You don’t know Texas music. You think you do. You know about Spoon, Solange, and Butthole Surfers. You know that Willie moved back to Texas from Nashville in 1972 and broke country music wide open. You know that Selena changed Tejano music forever before being murdered, in 1995. You know that Bob Wills was the King of Western Swing but Milton Brown might have been even better. You know that Blind Lemon Jefferson was a blues guitarist and Blind Willie Johnson was a gospel blues guitarist. You most definitely know the chorus to “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Bootylicious.”
Sure, you say you know Texas music.
Maybe you feel confident because you have Sarah Jarosz and St. Vincent in your iTunes library. Or because Kari Jobe’s soothing gospel hymns are how you get down on a Sunday morning. Or because you’re an evangelist for Shinyribs’ and the Suffers’ live shows. Perhaps your apartment is littered with old wristbands from San Antonio’s Paper Tiger. You know that Midland makes smart, commercial country and that Midlake makes smart, less commercial alternative rock. And despite the schlep, you prefer Marfa’s intimate Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love to Houston’s star-studded Free Press Summer Fest. Maybe you even credit “Question” by Old 97’s for finally giving you the courage to get down on one knee.
But you don’t know Texas music. No one does. It’s too big, too broad, too deep. As a matter of fact, we feel comfortable saying there is no one place in human history that has resulted in so much great music.
And so we put forth this manifesto. Because when, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for the people of one state to separate themselves from everyone else, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare what it is that makes them so damn special. And why you should listen.
These are the facts.
Texas has as good a claim as the Mississippi Delta to being the birthplace of the blues. We’ll match Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lead Belly, and T-Bone Walker up against Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Robert Johnson any day of the week. (The tie goes to Texas, since Johnson did all his recording in San Antonio and Dallas.)
Rock and roll would never have grown up without Texas. If blues guitarist and Linden native T-Bone Walker hadn’t bent strings and banged out riffs with such delight, spurring Goree Carter to record songs like “Rock Awhile,” in 1949, leading Chuck Berry to develop the signature rock riff that later showed up in “Johnny B. Goode,” American music would sound very different today. And if Buddy Holly and the Crickets hadn’t put out their first records in 1957, the Beatles would have sounded very different and might have called themselves the Crumpet-Dunkers. Ed Sullivan wouldn’t have booked the Crumpet-Dunkers.
American music came from Texas. Not in, like, 1776, when Texas was still ruled by a Spanish king and run by the Comanche. But as America developed its own culture, and as blues and swing and rock and roll and conjunto came into being, Texas musicians had more to do with our national music than anyone else. Part of this is because of geography, part is because of historical accident. Anglos from Tennessee, Mestizos from Mexico, Czechs from the Old Country, Cajuns from Louisiana, and African Americans, brought as slaves, from the South, mixing, marrying, learning one another’s songs, changing them up. Hispanics transforming the polka. Anglos studying the blues. African Americans picking up the fiddle. A six-foot-seven-inch Jewish hippie starting a western swing band, moving here from Philadelphia, and winning nine Grammys.
We accept that one’s only hope of knowing Texas music begins with respecting its past as well as reveling in its present, following the model of ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax: beating the bushes in search of what’s happening right now, taking the musical temperature.
And Texas music right now? It’s not what you think it is, either, whatever you think it is. You think you know Texas music because you’ve got Arcade Fire and Fat Tony and Maren Morris and Shakey Graves on your “ILoveTexas” Spotify playlist? Well, you’ve got great taste, for sure. But there’s a lot of Texas music that you don’t know about. Because nobody can know all of it.
Which is why we’ve put together this special package devoted to the Texas music scene in 2017: to give you a sense of how much is going on here right now, and how varied it is.
You don’t know Texas music. But you should begin exploring. Transitioning from Townes Van Zandt’s Live at the Old Quarter, George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning,” and UGK’s “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)” to St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy, El Dusty’s “Cumbia Anthem,” and Travis Scott’s “goosebumps” is not that hard to do. It’s as much fun as a trip to Austin’s Broken Spoke or McAllen’s Yerberia Cultura or as simple as a click on YouTube, Soundcloud, or Spotify. Your choice. You can start here, right now.
1Gary Clark Jr. and Leon Bridges are not just nostalgia acts
Inside Fort Worth’s Niles City Sound recording studio, just nine days after the summer’s violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, three young high-profile African American musicians gathered to re-record “Ohio”—Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 protest of the Kent State shootings. Though the Spotify-commissioned recording tied to Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary series on the Vietnam War had been in the works for weeks, lines like “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?” rang with renewed intensity.
Leon Bridges and Gary Clark Jr. both faced a Steinway grand piano manned by their new friend Jon Batiste, the New Orleans–raised, Juilliard-trained bandleader of the Late Show With Stephen Colbert. As they rehearsed an understated arrangement, all three men locked in a soft harmony that verged on falsetto, then paused to check in. Read more >
Listen to Gary and Leon’s “Ohio”
2Dynasties are forming
Entering his thirty-third year of teaching, Houston’s MacArthur High School band director José Antonio Díaz—a member of DownBeat magazine’s Jazz Education Hall of Fame and finalist for the Grammy Foundation’s Music Educator Award—has widened his scope from building up the school’s program to investing in his own nonprofit Díaz Music Institute, where he dreams of building an unprecedented “musical mecca, from cradle to grave.” For proof of his inspiring methods’ results, look no further than former students, like Grammy-winning sidemen Joe Gonzalez, Robert Martinez, and Felix DeLeon; or Marcie Chapa, a percussionist who has backed stars like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Kanye West and now teaches the drumline at MacArthur High.
One of Texas’s most interesting DIY music scenes is in Fort Worth
Take note: this is how a scene begins. “My friends and I found this little neighborhood where we could all move in next to each other,” says Fort Worth musician Cameron Smith. “When people started to stay here, we created businesses to support each other’s ventures.”
Most Texans familiar with the live music scenes in our metropolises already recognize the importance of Austin’s Red River Street and Dallas’s Deep Ellum, but another thriving music scene has quietly been forming in Fort Worth’s Fairmount neighborhood. All along Magnolia Avenue, up-and-comers have been cutting their teeth in dives like the Boiled Owl Tavern and the Chat Room Pub.
At the center of this newfound energy is a project Smith co-founded with three friends: Dreamy Life, a recording studio, record label, and vinyl shop all rolled into one. It’s an unpretentious operation, selling its relatively small inventory in the back room of an old upholstery shop that also houses Fairmount’s all-volunteer library. “When I was a kid, I wanted to move to New York or L.A.,” says Smith. “But as I got older, I realized you could carve out a path for yourself without leaving your own neighborhood.”
Tip: Tune into The Pirate (FM 97.5) to hear local artists, broadcast just a few blocks from Fairmount.
4We can go classical too
To most listeners, Austin’s Graham Reynolds will never have the immediate recognition of someone like Hans Zimmer, the composer who scored instantly recognizable soundscapes for The Dark Knight and Inception. But that’s by design. For director Richard Linklater alone, Reynolds has been heartsick and wistful (Before Midnight), tense and suspenseful (A Scanner Darkly), jaunty and blithe (Bernie).
That versatility keeps Reynolds’s approach fresh in both his movie work and independent orchestral projects, each ever-evolving in scope. He is a favorite of choreographer Stephen Mills, who has tapped Reynolds for original scores at Ballet Austin, and he has explored the culture and politics of West Texas in his experimental chamber opera, Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance. But Reynolds is a student of his surroundings rather than his legacy, which helps tamp down any largesse that might have prevented him from continuing his work in the Austin theater scene or writing and performing a one-off score to Alfred Hitchcock’s silent film The Lodger at Austin’s Paramount Theatre this past summer.
Listen to Graham Reynold’s “Modal Cycle: I. Ionian”
T Bone Burnett, what are you listening to? “Fort Worth has had a killer music scene going back at least to the early 1900’s when Lemon Jefferson and Huddie Ledbetter sang and played on the streets there. Stephen Bruton, one of the deepest musicologists I’ve known, told me that the Crossroads Robert Johnson was referring to in his song was actually the Stop Six intersection where Rosedale ran through town on the Chitlin Circuit. He said that shortly before Milton Brown died, Robert Johnson and Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies had set a recording session in what would have certainly been the invention of Rock and Roll. When I was a kid, Bob Wills, Ornette Coleman, Willie Nelson, CL Dupree, UP Wilson, and Ray Sharpe were playing around town. Lately, I’ve been listening to Leon Bridges, The Hendersons, and Luke Wade, all musicians of a high order.”
5The death of the Dallas underground has been exaggerated
Deep Ellum, once a haven for outsiders and intrepid music aficionados, is in the process of being spruced up for the well-heeled set, who bring with them posh storefronts and rising club profits. But longtime Deep Ellum regulars—aware that the energy that grew around the district’s popular underground parties a few years ago hasn’t been reproduced in the clubs—want to ensure they still have a role to play in carving out the city’s musical niche. On a Sunday evening this spring, at a weekly DJ show called [ALL/EVERYTHING] at the venue RBC, Tommy Jay, co-founder of a once-thriving warehouse party and concert series called We Are Dallas, leaned against a wall outside, near the club’s door. “It’s very hard to find spots that cater to our culture,” he said. “My thing is, we just need a night that’s catered to us.” Read more >
6Inspiration is everywhere (even at Whataburger)
Maren Morris: Before Nashville
LeeAnn Rimes: Nine-year-old Morris unveiled her talent with a karaoke machine, belting out hits from another North Texas singing prodigy.
White Elephant Saloon: Morris’s first proper gig was at this honky-tonk in Fort Worth.
Kacey Musgraves: Even before Musgraves had really had much success in Nashville, she encouraged Morris to follow her path and introduced her around Music Row.
Listen to Maren Morris’s “Church”
Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia): The Austin Kid
Gary Clark Jr.: As a student at Austin High, Rose-Garcia watched Clark rehearse for a Black History Month assembly.
Possessed by Paul James: This folk-singing schoolteacher from Boerne inspired Rose-Garcia to go the one-man-band route.
Bob Schneider: Rose-Garcia played anywhere that would have him. His goal, he told the Austin Chronicle, was to “topple the reigning king.”
Listen to Shakey Graves’s “Dearly Departed”
The Black Angels’ Alex Maas: Adolescent Psychedelia
Tripping Daisy: As a teenager, Maas admired this nineties Dallas music phenomenon, steeped in traditional psychedelia and commercially successful—without compromising.
UGK: Early Black Angels sessions were inspired by the freewheeling flow of the Port Arthur hip-hop act.
Roky Erickson: The Texas psychedelia legend’s work has reverberated for Maas and co. since day one.
Listen to The Black Angels’s “Death Song”
Robert Ellis: From the Rothko Chapel to the Honky-Tonk
George Strait: Ellis’s earliest musical memories revolve around the family’s collection of George Strait albums.
Robert Glasper: As a jazz-obsessed teenager in Lake Jackson, Ellis dreamed of moving to Houston and falling into the jazz scene.
The Menil Collection: Ellis’s first apartment in Houston backed up to the museum grounds, where he would practice guitar just outside the Rothko Chapel.
Listen to Robert Ellis’s “How I Love You”
Sarah Jaffe: Denton and Beyond
Doug Burr: In her twenties, she met this Denton singer-songwriter, who put her in front of his already-established fan base.
Dan’s Silver Leaf: Jaffe worked as “door girl and eventual bartender” at this Denton music venue, where she met most of the band members she plays with now.
Midlake: Denton indie rock exports invited her to open for them on her first European tour, in 2009.
Listen to Sarah Jaffe’s “Between”
Fat Tony (Anthony obi): Third Ward Rap and Fast Food Bangers
Lil’ Flip: The Screwed Up Click member emerged as one of Obi’s hometown favorites because of the battle rapper’s near-perfect comic timing.
MacGregor Park: Obi’s 2015 single “MacGregor Park” celebrates this Third Ward–area landmark.
Whataburger: Obi has sold “Whatatony” hats and shirts incorporating the chain’s logo and last April released an ode titled “Drive-Thru.”
Listen to Fat Tony’s “Drive Thru”
7Houston is blending zydeco with hip-hop
The wooded backstreets leading to Bruno’s Triangle 7 Arena one rainy Saturday night last spring were resonant with croaking toads in the ditches and fragrant with smoking barbecue, so isolated from urban life that I almost forgot I was only eleven miles northeast of Houston’s skyscrapers. On any given weekend all around Houston and deep into South Louisiana, fans have sought the beloved, decades-old traditions of a zydeco trail ride. But after I followed the thump of deep bass into a wood-paneled lodge, where revelers were congregating around indoor picnic tables, the modern era became evident. On a threadbare stage, all alone save for a DJ, stood Baldenna Tha King, the 33-year-old inventor and current standard-bearer of Houston music’s latest subgenre: trail-riding rap. Read more >
Listen to Baldenna’s “Trailride in My City”
8We can create one hell of a festival just out of Texas artists
Two of the state’s top promoters, Mark Austin (of the Convoy Group) and Graham Williams (of Margin Walker Presents), can prove it.
9This promoter knows a star when he sees one
Sascha Stone Guttfreund brought Migos to El Paso, J. Cole to Houston, and Kendrick Lamar to Austin. As the president of ScoreMore Shows—“your favorite rappers’ favorite promoters”—he has attracted some of the most relevant names in the rap game to Texas. But he keeps his swagger in check. “People are always like, ‘Oh, it’s so great that you were able to call it and break these acts,’ ” he says. “And I’m like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, we didn’t break any acts; the acts broke because the music is incredible.’”
Britt Daniel, what are you listening to? “Andrew Cashen and Sabrina Ellis (the songwriters and vocalists of both A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit). I’m amazed not only at the quantity of their output the past few years—averaging something like two albums per year—but at the insane quality of the songs, all of which I see being due to maniacal dedication and a truly inspired moment they’re riding.”
10Hip-Hop is not just a dude’s domain
Texas rappers have risen in the ranks of the hip-hop canon, but even Houston’s storied artists rarely break national charts. So in a landscape where women are already more likely to be a backup dancer than behind the mic, where does that leave Texas’s burgeoning generation of female rappers? Dallas rapper Sam Lao expressed some thoughts in 2016’s “Grenade”: “If you find yourself threatened by these ovaries, then please / Move on over, just respect my steez.” For perhaps the first time, there is a growing contingent of women taking over Texas’s hip-hop scene. Here are a few other ladies getting in formation.
This Dallas emcee’s lightning-fast wordplay sounds as if it were dreamed up in a lab. She’s less of an artist than a linguistic scientist.
Listen to Alsace Carcione’s “Honest Hustler”
The leader of Austin’s Magna Carda puts the boys—her live backing band—in the background as she entrances on the mic.
Listen to Magna Carda’s “The Root”
The blue-haired matron of Houston’s hip-hop scene focuses on positivity, but it doesn’t mean that her delivery doesn’t smolder.
Listen to Genesis B.L.U.’s “Keep On”
11People Still Make Records (no, really—actually make them)
Who actually makes records anymore? These guys do. In January of this year, the Dallas independent record label Hand Drawn Records installed an automated record press using new technology, the first manufacturing plant of its kind.
El Paso is Coming Back
Hayden Arthur and Wendy Demarest had driven two hours east from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, last spring with their GPS pointed firmly towards El Paso’s Glasbox, a converted warehouse space that opened about three years ago that’s still more “warehouse” than “converted.” Traveling great distances for a concert isn’t unusual in this part of the country, and the twentysomething couple keep a close watch on the whereabouts of their favorite area band, the Genders. It was time for a trip to El Paso—Arthur and Demarest make it a couple times a year, for either touring acts or homegrown bands, though they like the locals better. “The energy is better with the locals,” Arthur said. “There’s a lot of talent hidden here.” Read more >
Listen to The Genders’s “Mourning Heartbeats”
13One day you could say you hung out with Erykah Badu’s crew
It costs $10 to get into Dallas’s Wednesday night jam session at the Prophet Bar, but that’s a steal considering the likelihood that Erykah Badu will show up. Her longtime backing band RC & the Gritz has been hosting the weekly Deep Ellum residency for more than a decade, and each week brings a guest list as varied as the melodies and tempos. Here are some of the big names that have sat in on the coolest session in the city.
Queen of neo-soul; winner of four Grammys
NYC hip-hop duo
Hip-hop artist; frequent collaborator with Mos Def
R&B artist; two-time Grammy nominee
Producer who is signed to Kanye West’s record label
Houston-born jazz keyboardist; winner of three Grammys; fronts the Robert Glasper Experiment
Saxophonist in the Robert Glasper Experiment; also plays with A Tribe Called Quest, Solange, Q-Tip, and Mos Def
Producer, songwriter, and keyboardist who has worked with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Kanye West
George “Spanky” McCurdy:
Drummer who has performed with Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Jill Scott, and Sean “Diddy” Combs
Listen to Mark Ronson ft. Erykah Badu, Mos Def, & Dap King’s “A La Modeliste”
14Live music has a home in Denton—even if you shutter the venues
In August of last year, after the back-to-back closures of longtime Denton establishments like Rubber Gloves, Hailey’s, and J&J’s Basement, worried locals gathered at a downtown arts center to discuss the fate of the North Texas college town’s seemingly imperiled live music scene. Mingling in the crowd was local blogger and music fan Tiffany Youngblood, who had recently announced plans with friend Emily Cline for a new venture called Band Together Denton, a two-day house-show festival with twenty local bands performing in living rooms and yards around town. When they mentioned their endeavor, says Youngblood, “everyone freaked out—in a good way.” Soon they were fielding calls from locals who wanted to play the fest, host one of the shows, or just volunteer.
When the inaugural Band Together Denton festival took place at the start of 2017, they’d increased the lineup so that sixty local bands played in ten houses over two days, and no one could argue that Denton’s live music scene was in danger of extinction. Youngblood has already started planning for Band Together Denton 2018, which will expand to a three-day festival in January.
15Adrian Quesada Knows Everybody
And probably worked with them. Here are a few acts the Austin-based musician has performed with and produced at his studio, Electric Deluxe Recorders.
Graphic By Victoria Miller
Listen to Adrian Quesada’s “Last Word”
Austin isn’t all guitars
“We’re happy y’all are here tonight,” Andrew Brown said, standing in front of a crowd one night last January in a converted East Austin warehouse. He then introduced an electronic show, called Exploded Drawing, by describing what it would not be. “So for those that don’t know, the thing that makes this electronic music event different from the other ones you’ve been to: other than the records that are being played right here, every artist is performing his own material. Like, there are no DJ sets going on.”
For the few hundred attendees of the show, one of about six held every year in various locations around East Austin, this was not a revelation. They knew the difference between a DJ set, in which a person spins records, and a live electronic performance, in which a producer employs drum machines, keyboards, and other tools. Still, Brown, as co-founder of the series, is a bit of an evangelist for his genre; he wanted the fundamentals established. Read More >
Listen to soundfounder’s “Golf with Lo Phi”
Listen to Butcher Bear’s “Barbaric Rhetoric”
17Metal is Not Dead—In Fact, It Lives in Arlington
If you ask Jerry Warden, there’s no such thing as too much metal. Before his current gig booking shows at Diamond Jim’s Saloon, in Arlington, Warden was the front man of Warlock, one of a handful of pioneering metal bands that came roaring out of the city in the early eighties. Today, the legacy of Gammacide, Rigor Mortis, and Pantera continues with new acts such as Primordius and Demon Seat, who pack venues up and down Division Street. And now Warden wants to create a permanent homage to the genre that has thrived in the city for over three decades.
Warden plans on opening the Heavy Metal Hall of Fame—a name for which he holds the trademark—sometime next year downtown. “There’s gonna be a guitar out front,” Warden says. “And there ought to be a statue of [Pantera co-founder] Dimebag [Darrell].” He also wants to open a new venue alongside the hall dedicated almost exclusively to showcasing metal acts, giving fans across the Metroplex a proper place to bang their heads.
Going full metal isn’t a luxury he currently has booking shows at Diamond Jim’s, where the owner doesn’t share Warden’s enthusiasm for the heavy stuff. “He doesn’t understand it, but it’s what I live for, man. As long as I’m alive, we’re going to have some metal here.”
Sunny Sauceda, what are you listening to? “There’s a Latin group that impressed me, because in Tex Mex, in the Tejano genre, there’s not a lot of show bands. They’re called Grupo Explosivo, from El Paso. They could play, like, Los Tigres del Norte to Pitbull. I heard them and turned around and thought, ‘What in the what?’”
18Corpus Christi is helping reinvent cumbia
On a Saturday afternoon in April, the deejay and producer El Dusty stood in the middle of the floor of the House of Rock, in Corpus Christi, holding his Chihuahua, Sasha, as he politely guided half a dozen men and women through preparations for a dance party. Walking toward the stage, where two men were raising some scaffolding, he presented two large flags that he wanted draped from the upper bars, flanking the table that would hold his turntables. The official city flag should hang stage right, Dusty said, while a black “Made in Corpus” flag, which has come to represent Dusty and his crew, should hang stage left from a post, where he could grab it easily. “I might want to wave it around and get crunk with the crowd,” he explained.
Quiet and unassuming, 37-year-old Horacio “El Dusty” Oliveira has recently become one of the more popular producers and deejays in the country. He’s also the unofficial mayor of the Corpus Christi music scene, such as it is. Last year, as part of a collective of friends called Locos Only, he bought one of downtown’s many abandoned buildings—on Peoples Street, just up the block from the House of Rock—which they’d been running as a kind of hipster mixed-use music and art center for several years. The group’s headquarters is called Produce (pronounced like the verb): a store, gallery, and studio where he and his three partners make stuff, from songs, videos, and paintings to shirts, caps, and the “Made in Corpus” flag. Next door is a space Dusty has converted into a recording studio, and adjacent to that is a room that he’s turning into a wine bar and art gallery. Read more >
Listen to El Dusty’s “Cumbia Anthem”
19The kids are (more than) alright
Texas has up-and-coming acts everywhere you look. Here are eight you shouldn’t miss.
Matthew Brue and David Butler have a knack for building anthems out of glitchy electronic programming, shimmery piano runs, and easy-to-sing-along-to choruses. And while their “Middle Fingers” emerged as one of 2017’s most unapologetically belligerent alternative rock radio smash hits, they are equally promising in their willingness to flash some vulnerability.
Start here: “Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea”
The Chamanas (El Paso)
Self-described as “mariachi meets TV on the Radio,” this binational collective chronicles the cultural melting pot of the borderlands via electronic-leaning indie rock.
Start here: “Rio”
Boy Epic (Dallas)
From a tiny North Dallas apartment he shares with production partner Cut Down Trees, this “pop noir” newcomer has racked up 45 million views on his YouTube channel by matching self-directed visuals and animation with equally cinematic pop songs.
Start here: “Kanye’s in My Head”
Walker Lukens (Austin)
Despite Spoon drummer Jim Eno’s studio wizardry—like kinetic rhythms built from looped and layered fragments of his own voice, handclaps, and finger snaps—recent appearances at Bonnaroo, Firefly, and Austin City Limits Fest confirm that even on big festival stages, none of that dynamism gets lost in translation.
Start here: “Every Night”
Start here: “Death of Tomoe”
This ambitious conscious rapper/full-time tennis pro’s Soundcloud is a panoramic snapshot of Houston music right now, featuring genre-jumping collaborations. Across each category, he shows off a deftness for deep-dive cultural criticism and witty punch lines, with zero fear of esotericism (anime and sci-fi imagery loom large).
Start here: “Death of Tomoe”
Start here: “Drinkin’ Problem”
By meshing the Bakersfield sound with Laurel Canyon folk, this sharp-dressed trio—who tellingly got their moniker from the Dwight Yoakam tune “Fair to Midland”—reached the top ten on the Billboard country music charts with “Drinkin’ Problem,” a sobering tale of heartbreak that’s the sonic antithesis of the glossy bro-country movement.
Start here: “Drinkin’ Problem”
Charley Crockett (Austin)
Start here: “I Am Not Afraid”
As a teenager, Crockett bounced between parents in Dallas and New Orleans, where he immersed himself in serious studies of both Delta blues and Cajun jazz. Later, he fine-tuned those influences as a train-hopping street performer. But he’s too sharp a songwriter to dismiss as a mere revivalist. More likely, his music found an evangelical audience because out of his careful respect for tradition (and a hundred-plus-date-per-year touring schedule), he’s forged an elastic and singular voice.
Start here: “I Am Not Afraid”
Sam Lao (Dallas)
Start here: “Pineapple”
The Metroplex’s most buzzed-about MC sells out headlining shows and her latest release, SPCTRM, speaks to her versatility: as an MC she’ll shift on a dime from fiery combatant to party starter.
Start here: “I Am Not Afraid”
The Blues Has Evolved Into Grown Folks Music
“We’re gonna start this next set off with a slow number, by special request,” says guitarist Larry Guy, and a muted cheer rises up throughout Mr. Gino’s Lounge, in Houston’s blue-collar South Union neighborhood. For 44 years now, locals have been rounding out the weekend here every Sunday night in this low-ceilinged, wall-unit-AC-cooled ramshackle hole in the wall, presided over all that time by genial and bespectacled Eugene “Mr. Gino” Chevis, seated, as always, just inside the front door, collecting the $5 cover.
“I know you are gonna like this one, coozan,” Guy says to an audience member who, like Guy and many of the other patrons, is decked out in full-on cowboy attire, from snappy Louisiana-style black felt hat down to weathered jeans and broken-in boots. There’s a strong Creole undercurrent here, thanks to Mr. Gino’s southwest Louisiana heritage, most visible behind a snack bar toward the rear of the club, where a crucifix and a portrait of Jesus and Mary vie for space with a rack of pork cracklins for sale. Read More >
There’s more than mariachi on the River Walk
Around nine-thirty on a Friday evening last summer, three of the five members of the experimental electronic-rock act Femina-X gathered around a picnic table on the expansive back patio of the music club Ventura, perched above the northern, museum-area stretch of the San Antonio River Walk. Daniela Riojas, the band’s 28-year-old vocalist and undisputed leader, who wore a fringed, midriff-baring white halter top with matching Selena-style pants, described to me how she founded the band three years ago with guitarist Alex Scheel. “We were in a relationship at the time and just started making songs together,” she said. Thirty-two-year-old Scheel, in a short-sleeve button-down shirt and cut-off jean shorts, jumped in. “There’s not many people in San Antonio who you can bounce off ideas about electronic music or avant-garde music.” Riojas and Scheel share a love of electronic acts like Massive Attack, Aphex Twin, and Goldie—a rare bond, since the local music scene at the time was dominated by punk, grunge, and metal (the latter an enduring legacy from the seventies, when San Antonio radio station KMAC/KISS helped AC/DC, Rush, and Judas Priest break onto the national scene). That’s all changed, they said. “These days, pretty much any band can play any club,” Scheel observed. “It’s not, there’s all heavy metal in this space and all punk in that space. Now it’s like, if you’ve got the energy, come on in.” Read More >
Listen to Femina-X’s “Hieroine”
22You have more options than the house music
In the past few years, the Chulita Vinyl Club—an all-female, all-vinyl DJ collective that was founded in Austin in 2014—has expanded rapidly. With seven chapters throughout Texas and California to its name, the club has heard from record lovers from as far away as Colombia and Italy who are interested in spinning tunes under the Chulita banner, says founder Claudia Saenz. One mix on the group’s Soundcloud station features electro-funk band Zapp segueing into Afro-Peruvian group Los Hijos del Sol; another follows Fats Domino’s “I Just Cry” with Pedro Vargas’s Spanish-language cover of “La Vie en Rose.” The only real uniformity is that all the songs are killer.
Listen to a set from Chulita Vinyl Club
23Solange speaks her mind (and now Beyonce does too)
“My sister told me I should speak my mind,” Beyoncé sang in her 2013 hit “***Flawless,” and it’s true her baby sis, Solange, has never shown much reluctance toward self-expression. At age 22, Solange leaked a not-very-subtle song called “Fuck the Industry (Signed Sincerely),” and she hasn’t pulled many punches since, clapping back at everyone from white music critics who didn’t give nineties R&B superstar Brandy the credit she deserved to a gossip rag that once compared her natural hair to the poof of a poodle. By the time she released last year’s much-heralded confessional A Seat at the Table, Solange had established herself as a provocative public figure and a sufferer of no fools (including Jay-Z in that elevator).
In the four years after “***Flawless,” Beyoncé would publish open letters on feminism and police brutality, help raise $1.5 million for Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups, and release the visual album Lemonade, a musically diverse ode to black female power. It seems she’s taken her sister’s advice to heart.
Listen to Solange’s “Mad”
We Support Old and New Music Every Which Way
Blogs & Websites
Wired for Sound: Rare, vintage vinyl uploaded to digital format with historical background on Texas artists.
Ouch, My Ego!: An independently printed zine that has since evolved into an online cultural hub for the entire Rio Grande Valley. Plenty of podcasts to explore as well as back issues of the print edition.
On the Road South: In-depth histories of little-known Texas garage bands from the past and audio ripped from 45s.
Música Tejana: A Houston couple runs this blog/internet radio station that showcases Tejano 24/7—except on Sunday mornings, when they air Mass.
Houston Hip-Hop Fix: The name says it all: Hustle Town’s thriving hip-hop scene is well documented here.
ATX On Record: These bloggers wax philosophical about the music industry and promote Austin artists via write-ups and curated playlists.
Texas Music Pickers: Site dedicated to Red Dirt and Texas country artists with weekly Spotify playlists that are made up of the state’s top-performing singles.
Ghost of Blind Lemon: Dallas’s legendary bluesman is long gone, but this site (purported to be operated by Lemon’s ghost) proves that music in the Metroplex is very much alive.
Vinyl Ranch: Come for the sweet throwback tees and stay for the classic-country mix tapes.
A Day in the Life: This eclectic music-centered podcast was voted Houston’s best last year by the Houston Press.
Texas Music Spotlight: An affable father-son duo interviews musicians from across the state at their home studio in San Antonio. (The son also plays in the indie Latin band Volcán.)
KUTX (98.9): When Austinites have had their fill of news, they tune in to the other NPR station—this one dedicated entirely to music—to hear a carefully curated mix of local and national acts. (Pro tip: Check out their website for video performances of emerging Texas artists.)
Sun Radio (across the dial in the Texas Hill Country): “Powered by the Sun” is not just a catchphrase for this Dripping Springs-based station; its use of solar panels to broadcast a rootsy blend of Texas acts—as well as archived shows from the late Austin DJ Larry Monroe—has made them the largest green broadcaster in America.
KXT (91.7): Crowned best radio station by the Dallas Observer in 2016, this is the home of equally award-winning DJ Paul Slavens, whose weekly playlist is a gumbo of local legends (from Townes to Pantera), giants of jazz and folk, and a sprinkling of poetry to boot.
KUZU (92.9): Denton’s new FM station is as great—and as musically diverse—as the town that it serves.
Notably Texan (KETR 88.9): Genre-defying public-radio program broadcast from the northeastern corner of the state.
The Core 94!: Founded in 2014 by five African American women, this Houston-based internet radio station continues to focus its 24-hour programming on local hip-hop artists, R&B, soul, and talk radio.
KJDL (105.3): A 100 percent Texas music station that emphasizes homegrown Lubbock performers.
The Ranch (KFWR 95.9): When “the Sound of Texas” tweaked its Red Dirt format to feature more mainstream country acts hailing from—gasp—the other 49 states, its passionate DFW listeners went berserk. The station placated its base by guaranteeing the modified “alternative country” playlist would continue to lean heavily on home-state musicians.
Texas Music Hour of Power (KRTS 93.5): Transmitted out of Marfa, Joe Nick Patoski’s two-hour show rules the airwaves every Saturday night.
The Local Ticket with DJ Mark (KTCK 96.7): Normally, it’s all sports on this Dallas station, but on Sunday nights, local bands take the spotlight.
The DJs Are Bringing the Sounds From South of the Border
Peligrosa began a decade ago as a hot, sweaty mess in a small club on Austin’s East Side. Local DJ Orión Garcia loved playing Latin music, but he found that crowds went bonkers when he mixed the old and the new—sixties cumbia with, say, Outkast, or dancehall. Orión began bringing other music geeks into his group who, like him, grew up around turntables, LPs, and the culture of deejaying. As Peligrosa grew in popularity, it became a loose, nimble collective of eleven young DJs and producers from Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. They mix the beats and melodies of venerable Colombia and Peruvian cumbias, Cuban salsa songs, and Mexican ballads with modern Puerto Rican reggaeton, Brazilian baile funk and tecno brega, as well as other modern electronic dance beats (and some they’ve created on their own). In many ways, a Peligrosa show is totally unpredictable—maybe you’ll see two DJs, maybe you’ll see eight; you might hear Los 50 de Joselito, from Colombia, or Celso Piña, from Mexico; you’ll probably hear Selena. But a Peligrosa show is still a hot, sweaty mess, just a lot bigger and a lot sweatier.
Listen to Peligrosa’s “Movimiento”
28We Could fill a Music Museum with New Stuff
The legislature didn’t pass funding for a music museum in Austin, but as others revive the idea, we have a few items for consideration.
- A. An ARP-2600 synthesizer S U R V I V E used for the Stranger Things soundtrack
- B. A page of sheet music from last summer’s Houston Symphony performance with the Suffers
- C. A syllabus from Bun B and Anthony Pinn’s Religion and Hip-Hop Culture course at Rice University
- D. The pink fridge from Miranda Lambert’s tour bus
- E. A Chingo Bling ball cap, which he wears on the Netflix special, They Can’t Deport Us All
- F. A leotard from Sabrina Ellis, frontwoman for A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit
- G. A ukulele from Shinyribs bandleader Kevin Russell
- H. A band T-shirt from North Texas backing group the Texas Gentlemen
- I. St. Vincent’s prototype for the woman’s guitar
Punk Thrives in the Valley on its Own Terms
“This is the Valley,” a local musician says, eating chips with me one recent Monday afternoon, in a downtown McAllen spot called Pete’s Super Nachos. “In a city like Austin, it’s easy to have a lot of music scenes and for the people in them not to be aware of one another or intersect. But down here, we all know each other, and most of us play at the Yerb—at Yerberia.”
It was the first time on my trip to McAllen that somebody had brought up Yerberia Cultura, and it struck me that those familiar with it affectionately called it “the Yerb.” There was a time when I knew the music scene in this city well. Back in 2014, after growing up in the city’s punk scene, I published a novella-length collection of stories entitled Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1. What I’d written as an affectionate tribute to my formative Rio Grande Valley music scene was taken as an affront by Valleyites. Only two hundred hardcover copies were made, and I suspect that most of those who objected to it haven’t read the book. Read More >
Dale Watson, what are you listening to? “Western swing that blends honky-tonk seems to be growing like wildfire—it’s born and bred and a new bouncing baby. Jason Roberts, the Quebe Sisters, and Jake Penrod are right in the middle of it.”
30You can still see great music waaay outside the big cities
- Starlight Theatre Restaurant & Saloon, Terlingua: Big Bend’s thirties-era renovated performance space. (Unlike the old days, there is a roof now.)
- Courville’s, Beaumont: Courville’s supper club concerts feature a very Texan twist: gun raffles. A while back, the Woodlands singer Hayes Carll won the raffle at his own show.
- The Bugle Boy, La Grange: “They are so serious about the listening experience,” says Austin guitarist and singer Carolyn Wonderland, “they not only have a ‘silence your phone’ policy, they even open your bag of chips in the front room and put them on a plate so you don’t disturb the song.”
- Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar, Bandera: Back in 1979, singer-guitarist Lou Colburn offered visitors advice in the Kerrville Mountain Sun: “Don’t aggravate nobody and don’t flirt with a cowboy’s girl.”
- Auntie Skinner’s Riverboat Club, Jefferson: Housed in an 1866 New Orleans–style riverfront warehouse in quaint Jefferson, Skinner’s is where the locals go to let their hair down.
- Stumblin’ Goat Saloon, Canadian: Drawing surprisingly big names, like Billy Joe Shaver, the Stumblin’ Goat Saloon offers “greasy burgers” (their words, not ours) and adventurous decor.
- Bad Bob’s Bend Store, Bend: “Bad Bob’s serves up a sporadic entertainment calendar in a ‘rural verite’ environment,” says San Antonio Saustex Records label owner Jeff Smith.
- Riley’s Tavern, Hunter: “Once I played there and the electricity went out,” says Austin’s Scott H. Biram (a.k.a. the Dirty Old One-Man-Band). “People in the crowd held their cellphone flashlights on me and the show went on for another two hours.”