UPDATED: Remembering Steve Fromholz: The Poet Laureate of Texas Music

UPDATE (Tuesday, 3:20 p.m.): Adds Fromholz's funeral information.

Steve Fromholz, who witnessed the flowering of the Austin music scene in the early '70s and for many folks became the official face of Texas country music for his Tex-centric "Texas Trilogy," died of an accidental gunshot wound Sunday.

According to numerous reports, Fromholz, 68, was on a feral hog hunt at a ranch near Eldorado, Texas when his rifle slipped out of its case and discharged, with the bullet striking Fromholz. He died shortly after in an Eldorado hospital. According to legacy.com, his funeral will be held at 2 p.m. this Friday at the Ft. McKavett Cemetery south of San Angelo.

The Temple native burst into the Austin consciousness with the long-out-of-print landmark album Here to There as the folk duo Frummox with Dan McCrimmon in 1969. A celebration of Texas lore and stereotypes, the album is frequently mentioned as the beginning of the "Texas music" movement.

By June 1973, when Rocks Off left Odessa Junior College for Austin, Willie Nelson had already become the biggest deal in town, a highly visible symbol of what was being labeled the Outlaw Movement. Jerry Jeff Walker was also on the verge of international stardom as the prototypical Austin Cosmic Cowboy.

But the man who was really held in respect was Steve Fromholz, a gravel-voiced folkie who embodied the Texas musical zeitgeist more than anyone in a town that would soon enough be calling itself The Live Music Capitol of the World.

But in 1973 pre-Austin City Limits Austin, all that mattered was that Fromholz was already viewed as some elder statesman of our music and Austin's rapidly developing scene. It wasn't that he was an old graybeard, it wasn't that he had a string of hits, it was that he combined in one person that hard-Texas gravitas and left-handed humor that is part and parcel of every Texan's birthright. When he sang "There's bacon to fry and there's biscuits to bake/ On a stove the Salvation Army won't take," it was like watching The Last Picture Show or Giant. It was as real as a scorpion bite.

In spite of a long career which saw him named Poet Laureate of Texas, Fromholz was primarily known for his "Texas Trilogy" suite; "I'd Have To Be Crazy," which Willie Nelson covered so beautifully on his album The Sound In Your Mind, which was the top country album of 1976; and the tune "The Man With the Big Hat Is Buying," probably the most-played song in the history of cowboy-poetry gatherings.

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Fromholz was a fixture on the Houston scene for years, frequently playing Anderson Fair. Lyle Lovett, part of the second generation of Anderson Fair artists who would soar to stardom, was a big Fromholz fan who covered "Trilogy" on Step Inside This House, in which Lovett paid homage to his influences. Lovett also covered Fromholz's "Bears" on the album.

Rocks Off last saw Fromholz play in May, 2005 at Anderson Fair. He was recovering from a heart attack at the time, and was on a writer-in-the-round bill with Vince Bell, who had recovered from a traumatic brain injury, and the irascible Eric Taylor, who had also suffered a heart attack. They billed the show as "The Flatliners" and it became an evening of jokes, jests, teasing and love.

Fromholz was in fine form that night, dropping his usual long-winded, hilarious tall tales to the absolute delight of the audience which had come not to admire but to adore all three performers, but Fromholz in particular. He was already recognized as an elder statesman.

The final time we encountered Fromholz was when he came to Anderson Fair to hear Mark Germino in 2008. Fromholz, who had driven over from Austin for the occasion, had recently been appointed poet laureate and he caused quite a stir when he entered the room. Even after some years out of the performing limelight, he was an instantly recognizable figure to the hip crowd at the Fair that night. When he walked in, it was like Sam Houston had entered the room.

So it's so long to the man in the big hat. Brother, you were real.


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