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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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Shelley King’s interview appears in The Alternate Root magazine online

27 Aug

ShelleyKing

When Shelley King sings, her large almond-shaped eyes seem to look directly at members of her audience, delivering words that feel personal. She creates a spiritual-like connection that speaks volumes about the ways in which people live, love and relate to their environments.

Drawing on her rural Arkansas gospel, Americana and blues roots, King writes deeply felt song lyrics about relationships and personal experiences.

King’s new album, Building A Fire, recorded in Fort Collins, CO, Austin, TX and Muscle Shoals, AL, releases to stores on August 26. A blend of Texas and Louisiana musicians perform on the album with her.

The band that originated in New Orleans’, the Subdudes, returns to accompany her once again, following the success of their last collaboration in 2009, on King’s Welcome Home album.

Growing up in rural Arkansas, King began her musical education while singing in a little one-room church in Caddo Gap. After her parents divorced, King lived with her grandmother and attended church regularly.

“I joined the church and got baptized, full immersion, in the river. It was all real country, old rural,” she said.

“I was about 12 or 13 at the time and the church was a peaceful place. It was a place where I could sing and explore and develop my talent. It was where my friends were. We weren’t old enough to drive and there was no social scene in Caddo Gap. If you wanted to see your friends outside of school, you went to church. It was a good reason to get out of the house.”

King and her mother moved many times between Texas and Arkansas before King became a teenager. Stability wasn’t something they knew.

SK_Building_A_Fire_Cover

“We moved around a bunch. She had several relationship breakups. It was pretty rocky,” she said.

King’s singing career not only changed her life, but it brought her parents back together again. Twelve years ago, her parents met up again at one of King’s gigs. She and her mother had remained close for years, but at the time, King’s father had only recently re-entered her life.

“He had been coming into my life more and more. Often he would show up at my shows in different places around the country. Finally, he told me one time ‘I’m going to come to one of your shows in Austin tonight.’ I just said ‘Ok.’ He didn’t live here at the time and I forgot my mother was going to be there,” King said.

“I decided not to tell her or she might not come. So he was here and she was here and I literally re-introduced them to each other. They started dating again and now they’re married again. They’ve been married for about eight years.”

After graduating high school in 1984, as one in a class of 38 students, King felt she had to leave home.

“As much as I loved Arkansas, because I grew up there, I really felt stifled. There was no opportunity for anything. All my friends were just graduating high school and having babies,” she said.

“I wanted to go somewhere and do something. I couldn’t see staying there. I knew I was going to have to go to college to get out of town; that was my big excuse. I wanted to go as far away as I could afford.”

She attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas and studied English and speech communications as part of a pre-law curriculum. She worked to pay for her tuition and books. After college she moved to Houston and took a job in outside sales while she began her music career.

“This is all I ever really wanted to do. I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I didn’t care about that stuff, so I started thinking about more about my music,” she said.

While singing and playing music with different bands, King worked a day job as an outside sales person to pay her bills. Someone told her that she should move to Austin, so she packed up her bags and arrived here early in 1992.

“It just all started for me here. Although I had been singing my whole life and I had been writing songs and I had been playing in a band for a couple of years, I didn’t have a clue until I moved to Austin,” she said.

“When I got here I met all these great singer/songwriters and performers and musicians.”

King’s first night in town, she met Marcia Ball, who to this day remains a good friend and collaborator. At the time, Ball owned La Zona Rosa at 612 W. 4th Street. The intimate bar featured blues and jazz performances by local and touring musicians for several years before closing in 2012.

“One night, at Sarah Elizabeth Campbell’s weekly show at La Zona Rosa, I met everyone. Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore was there, Jimmy LaFave was there, David Rodriguez — Carrie Rodriguez’s dad, was there. Sharon Ely was there – I don’t think Joe was there, but Sharon was there. It was really a ‘who’s who of cool’ Austin, you know?” she said.

“I had no idea. A friend of mine had said ‘Hey, you should come out to this show with me tonight’ and I ended up sitting at a table with all these Austin icons. I was blown away. I thought ‘Oh my gosh; I found it, I found it.’”

King said it took a while for her to settle down in Austin.

“It took a while for me to get it together. I started playing little gigs around town. I was still developing my style, so I was playing some rock, jam band kind of thing. I was playing gigs on Sixth Street like the Black Cat Lounge and Steamboat,” she said. “Both of which are gone now.”

“I played the Austin Outhouse up on 38th (Street.) It was a different kind of thing that I was doing then, but I got really frustrated with the whole band thing and trying to keep a band together. When one person would quit and I’d feel like we needed to change our band name and write all new songs. It was just getting weird,” she said.

Tired of the drama often associated with playing in a band and their power struggles, King decided to focus on her songwriting.

“So I just took time off away from gigs and just tried to write songs. I wrote and wrote. I decided to get it together. I said ‘You know, I’m going to get a job, go to church, and buy a house. I’m gonna grow up.’ So, I went to church. They found out I could sing. They put me in the church band,” she said.

“The bass player of the church band said ‘Hey, let’s get together and jam outside of church.’ Before I knew it, I had another band and I wasn’t even planning on it. I was just like ‘What just happened?’”

King and her newly formed band began performing again in 1996 at coffee houses and small venues around town.

“You know, you can run, but you can’t hide,” she said. “They said ‘We’re going to play a gig, so book a gig.’ To just get started I played this open mic at a place on Congress called Shaggy’s.”

South Congress Café now stands at the former Shaggy’s location.

“I played the open mic and then the manager came up to me and said ‘Come here.’ He opened up his calendar and said ‘Let’s get you in here.’ At that point, I hadn’t even put out my first CD,” she said.

After a year and a half of playing various gigs around town and creating a following, King released her first CD in 1998. She recorded Call of My Heart, at Bismeaux Studios, owned by Ray Benson, bandleader for Asleep at the Wheel.

“It just became very evident that we needed to get that recording out to the public, because we became very popular,” King said.

She quit her job working as a rep for a flooring distributor June 1, 1998.

“It finally got to me at the last sales meeting when I realized I didn’t care. There were all those issues that everyone was bringing up about the work place and I kept thinking, ‘Man, I don’t care. I need to get back into the studio and finish this record.’ So on Monday morning, June 1, 1998 at 7 a.m., I got up my nerve and I quit. Or should I say, ‘I began’. It took a lot of courage because I wasn’t making a lot from my music yet. After I quit my job, I got into the studio and finished the CD and from there it all started taking off.”

King said that she has continued to write songs, to record them and to release them on her own label. Meanwhile, several other artists, including Price, have covered her songs, allowing King to earn additional sales royalties.

“When I was thinking about quitting my day job to sing and to write full time,” she said. “Toni was very encouraging. So just to thank her, I gave her my CD and she ended up covering two songs off that CD. That really helped because she’s super popular and it really helped a lot of people notice me and come to know me as a songwriter.”

One day in 2004 while driving through the Southwest, Lee Hazlewood heard King’s single, “Texas Blue Moon,” off her second album, The Highway, broadcast on the radio airwaves. Hazlewood thought the song would make a nice duet for an album he was recording with Nancy Sinatra. The two recorded it that same year and released it as a track off their Nancy & Lee 3 album.

King had the opportunity to meet Nancy and Lee when she was invited to attend Hazlewood’s 78th birthday party held in Las Vegas. He died of renal cancer six weeks later in Henderson, Nev. Aug. 4, 2007. Hazlewood had gained notoriety after writing Nancy Sinatra’s breakout hit, “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” among other songs for her and her famous father, Frank Sinatra, as well as for Duane Eddy and Dean Martin.

“I feel like I have really developed my style, my writing and everything in Austin. The bar is set high in Austin. You cannot be a lame songwriter and get away with it,” King said.

“I have traveled around and seen people in other places that people hold up as pretty good and I’m thinkin’ ‘Girl, you’d never make it Austin.’ You know? I think that it’s so wonderful that the talent is so good here because it makes us all so much better.”

Austin, known as “the live music capital of the world,” draws musicians who can sit-in to play a two-hour show with anybody, anytime, anywhere, and any genre.

“That’s just an awesome thing. Everybody can play a good live show,” she said. “We play so much that we hardly ever practice as a band — it’s a different thing here. When people come here who are not used to the way we roll, it’s pretty funny,” she said.

“I know Paul Oscher, Muddy Water’s harmonica player, who recently moved to town and who plays here in town now. He was saying recently how it’s so amazing that Austin musicians can just jump in and play with you even though they’ve never played with you before. Everybody does it and everybody can do it. He said, ‘I’m not like that.’ It’s a different thing here.”

For example, King’s bass player, Sarah Brown, scheduled six gigs over four days with six different bands before performing with her at Threadgill’s South along Riverside Drive July 23.

The live show at Threadgill’s also included King’s drummer/percussionist Perry Drake, together with lead guitarist Marvin Dykhuis. Everyone sang as well.

The band opened the double-billed show at 8 p.m., followed by Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps at 9 p.m.

Several members in the audience raised their hands when King asked if any of them had followed her and James to Austin after seeing them perform together on-board the Delbert McClinton and Friends’ Sandy Beaches Cruise recently.

Other fans had seen King perform together with rhythm and blues singer/piano player Marcia Ball at the Broken Spoke four months earlier. Monte Warden, the singer/songwriter and bandleader for The Wagoneers, had hosted the “Behind the Songs” program recorded live at the Broken Spoke on March 31 with Ball and King, as well as Wonderland.

“Behind the Songs,” airs regularly on Austin’s alternative country radio station KOKE-FM, broadcast on channels 98.5, 99.3 or 105.3.

Over the years, King has regularly visited the Broken Spoke to eat chicken fried steak and to enjoy the music, but this spring’s event marked her first ever performance at the Broken Spoke.

“I loved it,” she said. “I never actually pursued a show there because my music leans more towards blues and sometimes I rock out. The Spoke’s much more the traditional country thing. I didn’t want to be something that I’m not, so I didn’t take my show there, but what a huge honor to play there and to play a songwriter’s show,” she said.

King particularly enjoyed Ball’s performance of the song, “Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Broken Spoke owners, the much beloved James and Annetta White, danced a solo dance while Ball sang. The moment moved King to tears, she said.

“I was crying on stage,” she said, “it was so sentimental and sweet to see those two in each others arms swaying to Marcia’s yodels. I felt like I was witnessing a part of Austin music history as it happened. Very inspiring and powerful, the life we have all built around this music. The Broken Spoke is home to a lot of music and memories for many people. It’s a part of our lives here in Austin. As the city continues to grow and evolve, we are lucky to have this gem still hosting live music five nights a week.”

King and her band have several tours planned throughout the remaining months of the summer and through fall performing in Texas and Colorado and as far away as the East Coast. She will shoot a music video in Fort Collins, Colorado in September as well.

A consortium of female musicians, known as Texas Guitar Women, arose out of a friendship among King, Wonderland, Cashdollar, Brown, and drummer Lisa Pankratz. Occasionally, Ball joins the group as well, and together the six women have played numerous gigs nationwide including the acclaimed Rhythm & Roots Music Festival in Rhode Island and the “Women’s Night” showcase shows at Austin’s now, sadly defunct, Antone’s blues club.

The Alternate Root magazine online ran my story in their August 2014 issue at http://thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2592:sk-baf&catid=208:what-s-trending&Itemid=268

Listen to songs off her new album and read more about Shelly King at www.shelleyking.com

 

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Marcia Ball interview appears in July issue of The Alternate Root magazine

7 Jul
Marcia Ball performed for the first time in nearly 40 years at the Broken Spoke March 31 as part of the "Behind the Song" radio program and a benefit for

Marcia Ball performed for the first time in nearly 40 years at the Broken Spoke March 31 as part of the “Behind the Song” radio program and a benefit.

Rhythm and blues singer Marcia Ball put on her first concert at the Broken Spoke in nearly 40 years as part of the radio program, “Behind the Songs,” that airs regularly on Austin’s alternative country radio station KOKE-FM, broadcast on channels 98.5, 99.3 or 105.3. (http://kokefm.com)

Ball performed at the “Behind the Songs” recorded live show that drew more than 400 people March 31, who each paid $20 to attend. After the live show at the Broken Spoke, organizer Joel Gammage and his multi-media crew edited and cut the raw video up into vignettes, which he provided to KOKE-FM radio station to air at different times throughout each month.

Radio station hosts also provide in-studio live interviews with the “Behind the Songs” featured artists prior to each broadcast of the vignette performances. For example, Ball provided phone-in interviews with listeners beginning at 8 a.m. April 4, at KOKE, with radio personalities prior to the pre-recorded broadcast of the “Behind the Songs” program. The live show served as a fundraiser for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, (HAAM,) the local organization that provides affordable health care for the city’s low-income and uninsured musicians.

The show was hosted by bandleader, singer and songwriter for The Wagonners, Monte Warden. Other performers included singers and songwriters Carolyn Wonderland and Shelley King, as well as a former contestant for the television series, The Voice, Brian Pounds.

Ball’s earliest friendships formed with young democrats at the state capitol helped her to gain her first singing gig at the Broken Spoke in 1973.

Ball performed at the Broken Spoke as part a band known as Freda and the Firedogs, who entertained at Sen. Lloyd Doggett’s fundraising campaign the same year he began his first run for the Texas state Senate. Since 2005 Doggett has served in Washington D.C. as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’ 35th district.

Ball began her own rhythm and blues band in 1975 and became a successful songwriter and singer as well as a local supporter of liberal political causes. More than 500 people packed Doggett’s private party nearly 40 years ago on that Monday night at the Broken Spoke.

Hippies, either barefoot, or wearing moccasins or tennis shoes, made up a large portion of the audience. Few of them knew the traditional Two Step, but improvised by dancing what James White likes to call the “hippie hop.”

“We were a little hippie country band that played at the Split Rail every Sunday night and other college bars and places around town,” Ball said. “We were pure country then, but we just didn’t look the part so much. We were playing some of the most classic country in town of anybody. We weren’t playing radio country even then, we were playing older stuff – Merle Haggard and George Jones and stuff like that.”

Back in those days, Ball sang a lot of Tammy Wynett and Loretta Lynn stuff and she also yodeled a bit.

“We were singing ‘Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on Your Mind,’ and stuff like that,” she said. “I remember how happy we were that first night that we played there at the Broken Spoke, standing on the old loading dock hauling our stuff in. We thought we had made it, we really thought we had.”

Playing at the Broken Spoke had been the ultimate goal for Freda and the Firedogs, she said.

“Playing the Broken Spoke legitimized us in a way that we were aiming for and the best way to get in there was to play this fundraiser for Lloyd Doggett,” Ball said. “He was a political candidate who we loved anyway. That university and state house crowd had been followers of ours. We were playing for the protest rallies held for the shuttle bus drivers at the University of Texas who were striking for wages, and we played at the Armadillo (World Headquarters) for whatever cause that anybody could think of. We had always done that and I still do. So the politicos knew about us,” Ball said.

The original members included founder of the band, Bobby Earl Smith who played bass, guitarist John X. Reed, drummer Steve McDaniels, steel player David Cook, and Ball on piano. The band played together from 1972 until 1974 as Freda and the Firedogs before Ball left to start her own band.

“I wasn’t the most experienced musician in that band. The steel player was younger than me and everybody else had been in more bands and had more success than I had,” she said.

Ball had moved to Austin a few years before from Baton Rouge, LA where she had played with a rock and roll band. In Austin she joined a short-lived little rock and roll band for a while.

“A lot of us at that time liked the kind of cross-over music that The Band was playing and the Byrds were playing — people who were mixing country and blues with rock. There was a lot of that Bob Dylan and (his record) Nashville Skyline and the Rolling Stones,” she said.

She arrived in town in 1970 and met Smith in 1972 while he performed in another band who enjoyed performing what Ball calls “a mixed bag of music.”

“Kirby Gupton was a great singer and great guitar player who could play George Jones, Merle Haggard, B.B. King, and Van Morrison and stitch all that together and it was just a wonderful gig. I went to see them one time and I met them and sat in that night. Afterwards, Bobby Earl called me that week and asked me if I wanted to play some gigs and we started,” she said.

Ball comes from a musical family on her paternal side: her grandmother played piano, her great-grandfather composed music and she has an aunt who played piano. Her brothers don’t play music, although she has a younger brother who plays drums a bit.

She has fond and favorite memories at the Broken Spoke as both a performer and a fan, including the night in 1976 that she saw the original Texas Playboys perform there without Bob Wills who died the year before. Sleepy Johnson, Jesse Ashlock and Keith Coleman all played fiddle, Smokey Dacus played drums, while Leon McAulliffe performed on steel guitar, Al Stricklin on piano, Leon Rausch on vocals; with Tommy Allsup and Bob Kiser both on guitars.

“It was the night after the Texas Playboys had performed for an episode of Austin City Limits. That night they played at the Broken Spoke and they used my piano. My son was a baby and I had him with me and I hauled the piano in and set it up and then I had to take him out to his grandmother’s house so I could get to the Spoke to see the gig,” she said.

“I was a little late getting back to the Broken Spoke. The place was full and people were sitting on the dance floor. That was something I had never seen – it was weird to see people sitting on the Broken Spoke dance floor; people usually danced. Everybody had packed in there that night to see the Texas Playboys. As I walked it, they were playing the song, ‘Maiden’s Prayer.’”

Ball had heard all day about how well the Texas Playboys had performed the night before at ACL.

“Earlier that day everyone who had seen the Texas Playboys perform at Austin City Limits just went on and on about them. I thought that perhaps they had exaggerated. When I saw them perform that next night at the Broken Spoke it was just better than I could have imagined. It brought tears to my eyes; it was just wonderful,” she said.

Ball said at the time, James White’s step-dad, Joe Baland and mother, Lena White-Baland, helped to run the Broken Spoke.

“I remember that you couldn’t wear a hat on the dance floor,” Ball said. “Joe would come out and tap you on the shoulder and make you take your hat off. It was like it was impolite to wear a hat on the dance floor, it also started fights,” Ball said.

Unlike other clubs in town, inside the Broken Spoke cowboys could still wear their hats – just not on the dance floor.

“I came to Austin to live in a more liberal place than Baton Rouge. We actually were on our way to San Francisco, but we had a lot of friends who had moved here from Louisiana. We stopped to take a little break in the trip and to visit and then have our car worked on, but we never left,” Ball said.

In Austin and in other cities throughout the United States known as music meccas, the times were changing — fast. During the party at the Broken Spoke for Doggett, hippies and cowboys mingled together and everyone got along.

“There was already a movement in that direction at the time, the Armadillo was already having Willie (Nelson) play regularly. Music everywhere always brings people together and music certainly in Austin was bringing all kinds of people together,” Ball said.

“James White was happy to find somebody else who could fill his club. He really gave us more credit than we were due. He saw us and a big crowd that night and put those two together. Really, we did have a good following, but there was a whole lot of promotion on the part of the politicos that made it look like we were ready to play the Broken Spoke. It was the ‘big show’ for us.”

As Freda and the Firedogs, the band led the way for other crossover bands that played the Broken Spoke.

“I played with that band and loved it. That was not my background. Other bands, like Asleep at the Wheel and Alvin Crow, those guys were completely country and still are. They’ve had a long history with the Broken Spoke,” Ball said. “Although we played through several reincarnations of my band; we became less and less country. We have still always had an open door at the Broken Spoke, which has always been great.”

After the Firedogs broke up in 1974, Ball’s sound began the transition back to her rhythm and blues roots when she started her own band in 1975.

“I just started writing some and I just realized as a piano player and a background as I had, that was just the direction that I was going to be going,” Ball said. “I had a very varied repertoire that ranged from jazz to country and western, to swing and then in 1980 I went to pretty much blues, or R&B.”

She continued to perform at the Broken Spoke well into the 1980s drawing crowds, despite the fact her band no longer performed pure country classics. Over the years, Ball’s music changed, but the Broken Spoke has remained the same.

“I have to say if anybody has held the line on being the same club, doing the same thing he was doing the day he opened his doors, it would have to be James White at the Broken Spoke,” Ball said.

The Broken Spoke has a history inside its walls that cannot be found anywhere else. While multi-story condominiums and commercial real estate has encroached upon the Broken Spoke, it continues to hold its own.

“The Broken Spoke is a little bit like the Alamo now,” Ball said. “The Broken Spoke draws tourists to town, to Texas really.”

Ball’s friendship with James and Annetta White spans more than 40 years.

“James White weathered all of the competition that ever existed in this town. In the late 1970s when Austin was overrun by pre-fab metal buildings pumping out Urban Cowboy type country music, James White just stayed there in his little spot and kept it real,” Ball said. “Now they’re all gone and James is still here and it’s still real.”

The Whites have helped to nurture a generation of musicians, songwriters, and singers who have made their way into the world of professional music. The Broken Spoke stands today as a symbol of Austin’s love for pure country music.

“I love James and Annetta. I’ve always just thought the world of them,” Ball said. “Their hearts are totally in the right place as far as music and community are concerned. He’s helped a lot of musicians. They’re very loyal to their musician friends who have played there all these years. Of course James brought to Austin all of the great country artists. What Clifford Antone was to the blues here, James White is to country music in Austin.”

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Ball’s 2014 tour schedule link: http://www.marciaball.com/schedule.html My article published in the July 2014 issue of The Alternate Root magazine at http://thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2453:marciab-bsat&catid=208:what-s-trending&Itemid=268

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