Big Brothers and the Black Cat Lounge

When I moved to Austin in 1990 Roky Erickson had recently been arrested for stealing his neighbor’s mail. These were the days when the written and stamped letter held major sway in communication with friends, lovers, family and wannabe lovers. Leaving home and the comfort of my small pond was a daring move and I needed all the encouragement I could get. On days the mailbox was empty, my friends and I would joke that Roky had stolen our mail.

Not long after arriving in Austin I met some girls at a Will Sexton show at Scholz’s Garden. In a moment of questionable judgement my 17 year old self had gotten tattooed in a small town Louisiana biker tattoo parlor with some pretty generic “rockabilly” images. One of the girls broke the ice by lying and saying those tattoos were cool. In the ensuing conversation I was tipped off that the real action in town happened at a bar on 6th Street called The Black Cat Lounge and Monday night when Rick Broussard and Two Hoots and a Holler played was thee night to be there. Still about two and a half years shy of my 21st birthday, I inquired about the ID situation and they assured me that it was wide open.

The 1990 Black Cat Lounge was the second incarnation of the club. It had been in an even smaller space a few doors down. The expanded version was tiny in it’s own right, looking more like a partial roof and loft built in an alley between two proper buildings. The sides had bleacher seats and the middle was a dance floor. The relatively high stage split the space in half, with an open air yard more or less taking up the back. My first night there I paid the three dollar cover, bought a dollar Pabst Blue Ribbon and took a seat up on the bleachers. It was like a cowpunk psychobilly dream come true. The guys were slicked back in black leather, girls in sleeveless western shirts with cow skull tattoos. On stage was the coolest human being I’d ever seen. Blond pompadour piled high, wielding a white telecaster (outfitted with a Bigsby tremolo) plugged straight in to a sparkle blue tuck and roll Kustom amplifier. He marched the band into a hard hitting no frills version of Johnny Rivers’ “Poor Side of Town”, the class struggle anthem stripped of the original’s soft rock trappings. This was everything to me, everything I imagined could happen in mythical Austin, Tx.

I lurked around the corners and shadows of Two Hoots and a Holler gigs until I finally got invited to an after show party somewhere in South Austin. I picked up a battered Stella guitar in a mostly empty room and played a Lefty Frizzell song. Rick sat down across from me, expressed approval of my repertoire and played back for me a bit of Rank and File’s “Sundown” with the “number one in ’53 and old Lefty got around” line. He told me a few stories about going to LA as a teenager and growing up playing Cajun music. After that we were friendly enough that I hung around a lot after gigs, one time getting in to an old fashioned Greasers vs. Soc’s standoff in the alley behind the club with some fratboys while the band was loading out.

The combination of influences that Rick drew from made perfect sense to me. I grew up in a small town surrounded by agriculture. Country music was a dominating cultural force, impossible to ignore. Southern New Mexico is full of farmers, ranchers and rodeo riders. I got to hear a lot of country music in it’s natural environment and developed a love/hate relationship with it, as any free thinking person would. I loved the drive and power of Johnny Horton, the heart wrenching sadness of Hank Williams and the bad ass bravado of Waylon Jennings, but I hated the simple minded redneck sloganeering and the overly sentimental cliche ridden heart string tuggers that the radio preferred. My parents listened to a lot of country music, the middle of the road Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell songs on the radio in the morning, Merle Haggard and George Jones hard honky tonkers when friends were at the house in the evenings. My dad also played a lot of early rock’n’roll exposing me to Ritchie Valens, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and especially Elvis. This is the music that first hit me and drove me to play. Punk rock was one step over and the New York Dolls, MC5, Heartbreakers and Stooges music that a record store clerk sent me home with fit right in with those oldies. Throw in some cut out bin cassette tapes of Freddie King, The Yardbirds and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, and my vision of a seamless blend of American music came together. As long as it had some twangy guitar and a bad attitude it was good with me.

When I first started seeing Two Hoots and a Holler their four hour set list jumped around from Rick’s Orbison and Holly inspired originals to covers of the Cramps “Garbage Man”, Webb Pierce’s “No Love Have I”, The Clash’s “Career Opportunities”, The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Motorhead’s self titled basher all rendered in unmistakeable Two Hoots style. Rick’s ultra clean telecaster sliced bar chords while Vic Gerard’s bass lines danced over Chris Staples steady groove. It was a magic sound. On special occasions the great guitarist Johnny X Reed would add a layer of texture and sheen, never changing the dynamic of the trio, just taking licks out of Rick’s own bag and adding bits of flourish and finesse to the sound without interrupting the drive. For where I was at that time of my life they made perfect music and created a perfect scene.

We did a show with Rick’s new band the RB3 and our friends the Soulphonics the day after Roky Erickson passed away. Rick told a funny story about playing his version of “Starry Eyes” for Roky before he recorded it. It was a really fun night of playing rock’n’roll for nothing but the sake of playing. We cranked our amps up loud and chased the day drinkers out while our wives and girlfriends danced in their seats and the scattered friends and band members leaned against the bar talking about guitars and telling war stories, downing as many Topo Chicos as Pabst Blue Ribbons. Rock’n’roll 2019 still feels just as good. At the end of the night I hollered to Rick to get a picture, noting “I’ve known this motherfucker 30 years and there’s no photographic evidence!” I don’t see my old friends nearly as much as I used to but I still think of guys like Rick as my rock’n’roll big brothers. The people who opened up the doors of possibility right before my eyes.

I was looking for an email address for another rock’n’roll big brother Ron Flynt, when I found a mix he sent me of this track. We recorded it in 2015 with Neal Walker on bass and vocals and Ralph Power on drums and Ron applying some tasty B-3 work. It is a song about two small town juvenile delinquent brothers who plan to fix up an old truck their uncle left behind and run off when one falls in love and decides to stay. I really liked it when I wrote it but never played it much as it has a lot of words and kind of needs the three guitar parts to really work. It is an extension of what I was going for on the record I made in 2011 called Ghost Stories. I made this slide show so it can finally be heard. I think it fits right in with talking about big brothers and wide eyed eighteen year old adventurousness.