The parking lot held a broken down 60′s era VW bug that had been parked there for months, a black BMW some rich kid’s dad had gotten him, and a nondescript white ’98 F250. Nondescript until you walked past the entrance of Joe’s Crab Shack in San Marcos right on the river and were greeted by the protective yet playful bark of a shiny-coated border collie. It was one of those early autumn evenings right around the time that leaves start changing colors and it turns from hot to cool very quickly as the sun goes down. The semester was just old enough that blowing off that Wednesday 8AM was justifiable for a Tuesday night out at a happy hour listening to some live music.
That was the scene unfolding before me the first time I met Doug Moreland. Douglas Neal Moreland, as he was going by then due to the Robert Earl Keen driven nature of Texas Music in the late 90′s, was the older brother of a cool girl named Aimee whose party crew had recently joined forces with ours. She found out we dug Pat Green et al and very nonchalantly mentioned something to the effect of , “Y’all should come watch my brother play sometime…he’s friends with all those guys and he just moved back to Texas from Tennessee.”
And, so it was. We ventured out on that Tuesday autumn evening not sure what to expect other than a morning hangover due to the friendly and flirty overpouring barstaff at Joe’s. Coming across a well-mannered border collie running around the place was our first surprise. We convened around one of those cheap metal beer label tables out on the patio under the setting Hill Country sun and settled in for some music.
A tall, lanky guy with a big palm leaf cowboy hat and aviator shades on abmled over to our table, said hi to Aimee, made the type of inside joke that only siblings understand and laughed one of the most discernible laughs I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. It was at that moment that I was introduced to Douglas Neal Moreland. We bs’d about music, San Marcos, Tennesee, his dog, his chainsaw art and tons of other stuff. It didn’t take long to learn that Doug was a redneck renaissance man.
Was there anything he couldn’t do? This was all before I’d heard him sing one note or strum one chord.
Soon, it was time for him to start his gig. I hadn’t been forewarned that (at the time) his act was mostly a comedy bit. Sure, he played some cool Buffett cover tunes and several songs about Texas…but, the majority of his set was full of the type of songs and jokes that had more in common with Rodney Carrington than Rodney Crowell.
At about the midpoint of the gig, he whistled to Holly (aka Jalapeno, the previously mentioned border collie), she hopped up onstage and joined in on the show. “Singing”, playing the fiddle (with a bit of assistance) and generally stealing the spotlight. So, not only was Doug all of the other things I’d come to find out, he was also the Texan version of the Dog Whisperer.
As we left the bar that night in a buzzed haze, Mr. Moreland had a new crew of fans and friends. He gave us all copies of his first two records which he’d just cut. One was a comedy album and the other was his “serious” material. Recorded in Nashville on a shoestring budget, Moreland had a Texas classic on his hands with that “serious” album…Toast to Life.
As the years rolled into the 2000′s and the Texas Music scene blazed a trendy path, Doug became more known for his comedy and would often emcee big festivals, fill-in on KVET morning radio, open shows for Carrington, appearing on The Tonight Show with Holly and more. Yet, all the while, Moreland longed to be taken seriously for his music.
And, the evidence found on Toast to Life, proves that those who took notice were smart to do so. Tunes like “Houston (We’ve Got a Problem)” took a cheesy hook that wouldn’t make it very far in the wrong hands and cranked out a good song. The highpoint of the songwriting on the album is “Not Afraid to Fall in Love” as Moreland vividly paints a picture of a broken relationship. “You’re in Dallas” has one of the most beautifully haunting fiddle riffs ever committed to a record in Texas. Of course, with Doug nothing’s too serious that it can’t use a pinch of humor. Songs like “Running Away” and “Texas Thing” walk the blurred line that Doug could never figure out between comedy and the mindful.
Around 2001, Doug moved to the as of yet unopened River Road Icehouse and lived in a camper out back like something you’d see on an episode of King of the Hill. He was joined by his friend Bubba Daniels, sometimes tagged along with Billy Applegate, some kid named Bingham was hanging around and it wasn’t long before Bleu Edmondson was living there too. Soon, they cordoned off a little area by their campers and built what they called the Compound.
This is where possibly Doug’s greatest influence on modern Texas Music comes into play. He fostered a creative community in New Braunfels that was comparable to the fabled Yellow House in Oklahoma. Musicians flocked from all over to jam ’til sunrise, swap songs old, new and borrowed, and trade the type of music biz horror stories that would make Hunter S. Thompson blush.
River Road Icehouse became a hotspot and surpassed nearly all the music venue competition between Austin and San Antonio. A genuine camaraderie and brotherhood was being born during those nights playing to the clanging of beer bottles being thrown in the dumpsters on River Road. It’s the type of organic musical experience that has recently attempted to be admirably duplicated by Josh Abbott and Larry Joe Taylor hosting writing retreats. But, I just don’t know if that type of magic can be manufactured.
By the mid 2000′s the magic had dried up on River Road as people moved on to other things. Doug had moved to south Austin, Manchaca to be exact, and began focusing only on his serious music. He put together a western swing type outfit with Matt Skinner and made some nice hay playing Cattle Barron’s Balls and rodeos.
You can still find Doug down in Manchaca…sawing on a fiddle or a piece of wood. The scene’s been buzzing again lately about weekly songwriter swaps that Doug’s organizing at his store (Cattelacs) in Manchaca. He calls it Potluck Pickin’ and it happens each Tuesday. Folks come together, break bread and then kick out the acoustic jams.
Doug Moreland is a multi-talented artist and his genuine nature and ability to bring people together for the sake of a good time and a good song make him a Texas Treasure. He’s not touted as often as he once was, but those that know what’s up know Doug Moreland’s an important cog in the wheels of Texas Music. You can order his albums from LSM or directly from his website. Toast to Life is hard to find. I believe the only place to get it online is from Amazon, here.
Doug’s a one of a kind, true Texan artist and everyone should do themselves the pleasure of seeing him live…a true Texas treasure.