Lucky for us, natural musicians are drawn to Austin like honeybees to a sunflower. For every writer with a dream and a beat up Martin guitar, there is a slinger with a Stratocaster, a Berklee grad with a fiddle or a cowboy with a pedal steel. An embarrassment of riches, we suppose.

“Scrappy” Jud Newcomb is a Mississippi boy who hit Austin in the late eighties as a young guitar virtuoso, and has since evolved into a pillar of the local scene, as well as an all around good citizen. His first steady gig was with Troy Campbell and the legendary Loose Diamonds, and as his reputation got around he became a go to guitarist for a host of artists, both on stage and in the recording booth.

Newcomb is the Austin version of the big hair guitar god. He can play anything with anybody at any time, and when it comes his turn you’ll want to hear every phrase, every nuance, every lick. He’ll close his eyes and slip somewhere far away, and the beauty will just pour from his fingers like praise from a mother’s lips.

Early on the great Stephen Bruton became Newcomb’s good friend and important mentor. Jud followed a path remarkably similar path to Bruton’s, session guitarists that grew into singers, songwriters, producers and prominent arbiters of style and taste for the larger creative community. They played and traveled together until Bruton’s death in 2009.

Newcomb also played regularly with Ian McLagan and his Bump Band at the Lucky Lounge until Ian’s recent death, and he had a long run backing Toni Price at her weekly “Hippie Hour”. As a producer Scrappy has crafted albums for Beaver Nelson, Slaid Cleaves and Walter Tragert.

But Newcomb really shines as a solo artist, having released three albums of captivating original work, including Turbinado (2003), Byzantine (2005), and Ride the High Country (2008). He is also a key creative force behind a number of great albums by The Resentments.

These days you can catch Scrappy on Sunday mornings at the El Mercado with the Purgatory Players (with Jeff Plankenhorn, Seela Misrah, Jon Dee Graham, Jon Greene and whoever else might decide to show up and sit it). Then, on Sunday evenings, at the Saxon Pub, don’t miss Scrappy with The Resentments (with Miles Zuniga, Bruce Hughes, Plankenhorn and John Chipman). Maybe the best show in town, week in and week out.

Scrappy Jud Newcomb, tallest Texan ever to step out of Mississippi.

Three things you should know about Scrappy: (1) he got his nickname from the Loose Diamonds…it started as a joke, “scrappy” referring to a little tough guy (Jud is more reminiscent of a tall Texan), and the name stuck, (2) he travels light, and (3) he dreams of hiking in Slovenia.

If you love Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Willis Alan Ramsey, BettySoo and Kevin Higgins.




Resurrecting Texans from Freddie King to Janis Joplin, Carolyn Wonderland burns the blues with her rolling originals, piercing voice and blistering guitar work. Hailing from Houston, you can feel the Piney Woods and dark bayous in her songs, and Wonderland expertly and honorably carries on the proud tradition of the Texas blues. She now stokes the fires in Austin, and tours nationally.

Wonderland developed her renegade spirit at an early age and found that music was the perfect way to express her feelings. Growing up in a creative family, she had a wide range of exposure to all things musical, but her soulful voice and other worldly guitar talents quickly drew attention and recognition in her hometown of Houston. Songwriting would soon follow, and a few hard life lessons provided the grist for a now important collection of work.

Carolyn has always needed a large pasture to play in. At any early age she began sneaking into biker bars to crash the stage with the likes of Little Screamin’ Kenny Blanchard, Jerry Lightfoot and other legends of the Houston blues scene. She dropped out of high school to pursue music, lived for a while in a van in Austin, and made her way with a combination of talent, determination and a serious stubborn streak.

This gritty journey has shaped her live performances, unforgettable shows that showcase a ‘take no prisoner approach’ to the blues. Enthralling energy, wailing vocals, driving guitar. Often mentioned in the same conversation as Janis Joplin or Stevie Ray Vaughan, Wonderland has shared the stage with Los Lobos, Robert Earl Keen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan and Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson. Ray went on to produce Carolyn’s albums Miss Understood and Peace Meal (with co-producers Larry Campbell, a two-time Grammy Award winner, and the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith), and continues to be an important collaborator and good friend. Another Austin songwriter, Terri Hendrix, has also had a profound impact on Wonderland’s art.

Carolyn tours with her band, Live Texas Trio, which includes Cole El-Saleh on keys and bass and Rob Hooper on drums. The band recorded a live album on location at three great Texas venues, including Antone’s in Austin.

The LA Times summed it up this way, “She’s the real deal”. We just say Wonderland is wonderful!

Three things to know about Carolyn Wonderland: (1) she is married to Alan Whitney Brown of Saturday Night Live (Weekend Update) fame, (2) she is a founding member of the “Austin Volunteer Orchestra”, and (3) she named her guitar ‘Patty’.

If you love Carolyn Wonderland, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Ruthie Foster, Freddie King and Jeff Plankenhorn.




John Hiatt was born in Indianapolis, but you’d swear from his lyrics that he was a southern son of Memphis or New Orleans, maybe even Muscle Shoals. His deep soul pulled him from the Midwest to Nashville and the life of a professional songwriter, and before long he was performing around town, solo and with a band or two.

Hiatt’s time as a contract writer was both productive and proof of his extraordinary talent. His songs, written then and since, have been recorded by the diverse likes of Bob DylanWillie NelsonDelbert McClintonEmmylou Harris, Rodney CrowellKevin WelchRy CooderBill Frisell, Joe CockerJoan BaezNick LoweRosanne CashAaron NevilleRubén BladesBonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Eric Clapton, Jewell, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Ricky Nelson, Iggy Pop and Three Dog Night.

But as is usually the case, this man’s music is best heard from the horse’s mouth. Hiatt trades in a sort of joyful swamp soul with liberal pinches of country, rockabilly, southern rhythm and blues and a little Crescent City jazz. The mighty Mississippi is a recurring visitor in his songs, and in some ways the big river is a metaphor for his journey from the Midwest to the port cities of Memphis and New Orleans.

John can lay down a sad song with the best of them, but there is always a smile in the air, always the sense that things will be all right, no matter how much it hurts right now. Quality, good-time stuff from a master of the southern way.

Three things to know about John Hiatt: (1) his song, “Riding With the King” went double platinum when it was covered by Clapton and B.B. King, (2) Little Village, his short-lived collaboration with Cooder, Lowe and Jim Keltner, was named after a song by Sonny Boy Williamson II, and (3) his song, “Perfectly Good Guitar”, was a righteous reaction to the scourge of rock and rollers bashing their guitars on-stage.

If you love John Hiatt, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out James McMurtry, Shawn Colvin and Stephen Bruton.




Nanci Griffith was born to musical parents in Seguin, Texas, and was playing clubs down the road in Austin by the age of fourteen. She continued to write and perform while in college at the University of Texas, and became an important member of the seventies Texas songwriting scene, releasing three fine albums of mostly original material before moving to Nashville in 1986 to pursue her songwriting dreams.

Griffith has dabbled in numerous genres over the years, including country, folk, pop and torch. She calls her work “folkabilly”, but her best songs are sketches of the joy, loss and reflection that punctuate the tough paths of ordinary people. In other words, Griffith is yet another great Texas songwriter trading in real country music.

Others have mined her songs for their quality and the promise of commercial success, but you must hear these songs in her voice, lilting and childlike and completely original, evoking past lives lived simply and well.

Griffith has released some twenty albums in her career, winning a Grammy in 1994 for Other Voices, Other Rooms, a cover album of songs written by special songwriters. She has toured and recorded with the likes of John Prine, Iris DeMent, Tom Russell, Emmylou Harris, Phil Everly, Mary Black, Don McLean, Willie Nelson, Adam Duritz, Bernie Leadon, The Chieftains and others.

Three things to know about Nanci Griffith, (1) she was once married to the great Eric Taylor, and flew to Vietnam and Cambodia to honor his service during the Vietnam War, (2) as a young woman she worked as a kindergarten teacher, and (3) she performed at the Grand Ole Opry in 2003.

If you love Nanci Griffith, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Amanda Shires, Michael Fracasso and Shawn Colvin.




Roy Orbison‘s voice might have been enough, as strong and versatile as ever to grace American roots music. But stack that voice next to the songwriting prowess and the stage presence of the yearning introvert with the thick glasses and the jet-black pompadour, and we remember why this kind heart was one of the early giants of rock and roll.

Like other such giants, Elvis and Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins and Little Richard, Orbison knew that rhythm was the bedrock of this new American form, this artistic and political tsunami, this child of R&B and blues. But he also understood, or at least intuited, that the rhythm was only the beginning, that the form could be taken in a thousand different directions. With this understanding he helped build the stage for the work of folks like, say, The Beatles.

His two most revered compositions show the range of Orbison’s talent. “Pretty Woman” is one of the best, and most famous, rock and roller albums of all time, gritty and driving and joyous and unforgettable, not even for a moment. The finest of the genre and a completely original marker that would liberate what was to come. “Crying” was at the other end of love’s spectrum, a composed wail of lost love that built to a powerful crescendo of grief and release.

Raised in Vernon, Fort Worth and Wink, Texas, Orbison was an awkward kid with bad eyes and a shy disposition. But he was an artist, through and through, and lived a life of music that began with a high school rockabilly and country band in West Texas, the “Wink Westerners”. Early on, having figured out that rock and roll was as much attitude as substance, he dyed his hair, picked up some dark Ray-Bans and became “The Man in Black”.

His career began with the legendary Sun Records in 1956 and ended with his death in 1988, and the road between was in turns brilliant and dismal..meteoric stardom and complete professional obscurity, lots of money, and unbelievable tragedy. His true love taken from him by his wife’s death in a motorcycle accident and the loss of two of his children in a house fire. Through it all Orbison remained both a brilliant artistic and an exemplary human being.

Early on he befriended the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and his influence on their work was both obvious and acknowledged. Like fellow West Texan Buddy Holly, he helped steer the ship of rock and roll in the early years, lighting the path to the future, whatever that would be.

The year 1964 saw the release of “Pretty Woman” and was the apex of his career. Then, in an array of personal tragedies and professional missteps, the wheels came off the tracks. Orbison fell into an obscurity that lasted into the mid-eighties. Then, in an almost meteoric series of events that commenced in 1986 and continued beyond his death in 1988, Roy was graced with the success he had earned and the legacy he deserved. In 1986, David Lynch released Blue Velvet, a disturbingly beautiful film that featured a perverse obsession with Orbison’s song “In Dreams”. The following year he was welcomed by Bruce Springsteen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, released In Dreams: The Greatest Hits, an album of fresh versions of his old songs, and recorded a stunning duet of “Crying” with the great k.d. lang.

In January of 1988, Springsteen honored Orbison with Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, a filmed Los Angeles concert featuring performances by Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bonnie RaittJackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, k.d. lang and, of course, The Man in Black. Finally, Orbison joined the Traveling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, and was there on their first album, released in October 0f 1988. Roy was also creating his last solo album, Mystery Girl, a magnificent piece and proof that his talent had neither faded nor diminished.

Roy Orbison’s many professional friends had succeeded in returning him to the public stage, but the satisfaction would not last long. Roy died of a heart attack on December 4, 1988. Mystery Girl would be released posthumously.

Three things to know about Roy Orbison: (1) he was neither blind nor albino, (2) he was introduced to music by listening to Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Lefty Frizzell, and (3) in 1987, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Springsteen.

If you love Roy Orbison, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Van Morrison, Doug Sahm and K Phillips.




Since moving to Austin in the early eighties to attend the University of Texas, Darden Smith has grown into a renowned songwriter and performer, as well as an active and responsible citizen of our fair city.

Raised on a farm outside of Brenham, Texas, and in the suburb of Humble outside of Houston, Smith was introduced to music singing in his church choir and was listening to Neil Young and writing songs by the age of ten. Darden quickly made his name in the Austin music scene, releasing his debut album, Native Soil, in 1986, which featured fellow up-and-comers Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett on background vocals. After being discovered by Epic Records at the first South by Southwest festival in 1987, he was soon experiencing the ups and downs of a major label deal. In spite of all that, he has released fourteen albums of original work, all met with steady critical acclaim.

Commencing in 1988, Smith began to compose music for local theater productions, including 9 Chains to the Moon and Walking on Water. In 1999, the Austin Symphony Orchestra performed Grand Motion, a symphony penned by Smith, expanding both his confidence and imagination into the scope of his work. In 2006, he produced Songs From the Big Sky, a BBC radio documentary on Texas songwriters. Finally, in 2009 and 2010, he scored scripts and workshop performances of his album Marathon.

Smith has also chosen to advocate the power and value of creativity, and to tirelessly use his talents for the benefit of others. In 2003, he began the Be An Artist Program, which has taught and encouraged songwriting to over 15,000 elementary students in the United States and Europe. In 2011 he expanded the concept with SongwritingWith and SongwritingWith:Soldiers to collaborate with the homeless, with Botswanans suffering from HIV/AIDS, and with our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, using songwriting as a creative tool for healing and recovery.

Three things to know about Darden Smith: (1) he has recorded in Austin, Nashville, New York, Las Angeles and London, (2) in 2007, he released Ojo, a recording of a series of live concerts in New Mexico, and (3) he once presented a TED talk which explored the nature and value of personal creativity, entitled “Fearing Your Gift”.

If you love Darden Smith, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Kevin Welch, Eliza Gilkyson and Will T. Massey.




Another musical luminary from the Lubbock area, Butch Hancock is best known for his on and off collaboration with Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore known as The Flatlanders, but he has been gracing us with fines songs and storied solo performances for more than four decades now. Raised on a dry-land cotton farm in the big empty, he lived in Austin for a number of years before moving to Terlingua, Texas, a Big Bend “ghost town” perched above the Rio Grande and home to an ex-patriate community of artists and other rugged individualists.

Like Ely and Gilmore, as well as folks like Terry Allen and Jo Carol Pierce, Hancock is a wandering intellectual with little respect for appearances, social norms or cultural institutions. He looks out at the world and calls it like he sees it, and he sees it pretty clearly. Good or bad. False or true.

He sings in a dusty, far-away voice that is grounded in experience and a little regret, but all in all you get the sense that he has things pretty well figured out. He has a habit of penning absolute classics that find the grace in life’s moments of beauty, discovery and contradiction. Songs like “Boxcars”, “She Never Spoke Spanish to Me”, “West Texas Waltz” and “If I Were a Bluebird”. Existentialism and romanticism, loss and gain…songs that speak to the possibilities up ahead, just beyond the horizon.

Three things to know about Butch Hancock: (1) he is a charter member of the “Lubbock Mafia”, a cadre of talented musicians from the Hub City, many of which ended up in Austin, (2) he is as talented a photographer as he is a musician, (3) he is known for this quote about his hometown: “Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things. One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, dirty thing on the face of the earth and you should save it for someone you love.”

If you love Butch Hancock, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Joe Ely, Amanda Shires and Vince Bell.




In 1977, Joe Ely came blowing out of Lubbock with his first record, Joe Ely, after sowing the early seeds of the High Plains scene with other hardy souls. He’s been delivering the goods ever since. Powerful music that pulses with rhythm and life, full of gritty optimism and unrelenting love.

Ely was born in 1947, in a place where one can gaze out on the horizon and still believe that the world is flat. The men in his family had worked on the Rock Island Railroad Line as far back as anyone could remember, but Joe didn’t take to the miles of steel and the smell of coal. Instead, the growing boy was drawn to music.

Joe’s timing was good, as these were increasingly fertile grounds in the sixties. Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison were sending their signals worldwide. Waylon Jennings was shaping up the long-standing country scene into something else altogether. Lubbock and its environs would produce not only Joe Ely, but also Guy Clark, Delbert McClintonDon Walser, Terry Allen, Lloyd Maines and his daughter Natalie, Tanya Tucker, Jo Carol Pierce, Jesse Taylor and Joe’s enduring musical partners Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Ely’s father passed away when Joe was fourteen and his mother, stung by the sudden loss, was institutionalized for a year. He and his brother lived with relatives in different cities until they reunited, when Ely dropped out of school to help support what was left of his family by washing dishes and playing his guitar in the honky-tonks of Lubbock.

Like many a West Texan, the rest of the world beckoned and Joe heeded the call. He hoboed around America and ended up working in the theater industry in Europe. He headed home to Lubbock, ready to rock, and formed The Flatlanders with Hancock and Gilmore. By 1974 he had put together the Joe Ely Band with cohorts Taylor and Maines. He started passing around demo tapes and pretty soon he was signed by MCA and released his first solo album in 1974. Joe was up and running.

Joe has lived near Austin for many years, and has been tearing up the clubs and recording studios for close to four decades now. He has performed with The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, John Hiatt, Los Super Seven and The Chieftains, and has worked with a host of Texas songwriters, including James McMurtry, Lyle Lovett, Clark, and of course Hancock and Gilmore.

Always a beacon of the West Texas blend of country, soul and rhythm, he has also honored Hispanic influences, including del norte accordion with Joel Guzman and Spanish flamenco with Teye.

Joe Ely is, first and foremost, a cowboy poet with a steel-trap mind. He can pick it, croon it or waltz it, and he can rock it like a juiced-up quarter horse.

Three things you should know about Joe Ely: (1) a collection of his written musings, Bonfire of Roadmaps, was published in 2007 by the University of Texas Press, (2) in 1992, Ely joined John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, John Prine, and McMurtry in a band called Buzzin’ Cousins to record “Sweet Suzanne” for the soundtrack to the film Falling from Grace, and (3) he wrote songs for the film The Horse Whisperer.

If you love Joe Ely, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Ray Wylie Hubbard, Carrie Rodriguez and Steve Earle.




Michael Fracasso’s voice is high, pure and lonesome, but full of hope and strength, and his delicate songs beg us to feel a little deeper. On-stage he is a cultural chameleon, Italian-American, Ohioan, Texan, maybe even Oklahoman. An Austinite since 1990, he is one of the city’s near secrets, hard to catch but held dear by those in the know. He has recorded with the likes of Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin, and has released a number of albums that ache with insight and gentle beauty.

Born the son of Italian immigrants in an Ohio steel mill town, Michael was raised with the paradox of the recently displaced. His family was proud to be making a new life in the American promised land, but still they longed for home.

The boy was influenced and shaped by neighbors of Polish, Irish and Italian descent, and his experience with diversity is apparent today as Fracasso crosses musical boundaries and connects with people from all walks of life.

The steel mills held no sway for Fracasso. After finishing college in Ohio and starting a graduate program in Washington, he set out for New York City, determined to make it as a songwriter. He began to develop and hone his songwriting acumen and vocal skills, and was able to carve out a niche in the Big Apple. First he joined songwriting groups and began performing at open-mic nights around the city, then he became a regular at the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village hanging out and performing with the likes of Suzanne Vega, The Roches, and Steve Forbert.

After twelve years on the New York music scene, Fracasso began looking for a new home. He had heard about the Austin songwriting community and decided to take a look. Soon he found a new home and started a new life in Texas.

Michael’s adventurous spirit and creative curiosity came alive, and it didn’t take long for him to make his mark. Within a year of arriving fellow Austin musicians voted him the Best New Artist in the Music City. Within a year after that he cut his first album and began to tour around the country and abroad.

Fracasso’s musical talents span the spectrum to include spectacular songwriting, stirring vocals and mastery of his old Martin guitar. He has produced nine albums to date. His original work is spellbinding and unique, and he has increasingly added compelling covers of the work of others (John Lennon, Woody Guthrie, Mickey Newbury, Townes Van Zandt and most recently The Beach Boys, The Young Rascals and The Kinks). He has shared the stage with Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Hal Ketchum, Charlie Sexton and many others. Not bad for a kid from a small mill town of Ohio. We are very lucky to have Michael Fracasso around.

Three things you should know about Michael: (1) he is a noted chef and food author, specializing in Italian cuisine, (2) parts of the movie The Deer Hunter were filmed in his hometown of Mingo Junction, Ohio, and (3) his songs focus on the future.

If you love Michael Fracasso, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Mickey Newbury, Ana Egge and Jimmy LaFave.

A|S Series (September 7, 2016)

YouTube Videos




It is no secret that West Texas produces musicians of uncommon creativity and grit, likely the result of too much flat land and steady wind. Insightful artists with on-stage mojo…indelible characters with plenty of that old Texas don’t-give-a-damn, contemptuous of white lies, cow pies and pigeonholes. Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely and David Halley, to name a few. Butch Hancock, Amanda Shires, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Jo Carol Pierce and Tommy Hancock, to name a few more.

Then there’s Terry Allen, perhaps the most madcap of them all. A true renaissance man of letters, visual and recorded art, carrying more intellect, talent and taste than was meant to fit in the saddlebags of one dusty cowboy.

A son of Lubbock, self-exiled like so many luminaries of the high plains, Allen has lived in Santa Fe with his wife, Jo Harvey Allen, for decades, where they raised their musician son, Bukka Allen, who has since relocated to the green fields of Austin. Terry and Jo frequently dip down into Texas like a Comanche raiding party to spread their artistic seed, pillage a little and chew the fat with old friends.

Terry is a noted painter, songwriter, performer and playwright, while Jo is a similarly respected actress, writer and painter. His music could be described as the love child of Friedrich Nietzsche and William Burroughs singing in a nasally West Texas lilt. A cowboy with serious mental horsepower and artistic vision, he has produced ten albums of original and critically acclaimed work. Of particular note are 1975’s Juarez, 1979’s Lubbock (On Everything), and 1996’s Human Remains.

Three things to know about Terry Allen: (1) his father “Sled” played catcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1910, (2) another son, Bale Creek Allen, is a noted visual artist living in Austin, and (3) his visual art hangs in places like the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

If you love Terry Allen, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out James McMurtry, Vince Bell and Kevin Higgins.




Hailing from Gilmer, Texas, Freddie King held his own with B. B. King, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and other masters of the electric blues. In the cauldron of the early seventies Austin scene, “The Texas Cannonball” was the local ambassador of the blues, schooling young hippies at Armadillo World Headquarters and other legendary venues. Remembered in Texas as a kind giant with an armadillo bursting from his chest, King delivered the goods until his tank ran dry in 1976.

Although originally from Texas (born in Dallas), his family moved to the South Side of Chicago when he was six. That same year the youngster began learning to play rural country blues under the tutelage of his mother and uncle, and listening to the likes of Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Louis Jordan. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was beginning his journey to “stir the souls of millions and inspire and influence generations”. This prophetic vision, courtesy of his great grandfather, a full-blooded Choctaw, would serve as a driving force in King’s life.

King was a student of the blues, full of grit and determination. He played records over and over, learning and perfecting the smallest licks and details, then put a distinctive Freddie King spin on it all. He developed his thumb and finger picking style of his own, in contrast to B.B. King’s single-string style and the manic slide style of another hero, Elmore James. Other Chicago mainstays helped Freddie hone his craft and carve out his own place in history, including Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Hound Dog Taylor.

That success didn’t come easy, though. King was repeatedly refused the opportunity to record for the premier South Side blues labels, ultimately bolting for the up and coming West Side scene. There he found his place, and the world finally found Freddie King.

His influence on other artists was as deep as it was wide. He toured with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown and played alongside such greats as Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mick Taylor and Lonnie Mack. The list of those he influenced is just too long to cover, but his songs were performed by the likes of Magic Sam, Dave Edmunds, Peter Green, and a host of others. It’s a sure bet that a certain South Side label regrets missing Freddie’s mark.

King lived his life like he played his music…fearless, full throttle and larger than life. Ultimately, his body couldn’t take the wear and tear of touring 300 days a year. King left us all too early at the age of forty-two. His legend remains, however, and his presence can still be felt in the work of a hundred guitar greats, both in the blues and rock genres.

Three Things (no, make that six…this guy is a true legend) you should know about Freddie King: (1) he was one of the first bluesmen to have a multi-racial backing band at live performances, (2) in Chicago he married a fellow Texan, Jessie Burnett, (3) he recorded and produced an album with Eric Clapton called “Burglar”, (4) he picked cotton just long enough to earn the money to purchase a good guitar, (5) he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, and (6) he preferred a bloody mary to solid food to save time when setting up for a show.

If you love Freddie King, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Carolyn Wonderland, Ruthie Foster and K Phillips.




BettySoo writes profound pop/folk with just enough country to makes things comfortable. At once powerful and vulnerable, she handles us like a big sister with everything in hand. Her side-project collaboration with Canadian Doug Cox yields mostly beautiful covers of lost Texas treasures such as Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Angel Eyes” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Morning Song to Sally”.

Born in the Bronx to parents from Korea, BettySoo’s music is authentic Austin. Growing up outside of Houston, she played a range of musical instruments, including piano, violin, oboe and flute, as well as singing in the church choir, but it was not until she moved to Austin, to study Engish at the University of Texas, that she discovered the guitar. The rest, they say, is history.

Guided by a strong work ethic, family values and sincere humility, BettySoo’s work resonates with people from all walks of life. When not in her recording studio or touring throughout North American and Europe, she might be found caring for friends who are experiencing the highs and lows of life. BettySoo leans on her own struggles with loss and depression to touch us deeply, some times in places we would prefer not to visit. Listen to “When We’re Gone”, and hear her wisdom and compassion, even as she shares hard lessons from her own life.

BettySoo was fortunate to cross paths with Gurf Morlix early in her career. Gurf’s resume is as extensive as it is impressive, a producer who has been sought out by the likes of Patty Griffin, Robert Earl Keen and Ray Wylie Hubbard. While some thought it an unusual collaboration, Gurf was hooked by BettySoo’s moving songs and captivating voice. His genius, disguised by a dry sense of humor and a brusque approach, is clearly evident in her work.

BettySoo reminds us of both our strength and our fragility, but her real message is to carry on, through the trials of life and love, and find the joy. Always find the joy. And remember, listen to your big sister!

Three things to know about BettySoo: (1) Soo is her middle name, (2) she hated piano lessons, and (3) her parents insist on paying to see her shows.

If you love BettySoo, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Eliza Gilkyson, Kevin Welch and Mary Gauthier.

A|S Series (July 6, 2016)

YouTube Videos




Miles Zuniga left Laredo for Austin in 1984, determined to make a life out of music. In 1994, he teamed up with Tony Scalzo and Joe Shuffield and created Magneto USA to play power pop with sparkling guitars, soaring melodies and pithy lyrics. The band shortly changed its name to Fastball and released a first album, Make Your Mama Proud, in 1996, and started a ten-year flirtation with fame. Ultimately producing four more albums (so far), Fastball reached its pinnacle with 1998’s All the Pain Money Can Buy, topping the charts with songs like “The Way”, “Out of My Head” and “Fire Escape”. Suddenly, the boys were in the big time. Appearances on Letterman, Leno and Conan, tours through Mexico, Peru, Japan, Italy, France, Germany and Belgium, hanging out with the likes of Boy George, Bjork and Liam Gallagher. The party continued and the critics raved, but the commercial trajectory started turning, as it always does, and the boys took a hiatus, in 2004, to pursue other projects.

Back home Zuniga formed the Small Stars, a perverse lounge act that morphed into a serious outfit and produced two albums, Small Stars and Tijuana Dreams. He also became a husband and father and settled into a comfortable lifestyle in the Austin music scene.

Fastball resumed activity in 2008 to produce a fifth album, Little White Lies, and currently the boys are back to their solo projects. At least one new album is in the making, and who knows what the future holds for Fastball.

Miles’ marriage ended, and in 2011 he released his first solo recording, These Ghosts Have Bones. Gorgeous hooks, brilliant melodies and Beatle-esque flourishes only briefly disguise this work as the howl of a man with a broken heart. Zuniga has described the making of this album as equal parts art and therapy. Gorgeous angst.

Zuniga’s solo work is like a gold-plated cadaver, a pretty patina over a roiling mess of joy and regret. The sweet smell of perfume but lingering odors of ignominy. Lipstick on a werewolf…deep waters indeed.

Three things you should know about Miles Zuniga: (1) he has written songs with members of Spoon and The Dandy Warhols, (2) with Fastball he received two Grammy nominations, and (3) he loves Laredo.

If you love Miles Zuniga, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Bob Schneider, Amanda Shires and Bruce Hughes.

A|S Series (June 29, 2016)

YouTube Vidoes




Mary Chapin Carpenter is a songwriter of uncommon depth and sensitivity who came of age in the seventies as a folksinger in the clubs of Washington, D.C. She began enjoying significant commercial success in the eighties, when Columbia Records began promoting her as a “country” artist, but never allowed her work to be processed, categorized or compromised, and has always spoken directly from a kind mind and a full heart.

She is especially revered for her consideration of the changing lives of women, perhaps most famously for the brilliantly caustic “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” from 1992, and her name is spoken in the same breath as that of Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier and Shawn Colvin. Carpenter has focused on other social and political issues that are close to her heart, often speaking for those on the wrong end of social power structures. Consider “John Doe No. 24”, her stunning portrayal of a child born without sight or hearing in long-ago New Orleans. Abandoned to the orphanages and institutions of the south, no link to the outside but his memory of the scent of blooming crepe jasmine.

Mary’s work is literary and profound, often evoking the gothic south of William Faulkner or Willa Cather’s vast Midwest. She recalls the strength and majesty of young love, or the dusty regret of passion that wasn’t quite strong enough to last. Like so many of our favorite artists, we smile through tears at the memories she pulls to the surface.

Carpenter’s songs have been covered by the varied likes of Joan BaezTony RiceWynona JuddTrisha Yearwood, and has recorded with folks like Colvin, Radney FosterDolly Parton and the Indigo Girls. Over her career she has won five Grammy Awards and a host of other formal accolades in the course of releasing fourteen albums of mostly original work.

Three things to know about Mary Chapin Carpenter: (1) she is distantly related to the late, great songwriter Harry Chapin, (2) in 2014, she released an orchestral album and performed it live at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and (3) she has coped with periodic bouts of depression with what she calls “the learning curve of gratitude”.

If you love Mary Chahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azsSkWyxvu8pin Carpenter, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Ana Egge, Will T. Massey and Mary Gauthier.




Oklahoma is sort of the Bermuda Triangle of the Great Plains. We know there’s some magical stuff going on within those dusty borders, but we’re a little scared to head on in and check it out.

The musical magic is referred to as the “Red Dirt” scene, and a rich vein of that fertile ground runs right to Travis County. Some of our favorite artists carried a little of that dirt with them, folks like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy LaFave, Kevin Welch, Travis Linville, even Michael Fracasso, and Austin music is certainly the better for it. In truth, the rambling red dirt of Oklahoma is a close geological cousin to the cotton fields and caliche flats of West Texas. It spawns poets of uncommon insight.

There’s a new kid out on there on the airwaves, name of John Fullbright, and he seems destined to take us a little further into the dust bowl frame of mind. Pause a little before you venture into the world of Fullbright, because he will grab hold of you with a steely grip. Every song will take you somewhere you’ve never been before, and in every song you will learn something more about yourself. Woody Guthrie would be quite proud.

A child of Okemah, like Guthrie, Fullbright cut his teeth with formidable Red Dirt artist Mike McClure. His breakthrough year came in 2012. A stunning performance at SXSW in March, the main stage at Kerrville Folk Festival in June and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July. In the middle of all that he released his debut album, From the Ground Up, to much acclaim, and the boy from Oklahoma was on his way.

He storms the stage with piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica, his voice weathered and high. His appearance is earnest and rosy-cheeked, somewhere between high school history teacher and a budding televangelist. He exhibits the wisdom of a thinking man twice his age, channeling a jailhouse full of old souls. He navigates the killing fields of love and bites down on the eternal social issues. His words will cause you to pause, maybe even change your own tune a little.

John Fullbright is a troubadour in the best sense, spreading an enriching gospel of finding what’s right in each of life’s precious moments, and railing against the rest like an angry archangel…a foe to hypocrisy and a friend to what’s right. Expect much more in the years to come.

Three things to know about John Fullbright: (1) Townes Van Zandt was an important and early influence, (2) his first significant public performance was at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah in 2005, and (3) in 2009, he released Live at the Blue Door, a great live album recorded by Travis Linville at the Oklahoma City club.

If you love John Fullbright, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Patty Griffin, Kevin Welch, and K Phillips.




John Prine began his artistic journey in 1971 with the release of John Prine, a stunning collection of poems set to melody that revealed middle America in all its simple beauty, isolated ignorance and survivalist brutality. His capacity for wit softened the blow, but the stark portrayals of dead-end lives playing out in the midst of the social tumult and youthful optimism of the times was both devastating and somehow profoundly uplifting. With his debut, Prine took his place at the table of American poet savants with the likes of Guthrie, Dylan and Baez, over the years to be joined by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen. Forty-five years later, he’s going strong.

A son of Illinois, Prine has lived in Nashville for most of his life and has become a steadfast guardian of the insight and integrity of true American songwriting. Loved by all, without an enemy in the world, he has soldiered on through the peaks and valleys of his own life, always there to help us understand those of our own.

A trio of gems from that first album reveal the genius and emotional range of John Prine. In “Donald and Lydia”, Prine peaks at life through the eyes of lonely outsiders and renders a masterpiece about the universal redemption of simple romantic love.

“Hello in There” is an impossibly affecting meditation on aging, sketching the fading joy and pregnant memories of a waning life. “Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more. She sits and stares through the back door screen.” Uncommon wisdom from a man still in his twenties.

While the protest songs of the Vietnam era were mostly strident calls for action, Prine’s “Sam Stone” was a brilliant and sobering take on the coming residue of that existentialist American conflict. Returning from the war shattered and addicted, Sam Stone’s young children curiously observed that “there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes”, and we came to understand that many of those returning men, or boys, were forever broken, their souls sickened with horror and bitter disillusionment that we could never understand. Like John said, “sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.”

Three things to know about John Prine: (1) before beginning his musical career he did stints in the Army and as a mailman; (2) he was introduced to Atlantic Records by Kris Kristofferson, resulting in his debut album; and (3) his famous song “Paradise” is set in the town of his paternal roots, Paradise, Kentucky.

If you love John Prine, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Jesse Winchester, Rodney Crowell and Adam Carroll.




Confounding and eccentric, Willis Alan Ramsey thundered onto the scene in 1972 with the release of Willis Alan Ramsey, a rollicking, joyful, sexy masterpiece that forever changed the lives of critics and hippies alike. In the forty years since, he has been promising, but not delivering, his next big thing. Many of his disciples have tired of the wait, but we cannot forget his glorious impact on their youth. So they wait.

Born in Alabama and raised in Dallas’ toney Highland Park, Ramsey finished high school in the tumult of 1969 and hit Austin at the beginning of the progressive country movement. There were no blueprints or scripts for the magic that was being created at that time by the likes of Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, B. W. Stevenson and others, and Ramsey’s completely original work was a major influence on the scene. Maybe more folk than country, Willis Alan could be found at as many coffee houses as honky-tonks.

Willis’ greatest achievement was to paint a perfect picture of young love as so many of us were right smack dab in the middle of it. “Angel Eyes” is the story of every anonymous boy who wakes up one day to find himself with the girl of his dreams, and “Spider John” warns that she could disappear just as quickly. Maybe Ramsey’s most captivating words are saved for the subject of awakening sexuality. Check out “Geraldine and the Honeybee”, “Watermelon Man” and “Satin Sheets” for his almost innocent musings on the mysteries of carnal love.

Ramsey has done some serious adventuring since 1972, marrying fellow songwriter Alison Rogers in 1991 and living in such exotic places as Colorado, Nashville and England. Yours truly had the good fortune to catch the newlyweds perform together at a mystical oasis in the New Mexico desert, and the magic and memories of seventies Austin came flooding right back.

Find Willis Alan Ramsey, immerse yourself, and call it a day.

Three things you should know about Willis Alan Ramsey: (1) for a bittersweet hint of what we’ve been missing all these years, find a video performance of his unreleased “Boystown”, (2) his syrupy but delightful “Muskrat Candlelight” was covered by America and (regrettably) Captain & Tenille, and (3) his theoretical second release, Gentilly, has been almost ready since 2003.

If you love Willis Alan Ramsey, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out BettySoo, Michael Fracasso and Patty Griffin.




Lyle Lovett is an artistic renaissance man with an impeccable Texas pedigree and a life that testifies to Lone Star independence and individuality. A writer of immense talent and taste, Lovett has served as a pillar of the Texas songwriting community since the early eighties, honing some of the genre’s rough edges with profound lyrics, engaging melodies and a witty and elegant delivery…sort of like that guy who can actually pull off a tux and cowboy boots. His voice is polished and comforting, but also raw and a little weary.

Raised on a ranch near tiny Klein, Texas, a town named for his great-grandfather, a German immigrant and noted weaver, Lovett still lives on the family ranch in a house built in 1911. He keeps his hand in livestock and carries the seriously Texan distinction of once being pinned by a bull against a corral fence, and living to tell about it.

Lovett earned degrees in journalism and German at Texas A&M University before dedicating himself to the songwriting life in the seventies, and signed his first record deal in 1986 after Guy Clark stumbled upon his demo tape and alerted the proper authorities.

Opportunities and accolades stalk Lovett like a Texas coyote. He has received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Houston and a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Texas A&M University. He was named a Texas State Artist Musician by the Texas Commission on the Arts, and has received his fair share of Grammies. Lyle has appeared on television and in Robert Altman movies, earned a Golden Globe, and weathered a short-lived celebrity marriage to actress Julia Roberts. He just can’t help but attract attention.

Lovett inhabits the songwriter’s stage with presence and some sort of strange élan. Tall, almost willowy, his craggy face is in turns earnest, quizzical, sheepish and smart-ass. More often than not the words emanate from the side of his mouth, but he holds the audience like a goat head in a toe, and no one leaves till the last song is sung.

Above the spectacle is the music, spellbinding and perfect, funny and sad and country and city all at the same time. Lovett’s stuff is country, and Texan for sure, but also folk, blues, gospel, swing, jazz and pop. Lyle Lovett is simply an artist of immense talent who executes his art with principle and integrity. The rest of it is just for fun.

Three things to know about Lyle Lovett: (1) in 1994, he recorded an acclaimed duet with Al Green of “Funny How Time Slips Away”; (2) he once played Balthasar in a Los Angeles production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing; and (3) he has been variously referred to as looking like a French bluesman, a French poet and a French hairdresser.




Many fine artists had their beginnings in gospel. Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Al Greene, even Elvis and Jerry Lee. A surprising progression, maybe, from the pews to the dance halls, but don’t we all stray a little from the churches of our childhood?

Ruthie Foster has traveled so far while staying true to her sacred roots. And the road lies long before her.

Hailing from little Gause, Texas, a ways east of Austin, Foster grew up learning the value a good day’s work on the family farm and the tried-and-true values of a small community with a strong spiritual vein running right through it. You can see those roots in Ruthie and in her music, and you can hear the voices of the strong women that brought her up and showed her the way.

Foster is a singer, guitarist, songwriter, an all-around force of nature, often compared to such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Bonnie Raitt and Franklin. Now living in Austin, she tours internationally and is always in demand to perform with Texas friends. She has numerous albums to date, including Full SoulRunaway SoulThe Truth According to Ruthie FosterLet It Burn, and the recent Promise of a Brand New Day. Gospel, blues, roots, soul, country, Ruthie does it all, and it’s all damn good.

She is also a special interpreter of the work of others. Check out her lilting take on Lucinda Williams‘ “Fruits of My Labor”, or the Band’s classic “It Makes No Difference”, or “The Ghetto” by The Staple Singers. Then there is the stunning “Ring of Fire”. Ruthie takes this classic somewhere else entirely, and Mr. Cash would be proud indeed.

Ruthie’s special style is a carefully crafted gumbo of gospel (she was a soloist in her local choir by age fourteen) and country blues, with a dash of regional conjunto (introduced to her at an early age via the border airwaves), and a strong shot of folk. Everywhere there is rhythm, the rhythm of the church, the rhythm of the backstreet dance hall, the rhythm of life.

Three things you should know about Ruthie Foster: (1) she was a member of the U.S. Navy’s pop/funk band Pride, (2) one of her favorite childhood memories is picking Mustang grapes for her grandmother, and (3) her list of achievements include Best Female Vocalist in 2007, 2008 and 2013 from the Austin Music Awards, a 2012 and 2009 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, the 2010 Living Blues Music Award Critic’s Poll for Female Blues Artist of the Year, the 2013 Living Blue Music Award Critic’s Poll for Bluest Artist of the Year (female) and recent Blues Music Award wins for Best Contemporary and Best Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year.

If you love Ruthie Foster, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Freddie King, Patty Griffin and Jeff Plankenhorn.




Jimmy LaFave, who passed away on May 21, 2017, was another Austin artist who took the building blocks of folk and country, strength, soul and an acoustic guitar, and made something all his own.

Born in Wills Point, Texas, outside of Dallas, LaFave came of age in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and his music also bears the distinct imprint of time spent on that rugged and fertile ground. Every song is a celebration, of joy, of new love or old love, of strength or justice or the just way that things should be. Work and love and what’s right. Seems pretty simple.

As a young man, LaFave helped birth the “red dirt” scene, a strongly sincere and purely Oklahoma take on progressive country. He moved to Austin in 1992, and after having devoted more than twenty years and fifteen albums to the songwriting life, his local influence had grown to where there is now such a thing as a “Jimmy LaFave song”, whether written by Jimmy or not.

LaFave’s ballads are soaring testaments to joy and hope, a dusty voice pulling you into a very big heart. His rockers are stirring soups of old style rock and roll and rockabilly, with a little gospel thrown in to heavy the load. The road was a common theme, but while many artists sing about the pain of leaving, Jimmy would much rather have celebrated the joy of arriving.

Three things you should know about Jimmy LaFave: (1) he was a disciple of the great Woody Guthrie, and was a regular contributor and performer at the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma, (2) he was a respected interpreter of the work of Bob Dylan, and occasionally Bruce Springsteen, and (3) he listed Oklahoman Chet Baker, a mystical genius of jazz, as an important influence.

If you love Jimmy LaFave, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Michael Fracasso, Eliza Gilkyson and Walt Wilkins.




Jim Lauderdale’s baritone twang is booming and earnest and sketches a roadmap of the roots and pedigree of real American country music. The journey began in his North Carolina birthplace, headed west through his current home of Nashville, on to Oklahoma and through the whole state of Texas. It ended up at a truck stop in Bakersfield, California.

Lauderdale has been preaching the honest gospel since 1986, putting out twenty-seven albums of original work and collaborating along the way with the likes of Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller, Nick Lowe, Robert Hunter and others. His songwriting evokes times past. Some have called him a “preservationist” or “revivalist” of old country, and he is certainly a chronicler of folk history. But while history is his canvas and his songs are steeped in the familiar country themes of struggle and loss, he also paints with a musical brush dipped in the colors of joy, hope and wonder.

On stage he is a sight to behold, holding his ground in a tastefully understated Nudie suit, graying main blowing and flowing like some kind of Fayetteville Fabio. His music lilts and swings in a kind of uplifting spiritual celebration, almost like a rural North Carolina Baptist church on Sunday morning. This is music that soothes the soul and shines a warm light on the days ahead.

Jim’s latest record, This Changes Everything, is a Lone Star state affair, recorded in Austin with help from folks like Chris Masterson, Brennen LeighNoel McKaySunny Sweeney, Kevin Smith and Bobby Flores. A number of Texas songwriters, including Bruce Robison and Hayes Carll, contributed to the songs.

A 2013 film, Jim Lauderdale: The King of Broken Hearts, documents Lauderdale’s long and storied career.

Three things to know about Jim Lauderdale: (1) as a youngster in New York City he worked in the mailroom at Rolling Stone magazine, (2) when he first moved to Nashville he lived on the second floor of Buddy and Julie Miller’s house, and (3) in 2016, he received the “WagonMaster Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Americana Music Association.

If you love Jim Lauderdale, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell and John Hiatt.




The empty spaces of West Texas have proven a petri dish for the fashioning of powerful but unorthodox art. Music, of course, but also literature, theater and the visual arts pour from the souls of a few brave thinkers driven exiled out on the endless prairie. Outsider pioneers like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Joe Ely, Terry Allen, David Halley, Amanda Shires, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore…and, maybe most of all, a heretical spitfire by the name of Jo Carol Pierce.

If ever there was an artist immune to categorization, it is Pierce. Raised in and around Lubbock, where she met Ely and Hancock, and was briefly married to Gilmore, she moved to Austin in the seventies and began a life-long exploration of her endless creativity. Ultimately she would wear the hats of novelist, playwright, screenwriter and songwriter all equally well.

There are the plays: Falling, Papergirls, New World Tango, Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, and In the West, which was performed at the Kennedy Center in 1991.

Encouraged by Ely and Halley, Pierce took up songwriting in the eighties and began performing around Austin. In 1993, adoring local musicians cut Across the Great Divide: Songs of Jo Carol Pierce, a tribute to her work featuring interpretations by Ely, Gilmore, Allen, Halley, Darden Smith, Troy Campbell and the Loose Diamonds, Kathy McCarty, Gretchen Phillips, Rich and Kathy Brotherton, and others.

It is certainly plausible that plainness and desolation give rise to existential quandaries and soul-searching art. But then where are the profound messengers from, say, Las Vegas or Scottsdale?

Three things to know about Jo Carol Pierce: (1) she is life-long friends with Sharon Ely, wife of Joe, and Jo Harvey Allen, wife of Terry, (2) she and Terry wrote a play, Chippy, which resulted in the album of songs recorded by Terry, Ely, Jo Harvey Allen, Hancock, Robert Earl Keen and Jo Carol, and (3) she has more than a passing interest in the history of the Jacksboro Highway, the storied Fort Worth home of out in the open gambling, bootlegging and prostitution.

If you love Jo Carol Pierce, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Terry Allen, Butch Hancock and Blaze Foley.




Perhaps the purest poet of all Texas songwriters, Townes Van Zandt wrote essential love songs and portrayed the shattered lives of lonely outsiders. Sometimes his fingers stumbled, and his voice was barely up to the task, but there was never any music more real. Brutal observations of life’s lows, often based on personal experience, followed by a lullaby of perfect beauty and hope.

Born of a prominent Fort Worth family, Van Zandt didn’t live anywhere for long, bouncing between Austin, Houston, Nashville, Colorado and other places of refuge. A wanderer and a troubadour, never far from trouble, his heart gave out in 1997, just too big to last too long.

His father gave him a guitar for Christmas in 1956, and after watching Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show that same year, decided he too would become a musician.

Townes was an intelligent and precocious child but began to struggle with depression as a young man, and would struggle with alcohol and drug dependencies his whole life. In 1962 he was diagnosed with manic depression and received insulin shock therapy that erased much of his short-term memory. He was then prevented from joining the Air Force after a finding of acute depression.

Van Zandt decided to seriously pursue his artistic ambitions and began playing regularly in Houston clubs, where he met folks like Lightning Hopkins, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Eric Taylor. He started out covering the songs of others but was soon writing his own stuff, and making a splash with the quality of that work. In 1968 he met Mickey Newbury, who invited him to Nashville and introduced Townes to “Cowboy” Jack Clement, who would become his producer well into the future.

Over his career Van Zandt released ten albums of original work. He died of heart failure on New Year’s Day, 1997, leaving his then wife Jeanene and four children, John Townes “J.T.” Van Zandt II, William Vincent Van Zandt, Katie Belle Van Zandt and Chad Whitson. Three LP’s of demo material were released after his death.

Van Zandt is touted as the heart and soul of Texas songwriting, and is an acknowledged influence on an array of important artists, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Gillian Welch and Conor Oberst, and his songs have been covered by artists too numerous to mention. His songs always silenced the room. They still do.

Townes Van Zandt lived life the only way his soul permitted. His ghost is always with us, just beyond the light, gaunt but smiling, fire in his eyes and liquor on his breath. Performers reach for his songs at the end of the night, maybe in tribute, or maybe because they need them just like the rest of us.

Three things to know about Townes Van Zandt: (1) Van Zandt County in East Texas is named for his family, (2) Townes’ closest friends were Guy and Susanna Clark, and they spent much time around the Clark’s kitchen table in Nashville, schooling young writers, and (3) after his death, and according to his wishes, Israeli singer David Broza recorded Night Dawn: The Unpublished Poetry of Townes Van Zandt, a random collection of Townes’ unreleased poems and lyrics which he set to music.

If you love Townes Van Zandt, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams and Mickey Newbury.




Jon Dee Graham was raised on a Texas ranch down near the Mexican border and moved to Austin to attend school. By 1979 he was playing guitar for seminal punk band The Skunks, with the legendary Jesse Sublett, and by 1984, after a stint with Lou Ann Barton and some crack new wave units, he had joined Alejandro Escovedo and Javier Escovedo in the True Believers, revered early practitioners of what would come be known as cowpunk.

Graham looked a bit like a misplaced surfer and played guitar like a country punk or a punched-up bluesman. He started writing songs with the Believers, and began a journey that would someday make him a pillar of the Austin scene, enriching the city as an artist and as a citizen.

Jon Dee has released ten albums of mostly original music to date, all critically acclaimed. His most recent LP, Do Not Forget, a compilation of earlier work, came out in 2014. He has collaborated with the likes of John DoeJames McMurtryEliza Gilkyson, Kelly WillisPatty GriffinCalvin RussellJohn HiattMichelle ShockedCharlie Sexton, and many more. He joined the Austin Music Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2000 and was named Austin Musician of the Year at SXSW in 2006.

Graham’s work has plenty of worn and beautiful angst, anchored by powerful guitar that is at once searing and soaring. If you poke around a little bit, though, his real message is profound hope and dogged perseverance.

For years Jon Dee was a member of  The Resentments. Currently, he can be caught regularly on Sunday at the El Mercado with the Purgatory Players and at The Continental Club on Wednesday nights.

Three things to know about Jon Dee Graham: (1) he dropped out of the University of Texas Law School to join The Skunks, (2) he recently released a book of his engaging Bear Art, and (3) a feature-length documentary on the man and his music, Jon Dee Graham: Swept Away, was released in 2008.

If you love Jon Dee Graham, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Bob Schneider, Stephen Bruton and Jeff Plankenhorn.




Rodney Crowell entered the world at Crosby (formerly known as “Lick Skillet”), Texas, and was raised in a musical family in Houston. He started playing drums in his father’s country band at the age of eleven, and spent his high school years playing in cover bands and developing his craft. In 1972, he headed for Nashville to become a contract songwriter, and has resided there ever since.

Crowell’s name got around Nashville and over the years he became associated with folks like Jerry Reed, Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Johnny Cash and most importantly, Rosanne Cash, to whom he was married for a decade. Crowell is one of a limited number of Texas songwriters to migrate to Nashville and stay, perhaps influenced by the similar path chosen by his good friend Clark. For a few decades he walked the line between artistic integrity and record company commercialism (his work has been covered by Nashville mainliners like Alan Jackson, Crystal Gayle, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw), but managed to maintain a place in the line-up of uncompromising Texas writers (his songs have also been covered by the likes of Harris, Gill, Cash, Lucinda Williams and Norah Jones). In the early years, his best songs were finely crafted ballads like ‘Til I Gain Control Again”, first recorded by Emmylou Harris in 1975…achingly gorgeous meditations on love and loss that were universally effecting but not particularly revealing on a personal level.

This all changed in 2001, after a lengthy recording hiatus, when Crowell released The Houston Kid, a highly personal album about his Houston roots and his first work that felt completely untouched by the hand of the contract songwriter. Rodney had become a fully recognized Texas songwriter, as evidenced by the incredible work of 2003’s Fate’s Right Hand, 2005’s The Outsider, 2008’s Sex & Gasoline, and his latest solo release, 2014’s Tarpaper Sky.

In 2011, Crowell also released a memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, which was another unique look at the world through his weathered eyes.

In 2013, Crowell and old friend Emmylou teamed up for Old Yellow Moon, a gorgeous collaboration that won the Americana Music Awards’ Album of the Year award and couple of Grammys. They followed up with The Traveling Kind in 2015.

Three things to know about Rodney Crowell: (1) he first experienced commercial success in 1982 when Bob Seger recorded his song “Shame on the Moon”, featuring fellow Texan Glenn Frey on back-up vocals, (2) he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Music City Walk of Fame and (3) he served as music director for the Hank Williams’ biopic I Saw the Light.

If you love Rodney Crowell, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Kevin Welch, Stephen Bruton and Eric Taylor.




Bruce Robison hales from the storied Texas town of Bandera, way out on the western edge of the paradise they call the Hill Country. One of the self-appointed ‘Cowboy Capitals of the World”, Bandera is a rollicking little town on the banks of the Medina River, famous for errant behavior, barbeque, the aforementioned cowboys, and great live music. Willie Nelson once wrote a lovely instrumental about the goings-on in Bandera County.

There are great old Texas families out there, the Potters, the Buckalews and most especially the Robisons. Bruce and musician siblings Charlie Robison and Robyn Ludwick grew up tossing hay, drinking beer and rope-swinging down on the deep part of the Medina. They all held the gift of song.

Bruce moved to Austin to make a name for himself and married the fabulous Kelly Willis in 1996. In recent years they have increasingly recorded and toured as The Bruce and Kelly Show, and the sum of their parts is something to behold. This writer swears he’s witnessed, in the course of a single live set, Kelly and Bruce tiff, sulk and then make up while duet-ing one of their gorgeous love songs. That’s drama worth the while, a marriage to admire.

Bruce is a worker and a craftsman. Each of his songs feels like he started with a novel and distilled it down to twenty lines that rhyme. The lyrics feel like a thrown rock dancing across deep waters, each skip pulling common feelings and memories to the surface. Take, for example, Travelin’ Soldier, an arid but moving journey through young love, leaving, longing, war and loss. Or Angry All The Time, an aching chronicle of good love lost to the darkness of our lesser selves.

Three things to know about Bruce Robison (1) he stands about 6’7”, which is pretty tall even in Texas, (2) his spent much of his childhood in the music bars of Bandera like The Cabaret, Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar and the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, and (3) he and Kelley now have a passel of children.

If you love Bruce Robison, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out James McMurtry, Mary Gauthier and Robert Earl Keen.




Max Gomez was raised in the starkly beautiful terrain that surrounds Taos, New Mexico. Nothing that the average American would recognize. Tall, forested mountains give way to endless high deserts. The winds carry the whispers of the First People and the Conquistadors. Ghosts outnumber the living.

Gomez reflects the cultural richness of these ancient lands. A boy of Hispanic descent drawn at an early age to the preachings of Big Bill Broonzy, learning the music of the Mississippi Delta on a kid-size guitar. Then awakened to the art of the folk songwriter by listening to his parents’ copy of John Prine’s The Missing Years. He would become a handsome young man with a priceless old Martin guitar, baring a timeless soul with his own words and music.

By fourteen Gomez was playing “Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down” in front of a Taos crowd, and soon he was a regular at local venues the Old Blinking Light and the Hotel St. Bernard up in the ski valley.

By 2010 he was “discovered” in Austin at SXSW, and by 2012 he was in Los Angeles recording his debut, Rule the World, a collection of well-crafted and produced folk/pop gems that will stubbornly stick to your ears. Released by the prestigious New West label, this record is conclusive evidence of a real writer at work. His writing is bright and weathered, romantic and wise, maybe a touch disillusioned for a man of his age. His voice is a wonder, earnest but polished, kind of an unholy cross between Kris Kristofferson and Frank Sinatra.

He may remind you of a few fine alt-folkies from other locales, but Gomez deserves your Tex-centric attention.

Three things to know about Max Gomez (1) he spent time with songwriter Keith Sykes, who had collaborated with John Prine on The Missing Years, (2) his father hand-crafts artisanal furniture in Taos, and (3) if you’re lucky, you might catch him playing the old plaza in Santa Fe on a cool summer night.

If you love Max Gomez, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out BettySoo, Miles Zuniga and Ana Egge.




Gram Parsons was born Ingram Cecil Connor III, in 1946 in Winter Haven, Florida, to Coon Dog and Avis Connor. By his death at the age of twenty-six, he had forged a beautiful union of the infantile urges of rock and roll and the timeless wisdom of traditional country music. Parsons just knew that these distinct American art forms were a natural fit, if not a marriage then a fine affair, and he pulled on his Nudie suit, grabbed them both by the neck, and made it so…an unlikely accomplishment and, all in all, a good life’s work.

“Cosmic American Music”, Gram called it, and in the beginning it existed only in his restless imagination. But it was the beginning of the sixties, the world around him was diving off the cliff of what-was into the churning sea of what-will-be, and by the age of sixteen the boy from Florida was playing folk music in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village coffee houses. While attending Harvard for a semester in 1965, the vision was cemented when he had the chance to see Merle Haggard perform, and by 1968 he had joined The Byrds and influenced their album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which is generally considered the first major “country rock” album. Also in 1968, to the consternation of Ralph Emery and the Nashville establishment, Parsons and The Byrds were the first “hippies” to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

In short order Parsons and Chris Hillman left the band to form The Flying Burrito Brothers and released two more milestones of early country rock, The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe. Then he moved to France to hang out with Keith Richards for a while, coming back inspired to begin a solo career and with the help of a young Emmylou Harris, released two albums of original work and covers, GP and Grievous Angel, before succumbing to the typical excesses of the time in September of 1973. The story of his death is a sordid tale and the stuff of legends.

Parsons made country music cool for an entire generation of longhairs and rock and rollers. He was a courageous advocate of the pure joy and beauty of this preeminent American folk music, and while he left a relatively small body of original work, his music is still beloved and celebrated, his contributions to the art of songwriting deep and profound. If ever there was a fallen angel, it was Gram Parsons.

Three things to know about Parsons: (1) he met Emmylou at a music club in Washington, D.C., (2) just prior to his death, he played to loving crowds at the Armadillo World Headquarters and Liberty Hall in Houston, and (3) for a decade an annual festival called Gram Fest was held at Joshua Tree, California.

If you love Gram Parsons, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Willis Alan Ramsey, Steve Earle and Joe Ely.




While their significant individual accomplishments are also profiled here, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez also collaborated for several magical albums. Their respective performing talents meshed perfectly, Taylor’s weary wisdom brightened by Rodriguez’ piercing desire and punctuated by her flawless fiddle. An essential New Yorker and journeyman musician, Taylor became a Texas songwriter for a while, and Rodriguez’ songwriting skills blossomed through their association.

Many of their songs, notably the devastating “I Need a Wall”, play with the charged notion of the “May/December” romance.  Most, however, are simply stunning observations of life and love that will grab you and won’t let go.




What can be said about this man that hasn’t already been debated, cussed and discussed? Not much, given his iconic status in country music and progressive culture, but maybe there is perspective to be gained about the larger than life existence of Willie Hugh Nelson, the favorite son of Abbott, Texas.

First, the voice. An natural instrument so extraordinary that it is instantly recognizable in every corner of the world. In the abstract it might be dismissed as a nasally Texas honk, but to listen is to bear witness to perfection: confident, controlled, welcoming and wise, a portal to other places, places of warmth, comfort and beauty. A voice unparalleled in popular American music, with the possible exception of Sinatra himself.

The guitar work is equally perfect, but understated, punctuating, almost hidden behind the voice. “Trigger”, he calls his instrument. Maybe the only classical guitar in American country music, and when he throws in a little lead the room goes quiet.

Then there is the writing. Willie has been performing for so long, often covering the work of others, that his songwriting prowess is sometimes overlooked. He started off in the fifties as a contract songwriter in Nashville. When the dust settles he will be remembered as a songwriter, having written or co-written over 2500 songs, including masterpieces like “Crazy”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Whiskey River”, “Night Life” and “Hello Walls”.

But Willie’s highest purpose is not the writing or the voice or the guitar. It is, rather, his status as an icon of decency and unabashed humanity, a fine soul tossed around by the storms of life. But Willie has always come up smiling, caring more about us than about himself.

He was the engine of the “outlaw” movement of the seventies, and the course of that bloodless revolution tells us much about the strength and character of Mr. Nelson. Certainly the cause, resistance to the commercialization of the American folk idiom by Nashville corporatists, was noble, and the leaders of the movement, Willie and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser and others, were certainly principled and courageous. But for Willie Nelson the movement was a natural and inevitable extension of his very being: a man who has lived his life with strength and conviction, with a personal and unerring sense of right and wrong, without a whit of concern for the opinions of others.

He has lived a generous life based completely on this notion of personal integrity and responsibility, and is universally loved by fans of all political persuasions. He has been an active proponent of LGBT rights, the ethical treatment of animals, the development of bio-fuels, and support for farmers through “Farm Aid”, which he began in 1985 with Neil Young and John Mellencamp.

Willie Nelson, one of the very tallest Texans.

Three more things to know about Willie Nelson: (1) he moved back to Texas in 1970 when his Tennessee home burned down after a long night of songwriting with his friend Hank Cochran, (2) he has appeared on screen over thirty times, including in movies like The Electric Horseman, Songwriter, The Red Headed Stranger, Barbarosa and Honeysuckle Rose, and (3) in 1980, he sang Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” at the White House with First Lady Rosalyn Carter.

If you love Willie Nelson, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams and Roy Orbison.




Shawn Colvin is a musical renaissance woman. An important songwriter, but also a dazzling guitarist and singer of extraordinary power with just-below-the-surface vulnerability. Technically flawless on-stage and in the recording booth, her songs can soar with sunny grace or bring you facedown to the floor with gritty despair.

Born in South Dakota, Colvin moved to Austin in 1994 after launching her career from Berkeley and NYC, and she has become one of those quiet stars of the city.  You are as likely to catch her perform nationally or internationally as in her hometown.

Colvin established herself with her debut album, 1989’s Steady On, which earned a Grammy for that year’s Best Contemporary Folk Album. Since then she has released eleven more albums of originals and covers, including Fat City (1992), Cover Girl (1994), the platinum A Few Small Repairs (1997), Holiday Songs and Lullabies (1998), Whole New You (2001), These Four Walls (2006), Shawn Colvin Live (2009), All Fall Down (2012), Uncovered (2015), and this years collaboration with the great Steve Earle, Colvin and Earle. Along the way she has received additional Grammys and other awards, and has collaborated with such diverse folks as Buddy Miller,Patty Griffin, Teddy Thompson, StingBéla FleckEmmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and others.

Shawn established her style and following in NYC during the eighties, and was originally pegged as part of the “new folk movement”, working with Suzanne Vega, John Leventhal and appearing in a Broadway production or two. She signed with Columbia records during that time, the home of such contemporaries as Tracy Chapman, Vega and the Indigo Girls.

Three things to know about Shawn Colvin: (1) while born in South Dakota, growing up she also lived in London, Ontario and Carbondale, Illinois, (2) she originally moved to Austin to play in the Dixie Diesels, an early Western swing band, and (3) she published a memoir, Diamond in the Rough, in 2012, detailing her life’s journey.

If you love Shawn Colvin, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Eliza Gilkyson, Steve Earle and BettySoo.




>Janis Joplin‘s short life illuminated many hard truths. The isolation of a social outsider, the perils that lay in wait for a willful and hard spoken woman and the deadly mix of insecurity, hard fame and unbridled self medication. Her life also stood for the ferocious cultural collision of black blues, poor white soul and the driving and newfound rock and roll of the sixties, and the resulting impacts on America, good and bad.

Born in the petroleum wilderness of the Texas Gulf Coast, Joplin hit Austin in the early sixties and immediately made her mark on the burgeoning folk scene. Soon she was hanging out and singing with the legendary >Kenneth Threadgill and igniting the sparks of what would become the Live Music Capital of the World.

From there she traveled an arc of genius and loss that ended in her overdose death in 1970 at the age of twenty-seven. Her memory continues to sear at the collective American consciousness. She reminds us of how we often mistreat those that seem different, of  the repression of raw female sexuality, of how fame and adoration sometimes lead to abject loneliness. She also reminds us of the visceral celebration of love and life that was her art.

Janis didn’t sing, she stomped and wiggled and wailed her way through a song. She was rock and roll at its finest and most elemental. Pure energy, pure abandon, pure love. But off stage was a different matter…constant battles with self worth in a world that was often less than kind. Everyone was mesmerized by the spectacle of Janis Joplin, but the world kept her at arm’s length, and destroyed her in the process.

Janis was regarded as a singer, but she also wrote songs, alone and with others. Great songs like “I Need a Man to Love”, “Kozmic Blues”, “One Good Man”, “Women Is Losers” and the unforgettable “Mercedes Benz”.

Three things to know about Janis Joplin: (1) in 1962, the campus newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin portrayed her as a very early hippie; (2) for a while she wheeled around San Francisco in a psychedelic Porsche, and (3) she was romantically linked to Kris Kristofferson when she died.

If you love Janis Joplin, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Carolyn Wonderland, Freddie King and Lucinda Williams.




Nobody writes lyrics like James McMurtry. Brilliant, piercing and wry. Sweeping vistas of ordinary lives, set mostly in small towns and dark backwaters. Songs like novels. Literature.

Sure, he’s plenty smart and his father Larry is one of the greatest novelists ever to come out of the Lone Star state, but even that doesn’t fully explain the strength of this work. Powerful songs such as “Levelland”, a charging rocker and the best ever portrait of hard life in panhandle Texas, “Choctaw Bingo”, a fantastic, mesmerizing journey into the redneck underworld of east Texas and “Ruby and Carlos”, a brutally poignant vision of the slow death of impossible love. Layers of complex meaning, portraits of people lost in the dark corners of this big world, pieces of biting beautiful reality. Randy Newman, maybe, but in a cowboy hat.

McMurtry was raised in Fort Worth and Virginia, where he attended a prestigious prep school. At the University of Arizona in Tucson, he started playing his songs in front of small crowds, then he played a few shows in Alaska and moved to San Antonio to work as a bartender and house painter, and maybe become an actor or a songwriter. He’s been living in Austin for quite a while now.

In 1987 McMurtry was one of the New Folk winners at the Kerrville Folk Festival. By 1989 he released his debut, Too Long in the Wasteland, then Candyland in 1992 and the phenomenal Where’d You Hide the Body in 1995. He then released It Had to Happen in 1997, Walk Between the Raindrops in 1998, St. Mary of the Woods in 2002, Childish Things in 2005 (album of the year in the Americana Music Awards), Just Us Kids in 2008, and Complicated Game in 2015.

James McMurtry’s words are often rough and acerbic, delivered with weight and solemnity, but the wisdom is always there, and sometimes sharp humor and bitter irony. Deep as mud but clear as spring water.

Three things to know about McMurtry (1) his son Curtis is an up and coming songwriter, (2) his first album was produced by John Mellencamp, and (3) he once played guitar for luminous madman Kinky Friedman.

If you love James McMurtry, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Eliza Gilkyson and Jimmy LaFave.




Vince Bell was born in Dallas in 1951 and the road has since taken him to homes in Venezuela, Houston, Austin, California, Fredericksburg, Nashville and Santa Fe. He cut his teeth in the Houston songwriter scene of the seventies, in old places like Sand Mountain Coffeehouse and Anderson Fair, hanging out with the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark when they were in town, as well as folks like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Stephen Bruton when he got to Austin.

Bell adopted the artist’s life when he graduated high school in 1970. A writer’s writer, Bell is a master of imagery, each of his songs a literary journey into the seams of a deep and rich imagination. He takes you to places on the map and in the heart, painting vivid pictures, splashing your emotional landscape with new colors, new ideas, new questions. Try as you might, you will not find the bottom of these deep waters.

In December of 1982, Vince was recording an album in Austin when his car was broad sided by a drunk driver. The recording, which included guitar work by no less than Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson, would never be released. Bell was so severely injured that he was mistakenly reported as dead by local press in Austin. He woke from a month-long coma with grievous injuries to his brain, spine and right arm, and began a tortuous, decade-long journey to recovery of his life and the ability to make and play music.

Vince had to learn to handle the guitar again, creating new ways to pick and strum with his changed right hand, and his playing is the better for it. The great voice is still there, all sugar and rust, seeming to get better with age.

Bell weathered his tragedy and came out the other end swinging, first with Phoenix in 1999, a profound ode to damage and redemption, followed over the years by Texas Plates, Recado, One Man’s Music, and Live in Texas.

Bell’s music often has an ethereal, lilting quality, like in “Mirror, Mirror”, or can be gorgeously melodic, like in “Woman of the Phoenix” or “I’ve Had Enough”. Cerebral, evocative, mysterious, satisfying.

Three things to know about Vince Bell: (1) he was a star quarterback in high school in Houston (gotta play that football in Texas), (2) a ballet was set to his music and staged at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theater, and (3) he has written a book, One Man’s Music, about his struggle to recover from his accident.

If you love Vince Bell, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Kevin Welch, Eliza Gilkyson, and Michael Fracasso.




Patty Griffin lays herself bare in achingly beautiful meditations on love and all the things that bear on love. Work that is completely fresh and original. Simple songs. Spare, nothing extra, just seamless snapshots of the moments and the feelings that we will all pass through. Lessons we learn, losses we endure, joys we remember. Little raindrops falling on deep waters, rippling forever.

Hailing from Old Town, Maine, the youngest of seven children, Griffin had an early interest in music which she credits to her mother, who sang around the house in a voice like Peggy Lee’s. Patty purchased a fifty-dollar guitar at sixteen, an investment that would pay off, but not for a while.

The breakup of Griffin’s first marriage, in 1992, was the catalyst for positive change and a more ambitious approach to her art. One door closes, another is revealed. Soon she was regularly performing her original songs in Boston coffeehouses. Her first attempt at an album was fraught with problems, but in 1996 she managed to produce a debut album, Living With Ghosts, taken from original demo recordings. Two years later she came out with a follow-up album, Flaming Red, backed by a full band and a real production team, and she was on her way.

Griffiin’s career has been a creative tapestry. To date she has produced nine albums of original work and a few live albums. She has toured solo and with folks like Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (as the Sweet Harmony Traveling Revue), as well as icon Robert Plant. She also lends her voice to the recordings of others as a back-up singer.

But Patty’s most important contribution is through her songwriting, which provides a valuable outlet for expression and also helps her process the deep emotions which are the source of the songs. An impressive list of artists have recorded her work, including Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks, Bette Midler, Harris, Shawn Colvin, Miranda Lambert, Linda Ronstadt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kelly Clarkson, Joan Baez and Martina McBride.

There are many other professional accolades, including two Grammy Awards (seven nominations in all), Album of the Year and Artist of the Year awards from the Americana Music Association (seven nominations in all) and Inspirational Album of the Year from the Dove Awards (two nominations). Last year she launched her own record label, PGM.

Griffin’s voice is stunning instrument, a hide of resolute hope stretched over a skeleton of hard experience. Her songs steer us through familiar places, places of stillness and love and hope as well as places of fear and risk and disappointment. Her performances, particularly when she is alone with a guitar or piano, are profound and captivating. Patty Griffin is one of the most talented songwriters working today. If you don’t know her work, you should.

Three things you should know about Patty Griffin: (1) she was turned down for several commercials, including spots for Diet Coke and Downy, because her voice was just too sad, (2) she has collaborated, musically and romantically, with Robert Plant, and (3) she once worked as a waitress.

If you love Patty Griffin, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Mary Gauthier, Sam Baker and Eliza Gilkyson.




It is impossible to exaggerate Lucinda Williams’ significance to the evolution of alternative country music. An early voice of independence and originality, she stormed onto the live music scene in the seventies, and might properly be called the first female member of the outlaw movement.

Born to a literary family in Louisiana, Williams landed in Austin in 1974 and developed her craft in the rich beginnings of our progressive country scene. She has since lived in Los Angeles and Nashville, but has never lost her southern sensibility and swampy drawl.

Like so many other elemental artists, Lucinda’s work embodies both courage and fear. The lyrics are often dark but also hopeful, her voice is a combination of tentative fragility and gritty resolve. She’ll have you staring out the window, remembering the twists and turns of the road behind you, and just when you least expect it she pops the clutch and accelerates into pure pulsing joy. You’ll find yourself dancing out of the shadows and into the sunlight, your heart lighter than air. Her work is so clear and clean and right, so essential to what we now call good country music, it is impossible to imagine Williams singing anything but her plaintive portraits of hope, lust and heartbreak.

Williams first recorded her savagely beautiful work in 1980, with Happy Woman Blues, released by no less than Smithsonian Folkway Records. She hasn’t slowed down since. While she has seemingly influenced every songwriter to come in her wake, her own influences are undetectable, even irrelevant. Who cares what Hemingway was thinking? Just read the damn book.

Experience “Righteously”, Williams’ inky ode to lust or “Blue”, her riff on resignation and surrender. Listen to her powerful recitation of all the simple things that make life worth living in “Sweet Old World”. A provoking take on the riddle of the cup which is “half empty or half full”.

There is no living artist that has contributed more to American songwriting. Discover this very important soul.

Three things to know about Lucinda Williams: (1) she is the daughter of noted poet and professor Miller Williams; (2) she first performed live in Mexico City; and (3) September 6th is “Lucinda Williams Day” in Santa Cruz, California.

If you love Lucinda Williams, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Patty Griffin, Steve Earle and Eliza Gilkyson.




Jimmie Vaughan learned to play the guitar while growing up in Dallas, and headed south in the late sixties to help create the emerging Austin rhythm and blues scene. In the seventies he teamed up with California vocalist and harpist Kim Wilson, uber-bassman Keith Ferguson, and drummer Mike Buck to form The Fabulous Thunderbirds, arguably the coolest cadre of musicians ever to rise from the River City.

And when we say cool, we mean a swamp full of original, theatrical, gritty cool…an ongoing ode to the real rhythm and blues that had been forged over the decades by (mostly) black men and women in Memphis, Detroit, Houston and Fort Worth. The Continental Club and the old Soap Creek Saloon were haunts for the T-Birds, who were a sharp contrast to the doe-eyed cosmic cowboys that were building the other parts of the Austin music scene during the same period. Jimmie curled over his Stratocaster in blustery pachuco pants, jet black hair held steady in a pompadour with some shiny petroleum product. Kim was fond of all black outfits and black Ray-Bans, sleeves all rolled up high, topped off by a glittering turban worthy of Joan Crawford. Ferguson played bass with heavy lids and a scary stare, early tattoos visible through a translucent bowling shirt, while Buck was on drums, stoically keeping the whole rocking’ shebang on track.

Vaughan began a solo career in 1994, and has been tearing it up with a succession of friends ever since. He is inevitably compared to his beloved younger brother, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, but their creative styles were quite different.

Stevie looked at the sky and let her rip, a classic blues seer channeling something from beyond, but Jimmie’s approach is more studied and cerebral. Each of his songs is built upon a completely original and intricately constructed riff, a backbone to hold up a load of swinging soul and shouting joy. The result is real mastery, a completely authentic urban folk journey.

Vaughan plays the blues guitar as well as any white boy, including the likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Duane Allman and his brother Stevie. His rhythm and blues will pull you out on the floor, whether you can dance or not, and his slow blues are impeccable, entirely original but reminiscent of the best of Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor or Gatemouth Brown. In recent years he’s been incorporating jazz undercurrents, performing regularly at C-Boys Heart & Soul on South Congress. Backed up by Mike Flanigin’s throbbing B-3 organ, Jimmie sits while he plays, surveying the crowd with a sharp eye, trying to figure out just who really gets it.

Three things to know about Jimmie Vaughan: (1) Fender guitars makes a Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Stratocaster, (2) Jimmie appeared with B. B. King in the film Blues Brothers 2000, and (3) he prowls the streets of Austin in his custom hot rods.

If you love Jimmie Vaughan, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Freddie King, Carolyn Wonderland and Jeff Plankenhorn.




Doug Sahm’s influence on Texas music is not well enough known, but impossible to overstate. With his original stew of rock and roll, country, soul, Tejano and rhythm and blues, a little Motown and a little psychedelic polka, Sahm pushed the scene along for close to fifty years until his untimely death in 1999. He pulled us into unexpected eddies and cultural confluences, always with a smile on his face and a Pearl in his hand. “You just can’t live in Texas unless you got a lot of soul”, he said, and then set out to prove it so.

Sir Doug was a child prodigy. He came of age on the stages of San Antonio, made his name posing as part of the British invasion, and moved to San Francisco (with the likes of Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter and Boz Scaggs) as a Texas ambassador to the Summer of Love. In the seventies he moved to Austin, his “Groover’s Paradise”, to help fuel its exploding musical adventure. He stayed for the rest of his life.

First there was the Sir Douglas Quintet, San Antonio boys with Beatle cuts, then the Texas Tornados, with Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez. The fabulous Augie Meyers was always by his side. Sahm could lay down a sad country tune, but his trademark was something else entirely, a sort of rolling Texas jump funk that pulled hippies, rednecks and old folks alike out on the dance floor. His lilting drawl and hammering guitar, Augie’s pumping Vox, the testifying honk of Rocky Morales and the West Side Horns. Joy, set to rhythm.

Check out “Beautiful Texas Sunshine”, a sketch of the carefree Austin of the seventies, and imagine laying on a big slab of limestone with the lover of your dreams, clear waters swirling all around you, “Cowboy Peyton Place”, a two-steppin’ ode to serial heartbreak and “Just Groove Me”, a classic Sahm bluesy groove that will have you sliding and swaying around the kitchen table.

Doug’s son Shawn carries on the tradition in Austin with the Tex-Mex Tradition, and second son Shandon is a noted drummer with the Meat Puppets. In 2008, Austin dedicated Doug Sahm Hill to the man, looking over the lake in downtown Austin. He would have considered that groovy.

The happy hippie in a ten-gallon hat, the original cosmic cowboy, the pied piper of the Texas Hill Country. Doug Sahm changed our music forever.

Three things to know about Doug Sahm: (1) he sang “Teardrops In My Heart” on San Antonio radio at the age of five, (2) in Austin, 1953, two weeks before his death, Hank Williams pulled Doug up onstage to play, (3) in 1973, Atlantic Records released Doug Sahm And Band, featuring appearances by Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg and Flaco Jimenez.

If you love Doug Sahm, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Joe Ely, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.




Stories abound about Billy Joe Shaver, the tragedies endured, the stands taken, the paths chosen. Suffice to say that there is not an insincere bone in the body of this man. A son of Corsicana and Waco, Texas, Shaver’s songs leap straight from the heart and speak to those parts of us that need some dignity, some justice. This is poetry straight from the black soil of East Texas, earthy and real.

The word outlaw has a bit of a nefarious meaning. To the Nashville establishment in the early seventies, it was tagged to a number of country and western artists who weren’t as welcome on the Grand Ole Opry stage as the likes of Porter Waggoner or Dolly Parton. At the helm of the “outlaw movement”, as these artists came to be known, were Texans Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and the lesser known Shaver…maybe the truest outlaw of them all.

The trio’s work, and more importantly their attitudes and actions, led to a minor exodus out of Nashville and into Texas, where they found a much better reception for their heartfelt music and their wicked ways.

“It’s all right to call me an outlaw, but it’s hard to be an outlaw when you ‘ain’t wanted”, Shaver said in an interview. “No, back in those days when we first started that movement, it was more like outcast than outlaw. They didn’t want us in there.”

For his part, Shaver stayed out of the spotlight, likely not by choice. Rather, his penchant was for crafting indelible, gruff and spare country songs that bled authenticity. The kind of stuff that didn’t get played on the Opry stage too often.

These songs eventually got the attention of Jennings after he was confronted by Shaver in a Nashville studio. Billy Joe famously warned Jennings to listen to his music or get his “ass whupped”, and Jennings wisely chose to listen. The result was Honky Tonk Heroes, Waylon’s 1973 album of Shaver’s songs that ushered in the outlaw movement, instilling a more rock ’n’ roll approach to country, and influencing a slew of artists then, such as David Allan Coe and Kris Kristofferson, and now, such as Hank Williams III and Wayne Hancock.

Yet, for all it has accomplished, outlaw country has yet to be accepted by the Nashville elite, and that’s just fine with Shaver. “They were afraid we’d mess up what they had and they had something that was good,” Shaver added, “but it wasn’t as good as what we brought to the table. We were probably ten or fifteen years ahead. They claimed it was rock ‘n’ roll; it wasn’t. It was just kick ass country, the way we play down here in Texas.”

Shaver stands as one of country music’s true originals that is still actively writing, his latest release being the highly acclaimed Long in the Tooth, an album which has shed a brighter light on the honky-tonk hero. The album’s opener is a duet with Nelson, aptly titled “Hard to Be an Outlaw.” It’s the perfect frosting on the cake that is Shaver’s hard fought career, one that was never ideal in terms of development. However, he’s still standing and he remains the epitome of Texas music… independent, ornery as hell, and steadfast. Country as it gets, in all the right ways.

Three things you should know about Billy Joe Shaver: (1) at a young age he lost two fingers working in a sawmill, which shaped the way he plays guitar; (2) Shaver’s son, Eddy, performed alongside his father up until a tragic heroin overdose in 2000, and (3) his on again/off again wife Brenda refused to let Billy Joe play on Honky Tonk Heroes, telling Jennings “He don’t want to be on no outlaw album. He don’t want to go back to that kind of life.”

If you love Billy Joe Shaver, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Mary Gauthier and Joe Ely.




Certain artists serve as engines for the songwriting scene. Their talents go beyond writing and performing their own work into catalyzing and shaping the work of others, carrying forward the torch in productive and enriching cooperation. Folks like Stephen Bruton, Steve Earle and Chip Taylor, names like Lauderdale and LaFave. Forces of nature like Buddy Miller.

Miller, who lives in Nashville with his musician wife Julie Miller, is a consummate artist who wields a fine voice, a soaring guitar and an impeccable ear for the heart and soul of country music. In a long career of creation and collaboration with an extraordinary array of artists, he has worked as a songwriter, producer, session or touring instrumentalist and vocalist, recording engineer and trusted friend. He has worked with folks like Emmylou HarrisPatty GriffinLucinda WilliamsWillie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Rodney CrowellShawn Colvin, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, Solomon Burke, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Allison Moorer, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Earle, Lauderdale and many more. His fingerprints are all over the record of good country music, and he’s not done yet.

If Buddy Miller is an engine of the songwriting world, he is damn sure a Rocket 88.

The litmus test is, of course, his own work, mostly honed in partnership with the very talented Julie. Appalachian-scented harmonies delivering visceral and universal truths. Stuff that will always make your heart beat and sometimes make your eyes water. Stuff about love, mostly, the good kind and the bad.

Three things to know about Buddy Miller, all of which attest to his standing in the industry: (1) he has won at least twelve Americana Music Honors & Awards in various categories; (2) in 2008, No Depression named him “Artist of the Decade”; and (3) he co-produced the television hit Nashville.

If you love Buddy Miller, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out John HiattJim Lauderdale and Steve Earle.




Raised in a Fort Worth musical family, Stephen Bruton grew into a pillar of the Austin music scene before his death in 2009. He made his name as a prized session and touring guitarist, but evolved into a producer and mentor, shaping the work of veterans and up and comers with musical prowess, reliable taste and kind demeanor.

Bruton’s raw talent was discovered in the early seventies when Kris Kristofferson drafted him to play guitar, and over the next twenty years or so he also served in that capacity for Bonnie Raitt, and played alongside folks like Bob Dylan, T-Bone Burnett, Willie Nelson, Delbert McClinton, Rita Coolidge, Christine McVie, Malford Milligan, Yogi Musgrove, Elvis Costello and Carly Simon. Over time he produced records for Kristofferson, Alejandro Escovedo, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Hal Ketchum, Storyville, Chris Smither and the Hellbillies of Norway. His looks and talent got him roles in movies and on television.

Stephen also wrote great songs. Moving glimpses of love and loss, rolling testifiers to the freedom he chose and lived to the hilt. Between 1993 to 2005 he released five solo albums of moving original work, including What It Is, Right on Time, Nothing but the Truth, Spirit World and From the Five.

He was the genesis of the best damn weekly residency ever to grace the stages of Austin, The Resentments, and worked with folks like Jon Dee Graham, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Jeff Plankenhorn, Bruce Hughes, Miles Zuniga and a continuing roster of all-star guests. The group released three phenomenal albums, and they still put on a show every Sunday night at the Saxon Pub.

Bruton was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 but reacted with strength, resolve and an acceleration of creativity. He recorded a stellar traditional album, The Texas Sheiks, with Geoff Muldaur, Cindy Cashdollar, Suzy Thompson, Johnny Nicholas and Hughes. He also helped Burnett and Ryan Bingham write and perform the music for the film Crazy Heart, which was released after Stephen’s death in May of 2009 and dedicated to his memory.

Stephen Bruton was a hell of a Texan. He is remembered with great love, and his talents are sorely missed.

Three things to know about Stephen Bruton: (1) as a boy he worked in his family’s record store in Fort Worth, (2) his brother is noted blues guitarist Sumter Bruton, and (3) he played Captain Almeron Dickinson in the 2004 film The Alamo.

If you love Stephen Bruton, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Bob Schneider.




Another Hill Country master with a streak of Oklahoma red dirt, Kevin Welch cuts a handsome swath of contemplation, sincerity and integrity. Performing solo or with band, family and various friends, Welch’s voice and guitar work are equal to his songwriting. Listen to “Fold Your Wings” and reach for a lover’s hand, real or imaginary, or consider the unintended consequences of adoption in “Bastard Nation”. Serious and beautiful stuff that cuts to the bone.

Born in California and raised in Oklahoma, and after cutting his teeth for several years with a couple of bands on honky-tonk road, Welch moved to Nashville in 1978 to become a contract songwriter. He started playing the nightclubs with local bands and ultimately formed his own outfit, The Overtones. In 1988, with the encouragement of buddy Steve Earle, he wrangled a record deal and released Western Beat in 1990 and Kevin Welch in 1992. In 1995, Life Down Here on Earth came out on Dead Reckoning Records, a label he formed with Kieran Kane, Tammy Rogers, Mike Henderson and Harry Stinson, and was followed by Beneath My Wheels in 1999 and Millionaire in 2002.

The 2002 record, which featured a cast of Scandinavian musicians, would mark Welch’s productive association with friends from other countries, including The Danes from Denmark and The Flood from Australia.

Kevin has also had a long and important collaboration with other Dead Reckoning artists Kieran Kane and Fats Kaplin, recording a number of albums as Kane Welch Kaplin, including Lost John Dean, which reached number one on the Americana charts and garnered nominations at the 2006 Americana Honors and Awards.

In 2008, Kevin moved to Wimberley, Texas, just outside of Austin, and is now a regular in the Austin and Hill Country live music scene. His most recent solo release, 2010’s A Patch Of Blue Sky, is a stunning collection of powerful and ruminative originals.

A quiet voice of immense strength, a steady habit of saying what needs to be said. If you take up with Mr. Welch, you’ll keep him around awhile.

Three things to know about Kevin Welch: (1) he is the father of Austin musicians Dustin Welch and Savannah Welch; (2) he conducts regular songwriting workshops, usually from his home Wimberley home, and (3) he lives in a log cabin.

If you love Kevin Welch, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson and Kevin Higgins.




Hailing from Tyler, the rose capital of Texas, Adam Carroll is revered by listeners and other artists alike as a prolific and authentic chronicler of lives of folks in the Lone Star State, and pretty much everywhere else.

Carroll’s hopeful drawl soars above the human landscape, observing and recording the snippets of joy, irony and wit that bless and inflict us all. A simple turn of phrase is just the top layer of love, joy and loss stacked miles deep. What at first strikes as funny, even frivolous, quickly turns to irony and barely disguised pain, then circles back around to his one lesson: this is life, it’s what we’ve got. Stop bitching and start living.

He work will remind you of poets like Sam Baker and Walt Wilkins, even Bob Dylan…sometimes a hint of Daniel Johnston. A Texcentric version of the immortal John Prine.

Carroll has released seven albums of original work to date, and he has collaborated with the likes of Lloyd Maines, Michael O’Connor, even the late Kent Finlay. Many great writers, folks like Hayes Carll, Terri Hendrix and Slaid Cleaves, have been guided and inspired by his work.

At a young age he received the ultimate compliment of a tribute album, Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll, which features loving renditions of his songs by the likes of James McMurtry, Tim Easton, Jamie Lin Wilson, Verlon Thompson, Matt the Electrician, Wilkins, Carll, Hendrix, Cleaves and others. A fitting honor to a songwriter’s songwriter.

Keep preaching your gospel, Adam. We need it. We need you.

Three things to know about Adam Carroll: (1) he now makes his home in San Marcos, Texas (a lovely version of seventies Austin); (2) Lloyd Maines has produced five of his records to date; and (3) he cites the great Butch Hancock as one of his most significant influences.

If you love Adam Carroll, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Sam Baker, Jessie Winchester and Eric Taylor.




Alejandro Escovedo has brought a bit of both coasts to the Austin scene. Born to a renowned musical family from San Antonio, and raised in Texas and California, you might guess that he came of age running the streets of the Big Apple with the likes of Lou Reed and Garland Jeffreys.

Escovedo is a rocker, tried and true, his work infused with gritty passion and steely soul. After starting his career with The Nuns in the hardcore San Francisco punk scene of the early eighties, he moved to Austin and helped sow the seeds of cowpunk with brother Javier, Jon Dee Graham and Chip and Tony Kinman, in seminal bands Rank and File and True Believers. He has subsequently built a solo career and captained both Buick McKane and The Sensitive Boys. Alejandro has released a number of critically acclaimed albums, and has collaborated successfully with Ryan Adams, Chuck Prophet and Bruce Springsteen, and others.

Never at a loss for a sharp lyric or a compelling melody, many of his songs, especially the lilting ballads, bear more than a trace of country. Visit “Rosalie”, a simple call to a lost lover, for an example of Escovedo’s softer side. For a taste of the harder stuff, check out “Faith”, a muscular rocker with Springsteen singing alongside. For a measure of Escovedo’s emotional depth, listen to “Fort Worth Blue”, a brilliant instrumental farewell to the late Stephen Bruton. This one draws tears in Los Angeles and Luckenbach alike.

Never at a loss for a sharp lyric or a compelling melody, many of his songs, especially the lilting ballads, bear more than a trace of country. Visit “Rosalie”, a simple call to a lost lover, for an example of Escovedo’s softer side. For a taste of the harder stuff, check out “Faith”, a muscular rocker with Springsteen sharing vocals. For a measure of his emotional depth, listen to “Fort Worth Blue”, a brilliant instrumental farewell to the late Stephen Bruton that draws tears in Los Angeles and Fort Worth alike. Bruton was Alejandro’s first solo producer, and the two worked together to create three great albums released in the nineties, Gravity, Thirteen Years and With These Hands.

Alejandro has been long exposed to a heap of diverse musical and cultural influences. He comes from a large family of artists who have made their respective marks in Cuban jazz, rock and roll, punk and country. Well-known Escovedos include Alejandro, brothers Coke, Pete, Javier and Mario, and niece Sheila E. of Prince fame.

Over the years, Escovedo, who recent relocated to Dallas, has grown into a senior statesman of the Texas music scene. He continues to create new music and tours regularly. Another supremely gifted artist who has marked Austin and elsewhere with a passionate and singular vision, and a graceful soul.

Three things you should know about Alejandro Escobedo: (1) he opened for Los Lobos early in his career, (2) he started his musical career in a punk rock band and (3) he suffered from Hepatitis-C, including a long recovery.

If you love Alejandro Escovedo, Austin Songwriter suggests that you check out Bob Schneider, Jimmy LaFave, and David Ramirez.




Jeff Plankenhorn is a larger than life presence on stage. A big man with a kind smile and generous demeanor, he is often the bedrock that binds a host of talents into a moving whole. Then he picks up his slide, looks down in his lap and the joint starts hopping.

Plankenhorn made his name in Austin as a preeminent guitar slinger, especially as a slide specialist. Now he is everywhere in town. Regular gigs include the Apostles of Manchaca, with Malford Milligan at One to One Bar; a regular Resentment at Saxon Pub on Sunday nights; sitting in regularly with Austin friends at various recording studios and listening rooms; and finding time to tour nationally and internationally.

He has also found time to put pen to paper and is increasingly known for his impressive songwriting and powerful voice. With the recent release of SoulSlide, a collection of mostly original work, he has completed his bona fides as both a master instrumentalist and an important songwriter and singer.

The origins of Plankenhorn’s musical journey share a note with so many others…small town America, a church choir, a deep sense of community and ministering to others through his gift of music. It was love at first sight for Plank, this giving and sharing through music, a love that has only deepened over the years.

Born in Ohio and educated in Michigan, his older brother John had a significant role in Plankenhorn’s evolution as a musician. John encouraged him to experiment with all types of music and, above all else, just keep playing. John gave Jeff his first guitar at the age of ten, and stringed instruments quickly became his passion. While he certainly mastered traditional styles of playing the acoustic and electric guitar, his true love became the slide or steel guitar, and decided to take shot at the life of a professional musician.

Jeff initially chased his dreams to Nashville, listening and learning from such greats as Uncle Josh Graves, Gene Wooten and Jerry Douglas. At the urging of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jeff decided to move to Austin and has been here ever since.

Plankenhorn’s musical repertoire is both broad and deep, moving effortlessly through folk, country, blues, bluegrass, gospel, rock and soul. He has released four albums to date, Plank, The Speed of Hope, Live at the Saxon Pub, and the mentioned SoulSlide, which includes contributions from friends Milligan and Ruthie Foster.

Three things you should know about Jeff Plankenhorn: (1) he started singing and playing the piano when he was seven, (2) his brother composes avant-garde chamber music, and (3) his nickname is “Plank”.

If you love Jeff Plankenhorn, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Stephen Bruton, Carolyn Wonderland and Miles Zuniga.

A|S Series (November 1, 2016)

YouTube Videos




Kevin Higgins has been around awhile, fronting Austin’s “Cosmic Dust Devils” and now touring and recording as “Ghosts of the American Road”.

But Higgins found his solo mojo in 2009’s “Find Your Shine”, a simply stunning collection of stories and portraits that stretch from his imagination to the desert horizon. His El Paso roots shine through these tales of lonesome survivors, bleached and weathered in the vast empty that is West Texas. Giants and poets have risen here and imagined something more. The strongest left to find it.

This stark territory figures large in the landscape of Texas music, and is considered by many to be the birthplace of the rawest and realest version of an art form that trades in hard reality. Holly, Jennings, Ely, Gilmore and more than a few Hancocks. Loners squinting into the wind to the horizon, looking for that sliver of sun that signals the end of the storm.

“Find Your Shine” is as close as anyone has come to painting a picture of life in this outback. A place so bleak that its people have been hard for generations, a place where something good is so rare that it stands out like an antelope in yellow grass. Easy to find but hard to hang on to. In “Monahans”, a jewel about first love lost, Higgins confesses “…you grab ahold of something good and it slips right through your hands.”

In the powerful “West Texas Aggregate”, Higgins remembers a father that just “stares straight ahead” and a brother that “hardens up his heart and welds it to his muscle car.” In the end, he is resigned to the hand he was dealt. “This is my home, this is my place, these are my people, despite what we say.”

“Infinity”, an ode to real and enduring love, is welcome relief from the desolation, as is “Kickaround Kid”, an endearing story about a child’s boundless strength in the face of heartbreak.

This record is the real thing. Toss one back, throw Kevin Higgins on the table and feel those dusty winds blow right through you.

Three things to know about Kevin Higgins: (1) his talented wife and musical partner, Barbara Malteze, is always by his side, (2) Barbara and Kevin are reported to spend quite a bit of time in the lovely Texas Hill Country outposts of Fredericksburg and Hondo, and (3) he buys his boots in El Paso.

If you love Kevin Higgins, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out James McMurtry, Mary Gauthier and Ana Egge.




Will T. Massey’s boyish voice bears little trace of his San Angelo, Texas roots, and his fragile lyrics hint at hidden fears and turbulent waters. Massey searches this world for justice and peace, and judging by his remote but profound songs, the world has come up a little short.

Will T. was ambitious and an early learner, cassette recording and handing out tapes of his first album Pickin’, Poker and Pickup Trucks, while still in high school. He graduated, moved to Austin and made an immediate splash, releasing Kickin’ up Dust in 1988 and Slow Study in 1989, working with the likes of Lloyd Maines, Ponty Bone and Tish Hinojosa. He also began an impressive touring schedule with folks like Townes van Zandt, Chris Isaak, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen.

Then he kicked it into overdrive. In 1991, at the age of twenty-one, he had landed a record deal with MCA and released Will T. Massey, teaming up with Roy Bittan, Mike Campbell and Kenny Aronoff. The work was well received by the industry and the critics, and he was nationally lauded in the pages of Rolling Stone, Time Magazine and The New York Daily News.

But something began to go very wrong. Will’s demeanor began to change, his behavior became increasingly erratic and irrational.

He was entering a long and dark journey of bewilderment and isolation, a journey that would see little light for another thirteen years. A stint in Seattle, then back to Austin. Lost, alone, often homeless. Involuntary hospitalizations. Then, with the help of a last good friend, he found a doctor he could trust and a name for his illness: schizophrenia.

Will ultimately sought treatment and began to reclaim his art, releasing two albums in 2005, Acoustic Session and Alone. He followed with Letters in the Wind in 2006 and Wayward Lady in 2008. In the years since, Will T. has continued to make his way in this world and show us his beautiful heart. He has recently released another record of original work, The Weathering.

Pour a glass of your favorite and enter the soaring mind and delicate soul of Will T. Massey.

Three things to know about Will T. Massey: (1) the political bent of Wayward Lady was inspired by a letter James McMurtry wrote to Billboard challenging other songwriters to be more outspoken about world events, (2) the great Lloyd Mains produced Slow Study, and (3) he once had a video on Country Music Television.

If you love Will T. Massey, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Blaze Foley, Ana Egge and BettySoo.




Ana Egge’s voice pulls from some deep well, somber and strong, calming but bracing. With roots in North Dakota, New Mexico, Austin, and now Brooklyn, she writes powerful songs that are inhabited by the ghosts of a wide swath of old and new America.

Ana’s free spirit was fostered from an early age, growing up on the North Dakota prairie and the daughter of “back-to-the-land” hippie parents. She learned the art of adventure through the sites of a gun and experienced the pulse of a motorcycle at the tender age of five. Her father was a wheat farmer, her mother a teacher, but their wayward spirits soon had them splitting time between the prairie life and a hot springs commune in New Mexico, driving back and forth in a 1969 Dodge van.

Soon they gave up the vastness of the prairie for the spirituality of southern New Mexico, and moved south to open an alternative school. Ana’s days were filled roaming the mountains barefoot and soaking up the banter of a host of eclectic personalities. It was a world that sparked imagination and fueled her natural creativity.

Ana’s musical spirit was stoked by listening to an errant cassette of Iris Dement and a stint in her high school bluegrass band. Egge has since expanded her range of instruments to guitar, mandolin, bottleneck slide and piano. And, of course, there’s that voice.

She has drawn comparisons to such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, Aimee Mann, Nanci Griffith and Patty Griffin, as well as sharing the stage with the likes of John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Sinead O’Conner, and collaborating with Steve Earle (who produced her Bad Blood), and Ron Sexsmith.

Ana is one of those rare souls who is completely comfortable in her own skin. She remains true to her roots while connecting deeply with those fortunate to experience her music. Captivating. Alluring. Ancient water for parched souls.

Three things you should know about Ana Egge: (1) she currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, (2) she studied under a luthier and built her own guitar, which she has been playing since she was fifteen, and (3) she was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, also the home of Buffy Sainte-Marie.

If you love Ana Egge, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Carrie Rodriguez, Will T. Massey and Kelly Willis.




K Phillips leads mostly from the keyboard, singing and occasionally grabbing a guitar in the course of his barn-burning live performances. Sort of like The Isley Brothers calling Billy Sol Estes to the stage in a thumping Tom Green County beer joint. Just try to keep your rear in the chair when Phillips gets the rhythm pumping and that Hammond honking. His one release to date, American Girls, delivers plenty of that roadside rhythm and blues along with some very nice acoustic soul. A second release, Dirty Wonder, is on the near horizon.

Phillips’ Texas roots run deep…born in West Texas and raised on his grandparents’ cattle ranch in the Concho Valley. He remembers cruising the country back roads with his mother, the dry wind in their hair, Fleetwood Mac blaring from the speakers. By the age of five, K was writing poems and songs, humming and fooling around on an old guitar.

“I learned from a young age that music is a release and that it can heal you,” he once said. By fourteen he was playing in bar bands and learning the piano and organ.

But more hard lessons were in store for young K Phillips. In his eighteenth year, in separate accidents, West Texas lakes claimed the lives of his girlfriend and a close friend. Almost a Greek tragedy, but all too real. In the depths of his grief, K decided to seriously pursue his passion, music, and hit the road to Austin and New Braunfels, Texas.

He has since added harmonica and accordion to his instrumental toolbox, and is barnstorming across the roots music landscape. He leans heavily on his life experiences and pulls from places that resonate with those experiences. Gospel and blues, R&B and country, rock & roll, maybe a touch of folk. He is certainly achieving his dream “…to play the songs I want to sing and play them to people that want to hear them.”

While his music has drawn comparisons to Tom Waits and Keith Richards, K was most excited by the recognition of his work by Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. In October of 2014, Duritz covered Phillips’ “Kat’s Song” at Bowery Electric in NYC, calling K up on stage to help with the vocals. One of K’s long-time idols, the opportunity to sing with Duritz meant the world to this West Texas boy, and Phillips subsequently toured with Duritz and Counting Crows.

K Phillips is aiming for the stars and will damn sure get there. Keep a close eye and ear on this West Texan!

Three things to know about K: (1) he was named after Kris Kristofferson, (2) his grandfather was a Texas criminal court judge, and (3) he now lives in Nashville (we hope he finds his way back to Texas soon).

If you love K Phillips, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Shinyribs, Robert Earl Keen and Joe Ely.

A|S Series (July 1, 2016)

YouTube Videos




Some artists channel a calm wisdom that is as comforting as a father’s voice. We listen because their words feel right and true, gifts that might help us through our own dark nights. Chip Taylor is such an artist.

The quality of Taylor’s music, and his kinship to the great Texas songwriters, was best expressed when critic Anthony DeCurtis said “if names like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt mean anything to you, you should make a point of discovering Chip Taylor.”

Born James Wesley Voight to a Yonkers, New York family of diverse movers and shakers, Taylor has been a performing songwriter for over fifty years now. But that’s only part of this illustrious family story. Brother Jon became a renowned actor (and the father of Angelina Jolie), and Barry is a noted academic and volcanologist. Father Elmer was an ace golfer, and Chip initially intended to follow in his footsteps.

After professional golfing didn’t work out, Chip decided to try his hand at music, moving to Nashville to take a job as a contract songwriter, and he was a good one, writing such monuments as “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning”.

But Taylor’s talents were too expansive to be cooped up in a Nashville writer’s room, and he continued to write and perform for himself. In 1973 he released Chip Taylor’s Last Chance, an important contribution to the burgeoning blend of folk and country, and ultimately a cult classic. Over the ensuing decades he would evolve into one of our most important songwriters, a world artist in residence, releasing over twenty albums of original music, to date, most recently 2015’s The Little Prayers Trilogy.

But even a life that rich wasn’t rowdy enough for Chip Taylor. In the eighties he took a break from songwriting to become a professional gambler, and was good enough to earn a ban from most of the east coast casinos.

By the end of the nineties he again felt the pull of his art. In 2001 he visited Austin for SXSW and discovered the lovely Carrie Rodriguez at a live performance. Turning his talents to the Texas tradition, Taylor made several stunning, critically acclaimed albums with Rodriguez, a virtuoso fiddler, singer and songwriter in her own right.

Taylor has since retraced his steps to the East Coast and across the Atlantic to the Emerald Isle and Scandinavia, continuing to write wise and achingly beautiful meditations that have as much in common with Hemingway and Faulkner as with Lennon, McCartney or Dylan. He has especially found his way into the hearts of Norway. In 2012, the patron songwriter of that country, Paal Flaata, recorded Wait By The Fire, an entire album of Taylor’s songs.

In 2011, he was preparing to play a festival there when a lone killer took the lives of seventy-seven, mostly children, in the capital of Oslo and on the island of Utoya. A week later, Chip wrote and performed “On This Darkest Day”, a stunning tribute to the victims, a powerful ode to love and humanity in the face of mindless hatred. In the light of the new morning, he reminds us, we still have each other.

While Taylor has clearly grabbed life and lived it, his words are often more illuminating than comforting, more questions than answers. Still, a father’s voice gives comfort.

Three things to know about Chip Taylor: (1) he has had a long association with guitarist John Platania, who played on some of Van Morrison’s best work, (2) his album Yonkers, NY was nominated for a Grammy in 2011, and (3) In 1980 he appeared in the film Melvin and Howard.

If you love Chip Taylor, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Patty Griffin, Sam Baker and Guy Clark.

A|S Series (July 28, 2016)

YouTube Videos




It’s like you finally started listening to your old drunk uncle from Shreveport and realized he was channeling an enlightened hillbilly cocktail of Tom Waits, Ernest Hemingway and Lenny Bruce. Kevin Russell, aka “Shinyribs”, begins as an assault on your senses and becomes a journey that cannot be described but must be experienced.

Russell’s early life followed the boom and bust cycles of the oil patch, his family rambling from Beaumont to Houston to Abu Dhabi to Shreveport like a pack of East Texas gypsies. At the tender age of fourteen, young Kevin found his father’s guitar under his bed next to a sewing machine, a billy club and box of comic books. Lucky for us he fancied the guitar.

His first move, from blue-collar Beaumont to the well-to-do suburbs of Houston, and the jump up in class status, left Russell a bit unsettled. Playing music and writing songs quickly became a habit, as did skateboarding and listening to punk rock, which left an indelible imprint on his young soul. Yet another move, this time to Shreveport, marked the true beginning of his musical journey. There that he formed his first band, the Picket Line Coyotes. Steeped in the punk of his Houston days, Russell also began to bend to the demands of his country/rockabilly soul, beginning to shape the outrageous persona we now know as Shinyribs.

Russell found his way to Austin in 1993 and soon founded a band called The Gourds. Featuring Kevin on vocals and guitar, Claude Bernard on keyboards and accordion, Keith Langford on drums and Max Johnston and Jimmy Smith on everything else, the band rolled down the music highway for the next eighteen years, never staying in the lanes and nicking a guardrail or two, and became both a favorite of Austin locals and national fans. The band is currently on “hiatus”, with members continuing to churn out their art in various side projects.

Russell, in particular, could not be satisfied with just one creative outlet, and in 2007 began to also perform as Shinyribs. Over the years, Russell has grown his instrumental repertoire to include mandolin, banjo, and most recently the ukulele. Few sights can rival big ol’ Kevin wailing on a tiny wooden uke, or busting out a hillbilly acapella on a moment’s notice. Listening to this creative giant might evoke Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Wonder and Woody Guthrie, and he has shared the stage with the likes of Jon Dee Graham, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Mark Rubin, Scrappy Jud Newcomb and Michael Fracasso. Enter this psyche. You’re tough enough.

Three things you should know about Kevin Russell: (1) the name Shinyribs came from a transient woman who panhandled on a corner near Russell’s home (after he gave her a plate of BBQ, she would shout “shinyribs” every time she saw him), (2) the Picket Line Coyotes played at the second SXSW event, where they were accused of stealing a dive bar’s Jim Morrison velvet painting (they were innocent of course, but one could easily see why such a fine establishment would miss a velvet painting of anything…) and (3) at seventeen he consulted a shaman and discovered paranormal ties with both Jerry Clower and Gene Watson.

If you love Shinyribs, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out K Phillips, Bob Schneider and Miles Zuniga.

A|S Series (July 13, 2016)

YouTube Videos




Ryan Bingham is the real thing. A real Texan, a real rodeo cowboy, a real songwriter. An old friend once remarked, after listening to a young Bingham play on a front porch in Marfa, Texas, “I don’t know exactly what it is, but whatever it is, this kid’s got it.”

Born in Hobbs, New Mexico, Ryan was raised mostly in Texas. Laredo, Stephenville, Houston and Fort Worth. Along the way he did a little time on the bull riding circuit.

Bingham came out of the chute in 2007 with Mescalito and has followed with an additional four albums to date. In 2011, he collaborated with T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton on the soundtrack for the Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart. Ryan and Burnett wrote the theme song, “The Weary Kind”, earning each an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. The score included “Fallin’ & Flyin'”, written by Bruton and Austin Songwriter favorite Gary Nicholson. Bingham also made a brief appearance in the film as Tony, the leader of a small town band backing Bridges as a broken country singer trying to get by.

Bingham’s work is completely original, remote and strong, bearing the traces of long roads, flat horizons and dusty arenas. Hard years and tough circumstances…his mother drank herself to death, and his father took his life. The songs range from bitter introspections to hard-edged rockers. All hold both anger and gratitude and come from a place of secret darkness and lessons learned. The graveled voice, the dry places between the lines, the wary reserve of a man who can never quite tell friend from foe. Bingham squints in the newfound glare of fame, but he still looks straight ahead.

Three things to know about Ryan Bingham: (1) he now makes his home in Los Angeles, (2) his wife, Anna Axter, has directed a number of his music videos, and (3) some folks remember him as a baby, diapered and perched on the juke box of the Halfway Bar between Hobbs and Carlsbad, New Mexico.

If you love Ryan Bingham, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Kevin Higgins and Kevin Welch.




“Journeyman” usually refers to a seasoned and reliable guitarist or drummer, but what does it mean for a songwriter? In the case of Walt Wilkins, it means an everyman master who has portrayed, with passion and wisdom, all of the high hills and deep creases of our lives. A native of San Antonio and an Austinite for years, Wilkins is one of those artists who can only be fully understood through a grasp of his entire body of work, which is substantial. He emerges as a man of wisdom, a beacon for the rest of us, maybe even a healer.

Working quietly in the “next big thing” hustle of the Austin music scene, Wilkins has steadily gathered converts and friends, even a few disciples. His pieces resonate over time, simple in the beginning but becoming profound observations of universal truths.He has given us his take on simplicity (“Just Be”), joy (“Hey Tomorrow”), success (“I Chose This Road”), failure (“Some Men Fall”), the past (“Walnut Street”), the future (“Down the Track“), fate (“Trains I Missed”), poverty (“When There’s No Money Coming In”), faith (“The Angels’ Share”, “Poetry”), lost youth (“Privileges of Youth”), aging (“Up and On My Way”), mortality (“The Songs I’ve Sung”), replenishment (“Rain All Night”), resistance (”Hang On to Your Soul”), persistence (“Velvet Sky”), love (“Genevieve”, “Untitled”), lost love (“Absolut Crazy”), young love (“Something Like Heaven”, “Soft September Night”), old love (“Under This Cottonwood Tree”, “Walk Through This World With Me”), gratitude (“Between Midnight and Day”), rebirth (“Wrapped”), acceptance (“Quiet Moon”, “Grey Hawk”), and salvation (“It’s Only Rain”).

And then there are the masterpieces. In “Tonight I Might”, Wilkins contemplates hopping that train and leaving it all behind. The result is simultaneous joy and regret, capped by soaring, call and response guitar work. In “18 Days of Rain”, a man gives strength by refusing to bend to his lover’s melancholy. “Someone Somewhere Tonight” spans birth to last rites, passing first love, hopelessness and rebirth along the way. In “Walnut Street”, we hear whispers of the past in an old Texas home. “Long Winter” speaks to, and for, a family that has survived hardship and faces the future, together. In “If It Weren’t For You”, Wilkins gets down on his knees in gratitude for his woman, and in “Dear God”, he asks his God for both guidance and an explanation. Finally, he takes a damn good shot at the spiritual essence of love in “More Like the River”.

Wilkins maintains a coveted weekly slot at the Saxon Pub when he is in Austin, currently on Wednesday nights. Backed by the seasoned Mystiqueros and often accompanied by his lovely wife Tina Mitchell Wilkins, all accomplished artists in their own rights, Walt Wilkins continues to quietly bless us with his wise and beautiful observations of life and love.

Three things you should know about Walt: (1) he lived in Nashville for 11 years (he got back to Texas as quick as he could), (2) he has been called the John Steinbeck of music, and (3) he helped Sam Baker produce his debut album, Mercy, in 2004.

If you love Walt Wilkins, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Kevin Welch, Eliza Gilkyson and James McMurtry.

A|S Series (November 23, 2016)

YouTube Videos




Bruce Hughes is first a bedrock bass player, the go-to guy who sets the stage for a dean’s list writers and performers from Austin and elsewhere. Over the years he has backed the likes of Bob Schneider, Poi Dog Pondering, True Believers, Ronnie Lane, Dr. John, Cracker, Jason Mraz, Arthur Brown, Johnny Nicholas and many others. He often lends his soul-filled voice to the mix.

On stage at the Saxon Pub or a host of other classic venues, Bruce effortlessly provides the backbone to pretty much any kind of good music. Always smiling, always grooving, eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open and scanning the crowd. In between songs he’s always good for a brilliant wisecrack or observation from far left field.

He is also a very talented songwriter, having released three solo albums of original work, including Bluebird, Shorty and Trap Door, as well as BHANA with his All Nude Army. Hughes’ songs are well bottomed and well hooked, ethereal and a little smart-assed. Kinda like a blissed-out Alex Chilton on stage with the Beatles, singing a Billie Holiday song. A little like that.

If you want to catch Hughes at his most relaxed, hit the Saxon Pub on Sunday nights for his regular performance with The Resentments. If everyone’s in town, you’ll find Bruce, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Jeff Plankenhorn, Miles Zuniga and John Chipman on stage, delivering an indescribably wonderful night of down-home Austin soul. Week in and week out, maybe the best show in town. The boys trade original songs, well-considered covers and ill-considered banter over a couple of intimate hours. All in all, a perfect end to the week.

While Austin is a magnet for artists from all over, its creative ecosystem also fosters amazing home grown talent. Bruce Hughes is a shining example of a world-class artist born and bred in Austin, and happy to stay right here. Bless his soul!

Three things you should know about Bruce Hughes: (1) he briefly appeared in Richard Linklater’s classic Austin movie, “Slacker”, (2) the first song he learned to play on bass was James Brown’s “Night Train”, and (3) he was an integral member of The Texas Sheiks, one of the last projects of his late friend, Stephen Bruton.

If you love Bruce Hughes, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Bob Schneider, Michael Fracasso and Miles Zuniga.