In the fall of 2012 I took a twelve day trip to NYC, barely beating Hurricane Sandy by switching flights and getting out a day early. A wild late night cab ride from Brooklyn took me to Newark to catch a super early flight while the city prepared itself for disaster. I’d gone to NYC to play a bunch of very low key funky solo gigs and try to connect with some people I’d crossed paths with. Austin is a great town but undoubtedly it will put you in a box. This place has it’s A-teams and first stringers and those much deserved and highly talented people collect all of the spoils while a whole lot of deserved and highly talented people toil in obscurity. That’s just how it goes. At that time I was thinking there may be a little more real estate for a distinctively Texas guitar player somewhere besides the heart of Texas and I needed to explore. Though life’s twists and turns tossed that trip in to the “learning experience” bucket, it was very valuable experience.
I was in a pattern of playing sideman gigs non-stop in Austin mostly with folky singer-songwriter types. I’d play every chance I got, sometimes two or three times a day. The Lockhart Farmer’s Market at 11am, happy hour at Poodie’s in the evening, 1am at Saxon Pub. I’d given up drinking years earlier. Not drinking had been easy for me but overcoming addictive behavior can be much more complicated than simply not ingesting. As a young man when I was creating my self, dreaming up my personality, I was drawn to the Dean Moriarity character in On The Road. I had to drink more, take more, work harder, get more girls, go further and faster than any of my other wanna be beatnik friends. When I hit my forties the Dean Moriarity syndrome manifested itself in having to play more gigs than anyone could handle. The upshot was that my ability to hear chord changes and anticipate musical movements sharpened and my dexterity developed in ways it never would from sitting at home practicing scales. The down side was that I pushed myself deeper in to that B-team box, playing with people who were not ready or who just didn’t put in the effort to succeed. I consistently misrepresented who I was as a musician and person by putting myself in situations that did not shine a positive light. Not that the music was always bad, I was the wrong person for the job. Eventually I pulled myself off the hamster wheel and used the skills I’d developed to get in a solid touring gig and in to a different frame of mind.
A couple nights after I got home from NYC I had a gig with a country singer south of Austin in New Braunfels. I was skirting the outer edges of Austin’s latest “classic country” scene. When I’d moved to town in 1990 there were several hard hitting country oriented acts like the Wagoneers, Chaparral, Teddy and the Talltops, mixing with the rockabilly and roots bands like High Noon, the Tailgators and LeRoi Brothers. These groups were influenced by Rockpile and NRBQ as much as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. A lot of the musicians had come from Washington DC and grown up under the tutelage of Evan Johns. There was a punkish sensibility to the music and the songwriting was first rate. 20 years later the Traditional Country flag was being waved by people with a much different frame of reference. Urban Cowboy seemed to be the biggest musical inspiration and faux outrage at the Nashville establishment was the battle cry. It was a means of endless gigging though and I tossed my number in the sideman pool.
Driving home alone that night still jet lagged and exhausted from the long gig, I thought of my cousin and reached for my phone saying to myself outloud “I haven’t talked to that girl in forever…..” At that point it came to me that my cousin had passed away a year earlier, overdosed in the hospital on a heart stopping mix of opiates. She’d gone in for surgery and addicted to Oxycontin, she managed to sneak her own stash in. The surgeon put her under to operate on an abscessed eyelid (a byproduct of addiction) and in the middle of the night she woke up and dosed herself, stopping her heart long enough to render her brain dead. I’d been living so fast and furiously in my own way, 600 miles away that it never seemed real to me. In hindsight I knew the last time I saw her, outside my great aunt’s old cafe in the little stretch of buildings that make up Garfield, NM, would be the last time. She was in the midst of some dramatic situation involving some fellow opiate addled residents of the Hatch Valley and pulled off the road when she saw me standing there to give me a hug before she went off to, in her words, “kick Mindy’s ass”. Even as damaged as that moment found her, her imminent overdose took a long time to set in.
I made it home that night feeling really funny. The little gigs I’d played in New York were the most I’d played my own songs all year. I’d put all I had in to a record I released in 2011 and when dust settled I was burned out, exhausted and left feeling like I was missing the mark. To escape I buried myself in sideman work, never stopping long enough to reflect on where I was. In my efficiency apartment I drew open the curtains to let in the moonlight, picked up my acoustic guitar and tried to shape the experience I’d just had into some kind of song. To avoid waking the neighbors I set down the guitar pick and plucked at the strings with my fingers in an approximation of the Townes style I’ve never mastered. The song kicked around for a couple of years before Ron Flynt and I made this recording one afternoon, just the two of us, he on bass and wurlitzer electric piano, myself on acoustic and nylon string guitars. Ironically when I put a new band together to sing and play my own songs I really wanted to get away from this kind of thing. My focus has been on more groove and less talk, but in some way this song was a major part of pulling me out of a cycle I had to get out of.