Residential Address: Jon Dee Graham and the Snakes of Central Texas
The family values of rock & roll and “neurological events of unknown origin”
Wednesdays @ Continental Club, 9:30pm-close
The mid-tempo beat behind William Harries Graham rolls through the open doors of the Continental Club and out onto South Congress on a Wednesday night, setting a scene so Austin it would make Richard Linklater grab a camera and yell, "ACTION!"
Upon entering, that feeling is, of course, amplified.
The Continental has been at mecca-status for many a twang-loving vintage car collector around the world, but it always felt like more of a family affair to me, employing much the same staff and regular performers from when I worked there 16 years ago.
At the top of that merry list of mainstays is a gravelly bucket of heart, guts, and talent who has been holding down the midweek slot for a quarter century, Mr. Jon Dee Graham.
Graham's credentials and skills on the six-string, as well as his reliability, have earned him one of the most diverse and regular followings in town. Since joining Austin punk progenitors the Skunks in 1979, he has worked with or influenced pretty much anyone that has laid eyes on him, including Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, Alejandro Escovedo, John Doe, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Ian McLagan.
He also happens to be the father of the young singer/guitarist playing on stage when I walked in.
Recently, the elder Graham had a health scare that sent him to the hospital. He talked about the incident in the true manner of any great performer: on stage, into a microphone, and with a good punchline.
"It wasn't a stroke," Graham explains a couple songs in with his band, the Fighting Cocks. "The nurse wrote down on my form that I had a 'neurological event of unknown origin.' When she wrote it, I thought to myself, 'A neurological event of unknown origin?! Hell ... I have those every day!'"
The audience laughs, and then, as if to spite his current condition, he turns it up a notch, launching into the crowd favorite "Big Sweet Life."
This momentum carries through the rest of his set, building up to his last song, "Shoeshine Charlie," for which he is joined by Bobby "Rock" Landgraf of tonight's headliner, Snakes of Central Texas.
Landgraf has been performing this ritual with Graham since running sound for him here 15 years ago. Judging by the way Graham leans into Bobby throughout the song, creating a visible energy stream of love and respect between them, you can tell he appreciates it.
A family affair.
Following a local legend who has just delivered a great performance is an unenviable task for any musician, but when you've got the insane number of live shows and skill that the members of Snakes of Central Texas have all individually acquired, you don't sweat it, ya rock it.
Gordie Johnson and Bobby Landgraf have both brought shreds of many colors to a wide array of stages around the world. Johnson's a founding member of platinum-selling Canadian reggae rock act Big Sugar and cowboy metal trio Grady; Landgraf plays lead guitar in another high-volume Texas tower of amplified power, Honky, and also lends his leads to the Southern metal supergroup Down.
After a quick changeover, Johnson launches into some heavy blues that are clearly meant to grab the audience's attention and say, "Hey! Don't go anywhere." Mission accomplished. By the second song, the volume is up and so is the crowd.
The Snakes of Central Texas glide between heavy grooves, tones, and decades, with Landgraf premiering his newly acquired bass skills and drummer Brian Mendes keeping it all on course effortlessly with subtle yet powerful rolls in all the right places.
Just when you think the night has peaked and all the day-rockers have closed their tabs, the industry folk start to show up, creating a sociable balance between onlookers and co-workers, dabblers and die-hards, strangers and friends.
By this hour, there's a little less dancing and a lot more toasting.
As things flow on to the other side of 1am, Johnson asks the room, "How many more y'all want?" prompting an enthusiastic, "10 more!" from the bartenders, and before you can scream, "Hell yeah," he punches into a version of Willie Nelson's "Whiskey River" so heavy it would make the jaws of Steppenwolf drop in awe.
Ending with Honky's "Undertaker" drives the night safely into the station.
Upon returning to the silence of my car, it sets in that between the Snakes' hefty hooks and Graham's heartfelt dedications, the ringing in my ears is matching the swelling of my heart in equal measure.