Steady As He Goes
Freddie Steady Krc on the record
In 1963, Freddie Krc – rhymes with "perch" – was a 9-year-old growing up in the Gulf Coast town of La Porte, listening to records in his room. He treasured the round vinyl discs, buying 7-inch 45s like "Made to Love (Girls Girls Girls)" by actor-singer Eddie Hodges. He played them endlessly.
Like hundreds of thousands of others on February 9, 1964, Krc watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and said, "That's what I want to do." The next year, he saw his first live band, the Sir Douglas Quintet, performing at the Lee High School gym in Baytown. He added the Quintet to his singles collection. The music, exotic and wild, hypnotized him.
Branded for life, Freddie "Steady" Krc spent the next four decades drumming, fronting, backing, and guesting with a dazzling array of acts at a historical list of places – with Neil Young at one of Willie's picnics, with the Charlatans for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and at an inaugural ball of President Bill Clinton. He moves easily from cosmic cowboys and Americana to punk rock and legacy acts. Krc considers his Facebook friendship with Eddie Hodges payback for a lifetime inspired by a moment.
Even then, Freddie Krc ultimately ends up back at the first band he experienced live.
Gonzo Compadres & Children of the Night
Austin was the Wild West in the early Seventies – a country-songwriter oasis where cosmic cowboy fever raged like Bastrop wildfires.
"Music brought me to Austin," nods Krc, ever affable. "I was always a song-oriented musician, always more interested in the ensemble serving the song. I started hearing records from Michael Martin Murphey and B.W. Stevenson, and it led me here."
Krc first joined up with Stevenson, who was riding high on the success of "My Maria" as well as "Shambala," a hit for Three Dog Night. Then he hopped into the drum seat for Jerry Jeff Walker & the Lost Gonzo Band, ultimately recording "at least a dozen" albums with Walker and co-writing "Life's Too Short" and "Gonzo Compadres" with him. While on tour with the Gonzos in New York City, Krc caught the Misfits at Max's Kansas City club.
"I was still with Jerry Jeff when we formed the Explosives. I gave up a big money gig to do that, not like giving up a shift at Wendy's, but [punk] was such an encouraging, fresh new scene."
The Explosives – drummer Krc became Freddie Steady with guitarist Cam King and bassist Waller Collie – weren't overly admired at Austin's punk headquarters, Raul's, in 1979. As veteran musicians, they were regarded as a "skinny tie band" or – the worst insult of punkdom – posers. The trio scrapped with the local media, held its ground, and came out victorious by not just turning out killer singles, but teaming up with one of the true godfathers of the movement, Roky Erickson.
Within months of forming, they'd bonded with Erickson, touring and opening for the Ramones, the Ventures, the B-52s, Joan Jett, and Nick Lowe, among others. Krc notes this period of Erickson's life for its stability.
"He wasn't in tenuous mental health then. We started playing with Roky just a couple months after we'd become a band. We were so closely associated that people didn't know we were our own band. Unbeknownst to me, he had recently been through a drug treatment thing and was very alert, really good. We rehearsed in my garage.
"That was '79, but by '81, we were seeing changes in him and we didn't know what it was. We didn't know about schizophrenia. He got darker and harder to get along with. The shows were getting worse. We could have continued, but we agreed we didn't want to play with Roky until he went off the deep end. We took a stand with the management."
On their own, the Explosives released some of the definitive songs of the era, recording single "Headhunter" and cutting two tracks for the first Live at Raul's album. They'd recorded additional tracks with Erickson, but contractual difficulties kept the songs off the LP. More's the pity, because that set electrified the Guadalupe punk club, Erickson greeting the audience by paraphrasing Bela Lugosi and intoning without a hint of Dracula, "Children of the night, what music we make."
Out of Gas
The Explosives simmered with their own career problems by 1982, around the time Roky Erickson's personal demons manifested. They'd turned down a $100,000 deal from radio magnate Lee Abrams, Krc's father died, and he'd entered into a contract giving the manager 25%. Jerry Jeff Walker gigs continued, Neil Young sitting in for an entire set at Willie's 1985 Fourth of July picnic.
"But by then, I was out of gas," Krc admits.
He headed to England, where he played and recorded as Freddie Steady's Wild Country, then started the Shakin' Apostles around 1990 to feed his renewed hunger for rock & roll. Walker gigs continued, including one serenading President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore with Emmylou Harris, Bob Weir, and Johnny Cash. He subbed for Dan Hicks on drums when San Francisco psychedelic era legends the Charlatans played at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
"I'd worked hard to establish myself as a musician and songwriter," he declares. "From 1990 to 2000, I kept crazy busy with my band and with Jerry Jeff. I decided I wanted to do my own stuff. I'd come across people like Sal Valentino [of the Beau Brummels] and Peter Lewis [Moby Grape] over the years, and when I had the opportunity to work with them, I grabbed it."
Krc's experience running the Explosives' Black Hole label came in handy when he started Steady Boy Records in 2003. Begun as a way to keep his music in print, it grew into a roster of artists reflecting his "eclectic taste in music, like a beat/blues group from London called Downliners Sect (which released its first LP on Columbia in 1963), country singer Mitch Jacobs, Lone Star rocker Al Staehely, local U-18er Jenny Wolfe, Roky Erickson & the Explosives, and up-and-comer Emily Grace Berry.
While the Freddie Steady 5 keeps him playing, the label "keeps me busy and mostly out of trouble."
Especially this latest release.
The Return of Wayne Douglas
"Earlier this year, Shawn Sahm called me to do some writing. We were jamming at his place, and I asked him if he had anything to put out as a vinyl release for Record Store Day. He told me about a half-dozen Doug Sahm outtakes – other Dylan covers, etc. Then he called me two weeks later and told me that the studio had burned down, but why didn't I put out the Wayne Douglas record.
"So I did."
The Return of Wayne Douglas came out on CD posthumously in 2000 (see memorial issue "Doug Sahm 1941-1999," Nov. 26, 1999), released by Austin-braised impresario and writer Bill Bentley, the man behind 1990's seminal Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, and More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album nine years later. Sahm's final album was hailed for its overview of the Texas Tornado's overflowing oeuvre, from his roots as country-singing Little Doug to covers by heroes as disparate as Bob Dylan and Leon Payne.
The Return of Wayne Douglas also capped Sahm's decade-long streak of excellent studio recordings that included Juke Box Music, The Return of the Formerly Brothers, and S.D.Q. '98. An unwitting farewell, The Return of Wayne Douglas remains one of Doug Sahm's finest works.
Newly mastered to vinyl, it reaps brownie points for presentation.
"It was Shawn's idea to get Kerry Awn to do the artwork, and I gotta give credit to my wife for supporting me here because vinyl ain't cheap. It's between five and six times as much as doing a CD: art on the inner sleeve, four colors on the label, 150 gram vinyl.
"All that stuff's extra, extra, extra, but how do you fudge on a Doug Sahm project?
"You can't do it."