Archive for the ‘Texas music’ category

The Night James McMurtry Came To Town

April 26, 2009

Saturday afternoon I was playing with Braydon, my brilliant, beautiful grandson, anticipating a quiet evening at home, when Scott called wanting to know if we were planning to go to James McMurtry at Cain’s that evening. Oops. Louise, especially, been looking forward to it for months because she has a thing for ‘smart badboys’, but we’d thought it was still weeks away. Yes, yes, yes! we replied. Scott was thrilled that he wouldn’t have to go alone. We called Braydon’s daddy and told him to come get Braydon by 8 o’clock because we had a prior engagement.

There followed no less than six frantic phone calls from Scott over the next two hours. They were sold out. They had only two tickets left, but there were three of us. He was going to pull the “Folk Salad Card”. He was preparing to beg. Begging had worked! He’d be at Sound Pony having a Marshall’s & could we bring him a Big Mac because he, the poor beggar, hadn’t had anything to eat. Louise put her lips on and we left. Soon we were sitting at the bar and Scott and I were having the McDonalds Happy Meal for Adults, which is a quarter pounder with cheese, French fries, and Marshall’s Pilsner. We shared our fries with Aaron the bartender. Louise ordered a tequila. “Do you want the salt and the lime?” “If it comes in a kit, I want the whole kit.” She drank two. Smart badgirl.

On to McMurtry. It was crowded but not to the extent that would alarm a fire inspector. McMurtry took the stage and delivered songs for the next two hours with the unmovable stern countenance of an old testament prophet with bad news for sinners. When the first song began, a woman had a seizure and was carried out through the crowd, neck arched, shoes missing. Let’s hope she was okay. He wore a dark fedora, shoulder length dark curly hair, spectacles, and a long goatee & moustache. Louise thought he looked like a rabbi. Rabbi McMurtry? Oy.

Looking around the room, Scott and I decided, by a logic that even we don’t understand, that the room was filled with the Folk Salad Demographic. These were surely our listeners. One other thing we noticed about the crowd. It was populated with an unusual number of large men. Why? It’s a mystery. What about James McMurtry’s music appeals to large men? Large men who insist on standing shoulder to shoulder between you and the stage? All we could see for most of the first set was a continent of backs grinding against each other like tectonic plates.

Most of his set was songs from his latest “Just Us Kids” which I hadn’t yet listened to. He’s a brilliant lyricist, on a par with Townes Van Zandt. He’s also a first rate guitarist. The music –Two guitars, bass and drums— is very lean, with a powerful, driving, purifying groove. Many of the crowd knew all the words to all the songs. The song everyone was waiting for, of course, was the Oklahoma epic, “Choctaw Bingo”, and when we first heard those opening chords a mighty roar rose up. Large men pumped their fists into the air and high-fived. And the line in that song that everyone was especially waiting for, the line about getting in between his two sexpot cousins with a hard-on like a bodark fencepost that you could hang a gate from, brought the crowd to a fever pitch. Hats were thrown into the air. Women howled. A fight erupted up front when two plates collided, which surprised and amused McMurtry enough to force a quick grin. I’m not making any of this up.

When the set ended, McMurtry thanked the crowd, stepped offstage, the lights came up, and he fended off well-wishers without breaking stride or making eye contact as he strode to the bar, ordered a whiskey, and exited to the greenroom. The band had managed to slip away while all eyes were on him. He enjoyed his drink (we presume) in a leisurely fashion as the crowd chanted his name over the house music. After several minutes, long enough to make us wonder, he re-emerged for his encore. This is how an encore really should be done, don’t you think? Make ‘em wonder.

We left during the encore. It was not quite midnight when we got into bed. “The room is spinning,” Louise said. “Close your eyes,” I replied.


Review of Gurf Morlix CD- Last Exit To Happyland

January 26, 2009

Gurf Morlix new cd LAST EXIT TO HAPPYLAND is anything but, unless he missed the ramp. Don’t get me wrong it is an exquisitely beautiful work in it’s bare bones simplicity, but there is a theme of regret that runs through the songs.

Nothing illustrates this more than the opening track, “One More Second”. It is a cautionary tale of a man who sets out to do murder and is filled with remorse the instant he pulls the trigger. Then there is the song “Crossroads”, where we are given another take on the old blues fable of encountering the devil at the crossroads and striking a deal.

It is timely, because in these days we are all more acutely aware of the collective cost of our lust for more of the world. He reminds us there is a price to pay for making that deal, as he sings, “you’re gonna get cut and you’re gonna bleed.”

This theme of regret doesn’t just lurk in the hearts of murderers and those who make deals with devil, for Gurf captures the universal experience of lost love perfectly in the song “She’s A River.” It is a beautiful sad lament about a relationship that’s ended and the sometimes fragile, transient nature of love. This is a missed love that like a river has moved on and the regret is palpable, made even more so by the accompanying harmony vocal from Patty Griffin.

Gurf is known probably more for his production skills than his songwriting, but he is accomplished at both, having released five solo CD’s and played on, engineered and produced artists like Lucinda Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Slaid Cleaves, Mary Gauthier, Peter Case, Robert Earl Keen, Jim Lauderdale, Tom Russell, and Ruthie Foster. That is just a partial list, go to <a href=" “>Gurf Discograhy for the complete discography.

It is easy to see why he is such a sought after producer, for the production on “Last Exit To Happyland” is sparse, yet the effect is not bone-chilling, rather it is as if he has stripped the song down deeper than bone to the life-giving marrow that sustains the structure of the song, pulsing right through to our hearts.

If you wish to hear an audio review of the Gurf Morlix CD “Last Exit To Happyland”, then go to <a href=" “>CD REVIEW where you will find a review with snippets of the songs mentioned in this review as well as reviews of Patty Griffin, The Wailin’ Jennys, Joan Osborne, Ray Wylie Hubbard and others.

Red Dirt Music in the New York Times

January 25, 2009

Okay, this isn’t exactly news, but it’s news to us. We were browsing on Cross Canadian Ragweed’s website and found a link to a really well done article on the Red Dirt Music scene from the New York Times, November, 2007. Thought we’d share. For some reason, we can’t seem to manage to actually insert the link here, so just copy & paste the following url to read the NYT article:


Red Dirt Harvest Festival 2007

September 10, 2007

Okemah, Ok. Sept. 1-2, 2007

The Red Dirt Harvest Festival held each September at The Grape Ranch, a vineyard six miles south of Okemah, Oklahoma, has, in just three years, become a major gathering of the tribe for Oklahoma’s Red Dirt musicians and fans. The festival is a unique opportunity to get a full dose of the pure, unadulterated strain of Oklahoma Red Dirt music. All the performers on this year’s roster are from Oklahoma, and most have known each other for years, decades even –as have many of their fans. Speaking of the fans, this may have been a watershed year for Red Dirt music, as it has begun attracting large flocks of teenage girls. The girls were there to dig the younger generation of musicians like Stoney Larue, No Justice, Dustin Pittsley, Randy Crouch (;-)), Mike McClure, and Okemah’s own rising star, John Fulbright, who is so young that it is rumored that two years ago he had to skip school to play at the festival. We hope that’s true.

Several of the bands performing at the festival have been dominating the Texas music charts this past year and it was clear that they have been working a lot. Brandon Jenkins, Stoney Larue, No Justice, and Mike McClure each put on a well-rehearsed show, settin’ ‘em up and knockin’ ‘em down, boom (Hey, y’all, it’s great to be back in Oklahoma!), boom (Y’all havin’ a good time?), boom (We got time for one more! This’n’s done real well for us on the Texas charts! We love ya!).

What their shows lacked in the kind of laid back spontaneity we associate with Red Dirt, they more than made up for in the solid high energy Rock & Roll delivery of one great song after another from the extensive and growing Red Dirt Canon. Those from an earlier generation of Red Dirt musicians, such as Tom Skinner’s Science Project, Randy Crouch, Bob Childers, The Red Dirt Rangers, Greg Jacobs, Bill Erickson, and other Reddirt Graybeards, were, as always, onstage to amuse and entertain themselves as much as the audience, sitting in on each others’ sets, tossing offhand jokes around the sometimes crowded stage, and conjuring that organic magic that always occurs when they settle into a loose, comfortable groove. This is the source of Red Dirt music -its communal sensibility, its groove, and its canon.

Missing in action this year: Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Jimmy LaFave, and Cross Canadian Ragweed.


“The sudden influx of teenage girl fans has greatly improved the Red Dirt fashion scene. Out with last year’s ubiquitous cowboy hats-and crocs ensemble, and in with short, short denim skirts, flipflops and toe rings. For campside morning attire, velvet robes and hightop tennis shoes never seem to go out of style. Onstage remained a fashion-free zone, where even the familiar pearl snap shirt was abandoned this year in favor of the musicians’ uniform of choice for outdoor work: tee shirt and jeans.”

*disclaimer: Terry Hutson is not really our fashion reporter, and this is not his dispatch, although he does, in fact, have a white beard. We just named him to mess with him a little. Sorry, Terry.


Stoney Larue

Greg Johnson, the emcee, and proprietor of the legendary OKC venue The Blue Door, caused a few titters in the crowd when he introduced Stoney Larue by welcoming him “back to the Blue Door!”

Is there any performer more at ease in the spotlight than Stoney Larue? He has a real presence onstage and seems to be genuinely having a great time up there. He also can really sing, writes great Red Dirt songs, and has assembled a crackerjack band. We predict he’ll be the next Red Dirt act to break out of Texas-Oklahoma regional fame into national prominence. If they could just get him to wear the danged hat instead of that red bandanna they probably would have already made him a star in Nashville. More likely he’ll do it his own way, ala CCR.

John Fulbright

Okemah’s own fair-haired, freckle-faced favorite son (well, maybe second favorite), John Fulbright astonished everyone again, as he did in July at the Woody Guthrie Festival “over in town”, with how much he’s grown in confidence and style over the last two years. He sings like Tom Skinner, knows a lot of great old songs, writes, and plays a mean keyboard as well as acoustic guitar.

To paraphrase Emerson to Whitman, we greet you at the beginning of a great career, kid.

Travis Linville

It’s kind of thrilling to watch Norman, Oklahoma’s Travis Linville play the guitar. Most guitarists become ultimately predictable, playing within the conventions of their genre. There is the time-honored contract of fulfilled expectations between genre artists and genre fans of all disciplines, be it detective novels, landscape paintings, horror movies, or even the amalgam that is Red Dirt music. The thrill is in never quite knowing where Linville is taking you although he knows exactly where he’s going with the music at all times.

Linville’s music is more descended from Bob Wills than most of his fellow Red Dirt musicians, so our relative unfamiliarity with the form may account for the unexpected turns in his playing. Regardless, his playing is nuanced, disciplined, and confident, and when he cuts loose it’s in short controlled bursts of pure hellfire that seem to come out of nowhere and are gone before you quite know what hit you.

Linville and his bandmate, fiddle player and vocalist Jeremy Watkins, are very simpatico in taste and style. Watkins sang a perfect reading of “Trouble In Mind”.

No Justice

Stillwater’s No Justice is a straight-ahead solid guitar band. Two electric guitars, one acoustic guitar, electric bass and drums. Nary a fiddle, mandolin or accordion within twenty feet of the stage. Their songs and their show are airtight. Boom, boom, boom. They developed such a momentum, such a faith in their prepared show, that they sang and played right through a sound outage without apparently noticing.

They’re among the youngest of the Red Dirt acts, and the teenyboppers were out in full regalia dancing and singing along to their music between the front row and the stage. We know from the Texas music charts, that No Justice is getting a lot of airplay in Texas, but how, we wondered, did these Oklahoma girls hear and learn their songs? Is No Justice being played on the radio in Oklahoma? On stations that teenage girls would be listening to?

Mike McClure Band

A story with a moral:

While the Mike McClure Band was setting up, a plan was hatched at one end and passed down the first row of patrons (who’d staked out our positions in the full afternoon sun and sweated it out until after dark, so we had an investment) for everyone to scoot their camp chairs all the way up against the stage to prevent the expected influx of mini-skirted teenagers from crowding up front to dance and sing along, thus obscuring our view of the band. For some of us this presented a real dilemma, so the execution of the plan only made it about halfway down the row, where it began to meet with halfhearted compliance, meaning our chairs got scooted up, just to go along, but not all the way, and the further along the row, the less compliance, thus creating a wedge of open space in front of the stage. This wedge was all the girls needed.

In retrospect, nothing could have stopped their grrl power from flowing in. Even at the supposedly sealed end of the row, they somehow filled the tiniest niches. They were oblivious to those of us behind them in their unrestrained Red Dirt Rock & Roll joy. Soon, all we seated patrons could see were young mini-skirted behinds waving enthusiastically mere inches from our faces. Some of the girls even had brief choreographed moves worked out. (They knew the songs! How?) We grumbled and rolled our eyes at each other up and down the row but with rapidly diminishing conviction. Soon, we were asking ourselves, “Who’s really being the assholes here, us or them?” Clearly it was us. Who were we to try to inhibit these fan girls’ fun?

The moral of this story is “Either get up and dance, or get out of the way!” We got out of the way.

How was the band, you ask? Well, I was kind of distracted. I’m sure they were great as ever. It was, after all, Mike McClure, Tom Skinner, and Eric Hansen.

Greg Jacobs

Jacobs is a real Oklahoma folksinger. His body of work is filled with stories that come right out of the history of Oklahoma, and form a foundation for the folk-end of the Red Dirt Canon. He’s also a teacher and a rancher. We talked for a while under the beer tent Sunday afternoon. Until this summer he hadn’t performed for about three years. In July he’d played a set for Okemah’s Woody Guthrie Festival, and hadn’t been at all pleased with his performance. But, since he’d decided to perform again, when and where it pleases him, he “got back on the horse” and accepted an invitation to play at the Red Dirt Harvest Festival. One of the great things about Jacobs is that he’s a musician you can talk to about things other than music. While we chatted about the weather, the cattle business, and the price of hay, several musicians came by to tell him how much they’d enjoyed his set, how great it was to see him back onstage.

He told us that in July a fan had come up to him and said, with evident concern, “Greg, it’s so good to see you out again. How is your health?”

“I don’t know. What have you heard?” Greg replied with surprise.

Tom Skinner’s Sunday Morning Gospel Sing

Mid-morning Sunday, the soulful and soul-stirring sounds of old fashioned songs of praise wafted gently through the pecan grove from the second stage. It was just what we needed to give us the strength and faith to get up and make coffee.


Six miles south of the small town of Okemah, turn right just before a notorious crossing of the Canadian River, then another mile or so west along a dirt (red) road beside the river. The stages and campground are set in the open shade of a mature thirty acre pecan grove in the bottomland alongside the Canadian. The river this year was flowing full, quick, silent, and thick as red-eye gravy. The grounds are meticulously mown and groomed, and outdoor showers are provided, as are plenty of strategically located portable johns. There are several large public fire rings in the shady grove with free firewood. The vineyard and tasting room is up the hill from the grove, providing an overview of the event. The hillside creates a natural amphitheatre for large crowds.


The weather was splendid. Cool starry nights lit by a fat moon for all-night campground picking, and warm sunny days for napping and lounging in the pecan grove, indulging in more campground picking, visiting with old and new friends, or enjoying the afternoon acoustic sets.


The Grape Ranch has an extensive list of wines they blend, ferment, and bottle from California grapes. This year they will offer their first homegrown vintage, from 2005’s harvest. They had hoped to have it ready by festival time, but it will be a few more weeks. Tip: The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon is expensive –and worth it!

You Might Be a Red Dirt Musician If….

March 23, 2007

A lot of musicians are calling themselves Red Dirt musicians and fans these days, but no two people seem to agree just exactly what that means, so, how’s an up-and-coming young guitar (or, for that matter, accordion) player supposed to know if he’s Red Dirt or not?

You can help! Just for fun, complete the following sentence:

“You might be a Red Dirt musician if….”

Here’s a couple of example to give you the idea:

“You might be a Red Dirt musician if Tom Skinner has recorded one of your songs.”

“You might be a Red Dirt musician if you own a well-thumbed copy of the “Bob Childers Great Big Book of Guitar Chords”.

Have fun with it!


Okies Dominate “Roots Music Report’s” Charts

January 26, 2007

For more details visit and go to the News Page. See the link at right in our Blogroll. Here’s the numbers:

Roots Music Report’s Roots Rock Chart has Mike McClure’s latest CD “Foam” at #1.

Their Roots Country Chart has his fellow Oklahoma Red Dirt artists Jason Boland, Stony Larue, and Brandon Jenkins at #s 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

Their Roots Blues Chart has Tulsa Sound veteran J. J. Cale at #3.

Adam Carroll –An Appreciation

November 20, 2006

Adam Carroll

Adam Carroll was in Tulsa a few days ago, along with his traveling companion Gordy Quist. The last time Adam was here we fed him gumbo, if memory serves. It was a pleasure to visit with him again, and, of course, a real treat to have him perform his songs and stories in an intimate house-concert setting. The music bed for his songs is pleasantly familiar, played on guitar and harmonica. He’s a very good harmonica player, by the way. He’s not a belt-it-out singer, but his storyteller’s voice conveys well the wry humor and yearning in his stories and sketches, set mostly in his native east Texas.

Adam is an unusually fine lyricist. You listen carefully because he takes you to unexpected places, often in the company of people familiar and strange at the same time. There’s the girl who drive a Karmann Ghia with the stereo torn out. There’s the Sno-Kone man and his desirable sister. There’s that sad, funny couple with the Red Bandanna blues.

And then there’s “you” (whoever you are):

I was thinking of you when the rice birds flew

When the false dawn came with the morning dew

You’re a thunderstorm raging outside my garage

You’re the white shirt peeking through my camouflage

From “Rice Birds” Copyright 2005, Adam Carroll

I’d bet you didn’t hear that last line coming. If you’re like me, you believe you know just what he meant, but in a way you can’t explain, even to yourself.

Adam seems to be a genuinely shy person. His endearingly inept attempts at between-song patter more often than not dissolve into non-sequiturs followed by “….well, anyway, here’s the song….” See the photo of him on the cover of his CD “Far Away Blues”, with his downcast eyes and shy smile and that’s what you see when he’s performing. It’s also what you see when he’s in the kitchen talking about the weather. There are five photos of Adam in that CD packaging, and only in the last one does he turn and look you in the eye (from a safe distance).

Before I got to know a lot of performers, I had naïvely assumed that they were all extroverts who naturally preferred to be the center of attention in a roomful of people. While that’s true for some, I’ve come to believe that, statistically, singers and musicians are no more or less extroverted than any other group of people. A surprising number of them are actually quite shy in conversation, and getting up on stage under a spotlight to face a crowd of strangers is difficult, dangerous work for them. Yet they do it, time and again. Why?

Maybe it’s because performing a set of songs is a highly structured arrangement between the performer and everyone else in the room, which makes it actually less intimidating than unpredictable, freeform encounters. A shy performer can take a lot of comfort in the fact that they have to memorize the entire evening beforehand, and then play it out, to applause and laughter, just like last night. Difficulties notwithstanding, Adam finds the spotlight and tells us original stories in rhythm and rhyme, and we’re glad. –Rich