Steven Fromholz – Part 4, Kerrville Folk Festival Memorial Concert Review
Part 4 – A Kerrville Celebration of Steven Fromholz, The Man And His Music
The Sundown Concert held on the evening of Monday 26th May during this year’s Kerrville Folk Festival was billed as a Celebration of Steven Fromholz, the man and his music. Above, see Bob Livingston’s poster for the event. A similar musical celebration took place in Austin at the Palm Door on Sixth, on Sunday 2nd February, two weeks following Fromholz’s untimely passing. A couple of months farther along, Kerrville Folk Festival founder Rod Kennedy passed. In 1972, Kennedy selected Fromholz as one of twelve performers for the inaugural Kerrville Folk Festival. Over the ensuing decades, the Temple, Texas born musician became a Festival regular. Willie Nelson took Steven’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy” high in the Country Singles Chart during the summer of 1976. Lyle Lovett included Fromholz’s music on his 2CD Texas music celebration Step Inside This House (1998). Inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in March 2003, Steven survived a massive stroke a month later. Having relearned to walk, talk, play guitar and sing, he began performing in public again, on his own and, with Eric Taylor and Vince Bell, as part of The FLATLINErs. In 2007 Steven Fromholz was appointed Poet Laureate for the State of Texas. During the past handful of years Steven resided and worked on a ranch near San Angelo, Texas.
For the uninitiated, here are a few random insights/Fromholz connections relative to the performers who appeared on Kerrville’s Threadgill Theatre stage on 26th May. It’s appropriate that we begin with Segle Fry and Bill Hearne, alongside Fromholz, accredited members of Kerrville’s 1972 debut dozen. Circa the late 1960’s, in Colorado, Fromholz and Mike Williams performed as a duo. When the latter received call-up papers, Dan McCrimmon and Steven formed Frummox and the rest became……..a legend! (Professor) Craig D. Hillis, musician, entertainment entrepreneur and historian, witnessed first hand the vortex that was the Austin music scene during the early 1970’s and onward. Music legends in their own right Gary P. Nunn and Bob Livingston are, in addition, Lost Gonzo Band founders, while Fletcher Clark (and Burl Ives cousin) Craig Toungate were regular Fromholz sideman including a spell as The Almost Brothers. Also very much present on the night were Central Texas/Austin musicians Butch Morgan, Tommy Elskes and Steven Doster, the latter founder of the non-profit Guitars For Swaziland. Hondo Crouch’s son-in-law Dow Paterson met and befriended Williams during the mid-1960’s in Austin music clubs. While serving in the military in Colorado, via Williams Dow met Fromholz. Walt Wilkins grew up in 1970’s Austin listening rooms observing Fromholz & Co. perform, while retired banker Tom Frost was a close buddy of Steven’s. At Threadgill, Fromholz’s daughters Darcie Jane and Felicity Rose held down roles onstage and backstage. Due to a family commitment, Lost Gonzo alumni John Inmon did not appear.
Rather than regurgitate unremitting lists of who played with whom during the performance of a particular composition, let’s just say that, onstage, there was, in the spirit of the 1970’s Austin Interchangeable Band, an ever changing cast of stringed-instrument support players during the almost three-hour long concert. Wilkins kicked the show into gear with a couple of selections from Steven’s Capitol Records debut A Rumor In My Own Time (1976), namely an urgent reading of “Ain’t It Nice To Be Alone” followed by the more sedate “Late Night Neon Shadows.” Prior to delivering the sly natural world commentary “Birds & Wolverines,” Butch Morgan recalled a San Antonio gig shared with Steven. Responding to a call of nature, the musicians found themselves standing side-by-side at the porcelain. Instead of staring straight ahead, Fromholz looked over and down and exclaimed “Oh Butch!” Recorded for the unreleased Countryside Records album How Long Is The Road To Kentucky (1973), “Birds & Wolverines” finally surfaced on Everybody’s Goin’ On the Road (1991). The most obscure of the evening’s selections was undoubtedly the Fromholz/Hillis co-write “Think About The Mountains.” Covered by the non-Ray Wylie Hubbard incarnation of Three Faces West, it appeared on their sophomore album Holed Up (1974), and replete with a mid-song Doster guitar solo, Messrs. Frost and Hillis shared the lead vocal. Written and performed by Steven, Tom then sang the 1976 “Frost Bank Jingle,” and recalled that twenty years later he informed Steven that “The advertising agency charged the bank $10K.” Steven received $500 for his efforts!
The secret to a consummate rendition of Steven’s cinematic “Texas Trilogy” is timing. Deliver this Here To There (1969) Frummox era composition too fast or too slow, and the magic simply evaporates. Before his solo rendition of this classic song suite, Williams recalled hearing it for the first time at The Drinking Gourd in San Francisco on one of the establishment’s “10 cent beer nights.” He continued “Four or five chords in, the place went quiet. As the last chord faded, silence. Judy Caldwell came and grabbed him, and the applause never stopped.” Armed with his twelve-string guitar Williams nailed the song and justifiably received a standing ovation. It’s been said on countless occasions that this post-WWII North Texas portrait perfectly captures a point in time. There, I’ve said it again.
In 1981 U.K. based Youngblood Records issued a 7” Fromholz single featuring “Hondo’s Song.” Three decades later, the tune finally surfaced Stateside appended to Texas Trilogy Goes To G’Nashville (2011). Called to the stage by Williams, Dow Paterson recalled a particular Denver Xmas when he introduced Steven to his father-in-law, following which Mike and Dow shared the lead on “Hondo’s Song.” Next onstage was Dan McCrimmon who was playing music in a Denver restaurant “Then I began playing bass and harmonica with Steven and Mike.” From the 1969 Frummox debut Dan, with help from Hillis, rendered “Jake’s Song” – “I consider it to be one of Steven’s Top 5 songs” – and was joined by Bill Hearne for Dan’s song “Kansas Legend.” New Mexico based Hearne followed with “Blue Lines On White Linen,” to which he offered the pre-song insight “Steven wrote the song in Segle’s old house on 32nd Street in Austin.”
Delivered with energetic gusto Fletcher Clark’s first vocal contribution, drawn from Live! (1979) – recorded at Hillis’ Austin venue Steamboat Springs – was the chuckle filled narrative, “Aunt Minnie And The Bear Rap” and was followed, appropriately, by “Bears” from A Rumor In My Own Time. Drawing further from Frummox’s back pages Livingston and Hearne duetted on “Man With The Big Hat,” Gary P.’s Jus’ Playin’ Along (1978) selection was “She’s Everybody’s Baby But Mine” and the Gonzo compadres reunited vocally for the slyly worded “Rest Area Waltz” from Live! replete with introductory puns “Bear right” and, turning the vehicle around, “Bear left” relative to spotting, at speed, roadside signs and wildlife. Taking the stage, Steven’s oldest daughter Darcie Jane delivered “Fool’s Gold” from Jus’ Playin’ Along and was joined by younger sibling, Felicity Rose, for the ballad “Blue Would I Be.” The latter tune debuted on the cassette-only release Love Songs (1988) which was later reissued on CD as Cowjazz (2003).
Toungate began his moment in the spotlight with “Knockin’ On Wood,” followed by “Isla Mujeres,” then “Dear Darcie.” In terms of source, the latter A Rumor In My Own Time tunes bookended one from Live! “Dimmy Jeans Poor Puke Sauce Linkages,” another rib-tickling Live! narrative was delivered with subtle nuance by Clark. As an Almost Brother, Fletcher co-produced Steven’s 1991 album Everybody’s Going On The Road from which he sang the title tune. Stephen Doster’s spot-on rendition of “Can’t Stay Away” proved to be the seventh selection from the ten-song A Rumor In My Own Time. “Cowboy Country Club” appeared on A Guest In Your Heart (2000), Fromholz’s final studio release, and was the first offering from Tommy Elskes. “I’d Have To Be Crazy” from A Rumor In My Own Time and “Hawkeye” from Frolicking In The Myth” (1977) followed. With the whole company assembled on the Threadgill stage the tribute concert closed with a heartfelt rendition of “A Little More Holy.” There’s a subtle intimacy to Sundown Concerts that’s sometimes missing from Kerrville’s main-stage, and this Celebration of Steven Fromholz was one of those subtly intimate occasions…and will live long in my memory.
Possessed of a wicked, irrepressible sense of humour, being within earshot of certain Steven Fromholz lyrics often resulted in laughter induced rib-ache. Then he’d simply lay a thoughtful tune on you that plucked at your heartstrings and brought moisture to the eyes. I was privileged to interview Steven in 1986, and I’ll never forget his openness in playing the entire Love Songs album, a release, as it turned out, that wouldn’t see the commercial light of day for another two years. Texas has produced many craftsmen in word and melody, but there will only ever be one Steven Fromholz and “it’s still his fault!”
P.S. Darcie and Felicity Fromholz have formed a company called Pinky Swear Productions, watch this space for developments…………
Photo Credits: Part 4 – Steven Fromholz Memorial Concert
Unless stated otherwise the photographs are by the Folk Villager.
001 2014 Kerrville Folk Festival, Steven Fromholz Memorial Concert poster (Courtesy Bob Livingston)
002 Walt Wilkins opens the show.
003 L. to R. Stephen Doster, Bob Livingston, Tom Frost, Craig D. Hillis & Craig Toungate
004 Mike Williams performs “Texas Trilogy.”
005 Fletcher Clark narrates “Aunt Minnie And The Bear Rap.”
006 L. to R. Dan McCrimmon, Gary P. Nunn & Bob Livingston.
007 L. to R. Darcie Jane Fromholz and Felicity Rose Fromholz in sibling harmony.
008 L. to R. Segle Fry, Fletcher Clark, Stephen Doster, Tommy Elskes, Craig D. Hillis (hidden) , Craig Toungate & Butch Morgan (hidden)
009 L. to R. (Back Row) Dan McCrimmon, Segle Fry, Tommy Elskes, Stephen Doster, Drew Paterson, Craig D. Hillis & Mike Williams (hidden), (Front Row) Felicity Rose Fromholz, Darcie Jane Fromholz, Fletcher Clark, Craig Toungate, Bob Livingston, Bill Hearne, Gary P. Nunn (hidden) and Kerrville Folk Festival Producer, Dalis Allen.
Brought to you from the desk of the Folk Villager.