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Watson lies when he drinks, but not about country music

10 Nov

DaleWatsonaloneArchived story updated with video

Singer and songwriter Dale Watson admits that he lies when he drinks — and he drinks a lot of Lone Star beer, a magical elixir that he says promotes good health and a long happy life.

“It’s the best beer in the world,” he says. “It whitens your teeth, increases your brain cells, eats calories. If you drink one day every day of your life, you’ll never die – that’s a money back guarantee, though you must collect in person.”

He calls Lone Star beer “liquid Viagra; it’s good for your skin, it increases your eyesight, and it makes you prettier. Lone Star has all kinds of benefits.”

Though Watson has been performing at venues throughout Austin for more than 25 years, he recently became “an overnight sensation” with his hit single, “I Lie When I Drink,” off his El Rancho Azul album.  The lyrics to his song: “I lie when I drink and I drink a lot” drew the attention of David Letterman who invited Watson to appear June 24 on the Late Night TV show.

Since January, Watson’s signature deep baritone voice sings the catchy tune for Nyle Maxwell’s television commercials: “Maxwell’s got the trucks man, Maxwell’s got the trucks. Any Ram truck you’d ever want, Maxwell’s got the trucks…”

“I love those commercials man,” Watson says. “They help pay the bills” and for upkeep on his long luxury touring bus as well.

Watson also has become something of “a lightening rod” spokesman for recent music controversy across the Internet.  The old-timers in the music business could have spit teeth when 2012 Country Music Awards’ entertainer of the year Blake Shelton called country music “grandpa’s music” while taping an episode of Backstory in Nashville.

Shelton’s words chewed on classic country performers across the state, but it in Austin he really rubbed Watson and others the wrong way. Watson and the late Ray Price before his death in December had spoken out publically about Shelton’s misperceptions.

Over the past six months, Watson drew a following of loyal fans who supported a new genre of music that he together with Price had named “Ameripolitan music.”

Watson ended up spearheading Austin’s own inaugural “Ameripolitan Music Awards”  Feb. 19 – a 100 percent fan-funded event with 400 guests at the Wyndham Garden Hotel to honor the roots of country, western swing, rockabilly and honky-tonk music.  Honorees included Johnny Bush who received the “Founder of the Sound” award. Bush also accepted and a posthumous “master award” given to Price.

Other local performers honored included: Jesse Dayton, James Hand, Ray Benson, Rosie Flores, Dawn Sears, Wayne “the train” Hancock, Whitey Morgan, the Derailers and the Haybales band.

“Some don’t like the roots of country music, so we just took that and named it something different,” Watson said.

The popularity of Ameripolitan music began in Texas with Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and the likes of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Web Pearce and Faron Young, Ray Price and George Jones, and with female performers like Rose Maddox, Jean Shepard and Jean Shepard Patsy Cline, and later Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard, and other honky-tonk heroes like Gary Stewart, continued to produce hits well into the 1970s and ‘80s.

Watson continues to cover the great classic hits of his predecessors in live performances and has recorded his own original music on 21 albums and on Austin City Limits television show dozens of times. His latest November performance aired on KLRU-TV Feb. 8, ironically on the same night that he and his band, the LoneStars, played at the Broken Spoke. Watson shared the ACL episode with Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves. The show re-aired Feb. 13 on the same channel.

“I’m hoping some folks that watch Kacey, will discover me,” Watson says. “She has a totally different type of music. She has a new – ‘girl-bashing-guys’ sound and I’m an old standard country singer.”

He and his band have performed at the Grand Ole Opry 19 times. He plays at the Broken Spoke 3201 S. Lamar once a month and lots of Monday nights at the Continental Club 1315 S. Congress Ave.

Never one to shy away from an enterprise, Watson owns two bars: Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, featuring “Chicken Sh*t Bingo,” every Sunday from 4 until 8 p.m. and Big T Roadhouse in Saint Hedwig just outside San Antonio. He manages the bars when he’s not touring or playing venues throughout Central Texas on weekends.

Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon’s previous owner, Ginny Kalmbach, retired amidst money troubles before Watson bought and refurbished it in November.

“It was going to turn into a used car lot,” Watson says. “Luckily the owner of the property approached me. He says ‘You’re the only one I trust to do this right and keep Ginny’s Little Longhorn the Little Longhorn. We had known each other for 20 years.”

Regardless of wherever he and his LoneStars perform, Watson pretty much sings the same song set – including his original tunes, as well as the classic cover songs of Bob Wills, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Ray Price – a lot of Price, — and Johnny Cash.

Watson’s career has spanned the whole gamut of country and western music from the 1960s to the present, with all of its dips, dives and flows. His quirkiness for flamboyant satin and sequins costumes, a fondness for personal tattoos, and his shocking head full of white hair styled in ‘50s rockabilly pompadour fashion, makes him a standout among his middle-aged peers.

“When I grew up, on the radio there used to be Merle Haggard, George Jones, Ray Price and Gary Stewart – really good music; it was country music without all the other players in there,” Watson says. “In the 1970s country music all changed once they started lettin’ in the Kenny Rogers and the pop bands from LA. It changed drastically. You had these little bands from Texas, like Rascal Flats. Nowadays we’re dealing with the most pop stuff I’ve ever heard in my life, like Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney.”

Texas’ disco years briefly followed the 1980 dramatic western romance movie, Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta and Deborah Winger. Most club owners hired deejays to spin records and for a time some local clubs quit hiring bands to play, but the Broken Spoke didn’t.

He first performed at the Broken Spoke in 1989, with members of The Wagoneers, before Monte Warden, Brent Wilson and Craig Allen Pettigrew broke up that band.

“It felt good to be playing in such a historical place,” Watson says. It’s (the Broken Spoke) kind of like Austin City Limits; it’s a place you aspire to play if you grew up in Texas and you want to play real dance halls in Austin – it’s the only one left.”

Not long after establishing a name in town, Watson released his first single “One Chair at a Time,” in 1990 on the Curb Records label and he followed by producing a video.

Watson started sitting in on stage with Chris Wall before finally creating The LoneStars in 1992. About that time, he landed a regular Wednesday night gig at the Broken Spoke.

“I’ve worked hard — over 33 years playing,” Watson says.

His career began in his hometown of Pasadena, Texas. Watson began performing in clubs at 14 years old, along with two of his older brothers, Jim Watson, who played guitar, and Donny Watson who at different times played either guitar or bass. The Watson brothers called their band Classic Country, named after the popular PBS television show, The Classic Country Hour.

Watson’s musical passion has always been classic country music, but he says some of his early performances wandered far from his roots. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, in order to find steady work, he played whatever his audiences demanded — the radio hits of the late ‘70s and ‘80s in country music.

“Then music started getting polluted,” he says. “I remember playing some stuff that I didn’t really want to play.”

During the disco era, Watson continued to perform cover songs by George Jones, Gary Stewart and Ray Price. Stewart died in 2003 and Price passed away last December.

Watson says that fans come out to hear him specifically, but the Broken Spoke’s loyal following of dancers will show up regardless of whoever performs on any given night.

Lots of celebrities have shared the stage with Watson over the years at the Broken Spoke: every one from Johnny Knoxville to Amy LaVere, Johnny Rodriguez and Johnny Bush used to sit in regularly too, but not so much recently, Watson says.

As a youngster, Watson says he never intended to become a musician, singer, or songwriter. As a boy he dreamed of joining the military or becoming a doctor, but childhood poverty and an eye injury instead decided his fate.

“It was a blow to me because I really wanted to be a pilot. My folks couldn’t afford college and I was interested in aviation, but I knew my eye wouldn’t let me do that,” Watson says. “So my next interest was to go into medicine. I was going to go as a corps man in the Navy; the military would have allowed me to go to college, but that didn’t work out.”

Watson supported himself by performing gigs in bars every chance he had, week nights and weekends.

“Man, I got lucky. I count my blessings all the time,” Watson says. “My kids are going into acting. I’ve done a lot of acting too – those (Maxwell) commercials play every hour, so much that people are getting sick of them, but I like those commercials.”

His two daughters, Raquel Cain Watson and Dalynn Grace Watson, both work as actresses, even though Watson wishes they wouldn’t, he says.  The music business may be tough, but life for an actor can be even tougher.

“I moved to Austin, then I got job offer at a publishing company in Nashville. I worked there about 10 months and then I said ‘screw this.’ Then I got an offer to be in some movies with River Phoenix, who was going to direct them. Just as I was moving out to LA, he died,” Watson says. “Then I moved straight back to Austin.”

Watson signed with Hightone Records in 1994 and produced his first album, Cheating Heart, in 1995. He recorded two records in Nashville in 2002 and 2008, but since then all of his other albums have been recorded locally at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales studio or Ray Benson’s Austin studio.

Currently, he spends most Tuesdays and Wednesdays working on a new album that will become Volume 3 of the trilogy series, The Trucking Sessions.

Watson’s steel player Don Pollock, has performed with him for the past 11 years.

Watson says in his 50s now, he’s working harder now than he did half a lifetime ago.

“It’s weird being 51 years old, having this stuff happen so late in life,” Watson says. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but that’s ok – I’d rather be busy than not. Once the Ameripolitan awards show is over I’ll be able to breathe again.”

Watson says he feels grateful to the Broken Spoke’s owners, James and Annetta White. The Broken Spoke received “the best venue” trophy at the Ameripolitan Awards for helping to support the roots of country, swing, rockabilly and honky-tonk music across the United States. The nearly 75-year-old James White, spontaneously broke into the song, “Sam’s Place,” when accepting the award on stage and nearly stole the show at the Ameripolitan Music Awards.

“Nobody gets where I am alone,” Watson says. “Having this place as a bi-monthly or monthly gig — whether I’m touring or whatnot — has helped through the years, for me to support my family.  It’s helped me to meet other people through here that have furthered my career. I’ve gotten movie deals, commercials, and record deals through playing here. James is modest about what he brings to the place, but playing at the Broken Spoke gives you some modest stature.”

Watson performs at:  The Broken Spoke, The Little Longhorn Saloon, The Continental Club,  Sengelmann Hall in Schulenburg, TX, The Saxon Pub, 11th Street Cowboy Bar in Bandera, Tomball Honky-Tonk Fest in Tomball, Big T Roadhouse in Saint Hedwig, and Luckenbach Dance Hall in Luckenbach.

Published in Austin Fusion magazine 2/26/14

Presley sings about ‘Storm and Grace’ at SXSW

16 Mar

Larger than life singer-songwriter Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of the legendary Elvis, left her own musical mark March 14 in downtown Austin as part of SXSW at Quantum Collective’s third annual Southwest Invasion.

The event featured 32 artists, including Presley. Acts performed over two days, March 14 and 15, on the rooftop at Whole Foods world headquarters. Presley had performed just two days earlier at another all ages SXSW venue, Old School Bar and Grill, but her fans obviously couldn’t get enough of her.

Throngs of middle-aged women as well as plenty of young millennials of all genders, waited 20 minutes beyond her concert start time as band members worked out some sound issues. Fans took up nearly every square foot of space on Whole Food’s rooftop as both water other drink refreshments ran scarce in the late afternoon heat.

Diminutive in size and stature, Presley’s nearly waist-length red hair blew around her face as she performed in black satin skinny jeans and a matching long-sleeved jacket with red sequined cuffs. She played a tiny silver encrusted tambourine as she sang.

Although it was her first appearance at SXSW, it marked Presley’s last in the U.S. before she heads to Australia as part of her 36-city tour to promote the release of her latest album, “Storm and Grace.” Presley’s first album in seven years also marks a Universal Republic/XIX Recordings debut. Her guitarist and music producer husband, Michael Lockwood, performed alongside Presley with her band.

Presley sounded raw and powerful, singing from her collection of folk, country, and blues songs made popular throughout two decades and three albums released during her singing career. She performed “Storm and Grace,” “Over Me, and “Storm of Nails,” from her latest album.

Following the event, Presley allowed only two brief exclusive interviews: with CBS “Insider” anchors and with this contributing writer for Austin Fusion Magazine on the red carpet.

Presley said her new release has been an easy transition, now that her 5-year-old twins, Harper and Finley, have reached an age that they can travel easily along with her on her tour.

“I jumped off the train and I’ve jumped right back on it,” Presley said. “I just recorded the record (‘Storm and Grace’) and then T Bone (Burnett) got interested and then things got rolling. It really wasn’t planned or timed or not timed to get back on.”

Living in the world as the only child of late rock icon and movie star, Elvis Presley, exposed every minutia of her family’s lives to the public and to the media who have held the microscope close. Personally, however, she admits that the King still lives inside his four grandchildren.

“My son and I think all of us, have his (Elvis’) sense of humor I will say,” Presley said. “All my kids are really intense, but they’re also really sweet. So it is a good mix I would say. I’m their mom and I’m proud, but they all got his (Elvis’) humor, his intensity levels and his sweetness. They got the best of all of us, I think.”

Presley talked about her song writing process and the inspirations for lyrics that have come from living life large and with her extended family. She said that her eldest daughter, 24-year-old Riley Keough, inspired the “you” mentioned in the lyrics of the song “Forgiving” on “Storm and Grace.”

The song’s lyrics suggest Presley once sought a lesson in forgiveness from her equally famous actress daughter: “I want to find in me/that I can still believe/and be forgiving/yes I want to be like you/Can you teach me how to be forgiving…”

Keough, also the daughter of Presley’s first husband, Danny Keough, once modeled for Dolce & Gabbana, appeared on the covers of Vogue magazine, and earned her acting debut in “The Runaways” (2010). That led to a slew of other jobs acting including: “The Good Doctor” (2011), “Jack and Diane” (2012) and Steven Soderberg’s “Magic Mike” (2012).

The song shares the album’s title, “Storm and Grace,” Presley wrote about her 20-year-old son, Ben Keough, who may just be the spitting image of his late grandfather.

“Storm and Grace” song lyrics reveal his maternal ancestor’s contributions to his good looks: “You are the most beautiful man/ that I have ever known/ too much to offer/ and too much held close to the bone…”

A more private member of the Presley family, Ben Keough works as a London musician who may soon release an album himself.

Another song from Presley’s current album, “Over Me,” she admits that she wrote during a different time in her life, years before she shared it with Lockwood and their two children.

“That’s correct,” she said. “I don’t normally say who I write my songs about, but I will say that is correct. Absolutely. It’s not anybody predictable though, not anybody famous. I will say that.”

Her song “Storm and Nails” has the potential to derive universal appeal from fans who may have a tendency to give too much of themselves to others. The daily sacrifices result, as Presley poetically translates, into overwhelming feelings. Through song, she identifies herself as a “nail” being driven by large metaphorical “hammers” in her life.

“There are hammers everywhere, aren’t there? There are hammers every day in our lives, some days more than others,” Presley said. “I think that I wrote that on a particular day when there were an awful lot of them.”

The lyrics begin: “it’s been a long highway/where do I get off and drive away/ I’m looking for a sign that should say/when you’ve had enough, exit this way…” 

Born in 1968, Presley lived on her father’s Graceland estate in Memphis, Tenn., until her parents divorced when she was 4 years old. Afterwards, she split her time between both of her parents’ homes, including the one she shared in L.A. with her mother, Priscilla Presley.

She married four times, first to Keough in 1988; in 1994 they divorced and she married another rock icon, Michael Jackson. They divorced two years later and in 2002 she married actor Nicolas Cage. That marriage ended in divorce only 108 days later.

Presley released her debut album in 2003, “To Whom It May Concern,” which reached No. 5 on Billboard magazine’s top 200 charts. The album went gold in 2005 and in 2007 she released a posthumous duet with her late father for the single, “In the Ghetto.” That song reached No. 1 on iTunes and No. 16 on singles’ charts for Billboard. In 2006, Lisa Marie Presley married Lockwood and the couple currently divides their time living in either of two homes located in both the US and the UK.

At this time in her life, Presley appears finally comfortable in her own skin. She has become the woman, singer-songwriter, mother, and wife that destiny always meant for her to become. The song off the album, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” sounds like a mantra more than a proclamation.

The song’s lyrics ring self-evident: “I’m a bit transgressive and suppressive as well/you ain’t seen nothin’ yet…”

Presley said that her husband has contributed to her personal and very public metamorphosis. His wife’s images dominate Lockwood’s official website.

“Oh Michael has grounded me. He’s been very inspirational,” Presley said. “He’s the boss of the band when we’re working, absolutely. But actually we’re a team. I wouldn’t say that anyone is the boss really. He knows what he’s doing and I sort of know what I’m doing sometimes. When I don’t, he sort of helps me back in the right direction.”

Though they did not write any of the songs on her album together, the two have collaborated during intimate showcase concerts like the one on Whole Foods’ rooftop recently. Lockwood wore a tall black top hat, black pants and a jacket with an Ace of Clubs emblem and played four of his favorite Gretch guitars.

“We just haven’t written together, but he was really behind my collaborating with Richard Hawley and Ed Harcourt. He was kind of championing me from behind, you know?” she said.

Hawley, a former member of the band, Pulp, provides some bluesy harmony vocals on the album and blends well with Lisa Marie Presley’s husky voice. Harcourt helped to write “Weary,” one of the songs for “Storm and Grace.” Sacha Skarbek, whose credits include working with Adele, James Blunt and Lana Del Rey, also collaborated on the album.

Next in her tour, Presley heads for Hornsby, Australia, where she performs March 19-April 3 before embarking for Tokyo, Japan. She returns to the U.S. for a Midwest tour April 29 before heading to the East Coast through June 14 through 22, followed by a few short appearances in Canada to end the month.

She also supports two charities: Presley Place and Presley Charitable Foundation. She also works closely with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, self-described as a mental health “watchdog” organization that fights against crimes against psychiatric patients. She also supports the Dream Factory, created by Avril Mills, former fundraiser and manager for Haven House Children’s Hospice.


Published by Austin Fusion magazine at:

Neil Young preaches Pono to masses at SXSW

16 Mar

NeilYoungcroppedSpeaking like a new age guru promoting an other-worldly experience from listening to quality music-infused sound, legendary singer-songwriter Neil Young preached mostly to millennials at the Austin Convention Center March 11.

Kicking off the music portion of SXSW, Young spoke to a full house in the grand ballroom while his gargantuan image projected onto two white screens two stories tall. The hour-long presentation came off as a giant Pono commercial, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.

Lamenting the creation of the MP3, Young cursed its invention as the apocalypse of the music industry. He provided an oral history about the music recording business and its electronic distribution beginning with vinyl LPs, followed by cassettes, then CDs and MP3s, ending with the dawn of the Pono, a device expected to retail for $399 each in October.

Preorder offers at $300 each began March 11 on Kickstarter. Twenty-four hours later, Kickstarter reached Young’s goal of nearly $1 million in pledges to PonoMusic. He said the device will revolutionize the listener’s music sound experience.

Young said his interests in changing the way that music is distributed to the public began 10 years ago when the music industry began dying.

“All of those musicians and all of those services that used to support musicians and all of the recording studios, they started to die. Everything started to die. It was the most amazing thing – this vibrant, creative kind of whole culture started to go away and it was because of the MP3 and the cheapening of the quality to a point that it was practically unrecognizable,” Young said.

“And the price also went down and then record companies control of what they could do with the records went away. They could no longer decide how to market the records because they made some very stupid deals. They made some very dumb deals with some very smart people.”

He noticed that the value of music albums decreased as more people purchased single songs.

“As a guy who had been making records for many years, even at that point, I was pissed off about that because I love making records,” he said. “That’s what I do. I love every song on the record, I love every note on every song on every record.”

The audience responded with rousing applause.

“The albums’ music meant something to me. They’re a family of songs and they were telling a story about how I was feeling and they weren’t just filler,” Young said.


He taught the audience a little history about producers Jack Nitzsche and Phil Spector and their use of The Gold Star Echo Chambers at Gold Star Records in Hollywood during the music industry’s early years of recording reverb on albums.

“I went in there with Buffalo Springfield in 1966 and we made our first record. We had producers who didn’t know what they were doing making their first record too, so it was kind of a disaster. But I do remember hearing the echo and going ‘my God, it’s magic.’ It really is. You’re just puttin’ your voice in there and suddenly it’s like in heaven or something,” Young said.

“So when the Echo went away, it wasn’t just like ‘oh, Echo’s gone.’ That was like a world-class disaster – it was huge for people who cared about music sound. And then because all of that happened, Gold Star (Recording) closed its doors and sold the studio. It was the end of an era.”

Soon the quality of music began to decline and record company executives found cheaper ways to distribute their products, Young said. Five percent became the new low standard rate of fidelity for distributed sound, as the digital age issued in great advances in recorded video.

Young referred to unemployment in the record industry as the “collateral damage of the MP3.”

A few years ago, some record companies produced vinyl records once again to fill a surge in interest, creating a popular niche in the music business, he said. Record companies released vinyl records made from digital recordings filtered at a fidelity rate of 44.1 kHz per sample, sufficient for FM broadcasts.

“They were seeding masters on vinyl because vinyl, they thought, was a cult thing. It wasn’t because of the sound that they were putting it out; they were putting it out because it sold. So they put it out and that vinyl was sort of a sham, some of it,” Young said.

“A lot of times you were just buying a collectable kind of fashion statement with the cover and it was cool. That was nice. At least something was happening.”

Young appealed to teenagers in the audience and to people in their early 20s who have uber hearing.

“Children today, young people growing up have their bodies that are wide awake and they’re sensitive and they can hear. They get something that just lets them recognize it; they can identify the name of the song and learn the melody from listening to this. But inside their soul, they’re just not getting what we got. There’s just nothing there for them,” Young said.

“The human body is so sensitive. It’s a beautiful thing. You know, whatever you believe about where things come from, the human body is unbelievable. It’s so sensitive and you know, when you give it something, it loves it. Good food? It grows; it’s nourished. And when you give it good input, it loves it. And when you give it great art, it feels good. And we all are like that.”

He said as music lovers became deprived of the pure sound of original recordings, the artists adapted by producing some “clever, tricky” recordings. Young music lovers, however, don’t have to settle — thanks to Pono.

“Pono is whatever the artist decided to do or the artist/producer decided to do. All of the formats – 44 (kHz,) 48 (kHz,) 88.2 (kHz) 96 (kHz,) 176 (kHz,) and 192 (kHz) are all played back on Pono just like the artist made them. The artist makes the decision,” Young said.

Young records at 192 kHz and he remasters his earlier analog recordings at 192 kHz so that he may enjoy a higher quality of sound when listening to his music played back on a Pono. He likens the feeling he experiences from listening to music played on a Pono to water, metaphorically.

“My body’s getting washed. I’m getting hit with something great. I’m not getting a bunch of ice cubes thrown at me – it’s water ok? It’s happening. It’s a cool mist. I’m getting it, every part of my body is getting hit with this thing. My soul is feeling it. I’m doing what I used to do; I’m listening, feeling, and I’m experiencing it. I’m living. So that’s why I record at 192 and that’s why I transfer everything I did in analog to 192. So that I could have 192 and bring it to you, eventually,” Young said.

“What Pono will do will bring you the reality and let you understand what the artists have done in the studio.”

Published on Austin Fusion Magazine at:

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


Two Beards Theatre Company presents ‘Mr. Marmalade’

15 Oct


While her babysitter has sex in another room with a boyfriend, a four-year old girl wearing a pink tutu plays “house” with a middle-aged man plagued by anger issues and addictions to pornography and cocaine.

A “pretend” world created by a child’s neglect and exposure, sets the plot for Mr. Marmalade, a play written by Noah Haidle in 2004. It has more edge to it than a straight razor, but it’s just the type of show that the co-founders of Austin’s newest theater company hope will launch their artistic success.

Andrew Robinson and Jacob Henry, met in middle school, remained high school buddies and then went to college together before they teamed up to create Two Beards Theatre  Company.  Their first show, Mr. Marmalade, opened Oct. 4-5 at the hip east side’s Salvage Vanguard Theatre, 2803 Manor Road. The show continues with 8 p.m. performances Oct. 11 and 12. The theatre seats about 50 people and tickets sold for $10 each online in advance from the website

The story combines humor with shock appeal – a 20-year-old actress plays the character of an articulate four-year-old who dreams up an imaginary friend, an abusive businessman portrayed to be decades older, but less wise.

“I’ve always wanted to do it (Mr. Marmalade) and I enjoy Noah Haidle’s work. I always enjoy his plays. He has a very interesting writing style that is very fun and light-hearted, but then it touches on some serious issues at the same time,” Robinson said.

Haidle’s work addresses social issues such as child neglect, substance abuse, and divorce. Not everybody “gets” Haidle, but Robinson does; he enjoys Haidle’s perspective and likes to provide key insight.

“He has a very different outlook for sure. I think he is very specific in his writing in the way he presents things. For instance, Mr. Marmalade is a story told through the eyes of a four-year girl. And it is very interesting to get into the mind of a four-year old. It can be very fun to see these crazy kooky characters and just come into Mr. Marmalade and just enjoy and laugh,” Robinson said.

“Or, after watching it, if audiences dig a little deeper they’ll see the other layers and say ‘Wow, that girl was creating all of this in her mind.’ It’s very interesting to think of why a four-year-old girl would have an imaginary friend who is abusive. It takes a certain child to imagine that and it takes a certain child who has had a certain experience to be able to have imagined that. I think if you go to that second layer, the writing is very very interesting.”

The four-year-old character, Lucy, creates an imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, who both abuses her and neglects her; she also has “an affair” with a love interest character closer to her in age.

“It’s interesting that she (Lucy) has control over all of her characters and their direction. For her to have created someone who is mean to her, or abusive — once you start to think about that — brings up a lot of different issues, social issues like child neglect, child abuse, substance abuse and divorce. Haidle writes on multiple levels,” Robinson said.

Haidle successfully delves into a little girl’s haunted and nightmare-like surreal existence inside her own mind.

Haidle’s tale, like favorite childhood stories and fairytales, makes the audience  squirm a little bit with his characters’ choices as well as their resolved and unresolved conflicts. Haidle’s story seemingly balances the funny, the beautiful and the magical touchstones of a young girl’s dream with the darkest and most sinister undertones. The audience knows the story is not real, but so much of it feels real.

“It’s definitely a story that can’t exist in our reality, but the issues are very much real in our present day. So he brings forth this very story using imaginary friends – with adult actors and actresses to play these beautiful characters. In our world, you don’t have four year olds played by 20-year olds, but you do have those horrors that are present – child abuse, substance abuse and neglect,” Robinson said.

The imaginative story told through the eyes of beautiful and memorable characters, reveals issues that remain ugly and reclusive in the real world.

Robinson said he and Henry wanted their first show produced by their new theater company to leave an impression, to make a statement, and to leave their “stamp of style” on the local community. They vowed to “wow” their audiences.

“I think Mr. Marmalade feeds Jacob’s and my creative vein in a show that we both enjoy and we enjoy the style of writing and characters. It did what we thought we could do visually. It’s a show that we thought would bring a lot of our talent out,” Robinson said.

The costumes designed by Greensboro, North Carolina costume designer Kathleen Ludwig remain true to those used in other productions of Mr. Marmalade play currently showing nationwide. However, Lucy’s cotton candy-colored tutu appears neon. In his set design, Henry narrowed his color choices to just two from the Crayola 100-crayon box selection; the result creates a deeper and richer “out-of-this-world” appearance. Lighting designer Dylan Rocamora adds more profound hues to the stage’s ethereal scenes.

“We wanted the show to almost represent what Lucy saw as her reality, so some of the things we heightened a little bit – of what she perceived her world to be. There is this very vibrant red couch on stage and a very large embellished purple chair. The outside of the house is this beautiful white house with a beautiful bright red door – one that could almost represent what her false reality is, her imaginative reality,” he said. “That is the style that Jacob (Henry) was trying to achieve with the set design and with Dylan’s lighting design as well.”

Together Robinson and Henry created a surreal and ethereal perspective that suspended Mr. Marmalade for the one-hour and a half of each audience viewing. They hoped audiences would forget their environments only to experience the world inside the mind of a four-year old child.

“We did scenes from Mr. Marmalade in college for a class that was student-directed. It was a shorter version and it was a fun show to do. So when Andrew and I sat down to talk about what shows we wanted to do, we picked one that we thought people in Austin would enjoy,” Henry said.

“Since both Andrew and I were raised here, we knew that we wanted a show that was kind of edgy and weird. It’s a great script and a great story that fits Austin.”

Robinson and Henry contacted the publishing house, Dramatists Play Service, that owns the rights to the script and once they worked out the logistics of renting the space at Salvage Vanguard, they filled their September days with auditioning a cast and crew.

Two Beards Theatre Company directors and co-producers, Robinson and Henry, have worked together since attending Westview Middle School and John B. Connally High School in Northwest Austin.

Henry, who is a year older than Robinson, was enrolled in seventh grade when Robinson started sixth grade at Westview.

They starred in a Saturday Night Live television spoof, a variety show called “Tuesday Night Live,” in middle school.

“I actually had the lead role in that. I played Dunstan Darkstorm, a super villain guy,” Henry said.

And Robinson played one of the love interests, a young hillbilly character whose girlfriend’s parents didn’t like him.

“I went after your girlfriend in the play and I tied her to the train tracks,” Henry said. “That was our big break – that’s when we KNEW.”

In high school, their theater director inspired them. Patricia MacMullen started teaching theater during Robinson’s freshman year, also Henry’s sophomore year.

Their first production together at Connally was a play by Michael Frayn, Noises Off. Robinson served as an understudy and Henry worked as a stage technician for that show.

“We had a massive two-story set that actually had to spin at one point in the show; my job was to move that big thing around,” Henry said.

Robinson attended rehearsals and absorbed the role as understudy for one of the characters in the play.

“Then we did Grease together as well. That was the next show and we were both in that production,” Robinson said. “We were both singing and dancing. I played an unnamed student and he was ‘T-bird number two.’”

In that production of Grease, the two acknowledged the excitement they felt about being part of a theatre troupe.

“We had a moment when ‘Danny’ sang his song about summer love; he and I walked up together on stage. There’s videotape of it somewhere – hopefully not on the Internet,” Robinson said.

MacMullen currently serves as the theatre director for the upper school at Hill Country Christian School, and instructor of high school advanced theatre, theatre productions, and Masterworks of Theatre.  She also teaches middle school theatre arts and introduction to theatre.

MacMullen taught Henry and Robinson and three other former students who also serve as cast members. They include Audra Uresti, who plays the character “tuxedo woman,” David Nguyen, who plays “Mr. Marmalade,” and Johnny Bender, who plays “Larry,” Lucy’s love interest.

“As a high school theatre director, if you are really blessed, you come upon a group of remarkable young people that happen to all gravitate to your program at the same time.  This group exemplifies that blessing. Working with them was a dream.  They were highly motivated, intelligent, talented, hard working, and focused,” MacMullen said.

She said that the first year Connally did not have a technical director in its theatre department, so Henry quickly filled those shoes.

“He was my rock.  He focused and programed lights, worked sound, built sets, etc. And then, I asked him to act — and he could!  What an amazing young man,” MacMullen said.

She said that Robinson possesses a profound work ethic.

“Andrew is one of the hardest working actors I know.  He ‘got it’ when I gave him direction the first time.  I knew he would one day be an amazing director because it was instinctive.  He had an innate sense of composition, motivation, and concept,” she said.

While in high school together, Henry, Robinson, Uresti, Nguyen, and Bender competed in the one act category at the University Interscholastic League (UIL) state championships three years in a row, winning third in the state in 2007.

That same year, the five also performed on the main stage at both the Texas Thespian Festival and the International Thespian Festival.

“They were just an amazing group of students and now, they’re an amazing group of young artists.  I absolutely adore them and wish them much success. I’m so proud of them,” MacMullen said.

When Henry graduated Connally in 2007, MacMullen advised him to look at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. The following year, when Robinson graduated, both Henry and MacMullen influenced his college decision as well.

Today Jacob teaches technical theater to three level one classes and one advanced class at Connally. He also manages the performing arts center and manages the maintenance and finances for the building.  After school he provides technical instruction to students and helps them to find jobs in private sector theater productions.

He feels that he is paying forward MacMullen’s influence.

“Everyone should pay if forward. I believe in something that I am passionate about. I never forget where I come from and that’s why I’m here at Connally. I wanted to give these kids a good education and something that I’m passionate about. I find that very thrilling,” he said.

Henry did not receive a teaching degree at A&M, but chose an alternative path to pursuing a career in education. He received a bachelor of art degree in theater in 2011 with a focus on tech and design and then quickly moved to Florida to work at Disney World. He obtained his teaching certification in 2012 through an alternative program offered through Texas Education Agency (TEA) after MacMullen called him home.

“I got a job at Disney out in Florida. I was doing tech work for them – lighting and pyrotechnics – that sort of stuff. Then I got a call from Ms. MacMullen and she said ‘hey, do you want to teach?’ I said ‘well, wait – where?’ Then she said ‘Connally,’ and I said ‘All right.’ I came back and I haven’t regretted it since.”

Meanwhile, Robinson finished up his senior year at A&M in Corpus Christi in 2012.

“Once I graduated, I moved back to Austin with strong intentions to move to Los Angeles or Chicago,” Robinson said.

Nguyen spiked Robinson’s interest in searching for theater work with him on the West Coast.

“Slowly, it just wasn’t working. Doors were kind of closing on us. So my mom could tell that I wasn’t very happy, because I wasn’t auditioning, I was just kind of working,  trying to raise enough money so I could move. Then, I went to a mass audition call and got some good feedback there and that led me to start auditioning in Austin,” Robinson said.

He signed with a local talent agency, then started auditioning for film work, but soon realized theater is his passion.

He worked with “The Story Wranglers” — Paramount Theater’s non-profit educational outreach program. He also worked with Punchkin Repertory Theater and did a show at Salvage Vanguard Theatre called Gods and Idols for Frontera Fest.

Meanwhile, Robinson and Henry never stopped talking about creating their own projects and starting their own troupe.

The two widened their circle of friends to include local theater actors and crew members, as well as directors who put them in touch with still more peers with similar interests.

“While talking about starting our own troupe, we kept saying how many talented people we know. It’s just amazing. We know so many great actors, great technicians – we worked with some of the best in high school and in college and after college,” Robinson said.

Some of their connections spanned several states, including Ludwig who shipped Two Beards all of the costumes that she designed for the show.

They cast the show, built the props, furnished the set, and came up with the equipment needed to technically manage it – all within a span of 30 days.

They said the key to their success has been an underlying passion they share for theater.

“And we were trained very well. It comes from our education and directors who taught us how theatre should run and so we hold it now within ourselves to manage our time very wisely and to make sure that we are using these people’s time wisely as well,” Robinson said.

“I know how it is to be an actor and have to work three different jobs, then come to rehearsals and stay until 10:30 p.m. You get tired, so I wanted to make sure that this process was convenient for them and fun and rewarding.”

The Salvage Vanguard has more than a little history behind it. Salvage has gone through several different management changes and provides a variety of different types of performances — everything from standup shows to performance art in addition to theater.

The hip neighborhood in East Austin attracts people off the streets as well. The two had hoped to attract a bit of the Austin City Limits crowd and out-of-towners during the first two weekends in October.

Robinson supplements his income by working two day jobs. He works for Kids Acting, an Austin program that has been around for 30 years. He participated in the same program when he was a child. Now he teaches 12 children in “a triple threat” class – with singing, dancing and acting – giving them a taste of the three core elements of a Broadway musical — in a production of Peter Pan.  His youngest student is five and the oldest is ten years old; the class meets Mondays from 4:15 until 5:45 p.m.

“I was in that same program when I was six. We have videotape of it. I was in a production of Snow White and the Seven Dogs and I was the Unicorn Prince,” Robinson said. “All I remember about it was — I knew all my lines and everyone else’s.”

He continues to work for Paramount Theater ‘s non-profit organization, “Story Wranglers.” He helps third graders to learn creative writing skills. He teaches one class on Wednesdays and two on Thursday mornings; each class lasts about an hour and a half with about 20 students respectively.

Highland Park Elementary partners with the Paramount Theater. Some of the financial support comes from the local community itself and other funds are provided through state and federal grants. Robinson along and the other teachers bring with them all of the writing materials and any brainstorming items needed.

The teachers offer students a typical story spine and vocabulary that begins with “once upon a time” and the children then add a character and a setting. The children fill in the blanks: “what a character wanted” and also add a conflict statement such as “something happened…” and a resolution statement that begins “ever since that day…” Sometimes, the results of the workshops take on all of the interesting improv elements of an AT&T television commercial.

“There are lots of very different, very creative ideas – that’s for sure. Very ‘out there’ thinking, which is fun. The kids get very creative,” he said.

Admittedly, it’s exactly that type of thinking that may have instilled in Robinson at an early age and later led to his choice of Mr. Marmalade as the first Austin production for Two Beards Theatre Company.

Cast of Mr. Marmalade

Lucy – Cassadie Petersen
Mr. Marmalade – David Nguyen Larry – Johnny Bender Bradley – Ronnie Williams Emily – Kristi Brawner Sookie/Sunflower – Adriane Shown George/Cactus/Man – Tim Stiefler Tuxedo Woman – Audra Uresti Tuxedo Man – Gino Sandoval

Production Staff

Stage Manager: Chanel Kemp Assistant Stage Manager: Dani Stetka Production Assistant: Sam Levine Lighting Design: Dylan Rocamora Costume Design: Kathleen Ludwig Makeup Design: Shea Lollar Makeup Assistant: Micaela Ramacciotti Props Design: Andrew Robinson Set and Sound Design: Jacob Henry Publicity Design: Drew Johnson

Technical Director: Jacob Henry Director: Andrew Robinson

Published 10-16-2013 online by Austin Fusion magazine


The Jitterbug Vipers sing

27 Aug

While Slim Richey may look older than Santa Claus, complete with white hair and a gray beard, the big guy never looked as hip.  The 75-year-old lead guitarist for the Jitterbug Vipers, aka: “Most Dangerous Guitar Player in Texas” on stage wears a rock lobster bowling shirt embroidered with guitars on each breast, white plaid beach shorts and red Converse tennis shoes.

Richey often dons a Fedora with a white feather plume stuck into its leopard print hatband while he plays his Sunburst 1937 Gibson L-4 or an Arbor White Falcon copy guitar on stage.

His band performs regularly at the Elephant Room, or Lambert’s or the Continental Club, in Austin. They also perform the second Monday of each month at noon live on the Internet streaming from The band also heads west and to the Pacific Northwest this fall to play in  Eugene, OR, Seattle, WA, and Hollywood, CA before taking off for a European tour in November through December.

Instrumentally their music sounds vintage, a fusion of styles from the 1930s and ‘40s that began with early swing jazz ensembles, but their edgy lyrics blur contemporary lines – on topics of drugs and sex. An open SKB equipment case complete with flashing holiday lights displays the Jitterbug Viper’s quirky name at the front of the stage wherever they perform. It also serves as a nice depository for cash donations.

The rest of his band members call themselves the “Hidee Hidee Hos” including: vocalist and co-songwriter Sarah Sharp, his bassist wife Francie Meaux Jeaux and drummer Masumi Jones.  The band’s visual authenticity and original music allows its members to wave that ethereal “Keep Austin Weird” flag where ever they go.

As Jitterbug Vipers’ lead vocalist, Sharp has drawn a lot of attention to the band since she began performing with them four years ago this November. Today the petite and blonde model-thin singer and mother of three elementary age children disarms her audience with her liquid jazz voice alone.

When she first started singing with the band, Sharp wore a body sling and nursed her son, Angus, on stage. Angus attended more than 100 gigs in utero and just as many Jitterbug Viper gigs on stage from the time he was only three and a half weeks old until he turned six months old, Sharp said.

“It was a 99 percent positive reaction. He was too little not to have with me. If he needed to nurse, I nursed him inside the sling. It wasn’t an exhibition. The only people who noticed what was going on were other moms,” Sharp said.

“I made a big point of making it obvious that he was wearing special earplugs. We have a very quiet stage volume, but if I was watching a baby on stage, I would be worried about their ears.”

Angus had a stage presence and he absorbed the music, she said.

“He has the music in him. The first time he made any sort of fuss was around three and a half  months old when he started steering me toward whatever he wanted to see. Some nights he was all about Slim’s hands, some nights he needed to watch the drums.  I often had to turn and sing over my shoulder so he could be content watching the drums.  He definitely let me know.”

Meaux Jeaux used to sometimes shout on stage: “Slim, turn around; he can’t see your hands!” if Angus started to fuss. That always settled Angus back down, Sharp said.

These days, Angus and his two siblings: Alistair, 6, and Stella, 5, stay at home nights with their dad, British-born Andy Sharp, a guitar player who has a day gig working as a software developer.  His stage name is “Buffalo Speedway.” The couple has been married 15 years. When the Jitterbug Vipers performed at Hyde Park Grill South, the whole Sharp clan turned out in attendance.

“I haven’t played there in a while, but we get a lot of jitterbug and lindy hop dancers and they all understand the cultural significance of the songs. That’s one of the gigs where I often brought my whole family,” Sharp said.

Some of the lyrics to the Jitterbug Viper songs do not necessary convey family friendly themes and discuss “smoking” and “getting high.” One song “Stuff It” Sharp co-wrote with Elizabeth McQueen of The Asleep at The Wheel band.

“(McQueen’s) a momma too. We laughed the entire two and a half hours it took to write that song. It’s probably getting the most national airplay of all the new songs,” Sharp said.

The song provides plenty of double entendres. Even the name “Vipers” comes from a sub-genre of cannabis culture that associates itself with those who make hissing sounds like snakes when they smoke.

“Viper music is a sub-genre of 1930’s and 40’s jazz, mostly party songs like (Cab Calloway’s 1931) ‘Minnie the Moocher.’ Back then, drinking and gambling were illegal, drugs were not. It’s akin to beer drinking songs today.  The new album is mostly originals, inspired by that genre,” Sharp said.

The band’s original songs with titles from Phoebe’s Dream CD have received less local radio air play: “When You’re High,” written by Sharp and Kristopher Lee Wade and “Dangerous,” by Sharp and Katie Holmes, and “Viper Moon,” written by Sharp and Slim Richey.

Cover songs off their previous 2012 CD, Tell ‘em Joe Sent You, included Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” as well as Buck Washington’s 1944 “Save the Roach for Me,” and the Ink Spots’ 1944 “That Cat is High.”

Sharp found her niche in 2009 with the Jitterbug Vipers by filling in and substituting for the band whenever former lead vocalists Kat Edmonson of Houston and Emily Gimble, grand-daughter of legendary Johnny Gimble, couldn’t make a gig. Emily Gimble now performs with the Marshall Ford Swing Band. She also recently performed on Three for the Road, a CD by Warren Hood produced by Charlie Sexton.

“The (Jitterbug Vipers) used to play everywhere all of the time and I knew who they were. I used to play as a singer/songwriter alone, but I couldn’t be on the road anymore. Things started slowing down for me when I got pregnant. I saw playing with them several nights a week as a solution to being on the road,” Sharp said.

Sharp’s pitch bending and expressive phrasing leads the band’s melody in each song including “Phoebe’s Dream,” the title cut off the band’s newest CD. The song has received more local radio air play than any other Jitterbug Vipers songs to date. Her distinctive voice makes every bit a signature statement for the band as guitarist Slim Richey’s riffs.

She also maintains a musical singing duo separately with Andrea Perry, called Kaliyo; the two have co-written and performed one song per week since last October.

“I’ve never fully figured out why, but jazz comes out of me differently than pop music. It sounds different. It’s often more versatile voice and I tend to never sing a song the exact same way twice,” Sharp said.

Though neither knew one another at the time, both Sharp and Jones attended Berklee College of Music in Boston about the same time.

Jones has lived in Austin a little more than five years after coming to town from New York and prior to that from Japan. She has two sons, Lewis, 14, and Kai, 13.

She discovered the Jitterbug Vipers, one night while attending a “Ham Jam” house party for professional musicians hosted by host Daren Appelt, who lives in North Hills subdivision of Austin.

“He used to put on these house parties for professional musicians to jam all night long. He served free alcohol and ham.  I went to jam there, but drummers were not allowed to play because of the noise ordinance – neighbors complained,” Jones said.

“Slim came up to me and asked me ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ When I told him, he offered me a gig. It was such a ‘Dangerous’ decision to make since he had never heard me perform.”

Masumi, who had previously performed with big bands in Japan, these days plays the hi-hat cymbal with brushes like feathers and keeps a subtle swing pulse on the base drum. She emphasizes a fluid rocking momentum at the far ends of each instrumental song, creating a relaxed feel.

The small ensemble, minus showmanship, creates a calming, unhurried feel to the Jitterbug Vipers’ music. Jones together with Meaux Jeaux, the bassist, occasionally screams or yells in the background during a few of the up-tempo songs like “Stuff It.” Although, Sharp’s solo voice for the most part remains unhindered on stage.

Meaux Jeaux’s timing and her two and four beat plucks and pulls on her upright bass strings, lock in well with Masumi’s sweeping drum movements.

Somewhat awkwardly, by appearances, Meaux Jeaux keeps her back to the audience while performing on stage, to focus on Masumi.  Their combined musicianship creates a quintessential basic rhythm section sound for the band.

“It was perfect the first time we played together; it was ‘I want your babies; I want to lock you in my closet,’” Meaux Jeaux said of Jones.

Meaux Jeaux, Richey’s wife, may be 61, but her young spirit appears personified by her punk hairstyle complete with streaks of red and blue hair dyes. She also wears giant oversized white frame sunglasses sometimes on stage.

She said she remembers the first time she and Richey played together some 27 years ago. They have been married for 25 years and have celebrated their union in 15 separate weddings. They were first “spiritually” married Aug. 15, 1988 in Copper Canyon and then legally Jan. 1, 1989 in Dallas.

When the two began performing together on stage, Meaux Jeaux could only play electric bass. She had to teach herself to play an upright bass.

Richey improvises instrumentally in the Jitterbug Vipers’ song sets by providing riffs one or two measures at a time and colors the musical score behind Sharp’s unaffected voice. He also provides some 3 and 4 quarter note rhythms in a down stroke with a loose wrist.  He sometimes gently picks the strings by playing half notes and whole notes while he keeps his amplifier boosted to medium volume.

“You just make it up as you go – it’s usually not written down,” Richey said. “I don’t sight read or anything like that. I just play it until I remember it. I played a three-part song in a dream one time and I could remember it when I woke up with great clarity, but it was way too hard to play. I wouldn’t eat or sleep until I learned to play it. Otherwise it would have evaporated from memory.”

Richey hails from Atlanta, Texas where he performed with his high school jazz band. In 1952 he became a guitarist for the “Black Bayou Buckaroos.” After graduation, he played started a band called the Cass County Coon Hunters.  The band campaigned with Ralph Yarborough when he ran against Pappy Lee O’Daniels and Price Daniels for the governor of Texas. He attended the University of Oklahoma in Norman where he played with various jazz bands such as The Lime Lighters, The Ramblers, and The Contemporaries. He majored first in petroleum engineering, then business, and philosophy before he finally graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in education.

He moved to Seattle from Oklahoma in 1965. Richey played only two gigs in Washington before other career interests distracted him.

“I went off the musical path for a while,” Richey said. “I had a booking agency, then stores, then a recording studio. I quit playing for 25 years.”

In 1972 he was awarded the title of “outstanding soloist” at the Oklahoma University Jazz Festival judged by Leonard Feather and Buddy DeFranco, with whom he jammed with on stage. He doesn’t sing anymore; he has a gravely spoken voice since undergoing two surgeries on his vocal cords.

In 1984 he played fiddle with renowned composer and symphony conductor David Amram at the Kerrville Folk Festival where Richey regained his taste for playing.

“He (Amram) never heard me play guitar, but he recommended me for house guitarist for a jazz festival in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I bought a $125 electric guitar to play that gig,” Richey said.

After returning home to Fort Worth, he joined a “bebop” rehearsal group at the famous jazz venue, The Caravan of Dreams. With picking partner, Dave Lincoln, together they started a Tuesday night jazz jam at The Hop, in town.

“My music is influenced by jazz, but I’ve played pop music, hillbilly, country, and swing. My influences were Billy Holiday, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, and Stuff Smith,” Richey said.

Richey moved to Austin and performed with the Jazz Pharaohs for 16 years off and on. In 1996 he went on tour with Don Mcalister Jr.’s band to Europe, traveling throughout Switzerland, Italy and Sicily.

Richey met Meaux Jeaux at a party in Fort Worth and the two moved to Driftwood in Hays County in 1992. Soon afterwards, he formed his “dream ensemble,” which he first called The Cat’s Meow band with Edmondson and Gimble, before Sharp joined.

Richey fathered 12 children and married twice before Meaux Jeaux. The couple has two children: Sara and Jordan Baxter, 33-year-old twins, of Austin. Most of his other 12 children live in California along with his ex-wives. However, his 42-year son, Tom Richey, a guitarist like his father, lives in Arlington.

In March, The Jitterbug Vipers won the “fourth best performing jazz band in Austin,” according to The Austin Chronicle’s Music Awards.  Jones took ninth place on drums in the same poll.

In 2011 The Jitterbug Vipers  won second best performing jazz band in the same music poll. Meaux Jeaux took eighth place on bass, and Sharp won seventh place in vocals, while Richey took sixth place in the city as a guitarist.

~   Jitterbug Viper schedule of performances ~  

WEDNESDAY August 28, 2013

7 — 9:30 p.m.

Lamberts, 401 W 2nd Street. Austin, TX. (512) 494-1500 No cover.

SATURDAY August 31, 2013

7 – 10 p.m.

TAG’s 5th Anniversary Party (Texan’s for Accountable Government.) Anderson Mill Tavern, 10401 Anderson Mill Road, Suite #121, Austin, TX. $20 cover.

WEDNESDAY September 4, 2013

7 — 9:30 p.m.

Lamberts, 401 W 2nd Street. Austin, TX.  Phone: 494-1500  No cover.

THURSDAY September 5, 2013

6 —  8 p.m.

The Elephant Room, 315 North Congress, Austin, TX.  (512) 473-2279.  No cover.

FRIDAY September 6, 2013

6:30 — 8:30 p.m.

The Elephant Room, 315 North Congress, Austin, TX. (512) 473-2279.  No cover.

MONDAY September 9, 2013


The Internet show, “Vipers At Noon”, Internet streaming LIVE show.

Streams live from Sarah’s living room the second Monday of every month.

Live in Asia, Europe, Eurasia, Africa, South America, and North America.

WEDNESDAY September 11, 2013

Time TBA

Aqua Serene, 2836 W. 11th, Eugene, OR. (541) 302-9073

THURSDAY (September 12. 2013)

noon — 1 p.m.

Aqua Serene, 2836 W. 11th, Eugene, OR. (541) 302-9073

THURSDAY September 12. 2013

2:40 p.m.

Jitterbug Vipers LIVE radio performance in-studio:

at KLCC, 89.7 FM Eugene, OR.

THURSDAY September 12, 2013

Evening time TBA

Jazz Station, 124 W. Broadway, Eugene, OR. $10 cover

SATURDAY September 14, 2013

9 p.m.

Alhambra Theater, 4811 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR  503-360-1450 . $8 ticket. 

WEDNESDAY  September 18, 2013.

6:30 — 9 p.m.

The Continental Club. Austin, TX.

1315 South Congress. 441-2444.  No cover.

SATURDAY September 21, 2013

7 – 10 p.m.

Ino’z Brew and Chew.

14004 Ranch Road 12, Wimberley, TX. (512) 847-6060 No cover.

MONDAY  September 23, 2013

6:30 —  8:30 p.m.

at the Elephant Room,

315 North Congress, Austin, TX.  (512) 473-2279.  No cover.

TUESDAY September 24, 2013

5 p.m.

8th Annual HAAM Benefit Day.

Maria’s Taco Express, 2529 S Lamar Blvd  Austin, TX. (512) 444-0261

Many Great bands: The Shoulders, The Wild Seeds, The American People, The Painted Redstarts, Finley Sexton, Grace London, Gypsy, Johnny Goudie, Ariel Herrera, and Skyline!

Free concert. Donations.

WEDNESDAY September 25, 2013

9:30 a.m.

Good Day Austin

KTBC  Fox 7 TV station

WEDNESDAY September 25, 2013

6:30 — 9 p.m.

The Continental Club

The Jitterbug Vipers with the keyboardist Connor Forsyth.

1315 South Congress. 441-2444  No cover.

FRIDAY September 27, 2013

9 — 12 noon

17th annual Texas Heritage Music Day,

at the Robbins-Lewis Pavilion at Schreiner University campus

in Kerrville, 2100 Memorial Blvd (HWY-27) Free.

FRIDAY September 27, 2013

6 – 8 p.m.

at the Elephant Room, 315 North Congress, Austin, TX. 512 473-2279.   No cover.

WEDNESDAY October 2, 2013

 6:30 – 9 p.m.

The Continental Club., 1315 South Congress. (512) 441-2444.

With keyboardist Connor Forsyth. No cover.

TUESDAY October 22, 2013

7 — 7:45 p.m.

Hotel Café, 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd. Hollywood, CA  (323) 461-2040, Cover $10 

WEDNESDAY October 30, 2013

6:30 — 9 p.m.

The Continental Club, 1315 South Congress. (512) 441-2444.

with the keyboardist Connor Forsyth.  No cover

SATURDAY November 9, 2013

Time TBA

10th Annual Rice Festival presented by Cabin 10

held in Fischer Hall, downtown Fischer, Texas.


November 28 Through the first week in December, The Jitterbug Vipers will tour England, then Italy.


Published on Austin Fusion magazine at

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