Daynce Of The Peckerwoods: The Badlands Of Texas Music
What a bizarre artifact this book is! We can start with the title. Has anyone out there ever seen the word “dance” spelled like that? And just what are Texas music’s “badlands”? The place where nothing grows?
It gets weirder inside. Michael H. Price is a Fort Worth newspaperman who is author or co-author of 25 books, including Michael H. Price’s Hollywood Horrors, Human Monsters: The Definitive Edition, The Southern-Fried Homicide Series, and Al Capp’s Collected Li’l Abner (Volume 6). He’s also covered music, among other things, for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, put out scads of albums of his own and other people’s music for a huge number of labels you’ve never heard of, and had his piano tuned by the great Texas fiddler, Eck Robertson.
Daynce Of The Peckerwoods is mostly a series of portraits of Texas musicians, some more legendary than the others, although Price’s autobiography looms large around its edges. It starts out fascinating, drizzles to a close after 322 pages, and along the way, we have a definitive history of Fort Worth’s fabled Bluebird Club, an interview with Ornette Coleman’s blues-singing sister Trudy Coleman Leach, a very idiosyncratic portrait of her brother, encounters with dozens of little-known western swing players, everything you really need to know about Fort Worth’s would-be music industry supremo “Major” Bill Smith, and a truly irrelevant chapter on Stevie Ray Vaughan.
When it’s good, Daynce is very good. The early chapters featuring Price’s uncle, Grady Wilson, who ran a movie theater in Price’s hometown of Amarillo and didn’t much cotton to disparaging black people, their music, or their company, are very good indeed; we need to be reminded that men and women like this existed in Texas, and weren’t as rare as people think. His tributes to nearly forgotten black movie actors Mantan Moreland and Herb Jeffries (whom I recognized as one of Duke Ellington’s parade of forgettable male vocalists) are revelations. His chapter on Austin barrelhouse piano master Robert Shaw is affectionate and fact-filled.
But all too often, you get the impression Price has been assigned a page-count and he’s rampaging through his clip-book looking for stuff to bulk it out. What’s Bois Sec Ardoin, the Creole fiddle master, doing in here? Why Willie Dixon, except that Price hung out with him once? And Rudy Ray Moore? Huh? The Stevie Ray Vaughan chapter seems to be about how Stevie played too loud and recognized Price in the airport. Oh, and if this book concentrates on Fort Worth, as it does, why is there so very little about Fort Worth’s most nationally recognizable musician, Delbert McClinton?
Clearly Price needed a filter. Or, as they call it in publishing, an editor. One would assume that, as a longtime newspaperman, he’d be OK with editing. Instead, he’s delivered what the Brits call a dog’s dinner here, albeit one with more sirloin than most. This is the sort of book you could see the University of Texas Press publishing with the dull and irrelevant bits edited out; but perhaps only in England, which holds an indiscriminate reverence for things Texan (the publisher’s press release informs us that a peckerwood is a woodpecker…uhhh, nope) could it have come out in this chaotic form.
Anyone with a strong interest in Texas music should try to find this, though. Just be warned: the impulse to smack Price upside the head will arise from time to time.