David Rodriguez – Street legal
Sometime soon, David Rodriguez will be doing something he’s done before: open for Lucinda Williams. But it’ll be different than the last times he’s done it. For one thing, it won’t be at emmajoe’s, the legendary Austin club where not only Lucinda but dozens of other now-famous names got their start. This time it’ll be on the stage of a major Amsterdam rock venue, Lucinda will appear as a major star, and Rodriguez will be best-known to any Americans in the audience as the father of Carrie Rodriguez, singing and fiddling partner of Chip Taylor.
The Dutch, however, will know Rodriguez as a songwriter who appeared among them a little over ten years ago and has built up a reputation as a solid writer and guitarist. So how did a Texas lawyer wind up as a Dutch singer-songwriter?
Rodriguez came onto the Austin scene at about the same time Lucinda did, a quarter-century or so ago, though his commitment wavered between his songwriting career and his legal practice. He eventually released a couple of albums that attracted the attention of some European journalists visiting Austin; emboldened by this, he undertook a couple of European tours.
“There was a journalist who came to see me in America,” he says over the phone from Dordrecht, where he now lives, “who wrote about some shows of mine, and when I came to Europe he followed me around. One day he drove me to Holland. I loved the social freedom and the openness of the people. Things have changed in ten years, of course, but it’s a very strong socialist state: there’s universal health care, a strong housing system, a great educational system. It makes for a very stable society, makes it easier to be creative.”
Ironically, it was his law expertise that finalized the move. In 1994, the Watchman, a Dutch folk band, was playing Austin, and got into a hassle with a car-rental company. “A friend called me about this, and I went over there and called the rental company and made Bad Lawyer noises at them and they folded,” Rodriguez recounts. “The Watchman thought I was the greatest guy in the world. So on a European tour, I was hanging out with one of them, Ad Meurs, and somehow we got the idea of doing an album together. I said, let me hang around for a month, and we can go in the studio. In early 1995, it was ready and we sold it to Rounder’s Dutch division, and they released the album, which got a full page in Oor magazine [Holland’s major rock publication], and all of a sudden, I was a big star.”
That wasn’t how things were in Texas, so he decided to stay. “I wanted to start a new life,” he explains. “It was good at first, because I was new, and I was from Texas. But once you’re here, you’re not one of those touring guys anymore. There were some long, lean years after that.
“I lived in Amsterdam for two or three years, and in Eindhoven, but Amsterdam is filled with great musicians so I got humble. I went through a lot of crap, and finally I knew I had to make a change in my life. I wound up on a little island called Terschelling, way up in the North Sea, at a festival. I’d just broken up with a girlfriend in Amsterdam, and was literally on the street, but I was booked to play this gig, and I enjoyed it so much that, as one of the fans told me a week later, I passed out in the restroom. My band was gone and there was no money in my pocket, so I asked the hotel manager if he needed music. We worked out an arrangement, and I dried out. I lived on the island, became the organist for the Christian Reform church there; I played the old-age-home services on Friday nights.
“I was learning about the culture, singing in a choir, playing in a brass band, doing this every week. Then Carrie was coming to the south of Holland; she’d just graduated. I had a friend in Dordrecht who said if you’re ever gonna move, you can stay here. I toured with Carrie, and put her back on a train at the end, and I was really sad. I spent the day in a bar, went back to Dordrecht, and went into the cafe I lived above and met this girl, who’d just buried her father, and we talked. I told her I wrote songs, and took a guitar down from the wall and started to play, and she started singing harmony to a song she’d never heard. We’ve been together for five years now.”
An off-the-cuff record he made last year, The Lonely Drover, made the rounds as a demo and revived interest both in Holland and Austin; he’s in negotiations now to release it commercially. As for how he feels about his role as Carrie’s dad, he’s surprised anyone would ask. “Children really should surpass us, so it happened the way it’s supposed to,” he says. “You gotta understand, I think she’s the greatest in the world, and if I could just be a little part of that, I’m tickled pink.”