It’s a combination as musically pleasing as it is downright sweaty and dirty. The punk of the Ramones and the twang of Billy Joe Shaver and the writing of Steve Earle. Dallas’ The Von Ehrics are so back and so badder than ever.
Their 2009 album, Loaded, was indeed loaded with peddle-to-the-metal “punktry”, and their blistering new album, Two Foot Stomp (from Lucky Buck Records), is even more so. One of the remarkable aspects of the new record is in the way that the band can scrape and thrash their way through a song yet the tune’s melody is as evident and pleasing as one could possibly hope for, in any type of song, let alone a raucous punk tune. “The Last of The Working Slobs” is a prime example of The Von Ehrics’ keen sense of melody in the midst of madness. For those who may be wondering just how country a punk band can be, look no further than “Smokewagon” for your proof.
While the Robert Jason Vandygriff-led outfit (that’s been together for a decade now) boasts original tunes that stand on their own, the band has an excellent ear for which tunes to cover on their offerings. Hayes Carll’s “Down the Road Tonight,” from his album Little Rock (the album that many people should listen to once they’re done with Carll’s more recent Lost Highway releases) makes for a I-can’t-believe-this-hasn’t-been-covered-before-by-a-punk-band moment. Another cover on the album, a version of Tanya Tucker’s FM Gold classic tune “Texas (When I Die),” could’ve been turned into an ironic, jokey tune, but these guys just let it rip and let the song be what it is, naturally. On their last album, the band covered Shaver’s “Old Chunk of Coal,” proving that timeless country tunes are indeed timeless, regardless of what sonic blaket they’re wrapped in.
The band will be touring the country in the coming months and of course, will be all over Texas, with July stops in Dallas and Ft. Worth, especially.
The late, great Mickey Newbury was way ahead of his time. That’s pretty much the case in just about every facet of his life, including his death in 2002 at the still-productive age of 62. Born in Houston in 1940, Newbury only left Texas when he joined the Air Force at 19, then moved to Nashville after that, when he became a songwriter who quickly grew tired of the Nashville sound and the formulaic ways that the fat-cat executives preferred everyone to record, back in those days. So, before so many others did so, Newbury got the hell out of Nashville so he could do things his own way.
In fact, many look to Newbury as the artist who truly started the outlaw movement; a sound that’s often credited to the likes of Willie Nelson, or Waylon Jennings or even Billy Joe Shaver. The fact is, all those legendary names worshipped at the feet of Newbury’s sonic style and writing capabilities. Newbury’s raw, jazz-tinged country arrangements had people such as Ralph Emery calling him the first “Hippie Cowboy”.
Speaking of hard-to-define: At one point, in the late 1960′s, there were four different Billboard charts that had a Newbury-penned tune in its Top 10 (Pop, Country, R&B and Easy Listening).
As the youngest artist ever inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Newbury’s style of country-fusion isn’t the backyard BBQ, rebelliously rocking outlaw country, but after-dark-while-drinking-a-glass-of-something-darker country music. The jazzy shuffling of Newbury’s soulful style will most definitely remind many of Willie Nelson’s work from the 1970′s and will hopefully remind everyone of why it was completely sensible for the Red-Headed Stranger to team up with Ray Charles and the results still be 100% country.
Thanks to Drag City records, people all over will have the chance to hear why it is that Newbury was revered by the outlaws that seemed to revere nobody. Newbury’s LPs, Frisco Mabel Joy, Looks Like Rain and Heaven Help the Child are all being reissued, and will help a new generation understand how it was the Newbury was ahead of his time.
While outlaw country legend, Billy Joe Shaver, has received some recent notoriety that isn’t what most would call “welcome” or even “positive”, he has made overcoming obstacles as regular of a part of his life as penning and performing classic country tunes has been.
Born in Corsicana and spending a good deal of time in Waco, Shaver has become a household name in his home state. The fact is, many people outside of Texas are familiar with his work, even if they don’t know it. After leaving Texas over 40 years ago (his move was only temporary), Shaver found work as a songwriter, most notably landing several tunes on Waylon Jenning’s Honky Tonk Heroes album. That album, as much or more than any other record, is credited with beginning the so-called Outlaw Country movement.
Over the last couple of decades, Shaver has continued to churn out excellent records that have caught the attention of country music’s elite artists and have bolstered his appeal as a worthy elder statesman of a time that has sadly seemed to have passed in Country music. Also, however, has Shaver had to deal with crushing blows that would’ve leveled so many other lives.
In 1999 and 2000, Shaver suffered the losses of both his mother and wife, Brenda (whom he had married and divorced on multiple occasions) and then, his son and musical partner, Eddy, died from the results of a heroin overdose.
Relying on the faith that he vocally carries with him, Shaver has continued to soldier on and is still a man on a mission. This week, in Plano at Love & War in Texas, Shaver will be honored by many of his contemporaries and many of the artists that have been inspired by him with a “Rusty” Award. This prize is given annually to a prominent Texas artist who has influenced so many, within the state and beyond.
Many great acts will be features, beginning at 6:00 pm. Darryl Lee Rush, Gary P. Nunn, The Tejas Brothers, Mark David Manders and many others will be on hand to say thanks to this living Texas legend.
Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob