Archive for Townes Van Zandt

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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Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Singles, Part 10 – B-sides!

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , on September 6, 2010 by 30daysout

We wrap up our Labor Day singles sock hop rock-a-thon with a few B-sides, some very famous, some legendary and some totally unknown.

In 1970 Led Zeppelin cut its classic Led Zeppelin III, and the first single off that album was “Immigrant Song.”  The flip side was “Hey, Hey What Can I Do.”  The song was the only non-album track Zeppelin would offer up during its career, and for the longest time the only way you could hear it was on a scratchy single (or through the benevolence of a local radio DJ), but it’s since appeared on some Led Zeppelin box sets and as a bonus track on the Coda CD.

MP3: “Hey, Hey What Can I Do” by Led Zeppelin

Elvis had a pink cadillac, John Prine called an album Pink Cadillac, and Bruce Springsteen cut “Pink Cadillac” during his sessions for Born In The U.S.A. in 1984.  Appearing on the flip of “Dancing In The Dark,” Springsteen’s Cadillac got a lot of mileage during his 1984-85 world tour and received radio play worldwide.  The song has since appeared on a few of the Boss’s compilations and Tracks sets.

MP3: “Pink Cadillac” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Townes Van Zandt is perhaps the godfather of Texas singer/songwriters.  Before his death in 1997 he wrote and recorded a number of classics, and he has influenced the current generation of Lone Star pickers, like Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen.  “Dirty Old Town” is the Ewan MacColl song most famously covered by The Pogues, and Townes cut it in 1996 at one of his last recording sessions.  “Dirty Old Town” is the B-side of “Riding The Range,” released on single by a German company in 1999.

MP3: “Dirty Old Town” by Townes Van Zandt

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Rock Moment: Texas Cosmic Cowboys

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by 30daysout

John Angelle at Threadgill's restaurant, under the big Freddie King painting that once hung in the Armadillo World HQ

It’s been a busy week for us, and we must apologize for not tending the blog recently.  We’ve done a few interviews in advance of South by Southwest, those are coming soon and we have some other cool stuff on the horizon – promise.

Today we want to give you something for the weekend … a little remembrance of the Texas “cosmic cowboy” movement of the 1970s.  The other day we mentioned Shiva’s Headband, the psychedelic country rockers partially responsible for the creation of the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin.   But even before the Armadillo, Texas’ capital city was a mecca for young longhairs who liked country music.

I suppose Michael Murphey coined the phrase “cosmic cowboy” back in 1973, on his album Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir.  He also sort of laid out the blueprint for the movement in “Cosmic Cowboy” from that album … “Lone Star sippin’ and skinny dippin’/and steel guitars and stars.”  You could say a cosmic cowboy was one quarter redneck and three quarters hippie, a guy who’d happily loan you his pickup truck and his wife.

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Zin and the Art of Vomiting

Posted in Rock Rant with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by 30daysout

UPDATED: With more fine wine toonage, thanks to our readers!

My very good friend Randy Fuller has a really cool blog that is not about rock and roll.  It’s about wine, but he wrote an excellent piece recently on rock and roll wines.  Actually, it’s about good wine in bottles with rock and roll labels – Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is there, so are the Rolling Stones, and even a Woodstock poster bottle.  As I said, very cool, and you can read it here.

I’ve known Randy for many years now, we went to college and high school together and even back then I knew him as a wine connoisseur. My tastes in wine ran mainly toward the red, namely Ripple Red and Thunderbird Red Label.  Randy had a more adventurous palate, seeking out the exotic and poetically named Annie Green Springs.

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A Smoke and a Cheap Guitar

Posted in Lost Classics!, Rock Rant with tags , , , , , , , on November 4, 2009 by 30daysout

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Earlier this week we roamed over to Luckenbach to soak up a little of that Texas mystique, and I thought while we’re in the neighborhood we oughta just keep goin’ about the good old days.  Well, as I said, back in the 1970s Texas became the epicenter of something called the outlaw country music movement.  It kinda started around 1972, right about the time Willie Nelson’s Nashville home burned down and he moved back to Austin.  Later that year Nelson held his first Fourth of July festival at Dripping Springs – featuring Waylon Jennings, Tompall Glaser, Kris Kristofferson and Leon Russell – and that sort of kicked off the whole shebang.

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Michael Martin Murphey

You’d hit the usual hangouts, like the Armadillo World Headquarters and Soap Creek Saloon, and you’d see musicians sipping their beer from longneck bottles and longhairs and rednecks co-inhabiting peacefully.  The music could turn a redneck into a “cosmic cowboy,” and hippies became “redneck rockers.”  Michael (not yet Martin) Murphey wrote the movement’s unofficial anthem with “Cosmic Cowboy,” off his Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir album.  Willis Alan Ramsey cut his one eponymous album on Leon Russell’s Shelter label in 1972 then he dropped off the face of the earth.  Jerry Jeff Walker walked onstage at Castle Creek in his boxer shorts, and Gove Scrivenor played the harmonica and the autoharp and did a solo with his foot (stomping percussion).  Over in Houston, Townes Van Zandt played in places like Anderson Fair and the Texas Opry House, commuting from the dilapidated trailer where he lived in Austin, while Guy Clark gave voice to his great songs.

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Review: “Natural Forces,” Lyle Lovett

Posted in Review with tags , on October 22, 2009 by 30daysout

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Texas singer/songwriter Lyle Lovett isn’t a flashy performer, and these days he apparently isn’t a prolific songwriter.  Yet on Natural Forces, Lovett puts his singular stamp on 11 songs that fit comfortably on the shelf alongside his other work.  But the album isn’t a step forward: Lovett only wrote or co-wrote five songs here, and the rest are from Lone Star state writers that Lovett admires.  Here Lovett takes a rather haphazard approach to the songs, which could be considered a change of pace from this usually careful artist.  It all adds to up a throwaway album that is pleasant listening, but in the end has only a few keepers.

It seems no album from a Texas artist today is complete without an obligatory Townes Van Zandt cover song, and Lovett here covers “Loretta,” one of Van Zandt’s more upbeat tunes.  And Lyle’s version is a winner, conveying a bit of soul-felt peace and calm as it comes toward the end of the album.  The keepers include the restless title song, written by Lovett, and the bluesy weeper “Empty Blue Shoes,” also a Lovett composition.  The sad “Whooping Crane,” by Eric Taylor, is affecting as it laments the passing of a natural treasure.

A few double-entrendes populate “Pantry,” co-written by Lyle and his girlfriend April Kimble, and the western swinger “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel,” which at least give the album some life.  Natural Forces will find an audience, for sure – but it won’t earn this revered artists that many new fans.  This so-so album feels almost like a holding pattern; although it has its moments, you would expect more from a great artist like Lyle Lovett.

MP3: “Pantry”

Lyle Lovett official website

YouTube: Lyle Lovett performs “Bohemia” and “Natural Forces” on British TV

30 Days Out Interview: Steve Christensen, “Townes” engineer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2009 by 30daysout

Christensen

Last week my band, Orange Is In, was recording drums for our latest project at Rogers Recording in Houston when I stumbled upon some cool information about our engineer Steve Christensen. Steve has worked with Destiny’s Child, Jermaine Dupri, Ray Wylie Hubbard and countless others who have passed through Houston’s legendary Sugar Hill Studios. He also worked on our first two records and is not only a great engineer, but also a great guy.

During a break, we decided to go to Antone’s Famous Po’ Boys to pick up a sandwich. If you’re ever in Houston, I suggest you get the “Original.” It’s filledtownes300 with salami, ham and lots of relish, but I digress. Anyway, we’re talking and Steve proceeds to tell me that he worked on Steve Earle’s latest and greatest disc, Townes. Pleasantly surprised, I asked him if he would answer a few questions about his whirlwind trip to the Big Apple and the making of, in my opinion, the best album of the year.

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