Reviews for “Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams”

Posted by mcorcoran on December 4, 2016


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 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:



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:



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

The time Dale Watson went crazy

Posted by mcorcoran on November 24, 2016



First published in 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Besides, Dale looks lousy in brown.

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Signed copies of Washington Phillips book/CD $30

Posted by mcorcoran on October 13, 2016


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.



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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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.”


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.


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 »


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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Rupert Neve, the Wizard of Wimberley, turns 90

Posted by mcorcoran on July 30, 2016


Vintage Neve board from Sound City

WIMBERLEY — Nobody ends up here by mistake. This quaint Hill Country town 40 miles southwest of Austin is not on the way to anywhere else, but a destination. And home to about 3,900.

The unlikeliest of those residents is Rupert Neve, the British recording icon who first came to Wimberley in 1980 to visit a friend and finally moved from England to this “lovely part of the world” in 1994.

Neve is the father of the recording console, that behemoth board that dominates studio control rooms like a slanted dinner table with knobs and faders. Cherished by analog apostles, his boards from the ’60s and ’70s sell today for up to five times what they originally cost.

The Neve name got a boost in 2013 with Sound City, a documentary by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters that debuted at South by Southwest. Bought new in 1972 for $75,000, Sound City’s Neve board captured such landmark recordings as Why Can’t We Be Friends by War, Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac,” Pinkerton by Weezer and the self-titled debut from Rage Against the Machine. Each completely different, having only a Neve 8028 in common. “Rupert Neve is a genius,” Grohl stated in Sound City, a love letter to the old-fashioned record-making process, before such software as Pro Tools puts the means for production in the hands of anyone with a laptop.


Rupert, which he prefers to “Mr. Neve,” turns 90 today, July 31. The photo above is the early birthday celebration from the shop in Wimberley where he still works about three days a week. His focus, when I last visited him in 2013, was on his latest analog console the 5088, which was a late-career smash hit.

But to most of the music world he’s best known for his work 50 years ago. “He designed the audio apparatus for the British Invasion!” declared Billy Crockett, whose Wimberley recording oasis Blue Rock recently installed a 5088, with Neve as a hands-on consultant.

In 1961, Neve built two consoles for London’s Recorded Sound Ltd. — one for the studio and the other to record remotes for the highly influential Radio Luxembourg. He designed a transistor-based mixing console with an equalizer in 1964 for Phillips Recording Ltd., another hot London studio in that time of Beatlemania.

Neve also built a reputation for producing robust consoles. He recalled a recent visit to a radio station in Singapore, which owned a console Neve built in 1967. “I went to fiddle with it and they said ‘Don’t touch it!’ I said ‘Why not?’ and they said it was being used on the air at the moment.” Reliability was foremost in Neve’s mind, he said. “I was terrified of having an equipment failure in the middle of a recording session or a radio program.”

Evelyn and Rupert 2011.

Evelyn and Rupert 2011.

Neve’s boards, from his valve consoles in the early ’60s to the powerful 5088, have always recorded to tape. It doesn’t take much prodding to get Neve, a Christian who rarely has a bad word for anyone, to put down digital recording systems. “Basically, (it) chops up the analog signal into a lot of little pieces and stores it in a digital process,” he told me in 2004. “Each of these steps has a switch, a click which is processed in the region above human hearing.” Neve cited a Japanese study that found listening to incomplete sound starts electric frequencies in the brain that are associated with anger and frustration.

Spoon drummer Jim Eno, who has a restored 1969 Neve console in his Public Hi-Fi studio in Austin, says the analog appeal is in the way “a Neve board colors the sound pleasantly and adds to the musicality. It’s the difference between a photograph and a painting. The painting is fuller, deeper and ultimately more satisfying.” To Neve, such “coloring” is just distortion that his old boards weren’t good enough to lower.

“Rupert’s a funny man about his old consoles,” said Fred Remmert, whose Cedar Creek studio sports a 1972 Neve console that used to belong to Elvis Presley. “He’s like an artist who’s still making records and doesn’t want to always be reminded about the songs he cut 30 years ago.” When Remmert proudly showed off his console to the man who designed it, Neve told him that he should sell it while it still had value and buy one of his new boards.
During his ’70s renaissance period, Neve battled American-made API consoles for market share. These days, studio owners have to decide whether to shell out around $100,000 for the 5088 or at least twice that for a vintage Neve.

“I find myself constantly in the position of competing with myself,” he said recently from the workshop in the rocky hills outside Wimberley, where he has a staff of 14 full-time employees.

For such an industry giant to live in this small Texas town is as incongruous as Jack Nicklaus living in Alaska. But Rupert and Evelyn, his wife of 66 years, love their lives out of the music business spotlight. They work and they go to church and they socialize. Until recently, Rupert Neve Designs was listed in the local phone book under “electronics” and folks would call to ask about getting their DVD players repaired.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t do that sort of work,” Neve told one man on the phone in 2004. The caller was persistent, so to send him on his way Neve announced, in his stately British accent, “our going rate is a thousand dollars an hour.” Click. Back to work.

Rupert was raised in Argentina, the son of missionaries, while Evelyn grew up in British India (now Pakistan), where her father was a schoolmaster.  They’ll take the heat of Texas to the constant cold drizzle of England, where their five grown children live. They also prefer the enterprising climate of their new home country to the more socialist stature of the heavily taxed United Kingdom. Rupert and Evelyn became proud U.S. citizens in 2002.

Prominently placed on a living room wall in the Neves’ home in Wimberley is an overhead shot of an old church rectory in Cambridge. “This is the place where a lot of things started,” said Evelyn. The family lived in the 27-room building from 1964 to 1975. At the start, the Neves had th


ree employees and Rupert worked out of the carriage house. By 1973, the company, then called Rupert Neve International, had 500 employees worldwide with factories in England and Scotland. In the ’70s, Neve consoles became synonymous with a warm, rich, organic sound. Every studio had to have one.

Needing an infusion of capital and wanting to concentrate on design, Neve sold his company in 1975 to ESE, a corporation that made its money primarily in oil exploration. The Neves were paid mainly in company stock, and when the stock plummeted to pennies on the dollar, they virtually gave the company away. Creatively, however, Rupert Neve was on a roll. He designed the first automated console, which stored and recalled the sliding fader positions, saving producers hours of time per session.

In January 1976, Beatles producer George Martin stopped by Neve’s studio to try out this new “moving fader automation,” as Neve’s new product was called. “We thought he might stop by for a couple hours, but he was mixing until late in the night,” Neve recalls. The next day Martin sent a note: “How soon can I have one?”

An inventor without an off switch, Neve’s mind is always at work, even at 90. “Once when I was on vacation with Evelyn in Spain, I had an idea on the beach and started drawing schematics (circuit designs) on the wet sand and photographing them,” he said with a laugh. “My work is my hobby.” A self-taught electrical wiz, Neve started building radios as a hobby at age 13 in Buenos Aires. He made it a business a few years later when World War II broke out and radios stopped coming from U.S. manufacturers. Neve was able to buy the components and build radios that he sold to stores in Argentina. “Even as a boy, my product had to sound better than everybody else’s,” he said. “I’d listen for hours and tinker with all sorts of ways to reduce the distortion.” At 17 he joined the British Army and sailed to England.

After the war, Neve bought a U.S. Army ambulance, which he converted into a mobile recording and public address system. His first “hit” was a policy speech by Winston Churchill, which Neve recorded straight to vinyl for worldwide release.

He met Evelyn through his sister — “sparks flew straight away” — but when he asked her father for permission to marry her, the old man said he didn’t see much future in the PA system business. “You can’t support my daughter in a style she’s accustomed to on that kind of money,” he said — so Neve moved to London and got a job designing transformers. The owner of the company also manufactured enormous loudspeaker units. “The thinking then was that quality speakers had to be huge,” Neve said.

Neve in 1968 in England.

Neve in 1968 in England.

Neve designed a unit that was just as powerful, but at about a quarter of the size. When the company balked on manufacturing the bookcase speakers, the Neves formed their own company, CQ Audio, in 1957. Undercapitalized, the fledgling enterprise struggled initially and there was no money to pay mounting bills. Even worse, the Neves’ infant son, John, was rejecting his mother’s milk and was in danger of dying of malnutrition. “I wondered what my parents would have done,” Rupert said in 2004. “They would have prayed — and so about 3 a.m. one night I fell to my knees and said, ‘If you’re really out there, please do something.’ In that instant, I could sense that someone was listening.”

Although his parents were missionaries, Rupert Neve “grew up a grandson of God, not a son of God,” he said. “I thought religion was for the old, the weak. I didn’t need God in my life. But in that moment of clarity at 3 a.m., I realized that I’d been given a gift.” The Neves’ son recovered and they’ve been devout Christians ever since.

“I’m not educated,” Neve stated. “Nobody taught me how to do what I do. From that day forward I’ve never forgotten that I owe everything to God’s grace. There’s no other way to explain it.”

Rupert and Evelyn initiated the Cambridge Radio Course in 1973 to train Christian broadcasters. It was one of his former Cambridge radio tutors whom Neve visited in Wimberley in 1980. When he returned to England, he told Evelyn that if they ever decided to move to the States, he found the perfect place, with a clean river running through it and amazingly friendly people.

The Neves invited me to seniors Bible study class at the First Baptist Church of Wimberley in 2004, when I first wrote about Rupert for the Austin American Statesman. It was his week to lead.  “Nobody knows the Bible better than Rupert,” said class leader Sue Baker. Putting on his name tag, Rupert joked that it was so he wouldn’t forget his own name. But his talk was sharp, weaving Patrick Henry’s defiant “give me liberty or give me death” speech of 1775 with Old Testament narratives concerning the prophet Elisha, who put himself in danger for his beliefs.

“Sometimes we have to take an aggressive action and risk the consequences,” Neve said, closing his binder full of notes. “Be bold.”

Wimberley is no place for the lost. When you end up here, it’s usually meant to be.


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Cindy Walker: First Lady of Texas Song

Posted by mcorcoran on July 20, 2016


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


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

Oree Walker and daughter Cindy

Oree Walker and daughter Cindy

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

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


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Posted by mcorcoran on July 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Texas Guinan: From Waco To the Great White Way

Posted by mcorcoran on June 23, 2016

Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan

Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan, circa 1904

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

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

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

Texas Guinan

Texas Guinan

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

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

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

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

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

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GUY CLARK 1941-2016: Songs That Work

Posted by mcorcoran on May 17, 2016

Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark 1977. Austin Opera House photo by Scott Newton.

Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark 1977. Austin Opera House photo by Scott Newton.

by Michael Corcoran, Sept. 2006

If there’s an overall theme to the songwriting of Guy Clark, Nashville’s ambassador to Texas music for more than 35 years, it’s that if you want to explore the poetry of life, go all the way. Duly inspired, a Texas A&M student got in his car one day in the early ’80s and, on a whim, drove eight or nine hours to Monahans, in West Texas, to wait for a train that never came.

That Aggie, Mayor Will Wynn, is such a Guy Clark fan that he wanted to feel like the 6-year-old Clark in “Texas 1947,” which Wynn calls the greatest train song of all time. In the song, the anticipation of a child is validated by a souvenir nickel, smashed flat by “a mad-dog, runaway red-silver streamline train.”

After several hours, Wynn headed back to the dorm, driving all night, his nickel still on the track. His friends said he was crazy, but Wynn just told ’em that he would’ve stayed all night if he’d had a sleeping bag.

“His lyrics speak to me like no other songwriter, author or poet ever has,” Wynn explained of his affinity for Clark, who makes his Austin City Limits Music Festival debut Saturday.

Townes and Guy

Townes and Guy

The deeply honest songs of Guy Clark, including the cosmic cowboy classics, “Desperados Waiting For a Train” and “L.A. Freeway,” both covered by Jerry Jeff Walker, can have that effect on people. He’s not easily accessible – when he’s called “a songwriter’s songwriter” it means he has a voice that will ensure cult status – and his gold records are sung by others (Ricky Skaggs’ version of “Heartbroke” helped kickstart the bluegrass revival in 1982), but Clark’s body of work and continued influence on newer singer-songwriters gives him a face on the Texas singer-songwriter Mount Rushmore.

Although Clark hasn’t lived in Texas since 1970, when he was based in Houston, he’s considered a Texas writer because so much of his material is set in his home state. Plus he’s most often associated with Texans such as Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, whom he helped get signed to MCA, and, of course, Townes Van Zandt, the Sundance Kid to Clark’s Butch Cassidy (only in this one, Butch got the girl).

“Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are the front axle and rear axle of the whole Texas singer-songwriter machine,” said Joe Ely, who was also helped by Clark early on. “It’s so weird that they gravitated to Nashville, because they were both really the antithesis of what was going on there.”

Ely said he was worried for Clark after Van Zandt died of a heart attack in 1997 at 52.

“Guy’s whole demeanor went into a slump for two years,” Ely said.

Concern intensified early this year when Clark, 64, played a few concerts looking worn and aged, his hair gone. The CD booklet for “Workbench Songs” – which has been pushed back to an Oct. 17 release – contains photos showing a very different Clark than the “Nick Nolte with a guitar” fans are used to seeing.

Diagnosed with lymphoma early this year, Clark underwent chemotherapy.

“Everything’s fine now,” he said in August from the basement workshop of the Nashville house he shares with fellow songwriter and painter Susanna Clark, his wife of 34 years. He’s rebounded visibly in recent months and the disease is reportedly in remission.

guyclark3His workshop is perhaps the most productive 8-by-12-foot room in Nashville. It’s there, at a worn and sturdy work table that Clark makes guitars as well as plays them. This is also where he writes songs. Every stanza, every line, every word, every letter has to be perfect.

“Guy’s a masterful self-editor,” said songwriter Rodney Crowell, a close friend for more than 30 years. “I’ve seen him throw away lines that other writers would die for, because they didn’t serve the truth of the song.”

Even the best songwriters occasionally toss in a throwaway line to make a rhyme, but it would be difficult to find any pieces of Guy Clark songs that don’t ring true. Every song he’s written is based on his personal experience, or something that happened to a friend.

“He pays incredible attention to detail,” says Hayes Carll, one of many young songwriters who’ve come to Nashville to write with Clark. “He’ll make the most minute changes, but they’ll end up making a huge difference.”

It’s because of this meticulous process, as well as his skill as a woodworker, that Clark is often pegged as a song “craftsman,” usually in the first sentence of a review or profile. It’s a description, although fitting, that he has come to dislike.

“I think of my work as, like, poetry. I’m not building shelves,” he said.

The Clarks moved to Nashville in 1971 because they didn’t like Los Angeles and wanted to make a living as songwriters.

“I wanted to go where the best writers were, the best musicians,” he said.

Through the years, the Clark home has served as “an outpost for wayward Texas songwriters,” he joked. Van Zandt crashed with the Clarks for months at a time; Earle was also quite familiar with the guest room when he was starting out.

“You see, early on I decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, not a Texas songwriter,” Clark said, yet through the years he’s come to be referred to as “the dean of Texas songwriters.” He relishes his role as a mentor.

“I’m always interested in what newer writers are up to,” he said.

In 1983, a friend at a music publishing company gave Clark a demo tape of a new kid from the Houston area named Lyle Lovett.

“I listened to that tape every day for a week,” he said. “It was the best thing I’d heard in years.” He brought it by for MCA President Tony Brown to hear and Brown agreed. “I’ve gotta sign this guy,” Brown said halfway through the demo. And he did.

Lovett returned the favor by calling the tribute album to his early influences “Step Inside This Houguycolorse,” after the first song Clark ever wrote.

As he talked about his comfortable, yet not financially spectacular, career as a songsmith, Clark hand-rolled and chain-smoked cigarettes, seemingly as hooked on the process as the nicotine. Behind him was a wall of cassettes, their plain white covers tidily marked with inscriptions such as “Emmylou at Xmas,” “John Prine 11/4” and “Steve’s birthday.”

The first time he co-wrote with Clark, Carll said, he was mesmerized by all the incredible artists and songs that had been recorded, on the fly, in that little room. “There was one tape of Emmylou Harris singing ‘Fort Worth Blues,’ ” Carll said. “Let that sink in: Emmylou Harris singing a Steve Earle song about Townes Van Zandt to Guy Clark.” Sitting under a portrait of Van Zandt, no less.

Clark doesn’t speak easily about himself. He saves his insights for his songs. But he talks eloquently of Van Zandt, whose sets at Houston’s Jester Lounge in the late ’60s encouraged Clark to write deeper songs.

“We respected each other’s music immensely, but that’s not why me and Townes were such good friends,” Clark said. “He was smart – real smart – and really, really funny. Just a great guy to hang out with.”

Ely described the Guy-Townes relationship this way: “Townes came over for breakfast one day and it lasted 20 years.” Clark rarely does covers, but he records one Townes song on every album.

The biggest difference between the two, who could outdrink an Australian metal band, was spelled out by Crowell: “Townes wouldn’t share his genius. He was competitive with other writers, but Guy is incredibly generous. He showed me how the process worked. No one helped me more than Guy.”

Van Zandt was a notoriously private writer. He’d draw the blinds on a cheap motel and emerge three days later in a vodka haze with a masterpiece he couldn’t wait to play for Clark. But Clark likes to show his work in progress and has really taken to the role as collaborator. On his near-perfect 1975 debut “Old No. 1,” Clark wrote all the songs himself. On “Workbench Songs,” every cut is a collaboration.

“When you’re co-writing and you have an idea, you have to say it out loud, so you know right away if it’s a dumb one,” he said, with a laugh.

Although he started playing guitar at Aransas County High School in South Texas and came of age during Beatlemania, Clark has never been in a band. He didn’t want to rock with a Rickenbacker; he wanted to write songs that make people say, “I know exactly how that feels.”

He was drawn to a life playing music at an office party hosted by his father, a lawyer in Rockport, near Corpus Christi. A new associate at the firm, Lola Bonner, played a traditional Spanish song on the guitar, then passed it to someone who played another song, and a young Clark was fascinated.

“I thought, ‘This is won-der-ful,’ ” he said, his eyes wide open. Bonner taught Clark his first few songs, which he sang in Spanish.

When he started writing his own songs, Clark leaned on his memories of hanging out at his grandmother’s hotel in Monahans as a boy. The washed-up wildcatter of “Desperados Waiting For a Train” was based on Clark’s adventures with Jack Prigg, who lived at the hotel and filled the boy’s head with stories and life lessons.

“He wanted to have a home and a family, so he took me under his wing,” Clark said. “He was like a grandfather to me.”

Prigg was also the inspiration for “Let Him Roll,” a song about a man who falls in love with a prostitute, then goes on to destroy his life with wine when she chooses to stay in the street life.

“Guy will write lines that just rip your head off,” said Ely, who occasionally tours with Lovett, Clark and John Hiatt in a “guitar pull” format. “We always sit alphabetically, so I follow Guy, which is not always an easy thing. He’ll be singing ‘He always said that heaven/Was just a Dallas whore’ (at the end of ‘Let Him Roll’) and I’d have tears in my eyes, then it’s my turn to sing.” Ely laughed. “I’d look over at Guy and think, ‘Man, you got me again.’ ”


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