'Oxford American' Waltzes Across Texas

Dec 8, 2014
Originally published on January 6, 2015 6:18 pm

A scholarly literary magazine is celebrating the music of Texas — but don't let that academic approach get in the way of enjoying it.

Bob Wills, Buddy Holly, Freddy Fender, Lee Ann Womack, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Winter, Spoon — even some urbane jazz from Ornette Coleman. Songs from them and more appear on a CD that accompanies the Oxford American Southern Music issue released this month.

"In the Texas issue, I really wanted to focus on it being a place of origin," Oxford music editor Rick Clark tells NPR's Scott Simon. "I wanted most all of the music to be recorded by artists, musicians, from Texas, and I wanted a very strong sense of place. ... The interesting thing about Texas is that, to this day, you can hear just about anything that emanates from that state, and you can put a finger on a map. And you can't say that about a lot of things, you know?"

Hear the full segment at the audio link, including Clark's rundown of several songs included on the CD.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A scholarly literary magazine is celebrating the music of Texas, but don't let that get in your way of enjoying it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST #1: (Singing) Let's hear you Cotton, let's hear you, my boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST #2: (Singing in foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE THE ONE")

BUDDY HOLLY: (Singing) You're the one that's causing my blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANCES ARE")

LEE ANN WOMACK: (Singing) Band just started playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYTHING YOU WANT")

SPOON: (Singing) And now time is my time. Time is my own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST TO SATISFY YOU")

WAYLON JENNINGS: (Singing) How many hearts must break?

(SOUNDBITE OF ORNETTE COLEMAN SONG)

ORNETTE COLEMAN: (Playing saxophone).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST #3: (Singing) Stay on the safe side.

SIMON: Bob Wills, Buddy Holly, Freddy Fender, Lee Ann Womack, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Winter, Spoon, even some urbane jazz from Ornette Coleman. Songs from them and more are in a CD that accompanies the Oxford American Southern Music issue released this month. And Oxford's music editor Rick Clark joins us from the studios of WPLN in Nashville.

Thanks so much for being with us.

RICK CLARK: Good to hear from you, man.

SIMON: Now, last time we spoke of course it was the year you had the special issue celebrating Tennessee music with the editor - your magazine editor, Roger Hodge. What did y'all - see, I'm getting there already - discover is at the root of Texas music?

CLARK: In the Texas issue, I wanted most all of the music to be recorded by artists, musicians, from Texas and I wanted a very strong sense of place.

SIMON: Well, all right let's begin. Let's listen first to Ray Price, "A Girl In The Night."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A GIRL IN THE NIGHT")

RAY PRICE: (Singing) She lives her life in honky-tonks and the crowded backstreet bars. A world of make-believe that knows no sun, no moon, or stars. Just the glitter of the great white way and the glare of city lights, where the music's loud. She's in the crowd. A lonely girl in the night.

SIMON: It really does sound like you just put a quarter into the jukebox in a roadside place in Nacogdoches.

CLARK: I love Ray Price. I think he's one of the greatest of the country singers. Really, it's almost like saying he's a country singer is - he's so much more than that. There's a sophistication, a real class in the way that he executes the songs. But "A Girl In The Night" to me, it just sort of embodies that beautiful Texas swing with a walking bass and the reverb-soaked voice and it's just magic.

SIMON: Texas music of course encompasses music that comes up from Mexico. Let's listen to this vocal duet, "Esparando."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESPERANDO")

FERNANDEZ AND CANTU: (Singing in Spanish).

CLARK: That is Rosita Fernandez. Along with her is Laura Cantu. And Rosita was from San Antonio. In fact, Lady Bird Johnson called her San Antonio's First Lady of Song.

SIMON: Another duet on the album we ought to take a listen to, this is Kimmie Rhodes and a Texan who needs no further introduction, Willie Nelson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICTURE IN A FRAME")

WILLIE NELSON: (Singing) And I come calling in my Sunday best. I come calling in my Sunday best.

CLARK: This song is just a marvel of simplicity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICTURE IN A FRAME")

NELSON: (Singing) I come calling in my Sunday best ever since I put your picture in a frame.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICTURE IN A FRAME")

KIMMIE RHODES: (Singing) Oh I'm going to love 'til the wheels come off. Oh, yeah.

CLARK: Kimmie Rhodes, it's criminal how no one knows about her and she's one of the great female artists in Texas. And this song, by the way, it's amazing how you can take a simple idea about something being frozen in time and yet, a timeless statement of love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICTURE IN A FRAME")

KIMMIE RHODES AND WILLIE NELSON: (Singing) Ever since I put your picture in a frame.

SIMON: I recognize that trying to put the birthplace of rock 'n' roll into a single location is a very controversial matter, but Texas certainly has at least a claim on it. You know, even (laughter) some of the '60s stuff that got into psychedelic - psychedelia? What do we call that? Psychedelics.

CLARK: Depends on what you're tripping on, I guess (laughter).

SIMON: Oh, mercy - did I serve up that line for you? Here's an early track from the chanteuse of Port Arthur.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BYE, BYE BABY")

JANIS JOPLIN: Bye, Bye-bye baby, bye-bye. I may be seeing you around when I change my living standard and I move uptown. Bye-bye baby, bye-bye.

SIMON: Of course that's Janis Joplin.

CLARK: This song was the opening track on the very first "Big Brother And The Holding Company" album on Mainstream Records. But the version that was on the album had Janis double tracked. This is actually an outtake version that most people don't know anything about. And I actually prefer it because you get to hear her singing, you know, it's not covered up with the double track.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BYE, BYE BABY")

JOPLIN: (Singing) But still I guess you know honey, I've got to go.

SIMON: Texas is such a diverse society. The biggest Hindu wedding I've ever seen was in Dallas.

CLARK: (Laughter).

SIMON: And yes, and women were wearing saris and cowboy boots. And men were wearing kurtas and 10-gallon hats. People come to Texas from all over the world. Is Texas music evolving to encompass that, but still does it manage to keep something that's Texas in it?

CLARK: The interesting thing about Texas is that to this day, you can hear just about anything that emanates from that state and you can put a finger on a map and you can't say that about a lot of things, you know?

SIMON: Rick Clark. He is the music editor of Oxford American's Southern Music issue, this month - all about Texas. He joined us from the studios of WPLN in Nashville. Thanks very much.

CLARK: Well, thank you so much, Scott. It's always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.