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{New Braunfels} Artist Spotlight: Smoke Wagon

smokewagonband2014Like many bands, I’ve been trying to see Smoke Wagon perform live for quite some time. I finally had the opportunity to see them last Friday at Billy D’s in Universal City. The acoustics weren’t optimal, but the sound was well balanced and filled the oddly arranged room well. Smoke Wagon plays primarily Texas Country and Red Dirt tunes from the more popular bands of the last decade, and they do this very well. With highly capable musicians in all corners and the recent addition of a clasically trained violinist turned fiddle queen, it really rounds out their sound and enables them to match the instrumentation of many bands such as Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Reckless Kelly, Turnpike Troubadours and more.

Smoke Wagon was formed in 2011 which involved a Craigslist post and an urge to put together a band to cover a better brand of popular music. Going back a bit, lead singer Jay Brown and bassist Dave James were already comfortable playing together as they were both founding members of the raunchy, San Antonio-based parody band “Skunkweed” since the mid-90’s. Skunkweed members Jay Brown and Leon Waddy branched out and started an additional band “The Country Fried Pickles” in 2008 which played primarily in New Braunfels and achieved some level of success. However, life eventually got a little too hectic for Jay to keep up with the demands of two bands and “real life” so he had to step down as lead singer of “The Country Fried Pickles”. To make a long story short, “The Country Fried Pickles” hired Dave Fenley as lead singer after Jay left, renamed the band to Poor J. Brown (because it’s kinda funny), Fenley went on to become a semi-finalist in Season 8 of America’s Got Talent in 2013 then moved off to Nashville to further his music career and remains there currently with his wife Eden.

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Stevie Ray at 60

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Few artists are transcendent.  There are those that make a mark so indelible that even a tragic, untimely death can’t lessen the tight grip they have on our collective consciousness.  Such was the case with Texas guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan.  The man cut his teeth in the dives of Dallas, helped break open the Austin scene and slummed at Cheatham Street before becoming an international superstar.  Tales of SRV’s talent and excess are commonplace and we won’t rehash them here.  Just know that he was more than the sum of those narratives.  He was a talented singer, songwriter and producer as well.  He had the artistic abilities to stretch beyond 1-4-5 blues and did so on occasion, but he always knew where home was.  He was an old soul with a Texas spirit that embodied all he did.  After beating around throughout the 70s, Stevie Ray shot to fame and infamy in the early 80s on the strength of his live shows.  He was a throwback bluesman with Hendrix-esque intensity and mystique, all in an original Texan package.  Stevie Ray Vaughan climbed mountains that seemed impossible both personally and musically.  He overcame many obstacles, including a great number of self-inflicted ones, to become the preeminent post-Hendrix guitar player.

Had Stevie Ray Vaughan lived he’d have turned 60 today.  He was robbed from us nearly 25 years ago at the age of just 35.  His life made him a legend, his death escalated that notion and his music confirms it each time its played.  His influence is undeniable on the modern Texas/Americana scene even if it’s not as noticeable as Willie Nelson’s.  It was in his attitude, vibe, style and independent nature.  He played his music, his way and has been copied relentlessly ever since.  Thanks for the music SRV and happy birthday.

SRV and Double Trouble blow the roof off the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 and become notorious.  This leads to many major breaks for the band.

The mid 80’s found Stevie Ray with major buzz and videos on MTV.

By 1989, Stevie Ray was on top of the world.  He’d conquered his demons and was achieving his greatest artistic success.

SRV and Double Trouble peaking Live in New Orleans with their “Superstition” cover circa 1987

Perhaps the best to ever strap a guitar on. Here he had just woken up and strolled into sound check.  He’s blistering moments after rolling out of bed.

 

 

Ketchum’s Cure

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Hal Ketchum was a mainstay on country radio in the 90’s.  Huge hits like “Small Town Saturday Night”, “Past the Point of Rescue” and “I Know Where Love Lives” resonated with audiences far and wide.  Ketchum’s songs also embodied certain trends that would later escape Nashville and flourish in Texas.  Specific, heartfelt, smart, melodic and distinct. Ketchum cut his teeth in the burgeoning Texas troubadour scene of the 1980’s that blossomed on the shoulders of Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett.  A regular gig at Gruene Hall and an independent record release led to Nashville, which led to his grand successes.

As the years wore on, Ketchum’s musical muse wore out.  He found making music less enjoyable and lacking the fulfillment to which he’d originally been attracted.  As this inspirational fade began, a health issue paralleled this.  Ketchum was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called acute transverse myelitis, a companion disease to multiple sclerosis.  Ketchum was achingly familiar with the hell that living with an MS disease can be, as he lost his mother at a young age to the affliction.  Touring became more of a challenge and less frequent.  Studio time became less enticing and more of a hassle.

And so it went for the next decade or so.  Then, something funny happened.  Music seduced Hal Ketchum again.  In a most unlikely place.  Ketchum had removed himself from many of the trappings of modern life, decamped to a secluded cabin in Wimberley and worked on treating his MS ailments … Keep Reading

{Brad's Corner} September 2014: Brick and Mortar Soul

{Brad�s Corner}

I live in central Texas and one of the most exciting recent developments has been the construction of the new Baylor facility McLane Stadium.  Baylor fan or not, the modestly sized but aesthetically outstanding football stadium is a splendid point of pride for all locals who drive by it on 35.  Up the road in Arlington, Jerry Jones constructed the world’s preeminent multi-event facility with AT&T Stadium.  It is a true wonder of the world. Two new palatial venues at different levels in different towns to ostensibly host the same types of events.  Yet, they couldn’t be more different.

Music venues can be like that too.  I’ve been in new ones that click right away and new ones that falter.  I’ve been in some that are over 100 years old and I wouldn’t change a thing.  While other older venues need a complete renovation.  I’m far from an expert, but I’ve been attached to venues in all sorts of capacities: performer, road manager, booking agent, talent buyer, concert promoter and even bartender/bouncer.  What makes a nice venue isn’t the brick, wood or concrete.  It’s the people.  The staff.  The musicians.  The fans. The soul.

Our own Jon Paul “Hogleg” Long is now venturing into the venue business with a very cool space down in New Braunfels.  I have all the confidence that JP’s space will be one of the coolest venues in the state.  Don’t think he can’t, as he would say.  He’s been around the block too and he … Keep Reading

Like It Used To Be

Ten years ago in one of our first 20 Questions features, Randy Rogers talked about the stories behind some of his songs.  The tale of “Like It Used To Be” sums up how many of us were feeling in the days after 9/11.

-“Like It Used to Be” – I wrote it on my buddies couch in Ft. Worth. I used to stay there for days after we played a gig in Ft. Worth. He never complained. I really didn’t have anywhere else to go. The girl I was dating lived in Dallas and so it was closer to her than San Marcos. I wrote it during those crazy few months after 9/11 when you didn’t know what was going to happen next. I just wanted to go out and forget about the world around us.

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