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Austin, what did I do to deserve you?

Posted by mcorcoran on November 16, 2017

Gary Clark Jr. on HBO’s “Sonic Highways.” This article is from Nov. 2014.

Four high schools in four years and then released into a world I felt like I had no part in. Tried to find a home in Los Angeles and then upstate New York, but I kept coming back to Honolulu, a city where a tan meant more than ideas. No place else to go.

And then, at age 28, I found Austin, and for many years after that had to laugh when someone called Hawaii paradise.

The Austin segment of the Foo Fighters’ series Sonic Highways screened last night at Studio 6A, the original home of “Austin City Limits,” the night before it airs on HBO. After the episode ended to impressed applause and scattered standing ovations from the invited studio audience, head FF and Highways director Dave Grohl and “ACL” producer Terry Lickona, who plays a big part in the hour-long doc, sat in easy chairs onstage. They talked about Austin and the 8-part series and that big piano on the stage with them that had been played by Ray Charles, Tom Waits, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and so many other greats on Austin’s live music TV show that turned 40 this year.

Grohl recalled his first visit to Austin, as an 18-year old drummer for D.C. punk band Scream, and how he immediately felt “safe” here. Austin was an oasis on the road, a place to let loose creatively without the threat of redneck bullying. San Francisco-on-the-range, this college town was different than all the others out on the road because it was also the capital of the most diverse musical state in the union. New York and L.A. aren’t for everybody and so Austin became a different sort of musical Mecca. One that took money out of the equation.

“We just played Austin last night and you wouldn’t believe we were in Texas,” my friend Andrella, on the road with the Cramps, wrote me in a postcard around 1980. “Punks in mohawks, rockabilly kids, wild crowd, great show!” That was the note that put Austin in my mind’s map.

I arrived, as we all did, with the energy of exploration and the determination of making this fresh start count. This is a city that people have moved to since the ‘60s for the quality of stimulation. We came here because where we were just wasn’t doing it for us, and so the best icebreaker question in Austin is “what oppressive shithole are you from?” It’s notable, then, that the two standouts of Sonic Highways:Austin are native sons Gary Clark Jr. and Roky Erickson.

Austin, what can I do to preserve you?

Clark talks about growing up in far South Austin, unaware of the live music scene on the other side of the river, and then snapping at his friend since third grade Eve Monsees when she showed him the downtown clubs where blues, reggae, rock and jazz pushed out from doorways onto the streets. “Why did you keep all this from me?” the 14-year-old Clark asked. He was reborn.

The guitarist recalls when things started changing on the music scene, when the condos went up downtown and the cops started showing up with sound meters that measure noise, not music. “This is what we do here!” Clark says of the local music way of life in Sonic Highways’ pivotal scene. It doesn’t matter anymore that the music was here first.

The ambitious idea behind Sonic Highways, also the name of the Foo Fighters album which comes out Tuesday, is that the band recorded one song each in eight different American cities, filming footage for an hour documentary each week. They would learn as much about that city’s musical history as possible through interviews for the doc, record the backing tracks in a historically significant studio and then Grohl would write the lyrics based on lines from the interview transcripts. The other cities in the already- acclaimed series are Chicago, New Orleans, Nashville, Seattle, D.C., Los Angeles and New York.

The Austin song is “What Did I Do?/ God Is My Witness,” which is about falling in love with something that’s slipping away. “What did I do to deserve you?” Grohl sings at one point, setting up a marrow-melting solo from Clark Jr., who showed up at the session without a guitar and left with a brand new Gibson SG (“Take it,” Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear said to Clark. “It’ll never sound that way again.”) Later in the Beatle-like song Grohl asks “What can I do to preserve you?”

This is no allegory. This song is, in part, about the soul of Austin, Texas being priced out of the market. Ironically, the Austin segment is so galvanizing that we can expect new waves of unsatisfied citizens to move here in the months to come.

The hourlong spotlight is a great summation of what Austin music is all about, touching heavily on the Vaughan brothers, Willie Nelson, 13th Floor Elevators and Townes, as well as Antone’s, Raul’s, Liberty Lunch and the Armadillo. Can’t fit everyone in an hour and so there’s little to nothing on Sir Doug, the “new sincerity” guitar bands, Spoon, Alejandro, the Scabs or the current garage scene. This Sonic Highway, with the exception of Gary Clark Jr., ends at about 1982.

If all the good stuff happened here before you arrived, that’s your fault. But the Austin segment brings up some good points about holding onto the history. Studio 6A is hallowed ground. Taking that elevator up to the 6th Floor and then going down the hallway with all the iconic Scott Newton photos and then entering the 320-capacity studio, the years snapped back in tight nostalgic recoil. This is where some of our favorite memories were made.

But everything that happened in Studio 6A is preserved. On tape and digitally. The stuff’s that’s going away forever are the clubs. And then the musicians. The City of Austin hasn’t done much to either preserve or nurture the activity that gives Austin its slogan. Once Austin’s crown jewel, the music scene is now just another thing to dangle from the bracelet. The way of life: is it over?

After the screening, I went to the Broken Spoke on the rumor that Willie Nelson was going to play a secret set in honor of the club’s 50th anniversary. The place was crazy, like Mardi Gras at the OK Corral, with the crowd encroaching on couples dancing to Jesse Dayton and the string of musicians he called up- Scott Biram, Rosie Flores, Jesse Harris and so on. It felt more like the last night of the Spoke than an anniversary, but it was a blowout sans regret.

Jesse Dayton, hard charger

There’s no backstage at the Spoke, just “back there.” A door from the stage opens outside, and there were about 30 of us hanging out, smoking, passing around a bottle of hooch in a bag. There were a couple of writers and a few musicians and a guy in a Devo-esque electric cowboy suit, plus a couple of blonde drunken sweethearts to keep it interesting. You could hear the band pretty well back there and they were doing the Joe Maphis song “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music” and it felt like the original honky tonk roadhouse that the Spoke is.

Willie never showed, but it didn’t matter.

Still glad I moved here 30 years ago. Still think about leaving every day. It’s not just the traffic, but the phoniness and pretense that permeate the whole nouveau city. But at times like last night, it feels like paradise again. Watch Sonic Highways tonight, then go out and hear some people sing and play. The magic may be harder to find, but you can always follow the music.

 

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Frank Murray (1950- 2016): the Dublin-Austin Connection

Posted by mcorcoran on January 2, 2017

Frank Murray, in white shirt, behind the Continental Club, SXSW 2007.

Frank Murray, in white shirt, behind the Continental Club with the Mighty Stef and others. SXSW 2007.

Pogues fans on this side of the Pond are often unaware that the Celtic roots/punk band was from England, not Ireland. But when Dubliner Frank Murray became their manager and got them signed to Stiff Records in 1984, they were held in the embrace of Irish music royalty. Murray worked with traditional Irish acts such as the Dubliners and Ewan McColl’s daughter Kirsty, and teamed them with the Pogues to create two of the band’s most memorable numbers: “The Irish Rover” and “Fairytale of New York.”

Murray’s best friend since teen years was Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, and Frank began his remarkable music business career in the late ‘60s humping amps and driving vans for Lizzy predecessor Skid Row. When Thin Lizzy became Dublin’s first internationally-known rock band with Jailbreak (and smash hit “The Boys Are Back In Town”) in 1976, frank3Murray had a taste of the big time and wanted more. But he was not driven by the money and fame, though neither would be turned down. His fulfillment came from enabling his charges to reach the masses through their art. Frank Murray was the Great Connector.

“Frank loved good music,” one of his later clients, Stefan “the Mighty Stef” Murphy posted on Facebook after word spread Dec. 22 that Murray was dead of a heart attack at age 66.  “Being cool wasn’t enough. it had to be good.”

Cait O’Riordan, who left the Pogues in ’87 when she married Elvis Costello, posted on Twitter: “Please light a candle, say a little prayer for Frank Murray who left us today. RIP that wicked gleam in his eye, that kind heart.”

When not on the road with Lizzy in the ’70s, the level-headed Murray road-managed tours for Elton John and the Commodores. When ska/punk broke big, he handled the infamous 1979 2-Tone Tour and managed the very best band on it- the Specials. That all prepared him for his six years with the hard-drinking, hard-living Pogues, who would seem to have been the hardest band to handle, though Frank said UB40 was worse!

“Nobody I ever worked with was as charismatic, as knowledgeable or as truthful as Frank Murray,” wrote Murphy.  “God knows who I turn to now in moments of doubt.”

After he quit managing the Pogues in 1990, he took on the Frames, whose guitarist Glen Hansard soon got a role in The Commitments. Murray was a fixture on the Dublin film scene, co-founding the Maverick Film Festival, and helping former Frames bassist John Carney attain funds to make the 2007 film Once, which made Hansard a star.

Managing the Mighty Stef brought Frank to Austin in 2007, when he met Kay Gourley, a lifelong Austinite who showed him around town and eventually became his girlfriend. I had met Frank in 1988 when I was supposed to write a tour diary of the Pogues in the South (don’t bother Googling that story- I lasted only two nights). It was great to reconnect 20 years later and to get to

Frank, Kay and Frank's son Dara outside Ginny's

Frank, Kay and Frank’s son Dara outside Ginny’s

really know Frank Murray as a man deeply involved in the arts- film, painting, music, theater, dance, poetry. He was a facilitator of the first order. That was his great gift. The last time I had coffee with Frank- always at the Spiderhouse- he talked about ideas on how to better strengthen the musical bond between Ireland and Texas. I could name a Texas song, like “Streets of Laredo” and “The Old Chisholm Trail” and Frank could sing the Scotch-Irish song those tunes reworded.

Also, he was so proud of his children Shannon, Emmet, Darragh, Aran and Kay’s 16-year-old son Seamus, who Frank called his fifth.

“Frank was someone that I was friends with the second I met him,” said Joe Ely, speaking for multitudes. “He loved the Austin scene because it reminded him of Dublin, with all the little clubs and out-of-the-way places.”

Ely met Murray in the mid-‘80s while on tour in London. “He showed up with Shane MacGowan, who stayed backstage when we were onstage,” Ely recalled. “When the show was over, we found out he drank all the booze on the rider.”

After the Clash broke up, Murray helped get Ely’s good friend Joe Strummer back in the game with his new band the Mescaleros.

“It really does feel like the end of something,” Spider Stacy of the Pogues told Billboard. “He was brilliant. I loved him dearly.” Stacy and Murray reunited this past year when the New Orleans-based Stacy played the Continental Club with the Lost Bayou Ramblers.

“I had just seen Frank in Austin in July,” Ely said. “He was in great spirits and looked great. It was a real shock (Murray’s passing). I just sat down and cried.”

Posted Murphy: “Hope there is good music wherever you are Frank. I’ll keep singing my song and trying to make you proud.”

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From the AAS archives

Posted by mcorcoran on July 29, 2011

Boredom is a bitch. Boredom made me start this web site, when I was just getting the hang of Facebook and Twitter. Eventually, I’ll be posting stuff here every day, including breaking music news, I hope, and reviews of concerts, DVDs, restaurants, TV shows and so on.

I’m also going to try to write more personal things.

But right now, I’m trying to figure it out, so please bear with me. And if you’ve traveled here and are looking for something to read, here are my ten favorite stories from my 16 years at the Statesman.

Read the rest of this entry »

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