Tornado biographies by Kate Stow
Intro by Jackie Don Loe
This year marks the 44th anniversary of Buddy Magazine’s Texas Tornado Award. Since 1978, when the Texas Tornado concept began, we have believed that these players are “The greatest players in Texas, perhaps in the world.” It started with a simple list of elite Texas guitar players, and evolved into one of the hallmarks of this publication. It also became a goal for many up-and-coming musicians throughout the years to make the list. The award is given to honor individuals who have made an impact on local, regional, national and international levels with their artistry, talent and music. The instrumentation of the Tornado honorees includes guitar, bass, drums, piano, pedal-steel, harmonica, horns and the banjo.
The idea for the Texas Tornados was hatched by the original editors Stoney Burns and Kirby Warnock in 1978 with the selection of Rocky Athas, Billy Gibbons, Bugs Henderson, Eric Johnson, John Nitzinger and Jimmie Vaughan. Rocky Hill and Stevie Ray Vaughan were inducted in 1979.
“In retrospect, those were pretty easy picks, it is much harder today,” said Ron McKeown, editor and publisher of Buddy from 1989 to 2021.
The idea of the Buddy Texas Tornado award was neatly crafted as a response to other national acts coming to town and really not impressing the locals. Texas pride and attitude was the catalyst for the whole thing. Kirby Warnock shared his recollection of the beginnings of the Texas Tornado award:
“Basically we were around the office talking about how incredible our Texas guitar players were, but they got no mention in the national rock press [like] Rolling Stone and Circus magazines, and Creem. We were sick and tired of reading how great Jerry Garcia was, or Neil Young. Our idea was that Gibbons, Vaughan, Rocky, et al could play rings around those guys, but because they weren’t from the West or East coast, the national writers (Ben Fong-Torres, Lester Bangs, Chet Flippo) could not see them in person. It was pure Texas chauvinism, believing that Texans are better at everything, from women to football. So we hatched that list. Stoney was a big Doug Sahm fan, and his song “Texas Tornado” got co-opted for our title. You have to remember that this was before MTV or the Internet, so if you were a big deal in Texas, you were just a big deal in Texas, not anywhere else. We had seen those national acts when they came through Dallas and just were not that impressed. Our guys can do that. So that first list got going. We never knew it would still be around all these years later. And I am pretty certain we were all stoned. We were just about every day.”
Congratulations to the Buddy Magazine Texas Tornados, Class of 2022.
The highest number of players inducted in one year was 36 in 1995. Lucky Peterson and Roger Boykin are the only two Tornados that were inducted twice, but for different instruments. Charlie Sexton was the youngest Tornado at 15 years old in 1983. Current membership includes over 500 Texas musicians, featuring illustrious players representing the jazz, blues, rock, soul, R&B, gospel, country, and heavy metal genres. From entertainers to music instructors, from virtuosos to legends, the collection reflects a true taste of what Texas has to offer.
Pat Boyack – Guitar
Pat Boyack wasn’t born in the Lone Star State, but upon learning he had been named a Texas Tornado, he said, “This makes me feel like I am a Texan now.”
Born in the small town of Price, Utah and raised in nearby Helper, Pat got his first guitar at the age of 15. Inspired by a Stevie Ray Vaughan album, he chased the Texas blues sound all the way to Dallas in 1991 to follow the musical footsteps of the Vaughan brothers – Jimmie and Stevie Ray (1978 and 1979 Tornados, respectively).
He swiftly made the rounds of Dallas bar bands, including a notable stint with the Weebads, which featured Memo Gonzalez – a bigger than life blues/soul singer, bassist Terry Montgomery Groff (1994 Tornado) and drummer Bobby Baranowski (1993 Tornado). In 1993, Pat formed the Prowlers with bassist John Garza (1997 Tornado) and Doug Swancy. After the addition of Jimmy Morello, the Prowlers were signed by Bullseye Blues Records.
In 1994, Pat Boyack & the Prowlers released their debut, Breakin’ In (where Pat was credited as Pat “The Heart Attack” Boyack). This was followed by On the Prowl (1996). By the time the third album, Super Blue & Funky was released in 1997, a new backing band had been assembled.
In 2000, Pat’s former label mate Marcia Ball (1984 Tornado) recruited him for her backing band. With Marcia, he toured the world and recorded three Grammy-nominated albums, and Presumed Innocent won Album of the Year at the 2002 W.C. Handy Blues Awards.
During his tenure with her, Pat was included in two music documentaries: Falsifyin’ and New Orleans: Music in Exile. His songs have been featured in movies and TV shows, including Sex and the City.
In 2004, his fourth album, Voices from the Street, was released on Doc Blues Records.
During his time, Pat honed his singing voice and started writing his own songs. He began working with bassist Kinley “Barney” Wolfe (1992 Tornado) and drummer Taz Bentley (1993 Tornado) and together they formed the Javelinas, a formidable band, indeed.
When it comes to his “go-to” axe, Pat favors his Custom Shop R9 Les Paul because he doesn’t have “to deal with the noise that a single coil pickup produces.”
“My music philosophy is that it’s ALWAYS about the groove,” Pat declared in a 2014 interview with Michael Limnios’ Blues Network. “Whether you are playing Chicago blues, swing, Wilson Pickett, James Brown or Hank Marr, it’s all about getting people to move their asses in their seats.”
James Driscoll – Bass
Whether he’s backing top performers such as Don Henley and Stockton Helbing, playing on countless commercial jingles, laying down the rhythm with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, or working in his mastering studio, bassist James Driscoll epitomizes the definition of a true Texas Tornado.
After earning a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Performance from the University of North Texas, James began an adjunct faculty position at Richland College (DCCCD) where he teaches bass performance. In addition, he operates a small studio called “Hot Tonic Mastering” in Dallas where he composes for music production libraries and mixes and masters artist recordings.
As an active member of the Dallas/Ft. Worth music scene for over 25 years he has performed or recorded with Don Henley, Doc Severinsen, Andy Timmons, Tim Miller, Ariel Posen, Ed Soph, Arlington Jones, Stockton Helbing, Petty Theft, Chomsky, Tony Hakim, DSO and many more. He has played on countless commercial jingles at Luminous Sound and TM Studios.
James has been listed in the credits of over 20 albums, beginning in 1997 with North Texas Jazz – Fifty Years, up to the 2021 release of the Hanlon Brothers Quintet album NSTX.
“Every drummer knows that they are only as good as their bass player and that is why I count my blessings that for over 25 years I have been made better by playing with James Driscoll,” said Stockton Helbing. “James has an easy-to-play-with rock-solid time feel with a big, warm sound on both upright bass as well as on electric bass. He improves any music situation with his keen ears, accommodating approach, and vast knowledge of styles. James Driscoll is simply as good as it gets. He’s the first person I call when I am booking my band and if he is unavailable for the gig I almost always turn it down.”
Emily Elbert – Guitar
With a soft, lilting voice that belies her strong and powerful spirit, Emily Elbert is at home in the spotlight, as well as in the shadows of a stellar list of performers. Emily was born in Dallas in 1988 and came of age in a computerized society that she learned to use to her advantage.
Emily recorded her first album Bright Side while in high school, paid for by local gigs and crowdfunding, and began touring the U.S. independently. At 18, she was awarded a full scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. While there, she continued to tour nationally and internationally, and released two more independent albums, Proof (2010), and Alive, In Love (2011), both crowd-funded.
In 2010, Glamour magazine named Emily Elbert one of their “Top 10 College Women of the Year.” In 2013, she released Evolve, an EP recorded at Brooklyn, New York’s Mason Jar Music. In 2018 she released We Who Believe in Freedom, a project featuring original music and cover songs focused on social justice.
“My love for rhythm, harmony, and story sharing is woven in with my compassion for the Earth and its people” she remarked.
Though she counts Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix among her inspirations, Emily’s composition and delivery offer sweet and earthy flavors of Joni Mitchell fused with Eartha Kitt. Her unique styling makes her a popular choice among A-listers looking for new band members.
Emily was a member of Esperanza Spalding’s experimental jazz and theater project from 2015 to 2016. The band toured internationally and recorded one album, Emily’s D+Evolution. In 2019, she joined the band of songwriter Jenny Lewis. Elbert has also contributed to projects led by Jacob Collier, Lorde, Gwen Stefani, Jenny Lewis, Leon Bridges, Sara Bareilles, Mike Gordon of Phish, Dweezil Zappa and Bruno Major.
Emily Elbert released her sixth album, Woven Together, in summer 2022.
Dwayne Heggar – Bass
While he is known as the bassist for Dallas-based party band Emerald City, Dwayne Heggar is more than just your typical “bass face.” He has managed to insert his style into the D/FW music scene by becoming one of the most sought-after bass instructor in the area, and he is widely respected by many of the area’s top musicians.
Growing up in Mexia, Texas, just outside of Waco, Dwayne started piano lessons at 12 and played trombone in the school band. But he found his real calling when he picked up a bass guitar at the age of 16.
After receiving a music scholarship to McLennan College, he was the first graduate of a newly designed commercial music program that is now in colleges and universities throughout the country. Dwayne supplemented his degree with arrangement classes at the University of North Texas before pursuing jingle writing as a career.
Texas Tornado Jeanette Brantley hired Dwayne after his very first audition upon moving to Dallas in 1984. He stayed with her for three years while also playing for jazz vocalist Suzy Hoskins, Laurie Hollingsworth, Martha Burkes, Richard Thomas and the Sesame Street, and pianist Robert Saunders.
In 1987 he left the Brantley Group to explore the pop scene, and once again was hired on first audition by Dallas Brass and Electric, where he stayed until getting the call from Emerald City Band in 1989. His career with ECB has taken him around the globe, playing everything from corporate events to White House engagements.
Dwayne started teaching bass guitar in 1990 and has taught over 700 students thus far – including Texas Tornado Dave Moro. He still has time to play with the Dallas Mavericks house band and serve in worship bands for various Dallas churches. Currently he is blessing the services of The Pathway of Life church.
Whether he is wielding his Fender 5 string, or his Marcus Miller Sire V7, you can recognize his style on recordings by various jazz, rap, country and blues artists. Watching him lay down a rhythm on his Zeta Electric Upright Bass will definitely put you in a dance mood.
Chris Holt – Guitar
Chris Holt is an extreme multitasker and a favorite among some of the world’s best performers. When Chris isn’t touring the world as guitarist for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend Don Henley, this five-time Dallas Observer Music Award winner (three of them for Musician of The Year) juggles his time between being an in-demand multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter fronting his own bands, while releasing solo albums in-between.
Even before joining Henley’s touring band behind the 2015 Cass County, Chris was prolific. Besides his own bands, the Slack and Olospo, as well as his work in Hard Night’s Day, a popular Beatles tribute band, he found the time to release a trio of solo records over the years, most recently a double LP, Stargazer (2016).
The list of legendary artists Chris has played with includes Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, the Doobie Brothers, Timothy B. Schmidt, Chris Stapleton, Lyle Lovett, Jamey Johnson, the Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride, Clint Black, Steve Earle and Patty Smyth. Most recently, he’s been playing guitar with The Dirty Knobs and creating new original music with Bastards of Soul, whose two studio albums, Spinnin’ (2020) and Corners (2022) have been released to critical acclaim.
While Chris has gigged and recorded with dozens of acclaimed artists from the DFW area over the past 20 years, he’s also spent many years as a teacher and mentor to budding musicians across the DFW metroplex, while being a husband and father of three. He not only plays guitar, but also piano, bass, drums, pedal steel, lap steel, banjo, mandolin, ukulele and harmonica.
During the pandemic of 2020, Chris began a weekly Facebook Live series, All-Request Thursday, that he continues to this day. “The way it works with my show is, people send me their requests every week, and I put them on the master list, which is about 300 songs or so. And it never really shrinks, because every week, I’ll knock 20-ish songs off, and then I get 30 more requests. So, the list never really shrinks,” he said.
“I’m doing what I love now,” Chris said. “I don’t want to take for granted or miss out on how fun it is to do this.”
Braylon Lacy – Bass
Since 2000, Braylon Lacy has appeared on 23 albums, not only as a bassist, but also as a composer and co-producer. The Dallas native has racked up a string of awards and accolades during his career on both the upright and electric bass.
Lacy is currently a part of the eclectic group, RC & the Gritz, and he also backs fellow Dallasite and internationally known recording artist Erykah Badu. Like Badu, Braylon attended the Dallas performing arts magnet school Booker T. Washington High. He went on to study music at Weatherford College and the University of North Texas.
His desire to be a musician was inspired by formal training with bass instructor Dean Hill. As with so many other successful musicians, Braylon played in church during his youth. While church inspired his gospel spirit, the jazz styling he’s known for was flavored by his family’s musical roots.
Onstage, Braylon has a knack for feeling the moment and offering up a solo full of flavor guaranteed to blow away the audience. Well-schooled in technique and theory, he learned rhythm from listening to old recordings of various genres.
After college, he toured the globe with an array of artists in all genres, including Wynton Marsalis, Prince, Erykah Badu, Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers, Israel Houghton, Kirk Whalum, Oleta Adams, N’Dambi and the late Wayman Tisdale.
Braylon has been featured on numerous recordings including Kirk Franklin’s Grammy award-winning Hero and Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun. He has several endorsements including Aguliar Amplification, DR Strings and Fender guitars. While he’s a self-proclaimed “vintage Fender cat,” he tours with a Mulan bass – the closest he can get to his favorite Fender sound.
On being named a Tornado, he said, “I am humbled and honored to be in such great company of the great musicians who have won this award. Thank you.”
Braylon maintains a busy schedule of recording, teaching, and touring nationally and internationally.
Chris McQueen – guitar
Chris McQueen started out in Austin as a true guitar geek, playing and recording songs on a 4-track Tascam by the time he hit the big 10 – (years, that is). Chris has been known to juggle several different projects at once, but is most notably 1/18th of the Grammy award-winning instrumental ensemble, Snarky Puppy.
By the age of 13 Chris was playing with guitar prodigy Will Knaak in Red Headed Stepchild, a western swing band in Austin. He played and composed for the Westlake High School Jazz Band before attending the University of North Texas, where he was a member of the acclaimed One O’Clock Lab Band (only the best-of-the best get that spot).
Following college, Chris remained in the Dallas area, co-leading the rock band Oso Closo with Adrian Hulet, and studying music with Bernard Wright and other members of the Dallas R&B/jazz/Gospel scene. Oso Closo performed on stage in the Who’s Tommy at the Dallas Theater Center and released two albums.
As a singer/actor, Chris has been featured in several rock musicals, including David Bowie’s Lazarus at New York Theater Workshop (featuring Michael C. Hall) and the Rocky Horror Show at The Dallas Theater Center.
After Oso Closo broke up, Chris and fellow band member Danny Garcia joined with singer/songwriter Cade Sadler to form the rock band Foe Destroyer. Foe Destroyer recorded an eponymous album, toured for several years, and performed on stage in Dallas and NYC in the musical Fly By Night.
Along with Henry Hey, he co-leads Forq, an explorative, groove-oriented instrumental band which has released four albums, and his acoustic guitar duo project with Matt Read is preparing a second album. He is an original and current member of Grammy-nominated world music group Bokanté as well as a frequent member of Banda Magda.
Snarky Puppy is an American instrumental ensemble founded in Denton in 2004. Led by bassist Michael League, the group combines a variety of jazz idioms, rock, world music, and funk and has won four Grammy awards (Best R&B Performance in 2014, Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in 2016, 2017, and 2021). On November 14th, 2019, Snarky Puppy recorded their sold-out show from the iconic Royal Albert Hall in London.
Recently, Chris has expanded beyond guitar playing to focus on music arranging, mobile app building, teaching private lessons and video editing. He lives in Austin with his wife, Erin and their bunny, Georgia.
Chris Maresh – Bass
Chris Maresh has obliterated the myth that says “Those who can’t do, teach.” Chris not only teaches master classes at the Austin MediaTech Institute but is a Grammy-nominated bass player who has appeared on more than 200 albums.
Chris began his professional music career in Austin in 1984 after receiving a BM in Applied Double Bass Performance with an Emphasis in Jazz Performance from the University of Texas in Austin. He has since been named Bassist of the Year three times (2002, 2005, 2006) at the Austin Chronicle Music Awards at the SXSW Festival and in 2011 was chosen to be Fender’s poster bassist in the 60th Anniversary promotional video for the Fender Precision Bass.
Chris has performed and recorded with artists and organizations including the Austin Symphony, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Pinetop Perkins, Mitch Watkins, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball, Michael McDonald, Monte Montgomery, Ferenc Illenyi and Ellis Marsalis. He also spent 10 years performing with 1978 Tornado Eric Johnson. His composition “Rain,” with Alien Love Child was nominated at the 44th Grammy Awards for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 2002.
He has appeared on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival DVD and Eric Johnson’s Live at the Grove DVD. Recordings for movie soundtracks include Spy Kids 2, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Michael, Happy Texas and Sliding Doors.
He has released two solo albums of original compositions, Tomorrow (2002) and Side Street (2004). In 2014, he appeared with Eric Johnson and Mike Stern on the Eclectic album.
In a 2020 interview with bassist Roscoe Beck, Chris described his technique: “I try to get in the flow of the beat. I try to be relaxed about it. If I find myself in a place where there’s a groove in my head, I relax and stick to it. It’s essential for a bass player to lock in the groove. It has to feel good.”
Although he has a deep assortment of new and vintage basses at his disposal, he has recently been seen with a Modern Vintage MVJ466 in Piano Black finish.
Between tours, Chris lives in Austin and works as a session bass player, participating on major recording projects. He is also a guest lecturer at Austin MediaTech Institute and appears on the music scene in and around Austin.
Monte Pittman – Guitar
Monte Pittman, the son of a rodeo cowboy, was born and raised in the Bible Belt town of Longview. Against those odds, Monte made his way to Hollywood where he became an award-winning heavy metal guitarist and along the way ended up teaching Madonna how to play the guitar.
After taking guitar lessons he was 13 when he joined a band, Insanity which morphed into the East Texas metal band Myra Mains. Monte moved to Hollywood in 1999 and went to work at the Guitar Center where he gave guitar lessons to Guy Ritchie and his wife, Madonna, who then invited him to join her on the Late Show with David Letterman.
Madonna then invited him to join her Drowned World Tour (2001). Monte has played in every incarnation of Madonna’s live band since then. He shares writing credits with Madonna on the tracks “Easy Ride” from American Life (2003) and “It’s So Cool” from Celebration (2009).
Monte has also played on Madonna’s studio recordings, appearing on 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor (Like It Or Not) and 2008’s Hard Candy (Spanish Lesson & Ring My Bell). He also backed her during the 2012 XLVI Superbowl Halftime show where he debuted his new signature Jarrell MPS guitar.
When he’s not on the road with Madonna, Monte is the bass player and composer for Prong with whom he has recorded four albums. He has also worked in the studio with Melanie C. and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. He is currently on the road with Ministry, adeptly filling in the shoes of late Texas Tornado guitarist Mike Scaccia.
Prior to Adam Lambert’s audition on American Idol, Pittman, Lambert, Tommy Victor from Prong and Steve Sidelnyk formed a band named The Citizen Vein. For the tour supporting his debut album, Lambert hired Pittman as his guitarist and musical director. Lambert and the band appeared on several TV shows as well as the Gridlock New Year’s Eve 2010 festival.
When he isn’t playing with Madonna or Prong, Monte has found time to release six solo albums: The Deepest Dark (2009); Pain, Love & Destiny (2011); The Power of Three (2012); Inverted Grasp of Balance (2016); Between the Space (2018) and Better or Worse (2018).
Monte was nominated in four categories at Artists in Music Awards and by popular demand he was also invited to perform at the ceremony on February 10, 2012. He won the award for “Best Solo Artist.” He is also the recipient of a “Career Achievement Award – Guitarist” for the Hollywood F.A.M.E. Awards.
Wes Stephenson – Bass
In a twist of fate, Wes Stephenson, co-founder of the Dallas-based Funky Knuckles, wouldn’t have even become a musician if not for being hit by a car during his freshman year of high school. By his own account, Wes had been looking for his sense of purpose as a 13-14-year-old, and had decided to turn things around and was looking forward to playing 9th grade football.
Wes had a friend who had been talking about a buddy of his who was a killer bass player, so they went to the guy’s house. When Wes heard his pal’s friend play the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of “Higher Ground,” he was blown away and his world.
On his way home, he was hit by a car in a bad accident, and while it ended his high school football career, the desire to be a musician was born.
Wes has come a long way since learning to play the $100 Memphis bass his mom bought him. Lessons followed with Dallas blues and jazz bassist Richard Thomas, who taught the boy how to slap and pop at weekly jam sessions.
Although he had dropped out of school and admits he was headed down an “interesting path,” he discovered that you could go to college for music studies. He went back to high school, graduated, and enrolled at the University of North Texas.
After a year at UNT, Wes got a road gig playing the blues with Tutu Jones and dropped out. Having cut his teeth on the music of Les Claypool, he and some young friends formed a band, playing what they described as “munk” – a unique fusion of hip hop, funk and metal that resulted in really fast, distorted music.
While Wes stayed busy with local gigs, it was at church that he found his future in music. That is where he met drummer Cedric Moore and keyboardist Caleb McCampbell. Playing with them on Sundays and jamming with mentor Bernard Wright and John Carruth during the week helped Wes create his own unique style of bottom end and low-mid pulses that hit you in the chest as the other instruments dance in and out and around it.
The Funky Knuckles, born of that church trio, are now five albums into their collaboration. The first of the impressive portfolio was 2012’s As of Lately. The 2014 release, Meta Music, reigned as #1 on the iTunes jazz chart for several weeks. It was followed in 2016 by New Birth and in 2019 with Delicious. The group, currently comprised of Wes, Cedric, Phil Aelony on guitar, Ben Horhorquez on saxophone, Evan Weiss on trumpet and Kwinton Gray on keyboards, is currently recording their fifth album.
Neil Swanson – guitar
Neil Swanson was already playing Deep Ellum bars when he was 15; it didn’t take long before he had made the round of DFW venues and went off to tour the world.
After winning Guitar Center’s “Steve Vai Sessions” contest, he was flown to Hollywood to meet Vai, and while there, he entered another contest called “Be My Band” which he won. Neil soon met platinum-selling guitarist Orianthi (Michael Jackson/Alice Cooper). Afterward, he received an email from the organizer of the competition, Dave Stewart of the band Eurythmics.
“He liked my style and asked if I would like to play with his all-star band,” said Neil. “For the next couple of years, I joined Dave in performing places like the Hollywood Bowl, Greek theater, and many others.”
On the heels of that success, he was hired by Orianthi as her regular guitarist which allowed him the opportunity to regularly perform with Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi). He later became the guitarist for Diamante, with whom he spent several years touring arenas and amphitheaters.
Neil was then hired as lead guitarist for platinum-selling rock singer Tommy Vext and played on several singles that reached top 5 on iTunes and Billboard streaming sales charts. As a session player, Neil has worked with producers such as Carlos “Six July” Broady (Diddy, Nas, Lil Kim, The Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige), Aaron Accetta (American Authors, Forever The Sickest Kids) and others.
Corporate sponsors started to take notice as well; he is now sponsored by several top tier music gear sponsors including Charvel guitars, Boss/Roland and Orange amps.
In 2020 Neil released Story Of Ro, a comic book style solo album that blended rock music with a futuristic sci-fi story to create a unique listening experience.
“I’ve definitely become known for creative thinking and musical diversity, though I personally lean towards the rock genre,” Neil told Voyage Dallas in 2020. “I like to keep several lines open and multiple irons in the fire. Eventually, something new gets hot, and I try to be right there when it happens. There’s a reason so few musicians are able to grow outside of their local scene. It boils down to being able to see a bigger picture and not being afraid to risk everything.”
Ally Venable – Guitar
At the ripe old age of 23, Ally Venable is an old pro who excels at breaking all the rules. In 1999, Ally was born in Kilgore, the home of oil derricks and the high-kicking Rangerettes. Ally started singing in church when she was just four-years old.
With four albums under her belt and multiple awards already, she’s proven that you need not be a man with decades of experience and heartbreak to lay down a bluesy lick; and it IS possible to be pretty with an awesome voice AND play the guitar at the same time. From her black eyeliner to her pink high-heeled boots, Ally packs a punch with her rich vocals and guitar licks that will make you forget her age.
In 2013 she released her debut EP, Wise Man, which earned her the 2014 ETX Music Awards Female Guitar Player of the Year. She won the award again in 2015. She and her band were the ETX Music Awards Blues Band of the Year in both 2015 and 2016.
Ally’s first album, No Glass Shoes, finished at No.16 in the RMR Electric Blues Charts in 2016.
Her second album, Puppet Show, debuted at No. 7 in the Billboard Blues Albums chart. With guest appearances by Gary Hoey and 2015 Tornado Lance Lopez, that album earned her nominations for Best New Artist and Best Blues Rock Band at the 2018 Independent Blues Awards.
By the time her Texas Honey album dropped in 2019, she had proven herself to be a formidable contender in the blues world. The 2019 Blues Caravan Tour with Ina Forsman and Katarina Pejak was giving Ally some national exposure just before the pandemic hit.
While live gigs were shut down, Ally made good use of her time by going into the studio.
“My vision was to really spread a positive message of love,” says Ally. “The world needs that right now.”
Heart of Fire (Ruf Records, 2021) offers up a guest appearance by Kenny Wayne Shepherd as Ally steps over the line to a heavier rock sound.
Mitch Watkins – Guitar
As a young boy in the border town of McAllen, Mitch Watkins started piano lessons at the age of eight and picked up a guitar at the age of twelve. It was the early 1960’s and Mitch joined a young band playing covers of surf-rock songs.
It’s no surprise that his inspirations were Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, given that Mitch came of age as they were burning up the airwaves. He dropped out of Texas Christian University to travel with a rock n’ roll band, but after two years of touring, he enrolled at the University of Texas to study jazz guitar.
Along with classmates, Mitch formed Passenger and played all over the Austin area. In 1979, they served as the backing band for poet Leonard Cohen, touring Europe and Australia with him.
In 1989, Mitch released an album of his own compositions, Underneath it All. He followed it up with Curves in 1990. He has also toured extensively with songwriters Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely, K.T. Oslin, Jennifer Warnes, as well as jazz artists Jack Walrath, Bennie Wallace and Barbara Dennerlein. His production credits include a Grammy nomination for his work with singer/songwriter Abra Moore.
In 1992, along with a group of Texas musician friends, Mitch recorded the album Strings with Wings (Tiptoe). Humhead (Dos, 1995) and In the Time of Long Shadows (Viewpoint, 2006) followed. He also worked with Austin singer/songwriter Bob Schneider on Underneath the Onion Trees (Shockorama, 2000).
He was guitarist for Lyle Lovett and His Large Band and made numerous appearances on the Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and Austin City Limits. He did live work with Lyle until he joined Leonard Cohen on his 2012-2013 world tour.
Mitch is currently working with his own band. He owns his own production studio and works with Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, mandolin player Paul Glasse and bassist John Fremgen, and many other collaborators. In addition to performing and recording, he has served as an educator at the University of Texas at Austin.