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My interview with Cindy Cashdollar posted to Elmore

25 Mar

BESTCindy Cashdollar    Texas Guitar Women toasted some teary goodbyes Feb. 19 while regaling joyous stories of the good old days at the One2One Bar in Austin with five-time Grammy award winner and resonator and steel guitar player Cindy Cashdollar.

Cashdollar’s Austin friends officially gave her the boot — albeit a gold-colored and bejeweled one — as they celebrated on stage in front of a standing-room audience at the first of two such parties scheduled for her through March.

The send off party sold out days in advance as news spread that Cashdollar plans to leave town soon for her hometown of Woodstock, NY.

The Texas Guitar Women members included: bass player Sarah Brown, guitarist and singer/songwriter Shelley King, and drummer Lisa Pankratz, and guitarist/singer Carolyn Wonderland. Special guests included pianist and singer Marcia Ball and guitarist and singer Rosie Flores, who joined up halfway through the show.

Those who missed this party have a second chance when Johnny Nicholas & Hell Bent hold another send off for Cashdollar March 25 at Saxon Pub where Cashdollar has been performing most Wednesday nights with him and his band.

As one of the most famous female resonator and steel guitar players of all time, Cashdollar traverses the genres of blues, bluegrass, Cajun, country, folk, jazz, rock, roots, soul and Western Swing music.

Cashdollar has contributed to dozens of album recordings, three movie sound tracks, four instructional DVDs, and has performed on stage with some of the biggest names in the industry throughout a professional music career that spans nearly 30 years.

In an exclusive interview with Elmore magazine, Cashdollar said she soon plans to record a second album as a follow up to her debut CD, Slide Show.

Guests who performed on Slide Show read like a who’s who list of Americana and roots musicians including: Sonny Landreth, Marcia Ball, Lucky Oceans, Mike Auldridge, Redd Volkaert, Herb Remington, Jorma Kaukonen, and Steve James.

She plans to return to Austin as frequently as she can, she said.

   “There’s no way that I could ever leave Austin and not come back,” Cashdollar said. “There’s too many good things to just shut the door and go.”

She will return to her hometown of Woodstock, NY after living in Austin 23-years to live closer to her family and her significant other, Harvey Citron, of Citron Guitars.

“I’m still going to be working, that’s for sure. When you’re a musician – most musicians any way – you have to keep working. It’s funny because everybody thinks I’m retiring, but no, not at all,” she said.

While in her late 30s, Austin became her home base in 1992, after Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel hired her to go on the road. She spent eight and a half years with ASAW before leaving the band in 2000.

Since then she has performed and or recorded with Ryan Adams, Dave Alvin, Marcia Ball, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Van Morrison, Jorma Kaukonen, Daniel Lanois, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Leon Redbone, Peter Rowan, BeauSolieil, Rod Stewart, and Redd Volkaert to name a few.

Cashdollar became the first woman inducted into the Texas Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2011 and she also was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

   “Austin is this incredible pool of so many talented singers, songwriters, musicians and so many great artists in one place. It’s just unbelievable,” she said.

“I’ve had such an amazing time here. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to work with people in Austin and with people outside of Austin. I just feel lucky to have had the best of both worlds.”

After she settles into her Woodstock digs she will hit the road this summer to tour with British guitar player and Grammy award winner Albert Lee and his band.

Cashdollar is her real name. She has been told that the name originated with the Mohawk tribe and Dutch who settled in Upstate New York.

Her fellow musicians on stage often claim that Cashdollar hits perfect notes consistently and that she often tailors her sound to “follow” fellow band mates instinctively to fit her music into the genre being performed.

“Steel guitar is fretless – it’s a very unforgiving instrument. I mean you’re playing all of these guitars with a slide bar so there’s not very much room for error. You’ve got to be in tune,” she said.

   “I really try to listen to a lot of components that are going on. I try to listen to the lyrics, I try to listen to other musicians that I’m playing with and I try to figure out just where can I best fit where I’m adding something instead of overcrowding something that’s going on. That’s the way my brain, or my ears always work.”

Cashdollar also brings several guitars with her to play wherever she performs or records. She possesses an uncanny ability to change guitars often on stage, a feat that boggles the minds of most musicians, as not all guitars are created equally.

“The steel guitar I play has two different necks and two different tunings and eight strings,” she said.

“To me that’s fun. I always like a challenge. The more versatile, the better for me. It’s like cooking. I always compare music to cooking. You can’t really over spice anything unless it’s really called for. I always think of musicianship as being like the spices in a recipe. You want to enhance the recipe or dish. You don’t want to overload it.”

Her career expanded over the last 17 years while contributing to three movie soundtracks including: the Horse Whisperer, in 1998; Elf, in 2003; and This is 40 in 2012.

   She also has made guest appearances with the Guy’s All Star Shoe Band on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio series that broadcasts every Saturday. The show airs from 5 to 7 p.m. Central Texas time on National Public Radio (NPR,) and also on Sirius XM satellite radio live from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN. Cashdollar admits that the performances kept even her on her toes.

“Being that it’s live radio, things happen at the last minute and you just kind of have to be ready,” she said.

Cashdollar has created four instructional DVDs for Homespun Tapes and she teaches workshops at Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, OH. ResoSummit in Nashville, TN.

Teaching has become an important component of her career, she said.

  “To me to be able to teach and to give people something to take with them is really rewarding,” she said.

“Touring, there generally are a few people at every show that come out and tell me ‘I learned how to play from your instructional DVDs and it is such a wonderful feeling.”

As a teenager, Cashdollar visited a multitude of popular club in Woodstock. She recalls often seeing Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson in the roots rock group The Band; blues singer and harmonica player Paul Butterfield; Northern Irish musician and singer George Ivan “Van” Morrison; guitarist/auto harpist and front man for Lovin’ Spoonful, John Sebastian; blues singer/songwriter Bonnie Raitt, blues songwriter and record producer William James “Willie” Dixon, and father of Chicago blues musician McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield.

“There was this club there called The Joyous Lake in Woodstock where I saw most of the acts when I was probably 15 or 16 years old,” she said. “Nobody worried about ‘carding’ anyone (for legal identification.) I saw all these great players. I think that’s what really where I got my various interests in all kinds of music.”

While in her late 20s, Cashdollar played locally in various Woodstock bands, before landing her first touring gig on a Dobro with one of New York state’s bluegrass band led by singer, songwriter and guitar player John Herald.

She toured with Herald for five years. Throughout the 1960s, Herald wrote songs performed by legendary folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur and Linda Ronstadt. He died in 2005 at age 65.

Then for five years she toured with blues and jazz artist Leon Redbone.

Cashdollar said she feels obligated to pay forward the favors that she received growing up in the idyllic and magical Catskill Mountains surrounded by musicians during an era when music gave life to every moment.

“It was a beautiful place to grow up. I feel really happy to have grown up there,” she said. “It was a very creative place to be. When I was growing up there was a lot of music, a lot of bands moving there and a lot of artists. That was my college – that was my education.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Hell Bent promise special surprise guests for Cashdollar’s final send off at the Saxon Pub at the end of March.

 

Please see my story posted to Elmore magazine’s website by following this link: http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2015/03/features/cindy-cashdollar-bids-austin-farewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Paul Thorn story posted to The Alternate Root magazine online

20 Jan

Paul Thorn 2

For Paul Thorn, the lyrics he wrote together with Billy Maddox for his 10th album, Too Blessed to Be Stressed, stem from deep personal life lessons, professional musical influences and growing up a preacher’s son in the Deep South.

He wrote songs like “Don’t Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy,” for his record released last August while seeking personal happiness in his day-to-day life.

“You may have a circle of friends and some of those friends are hard to be around and some of them make you wonder why they are your friends. You keep hanging around them, but they’re poison,” he said.

“They don’t lift you up; every opportunity they get they try to put you down. It’s not healthy to hang around people like that. That’s why that song is important. It’s just the truth. Life is short; you only get to live one time and while you’re here you don’t let nobody steal your joy.”

The Tupelo, Mississippi artist has chosen to take the high road in the known music universe, one somewhat beset with negativity, to deliver authentic “feel-good lyrics.” His songs promise to uplift even the most downtrodden concertgoers or mp3 fans.

Thorn, who performs over 150 shows a year, last performed in concert at The Roost in North Austin Nov. 23. He next performs in Austin April 11 when appears as part of the “In the Round” program at The Paramount Theater with Ruthie Foster and Joe Ely. They call themselves the Southern Troubadours.

His career blossomed after performing along with some musical heavyweights on a tribute album to Jackson Browne, entitled Looking into You, released last April. Thorn said he always liked Browne’s music, but had never met him before recording the song, “Doctor My Eyes.” Other contributing artists included Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, David Lindley, and Bob Schneider, to name just a few.

In September Thorn met Browne backstage before presenting his song at the Americana Music Honors & Awards at the Ryman Auditorium in Tennessee.

Thorn admits that growing up in the same hometown as the iconic Elvis Presley had a huge impact on him musically as a kid. Yet over the years his career expanded to include several genres that explore all types of angles in the human experience.

“There are all kinds of records for different times in life. There are sad songs on some records about pain and all that kind of stuff, but I just wanted to make a record that made people feel better when they listen to it,” he said.

His father still preaches in the Church of God of Prophecy in Tupelo. The church’s followers provide the gifts of faith healing, prophecy and speaking in foreign tongues.

The song “Get a Healing” feels reminiscent of an evangelical tent revival service in the Deep South, complete with plenty of rhythmic clapping and catchy song lyrics.

The lyrics “you’ve got to get you a healing from the bottom of your heart/get you a healing that’s the only place to start/forgive all the people who have ever brought you harm/get yourself a healing with lovin’ from now on…”

Thorns fans will likely form emotional attachments to his music and lyrics without the benefit of any Pentecostal worship service.

“That song I think does heal somebody when they hear it,” he said.

“That’s what I believe. When I sing that song live I’ve noticed that the crowd really sinks their teeth into it. They’re all out there and they all want to be healed of something; everybody’s ailing from something. They want to feel better whether it’s physically or emotionally. Everybody needs to get fixed. That’s what that song’s talkin’ about.”

Paul’s parents married when his mother, Earlene, was just 15 and his father, Wayne, was 17.

“It was a different time back then,” Thorn said. “They’ll put you in jail for that now.”

His parents for most of their lives have lived in a parsonage on church grounds. Thorn, born in 1964, has older twin sisters, Charlotte Kay and Deborah Faye.

“We were never rich, but we were never poor,” he said. “We never went without anything. We always had what we needed.”

As Paul recalls, the family lived a religious life — 24/seven. Somehow he never felt a burden growing up in a house surrounded by women while his father often sacrificed hours every day to parishioners.

When he advises fans to “Get You a Healing,” for both their bodies and their souls, he prescribes one simple rule with the lyrics “just let your lovin’ show.”

Though Thorn does not ascribe to any single dogma or religious theology; his spiritual message comes through loud and clear nonetheless.

On one of the songs on the album, “Old Stray Dogs & Jesus,” Thorn identifies with one of the lowest denominators in society. The song tells the story about a drug addict who finally seeks help and rehabilitation after his life bottoms out.

“That’s what makes it a positive song. I’m not perfect by any means. I’ve never been a drug addict, but I’ve known a lot of people who have been. I sort of combined stories to make that song,” he said.

“I surely don’t believe that when somebody’s in the clutches of addiction that they can quit by themselves. It’s really rare that they quit by themselves. The test really comes when they surrender and go to rehab. Those are the only ones that I’ve ever seen get better.”

   The song’s lyrics “Why’s everybody judging me when the good book says judge not/old stray dogs and Jesus are all the friends I’ve got/I’ve never felt so lonely, I’ve never felt so blue/my world keeps getting smaller, it’s down to a chosen few” channels the thoughts of someone less fortunate.

“You can surrender to whatever you want to, but I chose Jesus because that’s the culture that I grew up in,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody knows for sure who God is because every culture just kind of provides their own design of what God is and they all believe they have it right. There’s nothing wrong with that. As humans we are really kind of arrogant to think that because it’s a big ‘ol world with a lot of people in it. None of us know too much.”

On stage, Thorn often expresses humility through words that soon sound and feel infectious.

“I pray to a higher power, but I don’t get up and proclaim to know what that higher power is,” he said.

Though he admits that his songwriting has been at times divinely inspired, he has borrowed professional insights from some fairly impressive musical peers.

A turning point in Thorn’s songwriting career followed his first cover performance of the 1981 hit song, “Don’t Let me Down Again,” written by Lindsey Buckingham, for Fleetwood Mack’s Live album. That’s when Thorn discovered the importance of creating “hooks” in songs.

“I like songs that you can hear the first time and remember them. That’s what a hook is – it hooks you and it keeps you singin’ along,” he said.

     “I like to make my hooks be things that are helpful to people – things that can give them a little courage to move forward, like the title track ‘Too Blessed to be Stressed.’ We all need to realize that because if you weigh out your life in the balance, there’s probably more good than bad in it, though sometimes we dwell on the negative.”

He combines country and rhythm and blues in a seemingly new genre that speaks volumes of truth and self-awareness through the song, “I Backslide on Friday.” The “backslider” term represents for Christians someone who practices being good, but who lapses into bad habits for a brief period of time.

“One thing we humans consistently do is procrastinate. Whether it’s a new year’s resolution to quit eatin’ a honey bun late at night, or whether it’s a resolution to quit cheatin’ on your wife, or to quit drinkin’. Whatever we struggle with, we all seem to have a hard time followin’ through with our plans,” he said.

“I think every human does it.”

The song “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” mesmerizes with the familiar and soothing words of promise as they transport the listener visually to a new ethereal place — on the back of a dragonfly.

Thorn also took a long hard look at consumerism and it’s impact on people when he wrote the song “Mediocrity is King.”

Mediocrity is “not good for you, but it’s easy, it doesn’t require much effort and it doesn’t require much expense,” he said.

He said the business world caters to the weakest link in the human population — a community of passive listeners, viewers and readers.

Thorn shares those views with his friend and filmmaker Mike Judge, who wrote and directed the 2005 movie, Idiocracy, staring Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph. Wilson plays the part of a man of average intelligence who after being transported 500 years into the future becomes the smartest human being on Earth.

Judge, of late, has been developing the hit HBO television series, Silicon Valley. Season two premieres April 10.

However, even Thorn admits to liking disco, though he doesn’t write in that genre.

He began writing the song, “This is a Real Goodbye,” after listening to Gloria Gaynor’s song, “I Will Survive.” Gaynor’s double platinum song released in 1978, but has since become an anthem for society’s underdogs.

   “I always liked that song because it’s a song about being strong after a breakup and moving forward after your former relationship, so I wanted to write something that had the same sentiment,” he said.

   “I made up a shuffle song that talks about finding happiness once someone’s gone. A lot of people have poisoned relationships. They may love them, but they’re getting treated like dirt. After a while you need to get enough of that and move on start fresh.”

The song, “What Kind of Roof do you Live Under?” makes listeners think about the relationships they share with the people with whom they choose to live.

“I know married people who are living their house together for one reason and that’s because their kids are still there,” he said.

“Instead of looking at your neighbors and pointin’ at them, we all need to examine our own lives and ask ourselves about the relationships going on inside the dwelling.”

The song, “No Place I’d Rather Be,” focuses on Thorn’s domestic life that he shares with his wife, Heather, and daughters Kit, 21, and Bella, 10.

“I enjoy my work, but nothing can compete with the enjoyment of being home,” he said. “Leaving them is a heavy price that I unfortunately have to pay.”

Meanwhile, bookings through June keep him far from home; recently Thorn entertained fans on the Sandy Beaches Cruise until Jan. 17.

Please see my story posted to the website for The Alternate Root at: http://thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2961:pt-dmm&catid=208:what-s-trending&Itemid=268

To order Paul Thorn’s music on his official website at: http://www.paulthorn.com

 

 

 

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 http://austinfusionmagazine.com/2014/02/25/dale-watson-lies-when-he-drinks/

The Derailers story posts in Americana Rhythm Music magazine Nov. 3

3 Nov

DerailersbestbandphotoOne of the original and founding members of the Derailers, Brian Hofeldt, calls the Broken Spoke the band’s “natural habitat,” while “living and working as door-to-door honky tonk salesmen.”

Twenty years ago, the band influenced by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, found a home at least once a month on stage at the Broken Spoke, a refuge from their peak of touring 320 days a year. Hofeldt later co-wrote a song about it, entitled “Cold Beer, Hot Women and Cold Country Music.”

Hofeldt together with guitarist and lead singer Tony Villanueva, formed the band that has since produced 10 albums on two different major record labels, as well as four independent labels and beat the all-time attendance records at the Broken Spoke over its 50-year history.

Villanueva left in 2003 to pursue other interests and since then, Hofeldt has fronted the band.

The Derailers began working at the Broken Spoke in 1995, after leaving a substantial gig where they played every Wednesday at The Continental Club in Austin.

“We had these ‘Train Wreck Wednesdays’ we called them when we did them at the Continental Club and we were packing that room out to such an extent that we needed to come over here to The Spoke. We had a good thing goin’ so we asked James (White) if we could bring our Wednesdays over here,” Hofeldt said.

“That led to great success, creating much more room for the dancers and it was a room that we always wanted to be in. It was the Broken Spoke; it was legend because of all the people who have played here and it’s the most honest door in town. It’s always been the top place for a country band.”

BrianHcloseupHofeldt said his band performs today what fellow musician and friend Dale Watson refers to as, “Ameripolitan music.”

“Watson’s idea stems from the concept that if Americana music comes from Woody Guthrie,  then Ameripolitian comes from Jimmy Rogers. Ameripolitan music borrows musical concepts from Americana, roots, country, hillbilly, rockabilly and honky tonk genres,” he said.

Hofeldt and Villanueva met in Portland, OR, a place some regard as Austin’s “sister city.” The Northwestern coastal town remains cold and rainy most of the year and lacks what Hofeldt deems to be the single most important ingredient to launching his band’s success in 1994.

“One of the many interesting and unique aspects of Texas is the dance hall scene. The Broken Spoke being one of the main and greatest ones in the state of Texas, to me, it’s the greatest honky tonk in the known universe.  That’s just my opinion, but I think a lot of people share it,” he said.

“People come together here. You’ll have patrons from eight to 80 years old. Grandparents and the whole family come. That’s something unique that didn’t exist up in Oregon.”

Moving to Austin from Portland as a 26-year-old musician felt a lot like “going to trade school,” he said.

“I came to Austin in 1992-1993, and it was just full of all these great guitar players and musicians. Rent was still cheap then and breakfast tacos were 79 cents. There was this university of 50,000 kids, half of whom were girls – more than half. It just seemed like heaven,” he said. “The weather was good and it was just fantastic.”

Hofeldt said that his friend, Villanueva, first discovered Austin on his way traveling to Nashville; when he stopped here he just never left.

“He said to me, ‘You gotta come down and visit.’ So I came down to visit in ’91 or ’92 and I just was blown away. There were all these great bands, this great music scene and Tony made sure to take me here to the Broken Spoke. I think that’s part of the tradition — whenever anyone comes to town, people bring them to the Broken Spoke,” he said.

“I probably saw Alvin (Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys.) We went to a whole lot of places too that don’t even exist anymore, like Henry’s and The Black Cat.”

Villanueva and Hofeldt formed a special bond as former bandleaders of their own separate bands, but they also played together in another band as sidemen before moving from Portland to Austin.

“The singer from that band went ‘AWOL’ one time, right in the middle of recording. We were making a record, so Tony said ‘Hey, I could try singin’ a few of these tunes.’ The bandleader told him to give it a shot. As soon as Tony started singin’ he just brought the band up to a level where it had never been before,” Hofeldt said.

“Tony was, and still is, an exceptional singer. He has a charismatic, wonderful voice. That’s when he blew me away in the studio, hearing how he came across on tape and how great he was. After that, he and I talked and decided to get our own band goin’.”

Hofeldt said both he and Villanueva decided to take their music in a different direction. Shortly after, Villanueva moved to Austin. Hofeldt followed Villanueva and afterwards the two almost immediately put together a band here.

“It’s funny. We put together the band and we had a gig. There were four of us. We booked a gig before we even had a name. We were at a typical outdoor Austin barbecue and started throwin’ around ideas. Both Tony and I had grandfathers who worked for the railroad,” he said.

“So, we sort of wanted a railroad theme, but we also felt a little hubris and thought we’d help put country music back on the right track.  We thought we’d ‘derail’ the status quo and do our own thing, which was essentially keeping closer to the roots of country music.”

Villanueva had been writing original music and the two of them began to write together for this new band.

“Tony presented me with a handful of songs at that point that I thought were great. He had played some of them for me before he moved here to Austin. I actually did a couple of his songs in my solo act that I was doing back in Portland,” he said.

“Tony’s songs had made an impression on me as well as his singing. We had a kinship and we sang together really naturally too. We had such a connection – one like you just don’t really find more than one of in life. It was a beautiful thing.”

Hofeldt quit his job laying carpet. Villanueva quit his job working as a custodian at Motorola.  They began a small painting company together called, ‘The Detailers’, to go along with the band name and did this between gigs while waiting for the band to take off.

“Austin was booming in ’93 and I had gotten a job at a carpet-laying company. I’d never laid carpet before,” he said. “But everybody was hiring, so I just picked that because it was good money — but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

Hofeldt some years later saw his former boss in the crowd at the Broken Spoke when the Derailers performed.

“He’d come out and seen us before, and he reminded me that he remembered me sayin’ ‘Carl, I didn’t move to Austin to lay carpet. I’ve got to quit, man.’  And eventually, we quit our jobs to go at music full time.” Hofeldt said.

The band took this town by storm.

“We were fortunate. We had a magical partnership and the timing was perfect.  Country music had gotten bigger than it ever was before. That was the Garth Brooks’ heyday. Everybody, like Alan Jackson sang, had ‘Gone Country.’ Country was just so big it created room for Alternative Country — the same way it was with rock n roll — and Texas was big too.” he said.

“That’s when Ann Richards was governor. She was popular and good to musicians too. Folks at the capital started to focus more on Texas music as far as some legislative changes were concerned, including a law which allows, if you’re a recording and working musician, that any equipment you buy and is used for recording in the state of Texas, you don’t have to pay sales tax on it. So, that was the state puttin’ their money where their mouth was. That helped even more to make Austin the ‘Live Music Capital of the World.’ That’s cool because a lot of times, people only pay lip service to things.”

Hofeldt said that he realized at the time that his and Villanueva’s fortunes depended upon securing a future playing at the Broken Spoke.

“He (owner James White) already knew of us; we had come in and had talked to him before and had asked him for gigs. I think (White’s youngest daughter,) Ginny White had been out to our ‘Train Wreck Wednesdays’ at the Continental Club and had told her daddy about that. She helped us to get in,” he said.

“She must’ve been barely just 21 at that time when I was 27 or 28 and Steve Wertheimer, the owner of the Continental Club, was good friends with James. I’ve always said that the three greatest club owners in this town were James White, Steve Wertheimer and the late-great Clifford Antone – all of whom would spend time at the Broken Spoke.”

He said the three club owners visited one another’s clubs often in those days.

“It’s unusual. You don’t see a lot of club owner go to other clubs. When we moved our ‘Train Wreck Wednesdays’ over to here, Steve Wertheimer was in the audience every Wednesday, even though we had moved from his club,” Hofeldt said.

Also fortuitously, another one of Wertheimer’s friends included John Kunz, owner of Waterloo Records, who became a partner in Watermelon Records, the Derailers’ first label, after their local release, Live Tracks, on the fledgling Freedom label. The Derailers’ sweet Austin beginnings had launched a worldwide musical career.

“It’s good to count your blessings and to look back and be thankful for the good fortunes that presented themselves. I have to say though, that we really, really worked hard in addition,” he said.

“When you’re given an opportunity like that, you have to take advantage of it and just work your butt off  — and we did.”

In 1998 alone, the Derailers worked 320 gigs, often zigzagging across the United States and the globe.

“That was sometimes two-a-day shows – sometimes during the day at a record store or radio station, and later at a club. We did a lot of work that year. I would also say that in the surrounding years of 1997 and 1999 we worked around 275 days and in 1995 and 2000 we worked around 250. We really, really worked hard,” he said.

“That’s when we moved to weekends here (at the Broken Spoke) and because we were on the road so much we couldn’t do a residency anymore, (like the Wednesday gigs were). So we did a weekend once a month – which is generally what most bands do here. Our once a month at the Spoke ensured that we’d be home at least once a month. So it was our saving grace really; it always has been.”

He said he remembers otherwise passing through Austin, just another stop on their tours throughout the United States and all across the world.

“At least we got to be in our own homes one night though, two maybe, and always back here at the Broken Spoke,” Hofeldt said.

“That’s just what you have to do. We were door-to-door honky tonk salesmen.”

Burnout followed. The Derailers  had signed with two major labels, including Sire Records, a division of Warner Brothers Records and then Sony Records and Lucky Dog to produce their albums.

“Our first major was the label that produced the Pretenders, the Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Madonna, — bands not exactly in our genre, but a great label with a great label head who was just a real fan of music, (cofounder and chairman of Sire Records,) Seymour Stein, who still runs that label, if I’m not mistaken,” Hofeldt said.

“Then we were with Sony out of Nashville for a couple of records after that. When you’re with two major labels like that they want you out there sellin’ their product, so, we were out on the road all of the time – it was a burnout.”

The consequences proved detrimental to their personal lives. He remembers feeling “a little bit of tension in the studio” as early as 1998 while working on the Derailers’ album, Full Western Dress, which included a cameo performance by Buck Owens himself. The band’s members felt overworked and torn between their musical careers and their personal lives, Hofeldt said.

“It was just building up in a lot of areas in our lives, personally,” he said. “Tony had a family. He was the only one who had a family at the time, so I think it was hardest on him, for sure. He would come back off the road and his kids would be taller. All those days he missed were really hard on him.”

Not long after the release of the album, Villanueva fell ill.

“Tony got real sick. He was in ICU with pneumonia.  We had to do a week or two of gigs without him. It was scary. He didn’t look good and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Hofeldt said.

“He became a born again Christian and I think his priorities just changed completely. He wanted to focus on his family and then spreading the message, so he wasn’t really interested in music anymore. It wasn’t like it was an angry breakup or anything.”

Hofeldt said meanwhile, he filed for divorce from his own marriage about that same time.

“I was married at the time and trying to get out of that marriage. I was married to a Texas woman. I had never had anyone pull a gun on me before, but my wife pulled a gun on me when I wouldn’t shut off the TV,” he said.

“I thought maybe all Texas women were like that. I just kind of took it in stride. Later I realized that it was not really a healthy thing. I just didn’t have time really to even get divorced. That’s how busy we were.”

Hofeldt eventually divorced and found his true love, Tiffany Hofeldt, a professional photographer in Austin.

“With Tony leaving, it really changed things up. That really threw me for a loop,” Hofeldt said. “The divorce with my first wife was something that was inevitable. It was bound to happen, I just needed time to do it, but Tony leaving was like a real divorce – or a death in the family, more like. He was still around, but he quickly moved back to Oregon. I lost my musical partner, so I was afloat for a while there.”

Meanwhile, Hofeldt decided to step up his musical game and to lead the band that included drummer and percussionist Scott Matthews, Ed Adkins on bass and vocals, and pedal steel and Dobro player Chris Schlozhauer as well as “Sweet” Basil McJagger, who played piano and organs. Matthews and McJagger remain as original band members of the Derailers to this day.

“I had three or four other musicians lookin’ at me like ‘What are we goin’ to do?’ So I had to do something. So I finally decided to do something. There was no way I was going to replace Tony; he was irreplaceable in my heart and physically in every way. I couldn’t get anyone who could sing with me that way,” Hofeldt said.

“I had always sung harmony with Tony, but it was only on a quarter of the songs that I sang the lead stuff — kind of like the front man.  I just felt like it wasn’t going to work to try to replace Tony with another singing partner with me. We had always joked that Tony was a little bit country and I was a little bit rock and roll – kind of like Donny and Marie (Osmond.) That’s what kind of made up the sound of our band.”

He said that the band had to meet their obligations to perform at places already on the schedule. Once the Derailers met those dates, they continued to tour and began planning a new album. Two years passed. In 2005 the Derailers recorded their hit Soldiers of Love album and released it to stores in 2006.

“It was little bit of a lull in recording, but not much of a lull in live performing. We kept on going and it was probably as important as anything at that point to reintroduce the newly modified Derailers back to everybody,” he said.

“Take it as you will, like or not like it as much — however you want it, we let them know we were still alive and well. In this business, if you’re not around awhile, people forget about you real quick.”

Hofeldt admitted that the Derailers have been lucky over the years.

“We’ve been lucky, yes we have and I think our home base, the Broken Spoke was such an essential part of that. James kept us on here and there was probably a lull in attendance for a year or so and then it popped back up,” he said.

“I believe that as far as his regular bands who come through here, we were one of his consistently best-drawing bands. I think we still hold the record of attendance here.”

From 2001 through 2003, the Derailers broke all previous records for drawing capacity crowds at the Broken Spoke, he said.

“One night, we had around 968 folks out at one show. They came in and out. They weren’t here all at the same time,” Hofeldt said. “You can’t keep the people away. They all wanted to be here. That’s tough. I always say that we had 968 total. Not at the same time. Some came in and some went out — just to be clear for the sake of the fire marshall.”

He said that in 2006 the Derailers found their sweet spot again with their fans.

“We did what we did by sticking to our roots, from where we came from, which was the Texas dance hall scene, simply the Broken Spoke. We had learned how to entertain from this room and that required playing a variety of music,” he said.

“They don’t want the same beat all the time. A lot of our music was oriented towards dancers and out of that came a variety of music that just made up our sound. It’s hard to tell which came first – the chicken or the egg, there, but I think that’s what kept the people comin’ back even when things had changed a little bit.”

It helped that their fans associated the Derailers’ music to a band, instead of a single person or front man. White’s support also motivated Hofeldt, he said.

“Everybody knows the name of The Beatles, but not everybody knows the names of the guys in Steppenwolf, for example. So, in that regard I was fortunate. ‘Where’s that other guy?’ was sort of the extent of what people asked,” he said.

“They just kept accepting us and James believed in us and believed that we’d come back and that was a big part of it too. Having somebody that we knew and trusted for that many years to keep believing in me, meant a lot to me personally.”

During their banner year of 2006, the Derailers began to represent the Broken Spoke. The band also began to draw a newer crowd that never questioned its musical origins.

It drew the attention one patron, legendary songwriter James E. “Buzz” Cason, who had already written songs for The Beatles, Pearl Jam and U2. Cason co-authored his greatest hit, “Everlasting Love,” with Mac Gayden before 1967 when Robert Knight recorded the song.

“We just had our heads down and were workin’ to make this thing continue. Soldiers of Love was our first record without Tony and we had a song on it that album called ‘Cold Beer, Hot Women, and Cool Country Music’ which we wrote about the Broken Spoke,” Hofeldt said.

“There’s a line in there ‘Got me a table with my name right on it,’ and it includes a bit of James’ nightly spiel: ‘We’ve got cold beer, good music, good whisky, home of the best chicken fried steak in town…’ So we were kind of thinkin’ about that when I wrote that song with my pal, Buzz Cason.”

Cason had come out to watch the Derailers at the Broken Spoke and befriended Hofeldt.

“When you’re first impressed by the Broken Spoke it hits you pretty strong. I think his (Cason’s) impressions were still fresh when he said ‘Man, comin’ out to see you guys – cold beer, hot women, and cool country music sort of sums it up.’ I went to his place in Nashville and we wrote it,” he said.

The old Derailers fans remained loyal as well. Waterloo Ice House, used their song as a soundtrack for a radio commercial.

“I had to re-sing that part ‘Cold beer, good food at the Waterloo Ice House.’ It all helped,” he said.

Then after Buck Owens’ death March 26, 2006, the Derailers began work on a tribute album to him, entitled: Under the Influence of Buck, that included 13 of the country music star’s classic hits. They released the album in 2007.

“He had been a big influence on us. He had 22 number one songs, so even picking out of his number ones would have been too much for an album,” Hofeldt said. “Buck had played here too. He used to tour around with his guitar player, Don Rich, and sometimes just pick up a band in the early days.”

Often in the middle of their show at the Broken Spoke, White joins the Derailers on stage to sing a medley of Owens’ songs.

The Derailers traditionally play lots of other legendary songs once performed by their original singing stars at the Broken Spoke, including Charlie Walker’s hit, “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down.” The Derailers perform Walker’s dance hall classic, written by the late great Harlan Howard, every Saturday night that they perform at the Broken Spoke.

Hofeldt said that he feels a fraternity of friendship among the photos of all the stars who have performed at the Broken Spoke in the last five decades. He said he shares that feeling with other regularly performing musicians who play at the Broken Spoke including Alvin Crow, Cornell Hurd, and Dale Watson.

“It’s interesting and really cool to be part of the legendary aspect of this dance hall,” he said.

At the end of every Saturday night when they perform there, the Derailers sing the old Hank Williams’ song, “I Saw the Light.” White and his son-in-law, Mike Peacock, often join them on stage to sing along.

“I’ll say: ‘It’s technically Sunday morning now, everyone. It’s after midnight; it’s technically Sunday so we’ll send you out with a little gospel number,’” Hofeldt said.

“We used to do ‘Good Night Irene,’ but then we switched over to doin’ ‘I Saw the Light.’ It’s just become our tradition of the way we end the night here at the Broken Spoke – a little gospel ending there. Though, I’m sure some of them are not going to make it to church too early.”

Hofeldt equates the Broken Spoke to a place where fans for 50 years have gone to worship live country music — it has its own “magical and legendary” spirit, captured in photographs within its hallowed dance hall walls.

“As I say, it’s the greatest honky tonk in the known universe. It is and everybody knows it. It’s in Texas and ‘Texas music is better,’ as Cornell Hurd says,” Hofeldt said.

White’s often demonstrates an evangelical-like persona during nights at the Broken Spoke, as he welcomes visitors from near and as far away as Japan, Norway, and the Netherlands, he said.

“There’s a timeless aspect to walkin’ into the Broken Spoke on any given night. I’d say it could have been or feels like 1964, when James first opened the Spoke. James and Annetta built it and opened it and he’s still standin’ there greeting everyone who comes to the door,” he said.

“That’s also something that is very, very special to people – the fact that they got to meet Mr. James White. It’s not like he has to do that. This is a successful brand and place. He does it because he loves it. He loves being part of this empire that he’s built at the Broken Spoke. He’s grateful to those people as we all are, for comin’ out, and he wants to thank them and invite them in. That really makes big difference about how people perceive where they’ve visited.”

Both James and Annetta White suffered through health problems in recent years  — he has had his share of heart troubles and she battled and survived cancer. Still, the two remain tougher and stronger than ever. They have a perfect relationship that works well, Hofeldt said.

“I see him as vital as ever, more so in some ways and that’s really awesome. We’re like a family all of us,” Hofeldt said.

“I’m just happy that James is as good as ever and Annetta whipped cancer’s ass. That’s how she’d say it too.”

Hofeldt said just like a family, the Whites each have roles to play. Acting as a disciplinarian, Annetta White, has been “mad as a hornet” at times with him. Most recently Annetta White let him know how she felt when the Derailers performed an extended version of the song, “Susie Q,” originally recorded in 1956 by rockabilly singer, Dale Hawkins. Creedence Clearwater Revival popularized the song also covered by the Rolling Stones in 1964.

“She did not mince words with me about how she did not want to hear that song in here anymore,” he said.

“I said, ‘Gee, it hurts my feelings that you don’t like my music. It’s an old classic song.’ That’s how I played it. I didn’t argue or get mad back at her because she gets over it quick. She’s really sweet inside. She really is. She’s the first one to give me a hug when I come back here.”

He said he always imagined himself as a leader of a country band. His life is great.

“I’m living my dream. I feel very fortunate. Sometimes, I just focus on that. Like Carl Jung says, ‘We are always happiest when we are dreaming.’ We are dreaming about what we want to achieve or what our lives will be like in the future, that’s when we’re happiest. But those things happen to you and you pass them by and push them away because you’re always looking ahead,” Hofeldt said.

“There are so many times that I’ve done that in my life. My life is great and it’s due in no small part to my relationship with James and Annetta White and the Broken Spoke. It’s no small part and that’s somethin’ that I’m grateful for and will always keep me deeply connected to this place.”

Other original members of the Derailers include Matthews and McJagger, as well as Vic Gerard, who has returned to the band after a hiatus from raising a family.  He originally performed as a Derailer in the 1990s. Occasionally, Mike Daily, will also sit in to play steel when he’s not performing with the Ace in the Hole band, now that George Strait has stopped touring.

 Here’s the link to my story posted in the Americana Rhythm Music magazine: http://issuu.com/djgregt/docs/arissue54web/1

Hand’s ‘Stormclouds in Heaven’ posts to The Alternate Root magazine Oct. 28

28 Oct

Nearly 11 years ago when country/bluegrass singer and songwriter James Hand first sang on stage at the Broken Spoke he launched his music career.

So performing there Sept. 26 felt a bit like a homecoming for the 61-year-old Waco native who promoted his sixth album, Stormclouds in Heaven.

   Hand wrote all the gospel-inspired songs on the 14-track CD released to the public Oct. 14 with a party at Waterloo Records in Austin.

With songs like “Why Oh Why,” “Devil Ain’t No Quitter,” and “No One Ever Dies,” Hand explores ethereal territory as a songwriter who reflects on a hard-won life.

Ameripolitan James Hand 2

Hand’s Austin friends who performed on the album include: Cindy Cashdollar on steel/dobro; keyboardists Floyd Domino and Earl Poole Ball; fiddlers Jason Roberts and Beth Chrisman; with Kevin Smith on stand up bass and bassist Speedy Sparks on the electric; drummers John McGlothlin and Lisa Pankratz; Brennen Leigh on mandolin; and Jerry Mac Cook on lead guitar.

At the Broken Spoke Hand sang “Mighty Lonesome Man,” the title track off his last album released in 2012 and nominated just this month in the country genre for The Independent Music Award.

He first visited the Broken Spoke when he was just 18 years old, but Hand did not perform there until one night in 2003. That night he sat in on stage with Alvin Crow and began his professional career at 52 years old.

Today he remains close friends with Broken Spoke founders James and Annetta White, though Hand has made a name for himself in country music.

“It’s the premiere spot in Austin and I’d had a little success around home, so these people asked me if I wanted to get up and sing. At first I said ‘No,’ because Alvin Crow was playing. I thought ‘man, I can’t get up there with Alvin, because you just don’t do that.’ To this day I can’t believe Alvin did it. Somebody must have twisted his arm or something. The first thing he said to me was ‘Don’t sing somethin’ that everybody don’t know.’”

Hand sang “Fraulien,” a 1957 single by Bobby Helms, also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1969.

“I started singin’ when I was about 11 or 12. Some of the songs I don’t even remember learnin’ but I did. Then I started writin’ some. It just kind of went from there. But, if it hadn’t been for James and Annetta, the only people who would have heard me was friends,” he said. “It was a great honor. Mr. White just took a chance on me.”

Hand grew up in Waco listening mostly to the classics of country music. Some fans today compare Hand’s voice to the late great Hank Williams.

He returned to the Broken Spoke a little bit later that same year and Dale Watson invited him up on stage to sing, Hand said.

“Then Mr. White asked me if I’d like to play there, I said ‘Of course.’ It just dumb-founded me. There’s no kinder, no more gracious man,” he said.

Spoke James Hand1

Hand also held his 2006 CD release party for The Truth Will Set You Free, as well as his 2009 CD release party for Shadow on the Ground at the Broken Spoke. Asleep at the Wheel bandleader and vocalist Ray Benson and steel player Lloyd Maines co-produced the albums released by Rounder Records featuring 12 of Hand’s original songs.

“Mr. White was very gracious. He opened up early for us, let us set up all the stuff, and he even let us film a music video in there,” Hand said.

“I think the only thing he hasn’t done for me is just to pitch the key to me when he when walks out the door. What he’s done for me he’s done for everybody who plays the Broken Spoke. He’s the most honorable man.”

Hand said Mr. White has never met a stranger. He treats everyone like a celebrity, whether it’s Gov. Rick Perry or any number of famous country entertainers who visit or who perform at the Broken Spoke.

“Mr. and Mrs. White are good friends, truly good friends of mine. Most people who have heard of me, heard me at the Broken Spoke. It was a big honor. Mr. White just took a chance on me, he really did,” he said.

White and Hand also share a love of horses. As a young man, Hand had trained horses.

“One time White called the house and talked to Daddy. He asked ‘Where’s Slim?’ Then Daddy said ‘He’s down at the barn.’ So Mr. White asked: ‘What’s the number down at the barn?’ Daddy said: ‘We ain’t got no number down at the barn.’ Daddy hollered out the door to me and then he said to Mr. White: ‘that’s the number.’”

When Hand had the chance to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, White offered to loan him his father’s vintage Nudie suit. Today that same suit sits inside a glass case on display in the dining room of the Broken Spoke.

“He was going to let me take it. He said ‘I don’t care what that thing’s worth. Wear it.’ As it turned out, we didn’t go, but that showed me something about his character,” Hand said.

“When they offered me that suit to wear, I felt like that really elevated me to a special spot.”

Hand finally performed at the Grand Ole Opry, but he did not have a chance to ask White about his offer to loan the Nudie suit again.

Still, Hand feels indebted to White for all he’s done for him over the years.

“He’s invited me to his house on his birthday. I told him once, ‘Mr. White if you need your car washed at 2:30 in the morning, just call me, and I would,” Hand said.

“I still think my claim to fame in Austin is Mrs. White will kiss me on the cheek.”

When Hand performs at the Broken Spoke, he fills the place to capacity. White gets up on stage to sing a couple of Gene Autry songs with Hand and to deliver his world famous Broken Spoke speech.

“He’s a showman. When Mr. White has someone roll that wheel across the floor, it’s his show. It’s his show and rightfully so,” Hand said.

Now that Hand has performed around the country at other venues, he has never forgotten where his career began.

Hand has given White a few of his own favorite records to play on the vintage jukebox at the Broken Spoke including one by William Orville “Lefty” Frizzell and another by Hank Snow.

“I gave him those records because I was always late,” Hand said. “Or I was late sometimes.”

Hand has not performed at the Broken Spoke since 2013.

“Then I started going to other places and festivals and things like that,” Hand said.

“Mr. White has had certain people who play on Friday and Saturday nights who have been with him forever. It’s like somebody trying to steal Rip Van Winkle’s pillow. It’s been there so long, you can’t mess with it, you know? But if he asked me right now to be there tomorrow morning to mow the grass, I would and I don’t say that about everybody.”

Hand said that White helped him out of some tough spots in the early days of his career.

“There were a couple of times that I didn’t have enough money to really pay the band. Mr. White just put it in my hand. You can’t beat that,” Hand said.

Hand said people began to hear his music thanks to performances at the Broken Spoke. He treasures his memories of playing there over the last 10 years.

“Whenever you look up to the front and see Mr. White in that red shirt with that yellow tie and a couple hundred people dancin’ that’s just about the pinnacle. Everybody having a good time, you know. No trouble. Really, anybody who hasn’t worked there should be there very adamant about trying to work there,” Hand said. “If nothin’ else, just walk through there to say hello.”

Hand respects the fact that the Broken Spoke has survived nearly 50 years in Austin and the encroachment of other businesses along South Lamar.

“When you see what’s happened now, it tells you somethin’ about what people think about him, about his manner. The fact that the Broken Spoke is like an island surrounded (on South Lamar) should tell you somethin’ about Mr. White’s manner, his integrity. I can’t think of another place around it that would still be standing. It’s only because of his magnitude with people.”

Hand always knew he always wanted to sing, but he never dreamed of becoming a country star.

“I never dreamed of becoming whatever a star is. I never think much of that. I think everyone is pretty much equal. It don’t matter who you are, or if you’re out there trying to make a living in the country music business. That’s all it is. Some people are more accessible than others. That’s a fact of life. I’m grateful for it and I’m glad that I got the chance to do what I got to do,” he said.

“The difference is, I’m 61 now and I didn’t get started until I was about 54. So I’m about the same as I’ve always been.”

Hand said he doesn’t feel that he reinvented himself in his 50’s.

“I don’t know about that. It would kind of be like Dr. Frankenstein drunk trying to put someone back together,” he said. “Though, I guess it’s going well.”

He said years ago when the Whites sponsored Blue Christmas at the Broken Spoke and Hand played Santa Claus, he handed out donated toys to needy children. Hand slept in his van out front of the Broken Spoke all night long just so that he wouldn’t miss getting up on time the next morning.

“I’ve been up a lot of mornings, but I haven’t got up. I knew that if I wasn’t already there, I knew that if I went somewhere else I wouldn’t make it up,” Hand said. “I was glad to do it. It was an honor to do it for the kids and for Mr. and Mrs. White.”

At the first Ameripolitan Music Awards held in Austin last fall, Hand was nominated for the “Best Honky Tonk Male” award.

The Broken Spoke won the award for the “Best Venue” in the United States. The awards show sponsored by Dale Watson, recognized genres of roots music including: honky tonk, rockabilly, outlaw, and Western Swing.

“I was just thrilled that the Broken Spoke won Best Venue,” Hand said.

He said that the Broken Spoke remains one of the best places in the world that supports live country music.

To paraphrase a James White analogy, Hand compared the Broken Spoke to America’s favorite sandwich.

“The reason I think it’s so important to keep the Broken Spoke alive, is because it’s like a hamburger. A hamburger has got lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a hamburger patty and mayonnaise and mustard. The more you try to frill it up, or put somethin’ on it, or add this or take somethin’ away, it destroys the integrity of it,” Hand said.

At the same time, the Broken Spoke remains a one-of-a-kind place, Hand said. It draws people from all walks of life and creates a single-minded focus group intent on enjoying the Texas dance hall tradition.

“The thing about couples dancin’, you don’t see that hardly anywhere. Because first of all, people know when they go in there that’s what it is. They dress nice and they talk nice and they act nice. They’re respectable. There are places that you don’t hardly get to see that much. You do but they are few and far between,” he said.

“The gist of is, people want to be part of something good. That’s what they want to do. They want to go where they’re happy and to be around happy people. If it wasn’t that way, it (the Broken Spoke) wouldn’t be there. That’s all there is to it.”

The dancers dance so close to the stage at times that they say “hi” to the musicians, he said.

“Any musician will tell you. If they’re dancin’ they’re listening. That’s what you’re there for, to give people something to dance to and to have a good time and not play some kind of crazy songs that there is no way for anybody to keep a step to.”

Hand doesn’t dance, but he does enjoy watching people who do. Actually, he has tried to learn how to dance – once.

“People who dance there really know how,” Hand said. “I can’t dance at all. Not a lick. I tried to get Annetta’s daughter, Terri, to show me how. She took about two steps with me and she said ‘That’s it. Impossible.’ I told her the reason I slipped around on the floor so much is that I had linoleum on the bottom of my boots to keep ‘em slidin’ like that,” Hand said.

“Terri’s a good teacher. She recognized that I couldn’t do it pretty quick. It’s just like trainin’ a horse; some can, some of ‘em can’t.”

Country music at the Broken Spoke remains the common denominator. Broken Spoke musicians who perform there understand that concept.

“Mr. White isn’t going to let anyone in there to play who doesn’t play mainstream country, sort to speak. I’ve never seen anybody play in there who didn’t play country music. I’ve never seen Mr. White not give somebody a chance – maybe in the front room, maybe in the side room or whatever, but he always gives everybody the chance,” he said.

“You don’t get that very often. You don’t, especially around here. There are so many people singin’ and playin’ as it is.”

The food at the Broken Spoke tastes like comfort food for country folks, he said. His favorite thing on the menu is the chicken fried steak.

“They have the world’s best chicken fried steak. It’s been in Texas Monthly everywhere that you can read about it. I’m sure Mr. White has got a secret recipe that he won’t give out,” he said.

“It’s big and it’s good and it’s not flavored up. I don’t eat much before I sing because I get full, but I’d make sure to eat fair amount of it before I left, for sure.”

There isn’t much that White could ask of Hand that he wouldn’t do for his friend, he said.

“If Mr. White called and asked me to stand outside selling popcorn with a red apron on, with a pair of cymbals on my knees, jumpin’ up and down, that’s what I’m gonna do,” Hand said.

“Not ‘cause I’m tryin’ to impress somebody, but because that’s just the kind of friend that he is. Like I said, when I didn’t have any money to pay the band, he did. He wanted to give me his Nudie suit to wear to the Grand Ole Opry; Mr. White has been kind to me the whole time, just wonderful.”

Hand said that the Broken Spoke feels like home; performing there always feels like a homecoming.

“The hardest thing for me to do when I quit playin’ at the Broken Spoke is to quit tappin’ my foot. That’s what I like about it, everything — The Tourist Trap and everything. You don’t know how that makes me feel when I go in there and I see a picture of me with Mr. White,” he said.

“And of course I need to go by there to see that picture of Roy Rogers,” he said.

Hand said life is good these days. It’s been two years since he released his critically acclaimed album, Mighty Lonesome Man. Since then, Hand has been in high demand at venues that cater to country music fans.

“Life is good enough that I don’t want it over. It’s good enough that I’m thinkin’ I’ve got better things in front of me than behind me,” he said. “It’s like this, it’s my honor and my privilege to be here with y’all. I’m not trying to be somethin’ I’m not. It means more to me that I’m here with y’all, more than you know,” he said.

Please see the posting at The Alternate Root by following this link: http://www.thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2762:jamesh-sih&catid=198:heavy-rotation&Itemid=253

 

 

Christine Albert’s story posts in The Alternate Root Oct. 25, 2014

14 Oct

Christine AlbertChristine Albert’s serene expression masks a life torn by personal violence and loss. Her spiritual calm on stage seems to transcend memories of surviving rape and also being struck down by a drunk driver along a dark stretch of Texas highway.

The original songs on her first solo album in 20 years, Everything’s Beautiful Now, express messages of hope and renewal.

As a result, her Austin audience attending the CD release party at the Strange Brew Sept. 25 felt lifted up and transported to an ethereal space created without walls or religious dogma.

Albert wrote or co-wrote six of the songs on the new album. Like her “Flower of the Moon” song co-written with her husband, Chris Gage, Albert illuminates the darkest moments in life as a time for growth and for transformation.

     “I believe in the holiness of whatever comes my way/and I’ve learned not to resist the urge to pray…”

“Moon flowers blossom at night. I was going through a period where I was not sleeping well. I had a lot of insomnia and I finally connected it with my own delayed post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said in a recent interview.

Though she prefers that listeners find whatever message speaks to them inside her song lyrics, her personal story enhances them.

Albert band and friends

Albert survived a rape by an intruder in her Santa Fe, New Mexico home in the middle of the night in 1981. She moved to Austin less than a year later.

In 1986, she survived being hit by a car along a highway outside San Antonio while the person standing immediately beside her died instantly.

“My truck had broken down along the highway in San Antonio and a couple of really nice 17-year-old kids stopped to help me. They were best friends, two boys. While we were standing there, a drunk driver going 75 miles an hour and swerving from one lane to another swerved right into us,” she said.

“I was thrown across the highway and the person I was talking to was killed instantly. The other young man was injured, but survived.”

Today Albert forms the other half of a personal and professional musical partnership known as Albert & Gage that in 2009 released the album, Dakota Lullaby, with songs written 35 years ago by South Dakota singer/songwriter Tom Peterson. The 61-year-old Peterson is writing again and Albert included two new songs, “On That Beautiful Day,” and “My Heart’s Prayer,” for her current album.

Her new CD release represents a musical communion with Albert’s, Gage’s and Peterson’s creative muses along with a couple of famous friends and her son, Troupe Gammage.

Gammage joins his mom to sing on the Shake Russell and Dana Cooper song, “Lean My Way,” in a harmonious mother and son duet best explained by common DNA.

Troupe, a keyboardist and singer/songwriter in his own right as a member of the band, SPEAK, will open shows on tour for the popular Indie band, RAC, over the next several weeks and he will also be part of the RAC show as their featured vocalist. He is the son of Ernie Gammage, Albert’s first husband and also a local singer and musician who formerly fronted the band Ernie Sky and the K-Tels.

Her son also sings background vocals on Albert’s version of the Jackson Browne song, “For A Dancer,” along with other SPEAK band members, Nick Hurt and Joey Delahoussaye.

Both songs imbibe a spirit of wisdom shared from one person to another. However, all the songs on the album feel purposefully chosen by Albert.

Local legendary singers and songwriters Jerry Jeff Walker and Eliza Gilkyson joined Albert on “Old New Mexico,” a song she co-wrote with Walker that tells the story of her move from Santa Fe to Austin in 1982. Gilkyson adds her voice to the track appropriately as the two became close friends more than 40 years ago in New Mexico and moved to Austin about the same time.

At 59 years old, Albert has found her spiritual voice. The album’s theme also remarkably exemplifies a mission statement for the nonprofit organization she founded, Swan Songs. The group fulfills musical last wishes for individuals at the end of life.

Albert also chairs the Board of Trustees for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) that recognizes musicians for excellence at the famous GRAMMY awards annually. The Recording Academy, headquartered in Santa Monica, California since 1957, has 12 chapters located all over the country including Texas.

The Recording Academy pays Albert’s expenses for traveling back and forth to L.A. but the job is a volunteer position and demands sacrifice from her since it takes away time spent performing and shared with her husband and son. Her two-year term of office ends next May.

The year 2005 represents a hallmark year for Albert. That’s the year she reinvented herself both by founding Swan Song and by running for a position on the Recording Academy’s Texas Chapter board, which ultimately led to her national leadership position.

Those two decisions followed a traumatic year in 2004 when Gage underwent back surgery and could not work for a while. She and Gage together also own MoonHouse Studio in South Austin and much of their work is interrelated. While her husband recovered from surgery, Albert carried the financial burden as neither of them owned disability insurance.

The Austin community rallied to create a benefit; MusiCares also helped the couple during the first month of Gage’s recovery from back surgery.

“That experience changed me. I was so moved by what our community and MusiCares did for us and I wanted to give back and make sure that support continued for other musicians,” she said.

Albert and close friend Gaea Logan had informally begun organizing concerts for terminally ill patients in the early 1990s. By 2005 Albert was inspired to formalize the program. She chose the name, filed the paperwork, and it became an official 501c3. Today Swan Songs offers each musician an honorarium to perform private concerts to fulfill the wishes of a recipient. In this way, the organization supports the music community as well as the patients and their families.

Either one of her non-paying roles could suffice as a full-time job.

“I never get up in the morning and say ‘I wonder what I should do today.’ I always have long lists of things that I can’t put off,” she said.

“When they’ve been put on the back burner long enough and finally make it to the front, I say ‘Today’s the day for this.’”

Albert wrote the lyrics for the title track off the album, “Everything’s Beautiful Now,” after caring for Gage’s mom, Darleen Gage, during her final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The couple moved Darleen from her home in South Dakota to a facility in Buda in 2010. Then at age 87 she died in June of 2012.

Albert first heard the lyrics for her song, “Everything’s Beautiful Now,” in some of the last words Darleen spoke before she slowly slipped away.

“She said ‘I’m ready but I don’t think I can say anymore goodbyes.’ I think that was the thing that was holding her back. Then she said ‘I’ve had to say goodbye to so many people in my life, I just don’t know if I can face saying the goodbye part,’” Albert said. “I was really struck by that.”

The song’s lyrics represent a combination of both Albert’s and her mother-in-law’s perceptions and life and death and grieving.

Albert has said goodbye to several people in her life over the past five years including her dear friend and fellow musician, the late Sarah Elizabeth Campbell. The two performed together every Monday known as “Mystery Mondays” at El Mercado South in Austin for a year before Campbell’s death in December of 2013.

The song’s lyrics represent a combination of both Albert’s and her mother-in-law’s perceptions about life and death and grieving.

“When we started “Mystery Mondays” we didn’t know Sarah was going to be so sick and that we were going to lose her. Then we didn’t know about Steven Fromholz, Larry Monroe, and countless other friends we lost. Every time we went to that gig, we were mourning someone else from the Austin music community,” she said.

“It became a lot more than just a gig; it became a gathering place for our community to be together and to express musically what we were going through. It still is. In the last few weeks we’ve lost even more good friends.”

At weekly shows at El Mercado South, fans seem deeply connected to the musicians on stage, as the room remains uncommonly silent throughout the performances.

Before 2013 Campbell also sang Monday nights at Artz Rib House and before that at La Zona Rosa. Some of Austin’s finest musical citizens including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marcia Ball and Toni Price have graced the El Mercado South stage in recent years, reminiscent of the days they performed Wednesdays at Threadgill’s North from the 1970s through the 1990s.

When musicians gather for “Mystery Monday” at El Mercado South, their kinship extends beyond each singular performance. Unscripted and unpretentious, band members baptize listeners in a wash of emotions.

Another tune on her album, Warren Zevon’s song, “Keep Me in Your Heart,” provides a sad goodbye. She never had the chance to meet Zevon before the rock singer/songwriter died in 2003, but she fell in love with his lyrics.

Albert discovered Zevon’s song through their mutual friend and a vocalist with the Greezy Wheels band, Lissa Hattersley, who posted the lyrics on her Facebook page in a gesture of condolence following the death of Albert’s father.

Hattersley also recorded her 2009 solo album How I Spent My Summer Vacation in Albert and Gage’s recording studio and Chris co-produced it.

Another song, “Little One,” Albert wrote about a female friend before the lyrics slowly evolved into a dialogue with her son, Troupe, and later a mantra she had often spoken to herself.

“’Little One’ refers to anyone who is in an embryonic stage of waking up to the world, especially a spiritual world; anyone who needs to find their direction, their strength, and their clarity again,” Albert said.

   “Wake up Little One/feel the warmth of the rising sun/wake up Little One to the one who you can become…”

Albert said she practices Buddhist mindfulness and meditation techniques, but she does not ascribe to any specific religion.

Meditative practices led her to the song, “At Times Like These,” which Albert initially wrote in 2009 for her sister Linda who lost both her husband and a grandson within a few months.

Another song, “Someday Isle,” Albert wrote with Kira Small, a former Austin singer and songwriter, who now lives in Nashville and performs studio session work and sings harmony on Martina McBride’s newest album, Everlasting.

“When Kira and I started writing it, we were inspired by the common phrase, ‘Someday I’ll do this,’ and ‘Someday I’ll do that.’ When we realized by saying that, you’re always keeping yourself at a distance from what you want to do or from what your dreams are and there’s an isolation to it,” she said.

“So we used the play on words, ‘Someday Isle.’ It’s that place ‘over there’ when we say ‘I’ll do it — later.’”

Albert experienced some of the darkest times of her life all within a span of five years from 1981 until 1986. In 1995, she met the love of her life, Chris Gage, after seeing him perform with Gilmore on stage at Bass Concert Hall as part of “The Broken Spoke Concert Series,” offered by the University of Texas at Austin’ Performing Arts Center. The couple later married on May 10, 2003.

She recorded her last solo singer/songwriter album Underneath the Lone Texas Sky in 1995 although she continued releasing the bilingual French/English TexaFrance series as well as six Albert and Gage collaborations. Everything’s Beautiful is her 12th release.

“This album had more of a theme for me. When choosing the songs, there was something about it that was almost spiritual – what I was trying to say, why I was recording it, and the process was so personal,” she said.

“I wanted to hold these songs in a little sacred space for myself and to help others find that through the music.”

Albert hopes the album “makes a statement” as a whole and is interested in performing the songs live in churches and other places of worship.

“I think these songs fit in a more contemplative thoughtful environment and they could be helpful to people in that regard,” she said.

“It’s also a way to spread the word about Swan Songs’ mission. I didn’t consciously set out to do that, but this album really does express what Swan Songs’ mission is all about.”

Please see this story posted on The Alternate Root magazine at: http://thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2756:christinea-ebn&catid=208:what-s-trending&Itemid=268

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

Interview story with Hattersley featured in June issue of Fiddler magazine

6 Jun

MaryEgan-Hattersley

Half a century ago, Mary Hattersley went by the name Mary Butler, then a shy musician who learned to play the violin at six years old and the daughter of a choir professor at the University of New Mexico in Las Cruces.

At 20 she dropped out of  college classical music courses at NMSU and ran off to San Francisco. Her adventures took her across the United States, all the way to New York, before she finally settled down in Austin, Texas in 1970.

Today, 50 years later, she’s known as just “Sweet Mary” Hattersley who has earned a reputation as an accomplished fiddler player. Her musical career spans decades of performances with celebrities of country, blues, jazz and rock and roll musicians and hall of famers. She also teaches Suzuki method fiddle lessons to children in Austin.

As a 70-year-old cancer survivor, Mary’s professional life continues to grow and her music – which has been released on both vinyl and CDs – has worn many different recording labels – without ever straying too far from her roots. Mary’s life changed forever once she stepped onto the stage of an Austin bar called “The Checkered Flag,” in 1970.

Eddie Wilson, the manager of The Armadillo World Headquarters saw her and the band, Greezy Wheels, perform and booked them to open for The Burrito Brothers. Before she played with the Greezy Wheels band, she earned her fiddle education by sitting in with Kenneth Threadgill and his Hootenanny Hoots. She went by the name Mary Egan at the time; the surname of her former common law husband.

Threadgill had a fiddler already, “Fiddlin’ Joe” Martin.  He and Mary hit it off and Martin taught her the fiddle player’s national anthem, “The Orange Blossom Special,” written by Ervin T. Rouse. The song, performed at breakneck tempos with imitative qualities of a train whistle and wheels, became the vehicle to showcase Mary’s virtuosity. Martin, a Mississippi native, died in 1975 — years before Mary would teach that very same song to other famous musicians backstage before her own shows. However, Mary has never stopped paying Martins’ favor forward.

“He (Martin) was always very kind to me as I really didn’t know anything.  Joe would just let me play along.  I truly learned most of the country songs on stage.  I never was a paid member of the Mr. Threadgill’s band.  I was sitting in with him at Bevo’s when I met Cleve,” Mary says. “I didn’t know then how to lay out and wait my turn.  I just played over everything.  It always amazes me how nice everybody was to me.”

Even before becoming known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin supported a tremendous number of music venues that catered to folk, or country and western, blues or jazz music in the 1970s. Mary played at nearly all of the locations, including Bevo’s, one of her favorite hangouts.

Mary often took additional impromptu lessons from Mance Lipscomb and Bill Neely, before they performed on stage at Threadgill’s bar and restaurant. Lipscomb, a great blues singer and guitar player and writer from Navasota, Texas earned a name for himself after blues researchers from Arhoolie Record company discovered him and published some albums. Lipscomb died in 1976 and worked much of his life as a tenant farmer and day laborer born into a family of Alabama slaves.  Author Glen Alyn wrote a book about Lipscomb entitled I Say Me for a Parable. In the book Lipscomb talks about teaching “Sweet Mary” Egan-Hattersley how to play rhythm.

“Mance had that style of picking where he played his own bass line on the guitar with his thumb.  He was legendary around here when I met him.  He influenced all of us younger pickers,” Mary says.

Neely, the son of sharecroppers from Collin County, Texas showed Mary how to bridge the gap musically between traditional country and the blues. Neely, a regular performer on Wednesday nights at Threadgill’s, often shared the stage along with Lipscomb, Janis Joplin and Pete Seeger. He influenced Mary and other musicians such as Dan Del Santo, Alejandro Escovedo, and Nanci Griffith before Neely died in 1990. Mary says she became good at what she calls “following.” She learned to listen to key notes and rhythmic changes that other musicians performed on stage, in order to learn the songs that she did not know.

“I could learn what I needed to play by listening,” Mary says. “I could pick out of the air intuitively, what the other musicians were playing, following instinctively – you hear it in your head first, then you feel it, and then you play it.” She found the experience of performing fiddle on stage “electrically-charged,” she says.

Mary’s performances drew the attention of Cleve Hattersley, who would become her future husband.

“I didn’t think of it as a romantic bond that I had with Cleve,” Mary says. “I thought of it as an electric, magical thing, music. I had music theory lessons before I could speak and he liked that about me. I liked his creativity.”

It would be years before Cleve and Mary would end up a couple; as they still had some things to learn about themselves and about the type of music that they wanted to play.

“Looking back now, I realize Cleve and his sister, Lissa, and even I were all Yankees,  really. We didn’t know anything about country music. Prior to that we were all aligned with The Grateful Dead, (and Austinites) Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators,” Mary says. “We used to call ourselves the Greezy Wheels ‘skiffle’ band – a term used in the 1930s that means ‘casual.’ There was a lot of folk, with old-timey gospel, and string instruments including mandolin, that we used to play. It was the mixture that made us who we were.”

The Greezy Wheels at the time also included: lead vocal and guitar player Pat Pankratz, Mike Pugh on bass,  and Tony Lair on drums. Cleve’s sister, Lissa Hattersley also sang with the band.

“Lissa (Cleve’s sister,) of course was not old enough to be performing in the bars,” Mary says. “She was only 17, very soon to be 18. She was a little shy too, so we had to get her a little tipsy to get her up there on stage to sing with us.”

The Greezy Wheels then became the unofficial house band at the Armadillo World Headquarters, playing there more often than any other group.

“We opened for ‘the Boss,’ Bruce Springsteen at the Armadillo World Headquarters when he was doing his first tour of the United States. He had just played Houston and a bunch of people followed him down here to Austin. He was young and nobody really knew who he was,” Mary says.

Their band mirrored the changes occurring in the 70s – a blurring of lines both socially and musically in the world. The Greezy Wheels opened for other regular acts at the Armadillo World Headquarters at the time, including Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball, Alvin Crow, and the Asleep at the Wheel band. The performers drew a mixture of audiences from all walks of life and ages.

Greezy Wheels also opened for Doug Sahm, of San Antonio. Sahm, had led a rock band, The Sir Douglas Quintet, in the 1960s and 70s.  Sahm earned acclaim as a protégé for having played on stage at the age of 11 with Hank Williams Sr. during one of the star’s last performances.

“Doug (Sahm) was the favorite of everybody, everybody’s friend,” Mary says. “Doug was the sort of person we all looked up to.  He had been in the band, the Sir Douglass Quintet, but when he and I started playing at Threadgill’s (bar and restaurant) it was Doug who taught me to play the old country standards.”

Mary participated in some wild jam sessions with all types of famous musicians on stage at the old Austin Armadillo World Headquarters.

“I remember those nights in the 70s, when there wasn’t any air-conditioning, but there was plenty of music in the air – in the beer gardens in Austin and on the stages, and along the back alley walls,” Mary says. “The 1970s were divided among those groups of people who had long hair and those who didn’t. There were the traditional country and western singers and the blues singers and the rock and rollers. But when we performed together, we were all friends who played music.”

The Greezy Wheels opened the show the first night that Willie Nelson performed at Austin’s old Armadillo World Headquarters.

“It was a risky thing that Willie did; he didn’t know if he could cross over country into  western music with the hippies, but it worked,” Mary says.

Fiddler Mary Egan became a familiar name in the progressive country world; her name appears on the back of a number of record albums in the 70s. Jerry Jeff Walker invited Mary to play on two of his albums: Jerry Jeff Walker in 1972 and then Viva Terlingua! recorded in Luckenbach, Texas in 1973.

“We use bales of hay around us as sound walls and around the drums while we recorded,” Mary says.

Later, Walker, and the rest of his band returned to Terlingua to perform some tracks off the album live, including “I want to go home to the Armadillo,’ written by Gary P. Nunn. Sound engineers later mixed two of the live cuts from the Terlingua performance with those recorded earlier in Luckenbach. After they released the album, it went gold.

Soon afterwards, Mary Egan-Hattersley returned to Austin to play with the Greezy Wheels band. One night while waiting back stage to perform at the Armadillo World Headquarters, she saw French virtuoso violinist and jazz composer Jean-Luc Ponty. He asked Mary to teach him to play “The Orange Blossom Special” and she did.

“It was just a few notes, but he picked it right up,” Mary says. “Then Ponty went on stage and played it with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention.”

In the early 1970s, The Greezy Wheels often also played at The Bottom Line and The Lone Star Café, the premiere country and western music venue, in New York City. Well-knowns like Willie Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Roy Orbison, Delbert McClinton, Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm and Jerry Jeff Walker all played there.

They also played the same festivals as  Friedman and his Texas Jewboys and Frieda and the Firedogs (now known as the Marcia Ball band.) The Greezy Wheels band coast-to-coast became one of the brightest stars in the progressive country western and blues-blended musical universe.

They became the first band from Austin to sign with a major label; the same company that distributed records by The Rolling Stones,  London Records published their album, Jus Love Dem ‘Ol Greezy Wheels, followed by their second, Radio Radials.

“London Records put us (The Greezy Wheels) up in Bogalusa, Mississippi in a wonderful recording studio out in the middle of nowhere. We all lived in the house and recorded there,” Mary says. “I remember the smell from the paper mill.  There was this paper mill in the same town and if you’ve ever been near a paper mill, you’d know, they stink. They smell like Brussels sprouts. So the smell was part of the deal, a funny part of our experience.”

After finishing their first album, the Greezy Wheels hit the road in an antique Flexible Flyer bus.

“I made curtains for it (The Flyer.) Inside we could set up a card table and there were places to lay down our instruments and store our equipment,” Mary says. “But then we ended up having too much equipment for the bus. Things got crowded.”

With Cleve and Tony Airoldi, the Greezy Wheels now had three guitarists, including Pankgratz, as well as a mandolin player; a drummer, plus a new conga player, Madril Wilson, and of course, Mary on fiddle and Lissa, on vocals. The group disbanded in 1978.

It took 25 years for the Hattersleys to get the Greezy Wheels rolling again. In 2001 Mary and Cleve, and his sister, Lissa, reunited the 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’s drummer, Levon Helm, at his “Midnight Ramble” at The Barn in Woodstock, New York regularly beginning in 2009. Helm died in 2012.

Last year Mary and the Greezy Wheels released their album, Gone Greezy, on their own label, MaHatMa Records, earning them a spot in the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2012 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.

Mary recalls that Cleve told her once that as a little boy he had always dreamed of becoming Roy Rogers.

“I had always wanted to be Dale Evans,” Mary says.  “Dale had a tomboy element to her, but she was very feminine. I still put on my Dale Evans boots and dresses to wear whenever I perform.”

Evans still serves as Mary’s role model. Mary never forgot the song that Evans wrote and sang with Rogers, entitled “Happy Trails to You.” RCA Victor Records released the song in 1952 as a 78-rpm and then a 45-rpm vinyl single. Later the song became the theme for the television show, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

“I always wanted to be part of a pair like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans,” Mary says. “Cleve and I think of ourselves today as a dynamic duo.”

This past June marked the couple’s 39th anniversary, as common law husband and wife, legally registered in Travis County. Cleve is 66 and Mary just celebrated her 70th birthday June 8, 2013. Doctors diagnosed her with vulvar cancer and removed all her affected tissue July 2, 2013.

“They found out I had it right when we were in the middle of my (Blazing Bows) summer fiddle camp. I decided we would do camp anyway. The doctors went in and found the cancer all in one place and got it out. The surgery went well. There’s nothing else required,” she says.

Some might consider that the Greezy Wheels time has passed, but the band’s fan base reveals that their sound as always, remains one roll ahead of its time.  Once referred to as “progressive country” 40 years ago, the Greezy Wheels’ sound today represents an amalgamation of country and western, blues, gospel and jazz.

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June2014coverwithmystory This interview story ran in the June 2014 issue of Fiddler magazine. http://www.fiddle.com

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