Sunday, January 3, 2021

New Year's Resolutions And Musings

Last year I achieved nothing but living in a funk and surviving for another 366 days. A couple of times a year, I tried to balance my sheet, but most of my ambitions went nowhere. Even though the musical output of 2020 was amazing, the blurdays just passed me by. I couldn't find the words to review and share my other reality with the people around me. Goals to ameliorate were boxed up and put in storage. 

So here I sit again, pondering. January 1st is my groundhog day. Not as if I can see my shadow, then it's gonna be a shitty year, but more like the movie, that's the way every year starts. Well, today - to check off at least one resolution for the year to come - I thought I'll introduce you to my musical groundhog day.  

They called him "Hillbilly Shakespeare" with good reason, like the Bard Of Avon, Hank Williams had an immense appeal to the masses, and like the English poet rewrote literature, Williams as a proto-rocker changed the American songscape. He passed away, only 29 years old, in the back of a powder-blue Cadillac on the way to Canton, Ohio, where he was scheduled to play on New Year’s Day, 1953. Even though not formally educated and pandering often to his audience that he knows every pig-road in Alabama, he had a flair with words painting whole pictures with one- or two-liners. As he sings in his song "Long Gone Lonesome Blues:" 

I went down to the river to watch the fish swim by
But I got to the river so lonesome I wanted to die, oh Lord
And then I jumped in the river, but the doggone river was dry
She's long gone, and now I'm lonesome blue

As the song goes on, the suicidal tendencies get a bit softened and almost turn comical when we learn that he hadn't seen the missing "she" for a day or two. But the idea stuck and another great songwriter, Don McLean borrowed it, when he put "drove the Chevy to the levy, But the levy was dry" into "American Pie," yes that song, the song about the day the music died. It happened too often in 2020 and the list of friends and acquaintances I lost is unbearable long.   

"Living's mostly wasting time, And I'll waste my share of mine" from "To Live Is To Fly" almost seems like the credo of the last nine-plus months and segues us to another great, that passed away on New Year's Day, 44 years after his hero, Hank. I met Townes Van Zandt only one time, in late April of 1993 while hanging backstage at Nanci Griffith's video recording of "Other Voices, Other Rooms" at the Paramount. Earlier that day I had attended the TV-taping of Willie Nelson's Big 6-0 Birthday celebration, and me sharing to Townes that I just saw Nelson duetting with Bob Dylan on "Pancho And Lefty" was an easy conversation starter. We didn't waste much time that night.
There is a great solo session from 1995, that I originally wanted to post, but then I discovered a clip I haven't seen yet - Townes singing on of his road songs, "Snowing On Raton" and saw that Blaze Foley is singing backup, Leland Waddell pounding the drums, I "had" to change it. Snow seems so much more appropriate for this time of the year and the call of the road always tempting. 

When the wind don't blow in Amarillo
And the moon along the Gunnison don't rise
Shall I cast my dreams upon your love, babe
And lie beneath the laughter of your eyes

It's snowin' on Raton
Come morning I'll be through them hills and gone
Mother thinks the road is long and lonely
Little brother thinks the road is straight and fine
Little darling thinks the road is soft and lovely
I'm thankful that old road is a friend of mine


Tommy Hancock, Godfather of West Texas music danced his way into heaven and joined Hank and Townes a year ago. The self-proclaimed patriarch (only due to his large family) was mostly known to a younger generation as the barefoot dancer and his book "Zen and the Art of Texas Two-Step" is a philosophical approach about spreading love on the dance floor. After a stint as a 16-year old in the military during WWII, Tommy had the most influential musical group in West Texas, the Roadside Playboys, the house band at the legendary and integrated Cotton Club in Lubbock, which in the Fifties also saw the rise of Rock'n'Roll. As an owner, he turned the venue into the first Cosmic Cowboy outlet, where Cowboy and Hippies mingled, even before the better known and adored Armadillo World Headquarters opened in August 1970.

Tommy X. and daughter Conni Hancock
A decade later, the Playboys then transformed into The Supernatural Family Band moved South to Austin, and first established themselves on Travis Heights. Even after their subsequent move out of town to the lake, the Swiss-style chalet house was known as the Hancock house. Charlene, Tommy's wife, and two of his daughters, Conni and Traci formed the "Texana Dames" while Tommy kept on releasing singles under his Tom X. alias. "Party Of One" - seems like a theme song for this last year - is from a collaboration with guitarist John X. Reed under the band moniker Los Dos Equis (as in the two Xs) "Austin Tea Party" from 2001, by then Tommy was already inducted into the Austin Chronicle Music Awards Hall of Fame. A year later The Supernatural Family Band got elected into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame.

Barely a week in Austin - after moving there from Switzerland - on Sunday, January 6th, 1991, I attended John Conquest's "Music City"- later called "3rd Coast Music"- magazine's annual poll celebration at Chicago House. Green behind my ears, the event promised not only fabulous music but much needed new contacts in my new hometown. Betty Elders and Jimmy LaFave were the big winners that night, each carrying home three awards. And then David Rodriguez, who won for Best Independent Tape, offered some songs from that winner, "MAN AGAINST BEAST" and had everybody mesmerized. Long story short, I sent that tape to a Swiss record label, Brambus and a year later, David had his first proper European release appropriately titled "LANDING 92." He featured his teenage-daughter Carrie on fiddle on the opening track "Constant War." His (often sardonic) wit and compassion not only shone through his songs but also in his political engagement to fight for the poor and the racially oppressed. It was David who introduced me to East Austin when it was cool, although segregated by the highway, but not a hipster part of town. Quite often I would take visitors from Europe to this other side, be it for breakfast or for dancing to a Mariachi band. David would have been 69 today, he passed in October of 2015. 



Steve Ripley would have been 71 today. Originally I had "Baby Likes To Rock It" by The Tractors, where Steve was the frontman, in mind to be featured, but then I stumbled upon "Can't Get Nowhere" from their 2001 release "FAST GIRL" with some amazing guests;  legendary guitarist James Burton, drummer DJ Fontana, who co-wrote the song with Steve and Fats Kaplin on fiddle and lap steel. Ripley was an integral part of the Oklahoma music scene and especially what is called the Tulsa Shuffle, think Leon Russell and J.J. Cale. Before forming The Tractors in the late '90s Ripley and all the other original members made their names as musicians playing with everyone from Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, and Leonard Cohen to Bob Dylan. Original drummer, Jamie Oldaker, who also used to play with Bob Seeger and Clapton, joined Steve when he passed in July of last year. 

In the mid-'90s, (Texas) Vireo record label boss Mike Niland called me out of the blue to tell me about these two brothers out of the Bandera area, he's fixin' to record an album with. That's how I got my introduction to Charlie and Bruce Robison.
Unfortunately, at that time it was hard for an independent label to squeeze their artists onto the radio and therefore charting. Only after both signed with Sony imprint Lucky Dog were they able to achieve bigger success, younger brother Bruce mostly as a songwriter with several #1-hits to his name and Charlie actually cracking the lower regions of the charts. 
By the time they were let go from the label Texas had its own Red Dirt-Texas music chart, and both brothers were immediately able to establish themselves as regional stars in Oklahoma and the Lone-Star state. On his first Dualtone release "GOOD TIMES" one can find the superbly x-rated, pictorial "New Year's Day."  


I can't remember who lit the fire for Slaid Cleaves' writing in me, maybe it was Karen Posten, who co-wrote "Horseshoe Lounge" an ode to one of my favorite and truly missed watering holes in South Austin with Slaid. Or Danny Santos' buddy Steve Brooks who helped pen "One Good Year."  

It's a bitter wind
in your face every day
It's the little sins
that wear your soul away
When you start giving in
where do the promises all go
Will your darkest hour
write a blank check on your soul

Time flies: It's been 20 years since "One Good Year," off Slaid Cleaves' second album for Philo ''BROKE DOWN," came into my world and has become my ritual, another New Year's groundhog. By now the song and I agree, giving in is not an option and we keep chasin' grace; it can only get better.

According to a story by, a daily inspiring newsletter, I highly recommend; 105 years ago, Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci denied in "Avanti!" the setting of dates, as they are "spiritual time-serving" and forcing life into repeating series of "mandatory collective rhythms."

"I want every morning to be a new year’s for me. Every day I want to reckon with myself, and every day I want to renew myself. No day set aside for rest. I choose my pauses myself when I feel drunk with the intensity of life and I want to plunge into animality to draw from it new vigour."

So let's hope we won't get derailed this year and I will make the dawning of new musical rhythms my new day's resolutions.
Avanti, popolo!