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{Brad's Corner} March 2018: The Places They are a Changin’

{Brad�s Corner}

The recent news that Dale Watson had moved to Memphis sent ripples far beyond the Countrypolitan honky-tonk scene he made thrive in Austin.  It was seen as the largest domino to fall in the fight to keep Austin what it was.  Back in January, I made a trip down to the ATX to see Josh Weathers at the Saxon Pub.

The Saxon was a hallmark of my 20’s.  A place we spent nearly every Wednesday taking in the venerable weekly Rusty Wier residency. We became regulars.  Saxon was our Cheers for a couple years.  I moved away and visited less frequently.  A couple years ago after an Isbell show we bounced over to the Saxon to find Jonny Burke ripping up the tiny wooden stage.  I noticed the parking lot was a bit different, but courtesy of the $9 brews at Moody Theater I wasn’t able to do  much detective work from the backseat of our Honda Civic Uber.

So, in January when we went down, I was ambling down Lamar taking in the familiar sights that soon became less familiar.  Landmarks I’d known 15  years ago were fewer.  Then, it happened.  I drove right past the Saxon.  Not once, but twice.  The whole strip it belongs to had become gentrified. A towering apartment complex dwarfed its left and a fancy noodle restaurant anchored it’s right.  And there was no parking to be found.  In a macabre state of shock, I made a couple loops around behind the building before parallel parking in front of a vintage, shady apartment complex and hoping the San Marcos towing boogeymen wouldn’t find me.

Once I stepped inside, the bar felt the same, smelled the same and a couple of the faces were the same.  WC Clark definitely sounded the same.  For the next few hours I was transfixed and transported back to the old Austin.  Josh Weathers did that thing he does where he entertains, charms, sings, plays and generally holds your attention for 120 minutes over a sea of Topo Chico and Lone Star beer.  Soon enough, I was back out in the frigid air of January.  The warmth of barroom nostalgia and ringing of modern music leaving my brain and ears. A quick glance around revealed that the Saxon was only but a small beacon amid commercial progress.

“Scrape off the hilltop, build look alike houses…I’d call it progress if it could be saved…”

Kent Finlay’s treatise on the changing landscape of the Hill Country and greater Austin was written many decades ago.  He saw what was happening before many and set it to song.  Bedroom communities made of faux limestone with cute names invoking a frontier heritage mixed with a body of water, “Limestone Bluff Falls” “Pecan Grove Meadows” etc.

Austin is not alone.  Just this week, renowned Dallas writer Robert Wilonsky had a piece on a gym that’s been open and continually operating since 1962 and its 87 year old owner finally having to close the doors this month after rent skyrocketed to an amount he could no longer afford.  Chip and Joanna Gaines bought the historic Elite Cafe in Waco and much to the chagrin of historical society members removed the signage and changed the name.  The continued growth of New Braunfels from small town vacation destination to metropolis. And so many others.  In college, I had a Poli Sci professor that opined during a lecture that by the year 2025 if one were to drive I-35 from Denton to San Antonio, that person wouldn’t be able to tell where one town ended and the next began.  He talked of a landscape of strip malls, Walmarts and DR Horton neighborhoods that bled into each other with no distinction. I scoffed at this notion as a humorous exaggeration of what was taking place at the time.  I scoff no longer.

Homogeny is not a great way to live.  Be it civic based, residential neighborhoods, radio station conglomeration (Clear Channel/iHeart ripping away local flavor and going bankrupt) or just personal well being.  We were meant to be unique.  He created us that way.

There are those fighting the fight to keep places unique, local, special.  Randy Rogers buying Cheatham Street is a fine example.  Every mom and pop local joint featured on shows like Daytripper, Texas Bucket List and Texas Country Reporter showcase bastions standing tall as long as they can.

But, this is a music site, right?

The same parallels happening in the growth of the state are happening in our music scene.  More people are flooding in every day.  People are searching for their own piece of the promise.  A link to the past, an avenue to the future.  Something that sounds like they feel.  Something that is real.  Something that they can believe in.  It’s hard to believe in an auto-tuned Merle Haggard sample when you’ve seen the real thing.  It’s hard to jive with a pop crossover chock full of generic lyrics.  But, it’s easy to get down with songs about emotions, hometowns, love, heartache, rowdiness that you can see performed live at your local watering hole.  That’s the real stuff.

At a certain point what was once original becomes the standard.  It’s at that point that innovation is required.  Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes, especially within music.  This genre of music has gone from the 70s heyday to the 80’s calm to the 90s resurgence to the 00’s boom, the 10’s now.  Each decade is hallmarked by certain ideals, sounds and notions.  There’s a common thread, but each has a different rope.

Seek the unique. Find the profound.  Create and live original.  Dale Watson knows that. He’s headed to Memphis to find what he once had in Austin.  He’s not abandoning Austin full bore, he’s just found something that challenges and inspires him in the same way Austin once did.  The Austin of 2018 isn’t the Austin I fell in love with so many years ago…but it’s still cool.  Taking the lessons learned of yesterday and applying them tomorrow.

MINOR CHORDS:

-River Jam – July 27-29 in New Braunfels.  We’ll be able to unveil some of the artists very soon.

-Uncle Lucius is going out in a blaze of glory.  A band that never intended or set out to be a part of this music scene became one of the biggest must-see live acts.  A soulful jam band of hippies that would’ve been on the cover of the Rolling Stone 40 years ago.  We bid you a very heartfelt adieu boys, thanks for the tunes.

-It’s baseball season again.  That means late nights and dinner from the concession stand may become a biweekly tradition.  The Rangers will be horrible.  The ‘Stros will repeat.

-We are efforting on bringing the forums back.  Rejoice.  Slappyville may ride again.

-Somebody rented the river cabin I stay in every year at River Jam before I was able to lock it down.  I’m going to Liam Neeson you.

-Troubadour Country Radio’s app is how all should be done.  It’s clean, doesn’t use a lot of data and starts playing the tunes upon opening. The future of broadcasting.

-Aside from allergies, springtime in Texas is heaven on earth.

-I didn’t fill out a gambling March Madness bracket this year and have enjoyed it more than I have in years.  Upsets galore and no skin in the game.  Good stuff.

-Headed to Chicago in early July.  Send me your rec’s.

This month’s recommended album: Josh Grider – Good People.  Grider returns with another rumination on life, the downtrodden and the upright.  With a style that has always been a melting pot and falls somewhere squarely between CoJo and Walt Wilkins, Grider continues to produce and deliver tasty jams.

-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain

{20 Questions} Johnny Chops Revealed

by: Cody Starr

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It’s been 5 years since Johnny “Chops” Richardson rolled out his first solo project, “Sticks & Stones” with his band The Razors. A couple more Randy Rogers Band records in the books and a lot of highway miles to go along, Johnny Chops has found the time and thanks to his fans, raised the money via PledgeMusic, to put out a self-titled, second offering on March 23rd.

“Johnny Chops and The Razors” picks up the rock where they last left it. It’s an eclectic mix of vintage tones, guitar fuzz, upbeat rock ‘n’ roll boogie and mellow blues all wrapped in a wild west ghoulish backdrop. Think Tim Burton taking over a jukebox littered with traditional rock ‘n’ roll and country.

I was able to catch a Johnny Chops and The Razors show at Gas Monkey Live! several weeks back. Before the show, we chatted it up over some fish tacos. Chops is always laid back and easy to talk to, and oozes cool that’s far from presumptuous or aloof. Our conversation flowed effortlessly from music in general to growing up in our respective hometowns, sports, and finally to the new record.

Most people know you from your main gig as the bass player for The Randy Rogers Band but you’ve been doing Johnny Chops and The Razor for at least 5 years. How do you find time to do both?

I really don’t take vacations and I enjoy what I do. So it’s not like I’m going to “work” or I don’t feel like it’s that way. I’ll get off the road with Randy, take a day off, relax, then get up the next morning and start working on more music. It’s that simple.

In 2013, you established your traditional rock ‘n’ roll sound with “Sticks & Stones”, but your sound is unique in that it’s got this spooky, Halloween rock feel. Is that intentional?

Not entirely, we started out with a straight-ahead, guitar-driven rock sound. I don’t know if it’s because I was really into punk rock when I was younger but I just like the spooky feel. For me, it’s a comfortable place to write from and what I tend to gravitate to.

It even creeps into the tunes you’ve written for the Randy Rogers Band – “Wicked Ways”, “Ten Miles Deep” and “Shotgun”. It’s a mash-up of old westerns, God, the supernatural, death, and superstition that ends up creating a sort of “Western Death Vibe”.

You might want to coin that phrase, I like the sound of that!

This new record you’ve done with David Abeyta, who is producing a lot of folks these days. How was that?

Dave is a great person to work with; he’s easy going and we are into a lot of the same sounds musically. He’s also got some great equipment at his house that we were able to use. We really connected and I think it shows on the record.

“Believer” is the first single you released off the record and it’s a good transition from “Sticks & Stones” because it has similar tones. You also put out a video for it, so talk about both.

I wanted to write it from the point of view of somebody that’s so obsessive about their superstitions that they’re afraid to even walk outside. For the video, we came up with the idea of this guy that does everything blindfolded, as if he’s relying on nothing but his superstitions to get him through all these sticky situations. We shot a lot of it at the Globe Theater in Bertram, Texas which is this cool theater that’s been restored to early-twentieth century, period correct decor.

The second single you released, “Taking A Chance on Me”, features some gospel singers that bring some soul to that track. How did that come about?

While we were in the studio cutting it, somebody said: “Hey you really need some old school guys to sing on this and give it a gospel feel.” The song isn’t necessarily a gospel song, but it could be interpreted that way and when we got into the studio we decided to take it in that direction. I’m really happy with the way it came out and the guys that sing on it are three brothers who call themselves The Gospel Starz. They’ve been singing together their whole lives in this small church near Austin and they brought an energy that took the song to an entirely different level. We did the video in this bar in the Rainey Street district of Austin. It’s actually this old house that they moved 10 miles from the east side of town and it was a cool backdrop for the video.

“Stick & Stones” has a heavy rock slant while the new record leans on more Deep South, Mississippi Blues influences. Was that intentional?

Definitely. While I love the rock stuff, I’ve always been a huge Delta Blues fan. One of the things that got me started playing guitar was finding Robert Johnson. He was different than anybody I had ever heard, it was like two guys playing guitar at the same time but it was all him. He is still the benchmark for me. For a few years early on, I was listening to all blues all the time so I think it’s always in the back of my head. After the first record came out and with the feedback I got from live shows, it just seemed that the blues stuff was coming off better, so this time I tried to focus writing more in that vein.

You also did a really cool cover of a Muddy Waters tune, “I Just Want To Make Love to You”, but with a different take?

We had a half a day left in the studio and we just casually laid down this cover that we do at the live shows. After we were done tracking it, David had the idea of turning it into a duet to really take it in a different direction. He immediately thought of Brandy Zdan to come in and do it, but we switched things up and gave her the guy verse to sing as another spin. When I heard her vocals on the track, it really blew my hair back.

Album Review

Outside of the tracks already discussed, “Tombstone Flowers” is a Chop’s personal favorite. Dubbed “a love song from beyond the grave”, it’s done in a swinging 50’s soda shop style that really lightens the mood. “Ten Cent Talkers” spotlights the scrubs of this world who oversell and under-deliver on everything they do because “Idle hands are easy to keep clean.”

With its heavy keys a la Jerry Lee Lewis, “Rock Bottom” will you get you jitterbugging to its up-tempo, optimistic, things-can-only-go-up-from-here attitude.

A personal favorite, but more than likely a deep cut, is “Only When You’re Breathing”. It’s anchored in repressed anger and contempt for a cold, heartless woman who speaks only in lies. It’s a long tune, coming in at close to seven and a half minutes with the song building up to a really cool two-minute guitar and drum-heavy instrumental.

Finally, “Good Night” closes things out in what could only be described as death lullaby about a hitman who finally meets his match against a female opponent. It holds true to that “Western Death Vibe” he’s established.

Overall, “Johnny Chops and The Razors” is full of dark subject-matter but presented with varying spins. It is at times chill, sometimes rockin’, other times upbeat and humorous, and occasionally flat-out creepy.

Come March 23rd, be sure to check out the new record available at typical music outlets. Also, keep in mind a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Rockport Humane Society and Adoption Center which has been on the front lines helping lost and abandoned animals as a result of Hurricane Harvey. For more cool tunes and information, check out the Johnny Chops website.

Mile 0: Worth Every Mile Getting There

by: Cody Starr

We started the week bringing you Brad’s thoughts on Mile 0 Fest and we’ll end the week with mine. As usual, they’ll be some media to add pictures to words.

Let’s start by rehashing a tweet sent the moment the festival closed on Saturday night.… Read the rest

Mile 0: As Good As It Gets

**Below you will find my complete story on my trip to Mile 0 Fest and Key West.  If you want to skip the prologue and jump straight to the music section, scroll to the portion titled  “MILE O FEST“. … Read the rest

Gone to the Last Mile

Tomorrow, we will descend on the infamous community of Key West, Florida for an inaugural Texas/Red Dirt festival.  What happens when a bunch of Texans and Oklahomans hit the land of Buffett and Hemingway? Well, we plan to document it all. … Read the rest