Gourds – Blossoming on the Vine
Our story begins one sweltering night in the dog days of summer in 1991, at the Hole in the Wall, a dive on The Drag (a.k.a. Guadalupe Street) in Austin where a million stories have begun over the years.
I’m talking with a fellow named David Green, who plays drums in a band called the Picket Line Coyotes. Originating in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the mid-’80s, the Coyotes moved to Dallas in the late ’80s, issued an LP and a couple of cassettes, and were now migrating down the road to Austin, where their rootsy brand of Replacements-style rock felt naturally at home.
Meanwhile, I’m fixing to flee from Austin after twenty years there, from kindergarten through a history degree at the University of Texas and a gig at the local paper. Seattle is where I’m bound, but suddenly a potential detour to Dallas has presented itself, in the form of a job at the weekly paper there.
Green and I compare notes and half-jokingly mull over the idea that we might simply swap houses. But the deal in Dallas never works out, and I’m off to Seattle a couple months later; meanwhile, the Coyotes move to Austin but end up disbanding shortly thereafter.
End of story. Except that it’s also the start of a whole ‘nother tale.
Fast-forward, for just a moment, to the present. The Gourds, which eventually rose from the ashes of the Picket Line Coyotes, are one of Austin’s premier roots-music bands, a versatile quintet boasting three songwriters and a multitude of instrumental abilities inviting inevitable comparisons to The Band.
The Gourds released three full-length albums and an EP between 1996 and ’99, but they’ve been available only sporadically in the U.S., having been recorded for Dutch label Munich Records and subsequently licensed to Stateside labels in a couple of ill-fated deals. This fall, however, the band finally landed on solid ground on their home continent with Sugar Hill, which released the Gourds’ new album Bolsa De Agua in September and reissued Dem’s Good Beeble and Ghosts Of Hallelujah on Halloween (with Stadium Blitzer and the EP Gogitchyershinebox to follow in early 2001).
Back in 1992, however, none of that was even a gleam in the eyes of the erstwhile Coyotes. “I pretty much decided I was gonna quit altogether, and just play for my own enjoyment,” says Kevin Russell, recalling the days in the wake of the Picket Line Coyotes’ demise. This, of course, is almost invariably how all worthwhile musical pursuits take root, especially in Austin. What blooms most beautifully is the wildflower along the side of the road, not planned or planted, but growing of its own accord.
Those Texas wildflowers tend to grow in clusters, bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes and other highway flora commingling to create a colorful landscape, which serves as a fitting metaphor for the varied yet complementary community that is the Austin music scene. Indeed, Russell was just one link in a circle of friends whose casual projects and performances were sowing the seeds for a particularly fertile period in the city’s musical lore.
One of Russell’s old Shreveport pals, Ron Byrd, had just moved to town, and the two began playing as a duo, primarily at a cozy little club called Chicago House that nurtured countless singer-songwriters in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “Chicago House was such a cool, low-key place to play,” Russell remembers. “There was a kind of camaraderie with all the people who hung out there.”
Looking back at my logs of all the shows I’ve seen during the 1990s, sure enough, one of Russell’s gigs at Chicago House pops up on the list, on March 5, 1993. As fate would have it, I actually took in two shows that night; after seeing Russell, I headed over to Liberty Lunch to hear Uncle Tupelo. Which will work its way back into this tale a few years down the road.