Thursday, May 28, 2009

GMVW # 73: "Deep in the Heart of Texas"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 73:  Deep in the Heart of Texas
Song:  Willie the Wimp by Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth
Covered Here By: Stevie Ray Vaughn
(Songwriters: Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth)
May 28, 2009

When debating over the top cities in the US to see live music, New Orleans, Nashville, Austin, New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco are on most everyone’s list.  I’ve been lucky enough to see live local music in all of these cities.  As for top dog status, New Orleans was the most overtly musical, reflecting it’s world-renowned reputation.  One circumstance in particular that made this most clear to me was when I was in Mobile Alabama and caught an amazingly in-synch New Orleans rock band that had to commute the two plus hours east to get a regular gig.  

Certainly, New Orleans is tough to beat when it comes to live music, but for me, Austin Texas runs a close second.  Perhaps because it was not as expected as when I visited ‘The Big Easy’ and other music Mecca’s, but whatever the reason, I was blown away by the Austin music scene.  After seeing it first hand, it’s hard to dispute Austin’s claim that on any given night 100 bands are playing at one time.  There was so much sound emanating out of the multitude of tightly packed clubs on 6th Street, that at first it was difficult to comprehend how you could get enough to hear just one band at a time.  And 6th Street is only part of the story, with many other sections of the city boasting great venues as well.  This is all capped off with the 30-years-running Austin City Limits concerts.  Shawn Colvin, Patti Griffin, Charlie Sexton, Willie Nelson, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and ‘The Butthole Surfers’ (tie for most eye-popping band name along with ‘The Dead Milkmen’) all have roots in Austin.

One work trip I took to Austin in the mid 90’s was just before Christmas and since I was way behind on my shopping, I was talked into an evening excursion to a place called the Armadillo, which had years before been the scene of many great performances from Janis Joplin to Bruce Springsteen.  The large warehouse-like structure was now the scene of an annual ‘Christmas bazaar’, with hundreds of small booths showcasing a wide range of gift choices. And yet, as I discovered when I got there, the music had not entirely abandoned the building. 

Smack dab in the middle was a stage, and performing on it, a fantastic live band.  Beer was the main item on the menu, which you were free to take with you as you roamed the booths.  This was a shopper tag-along’s (guy’s) dream come true.  When I was done at least an hour ahead of the scheduled reconvening, I found myself killing ‘mall’ time in an unusually enjoyable way (like anyone with mall phobia, I turn into a pumpkin in 2 hours at best > picture The Robot in ‘Lost in Space’ after Dr. Smith pulls his power pack):  I sat and watched live music, beer in hand.  Looking around, I noticed that I was surrounded by a number of other solo-sitting gents, and concluded they were each likely waiting for a significant other to finish shopping.  Compared to guys I see in the bland malls around here, however, these fellows looked content.  They were smiling.  So was I.

This week’s Gem is of one of the most revered musicians of the Austin music scene, Stevie Ray Vaughn.  The song, ‘Willie the Wimp’ (written by 2 other Austin natives, Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth) tells the true story of a Chicago gangster’s rather unique funeral.  I’ve included the lyrics below.  The ‘Austin Sound’, particularly Vaughn’s virtuoso guitar playing, is clearly evident in this live performance.

The night Stevie Ray Vaughn died in a helicopter crash (August, 1990) I was in Brussels, Belgium with Nancy and Bob’s brother, Pete, at a Jonathan Richman show.  Jonathan dedicated several songs that night to Stevie Ray Vaughn.  I was a bit surprised.  Richman and Vaughn are two musical personas I would never associate with one another, but, as with all great musicians, a common thread was there in the music.  I should have known…it’s always there.

Below the Gem is a great link (practically a Gem in itself, so I will call it Gem 73.5), the Sir Douglas Quintet performing ’Mendocino’.  Jeff Strause (who was an Austin resident for many a year, and who knew the scene inside out) recently alerted me to the fact that Sir Douglas Quintet leader, Doug Sahm, was a Texas native and cut his musical teeth there.  He was also a mover and shaker in the Austin scene later (he fled Texas for California in the mid 60’s, claiming cultural repression, and did a cover story for Rolling Stone magazine on the topic in 1970).

The final link is Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, a Bob Bouvier favorite.

- Pete

Gem Music Video ‘Willie the Wimp’

Gem 73.5 ‘Mendocino’

‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’

Lyrics to ‘Willie the Wimp’

“ Willie the Wimp was buried today,
They laid him to rest in a special way.
Sent him off in the finest style
That casket-mobile really drove 'em wild
Southside Chicago will think of him often
Talkin' 'bout Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac coffin,
Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac coffin

That casket, it looked like a fine Seville
He had a vanity license and a Cadillac grille
Willie was propped up in the driver's seat
He had diamonds on his fingers and a smile sweet
Fine red suit had the whole town talkin'
Talkin' 'bout Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac coffin
Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac coffin

Oh, Cadillac to Heaven he was wavin' the banner
He left like he lived, in a lively manner
With a-hundred dollar bills in his fingers tight
He had flowers for wheels and a-flashin' headlights
He been wishin' for wings, no way he was walkin'
Talkin' 'bout Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac coffin
Yeah, Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac coffin “

About the Video:  A very nice live version.  It appears to be professionally done in the late 80’s

Video Rating: 1.5 (Very good performance, but footage could be better)

Best Feedback: Jeff
Hi Pete.  You picked a nice Doug song, that one and Shes About a Mover are my favorites.   On the Armadillo thing though, they tore down the original building which was an armory prior to the Armadillo World Headquarters, and built a hirise on the spot after shutting it down in the early 80s  I have some pictures of it.  I only lived in Austni from 79-81 but spent lots of time there between 78 and 87. You got me though in that I have never been to the Armadillo Xmas bazaar, and have often thought about going down there just for it, as a lot of people I really like play it.

I have half a mind to make a quick bike trip up to MA this weekend. The Nields are playing Arlo's church, and Mike Merenda & Ruthy Ungar are playing the following night in Great Barrington.  These two were a part of the Mammals and are great musicians.

I don't know if I'll make it but if I do and Sunday is decent weater I may be able to make a quick trip over to Groton/Pepperell/Nashua.

And Fred:


Another great one.  I was in New Orleans two years ago and the music scene blew me away.  One bar rock, the next jazz, the next country, the next blues, the next R&B.......I cant wait to get back.  I also LOVED Memphis, which is a smaller version of NO.  Lets put it on the list....

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