It all started innocently enough. I got off work at the radio station at midnight and went home. I was a little restless and decided to go out and hear some live music. A friend, Roger Allen, was at my house, and I asked him if he had ever seen the New Bohemians. He'd seen them in Dallas, liked them and recommended them, so I drove the eight blocks to Congress Avenue, turned right and went a block and a half and parked in front of the Continental Club, the closest night club to where I lived. I was up for going out, but I didn't want to go too far. I saw the New Bohemians that Thursday night and that started me on an odyssey that covered thousands of miles and 444 days. Beginning with that night, April 17, 1986, I saw live music for 444 consecutive days, ending on July 4, 1987.
During my 444 days I saw Mose Allison, Asleep At The Wheel, Chet Atkins, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Clifton Chenier, Albert Collins, James Cotton, Commander Cody, Chief Commander Ebeneezer Obey, Commandos, Robert Cray, Fats Domino, Bob Dylan, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Joe Ely, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Fela, Geezinslaw Brothers, Nanci Griffith, Buddy Guy, Dan Hicks, Joe Higgs, John Lee Hooker, Esteban Jordan, Stanley Jordan, Karen Kraft, Lazy Lester, Lyle Lovett, Delbert McClinton, Bobby McFerrin, Lonnie Mack, Wynton Marsalis, Memphis Slim, Neville Brothers, "Fathead" Newman, Danny O'Keefe, Omar & the Howlers, Tom Petty, Snooky Pryor, Queen Ida, Bonnie Raitt, Roomful of Blues, Mason Ruffner, Otis Rush, Tom Rush, Doug Sahm, Scruffy The Cat, Charlie Sexton, Sunnyland Slim, Koko Taylor, Timbuk 3, Townes Van Zandt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Junior Walker & the All Stars, Webb Wilder, Tom X, Zeitgeist, Zydeco Ranch and hundreds of bands and individuals unknown to the average reader.
The American hostages did 444 days in Iran, and that was my last stated goal when I let the marathon end in Memphis after I found Beale Street inactive at 1 a.m. Sunday night July 6, 1987. I was fairly sure that I could flag down a taxi driver, ask about Memphis Underground and find a late night club with music. After all, the bars could serve alcohol til 3 a.m. and the combination of music and drink is what keeps live music performance alive in America. But, I was tired and had begun to feel hostage to the marathon, and had even wondered aloud if I would require psychiatric care to break the string. With day 444 coming on July 4, I felt a sense of Synchronicity and, after driving past Graceland on the off chance there would be some informal music at the gates to the mansion or a little blues bar in the shopping center across the street, I let the marathon slip away feeling that I had covered the waterfront.
Most of the music that I went to was in Austin, Texas, which is a real music center with as many as 50 places to hear live music on weekend nights. The key, though, is that Austin has a handful of places to hear good live music even on off nights like Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Also, the comprehensive calendar compiled by Casey Monahan, which I read on the radio every night at 9:02, was invaluable in informing me about who was playing each night and where I could find them.
As research for my radio programs, I learned more about Texas music in those 444 days than in the previous five years that I had worked at public radio station KUT in Austin. One of my programs is Texas Radio, and the marathon significantly expanded my knowledge of the local music and the people who make it. I discovered a lot of new talent in the 444 days, and many of the musicians received their first airplay on my shows. I booked several of the brand new bands I found into our live performance broadcast, Liveset, and the listeners had a chance to hear them live on the radio even before they had records out. I met more musicians and listeners, and received more publicity in the Austin American Statesman than at any other period since I moved to Austin in the summer of 1977. My programs improved as a result of the research, and KUT's listeners were the real beneficiaries of my 444 day music marathon bar trek research project.
I grew up in the radio days of marathons and absolutely goofy behavior on the air. My heroes were guys like Dick Biondi (The Wild I-tralian), who, it was rumored, was fired for saying, "If the skirts get much shorter, the girls will have to powder more cheeks and curl more hair," on the air. Every once in a while I'd hear about a DJ who would lock himself in the studio and play the same record over and over for hours. He'd get fired and get hired across town for twice the money. DJs would broadcast for hours on end trying to capture the marathon record for consecutive broadcasting, supposedly using nothing stronger than coffee to fight fatigue. When I moved to Austin in '77, AM country station, KVET, had a DJ in an RV suspended above a carlot doing his show and reports throughout the day. He stayed up there till the dealership sold X number of cars. I thought "What an exciting radio market."
I specialized in freeform radio which got co-opted into AOR (Album Oriented Rock) when the station managers saw how much money there could be in a more controlled, safer, hit oriented version of what the "underground" DJs created when they began getting jobs at FM Stereo stations and playing album cuts, mixing genres of music and doing long sets and generally offering listeners programs instead of formats, which were prevalent on the AM stations. After working out the Ann Arbor and Detroit radio markets (1969-77), I moved to Austin hoping to work at nationally famous KOKE-FM doing a "Progressive Country" show. By the time I relocated, KOKE-FM had abandoned the formula that had gotten them recognized as one of the most innovative stations in America in favor of a format called "Sterling Country KOKE." Even though I was offered a job, I turned it down and got busy cooking up an audition tape for KLBJ-FM, the Rock & Roll station owned by Lady Bird Johnson. Although a series of program directors interviewed me and complimented the program skills that I exhibited on the audition tape I was never hired at KLBJ-FM. After kicking around doing various formats under the name of Les Moore for a few years, I landed the evening slot at National Public Radio affiliate station KUT. For several years public radio has been the refuge for radio artists and I have been a refugee residing at 90.5 FM for over seven of my 30 years on the radio.
I think every DJ has a marathon in him. Since my radio station has various block programs intermixed with NPR news and other features, there was no logical way to do a consecutive hours on the air marathon. Besides I need to sleep a few hours every day or my voice gets raspy or thin. My brain shuts down and my thinking isn't as sharp as it needs to be for me to do good work on the air. I didn't have much interest in doing a sloppy slobbering exhausting embarrassing kind of marathon like that. I sorta slipped in the side door and piled up a lot of nights in a row seeing live music in the course of my job, and after making it to 100 the challange to go for a year came. One night at the Hole In The Wall, after John T. Davis had written an article in the paper about the "101 Monrovian Nights" I had just completed, Phareaux and Susie of the Commandos said they knew what I should do. They said, "Go for a year, write a book about it and go on the talk show circuit." That seemed like a good idea at the time, so I continued seeing music every night with writing a book in mind. I was keeping a day to day chronology so I would have a bare bones outline that I could fill in later, and the music was good enough that I wasn't getting bored. It didn't cost me much to carry on the marathon because I got off work at midnight and usually went to low or no cover events. I didn't have time to drink too much, so that part of the expenses was also moderate, and I didn't develop alcoholism. I made it through the entire 444 days without getting a single DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) ticket, which was also part of the overall goal. I advocated safe sober driving on my radio shows, asking listeners to take a cab or have a friend give them a lift if they had had too much to drink during the course of the evening. It sure wouldn't do to get a string of DWIs on the marathon, so I was acutely aware of my responsibility in that area.
I have long held the opinion that live music (and comedy) have healing powers, and are a good hedge against aging. With myself as the test case, I set out to prove my theory. 444 days later I was convinced that this theory held some water. These pages are a chronicle of the 444 days and the observations that I made during that time.
The first night of my marathon found me at the Continental Club, a landmark on South Congress Avenue that has been operating for most of the 10 years that I've been living in Austin, Texas. There have been brief interludes when the Continental Club has been inactive and it has probably gone through half a dozen different managers in the time I have been a patron. It underwent a major remodeling four years ago, and since then has had an adventurous booking policy with Mark Pratz at the helm.
The New Bohemians were a hot young jazz/reggae tinged rock band from Dallas with a female lead singer, Edie Brickell, who had a quirky voice and stage presence. She reminded me a little of Rickie Lee Jones circa 1979. The New Bohemians recently surfaced on a collection called "The Sound of Deep Ellum" on Island. The record is a sampler of the Dallas bands that come from the neighborhood known as Deep Ellum, a spawning ground of Dallas blues in the early 1900s. The New Bohemians also play the Caravan of Dreams, Fort Worth's Geodesic Jazz Palace, and their first album on Geffin is likely out by this printing.
The next two nights, Friday and Saturday, were spent at the University of Texas Performing Arts Center (PAC) attending the Longhorn Jazz Festival. The performers were three of the best of the new young artists, all three with major label albums out. I had played their records on my jazz shows, and had been looking foreward to seeing them in person. I called the PAC and arranged for complimentary press tickets for the two nights.
Friday was two sets by acclaimed trumpet player Wynton Marsalis and his quartet. The standout of the evening was pianist Marcus Roberts (aka the J Master) who fired the band in the ensemble work and captivated the audience with his long solo spot. Wynton was marvelous, and with his young blind pianist, long-time drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and bassist Robert Leslie Hurst III, the group hit the groove early in the second set and never let up. Wynton leans toward technical rather than passionate playing and the music fit well in the elegant Performing Arts Center. I left wondering how Wynton might sound in a smokey New Orleans barroom. With a couple of beers in him.
Saturday at the LJF was a twin bill that I would have suggested myself had they asked. Both were exciting solo performers who had created quite a stir upon their arrival on the jazz scene.
First up was Bobby McFerrin, the acapella vocalist, who held the audience in the palm of his hand and then invited them to join him on stage for the finale. Of course, as Austinites will hop up on a stage at the drop of a hat, Bobby was soon surrounded by a chorus of local citizens singing their socks off.
After an overlong intermission because of a late airplane, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan took the stage. Stanley's unique tapping tecnique, a sort of keyboard approach to the guitar, makes him sound like more than one guitarist. He played both melody and rhythm and filled with flurries of notes from both hands. I need to see him up close sometime instead of from row R.
Also on the weekend of the LJF I saw Mason Ruffner a couple of times. I had a booking of the Commandos on Liveset for Sunday April 20, but Wes Starr had mentioned to me a week or so earlier that he and Sarah Brown were backing up a former Fort Worth singer/guitarist named Mason Ruffner. Jimmy Page had seen Mason at the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans and had hired him to open for the FIRM on a major concert tour. Mason in turn had hired Wes and Sarah to be in his road band. Wes promised a good show if I could book Mason in the following week. A live radio broadcast would also be a good sendoff for the tour, and the tape of the show would help the band deal with any bugs that showed up.
I conferred with Phareaux and Susie of the Commandos about a switch in the Liveset, and they were actually relieved about the possibility of not doing the live show. They were in the process of changing drummers, and they weren't sure the new drummer would be comfortable with all the tunes by showtime. They had seen Mason and told me I should go ahead and book him for the program. I confirmed the date three or four days before the show.
John T. Davis had seen Mason in New Orleans and had written lauditory words about him in his Austin American Statesman music column, so I asked him to say some of those words into my tape recorder so I could use them in a 60 second promo to run on the air in the few days before the show. John T. said OK, so I went to the Statesman to record him. The clatter and hum of the typewriters had given way to the beeps of the computer in the newsroom, and recording the promo in a quiet glassed-off office overlooking the river I directed and cajoled John T. into a couple of good readings. "As a singer/songwriter Mason Ruffner is the best thing to come out of New Orleans since Interstate 10. The success of his first album, it's pretty clear, has drop-kicked him out of the gin mills into the arenas." That's what I wanted. I wrote the promo in my head on the way to the station, scribbled my part of the script on a piece of scratch paper and dubbed and edited the tape of John T.'s quotes. Cliff or David or Marty recorded me and we finished the spot. I labled it and sent it through channels and was on my way. The whole process had taken about an hour and a half.
Friday, after luxuriating in the comfort of the PAC listening to Wynton Marsalis, I headed over to the Hole In The Wall to hear Mason Ruffner for the first time. I'd heard Mason's debut album on CBS Associated (the label that broke the Fabulous Thunderbirds through with "Tuff Enuff") and liked it, but I had managed to miss his recent live shows at the Back Room.
The place was packed, and a large proportion of the patrons was musicians, a good sign. Musicians generally go to the best music when they go out. Simply stated, Mason Ruffner tore it up at the Hole In The Wall that Friday night. Any doubts I might have had about putting him on the radio without hearing him live first dissolved quickly. His record was good, but he was even better now. With Wes Starr on drums, Sarah Brown on bass and 2nd guitarist Chris Clifton, Mason showed the fire that got him hired for the stadium tour. He played his guitar behind his head and he picked it with his teeth. Mason played the blues and he rocked hard. He sang hard luck tales full of demons and omens, owned up to his "Gypsy Blood" and brought a little bit of New Orleans voodoo to the Hole In The Wall.
The Hole In The Wall is a tiny joint as it's name implies, but it has been running non-stop for my entire tenure in Texas. In fact, the first chicken fried steak I ate in Austin was at the Hole. The fact that it has doubled as a restaurant in the daytime has probably made the difference financially. I can't think of another Austin nightclub that has managed to remain open continuously in the same location with the same management and music format. For most of the time there was no cover charge and only recently have they instituted a modest cover for some bands on the weekends. Many bands played the Hole In The Wall regularly before moving up to the larger clubs and concerts. Two prime examples are Omar & the Howlers and Timbuk 3. Two other factors in the financial success of the Hole In The Wall are it's proximity to the University of Texas campus (across the street, the closest music bar to campus) and the large video game/pool room in the back.
The Liveset with Mason Ruffner Sunday night was one of those easy hosting jobs where you just hand it over to the pro and stand back and let it happen. I didn't speak again till 45 minutes into the show when Mason had to change guitars. Listeners who heard the show (and taped it) say it sounds better than his record (and now his 2nd record). Part of that is the spark of energy that a live performance imparts as opposed to the technical perfection attainable with a record. I like the records and the Liveset, it just gives me that much more to choose from for my radio shows. As it turned out that was Mason's last performance before hitting the stadium stage in Atlanta four days later. Later, he told me that having the tape of the radio show did help to work out the final bugs before facing the crowds. Mason got great reviews on the trip and continues to play Austin when he can.
One of my main radio programs is Blue Monday, 8 p.m. to midnight every Monday night since August 24, 1981. KUT was 4,000 watts mono when I started Blue Monday, and when the station went 100,000 watts stereo in August of '82, Blue Monday quickly became a favorite program of people all over Central Texas. I even got listener phone calls from San Antonio where KUT is carried on the cable system. Serious FM listeners with moveable antennas listened in Houston and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area. A couple of old black guys who lived up on a hill near Cushing, Texas (180 miles NNE of Austin) were regular listeners and called me on the phone every month or so. They told me they had an antenna they could point at the stations that had blues shows and they knew where and when to find all of them. They told me Blue Monday was one of the shows they liked the best. One night they called and said they had several friends in to listen to the show and they asked me to "Call our names" so their friends would know they were a part of the program, proof that the DJ knew who they were. It sure made me feel good that people valued the program in that way. Some folks down in Wimberly who ran a restaurant had a Blue Monday party every week to listen and dance to the radio show. Admission was a bottle or a six-pack, which was then shared, since they couldn't legally sell alcohol. A bunch of carpenters who worked through the weekend and got paid at the end of the Monday shift all got together every week at a big old house with a few cases of beer and several decks of cards and listened to Blue Monday and then they had Tuesday off to rest up from the party before going back to work on Wednesday. People also began to tell me that they taped the shows and when they went on vacation they took the tapes along for road music and to play for their friends in faraway towns. Whew!
The third Antone's opened about the same time I started working at KUT, and they started a "Super Blues Party" on Monday nights about the same time I created Blue Monday. So, it was natural to go out and hear some live blues after playing four hours of blues records on the radio and having Blue Monday turn into the most popular radio program I had ever had in a 25 year broadcasting career. Antone's mainstay Angela Strehli had helped spread the word about Blue Monday early in it's existance, and had even helped to arrange interviews with Jr. Welles, Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin which helped to give the program early credibility and build the audience. Guest appearances by Angela, Omar (Omar & the Howlers), Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Miss Lou Ann Barton and Mike Buck (Leroi Brothers) with their record collections proved to be immensely popular shows. It's one of Austin's hottest programs, and it takes quite a bit of energy to do it, working in listener requests and trying to be sure it all fits together. It takes a half hour to 45 minutes to file all the records and finish up the paperwork before I can get out on the street, which usually leads to Antone's on Monday nights.
That particular Monday night was not a memorable one, unlike most other Monday nights at Antone's. The group was Heritage: The Band. Never saw them before, haven't seen them since. They weren't all that bad, just not a standout in a town full of standouts.
Tuesday night I saw Paul Orta & the Kingpins at the Hole In The Wall. Paul's a good harmonica player with a good band behind him, but so far he hasn't managed to attract a lot of attention.
Wednesday night at midnight, after my jazz show, I headed down to Sixth Street for the first time in a long time. Sixth Street is pretty much the Austin party zone, and in a college town that means copy bands, high prices and big crowds, three things I try to avoid. But I'd heard about a fairly new place that was booking good original music. So, I went to the Black Cat Lounge to see Mandy Mercier, who I knew from the old emmajoe's days. emmajoe's was a folk club that booked Townes Van Zandt, Nanci Griffith, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mose Allison, Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Butch Hancock, Lucinda Williams and a host of others. I hated it when emmajoe's closed down in the fall of '83. It was a block from Antone's and a half dozen blocks from where I work. It was heaven. The best folk music and the best blues a block apart, six blocks from work. Too good to last.
Mandy had played emmajoe's, mostly as a fiddle player, but now she had a guitar strapped on and was leading the band. That was the first of many nights of good music at the Black Cat. It was very small, maybe 10 or 12 feet wide, long and narrow, with the stage in front and the bar in the back, no cover and a jar for tips. Mandy was rockin' as she usually is and the place was packed. Finally, a good time on Sixth Street. Oh, Steamboat up the street provided the occasional good time, but I had avoided Sixth Street unless it was somebody I really wanted to see.
Thursday is city council day in Austin, and KUT carries the live broadcast of the meeting. April 8 was an exceptionally long meeting, and when I left the radio station at midnight it was still going on. But by the time I reached Liberty Lunch, Mayor Frank Cooksey and a couple of council members were already in the crowd. City council chambers is about a block from Liberty Lunch, and this particular Thursday was a benefit for Save Austin's Neighborhoods and Environment (SANE). The W. C. Clark Blues Review was playing, and I overheard Mayor Cooksey say, "that's a good band." A little later he was on the dance floor. It was good to see the mayor of the town enjoying the same music that I did. Marcia Ball closed out the benefit for SANE with a hot set of her Texas/Louisiana flavored blues, singing and playing and kicking the piano.
Liberty Lunch is a club that has been on Second Street for a long time. It has weathered many obstacles including rezoning, but it remains one of Austin's favorite nightspots. It's basically an outdoor club with a moveable roof, depending on the weather. When the Armadillo World Headquarters, the much loved and lamented middle sized venue Austin has lacked in the '80s, closed and dispersed it's assets Liberty Lunch bought the steel structure from the roof. With these materials they constructed the ceiling supports for the Liberty Lunch roof, so the Armadillo lives on in the highest part of Liberty Lunch.
Miss Lou Ann Barton livened up Friday night with a smokin' set at Antone's. Saturday I decided that since I'd gone out for live music nine consecutive nights, including Friday (which is the hardest night for me to go out since it's my night off and I usually have my 10 year old daughter till 10 or so and I'm often powered down by showtime), I'd try to keep it going for a while. But I was itchy to go someplace I'd never been. Someplace where I wouldn't see the same faces and shake the same hands. In short, I wanted some solitude with some live music in front of it.
I have a green '74 Alfa Romeo GTV coupe, and I hadn't been out of town in it for several months, so I headed south toward San Marcos and the Cheatham Street Warehouse where Jerry Jeff Walker was playing. I didn't leave Austin till around midnight, so it was close to quarter till one when I found the Cheatham Street Warehouse, which was surrounded by police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles with their red and blue lights flashing. I make it a practice not to go into places that are already surrounded by police cars, ambulances and emergency vehicles and I drove away from there. I was concerned about what had happened, and worried a little about Jerry Jeff, so I stopped at a phone booth and called the Cheatham Street Warehouse. It seems that a couple of customers had had a fight and someone had gotten cut, but Jerry Jeff hadn't been a part of it. In fact, he was already gone. That's when I found out that the liquor laws were different in San Marcos than Austin and the Cheatham Street Warehouse closed at one on Saturday, midnight during the week. By then it was after one, so I had to hot foot it back to Austin to catch Miss Lou Ann's last set at Antone's.
After leaving Antone's I went to Sixth Street to see what it was like on Saturday night. It was a zoo. Cars were bumper to bumper the length of the party zone (IH-35 to Congress Avenue) and people were spilling out of the clubs into the streets. Plenty of uniformed officers kept the crowd moving and orderly, though alcohol had made many of the revelers rowdy. Later in the summer I would see that Sixth Street is a minor party zone compared to the midway like atmosphere of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Sir Doug In A Baseball Cap
My work week is Sunday through Thursday, so Sunday found me at work on the radio interviewing Paul Metsa from Minnesota, Bob Dylan territory, on the Texas Radio program. Paul is a fine songwriter, and his songs about the mines and the people who work on the Minnesota Iron Range in this day of underemployment are quite poignant. Then, after the show, I caught Paul at the Hole In The Wall. It was well into the last set, and Paul had already finished doing most of his originals and by then was into some whiskey flavored blues tunes. I need to catch Paul again a little earlier in the evening.
Blue Monday is really Tuesday to me and I went to the Back Room and caught three or four tunes by Real, a band fronted by a guy I used to know in Ann Arbor named Scott Bailey. Scott had been the drummer for the Up, the White Panther (later Rainbow People) house band. The Up was one of the worst bands in the '65-'75 Ann Arbor music scene that produced Bob Seger, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, and Iggy Pop (who was then known professionally as Iggy Stooge). Scott had been living in Austin for several years and had been working as a singer/writer/producer for a year or so in the studio with a seven piece band looking for a marketable commercial sound. Recently the band had begun to play a few gigs and I caught just the tail end of this one. Then I went to Antone's and heard the last set with harmonica player Lewis Cowdry and the Antones.
The next afternoon I got a call asking me to have the Denver band Bop Street on the radio that week. Since they were playing at the South Bank that night I went to see them, enjoyed them and invited them in for a short radio appearance the following evening. Their music was rock and roll and the songs were good. The vocalist/piano player made me think of a teen-age Tom Waits, or more precisely a late 80s teen-age Tom Waits with a hot rock and roll band behind him.
Wednesday I went to a place that I wish had a different name, The Austin Outhouse. I saw Fat Man & the Maniacs. The fat man on guitar could play the blues. I finished out the month of April with these statistics: 14 consecutive nights of live music, 16 performers or bands at 10 places.
May first. Mayday. Hole In The Wall. Doug Sahm. Yep, THE Doug Sahm. Sir Douglas from the past. Doug lives part time in Austin, and had put a band (The Texas Mavericks) together to make a new record and he played at the Hole In The Wall a few times to tighten the band up for the record. It was Frosty (THE Frosty) on drums, Speedy Sparks on bass, Alvin Crow on guitar, John Reed (aka Johnny X) on lead guitar and Doug on vocals and guitar. It was a combination of rockabilly standards, Roky Erickson Texasstandards and old and new Doug Sahm songs with a rockin' band out to have a good time backing up a Texas legend in a baseball cap.
Friday night at Liberty Lunch was Burning Spear. It's the Reggae and African music nights that really bring Liberty Lunch alive, with the outdoor atmosphere, the tropical mural on the west wall and the gentle breeze to cool the hot dancing, swaying bodies. Austin has a hard core Reggae audience, and they turn out in numbers and colorful costumes for the major acts like Burning Spear. The sound of another clime is created regularly at Liberty Lunch and it is probably one of the major stress relieving factors for its followers. It is, after all, like a short vacation to a calmer place, a respite from the rat race, a moment away from the mouse maze. A break.
You Can Always Hear A Siren
Saturday night at Antone's. Midnight. Showtime. "Ladies and gentlemen, the James Cotton Big Band!" James Cotton is a regular at Antone's and I see him often, sometimes when he's not even on the bill. With the Big Band the excitement of a big horn band was there, but I craved a little more Cotton. I enjoyed the music, but the big bands are more oriented toward dancing and I'm not much of a dancer.
Sunday again. My Monday. After work the after midnight services at Hut's (God Bless Hut's) with the Reverend Harvey T. Young (aka Tex Thomas) in the pulpit scattering blessings among the faithful and calling down fire & brimstone on those who might stray from the path of righteousness, rhythm & blues. Tex Thomas & His Danglin' Wranglers is one of the absolute best shows on the Austin music scene. The band always cooks, and if Harvey is on, the songs take on a life of their own. Harvey Young is a songwriter who creates vignettes and character studies that are shockingly real...
"And you can always hear a siren
Screamin' in the night
And you wonder who's been hurt
And you wonder If he's dying
Layin' in the dirt
And you find yourself cryin'
Cryin' in your sleep
And it makes you wonder why
You're scared of hearin' sirens
Screamin' in the night."
...and Mike Francis takes a tenor sax solo that sends chills up your spine, and you know you'll hear the sirens screamin' in the night before you fall asleep.
Hut's is like a party on Sunday night. Tex has played Sundays at Hut's for six years and it's the only music Hut's has all week. So it's old home week. Most everybody knows each other and we mostly cut Harvey some slack on the off nights. Danny Levin is the band leader. Danny takes Harvey's songs and fleshes them out with his arrangements, then he calls the songs on Sunday nights and cranks up the band till it's running like a White Freight Liner tearing through the Texas night with a full load and a short deadline. Danny's one of the hardest working guys in Austin showbiz, sometimes playing 40-50 jobs a month and squeezing in a little studio time on album projects for other artists.
As Tex's keyboard player, Danny leads a band made up of leaders. Sarah Brown is on bass, Frosty on drums, Erik (the Kid) Hokkanen on guitar and fiddle, and sometimes a horn section, sometimes one horn. When Asleep At The Wheel isn't on the road Mike Francis plays tenor sax. Other times Tomas Ramirez, leader of the Jazzmanian Devil, is on sax. Recently Jon Blondell, the bass player on Willie Nelson's jazz album "Angel Eyes", has become the newest regular Wrangler on the slide trombone.
Getting off work at midnight and finishing the record filing and logs, timesheet and other paperwork gets me to Hut's at close to 1 a.m., so I generally catch the last set. Sometime I need to take a Sunday night off work and go out to hear Tex early. It might be another world. As it is I stop off at the donut shop on Congress and Oltorf to get a newspaper out of the mechanical vendor on my way home. The next day's morning newspaper, which I read before falling asleep, listening to the sirens screamin' in the night.
Mel Is Giving Lessons
The first Monday of each month is Miss Lou Ann Barton's night to host the Super Blues Party at Antone's. Lou Ann has been voted best female vocalist in Austin by the Chronicle readership three times, and she draws a rockin' crowd to Antone's. Early on it was Lou Ann's Monday nights that helped to establish Monday as a hot night at Antone's. All the way from "Shake A Hand" through a raveup of Roky Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me" to the Little Richard medley she closes out with, Miss Lou Ann prowls the stage like a panther, growling and snarling, sometimes dangerous, sometimes kittenish. A thick layer of toughness protecting a very vulnerable lady who lays it on the line every time she steps on stage.
The late set featured Mel Brown with the house band, the Antones, named for the club's namesake, Clifford Antone. This is the same Mel Brown who released a handful of lps on the Impulse jazz label in the mid '60s, spent several years on the road as Bobby "Blue" Bland's guitar player and was the guitar player in Tompal Glaser's original Outlaw band which was the spark that ignited the outlaw music of the mid '70s that brought Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings to prominence. Mel is principally a guitar player, but he also plays piano and organ in the house band. In fact, he was voted best keyboard player one year, while the younger guitar slingers dominated the guitar category. The truth is many of those guitar players go to Antone's to learn from Mel night after night, either as observers or as participants in those late night jams that Antone's is world famous for. I'd like to know how many times I've heard Paul Ray say "Mel's giving lessons," at 3 a.m. as Mel and another guitar player face off and trade licks while the after hours crowd sips icewater and hears the best music of the night.
Tuesday is traditionally a slow night in most towns, Austin included. Only a dozen clubs are open at all, and only about half of them attract my attention, and it's usually pretty easy to narrow it down to one or two of those. This particular Tuesday was a little different, though. Queen Ida was at Liberty Lunch. Queen Ida spent many of her younger years raising her family, and only turned to music professionally in her mid 40s. Since then, Queen Ida has been entertaining audiences all over the world with her own form of Zydeco. Bouncing around the stage like a basketball playing her little accordian and singing, the Queen of Zydeco had the mid-week audience at Liberty Lunch behaving like it was Saturday night.
This music has long been popular in (southern) Louisiana, and has spread to Texas with the popularity of Clifton Chenier's many appearances in the last dozen years. Zydeco influenced music may soon make its mark on the national music market following in the wake of Los Lobos' success with their souped-up version of the Mexican folk song "La Bamba," the title song from movie about the life of Richie Valens. That might just open American ears enough that they'll listen to some other kinds of American sounds besides the ones they're used to.
In late summer or early autumn of 1981, soon after I created Texas Music (later Texas Radio) Rob Klein, a part-time DJ part-time merchant marine, asked me if I was looking for tapes of local musicians for the Texas show. My original goal in moving to Austin in 1977 was to put Austin music on the radio in the form of records, live performances and interviews, and tapes of artists without or between records. I was in the process of building the library for Texas Radio and told Rob to send this fellow in with a tape of maybe 4 songs. A few days later Darden Smith, a UT history student/songwriter brought me a tape. All the songs were good, but one of them stood out and I played it on the next show. Before the song was even over the phone started ringing. "What's the name of that song and who's singing it?" "Where can I get that song you're playing?" Well, that song lit up the phones like no other song I had played on the radio in a long time.
"Clatter and Roll" was the name of the song, and I thought that it was the best train song I had heard since Butch Hancock's "Boxcars" which was the best train song I had heard since Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans." Apparently a lot of the listening audience thought so, too. I don't follow any "high rotation" methods like in format radio, but I did play "Clatter and Roll" several Sundays in a row, and it rang the phone every time. People were surprised that it was a tape and that they couldn't buy a record of it. I suppose a lot of folks taped it off the radio.
Five years or so later, with one self-produced album out on his own label ("Native Soil" on Ready Mix), Darden was playing solo to a sparse crowd at the Hole In The Wall. Still in his mid 20s and singing his own songs, Darden was only a year away from a record contract with major label Epic, with Asleep At The Wheel's Ray Benson producing.
Jazz clubs have had a hard time getting a foothold in Austin, and the latest in a long series was Baxter's on Sixth Street. I went to hear Columbia recording artist Kirk Whalum on Thursday May 8. Kirk was making Baxter's home base when he was in Austin, and he would play Tuesday through Saturday. Bob James had heard Kirk in Houston, where he had played for years, and had hired him to play on his record "12." James had also produced Kirk's first album "Floppy Disc." Needless to say Kirk Whalum live was much more exciting than his record, and I secretly hoped that Baxter's would succeed so we would have the much needed but elusive jazz club. But I knew that this place had little chance. It lasted less than a year.
Daddy, Can We Tape Record The Creek
When I was young I listened to Arthur Godfrey on the radio. Fifteen years later I heard DJ Sammy Allred say on the radio that the Geezinslaw Brothers would be playing someplace, a chili cookoff probably, that weekend. The name Geezinslaw Brothers vibrated a memory long tucked away. I thought about it for a while and recalled a comedy singing duo on the order of Homer & Jethro from way in the past. I met Sammy a few months later and asked him about the Geezinslaw Brothers. He told me that indeed the Geezinslaw Brothers were famous from the past, had been regulars on the Arthur Godfrey radio show and that he was one of them. Godfrey had passed through Austin in the early '60s and had hosted a talent show at the Air Force base on the edge of town. He saw the Geezinslaw Brothers at the talent show and immediately hired them for his network radio program and took them to New York. It was the classic story of the country bumpkin in the big city, but that's Sammy's story to tell. Watch for his book "Trade Out" sometime in the early '90s.
Twenty-five years later the Geezinslaw Brothers are still at it and I saw them at the South Bank on May 9. Sammy is the funny one who talks, tells the jokes and spikes his hat at the end of the song. Son does most of the singing and doesn't have a thing to say during the comedic interludes between songs. Sam and Son are featured monthly on the Nashville Now program on the Nashville Network cable TV service. Their act includes parodies, humorous country songs, a John Prine song or two, a high octane bluegrass version of "Over the Rainbow" and several original tunes with twisted tales of country livin' and lovin'. You may have seen the Geezinslaws and their vocal group, the Geezinslettes, opening for Willie Nelson at the State Fair in your state.
It rained early in the day Saturday May 10, and when Sara and I took our afternoon walk in Stacey Park Blunn creek was flowing briskly. Sara noticed the music of the waters of the creek and said, "Daddy, can we tape record the creek?" We went back to my house and got my Sony Walkman Professional (WM D6C) cassette machine and Electro-Voice (RE16) microphone and walked up to the part of the creek that parallels Stacy pool, near the corner of Live Oak and East Side Drive. We taped each little landing where the water fell and made noise. At some of the sections of the creek there would be a 10 or 20 foot length with several different noise producing points. We would walk very very very slowly along these sections holding the microphone two or three inches above the water recording the sound. We covered the creek from Stacy Pool clear down to the northern edge of the park. It was dark when we finished, and our shoes, socks and pants were soaked. When we heard the tape on the sound system, it was worth it. It sounded great. I dubbed a reel to reel copy, edited it and I occasionally play it on the radio. Sometimes someone will call and request it. Austin artist Michael Priest, who saw us taping the creek, told me that some of the folks who live in the neighborhood counted on hearing the creek on the radio while it was closed for repairs.
Saturday night at Liberty Lunch was African magic with Chief Commander Ebeneezer Obey. Talking drums and electric guitars, the fusion of the rhythms of the jungle with electronic technology creates one of the most compelling forms of music I've heard and the revelers at Liberty Lunch, primed by hearing Obey's and other African music on Dan Del Santo's World Music Show (KUT 8-11 p.m. Fridays), were ready for the Chief Commander. They were on their feet dancing and giving back their appreciation throughout. Even the rain held off till the band finished the set. Then the rains came and we all got soaked going home. It rained so much so fast that streets flooded and I had to ford a few high water crossings in the mile and a half I had to go.
Sunday May 11 marked 25 days of live music. By then I had decided to go for a hundred, and people had begun to greet me with "What day are you on?" Antone's is usually closed on Sundays, but Roomful of Blues was playing there this particular Sunday. Their name fits them aptly, and they filled the room with blues.
Blue Monday. More blues, then off to Antone's for Austin's blues angel, Angela Strehli. Angela is one of our premier vocalists, and she steals my heart every time I hear her sing. Also crashing the Blues Party was Paul Ray, host of Twine Time (KUT 6-9 p.m. Saturdays). Paul was the singer for the Cobras, an R&B band that preceeded the Antones and which contained many of the current Antones. Paul is a part-time DJ who should be a full-time DJ, and he's one of the most respected guys in town. Musicians listen to his radio shows to hear tunes they learn and play later in their own shows.
Tuesday I went to see the Hope Morgan Quartet at the Filling Station. The Filling Station is a restaurant that books jazz acts by the week. Hope has a nice voice, but a slow Tuesday wasn't a proper showcase for her.
On Wednesday I went to Liberty Lunch for lesbian folk music from Phranc. The small but mighty crowd cheered her on as she sang of rejecting a male lover for the gay life. Phranc was joined by members of Austin's Two Nice Girls for the finale. Phranc's sexual politics aren't my sexual politics, and I don't go to many gay shows, but I do like a lot of different kinds of music. I found elements I enjoyed in Phranc's performance, but I was much more comfortable 20 minutes later at Raven's Garage where the Hancock women (Charlene, Conni, Traci & Holli) sang songs that fit my frame of reference better. ("I've got those Brain Cloudy Blues.")
I've been seeing the Supernatural Family Band for about nine years or so. Tommy Hancock and his wife, Charlene, have been performing with their children for as long as the kids have been able to play instruments, and Conni and Traci have stepped out as leaders of the band as Tommy has taken on other projects. Conni and Traci each have albums out on the family label Akashik. Augmenting the band is John X Reed on guitar, and this particular night Doug Sahm was sitting in on vocal and guitar.
Raven's was a new place on Sixth Street that was offering undiluted country music and whiskey. I had driven by a couple of days earlier and thought the place looked like a new honky tonk on the scene, and sure enough it was booking authentic country music several nights a week. It was the only country joint on Sixth Street, and in addition to the indoor room Raven's was also about to open an outdoor beer garden. Both would have music. Yahooooo!
Thursday night the Nighthawks played Antone's. They're a roadhouse band in the tradition of the T-Birds, and they rocked the joint.
Peace & Justice
Friday, May 16, I was co-host of the awards banquet of the Austin Peace & Justice Coalition. It was an honor to be chosen to host, because it was on the basis of my radio programs they asked me. Actually I was the second choice, but John Henry Faulk had had a previous commitment. The entertainment, in addition to half a dozen speeches, was Tina Marsh, the wonderful "outside" vacalist who is one of the principle driving forces behind Austin's Creative Opportunity Orchestra; Todd Samusson, folk singer and peace activist; Bill Oliver, whose songs deal mostly with environmental issues and other socially relevant material; Toqui Amaru, a vocal group from Central America; Womansong, a female group whose songs highlight women's issues; The Grigadeans, a fellow who was a straight conservative music teacher in the '60s but who is now a consummate '80s hippie and his beautiful young wife (now X) who combined their last names of Grigasee and Dean to make the whole new name Grigadean, a folk singing duo with a wacky sense of humor; and Elouise Burrell, whose acapella rendition of "Joanne Little" brought tears to eyes and shivers to spines, mine included.
One of the recipients of an award was Austin mayor Frank Cooksey. The highlight of my evening was when the mayor came up to me and said, "I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blues program on Monday nights." I knew that a lot of musicians listened to my shows, and Texas State Treasurer Ann Richards had even made a pledge during a fundraiser when I had Jerry Jeff Walker in to sing a few songs and pitch for money. But this was the first time the mayor of the town I lived in had ever told me he was even aware of my work let alone in favor of it. I left St. David's Church where the ceremony had been held and went to Antone's, still in my coat and tie, to finish off a very pleasing evening with Omar & the Howlers.
On Saturday I went to see one of the loudest bands in town, Evan Johns and the H-Bombs. They turn the knobs all the way up and peel the paint off the walls where they play. The H-Bombs were remodeling the Hole In The Wall the first time I caught them, sandblasting the walls, shattering bottles and glasses and threatening serious structural damage with their guitar attack. Good fun.
Mason Ruffner showed up at the Back Room in the middle of his FIRM tour to play a Sunday night show. The reviews on the tour had raved about Mason and he was enjoying the intimacy of playing a club after a string of stadiums. After the set, I talked with Sarah Brown (Mason's bass player) and she said the tour was going well and the reviews had ranged from good to rave.
Monday night found James Cotton back at Antone's with the house band. When he had been in a month ago with the Big Band, I had gone home wanting a taste more Cotton. We got it that night. He was magnificent. There's a lot more room to move in a small combo than a big band, and Cotton made his moves with power and elegance. Truely one of the greatest bluesmen.
Had I known what was in store for me at the Continental Club on Tuesday May 20, I would have gone there directly from work. But I was hungry, so I drove to the Anytime Bank and got a few dollars out of my rapidly dwindling checking account and stopped at a restaurant for a bite to eat and a couple of cups of coffee. By the time I got to the Continental Club it was one o'clock. Webb Wilder was on stage. The same Webb Wilder who was a department store detective in the cult favorite film "Webb Wilder: Detective, The Sorcerer's Revenge," which plays regularly on the USA Night Flight program. Webb is a cross between Phillip Marlowe and Andy Griffith and his silver screen persona was now leading an intrigueingly humorous country rock and roll band that had a vague echo of the early Howlers to it. I only heard 20 minutes, and I think it should be a law that the band has to play till 2 a.m. In fact, I have some serious thoughts about how to better handle that strange legal zone from 2:00 a.m. till 2:15 and after when people are moved from a comfortable place where they are drinking directly to automobiles, but I'll discuss that elsewhere.
A place that I'd seen in south Austin, but had never gone in was the Flying Circus. It was a neighborhood bar with an airplane motif, with pictures of planes, model planes hanging from the ceiling and a propellor on the wall behind the stage. The W. C. Clark Blues Review was playing Wednesday nights, no cover. W. C. has been a mainstay on the Austin blues scene for years, breaking in as a bass player at the Victory Grill on the East side in the '40s. Smokey vocals and spare clean guitar lines around percussion aplenty. It was Frosty on drums and Kent LaFlamme on a percussion rack with an array of jungle and domestic percussion instruments. A lot of folks I knew were at the Flying Circus to see W. C.
One of the most popular tracks I play on the radio is Johnny Reno's version of "Harlem Nocturne." It's an old tune and was the theme for the Mike Hammer TV show, but Johnny Reno's version will generally cause the phone to ring a few times. Johnny Reno and the Sax Maniacs played Antone's Thursday May 22, and I caught their uptempo wailing act. Afterward, I told Johnny about the response I had been getting from listeners when I played "Harlem Nocturne." I think he heard me tell him.
Friday marked the release of the first album by the Commandos ("Edge of Town" on Austin Records), and the party was at the Hole In The Wall. Susie and Phareaux have written and performed together for years and now had an album out, were getting good press and were soon to tour Finland. Needless to say, they rocked the joint.
Saturday night I was back at the Flying Circus for the Tailgators: X-Leroi Brother Don Leady and X-T-Bird Keith Ferguson on guitar and bass with Gary "Mudcat" Smith on drums. They played Swamp Rock and cooked up a midnight gumbo that kept the dance floor moving and the beer flowing till closing time.
Sunday again, my Monday, and after work I headed on down to Sixth Street for the Multiple Sclerosis Benefit at Steamboat. Ronnie Lane has been living in or around Austin foe a few years since he has had M S, and several musicians had put together a benefit for him and for M S research. When I arrived Arthur Brown (aka the God of Hellfire) was on stage with a cooking jazz band. Arthur's urgent, even frenetic, vocal style propelled by Glover Gill on synthesizer, Robert Atwood on guitar and Rock Savage on drums was out on that Captain Beefhart edge that I like every once in a while. Arthur is tall, 6'6" or so, and his angular body topped off by a giant Nixon mask is my kind of entertainment as the band approaches critical mass with this gigantic Nixon shreiking in the spotlight.
Local famous unemployed heart attack TV sportscaster Vic Jacobs next introduced, "The Lubbock tornado, Joe Ely!" Joe and his hot tight new band (David Grissom/guitar, Bobby Keys/sax, Davis McLarty/drums & Jimmy Pettit/bass) blew through Steamboat with a torrid four song set that demanded an encore. Joe obliged and the crowd, which had earlier heard a frail Ronnie Lane sing in a club for the first time in a long time, had gotten a full evening of entertainment. Unfortunately, there was one more set.
Dino Lee took the stage around 2 a.m. with a pickup band that included David Grissom on guitar. Dino was playing bass. Dino seemed to have been drinking a little too heavily and he was abusive from the beginning. Abusive in several ways including sexism. Perhaps it was satire, but it seemed alcohol induced rather than artistically inspired. I was standing on the balcony overlooking the stage observing Dino from above, drinking a Heineken beer. After 10 minutes or so and during a diatribe by Dino against policemen, apparently brought on by losing a lover to a cop, I found myself looking at my green Heineken bottle and thinking how easy it would be to conk Dino right on the forehead with it from my vantage point. But I'm a good citizen and I didn't do it.
I walked down the back stairs with Dino screaming, "turn up my bass. Turn up my fucking bass," ringing in my ears as I headed for the rest room. In the rest room was a guy wearing only one shoe (shorts and a t-shirt, but only one shoe), and I wondered aloud to Xalapeno Charlie, who was at the next urinal, if the guy had lost his other shoe at the benefit or had come with just one shoe. Charlie then proceeded to tell me about the time his X-wife had had him arrested in his own restaurant because he wasn't wearing shoes. By the time I got out of the can Dino was screaming "FUCK YOU," and he was bleeding from the forehead and kicking at the audience. He continued to scream "FUCK YOU" through the microphone until the sound man killed the system. The bar's tough guys took over and finally it quieted down.
I asked several people what had happened. The general consensus seemed to be that Dino had kicked a ringside heckler in the head, and either the kickee or someone in his party had retaliated by throwing a drink at Dino and the glass had cut his forehead. David Grissom said that appeared to be what had happened from his vantage point on stage. In 39 consecutive nights of night club hopping that was the first time I had seen blood drawn on stage. An ugly scene. And a sad and violent end to an event that began as a labor of love. As I was unlocking my car I saw the guy with one shoe trying to remember where he had parked his van.
Talltops, Teddy, Terry, Tex
Monday night after Blue Monday I heard the house band at Antone's. Then on Tuesday night as I was fixing to head out to the Continental Club to see Mitch Watkins, John Reed came by the station and asked me where I was going to go after work. I told him, and he said that I ought to go across the street to the Hole In The Wall and hear this new band called Teddy & the Talltops. That's some of the best advice I got the whole bar trek. It was a country blues Louisiana Tex-Mex rock and roll band with a deep voiced singer named Ted Roddy. Speedy Sparks was on bass, Joe Dickens on guitar, Harry Hess on steel guitar and Stan Moore on drums. I liked a lot of the songs, and they were familiar tunes, but not like a Sixth Street copy band. Conway Twitty's "Lonely Blue Boy," Elvis's "A Fool Such As I," Porter Wagner's "I'll Go Down Swinging," the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night," and a host of other tunes like "From A Jack To A King" and "Cheating Traces" made for a good night at the Hole In The Wall hearing the best new band I'd heard for a while. Ahhh, the life of a talent scout can be a rewarding one.
Since the first month I was in Austin I've known Terry Pearson. We lived in the same neighborhood for a while and hung out. We both worked for a time at the Disc record store in the Highland Mall. For the past few years, Terry had been the sound man at the Continental Club. On May 28, Terry was leaving the Austin Music scene to move with his wife and daughter to Denton, Texas. Terry would be the road sound man for Sonic Youth, and his wife Donna would go back to college. I only caught the tail end of the show with Skank, but I got to tell Terry goodbye.
The next night I went to Sixth Street and saw Diana Cantu and Big Bamboo at Maggie Mae's and the excellent reggae band Killer Bees at Ragtime. On Friday I saw Tex Thomas at a place other than Hut's. A year or so before, a dozen Austin bands put on an all day show at the Continental Club and the whole thing was recorded. The end result was "Live At The Continental Club," an album on Profile records that featured several of the performances of that day. Tex was one of the acts included on the album, and he closed out the record release party.
I took Sunday, June 1, off work so I could spend the weekend at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Rod Kennedy, a big band singer in the 40s, has held music festivals at the Quiet Valley Ranch near Kerrville, Texas for 10 years or so, and the folk fests are famous nationwide, even worldwide. I'm a city boy, and don't spend much time sleeping in tents, so I had never been to Kerrville for any of the festivals. Since I had spent more than 40 consecutive days seeing live music I felt adventurous enough to take on Kerrville, so about 9:30 or 10 p.m., after watching Danny Sullivan spin completely around and go on to win the Indianapolis 500 auto race on TV, I headed for the Texas Hill Country. I got there, checked in and got my visa band, which gave me press credentials, and followed the sound of Tom Rush's voice to the main stage. The set had just started, so I got to hear most of it. Although Tom Rush has been around since the 60s, I can't recall ever seeing him in person before. Tom's mellow set closed out the evening on the main stage, and people started heading for their campsights.
I went backstage and found my friend Roger Allen, who usually spent the whole several days at Kerrville, and he was surprised to see me since I had never made the Kerrville experience my own before. He said there would probably be an extra tent for me to use, and we set out for the campfires to see what was going on. At Kerrville, the formal concerts are only part of the overall deal. All night long folks gather around the many campfires and continue to play songs. Some campfire gatherings are raucus and rowdy songfests, and others are quiet, sensitive songwriter recitals. Featured performers from the main stage often frequent the fires, sing a song or two, then vanish in the night visiting fleetingly the next flame.
During the next two or four hours I heard Doak Snead, Flash Bennett, Terry Allen, Darden Smith, Richard Dobson, various members of the Austin Lounge Lizards, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Gilmore and a guy called Stoner. Anyone can sing at the campfires, and others join in on harmonicas, fiddles, guitars, autoharps and little Casio keyboards. Sometime during the night a voice sang Tom Waits' song "Sailing Away" from just beyond the reach of the firelight. It was a sweet angel voice and every line rang out pure and clear. I asked Roger if he knew who she was, but he didn't. Several songs later and an hour or two closer to dawn people drifted off to bed and the campfire began to fade. A few attempts had been made to revive the fire, but none were successful. In the deepest of the dark, with the fire nearly out and the remaining folks about to call it a night, that same sweet angel voice from before sang out the familiar words to "Amazing Grace." On the words "I was blind, but now I see" the campfire burst into full flame, casting light on the singer. Roger swears that her voice brought the fire to flame, and I can't offer any evidence to the contrary. The singer's name was Michelle Dedman and I recalled her being listed at Chameleon's Coffee House a time or two.
That night closed out May, and my statistics were: 45 consecutive days, 62 performers and 20 venues.
I slept in a borrowed tent from about 6 a.m. till 10 or 11 a.m. and by then it was too hot and noisy to sleep anymore. I washed up and found some coffee and breakfast, then headed for the main stage for the New Folk segment. The New Folk winners who performed in the early afternoon were Bird Conaire, Suzanne & Linden Sherwin, David Roth, Lynn Isaacs, Hal Ketchum, and The Tolers. After the New Folk, I wandered past the children's stage where Melissa Javers was teaching some small children a song and the gestures that went with it. I watched for a while, then continued on to a place called the ballad tree.
At the ballad tree Butch Hancock was hosting an open mic kind of deal except there was no microphone. Anyone who wanted to could sign up and sing a song under the ballad tree. Sort of an open air audition. I had only heard of four or five of the people who sang that afternoon, and many of them were from places other than Austin. Some of them were good, others quite unpolished. I can't tell you much about any of the ballad tree performers, but surely some of them will work their way through the New Folk stage and find themselves on the Kerrville main stage in the years to come.
Sometime between the ballad tree and the evening show I saw Townes Van Zandt and Eric Andersen walking toward the food area. Townes and I have been friends for five or six years, but I had never met Eric. I had never even seen him perform live before, and his being on the Kerrville roster had been one of the motivating factors that had finally brought me to Kerrville. Townes introduced me to Eric and explained who I was (slightly famous Austin DJ who actually played the good records...including Townes and Eric...on the radio) and we hit it off pretty good. Eric bought me an iced tea. It was far too early for me to start drinking beer. I was pacing myself.
About that time Carol from the First Aid tent pointed out to me that I was beginning to get a little pink. I have red hair and fair skin and work the night shift. For the rest of the day I had to stop by the First Aid tent every hour or so to apply sunblock #15 and Aloe Vera lotion and to let Carol check to see if I was entering the DANGER ZONE sunburn-wise. I managed to make it till dark without sun-stroking, and settled in for the main stage evening show on the last day of the festival, which had run 11 consecutive days that year. Many Kerrverts had made all 11.
Kerrverts, kerrvivors, kerrazy, kerrageous, kerrash. These Kerrville festival goers have their own language. Not their own toilets, though. They have to use the kerrmunity kerrappers.
One of Austin's most amusing bands is the Lounge Lizards. They perform an array of twisted originals like "(I wanna ride in) the Car Hank Died In," "Keepin' Up With the Joneses, (I drive my car like Parnelli, I've been drinkin' like George)," and "Pflugerville" (which is a small town north of Austin). The Lizards led off the evening concerts on the main stage and had the crowd in stitches throughout, regaling the throngs with "The Ballad of Ron Reagan" and other songs of social and political satire from the Lizard Zone.
San Antonio school teacher Melissa Javers was up next, and her songs wafted over the audience like a welcome cooling breeze. Melissa had gotten some copies of her album pressed so she could sell them at the record tent at the festival. The lps had come in plain white jackets, and Melissa had passed them out to her school kids during art class and the kids had drawn and painted on the jackets, each an original cover for the album.
The sounds of TexMex followed with Santiago Jiminez Jr. and Conjunto with special guest El. Santiago made his accordian sing, and as I sat in the crowd with Kaz Kazanoff (saxman in Angela Strehli's band) I saw how many musicians were in the still growing audience. Kaz said that he had been looking foreward to Santiago's set and was glad he was booked in to play that night with Angela because it enabled him to see Santiago.
Butch Hancock is on the Board of Directors of the Kerrville Festivals, and is also the Co-producer of the Texas Music Network, a group of folks making TV shows for cable and home distribution. TMN was taping the Kerrville Folk Fest, and Butch could be seen on stage with a handheld TV camera when he wasn't on stage actually performing. Butch Hancock & Marcie Lacoteur & Band were next and they did a bunch of Butch's songs with a seven or eight piece band that ranged from Booka Michel on congas and other percussion to Spyder Johnson on the saw. Balloons circulate through the crowd when Butch plays, and when he gets to the "West Texas Waltz," everybody blows up the baloons and gears up for the verse that goes...
"We spent my next to last dollar in the old ice cream parlor on a milkshake and a malt and a pop..."
...and in the beat after the word "pop" all those baloons go off simultaneously or sorta simultaneously, because there's always the odd baloon or ten that gets popped after the initial onslaught. I know its goofy, but it happens every time Butch sings the "West Texas Waltz," at least when he sings it to an Austin crowd. It's a tradition that started years ago at Butch's famed twilight concerts at emmajoe's.
Bill Stains, a working man's kind of songwriter was next and he performed his cowboy ballads with a carefully crafted style, somewhat reminicent of a carpenter building a cabinet, filing and sanding the wood till it's smooth.
Eric Andersen, 60s folkie, Vanguard recording artist, denizen of the New York folk scene that spawned Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Paul Simon and Woody Guthrie incarnate Ramblin' Jack Elliot. The development of these folk artists in the early to mid 60s paralleled the civil rights movement, and many of the era's finest songs spoke to that struggle. Eric Andersen's contribution to that genre was called "Thirsty Boots," and he sang it Sunday night at Kerrville and its anthem like quality brought tears to my eyes again more than 25 years after I had first heard it as a Ball State University undergrad. I was a DJ even then, and played Eric's records on my folk music program on the college radio station WBST-FM. That Sunday night Eric performed solo, accompaning himself on guitar mostly, but moving to the grand piano midway through the set. His songs continue to be cut crystal gems with beautiful melodies and lyrics that could stand as poetry. Often very sad poetry. Townes Van Zandt calls them "razor blade songs." "Music to slit your wrists by," laughed Eric earlier in the day.
Angela Strehli closed out the 1986 Kerrville Folk Festival with a smokin' set of blues and rock tunes, which is what a lot of folks feel is folk music these days. At one point, Eric Andersen came out from backstage to watch Angela's set, and he sat down a couple of rows in front of me, which put him in the front row. It was obvious that Eric was enjoying Angela's performance, and during "Boogie Like You Want" Angela came to the lip of the stage, pointed her finger straight at Eric and belted, "You got to boogie like you want," right at him. I could see Eric's energy level take a quantum leap in that instant. Angela zapped him. She can do that.
Meanwhile, back at the campfire, the festival continued with most folks staying the night rather than driving home. I stopped by Townes Van Zandt's campfire and listened to stories about earlier Kerrville festivals, including the time Townes had gotten his car stuck in the mud blocking the only way in or out of the festival grounds, with traffic backing up behind him in both directions. Townes had performed on the main stage earlier in the week, but I hadn't been there for that. I did hear him sing one song that Eric requested there by the campfire before I moved on to roam around the grounds. During the night I heard Steve Gillette, Mike Williams, Chuck Pyle, Sid Frye and others anonymous. The highlight of the campfires that night for me was when Eric Andersen showed up and sang the beautifully haunting "Trouble In Paris." Someone accompanied Eric quite sympathetically with a bluesy throaty low register flute. Haunting. I'd like to have a recording of that song played the way it was played that night.
The wind was beginning to kick up aroundabout 4:30 or 5 a.m. and soon the skys unleashed a torrential downpour, which is nothing new for Kerrville, and I found myself soaked and standing under the small roof of one of the permanent buildings. Little by little the little bit of space was filled up with people who were either still out roaming around, or people who were beginning to get flooded out of their tents. Somebody had a guitar and somebody else had a harmonica, and pretty soon the little outpost against the elements was ringing with the Beatles' "Rain" and "Here Comes The Sun." The sun didn't come, but there was a lot of lightning and a whole lot of rain during the next hour. The little space got more and more crowded and cramped, so during a short lull in the downpour I made a break for my car.
Alfa coupes aren't the most comfortable cars to sleep in, but the seat does lay back about 45 degrees. And it was fairly dry. Monday dawned hot and steamy and I woke up when the sun turned my little car into a convection oven. After cleaning up as best I could I headed back to Austin. My left rear tire blew out about halfway home and I had to make a quick pitstop to put the spare on, but other than being tired and sunburned I survived...err...um...kerrvived my first visit to Rod Kennedy's Quiet Valley Ranch feeling pretty good.
Timbuk 3 Two Times
Blue Monday. Blue Monday and I'm a mess. I got home from Kerrville too late in the afternoon to get a nap, but after a pot of hot coffee and a long shower I felt nearly human and I went to work. During Blue Monday I played Eric Andersen's "Song to JCB," about San Francisco bluesman J. C. Burris, with whom Eric had spent time in the early '60s, then I played a side of J. C. Burris's Arhoolie lp "Early One Morning." Later, at Antone's, Donna the waitress asked me about a song that I'd played earlier and she sang the line, "Who's that man singin that song..." She wondered if it was a Bob Dylan song that she somehow hadn't heard, and in fact when I was playing it on Blue Monday a few people had called to ask if it was Dylan singing. Well, it was Eric's "Song to JCB." Eric was in the club and I introduced him to Donna and told him she had asked about his song. He sang back the line, "Who's that man singing that song..." to her and asked her name again. "Pleased to meet you Mizz McCluuurrre," he said bowing politely. Miss Lou Ann Barton was on stage and the joint was jammed. Sometime much later I made it home and fell into bed, trying to catch up on lost sheep, lost sleep sheep sleep zzzzz zzz.
I woke up proving the old blues adage: "Tuesday's just as bad." Recovery time from Kerrville for my 44 year old bones was still in progress, and my sunburn was pretty sore, so I took it easy till showtime. After work I went to see Bill Carter & the Blame. Carter is a songwriter with a tune, "Why Get Up," on the T-Bird's "Tuff Enuff" album, one disc of his own on Spindletop records, and a deal with CBS for an upcoming lp. He also sold "Why Get Up" to a cereal company for BIG BUCKS. The band was rockin', but I was reeling so I called it a night at the set break and went home to bed early.
Wednesday wasn't worse. In fact, I felt pretty good and spent the afternoon in the park with my daughter, Sara Swenson. The heat had gone out of my sunburn and I was starting to peel, but I could begin to feel the theraputic value of Kerrville. Fresh air and good music are certainly healing agents, and my two days at Kerrville were well worth the well-done skin and red-rimmed eyes I got.
I went to the South Bank on Wednesday night to see one of Austin's hottest bands. Pat and Barbara K. McDonald had a three or four piece band when they first hit Austin from Madison, Wisconsin and the streets of New York City. They had pared the band down to the pair of them plus a boom box cassette machine that played drums, bass and rhythm tracks that Pat had recorded at home. As Timbuk 3 they had appeared on an Austin segment of "The Cutting Edge" on MTV and had stolen the show, at least as far as securing a recording contract as a result of the show was concerned. Their album (on IRS) was due out later in the summer, and they played the South Bank on June fourth. The South Bank was a nice room with what looked like a good sound system, but the sound never seemed to be quite right in the room. I usually found myself straining to hear the vocals at the South Bank, and others I talked to had that same complaint. Timbuk 3 sounded good even though I couldn't understand the lyrics most of the time. I mean I couldn't hear the lyrics. If I could have heard them I'm fairly certain I could have understood them. As it turns out Pat McDonald is a songwriter in the Dylan mold and the lyrics are mighty important. Hearing Timbuk 3 at the Black Cat the next night was a much more satisfying experience.
Other than her vocal on "I Can't Get My Motor To Start" on the Nick Mason "Fictitious Sports" album on Columbia, I hadn't heard Karen Kraft sing before. I went to see Ms. Kraft on Thursday night at Liberty Lunch, and she was on stage when I got there. With my arrival the crowd swelled to a dozen people. Karen continued to belt it out though, and within a year she would become John Hammond's last discovery. Early in '87 she appeared on Dave Letterman's show and gargled one of the verses of "Stormy Weather." Right, gargled. She warbled the first few verses like you would expect a chanteuse to do, then she took a sip of water and gargled the last verse.
I drove on over to Sixth Street and circled around a few times before I found a place to park. Since I was close to the new Raven's Beer Garden, I stopped in there to see Darden Smith. After a tune or two Darden announced the next number by saying "Here's a song I wrote...," and gave some explanation. A couple of tables away from me a girl in her early 20s hollered out "Don't sing something YOU wrote, sing something we KNOW." A half-dozen gin joints on Sixth Street with copy bands and she comes into this place. If I was the rowdy type, I'd have yelled "Sing songs you wrote, don't sing nothing I know," but I kept my opinion to myself. Besides I knew Darden would be singing songs he wrote anyway. He always did. I'll bet he knows some other songs, but I've only heard him sing a handful that he didn't write himself.
I continued on toward the Black Cat, but stopped for a few minutes at Stephanie's and heard Latin Tempo play a couple of sambas. At the Black Cat, Timbuk 3 was playing to a packed house. I squeezed through the crowd back to the bar, bought a cold Corona beer for a buck and a half, found a little space to stand and got my first real taste of Timbuk 3. This time I could hear the lyrics to the songs, and I realized that Pat McDonald was in the top echelon of Austin songwriters. At the next Grammy awards Pat and Barbara K. would be nominated in the catagory "Best New Band." They played till nearly 2:30 a.m. that night and afterward I went home and pulled out the two Pat McDonald and the Essentials albums I had and did a little homework before I went to bed. Those records were full of good songs too. I wished that I had started seeing Timbuk 3 earlier. They had been around Austin for a few months, but I had managed to miss them. Damn. I should have had them on the radio long ago. Damn.
The next night, Friday night, one of the best blues guitarists in the world played at Antone's. I've been seeing Buddy Guy since the early 70s, and in recent years I've had the opportunity to see him two or three times a year. I don't collect autographs as a rule, but one of my most prized possessions is a photograph of Buddy that Angela Strehli took and framed for me. It is inscribed "To Larry Monroe and Blue Monday," and signed by Buddy Guy. Buddy makes Antone's a party till 3 a.m. or so, and he leaves the stage playing his guitar to walk through the admiring crowd trailing his cable behind playing hotter and hotter licks as he absorbs energy from the audience.
Saturday night I went to Liberty Lunch to see Reggae star Tenor Saw. The promoter, Mark Pratz, warned me at the door it was wierd. He said Tenor Saw was singing in one key and the band was playing in another. Jay Trachtenberg (Jazz Etc, KUT Friday midnight till 5 a.m. Saturday) and Ed Ward (freelance writer) were in the crowd and we discussed Tenor's key problems. None of the reviews in the various papers mentioned the key thing, so I don't know what the deal was. I only heard two or three songs anyway, and drove south across the river to the Flying Circus to see Calvin Russell. Calvin's songs are tough and gritty, and he was rocking the smokey room with his tales of jails, songs about strong men with conviction and convicted men with strength.
Ramblin' Jack, The Drifter & Lefty Godiva
I had passed the midpoint of my marathon, or so I thought. I had openly declared, on the radio and elsewhere, that I was going to see live music for 100 consecutive nights and I was at number 52. I was closer to 100 than I was to zero, so I couldn't turn back now. Besides, the music was usually good and the alternative was to go home and read, listen to records, audition tapes or watch TV. Most people I knew weren't up all night like I was, so if I wanted to have any social life I might as well go out to a night club. At least the people were real and lifesize instead of miniature and on tape like the people on the television set, the insomniac's companion.
The next few nights I saw Tex Thomas, the Antones (backing up Hosea Hargrove, Denny Freeman and Angela Strehli), and the New Rock band Zeitgeist. Zeitgeist's bass player, Cindy Toth, had worked at the same record store in the mall that Terry Pearson and I had worked at, and the Continental Club manager, Mark Pratz, had worked there, too. All four of us had been just biding our time working there until we could get into show business full time. Zeitgeist was rockin', but without Terry at the sound board the vocals were hard to hear. I did hear the words "deja vu," but I think I strained myself listening too hard. I felt a little woozy afterward. The Continental Club was packed and it was a Tuesday, so Zeitgeist's drawing power was very good.
Wednesday night I saw Ron Brown with the Diana Ross Rhythm section at Baxter's. It was good straight ahead saxophone jazz. On Thursday I split for Antone's right after work. Grammy winner Johnny Copeland was the featured performer, and I hadn't seen him for a while. Early in the life of Blue Monday Johnny had played live in the studio on the show, the first person to play live on Blue Monday. His recent albums on Rounder had been quite successful, and he had also won the W. C. Handy award for best blues entertainer.
There were a couple of guests at Antone's that night. First a singer called Black Moses did a few numbers with Johnny. Then Johnny called up "a very good friend, Stevie Ray Vaughan!" Stevie joined Johnny and they jammed till the waitresses took up the drinks. Still nobody left. The place was still packed when the band finished up long after 2 a.m. Johnny and Stevie Ray are old friends, and Stevie is guest guitarist on a couple of tracks on Johnny's "Texas Twister" lp.
I first saw Ramblin' Jack Elliot in 1970 in Ann Arbor. He had played either Hill Auditorium or Pease (Porridge) Hall earlier in the evening and a friend of mine was giving him a ride to his next job in Pennsylvania or someplace further east. They had been listening to my radio show (midnight to 6 a.m. on WOIA-FM) on the way out of town and stopped by the station for a short visit so Jack could hear some Joan Baez records. Jack told stories about the early days with Dylan and Baez in New York while I played his requests. He told the stories to us in the control room, not to the radio audience. He didn't come to the station to be on the radio, he just wanted to hear a few records before he hit the road. I was glad to oblige. After 20 minutes or so Ramblin' Jack was gone and I was sitting there playing road music on the radio for Ramblin' Jack Elliot till he drove out of range of the station's signal.
Ramblin' Jack played Austin on Friday the 13th of June. I had had the kids, and we'd gone to the mall and a movie, played 36 holes of miniature golf and wolfed down big hot fudge sundaes. By the time I got home at 10:30, I was entertainmented out. I set my alarm watch for midnight and four follow ups at five minute intervals and fell asleep. The alarms went off and I finally woke up enough to turn on Larry King's show, which woke me the rest of the way up. I made coffee, showered, dressed and drove to campus, parked and went into the UT student union building where the Cactus Cafe is located. It was one o'clock and Jack was on stage. He played another 20 minutes and was called back for an encore. I walked through the union and heard a couple of tunes by Pressure as I passed through the Texas Tavern. I continued on to the Hole In The Wall and caught the last half set by the Commandos.
Midnight. Saturday night on Sixth Street. Cars were backed up bumper to bumper on Sixth Street from Brazos Street clear back to IH-35, and the Sixth Street exit ramp off the northbound freeway had traffic backed up in the exit and slow lanes for half a mile. I continued on past that glob of vehicles and exited at 15th, drove under the freeway and doubled back on Red River. I parked about four blocks from my eventual destination and hoofed it the rest of the way. I didn't want my car in that automotive mess that would continue to resemble traffic jelly till after 2 a.m. Besides, I could use the walk. When I reached Sixth Street, pedestrian traffic was shoulder to shoulder and moving slowly, just like the auto traffic in the street. Both were noisy. The cars were blowing their horns and peeling rubber across the intersections, then slamming on their brakes to keep from cramming into the cars backed up in the next block. The pedestrians were a whistling, yelling, cheering, jeering, leering funloving mob of people with Saturday night fever. Car radios (actually mobile sound systems in some cases) competed with the music spilling out of the night clubs and added to the decible level of the cacaphony.
I slipped into Raven's Beer Garden to hear the Supernatural Family Band, finding a seat just out of earshot of the street. Conni Hancock spotted me in the crowd from the stage and flashed me a smile. She knows that I like Butch Hancock's song "Fools Fall In Love," and she sent it out to me. Thank you, Conni. Several songs and a couple of Coronas later I was back out on the street. If anything, the noise level had gone up a few db and the crowd was definitely a few drinks merrier as I made a circuit of the party zone before heading back to my car, which was safely tucked away out of harm's way. I skirted Sixth Street and picked up the Sunday morning paper on my way home.
Services at Hut's with Tex Thomas on Sunday were followed Monday night at Antone's with the house band backing up Pete Mayes, Sarah Brown and Mel Brown. Then on Tuesday I saw W. C. Clark at the Flying Circus and Wednesday after work I strolled across the street to the Hole In The Wall to hear part time barmaid, ace southpaw softball pitcher Carolyn Caffrey (aka Lefty Godiva) sing jazz tunes with the Rich Harney Trio. I motored on down to Sixth Street, parked, bought a hot dog with sour kraut and walked up the street. After the hot dog, a throwback to my Detroit days, I stopped in for a cold beer at Alley Oops. Rusty Wier was playing his regular Wednesday night gig, and I stood near the entrance talking with Steve Gary (X-DJ for KOKE-FM in its heyday) who was the club's doorman. There wasn't any cover charge, and Steve's job was to invite you in. Once inside you'd likely have at least one drink, maybe more. So, I watched Steve ply his trade on the passersby. He was a few long steps from his DJ days, but he was still doing what DJs do, inviting you to try it out. I wondered if I could do Steve's job if my DJ career crashed. I hoped I wouldn't have to find out very soon.
Thursday night I got a call from Casey Monahan, the compiler of the calendar I read on the radio at 9:02 every night, telling me that Bob Dylan would play an unnannounced 20 minute set at the Cactus Cafe at midnight Saturday night after his show at the Frank Erwin Center. Casey got it direct from Griff Luneberg, the Cactus Cafe manager. I had to keep the info under my hat so the joint wouldn't be jammed. OK.
I went to the Black Cat Lounge to see Walter H. K. Tore after work. Walter is a guitar/harmonica player who improvised the lyrics to his songs on the spot. He claimed that he couldn't remember lyrics, so every song was different every time he played it.
It was a hot weekend entertainment-wise. I saw Mose Allison and Bob Dylan on back to back nights and topped off both nights with Omar & the Howlers. I had seen Mose Allison in Austin a couple of times at emmajoe's, but emmajoe's was gone now and Mose was at the Continental Club. The Jazz Sage was playing with a drummer and bass player recruited from Austin's jazz players. Likely it was Wes Starr and Jon Blondell. I sat next to Deborah Byrd, who writes and produces the Stardate radio program (a daily look at astronomy syndicated to stations all over the country). Deborah works in the short form (two minutes) and I work in the long form (four hours). Her show is on my show every night at nine. I love seeing Mose Allison, and see him every chance I get. After Mose I saw Omar at Antone's.
Saturday Sara and I were hanging around the house when Roger knocked on the door and said that Bob Dylan was shopping at Electric Ladyland. Sara and I hopped in the car and drove the eight blocks from home up to Congress Avenue and parked across the street from Electric Ladyland and went in. Sure enough Bob Dylan was in the store selecting masks, headgear, jackets, and other articles from the stock of costumes and fancy clothing and piling them on the counter. Bob looked good. He looked healthy, slim and strong. I tried to think of how to tell him that I've been playing his records on the radio for 25 years without spooking him and making him think I was a jerk, but Sara kept asking me to come look at stuff that she was looking at and that opportunity slipped away.
I saw Blaze Foley come in the store and go into the room where Dylan was. A few minutes later Blaze came in the store again. He said, "Bob Dylan is outside the store talking to Townes. Come on, I'll introduce you to him." By the time we got out in front of the store the drifter had escaped and Townes (Van Zandt) was sitting in the car with Pussycat and Indian Gary. They had all been on a binge and none of them was seeing too straight. Blaze told me he had walked up to Dylan, introduced himself and said Townes was out front. Dylan had wanted to meet Townes, and they had immediately gone outside. Blaze had seen me on the way out and came back in to get me after he introduced Dylan to Townes. Blaze talked Townes and Linda Shaw out of enough money to go back into Electric Ladyland to buy a Ronald Reagan mask. He carried that mask around for months, sometimes sneaking a couple of beers out of the bar in it after hours.
I went to see Bob Dylan at the Erwin Center that night. The Erwin Center is the University of Texas basketball arena. I wanted to see Dylan in a smaller place. I wanted to see him in a place made for music, not basketball. Dylan shared that tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and the younger crowd was obviously there for Petty. Dylan did a lot of songs from his various 60s periods and was even friendly to the audience, though not in the Las Vegas style he had been in his previous appearance in Austin on November 25, 1978.
After the concert I hotfooted it over to the Cactus Cafe to see if Dylan would indeed show up for a 20 minute set at midnight. The band on stage was American Underground. In the audience was Joe Ely, John T. Davis (Austin American Statesman music writer), two or three close friends that I had told and several other Austin luminaries who had heard the news. Midnight came and went and we hung around hoping Dylan might show. The place wasn't packed, so the rumour hadn't spread very far. Griff told me that Ramblin' Jack Elliot had arranged the Dylan appearance and that it was a 50-50 chance at best. We waited. Any chance to see Dylan in a small club like the Cactus was worth taking. I stepped next door to the Texas Tavern and heard a couple of songs by Do Dat, keeping my eye on the corridor that led back to the Cactus. As the old watch on the wrist worked its way closer to one, I gave up on seeing Dylan at the Cactus and drove up to Antone's to hear the last set of the night from Omar and the Howlers, who had Antone's packed, drinking and rockin'.
June 22 marked day 67 in my marathon. Two thirds of the thing was done. I only had 33 more days to go. One long month. That month started on Sunday and I attended the midnight mass at Hut's Tabernacle with the Wright Wreverend Harvey Wrangler presiding.
After Blue Monday I went to Antone's to hear the house band back up Angela Strehli, Sarah Brown and Mel Brown. Teddy & the Talltops packed the Hole In The Wall on alternate Tuesdays, and a lot of musicians had told me, "this is my favorite Austin band." I talked with Teddy after the last set and we arranged for him to play Liveset in late July.
I went to the Beach on Wednesday for Barefoot Affair and chicken tacos. Both were good. They were hot, spicey and tasty. Both of them. The beer was cold, too.
A roadshow called Bert Wills & the Cryin' Shames played Antone's on Thurdsay. The Shames did their cryin' through a saxophone section and their repertoire leaned toward old soul and rhythm & blues tunes. Bert ain't no Bob, but it was an enjoyable evening with Bert Wills & the Cryin' Shames, a band of pickers from Baytown, Texas. Or maybe Corpus Christi.
Friday night at Liberty Lunch I saw one of the premier African bands, Sonny Okoson, and marveled again at the synthesis of modern and jungle elements into such compelling music. Otis Rush is one of my solid favorites, and I try to see him every time he's in Austin. Also on the bill that Saturday night were Mel Brown and Angela Strehli with the house band behind them. Late night listening to left-handed Otis Rush playing a guitar made and strung for a right-hander and singing his songs about not fitting into society's mold (knowing that some cold Chicago winters found Otis sleeping at friend's houses when the heat was cut off at his house because he couldn't pay the gas bill) always gave me a deeper appreciation for blues music and the overworked and underpaid artists who performed it night after night in smokey night clubs and dangerous gin joints across the country. My Blue Monday programs were always better when I'd seen Otis the previous weekend. Mel Brown can always make me feel better when I'm down with just a few guitar solos, too.
Sunday night after the Texas Radio program I caught Denton & Glines, a vocal duo who had recently relocated to Austin. Monday night I finished out the month of June with Tom Shaka and totals that read: 75 consecutive days of live music at 27 different places. My Kerrville total of 46 performers in two days swelled the performer total to 132.
Russ, Paul, Bill & Larry
The mother of the victim felt like talking to me since her son had loved the program so much that he went out of his way to listen to it in the most exhilerating way available to him. She had tuned in Blue Monday and listened for a while before she called. She was not being blameful when she told me her story. In fact, she said she had wanted to talk with me mainly because I had given her son so much pleasure with the program. She was still distressed because the hit and run driver had not been found, but seemed to have found some peace as a result of talking to me.
My peace was shattered, though. At midnight I went across the street to the Hole In The Wall, where Tom Shaka was singing the blues, and drank far more Johnny Walker Black than was good for me. Carolyn Caffrey was the waitress, and she knew I was troubled. I usually have a couple of Coronas a night, and hardly ever drink hard liquor, so the scotch was a clear tipoff to a concientious bar maid. I told her the story I'd just heard, and she understood why I was drinking scotch. She kept an eye on me in the short time I was there and made sure I was ready to tackle the journey home when I left. I told Carolyn that I would be careful and go straight home, which I did.
The combination of the scotch and the shock of the knowledge of the death of the guy who was listening to my radio show brought back an old, old memory that I didn't think about very often, and usually repressed when it surfaced.
I hit the Ann Arbor airwaves at midnight October 1, 1969. I had moved to Ann Arbor from Indianapolis, where I had been one of the Country Gentlemen at the Big G (WGEE-FM). The sales manager at the Big G had landed the job of General Manager at WOIA-FM in Ann Arbor and had told me he might hire me for the all night show when the station went 24 hours. It currently broadcast from 6 A.M. till midnight, simulcasting with an AM daytimer, WOIB. I had made the trip from Indianapolis to Ann Arbor one weekend and had listened to every station on the dial to figure out if I could do a competetive show and talk Rich Hill into hiring me out of Indianapolis, which was festering badly that summer of 69. Early in September I was hired to do the all night show beginning October 1. I packed my record collection and my few belongings and moved north to Ann Arbor, escaping an Indianapolis quite unfriendly to young folks with anything other than a clean shave and a burr haircut.
I had a hair-raising experience a few days before my program was to start in Ann Arbor. I was driving my old red '62 Ford four door sedan from the radio station, which was eight or ten miles south of town, to the friend's house where I was staying until I could move into my apartment on the first of the month. Going north on State Street and intending to slow for a right turn I plunged the brake pedal to the floor without slowing the tub of junk down a bit. Even worse, I had just topped a hill and was on my way back down. Help! Emergency! I jammed down the emergency brake pedal. Nothing. No brakes. I flew on down the street gaining speed. I pulled the shift lever into low and that slowed me a little, but not much. At the foot of the hill I was charging down were four options. A hard left would put me on level ground, but going the wrong way on a one way with the possibility of a headon collision. An easy left would carry me downhill for another 30 yards then up over the railroad bridge and down again, a veritable roller coaster ride. Straight ahead was an even steeper downgrade that would allow me to attain warp speed before crashing into the brick building at the bottom which held the train station and a restaurant, likely full of people. A 90 degree right turn would take me up a small hill that should slow me down. Smacking a parked car or two to slow down was out because I didn't have any insurance. Vying for attention among my choices was the screaming thought that I was going to die before I even got on the air, my biggest break snuffed out because of a faulty Ford product. In Michigan, no less. I thought maybe I could jam the transmission into park and skid to a stop and tried it. I knew it would blow the transmission, but I was rapidly rearranging priorities at that point. On the way through reverse the engine stalled, slowing me a little, but killing the power steering. I couldn't jam it into park, but by then I had to swing wide left and try to muscle my way through a hard right with no power steering and the extra drag of turning not only the car, but the dead hydrolic power steering unit too. I made the turn without hitting anything, started up the hill, and slowed down enough to scrape up against the high curb on the right and halt the runaway red monster. I walked away from that Ford and haven't owned a Ford since.
I had always been a Dylan, Joan Baez, folk, blues, jazz and 50s rock and roll fan, being 27 in 1969. My five year younger brother had been the Beatles fan in our family, so when listeners began calling me at the station asking about clues on Beatles album jackets and in Beatles songs that seemed to indicate that Paul McCartney was dead, I was in the dark. I didn't even have all the albums in question, and the station had only a couple. Abbey Road had just been released on October 1 and I went to Discount Records on State Street to buy it and some of the other lps. I met John Petrie, the store manager, and was trying to work out a professional price on the records so I could buy a few new ones till I could secure record service for the station. During our conversation John mentioned that Beatles records were selling briskly, and that people were interested in the jackets, and had asked about the "Paul is dead" rumor that I had been hearing from listeners.
On the air every time I played a Beatles track I would receive calls about the possibility that Paul was dead, and the callers would cite evidence in the songs and on the album jackets. I met another DJ, Jim Dulzo, who worked at WAAM-AM doing a freeform underground type of show. I purposely drove out to WAAM one night to talk with him about the rumor. He had heard it and conceded that his listeners had built pretty strong cases to support their theories. I don't think either of us had broadcast anything about it yet, but the rumor was rampant around Ann Arbor. I made tapes of some of the parts of the songs that purportedly held clues to the mystery, played them backward and forward, faster and slower, and tried to figure out what was going on. Whatever it was, it was wierd. I was stumped.
In addition to playing records, my program was to include on-air phone calls with listeners, and after a week or so behind the spartan Sparta five pot control board I felt comfortable enough with the equipment to try a few on-air phone calls. So, at midnight, I announced that I was going to have an open line and would take calls from the listeners. There was plenty to talk about in Ann Arbor. Recently, students had occupied the University of Michigan Administration building, the UM ROTC Annex had been torched, a sadistic serial killer was murdering coeds in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area and the war was raging in Viet Nam, but soon the topic of conversation turned to the Beatles and the rumor that had swept Ann Arbor. Well, the phone traffic was overwhelming and every call was about Paul McCartney. Theories abounded, and callers spilled over into the next night's program.
That next night during my program, a whole dorm at Eastern Michagan University in neighboring Ypsilanti was tuned in and making phone calls to the show. At the peak of the program a power failure plunged the dorm into total darkness, spooking the inhabitants and unsettling me somewhat. Our midday DJ, 15 year old Jim Kerr (Jim Curtis on the air), had picked up on the rumor and had talked the station manager into letting him make a transatlantic call to Apple in London. Not figuring in the time difference, Kerr had gotten a night watchman who, in answering the question about whether Paul was dead, had declared it "a load of horseshit." All day long our newscasts carried the Apple night watchman's quote, and I was encouraged by the management to follow up on the rumor because WOIA had gone from zero to the hottest radio station in town in the space of a few days. Indeed, I had only been on the air about nine days and already I had much of Ann Arbor tuning in at midnight.
On Friday night's show I had a panel discussion in the studio with about half a dozen Ann Arbor musicians, including Steve McKay who later played sax in Commander Cody's band. We talked about the possibility of the rumor being true, whether it could really be accomplished, and we covered the evidence, played the records that held the clues and took calls from the audience. The response was really overwhelming. After the show I went home and slept till I was awakened by one of the DJs I knew from the station pounding on my door. Country Dan was one of the daytime DJs and he had introduced me to some of his friends. He told me that one of those friends had come to his apartment to listen to my show with him the previous night. That friend, Russ Updike, had called the show and talked on the air about Paul McCartney. After calling, he tried to get Dan to go out to the radio station with him to be part of the panel, but Dan was nursing a bad cold and had to be at work at the station at 6 A.M. and begged off. Russ left Dan's apartment and headed for the radio station. He never made it. As he was driving to the station, a drunk driver came over a hill on the wrong side of the road doing about 80 and hit him headon. Russ died instantly, listening to my radio program. I was devastated. I went to Michael Erlewine's house and sought his advice. He was an astrologer and advisor. He owned the Circle Books occult book store and he thought I should consult the I Ching. Michael counted out the yarrow stalks (I had previously only tossed the coins) and my chapter was Chapter One, The Creative. The first time I had ever done the I Ching, in 67 in San Francisco, I had gotten Chapter One. Michael's counsel comforted me somewhat, but I still couldn't shake the image of Russ topping the hill and meeting death headon because of my radio program. My misery was compounded by the fact that Paul's rumored death had been in a car crash "...He blew his mind out in a car, He didn't notice that the light had changed."
When I got to work at midnight that Saturday there was a memo from the program director telling me to push the Paul McCartney thing hard. It was increasing our listening audience astronomically and would surely pay off in better commercial sales. I crumpled the memo and threw it across the studio. I started my show with Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing," from the "Great White Wonder" bootleg and despite numerous calls I didn't play a single Beatles tune and I didn't say a word about Paul McCartney all night. I went home and slept fitfully till late afternoon. My girlfriend, Bambi, and I went to some friends' (Bob and Marilyn) house for dinner. I was greeted with, "Did you hear Russ Gibb today?" I hadn't. I had been sleeping. It seems that Gibb, who did a weekend rock and roll and call-in show on WKNR (Keener) in Detroit, had gotten some calls about the rumor and had run with them. The next day Paul McCartney and Russ "Send me to London" Gibb were front page news in Detroit. In days the rumor was worldwide, and soon Paul was on the cover of Life magazine, declaring that he was still alive. Russ Gibb was famous and I had a dead man on my mind. Ironically, the dead man's name was Russ.
With the scotch potentiating the impact of the motorcycle story and calling back the memories from nearly 18 years before, I didn't sleep till dawn and the deafening chirping of the birds kept me from drifting off till sheer exhaustion took over.
Goodtime Larry's Got The Blues
The hangover I had the next day was colossal. I laid low till showtime, and played album sides most of the show. I didn't really feel like hearing music, and kept the monitor low for the most part. I felt a little better by midnight, but I wasn't in the mood to see any of my friends. I didn't want anyone asking me how I was doing, because I didn't want to tell them. I would be OK, but it might take a couple of days away from the beaten path. So, I went to a place I had only been to once before. The Beach was close to campus, and had been You Scream Ice Cream and later Folkville. Now it was booking new wave, punk, new rock, avant punk or whatever the current label was. The band was called AIR*HEAD, and they were as outrageous as anything I had seen recently. My head hurt, but the goofy pack of geeks on stage made me laugh and laughter eases pain. So does beer, and I had a couple of those too.
The next night I went downtown to Club Islas and saw Quizumba, a latin jazz band. Wednesday I felt a bit closer to normal, and was finished hiding out. Angela Strehli played her regular Wednesday night show at Antone's, and I went there. Mel Brown led the house band for the late set, and sometime during the evening a guest from the west was called to the stage: Hollywood Fats. Hollywood played the fat licks on his guitar with the Antones backing him up. Mighty fine. Before the year was out, Hollywood Fats (Michael Mann), would join the Blasters. Sadly, 3 days before the Blasters played the Texas Tavern, Hollywood died of a heart attack. He played devinely at Antone's that night, though.
The next day was Independance Day, and Willie Nelson's yearly fourth of July bash was out at Manor Downs. This particular July fourth "picnic" was a benefit for farmers caught in the economic crunch and was billed as Farm Aid II. The day was filled with wonderful talent, and it was telecast on cable. I didn't go to the concert because I don't generally like mob scenes, but I stayed home and taped it all day. Toward the end of the Farm Aid telecast, and with a fresh tape in the VCR, I hopped in the car to go see Omar & the Howlers. "Hard Times In The Land Of Plenty," a song that would have fit well in Farm Aid, was blasting through the open windows of the Flying Circus when I got there. As much as I love Omar I didn't stay very long. I had one of those TV headaches that don't respond too well to beer, and after half a dozen songs I tossed in the towel and toddled home.
I thought I had just three weeks to go to finish my marathon. Little did I know I would continue to see live music every day for exactly one year more. Reggae star Joe Higgs played Liberty Lunch on Saturday and that's where I went. Long live Liberty Lunch for their booking policy. They operate in the public interest. Liberty Lunch is voted best live music venue in Austin by the Chronicle readership as regularly as clockwork.
Sunday. Tex, again.
It seems that about half of Austin's musicians hail from Lubbock, Texas. Buddy Holly came from Lubbock and the total of the musicians who have followed in his footsteps from that small west Texas town is certainly in triple figures, and may well be approaching four figures. The rate of musicians per thousand population must be far far higher than any other town one could choose by the dart in the map method, or most any other method for that matter. Tex Thomas is Lubbockian, as are Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Supernatural Family Band, Jimmie Gilmore, Angela Strehli, and the two guys I saw on Monday night, R. C. (Randy) Banks and Ponty Bone. Mr. Bone is an accordian player who once told me that his dad made him take accordian lessons and he hated it. "By the time I got big enough to tell my dad that I didn't want to play the accordian anymore, I was pretty good at playing it, so I just stuck it out. Now I love it." Ponty and Randy were rockin' the Black Cat Lounge that Monday night.
Tuesday, Teddy & the Talltops: tuff tunes till two tomorrow. Then that thrilling throttlride thouth and thafe...uh, south and safe home again.
I spent the next two nights at Antone's. Wednesday night Paul Ray put the Antones through their paces. Then on Thursday the Antones backed up several of the Chicago blues stars who have found a second home in Austin. Mr. Blues Piano, Sunnyland Slim, who had discovered many younger players and arranged recording sessions for them a few decades ago, was on stage when I slipped in a little after midnight. His huskey vocals and quirky piano playing were followed by Jimmy Rogers on guitar and vocals as Clifford Antone changed band members on the fly, much as a hockey coach might do. Pinetop Perkins followed, then Hubert Sumlin, the "Rembrandt of the guitar" (Clifford's quote), who accompanied Howlin' Wolf on most of his legendary recordings. Wolf says he "acquired" Hubert at age 14 and just kept him (as his adopted son). Pete Mayes was up next, then Fabulous Thunderbird Kim Wilson joined Hubert for a steaming version of Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning." Kim shows up often to play unannounced at Antone's. He loves to play with the men he learned from, and is more relaxed and comfortable playing after hours at Antone's than he is up on that stadium stage that the T-Birds occupy these days. Austin's late night blues crowd is the major beneficiary of Kim's rest & relaxation periods.
Friday afternoon I stopped by the Continental Club to see if I could catch Danny O'Keefe at his sound check. He was already back at the motel, so I went to the motel and knocked on the door of his room. I must have gotten him out of the shower, because a minute or so after I knocked, the man who wrote "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues" answered the door holding a towel around his waist. I made it quick. I invited him to be on the radio that night. I had most of his records, and we would do an interview and career retrospective type show with his music. We'd probably do an hour or a little more. He said he was inclined to do it, but he'd think it over and let me know at the club later. It would also depend on how tired he was after two sets.
I don't have a radio show on Friday nights, but Jay Trachtenberg does the Friday night all night jazz show (Jazz Etc.) and we often work together on programs. If someone was in town on Friday whom Jay wanted to interview, he'd arrange it before he went to work at midnight and I'd follow up after showtime and make sure the artist got to the radio station, sometimes at 3 A.M. or later. If there was someone I wanted to bring in on Jay's show and conduct the interview myself, that was cool, too. And, he was welcome to do the same on my show. As a result of this arrangement, Professor Irwin Corey, David "Fathead" Newman and Limeliter Lou Gottlieb have been passengers in the front seat of my Alfa.
I had never seen Danny O'Keefe play live before, but his great album Breezy Stories has long been one of my favorite records, and I have played it in the radio for close to 15 years It still holds up as well as it did the day I cracked the shrink wrap on my first copy of it all those years ago. I hope Atlantic has the good sense to re-release Breezy Stories on Compact Disc sometime soon, as it has been out of print for years and I've used up nearly all the copies I bought out of the cutout bins when it was remaindered. Danny performs solo on the road, and he is able to make his incredible songs live and breathe with only his guitar, harmonica and voice. He somehow creates the complex textures of such masterpieces as "The Road," "Magdelana," "Just Jones," and "Sidewalk Symphony" alone in the spotlight as he performs a body of work that reveals a very intelligent and creative artist. However, he is mainly known for a very finely crafted song (Good Time Charlie) that became a commercial hit. It's a shame, no, it's a SHAME that Danny O'Keefe isn't better known, because he is one of the most talented singer/songwriters working the club circuit and he deserves a much larger audience for his breezy stories. In fact, Danny wasn't even the headliner that night. A somewhat grumpy Dan Hicks headlined the show with a trio.
I went up to talk with Danny about 20 minutes after he finished his last set, while he was selling cassettes of his latest album and signing autographs for those who knew what a treasure he is and turned out to see him that night. He said he'd like to do the interview, so I called Jay to let him know. A little before two Danny followed me in his rent car to the radio station. I relieved Jay and he went up the street to catch an after hours set of the Chicago blues review at Antone's while I did an impromptu special on Danny O'Keefe, alternately interviewing him and playing from his records. It was close to three when we finished up and I turned the controls back over to Jay, then let Danny escape into the Austin summer night.
Saturday night I went back to Antone's for the wrap-up of the Chicago blues show. I saw the same guys I saw earlier in the week and some of the songs were the same, but the great thing about live music is that you can hear the same song over and over and it's different every time.
Blaze Foley played the Outhouse on Sunday night, and I went to hear him after work. For some reason the Austin police came in and walked through the place looking people over. They stood at the door while Blaze sang his song about President Reagan, "Oval Room." After leaving the bar, the cops camped across the street and kept an eye on the comings and goings. I had had a couple of beers, and was uneasy about driving away, thinking that maybe I'd get pulled over and checked for DWI, which was big that year. People joked about calling in a false police report for a few blocks away so the officers would respond to that and vacate the immediate area, but pretty soon the blues left of their own accord and I split for south Austin.
Monday and Tuesday were very special nights musicwise. Memphis Slim, who for many years had lived in Paris, and Matt "Guitar Murphy were playing at Antone's. They had made an excellent album together in 1961, and hadn't seen each other in nearly that long when Antone brought them back together again a year or so earlier. This was maybe their fourth or fifth time to reunite recently, including a live album recording at Antone's, and the packed house for the Monday Super Blues Party was treated to the best as Slim, piano and vocals, and Guitar Murphey rolled back the years with intimate glimpses like "People, You Don't Know My Mind," and house rockers that had the dance floor full of couples and solo dancers. Mel Brown played both nights displaying his fluid guitar style and singing "Hey Joe," and "Mustang Sally" (Ride Sally Ride).
On Wednesday I caught Walter Tore at the Hole In The Wall, and Thursday I headed for Sixth Street. I bought a hot dog from the vendor on the corner and strolled along the sidewalk watching the people and scarfing the dog. I leaned my ear in at Alley Oops and heard a song or two by Hot Pink, exchanged pleasantries with Steve Gary, politely declining his offer of a beer and continued on through the party zone. Trix Trax at Baxters was worth standing on the sidewalk to hear for a couple of minutes, but I was headed for the Black Cat Lounge and pushed on. I stood outside Brumski's talking with someone for a few minutes and absorbed some Sardines by osmosis, then squeezed into the Black Cat where Mandy Mercier had the joint jumpin'. If I like the music in the no cover/tip jar places I put a dollar in the hat, jar, goldfish bowl or whatever is passed around for contributions to the band's retirement or breakfast fund.
Rescuing Records From The Fire
Stevie Ray Vaughan was in the second day of recording a live album at the Austin Opera House and I went there. Stevie didn't look too good to me, and I as I stood in the small room across from the main room talking with Armadillo artist Jim Franklin, Jim had the same feeling. Stevie Ray had been traveling in the fast lane for a few years now, and the road and its pleasures were taking their toll. Jim and I both could see that Stevie Ray was heading for a fall if he didn't get a handle on his use of a couple of tempting substances. Before long, during a tour, Stevie Ray checked himself into a hospital and dried out and got himself some therapy for alcohol and cocaine abuse. Some guys don't pull up in time. Fortunately, Stevie Ray did. He came back stronger and better than ever. His post-cocaine vocals are much better, at least to my ear.
One of my favorite wasted friends played the Cactus Cafe the next night. When I was one of the Country Gentlemen at the Big G in Indianapolis I worked the seven to midnight shift. The AM station was a rhythm & blues daytimer, which meant that after sunset when the AM signed off I was alone in the station from around eight until I locked up and left after signing the FM off at midnight. WGEE only played two kinds of records; r&b on the AM and country on the FM. However, they were serviced with all kinds of albums and 45s. All of the reject records were put into a holding pattern that started at the program directors office and continued through the engineer's workshop into a large storage area in the back room. From there they were carried out to the incinerator and burned. Not for any political or censorship reasons, but just to make space for more rejected records. Once I figured out that formula, I devised a method for giving those records a final check before they hit the fire. Early in my shift I would go through the library of records we played on the air and write the last two or three hours of my show and get the records all in order. After the last person left the building, maybe the AM DJ, perhaps the engineer, sometimes a salesperson, often the news guy, occasionally the manager, I would put my program into play. I'd begin with the longer songs, and while the song was playing I would shuffle through the records nearest the incinerator and work my way back through the engineer's office to the program director's office searching for albums that, though worthless to the Big G, were treasures to me. I would know the length of the songs I was playing and I used a stopwatch to let me know when I had to run back to the control room to segway the next tune. I found a lot of great records that way, including the first album by Townes Van Zandt.
During my earlier Ann Arbor days I did the all night show (FM Freeform/Underground) and got off at 6 A.M. Country Dan (Dan Mullaly) Derringer did the morning show on our sister AM country station and came in at six and finished at 10 A.M. One Thursday a month Dan and I would travel the 50 miles from Ann Arbor to Detroit and visit the various record distributors to pick up the new releases. On those Thursdays I would go home and get to sleep as quickly as possible, and about 10:30 Country Dan would come in my room and wake me up and cajole me into his car where I would doze until we got to Detroit. Dan would wake me up again and we'd drink a cup of coffee near our first stop. Once awake I would accompany Dan into the distributors and we would walk away with armloads of new albums and the latest 45s. He would handle the country side of the street, and I'd jaw with the speeded up Detroit City rock and roll record weasels. During one of our Detroit sojourns Dan picked up a Townes Van Zandt 45. One side was "Pancho and Lefty" and the other side was "If I Needed You." I already had the album that those two cuts came from and I told Country Dan that his listeners would probably love the love song and he should play it. Sure enough, "If I Needed You" quickly became the most requested song on the AM station and Townes had a hit in Ann Arbor, whether he knew it or not. Since the album was called "The Late Great Townes Van Zandt" I wasn't sure he was still alive until I read a piece in the paper that started out "Even though his latest album is titled The Late Great Townes Van Zant, Townes is alive and kicking..." or words to that effect. Alive and ticking as I later found out. Ticking as in time bomb.
Before moving to Austin I saw Townes on Austin City Limits, and finally saw him in person at the long defunct Rome Inn in 77 or 78. After meeting him eight or nine times he began to remember me, and when I started working at KUT he listened to my shows and we got to be pretty good friends over the years. Townes had been on the road for a long time and it was hard for him to turn down a shot of vodka in the saloons where he played his songs to earn his living. "Pancho & Lefty" was made a hit by Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard in 83 or so and Townes celebrated by checking into the State Hospital to dry out the week it hit number one. He went in on Tuesday. I went to see him on Friday. He looked so out of place among the older men watching TV or playing cards in the large recreation room, most without much hope. Certainly none of those other men had a #1 song on the current country chart. We sat and talked for a while and I left a little sadder. The next day Townes checked himself out of the State Hospital so he could play his end of the month rent gig at emmajoe's. Townes held up pretty well that night, though he was shaky. Between sets, in the back room, Kinky Friedman came in to see Townes. Townes said, "Kinky, I'm going crazy." "What is it, Townes? Alcoholism? Your old lady? Or mental illness?" Kinky's response cracked Townes up and he seemed to relax a little.
Time passed and Townes had a new album, his first in seven years, recorded and in the can. He was in the process of finding a label for it. At the Cactus Cafe he played fairly well and seemed to be in pretty good spirits. I talked with him and his long-time guitar player Mickey White after the set. They were both pleased with the way the new album had turned out, and they were getting close to a deal with Sugar Hill Records. Well, maybe things were looking up. After leaving the Cactus I went up to Antone's to catch a set by the Leroi Brothers to finish out Saturday night.
After work on Sunday night I went to a benefit at Liberty Lunch. The musicians in Austin are constantly appearing at benefits to raise money for various causes. This particular night was a fund-raiser for the Battered Women's Center. Townes and Mickey both played, as did Mickey's wife Pat Mears, a fine songwriter and intense performer. Blaze Foley with a big band did several numbers including "Oval Room" and "If I Could Only Fly." Willie & Merle had recently recorded "If I Could Only Fly" and Blaze was eagerly awaiting its release. Rich Minus and Tom X each did a short set, with Fat Man & the Maniacs following. ELIZA, which revolves around singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson (daughter of Terry Gilkyson of "...all day all night Mary Ann, down by the seaside sifting sand" fame) did an electric set that featured a song that Eliza wrote for the Center for Battered Women and premiered that night. "Rosie Strike Back" advised women to strike back against abuse by leaving. "Rosie strike back. Rosie strike back. Hit the road and never look back. Can't suffer your whole life living like that. Get going, don't pack. Take the baby and the clothes on your back. Keep walkin' Rosie strike back."
I climbed up on the Liberty Lunch stage to introduce the closing act of the benefit, the Rhythm Rats. The Rats were joined by Jon Emery, the King of Hillbilly Rock & Roll, and the benefit finished off with a jam session.
101 Monrovian Nights
July 21 marked day 96 in my bar trek. Just one five day week and I was finished and could get back to normal, whatever that might be. After Blue Monday I went to Antone's to see the house band. Tuesday afternoon John T. Davis of the Austin American Statesman called and asked me a few questions about my marathon. Tuesday night was Teddy & the Talltops at the Hole In The Wall and people knew I was nearing 100 days. They urged me on with hard drink and well wishes. Afterward, I crawled home and made it to Wednesday. Wednesday I'm beat to my socks, but the show must go on. After my jazz show, I went to Antone's for Angela Strehli, Mel Brown and Paul Ray with a bonus guest set by Hubert Sumlin. On Thursday after work I went to the Cactus Cafe to see Butch Hancock, the first musician I ever saw in Austin way back in June of 77. Butch was on stage, and the place was fairly full. I bought a beer and leaned back against the bar. Butch saw me at the bar and asked "what day are you on?" "99," I called out. "Larry Monroe has seen live music every night for 99 consecutive nights," Butch said and the crowd broke into applause, many of the patrons looking me over to see if there were any outward signs of insanity showing.
On day 100 of my bar trek live music marathon I went to see the Commandos at the Texas Tavern, and slipped into the Cactus to hear a couple songs by Shawn Phillips. I celebrated #100 with Susie and Phareaux of the Commandos and speculated on whether I might continue on past that number. At that point I didn't really know. On the way home I picked up a copy of the Saturday morning American Statesman and hunted for John T.'s column. I figured my name might show up, since he had called earlier in the week. I didn't expect much more than a little mention in the "other oddities" section of the column, so I was caught by surprise when the headline read "101 Monrovian Nights?" and the first two thirds of the piece was about my marathon, including several quotes from me. In one fell swoop my job research marathon had just garnered more publicity than six years of hard work on the radio had yielded. The report on my bar trek finished with John T.'s question about what I might do now that the marathon was over. I had answered that it would depend on who was playing on Saturday night, thus leading to the "101 Monrovian Nights?" headline.
Roger Allen and Lou Piper, old radio friends, and I decided to go to Gruene Hall to see Joe Ely that night. Roger said that since it was the Texas sesquicenteniel I should set a new goal of 150 and extend the marathon. On Twine Time Paul Ray mentioned my 100 days and laughingly said, "Double it, go for 200." I thought at the time, "No Way," but 150 did sound possible. I'd have to think about that. A few friends called to tell me they had seen the column in the paper, and to congratulate me. After dropping Sara off at her mom's house I picked up Roger and Lou, shoehorned one of them into the tiny back seat of my Alfa and headed south toward Gruene, Texas to complete 101 Monrovian nights.
Gruene is 35 or 40 miles south of Austin. It's a small arts community of a couple hundred people and one of the old original Texas Dance Halls is located there. Roger, Lou and I got to the dance hall just after Jimmie Gilmore finished his opening set, so it was a while before Joe Ely took the stage. It was hotter than hell in the place, and it was packed with Ely fans. Joe Ely fans heat up a place rather than cool it, so the only air concitioning in the joint was the beer. I was wearing an old Ball State t-shirt, and a woman came up to me and asked if I had gone there. I pleaded guilty, and she said she had graduated from Ball State and was teaching in Lockhart, or someplace near north of Austin. She said a couple of the people in her party had also gone to Ball State, which is located in Muncie, Indiana. With Dave Letterman, an old classmate of mine in the Radio-TV department, hitting the big time Ball State is familiar to many Texans, and they often come up to me and engage me in conversation when they see the Ball State moniker.
There are those who say Gruene Hall is the best place in the world to see Joe Ely. I've seen him in a lot of different places, and I'd be hard pressed to name a time I've enjoyed him more. The band was tight and Joe was a bundle of energy. Once they started they never let up. The band left the stage and Joey soloed and Joe left the stage and Bobby Keys played "Tequila" and David Grissom did a number. Joe came back and they rocked on till the management said that's enough, it's getting close to closing time. One phenomenon that I noticed was the long neck drinkers draining a bottle of beer and letting it drop from lip level, knocking the neck off. When the cleanup crew was sweeping up I saw more broken beer bottles than I can remember ever seeing before. Several of the musicians had read John T.'s column, and congratulated me on my marathon. Alex Napier, Will Sexton's bass player, told me he thought it was great that I went to see live music every night, and that it helped draw attention to the music scene in Austin. I located my riders and we drove back to Austin. 101 Monrovian Nights was history.