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THE ORIGINAL TEXAS MUSIC MAGAZINE

July 2019 VOLUME XLIIII, NUMBER 12

On Stands Now!

Buddy Magazine: The Original Texas Music Magazine Dallas Texas July 2019

In This Issue:
Gary Nicholson
Mickey Raphael
Tenth Annual Harmonica Blowout
South Austin Moonlighers
Record Review

A true double whammy

Garland native Gary Nicholson, aka Whitey Johnson, delivers with two new CDs

By Jan Sikes

Gary NicholsonNative Texan, Gary Nicholson, has a mile-long list of achievements as a songwriter, producer and performer, including writing credits on hundreds of hit songs recorded by artists so famous they require no last name. Nicholson, the 2011 Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee makes no apologies for the honesty and grit he shows on his two new albums, The Great Divide and More Days Like This, both released on Texas label, Blue Corn.

While the two records are vastly different, they do have one common denominator: Gary Nicholson, aka Whitey Johnson. Releasing the two albums simultaneously allowed Nicholson to showcase the divergent paths his music takes.

Gary Nicholson

Billy Bob's TexasThe Great Divide is a folk-rooted album consisting of mostly self-penned songs in which Nicholson contemplates the troubled state of our nation. I was reminded strongly of Woody Guthrie as I listened.

“I have a grave concern about what’s going on in my beloved country,” allowed Nicholson. “It’s not like I set out to come up with some kind of a protest record. But as I got into it further, I made a conscious effort to keep it as non-partisan as I could. And, so far, I’ve had great response from both sides. All the music for this record was written to try and heal the great divide and to offer some common ground for everyone. How important are these differences that we can’t choose love?”

This poignant album starts with “God Help America.” It is sung to the tune of “God Bless America,” but is a compelling plea or prayer. And when Ruthie Foster infuses her soulful voice with Nicholson’s, it will raise the hair on the back of your neck. It’s that powerful.

Jimmy Wallace Guitars“I’ve been a songwriter all my life, and made a living,” Nicholson explained, “and now at this point, I am more interested in saying something more socially conscious to pass along than just another love song ditty or whatever. I feel like if I’m going to be a communicator, I need to communicate what’s in the air for everybody right now, and I didn’t hear it anywhere else.”

Nicholson was a teenager in the ’60s, when there were socially conscious songs like “For What It’s Worth,” “What’s Going On” and “Give Peace A Chance.”

“The Beatles and the Stones got us through some of the most turbulent times ever in our country,” said Nicholson. “Maybe I’m not looking hard enough to find the music that’s relevant to our times. I’m sure other people besides me are making music like this, but I’m not aware of it. So I was compelled to write the music and get these songs out.”

“Soft Spot” recalls a time when people lent a helping hand to others in need, in contrast to today’s climate of every man for himself.

With “Immigrant Nation,” one of The Great Divide’s more politically controversial songs, Nicholson makes the point that our nation was built on immigrants.

Zoo MusicSongs like “We are One,” “Hallelujah Anyhow” and “Choose Love,” are positive songs of encouragement and hope.

The title track, “The Great Divide,” speaks poignantly of how we have allowed ourselves to become a nation divided against itself. “We’re all in this together/So I have to ask why/If we’re all in this together/Why? Why?/The great divide…”

When asked if “Nineteen” was based on a true story, Nicholson replied, “It’s kind of a composite story. I wrote that with Jeffery Steele and Tom Hambridge one evening, and it’s just a soldier’s story. The interesting thing is that I had this title “Nineteen” with no idea it was going to turn into a soldier song.”

Nicholson is an active participant in Songwriting with Soldiers. These are retreats where songwriters work one-on-one with soldiers to express their emotions through song as therapy. He’s heard many stories that can easily be related to “Nineteen.”

Nicholson said he’s still writing new songs along this same vein. He recently finished “Woody’s Dream,” honoring the profound work of Woody Guthrie.

Gary Nicholson

It’s a safe bet that The Great Divide won’t be Gary Nicholson’s last attempt to bring awareness and healing to our great nation through his music.

Whitey Johnson

Stagecoach BallroomAnd then there’s Whitey Johnson. When Nicholson does blues shows or records a blues album, he does it under the name, Whitey Johnson.
“I wrote a short story as part of a book called ‘Short Stories by Songwriters.’” Nicholson offered.

“There are contributions from Kristofferson and John Hyatt and various others. My story was about Whitey Johnson. He was a composite guitar hero of mine growing up.

“He was black, but he was an albino, and his family called him Whitey. He played a Gretsch White Falcon guitar.

“The story goes that he died in a church fire started by the Klan. He was trapped and couldn’t get out.” Nicholson paused.

“So anyway, I started playing a lot of country blues with my friend, Colin Linden, and one day we went to Sam’s Menswear in Nashville, and there was a white suit in the window. It was a two-for-one sale, so for $15 more, I got a purple suit for Kyle. And that started the Whitey Johnson thing.”

There are no cover tunes on Whitey’s new album, More Days Like This and only a handful of co-writers.

And, let me just say there are no bad tracks on this album - I loved every song. The musicianship is superb, and Whitey’s performance on each number is unparalleled. He is a master guitarist and songwriter.
The title track, written by Nicholson and Seth Walker is uplifting and celebratory. “I want to have more days like this/and more nights like that…”

“Starting a Rumor” is a co-writing collaboration with Nicholson, Guy Clark and Delbert McClinton.

“I always tried to get Guy Clark and Delbert McClinton together more often, because they are two of my favorite songwriters,” Nicholson explained.

One song that really stands out, “Upside of Lonely,” is such a clever play on words and circumstances and Whitey is joined by Delbert McClinton’s harmonica.’

“That song was inspired by an old friend of mine that I played for his wedding, and then he had a couple more weddings. So I wrote the song about his ol’ lady leaving.” Nicholson laughed. “He was watching a big screen TV and eating out of a half-gallon of ice cream sitting in his lap. And, he had chips all around and a bottle of Bourbon by the chair. I asked him how he was doing since his wife left and he said, ‘Well, as you can see, I am doing just fine. Everything’s cool.’ So, that gave me the idea to write a song about him and call it the “Upside of Lonely.” My friends, Tom Hambridge and Jimmy Thackery joined me in writing it.”

“Friction,” a funky blues tune has the typical Nicholson double meaning in the lyrics. There is friction that’s a drag and friction that’s a pleasure. He covers it all in a three-minute song.

With a solid blues backbeat and a full horn section, “The Blues is Alive and Well” is another favorite.

“I am so fortunate that my friend, Tom Hambridge, produces Buddy Guy’s records,” said Nicholson. “When I get an idea for a blues song, I can take it to Tom, he’s a really great songwriter, and together, we can customize it for Buddy Guy. He’s recorded over twenty-something songs of ours that we’ve co-written.

So, “Blues is Alive and Well,” Buddy Guy is alive and well. He’s carrying on, and it just seemed like an appropriate song for him. It won the Grammy for the Blues Recording of the Year, and it won the Blues Music Award for the Album of the Year, so I thought it would be a good thing for me to do my version of it on this record.”

It’s easy to see the signature songwriting throughout More Days Like This as Nicholson is the master at word play. “High Time” is a prime example as well.

Backup bands

Nicholson doesn’t travel with a band, which is unique for a performer who plays so many dates every year.

“I have bands all over the country, and I travel from one band to another instead of trying to take musicians on the road with me, which can get very expensive,” Nicholson explained. “I have this really amazing band in Nashville. It’s the core band that played on More Days Like This. We play almost every Tuesday in Printer’s Alley at a place called the Bourbon Street Blues Bar. And we’ve been doing that for quite a while now. We get a chance to try out the songs, and everybody finds their parts, and that makes it easy to make a record with them.

“And, I have an extra great group in Austin, as well. Great players like Derek O’Brien, Kaz Kazanoff, Tommy Taylor and Chris Marsh.

“Then in Dallas, I play with another great bunch of guys. John Bryant played drums with Ray Charles for eight years, Jim Milan has played with everybody in the DFW area forever, and many times I can have Anson Funderburgh with me in that band. Then I have great players in LA, one in San Francisco, one in Chicago and a new one coming together in New Orleans. I have a lot of fun playing music.”

That last statement is more than apparent on Whitey Johnson’s newest album.

Of the two types of music, the Americana-folk style we hear on The Great Divide and the funky blues on More Days Like This, I had to wonder which one Nicholson enjoys the most.

“Well, they are both completely different in ways but also similar in ways,” he said, by way of answering, “I think the fact that when I perform as Whitey, I’m with a band and I’m getting to play electric guitar solos and interact with the musicians, it can’t help but be more fun than playing solo.

“But the other side of that coin is the direct communication of one guy playing a song to an audience that’s completely into listening. You’re not trying to make them dance. It’s all about the direct communication of the song. It’s all about listening, and that’s a special experience.”
At the time of our interview, Gary Nicholson was in Greece, but will be heading back to the U.S. soon and has show dates booked in Texas at the end of August.

For more information visit garynicholson.com

In the meantime, pick up both of these special albums. I can promise you won’t be disappointed.

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A view from the reeds

Mickey Raphael’s harmonica odyssey with Willie Nelson and Family

By S.D. Henderson

Mickey RaphaelYou might have had to read Homer’s The Odyssey when you were in high school, or maybe like me you had to at least read the Cliff Notes. Suffice it to say that all epic quest narratives begin with great mythical heroes. Ours is no different. Today we trade Homer for Hohner, and the ancient Greek isles or wherever for Texas. This is the Cliff Note version of Mickey Raphael’s odyssey; who has played harmonica alongside Willie Nelson for more than 45 years.

It’s not hyperbole to frame Raphael’s career in the context of epic mythology, especially in Texas, and especially given the figures that set the wheels in motion almost fifty years ago. You see, Mickey Raphael grew up in Dallas hanging out at folk club’s like the Rubaiyat off Maple Avenue seeing local luminaries like Ray Wylie’s Three Faces West and Michael Martin Murphey in the formative parts of each of their careers.

At this point, the harmonica was still just something to carry around in your pocket, as Raphael relates, “When I was a kid, I always had one, I just kind of carried it around just doodling with it, I wasn’t playing with anyone, but I always carried one.”

The moment

The GoatRaphael recalls the moment that the harmonica transcended pocket toy and became his life’s work. It was a cold and stormy night at a smoky folk club when Raphael was struck by another local kid playing harmonica. That kid was Don Brooks who would go on to play with Waylon Jennings and most of the folk musicians of the known world. Raphael recalls, “When I heard Donnie play it just moved me so much, I thought I’ve got to learn to play the harmonica. I was hooked.”

To be fair, the cold and stormy night was just artistic license, but all the other facts check out. Mickey buckled down, and really taught himself to play and started sitting in with bands and musicians around town. He was working with B.W. Stephenson playing gigs and refining his skills across the state. Raphael’s reputation as a harmonica player grew out of those circles eventually leading to the ear of another titan of Texas history and mythology.

You have to understand a little about Texas history in the 1970s to get the full magnitude of the following events. Both Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston were by this time, quite dead. Nolan Ryan had only thrown two no hitters and was still playing in California. Darrell Royal closed out the sixties and opened the seventies with football championships at UT, enshrining him in the pantheon next to, or just ahead of both Houston and Austin. Willie was then, and remains to this day, Willie Nelson.

One-night Darrell Royal, a huge music fan himself, called Raphael and asked him to come to the team hotel after a game in Dallas for a “little picking party” with some friends. Raphael recalls, “Coach asked me to bring my harmonica and said ‘I’d like to meet you’ so I get there and it’s Willie Nelson and Charlie Pride and other guys passing the guitar and singing songs.”

After playing around the room, and meeting Willie formally, Nelson extended an invitation to Raphael to sit in with him whenever he was in town. Sitting in settled in to playing together for the next forty-five years. The family has changed over the years, some passing away others stepping aside, but Raphael has been a steady original presence from the beginning of the longest chapter of Nelson’s music.

It’s an interesting footnote in liner note history that the two most prolific figures in outlaw country recruited their harmonica players from Dallas. Mickey Raphael has played on almost every single project and tour Willie has undertaken for the past four decades. Don Brooks’ stint with Waylon Jennings, both on tour and in the studio, was shorter, but both players were at the epicenter of the movement from inception to zenith.
A lot of guys play a harmonica, some of them titans. Dylan plays a harmonica; Neil Young plays a harmonica; but there is a huge difference from a guy that plays “a” harmonica and a guy that plays “the” harmonica.

Mickey RaphaelMickey Raphael is a guy that plays “the” harmonica, and the subtlety is not lost on him. When asked about the challenge of playing harmonica, Raphael said, “The hardest thing about playing the harmonica is knowing when not to play.”

As an instrument, the harmonica is different from almost any other. At first glance, it seems limited, confined to one key and generally possessing a more limited range than other instruments, but in the hands of a masterful player and with a small box of other pieces it’s almost limitless.

Raphael was attracted early to the lure of his instrument. He added, “It’s something you can carry in your pocket. It’s portable, and it becomes a part of you. It’s such a personal and expressive instrument.”

The harmonica has been employed most dramatically in two lines of American music tradition. It’s been a powerful voice in both blues music and folk music, two distinctly American music forms; each requiring a depth and personal connection to the song. Blues players get more attention, painting with much broader strokes; but folk players use the instrument to create a plaintive environment for expression. Raphael definitely comes from the folk tradition, influenced by an amazing lineage of players before him; by session legends like Charlie McCoy and folk and crossover artists like Jimmie Fadden of original incarnation of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Tavern On Main StreetRaphael’s harmonica style perfectly complements Willie’s sparse vocal and guitar styling. Other players, bluesmen like Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds or John Popper of Blue’s Traveler shred the harp like a lead guitar turned up to eleven. Raphael has always played the harmonica like a jazz musician and watching them play together is like watching modern masters at work. That’s not to say Raphael can’t turn it up to eleven as well, he performed the harmonica solo for Motley Crue’s hit “Smoking in the Boy’s Room” as one prime example.

Signature style

His signature style is tailor made for expression and evoking a mood within the context of the song and has always matched Nelson’s wide exploration of mood and tone. To play with Willie you have to be able to stretch beyond genre and make it your own, and that requires a deft hand and equally dexterous musicianship. You can hear Raphael’s unobtrusive accompaniment tie many of Nelson’s works together throughout his discography.

When pressed, Raphael picked some albums to highlight some of his historic collaborations. He said, “Teatro, definitely, and I didn’t play much harmonica on that one, is one of my favorites. Across the Borderline and of course, Stardust. And I really love My Way, I loved working on that album.”

Mickey Raphael

People with an ear for the elements that hold roots music and country music can appreciate the sensibility and virtuosity that Raphael brings into the studio and on the road. It’s no surprise that artists on the vanguard of traditional music and songwriting have sought Raphael out during downtime touring with Nelson. Raphael chooses his projects and collaborates around touring and session commitments, for which there is no shortage. Raphael said, “Now I’m doing some dates and records with Chris Stapleton” who mines from a very similar vein of traditional song craft.

The next time you listen to a Willie Nelson album, or see him play live, pay close attention to the interplay between Mickey Raphael and Willie Nelson. Note how effortless it seems to breathe out the music, even as breath becomes a challenge for the elder statesman. When you listen, close your eyes and listen for the backdrop of the harmonica subtly setting the tone in a world increasingly devoid of subtlety. Things like that don’t occur by accident, they are forged in the mythology of Texas.

The opportunity to see it in person, like all other things, is limited, but the body of work endures.

This particular chapter hasn’t been fully written. Although Darrell Royal has joined Sam Houston and Stephen Austin; and University of Texas football is now but a sad shadow and afterthought, there’s one remaining legacy that Royal sparked away from the gridiron, and it might be my favorite. Picking up the phone and calling Mickey Raphael over to play with Willie Nelson is a lasting contribution in the annals of Texas music history.

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Tenth Annual Harmonica Blowout

By Brian “Hash Brown” Calway

Tenth Annual Harmonica Blowout

I feel the harmonica is just as “vital to the blues as the guitar, yet it does not get enough attention,” declared KNON DJ Mark Pieczynski, better known as “Sonnyboy Mark.”

“This has been my project since the beginning,” he elaborated. “This annual event started as a relatively modest affair, using only local blues artists. Since then, it has grown into one of KNON’s  top-selling shows each year, either selling out completely or close to it.

“We are mighty pleased to be hosting the tenth anniversary of this event. Some of the past headliners  have been swamp blues star Lazy Lester, Muddy Waters sideman Paul Oscher, West Coast blues harp giants James Harman and R. J. Mischo, and Texas blues kings Mike Morgan and the Crawl featuring Lee McBee. All world-class harmonica stars.”

KNON 10th Annual Harmonic BlowoutMark has been at KNON since 1998, and he has worked hard to make this yearly event the success that it is. 

A cheap affordable instrument that can be carried in one’s pocket, the harmonica has had many nicknames “mouth harp,” “tin sandwich,” “tin whistle,” and “mouth organ,” just to name a few.

No one knows for certain who actually invented the harmonica. The roots of the harmonica go back to ancient China. The sheng featured bamboo reeds that you blow into, and it became prominent in Asian traditional music. 

The modern harmonica was invented and developed in the early 19th century in Europe by Johannes Richter. It used brass reed plates, and he also added a draw note plate below the blow note plate.

In the late 19th century, Mathias Hohner further refined the instrument into today’s

10-hole diatonic harmonica.

With the advent of mass production in the 1870’s, the Hohner company started an aggressive overseas marketing campaign. In a short space of time, Hohner was shipping millions of harmonicas to  America. By 1900, half of the harmonicas made in Germany were sold in the United States. 

The harmonica became very popular in blues and popular music in the 1930s and 1940s, through players such as Deford Bailey, Noah Lewis, Jazz Gillum, and John  ‘Sonny Boy’ Will-iamson.

The popularity of the blues harmonica continued to grow throughout the first half of the 20th century. After WWII, Chicago became a major center for blues, with such great harmonica players as Snooky Prior, Walter Horton, Rice Miller, Junior Wells, and the great ‘Little’ Walter Jacobs. Since then, the popularity of the harmonica has remained steadfast in blues music. 

“This will be our 10th annual harmonica blowout show,” Sonnyboy Mark continued, “and we are looking forward to it.””

Tenth Annual Harmonica Blowout

This year’s show features the E-flat Porch Band (duo), the Super Kings, the Harrington-Clark band (featuring Grammy winner Paul Harrington), Houston’s Texas Johnny Boy with Christian Dozzler (duo), the Dallas Blues All-Stars (featuring Mike Morgan and Hash Brown, both of whom have appeared at every blowout) and New Orleans’ favorite son, Johnny Samson. 

The event takes place Sunday, July 28 at Poor David’s Pub, 1313 South Lamar in Dallas. Doors open at 3 p.m.

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A talented collaborative effort

The South Austin Moonlighers’ new Travel Light, a collection of compelling story songs

By Jan Sikes

The South Austin Moonlighers

Inside the acoustic room at The Guitar Sanctuary in McKinney, ready to conduct a quiet interview with The South Austin Moonlighters, the first band member comes through the door.

Daniel James oohs and aahs over the vast collection of guitars hanging on the wall, grabs one, plays a sizzling riff, then puts it back on the wall, turns around and says, “I’m just the drummer.””

This set the tone for a lively interview with The South Austin Moonlighters.

Rockin' Robert T. BandThe one quintessential thing that sets this group of musicians apart from other bands, is the individual talent each member brings to the table. There is no frontman with sidemen backing him. These guys are all in this together on equal footing. Each member plays multiple instruments, writes, and shares in the vocals. Everyone is invested. I wondered how this group found each other and came together.

“We were playing at South by Southwest eight years ago, and someone just mentioned that we should get together and jam sometime,” recalled Lonnie Trevino.

“So we agreed, thinking nothing would ever come of it, but it did. Then I booked some gigs at the Saxon Pub, and those were pure practice sessions. Three years later, when we brought Chris Beall in, it really legitimized the band. We decided this was something serious and really, really good, and it took off from there.”

And where did they come up with the band name?

Phil Hurley answered. “We were all working in other bands at the time. So with a new project, we’d be moonlighting.”

Their new album, Travel Light, was produced by New Orleans songwriter Anders Osborne and recorded at a destination studio in Maurice, Louisiana.

When I listen to any new record, there are certain tracks that stand out to me, and it always has to do with the words. That is very much the case with Travel Light, a collection of compelling story songs.

Chris Beall, along with Amy Hooper, composed the title track.

“I’ve never been very good at writing fiction. I have to have a personal connection with the things I’m describing,” explained Chris. “So with “Travel Light,” Amy and I sat down and essentially wrote what was happening in our lives.”

“I think one of the things that Chris is so good at,” Phil added, “is the ability to tell something extremely personal and yet somehow give it a universal meaning that anyone can relate to.”

That describes almost every song on this album. I knew there had to be a story to go along with “Machine Gun Kelly.”

“Danny Kortchmar (famed L.A. session guitarist, songwriter and producer) wrote that song,” said Chris. “I wish I had written it. Our record label president heard us playing the song live and wanted us to include it on this album.”

One song that Chris did write is the compelling “Dug Down Deep.”
“It’s a true story, a miracle that happened in my life,” said Chris.

“It’s about my dad. He was a motorcycle racer, and he was badly injured in an accident when I was three. The doctor came out to tell my mom that he was deceased when they suddenly got a pulse. So it was this progression every step of the way. They said he’d probably never come out of the coma, but he did. Then they said he’d never be able to walk again, and he did. So it’s all about digging down deep and finding that well of strength to overcome anything.”

“Daylight Again” closes out Travel Light with a fusion of harmony that the South Austin Moonlighters are well known for.

“This is a song that Crosby, Stills, & Nash closed each set with back in the day,” said Phil Hurley.

“We loved it, so Lonnie looked around and found a version with more verses. It is very provocative, kind of a civil war story that we knew we had to approach differently. It was early one morning in the studio. Chris picked up this beautiful little parlor guitar that belongs to Anders Osborne, and I grabbed something else, and we started playing and singing, and it came together on such an incredible level.”

Rock Rattle N'Roll Collectibles

I had the pleasure of watching the South Austin Moonlighters perform inside the beautiful venue that is Guitar Sanctuary. While it was a joy to meet and interview this talented group of men, witnessing the magic they make on stage climaxed the entire experience.

If you have a chance to catch a live show, I highly recommend it. If not, pick up this new album, Travel Light, and be prepared for pure entertainment.

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Record Review

Willie Nelson
Ride Me Back Home
Legacy

Willie NelsonThis new album, Ride Me Back Home, by Willie Nelson is his 74th studio album, give or take. At the age of 86, he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

I won’t say this is Willie’s best album, but I will say that it packs a punch with more than one song that goes straight to the heart of the matter. Produced by Buddy Cannon and released on Legacy Records, the album is a mixture of deep philosophical subjects and lighthearted banter.

The title track, “Ride Me Back Home,” written by legendary songwriter, Sonny Throckmorton and his daughter Debby, is a unique story told by a horse. It is a song of deep longing. “Ride me back home/To a much better place/Blue skies and sunshine/And plenty of space/Somewhere they would just leave you alone/Somewhere that you could call home…”

“Come On Time,” a Willie original is something we can all relate to as we grow older. “Time you’re not fooling me/You’re something I can’t kill…”

A Guy Clark and Gordie Sampson tune, “My Favorite Picture of You,” is all about a moment in time, looking into the lens.

Another Willie original, co-written with Buddy Cannon, “Seven Year Itch” lightens the mood. Is it possible to scratch out a seven-year itch in three?

“Immigrant Eyes,” is a Guy Clark and Roger Murrah tune that takes a poignant look at the people who settled this country. He can see it all in his grandfather’s immigrant eyes.

Just follow the crowd, and “Stay Away from Lonely Places,” seems good advice when you are trying to outrun a heartache.

A Billy Joel cover tune, “Just the Way You Are,” is done in typical Willie fashion.

Willie Nelson

“I’ve got one more song to write/I’ve got one more bridge to burn…” Willie sings on a Buddy Cannon collaboration, “One More Song to Write.”

I love it when Willie teams up with his two sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson, and that’s what happens with a bit of levity, on “It’s Hard To Be Humble,” a Mac Davis Song.

The album ends with a song of regrets, “Maybe I Should Have Been Listening.”

Ride Me Home is an eclectic collection of original and cover tunes done only the way Willie Nelson can. It’s another must-have if you are a fan of this timeless singer/songwriter!

By Jan Sikes


Woody Guthrie All-Star Tribute Concert 1970
Compilation DVD
MVD Visual

Woody GuthrieThe footage from the Woody Guthrie All-Star Tribute Concert of 1970, which has never been viewed before, is now released in a DVD with a stellar cast of folk musicians, many, if not all, of whom were friends of the late Woody Guthrie. Narrated by Peter Fonda and Will Geer and produced by 4-Time Emmy winner Jim Brown, the DVD features Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Country Joe McDonald, Odessa, Earl Robinson, and Pete Seeger, backed by a full band.

Woody Guthrie was an Oklahoma folk singer who traveled the world during his 55 years on earth, and passed away in 1967 of Huntington’s disease. This concert was a fundraiser to combat the deadly disease.

Songs include all Woody Guthrie’s major hits, including Odetta leading “This Land Is My Land,” and it, like so many of the songs, have all musicians joining in. Just watching Baez and Geer dance with such joy, and Arlo singing his penned verse, “As I went walking, I saw a sign that said ‘No trespassing,’ but on the other side, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me.” It also includes some lesser-knowns.

And there’s the poignant Baez version of “Plain Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee),” paralleled by Seeger’s version of “The Sinking of the Reuben James.” There’s a bonus — actually there’s several bonus cuts — with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott singing the “1913 Massacre.” And the protest of that era, with cuts of “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” and “Roll On Columbia.”

These songs have been released a long while back in CD form, and are enhanced on this newly-released DVD by the vibrant footage now available.

All the words that Fonda and Geer speak are actually words written by Woody Guthrie himself and give viewers and listeners another look at the icon, as does Arlo’s version of “Oklahoma Hills.”

Released 50 years since that concert, the DVD is out at just the right time, as Woody Fest in Okemah (Woody’s birthplace), runs from July 11-15. The Woody Guthrie Coalition (non-profit) always produces this festival on the weekend closest to Woody’s July 14 birthdate.

The DVD is available for ordering Online at mvdvisual.com and more about the Woody Fest is available at WoodyFest.com. Arlo is playing it again this year, and the schedule is filled with numerous others from across the nation.

By Mary Jane Farmer, Scene In Town


Hank Williams
The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings
BMG

This 2-disc set is a remix-remaster of the eight 12-minute radio programs that Hank Williams and his band, The Drifting Cowboys, recorded in 1949. These were recorded directly to acetate, then duplicated onto 16-inch vinyl discs for radio use.

Each 12-minute episode began with “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and ended each time with the fiddle tune, “Sally Goodin’.” In between those two hits, Williams sang his many songs, including hits such as “Mansion on the Hill,” “Mind Your Own Business,” and of course “I’m On Lonesome I Could Cry.” Each episode also included a fiddle tune by Driftin’ Cowboys’ Jerry Rivers. Those include “Fisherman’s Hornpipe,” “Bile Them Cabbage Down,” “Arkansas Traveler,” and “Fire On The Mountain.” Each episode also included one spiritual song. He recorded his own “ The Soul of Man Never Dies” and “I Saw The Light,” along with some by other writers and a couple which are public domain.

The potency and passion of Williams’ voice rings true with every song, cutting like a carving knife with every word. And there are no wasted words. This collection of music has stretched way past Williams’ own lifetime. He died in 1953 at the tender age of 29, after being instrumental in helping hillbilly music grow up to become country music. After his death, Ray Price (also now deceased) picked up the Driftin’ Cowboys as his backup band.

The instrumentation in this 2-CD set is as outstanding as the vocals. There’s not only Rivers on fiddle, but also Bob McNett on guitar, Hillous Butrum on bass, and Don Helms on steel guitar. This CD set is available in hard copy at Amazon.com, and on most, if not all, of the streaming sites.

By Mary Jane Farmer, Scene In Town


Hector Ward
and the Big Time
Smile into Life
Blackfinger Records

I get to listen to lots of new recordings each month, and I must say that Smile Into Life from Austin-based Blues-Funk Rocker, Hector Ward and his eight-piece Big Time band, is one of the most dynamic I’ve heard all year.

From start to finish, it’s solid with not one track that I wanted to skip. Ward is quoted as saying, “Listen to music…it will change your reality.”

Recorded, engineered and mixed at Nest Recording by JT Holt and mastered by Brett Orison, it is a fully analog recording. Ward said, “We did this in order to achieve a natural sound in a digital world.”

Full horn sections, raunchy guitar licks, and over-the-top vocals flow from one song to the next. “Life and Livin’” kicks off the album in such a high-spirited way that you know you are in for a treat. I was reminded of the seventies band, Chicago, with the horn arrangements and rock guitars. Singing the white boy blues, “Taking Lightnin’ Home,” features Hunter St. Marie on lead guitar. One thing that makes this song stand out is the uncommon tempo changes.

“Whiskey Pants” is a song of rebellion. “You can kiss my whiskey drinking ass…” There are different kinds of prisons and sometimes need to break out and be ourselves. “Prison Break” celebrates that idea.

“Simplify” is soulful and deep, while “Fire Gypsy” takes a wild blistering ride to the “Sidewalks End.”

A rowdy spirited song, “Everybody Party,” is self-explanatory and features the horn sections arranged by Ben Taylor and Mark Wilson. Hunter St. Marie sings background vocals while Ward carries the lead and plays a bluesy funk guitar solo.

Smile Into Life is an impactful album that comes to an end with “Moon Willow.” This is another song full of tempo changes and surprises, but the big horn section is predominant.

I loved everything about this energetic album, from beginning to end. A band this tight and this good won’t fly under the radar for long. If you want to know more about Hector Ward and the Big Time, visit hwbigtime.com

By Jan Sikes

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