This photo or Guy and Susanna Clark means something more to folks of a certain vintage. It’s the semi-hippie attire, for sure, and the old school VW, but something more. It’s the look in their eyes. The look of confident dreamers in love, looking out to a limitless horizon.
Yours truly is of that vintage, and remembers that feeling. It was the early seventies, the tail end of the sixties awakening. We had it all figured out. We had identified all the mistakes of the past, greed and war and hate and fear, and we were building a world of love that would soar into the ages like a dove above a field of wildflowers. We intended to march forward in peace, heal the wounds of history and live as one.
It all seemed so simple. You can see it in their eyes. It wasn’t that simple.
The incomparable Patty Griffin with her ode to the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Do something beautiful today.
It’s hot out on the levee, even at night. Darden takes us there.
“Journeyman” usually refers to a seasoned and reliable guitarist or drummer, but what does it mean for a songwriter? In the case of Walt Wilkins, it means an everyman master who has portrayed, with passion and wisdom, all of the high hills and deep creases of our lives. A native of San Antonio and an Austinite for years, Wilkins is one of those artists who can only be fully understood through a grasp of his entire body of work, which is substantial. He emerges as a man of wisdom, a beacon for the rest of us, maybe even a healer.
Working quietly in the “next big thing” hustle of the Austin music scene, Wilkins has steadily gathered converts and friends, even a few disciples. His pieces resonate over time, simple in the beginning but becoming profound observations of universal truths.
Michael had the opportunity to visit with Walt in the condo recently…
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.
Mary Chapin Carpenter with an almost impossibly beautiful story about an impossibly beautiful soul.
Everything’s gonna be alright!
The genius of Kevin Russell. See his Austin Songwriter profile here.
Houston native Jack Ingram is one of those worthy songwriters who have flown a little under the radar. Maybe he’s just too pretty, or maybe his reputation is tainted by that time he spent as a fraternity boy at SMU. Either way, he is owed a fresh and diligent listen, particularly in light of his newest release, Midnight Motel.
Check out this pretty duet with Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”.
The magnificent Chris Smither does Rowland Salley’s “Killing the Blues”.
I guess we’ve all had our “Rosalie”. Or wish we did.
Kevin’s ode to the perils of young love. Barbara Maltese helps out.
Let’s take a ride out west, where the trees bend with the wind. Strong people, big sky, great music.
Take a trip to the mountaintop and turn your world from silver to blue.
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.
Eric Taylor performs his pensive “Dean Moriarty”, with wife Susan, in The Netherlands.
Pretty memories from the very beginning of the Texas scene. We miss you, Buckwheat.
Jason and The 400 Unit with a gorgeous call to home.
>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.
In a beautiful call to the past, Carrie dreams of Lola Beltran and Javier Solis.
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.
Emmylou Harris with a wistful version of her old compadre’s song. Buddy Miller on lead guitar.
Old friends sing Mr. Clark’s lovely song.
Jimmie Vaughan learned to play the guitar while growing up in Dallas, and headed south in the late sixties to help create the emerging Austin rhythm and blues scene. In the seventies he teamed up with California vocalist and harpist Kim Wilson, uber-bassman Keith Ferguson, and drummer Mike Buck to form The Fabulous Thunderbirds, arguably the coolest cadre of musicians ever to rise from the River City.
And when we say cool, we mean a swamp full of original, theatrical, gritty cool…an ongoing ode to the real rhythm and blues that had been forged over the decades by (mostly) black men and women in Memphis, Detroit, Houston and Fort Worth. The Continental Club and the old Soap Creek Saloon were haunts for the T-Birds, who were a sharp contrast to the doe-eyed cosmic cowboys that were building the other parts of the Austin music scene during the same period. Jimmie curled over his Stratocaster in blustery pachuco pants, jet black hair held steady in a pompadour with some shiny petroleum product. Kim was fond of all black outfits and black Ray-Bans, sleeves all rolled up high, topped off by a glittering turban worthy of Joan Crawford. Ferguson played bass with heavy lids and a scary stare, early tattoos visible through a translucent bowling shirt, while Buck was on drums, stoically keeping the whole rocking’ shebang on track.
Vaughan began a solo career in 1994, and has been tearing it up with a succession of friends ever since. He is inevitably compared to his beloved younger brother, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, but their creative styles were quite different.
Stevie looked at the sky and let her rip, a classic blues seer channeling something from beyond, but Jimmie’s approach is more studied and cerebral. Each of his songs is built upon a completely original and intricately constructed riff, a backbone to hold up a load of swinging soul and shouting joy. The result is real mastery, a completely authentic urban folk journey.
Vaughan plays the blues guitar as well as any white boy, including the likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Duane Allman and his brother Stevie. His rhythm and blues will pull you out on the floor, whether you can dance or not, and his slow blues are impeccable, entirely original but reminiscent of the best of Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor or Gatemouth Brown. In recent years he’s been incorporating jazz undercurrents, performing regularly at C-Boys Heart & Soul on South Congress. Backed up by Mike Flanigin’s throbbing B-3 organ, Jimmie sits while he plays, surveying the crowd with a sharp eye, trying to figure out just who really gets it.
Three things to know about Jimmie Vaughan: (1) Fender guitars makes a Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Stratocaster, (2) Jimmie appeared with B. B. King in the film Blues Brothers 2000, and (3) he prowls the streets of Austin in his custom hot rods.
Another great voice from Oklahoma.
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. 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.
Michael caught up with her at the condo recently…
Feed the dog and grab the keys. Vince is taking us to Mexico!
Ray Wylie’s simplest ode to love. Enough said.
See his austinsongwriter profile here.
Fish Tacos Downtown. Best fish tacos I ever had at Turf ‘n Surf at the Lavaca Street Bar in downtown Austin. Pretty nice dive bar, too.
Patty Griffin has been one of Austin’s most original and moving songwriters and performers, but Servant of Love enters new territory, spare and utterly compelling. Enough so to leave many reviewers, including this one, speechless.
Certain artists serve as engines for the songwriting scene. Their talents go beyond writing and performing their own work into catalyzing and shaping the work of others, carrying forward the torch in productive and enriching cooperation. Folks like Stephen Bruton, Steve Earle and Chip Taylor, names like Lauderdale and LaFave. Forces of nature like Buddy Miller.
Miller, who lives in Nashville with his musician wife Julie Miller, is a consummate artist who wields a fine voice, a soaring guitar and an impeccable ear for the heart and soul of country music. In a long career of creation and collaboration with an extraordinary array of artists, he has worked as a songwriter, producer, session or touring instrumentalist and vocalist, recording engineer and trusted friend. He has worked with folks like Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Levon Helm, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, Solomon Burke, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Allison Moorer, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Earle, Lauderdale and many more. His fingerprints are all over the record of good country music, and he’s not done yet.
If Buddy Miller is an engine of the songwriting world, he is damn sure a Rocket 88.
The litmus test is, of course, his own work, mostly honed in partnership with the very talented Julie. Appalachian-scented harmonies delivering visceral and universal truths. Stuff that will always make your heart beat and sometimes make your eyes water. Stuff about love, mostly, the good kind and the bad.
Three things to know about Buddy Miller, all of which attest to his standing in the industry: (1) he has won at least twelve Americana Music Honors & Awards in various categories; (2) in 2008, No Depression named him “Artist of the Decade”; and (3) he co-produced the television hit Nashville.
For a brand new parent, Carrie Elkin looked remarkably when we recently sat down with her in an East Austin coffee joint to catch up. Energetic, gracious and happy, much more so than yours truly, who arrived disheveled and a little late.
The recent birth of Maizy, daughter of Elkin and songwriter husband Danny Schmidt, is one bookend of the inspiration for her new album, The Penny Collector, to be introduced at a Cactus Cafe release party on March 10th at 8:00 p.m.
At the other bookend of life’s emotional spectrum, Carrie’s father Richard Elkin died in 2015 after an extended illness. The end of one life and the birth of another, the departing of a loved one and the arrival of another, is the fragile thread of life explored in The Penny Collector.
Carrie’s songs trade in gorgeous introspection punctuated by insistent joy. Her music is heartening, unafraid, unwilling to let life’s twists and turns pull her down. It gives us strength for the road ahead.
We discussed Carrie’s journey from her roots in Ohio, to the time spent in upstate New York and tiny Talpa, New Mexico, and ultimately to her career as a singer-songwriter operating out of Austin. Like most artists, Carrie’s message comes from deep curiosity and consequent experience, lessons learned and wisdom earned.
The new album is a return to her own writing after a period of touring with Danny and their friend and collaborator, the great Sam Baker. Over the years she has performed with many of the great ones, including Baker, Jesse Winchester and Greg Brown. Danny and Maizy will ride along with Carrie for her upcoming tour this spring and summer in support of The Penny Collector, when they will head to the east and midwest, then across the pond to The Netherlands, Scotland and England. Check her website for a full schedule, and get yourself out to a performance. Maizy will be watching!
A cool dip is just around the corner.
K with a slowed-down version of his soulful “What I Can’t Have”. Have some tears with you cheerios!
Hailing from Tyler, the rose capital of Texas, Adam Carroll is revered by listeners and other artists alike as a prolific and authentic chronicler of lives of folks in the Lone Star State, and pretty much everywhere else.
Carroll’s hopeful drawl soars above the human landscape, observing and recording the snippets of joy, irony and wit that bless and inflict us all. A simple turn of phrase is just the top layer of love, joy and loss stacked miles deep. What at first strikes as funny, even frivolous, quickly turns to irony and barely disguised pain, then circles back around to his one lesson: this is life, it’s what we’ve got. Stop bitching and start living.
Carroll has released seven albums of original work to date, and he has collaborated with the likes of Lloyd Maines, Michael O’Connor, even the late Kent Finlay. Many great writers, folks like Hayes Carll, Terri Hendrix and Slaid Cleaves, have been guided and inspired by his work.
At a young age he received the ultimate compliment of a tribute album, Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll, which features loving renditions of his songs by the likes of James McMurtry, Tim Easton, Jamie Lin Wilson, Verlon Thompson, Matt the Electrician, Wilkins, Carll, Hendrix, Cleaves and others. A fitting honor to a songwriter’s songwriter.
Keep preaching your gospel, Adam. We need it. We need you.
Three things to know about Adam Carroll: (1) he now makes his home in San Marcos, Texas (a lovely version of seventies Austin); (2) Lloyd Maines has produced five of his records to date; and (3) he cites the great Butch Hancock as one of his most significant influences.
Kevin Welch explores the layers of regret that can settle over long time love. He asks his lover to forget the pain, if only for a little while, and follow him down to where love still lives.
Walt’s tribute to wooden walls full of memories and dimpled windows that still let in the sunshine.
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.
Fracasso stopped by the condo to visit with Michael Allison the other day…
A meandering journey into the soul of Ana Egge, courtesy of her Scandinavian co-conspirators. These guys are vikings?
Freddie gets torn down to the ground when his baby can’t be found.
We know the feeling.
Thank you, Lord.
A grizzly song by a grizzly man. Jon Dee and the Purgatory Players. Warren Hood sits in on fiddle.
Wistful Lucinda for a quiet morning.
Ryan Bingham is the real thing. A real Texan, a real rodeo cowboy, a real songwriter. An old friend once remarked, after listening to a young Bingham play on a front porch in Marfa, Texas, “I don’t know exactly what it is, but whatever it is, this kid’s got it.”
Born in Hobbs, New Mexico, Ryan was raised mostly in Texas. Laredo, Stephenville, Houston and Fort Worth. Along the way he did a little time on the bull riding circuit.
Bingham came out of the chute in 2007 with Mescalito and has followed with an additional four albums to date. In 2011, he collaborated with T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton on the soundtrack for the Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart. Ryan and Burnett wrote the theme song, “The Weary Kind”, earning each an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. The score included “Fallin’ & Flyin'”, written by Bruton and Austin Songwriter favorite Gary Nicholson. Bingham also made a brief appearance in the film as Tony, the leader of a small town band backing Bridges as a broken country singer trying to get by.
Bingham’s work is completely original, remote and strong, bearing the traces of long roads, flat horizons and dusty arenas. Hard years and tough circumstances…his mother drank herself to death, and his father took his life. The songs range from bitter introspections to hard-edged rockers. All hold both anger and gratitude and come from a place of secret darkness and lessons learned. The graveled voice, the dry places between the lines, the wary reserve of a man who can never quite tell friend from foe. Bingham squints in the newfound glare of fame, but he still looks straight ahead.
Three things to know about Ryan Bingham: (1) he now makes his home in Los Angeles, (2) his wife, Anna Axter, has directed a number of his music videos, and (3) some folks remember him as a baby, diapered and perched on the juke box of the Halfway Bar between Hobbs and Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Some artists channel a calm wisdom that is as comforting as a father’s voice. We listen because their words feel right and true, gifts that might help us through our own dark nights. Chip Taylor is such an artist.
The quality of Taylor’s music, and his kinship to the great Texas songwriters, was best expressed when critic Anthony DeCurtis said “if names like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt mean anything to you, you should make a point of discovering Chip Taylor.”
Born James Wesley Voight to a Yonkers, New York family of diverse movers and shakers, Taylor has been a performing songwriter for over fifty years now. But that’s only part of this illustrious family story. Brother Jon became a renowned actor (and the father of Angelina Jolie), and Barry is a noted academic and volcanologist. Father Elmer was an ace golfer, and Chip initially intended to follow in his footsteps.
Michael had the opportunity to visit with Chip in a phone interview recently…