Join me on Overheard with Evan Smith on Thursday night, Oct 11, 7 pm, on KLRU TV Channel 18 in Austin and other PBS stations across the nation. Or just click on klru.org/overheard/ to watch the complete broadcast and the audience Q and A afterward.
Clovis may be across the line in New Mexico but for all practical purposes it could just as well be the other side of Lubbock or Amarillo. It’s a classic western city, defined by railroad lines but laid out for automobiles. The boulevards are spacious and wide, ideal for cruising.
Clovis native Norman Petty started building his recording studio in 1948 in order to record his own mellow music group, the Norman Petty Trio, featuring his wife Vi on vocals. But when Buddy Holly and the Crickets showed up in 1958, Vi and Norm’s own recording dreams took a back seat to the hot rock and roll band from Lubbock. Soon, Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids (“Party Doll”), the Fireballs (“Bottle of Wine”, “Sugar Shack”), the Stringalongs (“Wheels”), Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings (“An Empty Cup and a Broken Date”, “Tryin’ To Get to You”, “Ooby Dooby”), and the Nighthawks (“When Sin Stops”), and Waylon Jennings (“Jole Blon”) joined the Crickets in making the pilgrimage to Clovis. where 12 Top Ten hits were recorded in 15 months.
The sound he created is associated with West Texas rock and roll, wide open, with plenty of space, drenched in echo – part and parcel of the Petty touch.
Since Petty’s death in 1988, the studio has been frozen in time.
The original chair in the control room is perfectly sited between the original Lansing/Altec speakers, which Petty suspended from the ceiling as he did the air-suspended equalizer, all the better to hear “Peggy Sue” and other hit records recorded in the studio. Ken Broad attributes the success of the room to its design (“No flat walls in the studio. They’re cylindrical.”) and to Petty’s perfect pitch.
Shirley Broad plays the celeste keyboard that provided the hook to Holly’s “Every Day” on request and Dean will fire up the Solavox organ that Petty added to “Sugar Shack” after the Fireballs left the studio. If you’re lucky, David Bigham will come along – he’s one of the Roses singing group that backed up the rock and rollers on their recordings after Bigham came to Clovis as one of the Teen Kings, Roy Orbison’s band, after Roy, dissatisfied with his first recordings made at Sun Studios in Memphis, sought out Petty. Petty liked the Roses backing vocals and recruited them to come to Clovis and record for him.
The apartment in the back of the studio was built by Petty for the Crickets, so they could stay and record as long as they wanted. The living area features some innovative designs (eg. a bookshelf built into the fireplace) and zoomy features that capture the essence of 50s moderne.
There’s even an early microwave Petty bought for the apartment. Between the recording studio, the apartment and the home he designed for Vi and him, it’s obvious this eastern New Mexico native was some kind of visionary.
1313 West 7th, to book a tour, contact Ken Broad 575 760 2157/356 6422 Donations requested. I dropped a twenty.
FOXY DRIVE-IN, six blocks from the Petty studio, is a classic 50s establishment with curb service where Holly and his band used to order taquitas, rolled and fried little flautas, now 85 cents each, whenever they were recording. Burgers are pretty great too, with curb service, natch.
720 West 7th @ Thornton, 575 763-7995
NORMAN AND VI PETTY ROCK & ROLL MUSEUM takes the macro view of Norman Petty’s influence on West Texas music in a soda shop/jukebox kind of setting in the basement of the chamber of commerce building. The nine foot Stratocaster and the half circle of piano keys out front mark the spot. Norm and Vi’s private life, Norman’s recording technique (his original mixing board is here), his relationship with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the other bands that flocked to the studio for the magic sound are all showcased, with great photographs of the lesser-known acts. 105 East Grand @ Main Street, 800 261 7656 Hours: 8-noon, 1-5 weekdays, weekends by appointment only. Pettymuseum.org $5 admission
The sound that came out of the Biggest Little Music City in the Whole World is celebrated at the Clovis Music Festival the first weekend of every September
Part five of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 18 drives featured in Texas Monthly’s Drive issue, June 2012
Driving highway 84 from Clovis, thoughts turned to the Crickets’ old game of Beat the Clock – pounding the hundred miles of two-lane blacktop from Lubbock to Clovis in less than hour, so they could arrive before they left, courtesy of changing time zones from Central to Mountain. For the life of me, I can’t imagine anyone pulling it off, especially making it through Muleshoe unscathed. In case local teenagers still try this trick, I was glad the highway was four-lane mostly-divided highway now. This stretch is mostly irrigated farmland – cotton and soybeans, mostly – evidenced by the giant sprinkler systems that bring water from the Ogallala Aquifer deep below the ground to feed the crops, with grain elevators, water towers, and stadium lights rising from the flat horizon.
Then there’s the billboard, bigger than life. The next town may look like all the other towns from the road, but the large sign suggests different – Littlefield is hometown of Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly protege, Nashville Rebel, Willie Nelson partner, Country music outlaw, the baddest of the badasses.
How can one not turn and follow directions to Waylon Jennings Boulevard, leading to one of the coolest, most unusual music museums in the world?
Waymore’s was James Jennings’ Exxon service station for “30 some odd years” before he switched from gas to booze in 2008 and started adding display cases of Waylon memorabilia. W’s first guitar, letters to his family, and the handwritten backstage pass for his mother and father would have been the highlights if James hadn’t shown up. The engaging, self-deprecating “ol’ redneck” is without a doubt one of his big brother’s most entertaining boosters and a joy to hang around. He fills in the blanks when there’s questions about young Waylon and tells pretty good stories about all the folks who’ve dropped by.
Donations accepted and recommended.
E. Waylon Jennings Blvd (FM 54) @ Hall Ave., 806 385 5561, 385 0054
Open 10-9 Mon-Sat. Donations accepted
Farther south on Hall Street is the municipal Waylon Jennings RV Park. Parking and camping are complimentary.
On to Houston, and Miller Outdoor Amphitheater on June 2 for the Big Squeeze finals and the Texas Accordion Kings and Queens concert.
The wrap: TEXAS FOLKLIFE’S BIG SQUEEZE ACCORDION CONTEST FINALISTS ANNOUNCED
Free Concert and Playoffs held at The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Saturday, April 28
Finalists will perform at 23rd annual Accordion Kings & Queens Festival held on Saturday, June 2 at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre
Austin, Texas – April 30, 2012 – There was a whole lot of squeezeboxing going on last Saturday on the Lone Star Plaza at the Bullock! There were over 700 music fans in attendance—the largest crowd on record for the semifinals contest—to cheer this year’s winners as they were selected. The Big Squeeze 2012 finalists are: Peter Anzaldua, 15, of Brownsville; Omar Garza, 17, of Mission; Luis Gonzales, 16, of Grand Prairie; and Michael Ramos, 16, of Dallas. These young musicians will perform at the Accordion Kings & Queens Festival in June when the 2012 Big Squeeze Champ will be crowned.
The Big Squeeze 2012 semifinals for up-and-coming musicians was held in Austin at The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum on Saturday, April 28. This was the third consecutive year that The Big Squeeze contest has been held at the popular museum that tells “the story of Texas.” Semifinalists performed before a panel of judges and the public on the Lone Star Plaza in front of the museum, Saturday, April 28, from 2:00-5:30 p.m. A free concert was also held on the Plaza. Joe Nick Patoski emceed this year’s contest and performance. The program featured Joel Guzman, two-time Grammy Award winner and considered one of the best accordion players in the country; Ruben Paul Moreno, zydeco phenom who has just been nominated for the 2012 Zydeco Music Awards; and last year’s Big Squeeze Champ Ignacio “Nachito” Morales.
Each semifinalist played two songs and the esteemed judges chose the four finalists. The judges for this year’s contest included Debra Peters, Austin accordion player and teacher; Abel Barajas, accordion player for Ram Herrera; and Johnny Ramirez, 2008 Big Squeeze Champ. Finalists will be awarded $300 each as well as having their hotel stay paid in Houston to compete before the expected large, enthusiastic audience of accordion fans at the Accordion Kings & Queens Festival on June 2. At that time, The Big Squeeze 2012 Champion will be selected by the panel of judges with help from the audience. The grand-prize-winner will receive a prize package valued at $4500, including a $1000 cash prize, a brand new Hohner accordion and recording time at the historic Hacienda Records in Corpus Christi, as well as promotional support from SugarHill Recording Studios, Hohner, Inc., Hacienda Records and Texas Folklife, and other professional opportunities.
”The Big Squeeze has proven to be one of our most popular programs at Texas Folklife,” says Executive Director Cristina Ballí. “Audiences love to hear young talent from all over the state and they love to hear their stories. The participants and their families take a wonderful experience with them that they’ll never forget. We are grateful to The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum for partnering with us again this year. We also deeply thank our incredible lineup—accordion legend and maestro Joel Guzman; Big Squeeze finalist from 2010 Ruben Paul Moreno, Reigning Big Squeeze Champ Nachito Morales—and, of course, the one and only Joe Nick Patoski. I’m also particularly grateful to our panel of judges who give so generously of their time and expertise.”
The Big Squeeze is supported by the members and Board of Texas Folklife, the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division, the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, the City of Houston through the Miller Theatre Advisory Board, the Houston Endowment, the Still Water Foundation, Texas Gas Service, and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts. Additional support is provided by regional businesses including Hohner, Inc., SugarHill Recording Studios, Hacienda Records, FBA Design, Sign Effects and Embassy Suites Hotel in Downtown Austin.
Texas Folklife is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to presenting and preserving the diverse cultures and living heritage of the Lone Star State. For more than 25 years, Texas Folklife has honored the authentic cultural traditions passed down within communities, explored their importance in contemporary society, and celebrated them by providing accessible and joyful arts experiences. It is located in Austin, Texas, in the SoCo neighborhood—one of the city’s vibrant commercial and arts districts.
1317 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas 78704
T (512) 441-9255
F (512) 441-9222