Inside the Music | Texas – A Place Apart | Country Rock & The Outlaws | Country
Almost no Texan musicians have ever herded cattle, but most like to think of themselves as cowboys nonetheless. They imagine themselves pulling out an acoustic guitar after dinner and singing a song about the adventures and frustrations they have known.
And not just any old song – it has to be one they wrote and it has to be more original and more memorable than the one sung by the guy sitting next to them at the campfire. And they like to imagine themselves riding back into town on Saturday night, to kick up their boots at a dancehall to a honky-tonk band.
The Cowboys Of Country Music
These persistent fantasies have given rise to two crucial types of Texas musicians: the story-telling singer-songwriter and the dancehall bandleader. Both types valued the footloose-and-fancy-free independence of the cowboy, and both were inevitably influenced by the black blues musicians of East Texas, the German-Czech polka bands of Central Texas and the Tex-Mex conjuntos of South Texas. All these factors made Texas music a world unto itself, and every time the country-music industry in Nashville got too conservative and too formulaic, the Lone Star State’s imaginary cowboys had a ready answer in their maverick songs and boot-scooting dance numbers.
That was certainly true in the early 1970s, when Nashville’s countrypolitan sound was suffocating beneath its pillowy arrangements. Fresh alternatives could be heard a thousand miles to the south-west, where the Outlaw movement, the Cosmic Cowboy songwriters and the western-swing revival all sprouted from Texan soil.
If they couldn’t find the utopian dancehall of their dreams, these Texan musicians would invent one. Luchenbach, for example, was virtually a ghost town in the Texas hill country when local rancher John R. ‘Hondo’ Crouch bought it up in the early 1970s and turned it into the laid-back small town and anything-goes dancehall of his dreams. Waylon Jennings turned a song about it, ‘Luchenbach, Texas (Back To The Basics Of Love)’ into a No. 1 country hit in 1977.
Swinging At The Armadillo
Meanwhile, in nearby Austin – the state capital – some hippies took over an abandoned National Guard armoury in 1970 and transformed it into a concert ballroom like the Fillmore in San Francisco, complete with psychedelic murals on all the walls. They called it the Armadillo World Headquarters and booked fellow non-conformist Willie Nelson as one of the first headliners. ‘I got up and picked at the Armadillo one time,’ he told his biographer Michael Bane, ‘and there was this brand new audience. I discovered that there were young people who liked what I had been singing all my life to people my age or older.’
The Armadillo became a demilitarized zone, where young rock fans and older honky-tonkers could declare a truce and share their enthusiasm for Nelson and such fellow Outlaw acts as Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver. The Armadillo also became a centre for the western-swing revival, which brought back to life the hillbilly jazz of Bob...
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