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Off the Record

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By Austin Powell, Fri., Feb. 6, 2009

Atlantic swing: (l-r) Jerry Wexler, Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, Arif Mardin
Atlantic swing: (l-r) Jerry Wexler, Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, Arif Mardin
Photo by David Gahr

Last of the Breed

At the turn of the century, Atlantic Records mogul Jerry Wexler, whom Doug Sahm called "the funky Jewish king of black music," began dispersing his record collection to family and friends. A few crates' worth of Western swing records – mainly compilations of 78s preserved onto LPs in the 1970s – went to Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson. "Western swing? Nobody knows it," Wexler reasoned at the time (see "A Man and a Half," Dec. 1, 2000). "I mean, God bless Ray Benson, because he's the man." Scribbled next to 39 song titles were the letters "WN," marking selections Wexler had hoped Willie Nelson would cut for a Bob Wills tribute during the singer's brief tenure on Atlantic (check out "Troublemaker," Dec. 29, 2006). After seeing the Wheel on Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price's Last of the Breed DVD, Wexler revived the idea with the Austin institution as backing band, later helping Benson narrow down the selections and offering feedback throughout the recording process. The resulting LP, Willie and the Wheel, released this week on Benson's Bismeaux Records, is a fitting tribute not only to the Western swing genre but also to Wexler, whose local legacy touches on the careers of Lou Ann Barton, Freda & the Firedogs, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He died last August shortly after the album's completion and is credited as executive producer. "We were kindred souls, the kind of people that studied the music," Benson remembers. "We were both looking for the roots of American music. The only difference is that he was there." The Wheel rolls into Antone's on Saturday with a special guest – the Red Headed Stranger's tour itinerary appears to be open – before hitting the road for the rest of the month, including stops on the Late Show With David Letterman, at Willie's Place in Carl's Corner (Feb. 24), and a taping for Austin City Limits. For more of Benson's reflections on Wexler, see austinchronicle.com/earache.


Way Down in the Hole

Pillow Queens
Pillow Queens
Photo by John Anderson

Getting to Club 1808 (1808 E. 12th) can match navigating The Wire – speaking from personal experience – but the Eastside dive is quickly becoming Austin's answer to the Smell scene in Los Angeles: an incubator for off-the-radar art-punks. Roughly the size of Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon, the decidedly DIY venue has the feel of a basement party, especially last Saturday when Austin's Pillow Queens concocted a glorious mess of infectious garage pop. Cry Blood Apache holds down a weekly residency on Tuesdays, while Manikin throws down next Friday. "It's interesting," says owner Gene Mays, carefully choosing his words to describe the music. Struggling to compete with the strip's BYOB clubs, Mays heeded the advice of Emo's proprietor Frank Hendrix and started booking indie bands about a year ago with help from Chaos in Tejas organizer Timmy Hefner, though it's clear an urban-music format might prosper in the area. He now plans to expand into a neighboring space. "I've been happy with the business so far," Mays says. "No complaints."


Random Play

City Council has approved the induction of Michael David Fuller, better known as Blaze Foley (see "A Walking Contradiction," Dec. 24, 1999), into the Austin Music Memorial, along with jazz giant Gene Ramey and blues specialist T.D. Bell. Rounding out the list of this year's inductees are Camilo Cantu, Lonnie Guerrero, Bill Neely, Robert Shaw, C.B. Stubblefield, and Damita Jo De Blanc Wood.

There's a free Teen Music Texas forum at 7pm on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at the Save Austin Music Headquarters (3708 Woodbury), helping address common interests surrounding musicians under the drinking age. That same night Youth Spin, KOOP's teen-produced radio program which airs Fridays, 6-7pm, begins its spring training for students at the Griffin School. Contact adam@griffinschool.org.


Lost Highways

Off the Record

Primal roots purveyors Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment recently released Hiram and Huddie, a potent double-album tribute to Hank Williams and Lead Belly that features local favorites Scott H. Biram, Wayne "the Train" Hancock, and William Elliott Whitmore. "They were the first two that really introduced that darkness and those cold truths to American music," says the Bastrop-based HBE's Keith Mallette. The 20-song compilation is available at Yard Dog Gallery, where cover artist Jon Langford of the Mekons currently has an exhibit, but you can also score a copy on Thursday, Feb. 12, at Emo's, which hosts the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band ("Rock Island Line"), along with local trailblazers Possessed by Paul James ("Bourgeois Blues"), and Tom VandenAvond ("I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love With You"). Next up, Hillgrass Bluebilly is wrangling a double-barrel tribute to Johnny Cash and R.L. Burnside, while also pairing bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys with original Delta bluesman T-Model Ford for a living legends showcase on March 17. "We feel like we're sitting on a real treasure here," Mallette concludes. "All of this is music is pure and from the heart."


Have a Drink on Me

Real Heroes
Real Heroes
Photo by Aubrey Edwards

Inspired by Dr Pepper's gamble with Guns n' Roses' Chinese Democracy, Peej Reid is making the Real Heroes, whom he used to manage, an offer they can't refuse: If the local pop-rock outfit releases its third album by the end of 2009, he'll buy everyone in Austin of legal age a shot of scotch. "When I left town a few years ago, the album was practically finished," says Reid, now an attorney in New York City. "It had a much bigger sound and even some brass sections and orchestral arrangements. ... I don't know what the holdup is." Since 2004's Greetings From Russia, the Real Heroes have mostly split time between cover band Skyrocket! and the Household Names. "It's finished and in boxes in my room; I've been trying to give it a bit of time to have some perspective on it," explains singer/guitarist Benjamin Hotchkiss, who sent out copies to a few labels last week. "I didn't want to watch it flounder in obscurity without a band to support it. We haven't had very good communication as a group for a while, but now things have spun around, and we're rehearsing. And now we have some extra incentive to get it out." Cheers!

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