Not Fade Away
The 2004/05 Austin Music Awards
"I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be ..."
It wasn't just that it was pouring applause, somehow producing the mirage of a confetti snowstorm swirling down from the balconies, because believe me, L.A.'s sold-out House of Blues was shakin' all over. It was something else, something indescribable to an outsider (i.e., anyone under 50), and not just tribal ritual. If time hadn't stopped exactly, or been rewound, it pancaked half a century into this call for an encore. Naturally, the Crickets obliged.
Buddy Holly has been dead 46 years, little more than twice the Lubbock firebrand's age when he died, but his Crickets still chirp. His first and, for all intents and purposes, only drummer, Hillsboro, Texas' J.I. Allison, still keeps time with Joe B. Mauldin, bassist on both Holly LPs. Sonny Curtis, from nearby Meadow, Texas, remembers the day his teenage picking partner, Holly, showed off Allison. After Holly and the Crickets parted ways, just prior to the guitarist's death, Allison and Mauldin re-enlisted Curtis and have remained the living embodiment of West Texas' crucial role in the global revolution known as rock & roll.
What exactly does this have to do with the here and now? You know the answer: every ... little ... thing. Before going to Paris to die, Jim Morrison put a name on it: "Texas Radio and the Big Beat." Elvis Presley was the Big Bang, but where would the pre-Beatles Quarrymen be without Buddy Holly covers, or the first Rolling Stones LP without "Not Fade Away"? The second cut on 1957's The "Chirping" Crickets, Holly's "Not Fade Away," is the Texas Big Beat, Allison hammering out Bo Diddley. That beat is ground zero for any Texan/Lone Star interloper that ever picked up a guitar and put down attitude in the key of C. Sonny Curtis anthem "I Fought the Law" links El Paso's Bobby Fuller Four, 1965, to 1977 Clash, and even 2005's Best Rock Album Grammy winners, Green Day. Only an American Idiot would fail to recognize the obvious rock & roll Darwinism in that one song, born on a windy March day in Texas, 1958.
Egregiously, profanely, just plain wrong was Motley Göön Vince Neil sucking the wind out of the aforementioned HOB CD release party last summer for The Crickets and Their Buddies. Where the hell was Green Day that night? True, witnessing another first wave Buddy Holly pledge, Eric Clapton, in such a small space was a "special guest" moment for the highlight reel, but it was Seguin songbird Nanci Griffith who stole the show. The honorary Cricket, who at the Hole in the Wall 20 years ago whet Austin's appetite for current local darlings like Patty Griffin, can lay out any room duetting with Curtis on his "More Than I Can Say." Griffith's first disc in four years, Hearts in Mind, is doing the same to lifelong fans. A-town imprint New West could mint the 1998 pairing of Griffith and the Crickets on Austin City Limits. Rave on.
Griffith would appreciate an Austin pilgrimage to Lubbock in search of Holly, Curtis, and Allison, but when we left, we packed a True Believers CD. Alejandro Escovedo's San Antonio soul roared up there like the wind's dominion, just as the wielder of the velvet guitar himself has come roaring back locally on the wings of last year's humbling celebrity tribute, Por Vida. Torn and frayed over the last two years, Escovedo's pawn shop heart is finally out of hock and back in the I-wanna-be-your-doghouse where it belongs.
No finer proof of this exists (except on Auditorium Shores with SXSWer Ian Hunter) than Escovedo hosting the musical godfather who paid him one of Por Vida's highest honors: John Cale. Velvet Underground engineer, Cale opened the Por Vida gala downtown at the Paramount Theatre last November like the Supreme Court handing down history. There's unfinished business, however: Cale and Escovedo never played together that night. Reprising the highlight of the 1999/2000 Austin Music Awards' salute to VU helmsman and former Austinite Sterling Morrison, Cale and Escovedo make good at the 2004/05 AMAs.
Daniel Johnston is no Casper the Friendly Ghost when it comes to the AMAs; both of his appearances last decade were high-wire acts of musical and emotional fearlessness, one featured prominently in new and instant music documentary classic, The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Of course, Johnston's belly is now three times the size it was back in the late Eighties when he fascinated MTV at Liberty Lunch. Both institutions have since been demolished, but Johnston remains, as will his otherworldly oeuvre and now The Devil and Daniel Johnston, more cinematic certainty of music as both madness and salvation. Better yet, Por Vida wasn't the only 2-CD red carpet for a local legend in 2004, either. The Late Great Daniel Johnston Discovered Covered, featuring, oh, Bright Eyes, Beck, and Tom Waits covering Johnston's songs of pain and more pain, dwells not in the devil's lair, but atop Mountain Dew with the music gods.
Indie cred means nothing in the face of country music. To the father of Texas rock, Buddy Holly, country music was like a comb through his curls a reflex. His older brothers Larry and Travis Holley still pick a country tune or two up in Lubbock, so they'd fit right in with Austin's Hardcore Country All-Stars. Twelve Tuesdays a year, Broken Spoke owner and country singing scholar James White, along with fiddler on the dance floor Alvin Crow, round up a veteran gang of true-blue country gentlemen for hardcore history lessons. Pete Mitchell, Neil Flanz, Jason Crow, Danny Young, Jon Kemppainen, plus special guests Earl Poole Ball, Del Puschert, and Ariel Abshire there's 300 years of western acreage right there. Patricia Vonne's castanets oughtta keep them in line. All except for 91-year-old Pinetop Perkins, that is. Once a rascal, always a rascal. Dig down deep into Mother Earth, deep into those Muddy Waters, and you'll discover Perkins' primal piano boogie. Oh yeah. Wearing a hat.
In a word, that's what the 2004/05 Austin Music Awards honor: roots. Roots. Buddy Holly to Daniel Johnston. Well all right.
Austin Music Hall
Wednesday, March 16, 7:55pm sharp
7:55pm Pinetop Perkins
8:15pm Daniel Johnston
8:45pm John Cale & Alejandro Escovedo
9:35pm Hardcore Country All-Stars
10:15pm The Crickets with Nanci Griffith