While doing his survival gig (waiting tables) one night at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, singer-songwriter Clay Farmer bumped into a familiar face. Vic Schneider had been showing up at Farmer's weekly Satellite Lounge shows and bringing along lots of friends. Schneider raved to everyone he knew, including the artist himself, about Farmer's brand of Americana. When Schneider popped into Pappas, it wasn't just to eat; it was to hand Farmer a check for $1,500.
"He saw one of our shows, and he asked us what we needed," Farmer recalls. "I told him a PA system. And he wrote me a check."
Unlike most major markets, Houston lacks an infrastructure capable of supporting an industry like music. You don't need an abacus to add up all the local labels that have succeeded over the past few decades. And only Houston's elder statesmen of music don't hold day jobs. Making ends meet is the sorry lot for most local musicians.
You could call Schneider an investor, but he's more like a philanthropist. While there are a lot of people who can and do throw money at local acts, there aren't many who, like Schneider in this case, expect only good music in return. Schneider has brushed off Farmer's attempts at reimbursement so far. "[Farmer] just overtook us," Schneider says of the first time he and a friend saw the performer. "He has such a stage presence, and his voice and the angst he sings with." Farmer is the only artist to whom Schneider has given money.
Richard Cagle knows the story. The head honcho at Montrose Records and Artist Management Group, Cagle is seeking help from big-dollar investors, those fat cats who can allow artists to breathe a little easier. Sugar daddies with Houston addresses are scarce, but Cagle thinks he might have one nailed down soon. "It's not easy," he admits.
Kevin Haggard is the type of guy Cagle's looking for. The native Seattleite with the will and ability to invest in local and regional talent is looking for prospects. "I like the idea that [investing] helps get music out there," he says. "There are a lot of guys just playing to get to the next show."
Haggard loves that Texas sound. His first taste of investing in music came last year when he pitched in to help native Houstonian Cory Morrow release Cory Morrow Live: Double Exposure. The country singer-songwriter had asked fans for donations. More than 100 people responded. "I would've wanted to pay for the whole thing," says Haggard, an investment banker by day. "But it was a good chance for fans to get involved."
Other Texas-based singer-songwriters, including Roger Creager and John Evans, are following Morrow's lead. "You send a $150 check," Haggard says, "you might get an advance copy of the CD, some tickets to the show and a T-shirt. It's not worth your money, but the fact that you helped get the music out there, that's worthwhile."
Farmer believes these types of relationships are necessary. "If you're an artist and you don't have any money and you can't borrow from your family, you can sign with a label and get stuck with the bill," he says. "Everyone I know that are musicians aren't paying for their own records. They're borrowing."
CD Release Partay
Jesse Dayton is in party mode. Run-ins with burglars notwithstanding (see Amplified, "Stolen Thunder," September 28), Dayton has lots of things going for him. Not least of which is his new solo disc, Tall Texas Tales, on Bullet Records. It's as solid a rock and roll record as Elvis ever saw. Dayton has reason to grin big.
With sound somewhere between edgy and retro, Dayton on Tall Texas Tales celebrates every hump in the road of life. Even when singing about having his shit stolen ("Harris County Blues") or parasitic lovers ("Old Faithful"), Dayton consistently conveys a sense of bemused irony. It's as if he's always looking back on wrong turns and screwups and is simply shrugging his shoulders. His indefatigable spirit is reassuring and infectious.
Dayton's superb melodicism buoys Tall Texas Tales. While he sometimes overworks a riff or main melody line, he knows when to expand on a song and when to leave it as just a little ditty. The recipe of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, break, chorus, chorus seems to work well enough for Dayton. If the melodies are strong enough, then the formula needs no fixing. Dayton's melodies are impervious to kryptonite.
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Being held back the past five years by a contract dispute may have been a blessing for Dayton. The album proves as much. His performance at the Continental Club (3700 Main) Friday, October 6, will mark his return to public life as somebody other than leader of the Road Kings, and will trigger the beginning of the Daytonfest we hope will continue indefinitely.
So Long, Farewell
This is Amplified's last column. The entity that you have, by virtue of your vague and smarmy e-mails, come to completely disregard is leaving for sandier shores. Things he will miss: Mary Jane's for its unnecessarily loud bands and super bartenders; Clay Farmer for his wonderful muse and aversion to stonewashed jeans and cowboy hats; Chris Sacco for representin' the old country (viva Italia!); Alex Lozano for his uncanny ability to talk in a whirl and not sound long-winded; Peron Einkauf and Marybeth Moore at the Sidecar Pub for their dedication to local and regional acts and their unnatural body-weight-to-alcohol ratios, which allow them to drink all day at outdoor festivals and still operate soundboards flawlessly; M Pussycat for being, well, M Pussycat; Jesse Dayton for his unbridled energy and friendly twang; Jeff Wells for confiding in Amplified tales of heartbreak and headache more poignant than any of Hank Williams's tunes; Jason Whitmire for making shit happen; Richard Omar for the straight dope on Houston's R&B scene (which isn't very pretty); Richard Cagle for that beer at Fitz's not too long ago and his consistent support of local talent; and Houston for its chemically enhanced sunsets and fine, upstanding citizens.
Things Amplified will not miss: Working, basically, seven days a week; Houston's bad, bad, bad drivers; being too far from the East Coast to catch Steeler games; big-hat acts; bad rappers; people who pitch stories by saying, "Well, the Chronicle did something on us"; and brainless wonders who think that because you're writing about local music you're supposed to write only glowing things about local musicians.