Down at the Ranchhouse

Tom Morrell keeps Western swing alive on the best set of records you've never heard

The releases were originally the idea of Johnny Case, a Fort Worth-based pianist who performs regularly at Sardine's restaurant, located across the street from the Amon Carter Museum. Case approached Morrell about doing a record of Western swing material. Case would finance the venture and release the final product on his Priority Records, previously a jazz-only label for which Morrell had done some session work.

The first release was just called How the West Was Swung and was issued on cassette only in March 1991. On its cover was the crudely drawn handiwork of Morrell--a late-night drawing of a dinosaur behind a pedal steel guitar, a cowboy hat on his head and a lit cigar between his sharp teeth, spouting to Leon Rausch that them lizards "ain't gonna hear any New Kids on the Block around here"--that has become one of the trademarks of the series, playing off the misguided notion that Western swing is for the aged and extinct.

"I don't think it's a dying art form," Morrell says. "I don't think it'll ever get huge again, but there's damn sure a lot more interest in it now than there has been in the last 15, 20 years," he says. "It'll never get like it was during the golden years, but you'll never stamp it out."

Also making their debut were Morrell's lengthy, sometimes wacky liner notes about the band members and the material.

"One of the reasons I did the album covers like that and put all those stupid notes in there was to keep people from gettin' too serious about this stuff," Morrell says. "There are people who look at you like you're a scientific experiment, and they put you under the microscope with a pair of tweezers to move you around. That's fine for some people, but we just like to get up there and play--have a few beers, smoke a few cigarettes, chase a few women, whatever."

The two current releases in the "How the West was Swung" series, Uptown! and Smoke a Little of This!, are available on CD (for $15, plus postage) and cassette ($10) from Morrell; the first four releases in the series are also available, only on cassette. Write: Tom Morrell, Box 513, Little Elm, Texas, 75068.

Scene, heard
Bedhead will make a rare local appearance--rare because Matt Kadane still lives in Manhattan, attending the New School--on January 6 at the Galaxy Club, sharing a bill with Funland and fellow Trance Syndicate labelmates Sixteen Deluxe from Austin.

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