RIP Johnny Winter: Texas Blues Icon Dies at Age 70

Michael Weintraub/Sony
The quintessential Texas bluesman: Johnny Winter
Guitarist Johnny Winter, one of the true greats of Texas blues, passed away Wednesday night in Switzerland. His publicist sent the following message at 5 a.m. Thursday, and said a longer official statement would follow "at the appropriate time."

"His wife, family and bandmates are all saddened by the loss of one of the world's finest guitarists," it said.

Winter, a native of Beaumont, was 70 and known for his work with Muddy Waters and albums including Second Winter, Nothin' But the Blues and Serious Business. Following is an interview Rocks Off's Bob Ruggiero did with the legend back in February, when Columbia Records released the multi-disc career retrospective True to the Blues. We will have additional tributes to Winter soon as well.

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The Mystery of Mary Sarah: Country Music's Next Star?

Photo by Jim McGuire/All photos courtesy of Shore Fire Media
Many critics believe that for the past few years, country music has been experiencing the kind of artistic bankruptcy that comes along once in a generation. But now something odd is happening, and the unlikely catalyst is a teenager from Fort Bend County who once confessed her "MAJOR" crush on Justin Bieber to this very blog.

Next week, Cleopatra Records will release Bridges, an album featuring 18-year-old Richmond native Mary Sarah dueting with a clutch of Country Music Hall of Famers including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton and the late Ray Price. Also on hand are near-Hall of Famers like the Oak Ridge Boys (her early champions), Ronnie Milsap, Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Big & Rich (ahem) and a few others.

Frankly, Mary Sarah looks and sounds an awful lot like Carrie Underwood: All-American cheerleader good looks and a voice blessed with not only perfect pitch but dynamic range (which, unlike Underwood, she doesn't overuse). On Bridges, she goes well beyond holding her own against some of the greatest talents in country-music history -- most of whom are admittedly getting on in years -- and pretty much steals the show.

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The Urban Cowboy Soundtrack Holds Up Pretty Well

"Do you like Joe Walsh?"
Have you watched Urban Cowboy lately? It's actually on Netflix right now if you never have. But the movie that in many ways put Houston on the map in the world's eyes -- how come nobody ever brings up Terms of Endearment, though? -- frankly hasn't aged all that well.

Pulpish B-movie fare to begin with, the plot largely centers on dim-bulb John Travolta putting Debra Winger through some Grade-A pouting, in the process all but squandering fine character acting by Barry Corbin, Scott Glenn and of course that scene-stealing Gilley's mechanical bull. Winger's steamy dance on top of that bull about halfway through the film will never get old, of course, but overall Urban Cowboy is about as outdated as the Houston skyline (beautiful as it is) in that tracking shot down Memorial Drive during the opening credits.

That's why, because two of its main stars are bringing their "Urban Cowboy Reunion" tour to Stafford Centre this evening, we were pleasantly surprised that the soundtrack by and large holds up pretty well. Somehow the producers resisted the urge to toss in some disco, but otherwise the 18-song album is prime late-'70s mainstream pop, balanced with enough redneck rock to still play in Pasadena. Just don't mistake it for country music until the very, very end.

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Happy 90th Birthday, George Bush Sr.: A Rousing R&B Salute

Video Still courtesy of Shout! Factory
Stevie Ray Vaughan rips it up a year before his death.
A Celebration of Blues and Soul: The 1989 Presidential Inaugural Concert
Directed by David Deutsch
Shout! Factory, 120 min., $19.98

"Tonight is not a night for politics," says a well-coiffed man at the microphone with an unmistakable Southern drawl at the beginning of this concert. "Tonight is the night for music and blues!"

At first, the statement might seem fantastical, because of the man who uttered it: one Lee Atwater, an advisor to President Ronald Reagan, then campaign director for the Bush-Quayle ticket in 1988 and later chairman of the Republican National Committee. To him, everything was about politics.

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The Five Best Ways to See George Strait This Weekend

Categories: Texas Me

Photo by Daniel Kramer
George Strait at Reliant Stadium, March 2013
George Strait trivia time: do you know the second-to-last place King George will have ever played as a regular touring artist? If you had the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo Thursday night, you win, but sadly we still can't help you get tickets to the grand finale tomorrow night in Arlington's AT&T Stadium.

Even now, Strait's covered wagons are probably making their way from the Rio Grande Valley to North Texas for as bittersweet a moment as true-blue Texas country music fans have ever seen, one that just about every single person who has ever cut a rug or soothed a broken heart to a Strait tune wishes he or she could see in person. But the stadium with a capacity of more than 100,000 has been sold out practically ever since tickets went on sale. They were averaging about $350 on StubHub this week, The Dallas Morning News said. (At least somebody's gotta be filming this thing tomorrow, right?)

But still. Maybe there's a way you can still blow off work today, find a truck and fire it up, leave Houston in the dust, and make your way to the biggest concert country music has ever seen. We thought of five. Run.

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Five Outdoor Texas Festivals That Went South

Photo by Anna Hanks via Flickr
The Great ACL Fest Washout of 2013
Free Press Summer Fest dodged a pretty serious bullet this year. When festival officials announced that the grounds around Eleanor Tinsley Park needed to be evacuated around 2 p.m. last Saturday afternoon, some of us who were there had visions of pandemonium at the exits and the kind of heavy rains that would have had leftover props from Russell Crowe's Noah floating down Buffalo Bayou. But we were spared a direct hit from the weather and while the evacuation spawned a ton of predictable social-media carping, all in all everything worked out OK once everyone (finally) got back into the park.

Indeed, FPSF went on to have a pretty successful weekend, eventually drawing hordes of people, especially Sunday, and officially selling out for the second year in a row. (According to the Chronicle, festival officials and their city counterparts were scheduled to do a walkthrough of the grounds to monitor the cleanup's progress this morning.) No doubt the FPSF folks in the golf carts and production trailers could have done without the close call. All the same, this near-miss couldn't help but remind us of a few other outdoor Texas festivals some people would probably rather forget.

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Casey Donahew Band's Foolproof Anti-Theft System

Categories: Playbill, Texas Me

Photo courtesy of Splash Publicity
Plenty of Texas country bands sing about people on the wrong side of the law, a tradition that goes back at least as far as Willie and Waylon. But recently the Casey Donahew Band did their peers one better when several members foiled the attempted theft of one of them's expensive ice chest - and went right on to play their gig in front of a screaming audience that included several of the perpetrator's friends as the cops were hauling him off to jail.

The scene was a show in Wichita Falls about six weeks ago. According to Donahew, he and bassist Steve Stone had spent the day at his ranch outside Fort Worth and driven up in Stone's truck to meet the rest of the band at the venue. When it was getting close to showtime, they walked out of their tour bus to notice someone had pulled another pickup halfway into the parking spot next to Stone and was attempting to make off with the Yeti cooler strapped into the back.

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Old 97's at Fitzgerald's, 5/27/2014

Photos by Jason Wolter
Old 97's, Lydia Loveless
May 27, 2014

In band years, the Old 97's have now reached what you might call their Tattoo You period, settling into a solid signature sound while fighting off early-middle-age complacency and retaining the ability to surprise people a little. But if comparing them to the Greatest Rock & Roll Band In the World seems preposterous, just narrow the focus a little. If a better, more consistent rock and roll band has come out of Texas since the early '90s, they must have escaped me. The 97's just keep shoveling coal into the furnace.

It's hard to beat catching a band on the right night at the right venue with the right set list. The Dallas quartet's return to Fitzgerald's after a long absence Tuesday put the band right on top of the packed-out crowd, restoring the immediacy that gets lost in stuffier environments like House of Blues. Clocking in at 24 songs and 90 minutes on the nose (minus an encore that included a blistering take on the Clash's "Career Opportunities"), the set was just long enough for front man Rhett Miller to sweat through his shirt several times over.

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Toadies at House of Blues, 5/9/2014

Photos by Jack Gorman
Toadies, Supersuckers
House of Blues
May 9, 2014

If playing their 1994 album Rubberneck front to back chafes the Toadies at all, they're being very good sports about it. The Fort Worth quartet has been on a nationwide tour all spring celebrating the 20th anniversary of the album, which bequeathed such unsettling anthems as "Possum Kingdom," "I Come From the Water" and "Tyler" to the angsty tenor of the times. ("I didn't realize how many of their songs were about rape," my brother said after the show, offering one not-uncommon interpretation.)

Rubberneck is not a long album at all, squeezing a lot of wrath and ire into just 11 songs. Friday night at House of Blues, as the Toadies steamed through it soup to nuts, it yielded the kind of feverish catharsis that comes from playing (and listening to) almost a dozen angry tunes very loudly and heavily, compounding the effect by barely pausing between them. Do that in front of a frisky, sold-out crowd for whom "well-lubricated" would be a charitable term, and the result was a first half-hour and change that felt both Pentecostal and demonic.

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The Long, Strange Trip of Austin Psych Festival

Photo by Pooneh Ghana/Courtesy of Austin Psych Fest
Christian Bland and the Revelators
When I woke up last Saturday morning in Houston deciding whether to attend Austin Psych Fest, I had barely wanted to go. When I got to the grounds near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, my worst fears were realized: the heat was unbearable, it was dusty, and I spent that afternoon wandering around like a Giacometti statue trying to figure out "Wat Se Fak?" (German for "WTF") I was doing there.

If you're looking for rest and relaxation, this festival might not be the vacation for you next spring. Although thankful for the lift, paying $5 for a chartered school bus to Carson Creek Ranch felt like something out of the commune scene in Easy Rider. Considerably more avant-garde than most music fests, APF was populated by bands with ambition. It's not a place for people to come lounge and luxuriate, but an environment for people who are really, really into music.

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