My wife and I ran in to Jon Dee Graham at the grocery store. Every time I see Jon I bug him about how much I like this Calvin Russell record he played on from 1994. It was probably a tiny snapshot in his musical life but I have a big old framed poster size appreciation for that record. It’s bare bones Texas Rock’n’Roll that is easy to fantasize about but has rarely surfaced. It’s Townes meets ZZ Top meets Waylon at the Opry House in 74. There is a cult of believers behind those wandering Austin gypsy cowboys who surfed the couches and played their songs for tips on battered acoustic guitars at the Austex and the Outhouse in the late 70’s and 80’s. I like to fit in a few of my licks with that crowd every so often even if I missed the glory days by a few years. Calvin with his unlikely rags to riches story and Rich Minus are my guys in that scene, especially since Calvin had the sense to make records with players outside his tight circle like Jon Dee. Anyway, I let Señor Graham off the hook as the competition for good looking zucchini was tight on an HEB Monday afternoon and there was no time to spare talking about old Calvin.
Sometimes the most obvious things come to you in your mid forties that you really should’ve always known. As musicians a lot of our inspiration is built on seemingly irrational hero worship. I have a lot of friends and musical influences who are 15-17 years older than me, born in 53-55. I’ve come to understand that I will never get Jimi Hendrix the way these dudes do. People who’s own music has little to no obvious Hendrix influence freaking love Hendrix. It’s all about that thing where one day it was not there, and then one day it was. I never lived in a world without Hendrix, therefore my perspective is completely different.
Over the past three or four years I’ve done a lot of work with original Texas punk rock singer T Tex Edwards. Tex was in the Nervebreakers who opened the Sex Pistols Dallas show, famous for the great Longhorn ballroom marquee announcing the Pistols tonight and Merle Haggard coming up. He spent time in LA in the great 1980’s Hollywood cowboy punk rock’n’roll scene in a band called the Loafin’ Hyenas, before returning to Texas and cutting a pretty well known record as T Tex Edwards and Out on Parole that consists of weird country songs about killing people. We’ve written a bunch of songs together that span a lot of different influences from all across his musical journey. Talking about the LA days Tex mentioned having played with Gun Club bassist Rob Ritter. For me Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club are mythical mysterious heroes. In the pre-internet days when those records caught my attention I would project my own ideas on what they were like and the impact they had. About a minute in to talking to Tex, hopefully before any motormouth childish enthusiasm got the better of me, I realized that Tex didn’t care about the Gun Club. Sure they were a cool band who played around at the same time but he came to that table with his own experiences, his own vision and his focus was on doing what he did and he could rationally see that Jeffrey Lee Pierce was, you know, pretty much a dick. Now Tex will talk all day about Kevin Ayers, George Jones, Reg Presley or Johnny Paycheck, the things that hit him in his formative years, but there is just no way in hell he is going to feel the way I do about something like the Gun Club. It’s simply obvious.
This realization is a little harsh when you consider how difficult it is to market new music, especially if you don’t have a history that hits people’s nostalgia vein. Is the collective hard drive of my demographic basically full and making inroads in to their souls just no longer feasible? It is possible, but you gotta just do what you do regardless. But on the flip side it is comforting to reconcile that it is okay if all I have is a blank stare when someone talks about the Avett Brothers, Kings of Leon or Robert Earl Keen.
Jon Dee Graham doesn’t give a damn about that Calvin Russell record. Where I hear the poetry and the guts and the soul he may hear the bank teller telling him that last check he got from their management isn’t gonna cash. It was a piece of the greater puzzle. He’d opened for the Clash with the Skunks, been a legendary True Believer and even played dueling lead guitars with Richard Lloyd behind John Doe before that Calvin record ever happened. It’s hard to have perspective when you are standing inside the storm and it’s mostly useless to look back. I can appreciate that now. I’m not sure a lot of music fans and journalists will ever get that but that’s okay too. I saw an interview with Richard Hell once where he was asked about seeing the New York Dolls early shows at the Mercer Arts Center. The interviewer wanted so bad for Richard to tell him it was the greatest thing ever but Hell tried to explain he was too far in to his own thing to give himself over to the Dolls moment. He was there to gauge possibility not as a fan. Through the screen you could feel the kid suffer, it was not what he wanted to hear. For me personally no matter how much or how little there is to look back on and regardless of demographics and markets, the thing to do everyday is try my best to find my way inside a storm.