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Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Flatlanders to reunite Sept. 20 at The Paramount

12 Sep

    Gilmore1 Hancock,Glasse,Albert,GilmoreCountry singer, songwriter, actor, recording artist and producer Jimmie Dale Gilmore, plans to reunite with the other original band members from Americana roots band, The Flatlanders, including Butch Hancock and Joe Ely.

    The Flatlanders will present a special concert at 8 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Paramount Theater in Austin.

    It’s been nearly 40 years since Gilmore, Hancock and Ely, began jamming with Steve Wesson who played Autoharp and musical saw, Tony Pearson on mandolin and bassist Syl Rice, to become The Flatlanders.

    In 1972 the band made their musical debut at the Kerrville Folk Festival and won the New Folk Singer/Songwriter Competition. That same year, the Armadillo Beer Garden opened in Austin and The Flatlanders performed during its entire first week.

   “There were six of us originally in the Flatlanders, but only three of us continued with musical careers,” Gilmore said.

     In 1974, Hancock and Ely began their solo careers before Gilmore participated in a spiritual group that was learning the art of meditation from Prem Rawat at his headquarters in Denver.

    “I actually first became connected with one of his disciples in Austin. Then I went and lived in New Orleans for a short while before I went to Denver. I went to Denver because there was a large community of people who were studying with him (Rawat) there,” he said.

    “It (Denver) was the place to study and practice meditation with that group. Early in my music career I had studied Eastern Philosophy. I first became interested in it in the ‘60s and from there, that was the spiritual journey that led me to Denver.”

    He left that community in 1980 and returned to Austin. For a long time, he performed often at the Broken Spoke with his band. Success came to Gilmore slowly. He also had a steady gig every Wednesday night at Threadgill’s on South Lamar.

    “That’s where I got to know a lot of Austin musicians,” Gilmore said. “I did it every week and we had different people sit in to play. Just like we did last night; it was a very similar thing. We had a big following. So that’s why this thing at El Mercado is nostalgic.”

    Throughout the 1990s, the original members of The Flatlanders remained the best of friends in Austin, but they seldom performed together.

    Ely enjoyed success in his solo career while Hancock and Gilmore toured together as a duet. Separately, Gilmore and Hancock also headlined their own bands.

     “There’s this intertwining of many people; there’s so much history. I’ve been playing for such a long time and I’ve done a lot of different things,” Gilmore said.

    From January through April of this year, Gilmore teamed up most Monday nights to perform with Christine Albert and David Carroll at El Mercado South in Austin for weekly nostalgic and musical trips down memory lane.

    Newcomers luckily stumbled upon the unofficial Austin venue during the South-by-Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival, (SXSW) March 7-16.

    However, members of the three-piece combo had performed acoustic folk music and familiar ballads every week for a year and a half, billed as “Mystery Monday.” The name stems from their tradition of inviting surprise musical guests to sit in on stage.

    The show during SXSW didn’t disappoint patrons, either new nor regular, while they munched tostada chips dipped in spicy homemade-style salsa, ate their fill of Mexican combination plates, and drank foreign ale fermented south of the border or top shelf margaritas.

    Albert and Carroll regularly perform only two sets on stage every week. Occasionally, guitarist/harmonica player and singer/songwriter Butch Hancock hosts the show with guest appearances that change week-to-week.

   “We had a good thing there every week,” Gilmore said. “It’s been really great – consistently amazing.”

     March 10, the mystery guests included Austin’s acoustic and electric mandolinist/composer Paul Glasse and legendary rockabilly guitarist Bill Kirchen, aka: “the Titan of the Telecaster.” Kirchen served as a member of the musical outlaw group, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen from 1967 through the 1970s.

     Albert closes her show with a moving rendition of the Southern Gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away,” written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley.  She sings it as a tribute to friend and former band mate, the late Austin guitarist, singer and songwriter, Sarah Elizabeth Campbell.

    The duo performed it at their final show together last December just before cancer took Campbell’s life.

     Gilmore and his wife, Janet, used to show up regularly at El Mercado South as fans of the Albert and Campbell show. Often Gilmore sat in to play a few tunes with the two who have been his good friends for years.

     In January, Albert asked Gilmore to join her on stage once a week, to keep the show going at El Mercado South. Their combined circle of friends remained otherwise unbroken and has intertwined with multiple members of local bands.

     Albert used to sing in Gilmore’s band in the 1980s with her husband, Chris Gage, and both toured with him. Later, Albert and Gage also produced albums of their own.

    Gilmore has enjoyed at least two musical careers – one as a member of The Flatlanders in the early 1970s and another as a headliner act from the 1990s through the 2000s.

    The Amarillo native grew up in Lubbock and attended Texas Tech University for a short time. Gilmore has known Hancock since they both attended Atkins Junior High and Monterrey High School together in Lubbock.

    In 1964 Gilmore met guitarist and singer/songwriter Joe Ely who also was born in Amarillo and they share musical connections that cemented their life-long bond.

       “Buddy Holly’s father, L.O., financed a demo recording (tape) for me and so I put a band together. The place we hung out and practiced at, was owned by Tommy Nickel and so was band came to be called the ‘T. Nickel House Band.’ We hung out at T. Nickel’s house, so as a joke we called it that. It sounded like a nightclub or something,” Gilmore said. “Some people thought the name was a drug reference, but it wasn’t.”

      That band never did become famous. The T Nickel House Band included: guitarists Gilmore, Ely, John X. Reed, and Jesse “Guitar” Taylor, as well as drummer T.J. McFarland.

     “John X. Reed and I came to Austin together,” Gilmore said. “We didn’t move here, but we visited and played in town. The very first place John and I ever played together in Austin was at Threadgill’s.”

     Gilmore also played in Angela Strehli’s band, Sunnyland Special, in the late 1960s long before her name became associated with Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton, Sue Foley and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Strehli’s Sunnyland Special included Gilmore, Lewis Cowdrey, Taylor and McFarland.

     Opening night Aug. 7, 1970, Gilmore performed with his band, The Hub City Movers, at the Armadillo World Headquarters, once located at 525 and 1/2 Barton Springs Road.  His band had been the last house band to perform during that same summer at The Vulcan Gas Company, then located at 316 Congress Avenue.

    “I was involved in folk music, with folk musicians and rock musicians, and also blues musicians and country musicians. I was connected with so many different groups of people,” Gilmore said.

     Ely and Gilmore have stayed connected throughout the years since meeting in Lubbock.

     “We were actually fans of each other; we used to go hear each other play,” Gilmore said. “We met playing at little dives and coffee houses and boot leg joints in Lubbock. Lubbock was dry, so any place that had any kind of night life was usually illegal.”

    In Lubbock, Gilmore and Ely found a group of creative friends who shared similar interests.

     “He’s (Ely) been one of the treasures of my life,” Gilmore said. “There were plenty of other Bohemian, creative people from Lubbock who kind of banded together in that period.”

     Gilmore and his friends shared common interests including philosophy.

     “For me, philosophy and spirituality have always intermingled. That’s always been part of my deep interests. I was never ever what you might call ‘religious.’”

         Fans in the audience at El Mercado South span years of Gilmore’s, Hancock’s and Albert’s careers.

     “There are so many good friends in my background. The really wonderful thing about this ‘Mystery Monday’ gig is I’ve been able to play with a lot of people that I used to play with regularly. It’s a reunion kind of thing – really beautiful.”

     In the break between the band’s two song sets, two of Gilmore’s friends, a San Francisco-based and country folk duo, known as Wildwood, performed. The duo consists of Desiree Wattis, a Virginia coal miner’s granddaughter, and Avery Hellman, the grand-daughter of the late Warren Hellman, founder of the famous Hardly Strictly Blue Grass Festival of San Francisco — a festival that drew 650,000 people last year.

    “Warren Hellman and I actually made a record together, but that’s a whole and completely different story in itself,” Gilmore said. “It was a totally unexpected thing that happened. We had become personal friends ten years ago in the course of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. We shared a love of bluegrass and old-time music.”

    Gilmore joined Hellman’s seven-piece old-time music group that called themselves The Wronglers and recorded a 2011 album, “Heirloom Music.” They toured one season all over the country, fulfilling one of Hellman’s life-long dreams during the last year of his life.

    As part of the show March 10, Gilmore performed one of the songs that The Wronglers used to play, a country standard made famous by the Carter Family, “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes.”

    Heidi Clare, the original vocalist/fiddle player for the Wrongler’s. She acted as tour manager for Wildwood all during SXSW and at El Mercado South that Monday night during the girls’ performance.

    “I’ve become acquainted with the whole (Hellman) family and we had done a couple of songs together at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festivals, so that’s how I invited them to the show that night,” Gilmore said.

    Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel also scheduled the Wildwood girls to open their show at the Rattle Inn March 11.

    For three months ever Monday night, several threads of Gilmore’s past often came together at El Mercado South to connect him to multiple people all in one place at the same time.

   Glasse performed on the first album Gilmore ever recorded as a solo artist, “Fair and Square,” released in 1988. A number of local musicians performed on that album produced by Ely and released by High Tone Records. Gilmore enjoyed success with the album’s hit single, “White Freight Liner Blues.”

   Gage toured with Gilmore nationwide beginning in 1993 and continuing throughout the mid-1990s.

   In 1991 Gilmore released “After Awhile” on Nonesuch Records, produced by Stephen Bruton, who had played guitar with Kris Kristofferson and then Bonnie Raitt. Kristofferson recently released Bruton’s “The Road To Austin,” 73-minute documentary, that screened during the SXSW Film Festival March 10. Bruton died in 2009. Gilmore does not appear in Bruton’s documentary because the late musician and filmmaker scheduled filming the same day that Gilmore attended his son Colin’s wedding.

      Emory Gordy, Elvis’ former bass player produced Gilmore’s hit solo album, Spinning Around the Sun, in 1993.  Three years later, Gilmore recorded Braver Newer World, released on the Elektra label and produced by legendary Grammy winner, T Bone Burnett. Gilmore has been nominated three times for Grammys, but has never won.

   “During that time, I got lots and lots of publicity,” Gilmore said. “I also did lots of touring. That was the time in my career that I was the most visible.”

      In 2000, Gilmore released One Endless Night on the Rounder Records label and returned to High Tone Records to release Don’t Look for a Heartache in 2004. He released Come On Back on Rounder Records in 2005.

     Gilmore also appeared as a bit actor in films: The Thing Called Love in 1993 and The Big Lebowski in 1996. He has also appeared on late night television shows hosted by Jay Leno and David Letterman as well as Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.  His song “Brave New World” graces the film soundtrack for 1995’s Kicking and Screaming.

    He enjoyed his regular weekly gig at El Mercado South that ended in April. Now occasionally he will sit in with the band on stage as part of “Mystery Mondays.”

     “It’s different every week. We do a lot of the same songs every week, because they’re the songs that we know, but the sound is different because we have different instrumentation,” Gilmore said. “David (Carroll) contacts the people to play with us and he has a lot of friends and really good taste.”

     Along with their son, Colin, Gilmore and his wife Janet, have two daughters, Elyse Yates and Amanda Garber.  Her husband, Scott Garber, sometimes plays bass with Gilmore. The Gilmores also have several grandchildren who he refers to as “the most important part of our lives.”

     “I’ve enjoyed two basically different personas – one under my name and one under The Flatlanders, but I’ve done a lot of different things with both of those,” Gilmore said.

     “I never have really thought much of career and that kind of stuff. I just do what I like for however long it lasts.”

http://www.theflatlanders.com

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Alvin Crow plays the Broken Spoke; James M. White sings “Mr. Honky Tonk and Mr. Bar Stool”

16 Sep

Alvin Fiddler, bandleader, and singer/songwriter Alvin Crow began his career as a child prodigy who learned to play the violin at just four years old and began classical music training by the time he turned seven.

He entered the junior Oklahoma City Symphony at 12 and became an alternate violinist before his 14th birthday.

“By the time I was seven I was wearing white buck shoes, a red blazer, greasing my hair, and doin’ an Elvis. At nine I started learning guitar for the purpose of accompanying my singing, which tended towards roots country at the time — Jimmy Rogers, the Carter Family, Bill Monroe —  the western swing that I saw on TV in Oklahoma.”

As a young man, Crow’s fascination with music grew well beyond his capabilities; he learned to imitate the styles and song repertoires of country’s great bandleaders like Hank Williams and Jimmy Rogers.

“So that is the vein I started in, as far as learning to sing and play. By the time I was 12, I had a rock and roll band,” Crow said. “At 12 or so, I was playing all the time, as a bandleader.”

Crow treasures a faded Kodac colored photo of his rock band performing in his family’s garage about 1964 when he was 14 years old.  Another earlier black and white blurry photo reveals Crow and his brother Rick practicing at a city orchestra rehearsal.

“I appear to be about ten, while Rick is about six or so,” Crow said.

Crow began playing in bars and honky tonks regularly at 20 years old, first in Amarillo and then later in Austin. He played at a dozen or more honky tonks in the late 1960s around Amarillo before moving to Austin permanently in 1971, a turning point in his musical journey. Some of the Amarillo clubs in which he performed included: Rod’s Club, The Panhandle Barn Dance, the Playboy Club, the Clover Club, the Avalon, and the Aviatrix just to name a few.

As a teenager he played bass in a country rock band called the Fuzzy Hog Brothers. Fiddle players were hard to find at the time in the Panhandle, so Crow gained experience as he played and sat in with a lot of bands. After the Fuzzy Hog Brothers broke up, Crow started performing with just one of the band’s members, D.K. Little, in a duet. The two maintained a somewhat homeless and transient existence, living out of a car and traveling from town to town to play in road  houses and honky tonks.

“We travelled all over Texas in a ’64 Plymouth.  It was our home; we would see a small honky tonk, go in, and ask the bartender if we could set up in the corner — just the two of us — and play for ‘pass the hat,’” Crow said. “At first they would be dubious, but when we started with the Hank Williams they were usually very happy.”

Crow and Little liked the freedom of playing whatever they liked whenever and where ever the road took them.

“Being in a band was hard, so we enjoyed it (the duet.)  We wound up in Austin, where there was a plethora of folkie clubs,” Crow said.

Crow and Little moved to Austin in 1969 and lived here for about a year and a half.

“We played all over Austin at the little folk coffee houses that were popular at the time. We played Hank Williams at the time and it was unique. Everyone else in town was playing (Peter, Paul and Mary’s song) ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore.’ And we did well. We did real well.”

The Vietnam War interrupted the duet’s career when the US Navy recalled Little to service and Crow went back home to Amarillo alone.  Soon afterwards, Crow formed the Pleasant Valley Boys, a western swing band. Another friend, Scott Nelson, found a job in Amarillo playing solo at a place called the Hole in the Mall and he asked Crow to join him in a duet. Crow played fiddle and mandolin and also sang. The dynamic changed once again when Nelson moved to Colorado, leaving the gig to Crow.

“So I started asking guys to come in and play with me and before too long, we had a band at the Hole. It was during this time that we were the first hippie country band playing for a very mixed crowd — not country rock, or folk rock, but an honest to God long-haired western swing band,” Crow said. “Well before anyone else tried it, there were a couple of social hints that this could maybe work, like the (Byrds’ album released by Columbia in 1968) Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and (Bob) Dylan’s country stuff, but we were implementing it in very redneck dancehalls.”

They performed for two stereotypical groups of music lovers – the hippies and the rednecks, Crow said.

“Since we were the only real western swing band on the (Amarillo) Boulevard, the rednecks had to like us,” he said.  “Which created some very interesting situations between the West Texas rednecks and the hippies. It got very popular.”

Crow’s band called themselves the Pleasant Valley Boys, after the neighborhood in Amarillo where most of them had lived.

“We continued to play our one night a week at the Hole. The owner of one of the larger honky tonks on the boulevard recruited us to become his house band, offering a decent wage for four, or five – I can’t remember — nights per week. We played there, at Rods’ Club, for about a year,” Crow said. “I think it was five hours per night, five nights per week, giving me plenty of chances to implement my very large song list, including original songs.”

It was also during this time, things in Austin began to heat up musically at the old Armadillo World Headquarters. So the Pleasant Valley Boys along with Crow considered a move to Austin.

“There were two bands that were playing country oriented music to hippies, though we were still the only long-haired band that played regularly in honky tonks. The Byrds might have made some sorta country records, but they were a far cry from being a real honky tonk band,” Crow said.

Marcia Ball, then known as Freda and the Firedogs, as well as the Greezy Wheels band drew the hippie crowds with an amalgamated sound that incorporated rock, country, swing and blues. As a result, the Austin club owners booked them often.

“They did not play for the rednecks in Austin, but played at the hippie venues – we were doing both (in Amarillo.) So we took a band vote and headed to Austin,” Crow said.

The move financially strapped members of the Pleasant Valley Boys and a few of the musicians missed their families, friends, and regular paying gigs at familiar Amarillo venues.

“Once we got to Austin, we had gigs, but not for much money,” he said.

So some of the members went back to Amarillo to play in a country house band at the Outsider Lounge. Crow reorganized with a new band and a new name, the Neon Angels.

“Most of guys I had in that band originally came from rock and roll bands. I somehow convinced them to think country music was cool, because they didn’t think it was. It was very polarized. The hippies liked The Doors and the rednecks liked Hank Williams,” Crow said.

The Neon Angels played Tuesday nights at the One Knight Only in Austin. At the time, the One Knight Only featured acoustic acts, mostly soloists. But the Neon Angels, Joe Ely, “Blind George” McClain, Cody Hubach, Kenneth Threadgill, and Bill Neely each performed only one night per week at the One Knight. Afterwards, the One Knight would become a blues venue for the likes of Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Angela Streihi, and many others, but at the time, it struggled as a folk club, with mostly non-traditional musical folk acts.

Meanwhile, other clubs in town followed the trend at The Hungry Horse, Bevo’s, West Side Tap Room, the Vulcan, the Hole in the Wall, Shakey’s Pizza, and The Split Rail. The musical tastes remained polarized between hippies who liked rock and roll and rednecks that liked classic country music. A new genre of music, referred to as “progressive country”  sprouted up in Austin.

“There were many people around Austin then that fit the handle of ‘progressive country.’ It was sorta’ accurate, but it was not accurate at all for me, or for Freda and the Firedogs. We thrived within that atmosphere, but the sound that emerged, that became known as progressive country was not in our bag at all,” Crow said.

B.W. Stevenson, Rusty Weir, Ray Wylie Hubbard,  Jerry Jeff Walker, and Steve Fromholtz forged the sound currently referred to now as popular country music, he said.

“As far as I know, Rusty (Weir) really started that sound. Rusty is the true pioneer in that kind of sound. It provided not a musical format for me, but an atmosphere that I was able to use to open new crowds to real country music,” Crow said.

Late at night, after his gigs at the Broken Spoke, Crow and the dance hall’s owner, James M. White met up in the kitchen where the two would sit “cookin’ up songs.” Crow also did a lot of re-mastering of White’s tunes while he wrote songs of his own using a personal writing and playing technique. For both Crow and White, getting into the mood to write a song makes all the difference.

“One must first ‘suit up.’ That means, take some notes, have some ideas, drink a bunch of coffee, get a paper and pencil, in a quiet place, and sit down and do it,” Crow said. “James (White) would bring me his ideas on paper and I would work through them, give them structure and cohesiveness.  James White lives and breathes in three quarter time — meaning, almost everything he gives me, he has (written) in the form of a waltz. I often change the rhythm to something else, but his songs virtually all come to me as waltzes.”

Crow has become somewhat of an expert at writing music and lyrics, but he also recalls more than 600 songs, which he considers the “classics of country music” from memory and performs them regularly on stage.

For a few years every Tuesday night, White sat in with Crow’s band to sing classic songs as part of their “Hard Core Country” show. “We would go through a somewhat historical presentation of country music – Roy Acuff, and Bob Wills, and Hank Williams,” Crow said. White said people began to call Crow “Mr. Juxebox,” because he has a broad working knowledge of some 600 melodies off the classics of country song list. At times when he can only remember a line or two of the lyrics, he improvises.

In the 1990s, Crow received a Texas Folk life Resource Grant from the National Foundation for the Arts to provide lectures around the state to public school children about the history of western swing fiddling.

“This was a residency program. I would go to a small town and have a solid week of bookings to play and talk about country music and mostly how the fiddle is involved,” Crow said.

He has lectured in churches, schools, retirement homes, and hospitals, he said.

“Sometimes it would be lectures and sometimes just music.  Civic groups were a biggie. I would be booked solid every day for a week, while staying in a house, usually provided by the town. It was fun,” he said.

Crow hardly ever carried notes with him when he traveled in the professional speakers’ circuit and lecture series, he said. “I mean I would just get up and talk. And I did that quite a while,” Crow said.

“I grew up in country music. To me it’s not somethin’ you can read necessarily in a book – although I did read some of it in books. I read a lot. But most of it comes from the people I know or knew from personal experience.”

Learning to play country music at such an early age in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Amarillo and Austin, he relished his opportunities to meet the greatest stars of country music.

“I met these musicians and some of the legends when I was a kid and when I was a teenager, or even later on – like the Playboys, Bob Wills’ band,” Crow said.

White said The Playboys drew one of the biggest crowds ever at the Broken Spoke in 1975 after Wills passed away.

“None of those Texas Playboys would play with each other after Bob Wills passed away,” White said. “So Alvin Crow and Bobby Earl Smith, and Joe Gracey got together with the Austin City Limits and they said ‘well, you know we can afford to bring this talent, The Texas Playboys – all the original Playboys that we can back together in Austin on one stage and record that and put it on TV.”

Crow asked for White’s help financially in getting the Playboys to Austin from Turkey, Texas.

“A lot of those (Playboy) players worked for service stations or garages and couldn’t afford to take off work and they darn sure couldn’t afford no hotel rooms and everything,” White said. “So here at the Broken Spoke we were able to charge a cover charge of $5 per person – which was a good coverage charge during those days. We got 500 people who together turned over $2,500; so that financed the Playboys’ plane fares.”

White said the Texas Playboys signed more autographs that night at the Broken Spoke than they ever had before.

“People were literally sittin’ on the floor back there,” White said. “It was a great night. And we had a poster with Alvin Crow’s bus out front along with Bob Wills’ bus in front of the Broken Spoke. I’ve got one of those posters back in the ‘Tourist Trap’ room. They’re a collector’s item today.”

Over the years, both Crow and White have remained good friends with the living original members of The Texas Playboys. In his early life Bob Wills served as Crow’s model and today the former student pays the favor forward often, by serving as a mentor to other musicians.

“He’s very good at teachin’ people either how to play an instrument or singin’. He’s helped a lot of musicians and up and comings to help them either get jobs out here or to further their music,” White said.

Crow said that he and White take an interest in “real country music as opposed to NOT  real country music.”

“We’re people who are interested in that and see the difference and delineation between the modern pop country and even the new country music that’s produced in a more country manner,” Crow said.

While Crow may have come a long way since he began playing at the Broken Spoke, he has never forgotten the influence  the venue has had on his career.

“My earliest recollection of the Broken Spoke goes back to when I moved here the second time in 1971. The Broken Spoke wasn’t any place I thought I would play, even though I loved it.  I can remember showing the place to my parents right after I moved here. In the light of day, it had swingin’ flaps over the windows and it didn’t have air-conditioning. Real similar to how Guene Hall is now. So I played all over town for maybe about two years before I got my first job playing here,” Crow said.

“There was kind of a gap between the hippie bands and the redneck bands at the time and I was kind of straddlin’ the middle. So there was that that was goin’ on here in Austin. It probably got better here in Austin than it did other places, largely because of the mixin’ up of the two – the cowboy and the hippie cultures.”

Crow recalls that musician Bobby Earl Smith recommended his band to White one day.

“Or maybe I got a gig here because Marcia Ball had just played here and done real well. She was another band called Freda and the Firedogs at the time. She had gotten a gig playing a benefit of some sort for Lloyd Doggettt – a political deal. I think James realized that these hippies and rednecks could actually mingle.”

He has also never forgotten how he began his career in Amarillo playing in clubs on Amarillo Boulevard and at the now defunct Texas Moon Palace.

“The thing that occurred between the hippies and the cowboys actually began in Amarillo. I don’t know that it happened anywhere before we were doin’ it. We were sort of a hippie western swing band,” Crow said. “At the time, those place we played live were on Amarillo Boulevard. It was a very vibrant place for music and here we were some guys with long hair and things were very polarized in Amarillo. We became pretty good and pretty well known, so the rednecks bunch had to sort of accept us. The way it worked was, the rednecks wanted to hear Bob Wills and we were about the only band playing Bob Wills in Amarillo at the time. They had to come see us.”

From one side of Amarillo Boulevard to the other, Crow recalls about 12 and 15 different places to play like the Broken Spoke, he said.

“However, when they put in I-40 things changed, but Amarillo was a great place to learn and to practice country music,” he said.

Crow never gave up his fight to bring the two fan groups – the hippies and the rednecks – together in one place, when he moved from Amarillo to Austin.

“Often the night ended in massive fights – as bad as you can imagine. But then it kind of got to where it wasn’t quite so bad. Then we picked up and came to Austin,” Crow said. “Then there wasn’t much going on – there wasn’t the melding of the cowboys and the hippies. There were hippies over at the Armadillo (World Headquarters) and the rednecks out here at the Broken Spoke. So I looked at that and thought, somehow those two have to come together, ‘cause I knew they could. I’d seen it before in Amarillo – there is nothing more redneck than Amarillo Boulevard in Amarillo – at those places that had the chicken wire on the front.”

By the middle of the 1970s gigs were easy to come by in Central Texas for Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys. They made a good living, playing a lot of private parties – so many that at times keeping track of the band’s bookings challenged Crow’s scheduling.

One day in 1975 at a private party in San Marcos, Crow realized the band would not finish playing a party gig in time to start playing their evening performance at the Broken Spoke.

“It was early in the day. I called James (White) up trying to figure out how I could play both gigs. I wanted to play the party earlier – which was a good payin’ gig and the Broken Spoke on I guess a Saturday night,” Crow said. “So, I knew about this little band in San Marcos called the Ace in the Hole band. George Strait was the lead singer and I liked him a lot and I knew James would too. Strait’s vocals kinda ran along a good track for country music as far as I was concerned. So I thought, if we could get George Strait to play for the first hour or so, we could go in and finish the night at the Broken Spoke.”

White said that night marked Strait’s first performance at the Broken Spoke, followed by dozens of others that spanned seven years, until the star became too expensive to book anymore.

In the 1980s, Crow and White took their “Hard Core Country” show to Washington D.C. About that time,  U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson partnered with a C.I.A. operative known as “Operation Cyclone,” to organize and support Muslim rebel fighting during the Soviet War in Afghanistan. He paid Crow and White and the rest of the Pleasant Valley Boys to perform on Capitol Hill.

“Wilson took us there. We stayed for about a week — played two shows, I think one was the Texas Ball,” Crow said.

Later, George Crile III wrote a non-fiction book in 2003 about the largest covert military operation in history; Aaron Sorkin adapted it for film and Mike Nichols directed it. The movie, Charlie Wilson’s War, made in 2007 starred Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and was nominated for five Gold Globe awards.

Both James White and his wife, Annetta White went to Washington, D.C. at Wilson’s invitation.

“James got to get up and sing his songs and give his ‘B.S.’ speeches. It was a blast for us,” Crow said. “Charlie (Wilson) was great. I am an avid reader and am interested in politics, so I grilled Charlie as much as a could about his involvement with the mujahadeen and the CIA. He was fairly open about it.  He was going to Afghanistan a lot then. We stayed up late, drank too much, and talked about everything we could think of – from  Hank Williams to the CIA.”

One of the greatest accomplishments of Crow’s career he attributes to a single compliment.

Betty Wills, Bob Wills’ widow, told the media: “Crow plays fiddle more like Bob Wills than anybody,” he said.

Bob Wills inspired Crow, who as a youngster growing up in Oklahoma immersed himself in country music. Wills often performed just a block from Crow’s house in Oklahoma City, he said. Often, Crow would spy on the band and learn his music lessons vicariously by watching.

“Bob Wills and Hank Thompson were it for me. The idea of (becoming) a fiddle-playing bandleader was probably derived from my fascination with Bob Wills. Who wouldn’t be? Bob and Hank Thompson were incredibly popular and played in the honky tonks close to my house a lot,” Crow said. “I would go behind the building and watch the bands between the boards on the exterior walls.  I would stand behind the wall and peek through, making me right behind the drummer, who was only a few feet on the other side of the wall from me. I thought Bob Wills’ band was the loudest and most powerful thing I had ever seen — ditto for Hank Thompson.”

In Austin in the 1970s, as a 20-something year-old, Crow caroused the same neighborhoods in town as Willie Nelson, whose father “Pop” Nelson, owned “Willie’s Pool Hall” down the street from the Broken Spoke on South Lamar Boulevard.

“Willie bought Pop a pool hall for him to play in, as Pop had a band at the time,” Crow said. Another of Crow’s mentors, Jesse Ashlock, played fiddle in Pop Nelson’s band. “Jesse taught me a lot of what I know about he fiddle. Jesse lived in Austin for about two years before he passed away. He was quite a guy, and my hero,” Crow said.

Other famous performers who played in Crow’s band, include: Jimmy Day, Willie Nelson’s steel guitarist since 1967 and Junior Brown, who played with him at two or three different times. “Jimmy (Day) is a legend, for sure. He pretty much wrote the book on a certain style of steel guitar playing,” Crow said.

“I met Junior (Brown) when he was playin’ at Castle Creek with a band from Denver called Dusty Drapes and the Chaps, or somethin’ like that. I thought he was very good,” Crow said.

Eventually, Crow learned Brown’s phone number and he called him up in Denver.

“A couple of years later, I called him to see if he was interested in moving to Austin and playing steel guitar for me. He said ‘yes’ and he played in my band as a steel player for a couple of years.”

Brown later quit the band for a time, but Crow rehired him again.

“He was a regular — twice in the band, on different instruments,” Crow said. “I recognized junior immediately as a giant talent and am very proud of his success. Jimmy Day was already the great Jimmy Day by the time I knew him. What can one say about the master —  he had the best touch, the best tone, of any and all steel players.”

Crow’s former harmonica player, Roger Crabtree, played with Waylon Jennings and performed most of the harmonica work that later became the signature sound for both Jennings and for Willie Nelson on many of their albums. Currently Crow regularly performs with Pete Mitchell, one of Ernest Tubb’s former guitar players who once played with the Texas Troubadours.

“Ernest (Tubb) only had the best. Jimmy Day was in Ernest’s band also. Pete (Mitchell) is the Jimi Hendrix of country music — that guy can do stuff with a guitar that no one else can do,” Crow said.

Crow played with Doug Sahm, who played garage rock with the once popular rock band, Sir Douglas Quintet, in the late 1960s before starting the Texas Tornados.

“Doug played in my band under a fake name a lot. Doug was a child prodigy steel player and actually played steel with Hank Williams at his last honky tonk gig at the Skyline Ballroom in Austin. Doug had not played steel in 20 years when I talked him into dragging that antique from under his bed. Turned out, he was still very good on it,” Crow said. “He enjoyed it so much, that when he was not on tour with his own band, he would come and be my steel player and sit on the end of the stage and play with no microphone – just so he wouldn’t have to sing or talk. He just wanted to play steel; he called himself ‘Wayne Douglas’ on these gigs and would deny that he was Doug Sahm if anyone asked.”

Crow owns some of the only known photographs of an adult Sahm playing steel guitar.

“Except for the few that I have, there are tons of him playing as ‘Little Doug Sahm,’ when he was about nine — but none — except these, as an adult. He didn’t just mess around with it, he played the livin’ hell out of it,” Crow said. “Doug and I had very similar backgrounds and tastes. Very few people can understand what it is like to be a professional, successful musician from an early age — it is a very odd and dysfunctional experience, and Doug is the only person I have ever known that really understands what it is like, and he felt the same about me. We understood each other on a level that no one else ever has, nor will.”

Both Crow and Sahm shared an obsession for baseball as well. Sahm died in 1999.

“When I wasn’t doin’ music, I was playin’ or practicing baseball. Doug was more of an obsessive fan, while I considered myself an obsessive player. Later, I played on teams that Doug coached,” he said.

Sahm supported Crow’s plan to become a bandleader in Amarillo after Little was recalled to service by the US Navy to fight in Vietnam.

“I always used guitar when I led a band and usually played the fiddle while someone else was singing or leading the band. (Up until Sahm’s suggested it,) the idea of me serving the kind of role that Bob Wills played in his bands had never really crossed my mind.”

Crow first discovered in Amarillo the power that a fiddle player may possess over a West Texas or Oklahoma dance crowd. Today he unleashes that power at least twice a month on stage during in his performances as bandleader of the Pleasant Valley Boys at the Broken Spoke in Austin.

“I knew about bluegrass and I knew about several kinds of fiddle, but what I didn’t know was the relationship a plugged in fiddle can have with a large dance hall full of people,” Crow said.

These days, Crow devotes as much of his time to interests other music. Baseball, breeding Pitt Bull dogs and running — his three favorite pastimes. As a runner, Crow runs an average of about 10 miles daily in the city. This summer he often ran during the hottest part of the days when the Central Texas thermostat reached peaks above 105  degrees. In 2013 he clocked about 100,000 miles on foot along the Hill Country’s roadways; often his preferred mode of travel is barefoot.   

    Discography: 1976 Alvin Crow Welcome to Texas – TRP records 1977 Alvin Crow with the Pleasant Valley Boys – Polydor Records 1977 Alvin Crow High Riding – Polydor 1988 Alvin Crow Sings Pure Country — Broken Spoke Records

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