Justin Trevino – Honky-tonk hero
“If I could think of one song that I could point to, I would say Johnny Bush’s original recording of ‘Whiskey River’. They cut a hit record when they cut that, and they meant to. That’s a quintessential Texas shuffle right there.”
That Trevino would always play music, and country music at that, was a given. He followed a computer curriculum in college (Trevino has always attended regular schools, as opposed to special schools for the blind), but, he said, “Even if I had gotten a degree as a computer programmer somewhere, I would still be playing.”
That he would make records — his new Texas Music Group release, Scene Of The Crying, is his fourth album — was also a semi-foregone conclusion. The real bonus, from his point of view, comes from getting to play with some of his idols. Johnny Bush, the honey-throated dean of Texas honky-tonkers, still takes Trevino out for up to 50 dates a year, to play bass and sing harmony. Darrell McCall likewise puts in his own demands on Trevino’s time.
“I’m still proud to play with the guys that made my favorite records,” said Trevino in the tone of an unabashed fan. “I’ve learned a lot from them, about how to talk to an audience, and how to keep a show going, and how to call a set off the top of my head.”
Yet one man’s idols are another man’s relics. Trevino accompanied Bush to Nashville not long ago for a gig at the Midnight Jamboree, a long-running show that follows the Grand Ole Opry. While they were in town, the manager of the Opry was lobbied to allow Bush to sing a guest spot. The story, as Trevino understands it, was that Johnny Bush wasn’t the kind of act the Opry honcho was looking for — “He was trying to get all the gray hair off the stage and out of the audience.”
Trevino, in turn, doesn’t have any discernible use for the current crop of country stars. Alan Jackson may have won a six-pack of CMA awards in November, but Trevino allowed only as how he can merely “tolerate” him. After a short break inside Ginny’s, Trevino stepped up to the mike and asked, “Can someone please kill the jukebox, please? It’s not that I don’t like Brooks & Dunn, but…I don’t.”
Listening to Trevino wax rhapsodic about classic country, one is reminded of a longtime movie fan, one for whom Rita Hayworth and Grace Kelly will forever remain the inviolate standards of cinematic beauty, no matter how many Halle Berrys and Gwenyth Paltrows fling themselves at him.
“I remember the first time I ever realized what a country shuffle was,” he recalled with affection. “I was listening to KKYX in San Antonio on a Sunday morning, and they were interviewing Darrell McCall. I was 11 years old, and I’d been hearing shuffles all my life, I just didn’t know what they were. I couldn’t have told you the difference between a shuffle and a 2/4 or a straight-eight; I just didn’t have that musical education at that time.
“They were playing old records [and] they played ‘The Other Woman’ by Ray Price. That was the first time I caught onto the walking bass and realized that that was something that appealed to me. Once I keyed in on that, I started hearing it on other records I’d been listening to: Here’s ‘Whiskey River’; here’s ‘What A Way To Live’ and ‘Undo the Right’…”
Lest Trevino seem overly pedantic and narrow-minded, it’s worth pointing out that he possesses a sly sense of humor which manifests itself both on and off the bandstand. One of his regular sit-in gigs is with the Cornell Hurd Band, an Austin ensemble that’s a sort of freewheeling combination of the Firesign Theater and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. Once, driving back from Dallas, Hurd and Trevino began riffing on all the heartbroke country songs with “Fool” in the title. By the time they got to Austin, Trevino had penned a modern faux-weeper titled “Genitalia of A Fool”.
Trevino will soon turn 30, which means that for roughly two-thirds of his life, he has been a practitioner, and increasingly a custodian, of a sub-genre of country music that is in danger of disappearing altogether.
To that end, he has pursued his vocation with an acolyte’s devotion. Raised on his parents’ record collection of vintage country music, weekly broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry, and all-night trucker DJs such as Charlie Douglas and Bill Mack, Trevino has gone on to record with mentors such as Johnny Bush and Darrell McCall. He has championed veteran songwriters such as Justin Tubb (his namesake, as it happens), Jack Greene, Bill Anderson and Mel Tillis, and has sought out his idols to sing on his records. (On Scene Of The Crying, he sings a pair of duets with Jimmie C. Newman and Wanda Jackson.)