MichaelCorcoran.net

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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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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The House That Freddie King Built

Posted by mcorcoran on December 28, 2016

Photo by Scott Newton

Photo by Scott Newton

Sorry, the chapter on Freddie King in the upcoming book All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music was posted only one day, the 40th anniversary of Freddie’s death. The book, which features 41 other chapters on Texas music pioneers, will be in stores and online in late April via the University of North Texas Press.

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Souls On Fire: Gram and Emmy

Posted by mcorcoran on December 9, 2016

rs-168991-85217466His father committed suicide when he was 12. His mother drank herself to death on the day he graduated from high school. A trust fund junkie, Gram Parsons was doomed. He drank too much, stuck needles in his arms and seemed to be just passing through this life. His death at age 26 was shockingly young, but it did not seem too much before his time to those who knew a man who lived – and sang – as if he were prepared to die.

But before he succumbed to a morphine overdose in a motel in the California desert, the creatively restless Parsons packed in a lot of amazing music and spawned the country-rock genre at a time when the Eagles were just a football team out of Philadelphia and Linda Ronstadt was singing Peter, Paul and Mary songs.

You can argue over who created reggae or who was the first punk band or whether Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole pioneered the concept album, but there’s no question that Parsons was the first to play Nashville country music with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. He wore the sequined Nudie suits favored by the classic country singers, but Parsons had his decorated with marijuana leaves, pills and naked women where the glittery cacti, wagon wheels and lariats usually went. He was the original cosmic cowboy, recording songs by Merle Haggard and George Jones with the International Submarine Band way back in 1966.emmylou1

Parsons, whose short time with the Byrds produced the classic “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” in 1968 and who formed the Flying Burrito Brothers the same year, has sold many more albums in death than in life. The latest reissue (2006), is a three-disc box set of “The Complete Reprise Sessions” ($34.98), which combines Parsons’ two solo albums, 1972’s “G.P.” and his masterpiece, 1973’s “Grievous Angel,” with a disc of alternate takes.

Despite all the tumult in his personal life, Parsons managed to find enough pockets of clarity to make a pair of albums that tap into the full range of emotions, from the mournful “In My Hour of Darkness” and “A Song for You” to the flat-out exuberant “Cash on the Barrelhead” and “Big Mouth Blues.”

As chronicled in the 2004 Parsons documentary “Fallen Angel,” the troubled troubadour found an angel to pull him through the recordings. The new old set could be called “The Emmylou Harris Sessions.” After Parsons was kicked out of the Flying Burrito Brothers because he chose hanging out with Keith Richards over touring with the Burritos, he got a solo deal with Reprise and set out to look for “a chick singer” to soften his nasally lead vocals. He found her in a club in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Georgetown – a shy, pretty songbird who would be the Tammy to his George.emmygram

If Harris, who had a live-in boyfriend, and the married Parsons ever had a fling, Harris is not saying, and she’s the only one who knows for sure. But they certainly made love with their harmonies, with the cashmere-smooth Harris caressing Parsons’ stark leads. Their “Love Hurts” is not as seamless and luxurious as the original version, but the Everly Brothers didn’t sound like they were looking into each other’s eyes when they sang it.

If only love could be so natural, so forgiving, so consistently magical. There was just so much musical chemistry between these two, who were sitting together on a motorcycle on the original cover of “Grievous Angel,” until Parsons’ jealous wife nixed it after his death.

But Harris remains tireless as the ambassador for Parsons’ legacy. This model of integrity and grace has not only kept alive such Parsons compositions as “Luxury Liner,” “Ooh Las Vegas” and “Still Feeling Blue,” but she cherishes that bit of soul Parsons left with her. Parsons and Harris were, and still are, an incredible love story.

“I never knew what kind of music was inside me,” Harris once told a reporter, “until I met him.”

Such musicians as Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy from Uncle Tupelo and Ryan Adams could say the same thing, although they met him only through his records. Parsons is also the spiritual sponsor to Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Rodney Crowell and many more singer-songwriters who believe that you separate laundry, not country, folk and rock. Even the Rolling Stones owe a debt to Parsons, who showed them the way to “Dead Flowers” and “Country Honk” and “Sweet Virginia.” And if not for his versions of Parsons’ “Hot Burrito No. 1” and “How Much I Lied,” Elvis Costello’s 1981 country foray “Almost Blue” would’ve been a bust.

Elvis Presley was Parsons’ main musical idol, so it was a thrill for him to make his last two albums with the King’s final backing band – including guitarist James Burton, piano player Glen D. Hardin, bassist Emory Gordy and drummer Ronnie Tutt. Careerwise, Parsons was on an upswing when he and a few friends went on a vacation near Joshua Tree National Park in California, after completing “Grievous Angel.” But drugs and alcohol got the best of him at the Joshua Tree Inn on Sept. 19, 1973.gramemmy2

His body was supposed to be flown to New Orleans, where his stepfather Bob Parsons lived. But Gram Parsons’ friend Phil Kaufman (a former cellmate of Charles Manson) persuaded airport handlers to give him the coffin for transport on a private flight. Kaufman instead drove the body back to Joshua Tree, poured five gallons of gas on it and lit a match, later saying that it had been Parsons’ wish to be cremated in the desert.

Kaufman, who was arrested for stealing the casket (but not the body), didn’t know what he was doing and the remains ended up just being badly charred. The morbid act may titillate casual observers, but it cheapens the legend for fans. When you listen to the records Parsons and Harris made together, you don’t think of a burning body, but souls on fire. The music is so alive.

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Reviews for “Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams”

Posted by mcorcoran on December 4, 2016

cloafing

New York Review of Books calls Manzarene Dreams “the authoritative new edition of Phillips’s music.”

Creative Loafing (Atlanta): This was the cover story by Chad Radford.“When Phillips died, a secret history of pre-war gospel blues was born; a mystery shrouded in speculation and mistaken identity. But through the legwork and dedication of semi-retired Texas music journalist Michael Corcoran and Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital archival record label, nearly 90 years after his final recordings were made, Phillips’ story can be told.

CNN’s religion editor Daniel Burke on “Gospel Music’s Greatest Disappearing Act.”   “He was a Main Street mystic, one of those ageless figures who haunt small-town America like real-life Boo Radleys…  In the few photos of Phillips, he looks stern and a little sad, as if disappointed by our downward drift into sin. The people of Simsboro thought he would never die.”

TEXAS MONTHLY REVIEW

Texas Monthly review by Michael Hall

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

Roots World’s Bruce Miller: “A stunning set that collects lore, scraps, and stories to paint the most complete picture we’re likely to get of the man responsible for music as striking as it is welcoming.”

Spectrum Culture magazine : “Through firsthand research and interviews, Corcoran presents for the first time a fully realized picture of one of pre-war music’s more mysterious figures. Featuring interviews with those who knew Phillips, along copies of an evidentiary paper trail that helped disprove a number of the previously held inaccuracies surrounding his life and work and a wealth of new information, Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams stands as the definitive statement on the man and his music.”

Radio New Zealand interview with Trevor Pagan. “Washington Phillips: Founding Father of American Gospel Music.”

D Magazine gets it. Dallas has an amazing history of recordings. Though I don’t think Blind Lemon Jefferson ever recorded in Dallas.

The Wire magazine:

wire-washington-phillips

 

Pitchfork (8.5 rating): “Best New Reissue.” No other gospel musician has come as close to convincing me that Jesus’ love might not stress me out.

Amanda Petrusich in the New Yorker led the charge.

Wash Phillips circa 1950.

Wash Phillips circa 1950.

Here’s a review from Dusted magazine.

Black Grooves says: “This deep dive into Phillips’ gospel blues has unearthed gems that are sure to make more converts of artists and fans alike.”

Fretboard Journal has a podcast interview with the author and says of “Manzarene” book/CD “We can’t recommend it enough.”

The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger raves.

Here’s a second review from The Wire:

wire2

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The time Dale Watson went crazy

Posted by mcorcoran on November 24, 2016

dale2

 

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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Signed copies of Washington Phillips book/CD $30

Posted by mcorcoran on October 13, 2016

cover

The box of books came today. I’ve been waiting two years for them. Gospel music’s great re-appearing act Washington Phillips taught me patience. His musical prowess on a homemade instrument was the subject of a newspaper article in the home paper in Teague in 1907. But it would be 20 years later until this self-made musical miracle first recorded, in Dallas. What’s two years?

But it did hurt because I knew that this 76-page hardcover book with remastered CD was the best thing I’ve ever put my name to. Most critics are out to discover the next big superstar, but I found a guy who’d died 60 years ago, who everyone is just starting to discover. I’ll never meet him. He’ll never let me down.

I first wrote about Phillips for the Austin American Statesman in 2002. I found out that musicologists had been crediting the wrong Washington Phillips all along. It was one of those stories you dream about, but instead of freeing an innocent man from prison, I was exhuming a forgotten artist. I still remember the moment when I knew for sure that it was a case of mistaken identity. It’s was a Monday night at about nine and I’d finally reached Virgil Keeton inwashphillipsaas Fairfield, TX. He was related to both men named Washington Phillips and he said the one who sang gospel songs at church while  plucking the strings on a harp-like instrument, died in the ‘50s from a fall down the stairs of the welfare office in Teague. The Washington Phillips written about in the liner notes of the Yazoo CD “I Am Born To Preach the Gospel” died on New Year’s Eve 1938 at the State Hospital, where he was admitted in 1930 with delusions and paranoia.

When Dust-To-Digital contacted me in Nov. 2013 and asked if I’d write extensive liner notes, 7,000 words or so, for a new Wash Phillips reissue, I said sure. I bid pretty low and asked to be paid primarily in books. And here they are. Official release date is Nov. 11, but I can sell my books now. They’ll be signed by me to whoever you say. I’ve ditched the Wash Phillips footprint idea after ruining a book, but I am going to stamp each package with the sole of Washington Phillips.

For a personalized copy of Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams, send a check for $30 ($40 Canadian) to me at P.O. Box 313 Smithville, TX 78957. Or send $31 to PayPal under my email address michaelcorcoran55@gmail.com. The price includes shipping, so if you’re not from the U.S. add more.

The money I make from the books will fund further research into the lives of Washington Phillips, Arizona Dranes and Blind Willie Johnson. Hopefully, TCU Press will put out Goin’ To See the King, my book about about 1920’s black gospel, in Spring 2018. I’ve done all the primary research on the Holy Trinity of black gospel pioneers in 1920s Texas, now I have to weave their stories together in the context of the times.

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From Dust-to-Digital:

“We are excited to share this story in Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams, a new book by Corcoran accompanied by recordings made by Phillips between 1927-29. To ensure a superior listening experience, we tracked down the most pristine original copies of Phillips’ 78-rpm records, created high resolution transfers and had the audio expertly remastered for the best-sounding Phillips reissue to date. Hear the sublime, hypnotic and ethereal music of Washington Phillips in clarity like never before!”

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Posted in Gospel, Texas Music History | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blaze Foley: Killing of a Songwriter

Posted by mcorcoran on October 7, 2016

Blaze Foley by C.P. Vaughn

Blaze Foley by C.P. Vaughn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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