That Lonesome Sound: Bye Bye, Clay Farmer Band

Hard to believe, but one of Houston's brightest, best-est talents has broken up his band. Thing is, he brought his empire down just as he was building it up.

Clay Farmer, leader of the incredible, eponymously titled country-western quartet, says he has had enough. Before a performance at the Brewery around Thanksgiving, Farmer called his manager, Richard Cagle, and said: This is it. No more shows. No more band.

It happened without warning. "I think it just wasn't what I wanted," says Farmer of the attitude and direction of his band, which includes Paul Burnett on guitar, Rod Roberts on drums and Calvin Hall on bass. "It became more of a stress, so I just wanted to step back for a minuteŠ.It hurt. It's hurting me right now. It's scaring me to death.

Clay Farmer says no more to the Clay Farmer Band.
Clay Farmer says no more to the Clay Farmer Band.

"I wanted music to be the focus," he continues, "not the things that come along with having a musician's lifestyleŠ.For me to handle things mentally, I need a little bit tighter-run ship. Certain people's styles weren't working with the style I needed. There's no crime in that. It's just the plain truth."

To avoid a he-said/she-said affair, Farmer did not name names.

Farmer says he began telling bandmates and associates in July he wasn't happy with the way things were going, even though his young outfit had already played some of the best venues in town, including the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, Aerial Theater and the Woodlands Pavilion. His words of dissatisfaction, according to Farmer, went unheeded for months. On November 25 Farmer decided that the Clay Farmer Band, as it was, would be no more.

Everybody involved was a bit shocked, including Cagle. "He told me he busted his ass for one year, and nothing," says Cagle. "He's unhappy. I told him, 'You gotta pay your dues.' I told him to go back. The album just needs [mixing]. He didn't even give the album a chance."

The as-of-yet-untitled album, tentatively set for release this winter, should be hot property. Not only because of its content, but because of its creator and the following he has attracted. As the band's musical heart, Farmer writes all the material. He pens smart country songs that appeal to rock and Hank fans alike. And as lead singer, rhythm guitarist and stage centerpiece, the Gen-X Farmer shines on stage, making friends with audiences quickly. His charisma draws a crowd.

Says bandmate Burnett: "Clay has every right to do this. I was against it, but it's his careerŠ.In Houston, we're all so underpaid. It's hard to keep going. Unless you're the Hollisters or Jesse Dayton," successful full-time musicians.

Farmer first began performing about five years ago, originally as a duo with Steve Tate on guitar. After Tate left Houston for the Guitar Institute of Technology in California, Farmer began playing and singing solo. From open mikes at McGonigel's Mucky Duck to Dan Electro's, Farmer traveled, eventually picking up listeners, industry contacts and bandmates.

The Clay Farmer Band was created about five years ago, around two years after Farmer began performing, to any degree, publicly. The act played around town a bit before deciding to put its music on tape. The band cut a demo in July 1997 at Cagle's studio and, while recording, caught the owner's ear. Cagle asked to manage the band. Knowing Cagle's reputation, the band said yes.

After more gigging, the band, under Cagle's managership, dedicated itself in April 1999 to recording a CD. It, as Cagle says above, is almost ready for release.

"It's a shame," says Cagle of the bad timing, "but you gotta move on."

Move on indeed. Finger-picker extraordinaire and fixture on the music scene these past ten years, Burnett is back playing alongside Leslie Newman, an old professional acquaintance. (Newman will open for Billy Joe Shaver on Saturday, January 22, at Dan Electro's.) And as part of the Good Luck Band, which comprises some of Carolyn Wonderland's Imperial Monkeys and Jug O' Lightnin', Burnett also plays Mary Jane's every Monday. Bass player Hall is working with Wonderland. Roberts is with the Fabulous Five. And Cagle has redirected his attention to a new band, Simpleton, which mixes rock with rap with spoken word.

And Farmer himself has been on the move. Since the breakup, he has been searching for new bandmates. As of last weekend, he was fixing his sights on Pasadena, where he says there are "some hot pickers." After that, Farmer says, he'll hit Austin. Rumor has it he has some powerful fans there.

Farmer's immediate outlook depends on what happens next. "I don't know," he says, "sometimes I like to think I just want to make a fantastic record," which would mean hiring studio musicians to work on a "backlog" of new Farmer songs. "But I love to perform," which would mean having a full-time band.

"I was set up for a life like this," says Farmer, who splits time between making music and working at a local upscale restaurant. "I don't have a whole helluva lot to fall back on. I've geared myself so that I can play. I can't give up. I haven't tapped out yet. I'm just looking for a fun start. It's coming upŠ.The Clay Farmer Band will come back."

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