DFW Music News

For Your Weekend Listening Pleasure: The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of Arizona Dranes

I've considered retiring this weekly feature many times in recent weeks; we're about out of the good stuff, I fear -- unless you're just dying for a ladies-choice between Linda Ronstadt at Reunion in '82 or Courtney Love and Hole at Deep Ellum Live in '94, which I'd briefly considered last night. But in the wee small hours of this morning, one Friend of Unfair Park ("Jason") had a suggestion that found its way to the in-box: the complete recorded works of one Arizona Dranes, which, just this Thursday, appeared on the Ghostcapital blog specializing in out-of-print collections. (A note: Though Document's comp of sides Dranes cut in the 1920s has gone in and out of print over the years, it would appear to be available at present.)

Were it not for my good friend Michael Corcoran, the music critic at the Austin American-Statesman, I doubt I'd know who Dranes was. A few years ago, Michael had become obsessed with filling in the estimable gaps in so many of the life stories of Texas's forgotten (and often most important) musical pioneers. Dranes especially appealed to him: She was a blind Pentecostal piano player of whom there exists but a single photo (a group shot at that in which she's barely visible), and the music she recorded in the 1920s was surely strange then and positively beguiling now -- that "Crucifixion" is one hell of a toe-tapper.

Dranes was from North Texas (Greenville? Sherman?), learned how to play in Austin (where she attended the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths) and was discovered by an Okeh talent scout while living in the State-Thomas neighborhood here. Writes Michael: She was an influence on a line extending from Mahalia Jackson to Jerry Lee Lewis, she was "the first person to ever play piano on a gospel record [and] the musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe credited [Dranes] with influencing her raucous, syncopated style." Michelle Shocked is also an admirer, having once written that when Dranes died (at the age of 72 in 1963), she left "those funky chords clattering in the East Texas air behind her, to be used in barrelhousing, in Western Swing, in honkytonk, and in sanctified church to this day."

Reason enough to keep this going at least one more week.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky