The Rocks Off 100: Jack Saunders, Dealer of Grit & Jangle
Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Photos courtesy of Jack Saunders
Who? Jack Saunders is one of Houston's most dependable singer-songwriters and guitarists, and is rarely lacking for work. Alongside Shake Russell, he was one-half of arguably the most popular folk duo around these parts for most of the '80s and into the '90s. He has also released four albums of his own material, and seems to be picking up the pace -- his brand-new Grit & Jangle comes hot on the heels of last year's A Real Good Place to Start; Saunders says the new album has "more of an emphasis on the rock side of folk and country."
Saunders grew up a Navy brat, bouncing around California, Rhode Island, Alaska, "and many states in between." When the British Invasion dawned, so did his life's ambition: "make girls scream!" A friend bringing by a Bob Dylan record steered Saunders toward the songwriting side of the continuum, he adds.
As a sideman, Saunders has played with many top troubadors, including Ray Wylie Hubbard, Greg Trooper, Randy Weeks, Susan Gibson, and Hayes Carll. He has also produced and/or recorded dozens of titles at Houston's White Cat Recording, the studio Saunders opened in 1996.
Home Base: McGonigel's Mucky Duck, which is hosting the Grit and Jangle release party this Saturday evening.
Good War Story: "I was playing a roadhouse gig in a small town on the way to Abilene, called Mingus, Tex., with Ray Hubbard," Saunders says. "Ray was known in his younger days as the hard-living life of the party.
There was a group of three women who were telling Ray they had some great pictures of the last time he played there -- he's been sober for a long time -- and that made him pretty nervous. When they brought the pictures to the stage to let him see, I glanced down and noticed that the guy in the photo was really Gary P. Nunn!
One Texas icon was the same as the next, I guess. During the break they all wanted to have their pictures taken with me. I told them, "You know I'm not Ray Hubbard, right?" They looked totally confused and wandered off...
Why Do You Stay In Houston? "I really like this city," Saunders says. "The two biggest cuts on Houston is that it's too hot for too long in the summer, and they're right. I hate Houston summers, but the rest of the year is great.
"The other is that there is no natural beauty within easy driving distance," he continues. "I go to a place that's an hour away, is in the shallow back bays of Galveston and is a wildlife refuge. It's beautiful and wild, gators, more species of birds than you can count, and the fishing is unreal.
Houston has everything culturally a big city needs, and a rich musical history," concludes Saunders. "It's also a cheaper place to live, at least for now."
Music Scene Pet Peeve: "The same knock [on] most places these days," sighs Saunders. "People don't go out to hear music as much as they used to because they have so many choices for entertainment without leaving their couch. There are not enough clubs here for a city this size."
Five Desert Island Discs:
- "Any Beatles album from Sgt. Pepper's on"
- Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
- Bob Dylan, Blood On the Tracks
- Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, The Sun Sessions
- Joni Mitchell, Hejira
- Neil Young, After the Gold Rush
"Shit, can't just have five!"
Best Concert You Ever Saw: "Tom Petty's concerts at the old Summit, because he paced a long show perfectly, with the right amount of grit and jangle," says Saunders. "He slowed the tempos down a little it seemed, so as to make the songs sound bigger and give them a little more gravitas."
Or any Richard Thompson show," he adds. "He's brilliant every time I see him. His playing and writing are as good as live gets.
First Song You Fell In Love With: "'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' off Dylan's Blonde on Blonde record," he says. "The whole side of a vinyl record with one song, and no one was jamming. It was almost all lyric, and it broke every standard and rule of pop in its day."
War Story No. 2.: Saunders sent this in a little while after his first one, but we don't feel compelled to run just one.
I was playing with an art-rock band called Taxi Dancer, and we were opening for Jerry Lee Lewis at the Texas Opry House in Houston. That rowdy bunch did not want to hear some band of young longhairs singing about who knows what. Jerry was late getting to the gig, so they had us stretch our set out even longer, which really pissed off the rowdies even more.
After a while, they booed us off the stage. Then the promoter had Jerry's daughter, who was in the band, get up to stall for time. They booed her off the stage and she left in tears. Finally Jerry shows up and cannot walk, he is so shitfaced.
They took him upstairs and gave him some kind of upper; you can guess what it was. He took the stage to thunderous applause, stopped in the middle of the first song and told everyone there was a brain in each one of his fingers. He then proceeded to suck as only a drunk could.
The crowd loved it. I decided it didn't matter if I practiced, and have been searching for the brain in my fingers ever since.
Jack Saunders releases Grit & Jangle at McGonigel's Mucky Duck Saturday, May 4. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.
See who else has joined The Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.