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You can’t go long talking about badasses in country music without bringing up the one, the only Billy Joe Shaver. Though he may have never received the recognition of Willie, Waylon, or even Coe or Paycheck, his influence is arguably just important. When you have Elvis cutting one of your songs, Willie Nelson calling you his favorite songwriter, have Bob Dylan name dropping you, and had none other than Waylon Jennings record an entire album of your work, there’s no doubt you’re a badass.
Here’s 10 Badass moments from Billy Joe Shaver.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
1. Growing Up In Honky Tonks …. Literally
If Billy Joe Shaver is anything, he’s the real deal, and as cliché as it may sound, his life was like a country song if there ever was one. Shaver was born in Corsicana, TX, and his dad left his mom before he was even born. Left to fend for herself, Shaver’s mother would leave him with his grandmother in Corsicana so she could work in honky tonks in Waco, but sometimes the young, impressionable Shaver would accompany his mother to the big town.
For a while Shaver’s mom ran a Waco honky tonk called Green Gables. According to Waylon Jennings, “She was a good-looking woman, red-headed and tough, and it was a classic dive, a dance hall with sawdust on the floor, spittoons, and a piano in the corner.” Billy Joe would run around the place bumming nickels from soldiers from nearby Fort Hood, and by the time he got a little older was known as quite a dancer and ladies man. His whole Green Gables childhood experience was later recapped in the song “Honky Tonk Heroes” that became the title track of Waylon Jennings’ famous 1973 album featuring all Billy Joe Shaver songs except for one.
2. Getting Four Fingers Lopped Off At A Lumber Mill
Talk about tough and gritty, Billy Joe Shaver has the scars to prove it. He didn’t get involved in music seriously until he was nearly 30, and it’s partly due to a lumber mill accident he suffered back in the 60′s when he severed off a good portion of two fingers and parts of two others when his right hand got hung up in a piece of machinery. A post-accident infection eventually made it even worse. Since Shaver was a right paw, it made him virtually worthless as a general laborer, and so he turned to music as a living.
According to Waylon Jennings, Shaver has a sense of humor about his missing digits.
“He was sitting on a bed one time playing guitar,” Waylon recalls. “And a guy who worked for me came in and said, ‘Billy Joe, if you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your fingers?’ Billy started glancing around and digging in his pocket. ‘Damn,’ he said. ‘They were here just a while ago.’”
3. Hitchhiking to Los Angeles … and ending up in Nashville.
When Billy Joe Shaver decided to give country music a serious go, he got advice from old friend Willie Nelson to head out to Nashville. But Billy Joe Shaver didn’t listen, and instead decided to point his nose towards Los Angeles. Not having a car, and without any money for a bus, Billy Joe stood on the side of Interstate 10 in Texas, waiting for someone westward bound to pick him up. And he waited, and waited, and nobody stopped. Eventually Shaver got so frustrated, he switched over to the other side of the highway heading east. The first car that passed him stopped, picked him up, and took Shaver all the way to Memphis, TN. He then made his way to Nashville, where he soon had a job writing songs for $50 a week. The rest is history.
The experience was later recalled in part in the Billy Joe Shaver song, “Ride Me Down Easy”.
4. Threatening to Kick Waylon’s Ass If He Didn’t Record His Songs
Waylon Jennings decided to record an entire album of Billy Joe Shaver songs in 1973 called Honky Tonk Heroes, and that was the turning point in both men’s career. Waylon was finally flexing his creative freedom, and Billy Joe would forever be on the country music map. But it didn’t happen pretty. Bobby Bare introduced Shaver to Waylon and after Waylon heard “Ride Me Down Easy,” he fell in love with Shaver’s music and first floated the idea of recording an entire album of his songs. Later at the Dripping Springs Reunion in Texas, Waylon heard “Willie & The Wandering Gypsy,” and loved that one too. But for one reason or another, Billy Joe was always one step behind Waylon, even though Waylon insisted he loved Billy Joe’s songs and wanted to record them, it was beginning to look like it was never going to happen. At one point Billy Joe Shaver began to bug Waylon so bad, he reportedly offered Billy Joe $100 just to leave him alone.
“…I was always in a meeting or on another call or ‘not in.’” Waylon recalls. “This went on for months….He caught me one night at RCA recording. ‘I got these songs,’ he said, ‘and if you don’t listen to them, I’m going to kick your ass right here in front of everybody.”
“He could have been killed there and then by some of my friends lining the walls,” Waylon continues. “But I took Billy Joe in a back room and said, ‘Hoss, you don’t do things like that. I’m going to listen to one song, and if it ain’t no good, I’m telling you goodbye. We ain’t never going to talk again.’ Billy played me ‘Old Five and Dimers,’ and then kept on going. He had a whole sackful of songs, and by the time he ran out of breath, I wanted to record all of them.”
5. Being The Father of Eddie Shaver
The name may not ring a bell to you right off the bat, but for those familiar know that Billy Joe Shaver’s son was one of the best country music shredders to ever fill the spot. Aside from being his father’s right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player for the first two years.
It’s only because of Eddie’s untimely death that he’s not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.
6. Surviving the Death of His Mother, Wife, and Son In a Very Short Period
Shaver has been tested many times in his life and suffered through some rough patches, but few have suffered through what shaver did near the turn of the Century. In 1999, Billy Joe Shaver lost both his mother, Victory, and his wife, Brenda, to Cancer. The next year is when his son, guitar player, and right hand man Eddie Shaver died of a heroin overdose. It was a very dark period for Shaver, and it became even darker when he was performing at Gruene Hall in Texas on Independence Day in 2001 and suffered a massive heart attack on stage. Shaver nearly died, and had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery.
But he soldiered on, releasing a new album called Freedom’s Child in 2002.
7. Shooting A Man in Self Defense at Papa Joe’s (“Where Do You Want It?”)
Shooting a man in the face could be either very badass, or not badass at all depending on how you look at it. But when you take into account Billy reportedly did it in self-defense and was so found by a jury of his peers and acquitted of all charges, it’s hard not to include the story here, especially seeing how the whole incident inspired its own famous song.
On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in a saloon called Papa Joe’s in Waco, TX drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaver’s drink with a knife. After some words were exchanged, Shaver decided it was time to leave, and Billy Coker followed. Out in the parking lot, Billy Joe Shaver was overheard asking Coker, “Where do you want it?” while brandishing a small handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, “Why do you want to do this?” to Coker, but either way, eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face.
The news made it down to Austin where Dale Watson decided to write a song about it. “We were making jokes about what kind of song he’d write about this ’cause he writes songs about everything,” says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joe’s that’s been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Coker’s wound was not life-threatening, and Shaver was arrested on April 2nd, 2007 for aggravated assault, later to be found not guilty for acting in self-defense in a trial that saw Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall as a character witnesses. Dale Watson wrote “Where Do You Want It?”, but Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Dale’s blessing. Dale later cut it on his album El Rancho Azul. Willie Nelson also wrote a song about the incident called, “I Want My Bullet Back.”
8. Singing the Opening Theme to The Squidbillies
When Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim launched a series about anthropomorphic hillbilly squids living in the Appalachian portion of Georgia, who better to contract for the theme song than Billy Joe Shaver? The song itself is actually called “Warrior Man.”
9. Being Deemed a Hero by Willie Nelson
Long-time friend Willie Nelson has never turned his back on Billy Joe, even in his darkest hour. When Billy Joe was accused of shooting a man in Waco, Willie offered himself up as a character witness. Willie has called Billy Joe Shaver his favorite songwriter. A couple of years ago Willie offered his services up to cut a duet with Billy Joe called “Wacko from Waco.” And Willie proved his love and loyalty for his long-time friend on his 2012 comeback album on Sony called Heroes. The default title track of the album “Hero” not only features Billy Joe Shaver, but is about Billy Joe Shaver and how it seems he’s been forgotten by time.
10. Being The Most Badass Country Music Performers in His 70′s
If you have seen Billy Joe Shaver perform recently, you know what I mean. And if you have never seen Billy Joe Shaver perform, you better get on it.
At 74, with a replaced knee, bum shoulder, and quadruple bypass, Billy Joe Shaver comes out kicking, punching, gesticulating like crazy, putting on one of the best, most-energetic country music shows from a performer of any age. It isn’t one of those shows with a solitary spotlight shone on a stool at stage center, it is full tilt country rock, rowdy and rambunctious, fueled by one of the best young bands you will find backing up a legend.
How to stay fiercely and authentically in touch with the roots of country music, yet do something that still feels fresh here some 60-plus years after the country genre was formed is the challenge that faces every band or artist that doesn’t simply want to be like a museum piece, or a live juke box rehashing country classics, and that would never have the wherewithal or disposition to run with the young bucks trying to capture mainstream popularity by running away from what country music once was. So many artists think that being country is only about extending your drawl or overdubbing steel guitar and miss that the spirit of the music is about original self-expression.
This is what The Ben Davenport Band understand, and approached their debut album Slow Start with, distributed trough Lone Star Records in 2013. It’s been a while since I’ve heard such great texture and diversity in a record that still clings tightly to its country roots. But one question that I had when I was cueing this album up and thumbing through the liner notes was, “Who is Ben Davenport?” Looking at the credits and listening to the music, the heart of the band seems to revolve around singer and songwriter Jim Yoss. No Ben Davenport is to be found.
“I spent 13 years working on the railroad as a trackman and living the life that went along with it out on the road,” Jim Yoss explains. “I would introduce myself to the ladies with names out of songs—Willie Lee, John Lee Pettimore—kind of as a joke but also to prevent my death from the hands of my now ex-wife. (I can laugh about it now, she’s still pretty sore about it. hah)
“One night in February ’05 I was staying at my friend’s place in Northern Ohio drinking Jack Daniels and eating a week old bowl of chili. We were watching Season 1 of The Dukes Of Hazzard and there was a scene where Cooter Davenport (Ben Jones) rode his motorcycle through the front door of The Boar’s Nest. My friend paused it and said ‘Ben Davenport, that’s your new name!’ So I stumbled to the bathroom, rehearsed it a couple times in the mirror and agreed. Chad was a great drummer and we said that when we’d start a band [we would] call it ‘The Ben Davenport Band.’
“That day never came. Chad was killed in an accident the day after Memorial Day that year. My son and I were the last ones from home to see him and give him a hug and tell him we loved him and we’d see him soon. I’ve had people tell me to change the name because it’s confusing. I told those people to kiss my ass.”
Ben Davenport’s album Slow Start feels like a victory. Reflecting back on a lifetime of memories, accomplishments, failures, and the fortunes and lessons that come with both, it is a self-critique and cathartic, fiercely personal, and an album you can tell Jim Yoss made for himself, be damned if anyone else likes it; a bookend on his life exposing vulnerability, toughness, honesty, and frailty—an album he had to make so the next chapter in his life could begin.
The opening track “Hell of a Day” refers heavily to a Southern rock influence, and features deft guitar work by Ben Davenport’s Josh Serrato who helps to set the tone of the band’s sound and also helped produce the album. The first song also features a soaring chorus with two part harmonies tastefully arranged, and a theme throughout Slow Start is going the extra mile to give each song the little bit of extra love and attention that it calls for.
Straight up country is what you get with the second song, “Ain’t Lovin’ Me;” a classic cheating song that in that authentic country spirit can speak to the heart of the cheater and and cheated in the same breath. What Slow Start does that so many other albums fail at is keeping you completely engaged in the music by being bold; keeping you on your toes for what is coming next.
One gem of Slow Start is “Don’t Know,” a total gear shift from the first few songs, tugging at the heart strings with piano, and haunting, multi-layered female vocals, and exquisite mandolin by Wesley Holtsford. This is followed by a stripped-down “Ball Drop” featuring just Jim Yoss and his guitar, exposing the songwriter’s skillful evocation of soul divested from any need of accompaniment.
As soon as you try to pigeonhole The Ben Davenport Band as hard-edged country rockers, they shake it up, and deliver something completely unexpected. This album has a poem on it, “My Ode to Billy Joe” (Shaver). Jim Yoss is no Shel Silverstein, but the plain-spoken approach and honest sentiment captured on the track make it one of the album’s standouts. “Ol’ Ghost of You” despite the dower story is a surprisingly bright-sounding arrangement with a free-spirited mandolin weaving and darting between verses. The album concludes with a song written and performed by a man named Russell Patterson; an oldtimer that once taught Ryan Bingham slide guitar, and played with Bingham for a few years.
Slow Start scores the highest of marks on production, arrangement, and originality. Some may find Jim Yoss’s vocals a little too rich and wish his inflections could be a little more understated, but it is the strength of composition and the overall production value of this album that suck you end and delineate it from the herd, while the diversity of content delivers something for everyone across a wide swath of country sensibilities.
This is a good one.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Billy Joe Shaver is getting ready to record and release his first studio album in 7 years, according to the 74-year-old Outlaw country songwriter and performer. Shaver released a couple of live albums last year, Live At Billy Bob’s Texas and the Live from Austin, TX: Austin City Limits – August 14, 1984, but this will be the first album of new material since his 2007 predominantly Christian album, Everybody’s Brother.
“I’m doing my first studio album in seven or eight years and I’ll be doing that I think December first, second or something like that,” Shaver told the Fort Stockton Pioneer ahead of a show in Alpine, TX. “Hopefully getting it out in a couple of months. It’s all new too and different…There are some political things. The songs are so different then what’s on the radio now. It’s either going to change things around or get kicked out. One or the other. I’m hoping that this here will, as a matter of fact I know it will, it’ll kick ass…it’s going to be a good one.”
Shaver, who got his big break in country music when Waylon Jennings’ breakout album Honky Tonk Heroes included all but one Shaver-written song, also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little sabre rattling about the current state of country music.
“I feel like that I’m still doing the same thing I always did, it just got lost in the shuffle because all this new stuff came in. There’s a lot of money behind these people…It’s just people trying to make money, that’s all it is and I can’t begrudge anybody for trying to make money. We’re all trying to make a living and do the best we can. I feel that the art part of it just went out the window…but every once in awhile you will hear a good song. I can’t say that it’s all bad, it’s not. It’s just most of it’s bad…It’s kind of gotten way out of hand right now I think, but the solid foundation is still there.”
Billy Joe Shaver has had a tumultuous last 7 years. After coming out of a period where his wife, his son and guitar player Eddy, and his mother all passed away in a span of 2 years, Shaver battled a bad shoulder injury, and charges stemming from a shooting at the Papa Joe’s bar near Waco in 2007 that resulted in an assault trial against the songwriter, and a song chronicling the event by Dale Watson called “Where Do You Want It?” Shaver was eventually acquitted when it was found he acted in self-defense, with help from character witnesses Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open in the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an event carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announced in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’s hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter Family
- Bobby Bare
- Chris Gantry
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi Smith
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey Morgan
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970′s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genre—such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter—recognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
Authenticity and dysfunction are regularly celebrated in country music, and what better way to celebrate that than to look back in time a some of the most notable mugshots and arrests of country music’s most notable stars.
Cash was arrested twice. The first was after a trip to Mexico when he tried to hide 1,163 Dexedrine and Equanil tablets in his guitar case while crossing the border near El Paso, TX in 1965. Since the drugs were prescription instead of illegal narcotics, Cash received a suspended sentence. He was arrested again in 1966 in Starkville, Miss. for … get this … picking flowers late at night. The property owner pressed trespassing charges, and Johnny spent time in the Starkville County Jail, resulting in the song of the same name.
Though Cash was famous for his concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, he never served time in anything bigger than a city jail (the bottom mug was just for show).
The trouble started for Willie Nelson way back in 1960 when he was arrested for speeding in Pasadena, TX (near Houston). And then came the pot busts:
- 1974 – For possession in Dallas, TX.
- 1994 – For possession in Hewitt (near Waco) when Willie pulled his Mercedes off the side of the highway for a siesta and an officer found a joint in the ashtray and eventually a bag of marijuana. The judge ruled the evidence inadmissible and the charges were dropped.
- 2006 – For possession in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana for one-and-a-half pounds of marijuana and 3 oz. of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Willie, his sister Bobbi, and Willie’s manager were all arrested, eventually receiving 6 months probation.
- 2010 – For possession of 6 ounces of marijuana at the Sierra Blanca, Texas border checkpoint. Willie eventually only had to pay a fine.
Jerry Lee Lewis
In the dead of night in November of 1976, a drunken and armed Jerry Lee Lewis showed up to the gates of Graceland demanding to see his fellow Sun Studios alum Elvis right then and there. The guard rang Elvis who refused “The Killer’s” request, and then rang Memphis police when Lewis began waving a gun around.
Hank Williams Jr.
You may think because Hank Jr. was the last of his rowdy friends to settle down that at some point he would wind up in the pokey, but it turns out his mugshot was for a bunk charge from a 19-year-old in March of 2006 that said Jr. put her in a choke hold after she refused to kiss him. Jr. turned himself in, and after finding out the girl was looking to cash in big on the accusation and that there was no real evidence of the altercation, the charges were dropped.
In November of 2003, Glen Campbell was arrested at his home near Phoenix, AZ after hitting and running while drunk in his BMW. Then while Campbell was being processed, he kneed an officer in the leg, which added an aggravated assault of a police officer charge. Campbell pleaded down some of the counts, and eventually spent 10 days in jail.
Domestic abuse charges landed Rodney Atkins in front of the police camera in February of 2012, but the news about the charges didn’t come out until his wife filed for divorce a few weeks later. The news also came on the heels of Rodney re-signing with Curb Records. The charges were later dropped as part of the divorce settlement.
An indelible image of country music’s first superstar in this midst of his downfall in 1952, leaving the jailhouse in Alexander City, Alabama.
Billy Joe Shaver
Notable country music songwriter Billy Joe Shaver sits on the witness stand stemming from an altercation behind Papa Joe’s bar near Waco, TX in 2007 when Shaver shot a man non lethally in the face with a .22 pistol. The incident became a piece of country music lore when Dale Watson wrote a song titled “Where Do You Want It?” allegedly for the question Shaver asked his victim before he pulled the trigger. The high-profile trial incuded Willie Nelson showing up as a Shaver character witness, and eventually all charges were dropped against when it was ruled Shaver was acting in self defense.
In 2003, daughter Judd was pulled over for speeding and subsequently blew a .175, lading her in jail before she posted a $500 bail. It all happened right down the street from Music Row, so maybe it’s true what they say about the country music industry driving artists to drink.
Just like the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” to get arrested at a Waffle House. In October of 2007, Kid Rock and his crew stopped into the DeKalb County, Georgia eatery where they proceeded to brawl with gawking patrons. Other members of Kid Rocks posse were also arrested. Rock was found guilty of simple battery. It was his 4th chance to strike the perp pose over the years for various charges.
David Allan Coe
You better believe DAC would be here, but unfortunately this is the biggest photo we can drum up of David from his time in the Ohio State Penal System.
Coe was also arrested in 2008 after an altercation in a casino when a misunderstanding about a jackpot resulted in security officers and police wrestling Coe to the ground. Coe countersued in 2010 for false arrest and assault. The entire altercation was caught on tape.
Yes, we know that some of the younger generation of country performers don’t want to pander to the “old farts and jackasses,” but maybe Billy Currington took it a little too far when he threatened a 70-year-old boat captain for coming too close to his waterfront property in Tybee Island, Ga. Currington was cited in April of 2013 for making “terroristic threats” and “abuse of an elder.” Case is still pending.
Johnny Paycheck spent 4 years battling an aggravated assault charge after shooting a man in a Hillsboro, OH bar during a brawl. Though multiple appeals kept Paycheck out of prison for a while, he was finally sentenced to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute in 1989 where he served two years before being paroled.
In May of 2008, Louisiana country star Chris Cagle got in a tussle with his girlfriend Jennifer Tant at the Player’s Bar in Nashville before the couple took the bout home. Cagle wielded Jennifer’s purse. Jennifer weilded an umbrella, and they both ended up in the big house. Police said they were both too drunk and disorderly to press any serious charges.
When the underground country band from Austin, TX went to release their first album, they chose their mutual mugshots from the same Williamson County roundup to make up the CD art.
No mugshots of George Jones’s numerous run ins with the law during his drinking days have ever surfaced, but video did a few years ago from a George Jones documentary.
Get well Randy! …. but we couldn’t make this list without you. Travis was forced to pose for police camera twice in 2012; once after a drunken fight at a church, and the other after driving drunk….and naked.
Best of luck pigeon-holing Leo Rondeau, the man or his music. The North Dakota-born, Austin, TX-based singer songwriter boasts about as many influences and textures as a patch quilt of found fabrics. A distinctly Italian first name, a last name that describes a form of old French poetry, and enough Native blood in him to be able to say in one song on his latest album Take It And Break It that his ancestors “fought the white man,” Rondeau speaks for many voices of the American experience. He’ll throw out a Cajun tune complete with accordion, and transition from rock to folk without a blink. But at his core is a country music songwriter in the legendary Austin mold, wowing you with his ease at turning a phrase and illuminating emotion and perspective in his songs.
For years Leo could be seen holding down a residence at Austin’s famed “Hole In The Wall” venue, and playing his part in a defiant scene of independent-minded country musicians, some of which appear on Take It And Break It like Jim Stringer, Brennen Leigh, and Beth Chrisman of The Carper Family. These artists both create a support network, and push each other stylistically. And as a respected songwriter, Rondeau songs have been recorded by folks like The Carper Family and Mike and the Moonpies.
Take It And Break It affords nine new original tracks from Rondeau, and is produced by R.S. Field who has previously worked with folks like Billy Joe Shaver and Hayes Carll, and produced Justin Townes Earle’s first two LP’s.
In Rondeau’s “Here’s My Heart,” he reveals the dichotomy inherent in many males—one of displaying a bellicose, bawdy front to the world, while hiding an inherently fragile romantic state beneath. “Bound To Be A Winner” has one of the most finely-crafted choruses you will find, reminding you of Tom Petty in his prime in its distinctly American candor and tone. “When It Was Around” also speaks to Petty in its driving beat and infectiousness.
“Blackjack Davey Revisited” is pure poetry from Rondeau. Its wit is delivered with dizzying rapidity, while the melody takes you right to the time and place of its sad story. “Alligator Man” gives Take It And Break It a bit of a spicy Cajun kick, while the epic “Whaler’s Tale” finishes out the album in an immersive audio experience. For years I’ve believed that Cajun music sits right on the edge of a big revival, just like we’ve seen recently in other sectors of the roots world. Rondeau could be an artist who has just enough Cajun texture mixed with country and rock sensibilities to benefit from that wave if it ever occurs.
But even if it doesn’t, Leo Rondeau is a songwriting lifer who you sense takes a wide, patient perspective, and has a belief in the power of song to outlast trends, obscurity, or even a song’s original creator when it is approached with heart. Rondeau and Take It And Break It are probably not for everyone. There was a slight lack of presence on this album that I found hard to pin down or explain that may hold it at arm’s length from some listeners. But this album has a great spirit and is a worthy receptacle for these original songs that now get to go out into the world and find inviting hearts.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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Interstate 35 runs like a zipper down the gut of Texas, and acts like an unofficial border where the American South meets the West. The highway is also a musical corridor, being the main conduit in and out of Austin, TX, aka the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Willie Nelson’s hometown of Abbott resides right beside I-35, and so did his massive truck stop/music venue/and museum called Willie’s Place near the town of Carl’s Corner, that has since been retrofitted into a much less impressive and generic Petro station.
Carl’s Corner also was the home to a few of Willie’s famous 4th of July picnics, and a place many musicians made a habit of stopping at over the years. Same can be said for the Czech Stop bakery in West, TX a few miles down I-35 from Carl’s Corners, with many autographed photos of famous musicians lining its walls.
Up and down that ribbon of I-35 are places that have been regaled in song by the musicians who’ve passed by them or had memorable experiences there. Some of these places take on the lore of those songs until they become living monuments of the songs themselves. Here are a few.
Papa Joe’s from Dale Watson / Whitey Morgan & The 78′s “Where Do You Want It?”
1505 Interstate 35, Waco, TX, 76705
The best country songs write themselves, and that’s what happened when Billy Joe Shaver shot a man behind Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon, just south of Waco on the Interstate 35 access road. On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in Papa Joe’s drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaver’s drink with a knife. After some words were exchanged, Shaver decided it was time to leave, and Billy Coker followed. Out in the parking lot, Billy Joe Shaver was overheard asking Coker, “Where do you want it?” while brandishing a handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, “Why do you want to do this?” to Coker, but eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face and the news made it down to Austin where Dale Watson decided to write a song about it.
“We were making jokes about what kind of song he’d write about this ’cause he writes songs about everything,” says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joe’s that’s been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Coker’s wound was not life-threatening, and Shaver was arrested on April 2nd, 2007 for aggravated assault, later to be found not guilty for acting in self-defense in a trial that saw Willie Nelson called as a character witness. Dale Watson wrote the song, but Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Dale’s blessing. Dale’s latest album El Rancho Azul includes his version.
Dorsett 221 Truck Stop from Scott H. Biram’s “Truck Driver”
15201 I H 35 Buda, TX 78610
Off of Scott H. Biram’s 2005 record Dirty Old One Man Band is one of his signature songs called “Truck Driver.” Whenever Hiram Biram plays the song live, he dedicates it to “all of the truck drivers down there at the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop in Buda, TX.” Yes, the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop actually exists, or at least it did until 2005 when it was closed down. Opened in 1979 just south of Austin and right on I-35, Dorsett 221 was a trucker’s favorite and was famous for its chicken fried steak, breakfast tacos, and because it was built to look like a castle with parapets and corner towers.
Started by Tim and Lenora Dorsett, it was operated by their four sons who each were in charge of a specific part of the truck stop. The restaurant was a nice place for families to come and eat, but as time went on Dorsett 221 became somewhat famous for its crop of lot lizards that could be found lounging around. The existence of “glory holes” that Scott Biram refers to in “Truck Driver” could not be independently verified, but over time Dorsett 221 became one of central Texas’s most famous truck stops for its endearing character, and the characters it attracted.
It all went downhill for Dorsett 221 when a fire was started in one of the restrooms. During the restoration process, the four sons quarreled on how to proceed. Eventually one son took sole possession of the embattled truck stop and decided to close it. But the memory of Dorsett 221 still lives in Scott H. Biram’s song, and can still be seen on the side of the east side of the interstate as you’re passing through Buda, TX.
The Snake Farm from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”
5640 Ih 35 S New Braunfels, TX 78132 – Photo courtesy mysanantonio.com
Did you hear what Scott H. Biram also referenced in the song above, and what shirt he was wearing? Yes there actually is a Snake Farm, and it went by the simple name “Snake Farm” for many of its 40 years in operation until settling on the much more docile, “Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo.” Located right off the Interstate 35 access road, the strange attraction and Texas landmark opened in 1967 (when I-35 was still Route 81) and currently sees around 400,000 annual visitors perusing its more than 200 species of snakes. The Snake Farm now features other exotic animals in its petting zoo and outdoor area, including monkeys, lemurs, hyenas, parrots, and a pond filled with alligators and crocodiles.
Ray Wylie Hubbbard’s album from 2006 is named Snake Farm, and includes the song “Snake Farm,” but Hubbard wasn’t the first musical homage to the reptile house. The Ramones discovered the Snake Farm when on tour in Texas in the late 70′s, and regularly wore Snake Farm T-shirts as part of their garb on and off stage. Oh, and did you notice the name of the female character in Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”? Yes, the Snake Farm has truly come full circle, and coils its way down the spine of good American music as an indelible artifact.
If there’s one guy you can count on in country music, it is Dale Watson. No, he’s not going to lick his proverbial finger and stick it in the air to find out what to say or what to play. He’s going to be himself no matter how much money it makes him, or how many enemies he garners. Suave, slick, super-cool and confident. Maybe even a little bit arrogant. But he can afford to be, because the ghosts of country music have his back.
Take when Blake Shelton decided to make some disparaging comments about the “old farts and jackasses” that populate Dale’s side of the country music world. Dale and his Lone Stars were mere ticks away from having to embark on a 20-day European tour, and Dale figures out how to squeeze out an anti-Blake song and post a video for it before his boarding time at ATX. No Mr. TSA officer, that ain’t a six shooter setting off the metal detector, those are Dale’s big steel cajones hanging down in his Texas tweeds.
You know what you’re going to get with a Dale Watson album–good old-fashioned honest-to-goodness honky tonk country music. He never veers off the path too far. There was his last album, the Cash-esque Sun Sessions, and the long-rumored Dale/Elvis concept album Dalevis that apparently is finally going to see the light in February. But a Dale Watson album usually holds few surprises. You aren’t going to see him in hipster glasses chasing the uke and Theremin craze to expose a lot of “vulnerability” in his music. Dale Watson is all about keeping the honky tonk traditions alive, and that is what he channels in El Ranco Azul.
Bred for dancing, El Rancho Azul is taken straight out of the honky tonks Dale Watson plays 8 nights a week while home in Austin. Drinking and heartache are the prevailing themes, and maybe not just because this is a country album, but because Dale just recently went through a breakup and a divorce himself. “I Lie When I Drink” and “I Drink to Remember” reinforce the idea that these eternal country themes will never wear thin, while Dale’s supple country drawl delivered with breadth, emotion and control breathe new life into old, familiar narratives.
Maybe Dale is being sarcastic, but one of the fun songs on the album is “We’re Gonna Get Married,” chased by one of the album’s standouts, the tearful and touching “Daughter’s Wedding Song.” Then it’s on to two songs whose purpose for dancing is thinly veiled, “Quick Quick Slow Slow,” and “Slow Quick Quick” meant for two-stepping and waltzing respectively. Then it’s on to more drinking songs, then a few more drinking songs, and another drinking song to close the album out. But the direction never feels stale because of Dale’s country gold voice, and the little bits of character Dale adds to each one of his compositions.
Another El Rancho Azul offering worth note is “Where Do You Want It?” A story song about the time Billy Joe Shaver shot a man at the Papa Joe’s Bar in Waco, TX, it originally was given to Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. Since it has become one of Whitey’s signatures, the Dale version may come across a little strange to an ear used to the other, but nonetheless it is a cool edition to this song’s legacy from its original writer.
My concern about Dale has always been that he writes so many songs and releases so many albums, not one song or one album stands out as a signature. At the same time, it’s hard to find a bad Dale Watson album or song. You certainly won’t find one here with El Rancho Azul, only the genuine, real deal country music that Music Row has forgotten, and all of Blake Shelton’s “old farts and jackasses” crave.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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“Damn it, the fight isn’t in Austin and it isn’t in Los Angeles. It’s right here in Nashville, right here two blocks from Music Row, and if we win–and if our winning is ever going to amount to anything in the long run–we’ve got to beat them on their own turf.” –Tompall Glaser
Tompall Glaser in the studio control room at Hillbilly Central
The year was 1974, and a two-story stucco office building / studio located two blocks from Nashville’s infamous Music Row at 916 19th Avenue South got christened “Hillbilly Central” by a New York-based music writer. Hillbilly Central was the brain child of Tompall Glaser, a member of the Glaser Brothers, who took the money they earned from some success in the country music business to build their own studio. With the shutters on the windows always closed, and a cast of motley characters entering and emerging at all times day or night, Hillbilly Central became this mythical place in Nashville where the country music revolution happened.
Tompall with Captain Midnight, Hillbilly Central’s “spiritual advisor.”
“I want to walk down the street someday and see young people coming here, writing good songs, proud to be here again. See, when I first came here, a lot of people were proud to be here. It was a good feeling. It gave you pride. You didn’t give a shit whether the rest of the world liked you or not. And we were the underdogs and the niggers of the music business. Our music was the least respected of the music business, but we had our pride among ourselves. The public can sense–and individual can sense–when something is real and when it isn’t. The people know.” –Tompall Glaser
The Front of Hillbilly Central – Circa late 70′s
Hillbilly Central was a studio where the clocks and budgets didn’t matter. Fostering the creative process is what mattered. The first floor was offices / apartments where ideas came to life. The 2nd floor was the studio, state-of-the-art in its time. This was the mecca where Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Buffet, Kinky Friedman, John Hartford, Shel Silverstein, Mickey Newbury, and many others can to lay down some of their most memorable tracks. Hillbilly Central secretary Hazel Smith is the one that coined the term “Outlaws.”
Hazel Smith & Captain Midnight at Hillbilly Central
“That building was a fortress. It was a place where they could go and hide. It was home to them, and there were no Picassos on the wall. I remember someone once suggested that there was a black cloud over that building, but I never did really feel that. I felt like it was a building that housed a lot of love for a lot of people. Both Waylon and Tompall felt that, somehow or other, the world was against them, you know.” –Hazel Smith
Waylon Jennings & Tompall Glaser at Hillbilly Central
Before renegade studios like Tompall’s Hillbilly Central and “Cowboy” Jack Clement’s JMI Recording, the vast majority of Nashville’s records were cut in a few select studios, RCA’s Studio “B” in particular with Chet Atkins usually ruling the roost. Country artists weren’t allowed to record with their own bands. Only studio musicians who could be counted on to be efficient enough to keep costs in line. Many artists couldn’t even pick the songs they were going in to record.
Inside the Hillbilly Central Studio
“When we started, people thought we were going to destroy Nashville. Who wants to destroy Nashville? It’s a long way from my mind. But if a guy can’t offer up a good, decent alternative, he should shut the fuck up. But if he’s got a good, decent alternative, all he’s got to do is keep doing it, and pretty soon the whole fucking industry will be doing it, because there are too few people in this town that know what the fuck to do. Because they don’t love it; they’re doing it for the fucking salary.” –Tompall Glaser
Nashville was outright afraid of Tompall Glaser and Hillbilly Central. The polished and purified “Nashville Sound” is what ruled Music Row at the time: a system built on fitting into tight budgets and taking no risks. “Hillbillies” and their steel guitars and fiddles were what Music Row was running from. But the music wasn’t the only threat. Tompall Glaser was a shrewd businessman too, and that is what made him so frightening to Music Row.
Tompall and the Outlaw spirit of Hillbilly Central is what led to the album Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum, million-selling album in country music history.
Eventually Tompall’s passion became too much. Tompall and Waylon Jennings had a falling out, and the most important renegade studio in the history of country music eventually closed. Today 916 19th Avenue South is the home of Compass Records.
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All pictures and quotes originally appeared in the excellent, out-of-print book Outlaws: Revolution in Country Music by Michael Bane, copyright 1978. All pictures taken by Leonard Kamsler.
This article was inspired by the unfortunate truth that except for a miniature 175 x 150 picture, no images of Hillbilly Central could be found anywhere on the internet.
The fight for the purity of country music is almost as old as the genre itself. The conflict between pop and traditionalism, and the fight for creative control for artists runs like a thread throughout country music’s history, defining it as much as the twang of a Telecaster, or the moan of a steel guitar. Here are some of the most iconic images of country music revolution, and the stories behind them.
Fanning The Flames
Charlie Rich was tapped to present the trophy for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1975. Knowing what name the little envelope contained (and not being too happy about it), Rich pulled out his bic and lit it on fire, announcing the winner as “My friend, Mr. John Denver.” Denver wasn’t in attendance and accepted via satellite, unaware of the pyrotechnics. Rich, who’d won 5 CMA Awards in the past, was never invited back to the CMA’s, and was never nominated again.
Flipping The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot by photographer Jim Marshall at California’s San Quentin prison during a concert in 1970. The pose was the response to Jim’s request: “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” Where it became an iconic image of American culture was years later, when Johnny Cash was making his American Recordings records with Rick Rubin. Cash’s album Unchained had won the Grammy for “Best Country Album”, but was being virtually ignored by country radio. So Rick Rubin ran an ad with the obscene image, along with the caption, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to thank the country music establishment and country radio for your support.” (read full story)
On March 17th, 18th, and 19th of 1972, The Dripping Springs reunion, aka the “Country Music Woodstock” went down just outside of Austin, TX. It was a commercial flop, but a fundamentally-important event nonetheless because it established Austin, TX as a serious alternative to the restrictive environment of Nashville, with Willie Nelson leading the charge. Similar to the underground/independent movements in country music today, The Dripping Springs Reunion paid respects to the older legends like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller who all attended and performed, while establishing in earnest the Outlaw movement with native Texans Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson at the helm.
Tompall Glaser saved his pennies from his days in The Glaser Brothers and bought himself a renegade studio / clubhouse that would later be known as Hillbilly Central. Located on 19th Ave. right off of Music Row, it broke the monopoly RCA, Chet Atkins, and Studio “B” had on country music at the time. It allowed artists like Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver to record their music the way they wanted and use their own bands as opposed to Nashville’s unionized studio musicians. In the words of Outlaw writer Michael Bane, it was “the home of all those records Nashville really didn’t want to make,” including such iconic albums as Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes and John Hartford’s Aereo Plain.
Though the Grand Ole Opry continues to use the likeness of Hank Williams prominently, he was never reinstated as a member after being dismissed in 1952. The understanding was that Hank would sober up and make a triumphant return to the Opry that he so loved, but he died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29 and never got the opportunity. Hank’s grandson Hank Williams III started a movement called “Reinstate Hank” that now boasts over 54,000 signatures on its online petition. (photo courtesy of minnemynx)
Wanting to take creative control of his music and to be released from the budgetary restraints of the studio, Hank Williams III did the unprecedented for an artist signed to a major country music record label under the CMA umbrella. He took a a Korg D-1600–a consumer-grade piece of recording gear–and cut his record Straight to Hell in the house of his bass player, Joe Buck. It was the underground mentality brought to the mainstream, with the result being Hank3′s magnum opus.
(from left to right: Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III, Joe Buck)
When an artist rises to such other-worldly status as the one Willie Nelson enjoys, you’re never really sure when listening to a new album if there’s actually some real substance behind the new music, or if you’re simply so wooed by the legacy and mere sound of the man’s voice that he could sing a shopping list and you’d love it.
America experienced this sensation first hand during the Super Bowl this year when Willie’s signature warble showed up in a random Chipotle commercial. It was Coldplay’s song “The Scientist” Willie was singing? Who cares, it was Willie, and we get to relive that moment when that same song caps off his latest record, Heroes.
Popular media has been portraying Heroes as Willie’s pot opus. He initially wanted to call the album “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” for the album’s second track featuring Snoop Dogg among other guests. I’ve said my peace about how I hope Willie Nelson’s legacy is remembered for more than marijuana, but as a song, the “Roll Me Up” title track runner-up is a really fun, witty vintage Willie song. But let’s not bury the lead here about the best thing Heroes has to offer, which is a full scale collaboration between Willie and his singularly-talented son Lukas Nelson, who appears so much on this album, he really should get his name in small type somewhere on the front cover.
As I said in my review of Lukas’s latest album, he is the offspring most rich with Willie blood, with top-shelf guitar playing abilities all his own to boot. If you want to know what a rock & roll version of Willie would be, look to Lukas. Close your eyes when Lukas is singing, and you can almost see Willie, with Lukas’s natural, high-register tone, and perfect pitch and control that doesn’t ape Willie, but evokes his memory. You put these two men together in a song, and it’s a country music audiophile’s orgasm. It is a super-pairing employing skill, legacy, and a cross-generational storyline into a sublime musical experience.
But the Willie/Lukas collaboration is not by far where Heroes stops giving. From a songwriting perspective, this album has some amazing compositions, from the eloquent to the witty, from writers as far ranging as Eddie Vedder, Fred Rose and Bob Wills, to Tom Waits. Once again Lukas shows up prominently in the songwriter notes, contributing three songs himself.
Some have said this album lacks focus. I say it scores points for variety and freshness. From the heart-wrenching songs of love sung by the Lukas/Willie pairing like “The Sound of Your Memory” to the fun, yet poignant and uplifting “Come On Back Jesus (and pick up John Wayne on the way)”, the album touches on all the moods you want to hear from Willie. I’m so glad they decided to roll with with the Heroes title for this release; a much more classy choice that gives an extra shout out to Billy Joe Shaver in the only song Willie wrote by himself on the album.
Where the album may come across as too busy or unfocused is the amount of contributors to each composition, and to the album as a whole. Lukas, Jamey Johnson a couple of times, Kris Kristofferson, Snoop Dogg, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Billy Joe Shaver, Willie’s other son Micah, the omnipresent and overexposed Sheryl Crow, they all appear, and this doesn’t even mention all the musicians. Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance. At times in this album you want to clear the room and just hear Willie, for the same reasons he can single-handedly make a Coldplay song sound like a masterpiece (the Coldplay song is the only one on the album where Willie rides solo).
It’s Willie’s nature to invite anyone and everyone into the process, and his big heart is one of the reasons why we love him so. But at some point you reach a limit with collaboration, especially since Willie likes to sing in such an unusual, off-tempo pentameter that makes him not the best duet partner, and because this album is in no way presented as a “duets” release. I love the cover of Heroes though. Willie’s inspiring and calming countenance speaks countless words and stories, and the plaintive cover allows his visage to speak for itself without interruption or embellishment. It recollects to the etching on the front of his magnum opus Red Headed Stranger.
This album is good both because it is Willie, and because it is good. After years of navigating through a gray area in his career and having to dabble with some record labels probably less able to do a Willie release justice, he’s back with the same company who released Red Headed Stranger, and back to making albums worthy of the world stopping down to pay attention to.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Country music songwriting legend and original Outlaw Billy Joe Shaver will be releasing a loaded 20-song CD package with companion DVD called Live at Billy Bob’s Texas on July 17th, recorded in the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk”. This will be Shaver’s first album in five years after winning a court battle for aggravated assault in April of 2010, and heart surgery in May of 2010, and after taking some time off from touring due to a shoulder issue.
From The Press Release:
The fully loaded special package includes 20 live renditions of some of his most notable compositions on an audio CD and DVD as well as two bonus tracks, and is the first set of new concert recordings since 1995 to be issued to the public. Included among Shaver classics and favorites are two new songs: “Wacko From Waco” (co-written with his longtime friend Willie Nelson) and “The Git Go,” proving that his muse remains as fertile as ever.
As a songwriter, Shaver’s songs have been recorded by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kris Kristofferson, The Allman Brothers, Bobby Bare, BR549, Elvis Presley, John Anderson, George Jones, Tex Ritter, and Patty Loveless amongst others. Waylon’s landmark album Honky Tonk Heroes included all Billy Joe Shaver songs except for one.
Billy Joe Shaver will be the 42nd artist to release a “Live at Billy Bob’s” album, company that includes David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. He recorded the album with his young, rocking band guitarist Jeremy Woodall, drummer Jason Lynn McKenzie, and bassist Matt Davis. Even at 72, Shaver still delivers a very high energy set, punctuated by his punching and personality on stage.
Some of the Shaver songs to be included on Live at Billy Bob’s are:
- Heart of Texas
- Georgia on a Fast Train
- Honky Tonk Heroes
- Old Chunk of Coal
- Live Forever
- Old Five and Dimers
- That’s What She Said Last Night
- Black Rose
- Hottest Thing in Town
- Good Old USA
- I Couldn’t Be Me Without You
- Star in My Heart (a Capella)
- You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ
- Wacko From Waco (studio bonus)
- The Git Go (studio bonus)
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend the most talent-rich event I have ever been to, as the convergence of Willie Nelson’s 38th Annual 4th of July Picnic met up with the finale of this year’s Willie Nelson Country Throwdown tour at the largest honky tonk in the world, Billy Bob’s Texas, in the historic Ft. Worth stockyards.
I will have many observations about the specific bands and artists below, but aside from a few hiccups, I grade the whole thing two guns up for sure. Holding what is supposed to be a picnic in a giant honky tonk may not be in the spirit of the event, but on a 100+ degree day, giving folks the ability to take a respite from the heat inside made for a much more enjoyable day of music that stretched to over 12 hours from David Allan Coe’s downbeat to Willie’s encore.
Nepotism was nigh at the picnic, as Willie’s family all got choice spots on the air-conditioned inside stage during the day, and the legends like Coe, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Billy Joe Shaver had to brave the heat. But many folks braved it with them, and all performers gave it their all.
One bit of drama came from some folks being disappointed after the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram newspaper posted Leon Russell as one of the top five acts to see, when he was not scheduled to be there. Also rumors swirled that Merle Haggard was the “special guest” on the schedule. He likely was at some point, but might have canceled due to illness.
Below are my reviews of the acts I caught.
Amy Nelson & Folk Uke
Knowing I had a dozen hours of music ahead of me, I arrived at the picnic fashionably late, missing David Allan Coe (who I can see anytime living in Texas), Johnny Bush, and Drake White, but just in time to see Any Nelson and her lilting, eepish, yet extremely raunchy folk duo with Cathie Guthrie (daughter of Arlo Guthrie) called Folk Uke. Songs like “Motherfucker Got Fucked Up” and “I Miss My Boyfriend (Will You Hit Me?)” contrast nursery-rhyme music with adult-themed content in a very original approach. It’s a bit, but a good one. As they finished with the latter song, I literally saw three pairs of mothers with children clasped at the ears heading for exits.
Brantley Gilbert & Lee Brice
I swear up to Brantley Gilbert walking on stage I thought he was a girl. I vote for no more asexual names in country music. His backwards-hat bravado and canned checklist lyrics were not my bag at all. Probably didn’t help his chances that he co-penned “Dirt Road Anthem” with Colt Ford, but giving him an honest try, I didn’t find much.
Unlike Brantley, Lee Brice came across as a genuinely good guy, and his songwriting prowess is undeniable. He’s penned mega hits like “Beautiful Every Time” and “Love Like Crazy” that are not really my speed, but are not the objectionable Music Row formulaic fare either.
Lukas Nelson & The Power of the Real
After Brantley and Brice’s outside shows, I headed inside for Lukas Nelson & The Power of the Real. As simple as you can put it, Lukas Nelson stole the show that day. He was the highlight of the Willie Nelson 4th Picnic/Country Throwdown mixer, and in many ways the event felt like a coming out party for him. He is a talent all his own, not just carrying on the family business, though he might be the best poised to. Tremendous energy, a spectacular guitar player, and a sincere passion for music and performance. Willie’s roots are deep in him, and when he sings in the high register, it carries memories of Willie’s vocal tone in his prime. His psychedelic and roots-inspired rock is deeply infectious and universally appealing.
Lukas also played the entire sets with Jamey Johnson and Willie, and offered a spark to both. I think we will be hearing from him much more in the future, or at least we should, and I will be searching out his latest album for review. He should learn to work some subtlety into his pot anthems though. Power of the Real is an awesome lineup of talent as well. Two guns way up for Lukas.
Billy Joe Shaver & Ray Wylie Hubbard
I can’t think of two guys to better illustrate how older country music legends can still have universal and even young appeal, and I saw this in the reaction of the crowd to both Billy Joe and Ray.
Billy Joe Shaver was and is the first punk of country music, and still brings a tremendous amount of energy and spunk to his show. Shaver was favoring the right shoulder that kept him away from touring for a while, but he was still punching and dancing, and brought the same amount of energy as he did the last time I saw him two years ago. Also have to give him props for referencing Cowboy Troy’s big black cell phone on stage. Shaver got some of the biggest crowd reactions all day.
Though I’ve seen Ray Wylie Hubbard a few times live, this was my first opportunity to see him with a fully fleshed-out band that included his perennial drummer Rick Richards on a full set, studio maestro George Reiff on bass, and Hubbard’s son Lucas on lead guitar. Once again Ray proved why he’s the Wylie Lama of Texas, putting on an excellent roots-infused rock n’ roll show full of fresh and relevant material. Hubbard also can’t be overlooked as a showman and storyteller. Flanked on all sides of the stage by Bud Light signage, he was savvy enough to swap a Coors reference in “Drunken Poet’s Dream” to the on site sponsor.
There were 3 big surprises that I took from the whole event, and #3 was the younger Lucas Hubbard. He didn’t put on a dexterity clinic, but in regards to taste, his guitar solos were something many of the other overplaying guitar slingers of the day could have learned from.
Austin Lucas & Caitlyn Smith
One of the cool parts about The Country Throwdown tour is that it showcases some of the up-and-coming, young songwriters in what they call “Nashville Round” sessions. Austin Lucas, whose latest album A New Home, In The Old World is a Saving Country Music Album of the Year candidate, was featured in one of these picking sessions. This is a very demanding environment for a musician, leaving you out there naked with only a guitar. Austin won the crowd over with his energy and his honest songwriting. This video will give you a glimpse into these Country Throwdown rounds:
The other highlight from the one Nashville round session I caught was Caitlyn Smith. She would be my #2 surprise of the day. Caitlyn had the best voice of the whole event, and well-penned songs to compliment that voice, as well as dynamic and energetic guitar playing. Beautiful girl, and certainly one to watch. And hey, she has a cut on the new Jason Aldean record! Yes, Aldean’s tentacles are were all over the Country Throwdown portions of the day.
What more can you say about Ray Price than that he is the utmost of class, and a true tie and testament to the golden era of country music. With a 5-piece fiddle section all dressed in white and a grand piano, Ray’s performance legitimized the whole event as a true extension of all of the modes of country music, not just the cowboys meet the hippies, or the new school Nashville songwriting crop. Of course not the heart pumping experience of the other bands, but his style and authenticity still won over the crowd, and he received some of the loudest applause all day.
Listen folks, I know that Jamey Johnson is a polarizing figure, and I know no matter what I say about him, good or bad, will cause a strong reaction. But you come here for my opinions, raw and unfettered, and I do my best to be as honest as I can be with you. Jamey Johnson was my #1 most anticipated person to see that day, and trust me, I wanted to like him. The guy is an excellent songwriter, there is no denying that. I think he is a class act. I do not think he’s “sold out” or doing one of these “new Outlaw” bits to monopolize on a trend. But the simple truth is I simply found his set boring, and I feel confident in saying I wasn’t the only one.
Most performers put out some bit of energy. You don’t have to be like Lukas Nelson, diving off the drum riser. Waylon Jennings and Whitey Morgan are excellent examples of emitting energy and stage presence without acting a fool or moving around. Jamey Johnson not only doesn’t put any energy out, he is an energy drain. His stage presence is somewhere between unanimated and disinterested.
Every song was slow and droning. He began almost every song with a quiet, acoustic solo and low singing that you could barely hear over the distracted crowd talking amongst themselves. He had a percussionist in his band to add emphasis, but it seemed out of place, and his steel guitar leads sounded like Stratocaster, with little twang or sustain. The way Jamey flicks at his guitar with the pick is visually distracting, like he’s trying to depose a bugger from his baby finger.
I don’t know what else to say except I would take any other performance that day over Jamey’s. Parts of the crowd seemed to respect him for his songwriting skins, but there was no passion there, at all. I just don’t know what else to say.
What else can you say about Willie Nelson, except that he’s Willie Nelson. He appeared to be fighting off a cold, sniffling and blowing his nose at times on stage, but he brought it as big as ever, taking mere seconds between songs if that, and playing longer than he needed to. The “Family Band” was all there, sister on piano, Mickey Raphael on harp, Bee Spears on bass, and Paul English, having suffered a mild stroke recently, would come out and play brush snare during the slower songs. Lukas Nelson and Ray Benson were on stage for the whole set, and Micah Nelson and elements of Promise of the Real made appearances on and off as well.
At one point all the Country Throwdown performers came out on stage for a gospel medley, and it was one of the highlights of the night.
When Warped Tour organizers announced they were putting on a country tour, I admittedly was a little suspicious, wondering aloud about the viability of the idea, and just how much true underground/independent/up-and-coming artists would be emphasized. Some of my fears were realized last year when the tour was forced to cancel shows, including the Dallas stop I was planning to attend. The word is attendance has been OK this year, but under expectations.
The songwriters rounds are good, but I would like to see a little more emphasis on finding those amazing bands in country that are flying under the radar, and outside of the Nashville corridor, and giving them a chance beside the bigger talent. What I will say for the Throwdown that can’t be overlooked, is that all the participants are songwriters first, every one of them, even Brantley Gilbert. That’s seems to be their niche, at least for this year, and that in itself is commendable.
For those that have never been to SXSW, the whole thing is broken down into showcases. A showcase can be put on by a record label, a booking agency, a publicity agency, a radio station, a blog, it doesn’t matter. And where doesn’t matter either. Wherever there is space in or near downtown Austin, there’s a band playing. Bars and venues of course, but restaurants, street corners, even gas stations are all fair game. Find yourself a space and make it happen!
There are two major types of showcases, “official” SXSW showcases, and unofficial showcases. The official showcases can be hard to get into. You might need tickets, or wristbands or badges, or some combination thereof, and those things can cost exorbitant amounts of money. But many of the unofficial showcases are cheap or free, and some even offer free beer and free food. Last year I only paid to get into one of the dozen or so showcases I attended, and that was the very last one. This year will likely be the same.
A lot of the unofficial showcases might dub themselves as “anti-SXSW” “not-SXSW” or “XSXSW”. These are usually grassroots-based showcases that are against the industry takeover that has happened with SXSW over the years, and think the festival should focus more on the music.
Here’s the list of my Top 5 showcases I will be attending.
#1 Hillgrass Bluebilly’s 4th Annual XSXSW Showcase
This is the top showcase for me this year folks, from Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. It is a packed lineup at what is becoming the biggest anti-SXSW event in Austin. Check out this lineup, delivered on three stages over 5 hours:
8:35 – The Harmed Brothers // 9:20 – Shake It Like A Caveman // 9:40 – The Boomswagglers // 9:55 – Willy Tea Taylor // 10:05 – Rose’s Pawn Shop // 10:20 – Soda // 10:45 – Austin Lucas // 11:00 - Tom Vandenavond // 11:40 – Drag The River // 12:20 – Chili Cold Blood // 1:05 – Possessed by Paul James
#2 Bloodshot Records Showcases
Last year I planned my whole SXSW around the Bloodshot Records events, and that’s not a bad way to go about it. Boasting a lineup of Scott H Biram, Whitey Morgan & The 78′s, Eddie Spaghetti (of the Supersuckers), Jon Langford, Ha Ha Tonka, it’s hard to miss. It is also one of the few chances to see The Waco Brothers, who are never given enough credit for being there at the beginning of the “Death of Country” scene that creates the foundation of Bloodshot.
Last year the Bloodshot Showcases created two of my favorite moments of SXSW, 1) Whitey Morgan telling the story of how Dale Watson gave him the song “Where Do You Want It?” about Billy Joe Shaver’s shooting (watch video), and Chris Scruggs (BR549, Hank III, Bob Wayne, too many others to list) playing with Rosie Flores (watch video).
#3 ninebullets.net Showcases
When ninebullets.net published the lineup for not one, but two showcases, I was blown away. It made me think, why the hell doesn’t Saving Country Music have a showcase? Maybe next year folks, but for now I’m going to be enjoying the fruits of everyone else’s labors. More info on the ninebullets showcases.
#4 TeXchromosome – Women with Texas Spirit
Brigitte London & Ruby Jane at the same show!? This showcase is power packed with beautiful and talented women folks, and once I get there, I ain’t leaving! It goes down Friday the 18th.
12-12:30-Kim Monroe // 12:40-1:10- Janine Wilson // 1:20-1:50- Robin Wiley // 2-2:30-Bonny Holmes // 2:45-3:15 – Linda McRae// 3:30-4::00 Mandy Marie Luke // 4:00-4:30 – Brigitte London // 4:45 -5:45-Temple Ray & The Mastersons // 6-6:40 – Ruby Jane // 6:55 -7:35 – Jess Klein // 7:45-8:25 – Penny Jo Pullus // 8:30-9:10 -Lisa Morales // 9:20-10:30 -Lissa Hattersley & The Greezy Wheels Family Band
#5 Rusty Knuckles Showcase
This will be my first chance to see Hellbound Glory, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Click here for more info.
As if Nashville needed anything else to be more like the Hollywood of the South, celebrity news outfit TMZ set up shop in the Music City this week, specifically on lower Broadway. “I wanted to get a new batch of stars,” explained managing editor Harvey Levin on the show that originally aired Friday, 3-4-11. But instead of getting “Tim, Faith, Dolly, and Carrie,” they got the barely-known but boisterous Bridgette Tatum, and “Slim Chance and The Can’t Hardly Playboys”, a house band at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn.
The TMZ on-camera staff openly questioned Harvey’s wisdom of trying to crack the Nashville market, and the segment seemed to mock the lack of celebrity content they were able to gather. There were shots of lower Broadway staples like the Elvis impersonator, the horse drawn carriage, and T-shirt shops. Bridgette Tatum was good for a short interview, but the television gold was found in Zach Shedd, bass player for Slim Chance and Hank Williams III. His resemblance to a heavily-bearded Ryan Gosling was good for a chuckle, as Zach recounted how the similarity earned him his “wings” on a plane flight to LA once.
My sources on lower Broadway tell me that the TMZ crew is still working in the area, and have specifically talked to Zach Shedd again, so we can expect more TMZ Nashville segments coming to a boob tube near you! Maybe someone should tell them the big country celebrities would not be caught dead on lower Broadway. Or maybe not.
The initial Nashville segment is at the 12:35 mark, with Bridgette Tatum and shots of lower Broadway. Zach Shedd and the Can’t Hardly Playboys are at the very end.
(Semi-worthless fact: Billy Joe Shaver cut a song called “Slim Chance & The Can’t Hardly Playboys” with Kevin Fowler in 2005.)
Now that the ink has dried on the acquittal of Billy Joe Shaver for shooting Billy Coker with a .22 pistol outside Papa Joe’s Saloon in Lorena, TX, (just outside of Waco) on March, 31st of 2007, he can now have a little fun with the story, and with a little help from old friend Willie Nelson.
Billy and Willie have just released a duet called, “Wacko From Waco” about the incident, and I have to say, it is pretty strong, and pretty funny.
I’m a wacko from Waco, ain’t no doubt about it, shot a man there in the head but can’t talk much about it.
He was trying to shoot me, but he took too long to aim. Anybody in my place, woulda done the same.
I don’t start fights I finish fights, that’s the way I’ll always be. I’m a wacko from Waco, you best not mess with me.
Willie Nelson and actor Robert Duvall acted as character witnesses for Billy at the trial, and Billy pays tribute to them in the song, along with high profile lawyer Dick DeGuerin who worked for Shaver pro bono, and his hometown of Corsicana. Willie once again comes to Billy’s aid by lending a few lines. Shaver has been dealing with an ailing shoulder that has limited his ability to perform.
The wacko from Waco is still on the run. A writer, a singer, a son of a gun.
Don’t cross him, don’t boss him, stay out of his way. Don’t give him no trouble ’cause you’ll just make his day.
The song can be purchased for $1.29 through paypal. Make sure to click “Return to Billy Joe Shaver Fan Club” after the purchase to access the download. It was recorded in Nashville and being released on Shaver’s “Shaverback Records.”
Of course this isn’t the first song about Billy’s infamous shooting. Dale Watson wrote “Where Do You Want It?” inspired by the rumor that this is what Shaver asked Billy Coker right before he shot him. The song was subsequently given to Whitey Morgan & The 78′s who released it on their self-titled debut with Bloodshot Records.
Thanks to AJ Davis for sniffing this story out!
On Saturday night the Hole in the Wall in Austin, TX was transformed into “Dirtyfoot” headquarters for fans, bands and extended family of Hillgrass Bluebilly Records for their Launch Party. Folks from as far as Canada, Seattle, Minnesota, and Boston flew in exclusively for the event and helped pack the walls of the Hole to near capacity, while over 150 people from around the world tuned in through SCM Live to share the experience.
7 bands and 5 hours of music meant both Hole in the Wall’s stages were pressed into service. Darren Hoff & The Hard Times got things stirring with their hard edged country on the smaller stage, while some started biting nails wondering if the second band The Boomswagglers were going to show for their second slot. As was explained later, “We forgot to put gas in the truck,” which they reportedly tried to remedy by pulling off a radiator hose and trying to siphon gas out of a motorcycle before calling someone to pick them up. Now if that ain’t country. . .
The Boomswagglers get the award for most authentic band of the night, in a night packed with authenticity. As they bled out their country/bluesy mix about bad women and hard times the shot glasses and beer jars stacked up on an amplifier like a mocking model of Austin’s ever-increasing skyline of posh condo buildings. Whatever the high rise condo represents, The Boomswagglers represent the polar opposite. Spencer Cornett is taller than a beanpole and skinnier than Shaggy on crack, while Lawson Benett is as tall is he is round. Together they are like dirty country’s Laurel and Hardy, with a larger-than-life, almost rock-star air around them even though they are the nicest, most down-to-earth “just blew in from the corn field” country boys you’ll ever meet.
The Boomswagglers were the one band that night I was most curious to see because I had no idea what to expect. Their song “Run You Down” that was featured on the Outlaw Radio Compilation has been one of the most popular songs in underground country, but was this just a one hit wonder? What I found was they are above-average pickers with solid and original songwriting ability that deserve whatever praise their small but loyal fans give them. Keep an eye out for their first Hillgrass Bluebilly release coming soon.
Next was Roger Wallace, who on such a stacked bill might have been overlooked by some, but was one of the standouts of the night. Roger is pure country, but with some soul and boogie to him as well. He also boasts one of the best bands to be found, with Jim Stringer on lead guitar, and the amazing Lisa Pankratz on drums. Lisa has also played with Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, and Billy Joe Shaver to name a few. Like so many of the bands that performed, Roger deserves his own separate review.
Tom VandenAvond and his “Say Hey Kids” band afforded the most memorable moment of the night, when he finished his set on the main stage with the song “Brick by Brick,” and was joined on stage by the headliners Possessed by Paul James on fiddle and Larry & His Flask, as well as Brian and Molly Salvi in one of those family-feeling moments that can’t be rehearsed or staged.
The best flat out musician from the night, on a night filled with so many great ones, might be Jim Chilson who flew down with the rest of the Ten Foot Polecats from Boston exclusively for the event. The seemingly effortless trance-inducing guitar rhythms with ridiculous fingerwork put the blues in this Bluebilly event, and was accompanied by balls out singing from Jay Scheffler and expert drumming. Who needs bass?
Now we have come to the point where I am supposed to somehow explain with human language what it is like to see Larry & His Flask live, but no words, no videos do it justice. Larry & His Flask are sheer madness. They are the essence, the pinnacle of on-stage energy. I talk often about one man bands, and how they must put out the energy of a full band. Then there is Hillstomp, which is a two man band, with both men putting out the energy of an entire band, doubling the equation. Well play the analogy out, and Larry & His Flask are like a six man band. No, this isn’t stating the obvious because there’s six people in the band, what I aim to say is they put out the energy of six bands combined.
You might think that their punk approach to an eclectic combination of roots is not for everyone. Videos just make it seem like theater. You have to appreciate that NOTHING in music trumps Larry & His Flask in the amount of energy.
The night was capped by Possessed by Paul James on the small stage, which immediately after The Flask finished, was crowded around so thick even us 6+ footers had to settle for hearing and not seeing. Nothing can trump the energy of The Flask, but it was perfected in mood by Possessed’s heartfelt soul. At that point all these folks from all around the country, from different walks of life and varying musical slantings, young and old, male and female, were all family. It was no longer about launch parties or Austin, or any of that; it was about the fellowship that a dizzying night of music can create for the soul when it is capped so perfectly by true, heartfelt expression.
A few tears were shed as all joined in Possessed’s “We Welcome You Home” at the very end of the night, and the mood in the room was such that you might anticipate all participants would disintegrate into the cosmos in a moment of infinite bliss and communion with the almighty. However reality met you cold in the face the next day, but nonetheless the participants of the Hillgrass Bluebilly Launch Party, in person and online, will never be the same after their experience, and the joy and understanding will remain inside their souls till death and beyond.
Two guns up.
More videos and pictures can be found on the message board.
Texas country music legend Billy Joe Shaver will receive a lifetime achievement award nicknamed the ‘Rusty’ on November 17th. The award is named for another Texas music legend, Rusty Wier, and is being bestowed by Love & War in Texas.
Scheduled to appear and perform at the ceremony are some more Texas legends, including legendary member of the Lost Gonzo Band and the man who penned the original Austin City Limits theme “London Homesick Blues” Gary P. Nunn. Add Tommy Alverson, Mark David Manders, and the Tejas Brothers to the lineup as well. It is also tradition for the performers to ‘roast’ the honoree.
The first Love & War Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Rusty Wier on Nov. 23rd 2007 in an event that also was a benefit for Weir who was battling Caner at the time (read about the event). Over $10,000 was raised to help with Rusty’s medical expenses. Wier died last year, but not before bestowing the second award to his good friend Tommy Alverson. The third recipient of the ‘Rusty’ was Gary P. Nunn.
Love & War in Texas is a music venue and restaurant created by Tye Phelps and Travis Shull to help preserve and promote Texas heritage. Phelps says the Love and War Lifetime Achievement Award was created to honor a prominent Texan every year, for anyone who spends their life time contributing positively to Texas. The event will be held at the Plano, TX location. There’s a Love & War in Grapevine, TX as well.
At the moment Billy Joe Shaver is not scheduled to perform. He is currently undergoing intense physical therapy to rehab an ailing shoulder.
When Amazon announced 50 $5 albums for August I thought it was a one off deal, but September has dawned with 50 new ones, and just like last time, there are killer names right beside the mainstream ones. I mean maybe Hank III and Wayne Hancock are to be expected, but Devil Makes Three, and Roger Alan Wade? Whoa!
Now listen. I am fully aware that every time I peddle Amazon’s wares, some grumble that somehow that makes me a sellout. The simple fact is that Amazon, CD Baby, and other online distributors of music are not the enemy. The enemy is major labels, who before online distribution had the monopoly on distributing music, meaning only signed artists that labels wanted to push had access to distribution channels. Digital distributors are helping to erode that infrastructure and erect new ways to buy music that put the power back into the artists’s hands.
I understand that Amazon is a big company, and yes, the REAL music customer understands that the best way still to buy music is from the artist directly or local music stores. But one of the reasons I am glad Amazon is doing this is because they’re putting independent artists names right beside the mainstream ones. This is something country radio won’t do, the CMA and ACM’s won’t do, CMT won’t do. Only Amazon is offering a fair playing field, and good on them for that. Some of these albums will be purchase simply because they’re cheap. The artist may not receive much, but a new fan will be made who will buy more albums, support the band on the road, tell their friends.
Demonetization of the music industry is killing off the dinosaur infrastructure that has corrupted music for too long. But artists still need to get paid and still need support structure, and REAL music fans should want that to happen. Amazon is on the cutting edge of finding ways to keep some money flowing, and using price points as a promotional tool. And I applaud them for that.
Organizers are working on plans for original country music Outlaw Billy Joe Shaver to be honored by Corsicana, TX, the town he was born in.
Tentative plans include renaming a portion of the street Billy Joe grew up on in Corsicana to “Billy Joe Shaver Way,” as well as adding a prominent “Billy Joe Shaver Way” exit off of Interstate 45. Shaver’s dad left before he was born, and so his grandmother would watch him while his mother traveled to Waco for work. Corsicana is where he received his “8th Grade education” made famous by his hit “Georgia On A Fast Train.” (Shaver dropped out to pick cotton with his uncles.)
There’s also plans for a Billy Joe “Appreciation Day,” tentatively set for Tuesday, October 12, with “several Texas and some out of state artists who have agreed to appear.”
Billy Joe’s 2002 album Freedom’s Child includes a song called Corsicana Daily Sun in which Billy Joe recalls leaving his grandmother’s side, and later reminisces about the simple pleasures of Corsicana life.
AJ, whose been a big help with this story, just posted some additional info in the comments:
“This was the brainchild of Kris Smith, music writer for the Navarro County Times. She also said they would likely have an unveiling of the I45 signs around 4:00 in the afternoon, and then a tribute concert beginning at 6:30 (on Oct 12th, 2010).
James G. Odom said, “Billy will be there. He seemed to get a big lift when I told him about it Friday. The show will be acoustic, and participants will sing Shaver songs only. No one is being paid. Whether Billy plays is purely up to him.”
Please note: These events are still being planned and organized so details might change in the future. I’ll try to keep everyone updated when times, places, and people are set in stone.
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