Dancing About Architecture
More record label shuffles for the Meat Puppets, the Hole in the Wall gets bigger, Ray Benson gets taller, and music lawsuits get uglier
Masters of Puppets
Well, for a long while it looked as though the new Meat Puppets were gonna get out of the label industry wrangling that has claimed so many peers, but now, with their next London Records album finished and almost ready to ship, it looks like they've struck an iceberg. Following long delays caused by an impending London/Sire merger, the band looked to be out of trouble, but now the decree has apparently come down that the American acts on London -- as opposed to the UK signees -- will instead be re-routed through Universal Records, and the Puppets are once again in danger of getting lost in the shuffle. Manager Tammy Blevins says she'll have to wait and see what Universal does, but she's "not pessimistic, not optimistic" about the future, and figures the band is in a win-win situation: One way they've got a major label deal, the other way, well, "people already know who they are." On the other side of the coin, Patti Griffin is another local artist whose career path was in question after the aforementioned reshuffling, but now it seems that she's one of the very few A&M signees who made the cut (her and Chris Cornell apparently) and is now being handled by Interscope. Griffin's guy pal Troy Campbell confirms the news from New Orleans, where he's traveled to play some gigs and peek in at the recording of her new album. The first half of the album is done, with Craig Ross coming in for the second, and Campbell says he's confident nothing will go awry with her deal, noting, "They've already paid for recording, so if it's a joke, it's a really expensive one."
A Ray of Hope
By the time you read this, the Grammys will be over (we resisted the temptation of getting to the printer late in order to bring you the fascinating, unpredictable results), but the Chronicle is of course wishing the best to Asleep at the Wheel and the other area artists up for awards. If the event really is a popularity contest, Ray Benson has certainly been going at it like George W. Bush, with his latest appearances ranging from an all-star jam at Antone's last Wednesday with animator/filmmaker Mike Judge, filmmaker/animator Robert Rodriguez, and animated stickflinger David Sanger to Monday's appearance on Politically Incorrect with Joe Queenan, Sheila Moloney, and Marlee Matlin. Many in the audience would agree that the two groups should've switched places, as the PI cast could hardly have been more sloppy and off-key than the version of "Wild Thing" performed at Antone's, and what with Matlin being deaf, she, Queenan, and Moloney would have been at a definite advantage. Still, the Antone's bash falls into the category of old-fashioned, old-Austin good time, while on PI, Benson proved himself smooth enough to run for office. After all, not many people could've gotten away with responding to Matlin's query about whether he liked Children of a Lesser God by responding that it was a great movie, "because it's about a woman who can't hear a word you're saying," and still coming off as totally charming despite being so, well, politically incorrect.
Tearing You a New Hole
Among the changes around town in which South by Southwest is a catalyst, count the upcoming new look for the Hole in the Wall. As the conference nears, efforts are already under way toward dumping all the pool tables and other games out of the back and utilizing the raised area in the game room as a larger stage than the one up front. The plans for SXSW are to have both stages in use, but co-owner Jeff Smith says that after the fest, the rear stage will probably only be used four or five times a month for the bigger shows that play the easily packed and well-named Hole. The Drag-bound landmark is in danger of being totally inundated with curiosity seekers, not just during SXSW but throughout the weeks of various universities' spring breaks, thanks to their inclusion as the only Austin music club on Rolling Stone's Spring Break Road Trip map (Chicago to South Padre route), though nearby Gruene Hall also passed muster as a break-worthy spot, plus more questionable party locales such as the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and Alton, Illinois' statue of the World's Tallest Man. Dave Matthews, on the other hand, did not make the secret appearance he was expected to at the Hole's Sunday night Free for All after his gig across the street at Austin City Limits; fellow performer Emmylou Harris (who was joined on the ACL stage by Kimmie Rhodes) has been spotted at the Hole before, however, while Julie Miller announced from the ACL stage that the Hole was where she had got drunk for the first time ("It was Tequila Night, 50 cents a shot. I spent $6.") Two for $1!! How long ago was that?
Home, Home on the Radio
"It's taken a while to get comfortable playing Cory Morrow instead of Clint Black -- mixed in with Clint Black, I should say," comments Lone Star 93.3 Program Director Chris Knight, but he figures that since the station started its Austin-friendly "Lone Star Locals" concept last October, the mix is up to some 25% local music and 75% slick Nashville product. "I couldn't go right from 100% Nashville to 50/50," he says, "because that would alienate people." Instead, he says, he's been slowly incorporating more and more area artists into the mix, with a goal of reaching that even-steven blend within a year or two. Adding names like Pete Benz, Kevin Fowler, Ed Burleson, and Chris Wall, familiar to local clubgoers but not necessarily to nationwide country music radio listeners, is always a risk to the all-important ratings, but Knight says the response to the station's evolution, as well as to its sponsorship of Tuesday shows at Babe's (this week's featured acts are Fowler and Benz), has been nothing but positive. "The idea," he says, is "to get people saying, 'This is my radio station, not some piped-in bullshit from out of town!' If you hear Clint Black on the air, that's one thing, but if you hear Cory Morrow, then see him at Stubb's that night, get to meet him, maybe have a beer or two with him, isn't there something a little more personable about it?"
A Melon-choly Tale
"It's like a nightmare that just won't end!" mourns Nashville lawyer and music lover Jim Zumwalt, who was once a partner in CHH Acquisitions Corp., the company that has sought to revive the crippled Austin label Watermelon Records and this week was reported to have filed a motion to have Watermelon's status moved from Chapter 11 bankruptcy to Chapter 7, a move that would liquidate the company's assets and allow the label's artists (or other interested parties) to purchase the master tapes of the label's catalog. That motion is up for approval on March 6, but both Zumwalt and former CHH associate Ken Levitan (manager of Lyle Lovett and another sincere fan of the music once issued from the troubled local indie label) say they're currently not involved in what they feel has degenerated from a genuine effort to reissue music by the likes of Tish Hinojosa, Alejandro Escovedo, the Silos, Monte Warden, etc, into a bogged-down legal fracas. The battle over percentages has reportedly led to legal action against Sire by Watermelon Records, but that remains unconfirmed. Of CHH head Ron Lusk, Zumwalt says "we're still very friendly, but as far as being part of a company, [myself and Levitan] are pretty much out of it." So what happens if the Chapter 7 deal goes well for CHH? "Even if it's not a record company, if it's 36 masters, or 11 masters," Zumwalt says he'd eagerly get back on the bandwagon and into the business of putting the music of Watermelon Records back into the hands of music lovers where it belongs.
"What do you do with a defunct band that was on a now-defunct label that never released their last LP?" So asks an e-mail from the Crust gang, whose last album for Trance/Emperor Jones was never released. The band answers its own question with the reply, "Go virtual of course." Crust lovers can finally get that last, unreleased album via the Internet at http://www.mp3.com/ crusttexas and http://www. geocities.com/ sacredcrust. Expect this practice to become more and more common, as other bands' "lost" albums continue to surface on the Internet... The latest notable additions to the SXSW roster? How about Roger McGuinn going solo at the Cactus Cafe and another chance to see the Golden Arm Trio/Brown Whörnet symphony at the Scottish Rite Theatre on the Saturday night of the festival?... The constant activity of the SIMS Foundation has, among other things, helped in the current revival of the Hoot Night, and there's yet another one, a tribute to Eric Clapton, tonight (Thursday) at Stubb's, with Eric Johnson, Double Trouble, and Malford Milligan teaming up to pay tribute to the guitar god and Miller spokesman. (Hmmm. "Malford and the Mahjonggs"? Naah.) Other performers on the bill include the Shelley King Band, Jim Stringer & the AM Band, Quatropaw, and Headhunters... Damon Bramblett has just joined the roster of Munich Records, home of albums by the Gourds. Expect a self-titled disc, produced by Lloyd Maines, to make its appearance in early March... Omar Dykes and Guy Forsyth appearing in commercials directed by Spike Lee? That's what I hear. Shot 'em in town this week, and you can look for 'em to air during the Oscars... Why would an in-demand session player like Jon Blondel, heard constantly in television commercials and on platinum-selling hits, play for tips? Maybe it's the view! Blondel has joined the long line of respected local musicians to play as a member of the Esquires, the oldies combo that rocks the Crazy Lady on Monday nights, and the view certainly is pleasant, as noted by the gentlemen's club's clientele, who gamely applaud each song but rarely seem to be looking at the band. Besides the fine musical alums past and present, such as Bill Campbell and Speedy Sparks, there's also a ready supply of eager female vocalists including Ricky Broussard's niece! Drummer Rusty Trapps says plans are in progress to have live music at the Lady in the afternoons throughout SXSW, which pretty much ensures that all the record executives in town will miss whatever it is they were supposed to be doing during that time. If you hear a collective cry of "Godammit! Can't we even escape live music in here?!" you'll know where it came from. ...
-- Carbuncles: Christopher Gray, Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser