In my youth I romanticized the underdogs, the forgotten, the under appreciated. I gravitated towards those who’s misfortunes and bad decisions kept them on the fringes of the music business. The job of wanting to be an Elvis was already taken. I wanted to be a Billy Lee Riley or Jimmy Donley. Whiskey drinking half breed Indian guitar pickers born to working class dysfunction in the cotton fields and industrial towns. Rebellious punks who left home young, gave their best opportunities to someone else’s fortune and died broke. Their songs and licks were found only on scratched up 45’s until scholarly British record men made them marketable in the CD reissue boom of the early 2000’s. These were the musicians I idolized, my role models, and still are, for better or worse.
The business end of playing music has changed a lot over my time. I’ve never been attached to anything that could be defined as a commercial success but I have been lucky enough to play all over the world, sharing the stage with lots of people who inspired my choice to become a musician. I’ve played on a lot of records and many have been spun on the radio and television and been favorably reviewed. When I recorded my first album my thought was that if I could just get Larry Monroe to spin one song one time on his Sunday night radio show, I would be completely satisfied. Somehow that very raw, amateurish record found it’s way on to several radio playlists and magazines that at the time were hungry for new roots music, and of course I wanted more, more, more. Now it seems most of the magazines are gone, the radio stations became highly organized mini versions of what they were supposed to be an alternative to, and there is an expensive conference to attend for whatever micro-genre you wish to market yourself as. A good number of people I was friendly with on the journalism and radio side of the business have passed away in the last few years. I feel like a complete outsider and nothing makes me feel like writing and playing music more.
After 6 and a half years of not making a record of my own, a series of events fell in place to get seven songs I wrote and a cover of Doug Sahm’s “Revolutionary Ways”, recorded, mixed, mastered, and released on a CD and in all the digital outlets. The album is called Streetlamp after a song I wrote about an evening out with my then future wife when it became obvious to us both there was no turning back in our relationship. The album was recorded at a studio in Boerne, Tx in the hills outside San Antonio by Shawn Sahm. I met Shawn through bass player Neal Walker. Neal and I crossed paths at a tribute show to Shawn’s dad and found a lot of common ground musically, politically, philosophically and began working together. Neal’s style of bass playing and especially his harmony singing fit perfectly with my style. Drummer Jimmy Milner fell right in step and we had a good 3 piece band that did a lot of gigs and a little tour. Shawn, having been friends with Neal for years offered up his studio for us to record. We cut the songs like we were set up on a gig, after getting a solid take I would go to Shawn’s wall of fabulous guitars and try to find the right counter point. I used his Gretsch, a Les Paul, an old Gibson of his Dad’s and on a couple of tracks my cheap Silvertone to play a rhythm part that would fit with what I did live on my trusty telecaster. My 65′ Deluxe reissue was the amp used on most everything. After we had guitars down I would track a vocal and then Neal and Shawn would work together arranging harmony parts. At night alone when we were gone Shawn tracked his keyboard parts including the extremely authentic Sir Doug Quintet vox organ part on “Revolutionary Ways”. Some songs got a bit of color from Shawn’s J-200 and a few some tambourine. I met Josh Baca at Barriba Cantina on the Riverwalk one night and he sat in with us on accordion. He had all the traditional conjunto style licks down but also really enjoyed taking the accordion in other places. He played everything from boleros and Chuck Berry tunes to “Hey Joe” with us. When the gig was over I got his number in case I needed some accordion on a recording. Josh and his uncle Max Baca have been taking conjunto music all over the world in conjunction with Smithsonian Folkways records. I caught him when he was home on a Monday and had him play on a pair of songs.
After we’d tracked the songs, 6 were stalwarts of our live set, 2 were brand new songs I’d just written, we mixed with Stuart Sullivan at the Mosaic Music compound. Stuart is a top flight pro who cut his teeth working for Willie Nelson at Pedernales Studio. In the 90s he produced and engineered records by big bands like Sublime, Butthole Surfers and the Meat Puppets. Oddly enough one of the first projects Stuart had engineered in the mid 1980’s was an album by longtime friends of mine the Hickoids. When the subject came up he laughed and said the Hickoids had provided a lot of street cred for an engineering nerd with some of the scrappy grunge guys Stuart had worked with. After Stuart weaved his magic with the knobs, we sent it off to the mysterious Richard Dodd who put the final mastering touch. My wife had taken a picture in Las Cruces, NM on Organ Ave facing the backside of the St. Joseph’s Cemetery with the mountains in the background as we were driving off from lunch where we’d run in to my old friend Josh Krueger. The lone light pole to right of the arch captured perfectly the image I was looking for in the song Streetlamp which for me had become the obvious title track. There were a few starts and stops before Lonnie Layman and Jeff Smith helped us get finished files sent off to the manufacturer, and then we had a new record out. I sent as many promos out as I could afford and we had a release party at my favorite Sunday afternoon hangout spot Antone’s Records.
In this week’s Austin Chronicle top ten list issue, journalist Tim Stegall rated the album his favorite of the year. My previous albums have all been quietly honored in small best of lists, usually European and usually in the bottom half. It was nice to get the acknowledgement from someone at the Chronicle, my hometown paper where I got some pretty disastrous reviews a few years ago. I’m proud of Tim, who I’ve known since 1991 as a mutual Johnny Thunders fanatic, for putting someone on his list who doesn’t have any backstage passes or rock star treatment to offer. Tim’s a punk rock guy, through and through, and he puts his words on the line. Like any other acknowledgement, it’s here today and will be gone tomorrow. The goal is to have more music to play, new songs to sing, new places to go, and With the inspiration of my rock’n’roll outsider heroes, I plan to spend the new year getting on that.
Merle Haggard sold millions of records and had as many hits as anyone but his contrarian attitude and musical experimentation make him one of the ultimate guitar wielding rebels. When Neal Walker and I were first getting our feet wet with this version of the band we cut this track with Patrick Herzfeld playing drums and engineering. I put this slide show together on my phone.