Tribute to the Lone Star State: Dispossessed Men and Mothers of Texas

December 7, 1968 12:00 AM ET
Tribute to the Lone Star State: Dispossessed Men and Mothers of Texas
Baron Wolman

Texas is a drag – nearly every musician who comes from there agrees it's a drag – but the fact is that some of the heaviest, funkiest rock available today is Texas music: Janis Joplin, Steve Miller, Mother Earth, the Sir Douglas Quintet – the list of fine Texas rock and roll musicians goes on and on.

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It's hard for a non-Texan to understand how so much that's good could come out of such a wrong place. Janis Joplin has said of the Lone Star State: "Texas is okay if you want to settle down and do your own thing quietly, but it's not for outrageous people, and I was always outrageous. In Texas, I was a beatnik, a weirdo. I got treated very badly in Texas. They don't treat beatniks too good there."

You hear the same thing from musician after musician. But there's so much fine music there, a beautiful heritage.

Doug Sahm, Sir Douglas of the Sir Douglas Quintet, learned to play guitar, he says, sitting in a big open field during the hot summer evenings of his childhood and adolescence in Austin, from the age of 11. He was too young to be allowed inside the Eastwood Country Club – not so much a country club as a blues joint – so he'd sit outside in the still of the night and absorb all the music he could. "Man, they'd open after one at night and everybody would play there. Junior Parker, dig, Junior would play there and, I mean, he's so good. That's where I learned guitar, man. Just sittin' in that field alongside the Eastwood Country Club. Little Willie John would be there. I used to hear Willie John doing 'Fever,' man, you could hear that voice driftin' across the field. Umhmm. T-Bone Walker! That's where I learned guitar, all that music driftin' out into the night."

[Screwed Right And Left]

"See, in Texas, everybody, black and white, digs the blues. Everybody accepts it," Steve Miller explains. His upbringing was unusual, but it illustrates the point. Dr. George Miller, Steve's father, was doctor to T-Bone Walker while the guitarist was growing up, and sometimes when T-Bone was short on bread he'd repay Dr. Miller by playing for him at parties. Steve would sit at the feet of the legendary black bluesman, taking in every note. There was never anything like a formal lesson, but the experience was enormously valuable.

"I don't want to say it was such a smooth scene for the colored cats," Miller says. "They were being screwed right and left and every other way. There was – there is – all kinds of segregation. But the music was all over the place. For eighty bucks you could hire all these outa sight black bands, and everybody did."

Another big influence on all Dallas's aspirant young white blues players was the midnight-to-five Cats Caravan program on WRR. "Oh, man, they used to play Lightin' Hopkins and Freddie King and like Leadbelly and all these Texas people. And Jimmy Reed! He was in town all the time. That was my first thing, doing Jimmy Reed."

Miller had a working blues band in Dallas at the age of 12. At 16, nine years ago, he did some tapes of his band, and hearing the tapes now, Miller maintains they're as good as a lot of the stuff that's being sold at your local record store.

["Rhythm & Blues Was Our Folk Music"]

"You hear these San Francisco cats play and it's stuff they got out of folk music. That's how it happened in San Francisco. You can hear all those folk guitar lessons," says Boz Scaggs.

"We had a different folk music in Texas. Rhythm and blues was our folk music and playing the blues was the natural thing. Everybody played the blues. So, you know, you come to San Francisco and there's very few cats on the West Coast here that ever play the blues. So it's not hard to tell who's from Texas when you're listening to some guys jamming."

Blues is all over Texas and the roots go deep. Blind Lemon Jefferson came out of Wortham, turn of the century, with a moaning, crying blues style that set the tone for generations of Texas bluesmen. He often crossed the paths with Leadbelly, who, while Louisiana-born, worked the breadth of Texas and spread his message. Lightnin' Hopkins dug them both; learned at the feet of Blind Lemon, he has said. T-Bone Walker, born in Linden, raised in Waxahachie, was the first of the blues guitarists to make it nation-wide with heavy-selling recordings, years before B. B. King. Everybody dug Mance Lipscomb. New generations heard these men, absorbed what they had to say and developed the Texas genre. Buddy Holly, out of Lubbock, took it one direction. A young saxophone player from Fort Worth named Ornette Coleman gigged with Pee Wee Crayton's (and others') rhythm and blues band for a number of years, before he spun off into his own groove and created a revolutionary way of playing jazz.

No one tradition has produced all the rock players that are now coming out of Texas' vast expanses (267,339 square miles). Gospel – black and white – and hill-billy music coexist and mingle with the blues to form the common aural heritage of Lyndon Johnson's birth-state. Steve Miller's biggest treat as a kid was to go to the Big D Jamboree. "I loved it, man, all those hill-billy bands. It was like 6000 people a night, like the Fillmore of Dallas!"

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