Shakey Graves – an Austin musician with a big future, mark my words.
Every now and then I make a music discovery that is so good and so unexpected it stops me right in my tracks. Last night I was playing the free downloads from the Eye in the Sky Collective and I suddenly heard a song I never heard before that sounded like it might have been around forever - a sure sign of talent and inspiration. “Built to Roam” by Shakey Graves. Just a perfect, perfect song.
And after a bit of digging I got more shocks: Shakey Graves, aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia, is from Austin and has been featured by the Austin Chronicle and on KUT – by other people who were affected the same way by his music. I could have seen him live at South By Southwest if I had known. I will definitely be on the lookout for new chances to see him play.
Furthermore, I listened to his album, Roll the Bones on Bandcamp all the way through, and loved every song. His style is a blend of classic blues, alt country and folk music. Mainly just great songwriting. The picking in some of his songs make me think of blues legends like Bukka White. The songs are available on a “pay what you want” basis. Give it a listen and see if you don’t think it’s worth paying for. We need to keep this man in business. He’s brilliant.
Here is his Tumblr page, which includes dates for upcoming performances. If you’re in the Austin area, you can see him at the Hole in the Wall on Thursday, March 29 and at the White Horse on Saturday, March 31.
Shakey Graves will be performing at the Kohoutek music festival in Claremont CA on April 28 and is looking for other venues in the West – New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, etc. (E-mail him at email@example.com if you have any ideas.)
My latest discovery is a country band by the name of Lee County Line, now based in Cedar Park, but originally from Lexington, Texas (a place with just over 1,000 people that’s famous for Snow’s BBQ). I heard them on Saturday at the Watermelon Festival in McDade (even smaller than Lexington, but they put on a pretty good shindig.)
A festival is different if you work for a small town newspaper. It’s not just leisure like it is for everyone else. It’s fun, but there’s a job to be done. Even when you’re not working, there’s that thought in the back of your mind, “I can’t keep sitting here forever BS’ing with these folks, eating barbecue, etc. I haven’t taken enough pics yet. Maybe I’ll get some good shots if I go over there?” But to get through the day you still have to have an attitude like, “I’m going to enjoy this day. Some of this is for my job and some of it is for me.”
One of those parts at any festival that’s always “for me” is the music, especially if it’s good music. Yesterday, as I covered the McDade Watermelon Festival, I was surprised once again by the musical talent to be found out in the rural towns of Texas. As I snapped pictures of cute little kids eating watermelon and competing in the seed spitting contest, it slowly sunk in: The band playing in the pavilion nearby was very very good. Especially surprising given how young all the members are.
They were singing good solid country music. Some of the songs were original. Some were covers. They did a good version of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” and Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” but it was the originals that impressed me most. “Take My Hand” really stood out for me. They have that knack for the turn of a phrase that the best country songs have. The singer has a good strong voice and the guitarist has some mean licks. I think these guys are going places.
Ever mix foods that don’t sound like they should go together and find out they really really do? Like peanut butter ‘n’ banana sandwiches? Sounded weird at first, but trust me, it’s a combination that was meant to be.
I recently discovered a musical example: The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a band with a funny name and an even stranger combination of styles, with members from Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Elgin, Waco and Liberty Hill.
It’s almost impossible to pin down their sound. Americana doesn’t quite do it. Blues, bluegrass, country, rockabilly, Cajun, R&B, funk… They’re all part of the mix. It’s such a weird combination of styles, but it sounds rootsy and natural, like folk music from a country that never was, but should’ve been.
The band has five members: Rory Smith of Elgin on vocals and percussion; Perry Lowe of Bastrop on percussion; Tres Womack of Waco (formerly of Bastrop) on guitar and vocals; Slim Bawb Pearce of Cedar Creek (by way of Sacramento, California) on mandolin and other stringed instruments and vocals and Dave Gould of Liberty Hill on string bass.
The percussion is a bit unusual, with Rory pounding on congas, scratching on a frottoir (rub board) and at times a Jew’s harp given to him by his Swedish mother-in-law. Perry plays a Brazilian box drum known as a cajón (that doubles as his chair) and an African drum called a djembe.
Each member brings something into the mix — styles, instruments and songs. Tres adds a country music flavor. Slim Bawb adds Louisiana and bluegrass influences (although he’s from California). Rory and Perry contribute R&B, funk and soul. Dave Gould, who also plays in the Watts Brothers Band, brings his skill on the bass fiddle.
“People compare us to the Gourds, but I think we’re more unique,” said Tres, who helped kick start the band. He hosted an open mic night that featured Rory and a CD release party where both Rory and Perry turned up to sing harmony. They enjoyed working together so much a musical relationship was born. In time they picked up Slim Bawb Pearce and Curtis Farley (the previous bass player).
“Tres, Rory and Perry had been playing together for a while and they needed a picker,” said Slim Bawb. “I played some slide mandolin and we meshed really quickly. It’s fun to play in this band. We have a lot of harmonies and you never know what’s gonna happen. There’s a lot of improvising going on.”
Slim Bawb moved to Cedar Creek from Sacramento five years ago. Before he became a transplanted Texan, he spent 20 years with a group called the Beer Dawgs, which was inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
Curtis, who owns Twisted Twig Studio, is still involved with the band on the production end. He came up with the name Chubby Knuckle Choir while poking fun at the musicians’ middle age spare tires and chubby hands. The musicians were having a jam session and singing harmonies. “Curtis was picking on us and said ‘y’all look like a chubby knuckle choir’ and the name stuck,” Rory said.
Rory and Perry chose their percussion instruments for two reasons: 1) their cars weren’t big enough to hold trap sets and 2) they provide rhythm without overwhelming the vocals.
Tres also liked the idea of using those instruments to make the band’s sound more unique, and offset his strong country influence. The frottoir was a nod to Slim Bawb’s Cajun influence.
“What makes it work is we all like each other,” Rory said.
The Chubby Knuckle Choir has had its share of local success, performing at South By Southwest in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They have also opened for Austin musician Guy Forsyth, former member of the Asylum Street Spankers at Nutty Brown Café outside of Dripping Springs.
Most of the time they perform at the Lumberyard in downtown Bastrop or in Quoffer’s in Elgin, but they also play in other venues around the state and are slated to play in Elgin’s Hogeye Festival next October.
They are not trying to become a national act — although they are open to possibilities if they somehow strike it big. “We’re all at that age where we have responsibilities,” Rory said. “Perry has a couple of toddlers. If we get a following that’s great, but it’s not on the agenda. We just love what we do.”
The band is working on songs for the debut studio album, which should be finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can buy CDs of their 11-track album “Live at the Lumberyard” for $10. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chubby Knuckle Choir’s next show is at the Lumberyard is 8 p.m. Friday, June 10. The band will perform at Quoffer’s at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 23.
This one may be my favorite:
These are quite impressive as well:
It’s Always Something
The Live Experience
I caught the tail end of one of their shows at Quoffer’s bar in Elgin and went to see them again a few weeks ago in Bastrop in a really cool venue called the Lumberyard (it actually used to BE a lumberyard).
The audience was a mix of old and young who from time to time got up and danced. The band obviously a small but dedicated following (that recently grew by one).
Their set list featured some great original songs, along with some inspired covers. “Freakshow,” “It’s Always Something” “Farmer’s Tan” and “Ethylene” were among my favorite originals.
They did excellent covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the gospel standard “Jesus on the Mainline” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” Venue owner Jeff Brister joined the band on trumpet during “Ya Ya.”
Another highlight was Storytelling, a band tradition. Band members take turns telling stories from one concert to the next. The stories are supposed to be true. Rory told one about raccoons taking up residence in his attic.
Every story ends with “and I heard a song on the radio,” followed by a cover song. The one that night was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Never expected to hear a bluegrass version of that, but it really worked.
Very entertaining live show. I’ve been looking for a band to fill the empty place in my soul left by the breakup of the Asylum Street Spankers and I may have finally found it – right in my back yard.
I recently got to interview someone I’ve admired for quite some time, Kinky Friedman, known to most folks as a crazy character who made an unsuccessful run for Texas governor (campaign slogan: Why the hell not?). I have a bit of a connection to the man, who makes his home in the Texas Hill Country. His family used to have a summer camp for Jewish children. My grandpa Vernon Williams was the town barber in nearby Medina; he used to go out there and cut hair. Everytime the subject of Kinky Friedman comes up, Mom mentions that.
My impression of the man? Funny as expected. But also a hell of a nice guy. I think his rascal persona is mostly just that — a persona. Below is the news story as it will appear in the Nov. 10 Elgin Courier. I also posted a few videos, because people forget that he’s also a hell of a musician. His early career with the Texas Jewboys is the reason we even know about the man. And while most of his songs strike me as funny, some are also striking examples of country songwriting. “Sold America” is a masterpiece of a song. I’ll post again after I’ve heard him speak.
Kinky Friedman to speak in Elgin, Nov. 21
Elgin is about to get “Kinky” — Kinky Friedman, that is. Noted author, humorist, singer-songwriter and political candidate Richard S. “Kinky” Friedman will give a speech at the Elgin Public Library on Sunday, Nov. 21 at 2 p.m. Friedman was invited to the event by the Friends of the Elgin Library.
Friedman’s lecture will focus on his new book, Heroes of a Texas Childhood. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and Friedman will sign autographs. The lecture is free and open to the public. In a telephone interview last week, Friedman said Heroes of a Texas Childhood features 23 people he admires — some are familiar to most Texans, others aren’t quite as familiar.
“Many recent college graduates never heard of many of them,” he said, naming Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and WWII hero Audie Murphy as examples. “A lot of Texans don’t know upon whose shoulders they stand.”Other heroes include Sam Houston and Davy Crockett. Two of his heroes are still alive: singer Willie Nelson and attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. “They aren’t my heroes because they were persistent or lucky,” Friedman said. “They’re my heroes because of the tragedies and failures of their lives and how they dealt with them.”
Friedman said he regards Nelson as a hero, not because he is a fellow musician, but because of the kind of person he is. “He became a folk hero the hard way. Adaptability and pugnaciousness are what got him through where other equally talented musicians did not.”
He will also speak on his short story collection, What Would Kinky Do? The book was illustrated by the late artist John Callahan, a quadriplegic who created very painstaking, brilliant drawings.Friedman said he will sign an autograph for anyone who requests one.
“I’ll sign anything but bad legislation,” he said. He will also pose for photographs. “That’s one thing I learned from Willie [Nelson],” he said. “Willie will stay and sign autographs as long as it takes. People like Bob Dylan won’t do that.”Friedman is still performing music and recently finished a tour at 15 venues around the country, all of which sold out. “It feels like I won the race for governor everywhere but Texas,” he joked.
Frieman said his visit to Elgin is not part of a book tour. “Life is a book tour, or a political campaign,” he said. “The political campaign is in hibernation. Texas wants a governor with hair. Is that too much to ask? Music is a much purer art form than politics. I think it’s far better to be a musician than a politician.”
Friedman decided to visit Elgin after meeting Elgin Friends of the Library President Laura Stough on a plane. Stout asked him to speak in Elgin and he liked the idea — especially after learning that she was a professor of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M. Kinky’s father, Dr. Thomas Friedman, taught the same subject at her alma mater, the University of Texas. In addition, Friedman and Stough both served in the Peace Corps.“
He had already agreed, but when he found out that connection to his father, he said, ‘this has to be,’” Stout said.Friedman has an animal rescue operation in the Hill Country called Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch (www.utopiarescue.com), where he has taken in dogs, cats, donkeys and pigs.
“It’s a very happy orphanage,” he said. “The animals leave wistful when they get adopted. Money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.”Friedman’s program will be part of a series of literary events that has featured lectures from authors Susan Wittig, Rupert Isaacson and Judy Barrett. The Nov. 21 lecture will be free, but priority seating will go to the Friends of Elgin Library. There’s still time to join that organization before the event.For more information, call (512) 281-5678.
Here's a shot of the bats. Best I could do with a cheap camera. Had to mess with the photo in GIMP. Otherwise it would be black on black.
Last Saturday I went to the 6th annual Batfest in Austin. They closed off the Congress Ave. Bridge (now the Ann Richards Bridge, though I’ll probably never learn to call it that) and filled it with folks in booths trying to sell things, bounce houses for the kids, plenty of food & drink, and at each end of the bridge there was a stage. The south end had Mexican and Tejano music; the north end was all about the rock ‘n’ roll. Free admission. Just pitched in a dollar donation for Bat Conservation International.
It gave me a chance to do something I hadn’t done in a long time: watch the bats fly out from their famous colony under the bridge. And something I’d been meaning to do for a long time: check out a really great local band called Deadman. I also got irresponsible and ate carnival food: turkey meatball curry (which I spilled on my shirt) and a funnel cake. At least I refrained from getting the chicken fried bacon. And I saw a good band called Los Autenticos de Tierra Caliente that I thought might be from Mexico that turned out to be from Cedar Park, my current stomping grounds.
Deadman rocks out at Batfest, Aug. 21, 2010
I’ve been a fan of Deadman for a long time, but in the years since I first discovered the group, it has evolved into something a bit different. It used to be the project of Steve and Sheryl Collins, who at one time lived in McGregor, near Waco, and had a little cafe. They divorced and Steve moved to Austin, where he now performs as Deadman with a group of excellent musicians. Sheryl, whose last name is now Segrest, is performing in Fort Worth.
The first version of Deadman, at least based on the two CDs I bought, Paramour and Our Eternal Ghosts, was what I would call alternative-country in the same vein as the Handsome Family. Very atmospheric. Made me think of Daniel Lanois and The Cowboy Junkies.
What I heard Saturday had a rootsy, bluesy, country rock aesthetic. Although there was an obvious Neil Young influence (one of the songs Steve said was an attempt to capture the style of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Rust Never Sleeps), the main influence I heard was The Band. There was also a country gospel sound. Some songs in fact had definite Biblical themes: “Brother John” and “Oh Delilah.”
It was definitely enough to make me want more, and since Deadman is now based in Austin, playing frequently at the Saxon Pub, I don’t have a lot of excuses.
Here’s a video to give you idea of Deadman’s sound:
Los Autenticos de Tierra Caliente, based in Cedar Park, Texas.
And more on the first band I heard when I first showed up: Los Autenticos de Tierra Caliente: Very good. Mostly fast-paced stuff, merengue with a Mexican spin, plus conjunto and norteno type music. They substituted keyboards for the bass and accordion, which I kind of missed, but that’s fairly typical of north-of-the-border Tejano bands. They had a couple of really good trombonists.
Also look at all the people down by the Austin American-Statesman office waiting for the bats to come out. The crowd of people who turn out for the bats is probably more of a trip for me than the animals themselves. That was early too. Lots more were on the grassy knoll and on the bridge rail by the time the critters went out to feed.
Wow, this really makes me sad. I just went on Facebook and saw an announcement that my favorite Austin band is retiring. The Asylum Street Spankers are like nothing you’ve ever heard – retro style, rockin’ sensibility, superb musicianship and funny as hell. There will never be another band like them. I don’t know what brought this about. Could be the bad economy is getting to them. Also, Christina and Wammo both have small children. If it’s what they need to do, then I wish them well. Musicians aren’t actually obligated to wreck themselves for our entertainment. They’re giving a farewell tour and if you get the opportunity to catch one of their final shows I would advise you to take it. Their schedule can be found here.
If you need any more convincing, read my recent post about the band: Asylum Street Spankers’ vintage sound captures Austin’s spirit That post also includes some great Youtube links that will give you an idea what Spankers shows are like, and a link to their Bandcamp site where you can stream Spankers songs or order mp3s or CDs.
Also, check out their albums on Bandcamp.
P.S. I’ve been asked why Wammo is not being listed on the ASS Facebook page. I also noticed a lot of the people who surfed into this blog lately entered search terms like “Is Wammo on Farewell Tour.” I don’t know the answer to that and would like to. If anyone has seen a show on this tour I’d like to know if Wammo was there. I’d also like to know why the band is retiring. I imagine it has to do with Wammo and Christina each having new babies. Maybe they’re all tired of touring and want to devote more time to their families. I can respect that. I just wish the band would let us know what’s up. In any case, I would still recommend catching one of the farewell shows if possible. If Wammo’s not on the tour it would definitely be a disappointment, but I did see one Spankers show when Wammo was out with the flu and it was still awesome. Speaking of which… It has occurred to me that Wammo could be ill. I’d at least like to know that he’s all right. If anyone knows anything, please let me know.
PPS. Saw a comment on the ASS Facebook site stating that Wammo was leaving for family reasons. Probably about what I figured. His wife just had a new baby and probably asked him to stick around and stay off the road. Fair enough I reckon. I will miss him though.
Update: Wammo sent out an e-mail announcing his plans and telling his reasons for quitting the Spankers. I reposted it here: Word from Wammo aka ‘Road Dog’
Austin has drawn me like a magnet for almost as long as I can remember. The culture, with its mix of Texas cowboy brashness and hippy tolerance, is wonderful and totally unique. For a creative type like myself, the live music and open-minded nature of the place is irresistable. I love my state in general as most Texans do, but Austin is the best part for me. It’s like an oasis.
Few bands embody that Austin spirit like the Asylum Street Spankers. The band has become my favorite live act. I’ve seen show after show, each one different from the one before, but always enjoyable. The group takes its name from Guadalupe Street in Austin, once referred to as Asylum Street because it runs by the state mental facility. The term “spanker,” is a double entendre. It can mean a skilled musician, or just exactly what it sounds like. In fact, the band’s entire name is a double entendre. Think about those initials.
It’s hard to describe the band’s music. Styles include swing, jazz, country, blues, hip hop, ragtime, gospel — you name it. The music has a vintage sound, with all acoustic instruments, but the songs are immersed in rock ‘n’ roll lore and pop culture references. The band’s central figures are Wammo, a funny, mouthy dude who looks a bit like a biker, and Christina Marrs, a pretty woman with an even prettier set of pipes who has a demure girl-next-door appeal — but can belt out the raunchiest lyrics you’ve ever heard. The remaining lineup changes a bit from year to year, but always features top notch musicians. Sometimes former Spankers turn up and fill in. It’s almost like a collective.
The Spankers absolutely refuse to be pigeonholed. They’re funny, but they’re not a comedy act, and no way are they a novelty act. They’ve done X-rated albums, a drug album, a children’s album, an Off Broadway show and most recently, a gospel album. You never know what they might do next, but it will always be entertaining. You really have to hear them yourself.
Luckily for me, they’ve made it easy. Most of the Spankers albums are here on Bandcamp. You can stream the songs for free or purchase the albums as downloads, or as physical CDs. I like everything they do, but I especially recommend What? And Give Up Show Biz? because it captures the band’s live sound, which I love.
Some of my favorite songs are “Beer,” from Spanker Madness, “Hick Hop,” from Mercurial and “My Favorite Record” from the album of the same name.
Check out the band’s website: www.asylumstreetspankers.com. You can also order some albums that aren’t posted on Bandcamp, including their X-rated EPs, T-shirts and members’ solo albums. And check out their tour schedule. If the Spankers turn up in your town, go see them. You won’t regret it.
These videos will give you an idea what the band’s live act is like:
Jim White was kind enough to send me a personal e-mail after I posted about my last blog post on his forum. Apparently he’s been very busy lately and has a lot of great stuff in the works.
Thanks for the kind words. At present I’m at work on 3 albums, and while I’ve never been intoxicated by the notion of commercial success, I certainly wouldn’t avoid it if it came knocking down my door.
I’ve got a book of short stories about done. It’ll be called Incidental Contact, and details odd encounters I’ve had while wandering the fringes of culture.
The 3 albums are as follows:
An album of music I wrote for a Sam Shepherd play recently staged at Julliard Music School up in NYC.
An album of classical guitar etudes written by me in the 1980s when I only had 2 fingers that worked on my fretting hand due to a table saw accident. These songs are performed by the guitarist for the Georgia Classical Music Quintet.
An official Jim White album. I recently broke free of my label and so the album should reflect my newfound autonomy. The songs range from straight old time country to blues/jazz hybrids.
I appreciate you devoting your time to helping me out. Good luck with your endeavors.
Jim White is a hard man to pin down. He’s a self-taught guitarist and singer who has seen a lot of life. He grew up in Pensacola, Florida and has been a fashion model, professional surfer, boxer, preacher, a comedian and more.
His music runs the gamut – alt-country, indie pop, experimental music of various kinds. His music is by turns deep, catchy, dark, beautiful, sad, and funny. Above all, he’s a brilliant lyricist and storyteller. It might be that wide range of styles that keeps him from mass market success (or even, apparently “mass indie” success). He’s too quirky and experimental for the country crowd, and has too much twang in his voice for the indie crowd. It could also be the fact that he’s not extremely prolific and doesn’t tour heavily. I have read that he is considering a career as a writer – not surprising given the brilliant short story he wrote for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus booklet. I would certainly love to see what kind of books he might write.
I almost get the feeling he doesn’t care about being a huge success. His observations about the South, and about human nature in general are so perceptive, he’s almost more of a philosopher than a musician.
He was a bit of a slow-grower for me, a common hallmark of the artists I love most deeply. I first discovered him through a used comp CD with “10 Miles to Go on a 9 Mile Road” on it. I liked it well enough to buy the album, No Such Place. I played it a few times and liked it OK, but nothing really jumped out at me. It didn’t really go into heavy rotation.
Then one day I put the CD on, just on a whim, and realized the songs were brilliant. Why didn’t I notice before? Then I bought his debut album, The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus! and put that on and the music hit me like a bolt of lightning. This was something unusual and very special. I have since bought every album and eagerly await anything else he might put out. I wish there were more!
Favorite songs come from all his albums (not necessarily in order except for the top 2):
1. “A Perfect Day to Chase Tornados” The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus!
2. “Still Waters” The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus!
3. “Borrowed Wings” Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See
4. “Bluebird” Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See
5. “Diamonds to Coal” Transnormal Skiperoo
6. “Pieces of Heaven” Transnormal Skiperoo
7. “Crash Into the Sun” Transnormal Skiperoo
8. “Plywood Superman” Transnormal Skiperoo
9. “Christmas Day” No Such Place
10. “Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi” No Such Place
By the way, there’s another indie musician out there by the name of Jim White, drummer for an ensemble called The Dirty Three. Don’t get them confused.
Visit his website, which contains links to his merchandise, a forum for fans, lists of his favorite artists, movie directors and authors, some of his thoughts on life and more. The man is a really deep thinker.