Greezy Wheels keep turning after more than 50 years

16 Dec

Cleve Hattersley’s old bones move slow and his eyes don’t see as well. His white hair and wrinkles reveal his age; yet after the pot smoke clears, he still sings, plays guitar, and writes music the same as he has for 50 years or more.

Neither gray hair nor wrinkles, nor the aches and pains suffered by a few old timers in Austin Music Hall of Fame’s Greezy Wheels band stopped them from performing their eclectic song list on stage at Cactus Cafe Nov. 6 for a nearly sold-out, fan-based crowd.

The band’s return performance after nearly a one year hiatus due to health issues, included three original members: lead singer and songwriter Cleve Hattersley, and his fiddler common law wife “Sweet Mary” Hattersley, along with Cleve’s sister and vocalist Lissa Hattersley.

The way Cleve Hattersley tells it, his story about dabbling in drugs, sex and rock and roll while migrating between the East and West coasts in the late 60s and early 70s sounds a lot like a “Big Fish” tale, but the facts speak for themselves.

As a teenager Cleve says he and his sister, Lissa, wrangled in street business at the door to the famous Fillmore East club in New York City. There they met the late great guitarist Jimi Hendrix on New Year’s Eve of 1969, when Hendrix recorded his live album Band of Gypsys live over two days at the Fillmore.

Cleve  says that he became a hippie who dropped LSD sold by psychedelic leader Timothy Leary in the store, The League for Spiritual Recovery. Hattersley also says that he moved to Haight Street in San Francisco and became a next-door neighbor to Charles Manson criminal’s band of followers before they became notorious Hollywood killers.

He says he once booked guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn for $100 at the Lone Star Café in New York City where Hattersley worked as the house manager — six months before the band became Double Trouble and unleashed their Texas Flood album.

Texas criminal records show Austin police busted Hattersley in 1970 at the old Mueller Airport while he attempted to smuggle 15 pounds of marijuana aboard a commercial Braniff Airlines jet bound for New York.

Nobody but Cleve will confirm that a group of young Democrats well-known in Austin politics in 1973 helped to get him released from Huntsville prison, he did only serve 11 months of a seven-year sentence.

However, any musician or music fan over the age of 50 can vouch that Hattersley and his band, Greezy Wheels, for years performed at The Armadillo World Headquarters, backing up such big name stars as Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen.

As testimony to a long musical career, last year Cleve, along with Mary and Lissa and  20 other former and current members of his Greezy Wheels band, became inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame.

“I got busted in 1970 because I was trying to be a big-time pot smuggler,” Hattersley said. “The only thing I could think of to do after that was to try and use my fledging abilities on guitar and songwriting to see if I could make a living at it.”

During the two years that Cleve Hattersley and a legal team fought his appeals, he formed the Greezy Wheels with his sister, Lissa, met his wife, “Sweet Mary.”

Jimmy Vaughn performed in a trio with drummer Doyle Bramhall, known as Storm on Monday nights at the One Knite, once located where Stubbs stands now. The One Knite painted black, featured a door shaped like a coffin with all kinds of stuff hung from the ceiling – old tires, car parts, bicycles, and toasters. Angela Strehli sang backup vocals with Storm occasionally.

“That was the first gig the Greezy Wheels performed ever, opening for Storm,” Cleve said. “It was just me, guitarist Pat Pankratz and bass player Mike Pugh. Everybody played there at the One Knite. It was a dive, but only in the very best sense.”

Long hair fell into fashion, but not everyone in town appreciated the look; some called them “hippies.”

“It was a time when having long hair was making a statement. It was a big statement. You either had really long hair or you had really short hair,” Mary Hattersley said.

When Lissa Hattersley started singing with the Greezy Wheels she was just 20 years old. Then a bit shy about performing with the band on stage, Wheels members used to give her a few drinks to loosen her up beforehand.

“It was fun. Those are fun times and it was old Austin. It was a different world here. I know people talk about it and the younger people who hear them, say ‘oh, don’t talk about it – you old folks – we don’t want to hear about it anymore. Old Austin – who cares?’” she said.

Greezy Wheels soon joined an eclectic community of musicians and local bands. They performed at the Hungry Horse, once located at the corner of Trinity and 19th Streets. The band also regularly played at Bevos on 24th Street, a couple of blocks west of Guadalupe, drawing eclectic crowds with its outdoor stage and beer garden. Greezy Wheels, Alvin and the Pleasant Valley Boys and Freda and the Firedogs – Marcia Ball’s former band, became regular attractions at the Soap Creek Saloon too.

When they weren’t performing, they frequented Bonnie’s on the East Side, a laid back place where bands and patrons brought in their own cases of beer and smoked pot in a fenced-in open-air yard.

The Hattersleys visited the I.L. Club, named after its owner, Ira Littlefield, on Austin’s East Side. A sign out front read: “Famous Beatnik Bands Perform Nightly.” Inside Roky Erickson performed with his band, Spade, before he formed the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. That band and other celebrity acts regularly made appearances at the Vulcan Gas Company, a funky bar that featured homemade wooden church pews for seating, located in the 300 block of Congress Avenue.

Every musician in town sat in and played with any one else who had a paying gig. Life was good and the living was easy for the Hattersleys.

“So it was kind of a big deal when I went away to prison. The legal deals were denied and I had to turn myself in; they had ‘Free Greezy’ T-shirts made up. Everybody called me ‘Greezy.’ The T-shirts had a picture of my face on them singing behind (jail) bars. Those were a pretty big seller,” Hattersley said.

While his band played on without him, at Huntsville, Hattersley performed a prison rodeo gig and recorded an album with the rodeo band.

“Although we did not wear stripes in prison, they had stripe uniforms made up just for the occasion so that we would look more like convicts,” Cleve Hattersley said.

Meanwhile, by herself Mary Hattersley known as “Sweet Mary” Egan at the time earned a reputation as an accomplished fiddler player with celebrities of country, blues, jazz and rock and roll musicians and other music hall of famers.

Her name appears on the back of a number of record albums produced by musicians in the 70s. She performed on two of Jerry Jeff Walker’s albums: Jerry Jeff Walker in 1972 and his gold Viva Terlingua! recorded in Luckenbach, Texas in 1973.

In 1973, 18 days after Texas Legislators changed the Texas Penal Code laws to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts marijuana, Governor Dolph Briscoe commuted Hattersley’s prison sentence as time served.

“There was a whole group of people – young Democrats — that were ‘happening’ in the early 70s. The Greezy Wheels played their parties. They all knew I was going to prison for pot,” Cleve Hattersley said.

“To me it’s part of the story of what Greezy Wheels has always been to me. Greezy Wheels is our lifestyle in itself. It’s who we are musically and what we represent to other people. Mary and I are coming up on our 40th anniversary and people see us in a positive way. That’s what you really want to do in your life, be seen as a positive instead of a negative.  So we proclaim that this is how we are. We’ve advocated ending the prohibition on pot for almost 50 years.”

Cleve today works on Kinky Friedman’s campaign for Texas Agriculture Commissioner and support efforts to legalize marijuana.

“To me this is a culmination of 50 years of labor. It’s a hippie kind of way at looking at life,” he said.

He said it doesn’t feel like more than seven decades of his life have passed, but he notices that things have changed.

“Time is a strange element during that time because we were all taking a lot of drugs. They were all mind-expanding drugs – LSD and PCP, of course. Some of us were lucky and some weren’t. I saw a lot of people ‘lose it,’” he said.

When the Hattersleys permanently moved to Austin in 1970, music at The Armadillo World Headquarters helped to bridge the big cultural divide between the east and west sides of town. On any given night, country and western music lovers mingled with blues, pop, rock and jazz fans.

The Armadillo accomplished what The Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco and Bill Graham’s Fillmore East in New York began years before.

“The Armadillo I think was even more adventurous – they had jazz artists, they had straight pop artists, they had everything,” he said.

Entrepreneurs Eddie Wilson, Bobby Hederman, and later Hank Alrich established the Armadillo and Greezy Wheels became the venue’s unofficial house band.

“It’s a shame that the cost of rock and roll shot up so much. The first show that we did with Willie Nelson, his first in Austin ever, had a $2 cover charge. Must have been 1971. It was two bucks,” Hattersley said.

“The price of getting acts to play went up and the bar’s owners needed to make more money. Inflation just hit rock and roll pretty hard at that point in history really.”

In 1974, after his release from prison, Cleve rejoined the band with other guitarists Tony Airoldi and Pat Pankgratz, as well as a mandolin player Michael Pugh on bass, a drummer Tony Laier, plus a new conga player, Madrile Wilson, and of course, Mary Hattersley on fiddle and Lissa, on vocals.

Two separate groups emerged during the next five-year period – Greezy Wheels brought in drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, who left to play with Stevie Ray Vaughn and his band, Double Trouble. Chip Dill played bass and Victor Egly played guitar for Greezy Wheels too.

The group disbanded in 1978 when Layton left and Cleve and Mary moved back to New York; it took 22 years for the Hattersleys to get the Greezy Wheels rolling again.

Cleve and Mary Hattersley returned to Austin in 1985; and from then until 1988, Cleve managed one of the most influential clubs for live music in town, the Steamboat on Sixth Street.

In 2001 Mary and Cleve, and his sister, Lissa, reunited Greezy Wheels to release the CDs: Millennium Greezy, HipPOP, and StringTheory. Then Cleve and Mary also released a duo CD entitled, Totally.

The Hattersleys returned to the spotlight by joining The Band drummer Levon Helm at his “Midnight Ramble” at The Barn in Woodstock, New York regularly, beginning in 2009 before Helm died in 2012.

Last year Mary and Greezy Wheels released their album, Gone Greezy, on their own label, MaHatMa Records, earning them a spot in the Texas Music Hall of Fame and their hometown’s top ten list of albums recognized by The Austin Chronicle.

Currently, their newest album, Kitty Cat Jesus, which released this past May, features two hit songs: “I Cry Myself to Sleep,” and “I’ll Get Away With It.” Both have received lots of radio station airplay.

Other current Greezy Wheels members include: lead vocalist Lissa Hattersley and other band members: vocalist Penny Jo Pullus, drummer Johnny Bush, bassist Brad Houser, and trombone and harp player, Matt Hubbard. Both Bush and Houser previously played with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians in the 1980s. Hubbard also performs with Willie Nelson.

published on http://austinfusionmagazine.com/2013/12/18/cleve-hattersley-sex-drugs-and-greezy-wheels/

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