Sunday, August 16, 2015

IT HAD TO HAPPEN- and only at the Navasota Bluesfest

 Ruthie Foster reconnects with her adoring Navasota fans. Bluesfest organizers finally overcame communication challenges that came with her fame and brought her back to celebrate the 20th annual Bluesfest.

For the THIRD consecutive year, the Navasota Bluesfest has had the strongest line-up ever. Saturday I could not stand it and brought my camera, (been trying to wean myself form acting like a danged local braggart!) and I sure was glad... got some treasured shots of the stellar entertainers.

Although I sorely missed some our past favorites like Ezra Charles (now retired), Randy Pavlock, Nat Dove, Texas Johnny Brown (RIP) Texas Johnny Boy, Tubie and the Touchtones and the late GREAT Don Kesee,  the truth is the show went on and up and away as the BEST SHOW EVER!


 Justin Johnson shows off his arsenal of bizarre instruments with his musical wizardry. This was his second appearance at the Navasota Bluesfest.

Yes, that is a shovel he is playing... actually transformed into a "diddley bow."   The music he extracts out of such instruments is nothing short of fantastic.

 Californian master Doug MacLeod returned to prove that his riveting performance and witticisms of last year were no figment... he is simply the king of resonator slide guitar blues.

Blues Amazon Betty Fox of Florida- and her band, came a long way to perform and give a fitting tribute to Ruthie Foster, one of her personal idols... She is "going places" and thankfully Bluesfest brought her to its stage in her prime.

 Back after many years, Sonny Boy Terry reminded Navasota what she had been missing, and that would be his powerful, driving harmonica assault, delivered with perfection.

 Blues prodigy Christian Dozzler followed with equal enthusiasm on harmonica and keyboard, AND, breaking out his accordion, served up his addictive zydeco blues. The dancing crowd finally gave up on sitting down.

ONLY Ruthie Foster of Gause, Texas could have followed all of that and still blown everyone away... which she did... with true joy in her heart... it was a sentimental victory lap for this accomplished performer of whom Brazos Valley blues fans are extremely proud.

 Ruthie Foster gives Navasota her famous epic smile... and it bounced back a hundred-fold. Ruthie once served on the board of the Bluesfest.

 Meanwhile genre artist David Woods visited with art lovers and sold his works, which in many ways are the canvas equivalent to Texas Blues. Bluesfest was once again the perfect, complete Texas art experience.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

For the Love of Mary... my latest video

 Scene from Death of a Gunfighter, starring Richard Widmark and Lena Horne.

If you have read The Light of Day, (my manuscript below at the left) you are familiar with this story... but still you may not have felt it... about Sheriff Garrett Scott... but that is not all of the story... I have made a music video which may remedy that! This is one heck of a story! Click on the link below.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Johnny Bush returns to his ROOTS... in Navasota, Texas

Johnny Bush means one thing to his fans: DANCING!
Johnny Bush had grandparents who lived here in Grimes County and he lived for a while with his Uncle, country music iconoclast Jerry Jericho of Millican. He is a man that has watched a lot of water pass under the bridge... and perhaps his Navasota roots with it, but when he talks, or writes a book, those roots find their way to the surface. He performed at this year's Grimes County Fair, and started his show with a surprising greeting... "It's great to be back home here in Millican, Texas!"
I was able to speak with him for a moment and capture some photographs of this Texas legend. And then I read his book...
Johnny Bush shot the rapids of Whiskey River and thanks be to God, lived to tell the tale. In his book by that name he forever identifies himself with the iconic song he wrote and the ironic life he lived. Whiskey River is a surprisingly candid and introspective journey over the deadly falls of a hard living country singer with little or no moral compass. And amazingly, after plunging into the depths, Bush and his readers come out of the spill better for it.

Whenever I ever named my top five favorite traditional country singers… including Charlie Pride, Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Johnny Bush was always right up there. His singing was perhaps the best in country music, but I never related to his lyrics, or at least did not want to, like the others. He sang so many country standards focused on the culture of alcohol; Whiskey River, There Stands the Glass, Green Snakes on the Ceiling… and this was not my reality. Still, he had a classic, almost operatic voice that had peerless range and engaging passion. But he will tell you he was and is an artist... a performer. Johnny Bush has a voice that fit his lifestyle and his songs... a voice that was crisp as ice and as smooth as whiskey; but one that eventually cracked like a drunk driver into a pine tree.

Texans have always gobbled up his songs like cold beer. Johnny was simpatico.  When he cried out in his sterling tenor voice, it was OK for the toughest dance hall redneck to feel sorry for himself. You might say he provided a catharsis for all country fans caught in the same whirlpool he was singing from. I grew up with his songs, in fact in High School we had a jukebox in the cafeteria and the rednecks played his songs relentlessly. I eventually learned the words to his infectious drinkin’ songs whether I wanted to or not.

A baby-faced Bush, on the right, poses with two  country music legends, his uncle Jerry Jericho (left), and Ernest Tubb.

One might have surmised that with all of that partying in his music, the man was having a good time. And he thought he was. His life was even wilder than his songs, going through women like race car drivers go through automobiles, fueled by hard liquor and uppers and adrenaline. Johnny Bush was the narcissistic, unfaithful, womanizing scoundrel that typified the music industry in the 1970’s. He was the "one fool on a stool." About halfway through the book, I was sure that Bush was the kind of man my redneck buddies would love to corner in a back alley and teach him some manners. In other words, I am sure I would not have liked him. If I had seen the man behind the sequins and sunglasses when I was first introduced to his songs, I would have intentionally ignored his music out of spite.

Still belting that impeccable voice, at first I started to accuse him of lip-sinking. On a good day his delivery is still phenomenal. And he has more better days than he used to.

But the reason that I am writing this is Johnny’s showboat was capsized while racing down that Whiskey River, and over the years, he came out of that miserable wreck as a valuable member to humanity. Whiskey River is a painful, turn by turn confession of an entertainer who wanted it all, got a lot, and then almost lost everything as he reached the golden shores of fame as an RCA recording artist. And only then did he become a human being… and I am glad to say, after overcoming some scary physical handicaps,  his singing was better than ever.

Amazingly, through his perilous, self-destructive quest, Bush pairs up with Willie, who becomes a lifelong friend and adviser, courageously helps Charlie Pride get recognition, and befriends Robbins and Haggard. His story is the story of all the music I ever loved. It is so gratifying reading about his journey and the men who helped guide him and at times saved him, and know I have been listening to their music all of these years. It is sort of a unique, eternal Texas family that has been sewn together with sound waves.

Dancing. Dancers made Bush popular. Dance was the drivng force, the motive and the market. He could always make more money in Texas singing for country dancers than he could anywhere else at mere music concerts.

His biography is not a good read for the squeamish or easily offended. Bush tells some pretty earthy stories that I would never tell… about life on the road, but he also does not glorify his mistakes and speaks a great deal about how Faith has shaped his strong finish. Bush is no Sunday School teacher, and his book is written in Texas backstage musician vernacular… with occasional F-words and adult situations. But in his own way he admits, even regrets his attitudes and the hurt he caused… the big and the little things, sins by commission and omission, even once saying he did not care for Bob Dylan! (It’s Ok Johnny, Dylan probably never thought he had a great voice either)

I’m glad I never met Johnny Bush back then, and very glad I met him when I did. For one thing, he did not have the book then, and it may be one of the most important books I have read in a long time. And I read a lot. His revelations of his battle with Nashville, the Internal Revenue Service and Spasmodic Dysphonia, and memories about his Uncle Jerry Jericho of nearby Millican, Texas made the read a special experience for me. Bush has created not only an important body of music, but he has left a real, down to earth testament in his autobiography which every proud Texan will want to read.. and cherish, and share with future generations as they face the white rapids ahead.

Most people were buying his CD's from Johnny's wife Lynda, and well they should, but if you do not get his book, you are missing out on a TREASURY OF TEXAS MUSIC!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Living BLUES History

Lee Roy Lipscomb, the very last grandson of Mance Lipscomb, had the honor of portraying his famous grandfather during the recent Lanterns and Legends living history event at Navasota's Oakland Cemetery. The audience was thrilled to learn that this was a case of living history, in every sense of the word. Two of his brothers also got to do the same. THAT was a Navasota moment!

All in God's Time: Sixto Rodriguez comes to Texas

Sixto Rodriguez made a treasury of original songs in the early '70's that were almost swept away, never to be seen or heard from again. But they weren't.

We often say "All in God's time..." another way of saying, “be patient.” Let me tell you a story that illustrates how true this is. Actually two parallel stories.

It is the story of a modest, unassuming soul, but a devoted and passionate singer who lived and breathed music, but never got a decent break in thirty years. It seems everyone recognized his talent and potential, but he was often just used and abused. He endured financial hardship, racial prejudice and vicious pitfalls in the entertainment industry as he played for local venues, and always wanted to break out of his oppressive sphere, but nothing came of anything. He ended up resigning himself to just playing when and where he could, keeping his day job, raising his children, and finding fulfillment in hard work and his family.

Then one day when he was actually nearing senior status, strangers approached him and made everything change almost overnight. He became not only a link to the music of the past, but an inspiration to a whole new generation. Before it was all over, he made albums, did gigs all over the world, and became a famous entertainer... and all in the twilight of his life.
As if justice would not be denied, in the last chapter of his life all that music which seemed to wash downstream and down the gutter like a million fallen leaves to oblivion, suddenly gained critical mass. A lifetime of leaves blocked the drain! Something finally stuck, and he finally got a break. And in a wonderful turn of events, Art won. The system that kept him down was by then a mere question on a history test, yet the music it forged prevailed. To top it off, a wonderful documentary was made to tell his inspiring story. In the end, he was seen not only as a significant artist, but a cultural icon, a bridge between cultures and generations, a philosopher, and a downright decent human being.
This is the story of Navasota’s blues legend Mance Lipscomb.

And this is pretty much the same story for Sixto Rodriguez. But with more twists and turns. You probably had never heard of him and there is a good reason why. If Mance was carefully discreet, Sixto was painfully shy. Where Mance would adapt and please his audience, Sixto would choose to redirect, embrace new forms of expression, keeping him from his primary craft. Mance would work at all kinds of things to survive and then fuel his dream inside of his weekend venues. Sixto became a craftsman who took pride in his daily handiwork. He found contentment in other more practical expressions, as he dared to dream.

There is a powerful, award-winning documentary that provides all the details of how Sixto Rodriguez stayed head down and working his tail off for over thirty years, having given up on his music as a career. And you need to rent and watch the film. But let me whet your appetite. It is a great American story. It is also a great American indictment.

You see Sixto, a tall wiry street kid from Detroit, a first generation American, managed to attract significant interest in his songwriting talent before he threw in the towel back in the Seventies. He recorded a couple of albums, and even went on tour. But sales were flat. And at this time there was a culmination of the social revolution begun in the Sixties, and there was lots of competition, and perhaps sexier, more promising rock star wanna- bes lined up by the dozen to fight for the prize. After a couple of years of disappointments, Sixto went home for good. He was beaten down and ready to face reality.

He did what he could, did what he had to do, and became good at it. He became a home remodeler, someone who designed, repurposed, gave old worn out stuff a new lease on life. He found satisfaction in the healing art of home restoration. He went to college, studied philosophy and dabbled in politics.

Decades passed. The Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties. The Turn of the Century. Then one day one of his daughters found a chat on the Internet discussing “Rodriguez.” A bunch of passionate fans, mostly from South Africa, bantered about this music legend, "now deceased," who had made such a powerful impact on their world. He was as big to them as the Beatles, or the Stones, or Elvis, even bigger. African Journalists wondered had anybody researched his life, or verified the facts of his death. The United States was a long way off, how could they even know who to ask, where to look for relatives? They had believed for decades that their idol, Sixto Rodriguez, had become depressed back in the Seventies and one night had committed suicide on stage. He had purportedly set himself on fire during a performance. The tragedy had only fanned the fire of his mystery… and record sales.

Rodriguez’ daughter entered the chat, and music history began to unfold. While Sixto was living his life of obscurity, his music took on a life of its own. South African youth had discovered his music, and somehow it gained traction. His songs about social revolution and the perceived wrongs and injustices in America were even more apropos in a country that still enforced apartheid. It was largely his music that greatly inspired South African youths, who led protests and ultimately brought down the white supremacist regime. Blacks were once again enfranchised and took back their country. Albeit imperfect, justice had been served, common people were once again in charge of their own human potential. The ideals of democracy and self-determination once again rang bells of hope throughout the world.

And yet Sixto, unaware, went on with the hand he was dealt. All while his records sold in the thousands and tens of thousands. Most musicians in South Africa knew some of his songs by heart, if not lots of them. They were celebrated as anthems of their National re-invention. All while Sixto Rodriguez lived poor, in a small bungalow with few amenities. He chopped wood and burned it in a wood stove. He picked his guitar. He became a good neighbor, a loving father, a local character.

And here is the belated indictment. Somewhere, some person raked in the spoils of his music career that never happened. Record sales, royalties, whatever Sixto had coming, even the knowledge of making such an impact on history, was robbed from him.

Then his daughter told him that a bunch of people in South Africa thought he was dead and that he was the greatest. Some of them refused to believe that she was his daughter or that he could possibly still be alive. Now years later, after several tours in South Africa, he is known to be very much alive and loved all the more… as a living legend. His resurrection was an amazing story in itself… and it too was pretty much ignored by the American Media. It seems that even today, powerful unseen forces have left no stone unturned… in fact have piled them onto Sixto Rodriguez’ premature grave. But like the story of Mance Lipscomb, art won the day.

All the meanness, selfishness and treachery the unseen powers had could not stop his music, its impact or its popularity, in a void where they had no control. And Just as Mance Lipscomb outlived his enemies who practiced every kind of Civil Rights violation, and he lived to see his music shape a lasting legacy, Sixto Rodriguez has finally enjoyed the sweet joy of… acceptance.


The crowd Friday night at his concert at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin was gushing with pure affection as Sixto came out to get a genuine dose of Texas hospitality. Each song, a should- have- been hit, every fan transfixed on this humble man brought out of retirement to take his place in the pantheon of Dylan and Lennon and Jagger. 

And it is a unique presentation; Rodriguez staggers out, escorted by his daughters onto the stage, feeble and delicate. He puts on his little black hat and takes on the countenance of a Crow Indian Chief. You can’t help but expect him to fall face first right off the stage. But then he stiffly starts to strum. And he finds his inner strength and begins to sing. Then the magic begins; Cutting edge lyrics even for today’s standards, delivered by addictive melodies that make your ears beg, sung by an endearing, soft-spoken gentleman, and backed musically by young musicians who ironically can barely appreciate who and what he represents. And there is the unmentioned impact these songs have had for millions. Not to mention the unanswered injustice of the decades of robbery of his music, his name, his just desserts. That kind of outrage would make anyone bitter, but instead Sixto stands as a man full of gratitude.
Sometimes things bloom where they were NOT planted...

“Hate,” he explained, “is too powerful a force to waste on someone you do not even like."

In spite of everything, the embezzlement, the poverty, the years of “failure,” he maintains an amazing sense of humor, a sense of being, perhaps something he has learned in these years since those first recordings. And perhaps that is the way it was supposed to be. Perhaps the Almighty allowed it all, for a purpose. America was not ready for Sixto Rodriguez in the 1970’s. A tender soul, he may have not been ready for America or the grind and inevitable addictions of the entertainment industry. Now they are finally ready for each other. And that gives all of us hope, in whatever dreams we are reaching for. Amazingly, I had never heard of him until a few months ago... and then like a lightning bolt, he actually comes to perform here in Texas! Now that's Providential timing! And Sixto is the patron saint of happy endings and ultimate justice, in spite of the odds.

Let the lovefest commence.

If you cannot get to see Rodriguez in person, do get his CD’s…I strongly recommend his album Cold Fact for starters.

And go rent "Searching for Sugarman" to get the whole story.. and buy extra tissues when you do!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Combined, it took over one hundred years to prepare these men for their show in Navasota!

As performed by The Sounds of Nashville!

Golden beginnings at Navasota River Halls

Entering Michael Havens' magnificent creation is like walking into G. Harvey's most extravagant western imagination...

I started my career as an arts/entertainment correspondent for ABC40 Bryan-College Station by covering this story, which is very close to my heart. It was a golden beginning for me and Navasota River Halls, and sweet fruit borne over years of preparation... as history was made in the Brazos Valley...

Michael Havens, owner of this amazing new music venue, had to be pleased with this maiden voyage as his flagship set sail under a full moon with a stellar line-up of entertainment. A grand concept seven years in the making, his 16,000 square foot facility will become a venerated Brazos Valley landmark, sure to  give visitors their fix for smoke-free Texas-styled entertainment. I could wax on... but I'll let the pictures and captions tell you what you missed. But for over a hundred delighted music fans, it was a night to store forever in their file for "favorite places," and a place to go back to as often as possible.

Front and center were the Sounds of Nashville,  a.k.a. Dan Miller, Brad Davis and Tim May.  It would take some of the best musicians in Nashville such as these to be able to match this stunning new venue... and stand the competition with the awesome surroundings. They held up mighty fine.

This was a monumental, multiple epiphany for Navasota, Texas. Happy local folks finally got to see and experience Haven's vision after watching construction on the edge of town for seven years; The bluegrass community got to discover a fabulous new venue for their genre; Michael Havens finally unveiled what he has been explaining to the expectant music world for so long, as The Sounds of Nashville brought their guitar virtuosity to the Brazos Valley. And I, your very humble correspondent, made my debut as a reporter for ABC40, and had the pleasure of covering this wonderful event, so crucial to the economic development of Navasota, with television cameras! WOW!

[This will be the last time I get to WOW myself. From now on, it's strictly business. In fact I will begin, in this time of beginnings, another blog, especially for my coverage of the Brazos Valley arts and entertainment scene.]
Younger members of the Armstrong family join the show for the finale.

Congratulations to Michael Havens  for his vision, now materialized, after all of his hard work. And special thanks and congratulations to Scott Armstrong and his family and volunteers for their efforts which brought this event to  pass. Almost everyone was glowing with smiles of real joy for the excellent, golden beginnings of what is sure to become a Texas legacy. Some were just plain tuckered out. 

Eventually everybody will come to realize the significance of what they experienced, in time...

But as for Navasota music lovers...  WE are ecstatic!