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.




Few songwriters have achieved Eliza Gilkyson’s poetic soup of inventiveness, gravitas and sheer emotion. Her songs are a flowing literature of joy, regret and feminine wisdom, infused with stubborn morality and deep conscience.

The entertainment industry was always a part of Glikyson’s life, and music was always in her blood. The daughter of singer and songwriter Terry Gilkyson, perhaps best known for his sixties work with Disney, and sister of Tony Gilkyson, who played guitar for Lone Justice and X, Eliza grew up in the hustle and bustle of Hollywood.

Tragedy struck when her mother was killed in an automobile accident. Still in her teens, Eliza sought refuge from the pain in the rural southwest. Trading cosmopolitan for communal, worlds away from all she had known in urban California, she began to hone her life’s vision in the wilds of New Mexico.

In 1969 Gilkyson released her first album, Eliza ’69, then took a decade off to focus on raising a family. She worked on her songwriting, and worked at healing old wounds, in the spiritual solitude of the deserts and mountains, performing occasionally in bars and other small venues. She also studied the plight of Native Americans and became their passionate advocate in word and song.

In 1981, Eliza found her way to Austin, where she spent seven impactful years, helping to mold and shape the bourgeoning music scene. Although she later moved back to New Mexico, by way of Europe and Hollywood, Gilkyson remains an important Austin songwriter and citizen. She is an active member of several political and Austin environmental organizations, including Save Our Springs and 5604 Manor.

Gilkyson’s musical resume is impressive. She has released nineteen solo albums to date, and has collaborated on others with folks like Ian Matthews, Ad Vanderveen, John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky. She has shared the stage with the likes of Patty Griffin, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Dan Fogelberg, and her songs have been covered by Ray Wylie Hubbard, Joan Baez, Bob Geldof, Tom Rush and Rosanne Cash. She has appeared on NPR, Austin City Limits, Sirius XM Radio, PBS and prime time TV. She has two Grammy nominations, was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame and the Texas Music Hall of Fame, and has received too many other awards to mention.

Eliza Gilkyson is a willowy beauty with a naked soul and a sharp tongue, and her catalog is deep, diverse and stunning. Her life is a book, each chapter taking us on a journey of self discovery, encouraging us to ask hard questions, challenging us to search for our deepest meaning. Music has coursed through her veins since those early Hollywood days, and our world is a better place for it.

Three things to know about Eliza: (1) she earned her first Grammy nomination at age fifty-five, after she had become a grandmother, (2) her son, Cisco Ryder, has produced two of her albums, and (3) she often hosts songwriting workshops at her home near Taos, New Mexico.

If you love Eliza Gilkyson, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Mary Gauthier, Eric Taylor and Lucinda Williams.

A|S Series (November 23, 2016)




It’s a safe bet that Houston Marchman’s breath is tinged with road dust and a little farm-grade diesel. His songs are classic Texas folk, weary but hopeful, best experienced in an old truck. He can drive a melody and dip into some near-serious country blues. Gritty, real music from a Texas original.

Houston’s grandparents played an important role in his childhood, giving shape and texture to the stories he now sets to music. His grandmother gave him the gift of “storytellin’, Texas speak for poetry, his grandfather the gift of music. Houston had a guitar in his hands by the age of five and wrote his first song at the age of thirteen.

His songs have their beginnings in his years growing up on his father’s ranch in Meridian, Texas. True to his nature, he has met life head on, hanging out with all the usual characters from small Texas towns, ranch hands, cowboys, seasonal workers from south of the border, the hard cases and the sad cases. It is this tapestry of experience that gives his music such depth and authenticity. A storyteller, with a story that everyone wants to hear, spoken in country, folk, and blues, even a little polka.

Marchman has a unique ability to captivate an audience. You’ll listen carefully to the text and tone of every word. You’ll feel that you were there, right in the middle of the story, or wish you were! His songwriting and storytelling has been compared to the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Robert Earl Keen, while his steely state of mind reminds some of John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen or Steve Earle. As evidenced by his most recent album, Long Gone, this man continues to grow as an artist. Here he ventures further into the fertile ground of the blues, even delivering a fiery duet with the great Carolyn Wonderland.

Houston says he has a bit different approach to songwriting. He insists “the point is not to be creative but to be accurate in your experience and therefore you will be creative. Don’t write what you think listeners want to hear, write what you know.”

Three things to know about Houston Marchman, (1) he toured Japan as a bronco rider and singer in a rodeo, (2) he lived and worked in Nashville for eight years, and (3) he recorded a live album at Iron Horse Pub in Wichita Falls.

If you love Houston Marchman, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Joe Ely, James McMurtry and Robert Earl Keen.




Jason Isbell’s music is raw in substance but perfectly polished in execution, sort of like Neil Young sitting in with Crosby, Stills & Nash before he signed on the dotted line. Perfect words about a far from perfect world set to haunting melodies, sung in a voice that is cautious, road weary and earnest, all at the same time.

Isbell hails from north Alabama, right on the Tennessee line, but now lives the Nashville life with his wife, Lubbock born songwriter and performer Amanda Shires.  His music is pure southern grit, no-nonsense country that carries in it the diverse influences of rural Alabama. Raised in a musical family, he spent considerable time on his grandparents’ farm and in the Pentecostal church. He also absorbed the black culture all around him, and credits much of his sound to the “soul-influenced rock and roll and country” music that grew in the farmlands around Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Isbell cut his teeth with the Drive-By Truckers, joining that notorious outfit at the age of twenty-two, about the time that Austin label New West signed the Truckers in 2001. Isbell contributed songs and performed on three albums, Decoration Day, The Dirty South, and Blessing and a Curse, before leaving the band in the spring of 2007 to pursue his own vision.

Jason released his first solo effort, Sirens of the Ditch, in 2007, and shortly began forming what would become his regular band, The 400 Unit, an assemblage of crack musicians mostly from Muscle Shoals, named for a psychiatric unit in Florence, Alabama. In 2009 came Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, and Here We Rest in 2011.

His real breakthrough came in 2013 with the release of Southeastern, a dark meditation on the perils of addiction and the miracles of the new love he had found with Shires. In his years with the Drive-By Truckers, Jason became mired in the mud of intoxicants, but came clean in 2012 with the help of Amanda and his friend Ryan Adams. He followed in 2015 with Something More than Free, and Isbell is now receiving the national attention he very well deserves.

Often backed by Shires on fiddle and vocals, Isbell can rock the timbers but finds his real stride with country meditations on life and love, delivering lyrics and melodies with equally stunning effect.

Jason and Amanda had a daughter, Mercy Rose, in 2015.

Do not miss Jason Isbell. Best thing out of Alabama since muscadine wine!

Three things you should know about Jason Isbell: (1) accompanied by the great Elizabeth Cook, he has nodded towards Texas with covers of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and “Tecumseh Valley”, (2) his grandfather was a Penecostal preacher, and (3) he toured for a while with the band Centro-Matic from Denton, Texas.

If you love Jason Isbell, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Steve Earle, Eliza Gilkyson and James McMurtry.




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)

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Having been mentioned, with other visionaries, in Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Name Droppin’”, Mary Gauthier has plenty of Texas cred and the life lessons to back it up. Gauthier (pronounced “go-shay”) writes dark pictures of lost love and life gone awry, and sings them deep like the brackish waters of a Louisiana bayou.

Gauthier was born in New Orleans, but had far from a normal childhood. A mother forced to surrender her newborn to an asylum, a baby girl left on the doorstep of a big world, a difficult start. A mother she would never know.

Mary was adopted a year later, but ran away at the age of fifteen to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Unfortunately, it began with the discovery of drugs and alcohol, and stops along the way included drug rehabilitation centers, halfway houses, brief stints in jail and many nights crashing on friends’ couches.

She struggled to find her feet and decided to pursue a culinary career. She would eventually own three successful restaurants, but her demons continued to haunt. Arrested for drunk driving on her way to the grand opening of her restaurant, Mary found God’s grace on the floor of a jail cell. The clouds of hopelessness and despair began to lift and, filled with newfound hope, sobriety became her new norm.

She also found music and her stunning talents as a writer and performer. Music provided truth, something starkly absent in her childhood, and truth became the elixir to start healing the old wounds.

Lyrics have a special place in Gauthier’s heart…a place of solitude and refuge from the storms of abandonment and chaos. Songwriting is an expression of her life experience, and the miles of rough roads give absolute authenticity and rich texture to her work.

Although she has never lived in Austin, you can hear a little Texas in her songs, and you can certainly hear more than a little Gauthier in the streets and bars of the city. Often compared to such incredible songwriters as Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, Mary’s songs have been recorded by the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Bill Chambers, Mike Farris and Candi Staton, Amy Helm and Bettye Lavette. She also worked with Austin’s Gurf Morlix, who produced her third album, Filth & Fire.

But Gauthier’s creativity is too vast to be confined to songwriting. She has also published short stories and is working on a book about the art of songwriting.

Her story is worth sharing, and share she does, with passion and depth, and with a message that is as captivating as it is challenging. Don’t settle for anything less than absolute truth and real love.

Three things you should know about Mary Gauthier: (1) her first album, Dixie Kitchen, was named after her first restaurant which served Cajun food in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, (2) she wrote her first song at age thirty-five, and (3) her songs are studied as literature at Vanderbilt University.

If you love Mary Gauthier, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Lucinda Williams, Eric Taylor and Will T. Massey.

A|S Series (September 14, 2016)

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David Ramirez writes melodic, brooding songs of love and life, delivering them with perfect pitch and regret. Young, but hopeful despite his well-worn scars. His work is profound and accessible, not much country except an occasional whiff of pedal steel, and his young catalog is deep.

Ramirez was a relative late bloomer, tapping into his musical gifts only after giving up baseball in his senior year of high school. With a new perspective and a fresh set of friends, he found himself singing in the school choir and performing in theater programs. That same year he picked up his first guitar and started playing in several “awful” bands, but he took to the music scene, and was soon entertaining crowds at open microphone nights.

His next real mile marker was discovery of the work of Ryan Adams when a friend gave him an album by the singer/songwriter. A gift that would keep on giving, Adams inspired Ramirez to push past long-standing boundaries into new emotional territory. Through this process, he forged his own cocktail of pop/folk/rock and started on his journey to the next mile marker…storytelling.

This part of the journey would be the most challenging for the young Ramirez. He lost his way for several years, stuck between his driving desire to live a larger life, the life of a poet, and the relentless realities of everyday life. But David had too much character to settle…he waited and fought and searched until the next mile marker appeared on the horizon, in the form of a relationship crisis.

Through the angst came an epiphany, ”If I want to be in a meaningful relationship with someone, I have to be honest in everything I do.” Truth, and the courage to tell it, set the stage for real storytelling, and David and his audiences have been reaping the benefits ever since, as he shares his intimate and personal life experiences through song.

While Ramirez describes himself more as a storyteller than a musician, he has toured with the likes of Shakey Graves, Joe Pug, Noah Gundersen, Gregory Alan Isakov and others. Initially focusing on solo work, he grew tired of the solitude of the one-man band and is now creating a musical family to share the stage with, a group of artists who understand and emphasize his messages.

An open heart, a vulnerable soul. A serious contender with a bright future, or a dark one. You be the judge.

Three things you should know about David Ramirez: (1) in one year he put 260,000 touring miles on his Kia Rio, (2) he has an ironic of humor (check out his instagram page) and (3) it was his high school choir director who first discovered that David had serious musical chops.

If you love David Ramirez, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Michael Fracasso, Patty Griffin and Miles Zuniga.




Amanda Shires songs are grounded but ethereal, enchanting original work delivered with a husky voice that can suddenly erupt into a bird-like trill. Lilting stuff. In fact she seems to float above the rest of us like some kind of cowgirl songbird.

Raised in the storied Texas towns of Lubbock and Mineral Wells, Amanda found her first pawnshop violin in a at the age of ten. At fifteen she was playing for The Texas Playboys, formerly of Bob Wills fame, and then with Lubbock’s Thrift Store Cowboys. By 2005 she had blossomed into a virtuoso instrumentalist and performer and released her first LP, Being Brave.

From there she developed her singer-songwriter skills. In 2009 she released both the solo effort West Cross Timbers and the Rod Picott collaboration Sew Your Heart with Wires. Then two more solo records, Carrying Lightning in 2011 and Down Fell The Doves in August 2013.

Shires also married songwriter Jason Isbell that year and moved from Austin to Nashville. They have since had their first child, a daughter, Mercy Rose.

She regularly backs Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit, on vocals, fiddle, and occasionally ukulele, and has performed with Todd Snider, Justin Townes Earle, Chris Isaak, Picott and many others.

Amanda Shires is the real thing, her off-kilter creativity and strong voice demand focus of the listener, to immense reward. Promising times lay ahead.

Three things you should know about Amanda Shires: (1) in 2011 she appeared in the 2011 film Country Strong, (2) after a show in Tampa, Florida, a fan handed her a bag of “whiskers and claws and teeth and fur”, telling her the totem would make her “bulletproof”, and (3) some people call her “Pearl”.

If you love Amanda Shires, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Ana Egge, Will T. Massey and Kevin Higgins.




Ted Hawkins lived a hard life, but his journey was a gift to us all. Born black and poor in Mississippi, he did time in reform school and prison before trying his hand at music after hearing the work of Sam Cooke. The talent was obviously there all along.

While Hawkins traveled the rocky road of a hard-core bluesman, his music is rooted more in folk than traditional blues. The delivery is spare, unadorned rhythm guitar utilizing innovative open tunings. You can hear the strains of the Delta in his corncob voice, dripping with soulful joy and steeped in hard lessons learned. He was the musical poster boy of the “outsider” artist, big and raw-boned and completely oblivious to the etiquette and expectations of those around him.

He made his name as a busker on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, California, and his recorded output is sparse. A few dedicated admirers worked hard to corral Ted in the studio, attempting to navigate his addictions and tendency to disappear for extended periods of time. By his death in 1995, he had produced several albums of original work and magical takes on the songs of others. Like so many other great American artists, Hawkins found more respect and appreciation on the other side of the Atlantic. His dedicated European following was primarily the result of the admiration and efforts of British disc jockey Andy Kershaw.

2015 saw the release of a tribute album, Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins, an Austin salute to the work of this great artist. Produced by our own Kevin Russell, Jenni Finlay and Brian T. Atkinson, the disc features Hawkins’ originals interpreted by Austin Songwriter favorites Shinyribs, Mary Gauthier, James McMurtry, Jon Dee Graham, Gurf Morlix, Danny Barnes, Ramsay Midwood and Randy Weeks.

Three things to know about Ted Hawkins: (1) he claimed that damaged fingers preventing him from bending notes in the blues tradition, (2) a documentary of his life and art, Ted Hawkins: Amazing Grace, was released in 1996, and (3) he died at about the time of the release of what would be his most famous album, The Next Hundred Years.

If you love Ted Hawkins, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Blaze Foley, Jesse Winchester and John Hiatt.




Trained in classical violin at the Berkeley School of Music and expertly apprenticed in songwriting and performing by the great Chip Taylor, Carrie Rodriguez has become a force of nature in the Austin music scene. Her music is at once powerful and ethereal, tied to the ground and soaring above it, equal parts flesh and soul.

Daughter of the luminous songwriter David Rodriguez and the painter Katy Nail, granddaughter of essayist Frances Nail and great-niece of Tejana legend Eva Garza, Carrie is extending a lineage of important Texas artists.

She found music early, wandering the halls of elementary school when a beginner’s version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” stopped her cold. Twelve years of violin lessons and a stint at Berkeley, she now wields a mean fiddle, and can more than hold her own on guitar, mandolin and tenor guitar. Her songs span folk to country blues to chicana to pure drawling country. Add a striking voice, spellbinding lyrics and full throttle stage presence, and you’ve got what Carrie self describes as “a half-gringa, half-Chicana, fiddle-playing Rodriguez.” Enough said.

Carrie grew up in a polarized world, one of the first generation of multi-racial offspring in old-school Texas, but determined to find her way. At the age of ten she was fully engaged in classical music, performing on her violin with others at Carnegie Hall. The adventures and lessons of these formative years would leave an indelible impression and the gift the wisdom. Be true to your heart, be proud of your heritage and family, and do what you love.

She used this wisdom to confront and resolve an important life decision…classical music or a different direction, something in her roots. Those roots, creative and Hispanic and Texan, were too deep and strong…she moved to Austin and exchanged the classical violin for a rough country fiddle, and took up the songster’s life.

Her career hit full stride in 2001 when she met Chip Taylor at Austin’s South by Southwest while on-stage with a distinguished group of artists celebrating their Hispanic heritage, including Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt, Gloria Estefan and Jose Feliciano. They decided to throw in together and started a collaboration that would last five years and produce four stunning albums.

Rodriguez has worked with an impressive list of songwriters, including Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Mary Gauthier, Alejandro Escovedo, John Mayer, Robert Earl Keen, Rickie Lee Jones and Patty Griffin. Her media dossier is equally impressive…Austin City Limits, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Rolling Stone Magazine, The New York Times, The Times of London, The New Yorker, the Washington Post, Today Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Colbert Report, as well as various radio shows on BBC and NPR.

She lives in Austin and is married to musician Luke Jacobs, carrying on the family tradition of passion and creativity. The story is just beginning.

Three things you should know about Carrie Rodriguez: (1) January 17th is “Carrie Rodriguez Day” in Austin, (2) she has her own recording label, Luz Records (her middle name is Luz, Spanish for light), and (3) she learned Spanish from her ex-husband, as she didn’t grow up speaking it at home.

If you love Carrie Rodriguez, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Patty Griffin, Eliza Gilkyson and Miles Zuniga.




Kris Kristofferson is a living testament to the ethic of the singer-songwriter. Introspective and gregarious, astute observer of the ebb and flow of human emotion, courageous, independent. Kristofferson was there in the beginning, living the life, sowing the early seeds. Come to think, maybe he started the whole damn thing.

Born in Brownsville, Texas to a military family, Kristofferson has lived pretty much everywhere, and has done pretty much everything. Army Captain, helicopter pilot, boxer, rugger and runner. Rhodes Scholar, actor (with a Golden Globe Award) and pretty boy. But foremost, a songwriter.

Raised mostly in California and steered by his father towards a military career, his family never forgave him when he quit the army to become an artist. Kris got over it, and has had as much fun in this life as anybody, more than most, just being free and easy.

He landed in Nashville in 1965, swept floors to survive and did practically anything to get someone to listen to his songs. But he was never really part of the Nashville machine, nor would he become an “outlaw” from the traditional country scene like his buddies Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Kristofferson never pretended to be a country boy, never pretended to be anything other than what he was…a road hardened hippie California drifter from Texas. He was the absolute antithesis of the Nashville cowboys that whooped it up on Saturday night and still pretended to go to church on Sunday morning.

The full measure of this man’s work, and the real import of his influence on the art form, can only be appreciated from a distance. He has written great songs, of course, completely original and diverse barnburners that have become country standards. Songs like “For the Good Times”, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, “Help Me Make it Through the Night” and “Me and Bobby McGee”. Songs still instantly recognized and loved around the world.

But perhaps more important than what he did was the way he did it. Kristofferson wrote and produced the way he wanted, not the way some record executive told him to. His original recordings are raw and spare and dusty, delivered with a few scratchy guitar chords and a sandpaper voice, and they were much the better for it. Kris was one of those early preachers of the simple spoken word (along with the likes of Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen), teaching us that the value of the music is in the message, not the package. The book rather than the cover.

Kris Kristofferson has had a long and beautiful journey, and we’re quite lucky that he took us along.

Three things you should know about Kris Kristofferson: (1) he has a Masters degree in English literature, and once wanted to be a novelist, (2) he was romantically involved with Janis Joplin when she died in 1970, and (3) to get Johnny Cash to listen to some of his early songs, Kris landed a helicopter in his front yard.

If you love Kris Kristofferson, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle.




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.




The songs of Mickey Newbury came from a place of serenity and sadness, beautiful recollections of the ones we left behind, pretty portraits of love’s bittersweet residue. He pulls the memories to the surface and leads us through the pain, ultimately to a place of resignation and quiet joy. There is no anger in these songs, and little regret, just dusty gratitude for the love he had and the life he lived.

Newbury came from a different time. Born in Houston in 1940, there were no footsteps to follow, no radio folksters to awaken or inspire him. He was a natural poet, with something inside of him that had to get out. As a teenager he locked himself in his room to dream, write poetry and learn to play a wooden guitar.

At nineteen he joined the Air Force and spent a few years in England, then returned to the States to become a songwriter. He chased gigs to showcase his work in Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana, living in his car and working the shrimp boats when he needed money. He ended up in Nashville and, in 1964, signed with Acuff-Rose. Now a full-fledged contract songwriter with Nashville credentials, Newbury honed his craft in the days before labels and wholesale commercialization, and soon found his songs being recorded by the disparate likes of Don Gibson, Tom Jones, the First Edition, Eddy Arnold and Solomon Burke.

He released his first album of his own work, Harlequin Memories, in 1969, married soon thereafter, and produced three classic albums in the coming years, including Looks Like Rain, Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help the Child. These were his finest songs, utterly original and compelling work that was mostly overlooked in the cultural frenzy of the late sixties. But other writers were listening. You can still hear him in their songs.

In 1973, having built a respectable stream of songwriting royalties, Mickey and his wife Susan moved their family to her hometown in Oregon. He continued touring and, in 1980, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He decided to take a break from the business and focused on his family for a few years. Imagine a Texas songwriter living in Oregon, looking like a cross between Robert Mitchum and Pat Boone, playing golf in double-knit pants.

He came back strong in the nineties and produced a wealth of more fine work before passing away in 2002.  Newbury released more than twenty albums over a long career, changing the course of folk and country music alike.

Three things you should know about Mickey Newbury: (1) country DJ Ralph Emery called him the first “hippie-cowboy”, (2) he convinced Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt to pursue songwriting careers in Nashville, and (3) Elvis Presley famously covered “An American Trilogy”, Newbury’s arrangement of classic American folk anthems.

If you love Mickey Newbury, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Chip Taylor, Vince Bell and Will T. Massey.




The story of Blaze Foley, the songwriter, is too often lost in the legend of Blaze Foley, the “Duct Tape Messiah”. Hard drinking, homelessness, and a squalid death all contribute to the sad story that can overshadow this poet’s spare, aching songs and searching voice. But legend springs from a life like Foley’s, and this particular legend is made up of equal parts inspiration, irony and plain old bad luck.

Born Michael David Fuller in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Foley had music in his veins. From a young age he performed itinerant gospel with his mother, brother and sisters as The Singing Fuller Family, and the stage life stuck. Over the years the troubled troubadour would be known as “Depty Dawg”, “Blue Foley” (after his admiration for country artist Red Foley), and then “Blaze Foley”.

After roaming across Georgia and other parts of Texas, Blaze hit Austin in 1976 with Sybil Rosen, the love of his life, in tow. Over the next decade he gained the status of artist savant or court jester, depending on whom you asked. But the people that mattered loved him. Lucinda Williams called him a “genius and a beautiful loser”. Townes Van Zandt, with whom he developed a deep but reckless friendship, said “…he is one of the most spiritual cats I’ve ever met: an ace picker, a writer who never shirks from the truth; never fails to rhyme; and one of the flashiest wits I’ve ever had to put up with.”

When the “Urban Cowboy” frenzy hit Texas, and folks were walking around with silver tips on brand new cowboy boots, Foley took to putting silver duct tape on the tips of his beat up pair. Later he walked around Austin is a suit made completely of duct tape. The legend of the “Duct Tape Messiah” was born.

Other parts of his legend were not so shiny. Blaze had serious problems with alcohol, and was banned from playing, or even entering, such landmark Texas venues as the Cactus Cafe of the Kerrville Folk Festival. He often slept in his car, sometimes on the street. In February of 1989, when he was thirty-nine, Foley was shot and killed by the son of his friend Concho January. Carey January claimed self-defense and was acquitted of murder.

Just a month before his death, Foley recorded Live at the Austin Outhouse. Backed by Champ Hood and Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, this is the definitive collection of his small but profound catalog of music. Try “Oooh Love”, a stunningly simple sketch of the spark of new love, and you will smile and remember.

During his short life Foley worked with Gurf Morlix, Van Zandt and Calvin Russell, among others. His songs have been covered by Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett, and John Prine. Townes wrote “Blaze’s Blues” about his friend, and Williams wrote “Drunken Angel” as a tribute to Blaze. Morlix released Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream, a collection of Foley’s songs, and a documentary film, Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, was released in 2011. The “beautiful loser” lives on.

Three things to know about (the death of) Blaze Foley (1) he is buried in Live Oak Cemetery in South Austin, (2) at his funeral his friends wrapped his casket in duct tape, and (3) Van Zandt claimed that he and friends dug up Foley’s body to retrieve a pawn ticket for Townes’ guitar.

If you love Blaze Foley, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Townes Van Zandt, Mary Gauthier and Mickey Newbury.




Heralded as among America’s finest songwriters since his debut in 2004, Sam Baker is a stone cold original with no discernible influences other than, perhaps, the great Townes Van Zandt, whom he approaches in spirit and raw talent. Hailing from Itasca, Texas, Baker’s voice, dry as a caliche road, is the perfect instrument for these spare portraits of simple people living, loving and facing life’s storms. You won’t want anyone but Sam singing these songs.

Sometimes a songwriter finds the music and, well, sometimes the music finds the songwriter. As a young man Sam was living his dream…working some as a river guide and traveling the world the rest of the time. He had grown up watching his mother playing the organ in church and listening to his dad’s impressive record collection, mostly country and blues. He loved music, but it remained in the periphery of a well-lived life until one hard day in Peru when a single act of terror forever changed his destiny and ultimately made him into a songwriter.

Thirty-one year old Sam Baker was on a train traveling to Machu Picchu when a bomb exploded in the overhead luggage rack, placed there by members of the notorious Shining Path. A family of three, seated around him, and four others were killed. For Baker it was the beginning of a torturous series of physical and emotional challenges. Life-threatening injuries included a severed artery in his leg, traumatic brain damage, kidney failure, gangrene, severe hearing loss and a crushed hand. Peruvian medical care was hit or miss and a long and difficult recovery added drama to a journey that will forever haunt and inspire him. Seventeen reconstructive surgeries and many years later he still endures tinnitus and permanent hearing loss, memory problems and a permanently disfigured left hand.

Near death changes everyone, they say, and as Sam kept rising up to meet the challenges of his recovery, the music found him. First, the sounds, then the songs, then the words. He has described the process. “Melodies would come and they would be like a cardinal, a very bright red bird that flies against the window, saying, ‘Pay attention to me. Pay attention to the melody. Look at my red wings, listen to the melody.’ I don’t think I could ignore it.”

Sam had played a little guitar before the accident, but with a crushed left hand he had to learn it all over again, but backwards, his good right hand shaping the chords, the other left to strumming the strings.

“Everyone is at the mercy of another one’s dream”, he says. Listen to “Angels”, from Pretty World, or “Say Grace” from Say Grace, or “Iron” from Mercy, and understand that we all give love and life to one another, but we also take it right back.

Baker’s influences include William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Bob Dylan, and fellow Texans Lightnin’ Hopkins, Guy Clark, and Van Zandt.

In some way all of Sam Baker’s music is drawn from some deep well in Peru. At first blush it may seem arid, even a little bleak, but a few more listens reveal the quiet joy that is his real message. Snapshots of the days and trials of our lives. Sadness, of course, but in its place in the natural cycles of hope, love and the business of “carrying on.” He achieves a beautiful balance of dark and light that will leave you with smiles and tears in equal measure.

It takes a little work to enter the world of Sam Baker. Do that work.

Three things you should know about Sam Baker: (1) he took up painting after he mastered songwriting, (2) he played varsity football with fellow musician Tommy Alverson, and (3) he has self-released three critically acclaimed albums, Mercy, Pretty World, and Cotton, which make up what he calls his “Mercy Trilogy”, as well as the more recent Say Grace.

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




Kelly Willis was born in the red dirt of Lawton, Oklahoma and lived the displaced life of an army child, unable to put down roots in any one place too long.

Her parents’ divorce when she was nine struck a heavy blow. Taking after her mother’s love of music, she sought solace in singing, and at the tender age of sixteen she was fronting her boyfriend’s band under the new name Kelly & the Fireballs…a sign of great things to come.

After graduating from high school in the mid-eighties, Kelly found herself in the live music capital of the world, Austin, Texas, and began developing the sizzling blend of country twang and rocker edge that would become her trademark. She has a pristine voice that is both lilting and powerful, often drawing comparisons to that of the legendary Patsy Cline. Her down home delivery of elegant Texas country will cut you to your core.

It took a while for Willis to achieve the success she deserved. Her first three albums, all greatly anticipated, but were met with tepid acceptance by critics and fans. It wasn’t until the 1999 release of her self-produced fourth album, What I Deserve, that she really hit her stride. Time Magazine called it “the smartest, most consistently worthwhile country CD” released that year. In the coming years she produced another three albums which cemented her success and standing, and which included collaborations with Vince Gill, Dan Tyminski and Chris Thile. She took a well-deserved hiatus from touring in 2008 to focus on her family (she is married to songwriter Bruce Robison, and they have four children).

Willis has captured the attention of such notable Texas songwriters as Nanci Griffith, who helped her land her first contract with MCA, and the great Lyle Lovett. In addition to her solo success, Kelly often appears on-stage with her husband. The Bruce and Kelly Show takes us back to other great performing couples…Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings and Jesse Colter. Big shoes to fill, but these two do it right with a sincere chemistry that is easy on the eyes and sweet harmony to the ears. It is indeed special to see them perform one of their intimate love songs in a spellbound Austin club.

Three things you should know about Kelly Willis: (1) her musical career started with her own version of Elvis Presley’s “Teddy Bear”, sung at a carnival recording booth, (2) her voice appeared in the1991 movie Thelma and Louise, singing “Little Honey”, and (3) she once made People magazine’s list of the fifty most beautiful people in the world.

If you love Kelly Willis, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Eliza Gilkyson, Walt Wilkins and Carrie Rodriguez.




It is absolutely worth your while to rediscover the recently passed Jesse Winchester, a writer of uncommon heart, wit and grace.

Born in 1944 in Bossier City, Louisiana and raised in Memphis and Mississippi, Winchester started playing guitar in high school and continued at Massachusetts’ Williams College. Shortly after graduating in 1966, he received a draft notice and, instead of reporting for Vietnam, boarded a plane for Montreal. He would become a Canadian citizen and stay there for thirty-five years despite the fact that President Carter granted amnesty to draft evaders in the seventies.

Winchester joined a Montreal band called Les Astronautes and began to write his own songs. Word got around and Robbie Robertson came to meet him, and agreed to produce his first album, Jesse Winchester, recorded in Toronto and released in 1970. Third Down, 110 to Go followed in 1972, then Learn to Love It in 1974, Let The Rough Side Drag in 1976. Be sure to revisit “Mississippi You’re On My Mind”, a 1974 love letter to the south from a young man very far from home.

Jesse released the incredible Nothing But a Breeze in 1977, the same year that Rolling Stone credited him with “the greatest voice of the decade”. That voice. Longing and hope and conscience all dipped in southern honey. Deep wisdom mixed with silly lust and sung in perfect pitch. A captivating, beautifully controlled yodel.

Winchester released four more albums, A Touch on the Rainy Side, Talk Memphis, Humour Me and Gentlemen of Leisure, before moving back to Memphis in 2002 for the love of a woman. He is remembered in Montreal as much for his Quebecois “ya’ll’s” as for his songs, rich in story, melody, rhythm and humor. He ultimately settled in Charlottesville, Virginia, and lived there with his wife until his death on April 11, 2014.

Over the years Jesse’s songs have been recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Elvis Costello, The Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Buffett.

During his life Winchester’s persona evolved into a sort of dancing Memphis dandy, best demonstrated in 1999’s Gentlemen of Leisure, a completely original gem that cannot be described but must be experienced.

Jesse released Love Filling Station in 2009. In 2012, notable artists paid their respect to Jesse on a tribute album, Quiet About It, including Tex-centrics Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell and Lyle Lovett as well as James Taylor, Rosanne Cash and Costello. It is a testament to Winchester’s performing prowess that none of these giants improve even a whit on his originals.

Winchester’s last album, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble, was posthumously released. Remember Jesse in the way he would have wanted. Listen to “good music, slow and steady, and share it.”

Three things to know about Jesse Winchester: (1) he arrived in Canada with $300, knowing no one, (2) he met Robertson in the basement of an Ottawa monastery, and (3) Jesse formed the band the Rhythm Aces, which ultimately became the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

If you love Jesse Winchester, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out BettySoo, Willis Alan Ramsey and James McMurtry.




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)

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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)

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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)

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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.