Flanfire (Duggan Flanakin) is bringing LIFE to Austin music -- and telling the world how sweet it is!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Upon the recommendation of my pal James Bruce, I trundled over to Threadgill's North Lamar tonight to catch Woody Russell - and got a whole lot more than I had bargained for. Okay, I had also agreed to meet my friend Tahni Handal, a California songwriter who has been in Austin a couple of years now, to discuss ideas for her CD release party (which is still a ways down the road). Russell is producing her CD - for the record. Tahni brought her whole extended family, including Rabbi Monte and her three-and-a-half year old daughter Emmy Lou. My has the little girl grown! Not content just to enjoy the music of Woody (on resonator guitar) and pal Danny Bennett (on lap steel), Emmy Lou decided she needed to sing for a few of us - popping out versions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the alphabet song and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (for starters). She danced, too! And to think her mom had thought she was tired!

Listening to Woody, who is also part of Deb Yager and the Boys (yes, Deb and hubby Bo Reynolds were there - after all, Bo is Woody's manager), quickly reminded me of Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson with a little of Keb Mo's phrasings to boot. On a song that may be titled "Dead Man Walking," Woody sings, "She's the roots of my tree, the salt in my sea, and I won't let her down." On "In the Middle of the Fringe," he is looking for "some place I fit in." Born and reared in Montana, Woody spent his formative years as a street musician in Seattle before relocating to Austin two years ago. Bo Reynolds played during Woody's break - and charmed everyone who listened.

While hanging out at Threadgill's, I ran into my pal Winker, and HE said he was headed over to the Cactus to catch Gurf Morlix and Jeff Plankenhorn - so I decided to hitch a ride (as I live around the corner from Threadgill's, I had let the frau take the car home). Talk about glad I did - both Gurf and Jeff have brand-new CD's out - Gurf's is called "Cut 'n Shoot" and features our boy himself on a tractor at a farm in Canada with a scythe in hand on the front and a rifle in hand on the back cover (photos by wife Brende, I think) and includes some of the coolest country tunes I have heard in quite a while. Plus a song, which must have been written at four am, called (I guess I'll have to sleep with) "Your Sister." The gravel-voiced Gurf was on fire during a solo set, sharing Mary Gautier's "Christmas in Paradise," a song he says left him in tears the first time he performed it on stage in Canada. And no wonder, with lyrics like "Christmas in Paradise, where the warm breeze feels so nice, where the landlord forgives...." This was followed by "Without You" from Cut 'n Shoot, in which he asks, "without you, what good is my heart?" Gurf closed out the set with a stirring rendition of the decades-old yet still pertinent "With God on Our Side."

I got to know Gurf largely through his work with the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers and his fabulous guitar work as a side man and through his work as a producer. Rarely have I had the chance to hear him sing his own songs. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate not just his talent, but also his willingness to play whatever instrument, whatever role, is needed at the time for the band. Gurf fans - JUST GO OUT AND BUY THIS CD!

I had last seen Jeff Plankenhorn opening for Slaid Cleaves at the Ginger Man (he also played on Slaid's tour as a member of Slaid's band). Of course, that was the night I ended up with beer in my lap (an OOPS! before anyone had had too much) and had to run home and change into something drier and miss half of Jeff's set. So it was especially good to see the Wimberley Wizard before he runs off next week to Amsterdam and the British Isles with Eliza Gilkyson. His new CD, Plank, features his own material and samplings of singer-songwriters as notable as Blaze Foley. Plank has long been known locally as one of the most incredible pickers around, and now he is making fans around the world with his songs, his vocals, his picking, and his full head of hair and such stuff.

The boys - backed by percussionist Jon Hahn (more to come) - traded guitar licks on such songs as "Killing Time in Texas," which Gurf co-wrote with Troy Campell, Lyin Down off Gurf's new CD, a brand-new Plank song, "The Truth in Me," which he sprang on his buds unrehearsed and told the audience, "They're such pros," they'll catch on. And, of course, they did. Hahn said that Jeff has been doing this to them for a couple of weeks now, as new songs keep pouring out of his head. So to stump Plank, Morlix pulls a chestnut out of the fire -- Merle Travis' "Dark as a Dungeon"(way down in the mines). Plank was wholly stumped. I think I got the joke - but what a great song.

My typical Jon Hahn experience has him playing drums for female country singers - Karen Poston, Suzanna van Tassel, Penny Jo Pullus or even traveling musicians during SXSW at Jovita's. Of course, he also plays with Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jim Stringer and so forth -- but tonight, he brought out his percussionist skills and toys and made what must have been 15 or 20 different sounds with his various paraphrenalia. Every touch added to the song -- he IS a pro, and one of my longtime favorites. Oh yeah, it was Gurf Morlix and the Harmonizers who first introduced me to Jon, years ago.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

It is really nice when people call you up to get together - especially when they have been out of town for quite a while. So it was that I got together with songwriter (and screenwriter) Chris McCarty, who was last in Austin sharing his songs and styles with the likes of Carolyn Wonderland, Guy Forsyth, Papa Mali, El Goins, and others on the Hotel San Jose CD (they were listed as a collection of saints and sinners). Chris, of course, wrote songs like Serenade and Swingtown for Steve Miller and You Baby You for one of our favorite monkey movies. We chatted about some of his current projects and about his young singer-songwriter friend, Aaron Hamre, who is bringing his wife Jennifer here in May at Chris' high recommendation. Don't miss this guy!

Meanwhile, I spent much of the evening at Antone's, where Guy Forsyth was the headliner. Guy put on (no big surprise here) an outstanding show, which featured him singing one entire song without a mike (except for a few lines with his harmonica mike) and mostly out in the audience on the floor - while George Rarey blew first-timers away with some awesome guitar riffs and Ann-Marie and Nina kept the time and set the mood. Superstar stuff, to be sure.

But I was at Antone's really to see The Gene Pool - on the night my longtime friend Harmoni Kelley was getting her Gene Pool official band shirt. [She is their new bass player, and stands out with her strawberry red hair. funky clothes and hot licks. Her friend Stefano Intellisano, formerly of Milan, Italy, is the band's keyboardist. It was my first time seeing this band, which was not all there -- as one of the three singer-songwriter-guitarists, Jorge Castillo, had injured his back earlier in the day. No prob - these Saxon Pub seasoned musicians had a couple of horns on the side wailing away as they spun their web of songs - penned by Geno Stroia II and Jackie Hibbard - to a hungry audience. I especially liked a song (now being played on KLBJ-FM) "you won't get to heaven FLYIN' STANDBY" Some of the time during their set I thought I was back in Baton Rouge -- funky, soulful stuff these guys are putting out. For the record, their current website is at www.thegenepool.tv (not .com) -- check them out if you haven't already. They're playing at the Saxon next Saturday, opening for George DeVore.

Today - do not miss (if you are NOT at Old Settlers' or the Marley Fest) the FREE show by Charlie Robison at the State Capitol at SIX PM -- featuring my bud Kim DesChamps on pedal steel and stuff.

Friday, April 16, 2004

After spending half the morning hiking with my daughter Melody and grandson Caleb (in his stroller) from the IH-35 bridge to the Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial and back, I had a second shot with the kid (age 10 months) after dropping off the wife at Borders Westgate for a poetry jam featuring one of her co-workers. Caleb and I trekked over to Maria's Taco X-Press to catch up with Slim Richey and Leeann Atherton (with the fabulous Francie Mojo on bass) for her Thursday night jazz set. [This music has been memorialized in a limited edition CD which is fun to listen to.] Well, Leeann is looking GREAT these days - longer hair, slimmer waist and more smiles than ever - and her jazz singing just gets better the more she does it.

But wait - there's more! Joining Slim on stage on guitar was the one, the only -- Austin's premiere flamenco player -- Teye! Teye also did a few songs with the wonderful Belen (his Spanish flamenco dancer wife) -- and then a second set of Slim, Francie, and Leeann began with jazz fiddle wizard Martin Norgaard (whom I had last seen backing Karen Mal at Waterloo on 38th back in February). Caleb was astounded by all of this fabulous music -- and by Leeann's personal attention.

The boy is a music lover -- I wish he had been able to be with us at Maria's on Tuesday evening, when we got to see the 28-month-old future superstar Antone Leikam join his mom Shelley and dad Eric on stage with the Livin' Dedd! Antone performed only on one song -- but he shook the eggs with aplomb, keying his moves to those of drummer Perry Drake and dancing along as he played to the lead guitar riffs of GUITAR STUD KYLE JUDD (who always makes you glad you came to hear him play). I remember Antone's birthday party - four months ago - when he got a little drum set and immediately began banging out padiddles to one of his mom's songs as if he had been in on the recording. The lad is a true prodigy, taught well by his dad and mom but gifted from birth. Curly blond hair, too!

Very high on our list of pleasures at that Tuesday event was the opportunity to visit with our pal Steve Ulrich and his galpal Elizabeth, whom he had met while living in Guatemala much of last year. Steve got up and led a reconstituted Steelbeam in one of his own compositions, and then PJ Lyles and Steve joined lead vocals on the classic Boilermaker Blues - also featuring Antone and Shelley performing the Beamettes boilermaker dance.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

There are good days and bad days, sunny days and - well, rainy days. But Friday was fine, weather wise. With grandbaby in tow, we met with a dear friend for breakfast at what was once one of Austin's prize eateries - the former Laura's Bluebonnet Kitchen, now named Austin's Diner. Laura, who still sells strawberries seasonally and is raising her son Jake, would still be proud of the food and the decor at her old establishment, which has changed little other than for the addition of weekend patio dining. But at least on this one day, the service was so poor I nearly cried.

Not that the place was crowded, or that the staff was short. I counted at least four or five waitstaffers on hand, but none of them deemed it important to provide us with water, dinnerware, or even menus for several minutes. When we did order, we had to call upon the manager, who at least spoke to us. We were not sure whether the two waitfemales assigned to our table spoke no English or just preferred to paint their nails at the counter, but then, perhaps, they are afraid of small children.

When it was time for our food, we still had no dinnerware. One of us had ordered oatmeal, which was supposed to come with raisins and cinnamon sugar and even a spoon. It took five minutes to get a spoon (the wrong size) and another minute or two to get the raisins and stuff - which were delivered to me, not to the person who ordered the oatmeal. My grandson had to wait until all of the rest of us were finished eating to get his pancake - which we had repeatedly asked about to little avail (and which sat on the sill for some time after it was finally cooked). Of course, he had little interest in eating it after waiting for so long a time. The coffee refills were not hot, either, and we had other problems as well.

Something is dreadfully wrong at this establishment - but do not blame the cooks. It is the lack of spirit - the complete failure to recognize the privilege of serving in an Austin original restaurant, the utter disdain for human beings who are relying on your labors for their comfort just as much as you as a server are relying on their tips for your sustenance. Hopefully, our experience was not the normal one at Austin's Diner. But we do notice that business is off. Hmmmmm!!

The rains have, of course, come, and wiped out many worthwhile outdoor events, including the Burnet Bluebonnet Festival and some higher profile events in Austin. Charities that were depending on turnout for some of these events may be hurting, and in any case those who were to perform missed out on opportunities to strut their stuff for people who may have never seen them before. Of course, we need the rain. Of course, all of this rain may leave us with sunshine for next weekend's bluegrass festival (Old Settlers). But cheer up the downtrodden, and if you are a friend of someone whose sets were canceled (or who could not sell anything at their booths, or who were otherwise significantly inconvenienced or worse by the rain), find a way to encourage them today and tomorrow.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Stopped by Bongo's BBQ in the West Campus area tonight to catch the debut of the Dirty Dishes - Kathleen O'Keefe, who writes a Texas music column for Country Line magazine, on guitar (she's the songwriter), and Jen Obert, formerly of Cooper's Uncle, on fiddle. In the house were such notables as South Austin Jug Band mandolin player Matt Slusher, Shelley King bassist (who's also in People Skills and Kim DesChamps' blues band) Tony Velasco, and Gary Hartman, Director of the Institute for the History of Texas Music at Texas State in San Marcos. The girls did mostly originals by Kathleen - songs like Roll On, Baby, and Small Towns Can Kill You in the first set and Stranger in Your Shower Tonight in the second (which we had to leave early).

Sunday's coming - Resurrection Sunday, as we call it - and we are heading for Burnet for the annual Bluebonnet Festival and a rousing gospel set or two by the Andrew Ham Gospel Band -- which features Brennen and Seth Hulbert on mandolin and guitar and Ham himself on bass. It is supposed to be quite cool out - a fitting time to remember what the week is all about. From the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah to the time a few days later when some finally realized he had no intention to lead a political rebellion against Rome to the time even his friends abandoned him to the time the grave could not hold him.

Jesus spelled out the secret to a full life - that we are elevated in his kingdom by the way in which we first accept the premise that God has provided all of our own needs and second accept the challenge to pour out our lives in service to others. So our job is to look for opportunities to serve and not demand to be served. It is those who oppose God's kingdom who seek to lord it over others. And quite frankly it is not that easy to seek servitude as a lifestyle.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Did I ever mention my love for track and field? I spent Friday morning in the rain and Saturday afternoon in high sunshine at the Texas Relays, watching speedsters from LSU and Texas dominate in the university division and a few girls from California dominate in the high school division. I heartily endorse track and field as a great enterprise, and recommend to those who love the sport to but a ticket or two for the NCAA outdoor championships that will be here in Austin in June.

On Sunday, Nancy and I trotted down to Threadgill's for the Women in Rhythm concert that was a benefit for KOOP radio and the local food bank. The sponsors saved the best for first - as the show opened with blues belter DeDe Priest and her Altar Boyz band - featuring Leland Parks on bass. Folks - if you have not seen this woman who hails from Dallas but now lives and works in Austin - waste not a single moment before you find her next gig! She sang everything from a gospel tune or two to Janis Joplin with a zest that we have rarely seen even here in the Live Music Capital. DeDe also came highly recommended by our cruise mates Peggy and Mary katherine (the Lakeway lionesses) and by show headliner Miss Lavelle White - who was no slouch during her hot hot set that was backed by the Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers (Papa Mali, Gurf Morlix, Sarah Brown, Nick Connelly, and Paul Bhudda Mills).

Both these women have awesome CD's for sale - and my wife now has them at her office along with her brand new CD from Floramay Holliday (another of the afternoon performers, along with fellow South Austin Soul Sister Shelley King). In fafact Nancy bought a CD player for her office just to hear Floramay's record when she needs a pick-me-up. We also stuck around to hear sets from Joanna Ramirez (with her new singing partner and slide guitarist Will Indian), super slide guitarist Donna Lynn Kay, and the boisterous Bonny Holmes, who was backed by a band featuring Eric Hisaw on guitar.

Later in the evening there were to be sets by Jane Bond and Sarah Brown (her Queen Trisquit Medicine Show one-woman band), but we had to go - and for all we know the rains may not have been favorable to performances. One not so great note was that this was a benefit for KOOP - and I had listened to KOOP for half an hour that morning and heard not a single promo for the show - which could have been better attended than it was. Still, the crowd that did gather got to dance and sing along and have a great time. But there should have been more people - even though it was also the day that Austin hosted a Cajun music show, an art festival featuring great performers, a major benefit concert on Town Lake, and a fabulous songwriter showcase at Ginger Leigh's LOVE venue - and more still. Why would anyone who is a music lover not want to live in Austin?

On Monday night, we met the kids at Artz and got to hear another wonderful set from Sarah Elizabeth Campbell and the Banned -- and I got to ask the "Banned" about the "banned CD", ads for which keep slipping by my e-mail spam detector and which I seriously doubt are related to Sarah's music. I urged them to sue - in hopes that these intruders into my life (the banned CD promoters) will be socked for a big fine for copyright infractions.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

A HA! So my bud Greg Adkins calls me up on Tuesday evening and says, "I'm here (at Threadgill's North). Where are you?" And so I drag myself out of my comfort zone and make the short trek to visit and quaff and listen to the Brennen Leigh Band. No special guest - except for North Dakota native Leo Rondeau, whom Seth met while he was taking a few classes at North Dakota State University a while back. Leo has just moved to Austin to try his hand at the music scene. Plays a fair guitar and has a real old-style country singing voice. Did a few numbers with Brennen and Andrew while Seth sat out and listened. Sounded good. Drew me into the inner circle to hear without distractions.

Leo had been crashing with the Weary Boys, but now has his own place. Job, too. Now he's looking for gigs of his own, but will probably be happy to open for - or play in between sets for - more established Austin players for a while. Had some friends with him at the gig, including Mike Cherry of Dark Holler -- which leads me to Chapter Two.

Mike is a dobro player. Brought his brother back from Auburn, Alabama, for the week just to hear him play and hang out. I had not seen anyone from Dark Holler in more than a year, and was glad to find they were playing Wednesday night at one of my favorite watering holes - the Carousel Lounge (conveniently just a short drive from my notrh central Austin home). So I went by -- the band lineup is still Mike (duh!), Marshall Jones on guitar, harmonica, and vocals, and Scott on bass and bass drum - plus Tom Cuddy on mandolin. Learned that Tom is really a guitar player but has gotten more mando gigs (good that he learned as a kid and could pick it back up again). Had not seen the band since the Sundays at the Nutty Brown Cafe.

What is special about Dark Holler is that the band literally takes you back to another era not just musicially but in the way they go about their music business. Whether it's Born To Preach the Gospel or Sittin' on Top of the World - or originals like Come September and Gone, Gone, Gone, the band never sounds like modern guys playing old timey music. You just feel that you have been teleported to another time when life was simpler. So after the first set, I think I am leaving (lots of work to do, you know), but I run into Leo and decide to stay. Good thing. He does a couple of numbers to open up the second set - which is enhanced by the arrival of West Virginia fiddle player L. C. Life is good.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, April 1) is the Floramay Holliday CD release party at Antones - with the Shelley King Band doing the late set. Maybe I will see you there.

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