songs, and the singers who sing them
Well, i got a friendly call from Kyla asking me if i wanted to be part of the No Depression shindig this July. I cut my Austin trip short and put my attention to the one song i was going to sing as part of the super-spendiculous Seattle all star Jamboree. After thumbing through my records(the things like cd’s, but bigger), and realizing what a massacre it would be if i really attempted to warble through ‘Color of the Blues’, one of Sr. Jone’s morbid masterpieces, i realized the right thing to do was to sing something i actually knew. I “know” a lot of songs, at least on the level of bashing through them, but like most younger(still clinging on to that) musicians there are a few places where i really can live, and get to the heart of the song and the singer that sings them.
I grew up in Austin, pre-tech Austin. I grew up in the Austin where you could get beaten up if your parents shopped at Whole Foods. My friends and i used records like ‘The Harder they come” and “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” as secret handshakes that meant we were from the same tribe, they were echoes of our parents that gave signs of similar upbringing. The counterculture scene in Austin was small then, and it seemed like we knew everyone in town.
I used to go with my folks to a small club in the country outside of Austin called Soap Creek. It wasn’t much in terms of size, but the music that came through there was amazing. It was where many of the great blues, country, psychedelic, and r&b bands played, and it really was the soul of the Austin music scene.
So many names stand out from that time, and many influenced my music and sense of aesthetic, but now looking back on 20+ years of touring and recording mayhem, i know that none stood taller than Doug Sahm. Doug had such a deep thing that he made you feel whole even when he was hustling you. He was always moving in his music, but he had deeper roots than those people that mined the same sound their whole life. He was originally from San Antonio, had spent a few years on the west coast, and returned in the early 70’s to find a scene where things were “groovy”, and where he was able to return to his roots . I remember his hat and glasses, i remember peeing next to him when i was 7 or 8 outside of the bar. I think that was the ‘men’s’ restroom. I remember the purple light on his Fender amp, but mostly i remember his voice. Deep and sonorous, with equal parts black blues/r&b and border soul. He could sing his ass off, and play the guitar the right way. He was heavy, but he was approachable to a kid. Austin was his town then.
I started playing music in Austin in the late 80’s. Doug had just gotten back to town from Switzerland, and he was one of many people that helped me early on. He was always in the moment, didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. Whatever he was doing right then was “it”. He took on a really different role for me then, always seemed to be there when i needed some encouragement. I had a purpose for making the music i made, and as my audience grew, i was surrounded by a lot of strangers, supplanting many of the folks who knew me and my music. It got to be a really strange time, and there was s major shift in the people i saw in the clubs in front of me. A lot of people were moving to Austin looking to have the “Austin experience” and everyone was talking about the “Austin sound”. Very few of these people were from our town and it seemed to me that things were getting really square.
In 1997, i met a girl who was the daughter of Molly McCauley. Molly had come from San Francisco in the mid 60’s, and was good friends with my folks. Her big sister was the only girl who had ever beaten me up and i taught her older brother to skateboard. Somehow i had never met her. We fell in love and decided to move to the Northwest. We played a going away show, and hopped in my car, drove up to Seattle(Vashon island) where we still live. I took a lot of shit for moving, Texans are a provincial bunch, but it was the right thing to do.
I still tour out of Texas and live in the northwest. Its a strange beautiful life. I have a lot of friends in Austin, and find myself there quite a bit, but have taken to the woods and the mountains. They have crept into my skin but my soul is from Texas.
Doug Sahm wrote a song while living in Mendicino. Its called “At the Crossroads”. I’ve been singing it my whole life, but in the last few years it has really spoken to me for obvious reasons. It is about moving along, but always being where your from. Anyone’s road is there’s alone, and to know where they are going you gotta know where they come from. That song is one of my “family songs” and i’m excited to be able to sing it at the festival