Stabbed in the redneck
For many of the faithful, Roy Ashley's down-home twang defined what little remained of the old KNON-FM spirit. His was the voice of the people who drove pickups, drank Pearl, and knew all the words to "Waltz Across Texas." On February 29, Ashley wished his audience farewell and abandoned his Friday "Super Roper Revue" slot, marking him as the latest KNON disc jockey to abandon the station in the aftermath of changes made by long-gone programming director-station manager Bobbie Elliott.
Since August 1983, Ashley has fostered the best country radio show in this town, introducing his pledge-driven flock to the likes of Junior Brown, Buddy Miller, Robert Earl Keen, and the other Texpatriots who never found a home in Nashville. His was the Yin to KSCS's tired twang, the last bastion of bona fide Texas music.
Ashley says he left the station over a series of events that began in January 1995, when local accountant and KNON board member Sue Turner stepped in as acting station manager, and concluded three weeks ago, after an on-air battle between two other jocks. Turner was replacing Elliott, who came to the station in 1994 and turned the station upside-down, forcing out a number of popular disc jockeys--including Ranger Rita, who literally held the place together--and dumping handfuls of popular programs, including the folk and bluegrass shows.
Elliott turned KNON into an R&B station during the day and a jazz station at night, bringing in friends to DJ for paychecks and alienating the longtime volunteers who toiled for free. Some regulars remained, including Ashley, Dave Chaos, and EZ Eddie D, but KNON was no longer the "Voice of the People"; it was the voice of one man, Elliott, whose tenure lasted only a matter of months.
Ashley says Turner approached him shortly after Elliott's departure and asked Ashley how to fix the damage wrought by Elliott--namely, how to increase pledge revenue that had significantly fallen off when the popular programs had been axed. Ashley says he told Turner to bring back the canceled shows and fired DJs. "I also told her, 'Let's elevate our production values by sharpening our skills," Ashley recalls. "I told her we have a very low-grade and unprofessional sound."
According to Ashley--long the most successful fund-raiser during KNON's pledge drives, bringing in more than $6,000 in recent drives--he struck a deal with Turner that would allow Ashley to become the format director for the weekday "Super Roper" shows. But Turner handed the job over to Monday "Super Roper" jock Trevor Fought, who had been at the station five years compared to Ashley's 12.
"Why the guy with the least experience and the worst skills in the history of broadcasting is the format director is beyond me," Ashley says. "I was shocked. I was appalled. I told Sue, 'He knows the least about our music, he's the worst DJ ever, and ya'll chose Trevor?'"
Turner was on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment. Fought says he can't discuss anything regarding Ashley's departure because all calls concerning it are being forwarded to attorney Roger Albright, who acts as legal counsel for the station.
When reached last Thursday, Albright had no idea Ashley left KNON and had no idea why the station was referring calls to him; he explained he had been out of town and out of the loop. In fact, Albright had no idea who Ashley is: "I literally couldn't pick him out of a lineup," Albright said.
Ashley points to an incident three weeks ago as "the straw that broke the camel's back." According to Ashley and "Super Roper" jock Kelly Cutler, Cutler was on the air begging for money when Fought came in and started telling Cutler to play certain spots. Cutler says he told Fought the microphone was open, sending their conversation out to the audience, but Fought wouldn't relent.
"I felt like throwing him through the window or quitting," says Cutler, who had been at the station since 1987. "Trevor comes in with these carts that are out of date, and I had the mic open. He came in there and wouldn't stop nagging me about playing this cart, and I said, 'Trevor, I'm begging for money to pay your salary.' It's just piss-poor management. They don't have a clue." Again, Fought says he isn't allowed to give his side of the incident because station management has "laid down the law" and told reporters to talk only to KNON's lawyer.
Ashley says he was incensed over the incident, but he didn't turn in his resignation until Fought hired Big Jim Sarver to replace Cutler--"a slap in the face to all the volunteer DJs" who should have been next in line for the gig, Ashley says. Ironically, Sarver, a Western swing aficionado, had been at the station once before, from 1985 to 1990, and even hosted one of the "Super Roper" slots. Ashley was offended by the choice to bring Sarver back, and quit the next day.
"All I ever wanted to do was spread my religion of Texas music and alternative country," Ashley says. "I never had a hidden agenda, an ulterior motive, any of that, but there's been no leadership, no focus, no direction at KNON. It's like a chicken with its head cut off, and I don't want to be associated with a bunch of losers anymore." In the meantime, KNON continues to function without a full-time program director or station manager--and, bit by bit, without the on-air personalities that made KNON the voice of more than a few people.
Getting one of the showcase slots at the annual South by Southwest music conference in Austin, which runs March 13 through March 17, is no easy task. This year, more than 4,000 bands spent $15 each to send in their application forms only to find out they ain't one of the lucky 600 or so who got on a bill. Granted, they're playing at 8 p.m. on Thursday or Sunday night, after everyone's gone home, but, hey, a slot's a slot. At least the uninvited bands can comfort themselves in the knowledge that only a handful of bands get signed every year because of the conference, and even then, have you ever heard of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies?
As it turns out, getting out of a showcase may be even harder than being accepted to play. According to Laurel Stearns, who works for Los Angeles-based Twist Management and with Hagfish and UFOFU, Hagfish asked out of its Friday night headlining spot at the Icon nightclub. The band was scheduled to play at 1 a.m. following Clouded, Mr. Mirainga, The Jinkies, and Grammy talent-show winner Doosu. Stearns says the members of Hagfish told SXSW organizers they would not be able to make the show because of a grueling tour schedule (Hagfish just got off the road and is preparing to go out again opening for Everclear); SXSW, they said, happened to fall on a rare day off which will give lead singer George Reagan a chance to visit with his newborn son.
Stearns says SXSW did not react kindly to the news. She insists Brent Grulke, who heads up the band-selection process for the music conference, became irate and threatened to pull all the bands from SXSW that are managed by Twist, including UFOFUand spoken-word act Watts Prophets. UFOFU had been scheduled to play the Back Room March 15, and L.A.-based Watts Prophets was supposed to headline at Mojo's Daily Grind the same night, but Stearns says she has been told by Grulke that both acts are no longer playing SXSW.
"Icalled the stage manager at [the Back Room] and she told me, 'We were looking forward to having them play, but the folks at South by Southwest pulled them,'" Stearns says. "I called Brent, and he said he did it, and I told him these two bands have nothing to do with each other except Imanage them. I think that's the most heinous move on the earth. It doesn't make sense. They pulled a power play on me by pulling all our bands."
Grulke says this is all true:He pulled Twist's bands and would do it again. He says pulling acts is SXSW's only leverage when it comes to forcing bands to stick to their performance contracts with the conference. He says the conference arranged Hagfish's bill around the band and that the last-minute cancellation left the other bands, the club, and SXSW in an "unacceptable" bind.
"It's not intended as a slap in the face toward" UFOFUand Watts Prophets, Grulke says. "Itruly regret those kinds of actions. Ilost sleep over that, but we have to do it. I'm not looking to punish other bands, but Idon't have another option. What am I going to do?Take them to court?"
Stearns says UFOFU will now perform at one of this year's myriad "renegade" showcases--this one taking place March 16 at rock-poster artist Lindsey Kuhn's Swamp warehouse on 5th Street and Onion. (Jesus Christ Superfly and Gomez, both from Austin, are also on the bill, which was assembled by the Sub Pop-distributed Scooch Pooch label.)
Another Dallas band accepted to play the conference isn't showing up: Vibrolux canceled its appearance at the conference presumably because the band is recording its debut for Atlas/Polydor Records, but for every minus there's a plus: Six local bands were added to the showcase roster at the last minute.REOSpeedealer and Reverend Horton Heat will share a Sunday-afternoon outdoor bill on Sixth Street; Audra and Dee Dee will play an R&B showcase Thursday night at the Radisson Hotel; Fierro, has been added to a Tejano show on Thursday at the Top of the Marc; and Corn Mo will be playing an acoustic show that same night at Coffee Plantation.
Leah Wilkes, who assists in choosing the bulk of the 600-plus bands for SXSW, says those artists were added later because they were invited by people who work outside the conference offices. "We have other people do specialty music," she says.
So the official lineup of local bands playing Austin during the conference is as follows: On Thursday, Pat Boyak and the Prowlers opens a Rounder Records showcase at Antone's, Ronnie Dawson follows former members of the Elvis Presely band at the Continental Club, Caulk gets the opening slot at Emo's Jr., and Brave Combo closes out the bill at La Zona Rosa. The following night, Doosu plays the bill at Icon without Hagfish, Ray Wylie Hubbard shares the stage with Plimsoul Peter Case and Texas music sweetheart Jo Carol Pierce, Heads and Dreads, Shabazz 3, and Native Poet pass the mic at a hip-hop cavalcade at the Radisson Hotel Ballroom, Cowboys and Indians plays the Split Rail, Bobgoblin goes on early at Steamboat, and American Analog Set plays the White Rabbit.
On Saturday night, rubberbullet plays a Flat Earth Records showcase at The Copper Tank, and Greenella shares a Rise/Unclean Records bill at the Flamingo Cantina. Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks gets one of the best bills of the weekend, opening for revered singer-songwriters Sid Griffin, Jules Shear, and Kathy McCarty Saturday at Maggie Mae's West, and Slobberbone and Old 97's share the stage at the Split Rail, preceding Mekon Jon Langford and the Waco Brothers.
On Sunday night, Dooms U.K. has the privilege of playing Emo's.
Steve Records CD-Crystal Clear Sound will host its own renegade showcase on Friday at the White Rabbit from 3 to 7 p.m., featuring Pump'n Ethyl, Diablo Sol, Psalm 69, and Funland. (Funland also makes an in-store appearance that afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Tower Records on Guadalupe.) Last Beat Records is also putting on its own outlaw showcase Friday, this one running from noon to 7 p.m. at the Voodoo Lounge and featuring, in order, Spinning Ginny, Riot Squad, Flux, Stinkbug, Spinewire, rubberbullet, Tablet, Season to Risk, Automatic Head Detonator, and Devilhead.
When Mark Elliott and Keith Forester launched Leaning House Records a couple of years ago, their dream of establishing a local jazz label seemed noble but difficult. After all, despite its rich jazz tradition, having turned out such immortals as Red Garland and James Clay, this town doesn't even possess one decent jazz club--a safe haven where patrons can listen to music without struggling to do so over the din of diners and drunks.
Yet Leaning House has built an estimable reputation, releasing debuts from Texas drummer Earl Harvin's trio and quartet and Tenor Marchel Ivery--a reputation that has, of late, prompted interest from at least two major jazz distributors. Late last year, Leaning House also branched out with a praise-God gospel record by The Fantastic Voices of Harmony, but 1996 could be the label's real coming-out year both as a jazz label and, potentially, as a publishing house.
During a single day in January--Super Bowl Sunday, to be exact--Elliott gathered members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Sumet Studios to record an album's worth of rare Ellington material, some of which is now unavailable. The band includes the likes of tenor saxophonist Shelley Carrol (also a member of Earl Harvin's band), trumpet player Barrie Lee Hall (who took Cootie Williams' place in the band three decades ago), pianist Tommy James, and drummer Sebastian Whitaker (a protg of Art Blakey's).
The record, which is due for release in the summer, serves a dual purpose: It's a celebration of Ellington's music as played by a small ensemble, and it also pays homage to the wide-open sound of the Texas Tenor, a tradition that includes Clay, Ivery, Illinois Jacquet, and even Shelley Carrol. As such, the disc will run the gamut from the standard "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" to avant-garde Charles Mingus.
"Since we had a lot of guys," Elliott says, "we got to check out some stuff in the library that hasn't been played much. There's a lot of Ellington records that have the same stuff over and over, but we got some new stuff, and it's pretty cool. These guys really wanted to help Shelley get something out, and the Texas Tenor sound is appealing to people because it's a big warm sound. This record is a good conglomeration of stuff."
Elliott has also begun work on the next Ivery disc, which likely will feature pianist Barry Harris, who played with Sonny Stitt and Hank Mobley. In addition, Leaning House is also in possession of the unreleased and until-now-undiscovered Garland and Stitt recordings made in the late '70s at the Recovery Room; Elliott plans to release those when, and if, he finds the time and money necessary for such a massive restoration job. (Leaning House also is in possession of the Bedhead jazz recordings, which include a rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" and which may or may not see the light of day.)
On March 20, Leaning House will dip its paw into the publishing world, releasing a poetry collection (appropriately titled Leaning House Poetry, Volume 1) that features contributions from seven renowned contemporary American poets, including Guggenheim Fellowship winner Li-Yung Lee (whose grandfather was the first president of the Republic of China), Pushcart Prize winner and NEA board member Lynn Emanuel, and local author Tim Seibles; the book will also contain a CD on which the poets will read from their work.
"It's not like spoken word--Henry Rollins or Alan Ginsburg," Elliott says. "All these people are really good readers, and when you read the work on the page and then hear it, it brings a lot of meaning to it. It brings it to life." The book, which was edited by Elliott and Southern Methodist University creative-writing professor Jack Meyers, will be unveiled March 20 at a party, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, during which the Leaning House All-Stars--Ivery, Harvin, sax man Shelley Carrol, and Caf Noir bassist Lyles West--will perform.
Wait, stop, go
When John Ewing left Dallas in the fall of 1994 and headed to Minneapolis, he did so out of exhaustion and frustration. After two years fronting the Willees in front of dozens, watching a developmental deal with Polygram fail to develop, and trying to live down comparisons to Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg (his voice, his songwriting, and his face), Ewing packed his bags and headed to a town where he was already something of an appreciated up-and-comer with a real band (including former members of the Magnolias) and a would-be cheerleader (Peter Jesperson, who discovered and once managed the Replacements--oh, the freakin' irony). In Dallas, Ewing was a 24-year-old has-been; in Minnesota, he was the second coming looking for his first chance.
A year and a half later, Ewing has managed what he never could in Dallas: getting a record out on a nationally distributed label, and exorcising the Westerberg comparisons even as he embraces them. Delta Flares, released last week under the auspices of the John Ewing Band, sounds like old times--Westerberg's, Ewing's, and everyone-in-between's. Apologists would defend the similarities as homage, naysayers would dismiss the John Ewing Band as a knockoff, and both would be right and never wrong: This is unpretentious rock and roll that doesn't fix what wasn't broken, and the term "knockoff" discounts passion and inspiration, which this has plenty of ("Swinging Doors," "Nashville Blues," "Wait, Stop, Go," to name a few). It could be a hell of a lot worse: The John Ewing Band could sound like the Grateful Dead.
Sixty-Six - 3 + 4
And then there was one. Sixty-Six has undergone a major overhaul since the band released its 1994 eponymous debut on Steve Records CD: Drummer Toby Sheets has joined REO Speedealer, bassist Gabby Ramirez now does his thing with Funland, and guitarist Nate Fowler recently departed to front his own project. The only remaining member is frontman Bill Longhorse, who is now joined by two former members of Vibrolux (though which band in town isn't?)--drummer Bruce Alford and bassist-turned-guitarist Alan Hayslip--as well as former Rodeo Love Gods bassist Keith Long and ex-39 Powers guitarist Greg Prickett.
As a result, the band's three-guitar sound is now darker, faster, denser than before--more appropriate to an arena instead of a bar. As evidenced by demos the new band has been working on for a few months--demos that may or may not lead to material for the band's next Steve Records CD--the rockabilly twang has been replaced by a feedback screech, the shuffle has been drowned out by a boom, and even the old songs have been scrapped in favor of the new sound.
"I just got tired of playing in bars and making the sound you have to make to play bars," Longhorse says. "I like that scene, and I like drinking, but it gets boring after a while. It was fun and a departure for me. In all those years of playing [with other bands], I never played music people in bars would like, and then when I did it was cool, but it's ultimately kind of limiting. I just got to thinking about what sounds I would like to hear, and the guys in this band can do it. I just want to make more noise."
Stephen Trued, a founding member of Killbilly and a revered banjo player in bluegrass circles, died March 2 of leukemia. Trued, who was the real anchor of traditionalism in a band that always struggled to blend its punk and country desires with bluegrass tastes, had suffered from hemophilia his whole life, and his body finally gave out. In the words of Mark Rubin, the bassist and tuba player for the Bad Livers and an early member of Killbilly, "He was how the band happened. Stephen taught me how to play. I knew little, if nothing at all, about bluegrass before I met him. He was just an amazingly encouraging person to be around who had the spirit of the music more than the chops. The rest of us were basically poseurs..."
Earl has met its "timely demise," as singer John Branson puts it. Forget that dull stuff about artistic differences; this band, which released a terrific split single last year with Breadbox, busted up strictly because its members didn't get along well enough to stay together. "I feel like it was a huge, long part of my life, and I'm upset about it," Branson says. "I also feel like it had to be done." The band, which began as something of Toadies protege (Todd Lewis produced Earl's debut, and Mark Reznicek played drums) ultimately found its own potent voice and had planned on recording a full-length record...
UFOFU has received a demo deal with Capitol Records, which means the band will record a set of tracks for the label in April. If Capitol likes the demos, the label will most likely sign the band; if Capitol rejects the songs, UFOFU is free to take the demos, without obligation, and try to get a deal somewhere else. (Vibrolux once had a demo deal with Capitol, incidentally.) In the meantime, next week the band will release a four-song seven-inch EP on the California-based Time Bomb label...
Don't hold your breath: Originally slated to hit record stores in April, Jackopierce's follow-up to its 1994 A&M Records debut, Bringing on the Weather, has been bumped from the label's schedule to a possible June release. OK, those of you waiting for this news can now go back to holding your breath.
"Street Beat" welcomes e-mail tips and comments at DalObserv@aol.com.
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