Page 1

texas AUTHENTIC

T H E

H E R I T A G E

M A G A Z I N E

O F

T E X A S

King of Swing How Bob Wills transformed popular music

NAVASOTA

BLUES

CAPITAL

of Texas CAPROCK CANYONS

BISONFEST

VAN CLIBURN

REMEMBERING A

COLD WAR ICON

The

GUITAR AND ACCORDION

INSTRUMENTS of DIVERSITY VOLUME 3 FALL 2019 EDITION

ISSUE 15 COVER2.indd 2

+

ROBERT EARL KEEN MUSIC FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES STEVENS GUITARS IN ALPINE THE STAMPEDE IN BIG SPRING

9/3/19 3:17 PM


ISSUE 15 COVER2.indd 1

9/1/19 7:42 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 1

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 2

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 3

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 4

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 5

9/1/19 7:36 PM


FROM THE TEXAS HERITAGE TRAILS LLC

O

summer months here in Texas, very few of us are willing to make our drives around the state with our windows rolled down, instead turning our air-conditioning to high and viewing the vistas through the glass. But as the heat of another Texas summer fades into the promise of cooler temperatures, Authentic Texas is taking a deep dive into our state’s musical heritage, and we’re likely to roll down those windows and let our traveling music flow out into the open air. Texas has a rich musical heritage and a diverse, vibrant music scene alive and flourishing today. Our team of cultural curators, deployed across the state, has brought together a collection of Texas music stories we hope will inspire you to load up on traveling tunes, pack your bags and hit the road to visit the authentic places of Texas music heritage. Inside this issue we tell the tales of music destinations big and small in Austin, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Stephenville, Navasota and other communities. We truly love bringing the real stories of Texas to you in this magazine and through our online platforms. We have many great historic preservation partners from around the state that contribute to making this publication exceptional. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission writes about its archive of Texas sheet music, and the Texas Music Office tells us about its Texas Music Friendly program, while the Texas Historical Commission covers the Cass County Courthouse in Linden, hometown of rocker Don Henley. This is our last issue with Stewart Ramser as publisher. Stewart and his team — especially graphic designer Martha Gazella-Taylor and editor Tom Buckley — were essential in getting this publication off the ground, and we’ll be forever grateful for our partnership. Starting with our next issue, Margaret Hoogstra will be sitting in the publisher’s seat and as the organization’s CEO. Hoogstra has served for many years as the executive director of the Texas Forts Trail Region and has played a key role in this magazine from its inception. We look forward to bringing more real Texas stories to motivate inspirational travels throughout this great state.

OVER THE HOT

Happy Trails!

Jeff Salmon, Frontier Texas Texas Heritage Trails LLC

6

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 6

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 7

9/1/19 7:36 PM


Contents FALL 2019

8

44

38

49

AUTHENTIC PERSON

AUTHENTIC PLACE

AUTHENTIC THING

Although he didn’t invent Western swing single-handedly, Bob Wills perfected it and popularized it. With his enormously popular band, the Texas Playboys, he expanded and erased boundaries between musical genres. Always a maverick, Wills infused American popular music of the 20th century with a special “Ah haa!” spirit.

Nearly three decades ago, the Austin City Council officially branded its city the “Live Music Capital of the World,” reflecting the importance of music to the local economy. Austin boasts more music venues per capita than any city in the country, along with a rich history that includes iconic places and festivals.

What was once the domain of Hill Country dance halls quickly spread across Texas during the 20th century: the button accordion, originally a staple of German and Czech settlers, was inexpensive and loud — an “orchestra in a box” — and became fundamental to genres as diverse as polka, zydeco and conjunto.

BOBWILLS.COM

FEATURES

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 8

9/1/19 7:36 PM


BOBWILLS.COM

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 9

9/1/19 7:36 PM


Contents LEGACY

72

TEXAS HISTORICAL COMMISSION

Cass County Courthouse

The restoration of the oldest operating courthouse in Texas has drawn the interest — and financial backing — of rock icon Don Henley.

76

TEXAS ORIGINAL

Robert Earl Keen TEXAS ICON, THE GUITAR, P. 18

LOCAL

18

TEXAS ICON Texas designated the guitar as the official state musical instrument in 1997, noting, in the House Resolution, “Texan preeminence in pop, blues, country, jazz, rock and Tejano music is an apt expression of the state’s rich diversity, and all make extensive use of the guitar.”

22

YONDER

Navasota

The Blues Capital of Texas celebrates a musical form born of slavery in the form of a striking blues-themed mural, a sculpture of native Mance Lipscomb that sits in a park named for him, and a popular music festival, Blues Fest.

Big Spring

During the ‘50s and ‘60s, plenty of Texans drove for miles to Big Spring on a Saturday night to dance and listen to fiddler and Stampede owner Hoyle Nix, “the other Bob Wills.” And now, Hoyle’s son, Jody Nix, continues the tradition with his band, the Texas Cowboys.

10

Caprock Canyons

Caprock Canyons State Park, on the outskirts of Quitaque, spotlights some of the most vivid colors imaginable in nature — along with the official Texas State Bison Herd. A music and arts festival, BisonFest, is held annually to raise funds for restoration.

Stephenville

In 2018, Stephenville became the sixth city in Texas to be named a Music Friendly Community by the Texas Music Office, joining Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Denton and Lindale. (Conroe and San Angelo have since been added.)

34

CITY LIGHTS

Lubbock

The Buddy Holly Center is dedicated to the memory of the iconoclastic songwriter and musician — and to the music of Lubbock and West Texas.

Van Cliburn

The tall, lean Texas with enormous hands was the unlikeliest hero for the Cold War. And now a prestigious international piano competition bears his name.

LIFE

58

80

Texas Tunes and Tourism

Sheet Music Collection

TRAIL DRIVES

The Texas Music Office and the Texas Historical Commission have made it easy for cities like San Angelo (and Lubbock, Denton and more) to mark and make use of their music heritage.

Marching Bands

The Friday night lights in many Texas towns aren’t shining just on the football teams. In small-town Texas, they spotlight the marching bands as well, who compete with the same ferocity as their athletic counterparts.

62

TEXAS STATE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES

This impressive collection demonstrates the breadth of the types of sheet music published in the United States — a significant number of which pertain directly to Texas history.

84

HISTORIES

Our State Song?

The author argues that Texas needs a more appropriate state song, and reviews the history of how “Texas, Our Texas” came to be so designated.

EATS & DRINKS

Stubb’s Gospel Brunch Breakfast Klub

66

DEEP IN THE ART

Woody Guthrie Tribute Stevens Guitars

Trails in This Issue Brazos 22 Forest 58, 73 Forts 30, 58, 60 Hill Country 39, 58, 62 Independence 64 Lakes 36, 58 Mountain 66 Plains 24, 26, 34, 68, 88 Tropical 58

FLICKR.COM

Departments

While Robert Earl Keen may not be a household name in most corners of the country, his fan base extends well beyond the Lone Star State. In Texas, his career is the stuff of lore, especially on the campuses of major universities like Texas A&M, his alma mater.

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 10

9/1/19 7:36 PM


FLICKR.COM

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 11

9/1/19 7:36 PM


TRAILS MAP THE TEXAS HERITAGE TRAILS program is based on 10 scenic driving trails created in 1968

by Gov. John Connally and the Texas Highway Department (now the Texas Department of Transportation) as a tool for visitors to explore the Lone Star State. The trails were established in conjunction with HemisFair, an international expo that commemorated the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio. In 1997, the State Legislature charged the Texas Historical Commission with creating a statewide heritage tourism program. The THC responded with a program based on local, regional and state partnerships, centered on the 10 scenic driving trails. Today, each trail region is a nonprofit organization governed by a regional board of directors that supports educational and preservation efforts and facilitates community development through heritage tourism.

PUBLISHER

Stewart Ramser ADVERTISING

Julie A. Kunkle, Associate Publisher Christina Olivarez, Advertising Director Senior Account Executives: Macaulay Hammond, Denise Janove, Mike McKee, Tina Mullins, Misty Pennock, Maxine Pittman, Jasmine Allgood Ward Abigail Stewart, Advertising Sales Manager Jillian Clifton, Advertising Sales Coordinator ART DIRECTOR

Martha Gazella-Taylor, Gazella Design EDITOR

Tom Buckley COPY EDITORS

PLAINS TRAIL REGION

Kirstin Cutts, Michael Marchio CONTRIBUTORS

Susan Floyd, Loretta Fulton, Susan Gammage, Gene Goodwin, Trey Gutierrez, Randall Kinzie, Cassandra Lance-Martinez, Linc Leifeste, Bob McCullough, Brian McGrath, Madison Searle, Christian Wallace

LAKES TRAIL REGION

EDITORIAL BOARD

FORTS TRAIL REGION MOUNTAIN TRAIL REGION

PECOS TRAIL REGION

BRAZOS TRAIL REGION

HILL COUNTRY TRAIL REGION

FOREST TRAIL REGION

INDEPENDENCE TRAIL REGION

TROPICAL TRAIL REGION

Coleman Hampton, Texas Brazos Trail Region Jeff Salmon, Texas Forts Trail Region Patty Bushart, Texas Lakes Trail Region Robert Alvarez, Texas Mountain Trail Region Bill Simon, Texas Pecos Trail Region Kay Ellington, Texas Plains Trail Region Rick Stryker, Texas Tropical Trail Region EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS OF PARTICIPATING TEXAS HERITAGE TRAIL REGIONS

Andrea Barefield, Texas Brazos Trail Region Margaret Hoogstra, Texas Forts Trail Region Jill Campbell Jordan, Texas Lakes Trail Region Wendy Little, Texas Mountain Trail Region Melissa Hagins, Texas Pecos Trail Region Barbara Brannon, Texas Plains Trail Region Nancy Deviney, Texas Tropical Trail Region

Legend

12

BRAZOS TRAIL TexasBrazosTrail.com

INDEPENDENCE TRAIL TexasIndependenceTrail.com

FORTS TRAIL TexasFortsTrail.com

MOUNTAIN TRAIL TexasMountainTrail.com

FOREST TRAIL TexasForestTrail.com

PECOS TRAIL TexasPecosTrail.com

HILL COUNTRY TRAIL TxHillCountryTrail.com

PLAINS TRAIL TexasPlainsTrail.com

LAKES TRAIL TexasLakesTrail.com

TROPICAL TRAIL TexasTropicalTrail.com

Texas Heritage Trails LLC 3702 Loop 322 Abilene, TX 79602 AuthenticTexas.com (325) 660-6774 Texas Heritage Trails LLC is owned and operated by seven nonprofit heritage trails organizations. Texas Heritage Trails LLC member organizations are participants of the nationally award-winning Texas Heritage Trails Program of the Texas Historical Commission. Texas Heritage Trails, LLC, dba Authentic Texas, is a member of the Texas Travel Industry Association and is a Go Texan partner.

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 12

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 13

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 14

9/1/19 7:36 PM


SUMMER 2016

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 15

XX

9/1/19 7:36 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 16

9/1/19 7:36 PM


LOCAL

TEXAS ICON p. 18 H YONDER p. 22 H CITY LIGHTS p. 34 H FEATURES p. 38

HOME on the

BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL

RANGE

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 17

17

9/1/19 7:36 PM


LOCAL TEXAS ICON

18

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 18

9/1/19 7:36 PM


Guitar THE

The official state instrument transcends the boundaries of genre by

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

I

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 19

CASSANDRA LANCE-MARTINEZ

F AMERICAN vernacular music has an archetypal instrument, it’s certainly the guitar, and there’s no doubt Texas has produced some of the most important guitarists in music history — so important that even their guitars are icons. The guitar is an instrument that knows no stylistic boundaries, serving as a symbol of Texas’ colorful musical culture. Whether it be country, blues, Western swing, rock, Tejano or any other type of music produced here, one can often hear the euphonious strumming of the guitar in the background. There are varying theories regarding the origin of the guitar. With its history spanning thousands of years, it’s difficult to pinpoint when and where the instrument first appeared. But the name for guitar in English, French and German comes from the medieval Spanish “guitarra.” About 1850, Spanish guitar maker Antonio Torres Jurado altered the centuries-old instrument by adjusting its proportions, increasing the body size and introducing the top bracing pattern, ultimately forming the basic structure that serves as the standard, modernday guitar.

By the 20th century, improved guitarmaking techniques allowed manufacturers like Martin (founded 1833) and Gibson (founded 1894) to offer steel-string guitars. When played with picks, this allowed a much brighter, louder sound and let the guitar hold its own in a string band, at a square dance and as a solo instrument in its own right. It was about this time that the singer Lead Belly, who was raised in Bowie County, discovered an inexpensive Stella 12-string that had steel strings and was as loud as a piano. Soon mail-order catalogue stores like Wards and Sears were adding inexpensive guitars to their catalogues. Sears’ models ranged from $2.70 to $10.30, and one inventory in 1900 reported that over 78,000 guitars had been manufactured that year. Throughout the1920s, American musicians set about inventing new ways to tune and note these instruments. Along the Texas-Mexico border, another type of guitar called the bajo sexto emerged as a central instrument in popular conjunto string bands. Looking like a cross between a standard guitar and a cello, the large bajo sexto featured twelve strings, most tuned an octave below standard gui-

FA L L 2 0 1 9

19

9/1/19 7:36 PM


20

ALL PHOTOS ALLMUSIC.COM EXCEPT WILLIE NESLON [103KKCN.COM] AND STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN [SRVOFFICIAL.COM]

TAKE YOUR PICK: Texas has produced more iconic guitarists than any other state, including (clockwise from top right) blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins; Willie Nelson, with his beloved “Trigger”; Lydia Mendoza, the “Lark of the Border” and first lady of Tejano, displaying her bajo sexto guitar; Huddie William Ledbetter — aka Lead Belly — a virtuoso on the 12-string guitar; Stevie Ray Vaughan and his electric “Number One,” a 1962-63 Fender purchased at Ray Henning’s Heart of Texas in 1973; and Buddy Holly, who, along with his Fender Stratocaster, helped change the course of music history. AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 20

9/1/19 7:36 PM


tar. This gave the player the chance to play bass and chord at the same time, and gave the music a propulsive bass sound. When combined with the button accordion, drums and possibly an electric bass, the bajo sexto became a crucial ingredient in the popular Tejano music of today. Another major innovation was the amplification of the instrument. By 1946 engineer Paul Bigsby built the first solid-body electric guitar, and by 1948 the Fender Broadcaster went on sale to the general public. Among the early bluesmen to use this and its successor, the Telecaster, were T-Bone Walker, from Linden, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Soon after came Buddy Holly and his Fender Stratocaster. With his band, the Crickets, Holly pioneered the two guitar, bass, drums and vocal format for rock bands that would be adopted by the British beat groups and is still in use today. He was the first high-profile rockand-roller to adopt the Stratocaster as his guitar of choice. Given the instrument’s rich Texas history, it’s no wonder that on June 19, 1997, Texas Gov. George W. Bush signed House Concurrent Resolution No. 23, declaring the guitar Texas’ official musical instrument. There are many symbols that tangibly represent the heritage of the Lone Star State, but the guitar was specifically chosen to denote the fact that “music is one of the most notable and appreciated” contributions that Texas has given to the world. The popularity of the instrument among musicians of all genres, the House Resolution notes, “identifies it as an ideal symbol of the depth and breadth of Texas music.” Thomas Vanderzyde, a recent Southwestern University graduate with a degree in classical guitar performance, writes, produces and performs mostly rock and metal tracks. For the past 12 years he’s pursued his passion of playing the guitar but admittedly first became interested in the instrument, like so many young guitarists, “for all the wrong reasons.” “Initially, the rock star lifestyle is what attracted me,” he notes. “But as the years progressed, I dove deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of guitar music and fell in love with it for all the right reasons. I went from chasing the ‘bad boy’ image to forming my own identity. For me, the guitar is the way I express myself and find fulfillment in life.” The guitar is a language of its own, and those who play it use it as a form of communication. “It takes years to be able to speak

fluently,” Vanderzyde says, “and decades to really find your voice and have something to say.” It’s remained one of the most popular instruments among professional musicians, as well as with aspiring musicians of all ages. It’s portable and relatively easy to learn. Although it takes years of training and practice to achieve the proficiency of a classical guitarist, the lead guitarist for a neighborhood garage band can coax a passable sound out of the guitar in a fairly short period of time. The beauty and simplicity of the guitar’s sound have continued to make the instrument popular with listeners as well.

Guitar music courses through the veins of many Texas tunesmiths, including “cowboys, sharecroppers, railroad workers, and migrant laborers who built Texas and opened the American West,” the House Resolution states. It can be used as a medium for self-expression, rebellion and as a way to represent our unique “Don’t Mess with Texas” state pride. With legendary players like Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly, Lydia Mendoza, Lead Belly, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lightnin’ Hopkins and so many others hailing from the Lone Star State, the guitar was a natural fit to serve as the state’s official musical instrument.

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 21

21

9/1/19 7:36 PM


LOCAL YONDER

BLUES BROTHER: A mural depicting the community’s legacy as the Blues Capital of Texas prominently features Mance Lipscomb (at far left in mural and in bottom photo), who was born and is buried in Navasota.

True Blues

Navasota embraces a genre born of sorrow LORETTA FULTON

FOLKS IN NAVASOTA may be “singin’ the blues,” but it’s not because they’re in despair. Just the opposite, in fact. The city was designated the “Blues Capital of Texas” in 2005 by the Texas Legislature, and, ever since, residents have been downright upbeat about the blues. Bert Miller, the current mayor of Navasota, notes that the city, located between College Station and Houston, had a popular Blues Fest that originated in 1996. From

22

that event, someone got the idea that seeking the “Blues Capital of Texas” designation from the state would be a worthy pursuit. “I definitely supported it,” said Miller, president of Miller Insurance Agency. Even though the Blues Fest ended in 2016 — organizers cited increased costs and decreased funding — much grew from the blues capital designation. A blues-themed mural covers the side of a building; a sculpture of blues musician and hometown prod-

NAVASOTA

BRAZOS TRAIL REGION

FROM LET: RUSSELL CUSHMAN; ALLMUSIC.COM

F

by

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 22

9/1/19 7:36 PM


FROM LET: RUSSELL CUSHMAN; ALLMUSIC.COM

uct Mance Lipscomb, who was the inspiration for Blues Fest, sits on a bench in a park named for him; a new one-day blues event was held in August to replace the longer Blues Fest; and the designation as the state’s blues capital continues to draw curious visitors. “It’s definitely brought people in,” Miller says, “especially from out of town.” Perhaps no one living has more knowledge of Navasota’s blues legacy than Russell Cushman, an artist, sculptor, photographer, writer and historian, and creator of a blog called “Blues Valley.” Cushman now lives in Belton, but he’s still promoting Navasota’s blues heritage. Ironically, Cushman was opposed to seeking the “Blues Capital of Texas” designation because he thought it might project a bad image for Navasota. After all, blues was an expression of sorrow that grew out of slavery. But once Cushman understood the importance of that legacy and the potential that would come from the designation, he was all in. “I’m a team player,” he says. “I jumped in with all four feet.” Cushman later was elected to the Navasota City Council and learned that a Russian film Navasota Grimes County crew was headed to town for Chamber of Commerce a piece on the navasotagrimeschamber.com blues capital. VISIT NAVASOTA But the only visitnavasota.com thing the city BLUES VALLEY BLOG had related to BY RUSSELL CUSHMAN the blues at the brazosvalleyblues.blogspot.com time was the Blues Fest, so Cushman and others got busy trying to come up with ideas for the film crew. The Russians cancelled, but that experience got the ball rolling. Cushman started doing research and learned that Navasota and the Brazos Valley region had a rich blues heritage due to its cotton patch history, where many blues songs arose. Blues legends like Lipscomb, Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Milt Larkin kept popping up. Cushman became so intrigued with that legacy that he created his “Blues Valley” blog and wrote a book, The Light of Day, which is serialized on the blog. Cushman’s research and the interest shown by the Russian film crew educated Cushman about the rich heritage of the blues and how that genre was woven into others like soul, country and rock ’n’ roll. “I’d say blues is the mother of American music,” Cushman says.

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 23

FA L L 2 0 1 9

23

9/1/19 7:36 PM


TWO-STEPPERS: Jody Nix and, before him, dad Hoyle Nix (right photo), have made the Stampede (bottom right photo) their musical home since 1954.

The Stampede

1610 E. TX-350 Big Spring, TX 79720 (432) 267-2060

Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys

YONDER

Cowtown Swing

(432) 267-2060 jodynixmusic.com

VISIT BIG SPRING

Jody Nix carries on the tradition started by his father, Hoyle, at the Stampede in Big Spring MELISSA HAGINS

WEST TEXAS dancehalls don’t come any

more authentic than a notable bare-bones affair situated a mile and a half northeast of Big Spring. Surrounded by oilfield trucks and pump jacks, the Stampede Dance Hall was opened in 1954 by Hoyle Nix and his brother, Ben, as a place to play music and for the locals to dance. The hall is 120 feet long and 40 feet wide — a plain building with a dance floor made to last. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Hoyle’s son, Jody — considered by many the number one Western swing fid-

24

dler still working — with his band, the Texas Cowboys, offering up their two-stepping version of Western swing. Brothers Hoyle and Ben formed the West Texas Cowboys in 1946 and patterned the band after Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. Nix had already established a dance circuit in the area and was making regular appearances in other towns, including Abilene, Lubbock, Midland, Odessa and San Angelo. The West Texas Cowboys cut their first recordings in 1949 for the Dallas-based Star

• BIG SPRING

PLAINS TRAIL REGION

PHOTOS COURTESY JODY NIX

W

by

215 W. 3rd St. Big Spring, TX 79720 (432) 263-7641 bigspringchamber.com

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 24

9/1/19 7:36 PM


COURTESY JODY NIX

PHOTOS COURTESY JODY NIX

BUCKLED UP: During the late 1950s, the West Texas Cowboys grew to their largest size with nine members, including three musicians who’d played with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys.

Talent label. The initial Star Talent release, Nix’s “Big Ball’s in Cowtown,” a folk-derived re-write, proved to be an enduring standard. In fact, Jody says that in spite of its old-timey feel and the song’s actual age, it’s still very popular. “We never play a dance — and I mean never — that we don’t get a request for ‘Big Ball’s in Cowtown,’” Nix says. “We’ve got a fan in Guthrie who’s followed us forever, it seems, and he’ll always dance by the bandstand and ask when we’re going to play it. It ranks right up there with any of the Western swing standards in terms of number of requests.” Nix says he’d “have to do some digging” to figure out how many times the tune’s been recorded, but he suspects more than a hundred. As for how many times he’s played the song, Nix chuckles. “Well, counting the 45 years I was with daddy playing drums before he passed, I’ve probably played it at least 100 times per year, so just do the math.” He pauses, then adds, “A bunch.” During the late 1950s, the West Texas Cowboys grew to their largest size with nine members. Hoyle Nix had first shared a stage with Bob Wills in 1952 in Colorado City, Texas, and their two bands soon began touring together, splitting the playing time at each dance. After Wills disbanded the Texas Playboys in the early 1960s, he continued to appear with Nix on a fairly regular basis until his first stroke in 1969. The respect Wills had for Nix was evident when he invited Nix and Jody to participate in what turned out to be Wills’ final recording session, to cut For the

Last Time, in 1973. Hoyle Nix’s last recordings were made in 1977, and he died after a short illness in 1985. He was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1991. (Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys were inducted in 2009.) Jody started playing drums at age 8 in his dad’s band. By the time he was 11, he was playing fiddle, and at 16 he began singing. He’s has been in the business for six decades, performing at dances and shows all over Texas and parts of the Southwest. He’s played with local symphonies, and even played the Black Tie and Boots Ball in 1989 as part of George H. W. Bush’s inauguration festivities. In addition to Wills, he’s worked with Ray Price, George Strait and Asleep at the Wheel, among others. He has a show on XM Radio — on the “Willie’s Roadhouse” channel — and has a local show, “Jody Nix’s Sunday Night Country,” on KBYG 1400 AM and 103.6 FM every Sunday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. As for the king of Western swing, Nix notes that Bob Wills had a special fondness for “Big Ball’s in Cowtown.” He recorded it several times and would often play it with Hoyle Nix. The two had something of a friendly rivalry over who had the funnier asides, like, “Help me, mama, the hogs has got me.” “They were both pretty funny guys,” Nix says, “and they were always looking to entertain each other or to make a joke or say something witty. They had a great, long friendship and loved to cut up.” FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 25

25 9/1/19 7:36 PM


FINAL FRONTIER: The bison herd at Caprock Canyons represents the last remaining examples of the Southern Plains variety.

YONDER

The Thundering Herd

Caprock Canyons State Park bolsters a bison program and an annual music festival BARBARA BRANNON

ON THE RUGGED VERGE of the caprock in Briscoe County, visitors will find some of the most dramatic highway vistas in Texas (especially along TX 86 and TX 207). And in the lush, creek-drained valley below the cliffs roams the state’s official bison herd at Caprock Canyons State Park. On a morning in late July when the Texas Plains Trail 50th Anniversary Caravan rolled into the park, superintendent Donald Beard welcomed our line of vehicles to follow him down to the amphitheater overlook. “I’m

26

pretty sure I know where you’ll spot part of the herd,” he said. Turning down the steep curve beside Lake Theo, we nearly ran into it. Single-file, several cows with calves trod up from the water and across the pavement behind a massive bull and a few other type-A specimens. Jaws dropped as we watched the magnificent animals parade directly in front of the lead driver’s grille. Traffic remained stopped for five or 10 minutes until the herd disappeared into the brush.

CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK

PLAINS TRAIL REGION

BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL

O

by

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 26

9/1/19 7:36 PM


BISON JAM! It’s always best to observe the unwritten bison-right-of-way provision.

“Bison jam!” cried one passenger in amazement. Beard motioned us on across. “I know right where they’re going,” he called out. No sooner had our vehicles pulled into the lot half a mile farther along than the remnant emerged onto the shoulder beside us and rejoined the main herd on their way to a favorite grazing area. The big bull, Beard explained, likely weighed in at around 1,800 pounds — half the bulk of one of our fully loaded SUVs. Spring weather had been wet and the herd fertile, Beard told us. Thirty to 40 new calves, now two or three months old, had augmented a herd of some 200 animals.

The event is a great place to kick back and enjoy food, fun and entertainment while supporting a worthy cause. The music fest begins around 4:30 p.m. and will last until nearly midnight — Kevin Fowler is the headliner — while the arts and crafts festival opens at 10 a.m.

Tell us a little about Caprock Canyons State Park and how 850 Caprock Canyon Rd. the land was used before it was Quitaque, TX 79255 (806) 455-1492 acquired by Texas Parks & tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/ Wildlife. caprock-canyons The last landowner was Theo Gisler, who owned the BisonFest 2019 land from the 1950s until Sat., Sept. 28 bisonfest.com the ’70s. Historically, this was right in the middle of Comanchería; it was wintering grounds Herd Here I spoke with Beard recently about the expe- for Quanah Parker and the Quahada band rience of reintroducing bison to Southern of Comanches. It was also the wintering Plains parkland — and the importance of grounds for the great herds of Southern restoring grasslands. Plains Bison. Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway

BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL

BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL

Why Bison?

The modern-day bison has long been a symbol of the vast land area of the North American continent — and a symbol of U.S. might on the nickel coins first minted in 1913. But the animals, commonly called buffalo in this country, were nearly exterminated during hunts to clear the plains for white settlement and the railroad by the 1870s. Concurrently, habitat was lost to farming, and at the outset of 1889 only 456 North American bison — out of some 30 million to 60 million — were known to exist. Caprock Canyons was first designated a state park in 1982, and by 1997 it welcomed a remnant of the only pure herd remaining. The plan to rebuild the herd and its native habitat was underway.

Jammin’ for the Bison

Today, to raise funds for restoration of parklands to prairie landscape, in 2012 Caprock Canyons State Park staff and the citizens of nearby Quitaque launched BisonFest, an allday music and arts festival featuring some of Texas’ most popular Americana and country artists. It’s now designated as the official Texas State Bison Music Festival, which will occur this year on Sept. 28.

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 27

FA L L 2 0 1 9

27

9/1/19 7:37 PM


I understand that previous land use drastically affected the native landscape and reduced biodiversity dramatically. What was the situation back then? This land once supported vast numbers of bison in a high-intensity, low-duration rate of grazing. Herds would move through, then, once they left, there would be a large recovery period.  Once Europeans took control of the territory and introduced domestic cattle along with continuous grazing, the land no longer had the long recovery period, and you’d see a larger percentage of bare ground. This, along with no longer allowing the natural process of burning, was a perfect recipe for the invasion of woody species such as mesquite and juniper. How did the idea of bringing the bison herd to Caprock Canyons arise? The herd originated in 1878 by Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight. It had been kept as a closed herd, with the genetics unique to these animals. After Charles’ death, the animals returned to the canyons and once again became a wild, free-ranging herd on the JA

28

Ranch. The later owners of the ranch, wishing to protect the animals, donated them to the state. The citizens of Quitaque, seeing the historical value of protecting these animals, lobbied to have them brought to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997, when 32 animals made the journey and became the foundation members of the Texas State Bison Herd.  Over time, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has been watching and protecting the herd as its numbers grew. The herd was reintroduced into the park as free-ranging wildlife beginning in 2011, and now numbers approximately 250. One study noted that “as little as 1% of native prairies exist today in North America.” Why are bison and other native species so important to maintain in our public lands? Our state and federal governments have done a wonderful job protecting areas with majestic views — Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and others — but have failed in protecting the native prairies of North America. 

These grasslands, used as farmland throughout modern history, have been described as the “breadbasket” of the nation. The conversion of native prairie to farmland began in earnest during the turn of the 20th century. Many people today have never witnessed the beautiful sight of endless tall-grass prairie mottled with the national mammal of the United States, the North American Bison. How do guests respond to the bison herds? The bison may look like large, lumbering animals but in fact are very mobile, capable of speeds around 40 miles per hour. They can charge in an instant and without warning when they feel threatened. Park visitors need to understand that when they’re at Caprock, they’re in the midst of a wild preserve. The bison, along with all other animals in the park, are protected, and it’s illegal to feed, harm or harass them. When a bison is encountered, the best action is to step aside, get out your camera and take some really awesome pictures of your visit.

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 28

9/1/19 7:37 PM


Keep in mind that the minimum distance you should approach bison is 50 yards, but the bison don’t always adhere to this policy! Keep calm, and wait for them to pass. Don’t attempt to “shoo” them or show any other form of apparent aggression. BisonFest raises funds and awareness to support ongoing restoration of park habitat. What are future plans for Caprock Canyon lands? More than just a bison restoration.  Our goal is to restore the habitat, including the species of animals who once inhabited it. Just imagine watching the sun come up and looking across the Eagle Point basin to see herds of bison and pronghorn grazing through prairie-dog towns that are home to animals such as burrowing owls, badger, and perhaps even the black-footed ferret. In what other ways can Texans and park visitors help? We encourage friends to join our nonprofit support group, Caprock Partners Foundation, and donate directly to this and other awesome park projects at caprockpartnersfoundation.com.

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 29

29

9/1/19 7:37 PM


INSTRUMENTAL Stephenville has become a frequent stop for touring artists given its central location, equidistant from the East and West Coasts; Larry Joe Taylor (right) and Doug Montgomery have been key players in the city’s musical development.

YONDER

Small Town, Big Presence

The Cowboy Capital of the World prides itself on its warmth — and its support of music and artists CASSANDRA LANCE-MARTINEZ

IN THE HEART OF cowboy country, centrally located between Waco, Abilene and Fort Worth, lies a community small in size but big in musical stature. Stephenville has a population of just under 21,000 and serves as the seat of Erath County. With its recording studios, radio stations, big-name music festivals and a university that emphasizes music and the performing arts, it’s no wonder Stephenville was deemed a Music Friendly Community by the Texas Music Office, in the Office of the Governor.

HISTORY Stephenville’s story began in 1854, when 30

John M. Stephen settled on-site and donated land to George B. Erath to build a county courthouse along with lots for settlers and churches in exchange for the town’s namesake. Subsequently, Erath County and the town of Stephenville were officially founded in 1856. The first two years showed promising growth for Stephenville, but Comanche raids and the hit the community took from the Civil War caused inhabitants to leave the area. In the 1870s, the town experienced a revival with the emergence of its farming and agriculture industries that, to this day, serve as the backbone of the community.

STEPHENVILLE

FORTS TRAIL REGION

FROM LEFT: CITYLIMITTEXAS.COM: LARRY JOE TAYLOR MUSIC FESTIVAL

I

by

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 30

9/1/19 7:37 PM


The town was permanently incorporated in 1889 with the arrival of the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway, and the following decade brought the erection of the stone buildings that make up Stephenville’s town square, as well as the formation of John Tarleton Agricultural College — now known as Tarleton State University. The 1950s was a watershed decade for the city, establishing creameries, hatcheries, feed mills, the rodeo industry and other businesses. The growth of these industries has made Stephenville what it is today — a quaint Texas agriculture community and Cowboy Capital of the World — but music has become an essential part of the town’s makeup.

TARLETON.EDU

FROM LEFT: CITYLIMITTEXAS.COM: LARRY JOE TAYLOR MUSIC FESTIVAL

MUSIC The people of Stephenville are proud of their musical background — and rightfully so. This small Texas town has every credential to be considered an appealing destination for music lovers. Given its share of popular music festivals, recording studios and radio stations, as well as a supportive community, Stephenville checks all the boxes. Julie Smith, manager of the Stephenville Tourism & Visitors Bureau and a town native, describes the city’s musical identity as “a diverse mix of genres and events that host regional and national acts throughout the year.” Stephenville has become a prime stop for touring artists, situated at the junction of US Highways 377, 281 and 67, as well as being equidistant from both the East and West Coasts. TARLETON STATE UNIVERSITY An essential element in being deemed a Music Friendly Community by the Governor’s Office is a collaboration with music education programs at institutions of higher learning. Tarleton State University has served as an important center for music in North Central Texas for the past century and established a dedicated fine arts facility in the 1960s that was the first of its kind west of Austin. According to Dr. Vicky Johnson, head of the Fine Arts Department, the university is noteworthy in that it offers “a range of opportunities and events in the form of classical music, jazz, musical theatre and folk tradition. Groups such as the Bolshoi Ballet, Fort Worth Symphony, African dancers and Celtic groups have provided an enriching experience for our students and the community.”

MAKING THE GRADE:

In the 1960s, Tarleton State established the first fine arts facility west of Austin.

The Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center on campus hosts about 250 public events each year that are open to students, faculty and, well, anyone interested in treating themselves to a top-notch performance. “Kids in Stephenville are raised around music,” says Lori LaRue, operations manager at the Center. “Many of them play instruments, support local artists and go on to study music in an array of genres.” LaRue says Stephenville is “all out for music” and credits the community for assisting in the effort to raise the city’s musical profile. “If I have to describe Stephenville in one word, it would be warmth,” she explains. “The community welcomes you with open arms and supports artists.” To that end, Tarleton has produced musicians such as Americana artist Ryan Bingham, country singer Koe Wetzel, and Paul Oliger, the guitarist for Shea Abshier & the Nighthowlers. FAMILY-FRIENDLY COMMUNITY An established agriculture, rodeo and dairy farming community, Stephenville has become an important music destination in the state, thus earning the honor of Music Friendly Community. And friendly it is, radiating a warmth only a close-knit community can provide. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in Stephenville your entire life or if you’re just passing through, it’s a good bet you’ll be met with a smile and tip of a hat by a community that loves music, appreciates artists and makes you feel like family.

FESTIVALS Stephenville boasts festivals and concert series that attract tens of thousands each year from around the country. The community has banded together to create multiple events for artists — whether their names be up in lights or up-and-coming — to entertain the crowds and turn Stephenville into a music hub. Two names in particular, Larry Joe Taylor and Doug Montgomery, have used their influence in the music industry — and desire to promote Stephenville — to create some of the most impressive events in the region. Summer Nights Concert Series Birdsong Amphitheater, May–October What better way to spend the toasty Texas nights than listening to live music, free of charge, under the starry sky? The Birdsong Amphitheater on the banks of the Bosque River in Stephenville City Park sets the stage for the Texstar Ford Summer Nights Concert Series. Montgomery is the visionary who created the series, now in its 19th year, which provides great Texas music at no charge. “The Birdsong family kindly donated the amphitheater to the community,” Montgomery says, recalling the genesis of the series. “One day, Larry Joe Taylor and I went to grab a barbecue sandwich for lunch and decided to look at it during the final stages of construction. While we were there, Larry suggested I put together a concert series and said he’d help book acts. And here we are 19 years later.” Montgomery is a childhood friend of Texas music legend Jerry Jeff Walker and has developed professional relationships with FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 31

31

9/1/19 7:37 PM


HEADLINER: Pat Green regularly entertains in Stephenville and was a featured act at this year’s Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival in April.

NOTABLE VENUES

The Twisted J Every town has a go-to spot for music and good times. Although relatively new on the scene, Twisted J Live has assumed the position as a prime venue that attracts myriad musical acts. Officially opened in 2016 by Cody Johnson, Twisted J actually began as a boutique in 2011. The boutique experienced rapid success, eventually encouraging Johnson to expand the business, adding first-class embroidery and silk-screening equipment that allowed the boutique to morph into a custom apparel company. Janie’s Fund, a charity that brings awareness to abused and neglected women and children — started by Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler — uses Twisted J’s apparel company to produce its merchandise.

Larry Joe Taylor Texas Music Festival Melody Mountain Ranch, April Rhymes & Vines Fall Festival Melody Mountain Ranch, September Taylor is a musician, songwriter and festival connoisseur who’s attracted performers to Stephenville for decades. The creative mind behind both the Larry Joe Taylor Texas Music Festival in the spring and the 32

Rhymes & Vines Fall Festival in autumn, Taylor has built the most successful music festival of its kind in the state. The Larry Joe Taylor Texas Music Festival — now in its 31st year — is held in April and attracts people from around Texas, the nation and even the globe. This festival is a six-day camping and music extravaganza on four stages that begins at 10 a.m. each day and goes through the evening. Afterwards, campfire jams blanket the Ranch into the wee hours. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the LJT Texas Music Festival is a Texas-sized affair. Each year one can expect more than 50,000 campers and music lovers to create an atmosphere that may be unmatched in the Lone Star State. People return year after year not only for the music but the relationships created. And there’s no shortage of musical acts. “Stephenville is centrally located in Texas,” Taylor says, “so it’s the perfect stop for Texas.” This year’s festival featured well-known Texas musicians like Pat Green, Wade Bowen, Bri Bagwell, the Josh Abbott Band, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kevin Fowler, the Randy Rogers Band and at least four dozen additional acts. The Rhymes & Vines Festival — which celebrated its 14th year in September — is a smaller version of the LJT festival but manages to attract thousands of spectators, along with noteworthy musicians like Gary P. Nunn, Terri Hendrix, Casey Donahew Band and Walt Wilkins.

HELPING HAND: Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler (center) with Luann and Cody Johnson.

Given the success of the embroidery and silk-screening business, Twisted J moved to a larger location with a stage and bar area so people could shop, drink and listen to music. Also in-house is a recording studio, as well as Texas Homegrown Radio, which was established in 2016 and attracts listeners from all corners of the globe. In short, Twisted J provides all the tools for any performer, big or small, to ply their trade. Twisted J is known for the variety of acts it features. “We like to experiment with acts we bring in while still catering to what locals request,” says Kolby Cunningham, the venue’s entertainment director. “In the past we’ve featured the Randy Rogers Band, the Bellamy Brothers, Casey Donahew and Tracy Byrd; but we’ve also hosted Riff Raff, Slim Thug and even tribute bands. In a few weeks, we’re hosting a fundraiser that will include Drowning Pool, Submersed and Mark Tremonti from Creed. The first Friday of every month we have a piano bar show that’s turned out to be wildly successful. We aren’t afraid to try new things, and every day we come up with more ideas on how to add on to what’s been created so far.” Twisted J provides an atmosphere that feels like you’re getting an insider’s experience to a major concert.

FROM LEFT: LARRY JOE TAYLOR MUSIC FESTIVAL; MATT BISHOP PHOTO

other well-known artists as well, which he uses to book the Summer Nights series. But just because he’s connected to some big-time players doesn’t mean Montgomery strays from the original intent of the series. “When we started, it was singer-songwriter shows,” Montgomery explains. “The city has been amazing and helped pull the ropes to get this thing going. A few years into it, they wanted to bring some bigger names into Stephenville. That led to our first big act — Ricky Skaggs. He’s a good friend who’s played for us 12 or 13 times during the past 18 years. Ricky drew a crowd of about 7,000 the first time he headlined. Since then, we’ve brought in some big names in Texas music Larry Joe Taylor like Michael Martin Murphey — but we Music Festival larryjoetaylor.com always make sure to incorporate singerRhymes and Vines songwriters. I have a lot Music Festival of respect for their godlarryjoetaylor.com/ given talent and always rhymes_and_vines want to make sure and VISIT STEPHENVILLE show my support.” stephenvilletexas.org

AU THENTIC T EX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 32

9/1/19 7:37 PM


FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 33

33

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LOCAL CITY LIGHTS

A SIGHT TO BEHOLD: An oversized replica of Holly’s trademark black-rimmed glasses greets visitors. At right, Holly’s statue on the West Texas Walk of Fame.

Hunting Holly in the Hub City Lubbock welcomes fans of Buddy and his bandmates

It’s So Easy . . . to Get Started

Fans might follow steps, literally, on the pavers of the West Texas Walk of Fame, now relocated to a prominent urban park nestled between Buddy Holly Avenue 34

BARBARA BRANNON

and its parallel, Crickets Avenue — so named for Holly’s band — where they intersect 19th Street. The Walk of Fame project grew in the 1970s from a suggestion by fellow West Texas musician Waylon Jennings that Lubbock find a way to honor its late native son. In 1979 sculptor Grant Speed created the larger-thanlife bronze of a contrapposto Holly ringing out a chord on that famous Stratocaster. Forty years later, numerous contributors to Lubbock’s music and culture have been honored at the Walk of Fame, displayed surrounding

the statue at the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza.

A Showcase for the Arts

Directly across the street in the repurposed Santa Fe freight depot — for which the city’s downtown entertainment district is aptly named — is the Buddy Holly Center, a museum, gallery and performance space maintained and curated by the city. The small museum chronicles Holly’s life from school-age hobbies and early talent to his local performances; his swift breakthrough to bigger gigs and a recording contract;

Buddy Holly Center 1801 Crickets Ave. Lubbock, TX 79401 (806) 775-3560 buddyhollycenter.org

HOURS

Tues.–Sat. 10 am–5 pm Sun. 1–5 pm Closed Mondays

Buddy’s Birthday Bash Sept. 7 annually

VISIT LUBBOCK

visitlubbock.org.com

LUBBOCK

PLAINS TRAIL REGION

PHOTOS BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL

I

a while to appreciate the merit of that hometown kid with the flashy Fender and the hitch in his vocal technique. By now, though, the cult of Buddy Holly has pervaded the city sufficiently to reward any traveler looking to retrace his footsteps and appreciate his particular musical genius.

IT TOOK LUBBOCK, TEXAS,

by

AU THENTIC T EX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 34

9/1/19 7:37 PM


Echoes of Buddy

Next up on the Buddy trail is a stroll past the facade of radio station KDAV on Crickets Avenue, where a teenaged Holley (before his name was misspelled on a record deal) once performed country and western tunes on air.

PHOTOS BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL

PHOTOS BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL

his rise to the top of the charts; and his tooearly death in an icy 1959 plane crash that also killed three others. Remnants from that tragedy are among the artifacts preserved under glass. So are recording contracts, vinyl records, publicity photos, various styles of eyeglasses, a guitar and a motorcycle Holly purchased after a successful tour. The amazing arc of Holly’s truncated life is winningly depicted through these objects. But the exhibits are enjoyably interactive as well, with familiar tunes playing in the background and quizzes to answer. In the gift shop fans can purchase picks and posters, books and CDs and Buddy apparel — and yes, even a pair of blackrimmed glasses. Also in the museum complex is the home of Crickets band member J. I. Allison, moved to the site in 2013 and restored to its perfect 1950s glory.

A short drive south leads to the home where Buddy lived in 1957, at 1305 37th St. The Holley family, in the house construction business, occupied numerous residences around town, and it’s hard to track them all down. Another is located at 1606 39th St., only a few blocks away. Sadly destroyed by fire some years back is Buddy’s birthplace at 1911 6th St., now an empty lot behind the Avenue Q Walmart.

A Legacy Worthy of the Name

Soaring above the level of the Walmart and downtown hotels on 4th Street is the eye-catching Buddy Holly Center for the Performing Arts & Sciences, a 265,000square-foot hall that broke ground in 2017. Slated for completion in 2020, the center already commands a prominent place in the city’s established cultural district. It will seat 2,200, with acoustics that rival those of Lincoln Center, Bass Hall and Carnegie Hall.

A Quiet Memorial

Well outside the nightly music scene of downtown is a favorite pilgrimage for Buddy aficionados. The Holley family burial plots are located on an easily accessed lane in the

historic City of Lubbock Cemetery off East 31st Street. Visitors pay their respects on “the day the music died” and year-round, leaving coins or guitar picks on the simple, flat gravestone embossed with a guitar design.

Buddy Day by Day

One final destination makes a trip to Lubbock worthwhile for any serious Buddy Holly student. The Bill Griggs Collection, amassed by the dedicated expert and scholar over decades, is now part of the Crossroads of Music Archive at Texas Tech University. Selected items on display through 2018 are now on loan to the Buddy Holly Center, but researchers may make an appointment to view and use the materials at the Texas Tech Southwest Collection on the Lubbock campus. Every September 7, the Buddy Holly Center opens its doors at no charge and serves up cake and a songful celebration for “Buddy’s Birthday Bash.” Tours and activities for all ages are included. It’s a great time to discover more about a West Texas rock ’n’ roll legend. That’ll be the day — as they say — to get started.

REMEMBRANCE: Fans pay tribute to Holly at his grave (top left and bottom photos) in the City of Lubbock Cemetery, and celebrate his birthday at the Buddy Holly Center (top right photo)

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 35

35

9/1/19 7:37 PM


CITY LIGHTS

An Unlikely Cold War Hero An international competition honors legendary classical pianist Van Cliburn

TEXAN

WHO

ONCE

conquered Russia wasn’t a native Texan at all. Van Cliburn, the extraordinarily talented pianist, was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. in Shreveport, Louisiana, on July 12, 1934, but his family moved to the East Texas town of Kilgore when he was 6. Cliburn’s mother was a talented piano teacher and began mentoring her son at age 3. The next year he was already play36

LINC LEIFESTE

ing recitals, and, at 13, won a statewide competition, earning him the chance to perform with the Houston Symphony. At 17 he was awarded a scholarship to Juilliard and moved to New York to continue his piano studies. Cliburn was first thrust onto the international scene in 1958 when, at 23, he won the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. Coming only months after the Soviet Union’s successful

launch of the Sputnik satellite, his unexpected victory helped elevate American pride in the midst of a Cold War low and led to his likeness appearing on the cover of TIME under the banner “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.” Back in the U.S., Cliburn was treated to a ticker-tape parade in lower Manhattan and became the most unlikely of American heroes: a classical musician with pop-star celeb-

FORT WORTH

LAKES TRAIL REGION CLIBURN.ORG

T THE

by

KEYS TO SUCCESS: “A beanpole Texan with hands that spanned 12 keys” wrote TIME of Cliburn in its May 19, 1958, cover story (above photo). “Cliburne instantly became a celebrity far beyond the classical music world.”

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 36

9/1/19 7:37 PM


ADULATION: Cliburn’s victory at the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow (at left) earned him the admiration of both adoring fans and presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush (at right in above photo) to Barack Obama.

ALLMUSIC.COM: COURTESY THE WHITE HOUSE

CLIBURN.ORG

rity. “I’m not a success,” Cliburn remarked. “I’m a sensation.” Through his recordings and live performances, he introduced classical music to segments of the American population who’d never before had an interest and inspired generations of pianists. After years of heavy touring, Cliburn ceased performing live in 1978 and moved with his mother to Fort Worth, where the famed Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was inaugurated in his honor in 1962. The prestigious competition is held every four years at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. The winners receive cash prizes, along with concert tours at world-famous venues, where they’re able to perform pieces of their choosing. Cliburn passed away on Feb. 27, 2013, at age 78, losing his battle with bone cancer. Wrote the Los Angeles Times upon his death, “After a tense decade of air raid sirens, duck-and-cover drills and fears of Soviet superiority, hope for America came in an unlikely form in the late 1950s: a lanky, 23-year-old Texan with a head full of curls and huge hands that ranged across a piano keyboard with virtuosic power.”

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 37

37

9/1/19 7:37 PM


P H OTO G R AP H BY JO H N RO G ERS

38

AU THENTIC T EX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 38

9/1/19 7:37 PM


AUTHENTIC PLACE

AUSTIN’S MOMENT The Live Music Capital of the World is filled with individuals seeking nirvana by B RI AN MCG RAT H

W

HEN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

descends on Texas’ capital city each March for South by Southwest (SXSW), countless musicians, publicists, journalists and record company reps share one goal: to have what folks call an “Austin moment.” SXSW is a drunken, tattooed equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival. Entertainment biz flunkies and iPhones are ubiquitous, but musicians, like the filmmakers at Sundance, make the convention a major and worthwhile event. The festival, which began in 1987, features more than 2,000 musical acts of all stripes, filling Austin’s 100-plus music clubs for five solid nights, and is now bookended by a film festival and technology conference. An “Austin moment” is the transcendently blissful feeling that sweeps through the body as one experiences the perfect blend of artist, crowd, vibe and timing. This feeling isn’t necessarily unique to concerts in Austin; it is, though, unique to live music, and Austin stakes a rightful claim as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” The key to Austin as a music lover’s destination is that thousands can experience their own moments all over the city at the same time, and these moments come year-round in a town strewn with musicians, artists and live-music venues.

REVELERS: The 6th Street crowd during Austin’s music industry festival, SXSW. FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 39

39

9/1/19 7:37 PM


BROKEN SPOKE

The Broken Spoke, on South Lamar in Austin, was established in 1964 by proprietor James White and claims to be the “last of the true Texas dance halls.” The Broken Spoke is a bastion for traditional country music. Its standard honky tonk decor — red-checkered tablecloths, low ceilings, pool tables and neon lights — appeals to city folk as well as those from the country. As one reporter stated,

40

maintains its status as an artistic and liberal enclave along the lines of Eugene (Oregon), Berkeley (California) or Madison (Wisconsin). According to stats from the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, Austin has the sixth-largest number of artists per capita in the United States and has the most highly educated populace among the largest 50 U.S. cities. It boasts the highest per capita bookstore sales in the country and the most movie screens per capita in the country.

AUSTIN WAS RECENTLY

voted the No. 1 place to live in America for the third year in a row — based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. It’s listed among the top 15 cities in the United States to visit. And it ranks No. 4 of the best large cities to start a business. (On a related note, Texas recently took the top spot in a study of the best states for female entrepreneurs.) While the invasion of technology companies has certainly changed the character, and skyline, of Austin, the town

“Here, on the skating rink–type dance floor, cowpokes mix with city slickers and good ol’ gals gather with alternachicks — with lots of intermingling going on.” Owner White says the Broken Spoke is about showing people a good time in a safe, family-friendly atmosphere. “It doesn’t matter if you are a millionaire or a ditch digger, all can have a good time at the Spoke.” The Broken Spoke opened for business

as a cafe on Nov. 10, 1964. The name was inspired by the owner’s memories of a movie (starring James Stewart) called Broken Arrow, along with his fondness for wagon wheels. When customers started dancing to music from the jukebox, White moved the pool tables and added more room. People were still dancing anywhere they could, including out on the dirt parking lot underneath the big oak tree. Other customers played a few of the songs they’d written. Never one to pass up an opportunity, White expanded the Broken Spoke to its current size in 1966, when he added a dance floor. Local groups started performing at the Spoke as early as 1964. White was later able to book more well-known acts, including Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter, Ray Price, Floyd Tillman, and Ernest Tubb. In the 1970s, he booked the “outlaw” bands that had gained notoriety by rebelling against Nashville’s more mainstream sound. Leading this brigade were Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. Such Texas favorites as the

TSPB.TEXAS.GOV

in 1838 and now boasts about 1.2 million people in its metropolitan area. Besides being the longtime home of the University of Texas and the Texas state capital, Austin rode the high-tech wave to become the fastest-growing large city in America. Long known for its vibrant live scene, Austin boasts a range from folk to country to ethnic to rap and reggae; you name it, Austin has it. The city’s early German, Swedish and Mexican settlers brought their musical heritage with them. Bars featuring music attracted Custer and his soldiers when they were stationed in the Texas capitol after the Civil War. By the 1880s, German music halls were lining Pecan Street (present-day 6th Street). In the 1920s, Austin became the home to several jazz venues. Blues pianist Roosevelt Thomas “the Grey Ghost” Williams was a big part of the Austin blues sound. During the 1930s and ’40s, country and classic Big Band music took the stage. Trumpeter Nash Hernandez founded an all-Hispanic band in 1949, playing Big Band, country and Tejano music and opening the door for many Hispanic musicians. The Nash Hernandez Orchestra, led by Ruben Hernandez, Nash’s son, continues this tradition today, and the band now includes non-Hispanic members as well. In the 1960s and ’70s, rock ’n’ roll took

center stage, while country, Tejano and folk also grew in popularity. Austin City Limits, the PBS television show, began as a series in 1976 and continues strong today as the longest-running music program in the nation. ACL was filmed at KLRU studio 6A on the University of Texas campus for 36 years and is now filmed at the state-of-the-art Moody Theater downtown. Willie Nelson was the debut performer on the show’s pilot, which was filmed in 1974. Blues and rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan made Austin his home during his rise to fame in the 1970s and ’80s. Vaughan’s group Double Threat released its debut album, Texas Flood, in 1983, shortly before Vaughan died tragically in a helicopter crash. A memorial statue in Vaughan’s honor stands at the head of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake).

Dixie Chicks and George Strait also played the Broken Spoke when they were just starting out. Although these superstars moved on, other well-loved performers such as Jerry Jeff Walker and Gary P. Nunn continued to play at the Spoke.

AUSTIN CITY LIMITS

Austin City Limits, a television program of concert performances featuring distinctive styles of music from around the world, was founded in 1974 by PBS affiliate KLRN-TV (later KLRU-TV) in Austin and is carried by hundreds of stations nationwide. The program has showcased performers such as Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Leonard Cohen, B. B. King, Lyle Lovett, Roy Orbison, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Merle Haggard, Elvis Costello, Mos Def, Miranda Lambert and Pearl Jam. In the 1980s the show’s success was credited with contributing to the rise of several major country performers and coincided with the growing popularity of country music. By the 1990s and 2000s the program was a beacon for music fans looking

COURTESY THE BROKEN SPOKE

AUSTIN WAS FOUNDED

AU THENTIC T EX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 40

9/1/19 7:37 PM


AUSTINOT.COM

worth a visit, but it’s even better to look at from the outside at sunset. The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library resides on the University of Texas campus. The true draw of Austin, though, is the music. The number of venues where all manner of live music is played nightly is utterly out of proportion to a city Austin’s size. (One eye-popping study concluded that roughly 70 percent of Austin residents support live music at least once each week.)

Willie Nelson. Then Arhos and Bosner sold the show to PBS by convincing station executives, accustomed to shows like Masterpiece Theatre and Sesame Street, that Austin City Limits was not too far outside the public broadcasting mainstream.

POODIE’S ROADHOUSE

PHOTOS COURTESY AUSTIN CITY LIMITS

TSPB.TEXAS.GOV

COURTESY THE BROKEN SPOKE

Temperatures are mild, with an annual average low temperature of 58 degrees, but summer can be hot and sometimes muggy, making a tube float down the Colorado River dividing downtown from south Austin a popular local pastime. Average rainfall is only 32 inches, meaning 300 days of sun annually. One could spend a week in Austin simply exploring Texas history. The pink marble Texas State Capitol Building is

Dozens of clubs bump against each other in a downtown only a few blocks in diameter and easily navigable on foot. State office buildings and restaurants intermingle with rock clubs like the Mohawk and the legendary blues joint Antone’s. Any given evening, world-class bluegrass, country, rock, soul, R&B, blues or punk musicians take the stage somewhere in Austin, and much of the time the musicians are at least part-time locals. Willie Nelson might be most famous for bailing out of Nashville and developing his outlaw mystique in south-central Texas, but acts as diverse as Lucinda Williams and the Butthole Surfers have spent time in Austin to experience some of the Texas voodoo. Roots-rocker Joe Ely calls the city home, as does singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, pop-rock group Spoon and Western swing icons Asleep at the Wheel. Janis Joplin lived here, as does Shawn Colvin. The 13th Floor Elevators plied their psychedelic rock

for unadorned performances of both cuttingedge acts and veteran performers in a variety of genres. The show also lent its name to the successful Austin City Limits Music Festival and the downtown Austin venue ACL Live at the Moody Theater. Originally known for its “redneck rock” or “progressive country” music (a combination of traditional country music with folk and rock influences that flourished in Austin in the early

1970s), the show was developed in 1974 from the desire of Bill Arhos, then program director at KLRN, to develop locally produced programming that could attract national attention. With producer Paul Bosner and director Bruce Scafe, Arhos approached PBS’s Station Program Cooperative (a program fostered by the network to help individual stations produce national programming) for funding for a pilot. Bosner and Scafe filmed a show featuring

A staple on the country circuit since 1997, Poodie’s is one of those Spicewood haunts that’s paid its dues. Booze, burgers, and a little Western swing have cured even the most broken of cowboy hearts – and no one’s talking about retiring that remedy, Willie Nelson included. Named for the Red-Headed Stranger’s late stage manager, Randall “Poodie” Locke, the old bar has come to mean more than just nights of debauchery on the road. It’s a nearby escape, one you can take any time you choose. Poodie Locke was as integral to Willie’s career as just about anyone else. In Willie’s Family — that group of musicians, crew, staff, hangers-on, and actual family members

— Poodie was the gatekeeper, the guy who made sure the equipment was set up right and the buses ran on time. He was the man who set up Willie’s amp every night and tried to keep Willie’s best intentions — especially his habit of signing autographs and talking with his fans for hours at a time — from upsetting the schedule. Like all road managers, Poodie was gruff and imposing but he was also sweet, especially to people inside the expansive, ever-shifting landscape of Willie’s world. He was a colorful character in a group of colorful characters.

SXSW

South by Southwest (SXSW) is the short name for the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and Festival, held annually in Austin. The internationally recognized event in March began in 1987 and serves as a showcase for musicians and provides a forum for music-industry professionals. Inspired by the successful New Music Seminar held in New York in the 1980s, FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 41

41 9/1/19 7:37 PM


42

NIGHT MOVES: The multi-level Mohawk (at left), in the Red River District, is regularly voted Best Live Music Venue, while Hole in the Wall (above photo), established in 1974, has attracted up-and-comers, well-known touring acts and bona fide stars to its legendary storefront stage.

since 1964; Threadgill’s on North Lamar, where Janis Joplin was once a waitress and performer; the retro Continental Club on Congress Avenue, the granddaddy of local music venues, which opened in 1955 as a swank supper club; the Cactus Cafe, a small, intimate venue on the University of Texas campus that opened in 1979 and is known for showcasing top international acoustic acts; the legendary Poodie’s Roadhouse, in Spicewood, a staple on the country circuit since 1997; and Hole in the

world. Many musicians hope to attract the attention of major record labels, while other players who’ve already brokered deals view the festival as a major vehicle for publicity.

DRISKILL HOTEL & BAR

There’s nothing classier than the historic and haunted Driskill Hotel. Located at 6th and Brazos, it features cowboy decor far from a hipster’s ironic attempt at being Texan. Rather, it holds a traditional and tasteful representation of the true spirit of Texas. This is great place to start or end the evening — you’ll find live music almost every night of the week. The hotel is rumored to be haunted by a young girl who fell to her death down the stairs, and suicide brides.

GET OUTDOORS

If you’re visiting Austin during the nine hottest months of the year, you’ll want to take a dip in Barton Springs Pool. And even if you’re visiting in December or January, there’s the polar bear splash to partake in.

For only $9 a day ($5 for Austin residents), you can swim in the 68-degree year-round water. Swimming not your thing? Pack a picnic basket and hop across the street to Zilker Park. Lay out a picnic blanket and enjoy the sunshine while watching the dogs play. The Zilker Botanical Garden is beautiful

in the springtime when all the flowers are blooming and the butterflies are everywhere. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden is a quiet small garden next to Zilker Park that’s centered on the artistic works of American sculptor Charles Umlauf. Or put on your sneakers and climb the 100 (give or take) steps up Mount Bonnell for an incredible view of the city.

AUSTINCITYGUIDE.COM

Austinites Nick Barbaro, Louis Black and Roland Swenson, all of the Austin Chronicle, and Louis Meyers, a band manager and musician, founded the event to promote the Austin music scene. At its inception the festival featured primarily local acts. In 1987, 700 registrants participated and approximately 200 bands performed at 15 venues. In the 1990s the symposium continued to grow in participation and promotion. By 1994 SXSW had officially added film and interactive media events to an expanded schedule, and that year the conference registered more than 4,000 participants and showcased 500 musical acts at 28 venues. In 2001 SXSW staff had organized 900 showcases playing at 48 venues. The festival has continued to grow in scope and size every year since. The five-day music portion of the festival includes meetings and panel discussions on such issues as independent record labels, technology and music, copyright laws, and artist promotion. Austin’s nightclubs, particularly along 6th Street, host bands from all over the

only the street’s essential bars — places like Midnight Cowboy, Easy Tiger and Casino El Camino. Leave Coyote Ugly and the Aquarium to the college kids. While 6th Street is the epicenter, with a majority of the city’s clubs either sitting on 6th or an adjacent offshoot, there’s also the nearby Red River District, a five-block edgy entertainment swath that includes Cheer Up Charlies, Empire Control Room & Garage and the Mohawk. The Parish, in the Congress Avenue District, is located in an inconspicuous upstairs room just above Bat Bar and the Voodoo Doughnut storefront, and is widely regarded as the city’s best venue for sound. Then there are the iconic venues like the Broken Spoke on South Lamar, an oldfashioned honky tonk that’s been around

FROM LEFT: MOHAWKAUSTIN.COM; NOMADICPURSUITS.COM

here in the ’60s. Local success stories Bob Schneider, Shakey Graves, the Gourds, Tish Hinojosa, Shinyribs, Fastball, Timbuk 3 and Gary Clark Jr. have all enjoyed wider acclaim after honing their chops in the city’s venues. Any tour of Austin’s night life must start on 6th Street, a dense stretch in the heart of downtown about halfway between the parallel-running Colorado River to the south and the state capitol to the north. Maggie Mae’s and Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar top the list of recommended venues. The area known as Dirty Sixth, from Congress Avenue to I-35, has a rightful reputation as the place where mistakes (and sometimes misdemeanors) are made, but you can avoid the worst of it by visiting

AU THENTIC T EX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 42

9/1/19 7:37 PM


THECULTURETRIP.COM

AUSTINCITYGUIDE.COM

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the home to sustainable, native plant gardens and education, conservation, research and consulting programs. The Wildflower Center is always blooming with plants that are in season. Austin may not have a beach, but it does have Lake Travis. From stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and jet skis to wakeboard boats, party barges, luxury yachts and houseboats, Lake Travis has it all. Finally, if you’re wondering why there are hundreds of people standing at Congress Bridge at sunset, it’s because more than 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats fly out from the bridge nightly. It’s an incredible sight that’s worth standing for.

specialties as it is to pace yourself through a night at the music clubs. Stubb’s BBQ, near the east end of 6th Street, combines the best of both worlds, with some of the tastiest beef brisket in town and an outdoor amphitheater. Margaritas are a staple of Austin cuisine, so either be prepared to order a specific brand of tequila or let the bartender use his or her best judgment — because asking a Texas bartender what type of tequila is available can result in an hourlong answer. If you have the cash, just ask for “top shelf.” If you’re on a struggling rock ’n’ roller’s budget, the well tequila somehow tastes better in Texas. All types are welcome. “People are more interested in Austin than ever,” says Joe Pagone, general manager of the three-year-old Hotel Van Zandt, a music-themed boutique property that’s witnessed occupancy growth aligned with Austin’s boom. “People are seeing that it’s a great place to live, but also a great place to travel. It’s increasing occupancies and increasing revenues and increasing travel into the market.” And there are more hotels coming to respond to the increased demand, including the new East Austin Hotel, a modernist property that features collaborations with local artisans and makers. Lufthansa also recently announced new nonstop service between Austin and the airline’s Frankfurt hub.

right across from the UT campus. Did you know the Texas State Capitol is almost 15 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol? Free guided tours are available daily.

SOUTH CONGRESS AVENUE 3

FROM LEFT: MOHAWKAUSTIN.COM; NOMADICPURSUITS.COM

Wall, on the famous Drag across the street from UT’s campus, where everyone from Doug Sahm to Don Henley to Black Joe Lewis to Nanci Griffith has performed on the storefront stage. What are we forgetting? Plenty. The Little Longhorn Saloon (where you can play chicken shit bingo), the Historic Scoot Inn, the Elephant Room, the Saxon Pub, the White Horse, Donn’s Depot, the Victory Grill in East Austin (once part of the chitlin’ circuit, a collection of venues featuring African American entertainers), and Nutty Brown Cafe and Amphitheater, just outside the city limits. Then there are the festivals. In addition to SXSW each March, there’s the Austin City Limits Music Festival, a two-weekend event in October that brings together more than 130 acts from all over the world; the Old Settler’s Music Festival, now in nearby Dale, Texas, which caters to bluegrass, roots rock and Americana each April; Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic, which features a star-studded lineup headed by Nelson himself (and, of course, fireworks); and, for something completely different, the Republic of Texas Biker Rally, the state’s largest motorcycle gathering that attracts thousands of bikers each May for live music and a parade down Congress Avenue. Food is a major component of traveling to Austin. It’s just as important to pace yourself through the wonders of Tex-Mex, barbecue, seafood and assorted Southern

Spend a day in this hip neighborhood for cool

But not everyone is happy about all the development. “Austin’s community has a love-hate relationship with growth and change,” says technology journalist Laura Lorek of Silicon Hills News. “Everyone loves the Austin they moved to or grew up in. The city has changed so dramatically during the past 10 years, and the result of rising real estate prices downtown has driven many long-time businesses out of business.” Ben Rubenstein, a lifestyle blogger and founder of Opcity, notes that traffic is also an issue: Austin now ranks as the 14th most congested city in the nation. “Austin doesn’t have good public transportation,” Rubinstein says, “and the roads weren’t designed for this many people.” Austin city leaders are grappling with affordability and traffic problems to accommodate the influx of people. “The creative community of writers, musicians, artists and all of the weird funky stuff that made Austin great,” Lorek says, “must remain for Austin to continue to be a highly desirable place to live.” Nevertheless, the future looks bright. “It’s viral marketing that takes place in Austin,” says Angelos Angelou, who spent 12 years as vice president of economic development for the Austin Chamber of Commerce and is now owner of Angelou Economics. “People are so enthusiastic about the quality of life and what the city offers,” he adds. “I don’t foresee a downside.”

boutiques, restaurants and galleries. One long strip, it’s easy to navigate but is packed with one-off finds.

ESTHER’S FOLLIES & THE VELVEETA ROOM What goes best with a plate of laughter? More laughter, which is why we’ve lumped

these two 6th Street comedy venues together. The renowned Esther’s Follies has offered side-splitting sketch comedy acts with a side of magic since 1977 — a modern-day vaudeville revue mixed with political comedy that’s drawn comparisons to Saturday Night Live. Buy your tickets in advance. The Velveeta Room, meanwhile, is straight-up stand-up.

CULTURE

New collections come to the Blanton Museum on the University of Texas campus every couple of months, so you can visit throughout the year. Or learn all about the Lone Star State at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. It’s FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 43

43 9/1/19 7:37 PM


“ “ AUTHENTIC PERSON

44

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 44

9/1/19 7:37 PM


“C C “

OME HERE, I want to show you something.” Ray Benson walks into his office and points to a framed picture on the wall, a poster-size print of the photograph on the cover of For the Last Time, the last record Bob Wills appeared on. On December 3, 1973, several Texas Playboys, joined by Merle Haggard, reunited in the studio and insisted that Wills be there. Four years earlier, a stroke had robbed Wills of the ability to play his fiddle or sing. That night, he’d suffer another stroke. Though he lived another 18 months, he never spoke again. “That’s the last picture of Bob Wills alive,” Benson says. “He was sitting there in a wheelchair, and that’s when I met him. That’s a man who’s about to have a stroke. Now, look at those eyes.”

The Bandleader SOME, whether Wills is the Father as well as the King of Western swing makes for a lively debate. Writer Cary Ginell gives credit for paternity to Milton Brown, who sang with Wills from 1930 to 1932 in the Light Crust Doughboys, created the Musical Brownies a year before Wills founded his own band, and died at 32 in a car crash in 1936. Brown’s music does bear a strong resemblance to that of the Playboys. Apart from adding drums and jazz instruments, what did Wills bring to Western swing? “Charisma,” says Benson. “Total, absolutely incredible, ridiculous, outrageous charisma. Pierre Cossette produced the Grammy Awards for 20 years … before that he worked with Frank Sinatra, AnnMargret, others like that … and he told me that Bob Wills had more charisma than anyone he’d ever worked with. He said that when Wills stepped onstage, it was like a light bulb” — Benson mimes pulling a bulb’s string — “and every musician I ever talked to said the same thing. He’d look at you with — they called it ‘these burning black eyes’ — his eyebrows would come down. Man, he was turned on.” In his autobiography, Willie Nelson

BOBWILLS.COM

FOR

describes the first time he saw Wills perform in 1946, when Nelson was 13: “He was almost like an animation. Watching him move around, I thought: This guy ain’t real. He had a presence about him. He had an aura so strong it just stunned people. You had to see him in person to understand his magnetic pull. John the Baptist had the same pull.” Those who played with him struggle to convey what the Welsh country-punk musician Jon Langford calls the man’s majesty. Bassist Louise Rowe, the only female instrumentalist Wills ever hired, joined the Playboys in 1952. “He was the best bandleader ever,” she says. “Unbelievable.

there, but the band would start coming up just a little bit tighter. I know that sounds weird. He had a magic about him.” With his slippery, jazz-based solos and pioneering electric guitar work — in 1974 Rolling Stone called him the world’s greatest rhythm guitarist — Eldon Shamblin played with Wills from 1937 to 1954 and was as responsible as anyone in the band for shaping the sound of Western swing. In the mid1990s he tried to explain Wills’ dynamism to writer Duncan McLean. Those who weren’t dancing, Shamblin said, “would stand 30 deep out in front of the bandstand, from maybe 15 minutes before we started playing; and they’d stand there for four hours and never move. He just hypnotized them people.” 1951’s Snader Telescriptions — filmed performances made for later broadcast on television and now available on YouTube — provide a sense of what Benson, Rowe, Rausch and Shamblin are talking about. Take “Ida Red,” which shows Wills and his band at full throttle. There’s an almost unnerving electricity, a presence that’s almost too hot, too earnest. When he plays, Wills stands ramrod straight but mobile, shoulders back, fiddle either at full mast or weaving — Hot Club of Cowtown’s Elana James tells her fiddle students to hold their bodies NATURAL SHOWMAN: Wills, and fiddles like Wills — and Willie Nelson recalls, “had an when he doesn’t, he holds his aura so strong it just stunned people.” arms out, welcoming us in, or he conducts the band with his bow and his free hand, callHe pulled out of you whatever music you ing out the soloists by name, directing that had inside of you. Any Playboy will tell you famous gaze at each in turn, like a spotlight that when Bob looked at you with those at close range. brown-black eyes and pointed that fiddle at Seventy years on, that lack of ironic you, you did the very best you were able to distance can be alienating for some, but not do. I don’t feel as though I’m as good as any all. “Maybe that’s what I like about Wills,” of those Texas Playboys, but he got my best, says James. “There was no filter. And maybe and the best of everyone else.” that’s why Western swing isn’t more popu Leon Rausch, who became the voice lar. It’s an unironic genre. You can’t do it of the Texas Playboys in 1958, is still at a justice by getting on stage in flip-flops and a loss to explain his boss’s powers. “No one t-shirt and shoe-gazing or by being pretencould ever figure out what the magic was tious or ironic. It’s the opposite of all those about Bob,” Rausch explains. “He’d show things. You’ve got to be all in.” up late sometimes, and we’d be playing and The most recognizable badge of Wills’ just look at each other. We could tell when uninhibited commitment is his holler. the old man would hit the building. We Asked what Wills brought to the music that didn’t even have to look out to see if he was Milton Brown hadn’t, Gimble fires back: FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 45

45

9/3/19 11:21 AM


“Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys are simply the best band

that ever was.” — GEORGE

STRAIT

“When my 12-year-old son looks at me and says, ‘Who is Bob Wills?’ I find the question impossible to answer in one simple sentence. And I also find myself feeling sorry for the young people of today who never knew the wholesome and exciting and just plain old good music of a Bob Wills dance.” — MERLE HAGGARD (1937–2016)

“Bob Wills was the bridge between country fiddle music, which some might have termed hillbilly music, and the sophisticated Big Band swing orchestras of that era, i.e., Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. He was able to adapt the Big Band swing genre and make it appealing to the folks from the farms and ranches.” — GARY P. NUNN “Back when I was working this hospital in Lubbock, there was an older guy there who went to see Bob Wills every time he played, and all of his friends were devoted Wills followers. What always

46

cowboys in the crowd would cry out when the music or whiskey moved them, and the banter of black musicians he played with as a boy. That uninhibited spirit, the playful freedom he took in music, was with him from the start; it wasn’t an affectation, though the chatter can sound like it to anyone who can’t get on Bob’s wavelength. And sometimes the wavelength is way left of the dial. At those times, it’s like listening to a believer speaking in tongues: the congregants hear the inspiration but don’t always share it. What the hollers speak to above all is that this is soul music. “Bob played things the way he felt,” says Townsend, whose 1976 biography, along with Rich Kienzle’s book-length liner notes for two magisterial Bear Family collections of Wills’ music, remains indispensable. “I asked Leon [McAuliffe, the first of many great steel guitar players in the Texas Playboys], what made his music so appealing? He said it was Bob’s soul. He said they’ve all tried to copy it, and he left

CONDUCTOR WITH A BOW: Wills, bassist Louise Rowe says, “was the best bandleader ever. He pulled out of you whatever music you had inside you.”

enough recorded music for others to play like he did. They could copy his music, but they couldn’t copy his soul.” And part of what made not only Wills’ music but Wills himself so appealing during the darkest years of the 20th century was the man’s roots. 1905–1934

From Turkey to Tulsa was born in 1905 in Limestone County in east-central Texas, the first of 10 children born to dirt-poor cotton farmers. There was Cherokee blood on his mother’s side and a wealth of fiddlers on both, including

JAMES ROBERT WILLS

BOBWILLS.COM

On B B O O B B LLSS LL I I W W

“Ah haa!” It quickly became his signature, and those most in thrall to Wills today, including Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, carry on the tradition. But it wasn’t always greeted so warmly. At the Playboys’ first recording session in 1935 with American Record Corporation’s British-born producer Art Satherley, Wills hollered, whooped, jived and called out soloists’ names as the band burned through “Osage Stomp” and “Get With It.” One would think that a band making its first record with a major label would try to clean up their rough-around-the-edges dance hall demeanor, but that wasn’t how Wills operated. Satherley had never heard anything like it, and in the middle of “Get With It,” he cut the band off. “Bob, you’re going to have to hold it down some,” Satherley admonished. “When you talk, you’re covering up the musicians.” Writer Rich Kienzle relates what came next. “Is that right?” Wills, then 30, had a quick temper and a stiff spine. He turned to the band. “Pack up, we’re going home.” Satherley tried to recover. “No, Bob, I don’t want you to go home. I want you to make records for us!” “You hired Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and Bob Wills hollers anytime he feels like it and says whatever he wants to say! Now if you want to accept that, Mr. Satherley, we’ll do it. But if you don’t, we’re goin’ home.” The band stayed, and Bob kept hollering. Some still find Wills’ jive an irritating distraction. In his two thick volumes of jazz commentary, Visions of Jazz and Weather Bird, the great critic Gary Giddins mentions Wills exactly three times, and each time it’s for the “annoying falsetto cries” that Giddens believed ruined otherwise decent Big Band charts. Can even those in the front pews of the Church of Bob admit that sometimes they are a distraction? It would be a minor miracle if they never obtruded a little awkwardly, decades later, on the music. After all, they’re ecstatic exclamations of one man’s private pleasure. “Some of those ‘Ah haas,’” drummer Dacus told Townsend, “you’d swear never came out of a human.” Wills said that his hollers and jive came from two boyhood sources: ranch dances in West Texas, where his fiddle-playing father and the

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 46

9/3/19 11:21 AM


PHOTOS BOBWILLS.COM

BOBWILLS.COM

his own father, John, who wasn’t and managed by eventual Texas much of a farmer but was known Governor, U.S. Senator and worldthroughout the region for his class scoundrel Pappy O’Daniel. breakdown fiddling. When Bob In 1931, with O’Daniel as emcee, was 8, the extended family left the Doughboys began broadcasttheir farm and set off on a twoing on radio, and in 1932 they month, 500-mile journey northrecorded two songs, “Sunbonnet west to the Red River Valley near Sue” and “Nancy Jane,” that were Turkey, stopping along the way somewhere between traditional fidto pick cotton and play music. dle music and what would become The farming continued as hard as Western swing. It’s the only time ever, and John kept the family fed Wills and Brown ever recorded playing dances, with young Jim together. Later that year, Brown, Rob accompanying him on manfed up with O’Daniel’s prohibition dolin. One night, after his father of side gigs, quit and formed his had sent him ahead to a dance, own band, the Musical Brownies, the 10-year-old was pressed into a string band that played the jazzservice on fiddle when John got based pop music of the time and drunk instead and didn’t show left room for improvisation, like a up until the dance’s end. Jim Rob jazz band. The Brownies were still (from top) Turkey, Texas, hosts played the six songs he knew going strong when Brown died in an annual Bob Wills Day; Ray on fiddle and kept on repeating Benson describes the dapper 1936. Wills as “a stylish, Western them, which mollified the dancers Wills himself got sick of rogue.” and whetted Jim Rob’s enthusiO’Daniel’s tight-fisted ways and asm for the instrument. quit the Doughboys in 1933. He Jim Rob dropped out of school after the persuaded fellow Doughboys Tommy Duncan seventh grade to work full-time on the farm, and Kermit Whalin to come with him to Waco, working alongside black laborers and learning where they joined Bob’s brother Johnnie Lee and their music. At night, he’d play dances late into Whalin’s brother June and began hosting a radio the night with his father, mostly accompanying show, calling themselves the Texas Playboys. They him on mandolin. As a teenager he learned long- followed Brown’s lead and played the popular bow fiddling technique from his grandfather and dance tunes of the time, but the band was unpolpop tunes from a trained violinist who played ished. Because they had the temerity to describe dances in the area, and he was beginning to step themselves on posters as “formerly of the Light out on fiddle solos alongside his father when he Crust Doughboys,” O’Daniel sued and won an decided at 17 to chuck the farm and set out on injunction in McClennan County. To escape the an eastbound train, looking for work that was less long arm of O’Daniel, and also to find a territory hardscrabble and left more time for music. where Milton Brown wasn’t already entrenched, Over the next five years he held a series of the band fled to Oklahoma in 1934, where they dead-end jobs, got drunk, raised hell and fiddled. eventually found a radio home at KVOO in Tulsa. He also fell in love with the blues music of Bessie Much of the value in radio for bands in the Smith, whose singing, he told Townsend 50 years 1930s came as advertising for their own dance later, was the best thing he’d ever heard then or shows, and if they could find a sponsor who’d pay since. He married the first of five wives when he for airtime in exchange for dropping the comwas 21 and decided to take up barbering because, pany’s name in front of their music, so much the unlike farming, it wouldn’t destroy his left hand better. Wills found both in Tulsa when his manfor fiddling. The newlyweds moved to Roy, New ager, Oliver W. Mayo, set up a regional dance Mexico, where he learned Mexican music and circuit that got regular promotion on KVOO and occasionally adapted his own playing to suit the located a willing sponsor in the laxative Crazy kinds of dances the local Mexicans liked. Water Crystals, which paid for a six-days-a-week After returning to Turkey and spending a half-hour radio show at 12:30 p.m. Wills was on night in jail for rowdiness, he lit out for the wilds his way. of Fort Worth, which is where his musical career proper began. There he connected with guitarist 1935–1950 Herman Arnspiger and singer Milton Brown, with whom he formed first the Wills Fiddle Band in 1930, then the Aladdin Laddies and finally the Light Crust Doughboys — sponsored CAIN’S DANCING ACADEMY in Tulsa, where by Burrus Mills, maker of Light Crust Flour Wills began broadcasting Thursday and Saturday

Tulsa to Hollywood

happened, he said, was the band would start playing for a while and everyone would be dancing, then Bob Wills would walk out on stage beating his bow. When Bob came out, the band just came alive, and the entire room was transformed. It was like electricity. He said Bob Wills was a magician.” — JIMMIE DALE GILMORE

“Two things are missing from Bob Wills’ music that are givens in almost all of the country music of the last 70 years: reference to the Nashville conception of how to present a country recording, and piety. He squeezed in just before the first got a toehold — even before the Opry was magnetizing everyone’s imagination — and, maybe because of his Texas roots, never seemed tempted by the other. Fort Worth and Tulsa were and are towns that are simultaneously country (parochial) and cosmopolitan (diverse), and I can’t help but hear that in his freewheeling, joyously synthesizing approach, as well as, of course, the need to keep the dancers hopping. Blues and jazz made it into his head and music out of a pure love connection.” — ROBBIE FULKS

“He never hollered on demand.” — JON

LANGFORD

“Bob Wills’ music is a combination of everything that’s great about American music. It’s rustic and extremely sophisticated, it’s raw and also elegant. He took blues, jazz, traditional fiddle music, early Big Band, pop standards, ballads and hoedowns and mixed them together

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 47

47

9/3/19 11:22 AM


48

movies, singing and acting (gamely) in what he called, self-mockingly, “seven-day wonders,” since they took about that long to make. Benson prizes a 1941 Go West, Young Lady poster that was distributed throughout the Southwest. The movie starred Ann Miller, Glenn Ford and Penny Singleton, major stars at the time, and in the posters sent to most of the country’s theaters, their faces were featured prominently, while the tagline “with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys” was buried in a smallish font below the title. But on the poster distributed in the Southwest, the three stars got the sub-titular credit, upstaged by an enormous and solitary headshot of the grinning Wills looming over everything. Despite his cowboy hat and rural roots, Wills’ use of horns, drums and electric guitars, as well as his eclectic choice of material, made him a queer fish to country music’s gatekeepers. He wasn’t currying favor with them, either. “Please don’t confuse us with none of them hillbilly outfits,” he told TIME in 1945. Nevertheless, on Dec. 30, 1944, Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry begrudgingly opened its doors to Wills and his band. Not wanting any citified instruments to bespoil their stage, Opry officials insisted that drummer Monte Mountjoy be segregated behind a curtain from the rest of the band. Roy Acuff was getting ready to introduce the group, which was still setting up behind the main curtain, when Wills found out. He was livid. “Move those things out on the stage,” he demanded. Band members helped Mountjoy hustle his kit out front, and when the curtain was drawn, the group tore into “New San Antonio Rose.” “The crowd screamed and carried on the way they did over Elvis Presley years later,” Minnie Pearl remembered. Incensed, the Opry wouldn’t let them play an encore. By this time, Wills was the recognized king of what was now called Western swing. The band sold out dance halls throughout the Southwest and on the West Coast and recorded a score of hits. In 1947, hoping to cut back on the touring, Wills moved his base of operations from Tulsa to Sacramento, bought and restored a local ballroom, and arranged for daily radio

broadcasts. But the dance hall soon became a financial burden, and Wills’ drinking, which had sporadically caused problems before, became worse. He began to miss shows. After overhearing Tommy Duncan grumble about it, he fired him in 1948. Herb Remington, who’d joined the band two years earlier, remembers the conflict. “The hard thing was that Tommy had to cover for him too many times,” Remington says. “When Bob was on the bandstand, he could sell any tune. But he was no angel.” In 1949, Wills moved to Oklahoma City, and in 1950 to Dallas, where he opened a lavish new ballroom called the Bob Wills Ranch House. He also charted one of his biggest hits, “Faded Love,” an old fiddle tune slowed to a ballad, with lyrics added by Bob’s brother, Billy Jack. But times were about to change. 1951-1969

The Twilight of the Dance Halls TELEVISION CHANGED everything. According to Townsend, “The people who were once the great dancers got older, and when television came along, they stayed home. That was the end of a great age. Bob survived, whereas the other big bands didn’t, because he used fiddles and guitars, and country music had become popular and people associated him with it. Bob didn’t like the label, but the best thing that ever happened to him was his being labeled country music.” Wills was also facing new competition from younger country singers from Nashville, including an upstart named Hank Williams. Remington remembers the first time he heard Williams sing “Lovesick Blues.” “I thought it was the awfullest thing I’d ever heard,” Remington says. “I mean, here we were, the Texas Playboys, and we were wondering, How did the people who came to our dances go from Western swing to Hank Williams? What did they hear in that guy? They loved him. I couldn’t get over that. But I finally got it.” As financial woes forced Wills to sell the Ranch House in 1952 and, eventually, much of his song catalog, his binge drinking returned. Western swing’s popularity continued to slide with the arrival of Elvis Presley and rock ’n’ roll. Unlike many established stars, Wills saw Presley as another link in the great chain of rhythm-based

BOBWILLS.COM

night shows every week, was a large converted garage with a maple dance floor. Townsend, who first visited Cain’s in the late 1940s, remembers it well: “They had big old car springs under the floor, which is why it was so wonderful to dance there.” Wills began to turn his attention to refining his band. He’d admired the Brownies’ Bob Dunn, an innovative electric steel guitarist, and Wills’ bandmates told him about a Dunn protégé, Leon McAuliffe, who was playing with O’Daniel’s Light Crust Doughboys. Wills poached him, and then another Doughboy, fiddler Jesse Ashlock, and next persuaded stride pianist Al Stricklin to leave Fort Worth for Tulsa. With a formidable string ensemble in place, Wills began assembling the pieces that would take the music to places it had never been. A fan of the popular big jazz bands of the time, Wills added a trumpet, a saxophone and a trombone to his string outfit, and then drummer Dacus, who inaugurated the era of Wills’ signature big beat. The 13-man lineup consisted of two fiddles, two guitars, steel guitar, tenor banjo, bass, piano, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, drums and vocalist Tommy Duncan, who also played guitar. Wills cut 26 sides with American Record Corporation in 1935, 35 in 1936, and 33 in 1937 before guitarist Eldon Shamblin joined the band later in 1937. Shamblin is a pivotal figure: a jazz musician, he was among the earliest to make the electric guitar a frontline solo instrument as well as part of the rhythm section. He also brought a new level of sophistication to the band, arranging dense Big Band charts and developing what would become a staple Playboys sound, twinning his guitar runs with Leon McAuliffe’s steel guitar. By 1940, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys were the biggest band in the Southwest and California, and Wills was one of the biggest celebrities in the region. Their repertoire mixed covers of blues, jazz and pop tunes with originals, many of them built on the bones of old folk melodies. However, little of the fame translated east of the Mississippi, despite the national success of “New San Antonio Rose,” his biggestselling record to that point. In the early 1940s Wills made 13 full-length Hollywood AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 48

9/1/19 7:37 PM


tired and his wife Betty took him home. That night, he suffered a massive stroke and never regained consciousness. He’s buried in Tulsa beneath a plaque with the inscription, “Deep Within My Heart Lies a Melody,” the first line from “New San Antonio Rose.” He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influence category in 1999, and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Recording Academy at the 2007 Grammy Awards, where Carrie Underwood sang “San Antonio Rose.” Every April since 1972, thousands of pilgrims from around the world have converged on Turkey, Texas, to celebrate Bob Wills Day. Young and old dance to Western swing bands, jam with other musicians, listen to talks by Wills scholars and musicians who played with or were inspired by Bob, and commune with kindred spirits. Still, it’s hard for those who weren’t there to understand how big Bob Wills was in the Southwest and western U.S. during the Depression and throughout the 1940s. It can also be hard to hear the connections between his music and much of what has followed. Certainly there are the obvious heirs — Nelson, George Strait, 1970-75 Asleep at the Wheel — but Playboy alum Bobby Koefer, who followed Herb Remington and MERLE HAGGARD had seen then Billy Bowman on Bob Wills and His Texas steel guitar in 1951, sees Playboys many times during his influence elsewhere. his youth in Bakersfield, Calif., “Many earlier European and had remained a fan. After Wills’ stroke, he decided to artists, including Eric learn the fiddle, bring together Clapton, the Beatles and several ex-Playboys with his the Rolling Stones were band the Strangers, and put out influenced by Bob’s an album of Wills standards, early  blues and rhythm,” Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle ROCK OF AGES: Wills was inducted into the Koefer explains.  “And Player in the World. Western Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. today, whether  it’s pop, swing was back on the map. rap, country, the basic Haggard arranged several benefits for Wills rhythm could have been played by Bob Wills. over the next three years, and in fall 1973 Many musicians are still trying to get that sound.” planned a two-day recording session that would For Townsend, Wills’ greatness goes reunite Wills with the Playboys. Townsend, beyond music. “What attracted me, a poor and whose liner notes for For the Last Time would ignorant boy, is that it was nearly always fun and win a Grammy, was there — he takes the part uplifting and made you feel good,” he says. “He of emcee on the album, announcing that “The was at his most popular when we were in a Great Texas Playboys are on the air” — as were Ray Depression and in World War II, when people Benson and the original members of Asleep at needed him. He would lift them up, maybe for the Wheel. On the first day of recording, Wills only 30 minutes, but he made them feel good, he sat in his wheelchair with the band in a semi- made them happy. circle around him. When he wanted to hear a “His greatest contribution — aside from soloist, he would point at them, just as he’d done creating a new kind of music — is that he lifted with his bow years earlier. After a few hours, he people up.” music. Leon Rausch remembers that Wills was “fascinated by Elvis, but he didn’t talk about him much. Bob was into dance music. He didn’t think show people like Elvis were any threat to him, but he was wrong. Of course, Elvis was a great fan of Bob’s.” Wills returned to Tulsa in 1958, and a 1960-62 reunion with Tommy Duncan reignited some interest, but the days of the Big Bands and Western swing’s heyday were long past. He recorded a few albums with Kapp Records in Nashville during the 1960s but met with about as much luck and understanding there as that other Texas renegade and Wills fan, Willie Nelson. In 1969, one year after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and a day after being honored in both houses of the Texas State Legislature, Wills suffered a major stroke that ended his playing career and impaired his speech. His memory, however, was unaffected, which became a godsend when Townsend, then a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, conceived the idea of making Wills the subject of a serious biography. He would interview him dozens of times in Wills’ Fort Worth home over the next four years.

BOBWILLS.COM

BOBWILLS.COM

The Resurgence

to create a uniquely American sound. And at the same time his fiendish, crackling on-stage charisma brought out spectacular playing and inspired soloing from his band, creating something fleeting and magical, and greater than the sum of its parts.” — ELANA

JAMES

“He put the beat in the music. Before Bob came along, there wasn’t a rhythm section. He made it so you could dance to it.”

— MERLE TRAVIS

“He was an iconoclast of the first order. Count Basie with a cowboy hat.”

— RAY BENSON

“I didn’t know anybody who didn’t like Bob Wills’ music. With his fans, there was a communication. You really had to be there to see how he communicated, and the magnetism … how those people loved him. And he loved them, too. As a businessman, I guess he would rate somewhere next to me. He had several managers and agents and bookers, the normal number of thieves who hang around. Bob was too good-hearted to ever accumulate anything: there was always someone there who needed the money at the moment. He wasn’t what people would call a good businessman. He had more important things to think about.” — WILLIE NELSON FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 49

49

9/3/19 11:22 AM


•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• AUTHENTIC THING

Once considered a German instrument, the accordion has become a definitive instrument in many genres of Texas music, and one Houston shop is responsible for these handcrafted masterpieces by

50

GENE GOODWIN

ACCO

THE

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 50

9/1/19 7:37 PM


••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

ORDION GABBANELLI.COM

N AT I O N A L I N S T R U M E N T O F T E X A S

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 51

51

9/1/19 7:37 PM


IT’S a well-known story — the one where European conquerors ravaged the New World with disease in the 15th century. That story repeated itself, in a very different way, in the early part of the 20th century in Texas. Only it wasn’t illness that German and Czech settlers were spreading to unsuspecting Hispanics, Creoles and Cajuns. This time, it was a musical instrument from which they would not recover. It started in the dance halls in the Texas Hill Country. While German and Czech farmers danced the polka on Saturday nights, their Hispanic farmhands would gather nearby to watch and listen. It was a mistake. Because they had no immunity, the button accordion began to spread through these Hispanic communities like wildfire. From New Braunfels and San Antonio, down to Brownsville, back up the coast to Corpus Christi and Houston and then across East Texas like a ladle full of gumbo, the accordion resisted all attempts to control MAIN SQUEEZE: Popular purveyors of the con-

temporary accordion include (this page) Ramon Ayala (left) and Ricky Munoz; and (opposite page, clockwise from left) Flaco Jiménez, Chris Rybak, a young Eva Ybarra and Step Rideau.

it. And the infection, it seems, is now permanent. The diatonic button accordion had many qualities that made it attractive to a Texas working-class agrarian community. First, they were cheap and easy to play. The early models had just one row of buttons; later models had two, and in 1906 you could buy one for as little as $3. Another key to success? They’re loud — you don’t need an amplifier or electricity. Add a drummer and guitar, washtubs of cold beer and voila, as the Cajuns say. The early Sears catalogs described the accordion as an “orchestra in a box.” Whether it’s a zydeco or conjunto or German and Czech polka band, the accordion player is almost always the bandleader. Step Rideau, the accordion player and lead singer of Step Rideau and the Zydeco Outlaws, was born in southwestern Louisiana, but moved to Houston in the mid-1980s and never looked back. Rideau’s inspiration was the great Boozoo Chavis, but he developed a sound of his own. Young people flocked to hear him. “People wanted to see someone young and coming into their own style, and still feel the richness of the heritage and the culture in the music,” Rideau says. As popular as zydeco is in Texas, conjunto music is just as popular, and its heritage just as rich. Santiago and his little brother Flaco Jiménez from San Antonio are two kings of the conjunto. It’s music played with a button accordion, a big 12-string guitar called a bajo sexto, bass and drums.

Although a song like “Viva Seguin” is clearly Tejano music — music made by Hispanics in Texas — listen carefully and you can hear a polka, with electric bass taking the place of the tuba. These days, conjunto music, like zydeco, is as popular as ever in Texas. Young accordion stars wield their instruments like lead guitars, spinning, stomping and dancing across the stage. While it’s mostly men behind the squeeze box, there are female stars, too. One of the first (and still one of the best) is Eva Ybarra, known as “Queen of the Accordion.” Ybarra is just over 5 feet tall, and if you didn’t hear it, you’d never believe that such a voice could emerge from such a small package. Ybarra started singing and playing conjunto in the ice houses of San Antonio when she was just 15. It was shocking: teenage girls weren’t supposed to play the accordion with lusty abandon in the early 1960s; they weren’t supposed to play it at all. On one occasion, after some of the audience shouted out “Eva!,” the other members of her band left Ybarra stranded in a dark parking lot. Being a curiosity was one thing; outshining male musicians was another. Her mother had to pick her up. “My mom said, ‘You don’t have to play the accordion, I’m going to buy you a piano,’” Ybarra says. “And my dad said, ‘Don’t listen to your mom. Your key is the accordion.’ And, you know, my dad was right.” If conjunto and zydeco are still attracting plenty of talented young Texas accordion players, German and Czech polka, the

FROM LEFT: DANIEL CASAREZ; GABBANELLI.COM

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

52

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 52

9/1/19 7:37 PM


“I never actually took lessons for the accordion,” Rybak says. “I started playing by ear. My dad had a polka band and still does, and the biggest training I had was just going to the dances and listening on the sidelines.” While a band along the Texas border can make a living playing only conjunto, and a band in Houston can do the same playing only zydeco, a young German or Czech accordion player is wise to play a broad repertoire.

Rybak plays traditional polka, of course. But he also plays zydeco, conjunto and country, multiplying his chances for work. He makes solo albums, spends a few weeks in the summer playing festivals in Italy, Austria and Germany — it’s not a bad life. Rybak plays a Roland digital accordion, a new kind of accordion which allows him to shade the sound in different ways. At times, he can make it sound a little violiny, or fiddly. Each spring, the biggest accordion fes-

GABBANELLI.COM

wellspring, aren’t doing quite as well. While there are still German and Czech communities in the Texas hill country, they are no longer bound together by language. Their children and grandchildren mostly listen to rock or country, though there are exceptions. Fort Worth has a young accordion star named Ginny Mac, and accordionist Chris Rybak hails from Hallettsville, Texas, near Shiner and Yoakum. Rybak is Czech; his family has been in Texas since 1880. He got his first accordion at age 12.

RYBAK; COURTESY EVA YBARRA; STEPRIDEAU.COM

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: H. MICHAEL KARSHIS/FLICKR; EDITA

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 53

53 9/3/19 11:23 AM


AN ACCORDION IS EQUAL parts math and magic, a glistening and gorgeous instrument on the outside, airtight and busy on the inside. More than 1,000 pieces are required to

make one, including mirrored buttons and Swarovski crystals for flash. The pearl-like shell is celluloid dipped into a vat of acetone and water, which goes soft onto the wood case and requires a month to dry before it’s buffed and sanded to a creamy candycolored finish. Inside pieces are held in place with beeswax. Each reed is handmade. The metal is harmonic steel imported from Sweden, which resists oxidation. Tension on the springs inside must be perfect. Mike Gabbanelli lives inside the accordion. He’s a third-generation artisan schooled in the minutiae required to produce one of these instruments. He has a

warehouse where about 100 decrepit accordions sit. “I won’t throw them away,” he says. “I know what it takes to build one of these instruments. Even if it’s toasted, I’m not going to chuck it away.” The Gabbanelli store in southwest Houston is divided in half. Walk in the front door, and you’re standing in the showroom, which looks like an exploding rainbow, with radiantly colored Gabbanelli accordions of various sorts — diatonic, chromatic and piano —- sparkling from the ample sunlight that pours through the front windows. The room is impeccably clean and not terribly cluttered. Behind the counter, a door leads to messier confines, with a large workbench and accordion parts everywhere. A long line of accordions needing repairs sits on the floor. Some appear fine on the surface, others look like they fell from the back of a truck in a rain storm and were left to rust. “Even the worst piece of junk I can make play again,” Gabbanelli says. He pushes through 15 to 20 repairs each day, the result of being a rarity in his field: a young craftsman attuned to the delicate nature of the instrument. An accordion possesses a duality that represents its maker and its player. The inside is a meticulously constructed matrix of little pieces, precise and functional rather than flashy. The exterior screams with color and character. Mike Gabbanelli quietly fuses these two elements together and passes the instruments along to spirited accordion players like Ramon Ayala and Intocable’s Ricky Muñoz, both Gabbanelli enthusiasts, who entertain thousands. Gabbanelli juggles repairing the old with designing and producing the new. His father began making Gabbanelli brand accordions 60 years ago and started the Gabbanelli Accordions & Imports company in 1991. Gabbanelli and his wife, Elia (he’s the company’s CEO and president, she serves as vice president), took over when he died in 2003 and have tried to balance the tradition of the trade with new developments that can enhance sound or durability. Quietly intense, Gabbanelli, 49, uses the word “artisan” several times as an under-

PHOTOS GABBANELLI.COM

tival in the state is held in Houston at Miller Outdoor Theater. Many of the state’s best accordion players — young and old, including Rybak — gather for the Accordion Kings and Queens competition. Their loyal followers, hundreds of German Texans, Hispanic Texans, Cajun Texans and just plain old Texans, dance, all together, in front of the stage.

GENERATIONAL LEGACY: Mike Gabbanelli

(top left photo) inherited Gabbanelli Accordions in Houston from his dad, Gianfranco Gabbanelli (top right), who came to the U.S. in 1961 and made and sold accordions out of his home. Today, a Gabbanelli accordion (bottom photo) is revered as a work of art.

54

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 54

9/1/19 7:37 PM


stated shorthand for the knowledge and skill required to work with these instruments. “He’s being modest,” his wife says. “He’s the youngest expert in the field.” Even her comment is modest. Only a handful of people in the world can precision-tune an accordion by ear. That rarity of expertise can be attributed to changing musical trends. Gabbanelli has siblings, but he’s the only one who was sufficiently intrigued by his father’s craft to learn it. Gianfranco Gabbanelli came to the United States in 1961 from the Marche region of Italy, where he was a tuner in an accordion factory. Making musical instruments was family work — Mike Gabbanelli’s grandfather started at age 10 (he also worked with stringed instruments). One of Gianfranco Gabbanelli’s brothers specialized in making keys; another did woodwork. The elder Gabbanelli’s decision to leave Italy was regarded by his family with shock, his son says. He came to Houston in 1961 to repair and tune Italian-made accordions. He got to Houston with $2 and no understanding of English. After arriving, he began going by the Anglicized version of his name, John. “He suffered through a lot of bad jobs, but he had a lot of pride, too,” Mike Gabanelli says. He made and sold Gabbanelli Accordions out of his home for 30 years before moving the operation to the West Bellfort location where it remains. Houston was a prime place to be an accordion-maker, with accordions prevalent in three different musical genres: central Texas beer-hall music from Europe, Louisiana Cajun music and Mexican music moving up from the border. All three types of music can still be heard in this region. The Gabbanelli name is golden among players of conjunto, norteño and ranchera, where demand for accordions is strongest today. Band tour buses will occasionally stop in front of the unassuming building when an accordionist needs a new instrument or to have an old one repaired. Gabbanelli recalls the time he was in the back working and his father asked him to go to the showroom to deal with two customers, one of which was ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. “He said, ‘Mike, there’s some weird people out there — one has a big beard and one has green hair. Go take care of them,’” Gabbanelli says. Rock and pop bands generally lack an accordion. When the instrument does find its way into more mainstream fare, it’s often

as an accent instead of a foundation. But the accordion remains king in much Spanishlanguage music. “With a lot of these Latin bands, the focal point is the accordionist,” Gabbanelli says. And he points out that accordionists like for their instrument to draw attention. “A lot of our customers like a little extra shine,” which he provides with ample use of Swarovski crystals. “It’s like a rap video,” Elia Gabbanelli says. ‘They have the shiny cars they want to show off. These guys, it’s their accordion.” The Gabbanellis keep about 1,000 accordions in stock. “Everybody wants to see 50,” she says, “before they decide on the

exact one.” Between creating new designs and making daily repairs, Gabbanelli admits, “I’m spread pretty thin.” He picks up an accordion and squeezes out a few notes. But typically, he says, he doesn’t play for enjoyment. “I have to play 15 of these instruments each day to make sure they’re functioning properly,” he says. “If everything’s not perfect, the musician will know it immediately. They’re picky, and they have good ears. These guys didn’t learn off of books — they’re self-taught with their ears. “It’s my job to let the musicians shine,” Gabbanelli adds. “I’m happier being the guy who stays behind the scenes.”

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 55

55

9/1/19 7:37 PM


56

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 56

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LIFE

TRAIL DRIVE p. 58 H EATS & DRINKS p. 62 H DEEP IN THE ART p. 66

MUSEUM OF THE BIG BEND

Comfort on a

PLATE FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 57

57

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LIFE TRAIL DRIVE

Music Friendly

Texas orchestrates connections for musicans and music lovers in two statewide programs LORETTA FULTON

58

Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Denton, Lindale, Stephenville and Conroe. Dallas, Nacogdoches and Corpus Christi are in the certification process. • •

A Texas-Sized Boost for Musicians

The Music Friendly Community designation and the Music Trails program are two initiatives of the Texas Music Office, which was founded in 1990. For San Angelo, the Music Friendly Community distinction came just a year after the city was certified as Film Friendly by the Texas Film Commission. Work on the music certification began in March 2018, and a little more than a year

DENTON

FORT WORTH

• SAN ANGELO

NACOGDOCHES AUSTIN

SAN ANTONIO

CONROE

PHOTOS TEXASESCAPES.COM

WHAT BETTER PLACE than the “Grooviest Venue in Historical Downtown San Angelo” to receive recognition as a Music Friendly Community, an honor bestowed on the West Texas city June 27? Normally hoppin’ with “good friends, good music, good times,” the House of FiFi Dubois was a tad more somber but still celebratory for the designation ceremony, attended by Brendon Anthony, director of the Texas Music Office, a part of the Governor’s Economic Development Division. San Angelo is the eighth city in Texas to receive the Music Friendly Community designation and the most recent. Others are

W

by

CORPUS CHRISTI

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 58

9/1/19 7:37 PM


later, San Angelo added another feather to its cap. The Music Friendly Community designation is so new that the people who sought it are in the early stages of determining exactly what that will mean to the city. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like,” says Diann Bayes, vice president of San Angelo’s Convention & Visitors Bureau. But she does know that the people who put in the hours to complete the multi-step application are proud of their achievement. One requirement of the designation is that the city maintain an up-to-date database of musicians, music educators and other information. “That will be constant work on our part to make sure that happens,” Bayes says. The other cities receiving the Music Friendly Community designation and those included in the first Music Trail are counting on that recognition to boost their local and regional economy through increased heritage tourism and business development.

Music Trail in theWorks

PHOTOS TEXASESCAPES.COM

HES

CHRISTI

Creation of the Music Trails program came through legislation in 2017 authored by Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi. From that legislation, the Texas Music Office launched a “curated series of self-guided Texas Music Trails to explore and experience the Texas music scene,” according to the office’s website. To date, only one trail has been developed which traverses the Texas Plains Trail Region, touching on such communities as Pampa, home of the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center; Lubbock, with its Buddy Holly Center; Plainview, location of the Jimmy Dean Museum; and Turkey, where the Bob Wills Monument stands. The next trail to be posted on the Texas Music Office website will be the Third Coast Trail, stretching from Alice southward toward Edinburg and Brownsville. And work is progressing on a trail highlighting Texas dance halls in the San Antonio area. Steve Ray, program manager for the Texas Music Office, notes that Texas towns designated as a Music Friendly Community or cited along a Music Trail benefit in numerous ways. Towns designated as “music friendly” begin to engage with an important part of their community in a meaningful and intentional way, which fosters community building and goodwill. From there, cities can create well-informed programs and policies to benefit the industry and the community as a whole. “Communities then learn how to better brand and export themselves,” Ray

says. “It’s truly a win-win scenario created through the program.” Likewise, the state of Texas benefits, too. The Texas Music Office is dedicated to creating the most interconnected and best supported music industry in the country, Ray explains. A network of communities that foster growth in the industry can affect job growth. “More and better jobs, increased opportunity for industry professionals, more effective advocacy,” Ray adds, “all add up to a healthier state music economy.” Response to the Music Friendly Community program has been great, Ray says, with cities constantly contacting the office about applying. The Music Trail initiative isn’t as far along as the Music Friendly Community program, but it, too, is progressing nicely. Cities want to get the designation for several reasons, primarily for the increase in heritage tourism, recognition of historic places and the increased public awareness of a designated community. Just as the state benefits from the Music Friendly Community program, it also gains from the Music Trails program, according to Ray. Heritage tourism, he says, benefits local economies, supports small businesses, promotes preservation, boosts community image and local pride and helps preserve the state’s culture and way of life. Those factors help expand the Texas music brand, Ray said, and achieve the Texas Music Office’s legislative mandate: “The office shall promote the development of the music industry in the state by informing members of that industry and the public about the resources available in the state for music production.”

Tunes and Tourism

Cities like San Angelo that applied for and received the Music Friendly Community designation jumped at the opportunity to show off their musicians, public and private venues, and educational opportunities, while at the same time drawing visitors to town. Bayes notes that the city has an abundance of all of those, with a symphony orchestra, community band, an award-winning mariachi band, the a cappella chorus Twin Mountain Tonesmen, Angelo State University and high school musical offerings, plus individual musicians and bands. All of that adds up to some great Texas music, jobs, economic boost and a chance to show off the city. “We want to educate tourists about San Angelo,” Bayes says.

Texas Music Office The Texas Music Office is a part of the Governor’s Economic Development Division. Its website offers information on the Music Friendly Community and Music Trails initiatives, upcoming events, and databases to search for musicians, music businesses and more.

Music Friendly Community What Texas city wouldn’t want to be known as “music friendly”? After all, the state’s history is told in song, and many a great performer has come from the Lone Star State, such as Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Mance Lipscomb, Selena and Roy Orbison, to name just a few. The Texas Music Office website devotes a section to the process that cities go through to get the coveted designation:

“Participation in the Texas Music Office’s Music Friendly Community program provides Texas communities with a network for fostering music industry development, and sends a clear message to industry professionals that certified communities are serious about attracting and developing music industry growth.”

Music Trails The state’s music heritage is an eclectic blend of blues, Cajun, country, gospel, jazz, rock ’n’ roll and so much more. The Texas Music Office is developing self-guided tours of music trails throughout the state to highlight that heritage.

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 59

59

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LIFE

STRIKE UP THE BAND! The Panhandle High School marching band (top photo) rehearses, while the Whiteface High School Band (bottom photo) celebrates after learning it would be competing for the 2017 marching band state championship, which it ultimately won.

TRAIL DRIVE

March to Victory

In towns across Texas, the school marching band is as revered as the team it supports LORETTA FULTON

BY RULE, Texas six-man football games end when one team leads by 45 points or more — even if that means ending at halftime. But there’s no rule that says fans have to leave and the bands can’t continue to play. Invariably, the stands remain full, and the band plays on. “When this happens, no one in the stands moves a muscle when the buzzer sounds,” says Nora Brazil, one of the band directors at Whiteface High School, west of Lubbock. “The football team takes a knee on the sideline, and the cheerleaders grab their instruments. The community stays in the

60

stands and waits for the band to perform its halftime show.” And so it is in Smalltown, Texas, where the high school band is likely to be at least as popular as the football team. All over the state, Friday night lights shine just as brightly on the marching band as on the team. It’s been that way since Raymond T. Bynum fielded 29 students at the halftime of an Abilene High School football game in 1927, the state’s first halftime show. From tiny schools like Whiteface to schools with megabands like Allen High School north of Dallas, outstanding music

WHITEFACE

• •• LUBBOCK

ROPESVILLE

ABILENE

AMARILLO.COM; HEATHER SCOGGIN

B

by

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 60

9/1/19 7:37 PM


AMARILLO.COM; HEATHER SCOGGIN

is available every Friday night during the fall for the price of admission to a football game. Texas’ major cities may have symphony orchestras, choruses and all kinds of professional musical groups, but nothing beats the halftime of a Texas high school football game. Even the tiniest of school districts like Whiteface produce top-notch band programs. High schools in Texas can compete every two years, depending on their classification, in the state marching contest, which is governed by the University Interscholastic League, the same body that established the 45-point rule. They have to earn their way to the state contest by winning at lower levels. In 2017, Whiteface brought home the UIL marching band championship in Class 1A — the state’s smallest classification. The band placed third in 2015, and two years later they grabbed the gold. The entire community — estimated at 415 souls in 2017 — turned out in support. “They escorted us with fire trucks,” says band director Heather Scoggins. Scoggins is the full-time band director at Whiteface. Brazil, who’s retired, was rehired as part-time director. The two refer to each other as co-directors. Class 1A schools may be small, but band is big-time. In 2017, when Whiteface won the state championship, 78 kids marched at the state competition. That’s 78 kids in a high school with 120 students. This year, as the band prepares to defend its title, 95 students are enrolled at Whiteface High. The majority of them are in band, as well as other extracurricular activities. “We share the kids with every activity,” Scoggins says. Scoggins, who played piccolo in Texas Tech University’s “Goin’ Band from Raiderland,” wasn’t the director for the championship run in 2017, but her daughter played the mellophone that year as a freshman. This year, she’s a junior, and a younger brother, who plays bass drum, is a freshman. It will be a family affair as the band starts the first round of competition Oct. 19. When Whiteface won the 2017 title, Ropes High School finished second and Springlake-Earth third. All are located in the Lubbock area. Scoggins knows it will be tough. “Ropes is gunning for us,” she says. Loretta Fulton is a freelance writer in Abilene. FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 61

61

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LIFE EATS & DRINKS

CAN WE GET AN “AMEN”? The congregation enjoys gospel and grits — and a whole lot more.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Brisket

One of Texas’ best-kept musical traditions is reborn every Sunday

comfort fare pervades the century-old walls of Stubb’s BBQ in downtown Austin. Sunday brunch-goers carry towers of flaky biscuits, succulent fried catfish and — of course — hearty slabs of slow-smoked brisket to their tables. Accenting this mouthwatering aroma are the rich sounds of the

TREY GUTIERREZ

Original Bells of Joy, the gospel outfit currently leading diners in a vocal celebration of faith. “Our Sunday brunch can start off easy,” says Stubb’s cofounder Eddy Patterson. “Everyone’s sitting down, watching the band. But by the end of it, they’re standing up and shouting ‘Hallelujah!’” Here at the city’s premier gospel brunch,

Stubb’s weekly formula has remained unchanged since the event’s conception — indulgent food set to uplifting music, performed each Sunday by some of the state’s most prolific gospel acts. “As the cap to an amazing weekend, there’s a celebratory vibe to it — plus, it’s good hangover food,” says general manager

Ryan Garrett “You get a full buffet, plus some of the best gospel music you’re gonna find anywhere — for 25 bucks!” Stubb’s inaugural brunch was held shortly after the venue’s 1996 opening, but the event’s roots were laid in 1968, when Korean War vet Christopher B. Stubblefield turned his passion for smoking

Stubb’s BBQ 801 Red River St. Austin, TX 76164 (512) 480-8341 stubbsaustin.com

HOURS

Mon.-Thurs. 11 am–10 pm Fri.–Sat. 11 am–11 pm Sun. 10:30 am–9 pm

VISIT AUSTIN austintexas.org

AUSTIN

62

HILL COUNTRY TRAIL REGION

COURTESY STUBB’S BAR-B-Q

T

THE SMELL OF Southern

by

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 62

9/1/19 7:37 PM


COURTESY STUBB’S BAR-B-Q

COURTESY STUBB’S BAR-B-Q

brisket into a popular Lubbock BBQ stop. Here, touring country and blues acts provided entertainment in exchange for supper. “Stubblefield had an equal passion for music and food,” Garrett says. “Combining the two always proved a recipe for success.” Closing his eatery in 1985, Stubblefield relocated to Austin, where plans for a combination BBQ restaurant/amphitheater began. Located in the heart of the famed Red River music district, Stubb’s BBQ, as the venue was named, elevated the marriage of food and music to a national level. While Stubblefield wouldn’t live to see its unveiling, in 23 years Stubb’s indoor and outdoor stages have hosted an array of acts, including the Beastie Boys, Snoop Dog, Ween, Metallica — even one Bob Dylan. Although these nationally recognized acts are a far cry from the homegrown artists Stubblefield once hosted, it’s no accident that Stubb’s gospel brunch captures the intimacy of the late pit boss’s Lubbock shows. Business partners Eddie Patterson and John Scott grew up eating BBQ from Stubblefield’s personal smoker, making them

prime candidates to spearhead Stubb’s opening following his passing. While helping launch the Stubb’s line of grocery store BBQ sauces in New York, Scott’s mother, Fran, encouraged the boys to start their future Austin venue on the right foot, with a respect for musical tradition. “Fran inspired us to think beyond our own zip code,” Patterson says. “She brought us to our first New York gospel brunch. Being from Lubbock, we had no idea what that was. We come to find people singing, a minister doing a sermon and everyone eating — the way church used to be back in the day.” Committed to authenticity, Patterson and Scott decided a Sunday brunch was worth implementing correctly — which involved not only modifying Stubblefield’s heavily Texan menu to include more Southern fare (e.g. grits, gravy, etc.), it also meant securing involvement from local ministries. “One pastor wanted to check us out before bringing his group,” Patterson recalls. “Well, we had a picture of a naked lady dubbed the ‘Stubbs Angel’ behind our [indoor stage] drum set — an artsy silhouette, nothing tacky. That bothered him; we

needed to change it. So my mother, who’s sung in church for over 30 years, sent us a choir robe made specifically to cover the picture. [The angel] looked like someone singing with the ministry.” Today, gospel groups come from far and wide to perform on Stubb’s indoor stage. Some stay for one Sunday, others a few years, but it’s the dedication of acts who’ve filled performance slots since day one, like the Original Bells of Joy, that made the brunch a footnote in the American music canon. “The history included in this event began with the Original Bells of Joy,” Garrett says, “maybe the greatest gospel act to come out of Austin.” The Bells’ 1951 track, “Let’s Talk About Jesus,” is considered one of popular gospel’s defining recordings. (Ray Charles would later admit to “repurposing” the tune for his 1954 chart topper,  “I Got a Woman.”) Today, this group’s far-reaching legacy lives on in baritone singer A.D. Watson. At 89 years old, Watson is the Bells’ sole surviving original member. “He’s our backbone. He broke his hip last year, yet still plays our gigs with his walker,” says tenor Julia Cruz, who joined the group in 2009. “Listen to iconic gospel acts like the Pilgrim Travelers — there’s a really low bass voice doing the rhythm. That’s not really done anymore. A.D. still sings those parts like he’s 20.” Pillars of Texas’ gospel tradition like Watson consider Stubb’s a spiritual sanctuary, where the genre’s uplifting message thrives. “My favorite memories are audiences telling us our music lifted their spirit,” Watson says. “It’s not a performance, but a ministry.” Cruz adds, “[The music] contains a good message to help people facing challenges, even if they’re not religious. For that reason, it’s important to keep it going.” The event’s longevity has ultimately created a close-knit community of performers, working together to preserve legacies like the Bells’. Says Cruz, “We have two members of the Gospel Starz [a group that’s played the brunch since 1996], Johnny and Bryan Lott, who now also play with the Bells since we’ve lost so many members.” The tradition is furthered still by current drummer Willis Littlefield, nephew of the Bells’ late founding bandleader, A.C. Littlefield. When one considers the inclusive atmosphere fostered weekly for more than two decades, it’s easy to see why Stubb’s is the city’s most established gospel brunch. According to Eddy Patterson, that sort of authenticity can’t be faked. As surely as brisket will remain a staple of Austin diets, Texas’ gospel community, along with hungry diners nursing hangovers, will continue to impart joy unto everyone who spends Sunday mornings engaged in one of the state’s best-kept musical traditions. “I’ve been created to share the gospel through song,” Watson says. “If singing on Sundays at Stubb’s is where I can do so, I gladly will as long as I have breath to.”

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 63

63

9/1/19 7:37 PM


EATS & DRINKS

Soul Food for the Soul

The most important meal of the day is served with a slice of community in Houston Midtown

receives countless “Best” awards or “Top Rated” monikers, you have to check it out for yourself, right? Well, the Breakfast Klub (yes, with a “k” — they do that just so you’ll ask and remember them!) has earned every single honor it’s received. Located in Houston’s Midtown, the Zagatrated Breakfast Klub has

64

been recognized as one of the best breakfast restaurants in the nation by Good Morning America, USA Today, Esquire and Forbes. From the time you hit the door, you’re greeted with two things: a welcoming “Good morning” (no matter the time of day) and a smell of deliciousness that’s a sure-fire promise of

ANDREA BAREFIELD

what’s to come. Known for feeding the mind and soul, this social institution attracts all types of folks willing to stand in line for the succulent “katfish,” buttery grits, perfectly fried wings, golden-brown waffles, delectable pork chops and exceptional eggs. The Texas-sized portions don’t disappoint. Since its opening

The Breakfast Klub in September 2001, the Breakfast Klub has become a top tourist attraction and voted a local favorite breakfast spot. Native Houstonian Marcus Davis, the mastermind behind the Klub, recognized the void in the market for unique breakfast restaurants serving foods that spoke to the soul. He created an inimitable experience,

3711 Travis St. Houston, TX 77002 (713) 528-8561 thebreakfastklub.com

HOURS

Mon.–Fri. 7 am–2 pm Sat. & Sun. 8 am–2 pm Late-night hours Fri. & Sat. 10 pm–3 am

VISIT HOUSTON

visithoustontexas.com

HOUSTON

INDEPENDENCE TRAIL REGION

TRIP ADVISOR; COLEHAMPTON

W

WHEN A RESTAURANT

by

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 64

9/1/19 7:37 PM


TRIP ADVISOR; COLEMAN HAMPTON

TRIP ADVISOR; COLEHAMPTON

COZY COMFORT: Katfish & Grits and Wings & Waffles top a tempting array of breakfast favorites at the Breakfast Klub. The come-as-you-are hot spot seems to always have a line, but it moves quickly.

melding mouthwatering food with an environment that evokes a spirit of community. If one meal isn’t enough, fear not! Not only can you fill your belly, your spirit and your soul with the delicious goodness of the Breakfast Klub — now you can fill your pantry as well. The restaurant has developed consumer products for the home that include breakfast coffees, waffle and pancake mix, and a soulful and savory seasoning mix. This fan favorite has been wowing palates and filling bellies for 18 years and has no intention of stopping. In fact, the Klub has a sister location in the George Bush Intercontinental Airport that was recently awarded USA Today’s Best Airport Local/Regional Dining Restaurant in its 2019 Readers’ Choice poll. The Breakfast Klub, and all of its other restaurants — the Reggae Hut, the Alley Kat and Kulture: An Urban Komfort Kitchen — are all known for great food, outstanding service and an exceptional atmosphere where you’re treated like family. You should make time to visit them all and completely — excuse me, kompletely — savor all the goodness they have to offer. Do your stomach a favor — visit the Breakfast Klub on your next visit to Houston. FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 65

65

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LIFE DEEP IN THE ART

DRESSED FOR SUCCESS: The craftsman in his Alpine studio.

With Strings Attached

The instruments built by Alpine’s Michael Stevens are musical wonders

66

KINZIE

sound chamber and a head with six tuners. Spain’s Antonio Torres Jurado is credited with what would become the standard design of the “classical guitar,” which he developed in the 19th century. The acoustic instruments Stevens produces today, like mandolins, have similar components of the Jurado guitar. But here’s the twist: Stevens’ guitars are electric. In fact, the electric guitars pioneered by Les Paul and Leo Fender comprise the lion’s share of his catalog. In an August appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Luke Cutchen, from the group Midland, played one of Stevens’ designs, a

Stevens Guitars P.O. Box 1082 Alpine, TX 79831 (432) 364-2487 stevensguitars.com

VISIT ALPINE visitalpine.com

WENDY LITTLE

A

S LONG AS there have been guitars and other stringed instruments, there’s been a need for luthiers — guitar makers. Meet Michael Stevens, from Alpine, who’s famous for his ingenuity in creating guitars, basses and mandolins. His creations are located all around the world and rest in hands belonging to Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, Junior Brown (the “guit-steel”) and dozens, if not hundreds, of musicians and collectors. The guitars we see today are basic renditions of a six-string version with a flat neck, a rounded

by RANDALL

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 66

9/1/19 7:37 PM


WENDY LITTLE

WENDY LITTLE

ART & CRAFT: Stevens produces an impressive array of acoustic and electric instruments.

30th anniversary Esquire guitar. At the start, Stevens just enjoyed playing music. “I was in Berkeley [California] during the ‘Summer of Love,’ 1967. I began working on other artists’ instruments because that’s what I could do to sustain a livelihood.” Stevens’ passion for Texas, guitar making and the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering (the largest gathering of cowboy poets in Texas) is surpassed only by his love for his wife, Alice, who passed in 2016. “It was Alice who took me to Berkeley,” he recalls, “and it was Alice who eventually brought me to Texas. I followed her everywhere she went.” Turns out Alice was dating a man, Larry Jameson, who had a guitar repair shop in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Although Stevens didn’t land Alice back then, he did get a job that led to a lifelong friendship with Jameson, whom he credits with nurturing his skill and passion for guitars. “Larry loved cutaway guitars and taught me what a guitar really was,” Stevens says. “And I taught him how to work faster with power tools and jigs. We were a perfect team.” It wasn’t long after leaving Berkeley that Stevens wound up in Austin and set up shop on 12th Street. He’d cemented his reputation as a technician and craftsman, and his notoriety led the two guitar juggernauts of the day, Fender and Gibson, to seek out his talents. Stevens was educated at Ohio State, but that was just in the fundamentals. If you read between the lines, you realize his skills are intuitive and his understanding of the

science necessary to complete his creations is continuous and otherworldly. Like a sculptor of the highest order, he sees a block of wood as infinite in its possibilities, yet his discipline in crafting instruments turns the wood into a tangible, functional work of musical wonderment. Ultimately, he opened and created Fender Custom Shop, where he was charged with tooling, refitting and overhauling guitars for Fender’s sponsored talent. He never stopped playing, but it occurred to him that he was making a good living doing what he already loved. After years apart and marriages in between, Stevens’ love for Alice would be requited, finally, and they settled in Alpine. It was there they both went into business. He opened a guitar shop, and she had a plant nursery. As vibrant, engaged residents and civic volunteers, the couple fit easily into the laid-back culture that is Far West Texas. Together, they flourished. In addition to her work at the nursery, Alice was a professional artist and photographer who loved horses. “She was good at everything!” Stevens says. Stevens still resides in the home he and Alice built in Alpine. His shop, where he stays busy building guitars with rustic designs suited for the juniper and pine found in the rolling foothills of northern Brewster County, is an eclectic mix of tin, steel and space-age fabric. When he’s asked about why the popularity for his work continues, Stevens offers a simple response: “People want handmade guitars.” FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 67

67

9/1/19 7:37 PM


DEEP IN THE ART

Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway

The spirit of Woody Guthrie lives on in Pampa

“W

by BARBARA

320 S. Cuyler St. Pampa, TX 79065 (806) 664-0824 friendofwoody@att.net woodyguthriepampatx.com

HOURS

Live Here Too” reads the T-shirt I once snagged for $10 at the old Harris Drug Store building on Cuyler Street, the main thoroughfare of Pampa, Texas. Back in 1929 Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, who’d come to Pampa as a teenager from the oil boom-and-bust town of Okemah,

68

BRANNON

Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center and Pampa Visitor Center

OODY USED TO

Oklahoma, spotted a guitar in the store. Proprietor Shorty Harris, according to local expert Michael Sinks, told the young man if he learned how to play the guitar, he could have it. Guthrie took up work as a soda jerk at the store’s front counter and, between helping customers, taught himself chords and strums. He also began making up lyrics of his own. And yes, Harris gave him the guitar.

Tues.–Fri. 10 am–5 pm Folk jam 6–9 pm Fridays

27th Annual Tribute to Woody Guthrie Sat., Oct. 5, 2019 Heritage Room MK Brown Civic Center 1100 W. Coronado Dr. Pampa TX 79066

BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL; WOODYGUTHRIE.ORG

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: A Texas Historical Commission marker (top right photo) singles out Harris Drug Store — where Woody Guthrie (bottom right photo) began making music — as a place of historical significance to the region and to the community.

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 68

9/1/19 7:37 PM


BARBARA BRANNON/TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL; WOODYGUTHRIE.ORG

It was in Pampa that Guthrie first sought fame through music. With Matt Jennings and Cluster Baker, Guthrie made his first attempt at a musical career, forming the Corn Cob Trio and later the Pampa Junior Chamber of Commerce Band. He also learned to draw, producing cartoons and more realistic renderings. And he fell in love with Mary Jennings, Matt’s younger sister. Woody and Mary were married in 1933, and together had three children. But the dusty days of the 1930s weren’t any kinder to Pampa than the oil play had been to Oklahoma, and soon Guthrie left his family behind and migrated west with the Okies in search of odd jobs and stardom. He knocked about on the West Coast, a period in his life he describes in his memoir Bound for Glory, and achieved renown among the working poor via the airwaves of Los Angeles radio station KFVD. Guthrie did stints in New York City in the early 1940s, making a name for himself with songs of protest and activism, and he returned briefly to Pampa. Ever the outsider, he departed once again, this time to the Pacific Northwest, where he created the Columbia River Songs. Serving in World War II, he turned his talents to ballads that blasted facism and rallied the troops, such as “You Better Get Ready” and “The Sinking of the Reuben James.” Remarried and resettled in New York after the war, Guthrie worked on numerous creative projects. But his behavior turned erratic, and he left a second family behind. In California he married a third time; throughout his travels and appearances in the early 1950s, he was treated on numerous occasions for misdiagnosed conditions. In 1954, living once again in New York, he was found to suffer from Huntington’s disease, a degenerative nerve disorder, and was hospitalized for long-term care. Folk singers of the Vietnam protest generation came to visit. Woody Guthrie died in 1967, a legend. Thanks to Pampa champions Thelma Bray and her sister, Velma, a group of citizens organized a tribute to Guthrie in 1991. Overcoming local opposition and the claim that “Woody Guthrie was an atheist and a Communist,” supporters put a stake in the ground. “Woody Guthrie put Pampa on the map; it is time for Pampa to acknowledge him,” reads the in-house account of the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center The city held its first concert in Guthrie’s honor the following October, on the 25th anniversary of the folk singer’s

death. Guthrie family members attended. Texas Route 60 across the Panhandle was designated the Woody Guthrie Memorial Highway, and Texas Gov. Ann Richards proclaimed Oct. 3, 1992, “Woody Guthrie Day” throughout the state. By 1997 the event had grown, and Guthrie’s son Arlo, a folk-rock icon of the 1960s, headlined. Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah began to embrace the musical heritage of their native son that year as well, launching its folk festival that same year. Eventually, as a new century rolled around, the Pampa group conceived of a Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center and purchased the old Harris Drug Store in 2000 to house it. Big names such as Pete Seeger and Jimmy LaFave hopped on the bandwagon, coming to Pampa to perform and to keep the Guthrie legacy alive. In 2009 Mike Sinks, a talented guitarist in his own right, joined the nonprofit enterprise, assisting in curating exhibits and participating in a Friday night folk jam that has become a weekly institution. The yearly tribute concert has also become a Pampa institution. In March 2012, the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, Arlo Guthrie returned, presenting Thelma Bray with a memorial plaque honoring her tireless work. That fall, Jimmy LaFave presented Walking Woody’s Road, a presentation of Woody’s songs and story. This October, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the 27th annual Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Saturday, Oct. 5, at Pampa’s Civic Center, with old-time music provided by the Fossil River Band, and a barbecue dinner to boot. It’ll be a great evening for “This Land Is Your Land” and other standards, and perhaps a few numbers that deserve to be revived as well. Of course, thanks to the good folks at the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center, Guthrie’s spirit lives on year-round. Today the Harris Drug Store building also serves as a visitor center for Pampa, sharing information about other points of interest and culture in the area. The jam session starts promptly at 6:30 on Friday evenings, so bring your guitar tuned up and a song or two ready to sing. An appreciative audience always shows up, and the more senior regulars are kind to newcomers. The museum walls are rich with Guthrie images and stories, and the drugstore counter’s still there. Not to mention that you can acquire one of numerous those handsome T-shirts. FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 69

69

9/1/19 7:37 PM


ATX Iss 15.5.indd 70

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LEGACY PRESERVATION p. 72 H PERSONALITY p. 76 H ARCHIVES p. 80 H HISTORIES p. 84

Song of

COURTESY VIRTUAL SHEET MUSIC

TEXAS FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 71

71

9/1/19 7:37 PM


72

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 72

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LEGACY FACE VALUE: The oldest operating courthouse in the state was the beneficiary of a $4.5 million restoration grant from the Texas Historical Commission. Don Henley (inset photo) also helped fund that project.

TEXAS HISTORICAL COMMISSION

Committed

Cass TO

COUNTY WAYNE WENDEL; DALLASNEWS.COM

Music legend Don Henley is supporting his hometown’s history by SUSAN GAMMAGE

I

T’S NOT SURPRISING that recording artist Don Henley’s last album was titled Cass County. Or that the cover photo was taken in front of the 1939 Linden Firehouse. Or that the other album photos were taken in and around the East Texas town of Linden. Henley, lead vocalist for the legendary rock band the Eagles, is devoted to his hometown of Linden, the Cass County seat. He still owns a farm outside town and returns there regularly to recharge. He attributes hiding in his father’s cornfields and the wide-open spaces of the county to fueling his imagination as a child, and later as a songwriter. He’s proud of his roots and has committed both time and money to preserving the historic and natural resources of Cass County, as well as nearby Caddo Lake. In 2004, the centerpiece of Henley’s hometown — the 1861 Cass County Courthouse — was the recipient of a planning grant through the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program to produce construction documents. Four years later, the THC awarded a nearly $4.5 million construction grant to restore the oldest-operating courthouse in the state. Pieces of the original antebellum, red brick courthouse can still be seen throughout the existing 1934 version of the building, including an original fireplace and window openings.

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 73

73

9/1/19 7:37 PM


74

Texas has more historic courthouses than any other state — 242 still in active government use. The Texas Historical Commission’s nationally recognized and awardwinning Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program has reversed the trend of disrepair and has begun restoring these treasured landmarks. To date, the program has funded 70 Texas courthouse restorations, and another 26 courthouses have received emergency or planning grants to complete small projects. In addition to saving important historic structures, restored historic courthouses have proven to be economic boosters for local economies and the state. Counties with restored historic courthouses see an impact in the form of increased safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, tourism and more. For more information, see thc.texas.gov/preserve/projects-andprograms/Texas-historic-courthousepreservation

PATRICK HUGHEY

The current Classical design is covered During and since the completion of in brightly colored stucco of corn yellow and the courthouse restoration, Henley purpersimmon orange and graced with elegant chased and rehabilitated several buildings surrounding the courthouse square. He’s white columns and stately porticos. Henley himself regularly attended prog- also advocated for others, including the ress meetings and walked the site with the 1934 Horton Tank water tower and the architect and contractor during construction, Linden Firehouse, both constructed in and might have been conresponse to the 1933 fire that fused for a plumbing contracgutted the 1917 iteration of tor in his jeans, T-shirt and Cass County Courthouse the courthouse. 100 W. Houston St. baseball cap. His involvement in the Linden, TX 75563 (903) 756-5071 While a noteworthy rebirth of Linden’s historic co.cass.tx.us figure like Henley might try downtown includes a proand impose his influence over spective county history HOURS Mon.–Thurs. 8 am–4:30 pm a project he helped fund, he museum that currently occuFri. 8 am–3:30 pm instead supported the projpies one historic building on VISIT LINDEN ect direction, which closely the courthouse square and lindentexas.org followed the Secretary of may expand into others as the Interior’s Standards for the museum grows. Henley and others in the Preservation. Project participants perceived his pres- community have been gathering artifacts to ence on the construction site to be curiosity- include in the future museum’s displays. His efforts, combined with the courtbased, and his desire to be of service and witness the restoration of one of his home- house restoration and Linden’s designation town’s most important and oldest buildings. as a Texas Main Street community, have Alongside citizens of Cass County, Henley sparked a transformation of the little town celebrated the building’s restoration by speak- into an enticing destination for heritage tourists. ing at the courthouse rededication in 2012. AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 74

9/1/19 7:37 PM


PATRICK HUGHEY

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 75

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LEGACY TEXAS ORIGINAL

ROBERT

Keen Earl

For the legendary Texas troubadour, the song goes on forever by BOB MCCULLOUGH

76

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 76

9/1/19 7:37 PM


R

rightfully deserves the reputation he’s earned as a talented singer-songwriter, a Texas troubadour truly gifted at fusing words and music into songs that tell memorable stories. His impressive credentials over a 30-plus-year career include 19 albums, thousands of concert appearances and honors aplenty as a songwriter, performer and philanthropist. The Houston native didn’t start out pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter, but by his sophomore year at Texas A&M University, he secretly knew he wanted the rest of his life to revolve around words and music. “I was interested in rhyming poetry, and, in fact, I was pretty good at it — better than most,” Keen says. “I taught myself to play the guitar, and, not long after, I began coming up with funky little songs. This opened my eyes as to what you could really do as a songwriter.” Like a lot of Texas kids, Keen grew up listening to Bob Wills’ Western swing, so he asked his parents for a fiddle. His frustration at “trying to scratch on that darn thing” led him to mastery instead of an Alvarez acoustic guitar and many a joyful jam session at Aggieland as a member of the looseknit Front Porch Boys, which leaned toward bluegrass. “All told, I guess there were about 15 Front Porch Boys, most of them from rural Texas towns,” Keen recalls. “We’d have our jam sessions, and we’d perform all over at fairs, spaghetti dinners, rodeos — we took anything we could get because it was so much fun playing and being in front of people.”

NICK DOLL

ROBERT EARL KEEN

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 77

77

9/1/19 7:37 PM


“because I couldn’t get through a door made of paper.” Yet with more appearances and more album releases, his stature and popularity grew as one of the leading voices of a new music genre — Americana. Keen likes Americana music because it’s a fusion of many styles including country, folk, gospel, rock and bluegrass, and because it relies heavily on acoustic instruments. “All of us who write our own music can belong,”

Keen began touring outside the state and headed for Nashville in 1986, but in fewer than two years, he returned to Texas and settled in the Hill Country with wife Kathleen after success in the music business eluded him. “I dug a lot of ditches and planted a lot of landscapes,” he remembers,

he explains, “because Americana constitutes a bigger umbrella.” Daughter Clara Rose’s podcasts have helped further define and popularize Americana. While Keen’s career has flourished, he’s managed to allot significant time to worthwhile causes.

78

Youngest daughter Chloe’s desire to play the violin put Keen in contact with Hill Country Youth Orchestras (HCYO), the nation’s only organization that raises money to provide free stringed-instrument music lessons to youngsters up through high school age. In 2007, Keen performed a benefit concert for HCYO, which has become a February tradition in Kerrville. Now and then he invites friends like Ricky Skaggs and Lee Ann Womack to join him. He also stars in another Kerrville tradition — a yearly, free 4th of July nighttime performance on the banks of the Guadalupe River along with his crack band of musicians, many of whom have been with him for more than 20 years. Together, they make music and entertain audiences more than 120 dates a year. Having spent this summer touring the American heartland, Keen now looks forward to hosting the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction ceremony Oct. 24, where he’ll honor his Aggie pal and former Front Porch Boy Lyle Lovett, among others. Keen’s success in music and his devotion to A&M earned him the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2018. While he’s not as well known as some other Texas icons, he’s amassed a passionate fan base of rednecks, hippies, frat boys and country scholars who swoon over his real-life lyrics and storytelling ability. In assessing his achievements, Keen gives the edge to songwriting over performing. He was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association Hall of Fame along with the legendary Townes Van Zandt in 2012. “I’m always experimenting,” Keen says, “and I honestly think I can write any kind of song. The payoff to writing is so much greater, because a show is a show, just for that moment. But a song goes on and on.” That appraisal from a well-traveled Texas troubadour sounds a lot like a familiar lyric to one of Keen’s signature songs that expresses faith in the future: “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” Bob McCullough lives with his family at historic Camp Verde in the Hill Country and writes about timely Texas topics. He also serves as communications director for Morgan’s Wonderland theme park in San Antonio.

NICK DOLL

After graduating from A&M in 1978, Keen moved to Austin and launched his professional career playing folk and bluegrass at night spots around town and other venues such as Gruene Hall in nearby New Braunfels. His prowess as a songwriter won him the 1983 New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival and encouraged him to record his first album, No Kinda Dancer.

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 78

9/1/19 7:37 PM


FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 79

79

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LEGACY TEXAS STATE LIBRARY & ARCHIVES

Lines and

NOTES The Texas Sheet Music Collection reflects the state’s enduring musical heritage by SUSAN FLOYD

T

musical history of Texas is reflected in the archival collections held at the Texas State Library and Archives (TSLAC). There’s much to learn about the state’s musical history through paper records, photographs, recordings and even the violin Henry Journeay played during the disastrous Mier Expedition in 1842–43, said to have been crafted from wood scraps left over from a chair he made for General Santa Anna. But not to be overlooked is the Texas sheet music collection, composing 351 pieces of 19th- and 20th-century American sheet music. Most of the items in this collection are published sheet music, but some music manuscripts, lyric sheets, poems and letters are also present, dating from the founding of the 8034

HE RICH

H

Texas State Library and Archives Commission 1201 Brazos St. Austin, TX 78711 (512) 463-5455 tsl.texas.gov

HOURS

Mon.–Fri. 8 am–5 pm Second Sat. 9 am–4 pm

Follow @TSLAC on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for daily updates on the agency’s work to ensure Texans have access to the information they need to lead informed, productive and fulfilled lives.

H

Texas Republic in 1836 through 1962. Songs in the collection are written in English, Spanish, German, French and Italian. Many typically American and Texas genres are represented, and major topics of the music include war, patriotism, politics, romance and religion. There are compositions that reflect wars the United States has participated in from the 1830s to the 1940s, including the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War and IN PRINT: The Texas Sheet Music Collection demonstrates the wide variety of popular sheet music published in the U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to music of general interest, there are works that more specifically pertain to Texas, including patriotic and political music associated with Texas as both a republic and a state.

AU THENT ICTEX TEX AS AU THENTIC AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 80

9/1/19 7:37 PM


FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 81

81

9/1/19 7:37 PM

TEXAS STATE LIBRARY & ARCHIVES

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS LIBRARIES


8234

LONE STAR MELODIES: Texas-themed items in the collection, like “I’m Going Back to Texas” (above), include manuscripts of songs written by citizens and submitted to politicians as gifts, and music relating to Texas history — on the Alamo, for example, or on the War for Texas Independence.

unions and various political movements composed and published between 1902 and 1939. The collection also includes sentimental songs written and/or published over more than 100 years, from 1845 to 1949, including many examples from the parlor song genre. These types of songs expressed a wide variety of human emotions and experiences including love, joy, longing and disappointment. But there are also death songs, which are obviously more somber and often include religious or spiritual lyrical imagery.

COURTESY TEXAS STATE LIBRARY & ARCHIVES

World Wars I and II. The works most significant to the collection’s nature as a manifestation of Texan culture are those pertaining to the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War. TSLAC also holds original musical manuscripts about both Texan and American patriotism dating from 1836 to 1962, including a song composed by Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, and two copies of “Texas, Our Texas,” the official state song, signed by the composer, the lyricist, Gov. Pat Neff and State Senator Margie Neal. Also in the collection are political songs written about and presented to Texas politicians John Nance Garner, Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson, James Hogg, Pat Neff and Pappy O’Daniel, as well as U.S. President William H. Taft, plus songs relating to labor THENT IC TEX AUAU THENTIC TEX ASAS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 82

9/1/19 7:37 PM


Religious songs dating 1902 to 1924 document the boom in this type of music spurred on by the intersection of the Third Great Awakening (roughly the second half of the 19th century) and the rise of the American sheet music industry. Some of these songs are overtly Christian, while others reflect more broadly spiritual themes. Songs from theatrical productions cover the entire first half of the 20th century; reflected there is the rapid rise of musical and non-musical theater, including traveling shows, urban troupes, minstrelsy (including blackface) and more. (Patrons should be aware that some of the songs contain vulgar, racist, sexist and/or otherwise offensive language due to cultural mores of the time period from which this collection originates.) The Texas sheet music collection also includes more than 100 pieces of instrumental sheet music spanning 1836 to 1925, plus undated compositions. Many of the compositions are for piano, but sheet music for various instrumental combinations is also present. Keyboard solos were the best-selling of all types of instrumental sheet music in the time period covered by this collection. Mass-

produced pianos, including spinets, uprights and grands, became a common fixture in American parlors during this era. Genres present include marches, waltzes, polkas, two-steps and ragtime, mostly composed for trios and quartets. Among these records is the undated and anonymous music for “El Deguello/Toque Particular,” as well as research materials related to the bugle calls used at the siege of the Alamo. Also present are the notebooks of Carrie Lederer Berger — two volumes that provide an example of the types of pieces a young American woman in the late 19th century might be expected to be able to per-

form either as a pianist, as a singer or both. This and hundreds of other collections are available for research at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and the second Saturday of each month in downtown Austin. Susan Floyd, a professionally trained archivist, is the communications officer for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, based in Austin. A native Texan, she is a passionate communicator about libraries, archives, and Texas history and culture.  

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 83

83

9/1/19 7:37 PM


LEGACY HISTORIES

Our

Texas?

In a state that celebrates the richness and diversity of its musical heritage, is it time to reconsider the official state song?

D

O YOU KNOW the lyrics to our state song? Okay, let’s start with something more basic: Do you even know the name of our state song? Some of you wise-acres might be thinking, “Why, of course I do, you dang Yankee. Get back to New York.” Truth is, I’m from Andrews, where pump jacks outnumber people and the air “smells like money.” I also know as well as any when to “get a rope.” And while I’m sure I learned the state song at some point growing up, I never gave it much thought, if any, until 2008. That’s the year I took a history class with Kent Finlay, the man responsible for Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, which ultimately earned him the unofficial title Godfather of Texas Songwriters. George Strait, Terri Hendrix, Randy Rogers, James McMurtry and Todd Snider all cut their teeth at Cheatham. I was a sophomore at Texas State University when I saw Finlay’s “History of Country Music” in the course catalog. Intrigued, I enrolled. The curriculum was

34 84

by CHRISTIAN WALLACE a casserole of historical lectures, well-spun stories and old vinyl records played on a turntable for a small crowd of 20 or so students. My favorite part of class was when Kent (he was never Professor Finlay to us) would start talking about a piece of music and impulsively break into song, warbling a few lines like a singing encyclopedia before returning to the lecture as if nothing had happened. During one class, his mood suddenly darkened when he cued up a particular song. His brow furrowed as an unfamiliar marching tune boomed through the speakers. It was a sharp departure from what we’d been listening to: there was nothing of the gritty West Texas wind in it, no pain of the blues, no swagger of the cowboy. Instead, the song seemed self-important and vacuous, a brassy alma mater affair. The words were a sugary concoction of obtuse patriotic sentiment and rubber-wristed backslapping, a mouthful of cotton candy. “Texas has all this great music,” Finlay said, “and this is our state song?” That was the first time I’d ever real-

ly listened to “Texas, Our Texas.” Before Finlay’s class, I didn’t care one way or the other about the tune. But Kent Finlay cared a whole heck of a lot. And I figured that meant that I should, too. with music like Texas. Pull out a map and you can sing your way across the state, from the “West Texas town of El Paso” to “Galveston, oh, Galveston.” This sweeping canon springs from a cultural identity steeped in music. Early Spanish colonization would eventually lead to the ascension of Tex-Mex sounds like conjunto, norteño, mariachi and corridos. When the first Anglo Texians arrived in the 1800s, they brought British ballads and fiddle tunes from colonial America. Black slaves contributed their own distinctive call-andresponse songs and spirituals. The Germans and Czechs who immigrated to the Hill Country introduced waltzes, polkas and, perhaps most important, the accordion, an instrument that would later be embraced by Tejano musicians. In Southeast Texas,

NO PLACE HUMS

AU IC TEX AUTHENT THENTIC TEXAS AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 84

9/1/19 7:37 PM


GETCURIOSITIES.COM

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 85

8385 9/1/19 7:37 PM


French-speaking African Americans developed a style known as zydeco, a mishmash of Cajun sounds and popular music. As the 20th century rocketed along, Texas became one of the most influential musical states in the country. Linden native Scott Joplin pioneered the ragtime piano that laid the framework for jazz. The first country recording was by Amarillo’s Eck Robertson, in 1922. The blues took hold here as strongly as it did in the Mississippi Delta, with giants like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lead Belly cultivating the sound in Dallas’ Deep Ellum and the Sugar Land penitentiary, respectively. During the ’30s in Fort Worth, Bob Wills and Milton Brown harmonized rural Texas-style fiddle and Big Band, big-city jazz, a fusion we now call Western swing. A decade later Ernest Tubb took the honky tonk sound from Texas beer joints to a national audience. In the ’50s, Buddy Holly became one of the world’s first real rock stars and made Lubbock a mecca for future British invaders. In the ’60s, Fort Worther Ornette Coleman blew his sax to experimental heights, while Roky Erickson and Janis Joplin got psychedelic in Austin. Willie and Waylon and the boys brought rednecks and hippies together and flipped a collective middle finger to Nashville in the ’70s. Stevie Ray transcended the electric blues in the ’80s. Selena broke cultural barriers in the ’90s and was poised to become the first Tejano crossover superstar. And that barely skims the surface. No easily portable tome — much less a magazine article — can hope to throw its arms around the enormity of Texas music history. The point I’m trying to make is that our musical heritage is important. Above oil, cotton and big hair, it’s our greatest export, a source of pride that should make every Texan’s head swell a size bigger than it already is. A state song is meant to celebrate the richness and diversity of a place’s musical heritage. It’s a song used to welcome foreign diplomats. One sung by those missing home. A state’s personality expressed in whole, half and quarter notes. Texas music is one instance where all our big talk is backed up, so there’s no excuse for this state, with all of its auditory flavors, to settle for the musical equivalent of dry toast. Which leaves one asking, how did we get stuck with “Texas, Our Texas” in the first place? WHEN DESIGNATING

86

state symbols, some

come easy (state footwear: cowboy boot); some elicit impassioned arguments (state dish: chili [instead of barbecue? Heresy!]); and some are downright silly (state hashtag: #texas). Historically, “Texas, Our Texas” became the fourth such token to receive an honorary nod (after the bluebonnet, the mockingbird and the pecan tree), but a look back reveals that Texans have never fully embraced our state song. In 1923 Pat M. Neff, the state’s 28th governor, decided that we needed an official song. He issued a statewide challenge: write an original piece of music about Texas. If it was chosen as the state song, a group of private donors would pay $1,000 (approximately $14,000 today) to the winner. The call was heard by patriots (or capitalists) far and wide: 286 songs were submitted, many from outside the state, with one entry arriving from Italy and another from Brazil. Neff had handpicked a committee of 16 “prominent Texans,” composed of both musically competent individuals and others who, as Neff put it, “weren’t supposed to know anything about any kind of music, but who knew a world of things about things generally, and knew how a state song ought to sound.” One of those submissions was “Texas, Our Texas.” According to the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, the song was first conceived as a poem by Fort Worth native Gladys Yoakum Wright, in 1918. When the state song contest was announced, a friend urged her to share her patriotic verse with another Fort Worther, composer William J. Marsh. The two reworked Wright’s lyrics to fit an earlier piece of music written by Marsh, and finalized a draft in 1924. To be fair to the melody’s originator, Marsh was no musical slouch. (Nor a native Texan. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1880, Marsh followed King Cotton to Fort Worth in 1904, becoming a naturalized citizen 13 years later.) A musician trained at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, England, Marsh served a long tenure as a professor of organ and theory at Texas Christian University. He published more than 100 works throughout his career, including Texas’ first opera, The Flower Fair at Peking. Marsh was also a faithful Catholic and drafted the official mass for the state’s centennial celebration, as well as a whole bevy of hymns and sacred music. This may account for the church-like solemnity of the state song’s sound and his attraction to Wright’s formal lyrics. (A sampling: “God bless you Texas! /

And keep you brave and strong / That you may grow in power and worth / Throughout the ages long.”) In December 1924, Neff ’s group vetted the submissions over a two-day session in Austin, and “Texas, Our Texas” emerged victorious. (Well, not entirely — the second of three verses was rejected and had to be rewritten.) That, however, didn’t automatically catapult it to official state song status. Like anything trying to make its way through the bowels of the Texas legislative system, that process proved lengthy and arduous. Five days before his term ended, in January 1925, Neff delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers to officially adopt “Texas, Our Texas.” His plea wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm. The unconvinced members of the 39th Legislature decided instead to form a joint committee of four representatives and three senators to stage two public hearings, where additional entries could be heard. The decision dragged on into Gov. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson’s term until, on March 18, 1925, the committee, “not being composed of experienced musicians,” reported that it could not agree on a clear winner and had selected the top six, including “Texas, Our Texas.” It was the committee’s recommendation that these six songs be sung by the public until the next legislative session “so that the people may be able to form an opinion as to which song should be adopted.” Ferguson’s time in the pink dome was beset by controversy, so one might forgive her and her administration for failing to come to a resolution on this state song business. And so it fell to the desk of Gov. Dan Moody in 1927, who cranked up the efforts once again, appointing a new committee using the same 1925 formula of reps and senators. Senator Margie Neal, of Carthage, the group’s chairperson, staged yet another contest, requesting that each of the 31 senatorial districts form a subcommittee to screen entries from their constituents and select a winner from each district. These nominees were then added to the six songs that had been chosen in 1925. The final 37 were further whittled down by the seven committee members, until, for the second time, “Texas, Our Texas” was blue-ribboned. The Legislature officially adopted “Texas, Our Texas” by concurrent resolution on May 23, 1929, stating that it “had been selected by the Legislative Committee twice,

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 86

9/1/19 7:37 PM


proving the song was meritorious to the extent that it ‘had sung itself into the hearts of the people.’” The newly designated state song was “ably and appropriately” dedicated in the hall of the House of Representatives on the evening of Tuesday, March 11, 1930. Neff was on hand for the occasion, as were composers Marsh and Wright, who handed over the song’s copyright to the state and collected the $1,000 check. Three renditions of the song were performed that day: one by the legislators, another by respected vocalist Pearl Calhoun Davis and yet one more by the Wednesday Morning Music Club of Austin. (Apparently the Tuesday Evening Club was unavailable.) The song’s only revision was prompted by Alaska’s annexation, in 1959. Marsh replaced the word “largest” with “boldest.” That same year, Gov. Price Daniel designated March 6 — the 123rd anniversary of the Alamo’s fall — State Song Day. To celebrate the occasion, Daniel arranged for a recording of the song to be broadcast on the radio and television, encouraged bands across the state to perform it, and required the in-session Senate to sing it. Yet despite the protracted process and prolonged hype and promotion, the state anthem never quite managed to strike the right chord with Texans.

in Detroiters. But the song has a checkered history. The lyrics originally contained racial slurs, and the tune was popular with both blackface minstrels and Confederate troops. The song’s reputation is further complicated by its association with the Texas legend of the Yellow Rose, a mixed-race woman named Emily West, who supposedly kept Santa Anna “occupied” while Sam Houston’s army launched its surprise attack at San Jacinto. With Virginia and Florida both retiring state songs with questionable racial references, it’s best that Texas leaves the “Yellow Rose” to Hollywood myth makers. Other oft-guessed ditties were “The Eyes of Texas” and “Deep in the Heart of

Texas.” Both are songs that Texans grow up singing, like Christmas carols or “The StarSpangled Banner.” They’re classics you’ve known for so long that you can’t recall the first time you heard them — their melodies buried somewhere deep inside — and occasionally you’ll catch yourself singing a refrain without meaning to, like when a line of “Jingle Bells” slips out in July. The glaring problem with “The Eyes of Texas” is that Aggies and a certain border collie might keel over if we elevated the Longhorns’ anthem to official state song status. This leaves “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” It probably has the strongest case

to conduct an experiment. Whenever I found myself in a gathering of native Texans, I asked if they could name the state song. Just about everyone had an answer, but few had the right one. And not a single person could lilt more than a lick of “Texas, Our Texas.” At least one journalist predicted this scenario back in 1930. The Waxahachie Daily Light ran the following editorial: “The Legislature has paid out $1,000 of the dear peepul’s [sic] money to the composers of the state song. We’ll wager a pewterfied [sic] buffalo nickel against a rancid doughnut that ninety-nine out of every hundred native sons and daughters never memorize it beyond the first verse and chorus.” Sounds as though they had an oracle working in Waxahachie. One by-product of my investigation was the discovery that Texas has at least three official unofficial state songs. The most common response to my poll was “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Not a bad answer; as one friend said, “The Yellow Rose” is embedded in the genetic makeup of Texans the way Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is

I DECIDED

FA L L 2 0 1 9

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 87

87

9/1/19 7:37 PM


for official designation. Grade school music teachers drilled it into each of our heads to clap-clap-clap-clap after “big and bright,” and opportunities to show off this rhythmic feat are readily available at various events across Texas, from ball games to concerts. Drawbacks include the fact that the song wasn’t written by a Texan, nor was it originally sung by one. Perry Como recorded the first hit version two days after Pearl Harbor, and the jaunty ballad ended up becoming so popular that the BBC stopped playing it during work hours. Apparently, the chance of ammunition workers dropping their tools to clap was too risky. Today the song may feel a tad hokey, but when George Strait played it during his farewell tour in 2013 and ’14 , the stars did seem bigger and a little brighter. Maybe it’s time to assemble the Fellowship of the Song, a meeting of the most talented Texas songsters, from indie rock’s Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) to Tejano legend Flaco Jiménez. If our best living maestros convened over a few cans of Lone Star, perhaps they could orchestrate a tune that might actually sing its way into the hearts of Texans.

88

AU THENTIC TEX AS

ATX Iss 15.5.indd 88

9/1/19 7:37 PM


ISSUE 15 COVER2.indd 3

9/1/19 7:42 PM


ISSUE 15 COVER2.indd 4

9/1/19 7:43 PM

Profile for Authentic Texas

Authentic Texas Fall 2019