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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

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“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.

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

Oree Walker and daughter Cindy

Oree Walker and daughter Cindy

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

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

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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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Texas Guinan: From Waco To the Great White Way

Posted by mcorcoran on June 23, 2016

Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan

Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan, circa 1904

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

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

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

Texas Guinan

Texas Guinan

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

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

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

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

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

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Charles Stagg house (abandoned) Vidor, TX

Posted by mcorcoran on May 1, 2016

 

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More on Charlie Stagg.

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