My first visit to Austin, TX, got off with a great start. Had a great lunch with Michael Point at Threadgills, one of the town’s longest standing restaurant and music joints. It was founded by Kenneth Threadgill, the first man to put Janis Joplin on stage (playing fiddle in a folk band).
Michael came of age in the Houston blues scene in the 70′s, where among other things he drove Lightnin’ Hopkins between recording gigs. He wrote and recorded songs for $25 a pop, no royalties. Ah, the music business…
A longtime jazz writer, Michael brought an interesting perspective to the blues. His theory is that as the business became oriented towards younger, photogenic artists, the support system disappeared for the older generation of bluesmen. Many of them left the US for Europe, a lot of them to England. Blues is one of the musical styles that is best learned at the feet of artists – watching them play live. It’s truly a spontaneous, emotional genre and finds most of its greatest moments on live performances (not a coincidence that many blues records are live recordings). The movement of great bluesmen (Bo Didley, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Muddy Waters) overseas found its way into brit rockers – Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page… the list goes on. The US in the meantime, didn’t see a similar explosion of blues guitarists (save of course the freakish Jimi Hendrix). A true illustration of the power of mentoring.
Interestingly, a similar phenomenon happened in Jazz a little later. Older musicians were displaced by the Young Lions – dapper young players that found homes with the majors, while the older generation were left out.
One consequence of these changes is the signing of artists without any back catalogue, which puts enormous pressure on them to sell lots of records quickly, as the label doesn’t have a collection to draw from.
That afternoon I enjoyed a long talk with John Kuntz, founder of the legendary Waterloo Records, Austin’s longest standing indie record store. When you walk in his store you can really feel the music-lover energy. Three distinct features of his store: you can open and listen to any record; you can get full store credit for any purchase even if it’s just because you didn’t like the record; the store is organized alphabetically – not by genre. What struck me about all of this was that he has clearly established a special relationship with his customers – one that is obviously reciprocal. They’ve had 24 consecutive years of sales growth. They also are frequently disproportionate sellers of breakthrough artists (Norah Jones, Los Lonely Boys), because they’re early to recognize ad market promising new artists. We raised a glass to him and his wife’s vinyl anniversary (33 1/3 years). Now that’s what you call a music lifer!
Spent the late night at Nasty’s listening to DJMel spin some reaggaton and r&b/hiphop. Some serious grooves kept the dance floor full all night. It was a great mixture of classic R&B and the newest dance tracks. One thing that’s clear, good grooves don’t age.