Where to dance, Texas-style

As seen in USA Today, March 28, 2014
http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/10greatplaces/2014/03/27/texas-dance-halls/6957465/

Gruene-HExterior-Courtesy-of-Robert-Fletcher

by Larry Bleiberg

Long before Pandora and Spotify, music lovers found entertainment at dance halls. In Texas, the tradition continues in sites that have become cultural landmarks. “You’re someplace special, and the music is respected and honored. It’s a whole encompassing experience,” says Joe Nick Patoski, a journalist who hosts the weekly Texas Music Hour of Power. He shares some favorite spots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

ALSO ONLINE: Beautiful Texas: Photos of the Lone Star State

Gruene Hall
Gruene, Texas
Bands go out of their way to play Gruene, which calls itself the oldest dance hall in Texas. Located in a former ghost town, the white clapboard saloon helped launch stars such as Lyle Lovett and George Strait. On summer nights, the un-air-conditioned space with a wooden dance floor packs in crowds. “It’s a good sweat,” Patoski says. “If anyone plays the Texas circuit, they play Gruene.” 830-606-1281; gruenehall.com

Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon
Houston
This classic country music venue, where Willie Nelson once played with the house band, now calls itself Texas’ largest LGBT country and western club. “This is where modern culture meets old tradition,” Patoski says. “It shows how pervasive country dance music is in Texas. It doesn’t matter who’s doing the boot-scooting. It’s the same old thing.” 713-677-0828; neonbootsclub.com

Billy Bob’s Texas
Fort Worth
While the world’s largest honky-tonk might not be an intimate venue, it offers such extras as bull riding for guests willing to sign a waiver. “It’s an urban-cowboy setting. They have big headlining acts, and what it lacks in history and texture, it makes up in bigness,” Patoski says. 817-624-7117; billybobstexas.com

Music City Texas Theater
Linden, Texas
This former theater is the go-to place for music in East Texas, Patoski says. While it’s a sit-down performance venue, which makes it more like an opry than a dance hall, it has a deep history. It’s run by Richard Bowden, who played with Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who went on to form the Eagles. 903-756-9934; musiccitytexas.org

Broken Spoke
Austin
This Texas institution celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Now it’s a holdout, surrounded by a new mixed-use apartment complex. “They’re used to be dozens of honky-tonks like the Broken Spoke,” Patoski says. “You can’t come to Austin without going to the Spoke if you want to have a music experience.” 512-442-6189; brokenspokeaustintx.com

Stagecoach Ballroom
Fort Worth
This family-run hall maintains an old-school atmosphere with vintage lights and a 3,500-square-foot floor for twirling couples. It even offers free dance lessons before many shows. “If you’re in Fort Worth and you want to hear country music, this is where to go,” Patoski says. 817-831-2261; stagecoachballroom.com

Luckenbach Texas
This legendary dance hall found its fame in the Waylon Jennings song that took its name from the Hill Country ghost town. Patoski says the song doesn’t do it justice. “Luckenbach is like stepping back in time 100 years. It’s a great place to pitch washers and horseshoes and have a beer, even if you don’t go into the dance hall.” 830-997-3224; luckenbachtexas.com

Crider’s Rodeo & Dancehall
Hunt, Texas
This seasonal Hill Country getaway along the upper Guadalupe River is one the state’s premier outdoor dance venues, Patoski says. “Before air-conditioning in Texas, you always went to the hills to cool off. Why dance in a stuffy old dance hall? Just do it outdoors.” It’s open weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with a rodeo and live band every Saturday night. 830-238-4441; on Facebook

Schroeder Hall
Schroeder, Texas
This spot in cattle-ranching country on the coastal prairie proudly calls itself the “second-oldest dance hall in Texas,” leaving others to argue about which was first, Patoski says. Expect to find local and regional bands and enthusiastic dancers. “Once upon a time, every small town in Texas had a place like this. There’s nothing around it. It’s real rural music,” Patoski says. 361-573-7002; schroederdancehall.com

John T. Floore’s Country Store
Helotes, Texas
This San Antonio-area hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is famous for its tamales, although its performance roster included Elvis, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and more. During the summer, the outdoor patio is packed with dancers. “It’s just a cool old joint,” Patoski says. 210-695-8827; liveatfloores.com

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Austin music pioneer Doug Sahm’s legacy (CultureMap)

http://austin.culturemap.com/news/music_film/11-13-13-doug-sahm-cactus-cafes-documentary/
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A pioneer of the Austin music community, Doug Sahm was the master of so many authentically “Texas” sounds — western, Tex-Mex, rock ‘n’ roll — that live on in the music of the Texas Tornados and the Sir Douglas Quintet.

Though he passed away in 1999, Sahm’s influence is weaved into Austin music culture. Next week, KUT (along with a few choice friends) hopes to preserve that influence for generations to come.

“His story is the story of Texas music — no individual could play Texas’s indigenous sounds so skillfully and authentically,” says Joe Nick Patoski

On Monday, November 18, the Cactus Cafe will host a special edition of Views and Brews titled “Doug Sahm: All About the Groove.” Hosted by Jody Denberg, the celebration of Sahm will include local music royalty Marcia Ball, Speedy Sparks (Sahm’s guitar player) and Ernie Durawa (drummer for the Texas Tornados), as well as noted Texas writer and historian Joe Nick Patoski.

The event takes place on the 14th anniversary of Sahm’s death and will explore Austin music in the early 1970s, as well as Sahm’s influence on the local scene’s becoming nationally — and internationally — recognized. Panelists hope to celebrate a true Austin stalwart, opening the eyes — and ears — of younger generations to a soulful sound that still plays an important part in our modern culture.

(If you want proof, just wander down the block to Hole in the Wall, where Sir Doug’s music is immortalized in the jukebox.)

“For me, Doug is one of the touchstones of Texas music and one of the early founders of Austin’s vibrant music community. He’s a major reason I moved here in the early ’70s,” says Joe Nick Patoski.

“It’s time to let folks who have no idea who this Sahm character was/is appreciate one of the most beautiful cats to have graced a stage in Austin.”

“His story is the story of Texas music — no individual could play Texas’ indigenous sounds (country-western, western swing, rhythm and blues, jump blues, conjunto and rock ‘n’ roll) so skillfully and authentically. At the same time, he represented my generation of Texans, who thought differently and outside the box [and] who had to come to Austin to find our place.”

During the event, Patoski will premiere the sizzle reel of a proposed documentary about Sahm. “Jan Reid wrote a fine biography of Doug. The world doesn’t need another Doug book,” he says. “Printed words are great, but for those of us who knew Doug, there’s really no better way to tell his story than with his music, his voice and the voices of others who worked and played with him. In other words, on film.”

If the reel does its part, Patoski plans to secure funding and have a full documentary finished in time for SXSW 2015. “[Fourteen] years after his passing,” says Patoski, “it’s time to let folks who have no idea who this Sahm character was/is appreciate one of the most beautiful cats to have graced a stage in Austin.”

Views and Brews takes place at the Cactus Cafe on Monday, November 18. Doors open at 6:30 pm, and the event runs 7 pm – 8:30 pm. Entry is free, but donations are accepted.

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A Doug Sahm Groove-In Mon Nov 18 Cactus Cafe

Sahm_Cactus_11_18

Come on out to the Cactus Cafe on the University of Texas campus on Monday evening, November 18 for a Views and Brews discussion about Doug Sahm, the original Austin groover moderated by Jody Denberg of KUTX and featuring Marcia Ball, Ernie Durawa, and Speedy Sparks in a panel discussion, along with a screening of a four minute sizzler reel of a proposed film documentary directed by Joe Nick Patoski. Doors 6:30, show at 7

Doors 6:30 showtime 7 pm

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Willie Nelson: A Life in Recorded Music, produced for Marfa Public Radio

WNMar

I put together an hour’s worth of Willie music and small talk for Marfa Public Radio.

Willie’s benefit concert in Alpine in 2004 was instrumental in putting the station, KRTS, the smallest of all National Public Radio affiliates, on the air.

You can hear and download on the station’s site. as well as keep up with Marfa news at
www.marfapublicradio.org

Or, link to upload here
WillNelMarf

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Happy Birthday, Willie Nelson

WillieJoeNick

Willie Nelson turns 80 on April 30.

This should be a national holiday.

I’ll be hosting an hour-long show on Willie and his music on MarfaPublicRadio.org at 3 pm central and 8 pm Tuesday. Tune in.
If you’re in Far West Texas, you can hear the broadcast on KRTS-FM 93.5 in Marfa, KRTP-FM 91.7 in Alpine, KDKY-FM Marathon 91.5 and KXWT-FM in Odessa-Midland, 91.3

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Willie turning 80; my interview in Texas Music mag

WillieTM

Back in late January, I caught up with Willie Nelson for the first time since the biography I wrote Willie Nelson: An Epic Life was published.

We talked about music, his new recordings, Lance Armstrong, and life its ownself.

I’ll post the interview in a few weeks. If you’re hot to read it now, go buy the magazine and help out some good folks including a few writers.

link to the magazine here: txmusic.com

and here are two photographs taken by Turk Pipkin on the bus:
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WillieJoeNick

and here’s the story:
Five years ago, my 500 page historical biography, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, was published on Willie’s 75th birthday. At least seventeen biographies and his own autobiography, ghosted by Bud Shrake, no less, were already out there, but you can’t write about Texas without writing about Willie. I already knew him as the most interesting person in the world, just as he struck me during my first interview with him back in 1974. It turned out there were a lot of new things to learn, and unlike the case with most public figures, the more I knew, the more I liked him. Since a whole lot of other folks feel the same way, I’ll be talking about him for the rest of my life.

Since the Willie book, I’ve been obsessing about football, the Texas high school version and the Dallas Cowboys version, so I hadn’t been inside the Willie bubble in awhile. With his 80th birthday rolling around, a fine, even number to stop and ponder, it was a good time to check in. A lot had changed, I quickly discovered. A lot remains timeless.

Nutty Jerry’s is a massive, utilitarian metal building a few miles east of Winnie, the southeast Texas farming community just off Interstate 10 that is home of the Texas Rice Festival. Nutty Jerry’s is the community’s big bar, dancehall, and all-purpose entertainment facility. On a Friday night in late January, it was also a tour stop for the longest running road show in music, the Willie Nelson and Family traveling revue, this particular leg being one week into the Old Farts and Jackass Tour.

A little more than a year earlier, on the morning of January 8, 2012, Kevin Smith got the call from Mickey Raphael: “Can you drive to Winnie tonight and play with the band?” Smith was the standup bassist for Heybale! the trad-county supergroup of hotshot pickers featuring Merle Haggard’s guitarist Redd Volkaert and Johnny Cash’s (and the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”-vintage Byrds’) Earl Poole Ball, currently in their fourteenth year of Sunday night residency at the Continental Club in Austin. Smith had also logged time with High Noon, the retro country band, original rockabilly Ronnie Dawson, western-swinger Cornell Hurd, and had knocked off more than 160 dates in a year-long tour with Dwight Yoakum in 2006. He got on Willie’s radar three years later by playing on the Willie and the Wheel album and tour, when Smith was with Asleep at the Wheel.

“Tommy Tedesco, in that Wrecking Crew documentary, said there’s three reasons you should take a gig – the hang, the money, and the music,” Smith said, fairly beaming as he tuned up a bass on the crew bus before the show. “All three of those are just great here. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Bee Spears, the one player in the Family band who could hear and anticipate Willie’s sometimes unusual timing and his tendency to sing behind the beat, died from exposure after falling outside his home in Nashville on December 8, 2011. The loss of the forty-year veteran was the band’s first personnel change since rhythm guitarist Jody Payne retired in 2008 after thirty-five years on the road. Spears’ last gig, which was a few days earlier in Mississippi, happened to also be the very last gig for Chris Etheridge, Willie’s long ago bassist in the early 1970s, who sat in with Bee and the band, knowing he was dying of cancer.

In the wake of Bee’s sudden death, Billy English switched from drums to bass (regular drummer Paul English, Billy’s brother and Willie’s friend and bandmate for sixty years, was at home in Dallas recuperating from a stroke) and Willie’s son Micah filled in on drums to finish out the year’s dates.

Smith doesn’t just play bass. He also plays old-style slap bass with a big upright, bringing a new-old sound to complement the other addition, young gun guitarist Lukas Nelson, who opens shows with his band, Promise of the Real, before joining his father’s band as second guitarist.

But on this balmy, late January evening, Lukas wasn’t feeling well, so his dad would have to handle the guitar chores alone, which actually turned out to be a good thing. Paul English had experienced a second wind and rejoined the family, playing and doing the books on the road. Paul allowed that he and Willie had played a round of golf had played a round of golf not too long ago but stopped after nine holes; they were two old duffers with nothing left to prove.
Music, however, was another matter. “I’m feeling good,” English smiled in his office in the back of the band bus, where he offices to keep the band’s books.

Poodie Locke, the garrulous stage manager for the band for the past 35 years and a legend in his own right, passed away from a massive heart attack in 2009. Filling his shoes was young John Selman, Poodie’s neighbor at Willie World. John, who joined the family after road managing Randy Rogers, had been at the job long enough to run a very tight ship. Shows were running on time from stage call to last note, performances consistently hitting the ninety minute mark, a cutback from the four-hour marathons of the 1970s, perhaps, but mighty impressive for a six-piece that included three octogenarians and one septuagenarian.

The three-bus, one-truck conglomeration was a lean, mean traveling machine, with music as the driving force binding everyone on board, one reason why Willie’s home base studio, Pedernales Recording, had recently gone private, so Willie can record whenever he wants.

Mickey Raphael, the Dallas-born harmonica man responsible for giving every WN tune its indelible ID, was almost giddy with the band’s renewed sound, the new crew boss, and the revived Paul. As the former “kid” in the band, Mickey went out of his way to mentor John Selman and now Kevin Smith in the Willie way. The infusion of youth was proving infectious.

The night before on an off-night in Baton Rouge, Mickey broke his standard “I usually stay in when we’re not working” policy and headed to Lafayette, an hour away, with Lukas Nelson and Kevin Smith in tow to join guitar wild man C.C. Adcock at an informal private jam and gumbo party with C.C.’s Lil’ Band of Gold compadres Warren Storm, Steve Riley, and Lil’ Buck Senegal, and David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, and the rest of Los Lobos.

Staying in on most off-nights reflects the maturation of Willie’s players. These days, wild times are recalled, not lived. “Everybody’s over their nonsense,” is how Kevin Smith put it. “I’m a pretty square dude. I don’t know how I would’ve done in the Poodie days.”

Once upon a time, band problems revolved around the inability to match drugs. When Willie banned coke back in the 1970s, the rest of the band continued doing blow. When everyone was dropping LSD, someone slipped Mickey some PCP, causing him to pass out at the side of the stage during on those four hour marathon sets without anyone noticing Mickey was missing. Mushrooms and Richard Pryor onboard caused Budrock to forget how to work the lights at the same of one show. If the band was jacked up, they were nowhere near as jacked up as opening act Johnny Paycheck nervously paced up and down stairs thanks to a lot of speed. The band was so high at some shows, “We played for four hours just to keep from having to get off the stage and having to deal with anybody,” Mickey said. These days, “Willie’s smoking and no one else is doing anything; it’s almost like a real band now,” Mickey marveled.

For all the recent changes, which included the late arrival and early departure of Willie’s bus from every gig, the core of this band of gypsies rolling down the highway remained the same. Budrock aka Buddy Prewitt, Jr., lighting director for the ages, reported he’s switched to LED lighting which has eliminating the heavy lifting of big lights and trusses of yesteryear. Tunin’ Tom, steward of Willie’s ancient guitar, Trigger, watched the Simpsons while Kenny Koepke showed off smartphone pics of his grandson. Billy English hung with his brother Paul in the office in the back of the band bus while Flaco Lemons tweaked the sound inside where the Franks Brothers and friends were setting up the merch booth. Outside Honeysuckle Rose, driver Gates Moore talked up Dallas Cowboys with top security man LG, who talked up his 49ers. Inside the bus, David Anderson maintained traffic control while staying close to Willie’s side.

While all the usual preshow business swirled around him, the man at the center of it all sat serenely in his booth chair in his rolling home thirty minutes before showtime, wearing a black t-shirt that read North Shore on the front with a map of the Hawaiian Islands on back. He was twirling a big fatty in his hand while surveying the world around him, facing forward, as always.

Willie’s friend Turk Pipkin had brought a guitar to be signed and auctioned for a fundraiser for the Nobelity Project. Daughter Lana poked her head out from the back of the bus where Little Sister Bobbie (actually, his big sister) was resting up, while daughter Amy sat up front, talking to Kevin Smith after Kevin got last minute instructions to open in A minor.

Willie, it turned out, had been rather busy for a man with his 80th birthday in sight. His book Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die was a bona-fide national best-seller. On the heels of the album Heroes, he had a new record about to drop, Let’s Face The Music and Dance, with an album of duets lined up behind it, along with a tour schedule that would keep him on the road, interspersed with breaks, through next fall.

“Still working, still fun, people are still showing up,” he said off-handedly of the schedule ahead.

The new album was kind of a repurposed Stardust. Rather than pulling songs from the Great American Songbook, though, Face the Music And Dance is part-Irving Berlin, part-Django Reinhardt, and all-Willie.

“Someone came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t you do an Irving Berlin album?’ I started thinking about his songs and all of a sudden, Face the Music is there. I listened to Sinatra’s cut on it and Diana Krall’s got a great cut on it. I really fell in love with the song all over again.

But instead of going total-Berlin, Willie veered off into other composers starting with “Walking My Baby Back Home,” and running through “You’ll Never Know,” and “Twilight Time.” “These are all great romance songs, “ he explained. So Irving Berlin simply became the inspiration.

“We’re playing a song or two or three from it every night, mainly because it’s new music and we enjoy a couple of new Django things that we’re doing.”

Ah, Django. Willie couldn’t do an album of classics and leave the original gypsy swing guitarist out of the mix. “Many years ago, Johnny Gimble gave me a tape of Django stuff,” Willie explained. “It’s the first time I ever heard him, and I realized as soon as I heard of him, I’d have to hear a whole lot more. I probably have everything he ever recorded, from the Hot Club of France to when he played the electric in New York. He was the greatest guitarist ever.”

Face the Music and Dance marks the second time he’s recorded “Nuages” and “Vous et Moi,” both of which appeared on 1999’s swing album Night and Day. But on the new version of the latter song in particular, Willie exhibits some of his finest guitar picking on any recording over the past two decades.

Still, it’s the old warhorse, “South of the Border,” that catches the ear, especially the singer’s plaintive “ai-yi-yi”s. “It’s one of those naturals when you’re from Abbott,” the man across the table said matter-of-factly, inhaling deeply before passing the big joint. “It’s one of the first songs you learn. I’ve got a lot of Mexican in me,” he laughed.

Willie asked if I heard about Country Music Association Male Vocalist r of the Year Blake Shelton’s comments about “old farts and jackasses” and that “nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music,” which earned Shelton a heated response from Willie’s friend and mentor Ray Price, who suggested Shelton check back in sixty-three years to check on his legacy. Price signed his letter “Chief Old Fart and Jackass.”

“Wasn’t that funny?” Willie said. “Ray will kick his ass. I think it was a stupid thing to say. I think he realizes it now, that maybe he stepped in it a little bit there.” He paused then expounded. “It’s not often they do [step in it]. Most everybody I know has a lot of respect for those who came before them. I think it was unfortunate thing he said. I haven’t heard a lot of that.”

Willie’s response was to rename his roadshow “The Old Farts and Jackass Tour.”

After Face the Music and Dance comes the duet album, To All the Girls. “I did some songs with Loretta Lynn, Dolly, Roseanne Cash,” Willie said. “You know, I keep having fun doing it. It’s my band on Face the Music and for the Duets album that’s being produced by Buddy Cannon, it’s Nashville musicians who know me up there.”

We talked about the revival of Paul English (“I don’t know. He’s been getting into that Viagra or something”) and the growing acceptance of marijuana, an appropriate topic since Willie sits on the advisory board of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, and was passing around some very strong weed at the moment. “I think there’s 15 or 20 states where medicinal is legal. It’s just a matter of time. When the economy gets worse, and worse and worse, people are gonna say, ‘Wait a minute. We’re missing a deal here.’ And they’re going to finally tax it and regulate it like Chesterfields. They’ll find out there’s a whole lot of money there. “

As onerous as his bust two years ago at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint on Interstate 10 in West Texas may have been, I thanked him because it got me a byline in the Texas Tribune and New York Times. Willie derived some benefit from the inconvenience too. “After I got busted I started the Teapot Party. There was a Tea Party and I thought there should be a Teapot Party. It was kind of a half-ass joke, but it’s now represented in every state in the union and in some foreign countries. There are millions of pot smokers out there who could vote if they wanted to. “

We also talked about Lance Armstrong, the other famous mega-celebrity with Austin ties, who had confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he had doped while winning seven Tour de France cycling races. If anyone could relate, I figured it was Willie. He could.

“If it [doping] is a bad thing to do – and in some instances and with some age groups, it would be a bad thing,” he said, maybe there was reason to go public. “But I don’t know any sport that’s drug-free, do you? From professional football to wrestling.” He laughed and said, “I know some of those old wrestlers who took better pain pills than you ever saw, because they went through a lot of pain. There’s a lot of sports out there that depend on drugs to get them [participants] to the next big town.”

Just like some entertainers enjoy a fine smoke before they hit the stage.

So in a way, Willie had been where Lance is. “We oughta look at it like, ‘Let’s don’t judge ‘til you’ve walked in that man’s shoes. Let’s not tell him how to live or what to do.’ That’s what we were all taught early in life. Judge not, lest you be judged. I don’t think any of us can afford to be judged too close or harshly.”

Turned out, Willie and Lance were friends. “I’ve passed a couple emails back and forth, but he got real busy,” Willie said. “I didn’t want to bother him.”

Did Willie offer Lance any advice?
He nodded, exhaling. “Fuck ‘em.

“Who knows what brought everything on and why everything was like it was? I think BC, Billy Cooper [Willie’s one-time driver], said it pretty good: ‘It’s my mouth and I’ll haul coal in it if I want to.’

“I know one thing that comes to mind when all that happened. I had an arm that I couldn’t use. I hurt it really bad when I was playing golf. George Clooney told me about a doctor in Germany. I went to see him. He took blood out and recharged it with a lot of healing qualities, put it back in, and my arm got OK. It’s about 100% now. You just can’t throw everything in one big bag and say, That’s bad.’”

That was Willie the Star talking. As the grand old man of Texas music, did he dispense advice to younger musicians coming up?

“If they’re any good, they wouldn’t listen to me or anybody else,” he allowed. “They’ll do what their instincts tell them to do and they’ll wind up doing the right thing. You can get a lot of bad advice out there.”

And what were Willie’s instincts telling him?

“To go do a show right here in a minute,” he said, nodding his head towards the big building outside the bus. “That’s about all I have planned until tomorrow.”

Those soulful, deep brown eyes across the table signaled it was time to go to work.

With the band dressed in various shades of black, and Trigger, his battered guitar tethered to his red-white-and-blue macramé strap, Willie had the full house at Nutty Jerry’s eating out of his hands from “Nightlife,” a tune originally recorded less than an hour from Winnie at Gold Star Studios in Houston, just before Willie hit Nashville and was discovered 53 years ago. This particular version showcased his guitar-picking with a long extended improvisation of deft, distinctive notes. He wore the song like an old sweater.

“Little sister” Bobbie, two years his elder, took off on her signature piece, “Down Yonder” to kick the show into gear, followed by “Me and Paul,” the saga of misadventures with Willie’s drummer, his back, and his best friend, Paul English, who nodded assuredly in time with the rhythm as he worked his brushes on the snare.

The crowd provided the response lines to “Good Hearted Woman” “in love with a good-hearted man.” Before long, hardcore fans were pressing up against the stage, women were standing up, arms raised high, mouthing the lyrics, with yeehaws and rebel yells echoing off the walls. Several times, Willie removed the red bandanna he wore around his head and tossed it into the crowd, with outstretched hands grasping for it like it was one of Elvis’ scarves, only better.

The last half of the show was pure tent revival, with daughter Amy and son Lukas, arms around each other, taking the stage to sing backing vocals while their father rolled through “On The Road Again,” “Always On My Mind.” three Hank Williams songs including “I Saw The Light,” working in “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away” until closing with his latest, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” a spiritual with decidedly secular lyrics.

As the band played on, Willie signed autographs for fans bunched at the lip of the stage, autographing hats, pieces of paper, shirts, bras, dolls…anything offered for close to five minutes.

And then he walked offstage. The band finally shut down, and Paul English gingerly escorted Sister Bobbie offstage. When Bobbie recognized a writer waiting at the bottom of the steps, she lit up, gave him a hug, and accepted his compliments for her performance. She kept smiling as she sweetly allowed, “The sound wasn’t very good tonight. You’re just going to have to come back and hear us again real soon.”

Her words made me stop and marvel. Bobbie and Willie have been playing together for seventy-six years. Seventy-six years. That’s longer than any two people in the history of American music. From their perspective, they’re simply still doing what their grandparents raised them to do: make music, and have fun doing it.

Paul helped Bobbie step gingerly onto Honeysuckle Rose, then stepped off as the door closed. Within seconds, the bus with the half-eagle, half-Willie face painted on the back began to back out of its parking spot. A minute later, it had vanished into the coastal fog.

And that should have been that.

Except that the following night in Bossier City, Willie and Family were joined onstage by one of his mentors, Ray Price, who sang “Crazy” and “Nightlife” and killed with his performance, inspiring Willie to advise the audience, “Watch out for them old farts!” The next night, Willie did an intimate two-fer with old friend Kris Kristofferson at the Bluebird Café in Nashville.

Like the big wheels rolling, the Willie show never really stops. It just keeps on going. The man behind it all wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Willie’s Willie book and my Willie book

from the Aquarian, a nice shoutout. Willie will be with me until I’m no longer here.Roll-Me-up-and-Smoke-Me-When-I-Die-by-Willie-Nelson

Rant ‘N’ Roll: The Wisdom Of Willie

—by Mike Greenblatt, February 27, 2013

Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From The Road (William Morrow), by Willie Nelson, with a foreword by Texas Jewboy Kinky Friedman, can be read in one sitting. Consider it dessert to the much more substantial main course of Joe Nick Patoski’s Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. Willie, who hits 80 in a few weeks, is still vital. His current album, Heroes, is terrific and his new album, Let’s Face The Music And Dance, due this spring, will have new originals and covers in the Willie way of Irving Berlin, Carl Perkins, and most surprisingly, Spade Cooley. Cooley (1910-1969) has fallen out of favor ever since he murdered his wife who had an affair with cowboy movie star Roy Rogers.

“It’s already been proven that taxing and regulating marijuana makes more sense than sending young people to prison for smoking a God-given herb that has never proven fatal to anybody,” writes Willie, who also writes “the greatest musician, singer, writer and entertainer that I have ever seen or heard is Leon Russell” and “the best country singer of all time was, and still is, Ray Price.”

Willie’s also a big fan of the three-fingered gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), whose “Nuages” he covers on the upcoming album. I saw Willie at Farm Aid last year. His guitar playing is extraordinary. He came on to jam with Neil Young and his timing was so jazz it was thrilling. Neil did all he could do to keep up with him. He sings the same way, a bit behind the beat. Drives musicians crazy. New cats find it hard to deal. His band seems to stay put. They know his predilections. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael says, “When I started this gig, I was 21 and I’m 60 now. I learned so much from watching Willie play, and his unique phrasing has given me a musical education I would have received nowhere else.” The book features other testimonials including his sister, his fourth wife, Annie, and some of his six children and seven grandchildren (but none of his eight great-grandchildren).

Willie is as comfortable playing with jazz trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis as he is playing reggae, blues or standards. Screw Rod Stewart’s five albums of American standards. They’re all garbage. When Willie Willie-izes the great American songbook, everything old sounds new again.

“Annie and I have oral sex all the time,” he writes.

He admits to having been beaten up a few times in his life. Even had a gunfight once when he kicked off his property the abusive husband of his daughter and the wife-beater came back shooting. Luckily, everybody missed.

Greatest songwriters? Willie lists Billy Joe Shaver, Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Vern Gosdin.

“I’m so opinionated that I can give you my opinion on anything, anytime, and I’m glad to do so because I’m just an asshole,” he writes.

He tells a few jokes and gives out with one Major League piece of advice: “If you want to be a star, you should start acting like one now, so that when you become one, you will already know how to behave, and maybe you won’t blow it. For instance, I don’t know anybody who is better drunk than sober. You might get by awhile, but sooner than later it will take you down. I know. I tried it.”

There was a period in his band with two drummers and two bassists, and the music got harder and wilder like The Allman Brothers: “Everything was great until we all got on different drugs,” he writes, “then it sounded a lot like a cluster-fuck and a catfight going on at the same time, but we had fun.”

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Joe Nick’s Texas Music Hour of Power now every Sat nite

Yep, Joe Nick’s Texas Music Hour of Power has gone weekly, and we’ve been stretching to two hours now, 6-8 pm central, every Saturday night.

You can listen online via MarfaPublicRadio.org

or in Far West Texas, on KRTS, 93.5 FM in Marfa, KRTP, 91.7 in Alpine, KDKY, 91.5 FM in Marathon, and on KXWT, The Big X Across West Texas on 91.3, Odessa-Midland.

Requests or comments? e me at Texas@MarfaPublicRadio.org

Here’s the first hour of the Jan 4 show for your personal listening pleasure

and the second hour

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Norman Petty Recording Studios, Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum, Clovis, New Mexico

Norm at work
Part four of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 18 drives featured in Texas Monthly magazine’s Drive issue, June 2012.

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.
http://www.superoldies.com/pettystudios/pettytour.html

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

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Waymore’s Museum and Drive-Thru Liquor, Littlefield, Texas

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.

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