Complete Freedom

Danny Barnes

Mark Rubin (l) and Danny Barnes
Mark Rubin (l) and Danny Barnes (Photo By George Brainard)

Looking back over the 20th century, the birth of American popular music is tantamount to the Big Bang. It changed our entire universe. Everything we know. This country gave the world, and as far as we know, the entire universe, gospel, blues, jazz, country, R&B, soul, and the mightiest of them all, rock & roll. Music that has reached all but the most remote corners of the globe. Music that has captured the human spirit and moved mankind. Music that will last until the end of the world. Then came punk rock.

Not from this country, of course. Rather, the one we waged a revolution against: England. But if it was the motherland that birthed punk rock, then it was the rebellious offspring, the United States, that welcomed it like a comrade in arms. What better match? A musical form for the youth by the youth. A musical form for the common man -- "Do-It-Yourself" (DIY) music. Hard, fast music that was scared and angry, seething with the immortal energy of juvenilia. Rebel music that stuck its middle finger in the fat face of the downpressor and sneered, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me." Rage against the machine. Anarchy.

"an•ar•chy, noun, from the Greek for anarchos, having no ruler. 1.) Absence of government. 2.) A state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of government authority. 3.) A utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government."

Complete Freedom. "A utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government," says Webster's. Punk rock. From 1977's Sex Pistols and Clash lashing out against the "Complete Control" of a bloated, boring, alcoholic, and drug-addicted music industry as impotent as the English economy, to American misanthropes like the Misfits, Meat Puppets, and Minutemen DIYing at the fringes of Dutch Reagan's soul-dead Eighties and the final, triumphant breakthrough of Nirvana in the Nineties. Punk rock. And not just the music. A way of life. An identity. Danny Barnes.

"To me, punk rock is when you throw yourself into something with everything you got, and you don't listen to what anybody says, and you don't pay attention to shit," says Barnes. "You just throw yourself into it every single waking moment. It's just obsessively trying to make whatever it is you're doing the best. To me, that's what punk rock is."

Danny Barnes? The Bad Livers? Oh, right. Austin old-timey trio known for its punk covers -- like their very first release, 1991's "Lust for Life" single, produced by Butthole Surfer Paul Leary. Iggy Pop's Bo Diddley-beater rollin' on a river of Barnes' big wheel banjo, Mark Rubin's slapping stand-up bass, and Ralph White III's fancy fiddle playing. Traditional deconstruction of a contemporary (punk rock) standard, a staple of the band's now-mythic four-hour jam sessions at their dawn-of-the-decade Saxon Pub Monday night residency. A few music revolutions later, the Bad Livers, now just Barnes and Rubin, are still identified as "slam-grass," all thanks to some Misfits and Metallica covers.

"People in this day and age are really obsessed with form," says Barnes on the patio of Flipnotics, an espresso working its wonders on the already fast-talking, fast-thinking banjo player. "They're obsessed with putting things into a category so they can deal with it, especially when it comes to art. That's what people said about us.

"The way Mark and I looked at it, it was just something that we shared. Like an interest in the Jesus Lizard. We were both big Jesus Lizard fans. And we liked the Butthole Surfers, too. If ol' Al Jourgenson came to town, we'd go and see Ministry. That kind of music was part of our relationship. And Ralph was the same way. We just had that in common.

"That's what I was getting at with reconciling yourself unto punk rock, where you had that punk rock experience. That's sort of one way of dividing the whole universe: those that have had that experience and those that have not. It doesn't necessarily have to be at a punk rock show, but it's that cathartic kind, 'Oh my God! It all makes sense to me now.'

Complete Freedom

"I've had that a lot at shows. The first time I saw Toots & the Maytals play. When I saw Henry Threadgill play. When you see these musicians that changed the way we look at music, you can have these really cathartic moments of just total release and abandonment. Confirmation of humanity. It's a very spiritual experience -- a very uplifting experience. This connectedness with others.

"We certainly weren't a traditional acoustic band. They had to come up with something. That's just what got used and Mark and I let it be done, because they had to have some handle on the band -- even though that wasn't true. We used to do those types of songs, because that's what we listened to in the car. We listened to the Misfits in the car when we drove to a gig.

"When you gotta play four hours, you start going, 'Hey! Uhhh, fuck! Hey, y'all ever play that Roky Erickson thing, that 'Red Temple Prayer' -- that 'Two-Headed Dog'? No? Here, let me show ya. It's three chords, goes like this.' You just start doing that kinda shit to create interest, 'cause you got four hours to play and it's a long haul. Plus, all of our friends were in punk rock bands. Our peer group, they had punk rock bands. That's just our friends.

"I don't know. That's not really what we do, in a nutshell. But it's certainly an element of what we do. It's part of Mark and Ralph's and mine common history."

It was that green-vinyl "Lust for Life" 45.

"Yeah! Boy, I'll tell you. When I saw Iggy Pop play at Club Foot all those years ago! Man, that was fucking awesome! He was fucking awesome! I used to love his records. When I was in high school, Raw Power. Awesome!"

Raw Power

To hear Danny Barnes tell it, growing up in Belton, Texas, had its definite utopian aspects. As the Sixties began, Belton, 60 miles north of the state capital, was the sticks -- middle of nowhere. A small farming community. Born in Temple, Barnes, who will be 38 in December, was Belton-bound until the day he moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 1980. He was a country boy -- tall, blond, strapping. The youngest of three brothers. He says his mother's family was "all country people," having come west in a covered wagon from Tennessee. His grandfather loved listening to the Grand Ol' Opry, because most of the performers had Tennessee accents. His earliest memories are of Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt records.

"I remember my parents listened to country music around the house all the time," recalls the congenially friendly Barnes. "They played records. They had a really weird way of listening to stuff. When they played a record, you had to sit and pay attention. You couldn't talk. When they played a record it was, 'Okay, we are now going to listen to Johnny Cash.' Then, the old man would get up and play this record. You know how music later in the Seventies became the background of the party? Back then, that's not the way they listened to music."

Yours was an instant affinity?

"Yeah, because they spoke about these people in reverential terms, almost like Biblical characters. My parents went to church and everything, but they sort of spoke of these people as though we were talking about Moses. They had Biblical gravity, the way they talked about 'Jimmie Rodgers,' with invisible quotation marks around the words. They basically worshiped these guys. My father was a real music freak.

"He gave me Elvis' first 45, which he bought from Elvis out of the back of a pickup truck in Waco, Texas. Elvis was the first band out of three, opening up for two other bands, and my father went there to see Elvis. He was just a total music freak. He used to travel, sold farm equipment, traveled all over the states, and I'd ride with him in the truck. He'd always listen to trucker radio and that music was totally ingrained in my DNA from that time."

From the first album: (l-r) Mark Rubin, Ralph White, and Danny Barnes
From the first album: (l-r) Mark Rubin, Ralph White, and Danny Barnes

Since only armadillos are harder to avoid in rural Texas than live music -- and with his family's reverence for country music -- young Danny boy naturally got an eyeful early in life. Immediately, he cottoned to the banjo. Cool! More importantly, perhaps, he was struck by the idea that some folks made a living by entertaining people with music. The beauty of youth is that there exist few barriers between imagination and reality, so Barnes got it in his head he could do that, too. Soon, he had locked himself in his room for the summer to practice on the $60 banjo his mother had bought his father one Father's Day.

If there's one thing big brothers are good for, it's paving the way, trailblazing. Leaving their guitars lying around. By the time Danny started taking lessons from Maxie Roesller, a banjoist of local renown, the nine-year-old couldn't play any songs, but he knew some chords. Banjo, guitars, a few harmonicas. It was that kind of family, that sort of household. Not that Barnes was a prodigy or anything.

"I don't think I had a lot of natural talent, to be totally honest," says Barnes, "but I just really, really, really worked at it -- worked, worked, worked. I just practiced all the time, listened to records all the time, and read everything I could get my hands on. I absorbed all of it. It was a way of relating to the world -- a physical way, creative way. A social way, too, because when you start getting into music, there's a music store and you go in there and you know people. Or you know another guy that plays. It's a way of interfacing with life. With people."

On Danny Barnes' Web site (, there are a series of essays dwelling on two themes, "Music Is Good" and "The Music Industry Sucks." Chapter Six instructs "Pick With Old People," which is exactly what the youngster did. John Ludwig, a local bassist who's played with Kelly Willis, Chris Wall, and the Robison brothers, his father headed a bluegrass band, so Barnes struck up an acquaintance. The elder Ludwig also owned plenty of records in a town where the record store is right next door to a yacht club, polo fields, and BMW dealership. Hanging around, Barnes not only got an informal education, he had the opportunity to play with "old people" who took music seriously, but not enough to exclude a kid from picking along.

Another good thing about old(er) people (and brothers) are their driver's licenses -- essential, sometimes, in getting to places where they have records, books, movies, and ideas. Austin. It didn't take long before going back and forth between Austin and Belton "just seemed really natural" to Barnes.

"I used to come down to Raul's," he remembers. "I would go to the clubs to see the bands I liked. I had two older brothers, and they came down a lot. I went to the Armadillo when I was like 11. I would go about once a month -- we would make pilgrimages down here. That was the big thing to do, was go to the Armadillo.

"My biggest all-time show was John Hartford with the Newgrass Revival. When I saw them, that just sent me in orbit. Especially John Hartford, because that fucker came out there with that fiddle and that banjo -- man! -- and he had that whole place by the balls. He was kicking their ass. He was just one guy out there, and he was playing some hip shit.

"He really impressed me, because he had done his homework -- he knew the shit, the real thing, he knew it. But he was making a contemporary statement with his music, and that was my whole raison d'être for the Bad Livers: the homework being done, but somehow making a contemporary statement with it. He really blasted me off that night. That was the first time I went to the Armadillo."

One last benefit of big brothers: They've got buddies. One of them, a Vietnam vet, introduced the banjo-playing Barnes to the latest sounds out of England. Punk rock. Catching a similar buzz to that of traditional music, Barnes was a stone convert by the time he moved to Austin. A fan of Raul's regulars such as Ty Gavin and the Skunks, Barnes stalked all the big roadshows of this new wave: the Cramps, B-52's, Talking Heads, Devo, Elvis Costello. He had his own band, of course, the Vipers, and while he was having a considerable amount of trouble reconciling punk rock to traditional bluegrass and country, that fork in the road never really came, because Barnes himself hit the road. Literally.

No sooner had he arrived at UT than Barnes was nearly killed in a wreck on the highway. Thrown from the car, Barnes "bounced down the interstate at 50mph," breaking his neck in two places. Doctors expected the musician to be paralyzed, but he was not. Nevertheless, it took a while for the developing musician to return to music. Sitting in the sunlight at Flipnotics, his once-long hair shorn close to the skull, you can see a long, thick scar on the crown of Barnes' head; he runs his fingers over it when asked and motions across the street to the trailer park where his parents would stay when they came to visit their convalescing son. It was there that Barnes met Brad Brayshers, a local picker who rekindled the Belton boy's interest in banjo and traditional music. Playing live came next.

Complete Freedom

"When I was in college, you could always make $50 a night in a country cover band," explains the musician. "That's kinda how I put myself through school, playing in Top 40 country bands in La Grange, Round Rock, Georgetown. It was fun; I was learning to play country guitar. But I was kinda frustrated, because I was coming up with my own way of playing music. I could tell something was boiling inside of me that wanted to come out, and it wasn't being a sideman for somebody else. At that time, [my vision] wasn't informed yet, but I could see it as an island in the distance taking shape. It was a combination of the various elements I'd been exposed to."

That vessel took the shape of an acoustic trio called the Barnburners, featuring local musicians of note J.D. Foster and Rich Brotherton. Barnes' idea was that with musicians of this caliber, they could play anything, from George Jones to Bartok. It worked. The band was a hit.

"Those guys were really good," says Barnes. "Still, it wasn't really focused; those guys were popular with other artists in town, so they had other things they wanted to do. I couldn't get 'em to play with me. That was kind of devastating for me, because I had it. I could see where we would have done really well, but couldn't get the guys. They made money with other artists -- just typical Austin thing.

"That was kind of a bummer, 'cause it was like getting a date with this good looking girl and she won't return your calls. It didn't pan out for me. That's when I formed the Bad Livers."

Delusions of Banjer

Waiting for Brotherton and Foster to free up some time, Barnes accepted a pick-up touring gig with a punkgrass band from Dallas called Killbilly, and on a short swing through the East Coast, he got to know the band's bassist Mark Rubin. In late 1989, "maybe 1990," puzzles Barnes, the banjoist found the occasion to ring up Rubin and a local fiddle player he'd met at a Sunday afternoon Cajun jam session at the Blue Bayou (now Trophy's on South Congress), Ralph White. He needed help. The Barnburners were on the books for a bluegrass festival in Hempstead, but his two bandmates were out on the road with David Halley, Jo Carol Pierce -- somebody. Could Rubin and White make the gig? Nods all around.

"It went pretty good," answers Barnes to the obvious question. "It went pretty good. They had a little more of an aggressive edge to what they were doing. They had reconciled themselves unto punk rock a little more than what the other two fellows had. The other two guys were slicker and more polished musicians. So, it wasn't exactly what I was thinking. It was a little different. I had to remount and reload when it came time to write for the group. It sorta changed."

Barnes says he got the idea from some locals calling themselves the Goose Creek Symphony, a group featuring a hillbilly fiddler they'd molded into a "Frank Zappa-esque kind of rock thing." Contemporary music with traditional arrangements and instrumentation. Bingo. The Bad Livers were hatched. Next came the Saxon Pub residency and an enthusiastic local following that responded to what Barnes calls the band's joie de vivre. It was a good vibe.

Making $200-$300 per performance, the Bad Livers also took advantage of the relative ease with which an acoustic threepiece can tour. Even before cutting "Lust for Life," the band was vanning it to places like Chicago, and with their low overhead and T-shirts to sell, the trio was in black ink immediately. To supplement their income, they also played weddings, parties, and whatever "weirdo" gigs came along. All the while, Barnes, Rubin, and White listened to punk rock cassettes in the van.

Then came Paul Leary.

"We were hanging around with the Butthole Surfers at that time," recounts Barnes. "They would come to our shows and they were our friends, and I got interested in the whole idea of writing a record. I started hanging out with Paul, and he sorta taught me how to write a record, even though he never sat down lesson-style. I observed him working and I adopted that style, and that's the same style I still use.

"What he taught me was to throw your fucking self into it with total reckless abandon, just like completely fucking focus on this one thing. You're taking no prisoners, you're not accepting any negative criticism. You're just totally hammering, going for it. Your own internal carrot on a stick. That's what I learned from watching him work. How to come up in your mind with a sound and have enough familiarity with the equipment to be able to tweak it and get that sound out of the equipment."

One of the Bad Livers' fabled Monday night Saxon Pub gigs
One of the Bad Livers' fabled Monday night Saxon Pub gigs (Photo By John Carrico)

King Coffey, the Butthole's drummer, also proved an invaluable resource to the Bad Livers, since Corey Rusk, who had issued most of the Surfers' catalog as owner of Chicago-based indie Touch & Go, was a close personal friend and distributed Coffey's Trance Syndicate label. When Rusk handed Barnes "a pile of money and said send me the record at some point," the Bad Livers decided to become an anomaly on a punk rock imprint rather than traditional fare on a traditional label such as Sugar Hill, which had also expressed interest in the band. Tough to say whether the North Carolina-based indie would've had the success the Bad Livers had with Dust on the Bible, an album all but made for Sugar Hill.

Playing virtually every instrument on a selection of Bible Belt fixer-uppers like "Farther Along," "I Saw the Light," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and "Jesus Is on the Mainline," Barnes calls Dust on the Bible a "warm-up" for the Bad Livers' formal entrance into the studio. Recorded on a four-track in Barnes' spare bedroom, the homemade cassette, recently issued by Touch & Go on CD, may well be the trio's most popular recording.

"I guarantee you one thing," asserts its creator. "That son of a gun kept us in beans a long time. We put that rascal out on cassette. We sold thousands of those things. Thousands of them. We made more money off that cassette than anything we've ever done. Just printing 'em up and selling it [at shows]. I think it was 4,000-5,000 that we sold at $8 a pop. We did great off of that.

"Actually, I made it as a gift to my family for Christmas. I was practicing making a record. I was gonna do an acoustic gospel record of songs that really meant a lot to me emotionally. So, it got me going on how to do it. When I applied what I learned from there with original compositions, I came up with Delusions of Banjer."

Released in 1992 on Touch & Go, Delusions of Banjer was Mr. Hyde to Dust on the Bible's Dr. Jekyll. Darker sonically, lyrically, and spiritually, the Paul Leary-produced Delusions was comprised almost entirely of Edward D. Barnes originals like the penitent "How Dark My Shadow's Grown" (a CD-only bonus on Dust), which sounded like it was already a well-worn page out of the traditional bluegrass/old-time music canon. "Ghost Town," "Six Feet Down," gap-toothed-and-grinning banjo and fiddle gloom mixed in with moonshine lunacy like Leary's "The Adventures of Pee Pee the Sailor" and rural country radio hits (if there were such a thing) like "Country Blues" and the maddeningly catchy "Crow Black Chicken," complete with its dissonant punk rock breakdown done in a minimalist, acoustic fashion. "Pretty Daughter," a father's retribution against the man that dared, and the deathbed lament of "Precious Time" sealed the debut's fate.

The Bad Livers were declared badass. "Roughly speaking, the Bad Livers have about 10,000-11,000 fans," calculates Barnes. "That's what we've been able to access, so a good record for us is going to sell about 11,000. You'd have to check this math, but I think there's 75 major markets, and if you divide it into 11,000, that comes up 130. That's an average of how many fans we can draw. Some cities none, some cities 260. All our records sell in that range right there. They always have."

Actually, it's 146 people per market, and most of them did their part in buying the next three Bad Livers releases: Horses in the Mines (1994), produced solely by Barnes and a natural pairing alongside Delusions -- sounding like a bunch of skeletons cackling into the sole microphone that dangles from the outhouse ceiling; followed by 1996's Hogs on the Highway ("one of our better-selling records"); and last year's Industry and Thrift ("for some reason it fell off the face of the earth"). Each one a better album than the last, all three shored up by what the Bad Livers do best -- touring.

For Ralph White, however, six-plus years and an estimated 1,200 shows logged were enough, and following roadwork for Horses in the Mines, he left the band. This coincided with the decision to try and crack an already-perceived commercial glass ceiling with a label that at least knew where that invisible surface was: Sugar Hill. White was replaced briefly by guitarist Bob Grant for Hogs (all four Bad Livers contribute), which did better than Horses, while also signaling a new direction for the band. Six spacey, somewhat disturbing minutes of "Falling Down the Stairs (With a Pistol in My Hand)" at the end of Hogs signaled Barnes' discovery of the avant-garde. Industry and Thrift followed fashion and suffered for it, selling only 4,000-5,000 copies.

"It's fucking soul-crushing to try and do this," says Barnes casting a dejected look. It a phrase he uses often -- soul-crushing. "The rejection ... you suffer. One of my music teachers told me that. We were playing this gig with this virtuoso violinist. He was kinda weird, though, you know (this was in Washington). I was going, 'What's his deal?' He was just real hung up on weird shit. He had this thing where he couldn't sleep on the side of the hotel that the road was on -- just like a total fruitbag. I was going, 'What's this guy's fucking deal?'

"And he goes, 'Hey, man. You have to suffer such incredible rejection in this business.' And that's all he said. And I went ..."

Complete Freedom

Barnes pauses a moment and then in the tone of someone receiving a 3am phone call about a loved one:

"'Okay, I understand.'"


Like maybe working on The Newton Boys, the 1997 Richard Linklater film (Slacker, Dazed & Confused) Barnes scored? Of course, being your own manager and negotiating a deal at the same time you're trying to write music is a bitch. Either one is a full-time job. Both together is, well ...

"It's soul-crushing to get into a car and just try to go play a bunch of gigs," continues Barnes. "You can ask any band that just came off the road on the first tour and ask them how it went. They lost their ass, and they've been gone two weeks.

"We were always lucky. We could always come up in the black, because we could play a bluegrass festival, or pick up a wedding, or do something weird that would help. We always made it. But we slept on people's floors for years. That's hard shit. Mark and I have played about 2,000 shows together. Everybody my age has either made a bunch of dough or quit.

"I never even tell anybody I'm in a band anymore. Like at the airport, I've had guys come up to me and say, 'So, you're in a band, huh?' And you've been on the road, trying to get home. You're at O'Hare, sitting there, reading, doing the crossword puzzle, and some guy comes up to you: 'So, you're in a band. I used to be in a band. I had to get a job.' You know. 'How much money are you making? You can't make any money doing that, can you?' Totally just giving you shit. You're totally assaulted with this stuff.

"Like if you check into a hotel, you never want to tell the lady you're in a band, because the last band that was there set fire to the place, and they'll kick you out if they find out you're in a band. So, I tell everybody now that I'm an instrument dealer and these are my samples.

"The reason why it's soul-crushing is simple: The supply-and-demand curve is totally fucked up. There's way more supply than demand. You can't blame people for capitalizing on it, because that's the nature of the beast, but there's way too many people doing it. There's too many clubs, there's too many bands, and not enough people that are even interested in it. Period."

New Day

It's Sunday morning, early, and Danny Barnes is calling from the road. He's just dropped his partner Rubin off at the airport and isn't looking forward to the 600-mile drive ahead of him. Talking about his latest projects, though, he's happy -- excited. His soul is soaring.

"All my new shit is sample-based, really," he exclaims. "I have a sequencer, a sampler, a synthesizer, and a hard disc recorder -- all synched. I'll lift a bass drum I like off of some record. I'll take the bass drum and put it on my computer, edit it, then turn it around backwards. And I'll make a bass drum pattern with it. Then I'll pick up the guitar and play, then I'll get on the piano, and pretty soon this thing starts happening. You can do anything you want."

Mark and Danny at the Austin Acoustic Music Festival, 1997
Mark and Danny at the Austin Acoustic Music Festival, 1997 (Photo By John Carrico)

In the case at hand, "this thing" might be Danny Barnes and His ... Oft Mended Raiment, the most recent of Barnes' four homemade releases. Following Pathos of Smyke, a pressing of 100 all featuring different songs, mixes, and artwork, came the similarly minted Live at McCabe's, and Minor Dings, all leading up to Raiment, his home studio masterpiece. More Beck than Bad Livers, Raiment is the future of Danny Barnes.

"My operating phrase for that was 'New Configuration, New Riff, and New Structure,'" he explains. "I'm was trying to come up with something new -- something different that was my own thing. Like a lot of my musical influences created their own genre. Rather than get on board of other styles, they just made their own styles -- blazed trails. I'm mainly known as a banjo player, but there's a lot of different kinds of music inside my brain."

No kidding. Word is that the new Bad Livers LP, Blood and Mood, due for release in early 2000, is more of the same. Forget Sugar Hill, forget Touch & Go, sounds like Blood and Mood belongs on Mo' Wax, DJ Shadow's label.

"It's gonna be real interesting to see what happens with this record," says Barnes enthusiastically, "because it's a complete left turn. It doesn't even sound like the same band. It's not the same band. I probably played more piano than I did banjo. Plus, it has a lot of punk rock elements to it. With Blood and Mood, I was trying to explore musics that Mark and I have in common besides bluegrass. One of them is punk rock. We both totally flipped out on punk rock."

Yeah, what about Mark Rubin? That big tattooed guy next to you on all those drives, flights, floors -- a musician and mensch every bit as fast-talking and fast-thinking as ol' D.B.?

"I really, really like Mark," says Barnes simply. "We've been at it a long time. It's like being married. We have an understanding. I like Mark because he has a punk rock attitude about stuff."

There it is again: punk rock. And again, and again, and again -- over and over. A code by which to live one's life. A code that has little or nothing to do with genres of music or black leather jackets. It's about freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of the spirit. Complete Freedom.

"That's why I left Austin," explains Barnes in one long, last rush. "Austin just wasn't working out for me. I could make money in Austin. We could draw 700 people in Austin, but I had no market in Houston, Dallas, or San Antonio. The closest place I could get paid was like Albuquerque or Denver or St. Louis or New Orleans. It was like sticking a pencil compass in Austin, and then drawing this gigantic 15-hour drive arc around Austin, and that's where I had to go to get another job.

"I basically tripled my income by moving to Seattle. Like for instance, I work with [jazz guitarist] Bill Frisell. He calls me, gives me work. I struck up a friendship with him. Also, I study music with this guy, Buehl Niedlinger. This guy played with Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Igor Stravinski. He's done everything that you can possibly do in music. Through him, I've gotten to work with Richard Green, who's a famous bluegrass violinist. I've gotten to play with Robert Bowland, who was in Bill Monroe's band. I got to play in a band that had two Bill Monroe alumni in it. All these doors opened up for me.

"If you go to a city like New York, Seattle, or Chicago, there's a fan base, a supply-and-demand curve. Here, there's a demand for what I'm doing. People will come out and pay cover; in Austin I could only charge $8. Here, I can charge $15 -- a head. That's almost double the amount of money I could make at the door right off the bat. Plus, the cost of living. I couldn't find a house in Austin for under $100,000 that wasn't a dump. Here, I've got 10 trees in my yard that are over 100 feet tall. And an apple orchard. For the same money, I would have been living in poverty in Austin. Here, I live in a middle-class neighborhood. I live a half a mile from the water on the edge of the Olympic National Forest.

"I've got mountains in my back yard. I'm interested in flying airplanes, and I live right next to a small airport. I'm gonna buy an airplane for my business next year. I have a sailboat, and I really like to sail, so I live a half a mile from the Sound. I can be in the water in minutes. I'm interested in fly-fishing, trout fishing, so I can fish all I want. It's quiet. The town I live in only has 100 people -- nobody has any idea what I do. They totally leave me alone. Nobody drops by. It's perfect. Then, I have this city where I can work and actually get paid. And I'm working with as good musicians as I can get. I'm working with this guy, and he hands me music in Thelonious Monk's handwriting, because he played with Monk. I'm able to learn.

"I just felt like I reached this glass ceiling in Austin. I was teaching other people lessons, and playing on other people's records, but I really wasn't getting the killer calls, I wasn't learning anything from everything else. To be honest, I'm making a really good living now. I was fucking starving down there. Like when Christmas would come around, me and my wife would have to save for months. Now, I'm shopping for an airplane."

Freedom. Complete Freedom. end story

The Bad Livers play tonight, Thursday, at Antone's. Danny Barnes plays solo at Flipnotics, Friday, Nov. 5. The Mad Cat Trio, aka Barnes, Mark Rubin, and Erik Hokkanen, play Saturday, Nov. 6, also at Flipnotics.

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