Friday, October 24, 2008

Texas Blues

Texas Blues
The Rise of a
Contemporary Sound

Alan Govenar
Texas A&M University Press
College Station

John & Robin Dickson
Series In Texas Music
Center for Texas Music History
Texas State University
Greg Hartman & Gregg Andrews
General Editors

I was about to sit down and add a bit or two to the ol' blog here, when my wife came in the front door with a UPS delivery from that trumps anything that I was about to write and that everyone reading this blog needs to go out and buy (or push a few keystrokes and buy). Now, having had my copy for less than a couple of hours, this won't be much of a review--I just know how great of a book that it is going to be for anyone that relishes the blues.

At my side is a copy of Alan Govenar's Texas Blues-The Rise of a Contemporary Sound. It is sort of his continuing saga that began with his Living Texas Blues and Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound. With over 400 photographs and at 599 pages, it offers us a marvelous culmination of his research that began over 25 years ago. There ain't much that he hasn't managed to uncover as far a tracking down the blues from its beginnings in the state up to interviews with blues artists that are taking the stage tonight. The key word here is interviews. These are stories told by the artists themselves, either in interviews conducted by the author or collected from others and reproduced for our enjoyment and education.

He travels from the early blues of East Texas and the Deep Ellum of Dallas, through the progression of electric blues, the importance that the saxmen played on the creation of the sound, the influence of the state's musicians on the West Coast, and along the way we find out oodles about musicians from San Antonio, Austin, DFW, Houston and the Golden Triangle of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange.

I'm ecstatic that a couple of darned fine musicians (both of whom I consider friends) are getting their due. It's about time that a major publication is giving a bow to Sonny Boy Terry's importance to the Houston blues scene for the last 20 some-odd years. As much as I know about Sonny Boy (because I've written about he and his music back in the day), his interview gave me a slice of his history with the city and the bluesmen that he hung with that I didn't know. Sonny Boy's current guitarist and one of this state's finest, Little Ray Ybarra, gets to tell his tale also and it's a fascinating read. Didn't know that his given name was Alphonso. Next time I see him, I'll have to call him Little Alphonso. I reviewed his band's CDs back in the day and they're somewhere, in the meantime go to his myspace site under my links and check out what real blues guitar playing is all about.

It's good to also see Frank Robinson's story in print. Blues musicologist, record company owner, musician, etc.., Tary Owens pulled him from obscurity in Crockett, Texas (my birthplace) and got him featured at the first couple of Navasota Blues Festivals in honor of Mance Lipscomb and also provided Frank with his first recording opportunity. Since Lightnin' grew up just down the road in Centerville and played Crockett jukes frequently back in the day, the younger Robinson often sat and picked with him and picked up his style, his and Frankie Lee Sims, who also frequented the area. Listening to him play was like witnessing a blues time warp kind of thing. His inclusion at that first 'fest was a real treat and got him back into the game. His inclusion in this book shows just how deep Govenar got into the outback of Texas blues.

I'll come clean and admit that I knew that Sonny Boy and Little Ray would be included in Govenar's book, but it was just an added carrot to entice me into getting my hands on it. I did read their interviews before I sat down today and I may not get back to the blog for awhile because I plan on spending some time reading the words of the legends (and those not so legendary, but just as vital) presented within this massive example of Texas blues history. So, I'm gonna stop and read a bit and quit hitting these keys for a spell.

I'm not sure who John & Robin Dickson are, but hats off to them and the Center for Texas Music History at my Alma Mater, Texas State University (I might have to forgive the regents for changing the schools name now.)


P.S.--Update (10/27/08) Quibbles: Now that I read a few more pages of the book, I think I should pass along what irritates me about it. The value of the contents of this volume outweigh my peeves by a long shot, but I think there are some things that could have made the book even better:
1. Better editing--In the table of contents, Doyle Bramhall II is listed as the entry on page 521. Turn to page 521 and it is titled Doyle Bramhall III with a very nice photo of Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton from their Arc Angels days. There are three additional pictures of he and Charlie together (one of which is erroneously mis-labeled). Is the interview about Doyle Bramhall III or II? No, it is about his dad, Doyle Bramhall, there is no III. Well, the table of contents had it right as far as photos go and there is one photo of Doyle Sr. from back in the day in Dallas. And speaking of photos, I realize that with over 400 photos that the real work comes with writing the captions. There are a few that could have identified the subjects a bit better or a bit more correctly.

2. A little more introduction to some of the artist to let the reader know why they count and maybe why they are included. I know enough about a good number of the musicians highlighted in this book, that the interview suffices, but the novice blues fans could benefit with a bit more about the who, what, when, and where. I'm clueless about a few of the folks here, so a bit more info, please.

3. A little updated information on some of the artists that are still with us would have been nice, especially if the interview was from the '80s. This again would be of great benefit to the novice blues reader who just might get the idea that Jimmy Vaughn and Kim Wilson's contributions of any importance to the genre ended in 1987.

I'll stop now, because I don't want to give anyone the idea that I don't and won't treasure this book as being an important addition to the world of blues music. It is well worth the price and adding to your collection of blues literature. Anyway--


Brad Knapp said...

I saw a review of this book in Texas Monthly just earlier today, and I told Megan that we should get it for you for Christmas. Looks like Virginia beat us to it by a long shot . . . I may have to take a gander after you finish with it.

Kathie said...

Discovered your blog this evening and enjoyed reading through several of your posts.
Blessings from Costa Rica

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Kathie--
Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment. I know that Sonny Boy Terry's band will be visiting and rocking the house down there in February--don't miss 'em. Didn't know Costa Rica had a blues fest. That's great! What a way someone in the states could beat the winter blues, while absorbing some. Anyway--

See ya--

Chuck Nevitt said...

Hey, I enjoyed your review. One small thing, Doyle Sr (is Doyle I, if you will). His son, who used to be in the Arc Angels and is now with Clapton most of the time, goes by Doyle Bramhall II. I helped Alan when he did his first book, and was there to catch those sorts of things.
As far as I know, since I have not seen this one yet, my only contribution is that I made, and gave, Stevie the tshirt he's wearing on the cover. Later, Chuck

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Chuck--

Thanks for your comments. Made me aware that I needed to edit my own writing better. When and if you read the book, then you'll see the confusion I'm referring to about the Bramhall's. The article is titled Doyle Bramhall III and is about Doyle Sr., but with photos of Doyle II. Anyway--I was able to go back and edit my post. And by the way, I'm well aware of what you've been doing for the blues up DFW way. Keep it going.