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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Artist Spotlight: The Gibbonses

Album Reviews By June 3, 2017 No Comments

Sometimes hearing about new acts and listening to a song or two isn’t enough for them to get your attention. Sometimes you have to discover them on your own; you could be consciously looking, stumble upon them, or they can run you over. I had heard of The Gibbonses but I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first saw them opening for The Statesboro Revue a few months back. Some nights it’s good to be a klutz.

Brandon and Jackie Gibbons have been getting some off and on buzz since the release of their first full album, “Among The Rubble”, a year ago. Like a lot of Texas acts, The Gibbonses build their following one fan at a time with lots of windshield time in between. It’s blue collar, or to steal a hashtag from their Instagram account, it’s #diyasfuck. Call it whatever, it’s the work ethic that folks around here tend to appreciate.

The Gibbonses describe themselves as a “Southern Soul, Americana, Rhythm & Blues” outfit. That shoe fits well enough. It’s just the two of them, Jackie on lead vocals and a plethora of percussion (more on that in a sec), Brandon on guitar and backing vocals.

They have a fun origin story – the short of it is the two met on a Carnival Cruise ship, Brandon being the Director of Music had just cleaned house and took on newbie showband singer, Jackie Pock. They immediately hit it off musically and one thing lead to another…then marriage…it happens. After a short stint in Seattle, family health issues brought the young couple back to Jackie’s home state of Texas. It was out of those experiences that “Among The Rubble” was born.

The album is deeply personal, full of loneliness, tragedy, struggle, loss, mourning, resilience and hope. It’s not a Happy Birthday kind of record, the song progression forms a cohesive emotional narrative describing a trying journey. The writing is legit and I’d say their transition from cruise ship cover band to songwriting has gone well.

Jackie’s powerful voice, along with a thundering kick drum, drive you through the storm. The vocals are soulful and hypnotic in that way that only the female voice can be. She’s got some Linda Ronstadt/Bonnie Raitt vibes going on and I’d put her voice up against any of the ladies in our scene.

Listen to “Tough As Nails” where she brings her potent dose of soul.

 

“Keep on Keepin’ On” closes the record and is the closest thing to an upper. It’s a good one.

Finally, I’m going to evoke the “you need to see them live to fully appreciate them” catch phrase. Seeing Jackie do her percussion parts one woman band style while still managing to bring those killer vocals is mesmerizing. Meanwhile Brandon is up on there on guitar, all smiles and having fun. You can tell the guy has had to entertain people before.

Here’s a peek at them covering some Turnpike:

The Gibbonses are a hidden gem in plain sight. Get to see them if they are in your neck of the woods. Until then check out “Among The Rubble” and be looking for a follow up album during first half of 2018.

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