Pickers and Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas

Pickers and Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas

Pickers and Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas

Pickers and Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas

Synopsis

Many books and essays have addressed the broad sweep of Texas music--its multicultural aspects, its wide array and blending of musical genres, its historical transformations, and its love/hate relationship with Nashville and other established music business centers. This book, however, focuses on an essential thread in this tapestry: the Texas singer-songwriters to whom the contributors refer as "ruthlessly poetic." All songs require good lyrics, but for these songwriters, the poetic quality and substance of the lyrics are front and center.

Obvious candidates for this category would include Townes Van Zandt, Michael Martin Murphey, Guy Clark, Steve Fromholz, Terry Allen, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Bell, and David Rodriguez. In a sense, what these songwriters were doing in small, intimate live-music venues like the Jester Lounge in Houston, the Chequered Flag in Austin, and the Rubaiyat in Dallas was similar to what Bob Dylan was doing in Greenwich Village. In the language of the times, these were "folksingers." Unlike Dylan, however, these were folksingers writing songs about their own people and their own origins and singing in their own vernacular. This music, like most great poetry, is profoundly rooted.

That rootedness, in fact, is reflected in the book''s emphasis on place and the powerful ways it shaped and continues to shape the poetry and music of Texas singer-songwriters. From the coffeehouses and folk clubs where many of the "founders" got their start to the Texas-flavored festivals and concerts that nurtured both their fame and the rise of a new generation, the indelible stamp of origins is inseparable from the work of these troubadour-poets.

Excerpt

Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hillis

Many books and essays have addressed the broad sweep of Texas music—its multicultural aspects, its wide array and blending of musical genres, its historical transformations, and its love-hate relation with Nashville and other established music business centers. This collection of essays focuses on an essential thread in this tapestry, the Texas singer-songwriters that one of the essays in this book, Craig Clifford’s “Too Weird for Kerrville,” refers to as ruthlessly poetic. All songs require good lyrics, but for these songwriters the poetic quality and substance of the lyrics are front and center. We confess that the words “ruthlessly” and “poetic” don’t normally go together, but it is, in writing as in songwriting, the unexpected but mysteriously telling phrase that lets us see something from a perspective that we wouldn’t ordinarily have access to.

Discerning which songwriters fit into this category is one of the questions that these essays address. Obvious candidates include Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Michael Martin Murphey, Steven Fromholz, Terry Allen, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Bell, and David Rodriguez. Other than the term “Texas singer-songwriters,” there isn’t a commonly acceptable phrase or genre that properly identifies this singular group of artists. Nevertheless, among people who know and love Texas music, there’s a clear sense that there certainly is an identifiable tradition, even if it comes unadorned with a popular-culture moniker.

The notion of the ruthlessly poetic singer-songwriter as it applies to this study had its origins in the coffeehouses and clubs of the late sixties and seventies in Houston, Austin, Dallas, and other Texas cities. in a sense, what these songwriters were doing in small, intimate live-music venues like the Jester Lounge and Anderson Fair in Houston, the Chequered Flag and the Saxon Pub in Austin, and the Rubaiyat and Poor David’s Pub in Dallas was similar to what Bob Dylan was doing in Greenwich Village. in the language of the times, these were “folksingers.” Unlike Dylan, however, these were . . .

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