Going Braless in city of Small Stars and smashed guitars
Too hacky to hack it in Vegas, the Small Stars a lounge lizard, a porn star, a professor, a cattle baron, and a surfer set out from Reno to visit the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores. Their bus broke down, but the bassist, also the band's resident therapist and pharmacist, was so impressed with the local supply of recreational drugs he convinced them to stay. As backstories go, it's not bad, but it's also totally made up. Small Stars is actually some longtime locals goofing on low-rent cocktail culture. The ringleader is Guy Fantasy, a shades-clad swinger who resembles Andy Kaufman's scabrous alter ego Tony Clifton, Bill Murray's Nick the Lounge Singer and, most of all, Fastball's Miles Zuniga. "Basically, I wanted a license to explore my inner asshole," he says. Small Stars took shape after the last Fastball tour, where, much to bandmate Tony Scalzo's chagrin, Zuniga would sometimes embark on "long, rambling monologues." "Tony said, 'I don't want to be in a revue,'" Zuniga chuckles. But Zuniga did, and for the record, Scalzo was seen having a fabulous time at a recent Small Stars show. When Zuniga got back, he recruited a handful of local players Landis Armstrong, Jeff Johnston, Matt Hubbard to help bring his louche vision to life. Selections may include anything from Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon" to the Ides of March's "Vehicle," or friend Vic Odon's full-throated take on "Wasted Days, Wasted Nights." "The music lends itself to late-night rambling," Zuniga says. "What you'd want to hear on your fourth whiskey." A Small Stars show might feature a magic show, blue stand-up comedy from Vinnie Lombardi, a hula-hoop dancer, and special guests like Tom Banjo, who brought his brilliant Cranky Show a few weeks back. "I didn't want to be in another band that was just a band," Zuniga says. His ultimate goal is a full-on musical production; he's gradually begun working originals like "Everything's Keen-o in Reno" into their act, and is looking for a pair of female dancers he plans to dub Bubble & Squeak. There'll be plenty of practice time, because the Saxon Pub and Ego's have already booked the Small Stars for early-evening weekly dates next month. "We still need a late show," worries Zuniga. "We usually hit our stride about 1:15am."
"It's not just about the boobs," swears Kacy Crowley of the weekly Braless night she shares with Trish Murphy and Renée Woodward. Indeed, it's mostly about these talented singer-songwriters swapping songs, stories, and harmonies, but the recurring gag of performing sans brassieres is handy in a pinch. "It's something to fall back on in the middle of the set when people start talking," adds Crowley, who'll tell inconsiderate patrons to pipe down in a second, but always with a smile. She hosted a weekly songwriters' night at Momos this spring, and the night Woodward and Murphy played, they clicked right away. "It was like a first date," Murphy says. "We all felt a little spark." Since starting their Thursday residency at Ego's in April, they say the regular collaboration has allowed their individual skills, and friendship, to bloom. "Comparing myself to these two, I was dealing with some self-doubt in the beginning," says Woodward. "But I stuck with it and found my place." Murphy agrees: "You get tunnel vision if you perform alone, but I've noticed myself becoming less guarded about a lot of stuff." "When we started, I couldn't sing a harmony to save my life," laughs Crowley. Each has released a solo album within the last year, and they're toying with the idea of doing one together. "I could write a Kacy Crowley song if I really thought about it," figures Murphy, to which Crowley immediately interjects, "I challenge you!" Besides passing out candy canes and homemade cookies at shows, the trio has a mischievous streak. A recent night out involved dark clothing, a 2:30am toilet-paper raid on HEB, and the timeless pastime of house-wrapping. The ladies are somewhat coy about the details. "He had it coming," grins Murphy. It's no wonder their rehearsals can be a little short on actual rehearsing. "We start chatting ...," begins Crowley, "... and two hours later, it's like, 'Oh I've gotta go,'" explains Woodward.
No Bras, No Problem
Chepo Pena of Jawwas (above) belts out "Summertime Blues" shortly before smashing his guitar to bits at last Saturday's Who tribute at the Parish. The 12-band, 41½2-hour show had any number of memorable moments: Paul Minor of Superego (below) windmilling away on "My Generation," The Fall Collection's radiant "Pictures of Lily," King Tears' forceful "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand," Rockland Eagles' rousing "Join Together," Moonlight Towers' menacing "The Seeker." Johnny Walker of Ignorance Park joined Tia Carrera for thunderous versions of "Young Man Blues" and "Baba O'Riley," before Grand Champeen took everyone to the woodshed on a "Won't Get Fooled Again" that left guest Jason Morales guitar in the same shape as Penas. These kids are definitely all right.
A Quick One
Andrew Duplantis will take a hiatus from Tia Carrera, Jon Dee Graham, and his new solo band the Unfaithfuls next year to rejoin the reborn Son Volt. Duplantis recently returned from St. Louis, where he worked on the group's forthcoming LP, which should be ready by the time they play Esquire's SXSW showcase.
Bullet the Blue Sky
Robert Earl Keen, Branford Marsalis, Ozomatli, and Bruce Hornsby will appear at the Paramount Theater's Austin Winter Nights series in January and February. Tickets are on sale now through www.austinwinternights.com and at the Paramount box office, and some of the proceeds will benefit both the Austin Music Foundation and SIMS Foundation. Speaking of
The Austin Music Foundation fires up its Incubator engines again next month. Three bands or performers one rock, one country, one hip-hop/R&B will be chosen for the program, which immerses winners in every aspect of the music business until they emerge with an album. Deadline is Jan. 13, and a public forum will be held Jan. 5 at the Austin City Limits studios. See www.austinmusicfoundation.org for more.
The Lyndhurst Foundation of Chattanooga, Tenn., recently donated a $25,000 grant to the SIMS Foundation (www.simsfoundation.org/home), which the local musicians services organization plans to use on an outreach/awareness campaign. Now, why dont some philanthropists a little closer to home step up to the plate?
Congratulations to Patrice Pike, whose "My Three Wishes," written with Sister 7, won overall top prize in the 10th USA Songwriting Competition. It and other winners' songs will be broadcast on the nationally syndicated Acoustic Cafe radio show and on XM Satellite Radio.
Gabe Rhodes, who plays guitar in his mom Kimmie's band, had his van stolen last weekend in San Antonio, with both his Gibson J-45 and dad Joe Gracey's 1967 blond Telecaster inside. Contact www.kimmierhodes.com with any information.
"TCB" and the Chronicle extend our sympathies to the family of local blueshound Kent "Omar" Dykes, whose wife Lyn passed away last week after a long struggle with cancer. Funds have been established in her honor and for the couple's son Jake at area Bank One and Bank of America branches.
Seemingly every branch of Antone's family tree was nominated for a W.C. Handy Blues Award last week: Marcia Ball, James Cotton, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Hubert Sumlin, Calvin "Fuzz" Jones, Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff, Gatemouth Brown, and Barbara Lynn. W.C. Clark's Deep in the Heart is up for Blues Album of the Year, and Pinetop Perkins could be the next Blues Entertainer of the Year. Winners announced May 5 in Memphis.
Nice to see the Old Alligator Grill back among the live-music ranks. The South Lamar seafood stop is again booking bands, including Hill Country shaman Ray Wylie Hubbard on New Year's Eve.