Sundaze Conversations #13: Willie Pipkin

willie sundaze conversation

Get to know Willie Pipkin with us. Willie has more residencies going on that anyone I know and somehow he seems to add more. This guy is all about the music. When he isn’t playing, he is out watching. It’s really cool that if I’m not seeing an act with Mr. Pipkin playing, chances are he is in the crowd. In fact, a few years ago when I was getting this paper started, I used to often be at Blue Monday at Antone’s. Week in, week out, there were like 5-10 regulars, the Kung Fu Dancers were my favorites, but Willie, dreadlocks and all, was usually there. So is Willie Pipkin my favorite local guitar player? I can’t answer that because I have so many and I am out there digging them every night. I can say that my Sundaze ritual has been to see him play at Sinner’s Brunch. He is also a side gun for Toni. If you haven’t seen this guy, please change that. He’ll be a name that everyone will know soon. Thank you Willie for the time and the words. Thanks to Greg Etter, John Grubbs and CC Bonney for making this happen.

 

AustinDaze: Why do you do what you do? What kind of drives you to be a musician?

Willie: Lately, it is just who I am now. I play almost every night of the week, and I just fall in love with it more and more every day. I love playing guitar. More today than I did yesterday. That’s just what drives me. It’s just become who I am. What used to drive me really was all the players here in town, like Derek O’Brien, Jimmy, Johnny Moller. Guys like that, I just dug their sound. I always strived to get to that level. I’m still trying to get to that level. But now, I just relax and play. It has become what I do.

AustinDaze: When and how did you start to play guitar?

Willie: I started at 15 years old. My father owned a baseball card shop with Clifford Antone of Antone’s. I used to go up there and hang out with my dad, and I met Clifford through him, and other musicians that used to hang out at the card shop. One night Clifford took me into the club, which was right next to the card shop, and I heard some blues. I knew that night that that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I fell in love with it immediately. So I threw away all of my hip hop records and bought a guitar. I actually got my first guitar lesson from Kim Wilson from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, even though I didn’t really know who he was at the time. That’s who taught me my first Jimmy Reed turnaround and everything. That’s when I first started playing.

AustinDaze: When you first started, were you just interested in blues, or country, or what first?

Willie: When I first started, it was nothing but blues music. There is so much great music happening in Austin, that’s what I got into. I really got into Derek O’Brien. I would buy records that he produced or played on, and would just go home and play along with him trying to figure out how he did what he did. So it was always blues for me at first. And I always loved country music. Since I got out of high school, I fell in love with country music. I play it a little bit, but blues is my main thing. All the other stuff kinda came later. When I first started playing in bands, I had a punk rock band called One Trick Pony. We would play just punk rock music, because friends my age they didn’t care for blues, it wasn’t their thing. So I would just adapt to them. Out of that punk rock band turned into a country band, backing up a guy named James Hyland. Then that country band turned into a bluegrass band that became South Austin Jug Band. So I spent most of my 20’s trying to play bluegrass music and acoustic music. Which gave me good acoustic chops to where I could play blues and folk music, and country and bluegrass. Kinda like what I do with Toni Price now. That whole Jug Band thing got me there. But it’s always started with blues, and will always end with blues.

AustinDaze: There are some obvious gigs that you have: Little Elmore Reed on Mondays that you do weekly, you do Sinner’s Brunch at Jo’s almost every Sunday, Toni Price every Tuesday, Warren doesn’t do it all that often any more, but you do the Brew Birds on Sunday night, Tameca on Thursday. What are the ones we don’t know about? Here’s a good question: There are a lot of Austin musicians that have day jobs, which is just the reality of some situations. But I don’t know that you do, do you just play?

Willie: Yeah, I’m just a musician.

AustinDaze: How many gigs do you have to do a day for this to work? Do you try to do two or three daily, or does it just work out that way?

Willie: It just works out that way. Right now, I have 5 and a half weekly gigs, or is it six? Five and a half I think right now, because Warren is only doing the Brew Birds once or twice a month. But it just happened naturally. I know so many people here now. People just call me, you know?

AustinDaze: What are the ones we’re missing? There’s Peacemakers on Wednesday.

Willie: So, it’s every Sunday here at Jo’s, Monday with Little Elmore Reed Blues Band, Tuesday night with Toni Price, Wednesday night with the Peacemakers at Evangeline’s, Thursday night with Tameca Jones. Then the weekends are wide open for me to play with Warren or Tameca. Both of them always have something going on the weekends. But I also get calls from guys to play pick up gigs, like Travis Green, who is a singer here in town. He’ll just call me randomly wanting me to play with him. Or Paul Minor calls me up to play with the Texas Tycoons. Just random stuff like that. And then guys will come in from out of town looking for a guitar player. A lot of times I get to back up guys like harmonica players coming to town looking for a guitar player. I’m on a list of guys.

AustinDaze: One obvious one is Lazy Lester. You got to record with him?

Willie: Yeah, I did a little bit of recording with Lazy Lester. He’s making a country music record here in town. He came to town a couple of times. I got in on one of the sessions, so hopefully I’ll make the record. We pulled in Warren Hood as well.

AustinDaze: Tell us the story of how you met Lazy Lester.

Willie: I got lucky. Every time Lazy comes to town, he stays with Grady Pinkerton, who is a great guitar player here in town. One night Grady came out to one of my gigs, and we were talking about Lester and I was just telling him how I love Lester so much. And he said, “Well next time Lester comes to town, why don’t you come and be in the band?” That just floored me. I was like, “I would love to do that. If it doesn’t work out, that’s cool, and thanks for the offer.” And so we left it like that. Then a couple of months later, Grady called me and said, “Hey, Lester was in town. I think you’d be great. Come out and play with us.” So I went out and played with them. Then it turned out that Lester wanted to do some recording. So I just happened to be there and played some with him. Like I said, I just got lucky, thanks to Grady Pinkerton for that. It was just a great honor to be able to do those gigs with him.

AustinDaze: You tour all over the country and all over the world, what makes playing in Austin so special? 

Willie: You know it’s just the other musicians I get to play with. Everybody brings their own unique thing to the music. That’s my favorite thing. Last year, I did a lot of touring with Warren Hood and Hayes Carll and Emily Gimble. That was fun and all, but right now I’m so busy in Austin. And I just love it, because I get to play with all these amazing people. Like today, we had Greg Izor fronting the band. Greg Izor is a world class harmonica player, blues player. It’s such a great pleasure to play with him. Sometimes it’s Emily Gimble, who is one of the best singers you’ll ever hear. I get to play with her, I get to play with Tameca Jones. The list goes on and on.   So that’s my favorite thing, it’s just the community we have here in Austin. And all the world class musicians I get to play with every week, it’s just amazing.

AustinDaze: What is going on when you and Eric are playing with Tameca? Sometimes it’s like, not really a competition, but sort of throwing things back and forth with each other.

Willie: Yeah, me and Eric Zapata get to play together on the Tameca Jones gig. It’s just a pleasure playing with him. He’s just another type of guitar player that when I play with him, I have to step up. He’s another world class musician. We both have fun, because we’re both guitar dorks. We spend all day every day, me and Zapata, searching out old gear, old guitar effects pedals and everything. So when we get to play together, we have so much fun.

AustinDaze: So Austin’s been growing, obviously, over the years. How has that affected the life of a local musician?

Willie: The unfortunate part about it is that rent has gone up so really high, and property values have gone up. I don’t see me ever being able to buy a house here any time soon. That’s unfortunate. And rent, you gotta live on the outskirts of town now. All that’s unfortunate. Maybe the positive thing is that there’s more people, hopefully they’ll start coming out to the gigs. Friends of mine that play on 6th Street say the bars are starting to pick up again. A lot of people are starting to come out. Maybe that’s a positive thing. The main thing I notice is that the cost of living has gone up and gigs are still paying the same.

AustinDaze: You are always working, and have so many residencies in town. Do you have a favorite that you like to play?

Willie: Like what’s my favorite residency? Oh boy, that’s a slippery one. Like I said, I wake up every day and I’m excited about the night to come. Every night I’m excited to play. My newest gig is with Tameca Jones. And it’s such a different thing than I’m used to playing. That one’s fresh for me. I’ll say that. I look forward to that because that gig pushes me in a different direction than I’m used to playing. I’ve definitely been having a lot of fun playing with Tameca.

AustinDaze: Do you still play with Little Elmore Reed Band at the…? What’s up with that?

Willie: Yeah, Little Elmore Reed Band is still playing. The building is now called the King Bee Lounge. It’s actually a really cool spot. A lot of people are starting to show up to that. They got a full bar now. And pizza. They make a great pizza over there. That’s on 12th and Chicon. We play there Mondays from 10 – 1am and it’s really been picking up. It’s a great new venue.

AustinDaze: So you play a lot of different types of music?

Willie: I do. Like I said, I’m based on blues, but I get away with playing bluegrass and swing music. I’ve played a lot of swing in my day. I’ve dabbled a little bit in jazz, but I can’t say I’m a jazz guitar player by any means. Rock n’ roll, I really like playing rock n’ roll. I just love so many kinds of rooted music, you know, so I’ll give anything a shot.

AustinDaze: You’ve done a little songwriting. Are you doing any now? Is that something that just comes and goes?

Willie: It does for me. I don’t call myself a songwriter by any means. I’ve co-wrote a handful of songs with Warren Hood, and it really worked out. And I’ve got a couple more songs I’ve written recently. But I don’t consider myself a songwriter. They just come to me. I can’t just sit down and say, “OK, go!” I’ll just sit there all day. But every once in a while just a line will hit me, or a melody will hit me, or I’ll just be noodling around on the guitar and all of a sudden go, “Wait, that’s kind of a cool hook.” So I’ll start there.

AustinDaze: Can you tell us more about what is special about the people you play with here in Austin?

Willie: There is just a beautiful community of people and musicians in Austin. The cool thing is like people elsewhere, they get real competitive with each other. You go to Nashville, or LA or New York, it’s a competitive thing. People want to put other people down. You can tell when a musician is not from here. They come here and kinda like put everybody down. They soon learn that its not that way, you don’t have to be that way. People here, they just support each other. We all want each other to do well. Genuinely. When we see Gary blow up, everybody’s so excited about seeing that. Because we think he represents us. He came from the same soil as all of us. That’s how we look at it.

AustinDaze: You certainly see a lot of collaboration in all genres of music in Austin, but the blues community is especially tight it seems. I don’t know if that’s because I see more of y’all because of my particular focus on Austin music. But it seems like the way that group is a circle of people that play in all sorts of combinations of gigs. Not only that, but are out supporting the same people. Like if you were to go see Jimmie Vaughn at the Gallery, you would know certain people would be there. Because it’s like a community center.

Willie: It is. After Clifford died, and Antone’s is, well I don’t really know what Antone’s is right now, the rumor is its coming back, there was kind of a lull in the blues scene and people didn’t know where to go. It kinda got weird for a while. But now its great, there are so many players, of all ages, but young guys especially, coming up in their 30’s. It’s great. There’s a lot of us now. I think the Austin blues scene has really had a resurgence. You’ve got the Keller brothers here. You got the Muller brothers here. All that came from Antone’s. Once that club kinda stopped existing for a while, things got scattered for a little bit. But now I feel its really coming back strong. Especially with guys like Gary doing really well.

AustinDaze: What kind of wisdom can you offer to other musicians out there?

Willie: Just remember that the music itself is the reward, not necessarily making a bunch of money and “making it”. I don’t even know what “making it” is. I’m just so grateful just to get to play. At the end of the day, it’s like, wow, I spent my whole day making music. That, in itself, is the reward. Not being on The Voice, or whatever’s popular now, I don’t even know what that is.

AustinDaze: How do you stay healthy when you are on the road?

Willie: That’s hard. Actually, when I’m on the road, that’s when I’m not healthy. Because you are stuck with gas station food and fast food a lot of the time. Warren always tries to find a good salad bar somewhere when I’m out with him. But I guess the answer to how I stay healthy on the road is staying healthy at home. That’s really the only way to do it. And try to get a lot of exercise.

AustinDaze: What is a favorite gig or venue that you’ve  played?

Willie: This year, playing with Lazy Lester at C-Boys is definitely on the top of my list. We had so much fun with that. I’ve played a lot of gigs in my day, but as far as cool factor, that’s the one.

AustinDaze: Steve is really holding it together a lot for musicians. A lot of y’all really get to play a lot at Steve’s clubs, like the Gallery, the Continental and C-Boys.

Willie: Yeah, I really think that Steve has really held Austin together with all this change going on, all these clubs closing. Steve is really the main guy here in Austin that’s really keeping it alive. Once he opened C-Boys, it was like “Finally, score one for the good guys.” Because all these things were shutting down left and right. He’s really done a lot for the Austin music scene. He’s Number One. It’s like the Continental Club, all those guys are like a family. It’s a beautiful thing.

AustinDaze: Can you tell us about your most epic gig?

Willie: Let me think. I’ve done a handful of Austin City Limits music festivals. I think I’ve played that three times. And that’s always fun. Last year, I played Blues on the Green with Tamika Jones. And that’s a lot of fun, because you are the only stage playing. And you’re playing for I guess 10,000 people. That was a lot of fun. I’ve played the Moody Theater with Hayes Carll last year. That was a lot of fun.

AustinDaze: And the Brew Birds are playing tonight, right?

Willie: I don’t think we’re on for tonight. But yeah, the Brew Birds is a really cool band. We’re backing up Warren Hood. You got Warren Hood and his cousin Marshall, so you got that cool family thing going on, myself, Nate Rowe, and Baby Elvis aka Jordan Cook on the snare drum. That’s a cool thing. We play Strange Brew once a month. It’s a really cool acoustic band. I definitely recommend. We have a lot of fun. And it’s really nice to be able to listen to Warren. He gets to play a little bit more fiddle and gets to sing a little more because it’s not a loud rock n’ roll band. So I highly recommend that show to anybody.

AustinDaze: How did you meet Warren?

Willie: We were just talking about that the other day. I met Warren when we were in a band I mentioned earlier, I think it was the James Hyland band at that point. We were in our early 20’s. A friend of mine’s mother knew Champ Hood and was a big fan of Champ Hood and the Threadgill Troubadors. We were playing country music, trying to. And he mentioned that there was this kid named Warren who was looking to play fiddle. So I met Warren at the Music Lab on Krebbs Street on South Congress. The funny thing is we were in there drinking beer and smoking weed, and here walks in this 15 year old, scrawny, dorky kid, with his shirt way too big for him, walks in with his fiddle, and we didn’t know what to think about him. He looked like he was 12 years old. We’re like, “OK, plug in, let’s play.” And he started playing, and he was really into classical music at that time, so he had a really interesting approach at first to the music. We all did, it was cool, because I had never played in a country band at that point before either. We all learned together. We all came up together. Me playing music with Warren, it’s just like talking, because we learned together. We both influence each other still to this day. It’s just an amazing thing. I’ve traveled all over the country with Warren with different bands, with the South Austin Jug Band and later on with his own band. It was probably like 1999 or 1998, something like that if I remember, when I first met him.

AustinDaze: Were you going to Antone’s and watch the Keller brothers when you first started going to Antone’s?

Willie: I was yeah. I used to go and watch the Keller Brothers all the time. I used to be scared of those guys. Because I was shy when I was like 16 or 17. I would watch Mike Keller burn the guitar in half every night.

AustinDaze: How were all those high school kids getting into Antone’s?

Willie: I don’t know. You’d have to ask those guys. Those guys are from Fargo. Right out of high school they came down. They just moved to Austin to play at Antone’s.

AustinDaze: They must have had some special nose for talent. Or maybe it was an attraction?

Willie: It was an attraction. That was a serious place to play. Everybody in the world wanted to play. It was #1 at that time. The #1 club in the country for blues. I was just grateful. I would just drive down there by myself. Right when I got my driver’s license, I would drive to go to Blue Monday at Antone’s by myself. And they would let you in because it was all ages. So I would do that. It was like going to school for me. Every Monday I would go see Derek O’Brien. I remember one time it was me, my brother and one table behind us watching the Blue Monday Band. And that table behind us was Willie Nelson and his family. And he got up and played a whole entire set with the band, just for me and my brother. That was unbelievable.

AustinDaze: That’s a good place to end there. There’s your epic story. Which brother?

Willie: My older brother, Eric. I used to live with him right out of high school. I would drag him. He loved it. He’s not a musician, but he loved it. He would come up there a lot with me. That one particular night, we’ll never forget that.

AustinDaze: One of the sponsors of Sundaze Conversations is the author of this book, The Rockstar Remedy and Gabrielle Francis wanted to give you a copy.

Willie: Wow, thanks.

AustinDaze: Thank you.

Willie: Thank you.

A Night At The Parish – The Nth Power and Corey Henry And The Funk Apostles

On Thursday, Corey Henry and the Funk Apostles and The Nth Power played at The Parish on 6th Street. Both bands were really cool. Corey Henry and the Funk Apostles opened up the night. They were very keyboard-heavy band which was a good change of pace from what we have been seeing live.   The effects that he used were pretty awesome as well. Frontman, Corey, the Snarky Puppy keyboarist, had two drummers who were the foundation for the genre defying music that he, a second keyboard player and a guitar player were making. The music had elements of a lot of different styles of music ranging from electronic to funk and soul. It was a very high energy set and a great opener for The Nth Power.

corey henry  corey henry2  corey henry 3
The Nth Power took the stage shortly after and completely killed it. This band gave off great vibes from the very beginning. They played powerful soul fueled, jazzy, funk infused set featuring some top notch percussion. The two drummers, one playing the skins and other percussive instruments, the other a full kit, were both taking turns sharing incredible drum fills and seemingly improvised percussion breaks. The keyboardist, Nigel Hall, was also pretty amazing and added some great vocals to the mix. For one song, Corey Henry came out and the two of them played together. Toward the end of the set, one of the percussionists, Weedie Braimah went on this epic djembe solo, silencing the crowd and the rest of the band. I’ve never seen anything like this man’s percussive abilities on all of his instruments, especially on his djembe.   Just when you thought he might end his solo, it picked back up again. The only person who was just as good was his fellow drummer in the band and ex-Dumpstaphunk drummer, Nikki Glaspie. She was amazing, a true heavy hitter on her kit who really showed us her chops throughout the entire set. The two of them together were the backbone of the entire set. She even sang on a few songs. The bassist, Nate Edgar, was also very on point and laid down some unbelievably funky riffs. During the set, special guest and Dave Matthews Band saxophonist, Jeff Coffin, came out to play a few songs with the band. He had some really cool horn solos that he added.  H e sounded great. The front man, Nick Cassarino seemed to bring it all together on guitar and vocals. Overall it was a very funky and soulful night at the Parish with two amazingly talented bands.

nth power   nthpower2 nth power3

Shakey Graves Austin City Limits Taping

shakeygraves
Last Wednesday, Russ and I ventured to the Moody Theater for the Austin City Limits taping of Shakey Graves.  I saw the advertisement for this show on the ACL website a few months ago and was excited for it even that far back.   I had seen him live a few times before and his live performances have always been incredible. This taping was no exception. It was a bit of a homecoming for Alejandro Rose-Garcia (Shakey Graves), who was born and raised right here in Austin, TX.

He jumped right into his set after taking a second to soak it all in and feel the good vibes from the hometown crowd.   He kicked off the show with one of my favorites, Roll The Bones. With his suitcase-turned-kick-drum, tambourine pedal and electric guitar he set a precedence for the rest of the show, ensuring that it was going to be a special night. The powerful thud of that kick drum was enough to make you feel like getting out of your seat. He then jumped into some newer stuff and brought out his drummer, “Boo”, and guitarist, Pat O’Connor, for a few songs to add to his sound up there on stage. Some of the notable new songs, for me, played during the set were, “If Not For You”, “The Perfect Parts”, and “Family and Genus”. The dynamic range of within his songs, especially live, is something that I don’t see many musicians even come close to pulling off. He was constantly going from super dirty, overdrive ridden, distortion drenched electric guitar to near silent palm muted fingerpicking. He seemed in control of every aspect of the songs and would let it all go and bring the ruckus and then harness it all back together seconds later. The chemistry between the drummer, Boo, and guitarist, Pat was very impressive considering the amount of tempo shifts that went on during each song.

There was an acoustic portion of the night where Shakey Graves played solo with just his guitar and his voice. He even played a request from his mother, Chinatown (with a bit of kazoo added).  Some material from previous albums was also played, including “Built to Roam” and “Proper Fence”.  Again, the dynamic range even between the songs chosen for the set was very cool to hear. His stage presence was great and banter between songs really added to the fun during of the show. He ended with “Dearly Departed” and brought out local songwriter, Carson McHone. They were a fantastic duo and ended the set very nicely.  An inevitable encore happened and Shakey Graves took the stage solo again playing two songs, Hard Wired and Late July. The entire show exceeded my already high expectations. I would definitely recommend catching one of his shows the next time he comes back to town. This guy is the real deal.

Our Weekend At Old Settler’s

What. A. Weekend. We ventured out to Driftwood, TX this past weekend for the Old Settler’s Music Festival. It was a weekend of the outdoors, BBQ, a bit of mud, great music, great people, and all-around one of the best music festival atmosphere’s that I’ve experienced. We started everything off by heading to Camp Ben McCollough on Wednesday night for a pre-festival party. We saw Rhythmic Statues, who were a really cool jam band, and Dead-Eye, a local Grateful Dead cover band. Both bands set things off right for the weekend that we had ahead of us. This was also the night that I realized that Russ was a celebrity at Old Settler’s. He seemed to know just about everyone.

Thursday night we came back to Camp Ben McCollough where we started things off with Bill Kirchen, who blew me away. The guy was a total badass. He was like a musical encyclopedia in the way that he impersonated so many great guitarists and his original stuff was very solid as well. After Bill Kirchen, we saw the bluegrass band, The Infamous String Dusters. They were a bit poppy and polished for my taste, but they were a fun band of talented, very skilled, fast picking musicians.

Friday night, we went across the bridge to the real festival stages where we saw a newgrass legend, Sam Bush. He was one of the highlights of the festival for me. By the end of the set, he had everyone “Howlin’ At The Moon”. With the help of a band manager of the Mavericks and the Old Settler’s staff and volunteers, Russ got a front row seat for both Sam Bush and The Mavericks (and also for the rest of the festival). The Mavericks took the stage just after Sam and closed out the night with some really cool Tex-Mex style country music.

sambush       mavericks
Saturday, we began by seeing Hot Rize, a progressive bluegrass band who put a fun little creative twist on their set. In the middle, they changed into western gear and pretended to be a separate western swing band called Red Knuckles and The Trailblazers. Both bands were great and had a lot of character to their music. After Hot Rize, we headed down to the Bluebonnet Stage in another area of the festival and saw the end of the Lost Bayou Ramblers.  They were really rocking out and bringing it with some Cajun music. After we snagged some food, we decided to check out the ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. At points it was hard to tell that this guy was even playing a ukulele.  It was really astounding that he was playing like he did with just four strings.   The part of his set that we caught consisted of mostly instrumental songs and ended with a really awesome version of George Harrison’s classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Jake left the stage and we stayed for the beginning part of JD McPherson where we heard the first bit of plugged in real Rock & Roll that I had seen all festival. After about 20 minutes of that set, then headed over to check out Chuck Prophet. We got a prime seat in the front center of the stage, but unfortunately had to leave it because a storm was headed our way. I’m glad we did leave when we did because just as we got under cover it really started to come down really hard and they had to postpone the set due to thunderstorms (even some hail) in the area. After waiting around for a little while, we decided to call it a day and head home for the night to rest up for Sunday.

hotrize  redknuckles  jake

Sunday’s music was back over at the campground and turned out to be my favorite day of the festival. We started things off with Pokey LaFarge, who played folk/swing/eclectic American roots music. I felt like we had been transported back in time and hearing a traveling band from a dustbowl carnival. It was really really cool. The lead singer had a killer voice and had a set of really well crafted songs. His band was lively and energetic. They were one of the major highlights of the weekend and a total surprise at that. Shinyribs took the stage after to close down the weekend of music. He put on an extremely high energy, fun, and musically eclectic set that had people up and out of their seats dancing the entire time. At one point there was a conga line going through the crowd which the lead singer, Kevin Russell, and his horn players jumped into and started parading around the stage area. It was an awesome show and the perfect way to cap off our epic weekend.

pokeylafarge   shinyribs

 

2015 Old Settler’s Music Festival Preview

Mid-April in Texas means it’s time to drive through the bluebonnets out to the Old Settler’s Music Festival, for some Salt Lick BBQ, cold craft beer on tap, and some of the best music America has to offer. Old Settler’s is the world class festival in the Austin area that’s not over-grown, over-hyped, and over-crowded. Here’s a few of our favorites playing this weekend.

 

Sam Bush – Friday, 8:15pm-9:45pm
new sam bushPushing bluegrass into new horizons earned Sam Bush the title King of Newgrass. His bluegrass roots fuse with elements of other genres to make new but familiar sounds. An animated entertainer, Bush’s mandolin playing will blindside you, as will the rest of his backing band.

Hot Rize – Saturday, 5:45pm-7pm
Hot-Rize-624x269Old Settler’s has a long history with roots music, and knows a thing or two about booking real deal bluegrass like Hot Rize. Acclaimed bluegrass traditionalists Hot Rize influenced a generation of other musicians before they retired from the stage in 1990. The classic recipe calls for heavy servings of fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bass, and acoustic guitar. The reformed Hot Rize is still a fresh creative force, touring behind a studio album of new material.

Jeff Austin Band – Saturday, 3:10pm-4:20pm
jeff austinJeff Austin was a founding member and longtime mandolinist with jamgrass purveyors Yonder Mountain String Band. These days he’s doing his own thing with less jams, more hooks, and a focus on tight arrangements. Expect fireworks from the supergroup of sorts touring as his backing band. The Jeff Austin Band includes musical assassins Danny Barnes on banjo, Ross Martin on guitar, Eric Thorin on bass, and Cody Dickinson (from the North Mississippi Allstars) on percussion.

Robert Earl Keen – Saturday, 10:30pm-midnight
Robert Earl Keen PortraitKeen tried a different approach on his new release Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions. The resulting album serves up a Texgrass spin on classic bluegrass. Danny Barnes regularly performs his banjo hysterics live with Robert Earl Keen, and ol’ Danny is already booked at the festival. Will we get to see Danny guest on a solo or two with Keen? Will Keen’s set feature songs from their new bluegrass album? Come on down to find out.

The Mavericks – Friday, 10:30pm-midnight
mavsThe Mavericks make highly danceable music from an unclassifiable blend of country music, Latin beats, rock band energy, and soulful crooning. Their last stop in Austin was a sold out ACL Live at The Moody Theater gig. Equally at home in swanky downtown venues or Texas dance halls, this band will be fun to watch outdoors under the hill country stars, especially with their diverse group of fans.

Israel Nash – Saturday, 12:10-1:05pm
inThe former Israel Nash Gripka, now simply billed as Israel Nash, dropped his last name after relocating across the country to Dripping Springs, a symbolic rebirth of a new life and a new direction in sound. Less name, more volume, tighter Crazy Horse-like band cohesion. Nash’s recent batch of songs were crafted while soaking up the Hill Country lifestyle, so at Old Settler’s you can hear these songs in their birthplace. Music, like wine or bourbon, tastes better when consumed in the hills that produce it. Created locally, but gathering acclaim globally, his new album Rain Plans is a worthy blend of analog-era rock, Americana, and personal songwriting informed by a sense of place. During live shows, when the full band synchs together (which is usually the entire set), they appear energized from the music, unable to sit still, propelled into moving and dancing around stage, instruments in hand. A quick disclaimer for the record: one of band members has the exact same name as me, but I am not the pedal steel player hyping my own band. May we never meet in person, because like the Highlander there can only be one of us. And it would probably be him. Israel Nash and band have an early Saturday daytime set. See them up close and personal while you can, the crowds are catching on.

Lost Bayou Ramblers – Saturday, 6:10pm-7:25pm
LostBayouRamblers-624x418Straight outta Lafayette Parish, the center of Cajun culture, this progressive Cajun music band has a fun modern take on the traditional South Louisiana music they grew up with. Their songs still feature fiddle, accordion, and vocals in Cajun French, but it’s also got enough rocking drums and electric bass to earn them an opening slot on Arcade Fire’s tour.

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express – Saturday, 9:20pm-10:30pm
cpWhen Alejandro Escovedo was booked in 2010, real animal rock-n-roll was imported straight from South Congress to the main stage of Old Settlers. This year the festival booked Alejandro’s frequent songwriting collaborator and surf buddy Chuck Prophet. These two musical brothers built similar career paths, both starting as the band guitarist before stepping into the spotlight as a band leader. Prophet’s raucous early days set the foundation for evolving into a more countrified and insightful songwriter. Time moves forward, but Prophet’s edge is still there and is on display Saturday night.

Shinyribs
Saturday, 10:50pm-midnight
Sunday, 4pm-5pm
shinyribsfront2-624x413Kevin Russell gets the honor of two closing spots, one as the Saturday night midnight finale, and another as the last act closing down the campground stage on Sunday. After years of festival appearances with the Gourds under his belt, he’s somehow still finding a way to reach new career peaks in his Shinyribs manifestation. Still rooted in the Americana universe, his sound now covers a broader range from acapella to ukulele strumming to full on honky-tonk dancing. The man’s got the creative flow I guess. Songs and dance moves pour out of Russell, if the moment calls for it, he’ll dance like a flamingo taking flight or bounce around like a dashboard Jesus. When it happens, just roll with it, that’s what he’s doing.

The 2015 Old Settler’s Music Festival takes place Thursday April 16 through Sunday the 19th. Full lineup and ticket information can be found at: http://oldsettlersmusicfest.org/

Another Great Saturdaze of Music!

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Another great Saturday night of music in Austin was had last night. We started off our night by heading out to Stubb’s to see Yonder Mountain String Band play the Waller Creek Amphitheater. Ben Sollee was the warm up act for Yonder Mountain String Band and he was amazing. He took the stage with Jordan Ellis, a percussionist playing a Cajon, a symbol and other smaller percussive instruments. Ben Sollee was equipped with his cello.   I used to be obsessed with Ben’s album “Dear Companion” that he made with Daniel Martin Moore, so it was a quite the pleasure to see his cello skills live and in person. His voice sounded great above the well crafted instrumentation. His set was lively, and jaw dropping at times.  Although it was a short opening act, it was a great one.

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After Ben Sollee, Yonder Mountain String Band headed out across the stage. I had never really heard more than one or two of their songs before going to this show and had never seen them live. They played a mix of progressive and traditional bluegrass songs and had a great familial energy to them. The band consisted of Adam Aijala on guitar, Dave Johnston on banjo, Ben Kaufman on Bass, Allie Kral on the violin, and Jacob Jolliff on the mandolin. They all played very well took turns ripping on their instruments throughout each song. I have to say, I’m always impressed with how fast bluegrass players can strum and fingerpick, but the mandolin player in the band, Jacob Jolliff , was unbelievable. His fingers were moving a lot faster than I could follow as they went up and down the mandolin fret board. Allie Kral was also incredible with her violin. She had some pretty epic moments throughout both of the two sets. Banjo solos always stick out to me and are always the ones that I remember most and Dave Johnston’s were no different. Adam Aijala was holding it down on guitar with some awesome bluegrass guitar playing. Ben Kaufman was the backbone of the entire band with his stellar bass playing skill.  He was the heartbeat of the operation.  They all sang really well together and that added to the family aura being presented to the everyone.  It felt like, as they mentioned throughout the set, “homemade bluegrass” performed by a family.  During the encore they snuck in a bluegrass take on Ozzy’s “Crazy Train”, which was really well done.  They played over two and a half hours (two sets that lasted over an hour each).  It was an awesomely authentic bluegrass gig.

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After Yonder Mountain String Band, we switch gears completely and stopped over at the Continental Club to see T Bird and the Breaks play. They were a very high energy, part funk, part hip-hop, part rock and roll group from Austin.  It was a great eclectic mix of genres that just seemed to put a smile on your face from the first song.  They put on a really fun show and had everyone feeling all of the good vibes. T Bird and his band gave off some incredible energy and looked like they were having a lot of fun up there on stage. It was one of the more memorable gigs that I’ve seen at the Continental Club so far.

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The War On Drugs – Taping For Austin City Limits

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Yesterday, Russ and I went to the ACL taping for The War On Drugs. The War on Drugs is a fantastic band from the city that I used to call home, Philadelphia. Their latest album Lost In A Dream was crafted near perfect, in my opinion, and was one of my favorite albums of 2014. I was pretty excited to finally get to see them live. They played songs spanning their entire career from Lost In A Dream, all the way back to Wagonwheel Blues. The set started out with the first song off of their record, “Under The Pressure” which set a great tone for a great live show. Hearing the record in full continued to blow me away more and more with each listen, but actually seeing Adam Granduciel and the band play it live made those songs hit even harder. Adam’s guitar solos are atmospheric and so big. To hear him play in a venue like the Moody Theater was incredible. All of the songs played were amazing, but some of the standouts for me were “An Ocean Between the Waves”, “In Reverse”, “Lost In A Dream”, “Eyes to the Wind”, and the final song of the set “Suffering”. All of the guitar effects, keyboard melodies, saxophone riffs, harmonica solos, lyrics sang, and lively drumbeats seem so meticulous and deliberate with this band, while also sounding incredibly natural and free flowing.   It was a very well done show by an extremely talented group of musicians.

Saturdaze – Alejandro Escovedo at Strange Brew and Mike Flanigin Trio ft. Jimmie Vaughan at C-Boys

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Saturday night started off at Strange Brew where we saw Alejandro Escovedo play an acoustic set. I expected it to be a pretty awesome show and was interested to finally hear a stripped down version of the loud, high energy shows that I’ve heard him play at the Continental Club. It was even better than I had expected though. He featured Brian Standefer on cello and Elias Haslanger on the tenor saxophone.  The acoustic setting gave the songs a completely different feel. The arrangement of the saxophone and cello around his acoustic guitar was incredible. I felt like I really heard his songs for the first time. The Continental Club shows are great and a lot of fun, but at this show I got to hear Alejandro play the songs in a more bare bones (probably closer to how they sounded when they were first written) way. They had a much more honest feel to them and really highlighted his storytelling abilities. I gained even more respect for him as an artist and songwriter after hearing him in this intimate setting like this. As I told Russ, this was one of my favorite shows that I’ve attended since moving to Austin.  The atmosphere, the stripped down feel, the venue’s acoustics, everything was very well done.

After a great gig at Strange Brew, we decided to head to see the Mike Flanigin Trio at C-Boys featuring Jimmie Vaughan. I had never seen Jimmie live. Mike Flanigin played the organ and sang. Jimmie Vaughan played guitar and also sang on a few songs. They had awesome drummer, George Raines playing with them as well and they all sounded great together. It was very cool to see such a legendary blues guitarist live in person and at a local club like C-Boys. Flanigin’s vocals and organ playing, alongside the excellent drumming by Raines, created a great platform for Jimmie to show us his chops. I’m happy that we made the move to go to C-Boys. We had a great Saturday night and got to see a lot of really amazing music.

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(Photo Credit: Eric Swanson)

Grimy Styles returns to the Flamingo Cantina

We went to Grimy Styles at the Flamenco Cantina last night on 6th Street.  The show was insane.  It was a packed house for was their first gig there in a while.  I had never seen them or heard of them before last night.  I was told that they were one of Russ’ favorite bands and his old friends from when he used to do the First Thursdaze gigs down at Ruta Maya.

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Grimy Styles definitely didn’t disappoint. Read the rest of this entry »

The Nymphets

downloadWith a name like this, I thought I was getting into something risque, maybe taboo, or at least something that pushes the envelope. The Nymphets didn’t deliver any of this. In fact, the only thing I can say about The Nymphets is it was a giant tease. Writer/Director Gary Gardner must have wanted to show the audience what the ultimate blue balls looks like for a creeper.

Joe (Kip Pardue) rescue’s two young girls fake ID’s from a bouncer and then invites them back to his apartment. Joe is a fairly successful something year old who indulges the everlasting giggly twins, Brittany (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) & Allyson (Jordan Lane Price), two under age teens looking to get into trouble.

The Nymphets came across as more of a study on what happens when you let two teenage girls run their dirty mouths for an hour and a half. The two girls playfully tease and antagonize Joe, when really all he wants is to get laid by one of them. What makes The Nymphets uncomfortable is how Joe constantly creeps on these two girls that may or may not be able to legally drive. You can never tell if they want to sleep with Joe or just tease him, but either way it’s hard to really care.

I guess I was expecting something that had the ferocity of Funny Games or Cheap Thrills, but instead it played more like Lolita (the Jeremy Irons remake).

Petting Zoo

petting-zoo-sxsw-berlinWell, this film only affirmed for me why living in San Antonio doesn’t seem great. Getting past the city, Petting Zoo had potential and I’d be curious to see what writer/director Micah Magee does next.

Petting Zoo Takes place in the aforementioned city, and centers around a shy teenage high school senior, Layla (Devon Keller). Although I can’t say I remember what it’s like to be a teenage girl, I could never tell if Layla was acting on teenage angst, apathy, or maybe both. When we are introduced to her, she is just about to graduate and ride a scholarship to The University of Texas. When she is forced to with a game changing decision (teen pregnancy), Layla is forced to grow up (sort of) quicker than expected.

Most of the characters seemed wooden to me. I didn’t care or buy into Layla’s world. Part of this was due to the very unnatural dialogue that just didn’t seem to have much flow. To boot, the story didn’t go anywhere until maybe the last 20 minutes. I’m alright with a slow burn, but this just kind of caught a spark and fizzled right away. I think that was intentional because Layla’s ambivalence about things made for an ambivalent response from this viewer.

One particular scene was tough to watch where she has to have an induced labor after discovering her 3 month old baby is a stillborn. Not for the squeamish, so if you don’t like seeing dead fetuses, you might want to cover your eyes.

Petting Zoo wasn’t all bad. There were brief moments when Layla seemed like an actual person and not just flying on autopilot. She snapped out of her daze in one particular scene in time to argue with her and her man friend. The dialogue felt very real and raw, which was not felt in many of the other scenes. There were also some odd choices for edits/cuts, but the acting was fairly solid, throughout, especially by Layla.

Deathgasm will melt your face

deathgasmThis film was so metal, I might have had a Deathgasm after viewing it. This has probably set the bar for films at SXSW this year. I mean it’s about teenagers forming a metal band that happens to play a piece of music, the “dark hymn” that summons the devil and causes the townspeople to turn into demons. It’s a metal themed movie that didn’t disappoint.

I’ve been describing it as Shaun of the Dead meets The Evil Dead I and/or II. A film born out of New Zealand, the genius behind the film, Jason Lei Howden, came on right before the screening and said if we liked it, we should petition online for a sequel because he needs more work. I hope he has already written a script because I’d watch another ninety minutes of gore and mayhem.

I knew I was in love when the main character, Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) daydreams about being a metal guitar player on top of a mountain shooting lasers out of his eyes to remove the clothes of the girl of his dreams, Medina (Kimberley Crossman).

Filled with plenty of gore and some pretty gnarly deaths, one particular scene involved death by sex toys which was maybe the most brilliant scene ever conceived on film. A film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but never loses its eye on the prize, Deathgasm is a must see for everyone ever.

Night Owls

nightowlsI’m not usually into romantic comedy’s, but Night Owls was particularly clever thanks to the chemistry between the two main characters, Kevin (Adam Pally) & Madeline (Rosa Salazar). The story really grabbed my attention for about forty-five minutes. Somehow it just lost its charming momentum and started to feel stale as if the characters were running out witty things to say.

Kevin & Madeline enjoy a one nightstand where Madeline brings Kevin back to what he assumes is her home. He wakes up to find Madeline missing and he quickly discovers that she brought him to his bosses home. Kevin finds Madeline laying unconscious in the bathroom with an empty bottle of Xanax. Kevin has to keep Madeline from falling asleep for the rest of the night so the two are locked in and forced to get to know one another.

Tony Hale (Buster on Arrested Development) makes an unexpected visit, as a podiatrist for about five minutes and that was probably the best part of the flick. Also, Peter Krause has about five minutes of screen time. Man, he’s looking old.

The chemistry between the two main characters was solid and there were some well timed jokes with a splash of slapstick here and there.  I wasn’t able to buy into the budding relationship between the two characters based on the dialogue, but Night Owls was still enjoyable.

 

Assscat and a night with Upright Citizens Brigade

unnamedI felt like doing something a little different during the film portion of the festival on this particular evening. I went to check out UCB’s (Upright Citizens Brigade) Assscat, an improvisational performance at Esther’s Follies. I encountered the kind of crowd filled with drunk bros that muster the courage to try and make their own jokes by blurting them out in hopes of getting recognition from the actual comedians. Not my favorite kind of crowd, but definitely a cool departure from the other things I have done so far.

Matt Besser and Matt Walsh were in attendance as original cast members from the television show, Upright Citizens Brigade.They opened up the show by speaking to a crowd member who happens to be a reality television producer from Singapore and other crowd members that had developed their very own mobile apps. After some interviewing, they were joined on stage by Horatio Sanz, Katie Dippold, Lauren Lapkus, Mary Holland, Shanon O’Neill, and a few other comedians.

The way Assscat works is, someone from the audience yells out a word and a monologist on stage tells a story (usually embarrassing) involving this word. After the short monologue, the rest of the actors on stage play out various improvised skits around said subject.

Most of the time, I was in stitches and appreciated some well deserved fart and boob jokes. I noted that Horatio Sanz kind of seemed shy and hung back a lot during the skits. There was one guy who was jumping in to the limelight left and right. I understand stage etiquette and nobody appreciates a showboat. Either way, it was great to see that the two Matt’s haven’t lost their touch.  

 

 

Breaking a Monster

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I was sold on this documentary when I read that it was about a metal band consisting of three African American 8th graders. Their stardom was born after a youtube video went viral of the three jamming out on the streets of New York. Malcolm Brickhouse (guitars/vocals), Alec Atkins (bass), and Jarad Dawkins (drums/backup vocals) make up this juvenile power trio named, Unlocking the Truth.

Malcolm, the front man, is definitely the most talented in the group. He is definitely a monster on the guitar and with more years, he could be infinitely talented and start burning guitars on stage or playing with his teeth. He is also easily the most difficult and immature of the bunch, but he is outspoken and seems compelled to continue on and make music no matter what anyone thinks. Malcolm also sings (not well), but I was thinking, there are plenty of metal bands without vocals, but this was important to Sony for marketing.

The documentary chronicles the three from their infancy, as a band, (although they are young) all the way up to recording their first music video and recorded single. They struck a record deal with Sony for 1.8 million before they ever had anything recorded. Their manager, Alan Sacks, who brought up The Jonas Brothers and had a part in the creation of a little television show called, Welcome Back Kotter, has more patience than a Buddhist monk (he does meditate in the film). Sacks helped seal the deal with Sony although it seems like he thought these kids would be as focused as the Jonas brothers.

The documentary also explores how difficult and stressful it must be for kids that young to have the responsibility of transforming into a well groomed and marketable band, especially for Sony’s standards. It doesn’t help that the company is run by a bunch of rich white people, who all seem to have an opinion about what’s right for the band.

You can definitely tell from many scenes that the band does not seem to grasp how fortunate and lucky they are to have the music biz cushion and their veteran manager, which makes sense because they are teenagers that want to be able to act as teenagers, rightfully so. They’ll have to grow up pretty quickly if they continue down the path of stardom.

There were some exploitative references coming from the film, especially because they are African Americans that are not fitting the stereotype by not being immersed in the hip-hop community. There are notions that Sony and their manager are just in it for the money (of course they are). I’d like to know how the band does in the future and I hope that their egos can stay in check and they can minimize spoiled behaviors.

 

Unfriended

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I now know what it is like to stare at a teenagers computer screen for an hour and a half. Unfriended was an unlikely pick at SXSW, but it seems like the theme for this year is horror/suspense. Unfriended is probably the best representation of the video chat/web formatted films out there. I had pretty low expectations going in, the trailer made Unfriended look like a shock horror film, but to my surprise it ended up as a supernatural slow burn.

Cyber bullying is explored in Unfriended, when a friend of a teenage group kills herself after an embarrassing video of her goes viral. The film starts off marking the anniversary of her death when the friends decide to get online for a nice unsuspecting video chat. Quickly they realize they are not alone in their video chat, but there is someone who knows their secrets and plans to terrorize them.

Prior to watching Unfriended, the exec. Producer came out and talked about how the film the audience was about to screen may or may not be anything like the final film that hits the theater in the following months. That was a first for me and I didn’t understand why he mentioned this until after the film. So basically each take was the length of the film without any cuts because of the fact that the characters are basically on screen the whole time so it plays out kind of like a play. This also explained why there were some odd lulls in conversation, for example there are multiple scenes where the lead characters are talking to one another in a private message with the other friends hanging out in the background. So the filmmaker wanted the attention to be drawn to the private conversation which required the other background characters to be quiet. This kind of had an unnatural feel to it, but it only periodically occurred. Overall Unfriended was a pretty solid pick for SXSW.

The Final Girls world premiere at SXSW 2015!!

photoKicking off the festival this year on Friday the 13th no less with a high energy horror/slasher comedy, The Final Girls. The crowd was rowdy and it made this a memorable experience indeed. This film will definitely score points with slasher film aficionados and horror fans alike, but don’t expect the tautness of Cabin in the Woods, another film striving to hit meta status in poking fun at the horror formula. The Final Girls is one part, an homage to 80’s slashers and one part a story of coping with loss. Sometimes it struggles by trying to commit to both themes in 90 or so minutes.

Max (Taissa Farmiga, notably from American Horror Story) is a bashful teenager who is in the midst of dealing with her mothers untimely death from three years prior. Her mother, (Malin Ackerman) is best known for cheesy slasher films in the 80’s entitled “Camp Bloodbath” (basically Jason films). Max’s best bud, Gertie (Alia Shawkat) has a relentless stepbrother, Duncan (Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley) who desperately wants Max to attend the anniversary screening of Bloodbath that he and other fanatics are attending. Reluctantly Max does attend the screening and after a freak fire breaks out in the theater, Max and her friends are supernaturally transported into the film, Bloodbath. Max has a chance to reconnect with her mom, sort of, and The Final Girls tries its best to set the rules of the this world.

Sometimes the pacing is off of the film and it feels like there is too much space for improvised lines that could have been cut a little earlier. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some really fantastic and hilarious moments in the film. There is one particular scene that gave me a newfound appreciation for the beauty of slowmo, even if it was intended to demonstrate its overuse. The scoring is pretty cool and there is some pretty sexy dancing that is the detonator for the killer to appear.

The Final girls is a notable attempt by director Todd Strauss-Schulson and although it might not be an instant classic, it definitely is worth checking out.

Sundaze Conversations #12: Topaz McGarrigle

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Get to know Topaz McGarrigle with us. Topaz is my favorite sax player in town. There are so many phenomenal players here, so that statement has merit. We became friends long ago. I have followed all of his projects. I just like the guy. He has been a featured interviewee one more time than Toni Price. If you know me, you know that is special. The Daze sign now resides just above the back door of his club, Sahara Lounge. This guy has done much for me over the years. Here is a fond memory and example of that:
“Hey man, would you put together a backup band for a dream gig for me?” “Sure,” he replied.
The respect that exists between us is very cool. His new project, Golden Dawn Arkestra, is one of my favorite gigs.  Be sure to check this show out.  For years, I have been referring to Topaz as Carlito.  My name hasn’t caught on yet.  However, I’ll keep calling him that.  Thanks Topaz for the conversation. Our team this time was Belinda, Rockslide aka Grubbs and me. (Transcribed by CC Bonney.) Thank you for reading…

AustinDaze: Does owning a venue change how you play or think about music?

Topaz: No. Not really. Having the Sahara has been a blessing. We started our new project here, so its been a blessing to have a platform where I can do whatever I want.   Read the rest of this entry »

Sundaze Conversation #2: with Alex Marrero **UPDATED**

Get to know Alex Marrero with us. Alex is currently exploding all over the national music scene as the front man for BrownSabbath. We sat down with my old friend for a few words at 7 flags Coffee.. The team this time was John Grubbs , Caity Shaffer and I. Thank you to Alex and my team for helping me continue to do this. Here is #2: UPDATED WITH NEW QUESTIONS AND PHENOMENAL ANSWERS.  WE TOOK A NEW PHOTO AT JO’S.**
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**Daze: Since we talked last I think you’ve had a chance to hear what Ozzy has to say and I’m not sure, but I think you met him. I just want to know what your reaction to this info was?
Alex: Well, it was through our friend Eddie Torres who gave us a copy Read the rest of this entry »

Sundaze Conversations #1: Barfield- The Tyrant of Texas Funk *UPDATED*

Get to know Barfield with us. We sat down with The Tyrant after Sinners Brunch at Jo’s. The team this time was John Grubbs , Caity Shaffer and I. We had a good time. Make sure you see the Barfield show live. Trust me, you will be entertained! **This interview was updated by Russ Hartman and Greg Etter.  There’s lessons to be found if you’re paying attention.**IMG_0396

**AustinDaze: How do you stay healthy on the road?

I stay healthy on the road by drinking lots of coffee in the morning and salty snacks after the show.

AustinDaze: What do you think about SXSW?

 SXSW has become harder to navigate after Austin’s growth but I still enjoy playing a couple of events and catching up with friends. It’s also a great time to hear a variety of good music. **

Daze: When and how did you know that you’d be a channel for funky soul music?  Tell me a story of how it all started?

Barfield: It kind of morphed over years.  I started out in a garage band when I was in junior high school.  I came from the school of thought of how the classic 60’s guys like Mick Jagger and James Brown fronted those kind of bands.  Then I grew to love country music too, so I sang in some country bands, country rock bands.

I was born in Houston and was around a lot of that kind of music–high school soul, funk. It was all mixed, everything was kind of no holds barred.  It was like you can like anything.  So my dad didn’t play an instrument, but he liked whatever he liked.  He might like a rock song, and he might like some classic jazz song or something.  I grew up with that, but I think as time went on…

I was playing in Wisconsin with a little band when I broke off on my own, doing more R&B and blues and soul, and a little bit of funk with my other stuff. This guy billed me as Mike Barfield and said, “Hey, I hope you don’t mind, but I called you “The Tyrant of Texas Funk.”  I said,  “No.  That sounds good.”

When I came back here, that’s been ten years ago I guess, I told Steve about it.  That’s how I became billed as that.  I gradually started doing more and more of it, and met Johnny Moeller, the guitar player and Mike Flannigan, who plays organ upstairs.  Mike was originally in the band with me too, and when I was doing the funk thing we wrote songs together.  It just kind of came that way–we didn’t really consciously plan it as such.  We got into R&B and soul, then gradually started to morph it into the funk thing.  I think with me it’s like if I had horns and all, all the time, you’d watch it and someone with my persona would get lumped into Blues Brother things.  What we do, it’s not really pure funk and soul, it’s more of a garage approach, a small combo. I love all that stuff.  The fun of it is just doing it I guess.  Just being able to live life and enjoy it as much as you can.

Daze: You’ve always had a great band.  How did you meet all those people?

Barfield:   When I first moved back in here, in 2000, I was still playing with the Hollisters, and I was on Hightone.  We had a record, and the guitar player moved to Seattle. I had to grab somebody, and I grabbed Chris Miller.  He left the Marcia Ball band and came with me.  Chris’s kind of open, in the genre sense, and came up liking the same things even though he was from Portland, and I’m from Texas.  We did that for a couple years and I started wanting to make a record on my own.  I made a record called Living Stereo with Fort Horton Studios, and it had some covers on it, some country songs I wrote, and soul, R&B, a couple blues tunes.  That was kind of my stepping out thing.  I did a soul tune by a friend of mine and Chris and Dave Miller were on that.

I was playing one night with Chris Miller doing a little thing I don’t normally do, playing an acoustic gig at Flipnotics.  And Chris said, “Oh, Johnny Moeller is here, “ and was talking about Johnny’s guitar playing.  So, I went out to the Poodle Dog Lounge where Johnny happened to be playing and Lazy Lester came out.  That was the first time I met Johnny and his brother Jay, and Mike Flannigan. I started hiring Johnny a couple times, and we just got to know each other. I never believed that much in cornball destiny things; but, in some ways, you wonder why you connect with certain people or not.  It’s just happenstance. I don’t know, but as soon as I saw him play, I just knew I’d be playing with him, or I wanted to.

I met Nick Curran years ago too when he first moved to town; that’s how I met Damien.  Nick and Damien were playing together, and Damien goes “hey man, I’d like playing with you, give me a call.”  And, I called him.  I was a big champion of Nick and Gary Clark Jr.  I did a show opening up for Southern Culture on the Skids one time.  It was just me, Gary Clark, Jr., and Jay Moeller; we all set up in the front–the drums, and then Gary, and then me.  We had no bass player; I just played maracas and sang.  We did the opening show and called ourselves The Solution.  I’m proud of those moments.

It’s all kind of a good friendly big camaraderie here and that’s what I like–a lot of that kind of intermingling from people that play in different groups.

They (the band) are all inspiring to me.  They are younger than me, and you naturally feed off that energy.  I’m always looking for somebody that wants to have fun on stage too.  That wants to be original.  That is my thing as the band leader or front man- to have that freedom where you know that the guys you’re working with are all good at what they do.  You don’t want to press on anybody too much like, “I want you to it play exactly this way,” which would be more of the James Brown approach probably.  He was more of an architect in his way.  My blueprint is different. I have to let somebody do their thing and thereby get even more out of it, I think.  They enjoy it more ’cause everybody can take a little advice or something, but nobody wants to be told to play just “that.” They might take it for a while, but it’s more enjoyable to have freedom in music.  I call it just playing from the gut.  It’s strictly from your soul and from your insides.  Why would you want to hold that back in anybody?

Daze: You don’t hold back much.

Barfield: That’s great because I’m hoping that’s what’s happening. If you’re not feeling as good as you normally are…say you are feeling tired and what not, that will bring you up, make you feel better.  It helps the audience have a good time if you are enjoying playing, and I like whoever plays for me to always feel that.  You have parameters of course on the songs you are doing…

Daze: Do you have a preference between The Continental Club and C-Boys?

Barfield: I like both. I like the small, relaxed hang out at C-Boys with the little deck in the back.  So, that’s nice; it’s a little more intimate.  But, the stage sound on stage at the Continental Club is one of my favorites in town.  I love it, and I’m used to that site.  It’s got the perfect size.  The Continental has probably been my main stay and most favorite club in Austin for years.  I’ve been really lucky because I’ve been working there for a long time. Without that club, I think I would have had a rough time.  Steve Wertheimer is  a great club owner, the guy that owns both C-Boys and Continental Club. He’s been very, very good to musicians.

Daze: When did you decide to drop the guitar and be a front man?

Barfield: I never really was a guitar player anyway, really.  At first I started out as a front man only.  Then, later on when I started playing with this other band, the Hollisters, I had to get a chord book and learn basic acoustic rhythm to do that music; and so I did that for years.  I still enjoy that, still do it sometimes; but, when I’m doing this band, that just has no place at least right now.  There is something freeing about not having that to worry about.  Then, I can dance and I can do whatever I want to do.

Daze: Who taught you how to dance?

Barfield:  Just watching TV.  When I was a kid I used to love all of the dance shows on TV, even local in Houston–that would be the Larry Kane Show where they would just have dancers.  It would be like the old Dick Clark show.  You’d see kids dancing, and the bands would come on and play or they’d be taped and just had the music…and then Soul Train.  I grew up with that, my age group.  To me that was the epitome of free form dancing.  My last years in high school, the white kids wore platform shoes, long hair, and blacks had fros, whites too.  Those were the styles I grew up with in the 70s.  I think it’s timeless–I don’t think it’s ever gone out of fashion.

You can be free and ridiculous; you quit worrying about what people think.  If someone wants to laugh at me, that’s fine too.  I don’t really care.  It’s like I know that I’m going to enjoy my life as much as I can.  You want to make fun of that, that’s fine.  Some people just want to go “look at him” but I think it makes people relax too and they aren’t as inhibited about dancing.  Some people need somebody to be that for them, so that’s what I tell them, “I’ll take care of the embarrassment for you.  You don’t have to worry about it.”

Daze: Is that part of what’s behind lyrics like “Popping the Cooch?”

Barfield: Yeah, subconsciously, I’m sure that is a lot of what it is.  I got that because one of my friends used to talk about this guy he worked with, who would brag, kind of joking around humor like, “This is how you pop that cooch,” and make that sound and do it (clicks his tongue).  It’s nasty, but at the same time it’s harmless fun.  I had a whole group of girls in Lincoln, Wisconsin.  They came out and said, “We’ve got a surprise for you tonight.”  I was like, what is it?  “It’s about music.”   And I thought, are you gonna bring me a record.  So, I get to this show, and all of a sudden they’ve got this look on their face and they pull their shirts off and they all have tank top or a black t-shirt that said “Popping the Cooch” on the shirt.  My point there is that some girls don’t find that offensive.  It’s not my wife’s favorite song that’s for sure.

Daze:  You mentioned James Brown before.  How do you feel about being compared to him?

Barfield: I’m flattered if someone even thinks about comparing me to James Brown.  There are only a few musicians that have been giants, Mount Rushmore type figures in music.  He would be one to me.  He took some musical form like rhythm and blues and soul music, and all of a sudden he accents it another way.  Just by his natural instincts, and lack of formal training, comes up with this thing that nobody has come up with.  He truly is the Godfather of Soul.   He started out more as soul and became funk.   I can’t think of anybody I would say has been more influential.  There’s a movie coming out about him that Mick Jagger produced.

Daze:  Did you ever get to meet James Brown?

Barfield: No.  I saw him once in his later years, but even at that age, he was still very tough.  He was like 70 years old and still doing a couple moves.  Maybe he didn’t sing as good as he used to, but he was great.  The band was machine tight.  I mean, I wish I could have seen him way back.  A lot of my favorite singers are people of that era.  I wish I could have seen Jackie Wilson.  I love him.  He’s a singer, and his vocal range is so different from mine.  I am naturally a baritone, but I kind of have a high end to my voice; so, I have always admired someone who has that higher range.

Daze:  What is your writing process like?

Barfield: When I am writing for this band, or trying to, sometimes I will have an idea on my own; or, other times, Johnny will have an idea about a rhythm or chord progression, and I’ll put lyrics to that.   Sometimes I’ll have both.  “The Struggle” I wrote myself.  “Popping the Cooch, I wrote.  With the Struggle, I originally wanted a song that just stays on the one all the time.  And that’s what that song was.  Some stuff I will start off on the acoustic guitar.  Lately, I am writing a lot with Johnny.  And I used to write a lot with Mike Flannigan too.  I like having a partner in crime.  Sometimes the whole band will get in on it.  Sometimes they just help arrange it.  It just kind of depends.

That’s what’s fun about being in a group.  Feeling like if it is really going good on stage, or if you come up with something good, you almost feel like you are part of a big wheel that’s turning.  You’re making this whole thing go.  At the same time, you’re just a big spoke in it, part of the thing that’s pushing it forward.  When everybody is in that, and the whole band can feel it, there is nothing like that.  I love that feeling.  It is kind of like you are tripping in another way.  You are physically involved, and mentally involved, but it’s relaxed.  It’s just happening.  All those things you’ve worked on before.

But “good’ and “bad’ you know.  Some nights when I feel it’s not as great, that’s when everybody goes, “Man, that sounded so good!”   And you’ll think, “Oh, I thought we were a little bit off.”  It’s a strange thing.  That makes you realize, “I don’t have a whole handle on it either. The people out there; they are the ones making it too.”

Daze:  What’s next for you?

Barfield:  We are trying to get a little EP out.  We’ve got a recording we are waiting on to get mastered.  Hopefully, we’ll make some vinyl.   Some CDs.  Have a release party.  Try to get out more.  I am looking forward to that.  It’s always hard too—the waiting.  I just try not to worry about things like this as much as I used to.  Take it day by day…

Daze:  Do you have a lot of gigs this week?

Barfield: Tuesday night, at the Continental.  Just about every week.

Daze:  Your gig is one that, definitely, everybody in Austin needs to go out and see.  Thank you for doing this.

Barfield:  Ah, you bet.  Thank you, man.