Tribute to the Lone Star State: Dispossessed Men and Mothers of Texas - Rolling Stone
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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!”

Mother Earth hornman Martin Fierro, who’s half-Indian and looks rather like Tonto, has played every kind of Texas music, including churches (“they let you bring your horn and jam, man, and it’s so beautiful”) and mariachi bands. “There were these two old ladies in this mariachi thing, man. Playing tambourine and accordion, that was all. But they burned – they burned. I sat in with them, man, and it was so good.”

Cajun music out of Louisiana has also been an influence – men like the blues accordionist Clifton Chenier (who’s recorded for Arhoolie) command respect among the Texas players.

[“It’s Tough For A Longhair, Man”]

“One way you learn all these kinds of music is by playing it,” says Tougue & Groove bassist Terry Owens. “We’d always take any gig and play whatever it was supposed to be: country and western or blues or folk or soul. There was never any distinction. After a while it all comes naturally.”

This explains why all those things fit together so well when Sir Douglas or Mother Earth voice their horns like a mariachi band, let the rhythm section fall into a rhythm and blues groove, sing country and western style, followed by a blues guitar solo. It sounds right because it’s natural.

But blues – black blues – is basic to the Texas sound.

He’d been a professional musician for seven or eight years before Doug Sahm really felt he’d made it. He went down to the Ebony Club in San Antonio one night to sit in with some black cats. “They dug us, man, they dug us. That’s when we knew we were gettin’ into somethin’, when those colored cats said they dug us, and you could tell they really did.”

There’s so many good musicians in San Antonio, where Doug Sahm comes from, that you can, he says, get a black five-piece band “as good as anything you ever heard” for five or six dollars a man.

It’s no easy life for a black musician in Texas, no matter how good he is.

Says Ed Guinn, bass player with the Conqueroo and a black man: “People are really weird back there. It’s tough for a longhair. They treat longhairs just like they treat colored. And it can be tough for Negroes – particularly if you’re some hot-head militant. In Texas you know you’re a Nigger and if you act like one, everything’s cool.”

“Prejudice is the same everywhere,” says Lonnie Castille, drummer for Mother Earth, a black musician who just “came down” to San Francisco a couple of months ago. “But I’ll tell you this, man, it’s stronger in Texas. People are more together here. They want to know about you, yourself, and it don’t matter so much anything except what you are.” Texas isn’t like that.

It’s a clear-cut and very Southern racial thing most places in Texas. Everybody, white and black, knows his place. White folks and blacks keep pretty neatly divided. Except for the musicians. Boz Scaggs, formerly second guitarist with Steve Miller, tells of playing at every kind of club and roadhouse in Dallas and in his home town, Plano, 20 miles to the north. “It’s really something they way the Negro people there just accept you. ‘Specially if you can play. I mean, in Harlem, you go into a club to jam and there’s this edge of violence to the whole thing. You can feel something violent about to happen. Among the musicians and the people who dig what they’re doing, there’s a friendly feeling in Texas. Family feeling.”

[Red-Neck & Head-Neck Hippies]

Drummer Castille, who’s played behind Wilson Pickett and others (including Archie Bell & the Drells, when he was in high school in Houston) professes to hear little difference in the way the best black bands and the best white bands play. “Sometimes, you can’t tell whether it’s white or Negro until you look.” Lonnie admits to “copping a lot of stuff off white bands like the Jokers and Buddy White – some of those guys were hotter’n hell.” Black or white, Castille says he can always tell whether a musician’s from Texas. “Especially the rhythmic patterns and the dynamics the drummers use man. Most drummers here [in San Francisco] play at a loud level all the time. In Texas you can’t get away with that. You got to play what fits.”

Texas is the home of red-neck hippies (those who drink Pearl beer and maybe sip a little Southern Comfort) and head-necks (same bunch except they take a lot of drugs). If you’re literate you graduate from the University of Texas or spend a couple of semesters at the University of Houston (no difference except that you drink more wine) and then you split and don’t tell anyone where you come from until you do something important.

Most notable of these is red/head-neck Janis Joplin, “the girl from Port Arthur who swore she wasn’t never coming back,” though some of her last engagements with the Holding Co. are scheduled in Texas. Janis is the balls of San Francisco but the addition of Texans Chet Helms and Steve Miller to the early San Francisco scene give cause and reason to keep Texas on your scorecard: there’s always at least one pitcher warming up.

[A Better Lay Than Sam Andrew]

Self-appointed scorekeeper seems to be San Francisco’s Henry Carr, a local producer and co-manager for Mother Earth, who is trying to accumulate all the West Coast Texas talent together. He has been somewhat responsible for the recent arrival of the Sir Douglas Quintet + 2. In addition, the Conqueroo featuring Fat Charlie on guitar and Super Spade on bass/flute and Shiva’s Head Band featuring lead violin are the latest Texas arrivals.

Mother Earth is headed by harpist/songwriter Powell St. John and features Tracy Nelson, a heavy gospel singer on vocals. Powell, along with Janis, were frontrunners of the Ghetto folk scene at the University of Texas in the early Sixties. Both know that music’s primary function is to move the body (e.g, girls restroom graffito Fillmore West: “Powell St. John is a better lay than Sam Andrew”). Intellectual body rock seems to be a quality inherent in all of the West Coast Texas groups.

Presently Sir Doug is probably more important than Mother Earth. Though both groups are built along the same lines (simple R&B accented with tight horn sections), Sir Doug’s group has been playing together for eight years. The two groups intend to establish a Stax/Volt sound with free exchange of musicians between the two groups at playing dates.

Sir Doug himself is a gas, ambling on stage with cowboy hat, boots, and jeans, and signals for his San Antonio horn section to break into the type of music that Bloomfield never attained with the Electric Flag. Though his album Honkey Blues lacks the crispness of live performance it is at least better than Mother Earth’s embarassing debut on the Revolution album. (Mother Earth’s new Living With The Animals is a marked improvement.)

The hottest item outside of Janis Joplin, though, still remains in Texas. If you can imagine a hundred and thirty pound cross-eyed albino with long fleecy hair playing some of the gutsiest fluid blues guitar you have ever heard, then enter Johnny Winter. At 16, Bloomfield called him the best white blues guitarist he had ever heard. Now 23, Winter has been out and around for some time. At one time he and his identical twin brother, Edgar, had a group called the Black Plague, Edgar on tenor and at the keyboard.

Winter presently appears with a trio, and, like Janis, is backed by insufficient talent. Henry Carr might consider the possibilities of Winter and Joplin on the same stage. In addition to guitar, Winter also plays superb harp and has a fine hard blues voice. His visual and audible presence is a subtle parallel to Joplin’s.

No question of it, the first name that comes to mind when you ask emigrant Texans about the good musicians that have stayed back home is Winter’s. “Incredible,” says Chet Helms of Family Dog. Almost inevitably, the second name you hear is Bobby Doyle, a blind pianist-singer-composer who comes across like Ray Charles and Hank Williams and several other people, but mainly Bobby Doyle. Then there’s one very soulful tenor player and singer named Jerry LaCroix with a big soul band out of Beaumont and Houston called the Boogie Kings. And a songwriter-banjoist named John Clay, who’s said to spend hours simultaneouly watching TV, playing banjo, reading a book and writing songs like his amazing (but unrecorded) “On the Road to Mingus.” There’s John Roberts and the Hurricanes, a band that gets into a variety of things, all funky. Ray Sharpe. Cookie and the Cupcakes. The Valentine Brothers.

[“They’re Burning – They’re All Burning”]

Though the present rock scene in Texas is rather thin, important talent still lies with the self-contained individual singer/songwriter. Though categorically these people might be referred to as “folksingers” because of their nonelectric acoustical accompaniment, they escape that pigeonholing as easily as Tim Hardin or Arlo Guthrie.

Only Jerry Jeff Walker, with his “Mr. Bojangles” has achieved any sort of national recognition.

For several years the abilities of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Frank Davis, and several others have not even received widespread regional recognition. They have had to be content with the dwindling number of coffeehouses and “folk music” concerts. Since the Houston/Austin/Dallas triangle has been for the most part slow to acquire a discerning ear for contemporary music, it has only been recently that significant attention has been generated about their potential for prominence.

Discovered by Jack Clement, Townes Van Zandt is the most productive songwriter. Recent session work in Nashville produced an album on MGM’s Poppy label entitled For the Sake of a Song. The label unfortunately included some of his weaker material and cluttered the selections with some easy-listening Nashville production. Despite this, Peter, Paul, and Mary have included some of his performances into their repertoire.

Guitarmaker Guy Clark is a non-aggressive soft spoken person, and this is largely responsible for his anonymity. Guy’s writing is musically very melodic and lyrically as poignant and straight-forward as any songwriting being produced. Guy will soon go to Nashville with Jay Boyett (Townes’ manager) to cut an album of original material that will hopefully be bought and distributed by a national label. The main emphasis though, will be to make other artists aware of his material for their consideration.

Presently a local engineer, Frank Davis has been working sporadically for over a year on an album with Carolyn Terry for a local label. Frank is a frightening performer. His involvement in a song produces shivers more intense than Tim Hardin. Frank’s problem though seems to be in keeping his activities focused on one thing long enough to sustain momentum. Being strungout though only adds to his charisma. Frank Davis is already there, it’s just a matter of meeting him.

One gets the impression of enormous untapped resources of musical energy all over the state. “You take EI Paso,” says Mother Earth saxophonist Martin Fierro, “that’s just a small city of about 300,000, but there’s at least 25 rock and roll bands there, I’ve heard a lot of them, and they’re burning – they’re all burning. And nothing’s ever going to happen to those cats unless they leave. They’ll wind up in factories and in the fields. But those cats can play!”

[Never Asked To Play Same Place Twice]

Not that this is reflected by the current Texas pop scene. On one hand you have what Rick Barthelme terms Tanglewood Rock (college suburbanites too affluent to drop out (i.e. Fever Tree and the Five Americans and their contributions to clinical rock). The best of these though, the Moving Sidewalks, are the most commercial product in the South.

A certain amount of pollution is beginning to make itself felt in the Texas musical scene, Doug Sahm says. A lot of the blues players are hearing “all that freaky electronic pop stuff” that’s made so much money for relatively lightweight pop groups outside Texas and are beginning to incorporate it into their music. “Some of the new bands are doing that,” Sahm says, “but I don’t think it’s going to come to anything.”

Whereas it is all in front for Winter and the Side walks, it is all behind for the 13th Floor Elevators, one of the earliest of the “psychedelic” groups. At one time at tight powerful stage group, they are most prominent for their influence on the regional scene rather than for their music (though “Slip Inside This House” is an excellent piece of lyricism). The group has been significant in steering young groups from the traditional Gulf Coast sound taken by such people as B.J. Thomas, Roy Head, and Gene Thomas.

Probably one of the most unusual groups under contract anywhere is the Red Krayola (the “C” was dropped after the Crayola Co. filed suit) who have recorded two albums for the International Artists label. The original freak-out group, they are renowned for having never been asked to play the same place twice. Sparked by Rick Barthelme’s flare for brilliance on their first album, the second album focuses on the acute cleverness of Mayo and Steve. Though the album is self-indulgent at times, the 22 songs express a wit judged on its own terms to be as direct as a B.C. comic strip.

Both the Elevators and the Red Krayola along with most regional groups are under contract to the International Artists label, the South’s most formidable independent rock label. Through the efforts of president Bill Dillard, Lelan Rogers, and Ray Rush they have been responsible in three years for making I-A what it is today.

Huey P. Meaux remains a figure on the Houston scene. He’s produced a good share of the hits that come out of Houston. An independent, his method of getting a session together at Gold Star Studios (Houston’s funkiest) is highly individualistic. “Somebody will give him a phone call at two in the morning and suggest an idea to him,” says Doug Sahm, “and Huey will get on the phone right away, getting musicians for the date. He doesn’t wait a minute. Now, man – be does it right now. Might be three o’clock, you’re still rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, this guy Huey is recording this thing, it works, don’t ask me how.”

[Blustering Self-Righteous Assholes]

The rather slow development of the regional groups has been the absence of a significant ballroom scene. In Texas, the most prominent are the Vulcan Gas Co. in Austin, the Catacombs and Love Street in Houston. The Houston Clubs suffer mainly from lack of atmosphere; the Catacombs because an under-21 club license, no air conditioning, and low ceiling makes it outmoded in concept and appeal, and Love Street because it is in the heart of Houston’s hippie hangout (populated by Marlon Brando types and lost identities with “groovy, stoned, and freaky” fixations).

An effort is presently being made to open a “Fill-more South” type ballroom. But in view of past attempts its success is doubtful.

So the funky thing that has happened is that there’s a big growing market for Texas rock outside Texas, but not at home.

“It had been a closed little world back in Texas,” says Martin Fierro of Mother Earth. “We all dug the music. but nobody outside Texas ever heard it. You can play Texas when you’re away from there and everybody digs it. It’s something special. But when you’re there you don’t sound that unusual, ’cause you’re just doing what everybody does – Texas music.”

Most non-Texans tend to think of Texas people as blustering self-righteous assholes, to state it bluntly. That’s more or less Janis Joplin’s view of the people around the oil refinery town of Port Arthur, where she grew up rebellious and rejected. “Man, those people hurt me,” she recalls bitterly. She painted and read poetry, and that made her different, weird. a freak in the eyes of civilized Texans. “I had a lot of hurts and confusions. You know, it’s hard when you’re a kid to be different. You’re all full of things and you don’t know what it’s about.”

“It’s not real easy to live there if you say what you think,” says Steve Miller. “Everytime you go out in the street with long hair some fraternity boy or football player or something is going to start some kind of hassle.”

[An Insult To Southern Womanhood]

Robert Sherill once wrote a book about modern-day Texans; he called them “The Super-Americans” and drew a picture of the American dream gone biologically wild, huge libraries built with oil well millions, magnificent edifices of knowledge, devoid of books and learning within; museums built in defiance of northern art circles, by Dallas society anxious to crash the best-dressed cities list, but empty of anything of artistic importance.

Thus Texas: once the property of Mexico, once the property of Sam Houston and Texas, now the property of the United States and Lyndon Johnson, John Conally, Jack Ruby, Lee Oswald, Billie Sol Estes and H.L. Hunt.

In many ways, Texas is still a frontier. The old virtues – toughness, conservatism – are cherished. Adventurousness is punished.

“The thing is, there’s still all those people in Texas who aren’t going to let you do anything unless you do it their way,” explain Boz Scaggs. “You really gotta go through a lotta shit to find your own way. But, I don’t know, maybe it’s so bad that you see the alternatives to Texas a lot more clearly.”

Just how Southern a place Texas is, is neatly illustrated by the fight Boz Scaggs and Steve Miller nearly provoked when they were in Dallas earlier this year. The two were leaving a drive-in burger joint when a high school jockstrap came roaring into the lot in his candy-apple red Corvette’s girl friend at his side, in one hell of a hurry. Corvette’s brakes locked, tires squealed, skidded right up onto a curb. “Slow the fuck down,” Scaggs shouted as he and Miller drove off. “What did you say?” the jockstrap bellowed. “Slow The Fuck Down!” Scaggs fired back, as he and Miller pulled away. The Corvette tore out after them, caught them at a red light. Miller and Scaggs prudently rolled up the windows and locked the doors while the young bull pounded on the car and raged. “What pissed him off was that his girl friend was with him and I’d offended Southern Womanhood. Which really tells you where most of Texas is at. He’d like to have kicked hell out of us for the sake of Southern Womanhood.”

[Drunken Hoots At Threadgill’s Gas Station]

One germinal scene was Austin during the early 1960s, where a loose-knit group of folk singers dabbled at the University of Texas, created outrageous satire (like Wonder Warthog) for the university humor magazine, the Texas Ranger, and were active in civil rights movement leadership. A lot of them lived in a rundown apartment building near the University called the Ghetto (or, as Texans say it, the Ghet-to).

The apartment was the obvious center of beatnikism to residents of the Texas capital, and when the trend toward long hair began, the Austinites reacted in all their considerable Texas wrath.

Meanwhile, Ghetto dwellers would all go out to drunken all-night hoots at a 1930’s converted gas station in East Austin, run by a man named Kenneth Threadgill, a folk and country singer.

It was at Threadgill’s that Janis, Joplin, Powell St. John and Larry Wiggins used to perform as the Waller Creek Boys. Threadgill himself sang this year at the Newport Folk Festival and got nice reviews. It was his first major appearance outside the Lone Star State. He sang often during the 1930’s with Jimmy Rodgers – and better than Rodgers, According to some of his staunchest admirers.

The heat got had in Texas about four years ago, with the emergence of the Austin Ghetto underground scene. It wasn’t so bad before that, if you kept in line. But when Texas straight society (everything in Texas is larger than life, and Texas straight society, no exception, is straighter than life) caught wind of what was going down in Austin, they flipped out. So many Texas rock musicians have been busted on so many charges – justified and otherwise – that the list would be too long to print.

“All that heat out of Austin,” says Doug Sahm. “That did it. Everybody who could do it had to split. To San Francisco, man, because this is beautiful here, you know? It’s a great place to create music. It’s the center of that force, that scene. Let me tell you now, this is true – there’s a whole lotta turned-on people in this city. Yeh.”

[Yard Sale – Going West]

Chet Helms, hitch-hiking toward Mexico in 1963 the day JFK was assassinated, was tossed in jail in Laredo and put through some incredible changes before he was rescued – by the FBI, of all people. “I was accused of being an accomplice to the assassin,” he says, and “when they couldn’t make that stick, they accused me of stealing nine dollars from a truck driver. Then it was changed to a vagrancy charge. That’s the answer why I don’t want to go back to Texas.”

Travis Rivers (who’s co-manager, these days, for Mother Earth and a couple of other S.F. groups) went through an incredibly bad year of persecution and harassment before he finally decided to tell Texas good-bye. Some of his friends had joined the Young Peoples. Socialist League and he had been active, with them, in integrating an Austin movie theatre and other equally far-out (for Texas) endeavors. He lost his job and it was eight months before he could find another. Word went out that Travis was a bad-ass, and, just possibly, a commie.

“You know, integrating a movie house to you and me isn’t anything too weird,” says Travis. “But you have to understand Texas. To them, man, that was weirder than anything. When they blacklist you, you’re blacklisted up and down the state. I got so hungry, so thin, no money and nobody would do a thing for, me. Texas is like a huge small town. Everybody knows about you.”

Finally he got a job as a janitor in the library of the University of Texas. (It was in the library, it seems, because of Travis’ past experience as an authority on rare books.) “One night I went to a flick called Help, watched it all the way through, then all the way through, then all the way through again, and then I drove out to the woods to think about it. Just me, alone out there with the woods and the night sky. I drove back to this little place where I was living and played mumbleypeg for awhile. And then I moved everything out to the front yard, emptied the whole house out, put up a big sign that said Yard Sale – Going West.”

[“You pay dues for that soulfulness, man”]

There’s all these things happening in Texas music, but Texas was too repressive an atmosphere for Powell St. John to get it all together. He thinks the same is true for other Texans. “It’s only emerging here in San Francisco. This is a freer environment. You can breathe here. Everybody knows something’s happening here, it’s like a gathering of artists to do what they couldn’t do someplace else.”

Henry Carr explains: “These Texas people got to make it here because they can’t go back to Texas. That’s why Texas musicians you hear outside Texas are really working at it.”

There is a sort of Texas community within every large city outside Texas. “It’s safer inside the community than it is outside, man; you know what to expect with Texans,” says St. John. “Like, we hold together – it’s still Texas, wherever we go,” Fierro adds.

Texas is part of the Old South, but the further west you go across the state, the less prejudice and conservatism and general tight-assed-ness do you encounter. Which is sort of true nationally and may explain why so many Texas musicians have drifted as far west as they can go, to San Francisco. “All this propaganda that this was a free city, that you could dress or do anything anyway you wanted to, smoke dope without a lot of trouble – that’s what brought them here,” says Tracy Nelson, Mother Earth vocalist whose band is 75% Texan in origin. “They were really driven out of Texas, man. It’s a really stupid bunch of clods back there and all the Texas cats I know hate that Texas mentality and all the bullshit.”

“No question about Texas soul,” Sahm agrees. “But, listen, you pay, dues for that soulfulness. You pay dues for that soulfulness, man.”

[The heat makes them play that way]

Roadhouses in Texas are like noplace else. All the young rock musicians play them at the start. They’re meeting houses far more than they are cocktail lounges or beer halls. They’re where a lot of people get together to get drunk and have a good time. It’s a gathering of friends and the music is part of the camaraderie, part of the good feeling rather than a separate entertainment.

Travis Rivers used to go from jam session to jam session all day Saturday and Sunday. “Texas music, it’s so fine. I used to think all the music in the world was like that until I got here. There’s a certain way Texas musicians play, but it’s hard to describe. I got a friend who tells me it’s the heat that makes them play that way.”

You hear a Texas band and you know it’s a Texas band. It’s not so much a style as a feeling. An affirmation of the land, the space, the clean, clear sky.

“People in the city – the big cities – feel so squeezed in, and there’s so many people putting them through so many changes – you know, like in Chicago and New York – that it puts everything on the surface and superficial, relationships and emotions,” Steve Miller contends. “But Texas cats live out on the land – with the land and space out there. They have a deeper feeling because more of that feeling for life exists out there on the land. It gets you into a thing more like soul music, like country music.”

[“You got the time to Get it together”]

“Thing about Texas is you just take it slower up there,” says Doug Sahm. “You got more time. Not a lot of people hassling you there, if you know where to go. You got the time to get it together, without a lot of people pressuring you about making a hit record. By the time you go record, you got it worked out.”

One of the truly legendary Texas bluesmen, Mance Lipscomb is all but retired now. He’s got a farm in Navasota, on the Brazos River, and mostly he spends his time sitting on the river bank, thinking and singing to himself every now and then. Lipscomb hardly plays at all anymore. There’s plenty of time for doing nothing along the Brazos.

Travis Rivers loves Texas, much as he hates how he’s been treated there. “It’s beautiful there. It’s the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. I try to get back there every three or four months now, whenever I can afford it. They’re great people, Texans. I dig their silly. provincial bullshit. They’re great, as long as you don’t have to depend on them for anything.

“It’s funny Texas people can be so hard and so soft. I mean you snap at a Texas cat, you got a fight on you hands. But if you parry with him, sort of be gentle and take him into your self, he’ll rally to you.”

“You don’t fool Texas people, I’ll say that for them. They’re so sincere when they believe in somethin’, dig? so sincere it’s beautiful, they’re really with you one hundred percent,”Sahm says. “You can’t get away with a lot of bullshit, though, ’cause Texas people – they know it’s bullshit.”

Martin Fierro’s eyes light up when you ask him what he misses about Texas. It’s not the cities or the people. “It’s the desert, man. Yeah, and all that peyote out there. People plant it like all over the desert – wow – there it is, man. Can’t hardly get it anyplace else.”

There is a certain pride in being from Texas. Fierro, for instance, was born in Mexico and the first several years he lived in Texas he was a wetback. “Even the Mexican people in Texas thought of me as Mexican. Then I lived there and played the music, blues, rock, country and western and everything, for several years, and then I went down to Mexico City one time and all those cats, man, they said ‘You’re not Mexican, man, you’re from Texas.’ Man, when those cats told me that, I knew I had it made!

“There’s so much – determination is the word – so much determination on the part of Texas musicians to get their own thing across that it really is a competitive scene. You really got to make it. If you haven’t got it all together, you know what I’m talkin’ about? Then you can just forget playing music in Texas, you dig it?”

This story is from the December 7th, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.

In This Article: Texas


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