The term "schema" is defined as "a pattern imposed on complex reality or experience to assist in explaining it, mediate perception or guide response." In other words, we sort out the seeming chaos of a football game by knowing that the Texans are all the guys in red, white and blue and the Cowboys are in blue and silver.
But no fancy terminology can explain the jarring juxtapositions of people and roles you find every night at Earthwire studios. The realities are too complex for mediated perception -- it's like a nonsensical fever dream. Frizzy-haired New Jack Hippy Guy Schwartz chats with über-indie MenMechanical front man Brian Taylor while a Freddy Fender record plays in the background. Young street rappers chill with aging literary poets. Noise rocker and original punk Don Walsh of Rusted Shut was recently seen freestyling with an ad hoc posse of honest-to-God rappers, for chrissakes.
Another such Earthwire collision is the recent jam partnership forged by alt-country/Southern rocker Opie Hendrix, veteran blues bassist Schwartz and street poet Kool B, a young, less-pissed-off Gil Scott-Heron. The result? Country blues jazz rap. "That was something completely different we got going there," says Hendrix. "We were jamming, having fun, and all of a sudden -- bang! It made sense."
Hendrix, B and Schwartz will be collaborating again October 5 at an invite-only after-show party following the Rudyard's "pre-release" party of Hendrix's sophomore album, San Jacinto. If the six-song sampler is any measure, the album is plenty eclectic. In addition to Hendrix's Texas Tallboys band -- bassist Pat Sullivan, drummers Albert Storo and Steve Candelari, fiddler Marty Starns and visionary steel guitarist Susan Alcorn -- people like Greg Harbar of the Gypsies and Chris Hirsch of Lonestar Bluegrass guest on the record, too.
And Hendrix's opener at Rudz is no slouch in the oddity department, either. Psychedelics Express -- featuring Rebel Crew turntablist Joe B., jazz percussionist Citizen Doug and blues harp player Cap'n Krunk -- will bring their electronic update on the blues to the opening slot. "Talk about a diverse show, that's gonna be wacky-doodle diverse I don't want to be quoted on that 'wacky-doodle' part," says Hendrix. "They're gonna come up and do that weird techno blues stuff, and then we're gonna come up and do our thing."
Racket recently spent an evening with Hendrix trying to find out exactly what that "our thing" was. First, he observed Hendrix broadcasting his Earthwire.net show Straight Jacket Junction, which is billed as "three hours of maximum C&W with the will to be weird." Talk about truth in advertising. The show starts out a fairly straightforward deep honky-tonk show -- plenty of Pride, Coe, Paycheck, Willie and Cash. Suddenly, he's slapped on a platter of the Kronos Quartet's Elvis covers. Then there's some Zappa, and a Hendrix Mix of the Firesign Theater and Ozzy Osbourne playing simultaneously. Bill Monroe, the Andrews Sisters and the Captain and Tennille make appearances, too. Where there's a will to be weird, Hendrix shows the way.
Through it all, the red-haired, freckle-faced Hendrix sits in the control booth sipping on a big bottle of cherry Gatorade and smoking pungent hand-rolled cigarettes that come his way from time to time. His image is about 45 degrees different from your typical Texas-based alt-country artist. Instead of boots and a snap-button shirt, he favors Dickies overalls and sensible navy-blue canvas slip-on shoes that your grandfather would wear after work. Judging by his threads, and also his more Southern as opposed to Texan taste in music, he seems a little more like the type of guy you would meet in the Nashville underground rather than the one here, a little less huevos rancheros, a little more biscuits with sausage gravy. If you're looking for Houston's answer to Mojo Nixon, call off the dogs -- here he is.
As it happens, Hendrix doesn't even hail from south of the Mason-Dixon. He's from Albany, Indiana, a town so small he uses Muncie to try to place it. But as anyone who has been there can tell you, rural Indiana is Northern by geography alone. The accent is Southern, and so is the taste in music. Hendrix was born there 32 years ago as Stephen Buchanan and grew up on a steady diet of Elvis, the Beatles and Hee-Haw.
Hendrix moved to Houston in 1993 to become a bluesman. He spent the next five years woodshedding at the old Boat Yard, where he landed his current nom du rock. "I used to be easily riled up," he remembers. "The guys in the Hairy Fish band that used to play there used to say, 'Hey, there's Opie Hendrix,' and it really used to piss me off."
Buchanan sat in with other artists for a few years then got a band. As a joke, he told Boat Yard owner Dennis Marshman to bill them as the Opie Hendrix Experience. "Dude, there's a couple of things I wish I could take back," Hendrix says. "I don't know if I regret it or what, really. It's a blessing in disguise, I guess. A lot of people would come in just to see what an Opie Hendrix was."
He was a blues slinger then. Not anymore. "I got sick of playing mediocre, half-assed blues for drunken audiences," Hendrix says. "There are legends out there -- and then there are cats like me. I mean hey, I like to consider myself a picker or whatever, but sometimes you gotta quit kidding yourself and say, 'Look, I could spend my whole life trying to bend that note in two, but Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabes are coming age 14 now."
After releasing an EP in this blues-rock vein, Hendrix released the alt-country Smashed Hits in 2000, from which KPFT DJ Roark Smith has been heavily spinning the rollicking rocker "Yellowhammer." "We didn't know Smashed Hits was gonna do what it did," Hendrix says. "It was just an example of 'Goddammit, I turned 30, I'm gonna make a record, and I'm gonna make it my way.' And some weird things happened. I didn't get any Grammy nominations or anything like that, but I did get some radio play."
Hendrix is hoping to build on the small success of Smashed Hits with San Jacinto. First, about that title. Is Hendrix a Texas history buff? "Dude, if you wanna know the God's honest truth, I named it that just 'cause it sounded so ZZ Top," he admits. "You know? Degüello, Fandango, San Jacinto "
And there's a bit of extreme Top-style songwriting on the album, too, though Hendrix is even more leeringly crass (in a good way) than the tiny aged combo from the land of the bluebonnets. Here's a sample of lyrics from "My Favorite Waitress": "She's got big boobies / likes dirty movies / she can suck a golf ball through a garden hose / shaves her beaver / I'll never leave her / just get her wasted and it's anything goes."
The description shows this waitress is also capable of "[driving] you all the way to crazy and [making] you walk back home."
Other highlights include a perfecto cover of the Fleetwoods' 1959 doo-wop No. 1 "Mr. Blue" (complete with wah-wah chorus by a vocal group Hendrix has dubbed the Moron Tabernacle Choir), the heart-tuggingly pretty, Mexican-tinged "Pale Blue Eyes" and -- throughout -- the stellar, ambient steel playing of Susan Alcorn. Her impromptu intro to "Mr. Blue" will shiver your timbers.
Hendrix hasn't quite finished the album, and he's hoping this show will help to that end. "As you know, Capitol hadn't picked it up yet, and I have to pay for this album myself and raise a family and all that," Hendrix says. "Basically, this is a benefit for Joe Omelchuk, the sound guy at Rudyard's. He engineered the album. He worked really hard on the album, and he's not like, 'Dude, where's my money?' But that day will come."
The gig is also a showcase debut for M. Martin's Earthwire Records, the label arm of his Webcasting outfit, on which the official debut of Little Joe Washington is slated for imminent release, as is a rerelease of the Schwartz/Hendrix/Kool B collabo. Invites to the after-party will be available to all comers to the Hendrix gig.
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Hendrix is hoping to have San Jacinto out by the end of the year. He's also hoping to elevate Houston's perception of him somewhere close to the current reality. He clearly ain't the half-assed blues cat of the old Boat Yard days. "I want this to be my 'Hey, look at me!' show," he says. "I'm really gonna swing for the fences on this gig."
Should be a wacky-doodle dandy evening, for sheezy.
The hepatitis C-ravaged liver of ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill has responded well enough to treatment for the band to resume touring. Top heads to Europe for 21 shows next month. "I'm living proof that hepatitis C can be contained and ZZ Top cannot," Hill said in a statement. (Racket is sick of that "lil' ol' band from Texas" sobriquet. Is Bushwick Bill a lil' ol' gangsta rapper from Texas?) Next year the small mature group from the Lone Star State will release their 14th studio album Congrats to former Houstonians and current Austin residents Charalambides. The psych trio has signed to Kranky Records, a Chicago label that experimental rockers Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Duluth sadcore maestros Low already call home Believe it or not, downtown Beaumont is said to be booming. The formerly moribund center of "the armpit of Texas" is now home to the Crockett Street Entertainment District, which consists of 11 clubs housed in historic buildings, one of which is the only Antone's nightclub franchise in the world. (Antone's founder Clifford Antone is originally from nearby Port Arthur.) While Racket is hardly recommending even an allegedly revitalized Golden Triangle as a vacation spot, a viable Beaumont scene would make for some convenient gigging for local bands.