Foggy London town seems like the last place on Earth to inspire a country album. A polyglot postmodern road map like M.I.A.'s Arular or jittery riff encyclopedia like Arctic Monkeys' Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not, sure, but steel guitars and honky-tonk shuffles in the land of Abbey Road and Beefeater just sounds, as the Brits say, a bit daft.
Nevertheless, when La Porte native Freddie Krc sat down to write during an extended London holiday in 1986, country is what came out. Amazingly enough, although Krc's most recent gig was playing drums behind Jerry Jeff Walker — before that, he was the guitarist in Roky Erickson's punk-rock monster's ball the Explosives — he had never written any country songs. Homesickness and a London scene dominated by the pretty-boy likes of Duran Duran and A Flock of Seagulls took care of that.
"I had never been away from home for that long, in a foreign country," Krc says. "I love Indian food and I love the British culture and everything about London, but after a while you start missing Mexican food and barbecue and people who talk the way you do."
Freddie Krc's "rock and roll band," the Freddie Steady 5, plays with Three Balls of Fire 9 p.m. Friday, January 23, at the Continental Club, 3700Main, 713-529-9899.
Ironically, it was a Brit who started this whole affair. A couple of years earlier, Krc met singer-songwriter guitarist Wes McGhee, a Texas music buff who knew Krc played with Walker and knew he could handle the Tex-Mex rhythms he wanted on the album he was planning to come to Texas to make. That album, Landing Lights, led to McGhee inviting Krc to England and producing Lucky 7, the album that resulted from his extended stay.
"Those guys over there know more about us than we do," Krc says. "[McGhee] had all these Texas records, and he wanted [Joe Ely Band members] Ponty Bone and Lloyd Maines, all these people he had heard on these records."
Krc is right on the money there. Although it's hardly ever mentioned, the musical affinity between Texans and Brits is a fundamental chapter of the secret history of rock and roll. As most things do, it goes back to the Beatles, who took their name and clean guitar melodies — even their wardrobe cues — straight from Buddy Holly's Crickets. The Rolling Stones had their first taste of chart success with their 1964 cover of Holly's "NotFade Away."
In turn, when the late Doug Sahm and some of his friends came grooving out of South Texas into the Top 40 with "She's About a Mover" (patterned after the Fabs' "She's a Woman") in 1965, producer Huey P. Meaux christened them the "Sir Douglas Quintet" because he didn't think anyone would believe kids from the West Side of San Antonio could sound like they just walked offstage at Liverpool's Cavern Club.
"I told Doug, 'We gotta figure out where [the Beatles] are coming from — if we don't, we're all gonna starve to death!'" Meaux told UK newspaper The Independent in 1993. "I got a case of T-Bird wine and bought a bunch of Beatles records and I figured out that it was all on the beat, that was it, same as my daddy's Cajun two-step."
Ely, another acolyte of Buddy Holly's (and fellow Lubbock High School graduate), had his own experience with Texas-loving Brits on his Honky Tonk Masquerade tour in 1978. His band played London's Venue Club to an audience that, besides Pete Townshend, included the Clash, who introduced themselves backstage and struck up an instant kinship.
"They told me they were coming to America, and I asked them where they wanted to play," Ely told the Austin Chronicle in 2000. "[They said] 'Laredo, El Paso' — they were naming off all these gunfighter-ballad towns from Marty Robbins songs. 'Well, I don't know about that,' I said, 'but we could play Lubbock together.' And they were like, 'Lubbock! All right!'"
Whether it's Buddy Holly or the blues, British musicians — the non-Duran Duran variety, anyway — seem unable to resist what Krc calls the "truism" implicit in so much Texas music. It's so ingrained that most of the time, the musicians themselves don't even realize it's there.
"The most pop record I ever thought I made was the first Shakin' Apostles record," Krc says of the Austin roots-rock band he fronted in the '90s and earlier this decade before re-forming the Explosives. "I sent it to my label president and he said, 'Oh great, we were kind of wanting to go in a little more country direction.' It's just in there, and this is what the British guys see in us.
"I can play a Beatles song, but I don't sound British," he continues. "They want our mojo."
More than 20 years after his London stay, Krc's mojo — which, like that of so many other Texas musicians, sprang from seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show at an impressionable age — is still in demand across the pond. In 2006, he was invited to play the International Pop Overthrow festival in Liverpool, at none other than the Cavern Club.
McGhee wound up reuniting the Lucky 7 band for those shows and a couple in London. Soon enough, Krc decided to make another album with them as Freddie Steady's Wild Country; Ten Dollar Gun came out last November on his Steadyboy Records label.
A product of both lands, Gun balances the British pub-rock of Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe — "I can't say I was influenced by those guys," Krc says, "but we were all influenced by the same people" — with the Cajun music, blues and honky-tonk he grew up hearing in La Porte.
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Krc says he doesn't see many social or cultural parallels between Texas and England, "other than, you know, getting up and going to eat and stuff." Although he's never visited the UK (yet), Noise has been an Anglophile since an early age and has to respectfully disagree.
Texas isn't an island, but it might as well be (and a lot of people both inside and outside the state doubtless wish it was). Both places' art and literature heavily romanticize landscapes and the rural life. Texans and Brits alike are known around the world for their sense of humor, salty language and fondness for alcohol. And most importantly, we're both mad for music more than just about any-place else.
Small wonder, then, that our musicians always seem to get along so famously.