Thursday, February 19, 2009

Austintatious 70s

I'm not sure why, but I have been reliving some of my stories and trying to get them into some sort of record. Well, that is not really true. I do know why I've been doing a lot of thinking and typing is partly because the boys want to have some of those stories for future reference. More than likely these stories will turn out to be dust collectors for them like most of my collected "stuff". Years from now, when one of my sons has enough age on him to begin reflecting, he will be saying something like, "Honey, do you know what we did with Dad's CDs when we moved?"

To be honest, it's not all because of the kids. I also am fond of oral history...the voices of the people. Not to be confused with the dressed up historical manuscripts doled out to the population through the educational systems. I have personally found that in order for me to gain an understanding of what I consider historical truth, I need a combination of both the socially accepted facts along with a good portion of good old down home stories from those who actually lived it! I also believe history is a weapon that can aid human beings in their efforts to define civilization. I am not satisfied with the definition of the word yet, but maybe we are getting closer and the right definition of a civil society is only a few generations away. At this point in time, I am almost certain that if any good at all comes from the Internet, it will come from the sharing of "Our Stories". I have only a handful of friends who ever read this little corner of the web, and that is another reason I tell these stories. It is also for that little handful, the true friends I have met on this journey through the millions of web sites, pages, links, and discussions. Always remember...quality over quantity...quality is sustainable, and quantity is not!

So here is another story whose inspiration comes from Wheathead Danny Schmidt. I hear Danny's following has grown considerably and recently along the independent music railroad we have been witnessing the birth of a new breed of collaborators. I have heard these collaborators being called "Schmidtheads", but I have not been able to nail down where this term originated. We will have to keep our eyes on the progress of this new sensation of social networking. Why did Danny inspire this story? It is because he reminds me of the typical good folks that I knew down there in Austintacious. He reminds me of the Austin, Texas I knew back in the early 70s. That is a good thing, and I have mentioned a bit of that history once before in the Tribute to the 'Dillo. It is reassuring to know the spirit that I knew back then, is still living, breathing, and carrying on. Oh yeah...the story...

First I will try to establish my niche, my community within the Austin area and a sense of what the area was like prior to the sprawl of Austin. I lived in this little fourplex of studio apartments from '71-'74. I was the assistant manager at the rent was the pay. At this time, Austin's growth was just beginning to ignite and these apartments were only a short walk from the aquifer fed Barton Creek, which was still very remote once you were a half mile or so west of Zilker Park. Where I lived was on the edge of the then mostly uninhabited hill country. The Barton Creek area contained beautiful limestone cliffs with caves scattered along different points throughout it's length. This area would eventually be called the Greenbelt. I am sure it is still beautiful, but I am also almost certain I would be disappointed if I were to see it today. So I think I will hold on to my memories and savor the time. While I lived in this are, the local watering hole just up the street was the old Broken Spoke. A quiet place during the week, but it was kicking on the weekends!

A good friend of mine from Louisiana was drumming with different groups throughout '71-'72. I seem to recall one of the bands called themselves "Donnie & Clyde" in reference to the heroes outlaws whose names sounded very similar. Donnie and Clyde were actually brothers who had a small faithful audience that followed them from one hitching post dancehall to the next in a radius of 30 miles of Austin. These places were much different than what I was accustomed to in Tennessee, and entire families would pack into the dancehalls...every age. The atmosphere was very real and the people were very warm. Most of the time, once the place was closing, somebody would invite the entire crowd over for a community breakfast! Great times...and I wish we could see a revival of that comradery.

It was late in '72 if my memory does not fail me, that my friend Randy was approached by an old Jimmie Rodger's style yodeler named Kenneth Threadgill. Threadgill's bass and guitar players (Charlie Davis and Buzz Dolim) knew Randy from different gigs around Austin and they persuaded Kenneth to offer him a steady job. Randy fell in love with the old timer, which is what happened to everybody who met Threadgill. There just was not anything to not like about him...he was real. It didn't take long before I had to have a yodel fix at least once or twice a week. The old guy was addicting!

Sometime either late '72 or early '73, Kenneth would bring a pretty little Texas girl into the mix as his relief. I am not sure of the spelling or of what happened to her, but Janie Hart was her name. And she could sing like a bird, performing the current popular Nashville country as well as the new sound of Austin that had been labeled as progressive country. This is about the time their band took on the name of "The Velvet Cow Pasture". I'm not sure whose brainstorm that was but the next time I talk to Randy, I'll try to remember to ask.

Janie would sing a set while Kenneth would sit on his stool, one foot on the stage and one on the rungs of the stool, while he drank his favorite bourbon. I do not remember what his favorite was, but I have seen him drink a variety of labels, even what we referred to back then as "J W Don't"! The second set belonged to Kenneth and he would belt out those old railroad blues and have the house eating out of his hand. After his first set and during Janie's second, the band would watch out for Kenneth because he had been known to tilt his stool too much and come crashing down to the stage. Everybody kept a watchful eye on him and would yell at him if they saw him coming close to the precipice. Every time I showed up for one of their gigs, Kenneth would sing my two favorite tunes, Blue Yodel #1, and the Wreck of the Old '97. He was a generous man, but he also knew if he sang my faves, he could depend on me helping to load and unload equipment when I was around.

In '73, following a gig at the Shakey's Pizza Parlor on Guadalupe, I tagged along in Kenneth's old motor home with the Cow Pastures and we headed north for a Willie Nelson homecoming concert in Abbott, Texas. There was an old boy with us, can't remember his name, but if I remember right, he worked at the old Picking Post music store on Lamar. He had brought his girlfriend and he was intent on being married at the concert. Sure enough, the next day, right after Michael Murphy did a set with his son in his lap, this preacher they had found somewhere in Abbott performed the marriage ceremony for them right on stage to the complete enjoyment of the crowd. I have often wondered if the uniqueness of that moment in their lives helped the marriage or hurt it. I suppose I will never know, but I choose to think it helped it and they are still together chasing their grandchildren and talking about that special day once upon a time in Abbott.

Another opportunity arose back in '74 and when asked, I accompanied them in the old motor home once again. This time I was privy to the first outdoor Kerrville folk festival. I had the original LP album until a house fire in '76 turned it into an unrecognizable blob. I am certain Randy still has his copy somewhere and although I wish I still had the original vinyl, it would probably just be collecting dust with my other stuff. I found this album review that lists the performers of those early years. Whew! A lot of memories from Kerrville, and yet there is a lot I just do not remember! Nobody to blame but myself for that loss of memory!

Now I'm beginning to feel self-conscious as this is starting to sound something like bragging...but that really could not be farther from the truth. Now if I had been talented enough to play at these venues...then maybe I would brag a bit, but truth is, it's just a piece out of my life that I wanted to share. And the reason I have added all this unimportant text to the web (as if there were not enough already) is all because of this honest to goodness, real Texas troubadour I discovered on Whole Wheat Radio.

This has taken much more space than I realized it would, and I have really condensed and tried to remain focused on Threadgill. Maybe next time I can talk about another old friend I worked with in Austin. He and his brother were some of the best fiddlers I've heard to this day. I worked with Walter Collins while painting houses in the Austin area. Walter had perfected his fiddle playing while tagging along with his brother on the road. His brother was Cotton Collins who was a member of the Lone Star Playboys. Cotton is best known in Texas for his tune, "Westphalia Waltz". Cotton and Walter are both gone now, but I'm sure they are still making the hair stand up on Gabriel's neck when they draw the bow across those twin fiddles. But that is another story for another time!

To end this story, and bring it back into focus, I would like to offer a three part playlist of the film "Singin' the Yodeling Blues". This is the work of Claude Mathews. Thank you Claude for your work on this and for your willingness to share!

You can watch all three videos here.


Blogger Scobey said...

I share the same desire to record the events as I saw them. Good job and I hope to read more.


Wednesday, 25 February, 2009  
Blogger Karen Webb said...

I have a pile of thoughts and notes stacked here by the computer, over the last few months, that same urge to write it down, let others know what we did her in Austin in the day...

maybe this will move me forward, on my Webb House Concert blog on blogger! thanks for this!!

Wednesday, 29 July, 2009  
Blogger Moose said...

Regarding your Blog post from THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2009 (Austintatious 70s), you mentioned Janie Hart who sang with Kenneth Threadgill during the 1970's. Due to a family emergency, I am trying desperately to find her. She is my first cousin on my Mother's side. She's originally from Muscatine, Iowa and her parents were Maxine (Tyrrell) Hart and Marvin Hart. She had two children, Jon & Lynn who attended Austin High. If anyone has ANY information that could help me locate her, PLEASE send it to me or ask her to contact her cousin Pat Schiwitz at This is regarding her Aunt Kathy (or Aunt Ann, as her family would usually use her middle name) Thank you for any assistance. It is greatly appreciated and time is of the essence in this matter.

Monday, 19 March, 2012  

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