The Blues Valley Music Scene

Here is where you can survey the fabulous quality and variety in the Texas Music world... or at least what I thought was worth going to see and passing along to you... These are stories from 2009 back to 2011.

Crystal Gayle: Art + life = Maximum Capacity

Perhaps the greatest professional hurdle for this entertainer was being the sister of the most famous country female singer of all time.

That big, warm smile, that sterling voice, that untouchable class... make Crystal Gayle the hard act to follow.

A word to fans: Get out of the house! Do you remember being young and going to places and experiencing life, real life, and LIVE MUSIC? It’s still out there and better than ever. And that music you loved? Still out there and better than ever. And you know what? It means more to me now than it did then.

I’ve heard a lot of crap since then.

Sunday I got to attend a concert of one of my all time favorites… perhaps my favorite female vocalist, Crystal Gayle. You know, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, Loretta Lynn’s baby sister, the one with gorgeous flowing hair down to her knees. The one who sings Country music without an accent, probably the best, classic, the most expressive vocals in the genre. That Crystal Gayle. I’ve loved her sound since the first time I saw her, and here is the point… she’s still got it, better than ever, Crystal Gayle is as good as she ever was, and she is one of the best.

Watching her hop around the stage, smiling that wickedly beautiful smile, pinky finger extended, singing in that strong, evocative, artistic style, took me back, to a place… I have always been. But for some reason the music triggers my awareness of how far we both have come, and yet we are the same people. Crystal Gayle is living her life right to its maximum capacity, and she inspires her audience to do likewise. What are you doing with your capacity?

More importantly, what were you doing on Sunday afternoons?

There to do two back to back shows, her venue Sunday was Dosey Doe, in The Woodlands, who had a good crowd but not what it should be for this Country legend, who brought along Peggy Sue, her lesser known sister and a tight Nashville studio band to help perform her many hits and a few of Loretta’s. Where else could you set in such great surroundings, eat a delicious meal, drink your favorite brew and hear the greatest songstress (many would agree with me!) in my generation? What would that be worth to a real fan?

What is it worth to experience a real star, first hand, someone of timeless quality, a woman who has had the energy to make so many great albums, enrich so many lives, and get up on a Sunday afternoon and "give it to you," as W. C. Clarke says, with genuine sincerity, like it is the first time she has ever done it? Dosey Doe is on I-35 around thirty minutes from everywhere in the Houston Metroplex. You were home watching TV, probably football, and just thirty minutes from the opportunity of a lifetime.

I’ve been to hundreds of football games. After they are done, they are done. You take nothing home with you. I do not remember any games in particular, no matter how exciting. Games are matches of power and wits, winners and losers, a never ending cycle that accomplishes nothing more than temporary excitement and the irretreivable expenditure of time. Years ago, anything beyond High School level sports appeared so tainted and commercialized I just did not enjoy it anymore.

Just look at Wall Street. When the love of money is the driving force, you end up with mostly ruthless mercenaries. Sports is the form of entertainment where we watch others take for themselves. Art is the one where to we give to each other.

So not surprisingly, I remember every artist I have been to see. Every performance with its givers and receivers, yes, blessings all around.
The next time you have a choice, choose art, of any kid, and you will begin to feel smug like me, better off than everybody else… and you’ll enjoy the giver, not to mention the small, peaceful, intelligent crowds.

W. C. Clarke: Still givin' it

It was the thirteenth anniversary for the Camp St. Café in Crockett, Texas, and the Gillette brothers could not have chosen better performers to celebrate the evening.

We had been watching them with anticipation, (and I was wondering how the old guy might hold up, as they looked kind of frozen up there...) and my buddy commented that they were apparently lip sinking or something, as they were making music but W. C. was not moving his lips... in fact nobody was playing… For a moment or two, it looked like one of those high school skits where your teachers got up in rock star outfits and acted like they were playing while somebody played a hit record.

Oh that was just background music! They were still warming up! We had a good giggle. We are sometimes easily entertained. And all we had was bottled water. Then Pip Gillette introduced them…

“We came here tonight to… give it to you…” W. C. Clarke says in his soft, gentle delivery. The old country boy eased in slowly. As they went through the first number, I was a little apprehensive. This was not what I was expecting. This was W. C. Clarke right? Austin legend. Blues man, a Texas music master…

Then they took off, with several infectious songs, some real old time honky tonk boogey woogie that swept up the whole audience… and for the rest of the night we were mesmerized. This guy knows what he is doing. If you have read one of my reviews before, you know my gauge is simple. The quality of the band is measured by how much they cause me to smile. And baby, I was smiiiiilin’!

I always embarrass myself when I try to write about really good music. It is pure folly to write about music. Words can only fall short, being inferior forms of communication.

But this is what I do.
W. C. Clarke is a real deal Texas music legend. In other words he deserves all the hype. You have to be good, to be an institution, and that is what he is in Austin. The old blues guy. But he did very few blues tunes on this night… W. C. is a pleasant cross between the voice of Al Green and the electric guitar of Jimmy Reed. He can do Stevie Wonder, or Al Green, or Lou Rawls. And when you listen to him, you are not thinking the whole time about the original, you are thinking about the song as if you have never heard it before.

Beautiful, classic voice.

A very hot hand on that guitar. It was a real honor to sit in his audience. W. C. Clarke has the kind of talent and authenticity that should make his name a household word.

And his band, laid back, but tight; what you would expect out of Austin… but hold on.

The Sax man. Tom Robinson. Worth the money all by himself. There were times when I was smiling so big, and he was givin’ it to us, I mean giving and giving, primo sax, and then giving some more… and we were lovin’ it, yet I was pretty sure his face was gonna’ explode all over my shirt. What a deal.

I came to hear blues, but I no longer cared what W. C. was playing. Whatever he chose was going to be just fine. It came to me, as he was playing, how much pure joy there is in watching a master doing what he loves, playing what gives him joy.
  As an artist I understand the problem of meeting people’s expectations. I’m always thinking how clients would be so much happier with me if they would let me do my thing, without all the dumb demands they place on me. So I just kicked back, and let Dubya “give it to me.”

Like all great artists, W. C. came to please, and he knew so much better than me what I needed to hear. It felt good to be entertained by such giving entertainers. It just felt good, there in that intimate place, a safe haven for live music, musicians, and people who will still get out and find it.

It was kind of sad when they started winding down. W. C. Clarke ain’t no spring chicken, and he had done himself proud. You just don’t see that kind of talent and passion in Crockett, Texas every day. Dubya C. must be feelin’ pretty good about his sax man. He gives it to ya, then he nods towards the saxophone and Tom takes it on home. And gives it and gives it... Even W. C. had to smile after a few of those numbers. He’s got to be happy, sharing that kind of music anywhere. But especially in Crockett, a little blues incubator, with Lightnin’ Hopkins in bronze right outside... across the street, and he’s smiling too.

At the very end, he stayed and did a few songs just by himself. Sang a number about… "If we never meet again… I love you."

And you know what? I believed him.

Catie Curtis: Bottomline Music

Bottom line, Catie Curtis is a gifted messenger and brought along a couple more just like her to the gig in La Grange's Bugle Boy. Her songs touched me, and I would go see her again.

I kidded my buddy that he had brought me to a gay bar and we had a good laugh. This was just one night at The Bugle Boy, and a bit specialized I assume, a landmark event in an emerging legend in Texas music, and we were good natured and ready to listen. And Catie was a superb entertainer, no matter what her vignettes or goals for the evening were, and she still had some more surprises up her sleeve.

She introduced her protégé, Jenna Lindbo. She has a beautiful smile as well and sang ever so sugar-sweetly. One song about her music teacher was especially good, the kind of song you rarely hear, of one musician acknowledging another's influence.

At the end, Catie introduced famed Texas singer-songwriter Susan Gibson, sitting in the audience, who had been helping out in the sound booth. She graciously came up and sang with them, and did a number of her own. All great stuff. Catie led all of us in an almost churchy sounding song, about the fact that we are just passing through this world. She asked that we sing along the last verse a cappella, and we did, and it was the very best of America at that moment.
I was proud to be there and join in that song with so many- with whom I may have little else in common.

We had a good time, got to see the Bugle Boy on a night with some unforgettable performers, and left smiling. But I had tons rolling through the minefield in my mind… We'll just call it the MINDFIELD.

Unbeknownst to us, Catie Curtis was advertised as a popular gay singer, along with Susan Gibson in Out Smart Magazine, having just done a sort of gay tour that played at Dosey Doe in the Woodlands. I guess my fearless leader and I are always the last to know!

Charlie Lucas Band: Like eating excellent jalapenos!

They are so hhhhot you can't stand it, so for some reason you want another one! Haven't you ever seen a jalapenoholic eat one and turn red and blow fire and shake his head and smile and gobble down another one?

That's a Charlie Lucas Bandfan. You need to watch this guy... Actually you need to listen to him first, then run go snatch up his music, while you can... he's going to be hhhhhhhot.

The Charlie Lucas Band. That's Charlie in the middle...

It took me awhile to peg this group... you know that's what music writers do; compare, analyze, dissect. Lucas' voice is a leaner version of Mac Powell's, the Grammy Award winning lead singer for the Christian rock group Third Day. He has been one of my favorite vocalists of all time. The Charlie Lucas Band is a full blown semi metal-rock group, and they could cover ZZ Top or Guns and Roses or Billy Idol, no sweat. The songs, some of them original, are thoughtful, classic, and thank goodness, not all about boozing and chasing booty. But what sets Lucas apart is his amazing countenance.. a confident, friendly smile. When he is on stage, he looks... IS... very comfortable and just damn happy, as he smiles at the audience, at his musicians, at the folks walking by. And soon the people feel themselves smiling back. It's that smile that will take him all the way to the top.

Here just a couple of them entertain the lunch crowd at the Corner Cafe in Navasota.

So this morning I'm still hummin' the beat... is anybody else hearing trains between your ears?

Oh that's just the Charlie Lucas Bandamnit!

I'm still trying to figure out how to describe this music... rockabilly on steroids? Texas-fried rock? High octane country? If there ever was crossover music... I give up.

Anyway, What a great show, what a great band, what a great feather in Navasota's cap... a new music video by this emerging band. And think about the timing.

They introduced their new video, made right here in Nava-GITDOWN-sota, but if they wanted to shoot that video now, it would be too hard given all the construction and demolition going on downtown. The CLB train would have had to rock n' roll someplace else. In fact, it was a surgical operation, in and out and produced in less than six weeks! In the only time possible: Then.

It was meant to be. We can thank the band, the City Council, and God for pulling it off so seemlessly. And congratulations to Steve Maddox, our Director of Economic Development, for all his behind-the-scenes efforts to make everybody else look good.

Clint Black & the Black Family Legacy

When Kevin Black came out on the stage, I was not sure what to think. He looked… like my brother. Understand I knew nothing about the Blacks. I was doing good to know who Clint Black was. But Kevin? I had seen him running around the event all day, busily doing what event organizers do, and suddenly he was on stage… and rocking the house! Kevin Black can do it all!

Kevin is versatile and passionate, an accomplished entertainer, and he came to hang it all out… and gave a worthy opener for his megastar brother. At the end of his show he and his band played a riveting version of Seven Bridges Road.
Suddenly I thought, he’s throwing down the gauntlet, and his brother Clint has to follow this! A little brotherly rivalry perhaps… This oughta be good!
What a show. Clint did all of his hits as would be expected, but there is something about hearing them all, back to back, from the star himself, LIVE! If Kevin made his act hard to follow, Clint lapped it up and coolly breathed fire. Yet there seemed to be something more tangible than mere brotherly competition, even genuine joy as this family made this special concert together; All for young Cortney, Kevin's sixteen year old daughter who had passed away from Rett syndrome several years ago. That bond made the music all the sweeter. Later when Kevin belted out Time Goes By So Slowly… I need your love, I want your love, sending his passion and pain and love straight to the Heavenlies, I still shed a tear just thinking about it. That moment I was proud and grateful to be there… to be an American, a Texan! To see this great family in action.

By the end of the show, the audience had been introduced to five male members of the Black family, all gifted entertainers. It turns out that Clint Black has another brother Brian who sings very well, and Kevin has two sons who are musicians. They play the electric guitar and drums. Colton played lead guitar for his father, and sang, and even did some songs with his uncle, and quickly established himself as a worthy torchbearer for the Black music legacy. At one point, Brian and Kevin were singing, Colton was on lead guitar… and Clint was drumming! And doing a good job of it. What fun!

Clint has always had a charm for me, being from Katy, and marrying Texas’ own Lisa Hartman, and singing in that familiar country genre. But his songs will never sound the same to me again. Seeing into his family, and the way they confront their personal struggle with grief and its aftermath, adds a lot of depth to his music for me. Perhaps little Cortney, long since gone to be with Jesus, in her own way has introduced her wonderful musical family to another generation of fans that might never have been, unless she united them through this search for a cure. And that search for hope here will multiply all over the planet.

I heard it said more than once that people believed Cortney was looking down on her father and the day’s events with approval. I don’t know how that works, but I do know that her father’s love has turned into an awesome blessing for hundreds of Rett families, as people who refused to accept tragedy have wrought something special, maybe even Eternal, in downtown Conroe, Texas.

Navasota Bluesfest: Sixteenth Annual!

As can be expected, every year the BluesFest brings some unexpected musical treasures. I guess we can call these the annual "Cushie" awards.
Most Amazing Transformation into a solid blues performer:

Goes to.... Misslette The Singing Cowgirl. Actually, she has had it all the time. Shame on her for not showing off sooner.

Most Unforgetable Moment:

Goes to Texas Johnny Brown, when he deftly picked as he sauntered and smiled amongst his adoring fans, engaging with them in something beyond entertainment.

Most Impressive New Band Member:

Goes to Michael Gaskin, the AWESOME sax player who now makes Tubie's Touchtones an unstoppable force. His playing so beautifully weaves in with Tubie and Les that it is hard to believe they have not been working together for years.

Blues Capital Revue: Our first!

The Blues Alley Cats held their own as they rocked the Miller's Theater

Raegan Cushman made her first performance since releasing her first CD, shocking most hometown people who thought they knew her. And her dad was sure proud.

Joe Tex II would have made his father proud, as he brought some soul back to Navasota.

Too young to be that good, Third Rail demonstrated why they are an award winning Bluegrass band.

Veteran rockers Navasota Band made this event happen in more ways than one.

Doug McCleod: It doesn't get any better...

A year ago Michael Havens and I saw Doug McCleod in Crockett and I came away drop-jawwed and not believing my ears. I was so excited, I accidentally erased all of my photographs of him on the way home. Just as well I thought, I am way too impressed to even write a blog, nobody would take my effusive blabbering seriously.

This time, my photos made it, and my confidence in my musical taste is greater.. so here goes... I waited a year to say this...

"Dub" McLeod is one of the greatest living American bluesmen performing today. Once again he rocked the house at Camp St. Cafe in Crockett. I brought along Navasota Mayor Bert Miller and Michael had a guest as well and we all agreed he was amazing. Playing all original songs, fanning that resonator guitar like it was a red hot Karo pie, he showed such great artistic virtuosity that it nearly shamed me to think how little my ticket cost to see him.

It is impossible for me to photograph him when he is really revved-up and playing furiously on his resonator. I had to really work to get shots of him in action that were not a total blur. Dub is simply the best in his genre, drawing upon over fifty years of playing blues with the likes of Pee Wee Crayton, Albert Collins and Muddy Waters. He is a wonderful link to our Texas blues heritage, having listened and learned from some of our greatest musicians.

 What an honor it was to see him again. He only comes to Texas once a year, so plan to catch him the next time, and learn what awesome music you are missing out on! And maybe next time, I'll even think to let everybody know about it in advance!

Malford Milligan: At Mance Lipscomb Park!

Smooth and masterful, Malford Miligan brought his impeccable, soulful vocals to the lucky streets of Navasota Saturday, and was the icing on our second annual birthday celebration for Mance Lipscomb. His Austin based Rhythm & Blues band salved our disappointment and hurt feelings, after Don Kesee failed to appear after a scheduling foul up. For many of us, his highly anticipated performance was the essential element, as he represented the very best of Texas Blues tradition. But it was not to be.

Luckily the next band, emerging blues master David Gerald, agreed to start early, and shorten the gap. All the way from Detroit, they were locked and loaded, and soon we had forgotten that miserable hour of worry and confusion.

Congratulations to the City of Navasota and all the staff involved for putting on a a near perfect event, as far as managing things they could control...

Cari Quoyeser: Blueprints to Infinity

Cari Quoyeser made quite an impression on us at the Corner Cafe in Navasota.

Months ago I hailed Grace Slickin,' Lady Zepellin, Cari Quoyeser and her band as the best act of the year. I just received her first CD in the mail, thank you very much!... and it is everything I would have expected from this outstanding new band. If you like great rock and roll, delivered by young energetic prodigies, then you will fall for this band like I have. And I mean F A L L.

Her new album is called BLUEPRINTS TO INFINITY. It is a rare collection of impressive original songs for such unknown talent, so full of songs that absolutely, will some day be classics in American music. Rebecca Laird is one of the album's secret weapons, a young and disarming redhead, who masterfully swings her guitar with the best of them, as she manages to answer every lyric with the perfect electric touch.

Track 1, called Better Days, rockets off and demands instant respect... only to yield to Hell's Horse, a tasty, sexy, whispy, roller coaster that promises more to come.

And then the someday hit, 10 Words, which takes us old fogeys back to sweet sixties rock angels singin' words that melt strong men and make teenagers cry...

AND THEN "Never Happened"... this is serious art, hefty tempo changes, engaging lyrics, soaring rock choruses, and delicious female voices singing under your skin... when Cari rails "I'll tell you the truth," you are prostrate, begging tell me, tell me!

All the songs are keepers, and for a first album, that is unheard of. Sure, there was that Eagles first album, and Dire Straits... but this is a rare convergence of talent, music and management, especially these days.

My favorite is track 6, "Cold." starts off with what sounds like the ghost of Marylin Monroe desperately singing, asking "Can you help me?" But this could be the voice of any lost child in this cold heartless society that looks the other way as young women are guzzled down our relentless social meat grinder. Having had two close friends whose daughters have recently been raped, this song was all too timely for me. "It's too late to cry..." She sings. Chills ran down my back as Marylin disappeared into the black.

Me Before the Fall, track 7, pure art, soulful sweet, haunting, I could go on and on. I already have! I have already made allusions to Led Zep, and I'm not kidding. OK, so its Blondie singing with Led Zep artistry and Quoyeser's epic lyrics... especially unique, her heart and soul spilt out and passionately delivered with classic style and beauty. And Laird's majestic guitar carrying it all on a teen magic carpet ride... too amazing to appreciate.

Track 10, Faces in the Walls... A sing-song protest, with cool techno-echoes, so sassy and womanly... "Is this just another dream?" Yes Cari it is, and we are going to live it with you!

John Hogan and Maria Moss!It was another night at the Corner Cafe and I told myself, I have written way too many laudatory reviews for anyone to ever consider me anything but a local suck schmoozing for beers.

I came into the performance by Jon Hogan and Maria Moss ready to hack them up. It was a matter of journalistic objectivity, my artistic integrity. They looked like two likely victims, a couple of big city wanna-be’s out trying to act like real talent where nobody knows the difference. I sharpened my pen.
Hogan, a wisp of a man, made my cynicism easy; I could probably take him later if I had to. You know, to defend my artistic integrity. Moss looked like… well, Ruth Buzze’s sister, some poor bag lady Hogan might have saved from a homeless shelter, who had kept her mother’s clothes, vintage hat and all. Either they were going to be laughable, or they had to be really good. I had found just what I was looking for, to re-establish my objectivity. But quite inconveniently, they did not fit the bill. Once again, I must say, damn, where was the crowd that should have been there to witness such an extraordinary concert.

And it is just as well, when Maria Moss unwound and stepped off of the stage, all six foot of her, (or so,it seemed!) I felt... let's just say I felt like I should be very respectful... "Nice hat..." And then, it turns out the handsome stranger in the crowd was her husband. So I got a Shiner and started taking pictures.

I say Damn! Hogan and Moss were… I’m going to have to leave out everything but adjectives… Exhilarating… Fun, Heartbreaking, Wild, Crazy, Epic, Microcosmic, toe-tapping, head-nodding, gut busting, soul-searching, Wow, I can’t believe I’m in Navasota stupendousness.

John Hogan is a blast. He was born to entertain. If he had no audience, he would play to the forest. He just loves to sing. In fact, I have not heard such sheer joy in singing since my all time favorite, Rusty Wier, who was known to just haul off and half-yodel and laughingly holler for awhile. Hogan sings with happy abandon and sometimes seems to forget that the song even has an ending, or else he can’t stand to pinch it off, and everybody is just nodding and smiling with him. When he gets exhausted he turns the controls over to his co-pilot, Maria Moss who carries the musical journey until he gets back the air in his lungs, and then he might go another verse. It was exhausting to just watch them. What a gift.

By the end, they had made us live an extra year of our lives in a couple of hours. They made us love them... even their clothes... That's what genius does.

And all of this, just two blocks down from my house. It is such a great privilege to live at the center of the Universe. And thanks to Jon Hogan and Maria Moss for landing their magic carpet here, and sharing their song. If this is any sign of things to come, I’m not going anywhere!

George Ensle... Messenger from the other side

Maybe it was because he was from Houston, my old hometown. Or maybe it was because he had known and even opened for Navasota’s hero, Mance Lipscomb. It might have been because so many of his songs seemed to conjure up such familiar pictures in my mind. But it was probably because of the funny, sometimes heart-grabbing stories and introductions George Ensle told between his original songs that made him one of my personal favorites that have performed at the Corner Café.

He shared about a human dynamo across the street from his home in South Austin, a little old lady who had once helped her husband build their home, doing a great deal of the stone work herself. He and his wife had set out to be of her assistance, and ended up receiving a blessing themselves. George Ensle has learned to relish in God’s mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. And guys down the street that found insane pleasure in sitting in front of an air conditioner, out in the yard! Ensle seems to genuinely enjoy his own jokes, and the everyday hilarity in life. And he remembered Mance as a warm and generous friend who had always invited him to come and visit in Navasota. But regretfully, he never did. He still finds satisfaction though, that Mance Lipscomb, upon hearing him play, told him he had good rhythm as he stepped off the stage. You can tell that moment stands like a tiny trophy in his heart, treasured encouragement given from somebody who ought to have known. He even played a song inspired by, and written in tribute to Mance.

Ensle has mastered the difficult task of bringing to life the forgotten and unseen realities around us. He told of a tender moment, which had repeated itself, after someone close to him had died, when a butterfly came and landed on his toe, as if to give a comforting farewell, like a messenger from the other side. And maybe it was. But only an artist of some kind would have comprehended the timely love note. Many of his songs are written about everyday incidents or people who made eternal impressions on him. They and their spirits have been kept alive by his soulful lyrics.

George Ensle sings about the here and the now as well, about his wife, his daughter, red neck neighbors who never throw anything away, yet always aware that God had woven himself through every person and incident and facet of our lives. George Ensle reminds us of the miracles that we once saw, and the ones we might miss if we quit looking for them. He is no angel, but he is definitely a messenger from the other side.

Ray Wylie Hubbard

Finally the moment that so many of us had been looking forward to for months… Ray Wylie Hubbard and his band took front and center, at 9:00. I missed the first song, unready to finish a conversation, but came out into the frozen night as Hubbard, garbed like a ragged Afghani mountain hermit, delivered one of his latest hits, “Snake Farm.” The absurdity was soon obvious, as the song unfolded. Snake farm is a dry, sultry story of a guy who sneaks over on hot summer afternoons and makes love to a steamy tattooed siren who runs a reptile house. Any self-respecting snake on this night would be under a rock, or be as stiff as roadkill. The song proved Hubbard's power of suggestion though, as the crowd cheered and suspended disbelief. Hey, if Ray Wylie Hubbard sang snake in freezing weather, we still got the creeps. But when the song called for him to do that cute little “oooewe-heh” at the end of every verse, he could barely get it out. His mouth seemed to open as if almost frozen shut, and just vapors came out! The crowd tried vainly to fill in for him.

He joked about brain freeze, like after you eat a whole ice cream cone real fast. That was what playing up there was like. Finally he pulled out his harmonica, and right before putting it in his mouth, he stopped and smiled and put it into the propane heater onstage for a half-minute. “It’s sorta like the kid that licked the flagpole…” he chuckled.

He told the crowd about driving Mance Lipscomb to Oklahoma when still a young man, just getting into the music business. He and a friend once drove down from Arlington to Navasota to carry Mance to an engagement in Oklahoma City. He, like many artists who have appeared here in the past few months, loved and admired our own Mance Lipscomb as a downright nice person, as well as a talented picker. Later he introduced his devoted band, who played like real, if not freeze-dried rock stars, even his sixteen year old son, Lucas, who effortlessly plays lead guitar. Hubbard seemed to really enjoy his son’s budding talent, which would put most players to shame. The boy has such poise and finesse at such a young age, you have to wonder if he might one day eclipse his father, and probably nobody would be happier than him if he did. Hubbard’s bass player told me that he goes to regular school, and has to make good grades to get to go on the road on weekends. Seeing father and son crack the winter sky together was worth the price of admission.

They played “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers,” Hubbard’s historic Texas Classic, first recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker and others. And “We’re from Texas, Screw You,” a song he wrote in a musicians lounge in Corpus Christi after being insulted by people who just wanted him to sing Nashville country songs.

Hubbard started writing and delivering his Texas flavored songs decades ago, when Waylon and Willie were breaking in a new sound called progressive country, the “Austin Sound” and others like Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphy, David Allen Coe, Rusty Wier, Guy Clarke and Steve Fromholtz brought critical mass to the movement. He helped to put Texas music on the map, and he is justly proud of it. Now he is a grizzled veteran of the industry, with more miles on him than my ’50 Chevy. But he still loves his crowd, and plays like a humble servant of the masses. When the crowd, half-frozen, begged for more, and he was beginning to look green around the gills, and he had already sung his “last song,” the crowd pleaded for another verse… of Redneck Mother. He argued, he had already played that… And then I screamed “Play Rabbit.” He looked at me disbelievingly. “What? ”

“Play Rabbit”

“I played it at the very beginning!”

“I missed it…” (I was inside in the warm, eating Sarah’s hot chili) I was thinking to myself, say “Play one for Mance,” but thought better of it.

He put his guitar back on, and just like Mance used to do, made his son play one more song.We were all frozen by then… literally and figuratively, and elated, and crazy with power, having just gotten Ray Wylie Hubbard to sing a song he had already sung. And he played it reeeeal fast and ran inside the Corner Café, into the warm and signed autographs and visited over the counter with Phil, and promised to return. And in our hearts, we all did.

Beau Hinze

Beau Hinze lit up the Corner Café Friday night. It was a special treat just for his devoted fans; a private concert with a good meal in a nice place. It was all very cozy, with his faithful followers from Washington County and beyond, turning out and leaving few chairs to spare. A few non- Brenhamites got seats, and I was one of those privileged few. Hinze is from just across the river… and speaks of the remote crossroads known as Independence and William Penn like I do… he sings unpretentiously about the people and places that I have grown so fond of over the past thirty years, as I have painted the bluebonnets “Plein air” along the Hidalgo Bluffs in Washington County. And that’s just the problem.

Beau is a very talented singer-songwriter, a truly gifted entertainer, and his band is primo. He is going places. I hear his song all the time on the radio. The one called “Dumbass Rusty” about the guy who goes on a stealin’ binge and ends up dead. He sang a new one about a guy who got murdered, but was found headless. I liked it better than the ones about the girls with dirty hair, the Bud Lite girls with their britches painted on, or the one that names every flavor of Boone’s Farm wine. Then he sang a promising song about his grandfathers… that was, damn it, also about drinkin’. So if you’re a Beau fan, don’t get mad at me if I say I HATE drinkin’ songs. Even my all-time favorite, Rusty Wier lost me when he began to waste his song, crooning about Cuervo’s Gold. So that means I really didn’t care, to be kind, for much of Beau’s show. Yet.

Watching and listening to Beau, a young, likable, budding star
, singing on and on about what is apparently the importance of alcoholic drinks in his life, made me think some deep thoughts, as I fondled my Shiner… And it was probably because so many of his songs are so obsessed with drinking, beer, wine, whiskey, and other relatively mindless preoccupations. Those Washington County Germans sure love their beer. Still, it seemed infantile for song after song to be so centered in the culture of alcohol. I wondered if Beau could possibly be that shallow. Or that far gone, when the whole world is struggling with issues of addiction and drunk driving and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Now my closest friends know I love beer, even though I gave it up for twenty years after my ordination as a Baptist deacon. I abstained as the SBC had requested until I left the Baptist denomination. Twenty years, even though most of my non-deacon Baptist friends snuck a little drinking in whenever they could. Everybody winked like it was a private joke. They were getting away with something. Still, I grew to understand that a lot of folks need a non-alcohol environment, because they have a problem with abuse or addiction. So I lived with the foolishness and the hypocrisy too long.

I told you, deep thoughts…

So I’m not a prude or anything about alcohol. I am an artist… and a writer… maybe a little bit of a philosopher, and I expect more out of such talent as this… this bohemian Brazos bottom beer bard. "To whom much is given, much is expected." And then I put the dipstick in my own pocket.

I thought about my bluebonnet paintings. They are my bread and butter. Many folks, art connoisseurs, look down on them as too commercial, unoriginal, trite, appealing to unsophisticated tastes, ineligible for true art. An artist has to really be good to take on old, seemingly worn out standards and do them in such a way as to establish himself as the new king of the hill. Until he does, he is just another hack. No matter how good he is. I wondered if art collectors looked upon my bluebonnet paintings the same way I looked upon Beau’s boozin’ tunes. They probably do. Fondling my shiner, (You can use that for a song if you want to, Beau) I wondered if Beau was as sincere as an artist about his boozin’ tunes as I was about my lupinus texanus. He may be. Just like a twelve year old would be if he wrote songs about his penis. There is nothing like the age of discovery. Everything is new and wonderful, even Bud Lite girls with their pants painted on. I gotta admit, Beau made me smile. He and his band are damn good and a lot of fun, and that is more than I can say for all of the paintings I have ever made.

Beau snatched me as a loyal fan with his last song of the evening. A real promising piece called Flathead Yellow Named Undertow. It reminded me of all the hearty river rats and “noodlers” I have ever known that answered the call of the behemoth river catfish, catfish so big they might drown a man. It is a great song. It ranks right up there with David Lutes’ Rise Up Elijah and Kevin Higgins’ tornado song called Out in the Fields… We have seen and heard the very best Americana we will ever hear, … right here in Navasota Texas.

I was sitting there, tired after an exhausting week, thinking about how glad I was that I came, to hear this kid, knowing he would soon be too big to appear in such a small venue here in Navasota. The drinking will fade away… I hope… “when I was a child, I thought as child, spoke as a child, and then one day I put away childish things.” I look forward to what kind of an artist Beau will be, when he grows up, and until then, I’m going to enjoy being a kid whenever I listen to his CD. It’s called UNDERTOW.

And Beau, someday I’ll see you on the bluffs. And maybe we’ll have a beer…

Michael Martin Murphy

“You never realize how much you need wild men ‘til they’re gone”....
Michael Murphy

OK, so Michael Murphy was not that wild, and I wasn’t either, but the thing about being wild at heart is telling yourself anything can happen… and hoping it will. Most of us are just wild in our minds. Everybody I know is a something that always want to do something else. We often live dual lives, just like Walter Mitty, a complicated weave of habits and fantasies where we are constantly the more exotic and poetic journeyman, doing something relatively mundane, for the moment. I’ve usually been the cowboy who paints or sculpts as a sideline between running a sign or remodeling business, and dabbling with theology and history and antiquities. That’s on Monday. But basically I’m an artist, who wants to be a writer. I know a writer that wants to be a musician, a musician that wants to be a horsetrader, and a horsetrader that wants to be a dozer driver. A psychologist that wants to be a restaurateur, a lawyer that wants to be a farmer, even an insurance adjuster who wants to be a marriage counselor with a gameboard. People dream. And for some people, their dreams are what make their lives bearable.
And somewhere, sometime, perhaps at a very early age, Michael Murphy wanted to be a cowboy. A free spirited kid from Oak Cliff in Dallas, he forged a raw and unique sound with his squeaky voice and guitar, and went to California like everyone from Texas does when they want to make it in the music business. He wrote songs like crazy, and some were like crazy, and he sold them to cover stallions like Kenny Rogers and the Monkees. That’s right, the Monkees. He even teamed up with fellow Texan Michael Nesmith, the tall boyish looking Monkee, and recorded an album. It was a long way from home on the range. And Murphy knew that whatever it was, it was not IT.

When I first knew about him, he was already a veteran songsmith. Dubbed the "Cosmic Cowboy," the voice I discovered on the radio was the result of years of hammering out a style and a stage personality, with so many varied influences that Michael Murphy had almost become a chameleon. He could sing like a cranky, sunburned prospector, or a choir boy, or Hank Williams, or a ditzy flower child. One song like Rainbow Man could be a Beatles hit, another like Geronimo’s Cadillac became a Native American anthem. Rolling Stone proclaimed him the best new songwriter in the Country. Yet in all his lyrics, real, boots and saddle cowboys scarcely ever emerged from the images he created.

It was as if Michael was avoiding the obvious, denying this quintessential American hero as much as the God that he had learned about in Sunday School. They were good, and he was a bad boy, a wild child, at least for now. The cowboy in him had to wait. At that point, he was a Dallas kid that wanted to be an intellectual. And he was. The 70’s Michael Murphy gave you poignant lyrics and tasty music, full of all the influences he could draw upon, blues, country, rock, folk, even Spanish and German ethnic music. In his mind it was all these forces that came together to make Texas music. He was a student of these influences and the talented mixer between them. It was a rich sound that has rarely ever been matched.

I sure did love it, but it was not ever going to take Michael Murphy on a fast trip to the top. It was a melancholy kind of success. One of his band members, Gary P. Nunn wrote a song while they were recording in London, and it said it all. Lonesome Homesick Blues defined more than a wild afternoon at Luchenbach, Texas. Although it was a big rowdy hit with Jerry Jeff and the Lost Gonzo Band, it was written and delivered as a pitifully sad song. “I wanna go home with the armadillo” was almost the self-fulfilling prophesy of the Progressive Country movement. Tectonic music shifts were already reshaping the music landscape, and most of the "Austin Sound" entertainers would melt into regional obscurity. For one thing, Nashville got the message, and began to incorporate more contemporary and experimental sounds.

Ironically, coincidentally, incredibly, I have recently met Gary P. and Bob Livingston, both former members of Murphy’s band back then, right here in Navasota. Both super entertainers, songwriters and story tellers, today they are playing for pennies compared to their real value. Art trends are heartless, relentless tides that overwhelm all but the most cunning swimmers. There are so many excellent musicians out there, who were good enough to spellbind countless thousands for a season, who have been left behind as somebody younger or more trendy usurped them, in a constant cycle of the new and sensational trumping yesterday’s genius.

When sales dipped, he searched the airwaves for a magic bullet, something to hang his hat on. Something bigger than one artist, and big enough for one more talent, where there was a built-in audience; readymade, just waiting for his innovations. Someplace that felt like home.

There was something about garden variety country music that was unappealing to him. Perhaps he had spent too many years scoffing at it. When he shocked Warner Brothers with his project, of recording old cowboy songs, he met with a few raised eyebrows. Michael Murphy, the bluesy, rocky, folky, wild child, Rainbow man, crackin’ up in Las Cruces, progressive country outlaw, Austin sound founder, Michael Murphy, suddenly …wanted to be… a cowboy. Gene Autry. Roy Rogers. Many might have suggested that the Dallas boy cracked up in Las Cruces was just plain cracked. That was in 1990.

Michael found new musicians and had begun to sing under his full name, Michael Martin Murphy. He was finally becoming complete. He had found the music he wanted to be married to. When he began to hang out with other artists of that genre, he found instant, lifelong compadres. In fact, he found it to be like a religious experience, and indeed it was. He and his music were never the same. And the words and the hope and patriotism and Faith behind them began to resonate within, until the new Michael Martin Murphy evolved, and through numerous successful albums featuring old- fashioned cowboy music, he has become the single most influential cowboy singer of our generation. He is credited by all interested in this genre has having single handedly revived American cowboy poetry and music.
Murphy now has ranches and cattle and a wife and family. Unlike the youthful skeptic of the 70’s, he speaks of Jesus as if he has met him. And now he sings with one voice. And he has found a small but steady crowd, that represents the backbone of this country, that appreciates his message and his gift for song. His show makes a strong statement about patriotism, faith, family & support for troops and local police. Everyone grins, remembering that this child of the sixties would probably have been booed by his audiences for the same comments 25 years ago… And Murphy meets his doubters head on. He has become a bastion of cowboy logic. He even has a song by that name. He explains that people ask him what’s the difference between Country music and Cowboy music...
“The difference between Country music and Cowboy music… is Cowboy music is good.”

Murphy explains in more diplomatic terms that Country music has become the music of drunks and bars and adulterers. Country music finds the lowest common denominator, and he is reaching for a higher level of existence. Cowboy music is GOOD. As in good versus evil. Both are true, and a form of reality. But just as Michael Murphy was once a singer-songwriter that wanted to be a cowboy, he has over time become a cowboy that wants to be a leader of men. You can read in other blogs here in the Navasota Current about his participation in a forum discussion about the Cowboy Church movemnent. And he was right on target when he aimed his music and his intellect at the Christian Right, who could stand an injection of fresh thought. He wants to impart values and ideals. No longer such a wild man, he wants to be a positive force in a negative world.

Michael Martin Murphy has found the place where he will hang his hat, until Jesus comes. He believes that Jesus is the answer. And even if his crowds are smaller now than those he has entertained at Carnegie Hall, or many places all over the world, he seems to know they are his real friends, his forever audience, the ones he knows understand the cowboy way, and his journey, and the end of the trail for all of us.

Rick Droit

Rick Summer Droit and Tami Griffin came from opposite directions to meet on the Corner Cafe stage. True to Phil's impeccable taste in music, their convergence led to an especially intimate and delightfully varied constellation of original songs.

Rick is the songwriter and guitar picker, and is masterful at both. Tami laces classical flute throughout his songs that polishes them with a powerful serenity. The two create a deep, mature sound together that reveals rare talent and love for the music. Rick's versatile ability serves up songs that come from many influences, and he would be impossible to label. Not unless there is a name for music that is forged from the crucible of bluegrass, folk, rock, blues and Celtic.

His songs are romantic and winsome and he shares them with laid back professionalism, making his performance a welcome escape from a hectic week. They played with admirable respect to the audience, which was really small... But the energy between them was so real that the audience and its size was irrelevant.
I especially liked a song called Horse Sense. And I loved a bluesy song called Born Under a Bad Sign. Droit simultaneously and deftly plays a driving scramble of guitar finger-picking as he blows his riveting harmonica. And they debuted a new song called Wild Mustangs Can't Keep Us Apart...where they banter back and forth, that should be a hit someday. "Do you hear the words I say? Are they scattered across the Milky Way?..."

The celestial convergance lasted as they visited Blues Alley the next morning and took some pictures and purchased some things. We talked about bottle digging, records, and blues of course! Nice folks... Sure hope they can come back and give us a chance to show them a better audience. If not, they sure showed Navasota a great performance.

1 comment:

  1. I sure enjoyed our performance there at The Corner Cafe, and dearly enjoyed meeting y'all at Blues Alley. .hope to get back your way soon! Thanks for the great review