diary of a mad househusband

07 march 2000


 live music: make mine local

Who would you like to see in concert? The question came up in the Canada & Friends Forum some weeks ago, and the answers were all Big Names.

No, thank you. I won't pay the prices currently demanded for the privilege of hearing regurgitated hits drowned out by ten thousand or so screaming fans.

I live in Texas, home or haven for the ass-kickin'est, finger-flippin'est, truth-tellin'est songwriter/singers and guitar players one could hope for. For US$20 or less I can go to a bar and hear artists perhaps too honest, perhaps too unyielding, perhaps too unrefinable to be squeezed into the Big Star mold, and in all likelihood hand the money for a CD or two directly to the artist afterwards. I might even hear the next Stevie Ray Vaughan for no cover charge at all.

The next Stevie Ray Vaughan... or the next Mary Cutrufello.

It was just about six years ago, in late winter or early spring. I'd put my music career on hold (where it still is, actually) a few months earlier. A woman I adored (and I still do, actually) had recently dumped me, and there wasn't the faintest hint of a whisper of a rumor of a kindred-spirit candidate of the opposite gender on the horizon.

I was in a Houston skate-punk bar, mainly because the pierced body parts made me feel a little less alone (even though their owners were half my age or less). Just about everyone in the place was watching a softcore porn slasher movie on the TV above the bar, except me and the people on the stage: A bass player, a drummer, and a young woman of obvious African ancestry, who was belting out Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings songs (and a few of hers, now and then) in a voice more bass-baritone than alto, swinging her dreadlocks, and playing the bef***ingjeezus out of a Telecaster.

Mary Cutrufello (hear Amazon's low-fi, cruelly short sound samples) lifted me from a deep depression into a three-sided emotional war:

On one hand, I was livid at the thickness of the tasteless fools around me who, because they hadn't paid for it, couldn't realize they were in the presence of greatness. (The bartender wouldn't even kill the jukebox when the band started-- I had to unplug it myself!)

On the other hand, my erect arm hairs, tingling spine and overstressed tear ducts were testimony that I realized it.

On the gripping hand was a serene realization that a world in which she could play that music, for me, under those circumstances, wasn't so bad after all.

The next time I saw Mary Cutrufello, a few months later, the bar was a similar dive, but the five-dollar cover charge assured a somewhat more attentive audience... and I was with a kindred-spirit candidate. K. had a deep knowledge and appreciation of regional music (in fact, she'd been living with a very good local songwriter/singer/guitarist I much admired (and still do, actually) until shortly before we met), and went into sponge mode when the music started, just as I did. She was as exhilarated as I by Mary's music, and we agreed that a major-label deal was a question not of if, but of when. (Sadly, that was probably our best night; bitter extra-musical clashes ended the relationship a short time later.)

The third time I saw Mary, in high summer of the same year, circumstances were altogether more auspicious: The bar was a much larger music showcase venue; the cover charge was ten bucks; she was opening for a Texas legend... and I was with Lee.

We'd been seeing each other for a while, but this was our first formal date, and I was a bit jittery. I was confident that Lee would enjoy Mary-- they're both Connecticut Yankees of African ancestry, and Lee's a major SRV fan. In fact, she was thrilled by Mary's performance, which was perhaps more intense than usual because of its opening-act brevity. But Lee had made it clear that she had no love for country music.

Songwriter/singers don't come much more country than that night's main act, Billy Joe Shaver, who somehow managed to escape the fame and fortune which befell his '60s-'70s runnin' buddies: Willie, Waylon, and Kris Kristofferson. (Here's a page of very good sound samples, but be warned: Some links are broken, and each link which does work opens two new browser windows.)

So I saw the night as an important litmus test of prospects for our relationship. As it turned out, I need not have worried: Billy Joe was backed by a classic power trio; the guitarist was (and still is) his son Eddie, who can't be the next SRV because he plays too much like the original. After the third or fourth song, I asked Lee if the music was too country for her.

"This isn't country," she replied. "It's rock and roll!"

Believe it or not, I wasn't yet out of doubt. I was seriously concerned about how Lee would react to Black Rose:

The devil made me do it the first time;
The second time I did it on my own.
Lord, help me get a handle
on this sinful-headed man, an'
Help me leave that Black Rose alone.

Tension built between my shoulder blades as each song ended-- "Now?" But the first set ended, and Lee and I elbowed our way to our respective rest rooms.

As I went in, Billy Joe came out, and I asked him point-blank, "Are you gonna do 'Black Rose?'"

"I sure am."

"Well, mine's with me tonight, and I want you to know that I did it on my own the first time-- the devil had nothing to do with it."

Billy Joe replied with a loud guffaw, a forceful left-handed clap on the shoulder, a firm three-fingered handshake, and a hearty "God bless you, son." Shortly after returning to the stage, he did sing Black Rose. Lee loved it.

All too soon, Mary joined Billy Joe and the band for a song, and the music ended. We went to Lee's place, still high from the music... and we're pretty sure that that's the night we made Leo.

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