prefers national acts to local talent. The Southeast Austin Blues All-Stars won’t pay the bills; Jerry Lee Lewis will. BESIDES AUDIENCES, the other major obstacle in the path of any Texas scene is the lack of the commercial apparatus. It’s a cold fact of life that you need a vehicle: record companies, good studios, as well as the middlemen agents, promoters and bookers who have more than some kind of wistful hippie notion of how to get a singer before an audience. Distrust of those middlemen has been the downfall of many a potentially good Texas group. That distrust is often justified, for the middlemen ranks are laced with low-grade hustlers and petty crooks and when it’s time for someone to get screwed, it’s the performer who gets it. Still, you can’t do it on your own. Music is a tough business and a beginner can’t always have it his way. There was a group in Dallas that Columbia wanted to sign, but the band held out for a six-figure contract, complete production freedom, and their own record label to be distributed by CBS. The Columbia executives just laughed. Goodbye, Dallas group. But why isn’t the apparatus here, if there’s so much talent? Because the record companies a cautious lot don’t feel there’s enough original talent to warrant the risk of setting up a major operation down here in the hinterlands. When they do accidentally find a Texan with commercial potential, they find it easier to fly him or her to either coast or to have them recorded at a reliable, independent studio, such as Robin Brians’ in Tyler. There’s another strike against Texans: performers who are obviously Texan are handicapped from the start. Record reviewers and program directors and audiences elsewhere have developed a knee-jerk reaction against Texas-consciousness. Press Releases We Never Finished Reading: “And now for something completely different in rock music Delbert & Glen, a funky Texas-R&B oriented group . . . ” Creep:, January, 1973. When,,bands flaunt their Texas-ness, it’s easy to. see ,why audiences in other parts of the country feel the way they do. Especially when as has happened in a club in Los Angeles a Texas group will tell an audience to “fuck off, we don’t need you. We’re goin’ back to Texas and get laid back.” That’s a handicap, this business of being “laid back.” It usually means, when you can get a grip on it, “inactive” or “lazy.” Or passive. Or static. Musicians who’ve lived here for a while have said that they get so laid back they actually regress, musically. There is something to be said, after all, for action and competition. Doug Sahm is a classic case. He spends three or four months a year in Texas getting laid 22 The Texas Observer back until he starts getting restless and then he’s off to New York or San Francisco and gets keyed up and cuts another album. For him, it works. But then, he’s an innovator, not a follower. And therein lies the crux of the record companies’ reluctance to invest in a Texas scene. Judging from the music that came out of Texas in 1972, the present crop of Texas musicians are followers, rather than innovators. Folk, rock, country, soul, blues by and large it was derivative and transparently imitative of what’s come before. Some notable exceptions: Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mike Murphey, Shiva’s, Freddie King. They, however, are musicians first and Texans last. They no more make a Texas scene than Leon Russell makes an Oklahoma scene. \(Russell has made frequent visits to Texas lately but LACK OF originality is nowhere more evident than in that behavorial sink known as folk music. The folkies cover Texas like potato blight and, in some opinions, are just as welcome. Musically, they’ve got the familiar Texas obsession with history and they reject their surroundings for those of their parents or grandparents and the outcome is faintly ludicrous. Is there something a little unreasonable about a UT sophomore from Bellaire putting on Can’t-Bust-Em overalls and hiking boots and singing about the Dust Bowl? One thing’ to be said for the folkies: they all manage to sound like slices of warm apple pie. Which is fine, if that’s your diet. But their rejection of immediate life around them also carries over to many would-be rock musicians and the result is fatal. In the first place, rock and roll is urban music. It was born of the city and carries the city’s urgency and rawness and stridency and random sub-currents of violence. Strip those away as do those who yearn to be Woody Guthrie and you’re left with nothing but amplified folk music: insipid, albeit loud, music that’s empty of all emotion save a vague yearning for a past that’s denied them. Texas’ cities, which are literally awash with vitality, should produce rock musicians who can reflect the quality or lack of it of life there. Instead, they’re full of bands who try to sound like anything but what they are. The Dallas-Fort Worth area, which has yielded such respected artists as Ornette Coleman and King Curtis, now claims Bloodrock and Nitzinger, practitioners of sludge-rock. Houston produces groups singing limply about escaping to a little cabin in Colorado. Or folkies like the one who pulled out a bus ticket on stage and sang, “Ah’m takin’ the midnight special to Austin and get my head straight, Houston’s messed up my mind, hope it ain’t too late.” Houston does have ZZ Top, who made one of 1972’s best singles more like rehashed English power blues. Austin well, in Austin a real cowboy recently laid his hat down for a minute and before you could say “Ernest Tubb,” a folkie put it on and started warbling about the coming of the railroad. Elsewise in Texas: lots of folkies, lotsa imitators of the Band, lotsa dull, sensitive singer-songwriters, lotsa dull, loud, boogie bands. And steer clear of Waco. Word/Myrrh Records there is cutting Vonda Kay Van Dyke and Anita Bryant and everyone else who’s turning to “sacred music” as a last refuge. Laudatory idea, but the records are less than dynamic. IN SHORT, MUSIC in Texas in 1972 was just like music nationwide: chaotic, trendy, capricious and dependent on a few genuine individual talents. No real structure to it and no identifiable regional influence. With one major exception: there is one indigenous area music that exists state-wide without attracting much attention. Texas’ one major contribution is Tex-Mex music. There are literally hundreds of musicians here who started with Mexican music in the midapd late-1950’s and to that they added strains of the rock ‘n’ roll and C&W and blues they heard on radio and jukeboxes and what they produced is unique. You won’t find it anywhere else but it’s been an identifiable sub-culture here for years. Sunny Ozuna, Freddie Martinez, Cornelia Reyna, Augustine Ramirez, Joe Bravo, Flaco Jiminez, Ramon Ayala: you won’t recognize the names, but they and countless others are established artists. They built their own music structure: the record labels, studios, radio stations, ballrooms. They even have their own language. That’s underground. The music itself varies widely throughout the state, from the accordion-dominated conjunto groups of the Valley to the “brown soul” of Sunny Ozuna to the horn groups of central Texas. And then there’s Texas’ most interesting musician: a live wire in McAllen named Esteban Jordan. He’s a short, one-eyed accordionist and guitarist who gained a lot of attention as the “first psychedelic chicano.” The most prominent band is La Familia, of Temple. They’ve been around, in different guises, since 1955 and the bandleader, Joe Hernandez, has established his own record label and distribution system. They have faithful audiences across Texas Hernandez has given lifetime passes to his regulars and in Chicago, California and Mexico City. La Familia regularly plays to SRO crowds in chicano ballrooms but they played at Armadillo in Austin recently and about 37 people showed up. The “community” saved its $6.50 to hear Santana’s ersatz Latin-rock. I
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