Blues of a lifetime... Glen Alyn made a hefty sacrifice setting aside a chunk of his life for one man. But looking back, he figures it was well worth it, considering what that man -- Texas blues legend Mance Lipscomb -- did for him and countless others. Alyn, a Lago Vista-based musician and writer, is author of the critically acclaimed I Say Me for a Parable: The Oral Autobiography of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman, an engrossing, richly detailed, tell-it-like-it-is account peppered with its subject's occasionally perplexing East Texas vernacular. Alyn brings Lipscomb's story to town this week for a performance Friday at McGonigel's Mucky Duck sponsored by the Houston Blues Society, and a lecture earlier in the day at the University of Houston. He'll also be around Saturday afternoon for a book signing at the Bookstop on Shepherd and a CD signing at Cactus Music next door.
Alyn first met Lipscomb while performing at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1972. "I was one of the new folk performers, and Mance was on the main stage," Alyn recalls. "[He] just blew me away. I thought, 'There's got to be more than one person playing that guitar.' Meeting Mance, I found out that his music was only the tip of the iceberg."
Talking to Alyn, you get the impression that he wishes he'd lived Lipscomb's life himself -- tenant farming for next to nothing, worshipping the licks of his hero, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and surviving the best he could playing his finger-style, flat-picking brand of guitar on the side for spare change. That life changed significantly when, during the '60s blues revival, Lipscomb found himself immersed in sudden celebrity. Like many of the greats, Lipscomb wandered into his fabled reputation quite by accident, discovered -- more or less -- in 1960 when Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz tracked him down in Texas to record a handful of songs. About a year later, he was on the road. Lipscomb played a number of folk and blues festivals throughout the '60s, inspiring Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal (who wrote the forward to Alyn's book), Janis Joplin, Pete Seeger and a multitude of others. Lipscomb had a stunningly diverse repertoire of styles that embraced everything from field shouts to children's songs to Broadway tunes to spirituals, though he never neglected his signature loyalty to the blues. He was no globetrotting entertainer; with the exception of a few weeks of touring here and there and a two-year stay in Houston, Lipscomb did most of his influencing from the little town of Navasota, where he lived with his wife and extended family until his death in 1976.
Alyn sampled the bluesman's lifestyle for five years, living and performing where he could in Lipscomb's Navasota "precinct." He spent countless hours with Lipscomb, who by 1974 had taken ill, talking about Lipscomb's life and myth, and how the two often intertwined. Alyn taped every word of it, and by 1979 -- three years after Lipscomb's death at 80 -- he was ready to leave Navasota and write it all down.
In 1981, Alyn released a limited edition of I Say Me for a Parable, but he was unable to get any major publishers to pick it up. The book sat on the shelf until 1991, when blues had a second -- and less authentic -- resurgence in popularity kindled by the 1990 release of the Robert Johnson box set, which gave Alyn's work renewed marketability. On its publication by the New York-based W.W. Norton, I Say Me for a Parable piled up accolades and awards, including ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award and the Austin Writers' League's Violet Crown. But all of that's just gravy for Alyn, who's main concern has always been that Lipscomb get the place in history he deserves.
"Mance had a sense of who he was historically, and he wanted that to get out," says Alyn. "There are some people who talk big, and there are some who talk one way and do another. Mance definitely walked his talk."
Random sightings... A few lucky Houstonians at Whole Foods spotted a rather ill-looking Ozzy Osbourne purchasing a wheat-grass juicer on January 9, two days after his show at The Summit. Apparently, the Ozz told Whole Foods employee Matt Sargent, who plays with the local Happy Fingers Institute, that he was suffering from a nasty reaction to antibiotics. To make things worse, Ozzy was rear-ended the same day on a Houston road. Reports say he was knocked unconscious and suffered severe whiplash. Ignoring doctors' warnings, Osbourne has decided to press on with his tour. Maybe the juicer will help.
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Robert Rodriguez invaded the Urban Art Bar January 11 with ZZ Top in tow to shoot a video for his movie From Dusk till Dawn, due in theaters Friday. Rodriguez converted the club into a Mexican-style cantina for the filming of "She's Just Killing Me," ZZ's contribution to the soundtrack. Seems the Urban Art Bar is the place for star watching E Sugar's Bob Mould, now an Austinite, was also seen at the club taking in the January 6 Bedhead show.
Etc.... More good press for Houston music: local Yolanda Adams' More Than a Melody is up for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, while Tejano act La Mafia's Exitos En Vivo is Grammy-nominated for Best Mexican-American Performance. Honorary Houstonians Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Albert Collins were also nominated: Brown's The Man for Best Contemporary Blues Album, and Collins' live release with the Icebreakers in the same category.
Zelda's, the basement bar at Fitzgerald's, is restricting its clientele to 21 and over starting Friday. Management is also considering offering food at the club during the day.
Bruce Springsteen has set a Houston date next week for his solo acoustic tour. He'll be stopping off Tuesday at Jones Hall in support of the Woody Guthrie-esque The Ghost of Tom Joad. -- Hobart Rowland