Waylon Jennings, Cambridge, MA (1975), by Henry Horenstein
The Music of Texas
By Rick Clark
The music of Texas is as vast and hard to define as the Lone Star state itself; it covers every genre of American music—transcending culture, race, language, and historical circumstance—and yet reveals a distinctive soulprint that you won’t hear anywhere else. No other state in the union is as fiercely proud as Texas, but behind the bravado one quickly discovers some of the greatest songwriters and recording artists this country has ever produced. No matter where they move, you can’t take the Texan out of them. Just ask Guy Clark.
No single disc’s worth of songs can claim to capture the many inflections of the Texas sound. Instead we have sought to capture a particular sensibility, a sense of the borderlands, not only the border of Texas and Mexico, where singers slip easily from Spanish to English and back again, accompanied by accordions as well as electric guitars, but also the sense of Texas as a musical crossroads, where the fundamental notes of the American experience all somehow mix together and form a sound like no other. Welcome to our Groover’s Paradise.
Most people don’t know Moon Mullican or his music. You might find him filed under country, but he drew just as much from early rhythm & blues, Western swing, boogie woogie, and what would become rock & roll. In fact, Jerry Lee Lewis credited Mullican’s piano style and singing as a major influence. Part of the credit for the sound of Mullican’s successful musical fusion goes to an open-minded African-American A&R man, producer, and arranger named Henry Glover, who worked for King Records and appreciated Mullican’s stew of influences.
The Ace Records import Moonshine Jamboree and Proper Records two-CD set I’ll Sail My Ship Alone are probably the best places to start discovering his music, but other worthy collections, if you can find them, are Seven Years to Rock: The King Years 1946-56, The EP Collection, and Seven Nights To Rock.
Written by: Henry Glover, Louis Innis, Aubrey W. Mullican, Sydney Nathan · Credited Musicians: Moon Mullican (vocals, piano) with unidentified accompaniment · From: Moonshine Jamboree (1993); Originally released as a 45 on King (1953) · Publisher: Fort Knox Music Inc. (BMI) · Label: Gusto Records · Special thanks: Stephen Hawkins, Eileen Straussman
Los Super 7 was the brainchild of Dan Goodman. I worked as their music consultant before the first album was recorded and eventually as a producer and partner in this project that resulted in three albums. When we began to visualize making the third Los Super 7 album, Heard It on the X, we chose to focus on the spirit of border radio and enlisted Charlie Sexton to round out the production. The album includes contributions from Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Calexico, John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton, Ruben Ramos, Rick Trevino, Joe Ely, Raul Malo, Freddy Fender, and Flaco Jiménez. The spirit of the Oxford American music issues informed our approach to song selection.
When we were in Austin doing pre-production, the one song that was repeatedly requested was “Talk to Me,” a huge 1963 hit for San Antonio’s Sunny & the Sunliners. Delbert McClinton was one of those with a nostalgic connection and he kills it on vocals here. Supporting him are some of Austin’s finest: Hunt Sales and Glen Fukanaga authoritatively lay down the drum and bass, as Denny Freeman and Charlie Sexton add all the right guitar flourishes around Sauce Gonzalez’s swelling Hammond B3 organ. Of particular note are the West Side Horns who provide a wall of brass. Spot Barnett’s sax break is pure magic.
Written by: Joe Seneca · Produced by: Rick Clark, Dan Goodman, Charlie Sexton · Credited Musicians: Denny Freeman (electric guitar, piano); Glenn Fukanaga (upright bass); Delbert McClinton (vocals); Hunt Sales (drums); Charlie Sexton (baritone guitar swells); The West Side Horns, featuring Spot Barnett (saxophone), Louie Bustos (baritone saxophone), Al Gomez (trumpet), Arturo “Sauce” Gonzalez (organ) · From: Heard It on the X (2005) ·
Publisher: Fort Knox Music Inc. (BMI) · Label: Telarc International (Concord Music Group, Inc.) · Special thanks: Wolfgang Frank, Dan Goodman, Eileen Straussman
From the open fiddle accent notes that set off the smooth walking bass line to the floating pedal steel and lilting fiddle touches, “A Girl in the Night” is a perfect showcase for Ray Price’s reverb-soaked aching baritone. You can see the whole dimly lit and smoky setting and feel the isolation of that lonely woman at the bar. Price hits that perfect synthesis of Texas swing and countrypolitan that he helped define in such an elegant fashion. Price actively toured until his passing in 2013, and he could hit those soaring notes right up until the end. Some of country’s greatest standards were given definitive treatments by Price, including “Release Me,” “Night Life,” “Crazy Arms,” and the absolutely incredible “For the Good Times.” Night Life, For the Good Times, San Antonio Rose, Burning Memories, The Other Woman, Talk to Your Heart, and Ray Price Sings Heart Songs are all stand-out albums, as is The Essential Ray Price.
It’s noteworthy that “A Girl in the Night” was written by Hank Thompson, another great Texas country legend. Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys released a slew of great recordings that are worth seeking out. The 1996 Capitol Records compilations Vintage Collections or the Capitol Collectors Series are perfect primers. If you want to dig deeper, the Koch Records twofer Dance Ranch/Songs For Rounders are essential, as well as At the Golden Nugget, a 1961 album that ranks with Jerry Lee Lewis’s Live at the Star-Club, Hamburg as one of the greatest live albums of that period.
Written by: Hank Thompson · Credited Musicians: Art Bishop (guitar); Ray Edenton (rhythm guitar); Buddy Gene Emmons (steel); Murray “Buddy” Harmon Jr. (drums); Tommy Jackson Jr. (fiddle); Grover “Shorty” Lavender (guitar); Thomas Grady Martin (guitar); Darrell McCall (rhythm guitar); Ray Price (vocals, guitar, bandleader); Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano); Joseph S. Zinkan (acoustic bass) · From: Night Life (1963) · Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group · Label: Sony Music Commercial Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment · Special thanks: Chris Dampier, Katie Panicali, Rob Santos, Traci Werbel
The first thing that caught my ear when I first heard Spoon was the band’s hard minimalism. Nothing was wasted and the effect was immediate, not unlike what appealed to me in the early records of the English art-punk band Wire. Spoon’s economic precision was further enhanced by lead singer Britt Daniel’s cool bratty delivery. Over the years, Spoon hasn’t compromised their sound by catering to flavor-of-the-month trends. They never had to, because they stood out from the pack from the beginning. “Anything You Want” is from one of my favorite Spoon albums, Girls Can Tell. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Kill the Moonlight are also worth seeking out.
Written by: Britt Daniel · Produced by: Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, Mike McCarthy · Credited Musicians: Britt Daniel (guitar, vocals); Jim Eno (drums); Josh Zarbo (bass) · From: Girls Can Tell (2001) · Publisher: Bug Music o/b/o Precious Fluids Publishing · Label: Merge Records, by arrangement with Bank Robber Music · Special thanks: Lauren Bernal, Corey Brulé, Thomas Dillon, Lyle Hysen, Nicole G. Whetstone
Over the course of her first three albums, Sarah Jarosz has melded different forms of roots music with a heady sophistication and established herself as a serious artist to reckon with. Jarosz has played with a who’s who of the world’s finest acoustic instrumental artists and on her latest album, Build Me Up From Bones, she enlists Jerry Douglas, Viktor Krauss, Darrell Scott, Dan Dugmore and Chris Thile among others. The opening track, “Over the Edge,” is one of many original songs that are highlights, and her nuanced performances of thoughtfully chosen songs by Bob Dylan and Joanna Newsom prove that Jarosz is also a fine interpreter.
Written by: Sarah Jarosz, Jedd Hughes · Produced by: Sarah Jarosz, Gary Paczosa · Credited Musicians: Eric Darken (percussion); Dan Dugmore (lap steel); Jedd Hughes (harmony vocal, guitar); Sarah Jarosz (vocals, octave mandolin); Viktor Krauss (bass) · From: Build Me Up From Bones (2013) · Publisher: SoRaw Music (BMI); Noble Prankster Publishing (BMI) · Label: Sugar Hill Records · Special thanks: Shelley Calabrese, Jedd Hughes, Fred Jasper, Denise Stiff, Welk Music Group
The “genre” of Americana gathers every regional musical form in North America and not only celebrates them all but also celebrates cross-pollination. Ruthie Foster is one of those artists who is equally comfortable caressing a folk song, belting a gospel or a blues, or creating a funky acoustic vibe that feels like Bill Withers and Mavis Staples got together and had a musical baby. “Death Came a-Knockin’” is a traditional number that has been a Foster crowd pleaser for years, and if you like what you hear, check out The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster, The Truth According to Ruthie Foster, Promise of a Brand New Day, or Live at Antone’s.
Written by: Traditional (Arranged by Ruthie Foster & Cyd Cassone) · Produced by: Lloyd Maines · Credited Musicians: Cyd Cassone (background vocals, djembe); Ruthie Foster (vocals, background vocals, acoustic guitar); Glenn Fukanaga (upright bass); Lloyd Maines (banjo, percussion); Riley Osborn (wurlitzer) · From: Runaway Soul (2002) · Label: Blue Corn Music · Special thanks: Denby Auble, Charles Driebe
Rosita Fernandez was known as “San Antonio’s First Lady of Song,” a name given to her by Lady Bird Johnson. Her effortlessly emotive singing and exceptional vocal tone made her a star on local radio in the early Thirties and over the years her talents brought her into feature films, most notably The Alamo with John Wayne. She made some lovely duet records with Laura Cantu and my favorite is “Esperando,” which you can find on the Arhoolie Records various artists collection The Women as well as The Complete Discos Ideal Recordings. Fernandez’s complete Ideal recordings are also available from Arhoolie in two volumes.
Written by: Raphael de la Paz · Credited Musicians: Rosita Fernandez (vocal); Laura Cantu (vocal); Beto Villa’s orquesta · From: Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970) (1992) · Publisher: Peer International Corp. (BMI) · Label: Arhoolie Records · Special thanks: Tom Diamant, Lee Reed, Chris Strachwitz
Years before Chester Burnett took on the name Howlin’ Wolf, an East Texas bluesman recorded “Howling Wolf Blues, Parts One and Two,” which was part of a body of recordings made during the early 1930s. On “Fool’s Blues,” Smith takes to task the idea of blind faith when so much in life didn’t add up to him, not God or human nature
Smith’s nickname was actually “Funny Papa,” though because of a clerical error “Funny Paper” was printed on his early recordings. Smith was incarcerated a few years later for murdering someone during a disagreement. He died in prison around 1940. Smith was incarcerated a few years later for murdering someone during a disagreement. He died in prison around 1940.
Written by: J.T. Smith · Credited Musicians: J.T. Smith (vocals, guitar) · From: J.T. “Funny Paper” Smith (1930-1931) (1991); Originally released as a 78 on Vocalion (1931) · Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group · Label: Document Records · Special thanks: Gary Atkinson, Gillian Atkinson, Chris Dampier, William Lee Ellis
From the beginning of his career Kinky Friedman has cultivated a Texas-sized reputation as both satirist and songwriter. (One of his early bands was called Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys.) Like Will Rogers, he loves to wield a cigar while stirring things up, as displayed here with his classic “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You.” Decades after he recorded this song, the political establishment showed Friedman the door when he ran for governor in 2006. Texas voters refused service to Kinky, but the spectacle of his campaign was something to behold.
Written by: Richard Friedman, Rick Goldberg, J. Maizel · Produced by: Chuck Glaser · Credited Musicians: Capt. Dave Beer (vocals); Norman Blake (guitar, mandolin); David Briggs (organ, piano, synthesizer); Paul Craft (banjo); Danny Finlay (electric guitar); Kinky Friedman (guitar, lead vocals); Roger Friedman (vocals); Jim Glaser (vocals); Tompall Glaser (vocals, voices); Doyle Grisham (dobro, steel); John Harris (piano); John Hartford (fiddle); Billy Holmes (bass); Kenny Malone (drums); Dan Mansfield (steel); Dan Moose (guitar); Jimmy Payne (harp); Fred Pierce (drums); Jack Ross (vocals); Buddy Spicher (fiddle); Billy Swan (vocals); Benny Whitehead (vocals); Bucky Wilkin (guitar); Willie Young (vocals) · From: Sold American (1973) · Publisher: Sony/ATV · Label: Vanguard Records · Special thanks: Todd Ellis, Kinky Friedman, Cleve Hattersley, Fred Jasper, Teia Styers, Troy Tomlinson
Beaumont’s Barbara Lynn was much more than a wonderfully expressive singer; she was an accomplished songwriter and guitarist. Her biggest moment came in 1962 with “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” a slow grind classic that soared to No. 1 on the national r&b charts and Top Ten Pop. This song was released during an era when classics were created in the time it took to actually record the track. You can feel the authenticity of the moment—from the opening sax flourish right through to the fade. If you like “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” check out The Jamie Singles Collection 1962–1965. Then you can dig into The Complete Atlantic Recordings.
Written by: Barbara Lynn Ozen, Huey P. Meaux · Produced by: Huey P. Meaux · Credited Musicians: Barbara Lynn (vocals, guitar) with unidentified accompaniment · From: The Jamie Singles Collection 1962–1965 (2008) · Publisher: Jamie Music Publishing Co.; Bro ’N Sis Music Inc o/b/o Crazy Cajun Music (BMI) · Label: Jamie Record Co. · Special thanks: Frank Lipsius, Eileen Straussman
There aren’t many places that inspire the kind of deep connection that artists feel for Texas. When I first heard Billy Joe Shaver’s “Hill Country Love Song,” I was floored by his tender and raw affection. Shaver has so many brilliant songs that speak directly to me, but this is the first one I go to when I need a dose of his reality. If you want to go digging for more primo Billy Joe, check out Old Five and Dimers Like Me, I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal, Tramp on Your Street, or the Unshaven: Live at Smith’s Olde Bar.
Written by: Billy Joe Shaver · Produced by: Billy Joe Shaver, Eddy Shaver · Credited Musicians: Billy Joe Shaver (vocals, guitar) · From: Salt of the Earth (1987) ·
Publisher: Sony/ATV · Label: Columbia Records, under license from Sony Music Commercial Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment · Special thanks: Todd Ellis, Katie Panicali, Teia Styers, Troy Tomlinson, Traci Werbel
During the late Eighties and early Nineties, Nashville was flooding the country market with a slew of seemingly interchangeable new male artists whose eyes were usually hidden by huge cowboy hats. It was during this period that Rick Trevino made his first recordings, but unlike most of those “hat acts,” Trevino could actually sing. Turned out that Trevino is a classically trained pianist and the son of well-known Tejano musician Rick Treviño Sr. At the urging of his manager, Trevino immersed himself in his Latino roots, first as part of the Grammy-winning Los Super 7, and then with his solo effort on Vanguard titled Mi Son. “El Gustito” is the opening track of this excellent album.
Written by: Traditional · Produced by: Steve Berlin, Dan Goodman, Alberto Salas · Credited Musicians: Cougar Estrada (percussion); David Hidalgo (baritone guitar, percussion); Conrad Lozano (guitarron); Louie Perez (jarana); Cesar Rosas (guitar); Rick Trevino (vocals) · From: Mi Son (2001) · Label: Vanguard Records · Special thanks: Fred Jasper
Texas has produced a number of great bands that were the launching pads for stellar solo careers. The Flatlanders, True Believers, and the Resentments come to mind. But Texas Tornados—with Freddy Fender, Flaco Jiménez, Augie Meyers, and Doug Sahm—is arguably the greatest of the Texas supergroups. Rarely has a band embraced the music of its home region with such playful joy. Here, Doug Sahm delivers Butch Hancock’s ode to spurned love, “She Never Spoke Spanish to Me.”
Doug Sahm’s influence on Texas music is hard to overstate, not only because of his distinctive sound and artistry, but also for the infectious way he could attract a community of like-minded spirits who could mix up rhythm & blues, Texas swing, country, rock, Cajun and jazz. All the Texas Tornados albums are good, but their self-titled debut is the place to start. If you had to choose only one pre-Tornados album, the collection The Best of Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet is the way to go. If you’d like to dig deeper, seek out Doug Sahm and Band, Texas Tornado, Groover’s Paradise, and Juke Box Music. Mendocino is the go-to Sir Douglas album, but 1+1+1=4 and Together After Five are standouts as well.
Written by: Butch Hancock · Produced by: Bill Halverson and Texas Tornados · Credited Musicians: Jimmy Day (steel guitar); Ernie Durawa (drums); Freddy Fender (background vocals); Flaco Jiménez (background vocals, accordion); Augie Meyers (vox organ); Louis Ortega (background vocals); Doug Sahm (lead vocals, acoustic guitar); Oscar Tellez (bajo sexto); Louis Terrazas (bass) · From: Texas Tornados (1990) · Publisher: Two Roads Music · Label: Reprise Records (Warner Music Group) · Special thanks: Evan Shafferman, Lance N. Webb
When Beaumont’s Johnny Winter exploded on the scene in 1969 with his self-titled debut album, there was a tremendous amount of buzz that Hendrix, Clapton, and all the other guitar slingers of the time had met their match. Winter’s fiery guitar style, especially slide, was utterly distinctive. The sophomore effort, a three-sided double-album called Second Winter, didn’t disappoint. His version of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” is one of the best ever recorded, as is his take on “Johnny B. Goode.” “I Hate Everybody” is a tight hard-swinging showcase, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the sexy electric-blues funk of “I Love Everybody.”
Other Winter albums to check out: The Progressive Blues Experiment, Johnny Winter And, and Together—Live, which he did with his brother Edgar. Winter was still going strong in 2014, when he passed away. He had recently released two fine albums on the Megaforce label, Roots and Step Back.
Winter’s original rhythm section, by the way, was drummer “Uncle” John Turner and bassist Tommy Shannon. They later formed the Austin band Krackerjack, which included a young Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Written by: Johnny Winter · Produced by: Johnny Winter · Credited Musicians: Johnny Winter (vocals, guitar); “Uncle” John Turner (percussion); Tommy Shannon (bass) · From: Second Winter (1969) · Publisher: BMG Sapphire Songs o/b/o Winter Blues Music · Label: Columbia Records, under license from Sony Music Commercial Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment · Special thanks: Corey Brulé, Thomas Dillon, Traci Werbel
If you want to hear the King of Western Swing, go straight to Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. Beginning in 1934, Wills and his band blended elements of country, jazz, and occasionally blues, as in this reading of the classic “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” This track is the Playboys at their swinging best—Bob Wills’s sly kicked-back vocal delivery punctuated by his trademark yelps and directives, the distinctive guitar and trombone solos, the twin fiddles, and that easy shuffling groove.
There are many good collections of Wills’s music, but I’d start with Rhino Records’ Anthology 1935-1973. Completists will want the entire Tiffany Transcriptions set, also on Rhino. A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys—featuring artists like Asleep at the Wheel, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard—is also worth seeking out.
Written by: Lonnie Carter & Walter Jacobs (Arranged by Bob Wills) · Produced by: Jesse Kaye · Credited Musicians: Herman Arnspiger (guitar); Jesse Ashlock (fiddle); Smokey Dacus (drums); Sleepy Johnson (guitar); Leon McAuliffe (lead guitar, steel guitar); Art Haynes (fiddle, trombone); Son Lansford (bass); Zeb McNally (alto saxophone); Al Stricklin (piano); Bob Wills (vocals, fiddle); Johnnie Lee Wills (banjo) · From: American Roots Music (2001); Originally released as a 78 on Vocalion (1936) · Publisher: Edwin H. Morris & Company, A Division of MPL Music Publishing, Inc. (ASCAP); Warner/Chappell Music Publishing · Courtesy of: Columbia Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment; Under license from Sony Music Commercial Group · Special thanks: Nick LaPointe, Katie Panicali, Traci Werbel
In 2004, when Freddy Fender blew into an Austin studio for a session with Los Super 7, he was wearing a Spongebob Squarepants t-shirt and cracking jokes. Like many old-schoolers, he preferred to be paid in cash and for all we knew he left the car running outside. But when he opened his mouth to sing, it was clear to everybody that he was the real deal: passionate and willing to try anything. He delivered the magic. Fender was one of America’s greatest Hispanic singers, and he left behind a slew of classic hits (“Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” and “Secret Love”). But his work with the Texas Tornados was also great, as were his highly collectible 1950s recordings that drew from rockabilly, country, and traditional Hispanic music.
This track comes from the Arhoolie release Canciones de Mi Barrio: The Roots of Tejano Rock. His best-known work can be found on a number of hits collections, but The Voice: Freddy Fender’s Greatest Hits, on the import label Edsel, is the most comprehensive.
Written by: José Alfredo Jiménez · Credited Musicians: Freddy Fender (vocals); Louis Moody (guitar) · From: Canciones de Mi Barrio (1993) · Publisher: Peer International Corp. (BMI) · Label: Arhoolie Records · Special thanks: Tom Diamant, Lee Reed, Chris Strachwitz
James McMurtry came into the spotlight in 1989 with his excellent John Mellencamp–produced debut, Too Long in the Wasteland. Listening to his incisively descriptive songs, it’s clear that McMurtry’s considerable observational gifts run in the family. Since that first recording McMurtry has released a number of great albums, including It Had to Happen, Childish Things, Just Us Kids, and Live in Aught-Three.
Written by: James McMurtry · Produced by: John Mellencamp, Michael Wanchic · Credited Musicians: Kenny Aronoff (drums, percussion); David Grissom (guitars, farfisa); Doug Lacy (accordion, steel drums); James McMurtry (vocals, farfisa); Toby Myers (bass guitar) · From: Candyland (1992) · Publisher: Short Trip Music · Label: Columbia Records, under license from Sony Music Commercial Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment · Special thanks: Stephanie Cox, Dana Mariotti, Katie Panicali, Traci Werbel
Some country songs sound like they have simply always existed. “Chances Are,” by Texas troubadour Hayes Carll, is one of those songs, and Lee Ann Womack, one of country music’s finest singers, inhabits the fathomless heart of his words. This is from Womack’s latest album, The Way I’m Livin’. Other strong recordings by Womack include There’s More Where That Came From, I Hope You Dance, and Something Worth Leaving Behind.
Written by: Hayes Carll · Produced by: Chuck Ainlay, Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf · Credited Musicians: Matt Chamberlain (drums); Paul Franklin (steel); Duke Levine (electric guitar); Mac McAnally (acoustic guitar); Charlie Pate (background vocals); Glenn Worf (bass) · From: The Way I’m Livin’ (2014) · Publisher: BMG Bumblebee a/c Minner Bucket Publishing · Label: Sugar Hill Records · Special thanks: Corey Brulé, Thomas Dillon, Fred Jasper, Megan McNair, Welk Music Group
& Willie Nelson
Not too many artists can claim Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Townes Van Zandt, and Waylon Jennings as fans, but singer-songwriter Kimmie Rhodes deservedly can. Most of these great artists have gladly sung with her and yet it’s amazing she’s barely known outside of her Austin home. She has released a handful of excellent albums on the tiny Sunbird label, including Rich From the Journey, Love Me Like a Song, and Picture in a Frame, which is a beautifully intimate duet album with Willie Nelson.
Some of the most brilliant songs are those that seem simple and effortlessly conceived but offer layers of richly nuanced rewards with each listen. Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits’s “Picture in a Frame” is one of those treasures.
Written by: Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan · Produced by: Willie Nelson & Kimmie Rhodes · Credited Musicians: Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar); Gabe Rhodes (guitar); Kimmie Rhodes (vocals, guitar); David Zettner (bass, steel) · From: Picture In A Frame (2003) · Publisher: Jalma Music (ASCAP) · Label: Sunbird Records (www.kimmierhodes.com) · Special thanks: Connie Ashton, Kathleen Brennan, Emmylou Harris, Kimmie Rhodes, Tom Waits
In December 1958, the radio studio KLLL in Lubbock captured an impromptu performance of Buddy Holly on guitar and vocals, with Waylon Jennings and Ray “Slim” Corbin providing rhythmic support beating on boxes and clapping hands. This song, which was written by the three of them, would later get a proper studio recording, but the exuberance of this off-the-cuff demo is the one that shoots sparks for me.
Written by: Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Slim Corbin · Credited Musicians: Slim Corbin (handclaps); Buddy Holly (vocals, guitar); Waylon Jennings (handclaps) · From: Radio Demo on KLLL (December 27, 1958) · Publisher: Peer International Corp. (BMI) · Courtesy of: KLLL in Lubbock · Special thanks: David Morrow, Lee Reed, Jay Richardson, Chelsea Smith
“Just to Satisfy You” is probably best known as a duet with Waylon and Willie Nelson that reached No. 1 on the country charts in 1982. Although I love that version, it is the B-side of Waylon’s 1964 A&M 45-rpm single that captivates me to this day (the A-side was a version of Ian & Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds”). The spare open production offers a great showcase for Jennings’s rich baritone.
Waylon Sings Ol’ Harlan and Love of the Common People are good early albums, and Jennings put out an amazing series of classic “Outlaw Country” albums throughout the 1970s. You can’t go wrong with The Taker/Tulsa, Lonesome, On’ry and Mean, Honky Tonk Heroes, This Time, Dreaming My Dreams, or Wanted! The Outlaws.
Written by: Don Bowman, Waylon Jennings · Produced by: Herb Alpert · Credited Musicians: Paul Foster (bass); Gerald W. Gropp (rhythm guitar); Waylon Jennings (vocals, guitar); Byron Metcalf (drums) · From: Phase One: The Early Years 1958–1964 (2002); Originally released as a 45 on A&M Records (1964) · Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group o/b/o Irving Music · Courtesy of: Sony Music Commercial Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment · Special thanks: Chris Dampier, Katie Panicali, Traci Werbel
One of the world’s most influential and innovative jazz artists hailed from Fort Worth. Saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman pushed improvisational jazz way past traditional jazz and bebop song forms and helped spearhead the unfettered expression of the avant-garde free jazz movement. Coleman’s early years were spent playing rhythm & blues, but he quickly evolved into a player with an utterly distinctive and uncompromising sound. “Ramblin’,” the opening track from Coleman’s classic sophomore album, Change of the Century, reflects this transition brilliantly, as do The Shape of Jazz to Come, Free Jazz, Science Fiction, and Sound Grammar, which won a Pulitzer in 2007. That same year, Coleman was also accorded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.
Written by: Ornette Coleman · Produced by: Nesuhi Ertegün · Credited Musicians: Don Cherry (pocket trumpet); Ornette Coleman (alto saxophone); Charlie Haden (bass); Billy Higgins (drums) · From: Change of the Century (1960) · Publisher: Phrase Text Inc. · Label: Atlantic Records (Warner Music Group) · Special thanks: Denardo Coleman, Stephanie Cox, Dana Mariotti, Casey Monahan, Bruce Tovsky, Ken Weinstein
Take any style of music native to Texas and the border country and Joe Ely has not only written and performed it—as a member of the Flatlanders, in his solo career, or in one of his many groundbreaking collaborations—he’s delivered it with a passion that has earned him the admiration of artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, the Chieftains, and the Clash. It’s hard to imagine Ely without Texas. It’s central to almost everything he writes and in the fiery “You Can Bet I’m Gone,” he declares his dust-to-dust commitment to his home state.
Of all Ely’s great albums, I’d choose Honky Tonk Masquerade as the first stop, followed by Live Shots, Musta Notta Gotta Lotta, Letter to Laredo, and the rip-roaring live album Live at Liberty Lunch.
Written by: Joe Ely · Produced by: Joe Ely · Credited Musicians: Joe Ely (vocals, acoustic guitar); Glenn Fukanaga (bass); David Holt (electric guitar); Pat Manske (drums, percussion, harmony vocals) · From: Satisfied At Last (2011) · Publisher: Tornado Temple Music · Label: Rack’em Records ·
Special thanks: Joe Ely, Sharon Ely, Lance N. Webb
Texas has probably produced more significant singer-songwriters than any place on earth, artists who have elevated America’s folk music traditions to a finely nuanced poetic art. Among these extraordinary artists, Guy Clark occupies a place of distinction. Clark’s quietly heartbreaking song about his late wife, Susanna Clark, haunted me for weeks when I first heard it. Clark has written and recorded many great songs, but this is as good as it gets. My Favorite Picture of You earned Clark a Grammy in 2014 for Best Folk Album. Old No. 1, Texas Cookin’, and Dublin Blues are also among his finest.
Written by: Guy Clark, Gordie Sampson · Produced by: Guy Clark, Chris Latham, Shawn Camp · Credited Musicians: Guy Clark (lead vocals, acoustic guitar); Bryn Davies (bass, cello, harmony vocal); Gordie Sampson (acoustic guitar) · From: My Favorite Picture of You (2013) · Publisher: Sony/ATV; Music of Windswept (ASCAP)/Bughouse/Dash8 Music (BMG Rights Management) · Label: Dualtone Records · Special thanks: Corey Brulé, Thomas Dillon, Todd Ellis, Paul Roper, Michael Steinkohl, Teia Styers, Troy Tomlinson
One of the more distinctive groups during Austin’s early Sixties folk scene was the Waller Creeks Boys, a trio comprising Janis Joplin, Lanny Wiggins, and founder Powell St. John. Powell wrote six songs for the legendary psych-rockers 13th Floor Elevators and then formed Mother Earth with the great Tracy Nelson. His songs have been covered by many artists and have appeared in films and on television. Janis Joplin went on to become one of rock’s most iconic singers, and it was St. John’s “Bye, Bye Baby” that introduced her to the world in the opening track of Big Brother & the Holding Company’s debut album. That version featured Janis’s voice double-tracked, which masked much of the emotional immediacy of her best recordings. When Sony put out the excellent Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection in 1999, they included this alternate version, which is far superior. ø
Written by: Powell St. John · Produced by: Bob Shad · Credited Musicians: Peter Albin (bass); Sam Andrew (guitar); David Getz (drums); James Gurley (guitar); Janis Joplin (vocals) · From: Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection (1999); Recorded in 1966 · Publisher: Mainspring Watchworks Music, administered by The Bicycle Music Company · Label: Columbia Records, under license from Sony Music Commercial Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment · Special thanks: Kate Ludewig, Evelyn Paglinawan, Katie Panicali, Powell St. John, Toby St. John, Traci Werbel