I hope this message finds you well and in good spirits. I am in Germany, riding backwards on an international train to Hengalo, Holland to see Dr. Sjef Willieman, one of my oldest friends in Europe and more than any other the man responsible for my international Career.
I first met Sjef (Jeff, to his friends from the States) late one night in 1993 at Joe's Generic Bar down on Sixth Street, where he heard the band play. Sjef is an amazing man, a medical doctor who maintained a family practice, volunteered at a methadone clinic, a blues radio DJ (Doc Ozone!), father of half a football team, and record producer. He founded a record label (Lizard Disk) with his partners and put out a live CD called "High Temperature", a filthy, vicious recording of the band sweating out toxins as fast as we could pump them back in. At that time the band was Keith Bradly, guitar, Rob Douglas, bass, and Rich Chilleri on drums, and on that night the band played for 5.5 hours as we could not get enough. Sjef took that recording and banged on doors all over Holland, unafraid to stand on any coffee table anywhere and give a stump speech for the band. Almost twenty years in the music business and I never met anyone who did a better job making something happen.
I love traveling by train. I wish I could sling a guitar on my shoulder and take a fast train up to Dallas! This so kicks the spleen out of I-35, now if only they had kolaches in the dining car... I wonder if the US will ever catch up to Europe and Asia when it comes to train travel? The East Coast is ok but I have spent too much of my life in traffic on highways to believe in the mystique of the car. Sure, restore that old Mercury, polish that fender till it incandesces, have sex in the back seat and never touch the doors, but don't imagine you will be buzzing along with the wind in your hair because what you get is car butt fumes and three and a half hours of deciphering bumper stickers. What Would Chuck Berry Say?
I will be back home in the arms of my wife and daughter in 2.5 days, but then back to work finishing up the DVD! It's a live show we filmed last summer with Rob Hooper on drums/Cajon and Willy Landin on bass/tuba/trombone up in Waco on the banks of the river. I have been asked to make a DVD for years, so here it comes!
Friday night the band played Lola's in Ft. Worth, a sure fire good time. It was the first time we played the cool club down on FW's 6th street, but the room was filled with friendly (if a bit bleary) faces. After the show we packed up quickly and drove off with dreams of the Czech Stop in our heads. We planned for a quick return to Austin where we were to play the Saxon Pub on Saturday, but we all smelled gasoline. When I pulled our noble Econoline Skeletour over and jumped out gas was spurting from underneath. I shut her down and we all spilled out into the street wondering what was to be done.
Luck was with us and good Samaritans materialized all around us. One, Derek (see picture), found the problem fast and even though he was winding up a night out with his cousin Wade, he said he would get the parts needed when the shop opened at 8 and come back to fix the leak. And that's just what he did, standing in the sun with grease up to his elbows and a smile on his face. He said he had a bridal shower to go to with his girl at noon, but when we went inside the repair shop, whose parking lot we were using to wash our hands, he stopped and helped fix a truck's power steering. My God, how can this man cross town? When I asked what I could do to pay him he just shrugged and said help somebody else down the line. I don't know the last time I have been so gifted and humbled at the same time. So, if you see this man, buy him a drink, or a meal, or perhaps put up a statue of him in the park. Or better yet, take his own word and take a moment to help someone who needs it. God Bless Texas and the Folks who keep her strong.
When I got up today (in a Red Roof Inn in Cleveland) I found
out that my friend and co-conspirator Nick Travis passed last night, 3 am at a
hospital in Austin where he was being treated for diverticulitis, although the
cause of death was not yet known.
This news comes as a shock. I saw Nick last just months ago,
standing up to speak and MC the Million Musician March during South by
Southwest on a cold windy day out in front of city hall. He was then as I will
always remember him, funny, smart, manic eyes darting this way and that,
perpetually smoking or quitting, railing against the things he saw as wrong,
praising everything else.
I first saw Nick down on Sixth Street. It was during a
period of wandering when I was wondering where I would land that I was pulled
in by the hard blues of The Solid Senders. Nick was at home with the bass slung
to his hip, cigarette on his lip, woven tam on his head, with a grin on his
face. Over the years I got to play and travel with Nick some, and he was a
never ending fount of stories that he told over break fest at 3am or while
behind the wheel of the van or perched on a curb outside a gig. I am grateful
for all of them, but even more I am grateful for the work that Nick did in the
last decade for this country and the world as a whole. Nick was an unflinching
critic of the Iraq war, and I remember marching with him, back before the
obvious became obvious to everyone that our country was misguided. Still in the
shadow of 9/11 he was a voice for values that make the hero different from the
terrorist, no matter what their color or name. Nick loved life.
only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk,
mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never
yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow
roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see
the blue center light pop and everybody goes "Awww!" Jack Kerouac, On the
Nick Travis passed away
suddenly this morning around 3 AM under hospital care for diverticulitis. The
cause of death is unknown at this time.
Monday, overcast and raining, the trees are budding and even before the rain the street sweats. Spring waits behind the clouds. Austin being a vain city who always likes to brag to those who come for South by Southwest it's always perfect here. Have you ever been here for SXSW? It's a big music festival that fills the town with people who pack the bars and clubs to see hundreds of bands who come from all over the world to play for next to nothing in the hope that they will be discovered and become the Next Big Thing. For a week music is the front page story in the paper and every public address system in Texas blares from any open space that can be found that is in reach of an extension cord. Not a bad way to celebrate spring, really. My only critique is that while the hotels, clubs, cabs, shops, restaurants and alcohol sellers all have a very profitable week the whole party gets paid by the musicians, who as I said before get paid about $100 bucks per band. And the local pickers get run out of their home gigs and lose their paycheck to the music pilgrims who might spend their whole nest egg to come and play to an empty room for 40 minutes. Don't get me wrong, it's a great party, but I wish some of the cash could trickle down to the players that make it happen.
But all that is far from my mind as I take stock of this last weekend. The band played down at the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos on Friday, One of Texas's great sounding rooms (when the train isn't passing just a few feet beyond the wall, although that does sound really cool). On Saturday night, Ian and I drove up I-35 to Dallas to play at the Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie doing a song swap with Darrel Scott and my buddy Jon Dee Graham that kept us all in stitches till the end when Jon Dee led us into the crowd to sing "Dreaming of Mohammed Ali". All of us left the theatre bouncing on the balls of our feet.
Home at 3 am, up in the morning to head out to visit my friend Don Ford, and his family, south of Austin to pick a little music and pick a little greens in the garden. Don has run farms of all sorts for years, but still plants a plot with a hoe "to keep close to the ground". I'm chewing on some broccoli from his patch right now, but my daughter didn't even wait tell we got it home, just walking down the turn-row pulling greens off the plants and stuffing her face. I hope whoever wins the Next Big Thing crown has some way to keep their feet in the dirt, partly for their sake, and partly for ours, as there seems to be a strong connection between the earth and what I have come to know as good music. Colin Brooks, guitar player and songwriter who holds up his end of the Band of Heathens said the same to me, on some farm in Europe that had been invaded by drunken festival patrons. It's something about the scale of the seasons, the stooping to touch and take from the ground, the faith in the land rewarded that gives soul to man, and through music that soul is shared and celebrated. Happy spring everybody, we made it another year.
is snowy outside, spring in Texas.
In a day or two the snow will be gone and forgotten, but let's enjoy it while
it is here. Nice to sit by the glow of the laptop and count my blessings for a
moment. My wife reminds me that being thankful for what you have is practical
health you can do yourself.
have had my day in court, but I don't know what will come of it yet. Long time
fans and supporters might already know some of my history with the Antone's
record label but I will bring you, dear reader, up to speed.
signed a recording contract in my mid twenties after a hard won but successful
climb out of Austin's cheapest and sleaziest club scene with Antone's Records,
a record label started by Clifford Antone. Clifford also started the club that
still bears his name, the center of the Austin
blues scene that helped launch Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds,
Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli, Sue Foley and many others. Clifford also brought
many blues greats, some from retirement, down to Austin and informed the new Cosmic Cowboy
psychedelic movement, giving it something to live up to. Austin Mayor Will Wynn
was quoted as saying, "One of the primary reasons Austin is known as the Live Music Capital is
because of Clifford Antone." He was a friend of mine, always supportive of
musicians, even feeding and housing older players because he felt that he owed
something to the music that had given his life meaning.
the record label was not really his - it left his hands after he was busted for
moving pot, becoming one of several labels under the name of Texas Music Group,
who set a new low for the shameful mistreatment of its talent.
15 years have passed since signing with them (a contract I signed without a
lawyer, make sure you get a lawyer, kids) and still I have no clear idea of
what I did or didn't sell or the real money that is still owed to me. Although
I fulfilled my contract, years went by with no royalty statements, and no
money. Even after my records were being sold on iTunes I was told nothing, let
If you have been a part of the Austin music business you
may know that my story is not that unique. Don Walser, one of Texas's greatest
country singers and one of the best yodelers anywhere ever, sold thousands
and thousands of recordings, but even while Walser languished on his death bed
the label didn't pay him money they owed him for the use of the music and
skills Don had spent a life time developing.
in 2008 the Walser estate brought a lawsuit accusing Antone's, Texas Music
Group Inc. and Texas Clef Entertainment with fraud, among other things, naming
Randy Clendenen, Heinz Geissler and James Heldt. The day before the Walser camp
was supposed to depose the label's investor James Heldt, the named labels
declared chapter 11 bankruptcy. That put a hold on the Walser case so they
couldn't move forward. But it also made the labels publicly declare a list of
everyone they owe money to in court, including me.
Antone's declared chapter 11, I found that I had friends who wanted to help,
friends with skills. Chris Castle is an attorney who has testified on copyright
law in front of Congress as well as being a drummer who plays a little slide
guitar. He began talking with another attorney friend Catherine Robb and my manager
Nikki Rowling, and they hatched a plan to bring the light of day to my long
business nightmare. He, Catherine and Nikki found other artists who had past
relations with and questions for Antone's and Texas Music Group (questions
like, "where is my money?") and help put together a mob to bring the
torches and pitchforks. Another talented lawyer, Amy Mitchell, also stepped up
to take on the massive amount of work a case like this requires. All these guys
have been working on this for over a year now, giving fearlessly of their time
with no pay.
of this generosity displayed by lawyers is the most surreal thing that has ever
happened to me, perhaps even trumping the time I had Hey Good Lookin' sung
to me by a class of blind students. I know that there was never any way I
could have paid to bring this case to trial, and that my day in court was a
gift given me by Chris, Catherine, Amy, Nikki, and Ian (my tour manager, who
crunched data for the case) and more, not to mention all the other artists who
had every reason to try to put the whole mess as far behind them as possible.
of right now the Court's decision is not yet in, but in some of the most
important ways of the human spirit, the decision isn't the most important
thing. No matter what the Judge rules, I am relieved to see that those who
would take advantage of artists - who cannot afford to defend themselves - have
been brought to light in a public court. I am grateful for all of the help I
have received, and thankful for the friends I have. Sometimes you get the
chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with good people and speak the truth, and
that is what matters most.
One of the first
times I played music in Austin was right outside of the Cactus Cafe. I was new
to Austin, just a 21 year old kid playing guitar on the street, but the Cactus
had already spawned a bubble handful of Texas music legends.I saved the quarters that I was thrown for
busking on Guadalupe and used them to pay the cover charge to get into the
Cactus to see John Hammond, Bill Monroe, Rory Block, and many others. Next to
me on the drag I watched David Garza with Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom gather
crowds that chased the band into the Cactus.A few years later my band The Asylum Street Spankers played a weekly
daytime gig with the doors open to the spring air, students just a year or
three younger than me spilling in and out of the spring air.
As the years
past, I found myself at the Cactus time and time again, always nourished by the
talent of the musicians and also impressed and grateful for the quiet,
attentive and educated audience. I have talked to many other touring musicians
and find that the Cactus is known for its great sound, great ears, and great
history. For me, even though I was not a UT student, this was one of the most
important elements to my professional education. This was a room dedicated to
Song, a place people went to bask in poetry and melody, be healed, understood,
and made whole.As much as Antone's,
Austin's blues throne room was where I learned about The Late Night Voodoo Sex
Ritual, Cactus was where The Story was told, where guitars became conch shells
and the mystery was taught. Townes Van Zandt's songs still hold potent
medicine, more than any of the books of the Bible for this mystic.
I was in the van
crossing Texas on the way to a gig when I first heard of the proposed closing
of the Cactus, and after the first wave of sadness a familiar despair set in,
this was not the first club I have seen close, nor the first home I have lost.
And I wondered of the battle of Art vs. Cash, and the sad history of that long
war. So I went to the Town Hall Meeting that UT President Bill Powers called to
address the budget cuts that include the axing of The Cafe.
I got there
early, one of the first in the room and watched it fill up. Mostly older than
student age, I recognized more that a few Austin pickers, making eye contact
from across the room with brave smiles and bright eyes and talked with those
who were close by.
Soon Bill Powers
opened the conversation, this was the first time I had seen him speak, and he
spoke as someone used to having to defend policy to crowds, not as one who
enjoyed it, more that this was a necessary evil, that his job requires him to
stand in pillory and take a few soggy vegetables in the face to appease the
masses.In fact as he was questioned by
the crowd he made it clear that he did not intend on requesting that the Union
readdress their choice, and this was an empty exercise.It also became unclear if the club was being
closed to save money (and not that much money, 66K is the number quoted to keep
the doors open a year, about an eighth of Powers UT salary) or to be reopened
as a venue that Powers characterized as being responsive to UT students wants
Anyone can play
at the Cactus, by the way, all you have to do is show up early enough on a
Monday night and sign up for the open mike. But I wonder what might take the
Cactus's place, and I wonder who would benefit. I also wonder if this is about
somebody on the Union Board who thinks they can do it better, and I think of
all the others I have known that thought they could open a club, put on a show,
and be the next big thing. I think that is a noble struggle, but it is always
easier to talk about it from offstage, than to pull it off under the lights
once the show starts. It is much more than a good sounding room and a PA.I don't know the rules of the Student Union,
but I have seen musical events in several of its many rooms, sometimes while
the Cactus had shows going, sometimes not, but it seems that if someone wants
to provide their version of "what the students want" they could do so
without erasing this storied room.
Although I feel
righteous about all of this, I have no illusions about what my assertions of
the importance of art and song on quality of life are worth to those who might
decide (or have already decided ) the fate of the Cactus Cafe. It is the nature
of song to be chased from the gleam of gold and by natural wisdom it grows best
where it is needed most, away from such important things as money in inhuman amounts,
and is best nurtured by those who afford little time for worldly concerns.
I am at Momo's, a club that has music 7 days a week, watching the David Jimenez Trio and thinking of a thing a friend said years ago, "What luxury that people can get so good at making music." Behind me, watching the door is my friend Nathan Singleton, a songwriter who leads the band The Sideshow Tragedy. We talked between bands about art, music, travel and money, "shop" as it were. Although he is making more money now playing his tunes than ever before he still works the door a few days a month to make it work. His talent is undeniable, if you have ears, but his style is harsh as well as beautiful, like the Clash and Lead Belly at the same time. Nothing like it on the radio today, when even the rock bands are polished with a computer till all evidence of a human hand is erased. Give me my music with all the scars, sweat and sweet fuckups that mean more than all the perfect ones and zeros ever will.
January 10th, 1990, I put all my
belongings in a rented U-Haul trailer and drove south on I-35 from Kansas City,
Kansas. I was alone in the cab, the speed limited by the internal limiter
to 55 miles an hour, but I was on my way. In retrospect, that was the start of
my adult life. Kansas City
was home, filled with friends and family and had been kind enough to me that I
could have stayed. Rent was cheap there, my folks were always supportive, but I
had something to find.
The first night in Austin I slept on a
friends floor, found a room to rent the next day and started going out every
night, diving into the music scene that was always roaring and spitting up and
down 6th street then. I have a picture of me then, playing on the street on a
borrowed guitar across from the University of Texas on the main drag. Still in
the shoes I came to town in. So much has changed sense that day which I can
still recall, but I am still here playing for the passer by, looking for a song
which will catch a hook in your heart long enough to coax some change from your
pocket. To remember that one song you thought you would never hear again, or
reveal that tune you always new had to be there, somewhere...
Twenty Years. Love, loss, peace, war,
oceans under the bridge, over the bridge but still, I am here. This town has
changed so much, the Austin I moved to perfectly remembered for me by Richard
Linklater's Slacker. Now, Austin fights to keep its home grown soul against
the corrosive glitz of cash. And music fights to be heard over cars stopped in
traffic, work cranes lifting prefab apartments over prefab apartments, the
chirp of cell phones, and the sound of deaf progress.
What happens next? What shape does our life
take now? What will it sound like? What do we want it to sound like? As we go
forward what will we take with us this time? I want to know what you think, as
I understand that this music is something that only matters if it is of use to
your heart, helps you in hard times, keeps you warm in winter and cool on fire.
I want to know what makes you rewind that song twenty times in a row, what
songs you wake up singing first thing in the morn, what you want to be singing
that has yet to be written.
I am close to making a tech leap. Some
have asked me to Twitter, to keep this conversation on music active, let you
know what is under my hands while we try to keep this thing in the air. Further
updates as the situation warrants.
Monday after Christmas and I am once again to be found at Austin's Saxon Pub. The wife and babe are
still making rounds touching family around Texas, but this leg of our Yule tour
I have been left at home as there is no room for boys at my wife's grandmother's
house. To explain, in true Texas
settler fashion, all the girls sleep in the bed. So here I am.
On stage is Matt the Electrician, Scrappy
Jud, Sela and John Green and a bass player who has yet to be named. Bob
Schneider, who normally holds court here on Monday is absent, but his band is
still on the bill so it's "anything can happen night". Sela comes by
with the tip jar and smiles hello as the band drops deep into a reggae favored
groove with Scrappy's fingers dancing over all. All four of the players I named
I have known for over ten years, first saw Scrappy in 90, my first year in Austin. On January 10 I
will have lived here for 20 years. Even with all that time this has been a year
The Christmas shows we did with Carolyn
Wonderland were the first time she and I worked together that wasn't either her
or me sitting in with each others band. But not, Goddess willing, the last, as
it was great. Christmas music is something that we all share and we all get
sick of it at some point. Luckily, we had our shows early in the season while
few but the hardest hearts were armored to the old songs. Between Carolyn and me
we found some songs that pushed the boundaries of the usual and the band (a mix
of both hers and mine) sounded holy. Check out our version of Happy Xmas (War
Is Over) on iTunes. All the money goes to help the families at Ft.Hood.
I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas,
and I can say that without secretly hoping you didn't because we did! We got to
play at Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble in WoodstockNew York! Our trip to NYC turned
into walk in the woods where the big bears play.
buddy, Cary Wallum, brought Kris Kristofferson and while we were all on stage
singing 'The Weight', he turned to me and complemented one of the songs we sang
in our set. I could have wet my pants! Levon (not singing but never playing
better) held up Rob Hooper's hand after the last song and I have never seen Rob
look younger. The Ramble's music director and guitar player is Larry Campbell
and he is my master now. I have seen a lot of guitar in my time but I have
never seen anyone better and it was the same, tune after tune, electric,
acoustic, fiddle all musical and perfect. Like a week of steak dinners. And all
the people were as open and full of music as they should be. Amen.
I'm at the Saxon Pub (sexy pad for the super bad) witnessing
Deadman, a young band of very serious young men who reference Springsteen, Van
Morison and The Bad in the same song. Three guitars, Hammond B3, drums and bass
ring out in the not half-filled club on a Tuesday night. I wonder if this is an
Austin thing, but I have stumbled on to unexpected musical oases all over the
world that never make the news, and I'm glad to be here. I have not been
prowling the club crawl in the Texas capital very much of late and there is not
a face on stage that I can put a name to, but the music is loud, heartfelt and
strong and it makes me smile and breathe just a little bit deeper than when
before I walked in.
Next week I travel to NYC to play a show honoring Levon
Helm's lifetime of song and here is evidence that he has not spent it in vain.
Here is evidence of his and the rest of The Band's footprint, not just in sound
or even in elements of style that owe nothing to the era of MTV but rather to
the same indefinable thrift store spirit that will never be about a big payday
or glossy two page spread, but rather to a feeling of being on the border of
something bigger than all of us. That thing is Spirit, the thing that Madison
Ave has always chased, that every truck commercial or CMT video has aped, that
Rumi chanted about, that Picasso tried to catch in thicker and thicker layers
We just left Sam's Burger Joint in San Antonio. It is 1:13 AM. Ian is at the wheel for the drive back to Austin. I am stretched out as much as one can on the bench seat of Skeletour, our Ford van, shirt still wet with sweat from a wondrous gig filled with inspiration and transcendent grit.
Only a few hours to run home and grab a few hours of sleep and a shower before I am up at 7 AM to be on TV to talk about Pocket Full of Soul, a documentary about harmonicas and the people who love them. I was interviewed for the film and if you like what I do you will really enjoy it. It was made with love of music. And love of music is what I am here to talk about. Sometimes I forget, and the little pains fill my head, the day to day drudgery of busy work and station keeping cloud my eyes. But all that is the illusion, the reality is music is humans at their best, beauty for beauty's sake shared. It doesn't matter what type, or even how well it's done, what matters is the joy and intent of sharing what it is that we find good with others. I'm glad to be able to play for people, and I hope that I always feel this way.
Sent from my iPhone, don't YOU wish you had an iPhone? Heh, heh, heh...
Hi everyone out there pounding away at your keybords or wearing your thumbs down to nubs, take a moment and consider just how advanced our technology has become. Below is a review we revived for a show we performed early on our Euro tour ( we are almost done, just 2 gigs to go...) that was published in Dutch but here, thanks to the miracle of the Internet (and free translator bots, I used babelfish on Yahoo) here it is in plain old English.
"It Guy Forsyth to heavy wrong would strike as to define him as bluesmuzikant, because he is much more than that. In trade grant he proves a number performer to be, virtuoso a guitarist, a fantastic harmonica player, excelling an warbler and a darned fine entertainer. Furthermore also seen who never someone obtains such a beautiful consonances with a bow from a saw (jawel, a saw).
Its music has deeply rooted in the American south (the man is of Texas) but steps meermaals outside the paths of the blues. Forsyth play also rock, gospel, hillbilly, Americana and New Orleans style jazz.
A mix of styles poured in strong songs flatlied refuse in which Forsyth deal playfully with all instruments, and not in lowest with its powerful voice. What he here vocal performs weinigen have been given, he sings high, low, sometimes loepzuiver and sometimes raw as straight Tom Waits. To be link members, verduiveld announce strongly drumming drummer and a bass player who is regulated bass jet ear for a heuse tuba, complete him perfectly.
In the States plays Guy Forsyth dare themselves action already once with a larger link, but all take along those guests on tour cost money. Comes sporadically there in Ghent thus on voorhand taken jet ear rhythm at adapt. Forsyth are possible, however, with all instruments particular well along, but this also not at the same time. He cannot work magic, also already have you, however, at moments this way the impression.
The nice set in Ghent trade grant lasts longer than two hours, but the sound is this way rich and varied that this no second palls. The two hours are thus in hop beyond. A miraculous concert of extremely committed instrumentalist and a couple always sympathetic guys. To finish with a stereotype, the absentees have again unequal, and that is there a lot because the rise is vanavond in Ghent on the thin side. That is then zowat the only vermeldenswaardige negative note of the evening." Knappe set van een onderschat muzikant, performer en entertainer Geschreven door Sam De Rijcke Saturday 26 September 2009
It's quiet here by the open window, just the familiar sound of wheels and gears on a suspension bridge that can be seen through the trees. Rob stirs first and I woke to hear him rummaging around in the kitchen for coffee. We are staying at a guesthouse/apartment outside of Fredericia, Denmark, a clean, friendly space that has a coke and candy machine that dispenses beer as well as cough drops. If this was Holland perhaps there would be hash joints in it as well, but has several different rooms, two toilets and a nice shower as well as the Internet that I send this out on so it is a fine place for a band to spend the night.
This is the end run of our Euro tour that fell right on the heels of a Midwest tour so we have been gone most of this month and we are starting to show it. All of us miss home and the ones we love and even as the band gets tighter and tighter we seem to be getting tired of the wonder of travel, hotels and convenience stores having an underlying similarity all over the world. Still, I grew up in a family in the travel business and very early on discovered my love of seeing the world. I have joked from stage that one of the best things about being a traveling musician is getting to travel and I think that is true. How else could someone get to see so many sides of the world from behind closed doors? Doors that open in response to the music are often doors that money will not budge, at least not the type of money I've seen. If the music is there, people will be very open with the musicians, and we have been entertained with some capital dinners and witnessed some awesome vistas. Here are some snapshots of our trip in Belgium, Holland and Denmark.
I'm typing with my thumbs in the back seat of the van as we are making our best speed back to Austin and home. Rob Hooper is at the wheel (or rather "The Laser" as he maintains we should call him) with Ian Pierce riding shotgun. From time to time the GPS system will make some comment in her English accent and both Rob and Ian will scream "You're drunk!" at the top of their lungs. Time and experience has taught us not to trust the GPS.
Willy Landin sleeps in the middle bench seat, a dusting of sandwich crumbs on his chest. We are all exhausted, and ready to go home and get laid.
A great tour, the East showing herself off, wrapped in her most seductive weather, our friends back in Texas responding to our stories of New England sweater summers with naked hate.
A few highlights... FitzGerald's American Music Fest in Chicago where I got to play with John Mooney, who has been a musical hero of mine for years. The Rabbit Hash General Store playing on the banks of the Ohio on a trailer bed lit with suspended hook lights while barges sailed on by behind us and drinking the local moonshine. Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg where the stage was an art deco subway car, breakfast in NYC at Mud, my favorite place to start a day. Prowling through a tiny poetry bookstore just off the Harvard campus. And always seeing you, America. You are epic, you contain multitudes, you never disappoint.
Summer is here. After much pussyfooting around, Texas has unleashed her hot breath, the grass and trees grow like sprinters till the water runs out and everything burns to a crisp. Insects sing ballads that recount their short lives as they are eating and screwing and making way for the next, bigger generation of bugs. Austin crowds around familiar swimming holes like Barton Springs while air conditioners whine everywhere. A good time to get out of town and so we are! In just two weeks we hit the road and head north and east to bring the music. Will you meet us there?
Tonight I had the pleasure of being at the Lone Star Music Awards down at Gruene Hall, Texas music Mecca. I was up for an award but the talent spilling out from the different categories was thick and hungry; it was good to be in that crowd.
In the Austin Music Awards that kick off SXSW (South by Southwest if you're not from around here) I didn't win, but placed in ELEVEN categories, and that feels better than a single win. Thanks to everyone who voted no matter who you voted for.
I heard recently that Texas has the most independent music in the country and I don't doubt it. Lots of wide open spaces, border influence and "I can do it myself, thank you very much" makes for the most interesting storied sonic frontier that I have found in this wonderfully diverse world and I am glad to have found a place here to stand.
Both Rob Hooper and Will Landin placed in the Drums and Bass categories in the Austin Music Awards, and we have been hard at work with new songs and arrangements. We are experimenting on unsuspecting audiences already, come on out and let us know what you think!
What a wild weekend in Austin, Texas. I am so lucky to get to do this for a living, and I hope not a day goes by without me realizing that. On Friday the 13th I played at the Saxon Pub with my deadly band and the cream of the Asylum Street Spankers as the Hot Nut Riveters! Wammo on washboard and harp, Nevada Neuman on National Steel guitar, Charlie King on mandolin, Rob Hooper on drums and Cajon, Willie Landin on Sousaphone and washtub bass, everyone sings their asses off. What a joyful noise. The theme of the night was "The Sacred and the Profane" so we mixed old time gospel with hard blues and just plain old "blue" songs, so we scratched our itch from both above and below.
Thanks to everyone who came to the show (and all the shows this weekend) because, and this is a secret, musicians feed on you. Not just the food we buy with whatever we make at the door or from the tip jar, but rather the spirit that you bring with you when you walk in the room. that is what makes live music so magic. It is something that is made fresh, out of the ingredients in the room, and I find who is sitting in the front row is just as important as who is on the stage. This is another reason that I love Austin; even though the audiences here have seen it all (hundreds of shows a week, hell, more than that every Saturday night) if you give it up so do they.
This Saturday was Lamberts for our "Love and Lust" review featuring one of my favorite incendiary acoustic duos The Finer Things featuring bandleader and fiddler Sick and burlesque terpsichorean and uke jockey Raina aka Lady Bangs. Love songs, sex songs, heart break songs in mixed order were the order of the day and the room was full of lovers or at least people willing to take a running jump at it.
Sunday morning at Maria's Tacos, Hippy Church! South Austin's finest turn out for tacos and Bloody Marys and it's the Hot Nut Riveters again, this timie with an all gospel set list with folks dancing on the tables. My good friend Christina Marrs brought her brand new son to see his first show, what an honor. Later that same night, Willie, Rob and I played Leeann Atherton's South Austin Barn Dance, a back yard party thrown on a Sunday every month close to the full moon. Hollywood can reach for it but will never have the soul of this truly organic throng. Austin Rocks!
It's late, but I can't sleep without saying that I had the best birthday I can imagine. We had an epic show at Gruene Hall down in New Braunfels tonight and I got to play with George Rarey, Nina Singh, Jeff Botta, Oliver Steck, a host of others, and the Baddest of the Bad, Rob Hooper and Will Landin. My mom, wife, daughter, sister, brother in law, step dad, manager, lawyer, tour manager, workout buddies, and longtime fans of every age, walk, and visage filled the very big Godhead Texas King of dance halls and the place reeked of joy. I was given a book of wondrous messages that people sent me through the newsletter that my manager had sent out. When I finally got home my wife handed it to me and it made me cry. What a gift to be so seen and loved, I can not thank you enough, and although that is trite, it is also true.
I am forty years old today. I was born in the winter of 1968, at the Denver City Hospital. In a magical time when phones had cords, TVs had three channels, and Rock and Roll was a Teenager.
I was a geek out cast, a troubled teen, black trench coat mafia, latch key, D&D obsessed, comic bagging, virginal misanthrope.
I ran away and joined the Renaissance Festival circuit, the closest thing to the circus I could find.
I bummed my way around the U.S. and Europe with a guitar on my back and sometimes I fulfilled my childhood fantasy of riding my motorcycle with both a guitar and sword slung across my shoulders, and all the deep heavy metal lyrics made perfect sense. I found my self in the back rooms of music clubs, wrapped in blue and green smoke, shoulder to sweaty shoulder with the same musicians I had listened to on tape cassettes rattling in strangely large Walkmans and after-market, ill-fitted car stereos from the decade before.
I sat on 1,000 bar stools and 5,000 curbs and played guitar in the sun, in the dark, in moonlight, in beerlight, often to crowds of up to 3.
I cheated death by car, knife, three story fall, lightning, hypothermia, sunstroke, bullet, serial killer, and lots more that I am obviously unaware of.
I have had many irreplaceable lovers, and married the girl of my dreams.
I havea daughter who is the greatest thing of which I have ever been a part.
I have a family of wonders who span the globe.
And to quote Rumi, "and not once has this music stopped flowing to me."
So I am grateful, as in filled with great, although that great is not my own. It is not less valuable that it comes from the outside, it is what makes me.
And I'm quitting smoking, so don't give me one if I ask. If Obama can do it, so can I.
Today in Austin the Austin music community came out in mass to hear the findings of the Live Music Task Force.
Austin has called itself the Live Music Capital of the World since 1991 when they adopted the phrase and used it to take advantage of the glorious music scene that drew me here in '90. Although the city boomed in the '90s, filing to the brim with high tech industry and dot com carpetbaggers, the money that came with them changed the face of Austin, and the sharp rise of the cost of living left most of the music scene in the cold. The music continues, but live music venues and musicians found that they were being pushed to the fringes of the town they once called their own. The city grew, but at the expense of the cloture that drew the young hopefuls that hope to find a life filled with creativity and sound.
The Live Music Task Force hopes to reverse that trend so that the new generation gets to enjoy the music as well. I have heard many stories from couples, now parents, who met at shows I played in the '90s, and they all want to share with their kids the joy and freedom that they enjoyed. But much more is at stake here.
History, even that which predates audio recording technology, tells of music in every culture, and all religion has music at its core. when Austin was built, the second building that went up was a music hall tavern, so that the workers would have a place to celebrate the task at hand.
The reason is simple. Music builds community. Anything that brings people together and raises them up in ecstasy, whether religious or secular, is a spiritual experience. That connects people. And even more, it teaches them that they are made of the same stuff. That drum beat, that melody, that catchy line, when it works it works because we all feel it, we relate. All talk of brotherly love is useless without us feeling that we are one. And when the crowd sings together, at church, at the ball game, at closing time we are at our strongest.
Music, and all art, teaches empathy. Without time spent enjoying the poets work, whether it is in words, paint, architecture or food the world is a lonely place. A simple song can make the loneliest person feel understood.
I am in Houston at the home of my Grandparents where the clan has gathered to see my Grandfather off. He is 93, ill, and still sharp as a tack. His decision (and his wife's) is to go home and let nature take its course. He has always been a strong, independent man and would rather meet his conclusion on his own terms, just as he has lived his life. my mother, her two sisters and the grandkids are all here. My sister and brother have come in to stand with Mom at Grandpa's bedside and talk over favorite memories, lots of good fishing stories. So, for now, we make the best of this time and enjoy our shared history.
We are heading North on I-55 on the way to Chicago in a light rain. Ian is our wheel man for the drive, Ry Cooder and Ali Farke Toure talk Timbuktu on the iPod and Willy and Nina sleep in the back. the windshield wipers come in and out of time to the music and I balance my laptop on my thighs and reach out to your computer monitor. Hi, from the American music highway.
Rob Hooper is taking a break from the Trio and we welcome back Nina "The Crusha" Singh to the drum stool. I played with her for a couple of years back just after the turn of the century and she helped write a number of the songs from Love Songs: For and Agains so it is a fine feeling of coming home to play with her again. The summer tour season is coming to a close and I am excited to get to wait under the song tree at home for new stories to sing. I wonder if I will be able to hear anything at all over the din of the elections.
It is important to listen, of course. But it is equally important to keep your own center when being exposed to so many people's attempts to control your responses through the media. Everyone has an agenda, and everyone will be trying to guess what the right thing to say will be to get you to vote the way that they want you to. That's our system; a better one has not been devised that I know of, but if you hear of one, do tell.
So, as we descend into the maelstrom, keep your ears open to all news, but take everything with a grain of salt. Lots of things will be said, some might even be true, but don't trust anyone to do your homework for you. As an American, your system only works as well as you do. I hope we all do our best work this winter.
Of course, a real maelstrom, hurricane Ike is coming ashore at Galveston even as I type this. Le (my wife, a middle school theatre teacher) says they let school out at 1pm in Austin because of the wave of traffic coming into town from the coast. Everyone in the van has been calling home to check up on anyone in the path; it looks like it's gonna be a badone. I wish I was home so I could do something to help,maybe go and round up a few players to go to one of the shelters and sing for the folks who have left so much behind. I hope everyone can reach out to those in need. that is what this country is for, helping our neighbors. Good luck to all of us.
This is the home stretch; we are on I-70 bound to St. Louis, to BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups, one of our favorite venues from last January's tour. It is strange and fun to see the same places we last saw framed in the depths of winter now recast in summer's haze. Although we do stay in some fine hotels we also sometimes end up on floors and couches. Last January we all recall the wind whistling through old houses, thin blankets and ice and snow. Now, it's all sweat stains and no AC. Like always, touring is about extremes.
The best of the tour is up to debate, here in the van; Chicago American Music Fest at Fitzgerald's, Ottawa Blues Festival on the inside stage at the Canadian War Museum, the second night in NYC at The Rodeo Bar, taping a live show for XM radio in the swamp that is our nation's capital. Ont he other side of the scale is Williamsport, where nobody told the sound man that we were coming (despite our picture in the window), or last night's show in Terre Haute, where we played for about five hard core music lovers and against 50 or so drunk college kids. The music was good, the band kicked ass (as they always do), but the music was just another kind of noise to drink and breed by.
I think about this a lot. Without the endorsement of mass media, music (or any art) must compete with all other input, which includes all advertising. To the unprepared, uneducated and undefended mind, the tools of advertisers are well tuned to play upon our most vulnerable instincts. Self image, sexual repsonses, and desire are all manipulated to maxim effect with a surgeon's precision. Some of the best minds of our generation work over time to create desire, invoke a response, and get you to spend your money on whatever product paid them to pimp. Over time, in order to survive in this environment, we must develop a filter to protect us from this constant assault. Any art that you come into contact with must also deal with this filter, and I would like to think that the message that we are trying to communicate in our music is more complicated than a deodorant ad or beer commercial. And I don't want to have to tell you that you're stinky or need to get people drunk to get laid.
When we were monkeys living in the wild (and we were monkeys, still are, and God loves monkeys) in order to survive we depended on our senses to warn us of danger and to help us find food and other monkeys. The finer our senses were the better the chance we would survive. Now, if we are open to our environment and respond to all stimuli we encounter, we quickly spend all available money and end up living under an off ramp. We depend on our ability to discern what is good for us and what's not. But the media gets louder and louder, and we find its reach expanding every day, flashing lights at little monkeys, flat screens over urinals, computerized calls to cell phones, ads everywhere you can look. So, for millions of years we have honed our senses, but no longer! Now our survival depends on our filter, what will we allow ourselves to see?
Already passing through Dallas, we left Austin at 8 and it is now 11:11 AM. I have given up the wheel to Rob Hooper, Beat-master and mighty thread leg of the three legged monster of a Band. On the Road, Kerouac and Nelson sing harmony as we burn some of the first of less than a half of the oil the monkeys get to play with. Rob hooks his iPod up to Skeletor's sound system (that's the name of our road chariot) and through the cassette tape CD adapter it pipes out piano jazz and now The Who's first sounds. Our July tour starts tonight in Memphis.
This is a state of the art of DIY rock and roll road show, American music in its natural habitat. Morale is good, still have a few of my Wife's(!) chocolate chip cookies that the band reveres, but the conversation hinges on the $100 cap on the gas pump credit card purchase. Bands who would have made a good living (for a musician) at $2.00 a gallon find the price of go juice comes out of their coffee money. The Band of Heathens (heard 'em yet?) had to replace the engine in Colin's sprinter, which could mean a month of work for nothing but the glory.
Is it Glory? Some big shoes to fill here. All of us in the van (including new road manager Lauralea) fell so hard for music we were willing to give up the comfort and security of home to chase the ecstatic rapture that we tasted at some live show in our past, something powerful enough to still have us in its claws. All rock and roll posturing aside, and that is a lof of posturing, let's be clear: Brittany Spears drinks for a reason; the music has got to be good or this is a waste of time. Gather around chillen', we are called by a higher power to act as the Instruments of Love.