Willie Nelson at House of Blues, 11/18/2014

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Photos by Jack Gorman
There's only one Willie.
Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver
House of Blues
November 18, 2014

See enough Willie Nelson concerts, say at least a half-dozen, and you'll really start focusing on the little things. Sure, the set list may not change much from show to show, if at all, but each one that comes around makes the subtle variations applied by Willie and family stand out that much more.

Plus, these are songs like "Whiskey River," "On the Road Again" and "Georgia On My Mind" we're talking about, so it's not wise to look a gift horse like that too closely in the mouth anyway.

Tuesday night at a sold-out House of Blues, the biggest question going in was whether the atmosphere would be as fragrant as the previous evening's Method Man/Redman/B-Real blunt brigade, and Willie's fans more than held their own. There was some pretty powerful herb being passed around for sure.


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Houston's Historic Starday Records: The Earliest Singles

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Handbook of Texas Online/Texas Historical Foundation
Houston businessman Harold "Pappy" Daily's sons Don and Bud founded Cactus Records in 1975.
In 1952, Houston jukebox operator and record distributor Harold "Pappy" Daily and Jack Starnes, Lefty Frizzell's manager, formed their own record label. A combination of both men's names, the tiny Starday actually began recording operations in Starnes' house in Beaumont and released its first 45, Mary Jo Chelette's "Gee It's Tough To Be 13" b/w "Cat Fishing," in early 1953.

Over the next five years, Starday went from a bedroom operation to one of the most important regional labels in the country. Along the way, it would serve as a regional springboard for the popular new craze known as rockabilly as well as a label noted for its roster of important regional artists and eventual national country stars.

Daily and Starnes released 16 singles in their first year of operation, and seem to have skipped over No. 8 and No. 13, as no information is available on those series numbers. Several of these were by the same artists, as it was not unheard of to release several singles per year to feed the bulldog that is mainstream radio. While only one of the tunes from the first year caused much of a ripple outside the Gulf Coast area, they do give a fascinating representation of the sounds that certainly filled local joints and radio stations, and also offer a measure of how much talent there was in the local market.


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The Best and Worst of ACL Fest, Weekend 2

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Photos by Julian Bajsel
Note: this article was updated at 8 a.m. Tuesday, October 14, to add Ivan Guzman's contributions.

Best 17-Year-Old Who Rocked
Oh Lorde! This lovely New Zealand native is the real deal, and stole Weekend 2 with her windpipes, big hair and humility. The crowd at the Retail Me Not Stage was one of the largest of the festival, with everyone in awe of this youngster's performance and singing along. She even sprinkled in an amazing cover of Kanye's "All Of The Lights."

Lorde said ACL was her last show on her first world tour, and asked the crowd to "cheer louder than you have ever cheered before" as a token of appreciation of her crew. I'll take a Lorde performance over Iggy Azalea any day of the weekend. MARCO TORRES

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A Dozen Houston Highlights From Austin City Limits

Categories: TV Party, Texas Me

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Photo by 33stradale via Wikimedia Commons
Lightnin' Hopkins' mojo hand was still plenty strong at his 1979 Austin City Limits appearance.
Austin City Limits wasn't always a cultural institution, nor a repository of some of the finest musical performances ever committed to videotape. In the show's earliest days it was an unusual experiment even for public television, and creator Bill Arhos and his staff did not have the benefit of the sterling reputation it enjoys today. But now, among musicians, ACL is arguably the most coveted booking on the airwaves, perhaps even more prestigious than Saturday Night Live.

Back then, though, the now-retired Arhos was program manager of Austin's PBS affiliate KLRN (later KLRU). He had read Jan Reid's 1974 book The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock and hatched an idea that he might be able to base a TV show around the scene surrounding Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters. That near-mythical nexus of the post-'60s counterculture and traditional Texas values (with tasty nachos, too) was conveniently personified in Willie Nelson, who appeared in Austin City Limits' 1974 pilot episode. Arhos somehow convinced KLRN and PBS to sign off on a series, and ACL was born.


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James McMurtry Knows What Works by Now

Categories: Playbill, Texas Me

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Photo courtesy of Conqueroo
From the my-how-time-flies category: James McMurtry, who plays a solo show at McGonigel's Mucky Duck Saturday, marks a quarter-century as a professional musician this year. He began his career in the late '80s by gaining recognition at songwriting events associated with the Kerrville Folk Festival, and managed to get a demo tape into the hands of John Mellencamp in 1988. At the time, Mellencamp was working on a movie with McMurty's father Larry, the author of such novels as Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show.

Too Long In the Wasteland, produced by Mellencamp, was a monumental, panoramic debut album that propelled McMurtry toward the front ranks of Texas singer-songwriters. Those who remember his earliest Texas tours will recall a young introvert struggling with the requirements and demands of the spotlight; it was not always comfortable to watch. With the brim of his trademark hat pulled down to shield him from close inspection by the audience, McMurtry won audiences over with his songs, his guitar playing, and his literate gravitas.


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The Best and Worst of ACL Fest, Weekend 1

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Photos by Marco Torres
Best Act That We Didn't Understand How They Were Making Noise: The Glitch Mob
With a battery of touchscreens and drum triggers, The Glitch Mob dropped what was the most impressive set of electronica on the festival, which is saying a lot on a bill that features some of the biggest DJs in the world. Their set was a fun mixture of originals and remixes, including a filthy cover of "Seven Nation Army." Tired of seeing dudes peering down at laptops? The Glitch Mob got your back, even if you're not exactly sure what's going on up onstage. CORY GARCIA

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Kacey Musgraves at Warehouse Live, 10/2/2014

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Photos by Jason Wolter
Kacey Musgraves
Warehouse Live
October 2, 2014

Kacey Musgraves feels almost too good to be true. The 26-year-old Texan seems as sweet as can be, both onstage and in her media appearances, and sparks the kind of connection with fans that has them singing her songs back to her without her even asking them to. Running across this kind of guileless talent in 2014, not just in Musgraves' chosen realm of country but in all of pop music, feels a little like driving past a jackalope on your evening drive home from work. You're not sure it's real, but you won't soon forget it all the same.

Although it came out a while ago (March 2013), Musgraves is still touring behind Same Trailer, Different Park, prompting her to slyly dub the leg that brought her to Warehouse Live Thursday evening "Same Tour, Different Trailer." As she apologetically explained to the venue's near-packed ballroom, she's been so busy she simply hasn't had time to make another record. Picking up award after award and spending the balance of the year as Katy Perry's hand-picked opening act will do that.


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How Austin City Limits Went From TV Show to Blockbuster Brand

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Photos courtesy of Oxford University Press
Willie Nelson (onscreen) at the 2006 Austin City Limits Music Festival
It's shaping up to be a big weekend for Austin City Limits. First, the landmark PBS television show that began taping episodes on the top floor of Building B in UT-Austin's College of Communications in 1975 salutes its 40-year history with a two-hour special full of past performances. Airing tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Houston time, that retrospective will probably look familiar to longtime viewers of the program, who will see plenty of ACL's famous fake skyline (where the state capitol building and UT tower are just a little closer together than they are in real life), as well as signature camera shots that linger on the performers a little longer than any other show on the air, ever, sometimes at strange angles like looking up through a snare drum.

What those viewers may not see are many hints of the multimedia cultural octopus ACL has become in the 21st century, albeit in a very laid-back and low-key "Austin" kind of way. Offering a preview of his Bayou Music Center appearance next Thursday, Beck opens the series' 40th season with an hour-long episode that airs Saturday night at 11 p.m., the night after he headlines the first night of the 13th edition of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park.

Most of what happens during the festival's three days -- and then again next weekend -- will be streamed live on the Internet, while all week long, a number of other ACL Fest 2014 acts will tape episodes of their own at the 1,800-seat ACL Live venue at downtown Austin's plush Moody Theater. Others, like Interpol and Jimmy Cliff, will duck over to nearby cities like Houston for convenient side gigs.


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10 Houston Acts to See Before You Can't

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Photo by Mark Britain
Little Joe Washington
The passing of Texas Johnny Brown last year hit me and a bunch of people pretty hard, so the September 12 death of Crusaders pianist Joe Sample was another slap in the face that many of Houston's musical heroes are closer to the end than the beginning. The latest bad news is that bluesmen I.J. Gosey and Little Joe Washington, as well as monumental drummer, educator and community leader Bubbha Thomas, have been in poor health, although Little Joe's prognosis is looking pretty good if he maintains his dialysis schedule.

All of this brought on some surveying of the local landscape and wondering how much longer some of our oldest artists have, and in turn the following list of artists that you need to get out and see while you still can. Nothing morbid here, just the cold, hard facts of time marching on. As Houston's Mike Stinson sings in one of his new songs, "Time is a relentless marching whore." Believe me, I'm on the front lines.


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Revisiting Johnny Winter's Hell-Raising Memoir

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Photo courtesy of Kid Logic Media
Johnny Winter, third from left, with John Belushi, Muddy Waters and Dan Aykroyd
Raisin' Cain; The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter
By Mary Lou Sullivan
Backbeat Books, 384 pp., $24.99

As is the case when any musician dies, widespread interest in his or her career and catalog shoots up in the immediate aftermath. And that has certainly been the case with blazing blues singer/guitarist Johnny Winter, who passed away in July at the age of 70 while on the road in Switzerland.

Ironically, even outside of his demise, the profile of the Beaumont native and former Houstonian was on the rise with the release of a career-spanning box set (True to the Blues), a documentary (Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty) and a now-posthumous "comeback" record, Step Back.

So it's a good chance to look back at Raisin' Cain. First published in 2010, it was the culmination of a rocky road for author Sullivan. Based on scores of hours of first-person interviews Sullivan conducted with Winter -- along with his bandmates, his mother and brother Edgar, friends, lovers and others -- the book took more than two decades to produce. It didn't help that a former manager barred her from access to Winter halfway through the project, while his next one restored the relationship.


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