Tag Archives: Mary Hattersley

Interview story with Hattersley featured in June issue of Fiddler magazine

6 Jun

MaryEgan-Hattersley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It took 25 years for the Hattersleys to get the Greezy Wheels rolling again. In 2001 Mary and Cleve, and his sister, Lissa, reunited the Greezy Wheels to release the CDs: Millennium Greezy, HipPOP, and StringTheory. Then Cleve and Mary also released a duo CD entitled, Totally. The Hattersleys returned to the spotlight by joining The Band’s drummer, Levon Helm, at his “Midnight Ramble” at The Barn in Woodstock, New York regularly beginning in 2009. Helm died in 2012.

Last year Mary and the Greezy Wheels released their album, Gone Greezy, on their own label, MaHatMa Records, earning them a spot in the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2012 and their hometown’s top ten list of albums recognized by The Austin Chronicle. Currently, their newest album, Kitty Cat Jesus, which released this past May, features two hit songs: “I Cry Myself to Sleep,” and “I’ll Get Away With It.” Both have received lots of radio station airplay.

Other current Greezy Wheels members include: lead vocalist Lissa Hattersley and other band members: vocalist Penny Jo Pullus, drummer Johnny Bush, bassist Brad Houser, and trombone and harp player, Matt Hubbard. Both Bush and Houser previously played with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians in the 1980s. Hubbard also performs with Willie Nelson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greezy Wheels keep turning after more than 50 years

16 Dec

Cleve Hattersley’s old bones move slow and his eyes don’t see as well. His white hair and wrinkles reveal his age; yet after the pot smoke clears, he still sings, plays guitar, and writes music the same as he has for 50 years or more.

Neither gray hair nor wrinkles, nor the aches and pains suffered by a few old timers in Austin Music Hall of Fame’s Greezy Wheels band stopped them from performing their eclectic song list on stage at Cactus Cafe Nov. 6 for a nearly sold-out, fan-based crowd.

The band’s return performance after nearly a one year hiatus due to health issues, included three original members: lead singer and songwriter Cleve Hattersley, and his fiddler common law wife “Sweet Mary” Hattersley, along with Cleve’s sister and vocalist Lissa Hattersley.

The way Cleve Hattersley tells it, his story about dabbling in drugs, sex and rock and roll while migrating between the East and West coasts in the late 60s and early 70s sounds a lot like a “Big Fish” tale, but the facts speak for themselves.

As a teenager Cleve says he and his sister, Lissa, wrangled in street business at the door to the famous Fillmore East club in New York City. There they met the late great guitarist Jimi Hendrix on New Year’s Eve of 1969, when Hendrix recorded his live album Band of Gypsys live over two days at the Fillmore.

Cleve  says that he became a hippie who dropped LSD sold by psychedelic leader Timothy Leary in the store, The League for Spiritual Recovery. Hattersley also says that he moved to Haight Street in San Francisco and became a next-door neighbor to Charles Manson criminal’s band of followers before they became notorious Hollywood killers.

He says he once booked guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn for $100 at the Lone Star Café in New York City where Hattersley worked as the house manager — six months before the band became Double Trouble and unleashed their Texas Flood album.

Texas criminal records show Austin police busted Hattersley in 1970 at the old Mueller Airport while he attempted to smuggle 15 pounds of marijuana aboard a commercial Braniff Airlines jet bound for New York.

Nobody but Cleve will confirm that a group of young Democrats well-known in Austin politics in 1973 helped to get him released from Huntsville prison, he did only serve 11 months of a seven-year sentence.

However, any musician or music fan over the age of 50 can vouch that Hattersley and his band, Greezy Wheels, for years performed at The Armadillo World Headquarters, backing up such big name stars as Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen.

As testimony to a long musical career, last year Cleve, along with Mary and Lissa and  20 other former and current members of his Greezy Wheels band, became inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame.

“I got busted in 1970 because I was trying to be a big-time pot smuggler,” Hattersley said. “The only thing I could think of to do after that was to try and use my fledging abilities on guitar and songwriting to see if I could make a living at it.”

During the two years that Cleve Hattersley and a legal team fought his appeals, he formed the Greezy Wheels with his sister, Lissa, met his wife, “Sweet Mary.”

Jimmy Vaughn performed in a trio with drummer Doyle Bramhall, known as Storm on Monday nights at the One Knite, once located where Stubbs stands now. The One Knite painted black, featured a door shaped like a coffin with all kinds of stuff hung from the ceiling – old tires, car parts, bicycles, and toasters. Angela Strehli sang backup vocals with Storm occasionally.

“That was the first gig the Greezy Wheels performed ever, opening for Storm,” Cleve said. “It was just me, guitarist Pat Pankratz and bass player Mike Pugh. Everybody played there at the One Knite. It was a dive, but only in the very best sense.”

Long hair fell into fashion, but not everyone in town appreciated the look; some called them “hippies.”

“It was a time when having long hair was making a statement. It was a big statement. You either had really long hair or you had really short hair,” Mary Hattersley said.

When Lissa Hattersley started singing with the Greezy Wheels she was just 20 years old. Then a bit shy about performing with the band on stage, Wheels members used to give her a few drinks to loosen her up beforehand.

“It was fun. Those are fun times and it was old Austin. It was a different world here. I know people talk about it and the younger people who hear them, say ‘oh, don’t talk about it – you old folks – we don’t want to hear about it anymore. Old Austin – who cares?’” she said.

Greezy Wheels soon joined an eclectic community of musicians and local bands. They performed at the Hungry Horse, once located at the corner of Trinity and 19th Streets. The band also regularly played at Bevos on 24th Street, a couple of blocks west of Guadalupe, drawing eclectic crowds with its outdoor stage and beer garden. Greezy Wheels, Alvin and the Pleasant Valley Boys and Freda and the Firedogs – Marcia Ball’s former band, became regular attractions at the Soap Creek Saloon too.

When they weren’t performing, they frequented Bonnie’s on the East Side, a laid back place where bands and patrons brought in their own cases of beer and smoked pot in a fenced-in open-air yard.

The Hattersleys visited the I.L. Club, named after its owner, Ira Littlefield, on Austin’s East Side. A sign out front read: “Famous Beatnik Bands Perform Nightly.” Inside Roky Erickson performed with his band, Spade, before he formed the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. That band and other celebrity acts regularly made appearances at the Vulcan Gas Company, a funky bar that featured homemade wooden church pews for seating, located in the 300 block of Congress Avenue.

Every musician in town sat in and played with any one else who had a paying gig. Life was good and the living was easy for the Hattersleys.

“So it was kind of a big deal when I went away to prison. The legal deals were denied and I had to turn myself in; they had ‘Free Greezy’ T-shirts made up. Everybody called me ‘Greezy.’ The T-shirts had a picture of my face on them singing behind (jail) bars. Those were a pretty big seller,” Hattersley said.

While his band played on without him, at Huntsville, Hattersley performed a prison rodeo gig and recorded an album with the rodeo band.

“Although we did not wear stripes in prison, they had stripe uniforms made up just for the occasion so that we would look more like convicts,” Cleve Hattersley said.

Meanwhile, by herself Mary Hattersley known as “Sweet Mary” Egan at the time earned a reputation as an accomplished fiddler player with celebrities of country, blues, jazz and rock and roll musicians and other music hall of famers.

Her name appears on the back of a number of record albums produced by musicians in the 70s. She performed on two of Jerry Jeff Walker’s albums: Jerry Jeff Walker in 1972 and his gold Viva Terlingua! recorded in Luckenbach, Texas in 1973.

In 1973, 18 days after Texas Legislators changed the Texas Penal Code laws to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts marijuana, Governor Dolph Briscoe commuted Hattersley’s prison sentence as time served.

“There was a whole group of people – young Democrats — that were ‘happening’ in the early 70s. The Greezy Wheels played their parties. They all knew I was going to prison for pot,” Cleve Hattersley said.

“To me it’s part of the story of what Greezy Wheels has always been to me. Greezy Wheels is our lifestyle in itself. It’s who we are musically and what we represent to other people. Mary and I are coming up on our 40th anniversary and people see us in a positive way. That’s what you really want to do in your life, be seen as a positive instead of a negative.  So we proclaim that this is how we are. We’ve advocated ending the prohibition on pot for almost 50 years.”

Cleve today works on Kinky Friedman’s campaign for Texas Agriculture Commissioner and support efforts to legalize marijuana.

“To me this is a culmination of 50 years of labor. It’s a hippie kind of way at looking at life,” he said.

He said it doesn’t feel like more than seven decades of his life have passed, but he notices that things have changed.

“Time is a strange element during that time because we were all taking a lot of drugs. They were all mind-expanding drugs – LSD and PCP, of course. Some of us were lucky and some weren’t. I saw a lot of people ‘lose it,’” he said.

When the Hattersleys permanently moved to Austin in 1970, music at The Armadillo World Headquarters helped to bridge the big cultural divide between the east and west sides of town. On any given night, country and western music lovers mingled with blues, pop, rock and jazz fans.

The Armadillo accomplished what The Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco and Bill Graham’s Fillmore East in New York began years before.

“The Armadillo I think was even more adventurous – they had jazz artists, they had straight pop artists, they had everything,” he said.

Entrepreneurs Eddie Wilson, Bobby Hederman, and later Hank Alrich established the Armadillo and Greezy Wheels became the venue’s unofficial house band.

“It’s a shame that the cost of rock and roll shot up so much. The first show that we did with Willie Nelson, his first in Austin ever, had a $2 cover charge. Must have been 1971. It was two bucks,” Hattersley said.

“The price of getting acts to play went up and the bar’s owners needed to make more money. Inflation just hit rock and roll pretty hard at that point in history really.”

In 1974, after his release from prison, Cleve rejoined the band with other guitarists Tony Airoldi and Pat Pankgratz, as well as a mandolin player Michael Pugh on bass, a drummer Tony Laier, plus a new conga player, Madrile Wilson, and of course, Mary Hattersley on fiddle and Lissa, on vocals.

Two separate groups emerged during the next five-year period – Greezy Wheels brought in drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, who left to play with Stevie Ray Vaughn and his band, Double Trouble. Chip Dill played bass and Victor Egly played guitar for Greezy Wheels too.

The group disbanded in 1978 when Layton left and Cleve and Mary moved back to New York; it took 22 years for the Hattersleys to get the Greezy Wheels rolling again.

Cleve and Mary Hattersley returned to Austin in 1985; and from then until 1988, Cleve managed one of the most influential clubs for live music in town, the Steamboat on Sixth Street.

In 2001 Mary and Cleve, and his sister, Lissa, reunited Greezy Wheels to release the CDs: Millennium Greezy, HipPOP, and StringTheory. Then Cleve and Mary also released a duo CD entitled, Totally.

The Hattersleys returned to the spotlight by joining The Band drummer Levon Helm at his “Midnight Ramble” at The Barn in Woodstock, New York regularly, beginning in 2009 before Helm died in 2012.

Last year Mary and Greezy Wheels released their album, Gone Greezy, on their own label, MaHatMa Records, earning them a spot in the Texas Music Hall of Fame and their hometown’s top ten list of albums recognized by The Austin Chronicle.

Currently, their newest album, Kitty Cat Jesus, which released this past May, features two hit songs: “I Cry Myself to Sleep,” and “I’ll Get Away With It.” Both have received lots of radio station airplay.

Other current Greezy Wheels members include: lead vocalist Lissa Hattersley and other band members: vocalist Penny Jo Pullus, drummer Johnny Bush, bassist Brad Houser, and trombone and harp player, Matt Hubbard. Both Bush and Houser previously played with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians in the 1980s. Hubbard also performs with Willie Nelson.

published on http://austinfusionmagazine.com/2013/12/18/cleve-hattersley-sex-drugs-and-greezy-wheels/

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