Dancing About Architecture
Jeff Cole Leaves Doolittle Records, Marc Katz Leaves Top of the Marc, Hank Sinatra Returns and so does Ray Benson (again!). Plus all the news that pitches a fit.
SXSW 2000 X 1000!
If South by Southwest 2000 just wasn't big enough for you, this just in: With two weeks left before the start of the music conference, 965 acts have confirmed. Chronicle publisher and SXSW founder Nick Barbaro has announced the festival should go for an even 1,000, at which point my editor started weeping. Already, though, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy has come galloping to his rescue, adding a showcase that has me "Paralyzed" with excitement. Apparently so are enough of you that the first run of 4,000 wristbands priced at $75 are expected to run out early this weekend -- Friday, it looks like. After that, the price goes up to $95. Tickets for the Austin Music Awards, which kicks off SXSW, go on sale for $15 as you read this, with a final lineup including a tribute to Doug Sahm with Shawn Sahm & Augie Meyers, Terri Hendrix & Ray Wylie Hubbard, Texas Trumpets, Kelly Willis, Bob Schneider, and a tribute to Sterling Morrison featuring Tosca, Alejandro Escovedo, and special guest John Cale. After that, you'll only have 988 acts to go (stop crying, Raoul).
Doolittle Out in the Cole?
Time for another local record company shakeup, and since Doolittle Records is damn near the only Austin label left, I must be talking about them. So what's up? Well, owner Jeff Cole has up and left the label, a move that media director Bonnie Spanogle attributes to budget issues and that Cole "basically wanted to move on to other projects." Cole himself was not available for comment, and apparently has had his cell phone disconnected since his resignation, but he did send an e-mail stating, "Got the word you were looking for comment. I have many. They run from acerbic to Zoloft-induced," and finishing by and suggesting I contact him "in a few weeks." Spanogle, who on Monday was flustered and unsure of what the future held for Doolittle, was much more composed by Tuesday and told the Chronicle that the label would continue on without Cole, and projects such as Trish Murphy's re-release on Artemis Records and the label's continued work with Slobberbone and the Bottle Rockets would continue apace. No one will move up to fill Cole's shoes, she adds, noting, "We will all miss Jeff, but we will just keep going. Everyone here has been doing this a long time, and we will be fine." Her main concern about Cole's absence, in fact, was "finding someone to work the computers -- Jeff was really good at that!"
The Top of the Marc crew are counting down the days till the end of March, as Marc Katz and company have decided to shut the venue down at that point in order to concentrate on expansion of the Katz's Deli side of things. "The key word for us is 'focus,'" says Barry Katz, and that focus will be on the restaurant, both in improving the long-established Sixth Street location and extending its reach out of town, with a new Katz's scheduled to open in the Montrose area of Houston soon. The Top of the Marc had long been on shaky ground when it came to finding an identity, with smooth jazz, oldies rock and R&B, and dance/hip-hop all taking turns at revitalizing the room, but hopefully there's someone out there who can give the room a permanent identity. That someone is going to get the chance after April 1, says Katz, since once the Top bottoms out, the plan is to lease the room out to another nightclub owner. He's says there's a couple looking at the space now, but he's not naming names yet. In the meantime, I turn your attention to Hank's Roadside, at 771 Airport, the new venue from club owner/access producer Hank Sinatra. With its "unofficial non-grand opening" coming this Saturday -- some three years after the closing of the old Hank's Roadhouse on South Lamar -- Sinatra says he intends to keep in the spirit of his previous enterprises with a Paul Sessums-esque goal of giving new talents a place to showcase. Combining a small club for struggling new artists with exposure via taping their shows for access, says Sinatra, is a good formula for giving new artists their initial break. With no clue when the place will be ready for an official opening, the BYOB Hank's will nonetheless host a Techno Night on Saturday, though Sinatra admits he has no real idea what a Techno Night is supposed to be. Expect some bands, computer stuff, old newsreels projected on the walls, and a host named Chinese Bob.
This was a stellar year for the Lone Star State at the Grammys, in both the expected categories like country and Tejano, as well as surprises like rap and polka; hell, if Carlos Santana was a Texan, we could've just moved the whole show down to South Congress! Among the victors: Willie Nelson (Lifetime Achievement Award); Dixie Chicks (Album of the Year and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal); the Roots with Erykah Badu (Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group); George Jones (Best Male Country Vocal Performance); and Los Palominos (Best Tejano Performance). Ray Benson, who took home two trophies out of six nominations (Best Country Instrumental Performance and Best Recording Package for Asleep at the Wheel's Ride With Bob), says he got a fine seat this year, only three rows down from Willie, four down from Jennifer Lopez and Puffy Combs, and smack dab in front of Ellen Degeneres and Anne Heche (who he figures spent the whole show trying to see around his hat). Of the members of Brave Combo (Best Polka Album), only Bubba Hernandez made the trip this year to experience their third nomination and first win, saxman Jeffrey Barnes moaning, "Had I known we were gonna win, I sure would've gone!" Selena widower Chris Perez (Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance) explained his presence to The New York Times with the quip "I think I was conceived to [Santana's] music," though truthfully, Perez owes some thanks to Benson, who as the first trustee of the Texas branch of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which presents the Grammys, first proposed that the single "Mexican-American music" category was not adequate for the variety of tuneage issuing forth from the Latin community. This year, then, LARAS (Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) debuted its own awards show to further celebrate the diversity of Latin music. While we're on the subject, I should mention that Austin's Latino Rock Alliance continues to gain exposure this year at SXSW, with showcases at Scholz Garten (Millo Torres, Volumen, Zoe, De Sangre, Iman) and Saengerrunde Hall (Los Skarnales, Pastilla, Resorte, Riesgo de Contagio, Vos de Mano) on Saturday, March 18, along with films, photography and other representations of Latino rock culture.
Viva la Cuba Libre!
Despite anything the government may tell you (and barring any reference to that annoying Elian Gonzalez kid), I've never heard anything but wonderful stories from those who have visited the lovely island of Cuba. Steve Van Balgooyen, drummer for the Barkers, reports from his latest trip there with fellow Barker Will Walden, Aaron Tucker of the Sleepwalkers, and SIMS benefactor Blair Fox that he hung out with the nephew of Mongo Santamaria, the famed percussionist who's recorded with John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Chick Corea; got to meet three musicians from the Buena Vista Social Club at Egrem Studios; fielded the autograph and home phone number of Juan de Marcos, BVSC percussionsist and A&R guy; went to the home of Rubén Gonzales; and got a percussion lesson from Agrupacion Vocal Baobab, an Afro-Cuban percussion ensemble, at their home in Habana Vieja. Sounds to me like it was well worth the part of the trip where they were towed by rum-soaked Cubans at 75 miles an hour by a '48 Chevy attached to their taxi with barbed wire. If you want political intrigue, perhaps it's best to stay at home; I'm told that the Deep Sombreros recently found themselves receiving praise from a California visitor who suggested they should tour and hang around L.A. more often. He didn't turn out to be a talent scout or A&R man, as they hoped, but instead was an agent for Larry Flynt, in town to dig up dirt about George W. Bush! Better hide your stash and any illegitimate offspring you might have left lying around, Georgie boy!
Alejandro Escovedo (who still gets no respect from his people) has a number of irons in the fire right now, among them a new album for Bloodshot coming out in September and his play By the Hand of the Father, set to open at the Plaza de la Raza in East L.A. this June. The album, tentatively titled A Man Under the Influence ("I've been checking out a lot of John Cassavetes lately, and I kinda ripped that off") was recorded at Mitch Easter's place in North Carolina with Easter engineering and Chris Stamey producing. Al will also be opening for Patti Smith on the SXSW Friday (3/17), with Mark Rubin and Friends taking his traditional La Zona Rosa Sunday slot, while Escovedo and company helm an unofficial showcase that night at the Continental Club... Latest news from the Gourds camp is that a writer for SPIN.com recently gave a copy of their version of "Gin and Juice" to Snoop Doggy Dogg himself. According to an e-mail from the writer, tha Dogg took to the cover tune -- so much so that he listened to it 10 times in a row. The Gourds have new music of their own coming up in April from Munich Records with a new (Europe only) album called Waterbag, and have high hopes for re-releasing their back catalog on Sugar Hill if efforts to get their releases on Watermelon out of litigation are successful... It won't make as much news as Alex Jones rebuilding the Waco Branch Davidian church, but there's a benefit at Mercury/Jazz Upstairs on Tuesday to help put things back together at the Sun Ra Arkestra house in Philadelphia, which was recently gutted by fire. 81é2 Souvenirs, Applied Culture, Blue Noise Band, and Mohammad Firoozi provide the entertainment... There's also a benefit at Antone's this Monday for former Fab T-birds/Miss Lavelle White drummer Fredde Pharoah, who's suffering from lung cancer. Sue Foley is flying down to join Lou Ann Barton and Toni Price for the event (see "Music Listings")... On yet another front, the Low Power Radio Coalition is the beneficiary of the show March 3 at the Hole in the Wall with the Claymores, Stickpony, and the Wannabes. Note that it's the Claymores' final show, Stickpony's CD release party, and that the Wannabes will be celebrating Arbor Day early... In an e-mail from a musician who wisely demands anonymity I received the following quote: "I saw John Popper, Yoggie Musgrove, Clifford Antone, George Raines, and Malford Milligan on the Antone's stage all at one time last night. I now have confidence that if BTO ever tours again, there is one stage in Austin that the band can safely play on." Hmmm. Maybe it's rampant "size-ism" of the type contained in this missive that's responsible for the disappointing turnout at MC Overlord's recent shows at the club...
-- Contributors: Christopher Gray, Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer