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Jerry Jeff at 75

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There are many folks that saw the former Ronald Crosby catting around the Texas Hill Country in the early 70’s who probably would have scoffed at the notion of him making it to see age 75 and the year 2017. When the self-proclaimed gypsy songman first headed south from New York and hit Florida with a spring break ukelele and wanderlust for days, nobody could’ve predicted him making a career as a musician and songwriter. As he vagabonded his way through the south and partied with some kid named Jimmy Buffett in New Orleans to a degree that threw him in a drunk tank with a homeless old drunk that called himself Mr. Bojangles, Crosby began to put together a new identity.  A folkie turned honky-tonker named Jerry Jeff Walker.  Walker’s travels would eventually land him in Texas.


Jerry Jeff stuck his flag down in Austin before Willie.  As they both exploded out of middling 60’s career missives, Nelson became otherwordly and Walker became one of us.  A man of the people.  A rowdy rabble rouser who just wanted to have a good time.  If a song, show, arrest, party, story, love affair, fight, adventure came out of it…even better.  Good times were plenty in those days and the shows started becoming bigger.  Jerry Jeff became a must see across the state and the south. His tolerance for all things illegal became legendary…as did his gigs.  Thankfully, he’d met up with a sage PT Barnum type named Hondo Crouch who’d purchased a Hill Country hamlet called Luckenbach.  Between FM trips under the moonlight in a beat up old truck, a live record was conceived.  On a humid August night, wires were strung around live oak trees and tape rolled as Jerry Jeff and his ace Lost Gonzo Band (featuring Gary P. Nunn, Bob Livingston and the whole gang) tore into a seminal live recording that set a bar that is still the standard benchmark for live recordings in this kind of music.

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The studio recordings that Walker cranked out during this time are equally as important as his live masterpiece. Ridin’ High, A Man Must Carry On, Contrary to Ordinary et al became signposts on a map of how to do this whole independent thing the right way. Basically hit record in a living room and release it as raw as you’d hear it at John T. Floore’s and roll with it. He wrote many hit songs, but also had an ear for good ones, especially the work of Guy Clark.  Jerry Jeff is perhaps the greatest interpreter of Clark’s songs ever.  During this time period, the New York kid began a healthy fascination with the rodeo lifestyle and struck up a friendship with famed cowboy Larry Mahan.  This western influence found its way into JJW’s music and added a new layer to the festivities.

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The 70’s roared on and at some point, Jerry Jeff looked around and realized he was the only one still at the party.  Record deals, hedonism and antics that would make 1985 Motley Crue blush came and went.  Back surgeries, marriage and kids slowed ol’ Scamp Walker down as he plowed through the 80’s.  He became a fixture on The Nashville Network making numerous appearnaces on Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now show before becoming host of the Texas Connection; an ACL offshoot filmed in San Antonio that could never quite recapture the vibe of its Austin cousin.  He released a memoir that is again right up there with Motley Crue’s The Dirt (doing blow in the Louisiana governor’s office anyone?), slowed his touring schedule, bought some paradise in Belize and became a mentor to the latest generation.  Cut duets with Jack Ingram, played festivals with Pat Green.  The islands found their way into this iteration of Jerry Jeff and he found common ground with his old friend Buffett…releasing songs written during his time on his own private island.  His son graduated high school in Austin around this time and went off to art school in London.  Django Walker would return to Texas with a de facto bookend to Gary P’s “London Homesick Blues” and “Texas On My Mind” would become a new scene standard.

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At the dawn of Texas Music 2.0, Jerry Jeff was hailed as founding father.  Somewhere between Willie and Ray Wylie Hubbard.  He played the same festivals and venues as the kids who looked up to him until he just decided he didn’t want to anymore.  Back pain and lack of motivation combined with the beautiful Belize distraction to cause the tour schedule to dry up to birthday bashes, private parties, Gruene Hall and some one offs.  That’s where we find Jerry Jeff Walker at 75.  Still doing things on his own terms.  A survivor.  One that many swore would never make it here. He’s a Texas Treasure.  Get out and see him next time you have an opportunity.  Tell him thanks and drink one for him…he doesn’t do that anymore.

 

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{Review} Rich O’Toole – American Kid

otooleRich O’Toole has had one of the most interesting careers in the history of this music scene.  His debut record flung him atop the charts and ahead of people that had been chasing the dream longer.  It wasn’t unique, but it was catchy.  Personal battles, social media meltdowns, public humiliation and declining song quality caused him to, at times, become a punchline to many.  Yet, despite it all, O’Toole has never stopped grinding…or being himself.

O’Toole recently released his latest collection of songs, American Kid.  The songs are grander and bigger in scope than O’Toole’s voice can quite reach to, but it’s still a pleasant listen.  This is Springsteen lite funneled through the lens of Mellencamp B-sides.  The Boss is even namechecked with one of the songs “Springsteen Gold”. With that preface and background…allow me to say these songs aren’t bad.  I know some of you will be shocked to read that. There are definitely bands in this scene and beyond putting out way worse and receiving accolades and crowds. These songs have common ground with the latest work from Ryan Adams…as blasphemous as that will also sound to some.

“Casino Lights” is a new twist on the gambling town trope and has a strong melodic sense that is almost swallowed up in the overproduction that features strings…but retains a diggable quality throughout. “Heartbreak is Currency” is a clever song idea delivered in a straightforward manner. A cover of Phil Pritchett’s mysterious Elvis ode “God Save The King” is a smart choice to place in the middle of the running order.  It’s always been a good song and O’Toole lends it some fresh emotion. The hook and vibe on the aforementioned Springsteen song is strong and worth checking out if you don’t listen to anything else on this album.

O’Toole isn’t reinventing the wheel or headed to a sweep at the Americana Music Awards…but what he is doing is staying true to his roots over a decade into his career.  Haters can hate, he’s going to do him…and somewhere in there is an admirable dedication to his vision and art.  This is an album that’s easy on the ears and is one of the stronger efforts from OKOM three months into a stout 2017. O’Toole will never win over some folks, but he’s not going to stop trying and his latest effort is proof that sometimes dogged hard-headedness and a blinding ability to see anything but one’s own truth is universal.

 

http://www.richotoole.com/

{Review} K Phillips – Dirty Wonder

kphillipsFive years ago, in this space, I reviewed K Phillips debut album.  That record was a tour de force featuring bluesy booze soaked vocals over melodies that combined Leon Russell, Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones.  Phillips rose from unknown to scene A-lister.  … Read the rest

{Brad's Corner} March 2017: Jobs Loss

{Brad�s Corner}

They both preferred black t-shirts. They were both inspirational, passionate, hair-triggered, innovative and familial. One probably dug queso a little more than the other, but their influence (in their chosen fields) were each vast and immense.

For some, it would be near blasphemous for me to compare Steve Jobs to Jon Paul “Hogleg” Long, but the comparison is fair.… Read the rest

The House of Fifi Dubois

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Many years ago Drew Kennedy told me that he’d just played the coolest venue he’d ever stepped foot in.  The name of said venue, The House of Fifi Dubois.  I was awestruck at the name.  That had to be the coolest venue name I’d ever heard. … Read the rest