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Austin, Texas:
Rock, Billy and a Whole Lot More!


By Barry M. Klein
Posted March 21, 2000


Johnny Carroll, Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox, Roy Orbison, Sleepy LaBeef and Ronnie Dawson. These are just some of the rockabilly legends who were born or based in Texas during the formative fifties of rockabilly.

Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Lefty Frizzell, Jerry Jeff Walker, Flaco Jiminez, Doug Sahm, Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle. These are names of Texas musicians not substantially of the rockabilly ilk, but who were respected pioneers of their own form of music and not afraid to explore and create music out of the mainstream.

One of the major themes of Nick Tosche's excellent book "Country - The Twisted Root of Rock 'n' Roll" is how parallel the evolution of R & B, rock, country, and folk music have been historically. Just listen to "Man's Best Friend (Move Over Rover)" by Wynonie Harris and Hank Williams Sr. singing "Move It On Over". Two different genres, but basically the same song, both done about 50 years ago! Nowhere is this crossover more embodied than in the state of Texas.

Texas historically has been a hotbed for a cornucopia of various musical movements. If you haven't seen "Texas Saturday Night", a terrific 1‡-hour video documentary hosted by Kinky Friedman, it's a "must-see" (BRAVO has aired it in the past).

Austin, Texas is not only the capitol of Texas government; it is also the musical capitol of Texas. "Austin" belongs in the same sentence as "New York," "Los Angeles" and "Nashville" when alluding to major music centers in the USA.

And just as rockabilly is a fusion of other forms of American music, Austin itself represents a landscape of many musical styles, from rock, blues, "outlaw" country, Cajun and many types of "alt" country aka "real" country.

Jeff, my youngest son, lives in Austin. Although Dad flew him home for Thanksgiving and other vacation times, I hadn't come to Austin for three years. Jeff's turning 21 on February 27th was the main reason for this trip, but other people's names came to mind when I thought of visiting Austin: Wayne Hancock, Marti Brom, Don Walser, Jim Stringer (Git Gone, Jim Stringer & the AM Band), Jerry Jeff Walker, Chris Wall, Gary P. Nunn (author of the theme song of Austin City Limits, "London Homesick Blues"), and the Cornell Hurd Band. Little did I know that many of these names were appearing in Austin the very weekend I visited!

In the early '70's, when real rock & roll abdicated the airwaves, I discovered the "redneck rock", or "outlaw" movement during several business trips to Texas. Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Alan Coe, and Kinky Friedman captivated my interest, and the audio cassette, not the radio, was what I listened to in the '70's. Over twenty-five years later, clubs like The Continental Club, Threadgill's, Jovita's, Antone's, Emo's, LaZona Rosa, and The Broken Spoke (just to mention a few) bring in great talents while stores like Waterloo Records on Lamar and 6th Street sell hard-to-find (at least outside of Texas) CD's of musicians who appear in town.



If you think for a moment that I am a paid promo man for the Austin Chamber of Commerce, let me review my activities on Thursday, February 24th from 7:30 p.m. - 1:00 a.m.: I was very fortunate to have been referred by Bob Timmers of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame to John Conquest, an English-born resident of Austin who publishes a monthly music newsletter called "3rd Coast Music". John met my son Jeff and me at Threadgill's World Headquarters (where Janis Joplin first did her thing in the mid-60's before taking her "trip" to San Francisco). After a pleasant dinner, we went into the next room and caught Don Walser's Pure Texas Band. Don, who Playboy calls the "Pavarotti of the Plains", found his career peaking at the millennium, just hitting his stride in his mid-sixties, (his "day job" for over 40 years was as an accountant for the National Guard). Don is a very good singer, has a crack band, and is one of the best yodelers I've ever heard (I also like Johnny Dilks and Wylie and the Wild West Show). Anyone know where I can find a Randy Erwin CD? I hear he's good too.



We left Threadgill's to catch The Cornell Hurd Band at Jovita's, for it was there that a special surprise guest was to perform shortly after 9:00 p.m.

Actually, John and I knew the surprise guest was Marti Brom, for I had telephoned hubby/manager Bobby to see if by some miracle Marti Brom was making a rare appearance while I was in town - was I lucky!! Marti has a new CD out on the Goofin label called "Snake Ranch". Backed by Finland's Barnshakers, it's just a great CD, and at Jovita's Marti performed "Blue Tattoo" from the new CD, "Mambo" and "Moonshine Lullaby". My son Jeff doesn't listen to rockabilly, but loved Marti's voice (he noticed her looks too!). He told me he couldn't believe such a great, powerful voice came from that cute, petite frame. Well, dad & son at least agree on something about music! I also found out that Marti and the Cornell Hurd Band were performing together at SXSW (South by Southwest), an annual mid-March event in Austin featuring music, movies and other media events. If you haven't booked your room or obtained tickets well in advance, better stay out of town!



The Cornell Hurd Band, by the way, is a 9-piece (at least that's how many I could see up there that night) honky-tonk band that is a hoot to see in person. I already had the "At Large" CD, and true to his reputation, Cornell is a funny guy who's proud to feature each member of the band. On this particular night, it was also his mom's 80th birthday, and the cake and the music just kept comin'! Karen Biller, The Cornell Hurd Band's drummer, like fellow Austinian, Lisa Pankratz, is a well-known female drummer. (Karen's husband is Dave Biller, a guitarist and also a well-known musician in Austin.)

I read in John Conquest's "3rd Coast Music" that Marti Brom might do a CD together with the Cornell Hurd Band.



Also sitting in for a song was Mitzi Henry, who is starting to resume a singing career that was on hiatus while she was raising children. Sound familiar, Marti? More about Marti Brom, and a chance to win a free copy of her new CD, later in this article.

Well, it was pushin' midnight, and the band finished their last set. I left Jovita's, said goodbye to John Conquest, who headed home, and took my son Jeff back downtown for a while. After Jeff left for home, I thought I might mosey on over to the Continental Club, which was featuring The Frantic Flattops and The Paladins. Although I had already missed The Frantic Flattops, I saw Dave Gonzalez and the newest incarnation of The Paladins. Returning to a straight-up rockabilly sound, The Paladins played many songs from their new CD, "Slippin In", including the title song, a pretty faithful version of Eddie Bond's rockabilly classic (you can read my interview with Eddie Bond on this website). I took off a little after 1:00 a.m. and by the time I turned off the lights, it had been a 23-hour day for me. Just a typical day in Austin, Texas!



On Friday, I paid for staying up 23 hours! I was planning to see Gary P. Nunn perform that night at The Broken Spoke, but I had to repair some of my own spokes. So I had an early, quiet dinner with some old friends from Detroit now living in Dallas and visiting Austin, and sadly, but wisely, went to bed. Gary P. Nunn is one of many talented singer/songwriters prevalent in Austin. Although from Oklahoma, Gary frequently performs in Austin, was the leader of The Lost Gonzo Band (Jerry Jeff Walker's back-up group in the 70's) and has written two of Texas' best anthems: "London Homesick Blues" (Austin City Limits theme song) and the more recent "What I Like About Texas".

Although I missed seeing Gary P. Nunn, I found his "What I Like About Texas" CD at Waterloo Records. This 18-track disc has his greatest hits, including the title song and "London Homesick Blues", "Public Domain", "The Old Rocking Chair" and "Think I'll Go To Mexico". Hey Gary, how about a Volume II - Greatest Hits and include "Rock Me Roll Me", "Public Domain" (co-written by my buddy Bob Livingston), "Couldn't Do Nothin' Right" and "Well of the Blues"?

On Saturday night, I got to the Broken Spoke after all, for singer/songwriter Chris Wall was appearing. Discovered by my favorite "outlaw" from the 70's, Jerry Jeff Walker, Wall is perhaps best known outside of Texas for writing the song "Trashy Women", which is one of my wife's favorites. Although a big hit for Confederate Railroad, Jerry Jeff Walker first included "Trashy Women" on his "Live at Gruene Hall" CD at least two years before Confederate Railroad.

At the Broken Spoke on February 26th, Chris Wall was also celebrating his own birthday, which date he shares with Johnny Cash, so we heard Chris do a good version of "Folsom Prison Blues". Cash was 68 on February 26th, but Chris Wall wouldn't tell how old he was. I kept yelling out for "Rodeo Wind", which he didn't do before I left, so I'll tell everyone that he's now 38 years old!

Another one of Chris' songs, "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight", was one of my favorites that I got to hear. Chris Wall has an exceptional band, and for a guy who has given away so many great songs to other singers, he has a very respectable baritone voice himself! Look for Chris Wall to continue to emphasize the "singer" half of the "singer/songwriter" moniker. [Author's note: Sorry, no pictures of Chris Wall - my camera's battery ran dry on Saturday - just like mine did on Friday.]

An interesting observation about rockabilly and Texas two-step dancing: At the Continental Club on Thursday night (really Friday morning), I noticed the same type of "jive swing" dancing as I have seen in Detroit, Las Vegas, or Indianapolis. At the Broken Spoke, a truly "Western" establishment where people wearing cowboy hats were plentiful, couples did the Texas two-step in a counter-clockwise oval circle, with not too much bumping into other couples, which was surprising due to the crowd that got up and danced. But there was one common denominator: The "twirls" were very similar. The two-step crowd seems to be picking up on the rockabilly swing moves!

I had to leave Chris Wall's show at 10:30 p.m. to meet my son, Jeff, who is a lighting technician and light show operator. Jeff has done work for about half of the 6th Street clubs in Austin, not to mention a gig with country music's anti-Christ, Garth Brooks (Cornell Hurd introduced his own band as "Garth Brooks' worst nightmare"). Jeff had set up lighting for one of younger Austin's biggest events, a Rave. Spending 1‡-hours at the Rave as the clock launched Jeff into his 21st birthday reminded me of the "Summer of Love" when my father visited me for 2 days while I was living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district as a hippie. There was a chapter in my book, "Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll" devoted to this experience, and my attending the Rave with Jeff was truly a "Flashback" - without the acid, of course!

I subscribe to many music publications, and I already had a subscription to "Texas Jamboree", but I cannot find a more enjoyable periodical than John Conquest's, "3rd Coast Music". A monthly publication with only an $18 annual subscription charge, John is articulate, outspoken, knowledgeable and passionate. His news and reviews cover all sorts of musical genres, is very informative and entertaining, and there are plenty of articles, reviews, and John's own "op-ed" column, so you can't miss with such a value. Incidentally, John maintains his integrity and the respect of others, for he is not likely to spare an advertiser of a lukewarm review if it's deserved! To subscribe send $18.00 to 3rd Coast Music, 620 Circle Avenue, Round Rock, TX 78664. I'd personally like to see John contribute some articles to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website!

By the way, 3rd Coast Music awarded "Rockabilly CD of the Year" for 1999 to Billy Poore's Renegade Records for its limited release of "Capitol Attack - Robert Gordon with Danny Gatton Live". I told John Conquest that I had just about every CD Robert Gordon has out, but when he told me it was still unique and worthwhile, that was enough for me!!

Austin not only has a wide variety of musical cultures, but many music lovers there are themselves divergent in their individual tastes. There is a radio station, KGSR 107.1 FM, which can play Merle Haggard, REM, Bob Dylan and John Hiatt in the same set! I sure don't find that kind of radio too often. According to David Goodman's excellent book, "Modern Twang", the University of Texas radio station KVRX 91.7 FM, has a weekly show at 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays called "Radiation Rock", and features rockabilly, western swing and hillbilly bop.

If you are planning a trip to Austin, I suggest you find the Austin Chronicle web site and look up "road shows" for the dates of your visit. That's how I found most of the shows I saw. Also on that website are the phone numbers of the main music venues, and you can call the clubs I mentioned earlier for updates on their shows.





WIN A FREE COPY OF
MARTI BROM'S NEW CD RELEASE "SNAKE RANCH"

The first reader to email me (see my email address below) with all three correct answers to the Texas trivia questions below wins Marti Brom's new CD. If you are the winner, I will email you for shipping instructions.

What late Texan wrote "Pancho and Lefty"?

Rockin' Ronny Weiser of Rollin' Rock Studio has released many great new CD's lately. In the late '70's he produced a fantastic album called "Texabilly" featuring what famous Texas rockabilly star of the '50's? [Hint: Not Ray Campi, who played bass on the album]

What Texas singer/songwriter released a CD last year with the bluegrass group, The Del McCoury Band?




Editor's Note: Barry Klein writes for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and his book, "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll", was published in 1997. To contact Barry, email him at bmk@bmkre.com



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