Four for Texas
It's easy to take for granted men like Ronnie Dawson, Junior Brown, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock. It has always seemed as though these four Texas-born musicians--best-known as singer-songwriters, revered as legends, admired for clinging to tradition--have been around forever and would never disappear from the landscape. Dawson's been playing since the 1950s; Brown sounds like he's sharing a stage with Ernest Tubb; and you can date Hancock and Ely's partnership back to their days in Lubbock, when they were roaming the flatland more a legend than a band.

But there is a reason why expatriated Texans in New York City gather in a stinkhole bar called the Village Idiot to sing along with old country records till 6 a.m.: They do not take this music for granted. They miss it dearly, needing their weekly transfusion of Hank and George and Willie to make life in the bloodless Big City more tolerable. They aren't lucky enough to have a Sons of Hermann Hall to retreat to each weekend, no hardwood-floor-and-ceiling fraternal hall throughout which the sounds of Texas music reverberate like faded, living echoes.

This weekend the Sons will host a "Texas Music Celebration" that lives up to its name--legends and heroes and would-be heirs taking the stage for three nights, rockabilly hepcats and country traditionalists who embody the myth as much as the music. Junior Brown, whose cult status is threatened by the emergence of the hilarious "Highway Patrol" as a hit vidclip on country-music TV, has been likened to Ernest Tubb; but the guit-steel slinger is a bona fide Texas original--a deep-voiced traditionalist who loves Hawaiian guitar and Hendrix as much as the old Texas Troubadour. And nobody captures the desolation of a West Texas existence as well as Butch Hancock--except for maybe Joe Ely, whose wind-swept voice and dusty-dry persona made Hancock's words come to life at a time when "country" was another word for lite rock.

Ronnie Dawson (pictured above), as has been written many times in these pages, is more than legend because that word implies his best work lies in the past; Dawson's an honest-to-Gawd hero, a rocker in his 50s who's more vibrant now than when he was a younger man gracing the stage of the Big D Jamboree. He's the anti-Jerry Lee, a genuinely kind man whose voice is worn with experience--not age, not bitterness, but the experience of a man who discovered fame when he was ready for it.

Dawson and High Noon, with the Derailers, perform July 20 at the Sons of Hermann Hall, followed by Brown and Donny Ray Ford on July 21. Hancock and Health and Happiness Show (featuring Hancock and ex-Television guitarist Richard Lloyd) perform at the Sons July 22. Joe Ely performs July 21 at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth.

--Robert Wilonsky


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