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The Texas Music Scene

Did Jerry Jeff Walker kill Texas Music?

The Texas Music Scene By June 24, 2017 1 Comment

A recent article posted by Fort Worth Weekly made me tilt my head a bit. I’m still up in the air as to whether or not this was written to be click bait (isn’t it all?) and I’m the fool that’s been suckered in by responding. Probably, but music is a talkin’ sport, that’s what we do around here, and I felt compelled to write.

Click the link if you haven’t read it or you can accept my summary at face value.

What Happened to Texas Music?

It goes like this… Willie, Waylon and the boys were doing just fine creating counterculture Outlaw Country in Texas during the early 70’s until some Yankee gypsy name Jerry Jeff Walker came here and started ruining it with his silly drinkin’, hell-raisin’, sing-a-long songs. People liked it and Robert Earl Keen piggybacked off the movement, perpetuating it into the 80’s before handing it off to a charismatic, yet parent funded kid from Tech name Pat Green in the 90’s. From there all the Pat Green copycats came out of the woodwork and now Texas Music, with the help of the “Neanderthal” Red Dirt movement, has devolved into nothing but a bunch of crappy, beer drinking party anthems. It all sucks and to prove it I’m going to interview some local Fort Worth musicians who are going to confirm that it’s all crap and what a farce of a business it is.

Honestly, I’m not angered by this article. It just overgeneralizes and discredits those artists in the scene that do write well and give a rip. Hyperbole is in these days and the article is full of old man syndrome; like that friend that constantly bitches about how Saturday Night Live has sucked since the Belushi days. Ok, I get it, and there is some truth in your frustration, but can we unpack this a bit?

The author, Jeff Prince, comes out of the gate throwing JJW under the bus, saying “A New York guy killed Texas Music”. While he acknowledges Walker wrote some “beautiful tearjerkers” apparently that’s negated because he also wrote, “Sangria Wine” and a few other carefree songs that people insist on hearing at his shows.

Reducing Jerry Jeff and his repertoire to a handful of beer drinking songs is selling him pretty damn short. Most of his songs came from personal experiences (e.g. Mr. Bojangles) and not a pre-bro country concoction to get people turnt and lots of spins on mainstream radio. The guy has always been an entertainer, storyteller, and songwriter that people can relate to and I don’t recall ever hearing him do bits to keep people engaged at shows. He didn’t burn guitars or have a drummer named Nippleus Erectus, it all came from the music and his interaction with the fans. People go to his show to relax, unwind and sing-a-long and I don’t understand how that makes him shallow. I saw ‘ole JJW at Billy Bob’s last month, he played the hits but ironically, not “Sangria Wine”.

Prince goes on to acknowledge Robert Earl Keen for improving the Texas beer anthem genre with better songwriting and Pat Green for his stage presence, personality and grassroots marketing genius. However, given the overall tone of the article, all his compliments come off as backhanded. The story continues that these guys, along with the “Neanderthal” Red Dirt music coming out of Oklahoma at that time, elevated the scene and inspired waves of imitators that watered down Texas Music to the drivel we have today.

He’s right for crediting JJW, REK, PG and Oklahoma acts like Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jason Boland for taking this thing stratospheric in the late 90’s. After all, that frenzy of acts coupled with the Ingrams, Morrows, and Fowlers of the world birthed a rabid fanbase that created this website. What I don’t understand is why he blames these guys for all the poor writing, cheesy performing, overly social media hyped acts they inspired. Ten years from now are we going to blame Sturgill and Isbell for the flood of wannabes who do a crappy job of trying to replicate them?

The 90’s were my college years and looking back I’ll admit a lot of it was shallow and fun. Even then we knew Pat Green was Texas frat boy country, but we didn’t care. We belted Creager’s “The Everclear Song” and CCR’s “Carney Man” fully knowing those weren’t the pinnacle of songwriting. But when you’re young, good music takes the party from a 6 to an 11. That’s the way it’s always been, it will continue to be that way and it’s not unique to Texas Music. But let’s be clear, it wasn’t all mindless beer slinging. Walt Wilkins and others were funneling substance into the scene. As far as Red Dirt is concerned, I don’t think Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, and Jimmy LaFave took a “Neanderthal approach” to songwriting. I’m not even sure what that means, but for safety, I wouldn’t utter that within earshot of The Damn Quail’s Bryon White. I’m sure Bryon’s neanderthal approach involves disembowelment of folks who insult his idols.

The article wraps with Mr. Prince doing a Q & A with three Fort Worth musicians, each giving their impressions on the state of Texas Music. Their responses didn’t direct ire towards any of the aforementioned artists but rather the business side of music. The pay for radio play, people trying to get into pockets, the farce of Texas Music charts, you know, all of that Bad Truth fodder and again, not unique to Texas Music.

The biggest nugget of truth in this strange article centers around the watering down of Texas Music. Yes, there are a ton of acts and mediocrity is abound. But it’s not the fault of Jerry Jeff Walker or any of this scene’s forefathers. In the write-up, Earl Musick states you no longer need a studio to put out a record. He’s right. Accessibility to inexpensive, yet capable recording technology has put record making within reach of anybody who has a computer and a few hundred bucks worth of software and equipment. Couple that with social media for free self-promotion and distribution via Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, and it’s much easier to get up and going as an artist compared to ten years ago. It’s a great thing actually. Inevitably, with those doors available you’re going to get some cheap tricks, people that aren’t that talented, can’t write or know how to assemble a good record. We are flooded with people trying to be the next big thing. But flip that coin and you’ll get a Jason Eady, John Baumann, Jamie Lin Wilson, Dalton Domino, Shinyribs and a host of others who’ve figured out how to make this work and put some good art out there. Are they filthy rich? No, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

Jerry Jeff didn’t invent the internet, REK didn’t write the book on using Twitter, and Pat wasn’t the first to stream his music for little to no money. They aren’t to blame. What happened to Texas Music? It’s grinding away as always. As fans there are ample good fruits; but, you’ve got to sift your way through it all and ignore the rotten stuff.

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Favorites of 2016

Charlie Stout, Flatland Cavalry, Hold My Beer and Watch This, Jack Ingram, Kaitlin Butts, Randy Rogers Band, Red Shahan, Rich O'Toole, Ryan Beaver, The Texas Music Scene, Wade Bowen By December 29, 2016 No Comments

The year of 2016 is over and for music and entertainment fans, it’s been a tough one as we’ve lost a lot of great entertainers. Let’s not try to think about it too much but instead put on our Texas music blinders for just a moment and look at all the great new music we were blessed with in 2016. We saw a lot of new talent and careers birthed this year, so many I had trouble keeping up with them all (especially you Lubbock people). It’s a good problem to have, so in no particular order here are my favorites from the year.

Favorite Albums

MenCoyotes

Red Shahan – Men and Coyotes

My introduction to Red Shahan was one of the coolest surprises of my year and if you missed the story you should check it out. Men and Coyotes impressed a lot of people, including Randy Rogers, who signed Shahan to his new management company, Big Blind Entertainment. Red’s voice coupled with the gritty mix of outlaw and blues make the record a must listen. The title track, “303” and “Black Veins Pt. 1” are my personal favorites.

 

HumbleFolksFlatland Cavalry – Humble Folks

Of all the Texas acts out there, I can’t think of another group who had a bigger breakout year than Flatland Cavalry. They entered 2016 as a little Lubbock secret and then shot out of a cannon and into the forefront of up and comers that everyone had to see. Humble Folks will give you a lot of mileage with fan favorites “One I Want”, “February Snow”, and “Coyote (The Ballad of Roy Johnson)”. I covered their show earlier in the year at Billy Bobs in Fort Worth.

 

Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon

These guys keep churning out quality tunes to keep them at the top of the Texas music scene. There is never a shortage of RRB coverage on this site and I’ve covered Nothing Shines Like Neon in depth and went to two of their shows this year. “Neon Blues”, “Meet Me Tonight”, and their Texas tribute “San Antone” are stand outs that regularly make it into their set list. I’m looking forward to 2017 as these guys are heading back to the studio and we could see a new Randy Rogers Band record towards the end of the year.

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to EarthSturgill-Simpson-A-Sailors-Guide-To-Earth1-compressed

This one is outside of the Texas bubble but with Sturgill’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth being nominated for the ultimate Grammy, Album of the Year, it rightfully belongs in the Best of 2016. Some folks think the album is the chic pick to win or that this is the music industry’s way of throwing a bone to the grass roots revolt against cookie cutter pop and country. I don’t know, if A Sailor’s Guide ends up winning, it’s well deserved. If anything, we get the “Who the F**k is Sturgill Simpson?” t-shirt out of it, so there’s that.

William Clark Green – Live At Gruene Hall

The best of William Clark Green recorded live at the most iconic dancehall in Texas. It’s that simple, that good and as a bonus you get some Jack Ingram thrown in at the end.

 

 

 

Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen – Watch This

Volume 2 of “Hold My Beer and Watch This” captures the magic of the live show that this dynamic duo has been trotting out for years. You get the favorites in all their acoustic greatness plus an education on the importance of Whataburger ketchup. Read my thoughts on the album here.

 

 

Ryan Beaver – Rx

Confession: I haven’t spent as much time with this album as it deserves but every time I listen to Rx I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of the writing and the polish of the production. Ryan Beaver has a heavy hitter’s voice that’s packed with emotion; but it’s natural, not contrived like he’s trying too hard. It’s just there and his single “Dark” is great example.

 

 

Artists and other ramblings I have to mention…

  • Jack Ingram’s “Midnight Motel” gives as a good look at what’s been stewing inside him for the last seven years. The spotlight clearly points to his songwriting chops on this one and I’ve summarized my thoughts here.
  • Although “Geronimo” was released in 2015, I was introduced to Shane Smith and the Saints this year. Got to see them live…the writing, the harmonies, Shane’s pidgeon-toed foot anchoring him while bouncing to the beat… it’s all good.
  • Charlie Stout, through his record “Dust and Wind” and his photography, showed us just how inspirational West Texas can be.
  • Shinyribs, brilliant and funkyI’m looking forward to their new album in 2017.
  • Kaitlin Butts, Kaitlin Butts, Kaitlin Butts – she can sing… AND drink while climbing windmills.
  • Rich O’Toole’s summer single, “American Kid” found it’s way onto my 4th of July playlist alongside his idols John Mellancamp and Bruce Springsteen. A fun song to check out.

Thanks for coming here throughout the year and interacting with me online. It’s nice to know when people read this stuff and always drop me a line if you have feedback or just want to talk music. I’m still thinking about next steps for the blog in 2017 but I have a few posts brewing and hope to interview several of our favorite artists.

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