15 Living Legends of Texas Music We Shouldn't Take for Granted
Texans are fortunate to have a wealth of homegrown musical talent to listen to and enjoy, and that's especially true of the many legends we still have the opportunity to see play live. But it's easy to grow complacent and to take some of those performers for granted — in many cases they've been around our entire lives, and it seems like they'll always be there for us. But without being morbid, let's face it: no one will be able to perform forever, and if we want to see certain artists play live, then we need to make the effort to do so while they're still active; in other words sooner rather than later.
15. ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO
A San Antonio native from a musical family, Alejandro Escovedo performed in the seminal San Franciscan punk band the Nuns before moving to Austin in the early '80s. He developed a rootsy alternative style that drew from many musical traditions, and has created a large body of critically acclaimed work which audiences have eagerly devoured. I used to see him slumming around Austin's Hole In the Wall bar back in the mid-'90s, and didn't realize I was in the presence of greatness. Don't make the same mistake I did back then.
14. THE FLATLANDERS
The Flatlanders didn't get a lot of attention during their initial early-'70s run, but the "cosmic country" band from Lubbock reformed in the late '90s after several members had gone on to successful solo careers. Seeing the Flatlanders gives audiences a chance to watch Texas legends Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock perform at the same time; even their Flatlanders sets are often studded with solo gems like "Dallas" and "If You Were a Bluebird."
13. JERRY JEFF WALKER
Jerry Jeff Walker wasn't born in Texas, but he's been a crucial force in our musical tapestry for decades now, and still brings the goods to his live performances. Every Texan worth his or her salt should try to see Mr. Walker perform "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother" and "Mr. Bojangles" at least once.
12. RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
Writing "Redneck Mother" might have been enough to put Old Mr. Hubbard on this list, but since his re-emergence on 1992's Lost Train of Thought, Hubbard has released a succession of essential Texas singer-songwriter albums, each one deeper and (arguably) better than the last — more than enough to excuse the fact that he was actually born in Oklahoma. A night with Hubbard brings out several different sides of his musical personality: redneck rocker, beatnik bluesman, salty old hippie and most of all, Senior Pastor for the Church of the Eternal Groove.
11. KINKY FRIEDMAN
Kinky Friedman's family moved to Texas from Chicago during his childhood, and he set about on a course of being the weird kind of Texan that Austin was once known for. Beginning a music career in the mid-1960s, he eventually formed "Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys" in the early '70s, bringing an irreverent sense of humor to the state's emerging country-rock scene. Rubbing elbows with performers like Commander Cody and Bob Dylan while managing to piss off all sorts of people along the way, Friedman went on to forge a writing career and famously ran for Governor in 2006. Friedman's first album of original material, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, was released last year, and he stops by venues in the area like the Mucky Duck and Dosey Doe fairly regularly.
10. MISS TRUDY LYNN
A Houston native raised in Fifth Ward, Trudy Lynn began performing professionally in the mid-'60s, when she sang for the legendary blues guitarist Albert Collins. She played clubs in Houston initially, before expanding her reach to regional and overseas shows, and once opened for Ike and Tina Turner. In the late '80s, she finally began a recording career, releasing a series of albums combined Southern soul and traditional R&B. Miss Trudy Lynn is a local musical treasure, and Houstonians would be well advised to go see her perform at one of her gigs around town.
9. DELBERT MCCLINTON
Born in Lubbock, Delbert McClinton has been active in the Texas music scene since the early 1960s, initially as a backing player, and then emerging as a bandleader a decade later. McClinton is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, harmonica, and piano in his blues-rock and country compositions. Early on he played with many music legends including Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins, and recorded the Top 40 single "Givin' It Up For Your Love" in 1980. As his career continued, McClinton recorded duets with Bonnie Raitt and Tanya Tucker, and has steadily released albums over his six-decade run.
8. BILLY JOE SHAVER
Born in Corsicana, Billy Joe Shaver has experienced a lot — losing fingers in saw accidents, suffering a near fatal heart attack onstage, the tragic loss of family members and legal issues stemming from shooting a man, charges of which he was eventually acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. He also managed to perform and record some great country music over his decades-long career, including the outlaw country classic "Old Five and Dimers Like Me." Mr. Shaver belongs to a dying breed of songwriters, and fans should see him perform any chance they get.
7. FLACO JIMENEZ
Born in 1939 in San Antonio, Flaco Jimenez began performing as an accordionist in the '40s, sparking a very long career playing conjunto, Norteño, Tejano, country and rock music. He's worked with artists like Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Dr. John and many others. Jimenez is a one-of-a-kind performer, and any fan of Texan or Mexican-American musical styles owes it to himself to see him play live.
6. MISS JEWEL BROWN
Truly a Houston legend, Miss Jewel Brown started out as a teen singing sensation locally and in Galveston before landing a gig in Louis Armstrong's band in the 1960s. That probably should have ensured her everlasting fame, but Miss Brown walked away from performing in the early '70s to care for her parents, singing and recording only occasionally over the ensuing years. In 2015 she released Roller Coaster Boogie on Dynaflow Records, showcasing her amazing voice once again.
5. ZZ TOP
ZZ Top has been at the top of Texas rock music for so long that they must seem eternal to many people, and there's not much I can say about them that hasn't been said already. But no band will last forever, so fans of Reverend Gibbons and company should try to catch a ZZ Top concert as soon as they possibly can.
Shrouded in mystery, Jandek is described as "The musical project of Corwood Industries, a record label that operates in Houston, Texas." The amazingly prolific Jandek/Corwood Industries has released more than 80 albums and DVDs of strange rock and folk songs since the late '70s, all the while withholding much in the way of biographical material or interviews. The Jandek story — what little we know of it, it being beyond the scope of this article — is an odd one, and worth reading about. Since 2004, Jandek has given relatively frequent performances, which fans obviously should seek out. One never knows when a mysterious artist like this might abruptly stop.
3. DANIEL JOHNSTON
Daniel Johnston was born in Sacramento, California, but his family moved to Texas, where he blossomed as an outsider/indie music pioneer in the early '80s. Johnston's stripped-down, often emotional songs have revealed him to be a talented and unique musical genius. He still performs on occasion, and fans of quirky music should consider attending one of his shows to be mandatory.
2. ROKY ERICKSON
As a founding member of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Roky helped pioneer the psychedelic music scene of the 1960s, before being sidelined for years after being sent to Rusk State Hospital. After a brilliant but short-lived re-emergence in the late '70s, when Erickson created some of the best weird and spooky rock music ever recorded, he entered a decades-long downward spiral because of his lingering mental issues. After the intervention of one of his brothers, Erickson began to improve and regained functionality, and has made a comeback against all odds. Now in his sixties, Roky regularly performs around Austin, and will be at White Oak Music Hall with the Flaming Lips on May 29.
1. WILLIE NELSON
Explaining why folks should want to see Willie Nelson perform live almost seems redundant to anyone who grew up in Texas. Anyone who cares about country music should see him perform in person at least once in his or her life, and Willie ain't getting any younger.
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