975 when Clifford Antone opened his first club on Sixth Street, across from the Driskill Hotel. Waters and his band played Antone’s five straight nights, starting Oct. 21, 1975, and in the audience each night were Stevie Ray Vaughan, members of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Lou Ann Barton and others who would define the Austin blues scene for decades to come. The essential Chicago bluesman, Muddy Waters died of heart failure in 1983 at age 70. Johnny Winter also lived to be 70, dying this past July while on tour in Switzerland.

#6 Gloriathon at Liberty Lunch July 23-24, 1999

Many would choose to list the 1974 Van Morrison concert at the Armadillo World Headquarters where he played seven encores. But I picked the show where he just phoned it in.

Liberty Lunch was the Armadillo in the trousers of ‘80s and ‘90s Austin. It was a special, no-frills club where all the greats played on their way up, where the folks who ran the place were happy if you were. The club was on city property, paying $600 a month rent on a plot worth millions, so its demise was eminent. When the singer of Afghan Whigs was hospitalized with a fractured skull after a fight with a stagehand it seemed to validate the heave ho, and the Lunch had its date with the ‘dozers. It was the end of July ’99 and Texas Monthly writer Michael Hall put together a send-off of epic proportions. He and anyone else who wanted to would play the Van Morrison garage rock anthem “Gloria” for 24 hours straight.

Hall’s short-lived band the Brooders started the one-song marathon at 9 p.m. Friday July 23, kicking it off in a trance of vibrato guitars for 15 minutes. And then Hall started singing those lines that launched 10,000 bands; “She comes ‘round here…” It was another 45 minutes until the chorus was reached like a climax. “G-L-O-R-I-A, Gloria!” Twenty-three more hours to go.

The concept was brilliant- 1952 Greenwich Village brilliant- but how could Hall and company possibly keep it up? Who’s going to play at 5 a.m.? Or two in the afternoon? But the Austin music scene showed up. All night, all day. Jam bands, blues players, shuffle drummers and sax players. One musician came offstage at 4 a.m. to find his car missing, so he went down to the station, filed a report and went back to the club in the morning light, played another hour- and then found his car exactly where he’d parked it the day before. One drummer was so wasted he just pissed up against the back wall of the stage. Fresh beers were distributed at 7 a.m., like cups of water from strangers on the side of the road, urging on the marathoners. It was just craziness, but the sense of community fueled the whole thing. Customers became musicians- playing on the stage that once held Nirvana, Bill Monroe, My Bloody Valentine, the Neville Brothers, Foo Fighters, Wilco and on and on and on.

Every musician brought their own thing to the simple E-D-A chords that relentlessly built to a climax and then walked back down that hill to start over again. G-L-O-R-I-A, Gloria! That part never got old. The Gloriathon was a 24-hour orgy with bodies coming in and out all day and night. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” Gretchen Phillips sang it, Patti Smith style. This was our lives they were playing about.

At about three in the afternoon, Van Morrison’s road manager held up a phone as Van the Man sang “Gloria” at a festival in Scotland, and it was piped over the sound system at the Lunch. He didn’t normally perform the 1965 song anymore, Morrison said, but there were a crazy bunch of folks in Austin playing “Gloria” for 24 hours straight, so he dedicated it to them.

A great moment, for sure, but the superstar cameo was a deviation of what was really happening. We were not just toasting a beloved venue and the people who made it shine. We were saying goodbye to a paradise of our youth, a time and place that made us feel as if we finally belonged. The summer of ’99 marked the end of the ‘80s in Austin. It was time to start families, to get on with the work that would define us, to see what we were really made of, now that the fantasy was being torn down.

The last hour of the Gloriathon, with the finish line in sight, was the best. At 8 p.m., the crowd waiting outside to see Saturday’s headliner Joe Ely was let in, just as the stage was wailing, with about 20 people up there. Joe King Carrasco’s dog yelped into the same microphone as his owner- an insane harmony that felt right. The newcomers urged on the hodgepodge orchestra, and for awhile there was no song, just players. It was challenging, abrasive, yet full of purpose, and the audience pumped their fists at the ugly and beautiful dissonance. But here she comes. When they hit the final familiar chorus, something beautiful burst. The whole place, now jam-packed, was singing along and stomping. There is no sadness in the final climax.

#7 The Rolling Stones at Zilker Park October 2006

This was really a concert for the whole city, not just the 42,000 who had paid $95- $350 to be a part of history, the first time “the world’s greatest rock and roll band” played “the live music capital of the world.” Midway through the two-hour headlining set (Los Lonely Boys and Ian McLagan opened), Mick Jagger announced that they’d be doing a song they’d never played live before, then the band went into “Bob Wills Is Still the King” by Waylon Jennings. “No matter what goes down in Austin, Bob Wills is still the king,” Jagger sang, a nod to Texas music history that’s even bigger than the Rolling MF Stones!

With $4 million in ticket sales, the show was Austin’s highest-grossing single-day musical event ever, but the concert’s significance went beyond box office or that it was a truly rejuvenating, 21-song extravaganza. Fans glowed as if they knew they were part of something bigger than the live DVD being filmed that night. There was such an air of mutual respect between band and city, exemplified by the t-shirt merging the Texas Longhorns logo and the Stones’ tongue that sold out during the excruciating 90-minute lull between Los Lonely Boys and the main attraction.

I had a 10 p.m. deadline on a 25” scene-setter, so I left the show about an hour early and walked home to write. Outside the venue’s temp fence, Barton Springs Rd. was packed with hundreds of people who didn’t love the Stones $95 worth, but wanted to be able to tell their grandchildren that they’d “seen” them do “Satisfaction” live. (The 2,000 square feet video screens peeked through the trees.) On my deck, as I was filing, I heard “Sympathy For the Devil” as clear and relentless as if it was playing on my stereo. But it was the Stones in the flesh! Folks from as far away as Ben White Boulevard and Loop 360 could hear the concert from their porches, but only the assholes dialed 311.

When the various neighborhood associations surrounding Zilker Park signed off on ACL Fest as an annual event, they were assured that it would be the only fenced-in concert there all year. But Austin is just not a city that could say no to the Rolling Stones, and Zilker became the only park on the itinerary of the “Bigger Bang Tour” of football stadiums. Things have changed dramatically in the city with the violet, hey-what-the-hell-happened-to-the, crown. But we’ve got a statue of a blues player that folks come from all over the world to see. And we know that you do whatever it takes to host a concert by the Rolling Stones.

Although it was, by all accounts, a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime concert by Paul McCartney at the Erwin Center last year, that show doesn’t make this list because a) Although his concerts are as close as we’ll ever get these days, McCartney is not the Beatles and b) it was at the Erwin Center, not Zilker Park.

#8 Trouble Funk, Big Boys at Nightlife August 1983

A year before the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their first album, punk rock and funk rhythm gloriously collided in Austin when the Big Boys, thrashers who had added a horn section, opened for Washington D.C. “go-go” powerhouse Trouble Funk at the Club Foot location at 4th and Brazos which had just changed names to Nightlife.

Although the genres sounded nothing alike, go-go and punk came from the same mindset of jumping off the pedestal and onto the dancefloor/moshpit. Both are people’s music. In an era when top R&amp;B acts like the Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire dressed like pimp spacemen, the members of Trouble Funk wore cut-offs and tank tops, “dropping the bomb” on pompousness in order to connect deeper. Using “call and response” from the church, TF roamed the soundscape in search of the original groove and once they found it, they didn’t let go. Repetition became hypnotic, with no breaks between songs. The most self-conscious people during the Trouble Funk set at Nightlife were the handful not dancing.

This monumental night came about because a critic for the Village Voice called the Big Boys a cross between ZZ Top and Trouble Funk. Roland Swenson, now director of SXSW, then the co-owner of Moment Productions, had a booth at New Music Seminar in NYC and met the members of Trouble Funk. Swenson showed them the Voice review and said that they should play a show with the Big Boys (a Moment client) in Austin. A couple months later, the “Don’t Touch That Stereo” tour was routed right through Texas. A call to Club Foot/ Nightlife brought the opinion that such a double bill was insane. “Club Foot said ‘You don’t understand. That band is a hardcore band and their crowd is NOT your crowd,” recalls Tim Kerr of the Big Boys. But Trouble Funk stood their ground. The club called the Big Boys, who said they were fans and could see the bill working, so the show was booked. The Big Boys had been turned onto D.C. go-go, which never really caught on nationally, by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, who stayed at Kerr’s house whenever he came through on tour.

Opening for Trouble Funk, the Big Boys brought the horns out more than usual and debuted their raucous version of marching band fave “The Horse,” which brilliantly set up Trouble Funk’s seamless feet-jack. “There were definitely people there to see Trouble Funk, not us, but the crowd was more than half Big Boys fans and Club Foot regulars,” Kerr says. After the show, members of the two divergent bands toasted the triumph.

“We told them there was a great scene in their hometown that loved go-go and when Trouble Funk got back to DC, they should get a hold of Ian at Dischord and do a show together.” The next month, Trouble Funk played a sold-out concert with Minor Threat, and the Big Boys, who instigated the whole thing, were brought in to open.

“It was a pretty big deal because it was the first time they had ever mixed the mostly white DC hardcore scene with the mostly black DC go-go scene,” Kerr says. “We were pretty honored to be asked, and it also turned out to be Minor Threat’s last show.” Folks in D.C. still talk about that historic night. But the pioneer performance happened in Austin a month earlier.

#9 Thanksgiving jam at the Armadillo World Headquarters Nov. 23, 1972

The Grateful Dead had a gig at Palmer Auditorium the night before Thanksgiving and they worked up a deal with the nearby Armadillo to cater the pre-show meal for band and crew. As Jerry Garcia looked around the 1,500-capacity hall, which had re-opened after months of renovations just six weeks earlier, he said, “I’d love to play this place.” In earshot was owner Eddie Wilson, who said to tell him when. “Well, we’re not doing anything tomorrow,” said Garcia. The Dead had a day off, but only Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh were gonna be in Austin, as the rest of the band was headed to Corpus after the show with Frances Carr, who owned Manor Downs. Garcia’s good friend Doug Sahm said, “let’s have a jam session, man, and let everyone in for free!” Later that night, Leon Russell was backstage at the Grateful Dead show when Garcia asked if he wanted to stop by the ‘Dillo and play some piano. It would be an “Orphans Thanksgiving” to beat ‘em all.

The next morning, Eddie Wilson called up radio station KRMH (“Good Karma Radio”) and said that the ‘Dillo, which was scheduled to be closed on Thanksgiving, would be open after all for a free show. “A bunch of friends got nowhere else to go today, so they’re gonna be jamming,” Wilson said. Since the Dead had played the night before, it didn’t take most folks long to figure out they’d be involved. The special surprise was Leon Russell, who had the number two album in the country in ‘72 with Carney. Wilson was tight-lipped about his appearance because they didn’t want a bunch of people showing up and yelling out requests for “Tight Rope.”

Garcia, Lesh and Russell got there early, at about 3 p.m., but wouldn’t start until Sahm arrived about half an hour later. “Doug knows a thousand songs,” Jerry told Leon, who admitted later to Wilson that he was not much of a jam guy so “it was one of the worst days of my musical life.” Leon was on hand a month earlier when the Armadillo re-opened with a Freddie King show, after renovations doubled capacity from 750 to 1,500 and moved the stage from the south end of the building to the north end. “Freddie always called the Armadillo ‘The House That Freddie Built’ because that reopening show really got things going for us,” says Wilson.

Soon after the jam started, a torrential downpour bore down, so one of the first songs they played was “Stormy Monday” by T-Bone Walker. “It was my first realization of what a leader- an instigator- Doug Sahm was,” says Lissa Hattersley of Greezy Wheels. “They all played great, of course, but Doug was clearly the band leader of the night.” Garcia played pedal steel all night, with Sweet May Egan from Greezy Wheels a standout on fiddle on the first set, which concentrated on country songs, while the second set was more blues and rock. Russell played both guitar and piano and several local drummers sat in, including Jerry Barnett of Shiva’s Head Band. Hank Alrich, who would co-own the venue late in its run, had loaned his Stratocaster to various jammers and during a lull a cohort said, “Why don’t you go up and play your guitar? Everybody else has.” Alrich recalled his first number onstage: “As Leon kicked in to ‘A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall,’ rain began to fall on that old, big metal roof. This was before we’d gotten the underside insulated with spray-on paper foam, and the sound of the rain was the perfect touch to the intro.”

Twas a magical day and night, ending with an all-hands-on-deck medley of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven and Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.” About 1,000 lucky fans had reason to be thankful that night.

#10 Talking Heads at Fiesta Gardens Sept. 7, 1982

This was the NYC band’s 7th concert in Austin in four years and the first not at the Armadillo World Headquarters. Yet, although there were some amazing shows on Barton Springs Road, this was the T. Heads’ most notorious night in River City. First, the show was moved from City Coliseum with just a couple days notice when it was determined that, after a string of smoke-filled halls earlier in the tour, an outdoors venue would be healthier for eight-month-pregnant bassist Tina Weymouth. The neighborhood wasn’t sufficiently notified- or it didn’t matter if they were- so after the hip cutting-edgers invaded the Eastside enmasse on a Tuesday evening, some of their cars were negatively altered. One woman posting about this show on songwriter Edith Frost’s website recalled walking down a row of cars with their windows smashed out. But the show, sandwiched between <em>Remain In Light</em> (1980) and <em>Speaking In Tongues</em> (1983) was worth suffering mere property damage according to fan Rick Belden. “I was so euphoric by the time it was over that I didn’t even care that someone had spray-painted a black line down the side of my car during the show,” he posted. He kept it there to remind him of that fabulous night of heady dance music, ending with encores of “Take Me To the River” and “Cross-Eyed and Painless.”

Don’t know if the venue change ended up being such a great thing for Weymouth, who traded smoke for 100 degree heat, with her bass strapped on for two hours. But fan Lisa Wyatt Roe, who danced all set with 3,000 other ticketholders (plus those who exploited a breech in perimeter security by arriving by boat) said Weymouth was an inspiration. “She played so well, considering she was pregnant and it was a million degrees.”

The other Talking Heads show to consider was Nov. 21, 1980 at the Armadillo. This was a month after the release of the masterpiece <em>Remain In Light</em>, with its Afrobeat grooves, and the band was augmented by Adrian Bellew on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keyboards, and others. Every punk/new wave band in town wanted to open the show, but manager Gary Kurfirst gave the plum to legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, who had been using our fair city as a moveable flophouse for several months. Bangs had been rehearsing with various Austin players, but replaced them for the Armadillo gig with an existing punk band called the Delinquents. While the ‘Dillo crowd was known for acceptance and leniency, they booed Lester’s awful performance- at least the ones who were there. The hall didn’t start to fill up until just before the Heads set because Nov. 21, 1980 was when the world locked into its TV sets to find out “Who Shot J.R.?” on <em>Dallas</em>.

#11 The Huns at Raul’s September 19, 1978

Perhaps the most influential concert in Austin music history happened in San Antonio. Just a month after the Sex Pistols played Randy’s Rodeo in the first week of 1978, Austin’s first punk bands, the Violators and the Skunks, convinced the owner of a Tejano dive at the end of the Drag to let them have a night. And, thus, the Raul’s scene was born. Suddenly there were all these bands: the Dicks, Terminal Mind, Big Boys, Standing Waves, Re*Cords, Sharon Tate’s Baby, the Jitters, D-Day, the Next and on and on. Anybody could be in a punk band. That was the point.

On Sept. 19, 1978, a group of RTF students, lead by flamboyant singer Phil Tolstead, debuted their band the Huns at Raul’s with great anticipation. “The stage was set for theater,” Louis Black recalled in the <em>Austin Chronicle</em> nearly 30 years later. The Huns certainly weren’t going to wow people with their musical ability. “We sounded like the Sex Pistols with Sid on every instrument,” Huns drummer Tom Huckabee wrote in the liner notes of a 1995 reissue of <em>The Huns Live at the Palladium 1979</em>.

Inner Sanctum manager Richard Dorsett threw a trash can onstage to start the chaos that became the riot of 9/19/79. It was getting crazy, with band and audience both part of the show, when beat cop Steve Bridgewater sauntered in, just to check out what was going on. Tolstead spotted him and started directing the lyrics of “Eat Death Scum” at the man in blue: “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” Tolstead pointed at the cop and the cop pointed back. Some naughty words were said and the officer took the stage to arrest the singer for obscenity. And then he kissed him: Tolstead full on the lips of the cop, as he was being handcuffed. When officer Bridgewater put in a frantic officer-in-distress call, his radio was knocked out of his hand by the Huns guitarist and a melee ensued. But within minutes there were 10 police cars outside. There had also been a couple of plainclothes cops in the audience, according to a report in the <em>Daily Texan</em>, and when they started shoving people, someone poured a pitcher of beer over an undercover cop’s head and all hell broke loose. SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro said “Are you proud of yourself, asshole?” to one cop, and he was arrested. Dorsett was also singled out as an instigator and he shared a cell with Barbaro that night. In all, six Raul’s patrons spent the night in the slammer, but then were released without charges.

Tolstead went to trial and was fined $53.50, but “The Huns Bust” has become such a exaggerated part of Austin clubbie lore that the six arrested grew into the “Huns 11” and 120 people on hand have multiplied to thousands through the years. But that night put Austin on the map as a place where other types of music besides “progressive country” was played. It also established the town as a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously. “I saw a cop walk onstage and I couldn’t believe it,” Huckabee said in the <em>Daily Texan</em> article on the incident. “We said on posters, ‘No Police.'”

The Daily Texan article was picked up all over the country and led to stories in <em>Rolling Stone</em> and <em>NME</em>. Riots at punk shows were big news. One of those who read <em>the Rolling Stone</em> story was a high school kid named David Yow, who joined the growing number of Raul’s regulars after the bust. “It changed the way I thought about music,” Yow has said. There was something going on with rock and roll and lines were being drawn. Many stepped over to the Raul’s side 36 years ago and never came back. Or they went the other way.

Tolstead became a born again Christian, a soldier in Jerry Falwell’s religious right crusade, in the mid-‘80s and appeared on The 700 Club, denouncing his past as a punk rock provocateur. That’s the strangest part of the whole story.

#12 The Clash with Joe Ely Band at the Armadillo Oct. 4,

Someone described this show as Ely and his band pouring gasoline all over the stage and then the Clash coming out and lighting a match. “There was such an explosive feeling in the air,” says Ely. “I felt it. The Clash felt it. They had been disappointed with some of their first shows in the States, because some of the crowds were hostile and confrontational.” At one show fans cut the power cords with pocket knives, which makes no sense at all, and it was customary for fans to spit on punk acts from the U.K. But the ‘Dillo crowd was ready for a great rock and roll show and the Clash, Ely and opening band the Skunks gave it to them. Then everyone crammed into the Continental Club and jammed all night.

Three years later the Clash, in town making the video for “Rock the Casbah,” would play two nights at City Coliseum, where their opening act Stevie Ray Vaughan was booed the first night and replaced the next. But Ely’s set wasn’t met with such wrath from diehard punks because the Clash made it clear they were fans. “Our attitude was ‘it’s Saturday night at the honky tonk and someone just shot a gun into the ceiling,” Ely says of the Armadillo show. “It was one of those dangerous night where anything can happen.”

The modern singing cowboys from Lubbock met the Clash five months earlier in London, when the scraggly punks showed up at an Ely gig at the Venue and then showed the band around London every night for a week. “I said, ‘if you ever come to Texas, we’d like to return the favor and show you guys around,’” recalls Ely. “They were all fascinated with Texas.” Joe Strummer called Ely a few weeks later and rattled off the cities the Clash wanted to play: Laredo, El Paso, Wichita Falls, the cities of cowboy movies and Marty Robbins songs. But first was the show at the Armadillo: the Clash’s Texas debut. “I remember we had to take the Clash tour manager Johnny Green to buy a toaster,” Ely says, when asked if anything unusual stood out about the show. “Beans and toast is all they ever ate.”

The Clash had just covered “I Fought the Law,” written by Lubbock native Sonny Curtis, first recorded by the Crickets and made famous by El Paso’s Bobby Fuller Four. So they spent three days in Lubbock after their Oct. 7, 1979 show there immersed in West Texas music history. “I took ‘em out to Buddy Holly’s grave and we stayed there all night,” says Ely, “just talking about music and singing songs.” The Joe Ely Band flew to London in February 1980 to open the Clash’s London Calling tour (cut short when drummer Topper Headon broke his hand) and the bands stayed close through the years. In fact, Ely and Strummer had planned to go to Mexico to make an album together when the punk icon died suddenly in 2002 from an undiagnosed heart defect.

#13 Thirteenth Floor Elevators at New Orleans Club March 16, 1966

Austin’s acid rock pioneers were formed in the wake of Bob Dylan’s electric performance at Municipal Auditorium in September 1965. Two months later, U.T. student Tommy Hall, who managed a skiffle group called the Lingsmen, caught a set by Roky Erickson and the Spades at the Jade Room on San Jacinto St. near Scholz Garten. The Lingsmen had started to go electric, but lacked a singer who could break through the racket. Hall lured the Little Richard-screeching Erickson into the lineup and called this new “psychedelic rock” group the 13th Floor Elevators. They were almost immediately popular doing covers of the Rolling Stones and Buddy Holly, then really took off regionally after re-recording one of Roky’s Spade songs “You’re Gonna Miss Me” as their first single. Hall was a bit of an LSD guru, which attracted the attention of police and on Jan. 27, 1966, APD raided Hall’s house on E. 38th St., as well as the room in the Bel Air Motel where guitarist Stacy Sutherland and drummer John Ike Walton lived. They were all charged with drug possession and criminal conspiracy after marijuana was found.

Suddenly, local rock station KNOW stopped playing “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and the Jade Room declined to book the band as they awaited trial. But Roky had a former Travis High classmate who wanted to help. Bill Josey Jr. went by DJ Rim Kelly on KAZZ, a former jazz station owned by the Big 4 Mexican restaurant chain and run by Bill Josey Sr., the future owner of Sonobeat Records. The Joseys had been hosting live performances on the air from various clubs- Eleventh Door, Club Seville and Club Saracen- plus the New Orleans Club at 1125 Red River St. The N.O. Club didn’t have a stage, so they put a radio mike in front of blues singer/pianist Ernie Mae Miller. But Josey Jr. changed all that by booking the Elevators, who embraced the N.O. as their homebase club.

The bust had reminded the band how precious was their freedom, so the Elevators started working hard on new, original material, thinking more about posterity and personal artistry than the desires of dancing kids. The 30-minute show from March 16 has become a favorite bootleg of fans wanting to hear the first sparks of a remarkable three-year career before drug busts, delusions and paranoia brought down Austin’s greatest ‘60s rock band. Many Rokyphiles consider this first live recording to also be the band’s best, with the seven-minute cover of “Gloria” and the new original “Roller Coaster” (inspired by the dips and hills of 38th St. near Hancock Golf Course) easy highlights.

The live recording series was short-lived. Monroe Lopez sold KAZZ to KOKE AM in 1967 and it became KOKE FM the next year.

Just four days before the New Orleans Club live radio show on March 16, 1966, the Elevators and Janis Joplin shared a stage for the first and only time, according to the rather thorough band bio <em>Eye Mind</em>. It was at a benefit for black fiddler Papa T at the Methodist Student Center at UT, booked by Joplin’s Port Arthur pal Tary Owens, who was the person who took Tommy Hall to see Roky sing. There has been talk of Janis pondering an offer to join the Elevators as a second singer. I don’t know about that, but after she moved on to San Francisco, where she’d soon be the queen of hippie blues, there was a definite Roky-esque influence on her singing. The autoharp stayed behind.

“God, I wish there were live recordings of the Elevators during that period,” Owens said in a ‘70s interview. Then this tape surfaced to back him up.

#14 King Sunny Ade at Club Foot January, 1983

A star in his native Nigeria since the ‘60s, the king of African juju music signed to Island Records in ’82 and embarked on a 22-city tour of the U.S. with a huge promotional push. Thanks to Dan Del Santo’s “world beat” radio show on KUT, plus Talking Heads foray to the Dark Continent beat, Austin had a small, but devoted audience for African music at the time, so Brad First booked the guitarist/bandleader for about $7,500. Club Foot held 900, so they’d practically need to sell out at $10 a ticket to make any money off the show. And since there’d never been an “Afrobeat” show in Austin before, there was potential for disaster. “The owner fired me after that booking,” said First. The club had steadily been losing money and closed soon after the management change in late ’83. First said he was given a month’s notice and during that time he had the satisfaction of watching the King Sunny Ade show sell out (“thank you, UT African Students Union”) and leave the crowd gasping in ecstasy after two solid hours of O.G., original groove music.

The Afro-party moved to Liberty Lunch, where King Sunny packed the place a few more times, plus his mentor, the great Fela, played the Lunch at least twice. Fela first played Austin at the City Coliseum in ’86, on a show co-promoted by Louis Meyers. “There were no dressing rooms at the Coliseum, so we had to put the band in a big bathroom,” recalls Meyers. “And Fela came out of there and said, ‘You do not put FELA in a shithouse!”

#15 Elvis at the Sportcenter Aug. 25, 1955

Billed as the “Folk Music Fireball” by an Austin promoter, Elvis Presley played three shows in Austin in 1955- at Dessau Hall in March, the Sportcenter in August and the Skyline Club in October- before his January 1956 national TV debut made him a sensation. The middle show is most noteworthy because it happened in the building, which, 15 years later, would house the Armadillo World Headquarters. Backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, with no drums, Elvis headlined a Louisiana Hayride package show at the Sportcenter, named so because boxing and wrestling was held there. “Honky Tonk Man” Johnny Horton was also on the bill.

At his Austin debut on St. Patrick’s Day at Dessau, Presley drew only about 75 fans. The only DJ in town playing his records “That’s All Right, Mama,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “Milk Cow Blues Boogie” was KVET’s R&amp;B jock Lavada “Dr. Hepcat” Durst, so most folks thought Elvis was black. White kids didn’t go to black shows in 1955 and blacks didn’t go to Dessau Hall in far North Austin.

Five months later, however, Presley packed the 1,500-capacity Sportcenter on the heels of new single “Mystery Train” and frantic word-of-mouth. Austin watched him go from unknown to stardom in 1955.

#16. Daniel Johnston at MTV’s “Cutting Edge” taping August 1985

Glass Eye starting bringing this kid up before they went on, to play three songs. Always three, and the moptop would proudly tell you that he just made $15, more than he’d made for working as a McDonald’s janitor that day. He handed his crude, homemade tapes, bought in bulk from Radio Shack, to every pretty girl or connected-looking guy on the Drag, so it wasn’t long until everyone on the scene knew about him. The sweet, crazy guy with the awful music who thinks he’s the new Beatles. That was one faction. But Daniel Johnston also had his diehard fans who thought he was a genius. That’s the side that ended up winning the debate.

Turns out that after you got over that childlike, off-key warbling and primitive guitar strumming, the songs were heartbreaking symphonies of depth and meaning. Zeitgeist started covering “Walking the Cow,” Yo La Tengo played “Speeding Motorcycle” live and Kurt Cobain wore a Daniel Johnston “Hi How Are You?” t-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone. Daniel became the Dylan of the Lo-Fi movement and now he’s probably a millionaire, though he has to live with his parents.

But when MTV came to town in the summer of 1985 to devote an entire hour to the Austin scene, Daniel Johnston was not one of the acts considered for a live taping. The show’s focus was on the post-“Murmur” guitar bands like True Believers, Doctors’ Mob, Zeitgeist, Wild Seeds and Dharma Bums plus there was some punk, some roots and Timbuk 3. Zeitgeist threw a barbecue for MTV cameras to get candid shots of bands hanging out and there was Daniel with his “Hi How Are You” aural business card, of course. “We’re having a conversation on MTV,” he said to the cameras and the director and crew fell in love with this sweet naïve.

Johnston was added to the big taping at Liberty Lunch and you really didn’t know if he would crumble under the pressure. Back then none of us knew the strength of his ambition, but he rose to the moment on “I Live My Broken Dreams,” with its great line equating a nervous breakdown with having a flat tire on Memory Lane. He can’t ignore the camera at the Lunch and can’t stop the grin that knows it’s all about to change.

Some Danielphiles would choose his triumphant appearance at 1990 Austin Music Awards. Johnston had gone around the bend for good, it seemed, after taking mushrooms at Woodshock 1986 and the next few years were mentally tumultuous, even as Johnston’s name grew in fame. He was greeted ecstatically at the AMAs and as he basked in the adulation it seemed his comeback was on. But the next day, Johnston had an episode of delusion and paranoia on the family’s small plane causing his father, a former Air Force pilot, to crash. They walked away with minor injuries, but Daniel, who became the subject of the award-winning documentary <em>The Devil and Daniel Johnston</em>, was committed for a time.

Personally, I prefer the moment when his broken dreams started coming true. Here was an artist who sprouted in Austin’s warm embrace. If there was ever a moment when Austin was the coolest music city in the universe, it was when Daniel Johnston stepped up to that mike in a jam-packed Liberty Lunch and nobody laughed.

#17 Run-DMC at Liberty Lunch June 19, 1985

 

<em>UPDATED: This entry has been corrected when it was brought to our attention that a 1980 Palmer Auditorium concert by Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash predated the Run-DMC show.</em>

 

The Beastie Boys opened for Madonna at the Erwin Center six weeks earlier (and were booed off the stage), but the new era of hip-hop drew delirium and a few hiccups when Run-DMC played at Liberty Lunch on Juneteenth, June 19, 1985. This was a year before <em>Raising Hell</em> and its Aerosmith collab on “Walk This Way” drew down the bridge between rock and rap, but Run-DMC had already become the first hip hop act to record a million-seller with <em>King of Rock</em>. Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl McDaniel and Jam Master Jay played Austin on a day off from the Fresh Festival, hip hop’s first national package tour, which they headlined. They were taking off!

 

So it must’ve seemed strange when Harold McMillan of the sponsoring Black Arts Alliance picked up the trio at Robert Mueller Airport with his beat-up Datsun B-210 and took them to the seedy Stars Inn Motel on I-35 near 32nd Street. “They were saying ‘Hey, man, this ain’t in our rider,’ but I had to tell them we were just a broke black arts organization,” McMillan recalls. The BAA paid Run-DMC $5,000 and ended up making a profit of $6,000 on the $10 show, according to the 1985 financial report kept at the Austin History Center.

 

McMillan’s Datsun with the holes in the floorboard wasn’t the lowest ride the rap icons took during their 24 hours in Austin. When they showed up at Liberty Lunch before the show, they realized that they’d left their records on the Fresh Fest tour and enlisted co-promoter Louis Meyers to take them to the record store, pronto. Meyers took them in a pickup to Sound Warehouse on Burnet Road so they could buy vinyl to rap over. “They just climbed in the back of the pickup and we were off,” says Meyers.

 

The sold-out crowd of 1,200 was about 50/50 black and white- unheard of in Austin at the time- and they were united in ecstasy when Run-DMC charged out onto the stage. Only problem was that the plywood Liberty Lunch stage had some play in it and every time one of the rappers jumped or even stepped hard, the record would skip. Jay was doing his best to keep the beat going, but it soon became apparent that the only way to save the show was for Run and DMC to be as stationary as possible. They did a lot of that folding arm pose.

 

It was a thrown-together benefit for an arts organization, but the Run-DMC show is significant for validating hip hop as a live music event to the rock crowd. This wasn’t held at some dance club on Sixth Street, but the proving grounds of Liberty Lunch. Back in 1985, five years after Sugarhill Gang headlined at Palmer, people still didn’t know if rap was more than a fad. When you felt the power of Run-DMC live, you knew it was here to stay.

<h4><strong>#18 Buck Owens Birthday Bash at the Continental Club August 12, 1995</strong></h4>

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<img class=”size-full wp-image-2150″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/buck_owens01.jpg” alt=”Buck Owens stunned the crowd when he showed up for his birthday bash at the Continental. Casper Rawls on guitar. Photos by Martha Grenon.” width=”640″ height=”359″ /> <em>Buck Owens stunned the crowd when he showed up for his birthday bash at the Continental. Casper Rawls on guitar. Photo by Martha Grenon.</em>

 

Austin is a Buckaroo town, more Bakersfield than Nashville, so it was natural that local musicians do a tribute night to the ‘60s honky tonk hero whose twangin’ #1s include “Act Naturally,” “Sam’s Place” and “Waiting In Your Welfare Line.” Guitarist Casper Rawls, then of the Leroi Brothers, and drummer Tom Lewis of the Wagoneers, put the first Buck Owens Birthday Bash together in 1992 and the show was such a blast that it became an annual Continental Club event. Every Travis County country musician of note put it on their calendar and, as a courtesy, Rawls invited Owens, a native of Sherman, Texas, every year.

 

<img class=”size-full wp-image-2151″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/buck_owens02.jpg” alt=”Owens duetted with Kelly Willis on &quot;Loose Talk.&quot; Photo by Martha Grenon.” width=”318″ height=”223″ /> <em>Owens duetted with Kelly Willis on “Loose Talk.” Photo by Martha Grenon.</em>

 

And in the fourth year, the country legend showed up. Only four people from the club- Rawls, Lewis, clubowner Steve Wertheimer and singer Kelly Willis- knew ahead of time that it was going to happen and even they weren’t 100% until Owens came in the front door about an hour into the show. Wertheimer whisked the ultra-special guest to a roped-off spot at the corner of the bar, but he’d been spotted and it shot through the crowd: “Buck Owens is in the house!”

 

The seed was planted a year earlier when Owens, deeply touched by the birthday tribute, sent Rawls one of his red, white and blue guitars. On the pick guard Owens had engraved “To Casper, I might see you August 12, 1995!” Buck’s private plane was enroute to Austin that day, with singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale and Buckaroos pianist Jim Shaw along for the jam.

 

After checking things out for a bit, Owens took the stage to sing a duet with Kelly Wills on “Loose Talk” and the crowd went nuts. Later Owens joined Rawls and the house band for three numbers: “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “I Don’t Hear You” and “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail.” A birthday cake and a raucous singalong of “Happy Birthday” followed. It was a party no one present would ever forget.

 

Lewis says one of the night’s moments that stays with him came late in the show, when Buck came from his stool in the back corner to the side of the stage to watch the Derailers, who wore matching suits like the Buckaroos and modeled their sound after the Telecaster-driven band from Bakersfield. As Tony Villanueva and Brian Hofeldt tapped into the chemistry of Owens and his musical soul mate Don Rich, Buck had tears in his eyes.

<h4><strong>#19. James Brown at Municipal Auditorium Aug. 1, 1966</strong></h4>

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<img class=”size-medium wp-image-2130″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/jamesbrown_ad-173×300.jpg” alt=”Tim Hamblin of the Austin History Center found this ad, which ran in the Statesman on August 1, 1966, after watching an interview James Brown did with an access TV show in 1982.” width=”173″ height=”300″ /> <em>Tim Hamblin of the Austin History Center found this ad, which ran in the Statesman on August 1, 1966, after watching an interview James Brown did with an access TV show in 1982.</em>

 

If that date looks familiar that’s because it was the day UT engineering student Charles Whitman killed 11 people from the observation deck of the UT Tower, after killing three on the way up. JAMES BROWN PLAYED AUSTIN ON THE NIGHT OF THE SNIPER MASS MURDER! You would think that would be a substantial event, except that, until last year, hardly anybody had even known about it. This wasn’t like the night Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the James Brown show went on to quell rioting in Boston. There had been absolutely no trace of this concert in Austin lore until Tim Hamblin, a video archivist for the Austin History Center, was going through some old footage from 1982 at Club Foot and found an interview with James Brown. Asked if he’d ever played Austin before, the Godfather of Soul said, “Yeah, I played here the night that guy went crazy up there on the tower!” Hamblin had never heard that before. Intrigued, he went searching for a newspaper ad for the show and found one in the Statesman.

 

The next question was “Did the show go on?” That brought me to the Austin History Center last year to peruse copies of the Capital City Argus, Austin’s black newspaper of the time. There I found a review of the Monday Aug. 1 show written by “Roving Eyes,” which is one of the pseudonyms Bert Adams used. According to the review, James Brown sat in with the 18-piece band for about half an hour on organ before he took the spotlight. Nowhere in the review did it mention the day of terror, which began just 11 blocks from Municipal Auditorium (later renamed Palmer) at the Bouldin Creek house at 906 Jewel Street, where Whitman stabbed his wife to death while she slept.

 

Austin was pretty much segregated in 1966 and what happened over at the white college didn’t affect the goings on in the black community. So, although it’s a tad surprising the review didn’t mention 16 murders in town that day, it’s not a shock. “Those of you who had to pay $3.00 or $3.50 can say it was well worth it,” the review concluded. “James Brown, gold suit and all, is out of this world.”

<h4><strong>#20 Frank Zappa with Captain Beefheart at the Armadillo World Headquarters May 20 &amp; 21, 1975</strong></h4>

<img src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/fury_cola.jpg” alt=”” />

 

The most legendary of all Austin music venues was adopted by many acts during its run from 1970-1980: Freddie King, Willie Nelson, Commander Cody, Bruce Springsteen and on and on. But there was no stronger allegiance to the ugly building at 525½ Barton Springs Road than from Frank Zappa, whose lyrics often satirized the counterculture and yet he had true affinity for the ‘Dillo tribe. He even wrote a verse about the Guacamole Queen and “her aura” for his song “Inca Roads,” from <em>One Size Fits All</em> in 1975. “He played so often that we had to rotate the artists who did the posters and they all seemed to get a crack at Zappa,” says former Armadillo owner Eddie Wilson. The first time rock’s weirdo composer (and great guitarist) played the ‘Dillo, in ’72, there was a bomb scare in the middle of a song and, after the evacuated fans were returned to the hall an hour later, Zappa struck up the band at the exact point in the song where the concert had stopped.

 

But none of Zappa’s shows at the ‘Dillo stand out this many years later like the two nights that were recorded for <em>Bongo Fury</em>, the last Zappa album with the Mothers of Invention as his band’s name. That 1975 album, released just five months after the Armadillo shows, was notable because it reunited Zappa and his former Antelope Valley High School (Lancaster, Cal.) classmate Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart. The two avant-gardians of the hippie era had huge influences on each other growing up and Zappa produced the Beefheart masterpiece <em>Trout Mask Replica</em> (1969), but the <em>Bongo Fury</em> tour was the only time Beefheart went on the road with Zappa. The album also marks the first appearance of Terry Bozzio, Zappa’s late ‘70s drummer, who now lives in Austin, as original Mothers drummer Jimmy Carl Black once did.

 

“Zappa was a compulsive perfectionist,” recalls Eddie Wilson. “Our crew worked their asses off for him. I think that’s one of the main reasons he liked the Armadillo.” But Zappa was also able to adapt on the fly. For one show his contract stipulated that he’d have four hours to rehearse and a full hour soundcheck before the doors opened at 7 p.m. Except that Zappa’s equipment trucks didn’t arrive until 5:30 p.m. and he had only 15 minutes to soundcheck. “Zappa walked off the stage really pissed off and I said, ‘I know the last thing in the world you want to do right now is meet anybody, but you’ve got a blind, deaf and crippled guy opening for you and I’ll take you over to meet him if you’d like.” Zappa and Blind George McClain hit it off and Zappa took the Split Rail regular out on the road with him.

 

Of the nine tracks on Bongo Fury, six and a half were recorded at the Armadillo, including the Van Vliet compositions “Sam with the Showing Scalp Flat Top” (the title Bongo Fury comes from the lyrics) and “Man With the Woman Head.” The concert ends with Zappa saying what’s become a local catchphrase: “Goodnight Austin, Texas, wherever you are.” Beefheart passed away in 2010 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. Zappa died in 1993 from prostate cancer.

 

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<h4><strong>#21 Gang of Four at Club Foot Nov. 4, 1980</strong></h4>

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<img class=”size-full wp-image-2084″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/go4_irvingplaza1.jpg” alt=”Gang of Four, shown here in NYC, played in Austin on the night Ronald Reagan was elected president.” width=”590″ height=”413″ /> <em>Gang of Four, shown here in NYC, played in Austin on the night Ronald Reagan was elected president.</em>

 

On the night of November 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan was declared the winner of the Presidential election and the politically-radical Gang of Four took the stage at the jam-packed club on 4th and Congress. The juxtaposition of these two events made for two hours that no one there would ever forget. After reminding the crowd of the world in trouble they were in with Reagan in charge, Gang of Four firehosed the room with danceable punk rock that left everyone dripping. “It was one of those great rock shows that crosses the line into pandemonium,” said photographer David C. Fox. “You know that saying about how ‘rock and roll saved my life’? That’s how that night felt.” This list is not a ranking of the greatest concerts the town’s ever seen. We’re not counting encores, this was one of those truly musical intense shows that came out of a big moment. Context. The lines were becoming clearer that night and the Gang of Four made their side the one to be on.

 

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<h4><strong>#22 The Standells at Big Mamou 1987</strong></h4>

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<img class=”size-full wp-image-2098″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/standells.jpg” alt=”Impostor Jimmie Lee Dean and the real Dick Dodd.” width=”640″ height=”360″ /> <em>Impostor Jimmie Lee Dean and the real Dick Dodd. Photos by Theresa DiMenno.</em>

 

This was the night Austin caught an impostor and threw his ass in jail, while the guy he was playing stepped in and finished the show. Steve Chaney had booked a band billing themselves as the Standells of “Dirty Water” fame, with original member Dick Dodd in the group. But when “Dick Dodd” showed up for a radio interview, a local music journalist in the studio knew that wasn’t the real one and told Chaney, who asked for the real Dodd’s number. It turned out Dodd, who lived in California, hadn’t received any royalties in two years and suspected that someone had been cashing about $15,000 in checks. Dodd flew to Austin later that night and notified the Austin Police Department of the fraud. Five officers were sent to the S. Congress Ave, location currently home to C-Boy’s. The fake Standells played one song, a metal version of “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” then the lights came up and the cops took it from there, arresting 36-year-old Jimmie Lee Dean of Houston. About half the audience was in on what was happening and back then there was no social media to tip off the perps. As one officer led away Dean in handcuffs, the path crossed with the man whose identity he had taken. “Dick Dodd,” said the officer, “meet Dick Dodd.”

 

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<h4><strong>#23 The Dixie Chicks at Erwin Center May 2003</strong></h4>

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<img class=”size-full wp-image-2082″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/saddammaines.jpg” alt=”Toby Keith’s evil photoshop” width=”450″ height=”364″ /> <em>Toby Keith’s evil photoshop.</em>

 

You know what happened. Chick spoke out. Country music audience boycotted. The Austin-based Dixie Chicks had just become the best-selling group in the history of country music, averaging 10 million copies sold. And then they were history. But before Natalie Maines told a British audience that the Dixie Chicks were ashamed that the president was from Texas, they had sold out many shows in the U.S. tour, including a return home May 21, 2003 at the Erwin Center. Protests greeted most shows and a few, put on sale after the incident, were canceled for slow ticket sales, but Maines was not ready to make nice. One song from the performance at the Drum was aired live on the <em>Academy of Country Music Awards</em>, which is why Natalie was wearing a shirt with the initials FUTK, for “Fuck You Toby Keith.” Keith had been screening a photoshopped image of Maines and Saddam Hussein as lovers during his shows. Classy.

 

<img class=”size-full wp-image-2083″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/DixieFUTK.jpg” alt=”Natalie Maines” width=”320″ height=”230″ /> <em>Natalie’s response.</em>

 

Turns out Maines was right about Iraq, but most American country music fans have still not forgiven the Dixie Chicks, whose touring these days is limited to Canada.

 

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<h4><strong>#24 AC/DC at the Armadillo World Headquarters July 27, 1977</strong></h4>

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<img class=”size-full wp-image-2078″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/acdc77group.jpeg” alt=”AC/DC on the 1977 tour.” width=”637″ height=”439″ /> <em>AC/DC on the 1977 tour.</em>

 

The Australian riff maestros were big back home, but had yet to conquer the States when Atlantic Records booked them to play a club tour to promote <em>Let There Be Rock</em>. They were so unknown in the U.S. at the time that AC/DC opened for Canadian band Moxy on four Texas shows promoted by Stone City Attractions of San Antonio. In a 1995 interview with guitarist Angus Young, he told me how the Austin show became their first-ever concert on American soil. “We were supposed to play in Phoenix the night before, but Bon followed a girl off the plane in L.A. and he missed the flight.” The setlist for their U.S. debut at the ‘Dillo was “Live Wire,” followed by “She’s Got Balls,” “Problem Child,” “Whole Lotta Rosie,” “Dog Eat Dog,” “The Jack” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.” That Chuck Berry metal, with Bon Scott’s vocals slicing through stole the show no doubt. The next time AC/DC came to Austin, in July ’78, they headlined a sold-out show at Willie’s Austin Opry House on Academy Drive.

 

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<h4><strong>#25 Freddy Fender at Soap Creek Saloon 1974</strong></h4>

<img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-2079″ src=”http://www.artslabormagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/freddy_fender_0.jpg” alt=”Freddy Fender” width=”545″ height=”317″ />

 

When Freddy Fender, working as an auto mechanic in Corpus at the time, pulled into the parking lot of the original Soap Creek Saloon, in the hills of Westlake, he wondered what that crazy guero Doug Sahm had gotten him into. The parking lot of the wooded hideaway was filled with longhairs in cowboy hats passing around joints. What the hell…

 

But Sahm had sparked interest in the man born Baldemar Huerta when he covered Fender’s “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” on his 1971 Tex-Mex roots project <em>The Return of Doug Saldana</em>. The track opened with a Sahm salute: “And now a song by the great Freddy Fender. Freddy, this is for you, wherever you are.” A teenaged Sahm used to follow “El Be-Bop Kid,” as Fender was billed in the late ’50s, but after Fender went to prison for marijuana possession in the ‘60s, his career was untracked. To ensure a crowd, Sahm opened the Soap Creek show, then joined Fender on a couple songs, a vocal combo that would play out two decades later with the Texas Tornados. Fender’s mix of gritty bar band rockers and romantic bilingual ballads were greeted by stoned jubilation from the audience, convincing Fender to re-focus on his musical career. He reconnected with producer Huey Meaux, who convinced him to cover a country song “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” in his quivering vibrato. Released in January 1975, the song became a #1 smash, not only on country, but pop charts. The followup was a re-recording of “Wasted Days,” which also hit #1. Suddenly, the lisping mechanic was the hottest “new” singer in the country, being named Billboard magazine’s male vocalist of 1975. “Teardrop” also won that year’s CMA award for single of the year, but if not for what happened at Soap Creek, Fender might’ve still been fixing cars and playing dive bars in the Valley on weekends.

 

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Roy Head and the Traits

Posted by mcorcoran on January 7, 2017

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

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

Roy Head

Roy Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Punk Rock Alamo: Pistols in S.A.

Posted by mcorcoran on January 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sam Phillips drove the Mystery Train

Posted by mcorcoran on January 6, 2017

Sam Phillips 1994

Sam Phillips 1994

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Legendary Black Cat owner Paul Sessums (1941-1998)

Posted by mcorcoran on January 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Sessums, seated.

Paul Sessums, seated.

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The time Dale Watson went crazy

Posted by mcorcoran on November 24, 2016

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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.

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THE BIGGEST TIME TEXAS PLAYED NOTRE DAME

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

cindy-walker1

“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.

cindywalkerHEROES

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.

cindygrave

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JAMES HAND: MAGIC WHERE THE SHADOWS WERE

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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