We left about three in the morning, but things were really just getting going, if you ask me. In the car on the way home that night, we agreed that we had just had one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Even as passive, casual observers to the goings-on in Roxy Gordon's living room, we felt damn lucky to be able to hang out with a group of folks who were so unpretentious and real.
Townes, who shared a birthdate with Roxy, passed away a couple of months later.
Not long after that, the Gordons, along with their son Quanah, decided to move out to Roxy's grandmother's old house near Coleman, Texas, about four hours west of Dallas. By this time they had pretty much had enough of Dallas. "Wouldn't you leave Dallas, Texas?" Gordon asked the Dallas Observer a few months after moving ("Roxy redux, February 26, 1998). "I always planned to live out here or northern Montana, but I guess here is where I'm going to be for now."
Quanah and Judy also wanted to live out in the country. Roxy and his son had been building a smaller lean-to shack called the "House Up" for years before that, which sat on a bluff overlooking his grandmother's old place. It was a great place to write, and people would come out and drink all night, singing songs and carrying on. With no electricity or running water, built entirely by hand, the House Up was as close as Roxy could get to the clouds and stars. It was a radical departure from the life he had led while living in Dallas.
Over the years, Gordon became entrenched with a fairly odd cross-section of people from around here. Painter Frank X. Tolbert, Jr. and his wife Ann Stautberg were Roxy and Judy's seemingly constant companions. In fact, there is a portrait of the foursome painted on the wall in the back room at Terrilli's, down on Lower Greenville.
I met them all for the first time back in 1987, when I was booking the shows at Prophet Bar in Deep Ellum. Russell Hobbs and I were living in the loft space above the bar, and he liked to invite the four of them upstairs to drink and tell their stories after hours. I remember thinking at the time that Roxy looked like a biker, with his leather pants and that black bandanna tied around his head. He and Frank Jr. could drink anybody we knew under the table back in those days. Tolbert would play the washtub bass and provide backing music for Roxy's stories. These people were insane, and I loved hanging out with them.
Over the years, Roxy's peer group of Texas "folk artists" and drinking buddies included a surly cross-section of outlaw freaks that had each (in their own twisted way) redefined the word "subculture." Besides permanent sidekicks Tolbert and Van Zandt, there was David Allan Coe, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and former Nervebreakers and Rotten Rubber Band lead vocalist Tex Edwards. And somewhere along the way, Roxy crossed paths with snot-caked Stick Men With Ray Guns nuisance Bobby Soxx, and he came aboard as well.
Also included in Gordon's definitive circle of friends were Butch Hancock, Tommy Hancock, The Gourds' Max Johnston (who recorded 1990's Smaller Circles with him), Terry Allen, music writer Joe Nick Patoski, Jim "Reverend Horton Heat" Heath (who also lived on Oram), poets C.J. Berman and Charley Moon, Billy Joe Shaver, and visual artist Laney Yarber. He often shared stages with Van Zandt, Tolbert, Allen, Johnston, Richard Dobson, Diamond Jim Richman, Texanna Dames, and he even did a show at the old Major Theater with Erykah Badu's first performance art group, Soul Nation. Roxy Gordon had far more allies than enemies; he could hang with anyone.
One of Roxy's best friends was a local writer and poet named Robert Trammell, who is currently the executive director of WordSpace, a nonprofit arts and literary organization that often featured Roxy's work at a number of their gatherings. Trammell remembers seeing him for the first time about 15 years ago.
"I met him at his first house over on Palo Pinto in East Dallas," Trammell says. "I went over there with Frank and Ann Tolbert. I did not like him at first. Roxy and Judy had come to Dallas with David Allan Coe a couple of years before that. They had been on the road with him in some capacity that I was never sure of. I thought they must be gypsys or part of some kind of circus."
But what Trammell remembers the most is Roxy and Judy's first place here in Dallas.
"It was a little house at the back of the lot," he recalls. "One side of it was on a side street. There was this little camper parked in front with some kind of Indian drawings and words on it. I wound up living in that trailer for several months. They moved to the Oram house after that, seven or eight years ago." That particular house was like a living folk art landmark for a lot of people, who would stop or pull over to see the various animal hides or bone fragments that decorated the front porch.