Good to My Earhole: 2,119-Mile Texas Trip

As is my habit, I set up a 400-song folder of Texas songs on our car’s iPod. In addition, I packed the audiobook of John Waters’ CARSICK, knowing it would be riddled with the cracked songs that are like illicit delicacies to The Prince of Puke. Here were our standout musical moments:

Jimmie Dale Gilmore: “Reunion” (with Lucinda Williams), “Just a Wave,” “Bhagavan Decreed” (with The Flatlanders)

We have long been familiar with this one-of-a-kind Texan, who fuses Eastern religion with the honky tonk upstairs, and Marty Balin (!) with Hank Williams Sr. But as many of you surely know, in close quarters and on long drives, songs you thought you knew cold unfold in new ways, or simply splash cold water in your face to remind you how great they are. Respectively, Jimmie a) tells his departing lover (via death? break-up?) that the Cosmos does not allow for true parting; b) is told by a departing lover that, however strong his love is, it is only a few cubic feet of what she needs and wants from the other waves (I emphasize the plural) in the ocean; d) reminds the profligate apple of his eye that “the highest place is under ground.” Sui generis, baby, sui generis.

Lightnin’ Hopkins: “Needed Time”

Have heard it a million times, always figured it was the original “Kumbaya” before it got clumsily Africanized by uncomprehending Christian Caucasians, then got pulled up short by what I think has been a mishearing on my part: “Now is a needed time.” Always thought it was “Now that I’ve needed time.” Just a slight adjustment makes it more desperate, more humbly pleading, more communal–even more of a masterpiece, one among many created by ol’ Sam. I could be wrong, but, sorry, folks, from here on I will choose to be.

Various Artists: John Waters’ CARSICK (unofficial soundtrack not yet available, but buy the book directly from Atomic Books, please!)

Waters has a killer record collection–I have seen part of it–and it makes an impact on everything he films and writes. The tunes in Carsick mostly energize the “Good Ride” and “Bad Ride” fantasies that precede his true tale of Baltimore-to-Frisco hitchhiking, and, after dutifully listening carefully and tracking all the songs on YouTube (not all are available there, a tribute to Waters’ eye for the obscure), I was dismayed to find the entire track listing helpfully supplied by the author at the end of the hard copy. It ain’t Texas music, but it kept us sane driving through that endless state:


Note: the book itself is excellent–among the many things it is (which includes severely aberrant), it is a warm testament to the decency and good cheer of the random citizen of the Yew Ess Ay! I shit you not!

Blind Willie Johnson: “God Moves On the Water,” “Take Your Stand”

The great intinerant country gospel singer whose “grain of voice” makes Howlin’ Wolf’s sound like Michael Buble (well, I am exaggerating a little) probably/maybe hailed from Marlin, Texas. I will let the scholars wrestle, but, upon traveling through Marlin, we could hear his wail whipping around the little town–and it’s 2014, not 1930.

Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns: “Let’s Get Pretty,” “Buena”

As Nicole and I forayed into Austin with fearsome one-man-band and fellow WordPress blogger John Schooley to dig in the local crates, I expressed enthusiasm about finding a particular vinyl copy of one of Joe’s early albums. Without missing a beat, John responded, “You can find it in any dumpster in Austin.” Ouch. Well, along with the B-52’s and maybe Quintron and Miss Pussycat, the Crowns were among the last of the great, great, great rock and roll party bands (just for example, their catalog of prime big-beat hedonism is a lot deeper than the Fleshtones–and they recorded with Michael Jackson!), they are eternally honored in my heart, and–NOPE, didn’t find what I was looking for in a dumpster OR at End of An Ear OR Antone’s (though I did find an autographed copy of their killer Hannibal label record at the latter, but then lapsed into a Lockhart BBQ hangover and forgot to grab it, buying instead a Johnny Bush-Willie Nelson duet album I already owned). Resist this:

Ornette Coleman Quartet: “Ramblin'”

Goodbye, RIP, Charlie. He, one of jazz’s greatest bassists, was from Missouri and Iowa, Ornette from Fort Worth. As a tribute to his life that just ended, listen carefully to these euphonious musical radicals play the honkin’ Texas blues as freely as the sky spreads, and listen to the late Mr. Haden insert a little Elmore James into the mix.

Rosie Flores: “Cryin’ Over You”

While in Austin, we also visited the teen-incey Ginny’s Little (I Mean Really Little) Longhorn Saloon, where we saw an old musical friend holding forth on The Fourth: Ms. Flores. As we entered, she was kind of slogging through a version of Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July,” then she took a break. After we (and she, quite likely) tipped a few cold bottles of Lone Star, she returned to the stage invigorated. Just a tiny thing, with reading glasses on and a music stand in front of her, cute as a goddam bug, she ripped into this old song of hers, and raised even the jaundiced eyebrows of our host with a sizzling solo. As soon as I got home to Columbia (a week and a day later), I had her first record on the turntable. If you’re in Austin on a Friday night and she’s got the bill, proceed post haste to the above locale. The crowd will be there for a decent reason, the beer is cold and cheap, and you can dance to her! In the meantime, dig this corny but sweet official video for the above.

The Sir Douglas Quintet: “Texas Me”

For us at least, no trip to Texas could be complete without a goodly helping of the music of Doug Sahm’s deceptively talented fake-Brit-Invasion group. Sahm (the ur-Willie), abetted by his fellow South Texans and Tejanos, could do damn near anything classified as American music, such as here–blithely and cooly melding loud fiddle, horns, piano triplets, and soul singing. If you ain’t already, GET FAMILIAR with the ways of Sahm.

Four Sounds I Really Like

Roky Erickson’s rock and roll cry:

For all Roky has been through–undiagnosed mental issues, hallucinogens, Texas cops, unjust incarceration, whacky custodial care, unhealthy fan worship, self-rigged residential clamor, the sheer ravages of time and The Road (which he is still rollin’ down)–his voice has proven extremely durable. Even in full-throated rave, as in the above, close listeners can hear not only a fetching Texas curve or two but also a vulnerability that, when he’s doing a ballad, makes him seem like he’s channeling Buddy Holly.

Johnny Hodges’ seductive, fluid alto sax:

As one writer whose name I cannot recall once wrote (I am paraphrasing), his sound is like honey pouring out of a jar. Note: I wanted to find a clip of his intro on Ellington’s early-’40s version with Ivie Anderson on vocals, which is almost unbearably erotic, but no luck. The Jeep could jump, but he could really ease back and beckon.

Natural Child’s unselfconscious, appealingly homely…groove:

I just started this blog three-four days ago and I have already mentioned this happy-go-lucky band of Nashvillians three times (plus posted an old article about them in the archive), but, dammit, they have their hooks in me. Whether they’re rockin’, bluesin’, hoein’ down, shufflin’, they lock in like The Rolling Stones’ little brothers, and they can catch up short with their acumen. I was hooked from the first note I heard and saw ’em play in 2010 at The Scion Garage Rock Festival, and I think this was the song. The bass is weirdly in the lead, and they love to yell-along. Perfectly unfashionable.

Anita O’Day–in flight!

Easily one of the most–if not THE most–underrated jazz singers ever, at her absolute peak. She looks smashing (and by her own admission in HIGH TIMES, HARD TIMES she was smashed), the band swings, the crowd projects the best (and quirkiest) aspects of the coming New Frontier, but Ms. O’Day steals the show. The lightness and fetching quality of her timbre (sorry for the fancy word), her absolute mastery of rhythm, her humor and sexiness, her DEFTNESS–OK, I’ll stop, just play it over a few times, OK?