Playback: Golden Years Wagoneers

Wagoneers ready a resurgence

The Wagoneers: Monte Warden, Tom Lewis, Craig Pettigrew, and Brent Wilson
The Wagoneers: Monte Warden, Tom Lewis, Craig Pettigrew, and Brent Wilson (Photo by Gary Miller)

Ever since Junior Brown stopped making the weekly drive down from Oklahoma to continue his decadelong residency, the Wagoneers have been lighting up the dance floor Sunday evenings at the Continental Club.

The Wags' initial career was a bottle rocket, launching fast, burning bright, and quickly self-destructing. The local quartet of Monte Warden, Brent Wilson, Craig Pettigrew, and Tom Lewis rose to fame in 1987 – with a breakout performance at the first South by Southwest.

"We'd only played five gigs, and Bill Bentley from Warner Bros. brought John Fogerty to our set at the Hole in the Wall," recalls Warden. "Fogerty stayed for four or five songs and seemed to enjoy it. Then we read somewhere that he got up and jammed with us.

"Now I was at that gig – standing right in the middle – and he did not. But it started this awesome buzz and got people looking at us."

Parlaying the hype into a contract with A&M Records, the Wagoneers subsequently released Stout and High, embodying the energetic cocktail of progressive country and Fifties rock that today bears the "alt-country" tag. They found company with kings, opening for Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. They even played with the Ramones and Bill Monroe in the same month. Ultimately, though, it was short-lived, and they called it a day in 1989.

After a recent Wagoneers gig, Warden and I sat on the Continental's luxurious back stoop. I asked him why the band broke up and his eyebrows rose.

"Apparently you haven't heard our second record," he replied, referring to 1989's Good Fortune. "It's worth breaking up over. I just didn't write good enough songs.

"I was more concerned with my career than the Wagoneers. Now I understand that, to be a great band leader, I need to be the world's biggest Wagoneers fan. So that's what I've become. I cherish and protect the Wagoneers."

Warden's post-Wags career as a songwriter was no downgrade, consisting of solo albums and tunes penned for both Georges (Strait and Jones).

Warden didn't instigate the Wags' 2011 reunion; Margaret Moser did. The senior Chronicle scribe's request that the group re-form to accept Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame honors was met with the kind of "I will if he will" reluctance you might expect from four guys who hadn't been in the same room together in 20 years. But once they turned the amps on, it felt too good to stop.

Last year, a fan from Nashville, Mark Bright (producer of platinum acts like Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts), visited the Continental and invited the Wags to come to Nashville and record. The unreleased album picks up where they left off 24 years ago, except better. Ideally, new songs like "Biggest Little Word" will propel them back into the national spotlight. If it doesn't, what they have going here Sunday nights remains a special thing.

As the Wags depart postgig, bassist Craig Pettigrew says goodbye to Warden with a hug. Warden pats him on the back with, "All right, I love you, man," then turns back to me.

"See? You never would have heard that 20 years ago!"

Here Comes the Walrus

Paul McCartney brings his Out There world tour to Austin on May 22. It will be Macca's first local performance and only Texas date, representing a huge get for the Erwin Center, which inked the show through Live Nation, now also in business with local promoters C3 Presents at the similarly sized Austin360 Amphitheater. With the UT drum only configured at a more Ringo Starr-sized capacity of 12,500, it'll be a comparatively intimate performance, with tickets ranging from $49 to $277 going on sale Friday at 10am. Sadly, most of them will likely be gone, since an exclusive presale began Tuesday for American Express customers only. McCartney's upcoming show at Fenway Park, which has at least three times the capacity of the Erwin Center, sold out in a record five minutes because 90% of the tickets were allegedly presold. If you can't score seats, industry sources tell us there's a second show in the queue once the first one sells out. Barring that, local soul belter Nakia reminded us of another McCartney to hold you over: Son James McCartney plays the Saxon Pub on April 30.

In the Clubs

The posting of Chaos in Tejas' schedule revealed that the infrequently used 1100 Warehouse will host some of the festival's biggest shows. The massive East Fifth Street building, leased by Transmission's James Moody and Graham Williams with developers Richard Kooris and Dennis McDaniel, will feature the Damned and Bolt Thrower. After Chaos, Kooris says the building will undergo interior and acoustic renovations and, by next March, reopen as a full-time concert and event space with food.

The property known as Block 21, which includes the W Hotel and Moody Theater, was put up for sale on April 1. Stratus Properties owner and CEO Beau Armstrong says he's merely "testing the market" with the listing. While there's no asking price, he expects offers "well in excess of $200 million." The concerts at the Moody won't go away, he says, because they're contractually protected by a long-term agreement.

C3's newly opened Brazos Hall (204 E. Fourth) won't see much music action. The primary focus, according to C3's Charles Attal while standing in line for Prince during SXSW, will be private events, with occasional concerts. Two of those happen this month as Capital Cities, Gold Fields, and Kitten load in on April 26 and Sarah Jaffe on April 27.

Club 606 and Lipstick24 rebranding as the Empire Control Room & Garage seemed like a temporary arrangement for SXSW. Nope. The keys have been turned over to New York recording studio owner Steve Sternschein, who recently signed a 10-year lease on the properties. Sternschein says they'll have the capability to run music on three stages at once: in the garage, on the patio, and in the Control Room. The latter's been outfitted with a high-tech visual projection system that will be utilized during concerts. The Control Room's slated to open in May, with a grand opening bonanza scheduled for June, for which you can RSVP now at Visual artists, musicians, and other creative types interested in getting involved should contact [email protected].

Bubble Puppy at the 2011 Austin Music Awards: (l-r) Roy Cox, David Fore, Rod Prince, Todd Potter° Golden Years Wagoneers
Bubble Puppy at the 2011 Austin Music Awards: (l-r) Roy Cox, David Fore, Rod Prince, Todd Potter ° Golden Years Wagoneers (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

Half Notes

Roy Cox, bassist for the Central Texas psychedelic legends Bubble Puppy, died on April 2 at the age of 64. Cox played with the Bad Seeds and the Laughing Kind before co-founding Bubble Puppy, which had an international hit in 1969 with "Hot Smoke & Sassafras." "Roy was a prolific writer and a world-class bass player in his time," remembered bandmate Rod Prince. After Bubble Puppy dissolved, Cox and Prince joined up with Steppenwolf's Jerry Edmonton and Goldy McJohn to form Manbeast. Cox was honored with a Texas Legacy Music Award for his work with Laughing Kind and inducted into the Austin Music Awards' Hall of Fame with Bubble Puppy.

KDRP radio in Dripping Springs has gone solar. The choice Americana station, which broadcasts at 100.1FM in Austin, stands as the first local frequency to get 100% of its power from the sun. The generation system came from a partnership with local company Freedom Solar Power. Tune in and support.

Aaron Sinclair hadn't played an electric guitar onstage in a decade before his band Frank Smith recorded Nineties. The title pays homage to the era of music that turned him onto the six-string. "All our other records have been more country or folky," explains the songwriting savant. "Recently though, I put the acoustic guitar up and started playing electric. It reminded me of early Nineties alternative rock like the Posies." The uncommon case of a band's 10th album being its loudest, Nineties comes dense with delayed guitar and bantam keyboard leads backing Sinclair's vulnerable yet adventurous poetry. Get it while it's hot at their CD release show at Holy Mountain on Saturday, April 13, with the Preservation, East Cameron Folkcore, and Growl.

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Wagoneers, Paul McCartney, Chaos in Tejas, Stratus Properties, Brazos Hall, Club 606, Roy Cox, Bubble Puppy, Frank Smith, KDRP

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