Strange Country – when country music was hip, Part II

buck owensLast time, I was talking about country music, and how people don’t even know that it can be cool anymore. There was a hip underbelly in country music even as it was also marketed as the safe, God-fearing, family loving music embodying rural hearth and home. Oddly enough, the artist who best represents both sides of this dynamic in country music – hip as fuck, but also corny and hokey and willing to shamelessly pander to the moron demographic – is Buck Owens.

Buck Owens in the 1960s epitomizes country music at its coolest. A gifted songwriter with an amazing string of hit records (in an era when widespread popularity and quality were not mutually exclusive concepts), Buck’s output during this period will never be equaled. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. 15 consecutive number one hits – and they’re all great! Buck wasn’t a solitary genius, either. He had an amazing band of musicians behind him, honed into a razor-sharp outfit by a punishing road schedule, and dressed to the nines…

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Strange Country – when country music was hip, Part I

So I’m a DJ now. Started a DJ gig at the Aristocrat Lounge: Strange Country. Yeah, yeah, DJing takes lots of talent, but it seems like there are a million soul DJ nights going on in town, and I wanted to do something different. I chose the name Strange Country not because I’d be playing novelty records all night, but in honor of Billy Strange, session guitar player extraordinaire who played on the coolest Lee Hazlewood albums, and a million others from country and western to pop to rock n’ roll.

Calling it Strange Country would also maybe help to signal that I wasn’t going to be playing I Walk The Line. We all love Johnny Cash, but let’s be real – Johnny Cash is to country music as Bob Marley is to reggae at this point.

But like Johnny Cash, Billy Strange was a cool dude. Anybody who played on These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ would pretty much have to be. He was a serious hepcat, and he also played country music. A lot of people don’t seem to know that country music can be cool, too. Or at least, it used to be.

roy lanham

I ripped off a Roy Lanham album to make this flyer.

I’ve accumulated a lot of country and western records over the years, and this was easy, because most people didn’t want them. If you read the interview I did with Walter Daniels from a few posts back, we both talked about our days working in record stores, how country music wasn’t appreciated by many in the indie rock and punk rock world.

My alienation served me well, however, because I’ve been able to pick up lots of country records cheaply since the Sonic Youth fans were too square to know what they were missing. If you are reading this, I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know, but if there’s one thing I’ve found from writing shit on the internet, it’s that all kinds of crazy people might end up reading it. Hey, this might be news to some of them, if not you!

Today we are in the middle of a “vinyl resurgence,” but country records still don’t have the cachet of something with “northern soul” or “popcorn” in the ebay description. That’s fine with me. Even while the price of vinyl in other genres gets ridiculous, most country records are still inexpensive. Perhaps that is because country music has a bit of an image problem. Why might that be?

We’ll examine it in excruciating detail after the jump! Continue reading

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Dead Mall Blues – The Video!

Anand Modi shot and directed this great video for the title cut from my new album with Walter Daniels on 12XU Records. Filmed on location inside Highland Mall in Austin, Texas, it not only gives you something to gawk out while listening to our song, it documents a bit of soon-to-be vanishing Americana:

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Dead Mall Dues: Schooley’s guide to “modern” acoustic roots records

^ Photoshop skillz

When I recorded my new record Dead Mall Blues on 12XU with Walter Daniels, (one of the TWO NEW RECORDS I have out right now, the other being my solo LP The Man Who Rode the Mule around the World on Voodoo Rhythm Records) it didn’t seem weird to me. Walter and I both listen to a lot of acoustic music, and both play acoustic all the time. Not like I’m playing through a Marshall stack cranked to 11 when sitting on my couch. All of our previous records have been electric affairs, though.

Part of the reason I wanted to record Dead Mall Blues was because Walter had never really been recorded in an acoustic context. He’s a great player with his own style that comes across whether he’s plugged in or not. When playing electric he does a lot of crazy stuff with feedback, but if you take away the amp, he’s just as interesting to listen to.

So, recording an all-acoustic record didn’t seem that weird to me, but now that the record is out I get a lot of strange reactions. “This is really different from your other stuff!” is something I’ve heard more than once. And maybe it is, because I’ve never been recorded playing strictly acoustic before, but it never seemed different to me because I’ve always listened to lots of acoustic music along with everything else.

I’ve listened to a lot of old blues records, I love the older country blues artists and obviously they were a big influence on me. Yet after many years of listening to older blues recordings I began to branch out from the “original” bluesmen to some of the more contemporary players from the 60s and later, and these records were a big influence on Dead Mall Blues, too. You could call these “modern” acoustic records because they were recorded maybe fifty years ago, instead of eighty! Time to give this artists some credit. I mean, once you’ve listened to hundreds of hours of blues records, and you still want MORE sounds, you’re going to have to move up a couple of decades.

When the “blues revival” hit in the 1960s, a lot of blues players were “rediscovered” by white college kids, and about as much time had passed then as has now passed since when these 60s second-wave blues pickers first recorded. Mississippi John Hurt recorded for Okeh in 1928, and his “rediscovery” in 1963 was only 35 years later. Meanwhile an act like Koerner, Ray, and Glover first recorded in 1963, and here we are 51 years later and they are still in relative obscurity, even for many blues fans (and that’s a small group, as I’ve previously discussed!). How about some appreciation for a little bit of that 1960s white-boy blues? It doesn’t diminish the original bluesmen’s music at all to admit that these later guys could make a mean record, themselves. And not all of this stuff is strictly blues, either, there’s a lot of folk and country influences mixed in, too. I do play banjo on Dead Mall Blues, and we cover Hank Williams in addition to Blind Willie McTell.

I can’t speak for Walter, but after the jump there’s a list of some of the “contemporary” (i.e.: recorded in maybe the last 50 years) LPs that were also a big influence on me the making of Dead Mall Blues:

records

Just so you know that I practice what I preach. *Not pictured: lots of other records.

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I interview Walter Daniels about working at Sound Exchange, and the Austin punk scene

I’ve been friends with Walter Daniels for years, and before we recorded our new album on 12XU I did an oral history interview with him about working at Sound Exchange, the legendary Austin, Texas record store, for the local historical archives. Since our in-store at End of an Ear celebrating the release of our new record is this week, I thought it would be cool to share the interview with ya. Unfortunately, all that’s left of Sound Exchange is the Daniel Johnston mural on the side of the building, but in its heyday was a major epicenter for punk rock and rock n’ roll in Austin.

I did this interview when I was working at the Austin History Center, the historical archives for the city of Austin, and for Travis County, Texas. Unfortunately, for a city that claims to be the “Live Music Capital of the World,” music-related material is not a large part of the collection at the AHC. They do have the papers of Tim Kerr in their manuscript archives, which is pretty cool because you can pull out a box of old Big Boys and Jack O’ Fire t-shirts. Tim’s collection also has a lot of Xeroxed flyers from early punk shows, which are great to check out. I got them to add copies of Ben Snakepit’s comics when I was there, too, so future generations will know what it was like to be a punk-rock loser in Austin in the aughts. But generally, music-related stuff is under-represented in the AHC’s holdings.

I wanted to do this interview to add some more music-related material to the AHC collection, to better document Austin’s punk rock scene, and to document a bit about the record store scene in Austin, as well. Records stores were/are an important part of any healthy music scene. And at the time this interview was conducted, things were looking kinda bleak.

When I was working at the AHC was also when everybody stopped buying CDs, and downloading and torrenting files was making the music industry collapse. This interview was recorded in 2010, after record shops in Austin like Sound Exchange, the Austin location of Tower Records, 33 Degrees, and Sound on Sound had all closed in rapid succession. So, please forgive the bits of gloom and doom that pop up regarding the future of the record trade, things didn’t look too good at the time.

In 2010, nobody could have predicted that vinyl sales would have picked up as much as they have today. Four years later, things have turned around a bit, and Austin record stores like End of an Ear, Antone’s, and Breakaway are thriving. But this interview is still an interesting look at Walter’s time working at Sound Exchange, and at the Austin music scene in general.

Walter also gets to bitch about being the only guy around who liked both punk rock and roots music, and how Charlie Rich got no respect from the punks! If you want a little window into why Walter and I get along, share the same mindset in many ways, and how a record like Dead Mall Blues makes perfect sense to us, even if nobody else gets it – this interview is a great place to start!

3106 Daniels, Jeff (PDF)

This interview is in the holdings of the AHC, so if you ever go there in person you can ask for a paper copy, or to listen to the original recording, too!

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European Tour Report, Part the Second: in which I play a buncha shows and try to sell people my TWO NEW RECORDS

In Part One, I went to Europe, tried to sell people my TWO NEW RECORDS, and played a bunch of shows. Well, in Part Two, you won’t believe what happens next! bonn stompIn Part Two, I try to sell people my two records, while playing yet more shows!

More photos, video, and rambling descriptions after the jump!

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European Tour Report, Part The First: in which I try to sell people my TWO NEW RECORDS and play a buncha shows

2014 European tour!

2014 European tour!

Now that I’m back from ‘yurp and had some time to get over the jet lag, let’s look back on my overseas sojourn in words, video, and crappy cell phone pictures! I spent a couple of weeks trekking across the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland with my Voodoo Rhythm Records labelmate Urban Junior. Since both of us have new albums on Voodoo Rhythm to promote, we did a package tour: me and Urban Junior every night.I’m dividing the whole sordid tale into two posts, so you can waste even more time reading about me having fun while you were stuck at home.

Our journey begins with… an exciting layover in the Atlanta airport! More thrills after the jump!

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