This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
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SXSW 2013 opens with names big and small
By Thomas Conner on March 13, 2013 9:00 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — "It's like Comic Con, but without anything cool."
That early review of South by Southwest came from one of the multitude of hipsters strutting through the Austin Convention Center on Tuesday — the final day of SXSW Interactive and the first day of SXSW Music. This annual conference and festival in the Texas capital has grown into a 10-day event encompassing rollouts of films, digital ventures and new music. The movies and online jibber-jabber started March 8; the music blares on through March 17.
The relative coolness of what lies ahead remains to be seen, but it's already shaping up to be a typical mix of fresh-faced new bands — the showcasing of which was SXSW's original mission when it began in 1987 — and big-name celebs.
In the latter category, Depeche Mode, Green Day and Dave Grohl's Sound City Players (an assembly of Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Rick Nielsen, Corey Taylor and many more) have booked big performances this week. Other formidable names — Iggy & the Stooges, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — also are among the thousands of artists vying for attention from journalists, record labels and digital media.
The rumor mill, though, is buzzing about two other megastars: Prince and Justin Timberlake. Both taut pop-R&B legends have been floated as possible surprise showcases during SXSW. The Prince gig is just a rumor, with an unnamed source suggesting that His Purpleness will perform with a 22-piece band Saturday night at the cavernous La Zona Rosa club.
Timberlake — whose new album, "The 20/20 Experience," is out Tuesday (read my review) — is scheduled all week on TV's "Lat Night With Jimmy Fallon," but the Austinist site has pieced together clues toward JT's own possible Saturday night show.
Watch this blog for my own reports. My docket includes the big and the small, from seeing how Green Day emerges from their personal crisis to checking out up-and-comers like Foxygen and Lianne La Havas. I'll also be sniffing out the home-cooking that always pervades SXSW, from Chicago's Wild Belle and Chief Keef to the premiere of the blues documentary "Born in Chicago." Stay tuned!
SXSW: Long live Shoes, long live Camper Van Beethoven
By Thomas Conner on March 13, 2013 6:32 PM
AUSTIN, Texas — Janice Greenberg actually teared up a bit at the Camper Van Beethoven show.
The 46-year-old mother of two from Sonoma County, Calif., stumbled into the Jr. club Wednesday afternoon, squinting from the bright-to-black transition and her jaw hanging down. The band was running through its well-known 1980s indie-rock standard, "Take the Skinheads Bowling" — but it was, Greenberg discovered to her considerable dismay, their last song.
"I had no idea that they ... are they even ... I didn't know they were here!" she said, close to a wail. "I love Camper!"
Camper eased onto the stage Wednesday afternoon and played a 10-song, career-spanning set that was plenty to justify their status as indie-rock grandfathers. What was extraordinary, though — and somehow I always forget this till I'm faced with it — was the skill of the five players. CVB's music can get complicated, not in a convoluted art-rock sense but in a self-taught virtuoso sense. While singer David Lowery wheezes and whines his weird, grumpy-ol'-stoner tales, you've got Jonathan Segel (elegant on violin, especially during "Sad Lover's Waltz," but also adding swooping third guitar to the new "Too High for the Love-In") and Greg Lisher (braiding melodies and countermelodies throughout like a pro). New songs like "Northern California Girls" — from the recently released new album, "La Costa Perdida" — were refreshing live, while old surprises like "Seven Languages" still packed a punch.
The best part, though, was when Greenberg got the good news: Camper's playing again two hours later, at 7 p.m. right next door at El Sol y La Luna, 600 E 6th St. I'd quote her reaction, but she was off like a shot to secure her spot.
Trusty ol' Shoes
Another legacy act inaugurated SXSW 2013 Wednesday afternoon with a show that was, at least historically, slightly more momentous. Beloved power-pop band Shoes — the lions of Zion, Ill. — played their first concert outside the Chicago area in 18 years.
Shoes, an occasional underground delight since appearing in 1975, reunited last year to record "Ignition," their first new album since 1994. Early Wednesday afternoon, at an annual showcase organized by Chicago native publicist Cary Baker (who shepherded the dB's into their comeback at the same place last year), singer-guitarists Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe, brother John Murphy on bass and drummer John Richardson blasted through their own career-spanning set.
Shoes is one of those bands with a consistency that's more than a little frightening. I was bobbing my head through most of "Say It Like You Mean It" before I remembered it was one of the new ones.
No one at SXSW has just one gig anymore: Shoes' play again (their official showcase) at 11 p.m. Friday at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, 512 Trinity St.
SXSW: 'Born in Chicago' explores '60s blues hand-off
By Thomas Conner on March 14, 2013 1:33 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — A day after it was announced as a featured documentary at next month's annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, "Born in Chicago" had its world premiere here at SXSW on Wednesday afternoon.
The film, directed by John Anderson, chronicles the history and tall tales from the generation of young, affluent white kids who gathered in Chicago during the 1950s and '60s, learning to play the blues from the men who had honed the music on their own. Narration by Marshall Chess (son and nephew of the Chess Records founders) mixes into interviews with Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Nick Gravenites, Barry Goldberg (who co-produced the film) and excellent footage of the late Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. On the other side are snatches of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, plus interviews with Sam Lay and the great Hubert Sumlin.
"Born in Chicago" makes Bloomfield, a wealthy Jewish guitar virtuoso (a fact he presents in a funny bit of old footage), appear something of a valiant crusader for crossing the mid-century racial divide, bearing his instrument. Goldberg relates a templated tale of him and Bloomfield venturing into the South Side one night to sit in with Howlin' Wolf — and the hush that came over the club when two white boys walked in. All that's missing is the record-scratching clip from the Dexter Lake Club in "Animal House."
The film's problematic thesis, though, seems to be that this particular appropriation wasn't like all the other black cultural exploitations by white musicians — because Muddy and Wolf and the gang were apparently so thrilled to be noticed, appreciated and revered by these upper-middle class dilettantes. Chess himself drives the point home about "these white kids treating 'em like stars," and Goldberg assures us that "people recognized the respect we had for their music." Musselwhite — himself the subject of a current generational rediscovery thanks to his recent collaboration with Ben Harper — insists, "These guys ... were so flattered we knew who they were." Just because the original bluesmen welcomed their exploiters, however, does not mean they weren't exploited.
Even Jack White mentions what a "shame" it is that it takes white people to "legitimize" something like this, apparently never stopping to consider that the music previously had been perfectly legitimate for black people. So only when white people — a bunch of Brits, no less, once the Stones showed up at Chess — stamp their approval does a music become 2 legit 2 quit? Same song, umpteenth verse.
Steve Miller probably sums up the reality of the situation better than anyone in the film: "Everybody talks about it like, oh, these white kids. We were competing with Howlin' Wolf for gigs. ... It was business."
Catch "Born in Chicago" at the CIMM fest in Chicago, April 18-21. Four-day passes are on sale now.
SXSW: Chicago's Wild Belle ready for summer
By Thomas Conner on March 14, 2013 8:15 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — SXSW originally was created to showcase music that was new, fresh, creative. Wild Belle returned to the festival Wednesday night boasting all three.
The Chicago-area, brother-sister duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman kicked off the Wednesday showcases with a packed house at the roomy upstairs Haven club, with lines of eager badge-holders and fans stretching in two directions down the block. Leaning heavily on their new album, "Isles" — released Tuesday on major label Columbia — the Bergmans and their band bounced effortlessly through their reggae-driven pop. It was music for the Austin weather: warm, breezy and revitalizing. That they performed a song about being "bundled up like chickadees" in Chicago seemed almost to taunt the folks back home.
Natalie is a Kittenish creature — capitalized because, while her vocals certainly purr, she sings with a throaty, Eartha Kitt allure. She performs with a sultry confidence belying the fact that "Isles" is the band's debut. Elliot, though, is crucial to the band's unique sound. Puttering about among keyboards, a baritone saxophone and various gizmos, like a thumb piano with an electric pickup attached, he looks like Lazlo Hollyfield and underpins the music with a similarly silent mad genius. Wild Belle's sound is relaxed, summery and always keeps just left of what one might expect them to go. One of those moments where you wish this wasn't a mere 40-minute SXSW showcase.
SXSW: The return of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines
By Thomas Conner on March 14, 2013 8:39 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — Really, no hoots and cheers when Natalie Maines, covering Pink Floyd's "Mother," sang the song's line about running for president?
Maines, the singer for country's Dixie Chicks, returned to the spotlight in a Wednesday night showcase at the Austin City Limits Live theater during SXSW. Once the flashpoint for debate after disparaging President George W. Bush (telling a London audience in 2003, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas"), the Lubbock native was back in Austin a decade later to unveil the new Natalie. Performing the entirety of her new album, "Mother" — her solo debut since the Dixie Chicks went on hiatus in 2007 — Maines appeared stolid and confident.
In fact, in the beginning the set lacked much energy at all, plodding through midtempo numbers without much fanfare or enthusiasm. The Pink Floyd cover — a dark choice, but played capably and arranged for arenas — is part of the reason this is being touted as a "rock" record, and eventually more of her trademark feistiness backed up that perspective. Politics are still foregrounded: "I put this on the album because it reminds me of the West Memphis Three," she said by way of introducing Dan Wilson's "Free Life." But then — backed as she was Ben Harper and his Innocent Criminals band (Harper co-produced Maines' new album) — she put down her own guitar and launched into Patty Griffin's "Silver Bell," unleashing a pent-up Belinda Carlisle kind of frenzy while rooted at the mike. Suddenly the near faux-hawk hairdo was making sense.
"Mother" is due May 7. Incidentally, as Maines pointed out, Patty Griffin also has a new album out the same day.
SXSW: Dave Grohl talks Chicago, inspires the aspiring
By Thomas Conner on March 14, 2013 2:08 PM
AUSTIN, Texas — Dave Grohl stepped to the podium Thursday morning to deliver the keynote address at SXSW 2013, rolled up his sleeves, tucked his hair behind his ears — and put on reading glasses.
The move spoke not only to rock's AARP eligibility but to the paternal tone of his address. Largely an autobiography of a lifetime spent pursuing some measure of independence in his music, Grohl's speech aimed not at the media and industry crowding the Austin Convention Center ballroom but at any indie-rock kids who might hear him.
"There is no right or wrong, there is only your voice," he dispensed. "It's your voice. Cherish it, respect it, challenge it ... Everyone's blessed with at least that."
In Austin to hype his new documentary, "Sound City: Real to Reel," Grohl barely mentioned it, largely trying to inspire with his speech rather than merely shill for his flick.
The Foo Fighters leader and former Nirvana drummer began his hourlong talk with the moment of his birth, but wrapped it up by stating hope that his own two daughters will find their own way in the world. His remarks retraced that wayfinding, beginning with a K-tel record. His sister bought it in 1975, and it contained Edgar Winter's instrumental "Frankenstein," which he proceeded to scat for the audience. Hearing the tune was a life-changing moment, he said, adding, "It was the riff. I gave it all up for a f---in' riff."
Much of his tale he has told before, including the other pivotal musical moments he experienced during summer family visits in the Chicago area. He described (somehow) getting into the Cubby Bear to hear local punk legends Naked Raygun ("The most ferocious noise! Bodies were flying everywhere ... piss and puke. I was in heaven!") and making the pilgrimage to Wax Trax! Records to begin stocking up on the requisite punk catalog.
Grohl demonstrated the crude multitracking technique he came up with as a teen. With one tape machine, he recorded a few bars of a guitar riff. He placed that tape into another player and played it back, while recording some drum beats on the body of his guitar. Voila — the new recording contained both sounds!
Grohl's rewind was full of life-changing moments — a political punk show in Washington, D.C., a single question ("Have you heard of Nirvana?"), the death of Kurt Cobain.
"When Kurt died, I was lost. I was numb. The music that I had devoted my life to had now betrayed me. I had no voice. I put away my drums. I turned off the radio. I couldn't bear to hear someone else singing about their own pain or happiness."
He re-emerged with a self-made album, which he labeled the Foo Fighters, which became — as once described by Pitchfork, a media outlet he disparaged midway through his speech — "his generation's answer to Tom Petty — a consistent hit machine pumping out working-class rock."
Grohl's talk about Grohl was a bit thin after recent SXSW keynotes — Bruce Springsteen's rousing music history lesson last year, Bob Geldof's still-poignant pleas for rock's social conscience in 2011 — but it contained nuggets of self-awareness and inspiration for aspiring contemporary musicians.
Repeating a mantra about finding one's individual voice, he confessed, "F--- guilty pleasure! How about just pleasure? ... I can truthfully say out loud that 'Gangnam Style' is one of my favorite f---ing songs of the past year."
Dave Grohl's Sound City Players is a temporary supergroup featuring Grohl, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Nielsen and many more. They perform an anticipated showcase later tonight.
SXSW shows off Chicago hip-hop
By Thomas Conner March 15, 2013 9:26 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — Late Thursday night, an official showcase of more Chicago rappers — including King Louie, Lil Durk, Lil Mouse, GLC, Katie Got Bandz — stocked the upstairs Club 119 in the shadow of the Texas capitol. MCs and DJs ringed the club's small stage, waiting to be tagged in like pro wrestlers. Vic Spencer worked the crowd, followed by the dynamic and engaging YP, who boasted of his East Side roots and led the crowd chanting the title of "Insane" (alas, no Rockie Fresh cameo). Chance the Rapper was here, too, working his own forceful rhythms despite the tempo of his soothing, soulful tracks. Chance dances like a boxer on stage, and his rhymes (even when not talking about "tabs of acid" in "Brain Cells") get pretty wild and surreal.
And lest you've fallen prey to the notion that all Chicago hip-hop is bleak and violent, Chance shouted with notable ferocity: "Make some noise if you love your mama!"
SXSW: Dave Grohl's Sound City Players rock long
By Thomas Conner on March 15, 2013 10:08 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — "It's gonna be a long f---in' night," Dave Grohl promised at the start of his Thursday set with his live musical collage, the Sound City Players. Then the supergroup — Grohl on bass with his Foo Fighters, led by omnipresent hard-rock maestro Alain Johannes — kicked off a song that found Johannes pleading, "I hope it won't be long."
Dave Grohl's Sound City Players are a hodge-podge of recognizable names spanning three generations, a promotional ploy for Grohl's new documentary ("Sound City: Real To Reel," about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio) and its accompanying soundtrack. The group features Grohl and his band with Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Lee Ving (Fear), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Chris Goss (Masters of Reality), Johannes (Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures) and bassist Krist Novoselic (Nirvana).
They've performed a handful of shows since early January in New York, Los Angeles and London. Grohl said at the beginning of Thursday's SXSW concert outdoors at Stubb's BBQ that this one would "probably" be their last. "So we're gonna make it extra long, extra special."
Long we got — close to three-and-a-half hours — and special, too. The result was a rollicking rock and roll revue. Springfield came on for "I've Done Everything for You" and, of course, "Jessie's Girl." Taylor and Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins sang Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" and "Surrender," with Grohl on drums and Nielsen on guitar. Fogerty closed the show with Creedence Clearwater Revival hits, including "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising" and trading verses with Grohl on "Fortunate Son." Through it all, Grohl stayed on stage playing with everyone's mini-set (switching between guitar, bass and drums), beaming with obvious glee at having assembled this temporary clubhouse.
Grohl's first guest, however, was the most transformative. After half a dozen songs bashed out with Johannes, Nicks stepped to the mic and proved to be more than up to the task of leading a bashing hard rock band.
She and Grohl pointed at each other as they sang the chorus of "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" (see, Grohl is his generation's Tom Petty!), and Nicks performed Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" with the band and "Landslide" with Grohl alone on guitar. She sang excellent new song from the "Sound City" soundtrack, "You Can't Fix This" -- graceful and tuneful, with a leaning, weaving riff more akin to Waddy Wachtel than Lindsey Buckingham. Swinging her ribboned tambourine and wearing shades, Nicks was in great voice and moving with an ease I've not seen on stage in a long time, particularly when the band began a surreal, clanging opening séance to "Gold Dust Woman," as Nicks waved her scarf with her back to the audience and conjured her old witchy self. With the Foo Fighters cranked to 11, Nicks wailed and howled and raised the dead, holding her own with the muscled band all the way through the cacophonous conclusion.
Forget Grohl's "Sirvana" work with Paul McCartney -- let's have some Fleetwood Fighters!
(Since a couple of people have asked: According to Pee Wee Herman himself via Twitter, the photo on the bass drum head was of Pee Wee, David Lee Roth and Rodney Dangerfield.)
SXSW: Flaming Lips bring 'Yoshimi,' 'The Terror'
By Thomas Conner on March 15, 2013 11:23 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — "The new record is probably going to freak some people out," said Wayne Coyne. "It is, on purpose, not a hopeful record."
He's talking about "The Terror," the Flaming Lips' new nine-track album due in late April, and as he does it's easy for him to get a little heavy.
"There are things we have to face as human beings, truths we must explore," Coyne says. "'The Terror' is a certain kind of terror, an uncanny sort of break in nature or your own life. It's not an insane, monster terror. It's the terror of realizing that love isn't the magic bullet. We all wake up with dread of the unknown. It's not about fear of dying, but about the fact that we just don't know what's going to happen anywhere, anytime."
We were sitting in a makeshift green room, a tent in a parking garage behind the venue where the Flaming Lips would perform later Thursday night. Not that parking garage. During SXSW '97 nearly 2,000 people crammed into the second level of a downtown garage to hear Coyne's Car Radio Orchestra, an experiment involving 28 vehicles. Coyne gave each driver a pre-mixed cassette and instructed them to press play and blare the music on cue. Soon, soothing synthesizer parts were swelling from various auto systems, with surreal samples and female orgasm sounds. It was an experiment; one car blew a fuse.
"The cops nearly shut us down," Coyne recalled.
Thursday night the Flaming Lips played a more intimate showcase — no confetti, no costumes, thankfully no big plastic ball — performing the whole of their 2002 album "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." The show was packed — so much so there was still a line down the block when it was over.
Friday night, though, they'll be unveiling the new music in a free show at the Auditorium Shores amphitheater here.
"We keep saying this is the most depressing but life-affirming music we've ever done," Coyne said.
Coyne is also in town this week to promote a film, "A Year in the Life of Wayne's Phone," which had its world premiere Wednesday night at SXSW. The film is a collage of clips Coyne shot with his iPhone.
"I didn't do this on purpose," Coyne said. "I take so many videos, and my computer guy is always having to empty them off my computer to make room. One day he said, 'We should a movie of these.'"
Since Coyne shot nearly all the videos in vertical portrait mode rather than the usual horizontal scale, the film features three clips lined up, each running simultaneously. The clips range from interviews, shots of friends (look for Yoko Ono and Rivers Cuomo!), cute animals, the USB skull and Coyne crowdsurfing. The viewer's attention is directed by bringing up the audio on a certain clip, but it's still a disorienting challenge to take it all in.
SXSW: Green Day roars back to life
By Thomas Conner March 16, 2013 11:31 am
AUSTIN, Texas — In the middle of “Stay the Night,” Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong paused at the microphone, stared at the crowd for a moment and sighed, “Ah, welcome back!”
A turnabout of words. No doubt he was happy to see us — a crowd not even close to capacity at the Austin City Limits Live theater, but certainly a welcoming one. This was Green Day’s return to action after Armstrong’s profane meltdown last September at a festival in Las Vegas, complete with tantrum and smashed guitar. Days later, the band announced Armstrong was seeking treatment for substance abuse and a slate of arena dates was postponed.
Friday night at SXSW, though, Armstrong couldn’t have looked more refreshed, reinvigorated and grateful.
After the welcoming comment, he let the crowd sing for moment while he sat on the edge of the drum riser, first gazing back at us with some measure of incredulity, then sitting for a spell with his head in his hands.
There’s a lot of that in a Green Day show nowadays — the poor band vamping, sometimes for quite a long time, while Armstrong wrangles the crowd. He’s a professional motivator, certainly, and obsessed with airborne limbs (“Get your hands up! This ain’t no caf, motherf—ers!”). Thankfully, the band — Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, drummer Tr Cool and their criminally unsung “fourth member,” guitarist Jason White — was plenty exciting without the constant demands for shouts, singalongs and waving arms.
In 24 songs over two hours, Green Day ripped through its catalog, reaching back to the early ’90s and slotting in some requisite newbies from this winter’s album trilogy (“Uno!,” “Dos!” and “Tr!”). The hit parade marched along — “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Jesus of Suburbia,” the excellent “Know Your Enemy” — including some songs that now wear an extra patina of irony, given Armstrong’s recent troubles, such as “Burnout” and “Basket Case.”
Only once did Armstrong allude to his recent woes. During “Stop When the Red Lights Flash,” he had directed the band and the audience into a quiet moment and crouched into the microphone to kick off a climactic explosion — but just before he could whisper to a scream, a roadie darted over and replaced the wireless mic right in front of Armstrong’s mouth. The singer barely missed a beat but couldn’t help chuckle a bit. “And I wasn’t even on drugs,” he quipped.
But while the on-stage comeback was encouraging, SXSW finds Green Day at a possibly crucial juncture. The band also debuted not one but two new documentaries during this festival: “Broadway Idiot,” about the transformation of the 2004 “American Idiot” album into a hit musical, and “Cuatro!” chronicling the making of the recent trilogy.
Each album in that trilogy is, with remarkable consistency, terrible. (I reviewed “Uno!” but couldn’t find the heart to kvetch further about the other two.) So here they are with projects that look backward and forward. If the way forward is merely “Cinco!” then even though the band played the ACL theater like an arena, it may want to prepare itself for such smaller venues. The stoked fire in their bellies on display Friday night either will spark their previously impressive creativity within such a rigid genre, or it simply will warm their evenings as a very entertaining legacy act at the casinos and cruises of the future.
Green Day reboots its postponed tour starting March 28 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
SXSW: The rebirth of Detroit punk trio Death
By Thomas Conner on March 16, 2013 12:21 PM
Black musicians did a lot of great things in Detroit in the '60s and '70s. Rock and roll — much less anything that would later be called punk — wasn't always one of them. At SXSW this year, though, a band was on display that defies that notion: Death, a fraternal trio and a rare group that can justly support the claim "best band you've never heard."
Death was born in the east Detroit home of the Hackney family. Brothers Dannis, Bobby and David, like so many boomer-era musicians, started playing in the early 1970s as the Rock Fire Funk Express. But after witnessing concerts by the Who and fellow Detroiter Alice Cooper, the brothers threw their lot with their city's other musical heroes, punk-rock icons like the MC5 and Iggy Pop. The Hackney brothers then began writing taut, propulsive rock 'n' roll — truly great stuff — which, until a slightly miraculous rediscovery a few years ago, was heard by practically no one.
The story of the band's derailed promise and eventual obscurity is told ably in a documentary screening at SXSW, "A Band Called Death." Blessed with a rich tale, director-producer Jeff Howlett basically leans back and lets the golden plot points unfold one after another.
Opening with gushing praise from the likes of Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra and — was that Elijah Wood?! — "A Band Called Death" charts the emergence of this family band and the, for the times, unusual shift from R&B to rock and roll.
"Then the Who came to town," Dannis Hackney says, pausing to emphasize some unspoken gravitas of that moment, "and when I saw Alice Cooper, all bets were off. I said, 'If we ain't playing this, then we ain't gonna be having no fun.'"
Singer David Hackney, however, sought to express through the band's new music his own complex cosmology, which included some positive notions about the rebirth and transformation potential in death. Thus, he insisted on the name.
That made Death pretty much dead on arrival.
The band's first producer in Detroit, former Stax musician Don Davis, recalls in the film telling the band: "Have you lost your mind? Nobody is going to buy a song from a group called D-E-A-T-H," spelling out what apparently was still an uncomfortable moniker.
The trio's music caught the ear of hitmaker Clive Davis, who was ready to sign the band to Arista — as long as they changed the name. David refused to budge, insisting (with definitely punkish integrity) that the sacrifice would be a slippery slope. Bobby Hackney, in an earlier interview, recalled, "He said, 'If they make us change our name, then every little thing they see in us they're gonna wanna change — the music, the style, the concept. Once we change that name, we belong to them. Once we give in to that, Death is, well, dead.'"
Credibility intact, Death still died. They did, however, manage to secure the master recordings of what was to be the debut Death album. Attempts to release songs independently failed, and the brothers relocated to Vermont and formed a reggae band. David Hackney died in 2000, after insisting that his brothers hold on to those masters, saying, "One day the world's gonna come looking for this."
Amazingly, that's exactly what happened.
Biafra, a rabid record collector, bought a box of singles several years ago: Death's lone indie 45, "Politicians in My Eyes." He mentioned it in an interview. The writer posted the single online as an mp3. Word began spreading of its awesomeness.
Then the rediscovery came full circle. Bobby Hackney Jr. — clearly still dazed and amazed by this as he relates the story in the film — hears the song, likes it, and has no idea it's his dad until he goes as far as to Google some background. He calls home: "Dad, why didn't you tell me??!!"
This is 2008, and the following year momentum has built enough that Chicago-based label Drag City assists the Hackney brothers in restoring those old masters and finally releasing the debut Death album, titled "...For All the World to See." Another compilation of early demos followed.
This week at SXSW, in addition to the documentary screenings, two bands played showcases: Death, featuring surviving brothers Dannis and Bobby with two extra players, and Rough Francis, a deadly new generation featuring Bobby Hackney Jr., Julian Hackney and Urian Hackney.
Even better: Death will live again on a new record, titled "Relief," in the works now.
SXSW: Justin Timberlake, Prince, Smashing Pumpkins
By Thomas Conner March 17, 2013 9:06 am
The final night of SXSW featured two big legacy acts. OK, from a Chicago perspective it was three.
Justin Timberlake, making good on rumors, blew into town after a week on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” to play an intimate club gig. Here’s a star who will fill Chicago’s Soldier Field this summer, but here in Austin he played the 800-capacity Coppertank Events Center.
(Mind you, this show was only partly about music. Timberlake, now a beer spokesman, was here to promote the newly renovated MySpace web site, of which he’s a major investor, in a concert sponsored by Chevrolet.) Timberlake, backed by a 16-piece band, played for an hour. This writer did not gain admission — I just reviewed his record, and we’ll have plenty of chances to discuss JT further all year long — but there are good reviews here, here and here.
Across town, Prince played the larger club La Zona Rosa, leading a 22-piece band and performing more covers than his own songs. The nearly three-hour show — in which Prince never played guitar (fail) — did bring something to SXSW that is often hard to find: lots of R&B and funk.
"They called our people and said they wanted some funk in Austin,” said Prince, before belting out the last bars of a gentle rendition of “Purple Rain.” At least this show sounds like it was better than his previous Chicago fiascoes.
You won’t see a lot of photos from the Prince show online today, however. Notoriously prickly about photos at his shows, Prince banned all cameras. Even simply using a cell phone got some fans tossed — a biting irony, given that the concert was thrown by Samsung Galaxy and promoters worked the crowd beforehand offering customers fresh phone batteries or device test-drives. But intrepid Chicago photographer Michael Jackson (yup, his real name), shooting for the Sun-Times, landed the image above.
In other news: Today is Billy Corgan’s birthday — happy 46th! — an occasion the Chicago rocker rang in at midnight on stage at SXSW. The Smashing Pumpkins, still busy and ahead of a new world tour, played a set mixed with hits (“Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Tonight, Tonight”) and newer songs from the excellent “Oceania” album, even a cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Review here, or see the detailed run-down on the Twitter feed from Hipsters United.
SXSW: Wanderings, discoveries, random notes
By Thomas Conner on March 17, 2013 12:00 PM
AUSTIN, Texas — If it's Sunday, that means my notes are full of jottings about a dozen other bands I saw and haven't written about yet in the mad rush that is SXSW. Deep breath, here's a wrap-up of the other tunes worth mentioning ...
Best brand-spanking-new band
CHVRCHES, barely a year old, impressed with a strong batch of electronic pop at several showcases, including a Friday day stage. The Scottish trio's debut album isn't due until September, but singer-synth players Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty bear all the hallmarks of a forceful, creative unit with a single mind — perhaps the meaning of the beautiful current single, "The Mother We Share." Their newness is evident in the fact that they still have a ways to go before making their knob-twiddling something to watch on stage, but the songs are there. I haven't heard synth-driven pop this tight and tuneful since Robyn showed up.
Most hopeful feeling at end of showcase
No one really seems to have demanded this reunion of Chicago's Fall Out Boy, but the band's Friday night showcase — back at SXSW after eight years — at least showed off enough energy and chutzpah to suggest that the comeback is genuinely inspired. Their fans certainly remain adoring, singing along with practically every word that fell from singer Patrick Stump's lips, maybe even his stage banter. The 45-minute slot kept to singles old ("Sugar, We're Going Down," "Dance, Dance") and new ("My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark [Light 'Em Up]"). Stump flexed his own R&B muscles in a recent solo outing, and the new FOB is highlighting that strength. Even the cover of "Beat It" sounded more sincere and natural than one might expect. Definitely whetted the appetite for the new record.
Best stumbled-upon showcase
Field Report, a band led by Christopher Porterfield. Two bits of trivia: First, Field Report is an anagram of Porterfield. Second, Porterfield started out a decade ago in DeYarmond Edison, the band Justin Vernon fronted before creating Bon Iver. On his own, Porterfield is much warmer and far rootsier. At a Saturday SXSW showcase, his six-man band — plenty of plaid shirts and trucker hats, neither of which seemed to be worn with much hipster irony — delivers supple, textural Americana that fit right in with the venue's sponsorship by a home-improvement cable channel (as if his music was in itself an answer to the advertising banners hung around the bar, asking, "What does home mean to you?"). Singing well-written songs about New Mexico and a "bible school choir," Porterfield guided the band up and down various crescendos to achieve maximum emotional impact, all the while maintaining an appropriately pensive expression. "Is everyone drinking enough water?" he asked between songs. Bassist Travis Whitty chided him: "Concerned dad up here." Aw shucks.
Best return on investment in buzz
New York quartet Parquet Courts entered the festival with considerable, though understandably hesitant, buzz. The band's proper debut album, "Light Up Gold," out in January, is a complex chart of steady rhythms, snaking words and clean but often jarring guitars. It's not an album that immediately broadcasts "great stage show!" On stage Saturday night, the band lazed into action, blurring the line between hasty SXSW sound check and actual opening song. Driven by the rhythm section — featuring bassist Sean Yeaton, who spends the show contributing occasional backing vocals with hilariously distended tongue, like a punk Loudon Wainwright III — guitarists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown were free to work at their own pace and inspiration, pulsing their instruments to propel the song or torturing them a bit. The momentum of the Strokes, the late-night "Stoned and Starving" haze of the Dandy Warhols, plus occasional Sonic Youth squall. Adds up to a good time.
Best personal thrill with very little note-taking
A longtime Robyn Hitchcock fan, I wasn't going to miss perennial SXSW performer Robyn Hitchcock's early Saturday show, particularly since it was celebrating his 60th birthday (complete with tarantula-topped cake and red wine, which Hitchcock referred to as "lady petrol"). The British legend was supported by a number of pals — Ken Stringfellow (Posies), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5), Bill Rieflin (R.E.M., Ministry, tons), Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn) — and for a moment, with Kelly Hogan on stage and Jon Langford in the wings, it seemed the band might turn into Robyn Hitchcock & the Chicagoans. Langford never materialized on stage with Hitchcock, though. Nor did R.E.M.'s Mike Mills (grinning, looking more content than I've seen him in years), who was at the bar and had played bass behind Stringfellow as the opening act. Nonetheless, Hitchcock told his usual bizarre stories and sang an impressively wide variety of songs — newish ones (the beautiful "Dismal City"), old ones ("Queen Elvis," "Ole Tarantula," "Alright, Yeah") and covers ("Tangled Up in Blue," "Don't Let Me Down") — as well as rapping a bit about the new pope.
Best delayed reaction
Lord Huron was highly recommended to me by friends at last year's SXSW, but I missed their showcase at a cramped little club. Fast forward one year and on Wednesday night they were filling the spacious ACL Live theater, ahead of Natalie Maines' comeback set, with some enchanting folksy harmonies and rhythms. Those harmonies have earned them far too many Fleet Foxes comparisons — and they're sometimes a bit thinner and wispier than that — but when those rhythms crank up they come alive. "Time to Run" does just that, and every band member is armed with some percussion instrument — a shaker, maracas, singer and bandleader Ben Schneider with a small snare. Good tunes when they get up and go.
Best hangover showcase
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell played NPR's Radio Day Stage inside the Austin Convention Center. It was Friday morning, and the soft-spoken angel that is Emmylou strolled out in her boots — cue the Janis Ian song — and quipped that everyone here deserved a merit badge just for navigating through the festival. She meant the confusion and enormity of SXSW, but when she and Crowell played Kris Kristopherson's "Chase the Feeling" ("And you got loaded again / Ain't you handsome when you're high") many vacant-eyed attendees were nodding with understanding, not rhythm.
Worst showcase logistics
Foxygen was due to play a half hour set Wednesday night at the Hype Hotel, which they started a half hour late. (Out of all the shows I saw this week, two started on time. That's my main complaint about SXSW's rampant growth. They're starting to lose control of their production.) Foxygen is a great, brassy band that sounds superb on their latest record, "We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic," but that interesting sound was completely swallowed up in the ramshackle venue that was the Hype Hotel, an empty commercial cavern hemmed in with sound-eating drywall that appeared to have been nailed up this month. Bummer.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
In 1971, Willis Alan Ramsey cut his first record. The
self-titled debut, released through Leon Russell's
Tulsa-based Shelter Records, sold modestly, but it packed
an influential wallop in Ramsey's adopted home state of
Texas. That one record, it has been claimed,
single-handedly spawned the alternative-Nashville stance
that has made Austin, Texas, the so-called live music
capital of the world.
Just don't ask Ramsey when his next record will appear.
"That's an area I really don't want to go to," he says,
dodging the requisite inquiries about his work since that
first — and, thus far, only — album ("Have you been writing
all this time?" "Has anything been recorded?" "Will we ever see
a second album?").
"Willis Alan Ramsey" remains the songwriter's one-hit
wonder, and nearly 30 years later many musicians still
invoke it as the fountainhead of their inspiration. A
Ramsey show was the first concert a young Lyle Lovett ever
attended, and he has reported that it inspired him to start
writing songs. Lovett also has covered songs from that
"Ramsey" album, as have such artists as Jimmy Buffett,
America, Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush, Shawn Colvin, Jimmie
Dale Gilmore, Kate Wolf, Jerry Jeff Walker and, of course,
the Captain and Tenille, who made Ramsey's "Muskrat Love" a
Top 5 hit in 1976.
Indeed, never has one batch of 11 songs had such
stamina, and rarely does one find a songwriter so humble --
almost insecure — about such influence. While remaining
enigmatic about his affairs during the last 29 years,
Ramsey frequently writes off his initial experience to the
pure luck of youth and happenstance. "I was just a kid
knocking around," he said, in a rare interview last week, in
which Ramsey eked out a tale of time, Tulsa and tenacity.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., and raised in Dallas by his
Georgia-native parents, Ramsey graduated high school and
"got away as quick as I could." He dropped south to Austin
where he explored some of the guitar-picking he'd been
tinkering with. Ray Wylie Hubbard's fledgling band took
notice of his skills and asked Ramsey to open some of its
shows in 1969.
"I was playing the UT coffee house, and I heard that Leon
(Russell) and Gregg Allman were in town playing a festival
and staying at the same hotel. So I walked in, knocked on
both their doors and told them I thought they should give
me a listen," Ramsey said. "It was a pretty asinine thing to
do back then, and I guess they thought I was so cocky they
gave me the chance. I played my songs for Leon and his
roadie, and then for Gregg and (Allman Brothers guitarist)
Dickey Betts, right there in their rooms."
Both musicians heard promise in Ramsey's material, and
both offered him contracts on their record labels — Allman's
Atlanta-based Capricorn Records and Russell's Shelter,
based then in Los Angeles. Ramsey sought Shelter — with
possibly purely personal motives. "I've never really
thought about this," Ramsey chuckled, "but I guess since my
whole family was from Georgia I liked the idea of going to
L.A. better than being closer to Atlanta."
Mad dogs and Southerners
Ramsey headed to L.A. to cut his record in Russell's
home studio, "probably the first professional home studio
anyone had in the world," he said. He was largely left to
his own devices, as Russell had decided to move back to
"At that point, Leon decided he'd had enough of North
Hollywood and wanted to move back to Tulsa," Ramsey said. "He
and Denny (Cordell, Russell's and Ramsey's producer and
manager) had good luck with Shelter, so they took it home.
Leon bought that whole block with a church on it and put in
a studio . . . He left me in his L.A. place, so I got to
learn how to work in a studio — by myself. I learned how to
write in the studio. That's something Leon taught me: how
to use the studio as a writing tool."
Most of Ramsey's record was completed in L.A., with
Russell helping out and adding piano to one track, "Goodbye
Old Missoula." It was that work directly with Russell that
made Ramsey feel every bit the lucky kid just knocking
"I was a kid musically, and I was stretched and stretched
to the point where I was way past my musical abilities," he
said. "Leon would put you in a studio with Jim Keltner on
drums, Carl Radle on bass and Don Preston on electric
guitar, and he'd sit at the piano. He'd say, `Well, this
song needs an acoustic guitar solo. Willis, why don't you
just play a solo here.' I was 20 and not in the space where
I could just do that on the spot yet. I was definitely over
Ramsey's record came out in 1972 and sold moderately --
not well enough to give Ramsey the escape he needed. Ramsey
-- like nearly all Shelter artists, from Russell to Phoebe
Snow — fell out with Cordell, but without big profits he
couldn't get out of his Shelter contract.
"I didn't have enough sales to be able to just leave and
tell my lawyers to clean it up. Tom Petty did, Phoebe Snow
did, I couldn't afford to," he said.
So he sat out his contract — all eight years of it. By
the time it ran out, it was 1980, Ramsey was in the
doldrums of a divorce and had been all but forgotten by
non-musicians. He bought some synthesizers and "fooled
around with those," but he quickly found that there was no
place for a shy, sensitive songwriter in the "Urban Cowboy"
"I just didn't want to play in a place with a mechanical
bull in it," Ramsey said.
I will survive
Since then, Ramsey says, cryptically, he's been writing.
He wants to record again, but he's not sure he'll ever get
to do it on his terms — which is the only way it'll happen,
"My No. 1 goal right now is to have more kids. No. 2 is
to make more records," he said. "But making records these
days requires a record label, and label budgets are small
these days. That record of mine cost $80,000 to make, which
would be about $300,000 in today's dollars. It was a pretty
expensive first-time record in 1972. I'm not the kind of
guy who can make a $30,000 record. It takes me longer.
There's too much I want to do."
He still performs around the region — "some old songs,
some new" — drawing a sizeable cult following. He's even
appeared on a record recently, coming out of the woodwork
to sing on two Lovett records in the '90s, "Joshua Judges
Ruth" and "I Love Everybody."
Last year, Koch Records reissued "Willis Alan Ramsey" on
CD, and the record has begun to find a fresh audience.
"It still gets around," Ramsey said. "It's been a real
work-horse all this time."
Ramsey on Oklahoma
Willis Alan Ramsey recorded his one and only record for
Shelter Records back in Leon Russell's heyday. That meant
hanging out in Tulsa at Russell's many area studios, where
"you'd go to pick up the phone, and it would be George
Harrison or someone," Ramsey said. Here are a few of his
recollections and praise of his Okie counterparts: "I
was in the process of finishing up my record and got to
work with people like Leon and Jamie Oldaker. J.J. Cale
took me in the studio. I was hanging out with guys like
Gary Gilmore and Jesse Davis, both of whom played with Taj
Mahal. Chuck Blackwell, too. Some pretty serious musicians
came out of Tulsa. I mean, Jimmy Lee Keltner — he and
Oldecker . . . if Tulsa can produce two drummers like that,
well, they're the best, in my opinion. Those Tulsa boys
raised me in the studio."
"When I was playing the Cellar Door Club in (Washington)
D.C., this long-haired kid would come sit on the back
steps, and I'd get him in for free. He was going to the
Peabody Institute in Baltimore. When he finally got up
enough nerve to play the acoustic guitar for me, he turned
out this amazing stuff. He said, 'What should I do with
this?' and I said, 'I dunno, but you'd better do
something.' It was Michael Hedges."
"I still say this, and most people I know say it, too:
Leon Russell is a musical genius. He still is. He's so
incredibly talented, and he's a free thinker. Lots of
Tulsans are . . . But I don't think he ever really
scratched the surface of his ability."
"It was in the '60s when I figured out I wanted to write
and say some things. In New York, I found a book called
Born to Win, a compilation of Woody Guthrie's songs,
stories, poems, letters and drawings. It was this fabulous
direct hit from his pen, with his own unique voice. Even
when I think about that book today, it still really does
motivate me. He was another free-thinking Okie. There was
something about the way he could connect with the thought
and deliver it to you totally unvarnished. So visceral, but
so elegant . . . (My song) 'Boy From Oklahoma' is sort of a
romanticized version of Woody."
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
© Tulsa World
Tulsa band Fanzine gets a chance to shine at SXSW showcase
By Thomas Conner 03/19/2000
AUSTIN, Texas — The sound man at Opal Divine's Firehouse
was filling the pre-show dead time with his own selection
of classic-rock greatest hits: a couple of cuts from the
Eagles' "Long Run" album, a smattering of Zeppelin, a lot of
Journey. A few minutes before showtime, he played Cheap
Trick's live cover of "Ain't That a Shame," and Fanzine
drummer Don Jameson started air-drumming.
"Oh, yes!" he said, tapping into the song's lengthy
introductory groove. "This is what it's about, right here.
It's not, 'Won't you step back from that ledge, my friend' "
— making a face, making fun of the Third Eye Blind hit
"Jumper" — "It's about the shaking of the booty. It's about
being larger than life . . . There isn't an arena big
enough to hold us."
This weekend it wasn't arenas, just a small club patio
on the edge of Austin's hottest nightclub scene and in the
middle of its yearly music-industry lottery.
On Wednesday night, Jameson and his Tulsa-based rock
band, Fanzine, kicked off the South by Southwest music
festival, an annual congregation of music-business talent
scouts and international media all searching for the Next
Big Thing. Nearly 1,000 bands — a record — from around the
world were scheduled to play hourlong sets in clubs
throughout Austin this weekend, and Fanzine had the
daunting task of playing in the first showcase slot on the
first night of the festival. In just a few hours, and
certainly over the four days of the festival, these four
players would learn what, indeed, it was all about.
It's all about the gig
South by Southwest is basically a live-music mall.
"Buyers" from record labels, management companies and music
magazines stroll up and down Austin's nightclub-lined Sixth
Street and shop for the hottest new fashions in pop music.
So when your band is fortunate enough to land a showcase
here, you want everything to be perfect. For Fanzine,
it very nearly was.
"How lucky are we to be playing right before the
Mayflies?" Jameson asked when the band finished sound check.
The Mayflies, an up-and-coming pop band from Chapel Hill,
N.C., were listed by many SXSW forecasters as one of the
most interesting acts to see this year. They would thus be
drawing a crowd of scouts and record company reps, and many
of them would come early — and hear Fanzine.
"We're blessed tonight. This feels good," Fanzine singer
Adam said before the show.
The band arrived in Austin on Tuesday and immediately
went to work with staple guns and smiles, tacking up
posters advertising the Wednesday night gig and thrusting
handbills into the palms of any passers-by.
"We came all this way, I just want someone to see us,"
Jameson said. "Tonight's all about being seen — eyes on us."
And, of course, ears.
It's not about the gig
Still, Jameson and the other Fanzine players weren't
expecting miracles. Their set coincided with the Austin
Music Awards — a ceremony honoring the best of local talent,
much like Tulsa's Spotniks — the big event of Wednesday
night. The band's 24 hours in town wasn't a lot of time to
spread the word about its showcase. Most music reps and
media don't arrive until late Wednesday or Thursday,
anyway. "I really expect very little tonight," Jameson
said. "It's the first night, and this club's off the beaten
path, but this sure is great to put (in the press kit). It
means we've been chosen among some kind of selected upper
The World Wide Web was certainly an aid in advance
promotion. Word of the showcase spread quickly on, oddly
enough, Web sites and newsgroups for fans of the Toadies.
Plus, Tulsa radio music directors e-mailed their record
company contacts en masse, advising them of the Fanzine
One of them, KMYZ 104.5-FM music director Ray Seggern,
attended Wednesday's show. Seggern is an Austin native,
having worked with the city's popular modern rock station
for several years. He knows people, and he dragged as many
as he could with him to see the Tulsa band.
But even Seggern was realistic.
"It's not about the gig," he said. "The gig is the least
important part. (What's important) is the networking, the
experience, the mindset. Just being here and wearing a
badge is important."
Case in point: Hanson. The young Tulsa trio spent
several days at SXSW early in the '90s. Too young to even
play in the local bars, they strolled the streets and
softball-park bleachers, singing for anyone who would
listen. An astute music manager did, and the rest is
It's about support
For Fanzine's show, though, Opal Divine's was packed.
Most importantly, the crowd stayed and stared. Many SXSW
showcase audiences often are indifferent groups of jaded
music-industry mavens concentrating on wheeling and dealing
with other industry folk rather than listening to the
bands. Fanzine's crowd, though, stopped, looked and
listened. The band was on point, too. Tighter than
they've been in many months — and fueled by more adreneline,
no doubt — they tore through 40 minutes of their
groove-stuffed, flashy and unrelenting rock 'n' roll. Adam
threw off his bright orange jacket ("You like me mack?") by
the third song and was soon shaking his tambourine all over
the club's outdoor wooden deck and dancing with Beatle Bob,
an eccentric music-industry analyst who came to the show
and danced his trademark swingin' dance.
Many in Wednesday night's crowd were Tulsans, checking
out their hometown band on Austin's turf. Tim Kassen, a
Williams Company agent who also books bands for Tulsa's
Bourbon Street Cafe on 15th Street, was in town and said he
made a beeline to Fanzine's show. "Nobody performs like
Adam, with all that energy," he said. "Heck, if I had the
money, I'd sign them."
Also looking on were T.J. Green and Angie Devore, the
husband-and-wife team at the helm of new Tulsa band
Ultrafix. They weren't scheduled to play in Austin this
weekend; they came down just to attend the conference and
meet music-business folks and other musicians. They had
planned to arrive in Austin on Thursday but came a day
early to be present for the Fanzine show.
"It's all about support, man," Green said.
By George, we got us a rock show
By Thomas Conner 03/19/2000
AUSTIN, Texas — When South by Southwest occurs each
March, the Texas capital is literally overrun by music
businesspeople and musicians. How invasive is the
conference? Just ask presidential hopeful George W. Bush.
When the Texas governor realized he was going to sweep
Tuesday's second big round of Republican presidential
primaries, his campaign staff decided to book a local
ballroom to host the celebration and inevitable victory
But they couldn't find one. Every ballroom, theater and
public venue in town was booked up with SXSW events. Bush
and his supporters wound up in far northwest Austin,
patting themselves on the back in a gymnasium at the Dell
Jewish Community Campus.
Talk about rocking the vote.
Rangers in command
Storms raked the Texas hill country late Thursday
afternoon. The Ray Price show in the park surely was
doomed, so we headed for indoor shelter. The fact that it
had tortillas, margaritas and the Red Dirt Rangers made it
The Oklahoma roots-music band played the first of its
five SXSW-week gigs ("Six," Ranger John Cooper said later — "We
actually got one that pays!") at Jovita's, an authentic
Mexican restaurant south of downtown Austin.
And I mean authentic. The walls were arrayed with rich,
colorful murals, mostly depicting masked rebels in olive
drab, including a giant portrait of Che Guevera. The tables
were so sticky we had to paper them over with copies from a
stack of someone's Spanish-English poem entitled
"Crossroads." Our waitress had two breathtaking parrots
tattooed on her shoulder blades.
As the storm pelted Jovita's corrugated skylight, the
Rangers blasted through their typically invigorating set of
Okie rock 'n' soul, opening the show with two Woody Guthrie
covers, "Rangers' Command" (the title track to the Rangers'
latest CD, recorded in Austin) and "California Stars" (one of
the Woody lyrics put to music by Billy Bragg and Wilco) — a
nod to Woody's younger sister, Mary Jo Edgmon, sitting in
Also watching the Rangers was fellow Stillwater native,
now Austin-based songwriter Jimmy Lafave. The Rangers also
played his song "Red Dirt Roads," rocking it more than Lafave
probably ever envisioned and using it as a sparring match
between electric guitarist Ben Han and new steel guitarist
Roger Ray, also of Stillwater's Jason Boland and the
Stranglers. Whoops and yelps all around.
This ... is Wanda
Conversation overheard on the sidewalk outside the
Continental Club, Thursday night in the freezing cold,
waiting in vain to get inside and hear Oklahoma City
rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson:
She: "We'll never get in."
He: "They're full? At eight o'clock? Who is this woman?"
She: "I don't know. She looks like Loretta Lynn."
He: "Loretta Lynn never had a stand-up bass player like
She: "Can you see her hair?"
He: "That's all I can see. I could be back at the hotel
and still see that hair."
She: "It's not that big."
She: "Nothing. I was wrong."
Talking 'bout Tulsa
Tulsans protested the derogatory mention of the city in
a recent Best Western ad campaign, but our hometown creeps
into the world's consciousness in strange and mysterious
Take, for example, a song by Astrid, a spunky and
tuneful guitar band from Scotland. Near the end of the
band's hard-hitting showcase, they played a song called
"Cybersex," which the singer was good enough to point out "is
about cybersex." The refrain, from the point of view of the
narrative's libidinous web surfer: "It's 3 p.m. in Idlewild
/ Kansas, Tulsa, Arkansas."
Norman band Starlight Mints were lucky enough to land a
SXSW showcase this year, but it was nearly ruined by
equipment problems that delayed them 20 minutes — nearly
half of their allotted playing time. (And SXSW showcases
begin and end on time, or else.)
Still, the embryonic rock band impressed a capacity
crowd at the intimate Copper Tank North club with its
herky-jerky melodies and noises. My notes include this
absurd but revealing description of the band's music:
"Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) singing, Thurston Moore (Sonic
Youth) on guitar, chick from the Rentals (Maya Rudolph) on
keys, all aboard a carousel at Wayne Coyne's (Flaming Lips)
For the record
While SXSW takes over Austin with live music, another of
the country's biggest musical events occurs here at the
same time. This one involves recorded music: the annual
Austin Record Convention, the largest new-and-used record
sale in the country.
Hundreds of record dealers from all over the country
huddle over tables in the Palmer Municipal Auditorium and
hawk more than a million CDs, LPs, 45s and even 78s. With
the world's music business leaders in town, these dealers
have to face a particular and knowledgeable clientele.
"This is the reissue, though. See, it's dated '92. You
don't have the '84 original with the six extra versions?"
That's pretty standard discussion fare at the
convention. One dealer from Minnesota boasted a
pristine, still-wrapped copy of former Tulsan Leon
Russell's "The Wedding Album." Asking price: $100.
A C-note? Has he heard it?
"No, but my books tell me that's a steal."
A rose by any other name ...
Part of the fun of perusing the SXSW schedule is the
humor and daring of some of the band names. The chucklers
on this year's list: Alabama Thunder Pussy, ... And You
Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Bastard Sons of Johnny
Cash, Betty Blowtorch, Camaro Hair, Del the Funky
Homosapien, the Dino Martinis, Fatal Flying Guilloteens, I
Am the World Trade Center, Man Scouts of America, Maximum
Coherence During Flying, the Psychedelic Kinky Fellows,
Roar! Lion, Sci-Fi Uterus and the Tremolo Beer Gut.
Food for the soul
If you want music media to come see your band, set up a
free buffet. A table of sumptuous Texas barbecue and an
absence of cash registers filled La Zona Rosa with SXSW
registrants Thursday afternoon to see the Nixons open for
Texas guitar hero Ian Moore. Greasy hands clapped for the
Nixons' timeless (as in, stuck in 1993) grunge rock.
The band sported a new record label (the showcase sponsor,
Koch Records), new songs ("P.O.V." and the wildly cheery
"Blackout") and, well, a new band. Singer Zac Malloy is the
only original Norman-native member left, having jettisoned
the rest of the crew for a new batch of Dallas-based
The Nixons started in Norman as a cover band, scored a
modern rock hit early in the '90s with "Sister" and now are
based in Dallas. A new album is due April 11.
'What about the amps?'
Austin is full of colorful, sometimes downright
eccentric, characters, so when we noticed the guy talking
to himself on Fourth Street, it was no big shock.
He stood in the hot afternoon sun, pacing in circles,
gesturing wildly and talking, talking, talking — by himself.
"What about the amps?" he kept asking. "Where are the amps?" We
skirted him just off the curb, thinking to ourselves, "So
young, and already so nuts." Then we noticed it.
The earpiece, the hidden microphone — a hands-free cell
SXSW snapshots: The high, mighty and downright loony go wild in Austin
By Thomas Conner 03/22/2000
AUSTIN, Texas — More than 30 years after his death,
musicians — and, indeed, Americans — are just now figuring
out what Woody Guthrie was about.
Greg Johnson, owner of Oklahoma City's revered Blue Door
nightclub, summed it up ably during a South by Southwest
panel discussion entitled "Made for You and Me: Woody
Guthrie's Dust Bowl Legacy."
"Woody was about freedom and community," Johnson said. "He
was about propping people up. Bruce Springsteen used to say
it this way: 'Woody was about the next guy in line.' "
Veteran music journalist Dave Marsh led the panel, which
also included Austin-based songwriters Jimmy Lafave and
Michael Fracasso. The star of the panel, though, was
Guthrie's youngest sister, Mary Jo Edgmon, who regaled the
crowd with homespun tales of her proud father, her
misunderstood mother and her iconic older brother. "I
was reared on music all the way up to here," Edgmon said,
pointing over her head. "Woody taught me chords on the
guitar. I got really good at that C chord, I guess it was."
Edgmon spoke proudly of the "1,000 percent turnaround" in
America's perception of Woody, particularly in his Green
Country hometown of Okemah. She said she's thrilled to see
the misunderstandings about Woody's political and spiritual
beliefs clearing up.
"I want the world to understand that the Guthrie family
was not trash, that Woody was as good a man as there is,"
Lafave and Fracasso both punctuated the panel session
with performances. Fracasso sang Guthrie's "1913 Massacre"
and one of his own songs directly inspired by Woody's
songwriting (Fracasso's chorus: "From the mountains to the
valleys / from the prairies to the sea / If you ain't got
love, you ain't got a nickel"). Lafave sang a song about
Woody called "Woody's Road," written by acclaimed Oklahoma
songwriter Bob Childers, and then closed the afternoon
event with a rendition of Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills," joined
by members of the Red Dirt Rangers and Edgmon herself.
Paint the town Redd
Austin's Top of the Marc is a clean, classy place — not
your usual SXSW mosh pit. The clientele shows the proper
amount of cuff, and the bar has drambuie. Festival
organizers couldn't just stick another all-girl Japanese
punk band in here. They needed class. So they called
upon Charlie Redd and his boys.
Decked out and dynamic, the Full Flava Kings brought
Redd back home in style. "Bring it on home, y'all!" Redd
would shout in a song's closing jam, though it was unclear
which home he was referring to — his native Austin or his
new Tulsa HQ. Either way, his Austin friends and fans saw a
new Redd on Saturday night: more groovy, more gravy and
drizzling a more honeyed baritone over the band's dense
rhythm-and-funk. In addition to charter Kings Dave
Kelly on guitar, Brian Lee on keyboards and Stanley Fary
beating the drums mercilessly, the Full Flava Kings debuted
new guitarist and veteran Tulsa funkmeister Travis Fite
(Phat Thumb) to the Austin crowd.
Their response? Ask the female stranger who tried to
start The Bump with me during the show.
Here come the brides
Tyson Meade, the colorful leader of the Norman-reared
Chainsaw Kittens, used to wear dresses on stage as a rule.
After his Friday night SXSW showcase, he took the fixation
to a bold new level by getting married to another man in
full white-gown fabulousness.
Before the next band (the bizarro but like-minded Frogs)
took the tent stage outside the Gallery Lombardi Lounge,
Meade reappeared in a wedding processional that parted the
crowd. The wedding party included several maids, matrons
and misters of honor in various degrees of Mardi Gras-esque
garb, all of whom surrounded the officiating Hindu priest
for the brief ceremony.
In a flurry of toasts and funny-but-heartfelt vows,
Meade and Skip Handleman Werner — who was always preceded by
the mysterious title "international pop star" — were
pronounced unlawfully married. They smooched, and the
wedding party bunny-hopped from the venue as "Y.M.C.A."
Reports of this high camp should not overshadow news of
the Kittens' triumphant return. Still without a record deal
after the sad demise of the Smashing Pumpkins' Scratchie
Records, the Kittens blasted back into action Friday night
with an explosive set of old and new glam-punk songs.
Meade, juiced by pre-wedding jitters, took the stage in a
royal blue feathery jacket and furiously belted and
screamed his way through the serrated set of Kitty classics
reaching all the way back to the band's debut album,
I can't chaaange
Billy Joe Winghead's lead singer, John Manson, took out
his personal angst about Meade's marriage (he was
distraught over not getting to, um, kiss the bride) through
BJW's two sets of roadhouse rock. The OKC-Tulsa band
blew into Austin late Saturday and played back-to-back
shows at the Hole in the Wall, a University of Texas
hangout, and Cheapo Discs. Shoppers at the latter venue
were typically unfazed by the blaring band over in the
corner — until they played "Free Bird."
A cliche request that normally turns off young rock
audiences always turns heads when its coming from the
five-piece Billy Joe Winghead. Tulsa bassist Steve Jones
sings over the guitar grind while Manson waves out the
melody on his green theremin. Amid the band's repertoire of
songs about rest-stop sex, doomed B-filmstars and car
salesman lingo, "Free Bird" is practically the crown jewel
and always a crowd pleaser.
Hit me with your best shot
Readers of the Austin Chronicle voted David Garza the
city's second-best musician of the '90s. (Ask a blues fan
who was first.) It's not simply because he writes
well-rounded pop songs and executes them gracefully on
record with his band; it's that he really doesn't need his
band at all.
On the Waterloo Park stage late Saturday afternoon,
Garza held his own with only his pretty red Gibson guitar
to keep him company. Songs that on record seem pieced
together by clever arrangements of drum machines, acoustic
guitar and Garza's versatile voice — like "Discoball World" --
evened out in frenetic and energetic solo jams. Near the
end, he took requests, cheerfully tearing his fingernails
off by barreling through "Take Another Shot."
Thank you, sir, may I have another?
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Rumor of the week: That Neil Young was the mysterious
"special guest" billed immediately before Steve Earle's
Friday night set at Stubb's. Young was in Austin for South
by Southwest, but not the music part. His latest concert
film, "Silver and Gold," was premiering. The special guest
was Whiskeytown singer Ryan Adams.
Patron saint of the festival: Doug Sahm. The drive-train
for the Sir Douglas Quartet may be dead but he hasn't left
Austin. From two star-studded tributes to him — one at
Wednesday night's Austin Music Awards (featuring Shawn and
Shandon Sahm), another Friday at the legendary Antone's
blues club (featuring former bandmate Augie Meyers and,
straight from the where-is-he-now bins, Joe "King" Carassco) --
to posters in Mexican restaurants advertising prints of his
portrait for sale, Sahm has edged out Townes Van Zandt as
the bandwagon who bought the farm.
Best TV footage no one could use: Steve Earle's Thursday
morning keynote address. Earle delivered his words of
wisdom wearing a T-shirt that read, "I'm from f—-ing outer
Comeback of the week: Former Byrds icon Roger McGuinn,
whose Friday night performance brought overplayed standards
back down to earth with grace and style.
Best T-shirt: "My lawyer can kick your lawyer's ass."
Most shameless self-promotion: Dallas rap-rockers
Pimpadelic not only drove around downtown blocks in its
giant tour bus with the band's name emblazoned along the
sides, the band also spent its free time walking around
Austin with dancers it hired from the Yellow Rose strip
club, all of whom, of course, sported tightly cropped
T-shirts bearing the band's name. Watch for the band's
debut on Tommy Boy Records.
Most prominent foreign country: The Netherlands, buoyed
by waning interest in the annual Japan Night and extensive
lobbying by the Dutch Rock and Pop Institute.
Best non-SXSW show: Austin's ear-splitting Hotwheels Jr.
on Friday afternoon in a tiny CD shop way out in north
Austin. They spell it r-a-w-k.
Favorite new discovery: Scotland's newest guitar pop
band Astrid, with a debut album, "Strange Weather Lately,"
out now on Fantastic Plastic Records.
Best diversion on the way to another gig: The strolling
horn band Crawdaddy-O, which braved the frigid cold
Thursday night livening people's steps with funky Dixieland
jams, including — at Adam of Fanzine's request — some
sizzling James Brown.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
© Tulsa World
Go SOUTH-West Young Man
By Thomas Conner 03/23/1997
AUSTIN, Texas — Shortly after I checked into the Lazy Oak Inn
in Austin, I met Flash Gordon. This should have clued me into just
how far out this weekend would be.
Flash sings and plays flute in a basic Florida bar band called
the Pundits. They didn't make the cut for one of the nearly 750
showcases at this year's South by Southwest music conference, but
Flash and his wife, Jo, came anyway. When your band gets rejected
from SXSW, the conference offers you registration at half price,
which we determined was reason enough to apply each year.
We sat on the porch, soaking in a warm Austin evening and
watching Molly, the inn's resident pooch, chase imaginary squirrels
around the inn's massive namesake tree. Everyone had their SXSW
booklets out and was making notes, circling band names,
highlighting times in the schedule. You have to plan your attack
carefully. At the top of each hour, about 40 musicians and spoken
word artists will begin a new set in clubs all over town. Just as
any sage would advise, you first must accept that you will not be
able to see it all. Then you plan your route, lace up a comfortable
pair of walking shoes, and hit the bricks.
It's all highly subjective.
Wednesday, 7:55 p.m.
The music part of the conference (film and multimedia kick off
the week) always begins with the Austin Music Awards on Wednesday
night. Storyville, the rootsy band that's been through Tulsa (and
will be back April 4), dominates the awards, winning Band of the
Year, Song of the Year (“Good Day for the Blues''), Best Rock
Band, and so on. Ian Moore lands Musician of the Year. Junior
Brown, of course, wins Best Country Artist. And everyone is
obsessing about the January death of local hero Townes Van Zandt,
who is inducted into the Austin hall of fame.
Wednesday, 10:15 p.m.
Always on the cutting edge of
cowpunk/twang-core/alt-country/whatever it's called now, Jason
Ringenberg of Jason and the Scorchers tears up Liberty Lunch in a
flurry of fringe and wins the Michael Stipe lookalike contest with
a freshly shaven head. Warner Hodges remains one of rock's most
overlooked and electrifying guitar masters.
Wednesday, 11:45 p.m.
Decked out in shiny silver space suits and flailing around far
more than keyboard players should indeed flail, Roger Manning and
one of his partners from the Moog Cookbook dazzle a slovenly
audience of media registrants at the Iron Cactus restaurant. It's
the first performance of the all-Moog “band'' outside of L.A. or
Thursday, 12:10 a.m.
As Tito and Tarantula start their set at Steamboat, film
directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarrantino are refused
admittance to see the bunch that played the vampire bar band their
film, “From Dusk Till Dawn.'' The fire marshals had been
ticketing club owners for overcrowding their establishments, and
the film moguls had to get over it like everyone else.
Thursday, 10:30 a.m.
Carl Perkins delivers the conference keynote address in the
Austin Convention Center. Certainly one of the most surreal
experiences of the week, Perkins noodled on the guitar while
speaking, mostly about Jesus but he did demonstrate the difference
between Bill Monroe's version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky'' and that
of Elvis Presley.
Thursday, 3:15 p.m.
Tanned, rested and ready, Tony Bennett sits down for a Q&A and
talks about his “comeback'' and his irrepressible love of singing.
When talking about getting booted from Columbia in the '70s, he
told the story of Duke Ellington's similar fate years earlier:
“They called him into the office at Columbia and said, "We're
going to drop you from the label.' Duke said, "Why? What's wrong?'
and they said, "You're not selling records.' Duke said, "Oh, I
thought I was supposed to make the records and you were supposed to
Thursday, 5 p.m.
Tulsa modern rock band Epperley takes the stage at the Voodoo
Lounge for a “pirate'' show — one not officially part of the SXSW
showcase. Perhaps that officialdom has its advanatages because the
quartet plays its heart out for an audience of about 12 listless
club rats. In whatever setting, though, Matt Nader is a thoroughly
entertaining live guitarist.
Thursday, 9 p.m.
Fulflej plays a subdued but affecting set at Liberty Lunch,
including a cover of Sinead O'Connor's “Nothing Compares 2 U.''
Guitarist and singer MC No Joke G uses the lingo (he actually said
“homies'') like he's the hippest dude around, but the music is
more deeply rooted in arena rock and power pop to allow his thick,
dark curls to become dreads anytime soon.
Thursday, 10:30 p.m.
Now that his original power pop band 20/20 has resurfaced, Tulsa
native Ron Flynt tried out his solo chops in the tiny space of Bob
Popular's Headliner's Room Upstairs. With fellow 20/20 member and
Tulsa native Steve Allen adding lead guitar flourishes to Flynt's
acoustic strum, the two rolled easily through a warm set of 20/20
classics and new Flynt originals. Flynt's soft, childlike voice is
better suited to this folkie setting, but Flynt is still concerned
with his primary (and unabashedly pop) lyrical topic: the love and
loss of chicks.
Thursday, 11 p.m.
Dwight Twilley takes the first step in his, what, fourth
comeback? Safely rooted in Tulsa once again, Twilley and his new
band lean into the set of power pop gems they'd been trying out on
small crowds at Caz's last fall. The large patio of Austin's
Waterloo Brewing Company is nearly SRO for this gig, and Twilley
looks as young and sounds as fresh as he did in 1975. He plays a
classic like “I'm on Fire'' right next to something brand new, and
no one knows the difference. He isn't slumming for the nostalgia
addicts; he's just doing what Twilley does — rocking with more
melody than the radio has played in 10 years. Susan Cowsill, a
former Twilley sweetheart, backs him up at the mike for three
songs. The set is flawless and exciting.
Friday, 12 a.m.
20/20 follows up Twilley at the Waterloo with more stripped-down
and direct rock 'n' roll. Fresh from his solo gig, Ron Flynt now
wears shades and Allen's finesse on the electric guitar proves
that's his real forte. Opening with the classic “Remember the
Lightning,'' they charge into last year's “Song of the Universe,''
a driving melody that gets better every time I hear it. The crowd
cheers every solo from drummer Bill Belknap. Flynt introduces “The
Night I Heard Her Scream'' as “a song from our second album, or is
it third? We've got four or five. I don't know.'' Someone from the
audience shouts, “I bought one!'' Flynt looks relieved and says,
Friday, 1 a.m.
Justly introduced as “one of the great songwriters of the
universe,'' Okie-born songwriter Jimmy Webb slides behind a grand
piano in the Driskill Hotel Ballroom and pounds out several of his
touching, smartly arranged songs. He sings with much more power
than he gives himself credit for (“These songs were made famous by
others who can actually sing''). Sure, Barbara Streisand wrapped
her silky voice around Webb's “Didn't We,'' but when Webb sings
it, the nuances of each original emotion are wrenchingly vivid. He
pounds the piano with a confidence that's built up for 30 years,
but his voice still caresses the yearning for that 21-year-old
woman on a Galveston beach. There is indeed magic in the Webb of it.
Friday, 2 a.m.
La Zona Rosa is offering “breakfast shows,'' featuring non-SXSW
acts whooping it up next to a spicy buffet line. Tonight it's
Oklahoma City's Red Dirt Rangers. Someone always dances at a Red
Dirt Rangers show, and one woman was so eager to get to the
dancefloor that she beaned me in the head with the Miller longneck
in her grip as she ran by. No problem, though, the slow laments
like “Blue Diamond'' and the male bonding of “Dog on a Chain''
had already knocked me out. Multi-instrumentalist Benny Gene Craig
absolutely wails on the steel guitar.
Friday, 4:10 p.m.
Thomas Anderson, a spaced-out folkie (a native of Miami, Okla.,
now based in Austin), finally goes on at ABCD's and once again
proves the strength of his songwriting skills. Anderson, exactly
like Elliott Murphy, writes intricate and intriguing character
sketches — songs that are too big for his timid, thin vocal chops.
In trademark shades, doo-rag and blazer, he sings of Bill Haley's
tragic death in Mexico and a freaked-out killer named Nash the
Slash. Even with subjects that could easily have been far too
precious — the admiration of Deadheads in “Jerry's Kids'' and the
touching “White Sands'' — Anderson boasts a tenderness that's
usually hard to find in songs of this intellectual caliber.
Friday, 5 p.m.
This time, Epperley drums up a teeming crowd at a skate shop
called Blondie's. They sound better, too, playing mostly new songs
— “She's Like a Marine,'' “Jenks, America'' and “You're So
1988.'' The crowd whoops it up and cheers without the prodding of
the band's rep from Triple X Records.
Friday, 6:20 p.m.
Just as every public establishment in New Orleans has a cocktail
lounge, every place in Austin books live music, especially this
weekend. As we savor the Mexican food at El Sol y La Luna, one of
those South American bands with the drums and pan flutes fills the
place with tropical ambiance. Greg Brown, the guitarist for Cake,
is at the bar. “I see guys like this everywhere I go now,'' he
says with a hint of boredom. “Better not go to Tulsa's Mayfest,''
Friday, 9:10 p.m.
On that note, there's even a band scheduled to play at the inn
where I'm staying. Scheduled at 8 p.m., Seattle's urban-folk
progenitor Caz Murphy arrives late. His excuse? He was taken to the
hospital after being bitten by a bat on the Town Lake bridge. I
love this town.
Friday, 10:05 p.m.
I could bypass the lengthy line and get into Stubb's with my
snooty press badge, but I opt to watch from outside the fence with
the cheapskates; the sardined crowd on the Stubb's lawn is
wallowing in mud from the previous week's rains. Supergrass plays a
solid set of very British Invasion rock 'n' roll, looking a great
deal more mature than the superb but spastic debut album that
spawned what fans feared would be the band's wondrous one hit,
“Alright.'' New songs from the album due this May included “Cheap
Skate,'' “Richard III'' and the Who-ish “Silence the Sun.''
Friday, 11:20 p.m.
It's Japanese Night at the Tropical Isle, and I wander into the
adorable screech of Lolita No. 18. Fliers on the tables declare
that the band “captive (sic) the heart of both punk rock fan and
cartoon fan immediately.'' True enough — the all-girl thrashers
are, to our Western sensibilities, cute as cartoons, and any punk
fan would enjoy their racket. Singer G. Ena squawks with a smile
over the band's quirky time signature shifts. Suddenly I recognize
one of the choruses — my God, it's “Hang on Sloopy.''
Saturday, 12:30 a.m.
After an interminable delay, Spring Heel Jack finally begins
their set, only you can't really tell. They remain in the dark on
Bob Popular's inadequate stage, and the ambient techno the London
duo begins punching out of a huge bank of machines is not
discernable in quality or style from the tape that was filling time
between showcases. Techno of any kind is simply unsuitable for
environments outside a dancefloor.
Saturday, 1:05 a.m.
The Mysterious John pleads for quiet through a bullhorn at the
start of the Asylum Street Spankers' show, declaring that “we make
music the way God intended — without the use of de-e-e-mon
electricity!'' When some patrons continue talking, the elder
ukulele player jumps out of his chair and shouts, “Don't make me
cut a switch!'' The bawdy songs — played with clarinet, ukuleles,
guitars, banjos, kazoos, washboards and a little soft shoe --
highlight the roaring part of the '20s (“Roll Me One of Those
Funny Cigarettes''). As homespun and rollicking as bathtub gin.
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Art Alexakis, leader of Everclear, is the first hungover
musician to take the Daytime Stage for a string of sets benefitting
Artists for a Hate-Free America, which Alexakis helped to found.
With just an acoustic guitar (he obviously writes with an electric
— listen to those strings buzz!), the songs about trying to kick
yourself out of the gutter are somehow more ostensible. I must have
been hungover, too, because I swear he introduces one song as being
“about my dog.'' The lyrics make sense: “You know I'm never home
/ I call but you don't talk on the phone.'' Later I'm told he said
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Back to the Daytime Stage for my hero, Mark Eitzel, former
frontman for American Music Club and a patron saint to all who
drink for reasons other than escape. He knocks out five of his
gems, getting lost in every song, flailing his body awkwardly and
with abandon (so much so that during “Firefly'' he hits the mike
with his head). He finishes a new song, with a chorus of “Why
can't you leave my sister alone,'' this way: “That song's about my
sister. She's a pro-rights kind of person. Her brother-in-law
banned her from seeing the kids because he said she was from Satan.
My sister is not from Satan.'' Despite that conviction, Eitzel
momentarily retreats into an unusually potent moment of pessimism:
“They told me to say lots of nice things about a hate-free
America. Is there such a thing? No. This country is finished.''
Someone in the crowd asks, “Then where are we going?'' “We're
going to hell, man,'' Eitzel replies.
Saturday, 4 p.m.
About 2,000 people cram into the second level of a downtown
parking garage to hear the Car Radio Orchestra, an experiment led
by Wayne Coyne of Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips. Lips manager Scott
Booker says they had expected about a fifth of this crowd. “I'm
just trying to keep people from destroying my car,'' he said. “I
wish I'd used a rental.'' (Though, in a Dallas Morning News note
about the event, Coyne had advised that most rental cars “won't
have adequate sound systems for the experiment.'') After an hour of
positioning 28 vehicles and running two tests, the real music
begins. Coyne gives each driver a pre-mixed cassette and instructs
them to press play and blare it on cue. Soon, soothing synthesizer
parts are swelling from various auto systems, and then the sound of
a gasping, moaning woman begins building from Coyne's car in the
center of the fray. The sounds build to a, well, climax, whereupon
the ecsatic female cries are sped up, manipulated and squelched and
begin rapid-firing from every car. The piece is called
“Altruism,'' subtitled “That's the Crotch Calling the Devil
Black.'' The second piece uses more looping drum sounds, but the
ending fizzles because the principle sound was on tape no. 16 --
and that car had blown a fuse.
Saturday, 10 p.m.
My one and only personal indulgence — Paul K. and the
Weathermen play at the Atomic Cafe. Even though he wears a
turtleneck tonight, the darkness of his tales of a criminal past
are not blunted. The fiddle player is superfluous, and the rhythm
section only adds spine to the brooding, mythical post-punk-blues
Paul pulls from his surprisingly powerful acoustic guitar. “30
Coins of Gold'' tells the spooky story of a beggar who posed as
Judas for da Vinci's rendering of “The Last Supper.''
Saturday, 10:45 p.m.
A Ryder truck is parked on the edge of Red River Avenue, and
there's a big film screen in the back door showing a director's
reel of film and video clips produced by L.A.'s Underground Media,
which has provided videos for everyone from Marilyn Manson to David
Bowie. This reel is dominated by videos for Cottonmouth, Texas — a
group from Dallas featuring musicians from the New Bohemians
providing a backdrop for the clever spoken musings of an ex-junkie.
The work is more accessible than that sounds. Watch for the Virgin
Records debut this summer.
Saturday, 11:20 p.m.
Who knew Fred Sanford had given up the salvage business and
launched a hip-hop career? Endlessly toying with his voice effects,
Mike Ladd slops through some captivating rants. The crowd was
paltry but enthused, and Ladd will probably get used to that
because his raps are about topics that matter, not sex and guns.
When he gets furious, as he does in his lambaste of Richard
Herrnstein's race-and-education theories in “The Bell Curve,'' he
sounds like he's about to clutch his chest and have “the big one.''
Sunday, 12:05 a.m.
Deborah Harry may not be aging gracefully, but her vocal chops
are juicy in her latest project, the Jazz Passengers, a sharp jazz
outfit that sidesteps the latest retro-lounge fad in favor of
stream-of-consciousness, almost avant garde compositions led by sax
and trombone. Harry's role as singer is well-suited to her dynamic
voice, purring one moment and roaring like a tiger the next.
Sunday, 1 a.m.
Figures. The best punk show I've seen in years is by the three
nellie queens in San Francisco's gay punk pioneers, Pansy Division.
Venting about kinky boyfriends (“James Bondage''), the men north
of the border (“Manada'') and right time alternatives to night
time (“Horny in the Morning''), this trio puts out the most
entertaining and energetic set of the week. Bassist Chris Freeman
is in a skirt and flaming out all over the stage while guitarist
Jon Ginoli (wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I Dream of Weenie'')
this time plays it a bit more, uh, straight, offering an unexpected
moment of seriousness in his solo tale of “Denny.''
What Is South by Southwest?
By Thomas Conner 03/23/1997
The South by Southwest Music and Media Conference takes place
each March in the remarkably hospitable city of Austin, Texas. It
could take place in no other city, really — Austin is, per capita,
the live music capital of the world.
Conference organizers book about 750 acts (solo musicians,
singers and bands) to perform one-hour showcases during five nights
in 36 clubs around the city, mostly concentrated on Sixth Street
downtown. (Every other club in town, though, books “pirate''
shows.) The purpose is to provide one-stop shopping for music
industry talent scouts and journalists (and, oh yeah, fans) looking
for the Next Big Thing. Among the scores of up-and-coming bands are
scheduled shows by well-established artists — it helps draw the
The event calls itself a “conference'' because it also includes
panel discussions of music industry issues and a trade show, all of
which helps to justify a week of listening to rock 'n' roll in bars.
By Thomas Conner
© TULSA WORLD
Johnny Cash is cool. Johnny Cash is a rebel. Johnny Cash is
an American myth. Johnny Cash is back.
Forging through his fourth decade of recording, Cash has once
again fired boosters in his career no one would have guessed he
had. After hooking up with hip, young rock and rap producer Rick
Rubin and signing to the rock label American Recordings, Cash
turned out one of the most phenomenal albums of his career, 1994's
This year, he's back with another expectations-breaker.
“Unchained'' finds the legendary Man in Black singing better than
ever before and covering everything from old Cash originals like
“Mean-Eyed Cat'' to songs by Beck and Soundgarden. Like Tony
Bennett, Cash has found himself a fatherly icon amongst the MTV
“Unchained'' debuted this week at No. 26 on the Billboard
country chart. Not bad for a country artist of any era, but
particularly great for someone who's been counted out of the game
as many times as Cash has.
“I haven't had (a record) that high in a long time,'' Cash said
in an interview last week. “It feels good. It feels like the '50s
all over again.''
Cash was let go from Columbia Records in 1986 and moved to
Mercury, where things just didn't blossom like he expected. Once
free of Mercury, Cash wondered what path he would take next. That's
when Rubin called.
“Rick came looking for me,'' Cash said. “I was playing a show
in California, and he called my manager and asked if we could talk.
Once I found out who he was, I said, 'Why in the world would he be
interested in me?' And I asked him that. He said he knew my work
and that he wanted to sit me down, give me and microphone and a
guitar and let me sing everything I wanted, and then he'd find a
way to make an album out of it. We let the idea sit a while, and he
was still serious about it months later. He made me believe I could
do what I really wanted to do.''
See, even American legends need a little encouragement. Rubin's
devotion to the project convinced Cash to sign up, and the result
was “American Recordings,'' an astonishing guitar-and-voice affair
that revived Cash among his two generations of fans and added a
third — a new group of young admirers, lured by the vogue
“Unplugged'' nature of the record and by the historical awe that
surrounds the figure of Cash.
On “Unchained,'' which features Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
as the backing band, Cash keeps up his balancing act between the
old and new fans. For the longtime fans, he covers another Carter
Family tune (“Kneeling Drunkard's Plea'') and finishes a Cash
original that wasn't finished the first time he recorded it (“Mean
Eyed Cat''). For the new fans, Cash covers a couple of modern rock
pioneers and does so with the power and grace that has tamed all
musical influences around him these 40-odd years.
The new disc opens with “Rowboat,'' a plaintive love lament
written by the cutting edge's boy wonder, Beck.
“I used him as an opener a year and a half ago in L.A., and he
sang some Carter Family Appalachian things. He also sang 'Rowboat,'
and I really liked it,'' Cash said.
The Soundgarden cover, “Rusty Cage,'' didn't come to him so
easily. Rubin asked Cash if he'd heard the song; Cash said no, so
Rubin played him the Soundgarden album.
“Right away I said, 'That's not for me. No way. I can't record
that song.' But Rick said, 'What if we work up an arrangement that
feels comfortable for you,' and I thought about it. The lyrics
really fascinated me. It's like the Beat look at a love affair --
very mystical, interpret-it-your-own-way kind of lyrics. But I just
didn't think there was any way. They worked a long time, and it
worked out. Now it's my favorite song that I perform,'' Cash said.
The choice of new material is more than mere kow-towing to the
current hip couture, but Cash said it's nice to have more young
fans. The monumental legacy of Cash's career doesn't seem to be
daunting to the new fans, either, and Cash said there's really no
prerequisite for understanding his music.
“You know, the 'American Recordings' was really what I wanted
people to hear from me — just me and my guitar. That's why I like
any country artist.''
And what's next for this cornerstone of country music, and how
many more boosters does he have to fire in his career? For now,
Cash said he's just taking one show at a time, entertaining his
fans — from each generation — as his highest priority.
“I've been around twice now. This is my third time around,''
Cash said. “Everything else from now on is gravy.''
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.