Monday, August 16, 2010

The Gift of Texas Music

Saturday night I had the distinct pleasure to see a musician that I have followed for (rough calculation:) 28 years. Shake Russell is his name and he is known as the Texas Troubadour. Listening to him in concert with his Huge Little Band; Doug Floyd and Mike Roberts, touched the yearning I have had for about five or six years to hear real people playing real music on real instruments with real lyrics they wrote their own selves. These guys did not disappoint.

I’ll back up a bit and tell you the first time I was introduced to this brilliant songwriter’s work. I was in my second year of college, and a girl brought her guitar to an art class (why, I don’t know, perhaps just to show off) and while we were waiting to get into the drawing lab, she got out her guitar and sang a song, “Deep in the West”. Wow, there were profound lyrics, telling a sad story of a relationship that just isn’t working so well. She couldn’t have written that song. Turns out, I was right. I pried it out of her; some guy in Houston named Shake Russell.

A couple of years later, a roommate from Kentucky of all places introduced me to Shake’s voice and other songs. Along with Dana Cooper, they made music that got me through the early eighties. So many great memories are brought up when I hear that familiar voice.

Back to Saturday night; my sister and our friend picked me up and we made the trip to Galveston, anticipating the evening. They had both heard him before in Wimberley at the Cypress Creek Cafe. When we arrived at the venue, The Old Quarter Acoustic CafĂ©, we were transported back to 1974. The dimly lit, 1890’s circa building was a study in 70’s retro. Posters on the walls, exposed brick, high ceiling fans and a neon armadillo are but a few of the notable features of this classic throwback setting. There was a wall dedicated to the memory and music of Townes Van Zandt, the Texas songwriter. The entire scene was small, only enough room for a small stage, an antique bar and a few bistro tables along with about 50 to 75 spots for people. My sister said she was waiting for the Fire Marshall to pay a visit at any minute. Everywhere there was someplace to plug something in, there were several things plugged into it.

As the warm-up act, Joanna Gipson, sang, played harmonica and played her own music on her guitar, I began getting that old feeling of being in the presence of creativity and craftsmanship. Her personal anecdotes between songs, were delivered in a relaxed, semi-hippie style.

When the Shake Russell Trio took the stage, not 15 feet away from me, the ache to hear great live music was quelled. Just three guys with the instruments they love. The first song he did was “You’ve Got a Lover” which is the second song I had ever heard of his, the first one I heard him sing. The skill with which he played that black Ovation guitar, upside down, the way Doug’s mandolin and Mike’s bass filled up the sound was just the medicine I needed. The whole night was so enjoyable. Shake’s thanks for our applause at the end of each song seemed genuine and heartfelt. As one reviewer, Bruce Bryant, an independent film producer in Houston put it; “Shake’s music walks right up to you, says howdy and gives you a big hug. His tunes make you happy or sad or thoughtful, but above all - they make you feel. Nobody writes a better love song. I’ve been a huge fan for decades…”. This is an apt description of the prevailing spirit of the night.

At one point in the concert, toward the end of the first set, Shake was tuning his guitar for the 10th time, and he happened to look out the plate glass window at about three-quarters to the back of the stage. Outside on the sidewalk, he spied a ghost from the musical past. He motioned to the figure outside to come on in. It was an Elvis impersonator, in full white jumpsuit, black wig and chrome sunglasses. Shake offered to do a duet of “Viva Las Vegas”, but the King just waved and yukked it up for a couple of seconds, then left as quickly as he had arrived. Of course, when the door closed, Shake lowered his voice into the mike and intoned, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building…” to an appreciative audience who recognized that it was a clean shot and he took it. Some straight lines you can wait your whole life for.

His songs and stories touch all of his fans in a special way, his warm, friendly vocals lead the listener to hear and feel the lyrics. For my parents’ 50th anniversary, I did a little video with old pictures and a corny narrative, and at the end used Shake’s classic song, “Two Silver Hearts”*. Through the entire project, when the song came up, I was close to tears every time. The story he tells is one of enduring love and simple contentment.

If ever you get a chance to see him live in concert, please capitalize on the opportunity, you will be delighted as I was, and who knows, you too may become a fan for the next “28 years”!

*I have no idea what some of these images have to do with the song, but the recording is the original that I heard so many years ago.


Anonymous said...

On the rare occasion we are allowed the opportunity to travel back in time. Congratulations and you were able to do it with friend and family. I will try to be on the next time machine with you all (maybe Rick wakeman).


Rob V. said...

So, how do you get to the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe? I need to check out that joint.