A Feisty Texas Radio Road Trip with the Mike Stinson Band
Mike Stinson band at Sons of Hermann Hall, Dallas (l-r): Lance Smith, Mike Stinson, Mark Riddell
Photo by Bob Sullivan
Lonesome Onry and Mean hasn't been out on the road with his son, Mike Stinson Band guitarist Lance Smith, in quite a while. But due to a propitious routing that took us to my father's place in Gatesville for a couple of days, LOM hit the highway with the band last weekend.
It is worth noting that LOM's CD player in his battle wagon went kaput about two weeks back, so this trip involved extensive radio scanning. And while there is certainly no dearth of terrible radio out there in the Houston/Austin/Dallas triangle, there are some bright spots on the dial.
Once out of range of our favorite Houston radio signals around Brookshire, the scanner kicked in and brought us tons of Tejano music and, on the AM dial, a mother lode of Rush Limbaugh and all sorts of wack-job right-wing politicos.
LOM eventually settled the dial on 105.3 FM, the "Texas Mix" out of Hempstead. It sounded like just the kind of station that could burn up some miles, but that feeling didn't last long. In spite of the station's claim to be highlighting the best in Texas country classic and new, within five songs we realized we were in some sort of Best In Texas twilight zone where Roger Creager is given equal billing with the Georges -- Jones and Strait. When Whiskey Myers came on, we hit the scan button. No thanks, Texas Mix, we've heard frat boy Nashville golf rock before. "Won't get fooled again."
We stopped the scanner on 92.3 FM, "Texas Renegade Radio" out of La Grange. We essentially ran into the same problem with Renegade Radio that we did with Texas Mix: After a couple of songs, they all started to sound alike.
By the time three songs rolled by -- songs about cold beer and Mexican senoritas mas fina -- it was apparent that in spite of its "Texas renegade badass" swagger, 92.3 was basically another version of 105.3. Engage scan button. (It's not surprising that that the two stations are actually identical, right down to their Web graphics.)
At last Austin came into range and it became apparent immediately the state capitol has a more interesting radio mix than Houston does. Of course, there are old reliables like KGSR, but there were also interesting oldies or classic mixes with a wider format limit than virtually any Houston commercial stations.
And KASE-FM was easily the best straight country station of the trip. But the real one-upper? A comedy channel, Comedy 102.7FM. It was almost so funny one shouldn't be driving while listening to this stuff. (More on this later.)
The first Austin stop was a live radio gig with longtime Austin radio personalities Larry Monroe and David Arnsberger for Texas Radio Live on KRDP-FM. Staged in the oak garden next door to Guero's on South Congress, sweat was the main factor as temperatures were above 100 degrees.
Mike Stinson looked like he'd just left a steam bath, water running down his face as he waited for his 30-minute segment to begin. It was even more fun as he endured a lengthy interview in the heat. The band then roared through a five-song set that featured nothing but new tunes from Stinson's upcoming album.
J. P. Harris and the Tough Choices
After a Mexican dinner courtesy of Guero's, it was time to load in at the Continental. Upstairs at the Continental's small acoustic listening studio, LOM encountered Barbara K. McDonald of Timbuk 3 playing a set to an audience of eight with Mike Hardwick and Hector Munoz.
The band loaded in just in time to catch Rosie Flores's rocking 90-minute set. Hayes Carll hung out, gossiping with the Stinson band, while Flores burned through a string of cool rockers. She was joined onstage by Patricia Vonne for four tunes.
At midnight, Stinson hit it hard for the 50 or so late-nighters who hung in to dance. He played a mix that included most of the new album material, several of his old standbys like "Last Fool at the Bar" and "Take Out the Trash," and a sprinkling of tasty two-step covers like "Who'll Buy the Wine" and "Nothing But the Wheel."
Once the lights came on, LOM and son quickly loaded up and hit I-35, headed 100 miles north to Gatesville. And Comedy 102 took control, keeping us awake howling with laughter until we were past Georgetown and out there in radio no-man's-land again.
At one point, we switched to the AM dial and hit scan. It was like listening to Rush Limbaugh through a cell phone that was breaking up. Who in the hell is up listening to Limbaugh that time of night? By the time we reached Gatesville at 4 a.m., any hope for radio had pretty much been abandoned.
After couple of days of laying up and dining like kings, we hit the back roads through the Texas heartland towards Dallas, connecting with I-35 at Hillsboro. It was AM all the way to Hillsboro as we tuned in to the best Texas radio station in the state right now, 900 AM, KCLW.
Based in Hamilton, KCLW bills itself as classic country, but it's nothing like the classic country stations anywhere else.
As we found the signal, Tommy Duncan was singing with Bob Wills. It was so good, the disc jockey spun Wills's classic "Roly Poly" next. He followed with Ray Price's classic version of "Danny Boy." Then he laid down some slit-your-wrist Merle Haggard tragedy followed by Hank Williams (Hank I, not II and III). The jock then segued to Steve Earle's "Guitar Town." There was serious cursing as the station finally faded near Hillsboro and the scanner came into play again.
Then we hit upon the biggest radio travesty of the trip: 660 AM, The Answer. As in "660 The Answer. Intelligent. Conservative." Some Dallas know-it-all named Mike Gallagher went into a measured cheap shot at Chief Justice John Roberts and the Obamacare ruling that was both hilarious and disingenuous to the extreme.
This guy makes Sean Hannity sound like a New Age powder-puff. Did that guy just say his is the most listened to talk show in America? Ah, Dallas, you never disappoint.
Interior of historic 100-year-old Sons of Hermann Hall
But we did find good signal out of Dallas. We listened to KNON's Tejano extravaganza for about 15 minutes before locating Fort Worth public station KTX, which was spinning an impressive stream of power-pop, mixing chestnuts with current items typical of Houston's 103.7 and even dropping in some promising local acts.
The mix was so good the dial was never moved until the signal was lost well south of Dallas on the voyage home.
Reaching Dallas an hour before the appointed load-in time, we hit legendary Adair's Saloon for a burger. This was a Texas classic, a half-pound of medium rare beef with the traditional Texas trimmings. What set it off was the pickled jalapeno on a toothpick stuck through the wax paper. LOM hasn't seen a burger with that condiment placement in maybe 20 years. It used to be pretty standard issue. Well done, Adair's.
Load-in and sound check at the 100-year-old Sons of Hermann Hall were par for the course and by 7:30 LOM found himself with extended family in the dining room at Dallas Tex-Mex institution El Fenix, where the round steak-based chili on top of the enchilada was totally legit.
Back at Sons of Hermann, opener J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices were laying on the amped-up hillbilly boogie and the room was full.
During Harris's set, we were approached by a tall fellow dressed entirely in black. He looked like a weight-lifter, but it turned out to be Dallas writer/musician Josh Alan Friedman. LOM has reviewed a couple of Friedman's books and was totally stunned when the longtime Dallas Observer writer introduced himself.
Mike Stinson at Sons of Hermann Hall, Dallas
Stinson and band took the stage at exactly 9:30 p.m., just as billed, and muscled into "Broken Record" from the new album. The crowd, which contained more high-powered, front-row telephoto equipment than LOM has ever seen at a gig this size, seemed genuinely in to the Stinson thing.
But out on the road, the test is always Stinson's Houston-centric anthem, "Died and Gone to Houston." But the Dallas crowd erupted in cheers and clapping at song's end. Possible uncomfortable moment avoided.
Never a big talker between songs, Stinson was even more frugal with his audience interaction than usual, burning through song after song with no introduction, no "I wrote this song when..." or any of the usual time-eating social niceties. He was in let-the-music-do-the-talking mode. Oh, that more musicians don't practice this method of showmanship.
By the time the band raced through "I Married Me a Rocker," Stinson's latest composition, there was little gas left in anyone's tank, onstage or in the audience.
Of course, the next day Stinson's Silver Bullet van only made it a little south of Ennis before one of the back tires decided to unravel and shut him down. But a 15-minute tire change did little to dampen the feelings of a highly successful road trip to the far north.
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