Off the Record

Music news

Hallelujah! Leonard Cohen and Roscoe Beck, Oslo, Norway, 2008
Hallelujah! Leonard Cohen and Roscoe Beck, Oslo, Norway, 2008 (Photo courtesy of Roscoe Beck)

New Skin for the Old Ceremony

Veteran local bassist and producer Roscoe Beck distinctly remembers the first time he met Leonard Cohen – in an L.A. recording studio in 1979, at the behest of Joni Mitchell's producer Henry Lewy. He was 24.

"I have this image of walking into the control room and seeing Leonard sitting there dressed in a dark-gray suit, looking very dapper," he reminisces fondly. "I had a feeling from the moment I laid eyes on him that there was going to be more to it than that one recording session that day. ...

"There was an instant personal rapport. The music came very easily."

Sitting across from each other, Cohen and Beck cut elegantly romantic ode "The Smokey Life," which was later embellished for 1979's Recent Songs. Beck's jazz-fusion ensemble of the time, Passenger, acted as the backing band for the resulting tour, documented on Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979. After co-producing Jennifer Warnes' 1986 tribute to the Canadian poet, Famous Blue Raincoat, which featured Stevie Ray Vaughan on "First We Take Manhattan," Beck worked with Cohen on his synth-laden masterpiece, 1988's I'm Your Man, and served as music director for the tour.

"I put the band together and rehearsed them, but I actually hired another bass player from Austin, Steve Zirkel, because I had previously committed to what became the Ah Via Musicom record with Eric Johnson," Beck recalls. "By the time they played the Backyard and Austin City Limits, I was bemoaning the fact that I didn't put myself on that tour."

Austin has Beck to thank for the Tower of Song kicking off his first North American tour in nearly 15 years at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, host of tonight's encore engagement. Beck not only pitched Austin to the tour promoter, but upon learning that the Bass Concert Hall was unavailable, he recommended the Downtown venue. In fact, Cohen's preparations for his comeback actually started here November 2007, when he flew in to personally ask Beck to serve once more as musical director.

"He's always full of surprises," chuckles Beck. "I believe his exact instruction to me was, 'I only want the best band on the road.' He was only interested in doing it if it could be done right."

The tour kicked off in Canada last June ("Live Shot," July 4, 2008) and has since garnered universal praise. The set list keeps expanding, and just this week, Columbia released a new double album, Live in London. There's even talk of hitting the studio at the end of the road.

"I've never seen him as content as I find him to be lately," Beck concludes. "I think he was very ready to go out and reconnect with his audience."

Random Play

• Austin fashion designer Dawn Younger-Smith, better known as the Boudoir Queen, filed suit against Courtney Love in a Los Angeles Superior Court last week for breach of contract, libel, and other charges. According to court documents, Younger-Smith alleges that the Hole singer failed to pay an invoice for custom clothing billed in February and subsequently launched an Internet-based smear campaign, citing several pages worth of belligerent tirades such as this March 17 Twitter post, which concluded: "goodbye asswipe nasty lying hosebag thief." Younger-Smith seeks an undisclosed amount for damages and emotional distress.

• Four members of the Live Music Task Force resigned from the advisory board for the grassroots nonprofit Save Austin Music this week in the wake of organizer Troy Dillinger's disparaging remarks against the city in Save Austin Music's latest newsletter. See "Disharmony at the Live Music Task Force," News, for complete details on the fallout.

Austin Arts & Music Partnership, a new service-oriented nonprofit, received a helping hand this week from Bruce Springsteen, who donated two floor tickets and backstage passes on behalf of Jon Landau Manage-ment to his sold-out show at the Frank Erwin Center on Sunday, April 5. The online auction, which ended Tuesday, March 24, garnered more than $20,000.

• "Off the Record" is now available as a podcast. Download this week's inaugural edition at And, if you haven't already, be sure to give a listen to the Lineup,, an audio guide to the week in live music.

Across a Wire

Early bird: Kacy Crowley at the Four Seasons
Early bird: Kacy Crowley at the Four Seasons (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

KGSR in the Morning raised nearly $10,000 for the Seton Shivers Cancer Foundation through its weeklong broadcasts from the Four Seasons during South by Southwest. According to co-host Andy Langer, Neil Young poked his head in to watch Peter Bjorn & John on Thursday, and the sessions from M. Ward, the Gourds, and Erin McCarley, among others, could end up on Broadcasts Vol. 17. The proceeds from the station's previous compilation, Broadcasts Vol. 16, a whopping $137,356, were presented to the SIMS Foundation at the Austin Music Awards. Langer's taking back the reins of The Next Big Thing on 101X from yours truly, following a wave of recent cutbacks at Emmis Communications. Beginning later this month, the show is tentatively scheduled to be rebroadcast on KGSR, as well. OTR, meanwhile, is keeping The Daily Dose, a three-song segment spotlighting indie and local music every weeknight at 9pm. Across the radio dial, KUT's Texas Music Matters, hosted by David Brown, took home National Headliner Awards (Radio Grand Prize, Best Documentary or Public Affairs) for its special "Amazing Grace: The Story of Willie Nelson," which commemorated the Red Headed Stranger's 75th birthday in April.

Wax Attacks!

For Doug Hanners, founder of the Austin Record Convention, 7-inch singles represent the peak of the vinyl era. "They're far more interesting because many bands could only afford to press a 45, so there's a lot more variety out there," enthuses Hanners, whose personal collection tops more than 100,000 records, including rare and unreleased recordings from Doug Sahm and the 13th Floor Elevators. After a two-year hiatus, the spring edition of the Austin Record Convention returns to the Crockett Event Center (10601 N. Lamar) this Saturday and Sunday, April 4-5, 10am-6pm. Despite the general downturn in the music industry and after the Record Convention's minor showing at SXSW 09, more than 250 vendors from around the world are scheduled to set up shop for the occasion. "There are enough vinyl maniacs out there for us to continue to thrive," Hanners says. Early-bird shopping ($25) begins Friday, April 3, 10am.

The Grapes of Wrath

Maynard James Keenan drinks in Austin
Maynard James Keenan drinks in Austin (Photo by John Anderson)

"You can't plant a vine and expect anything out of that vine for almost a decade," surmised Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan. "It's a commitment." Long considered one of the most enigmatic figures in modern alternative music, Keenan is nothing if not committed to Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. The reclusive singer emerged at Whole Foods last Tuesday, March 24, where more than 700 people lined up to have bottles signed. "I don't drink every day," opined Keenan, who recommends steak or pork chops with his Caduceus 2005 Nagual del Sensei, a Californian red wine. "Occasionally I'll have a glass or two, and even more occasionally I'll have a bottle or two." Order online at

Music news

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Roscoe Beck, Leonard Cohen, Austin Record Convention, Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Maynard James Keenan, KGSR, Andy Langer

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