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Big Sweet Life

An intimate interrogation of Jon Dee Graham
William Harries Graham, 12:27pm, Tue. Nov. 13, 2012
photo by William Harries Graham
That’s not a homeless man in Blunn Creek. It's my father Jon Dee Graham!
A Google search of my father Jon Dee Graham's name produces over 6,440,000 hits in one second, but there are still things you can only find out if you ask someone directly. How do you make an interview different for a musician who's been interviewed his entire life? Take him down into Blunn Creek and ask personal questions, that's how.

Despite his song, “La, La, La,” dad probably wouldn't follow just any interviewer into the creek. Being related gave me an obvious edge. Still, I learned a lot.

“People have been trying to figure out forever why music is so special in Austin,” he says. “My friend Joe Nick Patoski is writing a book about how music came to be such a vital important thing in Austin. It's very mysterious to me, but it's always been like this. I like everything about living in Austin.“

First guitar and song: “I was 12 years old. We picked it up in a Mexican market. It was a horrible guitar: nylon-stringed, the action was really high, and it wouldn't stay in tune. But it was wonderful. Shortly after that, I got my first electric, a Sears & Roebuck Silvertone guitar. I had played piano since I was 8, but I wanted to play what I was hearing on the radio, so I got a guitar. The first song I wrote was on guitar when I was 14.”

On being a father: “Once you become a father you necessarily see the world as a different place. It's a life changing thing. When I look at my sons, I think how deeply affected my life is. The future becomes more important when you have kids. I have to keep working to be a better person so my sons can model that.”

Saddest thing that's ever happened: “When my dad died of cancer right after I moved to Austin. Everyone has to lose their parents eventually, but it was rough because I was at the age when I was really getting to know my dad.”

Biggest regret: “While there are things that I would do differently, I don't know that I would because I am so in love with the life that I have right now that I worry that changing any one part of it would change where I'm at.”

Biggest mistake: “I wish that I had started playing my own music earlier instead of being a sideman, although Alejandro [Escovedo] encouraged me in the True Believer days, but I didn't get around to it until my mid-thirties.“

Best musical moment so far: “Playing ‘Volver Volver’ with a mariachi band at the Austin Music Awards.”

Worst musical moment: “I can't mention any names, but all I wanted was for the show to be over so I could go back to the hotel and cry.”

Advice to young teens starting out: “Pursue your own music as early as you can. Try to play music from your heart. Don't mess around or waste time, start doing it.”

Mexican Coke vs. Dublin Dr. Pepper: “Mexican Coke in the morning because of the caffeine. But if you're just looking for something sweet and refreshing without getting all jacked up, Dublin Dr. Pepper.”

- William Harries Graham

U18 Events Saturday, Nov. 17

Evening Under the Oaks U-18 Singer-Songwriter Big Stage Fest takes place at the French Legation Museum (802 San Marcos St.), featuring a variety of U18 up-and-comers including Charlie Belle, Ramona B., the Bare Feat. Tickets $5 at the gate. Gates 6:30pm, music 7pm. http://bigstagemusicfest.com/

Jam Fest comes to Antone’s Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, and auditions are being held this Saturday, Nov. 17, 4pm, in the Westlake High School 9th Grade Cafeteria. The annual U18 event benefits Eanes Education Foundation and is organized by James Mayes, founder of Band Aid School of Music and Kids Are Alright Fest. Teen musicians can register at http://bandaidschoolofmusic.com

- Margaret Moser

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