Off the Record

Music News

The Coveters' Suzanna Choffel
The Coveters' Suzanna Choffel (Photo by Jana Birchum)

AMPlified Heat

Any question as to the collective clout of Austin Music People was answered last Thursday night, March 31, onstage at ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The sold-out benefit gala for the local nonprofit featured three marquee headliners – Ghostland Observatory, Blue October, and Dixie Chicks offshoot Court Yard Hounds – worthy of the AMP board of directors and advisers: Executive Director Paul Oveisi (Momo's), Roland Swenson (South by Southwest), Charles Attal (C3 Presents), John Kunz (Waterloo Records), and Terry Lickona (Austin City Limits), among others. Alejandro Escovedo delivered a searing state of the union address, closing with a titanic rendition of "Chelsea Hotel '78," while Momo's homegrown Wilburys, the Coveters, made the most of their round-robin appeal. Dueling pianists Dan Dyer and Michael Kingcaid (What Made Milwaukee Famous) belted out blue-eyed soul, buoyed by the sultry strut of Suzanna Choffel and fiddle extraordinaire Warren Hood. Ubiquitous party starters the Bright Light Social Hour continued their hot streak, opening with tightly scripted indie funk. BLSH's rave on "Young Man Blues" proved the band's ready for such bigger stages, and given the industry brass in attendance, wheels must surely be in motion. As for AMP's agenda, aside from building membership, the first order of business is to commission an economic and social impact study. "We feel like there isn't any data out there that really substantiates the true impact of music in greater Austin," says Oveisi.

Calvin Russell (1949-2011)

Calvin Russell
Calvin Russell

A genuine outlaw of Texas music, Calvin Russell succumbed to liver cancer at his home in Garfield on Sunday. He was 62. An Austin native born Calvert Russell Kosler, the country-blues journeyman had the look – chiseled features tucked under his trademark porkpie hat – and backstory to match his rough-hewn narratives. At 18 he served time in Huntsville for possession of marijuana and forgery and was charged with cocaine possession in 1995, an event that extended his tenure in Amsterdam. A cassette demo handed off at the Continental Club began it all for Russell, landing him an overseas deal with New Rose Records, for whom his 1990 debut, A Crack in Time, sold more than 100,000 copies in Europe. His appearance in a Swiss Oil commercial during the 1994 World Cup cemented that international legacy. Like his mentor Townes Van Zandt and friend Blaze Foley, Russell's success never quite translated back home, but he returned often, ultimately settling in East Austin with his wife, Cynthia. The uncommon intensity Russell brought with him onstage, chronicled on a series of live albums, including two at the Kremlin, survive him. "He was brilliant every time he played here, a club owner's dream and really a perfect gentleman," says Saxon Pub owner Joe Ables. "He was huge in France. I used to kid him about it, asking him, 'Why do you even come back here?' But that's the type of person he was, very humble. And what a face. Calvin had a lot of character, and we're really going to miss him." Services will be held on Sunday, April 10, 1pm, at Cook Walden Capital Parks in Pflugerville.

Down the Line

Back in the day, the Wagoneers encored with a set of Monte Warden's original gospel tunes. Three of those selections are finally being released on The Essential Wagoneers, a limited-edition pressing of 1,000 from the band that collects the local C&W outfit's two A&M LPs – 1988's Stout & High and 1989's Good Fortune­­ – both of which have been out of print since the early 1990s. After the band's haymaker at the Austin Music Awards last month, its first performance in close to two decades, the Wagoneers have lined up a full reunion show at the Continental Club on April 16 and are already working on 15 to 20 new songs for a possible third album. "We have a legacy to protect," stresses Warden, "but we were blown away by the reception, and we're going to continue do it as long as it's fun."

The Mother Ship

Local production wizard Ben Webster returned recently from Los Angeles for the release party of Insect Records' latest, Starship 27 Vol. 2: Take Off, a 20-song, digital/vinyl compilation of deep-space funk by West Coast beatmakers including Dâm-Funk and Dibia$e, as curated by J-1. "I pretty much have over 100 records at my place from the artists on here," relays Webster (see "Cult of Personality," June 25, 2010). As for tentative plans regarding the Festival dome in Bastrop, announced in last week's April Fools' issue, Webster would like to further lend his support to the project. "I finally get it ... Music Mall," he wrote. "No Bob Schneider Memorial Escalator? I'm sure more details will come in." Meanwhile, Webster's main project, Butcher Bear & Charlie, has reached the Southwest finals in Billboard's Battle of the Bands. The winner of this round fights in Vegas for a slot on the Billboard awards. Vote at

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Monte Warden leads the Wagoneers at the Austin Music Awards, March 19.
Monte Warden leads the Wagoneers at the Austin Music Awards, March 19. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

• On Friday, April 8, the city hosts an official groundbreaking ceremony for the Waller Creek Tunnel Project, a milelong underground tunnel that will remove 28 acres from the area's 100-year floodplain and turn Red River into the Riverwalk. Transmission Entertainment booker Graham Williams confirmed that the construction will force the moving of this fall's Fun Fun Fun Fest. At the same time, Emo's owner Frank Hendrix broke some ground of his own last week at the site of his Back Room renovation on Riverside Drive. Tentatively dubbed Emo's East, the two-story complex – a rendition of which hangs in the front room of the club's headquarters – is scheduled for completion in August. Asked what's the rush, Hendrix retorted with a hearty laugh, "I need to hurry up and start recouping."

• With support from Britt Daniel and Oasis' Noel Gallagher, Robert Harrison has launched a Kickstarter campaign for a deluxe reissue of Cotton Mather's long out-of-print classic, 1997's Kontiki, with a second disc of rarities and outtakes ( "The bonus tracks are acoustic tracks in the vein of 'Spin My Wheels' that were deemed not quite good enough and live tracks from the 4-track or ADAT I abandoned in favor of another version," relays Harrison via email. "A few things I had no recollection of creating and were a nice surprise."

Ozomatli has been tapped to headline the Pachanga Latino Music Festival at Fiesta Gardens on Saturday, May 21, with offshoot Ozokidz anchoring the Ninos Rock Pachanga Stage. The fourth annual family affair will also feature Afrobeat orchestrator Chico Mann, Houston ska staples Los Skarnales, rapper Chingo Bling, Adrian Quesada's the Echocentrics, and San Antonio's masked DJ, Mexicans With Guns.

• The Go-Go's, featuring local bassist Kathy Valentine, have rescheduled their Happily Ever After farewell tour, which concludes at the Paramount Theatre on Aug. 28.

Ginger Leigh has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Covered in part by the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the local songwriter and Rent star still needs help defraying the costs of her mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. A ChipIn account ( has been created, and a benefit, Boobapalooza II, is set for May 22 at the Saxon Pub, featuring Monte Montgomery, Wendy Colonna, and Paula Nelson, among others. "This month has been an emotional roller coaster," says Leigh, "but all I can do is throw my hands in the air and be brave."

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