Billy Joe Shaver at Hill Country BBQ

27 10 2013

I was already in New York when I saw in the New Yorker listings that Billy Joe Shaver was playing on Saturday night at the Hill Country Barbeque on W 26th.

Honky Tonk Heroes

I didn’t know what to expect, and really didn’t know all that much about him, except the outlaw thing. I could only afford to see one show, and decided this was it.

BJS Storyteller

It started at a very civilized 11pm. I’d been to The Cloisters in the afternoon, had dinner with friends, and at 10:30 ran through the craziness of Times Square to get the subway.

hill country

I went down the stairs just after 11, he was already on stage. The room was not full, as I’d expected. And it wasn’t just him and a guitar, as I’d suspected. The band was rocking and I was immediately immersed in the best honky tonk music I’ve ever heard.


Billy Joe was a vision in a Wrangler shirt and Wrangler jeans. Double denim is clearly not a put on for this guy. I took a video of the next song he did, “Heart of Texas”, so I could put the tablet away and enjoy the show.


I had to take my little camera out from time to time. I moved up almost to the front amid some regular looking guys who were singing to almost every song.


What I had seen earlier in the day, people having sublime moments to re-processed medieval music, in a re-processed medieval chapel, could not have been further from my mind. Another few songs in, as he sang, Billy Joe closed his eyes and held his arms straight out, lowering and raising them like a flying bird, the sides of his shirt going in and out like a bellows.


He only did that once, although he would put his arms out from time to time during other songs, he only flew during that one. I pictured him soaring through the Texas sky.


I could see from the set list there was lots more to come. He drank water all night, a few times doing a good trick of dropping the bottle so it landed and stayed upright.




He wasn’t talking much between songs.


He’d do one without his hat, and then put it back on.



Eventually I noticed the backdrop was a stylized Texas flag made of cut up t-shirts and jeans, covered in signatures.


He took a break and the drummer did a pretty long solo. The band were all young guys from Austin. This wasn’t no alt-country gang.


I finished my beer and didn’t get another.


He spoke briefly about his son Eddy, a guitar ace who played with Dwight Yoakam and overdosed on heroin in 2000 . “If you know anyone on that stuff, you want to do whatever you can to them get off it” he said.



Shaver grew up in Waco, where his mother ran a honky tonk called Green Gables. Losing several fingers in a sawmill accident around age 20 made him turn to songwriting and head to Nashville, where he pursued Waylon Jennings till he used his songs to make Honky Tonk Heroes.


At the end, he said he’d go back to the merch table and sign anything, or pose with anyone. I was tempted to wait. There weren’t many people there. In spite of how taken I was with the show, I just left.


I was a little worried about a rash that was growing on my neck. I didn’t know what had caused it, I suspected an allergic reaction to something I’d eaten or drank but had never experienced anything like that before, so I wanted to get back to where I was staying, down in Soho.

Heart of Texas

4 10 2013

I was in New York last week. I saw Billy Joe Shaver on Saturday night downstairs at the Hill Country BBQ on W 26th.

hill country

set list

Blue Angel

21 08 2013

I mentioned Montreal’s Blue Angel bar recently, where Bob Fuller once held “Hillbilly Nite” with the Old Time Country Music Club of Canada. It started in 1966. I went around 1991, when this picture was taken.

l'Ange Bleu, 1991. by Kate Farrell

l’Ange Bleu, 1991. by Kate Farrell


I’m Your Guy

12 08 2013

Looking good, Rusty Ford!

Outside of Saskatoon

12 07 2013

The Good Family played the Starlight in Waterloo, May 30, 2013. They put on a great show for a really mixed crowd. Some there for Dallas and Travis and the Sadies, and plenty of Good Brothers fans looking (unsuccessfully) to hear “Fox On The Run”. This one, written by Bruce and Larry, also features Larry on the banjo.

doin the wrong things right

I was talking to my friend Shelley after, who remembered seeing the Good Brothers at an Ontario festival in the late 70s, when she was 8 or 9. I saw them then too, at the Exhibition in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Doin’ The Wrong Things Right was on the charts, and they were in the middle of an eight year run as  Canadian country group of the year.


Dallas and Travis have worn these Tony Alamo outfits the Goods got in 1970s Nashville. I spoke with Richard Hydell last year, who once worked for the now-imprisoned-in-perpetuity Alamo, and he told me how he would get westernwear made in California for the store on Lower Broadway, since there was not much to buy in Nashville at the time.

travis and dallas good

Dallas and Travis always wear jackets on stage and  I was happy to do up one of Dallas’s last year, with the Louvin’s Satan embroidered on the back.

satan studio

Once I got the pentagram design right, everything went great. There’s a 666 on the other front yoke.

new front

The Good Family show was the first time I really saw him wear it. You can see him sparkling a little in the corner of the video. I hope Charlie, and perhaps more so, Ira, have seen it too.

Louvin Brothers.Satan is Real

The Good Family, featuring Travis, also did the Louvin’s “There’s A Higher Power”, off Satan Is Real, a Sadies live staple.

good family dakota may 9 2013

This is from one of their two Dakota tavern shows, also in May. They’re playing the Stewart Park Festival in Perth Ontario, July 19.

Sadies by Agatha Donkar

Rusty Ford’s Tribute to Stompin’ Tom

15 03 2013

Stompin’ Tom Connors was officially memorialized on Wednesday night in Peterborough, and tributes continue across the country.

stompin tom sleeve

On Tuesday in Vancouver, Rusty Ford and Michel Drouin played Tom’s song “The Bridge Came Tumbling Down” at city council.

Rusty Ford and Michel Drouin the bridge came tumbling down

I asked Rusty what that was like. He said,

“It was a great honour to be asked by Vancouver’s Mayor to mark the passing of a great Canadian, Stompin’ Tom Conners. Perhaps more than any other artist, Tom dedicated his life to telling the story of our country, one community at a time. At Vancouver city hall, I sang a beautifully sad song that Tom wrote about the tragic collapse of the Second Narrows bridge in 1958. Rusty is a huge Stompin’ Tom fan and his simple funny and straight forward song-writing is hugely inspirational.

Thanks Tom – you will be sorely missed.”


Fans camped out and lined up to attend the Peterborough celebration.


Here’s Tom in 1973, accepting one of his six Juno Awards. The annual Canadian music awards are coming up next month, and one would expect his passing to receive significant recognition.

stompin tom stampJust one thing, though, before rehearsing the “Hockey Song/Sudbury Saturday Night/Bud the Spud/Tillsonburg/Margo’s Cargo” medley.

In 1978, Stompin’ Tom packed up his Junos and returned them to the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, in protest over nominees who did not live in Canada.

tom at the horseshoe

As far as I know, nothing was done to amend the dispute.

stompin tom casket

One of my favorite Stompin’ Tom moments was when he was excluded from the lineup for Canada’s portion of 2005′s global “Live 8″ benefit concert.


In protest, Ottawa classic rock DJ Jeff Brown began playing Stompin’ Tom songs continuously, including a half hour string of “Big Joe Mufferaw”, until he was yanked off the air.

No More Blues

1 03 2013

Daniel Romano with Aaron Goldstein on steel guitar, last night at the sold-out Starlight in Waterloo.


Tomorrow night, they’re at Massey Hall in Toronto.  And there’s more shows after that in Canada and the US , including SXSW in Austin.



The Carroll County Accident

1 02 2013

I was listening to this the other day.


It came out in 1969. The cover photo is by Les Leverett. Here’s Porter doing the title track.

Not many singers on the first wave of Nudie in Nashville, like Webb Pierce and George Jones, kept wearing embroidered suits beyond the early 60s. Notable exceptions were Wagoner (who also had a popular TV variety show), Hank Snow and some other Opry stalwarts like Little Jimmy Dickens.

The Grand Ole Opry Goes To The Big Apple

ray price and roger miller on the opry

ray price 2009

ray price 2009

Ray Price, who got a pretty big stink going last week on facebook calling out Blake Shelton’s bonehead tirade on the value and appeal of old time country, abandoned his “Cherokee Cowboy” Nudies long ago but is still the man at 87 when it comes to classic country and western swing. He plays shows fairly often. I sure would like to see him come up around here!

porter wagoner and nudiePorter Wagoner and Nudie

porter and texPorter Wagoner and Tex Ritter

In the 1980s Porter fell to the depths of uncoolness, losing his record deal and getting a perm.


He and duet partner-turned solo superstar Dolly Parton had fallen out by the time Porter and Dolly came out in 1980. (their pictures on the cover were taken separately)

ray and willie

Meanwhile Ray and friend Willie Nelson did their own duet album in 1980, with Grady Martin on guitar and Buddy Emmons on steel, including Ray’s 1956 hit “Crazy Arms” and Willie’s “Night Life” along with standards like “I Fall To Pieces” and Floyd Tillman’s “This Cold War With You”.

porter wagoner by maria von matthiessen

porter wagoner by maria von matthiessen

Porter persevered, got his pompadour back, made up with Dolly, and with Marty Stuart made his last and (arguably) most acclaimed record, 2007′s Wagonmaster.

porter wagoner and marty stuart


Wagonmaster and The Carroll County Accident are different kinds of country records. I like them both.

porter wagoner, mel tillis, dolly parton

porter wagoner, mel tillis, dolly parton

Someone I know likes to test my country music knowledge by asking, “whatever happened to Mary Ellen Jones?”

a day in the life of Rusty Ford

26 10 2012

Wearing his new suit, Rusty Ford sets out for another day in the life of a country singer.

A diner breakfast heals the night before.

What waitress doesn’t prefer a serenade to a tip.

No such thing as a bad gig for Rusty.

Perfect weather for late afternoon busking.

Contemplating the honky tonk life….

there’s no tears in this beer.

 Rusty’s heading for Nashville next month, so watch out for him down on Lower Broadway.

All photos by Ruby Woods.

Tribute to Patsy

27 08 2012

The seventh annual Patsy Cline Birthday Spectacular is coming up on September 6th at Toronto’s Lula Lounge. It is going to be a great show.

Thanks to k.d. lang, Patsy was one of the first country stars I appreciated. In 1988, k.d. got Patsy’s producer Owen Bradley out of retirement for her LP Shadowland, which included “Honky Tonk Angel’s Medley” with Brenda Lee, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn, who was Patsy’s good friend.

Patsy’s mother Hilda, an accomplished sewer, made her early western-style outfits. After she got to Nashville, she was encouraged to wear cocktail dresses rather than fringe shirts. Patsy Cline was the first woman to wear pants on the Opry. At the time of her death in March 1963, she had an order in with Nudie for two dresses and a silver lame cape with red satin lining.

The Toronto tribute, organized and hosted by cowgirl Heather Morgan, has singers like Russell deCarle,  Mary Margaret O’Hara, Treasa Levasseur, and Danny Marks, who will attempt to outdo last year’s highly fringed version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky”

Another honky tonk angel, Jean Shepard, whose husband Hawkshaw Hawkins was on the plane with Patsy, did “Seven Lonely Days” in 1969, reaching number 18.

The original version was a number seven for Bonnie Lou in 1953. Patsy’s version never charted.

Jean was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year. She has been performing on the Opry for over 50 years.


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