Tag Archives: Austin Texas musicians

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

My review of the documentary about Stevie Ray Vaughan posts to Elmore magazine

5 Apr

The DVD documentary, Lonestar: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1984-1989, delivers in 108 minutes a roller coaster of emotions about Texas’ beloved late blues guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan, beginning with his debut, Texas Flood, and ending with his death at 35 years old in a helicopter crash August 27, 1990 outside East Troy, Wisconsin. The disc features photos and rare film footage recorded during concerts and behind-the-scenes interviews with friends, former band members, and those within Vaughan’s inner circle including his last girlfriend, Janna Lapidus LeBlanc. In archival videos, Vaughan himself gives a painful testimony about how he overcame an addiction to drugs and alcohol and began to live a sober lifestyle.

Following the success of his Grammy-award-winning album, In Step, Vaughan began his fateful final tour on May 4, 1989, performing 147 shows over 18 months. This writer had the privilege to see Vaughan perform live along the shore of Mountain Shadow Lakes in El Paso on May 29, 1989. That desert hot day, without a spot of shade to be found anywhere within a 20-mile radius, fans responded to Vaughan and his musical entourage with near hysteria. The Dallas native opened with his first mainstream hit single, nominated in 1984 as the best song of the year, “Cold Shot,” off his Couldn’t Stand the Weather album.

Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble, recorded three studio and several live albums, earning them a controversial mix of both praise and criticism over a tumultuous five-year career. In Austin, his legacy continues. At Auditorium Shores Park in 1994 the Austin Parks and Recreation Department erected a life-size bronze statue created by artist Ralph Helmick in the musician’s likeness, complete with his signature hat and trench coat created. Most often Vaughan performed on his hybrid 1962-63 Stratocaster nicknamed “Number One,” also referred to as “First Wife.” Those who remember the bluesmaster, will weep in sorrow at his tribute; newcomers may find inspiration. This film, the sister to Sexy Intellectual’s documentary, Rise of a Texas Bluesman—Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954-1983, makes widows of us all anew through archive songs and images. 

Please also see my article as it appears on Elmore magazine’s website at: 

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/04/reviews/films/lonestar-stevie-ray-vaughan-1984-1989

 

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