Swingin' west

Scottish author waltzes across Texas in pursuit of the music he loves

By the time he pulls up in Turkey, things are looking grim. But then he's put up by Arch and June Montgomery, archetypical Texans who open their hearts and their home to him as he records the bacchanalia of the annual Wills memorial. He finally gets to hear the remaining Playboys perform, and they're better than he ever expected; he even gets to talk to them and then--a bomb!--it's revealed that Arch used to play with Wills back in boyhood days. He even flunked an audition with the Light Crust Doughboys when Wills was still leading them ("Because you could play better than them" June tells her husband). Until this point no reader could possibly be as concerned about the direction of the book as McLean, but suddenly it all makes sense, resolved with a bit of poetic justice, all the bullshit endured paid off with an elegiac closing. Lone Star Swing leaves the reader with a sense of the author's adventure lived vicariously and--more importantly--of reward.

More rewarding still for McLean was an unexpected chance to return to Texas for a series of readings arranged through WordSpace. Although the visit was originally intended to focus on Scottish literature, McLean's itch for western swing will again get a good scratching: in addition to reading at bookstores and universities, he'll be reading excerpts from Lone Star Swing between sets at the "Texas Swing Living Legends in Concert" December 8 at the Sons of Hermann Hall.

"The concept behind the trip quickly outgrew the readings," McLean admits. He worked out the details of the gig with Fort Worth swing aficionado Kevin Coffey. "Meeting Kevin was like finding my Texan alter ego," McLean reports. "He gets to do year-round what I can only do for a few weeks, and he knew who was available and who could work with who." The musicians playing include several of Milton Brown's Musical Brownies--Cliff Bruner (fiddle) and Roy Lee Brown, Milton's younger brother (vocals)--as well as veterans of the Texas Wanderers, the Texas Top Hands, the Red River Boys, and Leon McAuliffe's band.

All in all an excellent chance to check out some of Texas' musical heritage, and one that's not to be taken for granted: "Since I was in Texas last," McLean says, confessing to a certain feeling of urgency, "three of the people I have talked to have died."

The "Texas Swing Living Legends in Concert" happens at 8 p.m. December 8 at the Sons of Hermann Hall; Kevin Coffey's collection of photographs of western swing musicians and bands will be on display all through December at Paperbacks Plus (6115 La Vista).

Up, up, fair Ho-Dad: Street Beat predicts the advent of Shakespearean surf, 14 years hence, at Matt_Weitz@dallas-observer.com.

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