Tag Archives: Austin music

My LIVE interview with Dear Texas Radio

23 Oct

DMMiller book cover for launch 4-22-2017Please listen to the recording of my LIVE interview by Dear Texas Radio host Roxanne Burkey at 7 p.m. (Central Time Zone) Tuesday Oct. 24, 2017.  

I discussed my book, The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk, published by Texas A&M University Press. (John and Robin Dickson Series in Texas Music, sponsored by the Center for Texas)

James and Annetta White opened the Broken Spoke in 1964, then a mile south of the Austin city limits, under a massive live oak, and beside what would eventually become South Lamar Boulevard. White built the place himself, beginning construction on the day he received his honorable discharge from the US Army. And for more than fifty years, the Broken Spoke has served up, in the words of White’s well-worn opening speech, “. . . cold beer, good whiskey, the best chicken fried steak in town . . . and good country music.”

LINK: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/deartexas/2017/10/25/dear-texas-radio-show-176-with-donna-marie-miller

 

I’ll be speaking at the Texas Book Festival

23 Oct

DMMiller book cover for launch 4-22-2017Please come out to the Texas Book Festival to hear me speak on a panel inside the Texas Tent located near the 700 block of S. Congress in Austin at 11 a.m. Saturday Nov. 4, 2017. Cari Clark will moderate. Here’s the LINK:

http://www.texasbookfestival.org/festival-schedule/?selected_day=2&view=accordion 

“The Good Old Sound Of Austin” panel
Location: inside the Texas Tent, near 700 S. Congress
Followed by book signing: inside the Main Book Signing Tent (approximately at Congress near 10th Street)
Adult biography/historical genre

Authors:
Donna Marie Miller
Jesse Sublett
Eddie Wilson
BOOKS ABOUT TEXAS MUSIC
11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
How did a sleepy college town and state capital become known as the Live Music Capital of the World? In 1964, James White was searching for the best place for a big country western dance hall where his hero Bob Wills could play. In the summer of 1970, Eddie O. Wilson searched for a music hall where hippies could go to dig psychedelic art, culture and music. The results of their search: The Broken Spoke and Armadillo World Headquarters. Legendary musician and author Jesse Sublett and co-author Eddie Wilson (Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir) sit down with James White, owner of the Broken Spoke, and author Donna Marie Miller (The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk) to talk about the history and evolution of Austin’s live music scene.

Moderator: Cari Clark

Donna Marie Miller, author of The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk, published by TAMU Press; Jesse Sublett, co-author of Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir by Eddie Wilson

 

 

My review of the 2017 Ameripolitan Awards posts to Elmore

22 Feb

Lance Lipinsky, nearly stole the show before accepting the Rockabilly Male Award at the fourth annual Ameripolitan Awards, held February 15th at Austin’s Paramount Theater. Lipinsky had costarred in the Tony Award-winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet, and at the Grand Ole Opry. His band, The Lovers, released their debut album, Roll, last summer.

Jerry Lee Lewis’ prerecorded message from Nesbit, Mississippi appeared overhead on screen as Silvia and Brett Neal accepted the Master Award on his behalf. The Neals and singer/songwriter Dale Watson cofounded the Ameripolitan Awards in 2014 to honor artists who represent four roots branches of country music: western swing, honky-tonk, rockabilly and outlaw styles. Between set changes, Watson and Asleep at the Wheel’s front man, Ray Benson, served as the night’s emcees, providing impromptu commercials for two of the show sponsors, Lone Star Beer and Tito’s Vodka. Presenters Rosie Flores and James Intveld also provided an outstanding duet performance. Other music awards went to Leona Williams, Jake Penrod, Gary P. Nunn and the Bunkhouse Band, Lara Hope, The Silver Shakers, Kristyn Harris, Pokey LaFarge, The Western Flyers, Darci Carlson, Hank3, the Dallas Moore Band, Chris Casello and James Riley.

American original singer/songwriter and musician Junior Brown received the Keeper of the Key Award. Brown’s unique song lyrics and hook phrases, such as “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead,” previously earned him a 1996 Country Music Association Award. Brown performed while playing his “guit-steel,” a double-necked invention that melds both guitar and steel guitar attributes. Lil’ Red’s Longhorn Saloon in Fort Worth received the Venue Award and the Festival Award went to Nashville Boogie. Absent from the night’s proceedings due to the flu was presenter James White, proprietor of the Broken Spoke. The house band included: Chris Crepps, bass; Mike Bernal, drums; Don Pawlak, pedal steel guitar; Jason Roberts, fiddle; Redd Volkaert, guitar; Joey Colarusso, saxophone; Rick White, trumpet; Ken Mills, trombone; and Danny Levin, piano. For more information about the awards and a full list of winners, head to the Ameripolitan Music Awards’ website at: http://www.ameripolitan.com/2017-winners.html

Please also see my article as it appears with my photos on Elmore magazine’s website at: http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/02/reviews/shows/2017-ameripolitan-music-awards

My review of the book, Pickers & Poets, posts to Elmore magazine

31 Jan

Pickers & Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of TexTroubadours and Texas music lovers will adore this collection of essays assembled and edited by Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hillis, Pickers & Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas. Several different writers pay homage to some of the veteran songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s who began their careers within the Lone Star State. Hillis, an author and guitarist who has toured and recorded with a few of the book’s highlighted artists, provides insights about Steven Fromholz, Michael Martin Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. Clifford, also an author and working musician/singer/songwriter who holds a standing day gig as a professor of philosophy at Tarleton State University, adds his authoritative perspectives about Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Walt Wilkins, Hayes Carll, Ryan Bingham, and Miranda Lambert.

My personal favorite penned by Clifford, “Beyond the Rivers,” portends that modern songwriters seem “caught up in the pseudo-country tropes of pickups and painted on jeans.” He also claims today’s mainstream country gives spotlight mostly to the young and the beautiful. Jeff Prince discusses the role of “iconic cultural happenings” or music festivals that introduce fans to lyric-driven songs too unique or obscure for radio play. Kathryn Jones, in “Roots of Steel: The Poetic Grace of Women Texas Singer-Songwriters,” calls Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Terri Hendrix, Nanci Griffith, Tish Hinojosa and Eliza Gilkyson “trail-blazers.” She claims they refuse to be pigeonholed in “the good ‘ol boys club” of influential music circles in a male-dominated industry.

Andy Wilkinson explains in a feverish stream of consciousness narrative why the Texas Panhandle, namely the Llano Estacado of Lubbock, per capita has produced so many songwriters thanks to its great expanse of land, the wind, and a culture composed of mostly friendly people. While some songwriters have had to leave the state to find their audiences, others simply have jumped into Austin’s musical stew pot. This book promises a tantalizing feast to satisfy avid readers of nonfiction musical history.

Also please see my article posted on Elmore magazine’s website at:

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/01/reviews/books/pickers-poets-the-ruthlessly-poetic-singer-songwriters-of-texas

My review of Van Wilks posts to Elmore magazine

29 Jan

Van Wilks’ 21sElmore Magazine | Van Wilkst Century Blues album proves that the bluesy rocking’ guitarist still delivers an inescapable rush of adrenaline, like a fast-moving train, across several major musical landscapes.

The non-traditional Texas musician, who began his career during the British invasion of the 1960s, has since toured with numerous trendsetting and runaway hit bands, from Aerosmith to ZZ Top.

Chet Himes produced Wilks’ sixth solo album and first in 10 years at two Austin-area studios, Relentless Ranch and Chicken Run, with the help of Kickstarter funding.

Lone Star-sized special guests, Grammy award-winning Christopher Cross and locally celebrated dynamic vocalist Malford Milligan, both contribute on “She Makes Me Crazy.”

Wilks also revives “Drive By Lover,” the song he co-wrote with Billy F. Gibbons for ZZ Top’s La Futura in 2012.

“There’s a Sin in There Somewhere,” pays homage to a 1978 scratchy vinyl recording of Huddie “Lead Belly” Leadbetter with Wilks performing on a 1929 National Duolian Dobro amplified through Marshall Stacks.

The closing, “Midnight Crossing,” with haunting vocals whispered by Maria Estella Raffone, completes the album’s driving locomotive theme. Wilks, named best blues-rock band four years in a row by The Austin Chronicle’s music polls, as yet shows no signs of slowing down.

Please see my CD review posted on Elmore magazine’s website: 

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2016/01/reviews/albums/van-wilks

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

 

Watson lies when he drinks, but not about country music

10 Nov

DaleWatsonaloneArchived story updated with video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Austin Fusion magazine 2/26/14 http://austinfusionmagazine.com/2014/02/25/dale-watson-lies-when-he-drinks/

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

3 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The band took this town by storm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

%d bloggers like this: