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  • 2020: A memorial playlist

    2020MusicGRAPHIC 2020 Music

    By Chris Edwards

    I was going to write something here about the pettiness over the manufactured controversy as to whether or not someone with a degree in letters deserves the title of doctor, but I won’t plow that ground today. Instead, I’ll venture to put out something a bit more enlightening within this space.

    But in case you were wondering, yes, those with Ph.D.s are typically referred to as “Doctor.” I’m pretty sure nobody argued the semantics as to Stephen Hawking or Harold Bloom’s doctoral titles, and I’m sure Jill Biden did the work to earn that title as well, but I digress.

    If you are reading this, then congratulations, you’ve made it through this maligned misadventure of a year. In retrospect 2020 won’t likely be thought of as a shorthand phrase for great/perfect vision, nor will it be immediately synonymous with award-winning television investigative journalism programs. It will likely become a curse word.

    In between all of the waves of legendary figures from the stage, screen and letters taking their last breaths, the swells of unrest on our soil, the threat of “murder hornets” and the exhausting theatrics surrounding the presidential election, it’s been one helluva mess. Those are just a couple of examples to cite from the headlines. There are many more, and the obvious one that has dominated 99% of the front-page stories since March, well, I’m not going to mention it by name here. I’m going to keep this column free of that name, with the mindset that all efforts, advances and awareness will help vanquish it in 2021.

    Instead, what I’m going to do here is to make you a playlist to finish up this doozy of a year. I tried to think of a theme to put a fork in this year, in writing, and came up empty. However, out of all the passings we’ve weathered as a species this year, there have been a disturbing number of great musicians who’ve died.

    I’m going to craft you a playlist below comprised of many of those great artists. Your assignment is to cue these up on Spotify, Youtube or whatever means you have at your disposal, since most of you probably don’t do physical media nowadays. Plus, with cultural amnesia being what it is, there’s probably a lot of names and songs here you’ve forgotten about. So, relive and breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve made it, and although the artists behind these great songs listed below weren’t so lucky, their gifts live on.

    Saluting Late Legends: A 2020 Playlist

    John Prine: “Summer’s End” – John Prine was the poet laureate of the blue-collar American, and his unpretentious, masterful country-folk music never waned in quality throughout a long and storied career. This gem from his final album, The Tree of Forgiveness, is a bittersweet masterpiece. Try to get through it without shedding a bit of pain water. I dare thee.

    Charlie Daniels: “Long-Haired Country Boy” – What better song is there about living life free and easy? Say what you want about Charlie’s later-day incarnation as a political pundit, but early on, his musicianship and songwriting were unparalleled.

    Van Halen: “Everybody Wants Some” – It seems impossible to imagine the world of rock guitar without its virtuoso Eddie as part of it, but here we are. Although EVH recorded spellbinding solos and wrote some of the most iconic songs in the rock lexicon, there’s a feel-good vibe that permeates this tune more than anything else he and his band recorded.

    Jerry Jeff Walker: “I Makes Money” – You really can’t go wrong with any Scamp Walker tune. This jaunty acoustic number appeared on his first album, way before he became synonymous with the Austin scene and the freewheelin’ outlaw country sound. “I Makes Money (Money Don’t Make Me)” pretty much sums up JJW’s entire philosophy to life. Even though by the time he recorded his first record he was already a rich man due to the success of his eternal “Mr. Bojangles” song, he never wanted to be anything but a “Gypsy Songman” (as another of his classics is titled.)

    Billy Joe Shaver: “When the Word Was Thunderbird” – Over a circular four-chord groove, the greatest honky-tonk poet this state ever knew manages to lament a price markup on rotgut wine and conflate that heartbreaking issue with another kind of heartbreak. Be sure and find the version of this song from the Electric Shaver album, which combines Billy Joe’s ragged-but-right vocals and poetry with his son Eddy’s hard-rock guitar skills. Eddy was a monster talent gone far too young and now he’s jammin’ in heaven with his papa.

    Doug Supernaw: “She Never Looks Back” – Sure Doug Supernaw was a hitmaker and a big deal in the ‘90s, but he might have been the most underrated of all those Texans who hit the big time back then. Every song he recorded was a gem, and this number showcases just how cool and catchy he could be. This tune, off his third major label album You Still Got Me wasn’t the chartbuster that that album’s lead-off single “Not Enough Hours in the Night” was but it should have been.

    Joe Diffie: “If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets” – Like his fellow ‘90s hitmaker right above him on this list, Diffie was most at home with traditional-leaning sounds, like this catchy story song from 1991.

    Hal Ketchum: “I Know Where Love Lives” – Another ‘90s hitmaker lost to the year that just wouldn’t relent. Armed with a soulful, incredibly expressive set of vocal cords and the mind and heart of a serious songwriter, this tune is one of those timeless classics that sounds like it already existed for centuries before it was released. Also: the way he holds that note at the end is just superhuman.

    Charley Pride: “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” – One of the finest vocalists in recorded music, Charley Pride was like a downhome Frank Sinatra, a consummate pro who excelled at interpreting songs, and oh what songs they were. This classic hit, from the pen of Pride’s choice songwriter Ben Peters, uses a great metaphor to demonstrate the duality of keeping a romance alive. I guess Mr. Pride is now kissing the angels good morning, for real.

    Justin Townes Earle: “Harlem River Blues” – This choice cut from Steve’s boy off his album of the same name just shows what a gift we lost all too soon.

    Bill Withers: “Lean On Me” – This song is one of the 10 or so classic American songs written and recorded in the last hundred years. If you’ve never heard it or you haven’t heard it in a long time, fix that, like yesterday. This song says it best, simply and beautifully, about something we all need. ‘Nuff said.

    KT Oslin: “’80s Ladies” – An oft-overlooked legend, KT Oslin had a stellar, but brief run of albums in the decade that this song references. It’s a catchy middle finger to ageism and sexism and should be a karaoke perennial.


    What do you think? Is this list appropriate for 2020? Discuss it here at the ETxN Forum.

  • A fadin’ renegade’s last stand

    doug supernaw 2FILE PHOTO Douglas Anderson Supernaw

    By Chris Edwards

    “Pass the word I’ve done the best I can.”

    - Doug Supernaw, “Fadin’ Renegade”

    Each year the Country Music Association rolls out its exceedingly ridiculous parade of high-dollar fashion and spraytans and back-slapping. There was a fuss made in the aftermath of the most recent ceremony, about how it did not include tributes to three bona-fide country legends who had passed: John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver. Two days after the show aired, another legend of country music passed right here in deep East Texas, Mr. Douglas Anderson Supernaw.

    Had the long, tall Texan died prior to the broadcast, I doubt they would have included a tribute to him, either.

    The CMAs, like so much of what is trotted out to the general public as representative of the “music business” is fake, and Doug Supernaw was not. That guy was as real as Death Valley summers are hot.

    If you’re a casual music fan of a certain age, you might remember when Supe was a big mainstream star, a time when “Reno” and “I Don’t Call Him Daddy” were played dozens of times a day on the radio. It was a time when there was still a place for country music that sounded like, well, country music, on the top of the Billboard charts, and there was a place in the big radio markets for great songs. Although that was all coming up on 30 years ago, those records, like Red and Rio Grande and You Still Got Me hold up as amazing collections of songs to this day.

    doug supernawFILE PHOTO Douglas Anderson Supernaw

    To most folks for whom music is not a big part of their life (and shame on them for their poor life choices), Supernaw was relegated to the “I haven’t heard anything about him in years” status, due to his disillusionment with the music business and other factors I won’t address here, but he was always around and always relevant. To that end, it was an honor to be able to chronicle his return to full-time touring and what was supposed to be a comeback to recorded product for this magazine’s inaugural issue back in 2018.

    Sadly, it was a comeback that was cut all-too short. He was on a tear, playing great shows, promoting an album that showcased re-recordings of many of his old hits, and reminding the world that he was a force to be reckoned with. However, a nagging cough and other symptoms led to an eventual diagnosis of advanced forms of cancer in early 2019. The doctors, from what I’m told, did not give him much time, but they had no idea just how tough a man Doug Supernaw really was. He beat one of the cancers, and, after some aggressive treatments and the caring prayers and meditative energies from legions of fans and friends, it looked like he had beaten it all for good.

    It was not to be, though.

    The last time I saw him was during the Christmas parade in downtown Livingston in 2019. He was helping out in his wife Cissy’s shop downtown, and he looked great. Seeing him greet customers as they walked in, and help out with moving furniture and other goods, made me wonder if any of the folks coming into the store knew they were in the presence of greatness.

    Things seemed to be going well for him in the drawn-out debacle that was 2020, but then in September, word had gotten around via social media that his health had taken a drastic and sudden wrong turn. That news was a punch to my solar plexus, and I’m sure it took the breath of many fans upon discovery.

    The first time I saw Doug Supernaw onstage was at one of the Jasper Lions Club rodeos in the early ‘90s. I’d tagged along with my mom, and was blown away, not just by the music and his performance, but by the example I saw after the show.

    I stood in line with my rodeo program to be autographed and waited impatiently. I still loathe standing in lines to this day, otherwise I’m about as longsuffering as a Hindu cow. What Doug was doing, though, was making sure that he not only signed whatever the fans in line had for him, but that he got to hang out and talk to each and every one of them for a bit. All of this, in spite of the fact that the sack full of Burger King goodies sitting on the table behind him was getting cold.

    Through the years I’ve heard stories about how he played benefit shows for families in need, or for causes near to his heart, when he could have played big-paying shows, instead. I’ve heard stories about how he gave of his time to help coach Little League teams or would spring into action is someone needed help with their horses. He’d do anything for anyone. He was just a regular, very real guy, albeit one with a massive amount of talent and a beautiful, beautiful soul.

    Despite how much he tried to blend in, however, there was just something magnetic about Doug. He had a sort of charisma that made him stand out wherever he was. I remember a few years ago hanging out with him at a Texas Country Music Association event in Longview, and there were a good many musicians, industry folks and fans coming and going; oblivious to most everything and everyone else but him. Everyone wanted to stop and talk to him.

    Another time, at a party in San Marcos, after a music festival he’d played, he was the center of attention, even though it seemed like he would’ve been content to just sit on the host’s couch and eat pizza. Everyone at the party hung on his words about getting to meet Neil Young, or stories about playing Farm Aid events and of what the Beach Boys were really like.

    chris and dougMOLLIE LASALLE | ETXN The late, great Doug Supernaw with the author, backstage.

    One of the stories I’ve heard that best illustrates Doug Supernaw in a nutshell comes from the Midlandbased singer/songwriter Scott Hayley, whom Supe was mentoring shortly before he entered into hospice care. Hayley recently recounted via Facebook posting of how he and Doug were on a road-trip, and Tanya Tucker’s version of the Allen Shamblin tune “The House That Built Me” came on the radio. The song, which was a big hit when it was recorded by Miranda Lambert, recounts a house full of memories once occupied by the narrator, who returns as an adult to the house she grew up in.

    When it hit radio with Lambert’s rendition, it was at a time that Supernaw wasn’t likely paying much attention to pop culture or what was on the radio. Hayley said that he looked over at his friend, who was riding shotgun, and the beauty of the song struck him to the point of bringing him to tears. “It’s so beautiful,” is what he said of the song.

    That story spoke volumes to me about what kind of a guy Doug was. He was, on the surface, a fun-loving fellow who was the life of the party, and someone who loved to laugh (and make others laugh) but he was also a guy with an enormous amount of talent and a truly beautiful soul.

    The wave of mainstream popularity that Supernaw enjoyed in the early 1990s may have been his own slice of 15 minutes of fame, but he was important to many people far beyond the short, fickle memories and attention spans of gauche mainstream culture. All of that CMA Awards glitz and readymade Instagram-posting “outlaw” stuff is, again, utterly fake and Doug Supernaw was not.

    His success and legacy prove that every now and again the good guys finish first and come out on top, and lately, that same concept holds true with the popularity of real artists like Jason Isbell, Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton making legit art.

    Their popularity probably seems like an aberration to those whose image of country music is defined by Jason Aldean and rapped verses about tractors and beer over computer-generated drumbeats. I’m sure that if Doug Supernaw were just starting out today, he would seem like an outlier, confined to what mainstream radio looks at as the ghetto of “Americana” or “traditional country.” But then again, the real music and real people making that music are still out there. It just requires more effort to find them than most folks are willing to commit.

    To many around Livingston, no doubt, he was just Doug, a magnetic and charming fellow who could be seen around town just enjoying life and the company of friends and his lovely wife Cissy.

    If such a thing as an angel on earth exists, it is his widow. Supposedly, in the mid-90’s when Doug was hanging out in the area, after a gig, he spotted her and said something to the effect of one day he’d return and marry her. Well, he must’ve had a bit of Nostradamus in him, because that’s what happened, and he not only found the love of his life, but a renewed vitality and commitment to his artform.

    God bless Doug Supernaw, a most incredible artist and an even better human being.

  • CMA needs to remember legends

    Country Music Stock Image 111920Stock photo courtesy of Pixabay

    By Chris Edwards

    There used to be this thing called country music, actually it was an artform.

    Under its big umbrella, there existed a long, storied history of great artists and entertainers; everyone from pioneers like The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie to early sensations like the great Hank Williams, Bob Wills and George Jones to Texan iconoclasts like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Waylon Jennings, have all blazed their own respective trails while remaining true to the sake of the song. They all wrote and sang songs about the common man’s trials and tribulations; the joy and the pain came through clear in great, universal melodies and lyrics.

    As with any artform that becomes commercialized, an organization popped up dedicated to its welfare.

    Formed in 1958, the Country Music Association formed in a Miami hotel room with a small group of industry folks gathering to start an organization to promote and further the reach of country music.

    Last week, the CMA hosted its annual parade of accolades, and although the proceedings were conducted in a different way than they had been in the past, thanks to the pandemic, the level of disrespect was high.

    Headlines popped up the next day that spoke to that level of disrespect, and with good reason. Jason Isbell, whose mainstream popularity is a big win for real, heartfelt art, along with his lovely wife Amanda Shires, severed ties with the CMA due to the organization’s refusal to acknowledge the passing of three giants of country music: John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver.

    There were tributes paid throughout the show to other titans of the genre, such as Charlie Daniels and Joe Diffie, but to slight Prine, Walker and Shaver is unconscionable.

    I didn’t watch the broadcast as it aired, save for a little bit of Luke Combs performing a song that sounded to me like a rip-off of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” but I watched many of the tributes and talked-about moments after the fact online. Now I enjoy Joe Diffie as much as the next guy, and his passing from the coronavirus (followed closely by Prine) was tragic and served as a wake-up call to many about the pandemic, but no way is Diffie a more influential artist than those other three.

    The endless parade of legends passing grew by another a couple of days following the CMA Awards, when Texas legend (and a man I’m proud to call my friend) Doug Supernaw died. Supe was far more commercially successful in his heyday than Prine, Walker or Shaver, but I doubt that even he would have merited a mention in tribute from the CMA had he passed prior to the broadcast.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when an organization that claims it is dedicated to country music cannot even mention Jerry Jeff, the man who wrote “Mr. Bojangles,” one of the most classic, beloved songs in the American songbook. The mentality seems to be “let’s ignore legit legends and focus on Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean,” and the ridiculous, artless cliches of what “country music” is through a modern lens.

    There’s at least some positivity to be found with Combs, who won a wheelbarrow load of hardware from the CMA. Aside from what sounds to me to be a siren call to Steve Earle’s lawyers, Combs at least sounds real. His lyrics strike me as inane twaddle, but he comes across as one of the few artists on what is called country radio nowadays who could actually convincingly sing a Hank, Lefty or Gary Stewart tune.

    So much of what is marketed as country music today seems indicative of a problem our culture has, by and large. So much of the buying power is given to young people, and there seems to be a devaluing of things deemed “obsolete.” It’s all about what is new, sleek and shiny, and marketing what the genre has become as a lifestyle signifier, instead of something rooted in reality.

    If recent events have shown me anything, it’s that it is an absolutely wonderful thing to be able to choose one’s own set of facts tailored to one’s preferred reality. There’s some solace in that, and hey, anything is possible in this accursed year.

    In my preferred reality, these late, great artists mentioned in this column, along with so many others, are still able to sing for us. Also, in that alternate reality, the public still prefers real, honest expressions. Ah well, as long as vinyl is still being pressed and my turntable needle holds up, they’ll all be alive in my house.

  • Country star Supernaw dies

    Doug SupernawFILE PHOTO Doug Supernaw

    From staff reports

    LIVINGSTON – Country star and Livingston resident Doug Supernaw died on the morning of Friday, Nov. 13. Supernaw was 60, and his passing came after a battle with cancer.

    Supernaw’s death was announced on social media by his manager J.J. Morris. “My friend and boss man Doug Supernaw passed away this morning, with his wife Cissy Allen Supernaw at his side,” her post read.

    Other musicians expressed condolences on social media after the news became public. Neal McCoy, a friend of Supernaw’s and fellow ‘90s hitmaker, said “What a good fella and a heck of a singer,” and added a note of encouragement to Supernaw’s wife: “Stay strong Cissy! You have been for a while. Doug couldn’t have been blessed with a better woman, and I’ve heard you say the same thing about him.”

    Supernaw, who was a native of Bryan, grew up in Inwood Forest and was exposed to country music at an early age by his mother.

    In high school, Supernaw was a star athlete, and attended college on a golf scholarship, before he began playing in bands. He later moved to Nashville and found work as a staff songwriter, before moving back to Texas where he formed a band called Texas Steel.

    Supernaw and his band (later renamed the Possum Eatin’ Cowboys) became a huge draw across the state, and in 1993, he signed to BNA Entertainment, the label that released his gold-selling debut Red and Rio Grande.

    The album, which drew critical acclaim along with its big sales, produced several hits, the best-known of which were “Reno” and the number one hit “I Don’t Call Him Daddy.” The video for the latter included an appearance from Supernaw’s son Phillip, who would later go on to play in the NFL.

    After two more albums for major labels, Supernaw recorded Fadin’ Renegade for an indie label, and took a lengthy hiatus from recording. He was reportedly disillusioned with the recording industry but continued to perform live. His blend of literate lyrics, catchy melodies and traditional country sounds, along with a stick-to-your-guns Texas-born attitude, helped influence many Texas country acts that became popular around the turn of the millennium.

    Supernaw returned to full-time touring in 2016 and recorded an album the following year comprised of re-recorded versions of his hits, along with a pair of new songs.

    He was diagnosed with stage IV lung and bladder cancer in early 2019 and began an aggressive course of treatment. Several benefits were held throughout last year to help Supernaw with medical expenses, including events at Pontoon’s and Coal’s Smokehouse in Splendora.

    Reportedly, the treatments were working, and Supernaw was on the mend, but recently, it was announced that the cancer had spread to his spine and brain, as an MRI had indicated, and he was placed under hospice care.

    Supernaw is survived by his wife Cissy, his children and grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

  • Spotlight on Black History: East Texan bluesman Hopkins still an influential force

    Lightnin 2USED BY CREATIVE COMMONS Undated photo of Lightnin’ Hopkins in the studio.

    By Chris Edwards

    There is a joke about old country bluesmen pertaining to the methodology behind the colorful monikers that so many of them had. You take one-part physical descriptor (or description of a physical infirmity), join that with a middle name consisting of a nickname and pin a presidential and/or distinguished-sounding surname on the end.

    The three-name bluesmen who fit that bill (and there are many) include such greats as Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Hound Dog Taylor, but mention the name Lightnin’ and even those who don’t know anything about the blues know who you are talking about. Lightnin’ Hopkins was so cool, and is so legendary, that mononym status, which has been afforded pop culture figures like Madonna and Cher, also fits for him.

    Hopkins, who was born under the name Samuel John Hopkins, on the fifteenth day of March in either 1911 or 1912, hasn’t sang the blues or struck that unmistakable Lightnin’ groove in A major on his guitar on this planet in nearly 40 years, but the influence and iconic status afforded the Centerville native only increases each year.

    Record collector and ardent blues fan David Barfield called Hopkins “a true original” and said that his storytelling style and authenticity are matched by few.

    “Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins tops the list of the Great Texas Bluesmen. To me, he represents the link between the rural acoustic prewar blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson and the urban electrified postwar blues of Freddie King,” Barfield said.

    Barfield also noted how unique and powerful Hopkins’ guitar playing was. “Unlike his more

    polished contemporary, T-Bone Walker, Hopkins retained the raw country blues chops he picked up as Blind Lemon’s apprentice. His guitar playing prowess cannot be denied, as he is frequently cited as one of the most influential guitarists of all time,” he said.

    Hopkins’ early life reads like something out of a great set of country blues lyrics – from a hardscrabble beginning as the son of a sharecropper who was murdered when Lightnin’ was but three years old, to later exploits of train-jumping and shooting dice and rubbing shoulders with legends like Blind Lemon Jefferson – but his ascendancy as a nationally known artist, as well as the character of Lightnin’ Hopkins, requires a look into his life in an in media res fashion. Like so many other rediscovered blues greats who flourished in the 1960s once they were brought to the attention of hip college crowds, Hopkins had recorded prolifically early on.

    When the folk-blues revival took off in the 1960s and record labels were flush with cash to send A&R folks (as well as musicologists and folklorists) deep into the country in search of authenticity to bring to market, those searches turned up dusty old 78s from the 1920s, 30s and 40s as well as word-of-mouth lore that led to such discoveries as Mississippi John Hurt and Son House, from the fertile Mississippi Delta region. Texas, with its rich musical heritage, was naturally a prime picking territory for the great blues-folk talent search of the era and it yielded greats like Mance Lipscomb from Navasota and Leon County’s Mr. Hopkins.

    The rise in popularity of the more urbane Chicago-style electric blues by the late 1950s put Hopkins’ acoustic-based efforts out of fashion with the public.

    Sam Charters, a music historian and producer, went to Houston in search of Hopkins in 1959. When he found him, he got the bluesman a bottle of gin and a guitar and convinced him to cut a record, or at least that’s Charters’ take on the story, as the liner notes of the eponymously titled LP that was a result of the sessions and released by Smithsonian Folkways, states.

    Lightnin Statue 2PHOTO BY MEGHAN WHITWORTH A statue of Lightnin’ Hopkins that sits on First Street in Crockett.

    According to Alan Governar, who wrote the book Lightin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues, when Charters tracked down Hopkins, the bluesman had serious drinking and gambling issues, and his guitar was in hock. Charters could tell that it had been many years since Hopkins had even played guitar, when they were preparing to record the album.

    On his comeback album, he recorded such songs as “See That My Grave is Kept Clean,” a blues standard composed by his mentor Blind Lemon Jefferson. Along with Hopkins’ originals, the songs endeared his sound and the deep country blues to larger audiences than he’d heretofore known. Barfield said that the raw country blues chops Hopkins picked up under Jefferson’s tutelage is part of what keeps him relevant to musicians and fans to this day, along with his prolific output.

    “His vocals and storytelling style possess an authenticity matched by few. All of this plus his huge recorded output are factors in his continuing popularity,” Barfield said.

    Governar estimates Hopkins’s recorded output to be between 800 and 1,000 songs. Although he recorded prolifically and for a myriad of labels in his lifetime, many of the first pressings of his singles and LPs are prized among collectors. Barfield said he owns a handful of Hopkins singles, but his favorite is an original copy of “Mojo Hand” with “Glory Be” on the B side. The 45 was released on the Fire label in 1961. “Both sides are great, and it plays like a dream, plus it looks cool as all get out,” he said.

    Young blues musicians regularly cite Hopkins’ influence. Alex Westphal, a guitarist and singer-songwriter who now lives in Colorado, but cut his teeth playing the blues in Texas bars, called it “an overwhelming expression of freedom” hearing Hopkins for the first time. “I felt the true blues spirit,” he said.

    Westphal, who is a fan of many streams of blues music, said that Hopkins’ country blues style got him more interested in players like John Lee Hooker, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. “What I heard previous to Lightnin’ was a strict and predictable 12-bar form that I could not stand,” he said. “Lightnin’ spent as much time as he needed on the one or the four or the five chord as he needed to get his point across, like the blues preacher he was.”

    The format Westphal references is the typical blues song form, commonly known as the 12-bar blues. The term “12-bar” refers to the number of measures, or musical bars, used to express the theme of a typical blues song. Typical blues songs also tend to feature three chords, with the number of the chord referencing where they appear on an eight-note scale.

    From discovering Lightnin’ Hopkins, Westphal said he could hear his influence in later day bluesmen like Stevie Ray Vaughan. One of Hopkins’ lesser-known works, an album titled Free Form Patterns, which he recorded with members of the legendary psychedelic rock band the 13th Floor Elevators is one that Westphal said is his favorite record Hopkins recorded. He said the album came about at a time when the Elevators’ leader, the mercurial Roky Erickson, was institutionalized after pleading insanity on a marijuana charge and his band was looking for work.

    Free Form Patterns was also influential on Westphal’s own music, particularly his work with the blues-based psychedelic-tinged garage ensemble Noise Crater.

    The album also featured the involvement of another Texas music legend in the form of its cover, which was painted by the late country-folk singer-songwriter Guy Clark. According to British music writer Jon Rogers, the collaboration with the Elevators showed the diversity in the musicians’ abilities and cited songs like “Give Me Time to Think” and “Got Her Letter This Morning” as examples of Hopkins’ “blues magic” and the Elevators’ ability to adapt to a different style of playing.

    Hopkins’s personal style was the epitome of the cool, swaggering, liquor-swilling country bluesman and his songwriting and vocal stylings were perfect accompaniments to the image, but the guitar style, although part of the overall package, was also its own thing altogether. In his obituary, published in the February 1, 1982 edition of the New York Times, he was referred to as “perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players.” Rolling Stone named him among its 100 Greatest Guitarists in a special issue.

    By the time of his death from cancer of the esophagus on January 30, 1982, Hopkins had enjoyed several years of successful recording and touring, of bringing his country-blues sound into places most would have never dreamed it would have ended up. From Carnegie Hall performances to opening for the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane to playing for Queen Elizabeth II, Hopkins was a first-class ambassador of the blues and of Texas to the world at large.

    There are a multitude of explanations as to why the music of Lightnin’ Hopkins remains so vital in 2021. The fact that he was able to translate the often-autobiographical songs that spoke of the experience of a Black man who grew up in poverty in the deep south of the segregation era into the most universal of statements show his true power and the power of great, timeless and authentic music. His rustic sound will likely be enjoyed by eager listeners and by budding musicians hoping to learn a thing or two for generations to come.

  • The Tao of Billy Joe Shaver

    billy joe shaverBilly Joe Shaver, legendary singer/songwriter/poet/Texan. 1939-2020. IMAGE COURTESY OF BILLY JOE SHAVER.COM

    Country music legend Billy Joe Shaver died Oct. 28, 2020, at the age of 81. This column, by Chris Edwards was originally published in the Oct. 16, 2014 edition of the Tyler County Booster. It celebrates the earthy quality of Shaver and the need for heartfelt artistic expression in contemporary culture.
    By Chris Edwards

    Sing it with me, for I know you know the tune: “I’m just an old chunk of coal…”

    The man who wrote that famous line (and countless others) just released a new record. Some say it’s his best work yet in a career that’s spanned several decades of highs, lows, in-betweens and episodes in which common sense would’ve dictated his demise several times. Drugs couldn’t kill the man. Financial ruin couldn’t kill him. He survived things the music industry did to him and of all things, a sawmill accident in which he lost parts of several fingers gave him the gusto to play guitar and become a songwriter.

    Billy Joe Shaver may not be a household name, but those with household names sold boatloads of records by singing his songs. He’s outlived many of his “outlaw” peers, and like his fellow Texan and songwriting colleague/country music survivor Guy Clark, he only gets better with age. Sure, there’s the tired adage about fine wine, but do me a favor and check out Shaver’s new record and see if you can’t add his name to the list of things that fit that description.

    He is anything but his album title suggests (“Long in the Tooth”). He’s an outsider in the world of what they call “country music” for reasons owing only to style and politics, instead of substance and life experience. Even at age 70-something, Billy Joe Shaver could probably out-play and out-fight 99% of the wusses who win CMA Awards and pack stadiums these days.

    In a time when so-called “country” music singers wear their $500 blue jeans and blindingly bleached teeth like some sort of crown and badge, Billy Joe is a breath of fresh air. The self-proclaimed “wacko from Waco” with his denim-on-denim atop well-worn workboots reminds me of another Lone Star maverick in his mode of dress, the late poet of the piney deep, Cyd Adams.

    Like the improbably brilliant Adams, Shaver is certainly one who, beyond his appearance, is infinitely “more than the measure of what…others [think he] could be,” to paraphrase a line from his classic “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” The man who looks all the world like a redneck who wouldn’t know Shakespeare from Schlitz is also the man capable of penning a beautiful anthem like “Live Forever” and making such an endeavor look effortless in the process.

    His lyrics do a rare thing in the world of popular song, like those of his deceased close friend, Townes Van Zandt: hold up as pure poetry. There’s soul, there’s grit, grace and the joys and pains that come with this life we’re given within his words.

    Billy Joe Shaver’s music is art. It’s incredible work that makes the listener think, as well as jump for joy to be alive. In a world full of facsimile, Shaver is the real deal and real people “get” Billy Joe Shaver. If only there were more Billy Joe Shavers in the world and fewer Jason Aldeans, then there just might be hope for those of us who enjoy food for thought along with a scoot across a sawdust-strewn floor, but then again if that were the case, the very thing making Billy Joe Shaver special (as well as Guy Clark, Townes, Robert Earl Keen, Turnpike Troubadours, Walt Wilkins, etc.) wouldn’t come across as special.

    That “it” which separates real art from product, whatever “it” is, allows artists like those mentioned in the same breath as Shaver to make their profundity all seem so easy. Shaver himself is famous for saying “simplicity don’t need to be greased.”

    Billy Joe’s appeal brings me mind of a shirt I owned (well, still own, but has been relegated to the pile of oil change/car wash rags). I found said shirt, a plain, powder-blue T-shirt, in the laundry room of an old house I once lived in. The very thing that a previous tenant had left behind quickly became one of my favorite belongings; its comfort remains unmatched to this day. As the years moved on, my shirt sprouted a pretty impressive array of holes, which earned stares of derision from some and outright comments from more outspoken folks I encountered, including a highly fashion-conscious neighbor.

    Some saw a different thing in that ragged old shirt. One friend of mine remarked as to how comfortable the shirt looked and how his own workshirts, full of holes themselves, were the bane of his well-to-do ex-fiance’s parents at obligatory “family time” appearances.

    Like an old shirt, full of holes, but comfortable and like silk on the skin, Billy Joe Shaver’s music provides a layer of comfort for those of us willing to see the beauty in imperfection and to accept the wisdom of life lessons gleaned from outside of the tried-and-true standard existence.


  • Turning ‘Time in Texas’ into Country Gold

    tyler dozier 2COURTESY PHOTO Tyler Dozier

    By Caleb Fortenberry and Chris Edwards

    The pandemic that seized the entire planet last year made for a drastic change in how humans live, work, worship and play. In the “blessings in disguise” category, many who had to re-invent their lives found new passions or re-discovered old hobbies.

    Spurger native Tyler Dozier is one such young man who managed to turn bad news into something positive. “As bad as the coronavirus is, I got laid-off from the plant, and jobs are slow,” he explained. “So, I decided to do something that I enjoyed.”

    Dozier took his God-given talent in music, which he’d honed through his young life, and blaze the trail that many talented Texans before him had taken. So far, he has gone gung-ho into his fresh start, with two singles already under his belt and a full-length album in the works.

    The young singer/songwriter has music in his genes. His father, Donald Dozier, is still known in the region for his prowess as a guitarist and played with many bands and artists through the years, including a pre-superstar Mark Chesnutt. Tyler said his father is his primary influence in chasing a musical career, although he did not get to see him onstage in his glory days.

    “I never got to see him play, because I was too young at the time that he quit playing out,” he said.

    Some other influences came by way of artists like Josh Ward and Cody Johnson, both of whom Tyler began following before they were huge regional acts.

    The young artist said he pretty much taught himself to sing and started playing music when he was eight years old, beginning with piano. Eventually, he also took to playing guitar and drums. His father helped him get started on the guitar when he was 12, and he added the elder Dozier will also play with him live. “I do have plans of getting a band together,” he said. “I have some guys right now that I’ve played with for a long time just around my house and stuff. The only thing I’m missing is a bass player right now but if everything goes as I hope then I will have a band to play out in the next couple of months.”

    Until he gets a band solidified for live work, though, he said he is content to play as a solo act, which he said is a good way for the audience to really hear him and his songs “as I am.”

    At present, even though the continuing efforts to curb the pandemic have slowed down consistent live performance opportunities for musicians, Tyler has been able to take to the road and play some solo acoustic shows in such venues as Conroe’s Red Brick Tavern. “It’s a blast to get out and play in front of live audiences,” he said.

    Before he even started getting into venues, he began laying down some of his material in the studio. His first single, “Doing Time in Texas,” a classic-sounding country tune detailing the heartbreak of a man’s willingness to wait for the woman he loves, went out to radio stations during last summer, when he was the tender age of 19.

    The song was co-written between three songwriters, one of whom was Tyler’s cousin David Reed. “First time I heard it, I was like, ‘Man, I really got to cut this song’,” he said.

    The song made enough of a splash in the Texas regional market that Dozier was able to score a management deal with Salter-Gann Universal Promotions and Management, LLC.

    A second single, “How Can I Get You Off My Mind,” also penned by his cousin Reed, is currently making its rounds in the radio markets, and to add to that excitement, Tyler said he has plans to journey to Nashville soon to record some songs he has co-written with Reed.

    Dozier’s performance of his new single, which is orchestrated by traditional country instrumentation, such as the whine of a pedal steel guitar and acoustic guitars, bares the influence of his dad’s old running buddy/bandmate, Chesnutt, but still sounds uniquely Tyler Dozier.

    Whatever happens for the young East Texan singer and writer of pure country songs, one thing is certain to anyone who meets him: he will remain the same grounded, yet talented, young man he has always been.

    “Man, it’s crazy how people have responded to my music. Especially when I play live. Man! People come up and talk to me and that’s just what this is all about. I’m just an ol’ country boy out here doing what I love and for people to enjoy listening to it as much as I do, it means a lot and it’s really inspiring.”

    Tyler Dozier’s singles “Doing Time in Texas” and “How Can I Get You Off My Mind” can be downloaded from all digital music retail platforms and can be streamed on Spotify or requested from radiofreetexas.com.

    Video interview with Tyler

  • Willie Nelson: A look back in 10 songs

    Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2009 CroppedWillie_Nelson_at_Farm_Aid_2009.jpg: Larry Philpot from Indianapolisderivative work: GDuwenTell me!, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

    By Chris Edwards

    Texas original and national treasure Willie Nelson just turned 88 years young and hasn’t showed many signs of slowing down.

    Musical movement s come and go, but one thing most folks (well, folks with any degree of good sense) can agree on is the greatness of Mr. Nelson. Actually, scrap that “Mr. Nelson” business – Willie is “Willie.” If Madonna is cool enough to be a mononym, then so is our native son, for he is infinite number of degrees cooler than Madonna, Cher, Beyonce (and any more recent singer or showbiz personality choosing to use just one name.)

    Aside from being a genuinely great human being, Nelson is one of the classic songsmiths of the great American songbook, and a stellar interpreter of the music of others.

    In no particular order, to celebrate the greatness of the red-headed troubadour, here are 10 songs that I believe to be among the top of the list in a career filled with incredible songs.

    #1 Always on My Mind – This song, which features one of Nelson’s most emotionally charged vocal performances, was originally intended for inclusion on the Pancho and Lefty album as a duet with Merle Haggard. When Haggard passed on the tune, Nelson saved it for his next project. Even in a lush arrangement of strings and brass, Nelson’s vocal still cuts through and deftly communicates an earnest, heartfelt plea of another chance at a romance that has soured.

    #2 Pretty Paper – A Christmas song from Nelson’s pen, this lovely melody frames a lyric about a man selling pencils and the titular stationery on the street. The song is a great snapshot of a type of person who is likely forgotten by many, and also a look at the way love is expressed among people during the holiday season.

    #3 Angel Flying too Close to the Ground – One of Nelson’s most incredible lyrics, this song, which came from the same album as “On the Road Again,” is one of the best meditations on love and loss ever committed to tape.

    #4 Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain – In an era when country music that was acceptable to the masses was drenched in strings and keyboards, Nelson made this Roy Acuff cover a certifiable classic from his stripped-down monumental LP Red-Headed Stranger. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” contains not much, arrangement-wise, outside of Nelson’s trusty old guitar “Trigger,” his vocals, a bass and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica.

    #5 On the Road Again – This song, which was reportedly written on a barf bag while Nelson was on a plane, is one of those classics that, like Nelson himself, is loved by just about everyone. The song, which chronicles the narrator’s love of being on the road and playing music with friends, is also one of Nelson’s biggest commercial successes.

    #6 Pancho and Lefty – This song was already a classic by the time Nelson and duet partner Merle Haggard cut it for an album of the same name. Songwriter Townes Van Zandt was one of the original outlaws of Texas country music and managed to write this tune while on the road in the early 1970s. It is, without a doubt, one of the most lyrically complex standards of the American songbook.

    #7 Crazy – This song, as well as the next one on this list, was one of Nelson’s early triumphs as a songwriter. Although it is best associated with the late, great Patsy Cline, Nelson’s own stripped-down version of it is magical in of itself.

    #8 Night Life – Another early Nelson-penned classic, he sold the publishing rights to this song and a couple of others for peanuts when he was trying to eke out a living playing music. “Night Life,” with its jazzy phrasing, is one of the best odes to the late-night existence of musicians – it “ain’t no good life,” as the lyric goes – and has been covered by everyone from Ray Price to Aretha Franklin.

    #9 Whiskey River – Like he did with “Pancho and Lefty” a few years later, Nelson turned another one of his buddies’ songs into a bona-fide classic and a signature for his life shows.

    The Johnny Bush-penned ode to the power of distilled spirits for erasing heartache has been used as a show opener for Nelson for eons. The studio version off 1973’s Shotgun Willie is just a stone-cold classic.

    The undeniable power of this Texas anthem is so strong that there’s probably not a single musician in any genre who doesn’t love it. The East Texas-based psych-metal merchants the Beef Masters used to close out their shows with a cover of it.

    #10 Funny How Time Slips Away – Reportedly written the same week as “Crazy” and “Night Life,” this song, which was written about a short-lived courtship, opens up into a universal complaint and makes for a song that sounds like it has always been a part of our universal, collective consciousness.