Friday, March 27, 2009

Lone Star Licks

Since it's raucous and rowdy beginnings, Texas has derived its strength from the independent nature of its natives, sometimes described as "proud, ornery, cussed, hard-headed." When we're right, we proudly lay claim to it and when we're wrong, we own up to it and start all over.

True to that description, Texas music is as colorful and diverse as the state is itself geographically. We're big. So, it follows that the number of talented musicians abound in the Lone Star state. In recent years, Texas has been home to the musical celebration known as SXSW (South by Southwest) to showcase artists from across the state, and primarily to bolster the Austin area music scene. The 2009 festival runs March 18th through the 22nd and if you cannot attend, then the following suggestions are the next best thing!

With roots deep in our Mexican heritage to the south, ragin' cajun' cousins to the east, lonesome cowboy and plainsmen to our north and west, Texas music has a distinctive sound. Around the hill country (Fredericksburg, Schulenburg, Gruene, New Braunfels, etc.) the music takes on a old European flavor; the accordion was popularized in Tejano music in the 19th century due to cultural exposure to German settlers.

I can't begin to touch the vast choices in Texas talent, so in an attempt at brevity (I had to educate myself on that word - doesn't exist in the Texas lexicon), the following examples will hopefully get your toes tappin' right smartly and add some flavor to your listening library. I wanted to select artists that non-natives might have yet to discover, thus, Willie and Waylon didn't make the cut, nor did a gazillion other names you would recognize. Not that these better known fellas and gals aren't worthy - just that their music has been more commercialized.

Okay, first course: to set the mood, you might want to run to the kitchen for some hot salsa and tortilla chips and a bottle of cold beer. Then, let's start with a little south Texas Conjunto/Tejano king of the accordion, Flaco Jimenez. Song was recorded at the 1990 Texas Conjunto festival, and I apologize; I don't know the name of the tune.[2:23]



Flaco is probably more well known to the average Texan with his connection to a great Tex-Mex band, the Texas Tornados. Featuring the late Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers (on the keyboard), Flaco, and the one and only late Doug Sahm, (whom you may also know as the Doug in the Sir Douglas Quintet) the band was a mainstay in south Texas music for a long time. This tune is "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me" [3:15]:



I bet most of you have heard of Larry McMurtry, the writer and book collector connoisseur, but his son is as terrific a performer as his papa is a quill master. Here is a fantastic quote from the June 20, 1997 edition of the Austin Chronicle by columnist, Christopher Gray:

In the ongoing parlor game of `Match the Texas Songwriter to his Appropriate Literary Precursor,' James McMurtry could play a perfect Joseph Conrad to Townes Van Zandt's Walt Whitman, Guy Clark's Mark Twain, and Lyle Lovett's Oscar Wilde. Stacking labyrinthine plots on top of shady characters, sung in a voice reminiscent of Todd Snider and Go to Blazes' Ted Warren, McMurtry's songs are more interior dramatic monologues than jukebox singalongs.


Here is James McMurtry and his band performing "60 Acres"[4:22]



Nothing finer than to dance the night away listening to a real Texas western swing band, complete with a steel guitar and fiddles. Feel your boots slipping on the sawdust, as a sure-footed cowboy leads you through the maze of dancing couples. Here is a fine old tune every Texas western band worth it's cerveza should have in it's repertoire, "Fraulein", sung by the great Bobby Flores and the Country Minstrels. At any given Friday or Saturday night in Gruene, you can hear this tune fill up the dance hall in that little German Texas town. [3:15]



Here's a sound that drips with Texas authenticity, The Flatlanders. The band members are each consummate artists individually and together their sound is even sweeter: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock. The song, "My Wildest Dreams", doesn't get started until about 2:00 minutes into the clip, but you might enjoy the storytelling that comes before, I really enjoy listening to the nasally Lubbock-flavored voice of Jimmie Dale Gilmore. BTW, Lubbock is THE flatland country.[4:56] :



Texas is also the home of some great blues music. Most of you are already familiar with the tremendous talent of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, but before Stevie, before Delbert McClinton, and before the Fabulous Thunderbirds, there was Lightnin' Hopkins from Dallas. Lightnin' has been the inspiration to many musicians and is the gold standard of blues in Texas. "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" is a great example of his bluesiest. [4:18]




Speaking of Lightnin', this last artist choice was one of his biggest fans. I can't pass up an opportunity to include my most favorite Texas performer, though I came late to his fan club. Sadly, Townes Van Zandt, is no longer with us, he passed away in 1997. Born to a wealthy oil family in 1944 in Fort Worth, Townes family tree boasts a great grandfather who played a part in the mighty Republic of Texas: Isaac Van Zandt. Townes was a unique Texas musician and his life story is fascinating, though very tragic. Take the time to discover more about Townes, I guarantee you'll be hooked on his music. The song "Waitin' Round to Die" was never a huge commercial success, but it without fail touches me every time I hear it. I believe the old black man in the film clip is "Uncle" Seymour Washington, an old blacksmith and friend to Townes. [2:25]



Townes has a son, J.T., who is so much like his dad it's spooky. YouTube did not allow embedding for this video of J.T. singing "Nothin'" but here is a link. And for comparison, here is Townes singing the same song. One of his best, I believe. [2:49]



If you'd like to investigate more Texas artists and music, here's one site to start with. Click on the drop down box to search artists. Enjoy!

3 comments:

DarkoV said...

Woahhh!
Great piece covering basically everything you may want to know about Texas singing.
Ans I'm sure you left out Jerry Jeff Walker cuz he wasn't born in Texas...or do you have something against Lubbock?

Todd said...

I'll have to come on back and sit on the porch a spell when I've got more time. But this is a great collective of Texas music some people might not know about.

Some of the greatest have come from here. I like to sing in the shower, but won't feel bad for not being mentioned because
a) nobody else hears me
b) I'm not a native

– Texas T-bone

Conrad said...

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