Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Thursday, March 31, 2005


I knew Texas music was big, but didn’t know quite how big and diverse until this week. I am attending the ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) this week in Austin. The Association is devoted to the preservation of all sound, that is, oral histories, speeches, sounds in nature, etc., but let’s face it, most sound that is recorded and preserved is musical, and a whole lot comes from Texas.

Our first speaker was David Oliphant, professor of literature at UTA and de facto Texas jazz historian. His thing is discography, and he put forth a Texas-size list of local musicians (supplemented by me. ) Add to the list if you can. Here they are: Jack Teegarten, Teddy Wilson, Bud Johnson, Eddie Durham, Kenny Durham, Red Garland, Ornette Coleman, Tee Carson, Scott Joplin, Janis Joplin, Gene Austin, T-Bone Walker, Gene Autry, Flaco Jimenez, Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly.

The next speaker was John Wheat, archivist for the University of Texas, Austin Center for American History Sound Archive (formerly Center for Texas History). Here are two of the musical gems in his archive, available to the public for listening:

* Janis Joplin singing at Threadgills, then and now an Austin hangout, in 1962. Janis came from the Gulf Coast and studied briefly at UT. Artsy and independent even then, she did not endear herself to Austinites, except the very small Bohemian crowd that accumulates around any university, even Austin in the early 60s. She sang the Appalachian ballad Silver threads and golden ribbons.

* A Leadbelly improvised song , recorded at the Lomax family (read that John and Allan) home in Austin, precisely at 400 E. 34th Street. Leadbelly hung out at the Lomax family home after his stint in a Louisana prison, but before his New York career as a folksinger. Bard that he is, Leadbelly improvised the sone, mentioning all the members of the Lomax family, the address, the city, and where they were going to and coming from.

Finally Chris Strachwitz and Tom Diamont spoke on the Strachwitz Frontera Collection, a collaboration between the Arhoolie Foundation and UCLA. Chris’ Arhoolie Records is right down the road from my home in the Bay Area, and I’ve admired his work for years, so it was fun to get to hear him speak about it. He has been collecting music from the Texas/Mexico borderlands region for fifty years, much of it unique, and had gotten to know the music, the people and the culture enough to become part of it. Be sure to check the digital archive (still in progress), made from Chris’ collection of 60,000 recordings of Frontera music.

We had a short tour of the Austin City Limits Studio at the UT campus. I didn’t realize this program, running more than 35 years, is a low budget, homegrown operation. Even now they only present musicians who are touring through the area, since they don’t have a budget to subsidize travel. The chief engineer told us that the programming has shifted away from Texas music, toward mainstream, popular genres. Such a shame. The programming direction has also changed recently, towards featuring more commercially successful musicians.

In terms of live music in Austin, we went one night to the Broken Spoke (another Austin musical destination) and heard Debra Peters, who plays the button accordion and sings country ballads with a feminist twist.

I’ve been worried about Austin based singer and yoddler Don Walser. I got word that he is alive although his health is deteriorating. He performs occasionally in Austin, so if you are in Austin and want a treat, look for him in the [URL]


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