Lonesome Onry and Mean: Western Swing Royalty at iFest

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Looking ahead to the Houston International Festival - never mind the SXSW bollocks - I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys will be playing on the Texas Stage at 6 p.m. on April 18. Not long ago in these cyberpages, we examined the gloom and doom that surrounds the musical art known as honky tonk. Well, these guys are as legit as it gets - so legit they were featured at last year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And looking at their schedule, they don't show any signs of slacking up.

Nix is the son of the legendary Big Spring fiddler Hoyle Nix, who has often been dubbed "the other Bob Wills." Nix and Wills were friends and both played with much the same style, although Wills went on to worldwide fame while Nix stuck close to home, working dances, running his Stampede Club (which Tumbleweed Smith called "a monument to Saturday night dances") and recording hundreds of songs on tiny local labels like LaMesa's Bo-Kay ("Each Record A Bouquet of Music).

Members of Wills' band were known to play in Nix's band when they needed to lay low or dry out. Wills may have become the more visible star, but that didn't keep NBC Nightly News from including Hoyle Nix's death as an item when he passed away in 1985.

As has also been oft repeated in these pages, I grew up in Odessa in far West Texas. My parents were not exactly party animals; they were too poor for that. But my mother loved to dance, and once in a while we children would hear the adults making plans to drive the 60 miles to Big Spring "to the Stampede." The place is almost as holy in the annals of Western Swing as Benares and the Ganges are in Hinduism. And in West Texas, Western Swing was a religion.

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Photos courtesy www.jodynix.com
Jody Nix (r) and Robert Weeks, live at Odessa's Stardust Club, 2005
I disc jockeyed at KOYL in Odessa 1972-73, and there I discovered a treasure trove of Hoyle Nix singles, all covered in dust and long neglected. I proudly took them home, cleaned them up, and located slip covers for them. Among the best were Nix's blazing recording of "Ida Red," covers of some of Wills' classics like "I Don't Lov'a Nobody" and "The Kind of Love I Can't Forget," an aching straight country ballad called "Picture on the Wall" (the credit says "Unknown"), Nix's own legendary classic "Big Ball's In Cowtown," and numerous fiddle instrumentals, none more catchily titled than "Great Big Taters in the Sandy Land."

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Live at the Legends of Western Swing Festival, Wichita Falls, June 2006
Nix was such an eminent figure in West Texas that the West Texas Historical Association in Lubbock has printed Great Big Taters in the Sandy Land: The Musical Friendship of Bob Willis & Hoyle Nix by Joe W. Specht of McMurry University (vol. 82: 67). While some of Hoyle's recordings were on Bo-Kay, he also cut for Caprock Records in Big Spring, and his own Stampede label (the address shown is simply "Gail Rt., Big Spring, Tex"). Nix's version of "Cotton Eyed Joe" on Stampede is the equal of any version to ever enter a recorder.

Anyway, it does my heart good to see the International Fest people including such legitimate country acts as Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys. We'll be doing more on Hoyle and Jody Nix as we countdown to the iFest. Meanwhile, I'm going to get out my old 45s and drop the needle in the groove once again and wonder why Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo didn't book this guy in the Hideout.

Below are the lyrics to "Big Ball's in Cowtown":

Workin' on the railroad

Sleepin' on the ground

Eatin' saltine crackers

Ten cents a pound

Big Ball's in Cowtown

We'll all go down

Big Ball's in Cowtown

We'll dance around

(Ehhhh, come in momma, the hog's done got me)

I'll go to Cowtown

I'll dance around

Board up your windows

The big boy's in town

Big Ball's in Cowtown

We'll all go down

Big Ball's in Cowtown

We'll dance around

Put on your new shoes

Put on your gown

Shake off them sad blues

The Big Ball's in town

Big Ball's in Cowtown

We'll all go down

Big Ball's in Cowtown

We'll dance around

Everybody's smilin'

You can't find a frown (Ah)

The girls are all happy

Cause the Big Ball's in town

Big Ball's in Cowtown

We'll all go down


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