Between the cracks

Surprise--David Garza grows up in public and survives

There are some things that, to be truly enjoyed, require a certain suspension of cynicism--stuff like reading fiction, finding God, falling in love...and music, of course. And cynicism about David Garza--or Dah-veed, as he prefers to be called--has been all but the party line in many of the hipper music circles in Austin, where Garza, a Dallas native, now resides. I know, because I was one of those cynics.

That trepidation was the result of what must be the most phenomenal band emergence ever witnessed by the Capital City's vaunted and often insular music scene. In a career that lasted a mere 10 months, Garza's previous band, Twang Twang Shock-A-Boom, went from playing the West Mall on the University of Texas campus for fun and tips to packing a thousand or so fans into Liberty Lunch and showcasing at the headquarters of CBS Records (now Sony Music).

Throughout that time, many in the Austin scene reacted to the band's swift ascension as Bob Dylan's Mr. Jones might have: There was something going on there, and they did not know what it was. So they laughed, scorned, and speared the trio that had accomplished what some of the most highly touted Austin acts of the day had yet to even come close to: packing the clubs, selling scads of cassettes, and getting a private audience with the honchos of what was then the silk-stocking major record label.

"At a very early stage in my career, I was laughed at and made fun of, and I think that's pretty funny," Garza says with a big smile over lunch at Julio's, a Mexican chicken joint not far from Garza's home in Austin's Hyde Park. After all, he who laughs last, laughs best and loudest. Since launching a solo career after Twang Twang broke up in 1990, Garza--who calls his act Dah-veed, from the Mexican-American pronunciation of his name--has been laughing all the way to the piggy bank.

He has released four CDs on his own label and three limited-issue cassettes (all manufactured and distributed by the Dallas-based Crystal Clear Sound), tours an ever-expanding circuit of venues filled with enthusiastic fans, and makes more than a decent living doing so, all without a record deal or manager. Meanwhile, many of the Austin acts with the media attention and recording contracts Garza hasn't gotten aren't nearly as successful, prolific, or artistically free.

As a newcomer to Austin in the fall of 1989, as well as a veteran cynic--or, rather, critic--I took more than usual pains during my first months in town to try to understand Twang Twang Shock-A-Boom's quick rise to the top of the music scene, a phenomenon that caused both surprise and consternation to the resident scenesters at that time. But anyone with half an eye for performing talent could see that Garza had a captivating presence on stage, while his rhythm section of drummer Chris Searles (now one of Austin's top percussionists) and bassist Jeff Haley (who has since relocated to New York) were a skintight, accomplished, and incredibly musical team.

The setup was deceptively basic--acoustic guitar, upright bass, and minimal drum kit living up to the band's onomatopoeic name--and the songs incredibly simple and catchy. To someone weaned on Bob Dylan, chanting choruses like "Me so twang-eee" and "Don't get AIDS" rang shallow, perhaps, but that didn't matter to the hundreds of college-age fans who were singing along. As Willie Dixon sang, "The men don't know, but the little girls understand."

Though at the time they were only college freshmen, all three Twangers already had considerable musical schooling under their belts. Garza started playing guitar at age 11 and immediately became an avid musician.

"While all my friends were learning how to smoke cigarettes and do cool things like that, I was learning how to play Zeppelin tunes [while] listening to Redbeard," Garza recalls.

"I started hanging around Deep Ellum in 1988, before they started making T-shirts that said 'Deep Ellum,'" he says, laughing. Soon after, Garza started his first band, The Happy Farmers--which he describes as "really quirky...kinda Talking Heads meets the soundtrack from Grease"--and opened shows for such Dallas faves of the era as the New Bohemians, Ten Hands, and Fever in the Funkhouse at Club Dada. By age 18, he won a classical guitar scholarship to UT, where he quickly hooked up with Austinites Searles and Haley, whom he had previously met at high-school band competitions.

"We had music theory class together, and we were all failing it, too," Garza recalls. "One afternoon we were sitting outside the music building eating lunch or something, and I was just playing this little riff, and Chris had his bongos, and Jeff had his stand-up bass. We just said, 'Why don't we go to the West Mall and make some money?' We were just busking; we weren't a band. So I just started playing some songs I'd written. We made some cash, $50 or $60, which is not bad for about 30 minutes. So we split it up and went to Conan's Pizza and had a party."

Their impromptu shows nonetheless became a big draw.
"People would come up to us and say, 'When's your next gig?'" Garza remembers. That was our gig, and we were making pretty good money."

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