Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Big Ol' Rock, Tejas-style

A while back, a student radio station in Austin contacted Dharmonia, as the originator of our wildly popular "History of Rock 'n' Roll" course, and asked her for interview footage on the Texas songs that "most influenced rock music." Now, of course, the absurdity and pointlessness of these kinds of "top-5" lists is legion, and was skewered mercilessly and brilliantly in Nic Hornsby's High Fidelity (and beautifully played in the film version by Jack Black and Todd Louiso, with John Cusack along for the ride), but they're fun nevertheless. Dharmonia and I love playing these kinds of games, especially over a leisurely greasy-spoon breakfast with a lot of coffee to fuel the synapses, so here's what we came up with.

Willie Nelson: Crazy (recorded by Patsy and absolutely transformative of country songwriting style)

Buddy Holly: That'll be the Day (Buddy's first major hit; it set the template for his wide-ranging synthesis of R&B, blues, country, western swing, and Tejano)

Bob Wills: New San Antonio Rose (adapting TX fiddle music and fusing blues/country/swing styles)

Lead Belly: Goodnight Irene (very widely recorded, and a hit record by The Weavers)

Blind Willie Johnson: Dark was the Night Cold was the Ground (archetypal instrumental, good enough to keep company with Bach and Gregorian chant on the gold-plated LP that went Out Yonder with Voyager

T-Bone Walker: Stormy Monday Blues (canonic, especially in the Allman Bros. Band version, but also a beautiful illustration of T-Bone's elegant, jazz-tinged approach to the blues)

Roy Orbison: Pretty Woman (Roy's not a personal favorite, but you can't leave him off this list, and this song was a hit twice, three decades apart--the other version was by Van Halen)

Janis Joplin: Piece of My Heart (poor, mistreated Janis is a personal favorite, and this song, by the Brill Building genius of Ragovy & Burns, is surely archetypal)

ZZ Top: La Grange from Tres Hombres (classic Texas: a song about a brothel; and a band that set one post-70s power trio archetype; also early, effective, and very unusual approach to rock video; here, Billy really shows his Magic Sam roots)

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Pride and Joy or his cover of Hendrix's Voodoo Chile (first great star of the 1980s blues revival; he got traction with his Hendrix cops but Albert King was a much bigger part of who he was as a musician)

13th Floor Elevators w/ Roky Erikson: You're Gonna Miss Me (early and influential psychedelic song from 1966; Roky's journey into and out of and back into madness was another kind of rock archetype)

Johnny Winter: Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Coo (Winter is so cool that he was mythologized as a minor character in Laurence Gonzalez's masterful Texas-rock novel Jambeaux, and he'd deserve a place on this list even without his own playing, just because of his collaborations with Muddy Waters)

Townes Van Zandt: Pancho & Lefty (Van Zandt is a classic version of the extraordinary, venerable, and still-vital tradition of the Texas-style songwriter; they've been cranking out great songs since before Buddy, and folks like Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, Cary Swinney, and Wade Park are still at it)

The Flatlanders, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock: unreleased debut More a Legend than a Band (an early flowering of what would later be alt-country; they're the backup band Janis deserved but never got)

Dixie Chicks: Wide Open Spaces by Lubbock's Susan Gibson; or Not Ready to Make Nice (Natalie Maines is one of the more loudmouthed musicians ever to come out of Texas, which is saying something, but these girls get full props for massive chops, and an absolute bedrock, old-school West Texas defiant refusal to back down)

Lyle Lovett: Blues for Dixie with Asleep at the Wheel (Lyle wrote about 1 album's worth of great songs and--as a songwriter--has been running on fumes ever since, but he runs an absolutely impeccable band and as a song stylist he's without peer)

Freddie King: Hideaway (Freddy was bigger than life and without peer; this song was Eric Clapton's post-grad education and his first tour-de-force with the Bluesbreakers)

Albert Collins: Frosty (Albert was always one of my favorites, playing an open-tuned Telecaster with a tone like an icepick punching through a Mack truck--which he sometimes drove; this instrumental was his first jukebox hit)

Fabulous Thunderbirds: Tuff Enough (Kim Wilson and Jimmie Vaughan; though this song is really more their big for rock 'n' roll stardom--which failed--they were bedrock cornerstones of the '70s and '80s Austin blues scene; Kim especially is an extraordinary musician; the video is dumb '80s soft-porn but the song is killin')

Sir Douglas Quintet: She's About a Mover (where Texas rockabilly, psychedelia, and Tex-Mex/Norteno music met: Doug Sahm was one of the great bandleaders in the history of American music)

Butthole Surfers: Bar-B-Q Pope (from their 1983 debut: I really don't give a shit about the Surfers, and god knows I think they were essential non-functional as human beings, but you really can't leave punk-rock out of any history of Texas rock)

Pantera: Nothin' On (But the Radio) (same with metal: it doesn't speak to me, but they were hugely influential, and they were the for guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott, who re-thought how metal guitar could be played)

Lydia Mendoza: Mal Hombre (the mother of Tejano music; a fantastic 12-string guitar and vocalist, who maintained her own career for a good 40 years);

Flaco Jimenez: Tejano accordion, son of conjunto pioneer Santiago Jimenez St; a nonpareil stylist and sideman, he also played with Doug Sahm and in the Texas Tornados as well as Ry Cooder and Keith Richard;

Freddie Fender: border Tejano and country music

Los Lonely Boys: three brothers in a power trio from San Angelo; grew up playing conjunto; very strong influences from Hendrix and Stevie Ray

Gatemouth Brown: one of the great swing/jump/blues guitarists and bandleaders; the natural inheritor of Bob Wills's mantle. Maintained a great road band for 60 years, stayed on the road, defied cancer and emphysema, came home to Texas post-Katrina to die. A great, great man.


the dearly deported said...

I know he's not from here, but ol' Bob Johnson's San Antonio cuts cast a LONG shadow on musicians 'round here, too. Excellent list all around though!

Christopher said...

I agree with you--but we were trying to be real rigorous for the sake of the college radio kids.

And the Pantera cut was for you!!!

Dharmonia said...

Just for the record, KUT is not a "college radio station" - it's a big professional NPR station that happens to be affiliated with UT, just as KOHM and WFIU are affiliated with large universities.