Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Jimmy Rodgers to Stevie Ray Vaughan - twelve terrific tunes toasting Texas

Thomas Sowell once mocked alarmist claims about the threat of overpopulation by pointing out that every single person on earth would fit into the state of Texas - in fact, given the Obama administration's love affair with illegals and its unwillingness to protect America's borders, I'm not sure the experiment hasn't already begun. Having once travelled across Texas in a Greyhound bus, I can quite believe Sowell's claim: damn thing seemed to go on forever. The only city I spent any time in was San Antonio, which was pretty, and I seem to remember stopping off in Dallas - but if I did, I can remember nothing about it. The problem is, I love greenery and hills and sea and geographical diversity - and all I remember about Texas (at least, what I saw of it) was endless, monotonous flatness unleavened apart from the occasional cow, oil derrick or truck-stop.

The bus halted for a comfort stop somewhere in the Great Nowhere, and we all trooped in to grab coffee and sandwiches, only to find ourselves being grinned at menacingly by a group of gigantic, hirsute, heavily-muscled locals all wearing blue denim overalls with no shirts underneath. Evidently we'd all seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because, despite a scheduled half-hour stop, every passenger was back on that bus within five minutes, silently praying for the driver to get a move on before we ended up as bit-part players in Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. Consequently, my impressions of Texas come mainly from films, TV dramas, books and, of course, music - much like the character in my first choice, "I'm an Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)", written by Johnny Mercer in 1936, performed here - with immense charm - by Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks in 1972, with superb, stylistically timeless vocals supplied by Austinite Maryann Price:

We're in the same "Texan-wannabe" territory with vertically-challenged, multi-talented Welshman Dave Edmunds and "Deep in the Heart of Texas":

Steve Earle (who grew up near San Antonio) cut The Mountain, a  wonderful bluegrass album with the Del McCoury Band in 1999. Here, they perform "Texas Eagle", one of the LP's many stand-out tracks (hell, those boys could play!):

I've never been much of a fan of Western Swing, but I love Texan Waylon Jennings's heartfelt tribute to its most celebrated exponent:

In 1957, Jimmy Lloyd praised San Antonio in one of the greatest of all rockabilly records, aided by brilliant session guitarist Grady Martin, who attacks his axe with industrial power and precision:

Fort Worth-born Townes Van Zandt was a chaotic, tortured mess of a man - drugs, booze, gambling and severe manic-depression - but he was also a songwriter of true genius. Here, recorded in Houston, his frail, uncertain, plaintive voice is heard to great effect on one of his most haunting songs, "White Freightliner Blues":

The rather lovely Jeannie C. Riley - who was born in Stamford, Texas - gives us the funky little country gem, "Backside of Dallas":

Still in Dallas, with the under-rated Joe Ely singing a great Jimmy Dale Gilmore number:

There's seemingly no way out of Dallas - here's deep-voiced guitar whizz, Junior Brown, with "Broke Down South of Dallas" (which he's performing in Austin):

Yes, I know George Hamilton IV was a bit of a snoring-boring MOR droner - but "Abilene" was gorgeous:

The Singing Brakeman, the great Jimmy Rodgers - the original White Bluesman - was already dying of TB when this performance of "Blue Yodel No 1 (T for Texas)" was filmed:

No. 12 on the list is another great Texas blues singer and guitarist - Stevie Ray Vaughan - playing the hell out of "Texas Flood" in Austin:

As a bonus track (I kept it off the main list because I'm embarrassed to be associated with such sneery, crude, liberal sentiments) is the self-styled "Ragtime Cowboy Jew" Kinky Friedman with his Merle Haggard parody, "Asshole from El Paso":


  1. Very Evocative.makes me want to return there for a week or so.

    1. Oddly enough, I think I was heading to California to meet up with you as I waltzed across Texas - only the weassely, unshaven deskman at the appalling Los Angeles flophouse you were holed up in must have assumed I was a bounty hunter with a weird accent and refused to admit to having heard of you. I briefly thought of grabbing him by the collar and snarling "Listen, asshole..." but, given his clientele, assumed he'd have access to an impressive arsenal of weapons behind the desk.

  2. Great post, although the Stevie Ray link is missing. I imagine that a night out with Waylon, Steve Earl and Townes van Zandt would have been an experience and Junior sounds as if he can shift a crate or two of Ol' Ma Parkin's Texas Sour Mash.

    1. Thanks, ex-KCS - I've restored SRV to life (neat trick).

      Yes indeed - doing uppers with Waylon, smoking crack with Steve, boozing with Townes, followed by a liver transplant in a hospital in Austin.

      Junior Brown sings at the exactly the right pitch for me on this number - his lowest note is the lowest I'm capable of. Obviously he sounds a lot better and, for some reason, deeper. I've always loved his guitar playing - especially all that altering the low E string on the hoof stuff.

  3. Kinky Friedman 's powerful line "We don't wipe our asses on Old Glory" contains the kernel of an idea for a UKIP battle song - possibly involving the flag of St George [the Scots don't care about the Kippers and the Welsh...well, you know..]. Something useful for the Fulminators to do [they have been mercifully quiet for a long time?]

    1. UKIP's doing pretty well in Wales these dyas. As for the Scots, they got so overexcited by all the attention paid to them during the referendum, they seem to want to rerun it at regular intervals - the Nats having apparently forgotten that they lost it by a whacking ten points.

      I'm trying to set "We wouldn't dream of wiping our bottoms on the Flag of St. George, actually" to music, but it needs more work.

      It is quite common for recording artists to take lengthy breaks from the studio these days - but never fear: The Fulminators will return one day, probably with a new Freeform Jazz Rockabilly Fusion musical sound. Hope you like their new direction.

  4. Most enjoyable selection, Scott. Thank you.

    Some US music fans liked to designate Stevie Ray Vaughan as a Southern rock performer but I think he fits much better in your Lone Star State class than he would in a Deep Dixie grouping - a sort of Texan by taxon (sorry).

    Perhaps your sense of propriety was your guide when you chose to omit ZZ Top's bordello - lauding La Grange.

    1. Thanks, Colin - "La Grange" was in and out of the list - I think it ended up as No. 14, just behind "The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" by The Doors and just ahead of "(Is Anybody Going To) San Antone" by Doug Sahm.