"New Folk" Competition Kicks Off "Simulated Tour '89"

By "Bumm" Doutt

(From information furnished by Bill Ede)

L.A.S.C. member Bill Ede made use of his status as Kerrville Folk Festival '89 "new folk" contestant to plan another in his series of "simulated tours." This "tour"/vacation included the time beginning Saturday, May 26, the first of two days of competition, and ending the following Sunday, June 4, when six winners were to return to perform 20-minute sets apiece at the new folk showcase. Ever hopeful of being one of the six (Ede was, in fact, one of the six winners in the 1985 competition), Bill's task remained to squeeze as much music-related activity into a nine-day period as was humanly possible. Well, if anyone could do it, Bill could, and Kerrville and surrounding areas make that an altogether attainable goal to which to aspire.

Arriving in San Antonio at about 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 27 (too late to attend the contest's first day of competition, sorry to say), Bill decided to check out some record dealers in the San Antonio area. It seems that there is renewed interest in what is being referred to as the "San Antonio sound" or the "west side" sound, a rhythm and blues based music that was popular in the area in the early '60s. Though not all the artists were from San Antonio, most were typically regional artists with occasional national success, like Sunny and the Sunglows (later the Sunliners), Rockin' David Allen, Jimmy Donnelly (who sold the copyrights to his songs outright for next to nothing, enabling veteran producer and Houston radio personality Huey Meaux to put his name on them as writer), and early period Gene Thomas. (Ede, a long-time fan and friend of Thomas's, was particularly interested in locating some of his early 45s on the Venus and Picture labels. He found three at $15 a shot, including a remake of the old James Brown classic, "Try Me.") San Antonian Doug Sohm (of Sir Douglas Quintet fame) has done much to keep the music of the "west side" alive (witness his 1983 album with keyboardist Augie Meyers, The "West Side" Sound Rolls Again, Teardrop 5000), performing, both at home and abroad, songs by Thomas, Sunny (Ozuna) and Allen, along with better-known material by Lloyd Price, Fats Domino, and T-Bone Walker, among others. Bill's search led him to Les Harris's record store near the Ingram Park Mall and Brown Sugar Records in a flea market behind a shopping center on Fredericksburg Road. Mario at Brown Sugar supplied Bill with the Thomas discs and his own personal perspective on the music of that time and why it is suddenly becoming so popular. A visit to San Antonio's famed riverwalk was a fine way for Bill to cap off an early evening of record browsing, the large holiday crowd notwithstanding. Some seafood at Dick's Last Resort on the riverwalk (where fries are only served by the bucket) and some local '60s soul music made for an early Saturday night.

Next morning it was off to Kerrville and day two of the new folk competition. Twenty singer-songwriters had performed their own material the day before, and now the remaining twenty, including Bill, were to get their chance. Bill was one of the last to perform, and gave relatively faithful renderings of local favorites "1943 Copper Penny" and "If There Was Something I Could Do," but there was heavy competition in the air (despite hosts Rod Kennedy and Peter Yarrow's efforts to play down the contest aspect of the event), and some good songwriters were obviously going to be overlooked. Realizing that he was, indeed, in good company, it wasn't as hard for Bill to accept not being one of the six winners in this year's competition. It was enough that he had gotten to perform, and that some people had remembered him from '85, and from 1987 when he was also a contestant. (Amy Kurland, from Nashville's Bluebird, came by to give her regards to Bill after the competition. The first five days of the festival had been dedicated in her honor, for her contributions to the field of original music -- specifically for the writers' night held regularly at her Nashville establishment. To Bill's thinking, a more deserving candidate than Amy would be hard to find. Too bad Bill had to cancel his June 11 appearance at the Bluebird due to illness.)

This year, 450 tapes were submitted to the new folk competition, substantially more than have normally been entered in the past, probably due to the increased exposure the festival has gotten over the past year. This year's winners include Anne Feeney (Pittsburgh, Pa.), L. J. Booth (Amherst, Wis.), Rachel Polisher (New York, N.Y.), V. Buddy Renfro (Harpers Ferry, W.V.), Michael Engberg (Big Fork, Mont), and David Massengill (New York, N.Y.). With the competition behind him, it was time for Bill to get into some serious music appreciation for its own sake, including Sunday evening main stage concerts by Shawn Phillips, Patty "not bad for a broad" Larkin (who falls "somewhere in between Julian Bream and Ray Stevens, but I'm not exactly sure where," says Bill), and the first few songs into the set of the Limeliters, after which it was off to sleep to ready oneself for an early morning of "hard traveling."

Austin is around 96 miles northeast of Kerrville, via Fredericksburg. A side road will take you to Luckenbach, famed hideaway of Hondo Crouch -- that is, if you don't drive right past it. (The city of Luckenbach consists of a small store and a slightly larger performing area directly behind it. That's it.) Also on the way is the city of Dripping Springs, location of the first Willie Nelson Fourth of July picnic in the early '70s. Bill was en route to Austin to touch base with a songwriter he greatly admires, Tim Henderson. Tim was once referred to by renowned Austin music critic, the late Townsend Miller, as "Austin's greatest songwriter." Bill is too much of a fan to question such a sentiment, although it doesn't appear to be common "knowledge" among the locals, who each seem to have their own personal favorites. Tim was, in some respects, a late-comer to Austin, and doesn't perform a lot in public (although he most certainly should, as he is a superb stylist), but what Bill keeps coming back to is "how great can songs be?" and he is not far from the mark. Tim is a renaissance man, to be sure, as accomplished in many other areas as he is in songwriting. (Pretty remarkable considering the above.) Perhaps that is why he doesn't always come to mind when Austin songwriters are discussed because he's always busy doing other things. (Well, not always. Tim has five albums to his credit, and is concurrently working on three more at the time of this writing.)

Anyway, Bill spent much of Monday at Tim's home near Lake Travis, talking about his own music, asking about Tim's, and listening to Townes Van Zandt stories. (Townes is Tim's favorite Texas songwriter, and certainly one of Bill's as well, as the number of Townes songs in Bill's repertoire can attest.) Tim is just the kind of guy to give someone a handle on "just what's going on in Texas music these days." He has a superb command of history, language (Russian, German and Spanish, along with English), computers -- you name it. Bill's mind hadn't been challenged like that "since the priests in high school." In fact, Tim somewhat reminded Bill of some of those priests, what with the many disciplines he seemed to have at this command. (Mrs. Henderson's presence made it clear that he was not like priests in all respects, as his family orientation might be considered "too worldly" to fit such a lifestyle. But there is a spirituality to Tim that shows up in both his life and in his songs. (A listen to any number of the tunes from Tim's Vinegar Dust and Sandspurs makes this apparent. After a long and full day (and evening) with Tim and his family, it was time for Bill to return to Kerrville and the days ahead -- with whatever might he could muster.

Where else but Kerrville can a would-be or intermediate guitar player get the chance to study under the supervision of guitar greats like Happy and Artie Traum, Russ Barenberg and Rory Block? Well, such a chance might exist elsewhere, as well, but since Bill was "in the neighborhood," he could not pass up such an opportunity. The Homespun Tapes Guitar School was in session Tuesday, May 30, through Thursday, June l, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and there was much information to take in and (gulp!) master. Rory Block focused on the blues and songs like Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" and Willie Brown's "Mississippi Blues," both employing non-standard guitar tunings. Happy Traum was also blues-oriented, but tended to stay with the familiar, standard tuning (for the most part). Happy's brother, Artie, dealt more with what he referred to as "singer-songwriter chords," as in the styles of Livingston and James Taylor, while Russ Barenberg described his approach as "exploring the fingerboard," with an emphasis on scale positions and a nod to "Carter-style" picking -- a lot to take in, indeed, even when one is in what Artie called "an expanding mode." At least the next time such information is encountered, it will not be completely foreign, and may even seem remotely familiar. (Let's hope. We'll see if Bill's picking all of a sudden gets flashier anytime soon.) The classes were attended by about 40 students, and they were invited and encouraged to sample the different classes. A hefty discount was given to those students wishing to purchase both audio and video tapes from the Homespun catalog. All in all, the classes were an intense, though of necessity general, journey into the theory and application of guitar playing, as seen from the perspective(s) of four of today's greats. In addition, school membership entitled one to attend night concerts on those same three days, including performances by Colorado's Chuck Pyle (writer of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Jaded Lover," among others), Anne Hills (the "voice" of Chicago) and a surprise concert by transplanted Alabaman Willis Alan Ramsey, in his first performance in nearly a decade. (Ramsey is the author of "Muskrat Love," recorded by both America and the Captain and Tennille, and had a very faithful cult following in the mid-to-late '70s. Hopes were high that his self-titled classic first album might finally be "followed up." Willis wasn't saying, but he did perform some new songs, including an interesting tune about sleepwalking.)

The next day found Bill en route to Houston, a 250-mile drive, to visit with friend and songwriter-hero, Gene Thomas. Bill was pleasantly surprised to hear Gene's "Cryin' Inside" on San Antonio's KONO on the way. (The station also played the P. F. Sloan-produced and -penned "Bittersweet" by the Robbs, much to Bill's delight.) The record did not chart in Louisville, and Bill only remembers hearing it "two or three times," back in the '60s. "KONO treats oldies as a viable alternative, not just an acceptable substitute," relates Bill. "Too bad Chuck Casteel, et al (WAVG) haven't picked up on that yet, though they're at least not playing the same oldies over and over and over, like some stations.")

Bill spent the next couple of days filling Gene and his family in on the details of his trip, including some of the Kerrville infamous campfires he had played in the last few days, pinpointing the whereabouts of his own music (geographically and otherwise), and generally getting acclimated to the fourth largest city in the country. Gene's wife, Darlene, raved about the recent concert Gene had performed with Roy "Treat Her Right" Head at Texas's Garner State Park, west of San Antonio, which Bill, sad to say, had missed by less than a week. Over the next two days, Gene and Bill traded off songs and ideas, and Bill showed Gene the 45s of his he had purchased from Mario in San Antonio -- records Gene had not seen in 25 years!! Gene was, predictably, floored to encounter "these dinosaurs," and was at a loss for words -- at least momentarily. Part of Saturday night (and part of Sunday morning, one might add) was spent listening to some of a 22-inning Astros game, and looking through some Austin magazines Bill had brought along for some possible jobs for Gene's band. Shortly thereafter, Bill found himself "giving in to the gravity," to prepare for the long trip ahead.