Tag Archives: Austin bands

Craig Hillis at Southwestern Historical Quarterly reviewed my book

16 Oct

The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk. By Donna Marie Miller.
(College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017. Pp. 256. Illustrations,
notes bibliography, index.)

Donna Marie Miller has written a very good and essential book. It is a
story of a native Austin family, the bar and restaurant business that patriarch
James White opened in 1964, and the countless characters both on
and off the stage who have populated this legendary honky-tonk for more
than half a century.
It is a good book because it is well researched, well organized, and well
written. Over a twenty-seven month period, Miller collected more than
one hundred oral histories from the White family and from employees,
patrons, and musicians and their representatives, thereby creating a valuable
trove of primary source data. She carefully explored the main currents
of Texas cultural history and Austin music history. Additionally, she
sought out films, videos, and audio recordings that were relevant to her
story.
Miller organized the book in seven sections, delineated by decades, and
within each section she wove together three dominant themes she calls
“braids.” The first covers local, state, and national events as they affected
the evolution of the Broken Spoke and the growth of the Austin music
scene. The “center thread” (11) depicts the life and times of the White
family, and the third braid presents the cast of characters—employees,
patrons, dancers, musicians—and their role in the story. This “braided
narrative structure” (11) enables the reader to experience the interplay
of the three story lines in a common historical setting.
Miller writes in an accessible and direct journalistic style. Her comprehensive
research is evident through her command of the material and
her free-flowing narrative. She sprinkles enough spice and lighthearted
anecdotes through the story to hold the reader’s interest and keep the
pages turning.
The Broken Spoke is an essential book because it analyzes a live music
venue, and in Texas, especially in Austin, the live music venue is the essential
cog in the wheel of our vibrant music scene. Whether a small folk club,
a rock ‘n’ roll joint, a multi-thousand seat concert hall, or a venerable
honky-tonk, these locations provide the economic bedrock upon which all
other aspects of the music scene unfold: the paychecks to musicians that
in turn underwrite managers, agents, music publishers, producers, studio
engineers, and related audio and video projects. Live music revenues
translate into musical instrument sales, advertising produced by copywriters,
graphic artists, and printing companies, and countless other commercial
enterprises that account for Austin’s multi-million dollar annual
entertainment and tourism industry. Miller successfully portrays how the
activities of the White family, the personnel and patrons at the club, and
an endless stream of musicians come together to facilitate the role that
the “Spoke” plays in the local and national music community.
Miller’s book calls the Broken Spoke “Austin’s Legendary Honky-
Tonk,” a bar, a restaurant, a “real country joint” (4), and “the last of the
true Texas dance halls” (6). It is also a home away from home for some
of country music’s biggest stars, a showcase for up and coming acts, a
blue-collar country club, an after-hours conference room for Texas legislators,
a country dance studio, a community center, and a country music
museum.
Most importantly, The Broken Spoke is a quintessential American story.
It is an authentic Norman Rockwell-like portrait of a strong, dedicated
family whose work ethic, commitment to each other, and shared vision
are now fueling a third generation. Having survived and thrived in an
extremely tough business, the Whites have nurtured a Texas tradition. The
Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk is an essential companion to
any student or enthusiast of Texas music and cultural history.
Austin, Texas Craig Hillis

Elmore posts my story about the Feb. 4 private Willie Nelson concert

12 Feb

Elmore Magazine | Willie Nelson and Asleep At The WheelAbout 200 very lucky country music fans were treated to a private concert by Willie Nelson, Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel February 4th at the famed Broken Spoke; Thursday nights in February will never feel so hot again in Austin, Texas. The founder of Girling Home Health Care Inc. sponsored the city’s biggest private event of the year at its oldest and most beloved honky tonk. Unable to attend her own birthday party due to the onset of sudden illness, Bettie Girling, the widow of the late Robert Girling, watched the party via Skype from her bed at home across town. Nevertheless, Nelson and Benson sang “Happy Birthday” to Bettie together with all of her invited guests who also enjoyed a barbecue feast and spirited drinks. For about an hour and a half and just inches away from his audience, Nelson sang a hit parade of songs that marked more than 50 years of his professional music career, beginning with the 1961 number one hit, “Hello Walls,” followed by “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (1975) and “On The Road Again” (1980).

The 82-year-old Red Headed Stranger closed the night with an intimate crowd sing-along on “The Party’s Over,” a song Nelson wrote and Claude Gray first recorded in 1959. All evening Benson accompanied Willie on guitar and backup vocals together with keyboard player Emily Gimble, the daughter of the late Texas Playboy Johnny Gimble. Other Asleep at the Wheel members included fiddler Katie Shore, steel player Eddie Rivers, mandolin and fiddle player Dennis Ludicker and David Sanger on drums. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, also made a brief appearance together at the celebration, flanked by several Travis County deputies. Dozens of other local celebrities, including writer/actor/filmmaker Turk Pipkin sat on the dance floor to take photos up close and personal. Closing time came early – 10 o’clock– at the red, rustic and barn-like Broken Spoke, a 51-year-old icon that has withstood the test of time and new development along a one-mile stretch of South Lamar. Its 76-years young founders, James and Annetta White, both waved goodbye from the porch as dust settled in the Broken Spoke’s dirt parking lot and Nelson’s tour bus left for a Feb. 9 appearance in Charlotte, N.C. a.

Please also see my article as it appears on Elmore magazine’s website by following this link:

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2016/02/reviews/shows/willie-nelson-and-asleep-at-the-wheel

Shakey Graves review and photos posted to Elmore, video uploaded to Youtube

10 Mar

Elmore Magazine | Shakey GravesFrighteningly original Shakey Graves shook the rafters at Gruene Hall, the 6000-square foot historic Central Texas dancehall just outside New Braunfels Feb. 20.

Graves, (born Alejandro Rose-Garcia,) performed his hauntingly sweet mix of gritty and melodic vocals for a standing room only crowd. Throughout the sold out show, Graves changed tempo with tantalizing tunes not classified singularly as either country, blues, or folk and brought his audience participation to new levels.

Playing his hollow body acoustic guitar and homemade kick drum made from a Samsonite suitcase, Graves alternated between performing solo and delivering a big sound together with upright bass player Macon Terry and drummer Chris “Boo” Booshada. Millennials who had gathered nearly two hours beforehand to drink Shiner Bock beer from longneck bottles stood, stomped, clapped and chanted choruses on song favorites such as “The Perfect Parts” within a handshake of Graves.

Dressed in his suit, tie and Bob Wills-style hat, Graves granted an encore soaked through with perspiration as temperatures, spooky in February even for Central Texas, hovered at an uncharacteristically balmy 75 degrees. That’s when a female fan, identified only as Nicole, took the stage to harmonize on “Dearly Departed,” the song he previously recorded with Colorado native singer Esme Patterson for his And the War Came On album released last October on Dualtone Records.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Please see the posted story on Elmore magazine’s website at: http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2015/03/reviews/shows/shakey-graves

 

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

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

%d bloggers like this: