DFW Music News

An Overlooked SXSW Highlight: Black Joe Lewis and West Dallas's The Relatives

Pete and Nick did a bang-up job covering South by Southwest's music fest over on DC9 at Night. But Friend of Unfair Park Big Jon Daniel directs our attention to this holy-effing-ess moment: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears' Friday-afternoon lunchtime treat at the Austin Convention Center featuring none other than The Relatives, another amongst Dallas's long-overlooked gems ... at least, in Dallas. Perhaps Schutze has a point.

What you see above is their marathon take on "Walking On," released on a tiny Shreveport label exactly 40 years ago -- amazing, considering the thing still sounds so big, brash and brand-new. The glory-hallelujah-gospel-fuzzed-out-funk band, fronted by the Rev. Gean West and his brother Tommy, didn't last long -- but 10 years and a handful of officially released tracks, calling it quits in 1980. Twenty-nine years later, Noel Waggener's Heavy Light Records out of Austin collected all of the group's singles -- many recorded with none other than Phil York -- and released them, and other newly discovered odds and sods, on the essential compilation Don't Let Me Fall.

The Relatives' revival has been well-documented 200 miles to the south, where the band more than occasionally plays the Continental Club (with Black Joe Lewis, a personal favorite) and, last fall, the Austin City Limits fest. In a lengthy piece for the Austin Chronicle last October, Audra Schroeder labeled The Relatives "Dallas' best unknown gospel group," which is one hell of a moniker. (So embarrassed.) But Waggener tells Unfair Park that's to be expected, kind of.

"The Continental Club has been their home base," he says, pointing out that The Relatives have played but one Dallas gig since their resurrection, a Loft show with Black Joe Lewis. "But Reverend Gean was talking to us all weekend about trying to book something in Dallas. They've been really successful in Houston and Austin and even France. But they were like, 'We need to get something going in our hometown.'' Jeff, I gave Noel your number.

Waggener was then kind enough to hook me up with the Gean and Tommy -- just in time too. In June, says the designer and label owner, The Relatives will go into the studio to record a new album featuring songs they wrote in the 1970s but never recorded, along with a few covers. Producing will be Spoon's drummer, Jim Eno -- who also works with Black Joe Lewis. On the other side, a very rare treat: The Relatives' Christmas Day appearance on local TV in 1974. I want to go to there.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky