Archive for January, 2011

Live: Rodney Crowell, Houston

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , on January 31, 2011 by 30daysout

Rodney Crowell, singing in his hometown at Cactus Music & Record Ranch.

It was a typically low key homecoming for one of Houston’s favorite musical sons – Rodney Crowell walked in the front door of Cactus Music & Record Ranch on Monday, guitar case in hand, and asked, “Are you ready?”  With little fanfare, one of the greatest songwriters of the past few decades sat on the record store’s small stage and started picking a blues tune.

“That one was by Lightnin’ Hopkins,” said Crowell afterward.  “How about another one from a Houston songwriter?  Townes Van Zandt.”  Then he did one by Guy Clark, then he did one of his own songs.  More covers, from Tom T. Hall and Willie Nelson (“He’s an honorary Houston songwriter, I suppose,” Crowell said) before Crowell played another of his compositions, “Banks of the Ol’ Bandera.”

About that song, he said he was staying in a hotel near the Texas town of Bandera when he wrote that song.  He played it fresh out of the wrapper for Bee Spears, Willie Nelson’s bass player, and after only hearing it once Spears turned around and played it for someone else.  “Before you know it, Jerry Jeff Walker was recording it,” Crowell said, “after it was only heard once removed.”

That’s not surprising, considering the prowess of Rodney Crowell, who became one of Nashville’s top talents in the 1980s and 1990s.  He hit first as a songwriter, penning “Shame On The Moon” for Bob Seger and “Ain’t Living Long Like This” for Emmylou Harris.  Then he was a producer, working on a number of albums for his wife at the time, Rosanne Cash.  Then Crowell became a bonafide country singing star with the 1988 album Diamonds and Dirt, which spawned an amazing five No. 1 country singles.

On this afternoon, Crowell’s intent was to promote not only the evening’s gig but also his new book, Chinaberry Sidewalks.  The book is an autobiographical look at Crowell’s upbringing in Houston by his hard-drinking, country-singing father and his Bible-thumping mother.  Apparently the book stops before it can get into Crowell’s musical career; the heart of the story is the turbulent but loving relationship he had with his dysfunctional parents.

Crowell wrote the book – without the help of a ghost writer – over a 10-year period.  “You know me,” he said, “I gotta do it all myself.  If I’d used a ghost writer it would have been finished a long time ago.”  This in-store was supposed to have a little music and some reading of passages from the book, but Rodney Crowell got lost in the music and forgot about the prose.  No complaints.

MP3: “Moving Work Of Art”

MP3: “Earthbound”

MP3: “Sex and Gasoline”

MP3: “Ain’t Living Long Like This”

Rodney Crowell official website

Chinaberry Sidewalks at Amazon.com

YouTube: Rodney Crowell at Cactus, performing “Long Hard Road” (thanks to Ludachris56)

Rodney Crowell at BookPeople, Austin, performing Guy Clark’s “Stuff That Works”

“Telephone Road” at Gruene Hall, Texas, on 1-29-11


Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Dave Mason & Cass Elliott

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , on January 29, 2011 by 30daysout

Continuing our month’s worth of duet albums (ending on the weekend before Valentine’s Day), we listen today to the unlikely pairing of former Traffic guitarist/singer Dave Mason and Cass Elliott, of the Mamas and the Papas.  Released in 1971, Dave Mason & Cass Elliott serves as a followup to Mason’s solo debut, Alone Together (1970).  Elliott had released a couple solo LPs in the late 1960s but when she cut this album with Mason the Mamas and the Papas were still an active group.

Mason is, of course, the odd man out in Traffic, the guy who wrote such pop-rock classics as “Feelin’ Alright” and “Hole In My Shoe” to balance out the jazz-rock-blues influence of Steve Winwood.  He co-founded the group, left after its first album, participated only in part of the recording of the second album, then the group broke up.  Traffic re-formed in 1970 without Mason, because he was on his way as a solo artist.  Mason was also known for appearing on recordings by other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix (“All Along The Watchtower”), George Harrison (All Things Must Pass) and Graham Nash-David Crosby (“Immigration Man”).

Mason met Elliott through a mutual friend, and both artists sought out the collaborative atmosphere of recording with a group.  Because it was originally planned as a Dave Mason solo work, Dave Mason & Cass Elliott isn’t really a true “duet” album – Mason writes most of the songs and sings most of the leads with Elliott merely chiming in with background vocals.  She does get a few “spotlight” vocals, most notably “Here We Go Again,” which she wrote with Bryan Garo.  Cass also co-wrote, with Mason, “Something To Make You Happy,” which would become the lead single off the album.

This is a good example of the solid work that the era’s superstars excelled in.  Relaxed without sounding forced, mellow without being too wimpy, Dave Mason & Cass Elliott is a class work from both artists.  Mason wrote some of his best songs for this album, and Elliott’s unselfish work on vocals help produce a very listenable album.  I’ve seen reviews that describe this as “bland and predictable,” which was the criticism for much of Mason’s later solo work, but I think Dave Mason & Cass Elliott is a nice, breezy 1970s West Coast middle-of-the-road rock album.

Elliott would continue her solo career with more albums, television appearances and the occasional acting gig.  In 1974, she had just performed a series of sold-out shows when she died in her sleep of a heart attack.  She was 32.  Mason would continue his solo career with moderate success, including the Top 20 hit “We Just Disagree” in 1977.  He joined Fleetwood Mac briefly in the 1990s and continues to perform live shows and record sporadically today.

MP3: “To Be Free”

MP3: “Something To Make You Happy”

MP3: “Here We Go Again”

MP3: “Glittering Facade”

Check the other duets we’ve spun in recent weeks

Super Bowl Halftimes That Will Never Happen

Posted in Rock Rant with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by 30daysout

Remember this? From Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)

The big Super Bowl game is coming up, this year it’s in the new Cowboys Stadium up in Arlington, and it got me to thinking about the halftime.  Now these things pretty much exist only to please advertisers and, I suppose, people in the stadium.  For us millions of TV viewers the Super Bowl halftimes are usually a losing proposition.

A wardrobe malfunction might be welcome during this year's show with the Black Eyed Peas

We had a Super Bowl in Houston, back in 2004, and the MTV-produced halftime at that event included performances by Britney Spears, Kid Rock, Nelly, P. Diddy and of course, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.  So after that holocaust they’ve had more mainstream rock acts – Paul McCartney, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, the Who – who were not really as exciting as they are in a regular two-hour concert.  The halftime performers in Dallas this year will be the Black Eyed Peas, so maybe they want to get the demographic a little younger again.  You watch: one of these years it’s going to be “American Idol” winners/runners up and the cast from “Glee,” and it will be very popular – and truly deadly.

Anyhow, we were thinking about some acts that we’d like to play the Super Bowl halftime, if only because they would never be asked to do this in real life.  Think of this as our Fantasy Super Bowl Halftime Act list, like your weird still-single uncle’s Fantasy Football Team.  We helpfully included some stats and a small dose of reality, as explanation why this could never happen.

KISS – The hard rockin’ kabuki-faced quartet is known around the world, they like to “party” and they are rich enough to be their own sponsors.  What’s not to like about Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and co.?  Although you certainly can’t tell with all that makeup, Simmons and Stanley are certainly old enough to qualify as Senior Classic Rockers.  And another plus: they bring their own pyro!

Rookie season: 1973     Recent triumph: Sonic Boom, which went to No. 2 in 2009

Playlist: “Strutter”/”Detroit Rock City”/”Calling Dr. Love”/”Beth”/”Rock and Roll All Nite”

Why they’ll never play halftime: Actually, I bet they will in the next few years. (Editor’s note: KISS did perform during opening ceremonies for Super Bowl XXXIII, in Miami in 1999.)

Neil Diamond – Newly accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after years of being ignored, Neil certainly has a flashy enough stage show to play the Super Bowl.  He rocked the pop charts in the late 1960s-early 1970s, he’s successfully played Vegas and in recent years he has made a bit of a comeback with some mellow new material.  He would get the Grannies rockin’ during halftime; keep a defibrillator handy!

Rookie season: 1962     Recent triumph: Hot August Night/NYC in multiple formats, available at a Wal-Mart near you!

Playlist: “I’m A Believer”/”Solitary Man”/”I Am … I Said”/”Play Me”/”Cracklin’ Rosie”

Why Neil will never play halftime: “Dad, who’s that old guy?”  “What’s wrong with his hair?” “Hey, Grandma’s breathing heavy!” “Call an ambulance!” (The last one could be used in the stadium as well.)

Willie Nelson/Bob Dylan: Personally, I’d love to see this one.  What a package deal – Willie could come up and sing some reggae songs about smoking weed, then he could bring Dylan up to mumble one or two of his classics in a strange rhythm that would require subtitles for the TV audience.  Nelson can – and does – play with everyone, and Dylan has been touring continuously since about 1969.

Rookie season: Nelson – 1960; Dylan – 1961    Recent triumph: Nelson – Country Music (2010); Dylan – Christmas In The Heart (2009)

Playlist:  Nelson – “On The Road Again”/”Crazy”/”Funny How Time Slips Away”  Dylan – (Unintelligible)/(Unintelligible)/(Unintelligible)

Why they will never play halftime: Their combined ages total up to 146 years.  After the performance you’d have to wake everyone up, including the stadium audience and football players.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Stooges – The punk rock godfathers, still going strong in their sixth decade, have enough energy to power through a rockin’ two-hour show so they’d be great for a Super Bowl halftime.  Guitarist Ron Asheton could bring the thunder, but he died in 2009; current guitarist James Williamson (from the Raw Power era) is flashy and almost as good.  They could be sponsored by Cialis and Geritol and the network won’t have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction on lead singer Iggy Pop – he never wears a shirt anyway.

Rookie season: 1967   Recent triumph: Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Playlist: “Search and Destroy”/”No Fun”/”TV Eye”/”I Wanna Be Your Dog”

Why they will never play halftime: “My d**k is turning into a tree” (lyrics from “Trollin'”)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Ozzy Osbourne: What red-blooded rock and roller would not welcome a Super Bowl halftime appearance by the Prince of F***ing Darkness?  Currently on a U.S. tour, Ozzy is rocking audiences with Black Sabbath classics and his choice solo gems.  Booking Ozzy could be the ultimate act of heresy, as it may encourage millions of youngsters to worship something besides wholesome professional sports, shameless corporate pandering and the single-minded pursuit of money.

Rookie season: 1969   Recent triumph: Scream, and his 2011 tour to support that album

Playlist: “Mr. Crowley”/”Iron Man”/”Let Me Hear You Scream”/”Crazy Train”/”Paranoid”

Why he will never play halftime: He’s the Prince of F***ing Darkness

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: George Jones & Tammy Wynette

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , on January 23, 2011 by 30daysout

We had a lot of fun a few weeks ago with the duet album featuring Gregg Allman and his wife at the time, Cher.  So much fun, in fact, that I’ve dug up a few more duet LPs from my sister’s record collection, and we’ll be spinning those in the next few weeks.  Today we have a duet album from two artists who also happened to be husband and wife: George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

So we have Golden Ring, from 1976, which is one of about 10 albums recorded by the two country icons but it’s usually considered to be their best.  Jones, the honey-voiced singer with a long line of country hits, and Wynette, herself no slouch in the hits department, married in 1969. Jones was no stranger to duets – he had previously cut duet albums with Melba Montgomery and the male singer Gene Pitney (“Town Without Pity”). When Jones-Wynette went into the recording studio together, they were really extending a time-honored tradition in pop music. The early 1960s saw duets from the likes of Paul and Paula, Dale and Grace and Marvin Gaye-Mary Wells.  George n’ Tammy weren’t even the first husband-wife duet team: Steve & Eydie worked in the 1950s, and in the ’60s of course you had Johnny & June, Ike & Tina and Sonny & Cher. But here’s the twist: when they cut Golden Ring, George and Tammy were divorced!

Golden Ring was the seventh duet album cut by Jones-Wynette, and it took as its title tune a story conceived by Nashville songwriter Bobby Braddock.  He saw a TV show about a handgun that changed hands, and the drama showed the consequences of each person’s experiences with the gun. Braddock transferred the idea to a wedding ring and a series of incidents through the life of a young couple. Being a country song, you know how it goes: the couple are all lovey-dovey in the first verse, they get married in the second verse and the third verse takes us down the road as they break up when she tosses the ring on the floor and walks out.

Naturally “Golden Ring” was a No. 1 country single. So was “Near You,” the followup single that charted in 1977.  Maybe the fact that their divorce was still fresh and they had a young daughter gave extra emotion to the vocal performances. You can hear for yourself, these two singers were at the top of their game, and they had some great material to work with. Perhaps the best song here is “I’ve Seen Better Days,” which tells the story of a D-I-V-O-R-C-E and features a nakedly emotional performance by Wynette.

The album is full of cleverly chosen covers: “Cryin’ Time” was a Ray Charles song, “I’ll Be There” was a hit for Ray Price, as was “If You Don’t Somebody Else Will.” “Tattletale Eyes” is a perfect jukebox song, and “Keep The Change” ends the album with two lovers talking and goin’ over the good times.  Billy Sherrill produced this album, as he did all of Wynette’s recordings, and it has a satisfying blend of classic country touches (the weepy steel guitar) and orchestral flourishes that would later become the countrypolitan sound. Jones’ older records were rougher and rawer (perhaps more influenced by the rowdier Bakersfield sound), and when he left Musicor and went to Epic to work with Sherrill his sound became smoother and pop-oriented.

Wynette went on to marry a couple more times after her divorce from Jones; her final marriage, to producer George Richey in 1978, lasted until her death in 1998. Jones would go into his notorious drug-and-alcohol period, earning the nickname “No Show Jones” for missing his booked shows.  He married Nancy Sepulvado in 1983 and she not only became his manager, she also helped him dry out. Now a 79-year-old godfather of country music, George Jones continues to perform and show the young guys how it’s really done.

MP3: “Golden Ring”

MP3: “Tattletale Eyes”

MP3: “I’ve Seen Better Days”

MP3: “Cryin’ Time”

Live: Daniel Johnston, Austin

Posted in News with tags , on January 22, 2011 by 30daysout

Daniel Johnston performs a few songs for birthday well-wishers in Austin.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to our Austin correspondent Lily Angelle for the photos and the report from Daniel Johnston’s short birthday party.

On Saturday, the singer/songwriter/artist Daniel Johnston turned 50 and he celebrated with a couple of personal appearances in Austin. After a short visit to Waterloo Records, Johnston turned up at his famous “Hi, How Are You” mural (at the corner of 21st and Guadalupe, across from the University of Texas campus).

Well-wishers sang him “Happy Birthday” then Johnston pulled out an acoustic guitar to sing a few of his own songs. Then he posed for a few photos with fans and that was it. Happy Birthday, Daniel.

"Happy Birthday" meets "Hi, How Are You"

Johnston, who lives in Waller, Texas, just northwest of Houston, is the “outsider” rocker who became famous when he started handing out tapes to people in Austin and when Nirvana guitarist/singer Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt with Johnston’s “Hi, How Are You” painting to an MTV event in 1992. Cobain professed his love for “pure underground music” and talked up Johnston’s music. The image originally appeared on a 1983 album cover, and 10 years later Johnston was asked to recreate the frog painting on the side of a Sound Exchange record store.

The mural has remained to this day, even though the store has transformed itself a couple of times (it’s now a sushi restaurant). And recent additions to the picture by vandals didn’t seem to bother Johnston, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’s certainly a beloved artist among New York and California types, and his songs have been covered by a number of musicians.

MP3: “I Live My Broken Dreams”

MP3: “Fake Records of Rock and Roll”

MP3: “Freedom”

MP3: “I Had Lost My Mind”

MP3: “Love Wheel”

YouTube: Daniel Johnston performing at his 50th birthday event in Austin


YouTube: Daniel Johnston performing “Speeding Motorcycle” at Fitzgerald’s in Houston, Jan. 14, 2011.

YouTube: “True Love Will Find You In The End”

Daniel Johnston’s official “Hi, How Are You” website

Lily Angelle and Jave Del Rosario with Daniel Johnston (center), naturally.

Hi, How Are You

Houston, the Action Town

Posted in Rock Rant with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2011 by 30daysout

In a few months the world (at least, that part of the world which still listens to real music) will turn its ears toward Austin, Texas, for the annual mecca of indie/alt/punk/experimental/folk/whatever acts called South by Southwest.  We love Austin and all, but that’s not why we’re here today.

No, we want to talk a bit about our hometown – Houston.  Contrary to popular impression, Houston’s actually a rockin’ place. It’s a BIG rockin’ place. Yes, Houston is one of the biggest cities in the country and we do have all of the good and bad stuff that comes with being a huge metropolis. The one thing Houston doesn’t have, apparently, is a rock and roll identity like our neighbors to the west. (By the way, for those of you who’ve never been to Texas, Austin is a much smaller place than Houston. Houston could put Austin in its jeans pocket – just sayin’.)

So let’s take a little whirlwind tour of Houston, to share with you good folks some of the great stuff we have here.

A mural in Houston's House of Blues featuring, from left: Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Big Mama Thornton, Lightnin' Hopkins and Albert Collins.

Some really cool people are identified with Houston.  Yes, ZZ Top calls Houston its hometown.  So does Beyonce.  If you’re a regular reader here, you’ve seen me talk about Lightnin’ Hopkins, born and raised in Houston and lived here.  Johnny “Guitar” Watson was born here, too. But many rockin’ people at one point or another called Houston their headquarters – Big Mama Thornton, Albert Collins, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Gatemouth Brown, Clifton Chenier, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and many more. In fact, Houston is known as a “blues capital.” Down here we still celebrate Juneteenth with a festival; in the past it’s featured Muddy Waters and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

It could also be a country-folk capital.  Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen are Houston natives, and great songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams and Johnny Bush have held residencies in Houston.  Hell, Willie Nelson was living in Houston when he wrote three of his greatest songs: “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Crazy.”

What used to be Gold Star Studio is located in Houston. The studio was the place where people like Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Sir Douglas Quintet, George Jones, the Big Bopper, Roy Head and Freddy Fender cut the big hits that made them stars. In the 1960s, the studio was the hub for Houston-based record label International Artists Record Company and served as the main studio for clients like the 13th Floor Elevators, the Red Krayola, Bubble Puppy, The Bad Seeds and the Moving Sidewalks (featuring young Billy Gibbons). Because of that, you can make a convincing argument that Houston is right up there with San Francisco as one of the birthplaces of psychedelic music. The studio name was changed to Sugar Hill Studios by producer Huey P. Meaux in the 1970s, and it’s still a happenin’ place for local bands as well as visiting superstars.

"The Beatles" by David Adickes - You got something like this in your city? Well, do ya?

We have this huge four-part statue, “The Beatles,” by local sculptor David Adickes.  Each Fab Four member is about four stories tall, and right now they reside in a storage area near downtown while they wait to be moved to a more prominent area.  We also have a House of Blues – nice music and OK restaurant.  You know that famous club in Austin, the Continental Club?  Well, we have one too.

For more than half a century, Houston has hosted one of the largest rodeo events in the world. And each year the event features country, soul, Tejano, pop and rock artists playing right after the Chuck Wagon Races.  (You ever been to a Chuck Wagon Race?  Awesome.) At the rodeo we’ve seen Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, the Texas Tornados and – way back in 1974 – Elvis Presley.  This year, we have tickets to see KISS – and they were only 18 bucks apiece.

For many years the rodeo took place in the cavernous Astrodome, home not only to the Astros baseball team and the Oilers football team but also a venue for demolition derbies (Evel Knievel jumped a bunch of cars there), basketball tournaments (UH vs. UCLA, 1968, featuring Elvin Hayes and Lew Alcindor), tennis (Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs, 1973), pro wrestling (Wrestlemania VII, 2001) and a veritable butt-load of rock and roll including the Rolling Stones, U2, Metallica & Guns n’ Roses on the same bill, the Texxas Jam, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Madonna.  We saw “The Biggest Party in History” in 1989 with the Who and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bob Dylan’s “Night of the Hurricane” in 1976.  And in 2005 more than 25,000 refugees from New Orleans bunked in at the Dome after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their city.

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Video of the Week: Batusi!

Posted in News with tags , , on January 21, 2011 by 30daysout

Sorry we haven’t posted lately, it’s been a busy week here in lovely Houston.  Actually we’re still recovering from Tuesday night’s spectacular Ozzy/Slash show … as we complete our recuperation please enjoy this clip from TV’s “Batman,” featuring the best Batusi ever!

Bonus clip: Batman and Robin vs. Green Hornet and Kato!