PHIL:“Texas is really ugly, you know that? I mean, what could anyone possibly like about this state?”
DORMAN:“I like the way it’s shaped.”
GARDNER:“It’s wild, Phillip. Always has been and always will be – just like us.”
Texas gets its share of criticism as far as states go for many reasons ‘” the crazy heat, the humidity, the almost non-existent spring and winter seasons, the frontier frame of mind, the inept and corrupt politicians (like this one is really limited to Texas) or its sprawling landscape that it takes a day or more to drive across. Whatever complaint you might have against Texas, and even though it might not be everyone’s ideal home town, it has made some very substantial contributions to the world of music. I’ve included a list of some of the best musical artists from Texas. If you like their music, don’t worry you don’t have to move to Texas to hear it. But if you do decide to move here, you will find a diverse and thriving music scene that will make living in Texas almost enjoyable. If that’s not enough of a selling point, Texas has a pretty nice shape too.
The huge quantity of Texas musicians makes it impossible to include everyone, but here are some of my favorite best examples of Texas musical artists and songs by them you might not have heard.
Letter to L.A. – Part 1 – Joe Ely
Letter to L. A. – Part 2
Joe Ely was born in Amarillo, and grew up in Lubbock. It seems ironic to highlight this song about a city not in Texas in an article about Texas artists, but it is great song about Los Angeles as seen through the eyes of someone from a smaller Texas town and how one might be overwhelmed by the bright light vastness of the big city and its merciless insatiability for those who come there to realize a dream. This particular video was recorded at Antones. As an example of the difference between a small Texas city and Los Angeles, you can see the intimacy of this live show and how close the audience is to the stage. This is not exclusive to Texas clubs and venues but it is one of the best parts of seeing Texas musicians live in Texas. It’s like having them play in your living room. I would choose an intimate up close and personal setting like this any day over a stadium or arena concert by any artist but especially a Texas artist. A great live version of Letter to L.A. is also on the Live at Liberty Lunch CD.
“You’re afraid to lose your cover
afraid to bare your soul
Like an Alfred Hitchcock lover
Who slowly goes out of control.”
It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go – Nanci Griffith
Nanci Griffith is from Seguin, Texas. This song demonstrates that songs with big ideas and universal themes can come wrapped in small town packages.
“If we poison our children with hatred,
then a hard life is all that they’ll know.”
Boxcars ‘” Butch Hancock
Butch Hancock is from Lubbock, Texas where growing up working on a farm in his youth he was able to develop an ear for the musicality of the train – that infamous metaphor of progress and industrialization cutting a path through the frontier on those Texas nights. The beauty of this song is how Hancock captures the feel and sound and mood of the locomotive with the rhythmic strumming of his guitar mimicking the chugging of the train and the wail of his harmonica mirroring the cry of the train whistle.
“This world can take my money and my time
but it sure can’t take my soul
I’m going down to the railroad tracks
watchin’ those lonesome boxcars roll.”
Everyone Will Crawl – Charlie Sexton Sextet
Charlie Sexton was born in San Antonio, and raised in Austin where he was taught how to play guitar at a young age by W.C. Clark (the Godfather of Austin Blues), and mentored by two other Texas musicians that appear on this list (Stevie Ray Vaughn and Joe Ely. This song is a dark tune that explores the mystery and uncertainty of faith and salvation in a confusing world but still manages to rock.
“It’s a long hard road
from creation to the grave
too may lost souls down here
too few of them are saved.”
Castanets – Alejandro Escovedo
Escovedo was born in San Antonio and later settled in Austin where he found a home and a voice within the eclectic Austin music scene. This song is an example of how Texas artists can jam with an energetic fervor even within the limits of an acoustical performance.
“I love the sun shining through her dress
I like her better when she walks away
I love her hair in a tangled mess
I like her better when she walks away.”
Texas Flood – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Born in Dallas, Vaughan moved to Austin when he was 17 years old where he developed into an accomplished Texas blues musician who broke through to mainstream audiences. Sadly, his career was cut short in 1989 when he died in a helicopter crash on his way home from a concert in Wisconsin, but his influence can still be felt in the Texas and national music scenes.
“Well there’s floodin’ down in Texas
All of the telephone lines are down
And I’ve been tryin’ to call my baby
Lord and I can’t get a single sound”
Choctaw Bingo – James McMurtry
Born in Fort Worth, McMurtry has a way of painting vivid pictures and creating distinct, believable characters in his songs. This may be partly because he is the son, of an English professor and novelist Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show, Lonesome Dove) or maybe he just has an acute ear and eye for the stories and characters happening around him. This song is one of those tunes that breathes life into a collection of memorable characters that may even be similar to people we know ourselves.
“Strap them kids in give ”¹…”em a little bit of vodka in a Cherry Coke
we’re goin’ to Oklahoma to the family reunion for the first time in years
it’s up at Uncle Slayton’s cuz he’s gettin’ on in years
you know he no longer travels but he’s still pretty spry
he’s not much on talkin’, he’s just too mean to die”
I Wish it Would Rain – Rodney Crowell
Rodney Crowell was born in Crosby, Texas and began playing as a teenager in Houston. This touching song is off of his Houston Kid CD a collection of songs about growing up in east Houston.
“I know you’ve heard my story
or seen me on the street
just another cracker gigolo
dressed up like trick or treat”
Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell – ZZ Top
ZZ Top, the popular Texas rock trio, made up of Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard from Houston and Dusty Hill from Dallas, have been rocking from Texas for over forty years. This is one of there lesser know more subdued but effective blues tunes.
” Like takin’ eyesight from the blind man and money from the poor
that woman took my lovin’ and walked on out that door.”
In Dreams – Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison was well known for his unique appearance and a powerfully, hypnotic voice. What might not be as widely known is that he was from Vernon, Texas. This dark, mesmerizing tune, which was given new life when it was used so effectively in the David Lynch film Blue Velvet, is a great example of the power and range of Orbison’s operatic voice.
“A candy colored clown they call, ‘The sandman’
Tiptoes to my room every night
Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper
“Go to sleep, everything is alright”
Anchorage – Michelle Shocked
Michelle Shocked was born in Dallas, Texas but spent her childhood as a military brat traveling. This nomadic lifestyle set the stage and prepared her for the lifestyle of the touring musician she was to become. This song, in an epistolary framework shows how easy it is to lose touch and miss out on the life events of those closest too us when separated by time and distance and our own busy individual lives, which is something everyone must deal with, especial if you are a musical artist constantly on the road.
“Hey Chel, you know it’s kind funny,
Texas always seems so big
but you know you’re in the largest state in the Union
when you’re anchored down in Anchorage”
Kozmic Blues – Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin was from Port Arthur, Texas where she grew up listening to female blues musicians and singing blues and folk songs with friends when she was in high school. She was a self admitted misfit and was constantly teased by her peers because of her appearance. She left Texas for San Francisco where she soon was able to break into the national music scene. This song is a moving blues tune that suggests that even with her fame and critical acclaim, Joplin still struggled with the emotional baggage of not fitting in during her youth in Port Arthur and the residual sadness and loneliness it caused.
“Time keeps movin’ on
Friends they turn away
I keep movin’ on
But I never found out why
I keep pushing so hard the dream
I keep tryin’ to make it right
Through another lonely day”
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