Never Say Goodbye
Past and present mash up at the 2008-09 Austin Music Awards
Hissing and crackling on the tape immediately reveals its age, an artifact from a forgotten time. Those familiar with the source material estimate its year of origin around 1974. A crooked, acoustic guitar riff winds its way into the fold, then circles back around, its repetition developing a subtle, hypnotic groove. The voice of young Roky Erickson emerges like an apparition, not with a beastly howl but tender, yearning, starry-eyed:
"Thank God for civilization."
He repeats the line again and again, as if chanting a serenity prayer, calm and unnerving. In the background, his contemporary musical spawn, Austin's psych evangelists the Black Angels, colors around the recording, embracing its worn charm and adding an incensing wall of 1960s pop that flashes back to Congress Avenue's onetime Vulcan Gas Co. The effect is pure magic, like a séance between the living and resurrected. A mash-up for the ages.
Few people have heard this new demo, helmed by local producer Erik Wofford, but its symbolic reverberations will be felt when the two parties headline the 2008-09 Austin Music Awards. The pairing of Roky Erickson with the Black Angels couldn't be more appropriate. The latter's sublime 2006 debut, Passover, picked up where the former's 13th Floor Elevators and their landmark Easter Everywhere left off four decades prior. The Angels' Directions to See a Ghost (see "I See Dead People," May 9, 2008) last year only deepened the connection, the locals opening for and backing Erickson on a West Coast tour, not to mention the band refreshing its forefather on visionary and forgotten Elevators classics like "Don't Fall Down" and "Roller Coaster."
"It's been a surreal experience," opines Black Angels guitarist Christian Bland. "The Elevators have always been something I listen to on a daily basis. It's influenced the way that I live and create. In so many ways, this brings everything full circle."
Erickson's demonic visions also seeped into the confrontational theatrics of the Dicks, in particular iconoclastic frontman Gary Floyd, who covered "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)" with Sister Double Happiness for levitating 1990 tribute Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye. The shaft of Texas punk, dating back to the first Punk Prom at Raul's (see "Saturday Night at the Bookstore," May 12, 2000), Floyd represented "the queerest of the queer," as AMAs Director Margaret Moser surmised in her review of the essential anthology collection Dicks 1980-1986. "The Big Boys may have been bigger, but the Dicks were harder. The Big Boys screamed, but the Dicks seethed. The Big Boys were politically aware, but the Dicks were political."
The Dicks' riotous performance art didn't just make a mark on the scene. It left scars, especially on acts like Seattle's grunge grandfathers Mudhoney and Austin's Butthole Surfers, paving the way for the Trance Syndicate era on Red River, along with the Dicks' special AMA guest David Yow of Scratch Acid.
"Watching them play wasn't scary, but I feared for my safety," the Jesus Lizard told the Chronicle last month. "There was a good chance you were going to get hit in the face. There was a chaos but also a whole lot of fun. They were able to bring Motown into the Sex Pistols. I always dug that. ...
"There was nothing left in the closet. It was all in-your-face shit."
From the Six Strings Down tribute to Clifford Antone, with Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr. two years ago, to Joe Ely's 1999 teaming with Reckless Kelly, the AMAs specialize in weaving the common threads that make up the rich tapestry of Austin music. It's not so much a passing of the torch that takes place but the bridging of generational divides. That's clearly the case with the improbable pairing of Bob Schneider and the Fireants.
A two-decade-long veteran of the local scene, Schneider's been a consistent live draw since people actually paid to see music on Sixth Street, every one of his musical incarnations – Joe Rockhead, Ugly Americans, the Scabs, Lonelyland – seemingly more popular than the last, and his "40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)" dominated local airwaves in 2008. Though young enough to be his bastard children, the Fireants exemplify Austin's next generation (see "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Oct. 24, 2008), the cream of a bumper crop of prodigiously talented teen acts immersed in local lore and ready to cut their teeth.
Likewise, the Southern siren showcase syncs up three of Austin's leading ladies in a manner not celebrated since 1990's Dreams Come True, the collaboration between Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli, and Lou Ann Barton. YouTube sensation Suzanna Choffel is a young vixen whose smoky vocals and exuberant eclecticism beget her casual allure (see "The Next Fun Fearless Female Rock Star," Nov. 28, 2008). Phenomenal Ruthie Foster continues to expand her soulful elocution while defining her personal Truth (see "Texas Platters," Feb. 13), and firebrand Carolyn Wonderland solidified her Lone Star standing last year with her Ray Benson-produced, bluesy triumph, Miss Understood (see "Miss Understood," May 2, 2008), culminating with an appearance on Austin City Limits. Together, the trio embodies yet another wave of fiercely independent, local female singer-songwriters, each drawing from the same wellspring of Americana and making it her own.
Few better represented that ideal than Doug Sahm, who, even before his untimely death nearly a decade ago, was already the patron saint of Austin music. He practically invented the modern mash-up with his Sir Douglas Quintet, creating a melting pot of Tex-Mex, New Orleans jazz, Americana, sweaty R&B, and Cajun music that always sizzled. On the 40th anniversary of the group's seminal Mendocino, his heir Shawn Sahm and lifelong musical compadre Augie Meyers prove once more that his legacy is alive and well with SDQ2, coinciding with new covers compilation Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm. Think of it as a reappropriation of the past for future generations.
After all, the Texas Tornado is fewer than six degrees connected to every artist on this bill. He produced Erickson's "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)," and at least part of his spirit is stitched into SDQ2 guest Alejandro Escovedo's autobiographical revelation, Real Animal (see "Fantastic Journey," June 20, 2008), along with the very fabric of Austin. At the 2008-09 Austin Music Awards, as with every year, the circle indeed remains unbroken.
2008-09 Austin Music Awards
Austin Music Hall, Wednesday, March 18, 7:55pm sharp
7:55pm: Suzanna Choffel, Ruthie Foster, and Carolyn Wonderland
8:35pm: Bob Schneider with the Fireants
9:15pm: The Dicks with David Yow
9:55pm: SDQ2: A Tribute to Doug Sahm, with Shawn Sahm, Augie Meyers, and Alejandro Escovedo
10:30pm: Roky Erickson with the Black Angels