Jimmy LaFave, Proponent of “Red Dirt Music”

“River Road” – Watch on YouTube

Jimmy LaFave was a beloved, Austin-based musician who blended country, rock ‘n’ roll, and blues into a form of Americana that became known as “red dirt music.”

Born in Texas, LaFave spent his formative years in Stillwater, OK, in the region that produced music legends Woody Guthrie, Chet Baker, J.J. Cale  and Leon Russell.

LaFave was a singer-songwriter and guitarist. He was known for his original songs and interpretations of others’ work. One of his most streamed songs is “Walk Away Renée” on his Austin Skyline album (itself a takeoff on Dylan’s Nashville classic). He recorded albums for both Rounder Records and Red House Records.

Jimmy LaFave, July 12, 1955-May 21, 2017

“Walk Away Renée” on Spotify

Larry Coryell, The “Godfather of Fusion”

Larry Coryell and Eleventh House Live in Oslo (1975)–Watch on YouTube

Music genres get named and walls go up. Jazz lives in one room; rock ‘n roll in another. Purists don’t like intruders. Then along comes a musician like Larry Coryell and he doesn’t just knock on the door, he kicks it down. As a jazz-rock guitarist, he helped launch a new genre himself, fusion.

Coryell (April 2, 1943-February 19, 2017) came of age in the rock era, but he was a guitarist who had a healthy respect for jazz forbears like Wes Montgomery. For some listening suggestions, check out Mark Myers’ excellent blog JazzWax. His February 21st and 22nd posts provide a helpful survey of Coryell’s career, as well as memories from artists that Coryell collaborated with or inspired–Gary Burton, Randy Brecker, Steve Khan and John Scofield.*

“If music has something to say to you, whether it’s jazz, country-and-western, Indian music or Asian folk music, go ahead and use it.” Larry Coryell

I started this blog because I’m endlessly curious about different music styles. When someone asks, “What do you like to listen to?” I have a hard time coming up with a single answer. Like Coryell, I want to walk into different rooms. Thanks to artists like him, we can.

*Scofield, who just won two Grammys for his genre-mixing Country For Old Men, will be at the Dakota in Minneapolis on Saturday, February 25.

“General Mojo’s Well-Laid Plan” with the Gary Burton Quartet on Spotify

Pauline Oliveros, Composer Who Promoted “Deep Listening”

“The Difference Between Hearing and Listening” at TEDxIndianapolis–Watch on YouTube

I was in the shower this morning and took some time to take in the sounds: the hum of the water in the pipe, the spray of the showerhead and percussive clap of droplets hitting the tile floor.

I suppose I was practicing a form of “deep listening,” the practice and philosophy developed by sonic experimentalist Pauline Oliveros over the course of her long musical career.

As a child in Houston, Oliveros (May 30, 1932-November 24, 2016) was keenly aware of the sound of her surroundings: crickets, frogs, mocking birds. When she headed to San Francisco in 1952 to study music, she took this attentiveness with her and applied it to the emerging art of electronic music.

Her breakthrough piece was “Bye Bye Butterfly,” a composition built off of a recorded sample of Verdi’s Madame Butterfly and modified dramatically through the use of oscillators, tape delays and other effects. In an excellent post on frieze.com, critic and journalist Geeta Dayal quotes Oliveros as saying the piece “bids farewell  not only to the music of the 19th century but also to the system of polite morality of that age and to its attendant oppression of the female sex.”

Oliveros’s ideas on deep listening formed the basis of a book, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice,  and a band, The Deep Listening Band, which she formed with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis after they recorded in an underground cistern in Washington state.

“Bye Bye Butterfly” on Spotify

Holly Dunn, Country Singer of “Daddy’s Hands”

“You Really Had Me Going” Official Video–Watch on YouTube

Holly Dunn’s wrote her biggest hit, “Daddy’s Hands,” on her way to work one morning. She made a tape of it and slipped into a Father’s Day card to her dad. The song only made it to #7 on the Country Charts in 1986 (the year it was released), but it earned her nominations for two Grammys – Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.

In a post on niume, Texas music exec A. Michael Uhlmann relates a conversation with Dunn, in which she recalls that when she was growing up, her San Antonio home was open to many musicians, including Sonny James, Roy Orbison and Porter Waggoner. But, according to Uhlmann, Dunn was also influenced by singers closer to her generation – James Taylor, Carole King and The Beatles.

She often collaborated with her brother Chris Waters, and the duo penned a number of her hits, including “Playing for Keeps,” “Strangers Again” and “(It’s Always Gonna Be) Someday.”

Dunn was named “Top New Female Vocalist” in 1986, won the CMA Horizon Award in the same year and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1989.

“Daddy’s Hands” on Spotify

Alfonso Ramos, Jr., Member of Two Tejano Halls of Fame

Roy Montelongo Medley–Watch on YouTube

Alfonso Ramos, Jr. was a fixture in the Austin, TX music scene for over a half century. A saxophonist, he first played with his uncle Justin Perez’s band before starting his own, Alfonso Ramos y Su Orquestra in the 1950s. Ramos played popular Austin Latin music venues, including the City Coliseum, Latin Quarter and the Chapparal.

He recorded over 100 albums and performed before audiences around the country, including at the Mexican-American Inaugural Ball for President George W. Bush. His brother started Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution, a group that won a Grammy for Best Tejano Music Album of 2009.

Ramos (October 22, 1936-October 4, 2016) is in the Tejano Music Awards Hall of Fame and the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame. If you hear similarities to polka in Tejano Music, it’s because it has its roots in the horn-driven music of the Germans, Poles and Czechs who immigrated to Texas and Mexico in the 19th century.

“La Verdad Desnuda” on Spotify

 

Rob Meurer, Keyboardist and Collaborator with Christopher Cross

“Ride Like The Wind” on The Midnight Special–Watch on YouTube

I was driving in the country last weekend, when “Ride Like The Wind,” the Christopher Cross song from his Grammy-winning debut album, came on SiriusXM’s “mellow rock” channel, The Bridge. Several days later, I had a second Cross encounter, as he gave tribute to his former bandmate Rob Meurer, who was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident.

Meurer (d. September 24, 2016), a fellow San Antonian, recorded and toured with Cross during the artist’s peak period in the early 80s. On his own website, Meurer states that he co-wrote over 50 songs with Cross and lists titles that made it on to six different Cross albums.

Besides Cross, Meurer toured with J.D. Souther and Karla Bonoff. He was a regular at Amigo Studios in LA and recorded tracks there with Carole King,  Johnny Otis and a demo of “Ave Maria” for The Neville Brothers. A fan of musical theater, Meurer was associated with the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and was lyricist for a recent musical, Helldrivers of Daytona.

“Ave Maria” from A Synth For Christmas on Spotify

Oklin Bloodworth, Singer Who Shared His Music with Children

“Jazzy Jaguar”–Video on YouTube

Oklin Bloodworth was a retired school music teacher who made numerous recordings and performances to and for children. He was primarily known in California’s San Joaquin Valley, according to his obit in the Fresno Bee, but you can find his numerous recordings on iTunes, Amazon and on Spotify.

On Spotify, Bloodworth’s albums are centered around months of the year. I’ve featured a track from his birth month of January.

While he was most known for children’s music, he also performed more adult-friendly music as a singer and guitarist. His father, who died in 2014 at age 87, was a blues guitarist and singer.

“The World is Like an Apple” on Spotify

Wilton Felder, Saxophonist for Jazz Crusaders and Session Bass Player

“Inherit The Wind” featuring Bobby Womack

Wilton Felder was a tenor saxophonist for The Jazz Crusaders, a successful jazz group that formed in the early 1960s. He was also a prolific session bass player, appearing on recordings for The Jackson 5, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan and others. The distinctive bass line for The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” is Felder’s creation.

The Crusaders Live at Montreaux, 2003

The Crusaders (they dropped “Jazz” from their name in the 70s) moved in a more pop-oriented direction in the 70s, adding electric guitar and switching to electric piano. The group went through several iterations and lineups during the next few decades.

“Keep That Same Old Feeling,” Live in LA, 1984

A 1981 New York Times interview with Felder (August 31, 1940-September 27, 2015) included his explanation of how he developed his big sound. Texas clubs in the early part of his career didn’t often have microphones, and as increasingly amplified guitars began to drown out other instruments, Felder learned to play loud. He adopted a metal mouthpiece, used hard reeds and “played strong.”

Ornette Coleman, Pioneer of Free Jazz

Ornette: Made in America (trailer)

Where do you start to learn of the contributions of saxophonist Ornette Coleman (March 9, 1930-June 11, 2015). The All Music Guide to Jazz has so many 5-star reviews of his albums that it isn’t much help. “The Adventure” episode in “Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns” spotlights the LP “Free Jazz,” which has a single track that spans over both sides. That seemed intimidating.

So I took the advice of Tom Moon in 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die and settled on “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” Moon suggests that you “Cue this up whenever you want to be transported to a time when radicalism was on the loose in America.”

And something did seem to be in the air in 1959, when the album was released. For more on that momentous year, check out this BBC Four documentary. The whole video’s worth watching, but if you want to jump ahead to Coleman, you’ll find him at about the 28:00 mark.

1959–The Year That Changed Jazz

Coleman pushed past the restrictions that even the fairly unfettered genre of jazz still hung onto: predictable chord changes, fixed time signatures and keys. He developed his own theory, which he called “Harmolodics.” In the liner notes for “Dancing in Your Head,” Coleman explains this as “rhythms, harmonics, and tempos [that] are all equal in relationship and independent melodies at the same time.”

Ornette Coleman Trio Recording Soundtrack to “Who’s Crazy?”, 1966

In “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” Coleman’s quartet was completed by bassist Charlie Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins, a cast of musicians he would turn to for many recordings. But he would play with many others and evolve through decades, as only the father of free jazz could.

Ornette Coleman was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

“Lonely Woman” at Jazz at Vienne, 2008

Johnny Gimble, King of the Western Swing Fiddle

Johnny Gimble profile on “Waco Remembers”

There are a lot of musicians whose music I know, but whose names I don’t. I’ve come to know some of the people behind the music, thanks to a recent series of documentaries and videos on the Muscle Shoals studio musicians, LA’s Wrecking Crew, bassist Carol Kaye and the backup singers featured in “Twenty Feet from Stardom.”

For me, fiddler Johnny Gimble falls into this category. I’ve  probably heard him playing off and on for over 40 years–with the cast of “Hee Haw,” on my college roommate’s Bob Wills and Asleep at the Wheel records, on “Austin City Limits” or “The Prairie Home Companion.” And who knows how many other Nashville recordings I’ve heard him on.

“Take Me Back to Tulsa” with George Jones

But while Gimble (May 30, 1926-May 9, 2015) may have been a stranger to me, he obviously was no secret to the country elite. And he was no stranger to awards, either, having racked up five Best Instrumentalist Awards from the Country Music Awards, nine Best Fiddler Player awards from the Academy of Country Music and two GRAMMY Awards for collaborations he did with Asleep At The Wheel.

“San Antonio Rose,” Asleep at the Wheel with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys