Thursday, July 10, 2008

One Man's Play

Yo. This is Vince. Out here on the edge of the high desert these days.

We have moved the Journal section of the website here, and will be writing regularly again. And Live Music's Cool at Live Music School, the monthly podcast, is back with a July installment. Look for updates to the website soon, too.

I just finished writing a one-man play about the first 30 years of my life in music. Like a hoard of locusts, it has insatiably taken this entire year to date, and threatens to devour the rest of the quickly evaporating calendar. Rehearsal is a daily down and dirty out on the stage of The RealDeal, the house concert series I host in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And I'll be out there again today before lunch.

There were at least three complete drafts of this hour-long performance piece of words and music. Each got seriously considered, labored over as if it were the words of the Buddha, and summarily jettisoned. The first was OK, but wandered in to and out of cheeky, cheesy music business with no consequence worthy of daytime TV. The second was about that decade I spent relearning how to walk, talk and play music again, after a car accident. It told the truth, but had the liability of a grievous tale without the simple reward of accomplishment sufficient to create a relief of an ending. The third aspired to tell both stories through the eyes of the writer.

Big miscalculation. When I showed the third draft off to Tanya Taylor Rubenstein, a veteran of the stage, and one-person play, she tore it apart and sent me home with a passel of notes to absorb before she would hear it again. I call her "Coach."

The final script is a more complete narrative, and tells both stories, and I just may be on to something. Taken together with Coach's advisement, there is poetry in the story-line of the prose that not so obviously rhymes. And there is, as Tim Hardin once said when I was a puppy in music watching him from the wings of the stage at the old Majestic Theatre in Houston, "...a reason to believe."

Guitars made by Vince Pawless

Photographs by Vince Bell

Friday, December 31, 2004

The Real Deal: Year One

Geoff Muldaur, Bob Neuwirth with Vince
The Real Deal/Austin

So, this just about concludes a musical year of the "Real Deal" that chewed up thousands of highway miles, and consumed the moments usually devoted to scrawlings like this journal. Sarah and I got tired of asking permission from any-musical-body any-damn-where, so we began to make shows happen from Texas to the Rocky Mountains. Shows with top flight players, my friends, that could use the work. Shows we could stand behind, and enjoy doing to boot. No booking agents, no sound check, no backstage pass.

The "Real Deal" is the name for our gig, and it had some of the best qualities of the bad old days. In between trips to Atlanta, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Texas we presented three "Real Deal" shows in Santa Fe, and three in Austin. We made good music and gooder times. Less is more and more is better.

February began with the promotion of "The Flatliners," first in Houston at Anderson Fair for Friday and Saturday, and then for the first "Real Deal" show, in Austin on Sunday night, at Hyde Park Theatre. Our pal at the Houston Chronicle, Andrew Dansby, helped put lines around the block in that bayou town for myself, Steven Fromholz, and Eric Taylor.

Until then "The Flatliners" was a joke between we three backstage at Kerrville. It was a challenge turning a quip into a musical event. As the years go by, it's interesting to note just how many of we "flatliners" there are out there. More and more all the time it seems.

From songwriter Mickie Merkins, "If you're looking for a good wrap up of the show, let me tell you I think it was one of the best shows I've ever been to. The FlatLINERS gig was amazing! Great night of music. Classic. Legendary. I've never laughed so much at a show. They were fantastic together. Songwriter in the round with lots of stories, jokes, and atheatre full of laughter and music. Can't say enough good things about it."

In March, I left Sarah preparing for more of the "Real Deal" at the computer. She was cooking, and booking while I drove back to Texas for gigs she found for my solo show with accompan-iment. One was in the former Old Moulton Bank in the tiny town of Moulton near Flatonia, and an appearance at Gruene Hall with Guy Schwartz and Joe Lindley for the Fred Eaglesmith Texas Weekend.

When I got home we were batting 1,000. One "Real Deal" show down. So we went back to the well in dear old Tejas at Hyde Park.

Some of my oldest friends are "Denim" from Austin. Bill Browder, David Moerbe, and Layton DePenning put together an acoustic set to go along with my solo. As we traded songs that night it was like standing in an aviary song by song. Their voices climbed and fell around one another like songbirds in the trees. I just sat back and enjoyed their music between the roughness of my own. They've been doing some of the most notable vocals together in Texas since the CSN&Y days of the '70's. Seems at this "Real Deal" some things never change.

A week later Eric Taylor and I played our solo shows at the Outpost in Albuquerque. An encore at that gig is one of the more rewarding you will receive in live music in America these days. The Outpost is a live music jewel on the Rio Grande from folk to jazz thanks to Tom Guralnick.

Vince and Eric Taylor, The Real Deal/Santa Fe

The next "Real Deal" on Sarah's calendar was at our house in Santa Fe the following night. Eric and I played sets and traded songs from the well lit stage like we were in a club south of Houston street in New York City. The cover charge capable crowd bought our CDs and my books and further rewarded us with their applause.

Good buddy, and regular at the "Real Deal" from Santa Fe, Charles Young said, "Hey... you guys rock. That was a most satisfying evening...people-wise, music-wise, food & beverage wise, atmosphere-wise."

This charming tourist town on the southern slope of the Rocky Mountains has a glut of galleries and an abundance of art to go around, but no gigs at all for the art of music. Not till the "Real Deal." Now in Eldorado, where we live ten miles outtatown, there are three ongoing house concerts. The grandaddy is presented by Jerry Faires and Peter and Octavia Soule. The third, held at the Eldorado Community Center, is run by Rick Adesso. Eldorado is the mecca for acoustic music in New Mexico. In some months you can hear more acoustic guitar in "the hood" than in towns like Dallas, Fort Worth, or Houston.

With Steven Fromholz, All Good Café
Photo by Tommy Eaker

Speaking of my old home town, Dallas, Fromholz and I played at the All Good Cafe in Deep Elum in May. Sweet singing Jonna Woodburn said, "Both of "The Guys" were in superb form, having a great time on stage. Lots of laughter. You know, after Steve's stroke, he quit singing his old songs. I teared up when he suddenly burst out with "The Bear" song, and just had to give him a standing ovation. Sarah teared up when Fromholz started singing Vince's harmonies on "I've Had Enough". It was one of those joyful nights, the kind that keeps you smiling all the way back home until you go to sleep, and you wake up and smile again. It was a perfect evening, with a perfectly cool breeze outside for breaks. They got a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the second set, so they did a few more songs. We didn't want the evening to end."

It was my first time to play for owner/chief cook/bottlewasher Mike Snyder since touring "Texas Plates." After doing it again, I can't get enough of this guy and the joints he has anything at all to do with. If you're ever in Dallas...

The next evening we took the show to MacHenry's in Fort Worth. While Steve and I tuned backstage in strode another FlatLINER, the blazingest of guitar pickers, John Nitzinger.

Dale Perry, Steven Fromholz and Vince
Photo by Andrew Koebe

Later that month Steven and I played for the National Stroke Association in San Antonio at Andrew Koebel's. We played that night away with the excellent finger picker/singer Dale Perry. We three traded songs and chuckled it up all night long. Andy said in a subsequent email, "We had a great time and are still talking about how great you guys were and how lucky we were to have you."

At the end of the month I flew and drove to Keene, New Hampshire for the "Burritoville House Concert" run by Mike and Peggy Durham.

John Hermans attended from upstate New York and said, "Marty (John's wife) and I drove up to Burritoville on Saturday where it was in the high eighties (the week before they had snow-like conditions) to hear Vince play and hopefully get some good barbecue...we were not disappointed on either count. Mike and Peggy had smoked brisket and sausage that was to die for...and Vince was in rare form. Lots of great stories about Townes and Guy and banging around Houston... For those of you who have never been exposed to VB, this is one charming, funny, talented fellow. He brought along the (mesquite) Pawless which sounded great. My guess is there were 40 or so folks in attendance. Thanks Mike and Peggy for a very enjoyable evening!!!"

Mike returned, "I would like to second John's praise of Vince. He was playing to a roomful of people that for the most part had never heard of him before and he won them over with his songs and stories."

I spent a week with friends, Jim and Lynn McGarry, near Concord, Massachusetts before playing another Fred Eaglesmith festival, "Roots On The River", outdoors on the Connecticut River near Bellows Falls, Vermont. I played from a solar powered stage run by the exceptional, and longtime music promoter, Charlie Hunter. On the following day I played with other songwriters in an old hotel in downtown Bellows Falls.

My next date was in Atlanta, Georgia for Art Bowman. Art and I are remaking the planet with acoustic music. We started at a radio show with Mark Miller.

The DJ subsequently said, "...wanted to send along my thanks for working with me on the Spam & Grits show on WRFG. I appreciate Vince stopping by and playing some tunes and chatting about the music. As they say in Texas, 'we had a big time!' I hope the interview opened some of Atlanta's ears to the music of Vince Bell."

The show was well attended for the middle of the summer in the south with a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. In Texas we used to say about an evening's turnout, "the rodeo must be in town."

Longtime dear buddy, LaShanda Epp wrote Sarah, "I told him, but remind him for me, please, that he's brilliant. I tend to forget that, and then I hear him sing, and his way with words, and then I remember again. I'll email Art and thank him for bringing Vince to town. It was a nice little place."

Vince and Michael Hearne

Back in Santa Fe, the headliner for the July "Real Deal" was Michael Hearne. Me and my pals, the Banded Geckos, played the early sets. I've not heard a better, nor smoother full range vocal than Michael's. Over the years I've learned some people just have the pipes. Maybe it was his years harmonizing with Michael Murphy, another Dallas singer. Maybe it was growing up with his relatives, Bill and Bonnie Hearne. Whatever. The recording we made of the evening showcases his considerable talent.

And then there was a new wrinkle, "The Texas FlatLINERS." Sarah and I changed the name because we couldn't use the backstage quip from Kerrville. Another musical band of flatliners already were using the internet domain name. In spite of the name change, Steven, Eric and I played on a stage reminiscent of Austin City Limits that we all have played for the New Braufels Museum of Music and Art in Gruene, Texas. Then we packed it up and drove up I35 for another show at MacHenry's in Fort Worth.

The next "Real Deal" in Santa Fe featured flatliners Steven and me with Tommy Elskes from Albuquerque. We three were buddies back in the '70's in Austin when Tommy played spoons with "Kiwi." These days there's no better writer, guitar player or singer I know of than Tommy. Our show was well played, well spoken, and funnier than hell.

Then one of those magical things that only happens to the very luckiest of us. I was invited by Pete Prydybasz to play at his outdoor concert in Pennsylvania. In a meadow behind his home the large stage was shaded by a parachute. It faced out onto a gentle tree covered upgrade to where the crowd of listeners sat comfortably among hay bales.

Tommy Elskes, Steven Fromholz and Vince

I was pleased as could be to be featured with Freddy Steady (Krc), a longtime pal from...Texas. We were both Houston area kids growing up. Him from Deer Park, me Memorial. Among a further list of excellent players were Keith Sykes, and (here's where the rest of the magic comes in), Sal Valentino.

Vince with Sal Valentino

Sal was the singer in the Beau Brummels. The band blew me through the wall when I was a kid and FM hadn't been invented (Ha!). I found Sal to be a wonderful fellow. All I could have dreamed. Very talented and very gracious always. It made me want to go home and write songs he could record.

Backstage, we talked the afternoon away. He said, "When we were Italian kids from North Beach with hits on the radio a younger, upcoming group that was called the Emergency Crew got on the label. Y'know who they were?"

"No," I matter of factly replied, after living in Berkeley in the nineties. "Who were they?" He smiled disarmingly for the kid still in me, "The Grateful Dead."

Jeez. I'll probably choke if I can't get him to Santa Fe to play the "Real Deal." This giant of my childhood that today measures with the best of us still IS the "Real Deal."

Back in New Mexico, every time the girl and I open the car door the odometer gains another thousand miles. By the time the tumblers rolled over again it was October and I was standing outside the old home place, Anderson Fair, in Houston. Guy Schwartz, with his fretless bass, and me with my trusty Pawless hardtop dreadnoughts.

Guy is a pleasure and a pro. I don't know anyone that just likes to play any more than he. He'd play if he had to pay to do it. I always thought I should be more like him. If you ever get the chance to see his band, The New Jack Hippies, do yourself a favor and pick up on them.

Jovita's in Austin included, from left to right,
Cam King, Guy Schwartz and Bill Browder.

Anyhow, Guy and I were billed the next night at my favorite club to play in Austin these days, Cypress Creek Cafe in Wimberley. We welcomed Cam King on electric guitars for the two set night. Cam has got the hottest item in recording studios there. When we finished, I started packing up while yukking it up with friends and players alike.

Unbeknownst to me, the bartender approached Sarah and complained, "He's got another set. He's got to go to 12:00."

Sarah deadpanned, "In your dreams. He probably hasn't done a three set night since he was 23." When I heard about it the next day, I about fell over laughing. It's been one long while since I played music by the pound. So much for pay to play.

With Steven at the Byboth's

With Steven at the Old Quarter

On the flip-flop back to New Mexico, we routed through Dallas to play with Steven again at the Texas Nights North Concert run by David and Lois Byboth. I guess that makes my favorite, most lucrative gig in Coppell. No problem.

In November I performed with Steve yet again. Can't be enough of those dates. You see, he and I played edge to edge in Texas in the 70's. If it wasn't Austin, it was Temple, or Waco, or Dallas, or Wichita Falls, or Houston, or San Antonio, or Corpus, or Shreveport...Shreveport? Anyhow, this is maybe the best place to play in Texas, Galveston. And my favorite gig in Galveston? The Old Quarter with Wrecks behind the bar. Our evening was worth those thousand miles from the Rocky Mountains.

Geoff Muldaur, Bob Neuwirth and Vince, The Real Deal/Austin

And the final solution? Our last "Real Deal" at Austin's Hyde Park Theatre with two fellows that were almost single-handedly responsible for my first CD, Phoenix. Bob Neuwirth and Geoff Muldaur. We were songwriters in the round for two riotous sets.

Bennett Brier, a board member at the theatre, emailed this post about the show from the " Forums".

Vince Bell, Bob Neuwirth and Geoff Muldaur
Hyde Park Theater, Austin, TX
November 13th, 2005

Three men, three acoustic guitars, three different voices. Three totally different artists, totally different talents. Each took their turn with a tune in a tiny theater seating about 60 people last night. Gurf Morlix was sitting near me with a couple of friends and a few others around the room looked like they were "somebody". But anyway, this was the place to be in America last night.

Vince Bell started the night off with his warm and smoky voice, his smiling demeanor, masterful playing and wonderful contemporary folk songs. He’s a huggy bear type and smiled throughout the night. Smiling didn’t come hard with the leering and egging on of “class cut-up” Bobby Neuwirth at his side. Bell’s repertoire is varied, containing love songs, road songs and a delightful talking-blues number halfway through the night.

Neuwirth is a master story-teller. His guitar playing is pedestrian at best but his vocals and writing are so unique, so heartfelt, so absolutely committed, even if he told us he had no idea what he was doing there. I was left feeling sad that I had never seen him before. Sad that he is not more known. His voice is somewhere between Ralph Stanley and Willie Nelson and his phrasing is nothing short of tremendous. His general style is very old school and very earnest even when you are howling with laughter along with the rest of the audience at some sharp and cutting humor within a song.

Geoff Muldaur is the scholar, the bookish and knowledgeable musical historian. His guitar playing is exquisite, precise and varied. Very old-school. He did blues numbers, folk-blues numbers, straight up folk, sangphrases in stunning falsetto, played licks and picked with precision and affection. A favorite from him last night was a song about starting off on a trip from Jackson Square in New Orleans to go find the grave of a great, itinerant bluesman called “Got to Find Blind Lemon, Part One”.

Muldaur and Neuwirth first played together in 1962, up in New England, which they reminisced a little about and mentioned their old friend and jug player Fritz Richmond. He’s got “one leg out the door” they said sadly, and Bobby dedicated a song to him. Neuwirth produced Bell’s album Phoenix which also features Muldaur and Richmond (and Lyle Lovett, John Cale, Stephen Bruton etc.)

In 1962 I was eleven years old. And I'd wait it all again to do it at the

"Real Deal."