Tag Archives: Alvin Crow

Waterloo Records book signing Nov. 6, 2017

2 Jan

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Book Launch party 4.22.2017

10 Feb

Texas A&M Un3rdcoverrevisionmiller_jkt5-2iversity Press and I launched my book, The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk, Saturday April 22, 2017 at the Broken Spoke, 3201 South Lamar Blvd.  Others who signed my books were James and Annetta White and photographer Rick Henson.

Ben Stafford Rodgers played for tips in the dining room from 6 to 8 p.m. Terri White offered dance lessons in the dance hall at 8 p.m. for $8 per person. Afterwards, Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys performed in the dance hall  for an additional $12 per person cover charge. 

Order books at: http://www.tamupress.com/product/Broken-Spoke,8735.aspx

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 Cool 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 Austin’s 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

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

16 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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