Hey Folks! WOW...just WOW, there are so many artists coming through New Braunfels lately, its pretty mind blowing. A number of artists have been taking the historic stage at Gruene Hall in recent weeks, such as Tanya Tucker and Melissa Etheridge. In the next week or so, another round of legends and new stars will be making an appearance here in our fair city. Let's start with a relatively new artist Ruthie Foster this Thursday May 9th at The Brauntex Theater. In the tightknit musical community of Austin, Texas, it’s tough to get away with posturing. You either bring it, or you don’t.
If you do, word gets around. And one day, you find yourself duetting with Bonnie Raitt, or standing onstage with the Allman Brothers at New York’s Beacon Theater and trading verses with Susan Tedeschi. You might even wind up getting nominated for a Best Blues Album Grammy — three times in a row. And those nominations would be in addition to your seven Blues Music Awards, three Austin Music Awards, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year, and the title of an “inspiring American Artist” as a United States Artists 2018 Fellow.
There’s only one Austinite with that résumé: Ruthie Foster. And with the release of her latest album, Joy Comes Back, the Recording Academy might want to put its engraver on notice. Because every note on it confirms this truth: It’s Ruthie’s time. The small rural town of Gause, TX had no chance of keeping the vocal powerhouse known as Ruthie Foster to itself. Described by Rolling Stone as “pure magic to watch and hear,” her vocal talent was elevated in worship services at her community church. Drawing influence from legendary acts like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin, Foster developed a unique sound unable to be contained within a single genre. That uniqueness echoes a common theme in Ruthie’s life and career - marching to the beat of her own drum.
Joining the Navy was one way for Ruthie to stake out her own path. It was during her time singing for the Navy band Pride that her love for performing became apparent. After leaving the service, Ruthie signed a development deal with Atlantic Records and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a professional musician.
A deal with a major label would seem to be a dream come true for a budding artist. But the label wanted Ruthie to hand over her authenticity in exchange for being molded into a pop star. In another bold move, she walked away from the deal and returned to her roots, moving back to the Lone Star State.
Returning to Texas, Ruthie solidified her place as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter and began a musical partnership with Blue Corn Music. Her studio albums for the label began with Runaway Soul in 2002, followed by The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster in 2007, The Truth According to Ruthie Foster in 2009, Let It Burn in 2012 and Promise of a Brand New Day in 2014. Her live shows, which she has referred to as a “hallelujah time,” have been documented on the album Stages in 2004 and the CD/DVD release Live at Antone’s in 2011.
Now comes Ruthie’s latest - Joy Comes Back - again on Blue Corn Music. When she recorded this album, Foster wasn’t merely singing about love and loss; she was splitting a household and custody of her 5-year-old daughter. Music was her therapy.
In the warm confines of Austin producer and former neighbor Daniel Barrett’s studio, she found a comfort level she’d never before experienced while recording. It gave her the strength to pour the heartache of her family’s fracture and the cautious hope of a new love into 10 incredible tracks, nine of which are by a diverse array of writers ranging from Mississippi John Hurt, Sean Staples and Grace Pettis (daughter of renowned folk singer Pierce Pettis), to Chris Stapleton and Black Sabbath. Yes, Black Sabbath: Foster reimagines “War Pigs” as a jam session with Son House. She also covers the Four Tops’ “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” written by Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder.
And she makes each one hers, aided by some special guests. Derek Trucks drops slide guitar into the title tune; bassist Willie Weeks (Bowie, Clapton, George Harrison) plays on the Foster-penned “Open Sky”; and drumming legend Joe Vitale (Crosby, Stills & Nash; Eagles) appears on several tracks. Local hero Warren Hood (“Champ Hood’s boy,” as Foster calls him) lays fiddle and mandolin on Hurt’s bluegrass-tinted “Richland Woman Blues.” Barrett plays guitars, drums and percussion; other contributors include the core members of Ruthie’s touring band, Samantha Banks and Larry Fulcher.
At one point, Barrett described the album to Hood as “some blues, some folk, some soul, some rock, some gospel.” Hood replied, “Sounds like Ruthie Foster music.” She does indeed have it all in one package! Tickets still available, doors open at 6:30 , show at 7:30.
Thursday May 16th The legendary Marshall Tucker Band will grace the stage at Gruene Hall.
In the early fall of 1973 The Marshall Tucker Band was still a young and hungry group out to prove themselves every time they hit the stage. Their debut album had already spawned numerous hits.
The band’s recent release of their Live! From Englishtown album is a time capsule from that period. “We were a bunch of young guys who didn’t know any boundaries” says founding member and longtime lead singer Doug Gray. As it turned out, the collective talents of The Marshall Tucker Band took them very far indeed.
Today the band records on its own RAMBLIN’ RECORDS Label (distributed by Sony / RED) and continues to release new and previously unreleased material. For their most recent release, the band dug into the vault and emerged with the original live recordings from its biggest show to date. The new Live! From Englishtown album was originally performed in 1977 and reportedly drew more than 150,000 fans. Still led today by founding member and lead singer Doug Gray, they represent a time and place in music that will never be duplicated. Gray is quick to credit the band's current dynamic members with carrying on the timeless essence of The Marshall Tucker Band sound. Current members include the highly respected drummer B.B. Borden, a former member of both Mother's Finest and The Outlaws, multi instrumentalist Marcus Henderson of Macon, Georgia, plays flute, saxophone and keyboards in addition to lead and background vocals, Tony Black on bass, and Rick Willis on lead guitar and vocals, both of Spartanburg SC, are disciples of the Caldwell Brothers. Acclaimed lead guitarist and vocalist Chris Hicks recently rejoined the band after a two-year absence. Together they present a powerful stage presence as they continue to tour the country and continue to be powerful force in the world of music.
The Marshall Tucker Band got its start in Spartanburg, S.C. when Gray teamed up with Tommy Caldwell and Toy Caldwell, Paul T. Riddle, George McCorkle and Jerry Eubanks, borrowing the name "Marshall Tucker" from a piano tuner whose name was found on a key ring in their old rehearsal space. In 1972, they signed with Capricorn Records, the same label that guided The Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie, and others to national fame. The MTB opened shows for The Allman Brothers in 1973, and the following year, they began to headline their own shows across America due to the platinum-plus sales of their debut album. They toured constantly playing sheds, stadiums, theaters, fairs, and festivals.
In years to come, The Marshall Tucker Band would wow critics and influence major country acts like Alabama, The Kentucky Headhunters, Confederate Railroad, and Travis Tritt with its definitive blend of rock, rhythm & blues, jazz, country, and gospel. Now, thanks to the expanding scope of today's music, a new generation of fans is learning what the rest of their fans have known for so long- that good music knows no boundaries. Along the way, the band has recorded twenty two studio albums, three DVDs, three live albums and many compilations. In 1980 Tommy Caldwell died as a result of injuries from an auto accident. In 1984 Toy Caldwell, George McCorkle, and Paul Riddle decided to retire. Doug Gray and Jerry Eubanks with the blessings of the other three continued to record and perform as The Marshall Tucker Band. 1n 1993 Toy Caldwell, who wrote the majority of their songs, passed away, as did George McCorkle in 2007. Jerry Eubanks retired in 1996 and Doug Gray continues to lead the current band of fine musicians winning new young fans as well as satisfying the loyal fans of several generations.
Years of rigorous tour schedules earned the band the respect of critics and countless dedicated fans. With hit singles like "Heard It In a Love Song," "Fire On The Mountain," "Can't You See," and "Take The Highway," The Marshall Tucker Band earned seven gold and three platinum albums while they were on the Capricorn Records label. During the 90's, the MTB scored four hit singles on Billboard's country chart and one on Billboard's gospel chart. Their music has also been featured on the soundtracks of movies such as Smokey and the Bandit, Blow, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, Shipwrecked, Crank 2, Don’t Mess with Zohan, Stop Loss, Swing Vote, Taking Chance and many others as well as many TV Shows.
“The buying public never really cared whether we were country or rock and roll" says Gray. "They called us a Southern rock band, but we have always played everything from country, jazz, blues, Rock & Roll and all things in-between.
As we've become older," Gray grins, eyes twinkling, "our Southern heritage seems to come out even more. But no matter how old we get, we can still rock your socks off." Gray also notes that people have gotten "married and buried" to classic MTB songs like "Desert Skies" and "Can't You See". After 40 years, The Marshall Tucker Band continues to be played on classic rock and country radio, and they have never stopped touring. More than 40 years after forming, The Marshall Tucker Band continues to tour, performing more than 130 live dates each year, and we are so lucky to have Gruene Hall as one of those stops! Tickets still available, but it will sell out, so go get 'em!
Lastly, I'd like to mention my 'new' discovery, Robert Ellis. He is currently touring on his latest release Texas Piano Man! It’s funny that Robert Ellis’ new album Texas Piano Man was released on Valentine’s Day. While there are a good number of love songs on the record, it’s alarmingly disillusioned, not the idealized stuff of greeting cards and romantic comedies. There’s a cheeky examination of bickering in “Aren’t We Supposed To Be In Love,” acts of longing and desperation on “When You’re Away” and a seemingly funny tune about a “Passive Aggressive” partner that’s actually kind of sad. “That’s one way to communicate,” Ellis sings. “I wish you would just give it to me straight”—not exactly the doe-eyed love song you’re after on Feb. 14. The relationships on this dazzling album are far from perfect, but they’re honest, and the multi-talented Ellis, coming off a string of breakup records, sounds more comfortable in his skin than ever before.
Album opener “F*%#$@ Crazy” is an ode to serious, reckless love disguised as a carefree romp. “You make me want to tear the world in two,” he sings. “I lost touch with reality, there’s nothing I can do.” It’s the kind of humorous yet heartfelt songwriting Ellis is known for. Even when he’s desperately in love, he can’t resist some profanic dark humor.
And then again, the Valentine’s Day release date is perfect. On the nostalgic “Nobody Smokes Anymore,” a prickly pining for the good ol’ days, Ellis unleashes an audible smooch. “No one has fun anymore,” he sings, like a hyped up Harry Nilsson. “Everybody’s so stressed out.” Here, his Elton John-inspired piano pop is on full display while he expresses our human need to reminisce.
“Let Me In” somehow manages to sound like it belongs both on the Wicked soundtrack and a jam band’s live album. There’s a repetitive twinkle to it that’s reminiscent of the optimistic rising action in a Broadway show. It’s anticipatory of something. “I’m out here waiting, ticking like a clock,” Ellis sings.
On “He Made Me Do It,” a track bemoaning the devil on your shoulder, Ellis’ Dr. Jekyll blames his Mr. Hyde for a series of missteps (“I said some stupid things and ruined everybody’s fun / And he made me do it”). At the end of the song, Ellis wonders if he’s the only one with a pesky inner monster. “Doesn’t anybody else have a little voice inside their head? / I know I cannot be alone.”
Towards the end of the album, Ellis is more Jimmy Buffett than Elton John on the toned-down twist on “Margaritaville,” “Topo Chico.” On this song, it’s not 5 o’clock somewhere, but 11 a.m. everywhere—Ellis says he’s “just fine” with a glass of sparkling water (a “bubbly libation” with a “focus on hydration”) and lime. There’s no need for anything stronger. With seriously clever wordplay, Ellis brings a fun new angle to the tropical tropes made famous by Buffett.
Texas Piano Man is exactly what it sounds like: a cross between country-blues and piano-pop. Ellis surely knows his way around the keys, and his fifth studio album is funny, frank and alive. It’s a storyful, self-realized album that also happens to be a hell-of-a good time to listen to. This madman on piano will make his debut performance at Gruene Hall on Friday May 17th.
No matter when you visit, make live music at one of our many venues, part of your experience, 'In New Braunfels'
Until next time....