By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Last March, the Dallas Observer published a list of rules ("The rules of rock," March 17, 1999), a guide that specified more than 100 things local musicians should and shouldn't do. Among them were tips such as "Getting a tattoo is like sewing platform shoes to your feet," and "Don't take your shirt off onstage." Not that anyone noticed, or even took the list seriously, except for the handful of people who felt certain rules had been directed specifically at them. It was an easy mistake, because many of them, especially rule No. 96 ("Don't have your girlfriend or roommate offer to write a story about you for the Dallas Observer") applied to many local bands, at least the ones that frequent the stages at The Rock and Club Dada. Sorry for the confusion, fellas.
While much of the list was delivered with tongues firmly in cheek, a few of the rules were not meant to be funny, particularly the ones about not sleeping with one of your bandmates or joining a band with a married couple. For many reasons, it's just not a good idea to get involved with people who are involved. For example, when the couple breaks up, usually the band does too, and if you've ever tried to divide mutual possessions after a split, imagine what happens when band members and songs are on the table. And even without bringing that worst-case scenario into play, think of the outcome of a couple, married or otherwise, coming down on opposite sides of a decision affecting the group. Not so good, boss.
But try telling that to Amy Crenshaw. For her, being in a band with her husband Mitchell only means they get to spend more time together. And they've found the best way around any potential problems: not taking any of it too seriously.
"Well, you know, I've been in a band with my husband for a very long time," Crenshaw says. "We've been doing something together since 1990, when we had Hank & Patsy. I like it. It's something we can do together. There's usually no conflicts. It just seems kind of natural. I do most of my writing with other people."
Amy and Mitchell Crenshaw are the exception that proves the rule. They've been married almost 14 years, and for much of that time, they've been playing in bands together, first as Hank & Patsy, and now in Amy Crenshaw and the Crosstown Boys, which just released its self-titled debut. Maybe there haven't been any problems because they figured out a long time ago who was in charge: Amy. At least, that's how it seems from the outside looking in. For instance, when Mitchell's letter to the Observer -- sticking up for Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars' latest CD, The One and Only, after Christina Rees gave the disc a thumbs-down review (Out Here, September 16, 1999) -- was attacked by a few readers, Amy responded with her own letter. "As for it being 'ironic' that the two readers coming to Kim's defense are 'her biggest yes men,'" Crenshaw wrote, "well, one of those 'yes men' answers yes to no one but his wife -- me."
Though it may appear from Crenshaw's back-handed compliment that the marriage is a bit of a one-sided arrangement, that's not necessarily true. Sure, Amy writes the songs and Mitchell plays them, but he takes the lead where the band's business affairs are concerned. And Mitchell -- the brother of Marshall Crenshaw, known for his string of new-wave records on Warner Bros. Records in the early 1980s -- was the one calling the shots when the couple opened up the Lava Lounge on Main Street in late 1996. For the most part, however, theirs is a relationship based on equality, both of them making decisions together.
Even the couple's brief stint operating the Lava Lounge, a haven for the rockabilly and old-school country they both loved, was a full partnership, though Amy had no experience with anything involving nightclubs except for playing in them. Mitchell, on the other hand, had managed several bars, including a long stint at the Inwood Lounge. But opening a club meant the end of Hank & Patsy, and Amy wanted to continue mixing business and pleasure with her husband. She had already quit her job to have a child, so it wasn't a hard choice. But the Crenshaws found out how hard it is for a new club to open in Deep Ellum. More to the point, they learned how hard it is for a new club to stay open in Deep Ellum.
"I decided that it would be something interesting to try," she says. "It was." She pauses, laughing. "When we had really great moments, it was fabulous. We had a good time with it, but you know, there were business issues. Deep Ellum is a real interesting place to have a business. You're playing with the big boys down there. I mean, it was a challenge. We did it all by ourselves, with all our own money. We made our own decisions. That was invaluable experience. We gained a lot of great contacts, great friendships, and we retained all of those. We got to meet some really neat people in the music industry through the acts that came through. We don't regret it at all. It was just a very interesting experience, a very tumultuous experience."