Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bob Wills - New San Antonio Rose

Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys - New San Antonio Rose:

James Robert Wills (March 6, 1905 – May 13, 1975), better known as Bob Wills, was an American  Western swing musician, songwriter, and bandleader, considered by many music authorities one of the fathers of Western swing and called the King of Western Swing by his fans.

He was born in Limestone county near Kosse, Texas to Emma Lee Foley and John Tompkins Wills. His father was a statewide champion fiddle player and the Wills family was either playing music, or someone was "always wanting us to play for them," in addition to raising cotton on their farm.

In addition to picking cotton, the young Jim Bob learned to play the fiddle and the mandolin. Both a sister and several brothers played musical instruments, while another sister played piano. The Wills frequently held country dances in their home, and there was dancing in all four rooms. They also played at 'ranch dances' which were popular in both West Texas and eastern New Mexico at the time the Wills lived in Hall county.

Wills not only learned traditional music from his family, he learned some Negro songs directly from African Americans in the cotton fields near Lakeview, Texas and said that he did not play with many white children other than his siblings, until he was seven or eight years old. African Americans were his playmates, and his father enjoyed watching him jig dance with black children.

"I don't know whether they made them up as they moved down the cotton rows or not," Wills once told Charles Townsend, author of San Antonio Rose: The Life and Times of Bob Wills, "but they sang blues you never heard before."

While in Fort Worth, Wills added the "rowdy city blues" of Bessie Smith and Emmett Miller to a repertoire of mainly waltzes and breakdowns he had learned from his father, and patterned his vocal style after that of Miller and other performers such as Al Bernard. Wills acknowledged that he idolized Miller.

Wills' daughter, Rosetta: "He had a lot of respect for the musicians and music of his black friends." She remembers that her father was such a fan of Bessie Smith, "he once rode 50 miles on horseback just to see her perform live."

Wills recalled the early days of what became known as Western swing music, in a 1949 interview. "Here's the way I figure it. We sure not tryin' to take credit for swingin' it." He said that "We'd pull these tunes down an set 'em in a dance category. It wouldn't be a runaway, and just lay a real nice beat behind it an the people would get to really like it. It was nobody intended to start anything in the world. We was just tryin' to find enough tunes to keep 'em dancin' to not have to repeat so much."

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gurf Morlix - One More Second

Gurf Morlix _2043Image by Dutch Simba via Flickr

Gurf Morlix is an American multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter and record producer residing for many years in Austin, Texas. He has worked with many of the best known performers of Americana and alternative country music. His most notable work include albums by Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Mary Gauthier, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Slaid Cleaves. The instruments that he plays include guitar, bass, mandolin, mandocello, dobro, pedal steel, Weissenborn, banjo, harmonica, and drums. Gurf is a member of the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame (2004) and the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame (2005), and is the Americana Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year for 2009.

Gurf Morlix: One More Second


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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Waylon Jennings - The Original Country Outlaw

Waylon Jennings, born June 15 1937 in Littlefield Texas, is probably the best known of the country outlaws that came of age in 70's. More than any other country artist, Jennings was fundamentally incapable of resigning himself to the harsh restrictions of Nashville's slick production machine.

At the heart of the revolt was a fundamental difference in musical outlook. Nashville, at some point along the way, had decided that the bleak but authentic agrarian blues and rockabilly of Hank Williams could no longer be marketed. The new Nashville sound was oriented to the limited tastes of new upwardly-mobile middle class soccer moms - and all hints of despair and pain of its Great Depression origins were ruthlessly excised. Eventually, despite lip service to its past, Nashville producers abandoned artists like Johnny Cash, who, in turn, began seeking out independent labels, producers, and radio outlets to express themselves.

Thus was born the outlaw country movement.

Waylon Jennings: I Don't Think Hank Done It This Way

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Randy Garibay - Barbacoa Blues

Randy Garibay

A living Texas legend from the tough streets of San Antonio, Randy Garibay is considered by his musical peers as the "Godfather" of San Antonio blues. Known for his crooning as well as his facility to stir melodious sounds from his guitar, Randy creates a rich tapestry of music that is unmistakably his own. Though his repertoire of musical styles includes everything from doo wop to jazz to country to Mexican boleros and salsas , Randy considers himself "a bluesman above everything else." 

Born of immigrant parents and brought up in the barrios of San Antonio and the migrant fields of the mid west, Randy has had an illustrious career spanning over forty years. Randy began as a teenager in San Antonio as lead singer for two teen age doo wop groups, first the Velvets and then the Pharaohs. The Pharaohs performed in Texas and Mexico and sang back up for Sonny Ace and for Doug Sahm in his early recordings. Randy also performed regularly in the premiere San Antonio blues venue of the 50s--the Eastwood Country Club, one of the renowned blues clubs for touring African American performers. 

In the 60s Randy joined a local band, the Dell-Kings, which took him on the road, first to Los Angeles and then for a lengthy stint in Las Vegas, where Randy and the band played as the house band at the Sahara Hotel and worked with legends such as Jackie Wilson, Judy Garland and Sammy Davis, Jr. Renamed Los Blues, the band took an extended road trip from the late 60s through the 70s, during which Randy played alongside rhythm and blues greats, including Curtis Mayfield and the O Jays and performed in such prestigious venues as Madison Square Garden and the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, Vancouver and Honolulu. 

Now that he is back home in Texas, Randy plays what he knows, using his soulful voice and equally expressive guitar playing with his best band yet, Cats Dont Sleep. "Randy Garibay and Cats Dont Sleep is arguably the finest R&B outfit in the land," writes Jim Beal, Jr., of the San Antonio Express News. "
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Joe Ely - Cool Rockin' Loretta


by William Ruhlmann

Country-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Ely was born Earle R. Ely on February 9, 1947, in Amarillo, TX. His family had worked for the Rock Island Line railroad dating back to the start of the century. When he was 12, the family moved to Lubbock, TX, where his father ran a used clothing store. Inspired by seeing Jerry Lee Lewis perform when he was a child, Ely aspired to a musical career, and he briefly took violin and steel guitar lessons before turning to the guitar. His father died when he was 14, and his mother was institutionalized for a year due to the trauma, so he and his brother were forced to stay with relatives in other cities. When the family came back together in Lubbock, he took a job washing dishes to bring in some money.

He also dropped out of school and began playing music professionally in local clubs, forming a band called the Twilights that became successful enough for him to quit being a dishwasher. Soon after, however, he became sufficiently restless to begin traveling, at first to other cities in Texas, then California, and later New York, with even a trip to Europe working for a theatrical company. This peripatetic period in his life lasted a full seven years, from 1963 to 1970. In the summer of 1971, back in Lubbock, he teamed up with a couple of singer/songwriter friends with whom he was living, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, along with some other musicians, to form the Flatlanders, a country-folk group. They attracted interest from the small Nashville record label Plantation Records and in March 1972 went to Nashville and cut an album that Plantation barely released, credited to Jimmie Dale & the Flatlanders. (The album is reputed to have been issued only as an eight-track tape.)

Ely returned to rambling around the country, but he was back in Lubbock by 1974, when he began putting together a permanent backup band to play there and around Texas. The Joe Ely Bandfeatured Ely on acoustic guitar and vocals; Jesse Taylor on electric guitar; Lloyd Maines on steel guitar; Gregg Wright on bass; andSteve Keeton on drums. A demo tape made by the group was passed to members of Jerry Jeff Walker's backup band, who gave it toWalker, who gave it to an A&R representative of Walker's label, MCA Records, and in the fall of 1975, Ely was signed to MCA. During 1976, he recorded his debut album, Joe Ely, which was released on January 10, 1977, along with a single, "All My Love," that reached the Billboard country charts. That song was one of five original Ely compositions on the LP; the other five had been written by Hancock or Gilmore.

Over a year later, on February 13, 1978, Ely followed with his second album, Honky Tonk Masquerade. (By this point, accordionist Ponty Bone had joined the backup band.) Again, the collection was a combination of Ely originals, including the title song, "Fingernails" (aJerry Lee Lewis-styled rocker with piano by Shane Keister), and "Cornbread Moon" (all of which were released as singles), and songs written by Hancock and Gilmore (the latter's "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," co-written with John X. Reed, had appeared on the Flatlanders' album). There was also a cover of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonkin'." Honky Tonk Masquerade was well received critically upon release (and a 1990 article in Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the essential albums of the 1970s), but it didn't sell. Ely was back in record stores a year later with Down on the Drag, released in February 1979. Another four Hancock compositions were introduced, along with five Ely originals. The album reached the Cash Box country chart.

Ely and his band toured extensively in the late '70s, headlining small shows and opening for bigger acts. Among these, surprisingly enough, was the British punk rock band the Clash. The group befriended Ely, however, and asked him to open shows for them back in the U.K. This expanded his following overseas and exposed him to rock audiences. The British division of MCA took advantage of the attention to record an Ely live album during the tour, and Live Shots, credited to the Joe Ely Band, was released only in the U.K. in the spring of 1980. (By this point, Robert Marquam had replacedSteve Keeton as Ely's drummer.) Meanwhile, the British reissue label Charly Records licensed the Flatlanders' recordings and gave them their first widely distributed release on a compilation called One Road More.

Back in the U.S., the American division of MCA initially declined to release Live Shots, preferring to wait for Ely's next studio album and continue to try to break him as a country artist. That album, Musta Notta Gotta Lotta, appeared in March 1981 on SouthCoast Records, an imprint founded by Ely's manager, still manufactured and distributed by MCA. (By now, Michael Robberson had replaced Gregg Wright on bass; Smokey Joe Miller [saxophone] and Reese Wynans[keyboards] had joined the band; and Lloyd Maines had dropped out of touring, although he continued to participate in Ely studio recordings.) Again, it mixed Ely originals like the title song with songs by Hancock and Gilmore (the latter's contribution being "Dallas," another song drawn from the Flatlanders' album). The commercial response to Musta Notta Gotta Lotta reflected Ely's increasing profile in both the country and rock markets. It reached the Cash Box country chart and even the Billboard and Cash Box pop charts, with the title song earning enough airplay to reach Billboard's mainstream rock chart. In October 1981, SouthCoast/MCA finally bowed to popular pressure and released Live Shots in the U.S., packaging it with a bonus four-song EP, Texas Special. It reached the Billboard pop chart.

By the end of 1982, Ely was arguably on the cusp of breaking through commercially as a country-rock crossover artist. He had opened shows for the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and even the Rolling Stones. But he had been touring continually for years, and the pace wore on him and his band. His guitarist, Jesse Taylor, quit. His drummer, Robert Marquam, died. He broke up what was left of the band and retreated to his home in Austin, TX, with his wife, Sharon Glaudt and, soon after, a baby daughter, Marie Elena. There he began writing songs intended for a movie and toying with computers and synthesizers. The financing for the film ran out, but by then he had a batch of songs that he took to Los Angeles and recorded in synth rock arrangements, calling the resulting disc Hi-Res. It appeared in May 1984, his first new music in more than three years, receiving mixed reviews and not selling.

Ely submitted another album to MCA, which the label declined to release, bringing his contract to an end. In a sense, he started over, assembling a new band and hitting the road. The new group featured lead guitarist David Grissom, bassist Jimmy Pettit, and drummerDavis McLarty, plus keyboardist Mitch Watkins, a holdover from Hi-Res. Ely signed to the independent HighTone Records label and in July 1987 released his sixth studio album, Lord of the Highway. Reviews were favorable, for a disc that again contained a couple ofButch Hancock songs, although Ely's own "Me and Billy the Kid" garnered the most attention, with covers recorded by Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Marty Stuart, among others. Dig All Night followed in October 1988. All the songs were written by Ely, with the title track co-written by Watkins, who did not perform on the album. (Some had been written prior to Lord of the Highway for the rejected MCA album.) Among them were "Settle for Love," which was covered byKelly Willis, and "For Your Love," which Chris LeDoux took into the country chart in 1993.

By the late '80s, Ely's sound, having long since lost its more overt country elements, had moved toward the mainstream rock style of John Mellencamp and Tom Petty. At the same time, however, a more rocking style had become more acceptable in Nashville, where, for example, Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams, Jr., and Steve Earle had all topped the country album chart in recent years. In that atmosphere, MCA again became interested in Ely, re-signing him and issuing his second concert recording, Live at Liberty Lunch, in November 1990. Ely's first live album in a decade, it found him performing the best of the songs he had recorded since Live Shots. It spent five weeks in the Billboard country chart. Also in 1990, Rounder Records released the Flatlanders' More a Legend than a Band, a revised version of the group's barely released 1972 album.

In early 1992, Ely joined together with John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, John Prine, and James McMurtry in an impromptu country-rock singer/songwriter supergroup called Buzzin' Cousins to record a Mellencamp composition, "Sweet Suzanne," for the soundtrack of the film Falling from Grace, in which Mellencamp starred. The track reached the country singles chart. In September 1992, MCA released Ely's eighth studio album, Love and Danger. Ely turned to acting in July 1994, appearing in the musical Chippy: Diaries of a West Texas Hooker at Lincoln Center in New York City. He also contributed songs to the score and appeared on the cast album, released by Hollywood Records. MCA released his ninth studio album, Letter to Laredo, in August 1995, by which time Ely's bassist was Glenn Fukunaga. If not quite "unplugged," it was more of an acoustic effort than previous releases and prominently featured flamenco guitarist Teye, with occasional harmony and background vocals by Jimmie Dale Gilmore,Raul Malo of the Mavericks, and Bruce Springsteen. It reached the Billboard country chart.

Although Ely had produced albums by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, the three resisted calls for them to reunite as the Flatlanders until 1998, when they resurrected the band name to record the song "South Wind of Summer" for the soundtrack to the film The Horse Whisperer, issued in April. In May, Ely followed with his tenth studio album, Twistin' in the Wind. It spent four weeks in the Billboard country chart, but after releasing four albums without scoring a big hit, MCA again dropped Ely. In September, he participated in the self-titled debut by the Tex-Mex supergroup Los Super Seven, alongside Freddy Fender, Joel Jose Guzman, Flaco Jiménez, Rubén Ramos, Doug Sahm, Rick Trevino, and David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, and he shared the album's Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American/Tejano Music Performance.

In 2000, Ely had two live recordings in release. His 1990 solo acoustic appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival in the U.K. resulted in the six-song EP Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival on BBC/Strange Fruit Records in Great Britain. And he signed to Rounder, which released his third full-length concert collection, Live @ Antone's, in June. His band for the shows, taped in January 1999, consisted of returning members Jesse Taylor and Lloyd Maines, along with Teye, bassist Gary Herman, drummer Rafael O'Malley Gayol, and accordion player Joel Guzman. The album reached the Billboard country chart. The Flatlanders, meanwhile, had taken another step toward reconstitution by launching a national tour in the late winter of 2000. In May 2002, Ely, Gilmore, and Hancock finally re-formedthe Flatlanders for a new full-length album, Now Again, released by New West Records. Ely co-wrote 12 of the 14 songs and produced the set, which reached the Top 20 of the Billboard country chart. Ely's 11th studio album, Streets of Sin, was released in July 2003. It reached the Billboard country chart. Having waited 30 years between their first and second albums, the Flatlanders were ready with their third, Wheels of Fortune, within two years. Again produced by Ely, it was released in January 2004 and spent 11 weeks in the Billboard country chart. Among the four Ely compositions on the disc was "Indian Cowboy," a song he had not previously recorded, but which had been recorded over the years by Guy Clark, Tom Russell, Townes Van Zandt, and Katy Moffatt. Six months later, there was another Flatlanders album, the archival Live '72.

Ely had sat out the second Los Super Seven album, Canto, in 2001, but he returned for 2005's Heard It on the X. Leaving Rounder, he founded his own record label, Rack 'Em Records, and in February 2007 released his 12th studio album, Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch. The same month, the University of Texas Press released his book of memoirs of life on the road, Bonfire of Roadmaps. That spring, he embarked on a tour with Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, and Guy Clark. At the same time, in April, Rack 'Em had its second release,Silver City, an acoustic collection of early Ely compositions in newly recorded performances featuring only Ely and accordionist Joel Guzman. Ely and Guzman were co-credited on Rack 'Em's third release, Live Cactus!, which appeared in March 2008.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Junior Brown - Surf Medley

Junior Brown is a noted wizard on the guitar, combining country style picking, surf instrumentals, and good old rock 'n roll into his own unique style.

Brown was born Kirksville, Indiana.  His music career began in the 1960s, and he worked through that decade and the next singing and playing pedal steel and guitar for groups such as The Last Mile Ramblers, Dusty Drapes and the Dusters and Asleep at the Wheel while developing his astonishing guitar skills. By the mid-1980s he was teaching guitar at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music at Rogers State University, in Claremore, Oklahoma.

In 1985 Junior invented a double-necked guitar, with some assistance from Michael Stevens. Junior called the instrument his "guit-steel". When performing, Junior plays the guitar by standing behind it, while it rests on a small podium/music stand. The top neck on the guit-steel is a traditional 6-string guitar, while the lower neck is a full-size lap steel guitar for slide playing. Brown has two guit-steels for recording and live work.

The original instrument, dubbed "Old Yeller", has as its standard 6-string guitar portion the neck and pickups from Brown's previous stage guitar, a Fender Bullet. The second guit-steel, named "Big Red", has a neck laser-copied from the Bullet neck, but in addition to electric guitar pickups, both the standard and lapsteel necks use an identical Sho-Bud lapsteel pickup. There is a pocket in the upper bout of the guitar to hold the slide bar when it is not in use.

Brown quickly became a local success in Austin, Texas, as the house band at the Continental Club. His debut album was 1993's 12 Shades of Brown; it was followed by Guit with It. Later that year (1995), Brown released Semi Crazy, and followed it with 1997's Long Walk Back.
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Monday, February 1, 2010

Robert Earl Keen - The Man Behind the Drums

"We left New York City, with nuthin' but a song,
she'll be coming' 'round the mountain when she comes.
We wound up in Woodstock, at an old time jamboree,
came to see the man behind the drums.

Levon digs the doghouse, playing in The Band,
when he locks in to that backbeat it ain't hard to understand.
Get your body movin', celebrate your soul,
Levon digs the doghouse, that's sho-nuff rock and roll.

Son of a plain dirt farmer, from southeast Arkansas,
he was born in a bare ramblin' shoe.
Up and down the highway, and all around the world,
laying down the rhythm and the blues.

We were hangin' from the rafters, singing every song,
that big barn band was hot as it could be.
Up there in the spotlight, the man behind the drums,
was takin' all the load off for you and me.

Yea, Levon digs the doghouse, that's sho-nuff rock and roll."

The "Levon" mentioned in the lyrics is, of course, Levon Helm of The Band, singer of such classics as The Weight, and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

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Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt