Off the Record
Stop, Drop, and Rock & Roll
Exactly two years after KOOP Radio suffered the first of two devastating fires, which destroyed its previous facility on East Fifth, the community radio outlet sent out smoke signals once more from its new location on Airport Boulevard. The fire was intentionally set on KOOP's premises sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning and caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, according to Austin Fire Department investigators. "We've been through this sort of thing a couple of times, so we have a playbook for what we need to do," says KOOP President Andrew Dickens. "We really try hard to provide a public service to the city of Austin, and we're determined to get back on the air." In the interim, UT's student-run KVRX is going live around the clock. Stay tuned for further details and benefit shows.
"There's no roots-music scene here," presumes Keith Mallette, one-half of Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment, a new booking agency that recently set up shop on North Loop and specializes in roots music "raw and primal, with passion, conviction, and balls." Mallette formed the company in Phoenix in 2005, bringing to town acts like the Weary Boys and Scott H. Biram, and has since established branches in Indiana and Tennessee. Hillgrass is currently compiling a double tribute album to Hank Williams and Leadbelly, Hiram and Huddie, which features locals Chili Cold Blood, Wayne Hancock, and Tucson's Bob Log III, among others. "We're trying to start a movement by reintroducing our American roots through these new American acts," Mallette says. On Saturday, Bluebilly presents Possessed by Paul James, Tom VandenAvond, Legendary Shack Shakers' J.D. Wilkes, and Biram at the Oaks in Manor, a show that's being filmed by Germany's Slowboat Films for The Folksinger: A Tale of God, Love & Redemption. Konrad Wert, the Kerrville-based special-education teacher behind Paul James, stars as himself in the film. "The subtext of the story is loosely based on what I'm trying to do as a musician, the inner demons I have to face while trying to succeed and make a living for my family," explains Wert, who met director Mark Littler through fellow one-man band John Schooley. "There are going to be moments when it's just two guys throwing ideas back and forth in swimming holes and barbecue joints. There's going to be a lot of pickin' – I know that much."
For the Good Times
Ray Price comes from a generation that pulled itself by the bootstraps, and he's not afraid to tell you so. "We're three guys that started the hard way and worked their way up to it and got there their own way," says the country music icon of his 2007 comeback collaboration with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Last of the Breed. "There's not anybody like that anymore. Of course, if there was, radio wouldn't play it anyways." Price celebrates his 82nd birthday at the Caldwell Auditorium in Tyler on Saturday. "Willie and I have been playing together for nearly 40 years, and not a whole lot has changed. We just got a little older. I told him, 'We're both dancing as fast as we can.' He misunderstood me and wrote a song called 'We're Dying as Fast as We Can.' I'm telling you, it's a laugh a minute."
Greetings From Taylor, Texas
Driving into Taylor, only 45 minutes northeast of the capital, is like Tobey Maguire entering Pleasantville. "It's a different world down here," concurs punk rock pioneer and Black Flag founder Greg Ginn, who's in the process of relocating his seminal SST Records from its Long Beach, Calif., headquarters, citing Taylor's proximity to the Austin music scene and a major airport as deciding factors. "It was time for a change, and I like the feel of small towns. Everyone here is real friendly. I feel a little bit like the newly converted. I'm buying Texas everything." Along with a few cases of Shiner Bock, Ginn purchased a two-story building in Taylor's historic downtown that was originally constructed in 1918 as a Model-T assembly shop and dealership. The facility features a soon-to-be-completed 1,500-square-foot studio, living quarters, a full kitchen, elevator, two offices, and space for a small greenhouse, in which Ginn hopes to grow tomatoes. Between SST and its two subsidiaries, Cruz and New Alliance, Ginn has put out more than 700 albums via acts ranging from Meat Puppets and the Dicks to Sonic Youth and the Minutemen, making the downstairs warehouse feel like a Harry Ransom Center collection of the 1980s DIY movement. "This music keeps getting passed down through younger people," Ginn grins, surrounded by boxes of T-shirts with classic slogans like "Kill Bono" and "Corporate Rock Still Sucks."
Following a decadelong hiatus, SST resurfaced in 2007 with three of Ginn's projects, including his first foray into Western swing with the Taylor Texas Corrugators' Bent Edge and Mojack's latest funk fusion, Under the Willow Tree. Gone's 10th release, the aptly titled double album The Epic Trilogy, boasts three jazz-rock progressions – presented both with and without vocal accompaniment from the Bad Brains' H.R. – that delve into trance, dubstep, and atonal psychedelia. Ginn's also working with Austin-based visual artist Joey Keeton on a multimedia electroclash project called Jambang, which he hopes to tour with beginning in April. "I'm proud of Black Flag and all that, but I'm not really interested in playing monkey for anybody; throw some coins in a cup, and I'll regurgitate some songs I wrote when I was 11 years old," Ginn riffs. "I realize that some people aren't in the same place as me sometimes – most never are – but right now I just want to focus on my music. I've got a lot to catch up on, and this keeps things a lot simpler."
• 2003 Austin City Limits Music Festival headliner R.E.M. tops the list of confirmed acts for the 2008 South by Southwest Music Conference, touring in support of its 14th album, Accelerate, due in April. Other names found floating around in cyberspace include the reunited Breeders, the Slits, the Black Crowes, Daniel Lanois, the Black Keys, Blitzen Trapper, and Vampire Weekend, while both Domino Records (the Kills, Sons & Daughters, Lightspeed Champion) and Norway's Smalltown Supersound (Bjørn Torske, Arp) are signed on for label showcases. The annual open call for volunteers, meanwhile, takes place Sunday, Jan. 20, at the Hilton Hotel. Applications are currently available online at www.sxsw.com/volunteer.
• The previously mentioned Reivers reunion ("Off the Record," Nov. 30, 2007) is slated for Feb. 9 at the Parish. Tickets are now on sale through Front Gate Tickets (www.frontgatetickets.com).
• Chicken Ranch Records is looking for a few bands for a Van Halen hoot night at Beerland on Jan. 23, benefiting the Crack Pipes' Billy Steve Korpi and anticipating the following night's reunited eruption at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Interested parties should contact Mike Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.