Rhythm & News: June 2021

The Suffers at ACL Live. Photo courtesy ACL Live Twitter feed — @acllive — photographer @rohofoto).

Open-Door Policy

Our long national nightmare may be nearing its end. The Live Music Capital is starting to look — and sound — like it once again. “I feel like I’ve been craving bass in my body,” one music fan, named Julieta, told CBS Austin outside ACL Live on May 29.

For the first time since March 2020, Mohawk on Red River held a show — on May 27. Masked music-lovers didn’t mind having their temperatures checked before entry. The Continental Club on South Congress reopened its doors on May 28, rather than holding virtual events. And ACL Live and 3Ten sold out their first weekend back.

The show at ACL Live, titled “Lone Star State of Mind: A Celebration of Texas,” featured an apt band name given the mood of many for much of 2020 — the Suffers. (Zach Person and Pat Byrne also performed at the event.) The big-band group from Houston, known for its feel-good music that appeals across generations, isn’t confined to one genre — except positivity. And that’s precisely what music fans needed.

With everything on pause for more than a year, lead singer Kam Franklin said she was able to work on new music, slated to be released in 2022. The 34-year-old emphasized how important it is for people to show support not only for musicians but for venues, which have stood empty for most of 2020. “If we don’t pay attention to the artists and venues impacted by how long it will take for the music industry to come back,” Franklin said, “we’re part of the problem.”

Franklin said the positivity that’s on display through the Suffers’ music and live shows hasn’t always been enthusiastically embraced. However, she says the absence of music and camaraderie that comes with in-person concerts makes the heart grow fonder for tunes that make anyone want to get up and dance. “We’re a band that leans toward making timeless music any age group can enjoy,” she explains, “rather than focusing on genre.”

Ten years ago, the Suffers opened for Lionel Richie at ACL Live. Franklin said Richie told the 10-piece band to not break up and to keep their big-band sound. That advice brought them back to the same venue this Memorial Day weekend to share a therapeutic experience many have been yearning for. — Jordan Bontke


On the Road Again

He couldn’t wait, and now Willie Nelson is back with the Outlaw Music Festival Tour. Nelson will again be live and in concert with his family and friends, including Lucinda Williams, Ryan Bingham, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, the Avett Brothers, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Gov’t Mule, Margo Price, Yola, Kathleen Edwards, Ida Mae and more as part of the 14-stop tour starting this summer.

“The Outlaw Music Festival Tour has always been about family and friends coming together for a great day of music and fun,” Nelson says, “and with the amazing group of artists joining us, this year promises to be our most special Outlaw Tour to date.”

The inaugural Outlaw Music Festival made its debut in 2016. The sold-out show was so well received that Nelson, along with Blackbird Presents, have developed it into one of North America’s biggest annual touring franchises. Musicians such as Robert Plant, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Church, Bonnie Raitt, Luke Combs, Sheryl Crow and many more have been a part of the tour, sharing unforgettable musical memories and unique vendor villages with local food, drinks and shopping in Live Nation amphitheaters across the country.



Photo by Brandon Bell.

Marfa Tapes

Good music takes you on a journey. It transports you to forgotten places, and sometimes it invites you to a scene best captured by melody. That’s the case with The Marfa Tapes, an unvarnished collection of 15 songs from country storytellers Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall that opens a door to rural Marfa and a Southwestern landscape where the trio says endless stars fill night skies and photos can’t do the sunrise justice.

Released in May via Vanner Records/RCA Nashville, Lambert and company captured The Marfa Tapes with live, outdoor takes where listeners can hear rustling cattle, fireside crackles and wind gusts tickling each song. “Waking up there with the sunrise, it looks like a desert painting,” Lambert says. “You can’t really believe it. You try to take a picture, and you can’t. It’s like you live in a Western — it’s dreamy.” 

Ingram and Lambert first visited Marfa at Randall’s nudging in 2015. A self-described “little bit of a bomb” went off in Lambert’s life that year as she underwent a publicized divorce. A needed getaway was in order. “I’ll never forget pulling in at 4 a.m. and looking up and going ‘Oh my gosh. Where are we?’” Lambert recalls. Ingram concurs: “That moment’s embedded in my brain, burned in. It looked like a National Geographic photo.”

Randall said he once stumbled upon the star-gazing stop on a road trip “and never got over it.”

He may describe it best: “You feel like you’re in a painting or a Clint Eastwood movie, or both — a painting of a Clint Eastwood movie.”

And they began penning essential Lambert tunes under Marfa skies.

The three wrote “Tin Man,” a standout Lambert song from her 2016 double album The Weight Of These Wings, during one West Texas retreat. A Marfa session also yielded hard-drinking country jam “Tequila Does,” a fan favorite off Lambert’s Grammy-winning 2019 album Wildcard.

Marfa offers an escape without outside influence, where these Texas natives could spin vinyl records from Marvin Gaye or Willie Nelson and share campfire stories accompanied by a bottle of tequila.  “I was like, “I know where we can run away to and no one can find us,’” Randall says. “I don’t know that it would even work with other writers, necessarily. It’s all magical, because it’s the three of us and our friendships. It’s kinda like our place.” Adds Lambert, “Marfa just opens up your mind and gives space to create. That’s why we can’t help but create there, because there’s nothing else to get in your way.” — Matthew Leimkuehler


Photo by Stacie Huckeba.

Gospel of Todd

Todd Snider is finally opening the doors to his First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder live and in person, at The Paramount Theater in Austin on June 4, and the show is already sold out. The special performance follows a series of Sunday livestreams from Snider’s Purple Building, where he performed well-known covers and his own hits from a 25-year career while serving as a self-proclaimed “preacher who’s full of shit, and when everyone starts to realize it he asks god to help and god does, proving once and for all that god is hilarious.”

The tour follows the release of Snider’s new album, First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder, a record that weaves his signature brand of irreverent humor with touching remembrances of his dear friends and mentors gone too soon, including John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Jeff Austin. The new album is “funky, funny … hilarious and heartbreaking,” writes one critic, while another characterizes the work as an “appropriate statement of purpose after a year of freefall, where Snider’s hilariously honest, one-of-a-kind songwriting shines.”


In Memoriam: B.J. Thomas (1942-2021)

B.J. Thomas, the multi-Grammy winner best known for the iconic pop song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” died May 29 at his home in Arlington due to complications from stage 4 lung cancer. He was 78.

The Oklahoma-born, Texas-raised artist possessed a warm, rich singing voice that captivated millions of listeners during a career that stretches back to the early ’60s. He was also a versatile performer, earning CMA, Dove and Grammy awards for his work in country, gospel and pop.

Thomas recorded a host of memorable songs, including his famed cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love,” “New Looks From An Old Lover” and “Hooked on a Feeling.”

Among his career highlights — in addition to “Raindrops” — was his recording of “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” which stands tall among the finest country songs released in the ’70s. The tune would win the Grammy Award for best country song in 1976. It holds the curious distinction of being the longest-titled No. 1 hit ever on Billboard’s Hot 100.

But “Raindrops” was that one-in-a-million tune — a Burt Bacharach-Hal David number that Thomas recorded for the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song went on to win an Academy Award for best original song, and has remained one of the most enduring pop hits of all time, reoccurring in such films as Forrest Gump, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Spider-Man 2, as well as multiple TV shows over the years.

All told, Thomas won five Grammys and sold more than 70 million albums, scoring eight No. 1 hits and 26 Top 10 singles. His lengthy chart history led to him being name one of Billboard’s Top 50 Most Played Artists Over the Past 50 Years. But it was Thomas’ humility that many remember, as reflected in a quote Thomas posted on his website.

“All I am is just another guy,” Thomas is quoted as saying. “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve been a husband and a father who cherishes his children, and now I’m a grandfather, and I’m motivated like all these teachers and preachers and mothers and fathers to help my kids grow up with character and self-respect. I hope that doesn’t sound too grandiose, but that’s what it comes down to. It’s what I’ve tried to do with my music and with the majority of my life.”

Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, KISS’ Paul Stanley, Chuck D, Marie Osmond, Travis Tritt, Ray Stevens, Stella Parton, Lee Greenwood, Steven Curtis Chapman and Ron Sexsmith were among the array of celebrities who memorialized Thomas on Twitter as word of his passing spread, a testimony to the breadth of the golden-voiced singer’s influence.


Keeping Up with the Joneses          

Rapper Eman Jones isn’t from Texas, but he realized a longtime musical dream with the release of his new single, “Tippin’ Still.” The Dayton, Ohio, artist has no shortage of original material, but he was driven to remake “Still Tippin’,” a nearly 20-year-old track by Houston rapper Mike Jones (no relation).

“It’s one of my favorite hip-hop songs,” Jones says. “Since I was a little kid, I’d always sing that song to myself. Even in my adult years, it was a song that stuck with me. It’s been in the back of my mind to revisit the song and revamp it. So out of nowhere, I just decided to do it, and everything just came together. It’s like the universe knew what was going on.”

The single features an appearance from Mike Jones himself.

“It’s crazy that all these years later, I was able to get permission from Mike Jones, and I also got to do the remake with him,” Jones says. “I reached out and sent him the remake to see what he thought of it. He loved it and decided to further it by hopping on it.”

“Tippin’ Still” is available on Soundcloud and will hit streaming platforms in June. And a video of the song is in production. “We shot that in Dallas in April,” Jones says. “We’ll release the video a couple of weeks after the single. I’m going to try to take the song and the video as far as I can this summer.”


Metro Music

Metro Music: Celebrating a Century of the Trinity River Groove, by Gene Fowler and William Williams, is an essential new look at North Texas music that features hundreds of photographs, many published for the first time.

The book is a local music history crash course with images of long-forgotten venues, recording studios, gospel groups, soul singers, rock bands and big bands. Some of its most memorable nuggets will send readers down rabbit holes. Others are just strange.

There’s a long-lost photo of T-Bone Walker from a 1945 issue of a Black magazine called Applause. There’s also a 1966 photo of Little Richard Miller, a piano player born without hands or feet, who died in 2017.

Local musician Williams began rounding up thousands of photos and doing research for the book in 2003, inspired by some “groupies” at a reunion of local ’60s bands. They “pulled out some photographs of bands from back then,” says Williams, who is best known as the guitarist for the Jackals, a ’60s-era Dallas-Fort Worth rock band. “I started thinking about how to preserve those lost photo collections.”

Online, the group expanded through chat rooms and social media. The focus was strictly on the ’60s, but that changed when Williams asked author Fowler about putting together a book from the materials. Its scope would be broader, starting with the beginning of popular music in 19th-century D-FW and moving through fiddlers, string bands, singing cowboys, blues, Western swing and R&B.

Many of the photos came from archives, the estate of Dallas producer Phil York and from Texas Radio Hall of Fame inductee George Gimarc, who’s been gathering Texas music memorabilia for decades, often at estate sales. The 500 images in the book were culled from more than 4,000. Far from an encyclopedia, it’s more a 1,000-foot-high overview of a century of countless genres popular in Texas.

“The biggest revelation from drilling down into the musical history of D-FW and the surrounding area is the way that all forms of music have a foundational connection,” Fowler says. “That’s why we called it the Trinity River Groove. It’s a current of sonic expression that characterizes all Texas music, and Dallas-Fort Worth is an immense microcosm of that greater groove.” — Jeremy Hallock


Photo by Jonathan Mannion.

Paying Tribute

Sonovah Hillman Jr. can take over the stage just like her legendary father, DMX (aka Earl Simmons), and a video circulating on social media is proof of that. In the video, Sonovah, DMX’s 8-year-old daughter, takes the stage at a show in his honor while putting her own twist on her late father’s best-known songs.

The video is from a May 30 show held at the Wildcatter Saloon in Katy, where Sonovah is seen remixing a few classic DMX songs like “Slippin’” and “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem.” The late rapper was set to play the venue in late May, but, after his death, the bar decided to organize a tribute concert to honor him. The tribute turned out to be a family affair, with DMX’s fiancée, Desiree, and their son, Exodus, in attendance, thanking fans for all their prayers. Sonovah’s mother, also named Sonovah, was in attendance as well.

DMX was the first rapper to have his first five albums go straight to the top of the Billboard chart, and established himself as the premier exponent of hardcore rap in the aftermath of the violent deaths of the Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur. He died April 9 following a heart attack. He was 50.

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