Austin… the saving grace of Texas

Now I could go into the history of this City, the capital of Texas – but that is what Wikipedia is for… so go there to read it ;-)

I on the other hand will write of my brief experience of this Oasis of a city and one I’d like to return to. Beyond the complaints of the I-35, a little known parking lot that runs the entire length of Austin. As you approach Austin at night it looks like an oasis of high-tech and modern living. Indeed, Andrew Baron of Rocketboom even called this city “The saving grace of Texas” and for the most part I can see why.

Oh, it is an oasis… but furthermore it’s also a city of culture and has a “cosmopolitan feel” if you like. Like all modern cities though, the concept of skyscrapers in the centre have not escaped Austin, crushing much of it’s history into oblivion. Yet down there in the heart of it is the famed and acclaimed 6th Street and if you add in 4th, 5th and Congress Avenue… then there is more than a heart beat or pulse of this city’s history and entertainment right there.

These days, the area of South Austin seems to have a greater vibe, open parks, restaurants, leafy suburbs and a greater “wellbeing” feel. Something I found very attractive and yes from what I could see, it’s obvious the town planners have long term goals for making the city greener and healthier than most.

Austin like any large city has its good and bad, the first day we walked down 6th Street (2nd Jan) around 2pm and a full on brawl broke out in front of us. Two guys punching the living daylights out of each other without a care in the world of who they bounced into, or where in the world they were from.. No police presence, and while I sidestepped them as they flew past – this blogs buddy @Gabsatrucker got fully barged out of the way by them, just before skulls met the concrete sidewalk. This was certainly, how should I say… interesting… We went to Starbucks and I said “soooo, this is Austin huh?” Gabby on the other hand was really not happy either… This was on the back of the news that on New Years morning 3 people had been shot, one to death and someone was killed trying to cross the I-35… Kinda leaves you with a cheery feel… That and the fact that Austin has oh so many people begging on street corners in the 4th,5th and 6th street areas at night.

But nevertheless… there is a vibe to the city as a whole you can’t quite put your finger on, the south is awesome and the club names like Antone’s, reverberate through the music scene globally. In fact one night in Antone’s made up for a lot of the misgivings we had earlier.

Yes Austin does have it’s many sides, but it’s this mix that probably makes it so intriguing and apart from having to change hotels due to rather unpleasant smell at the first one – it is a city I will definitely spend more time to explore.

Austin also has quite a few interesting slogans “Keep Austin Weird” is something you’ll see just about everywhere and then the “Austin, Live Music Capitol of the World” and it’s fair to say they’re not wrong! It’s a city of modern culture, hi-tech industries, fitness and fresh air – heck they even name the flight between Silicon Valley and Austin the “Nerd Bird”… It also has to be right up there with as one of the biggest conference venues in the world along side cities like Dubai and with it being home to South by South West (SXSW) there are hotels galore – some better than others, but the closer you get to downtown the prices go from reasonable to extortionate.

This is one of the major centres of entrepreneurship in the US and certainly with regards to technology, but it’s frankly stunning that Dell computers does not seem to have anything for the public, nerds and geeks to visit or see… In fact I was seriously surprised there was little in the way of Dell’s visibility at all – certainly an opportunity lost on Dell’s part. A “Dell Technology Showcase” or “Experience” is seriously needed.

With so much going on I think the city will grow, continue cleaning its image. But if you want to enjoy a fitness lifestyle, then look no further than this awesome city with the Lance Armstrong cycle way, large parks and running areas and even a park on the water front with a special area to allow dogs to run freely.

Yes, it’s right to keep Austin weird, but it’s also right to redesign and build for future tourism, future-tech transportation systems and greener more hi-tech lifestyle and I really think Austin will…. Because if it doesn’t, it’ll just grow more monolithic buildings and increase its number of tourist t-shirt shops that will be more about a “has-been” city than the heart and soul of the great state of Texas… I some how doubt that will happen though :-)

Austin is (with insight from; Andrew Baron, Gabsatrucker and Mary Hennig and adored by Dr Sue Black )

100% TWBrit Highly recommended

I guess I should make an actual TWBrit approved logo now then lol…

World Famous and of Austin’s Modern Heritage

If I haven’t mentioned it before, Austin probably has the most diverse music history in the world… Yes, I will hear people cry “Oh what about New Orleans, London, Memphis etc… but frankly, some incredible people have emerged from this, the most diverse and cosmopolitan and capital city of Texas… It’s was after all the whole reason for the now globally famous South by South West (SXSW). But seriously though, no city I know of celebrates it’s musical origins as much as Austin.

So why do I mention this, I’m not talking about the bars, nightlife – so… what? Well Austin through the years and decades has not only had incredible artists and clubs where they cut their teeth, but it has some pretty amazing people behind the scenes too… But Austin is musically vast in its diversity, from hip-hop through to its popular and gritty Indie scene. There are just so many bands and individuals who come here to make their mark – and they do. And like with all bases of great live music, it has its own “in” scene of the time – yet Austin caters for nearly all scenes at once. Even today while many can talk about the explosive Blues scene of the 70’s and 80’s, you really don’t need to walk too far to hear those dulcet tones that are so familiar even to those do not follow it.

I have already mentioned Stevie Ray Vaughan, yet I didn’t mention his brother Jimmie Vaughan, an outstanding and highly accomplished blues player in his own right, with a very discerning style too, both of whom cut their teeth here. But you know “that” guitar… the one Fender spent a fortune on replicating for an initial rrp of $8000 and created a whole collectors dream guitar that you simply will not obtain for less than 10’s of thousands of dollars… Well Stevie Ray Vaughan bought the original guitar from a now very famous guitar shop in South Austin… Ray Hennig’s “Heart of Texas Music”… and today Ray Hennig and his family are still crucial suppliers to the entire music scene in Austin – irrespective of genre or taste. Even a Wikipedia quoted Ray on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar purchase:

“ When he came in, like every other day, we had a long row of guitars and he wouldn’t take them off the hook. He’d simply walk down and feel them and look at them and move on to the next one. He stood there and looked at that old thing and I thought, oh no. Then he reached down and felt it, just like he did always. And then he took it off the hook, hitting some licks on it. He said, ‘Ray, where’d you get this?’ I said, ‘Stevie, you have got to have picked the biggest junker on the wall.’ ” —Ray Hennig,

Well today, before leaving Austin, I made my way to the “Heart of Texas” and met both Ray and Mary who are frankly the most outstanding, friendly and helpful people you could ever dream of meeting. Mary took time to talk to us and we talked about the UK and their own travels across the UK and Europe – and of course, had a great dig at the Fr**ch :-)

Now you only have to glance at the walls at this place to see the history enshrouded here, the place where the people we’ve all heard of go to get guitars, guitars setup and all manner of other things. Yet this isn’t a used up “has-been” place! Many of the pictures are new and some have surprising faces on them too. But the importance of this shop, the passion of the owners has been instrumental in quality and excellence of not only many famous artists, but the actual sound that has adorned all of our ears at some point.

Today, as we entered we were greeted by the frankly stunning Mary Hennig who took time to talk to us and explained much while towards the rear of the shop Ray was working hard on an acoustic guitar and doing what he does best.

It was a breath of fresh air to finally meet these two wonderful people who had a lifetimes experience and knowledge of the true Austin music scene, unlike rumour, reading stuff on the web etc. and to talk guitar tech in the form of the next generation of Hennig’s – Shane.

Sadly the site the shop presently occupies and has become famous because of it – is to be bulldozed and rebuilt by the owners of the land where it now stands. While this maybe a new beginning opportunity for the Heart of Texas Music – it is frankly the most wrongful destruction of a significantly historical landmark that has served, supported not only the musicians, live music scene and artists that have become household names – but has made a real impact the overall history of Austin and US wide music history… Hey put it another way, I live 5000 miles away and I know of this place and I normally haunt Denmark Street (UK’s Tin Pan Alley) in London.

It’s also strange that as a teenager I had my idols, but ever since becoming a musician of sorts (not a very good one I hasten to add) and even from the early days of working in a studio in Sheffield, I rarely consider the term “fan”, in fact I tend to look at other musicians as peers of the passion I guess, if they make something of it for themselves, then good for them – it’s often only in their demise we truly acknowledge their greatness! Yet without The Heart of Texas – where would they have been…

I hope to spend more time in Austin in 2012 and the coming years, and I would love to one day hear the stories of these wonderful people.

But if you have time to visit – DO!! Yes, tell them of TWBrit, and please – thank them for what they bring to the industry and to Austin (and buy something of course)

To Ray and Mary, thank you for your time and I hope I see you all again sometime in the future… Oh and the reason I had my back to the 60th Anniversary Telecaster – because I wanted it of course and I’d have looked at it any longer I’d have bought it :-)

The Heart of Texas Music website


The Road Trip

So, onwards to the present day and yes, it’s obvious from previous posts that I’ve jumped the gun a little. After a saunter down from Roswell and having a fleeting look at Holloman AFB, we headed to Las Cruces to crash for the night. Sadly the actual Trinity Site is only accessible twice a year, but that’s not to say I didn’t get to play with some interesting hardware before we headed south. So at first light we headed back over the mountain range and headed towards the White Sands Missile Range…

Initially we were told that the Museum was shut and only the Missile Park was open, but it was soon obvious that the whole site was open. First stop was the dubious origins of the Space Program and the tech that made modern missiles technology a reality – the Nazi V2 rocket!! Indeed, at the end of the war both British and US military’s took many of the V1 and V2 rockets home to play with, not to mention the scientist teams that built them.

Then it was onto the Trinity equipment… that’s when I noticed strange things happening to the camera screen, as though slightly darkened bars were on it – It’s fair to say that some of this equipment still glows a bit.

Outside in the missile park there was everything from a TOW missile, Patriot and this sucker… Yes, that is me – stood leaning against the bottom of this Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile…

Back on the road and with all the other driving done already, we headed south for Austin – around 700+ miles for the whole day. At El Paso I had no idea that the Mexican border ran along the freeway and the thousands of huts on the right was indeed a Mexican shanty city. But we did take time out to soak up the 80f sunshine outside a Starbucks..

Moving on through some stunning countryside (and Tarantula habitat) we pulled off at a mainly dead town of Fort(shitsville)Stockton for food which was frankly a mistake. Stopping at a Sonic we went to the restrooms which are behind the kitchens and had to navigate past two piles of vomit to enter – only to see the state of the kitchens… we left in favour of a DQ – which was only mildly better.

Passing miles and miles of wind farms which Texas has lots of and are vast!! We finally pulled off the i10 and headed towards Fredericksburg which turned out to be totally stunning and probably the quaintest town I’ve seen yet in the USA. As we rolled into town it was already dark, but nothing prepared us for the Christmas lights and oldie worldly feel of Main Street.

Stopping to grab McD’s coffee we headed out of town… only for @Gabsatrucker (the Driva) to happen upon a speed exceeding the local speed limit of 50mph… As we approached a speed to allow us to cover 2 miles per minute – a car on the opposite side of the road lit up it’s roof and the pursuit started… all 300 yards of it ;-)

The officer was frankly a decent personable guy and asked for the licence and registration and asked where we were coming from and going to etc. This provoked a little natter and moments later he returned, wished us a Happy New Year and left… That’s it.. :-)

With that I relaxed in the full knowledge that @Gabsatrucker is a full blooded, hellraising, lawbreaking, get away with anything – Criminal ;-)

All in all I was in Austin and settled in for 23:50 just in time to watch the New Year in and enjoy the fireworks that erupted in just about every direction you could see…

Next time….. Austin!!

A Pilgrimage of sorts, one I never thought I would do…

It all started many years ago, I was 15 and hadn’t long been living in Sheffield. We were all into rock back then and someone offered me an electric guitar for £15… I took up the offer for a thing called a “Hondo II” which was a black Les Paul copy. The lad I bought it from was called Pete Young and what I didn’t know was that he sold it so cheaply to buy drugs. Pete was an awesome guy, but sadly the drugs got the better of him and they eventually took his life.

Back then it was the dream of every budding guitarist to be able to play Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. I felt quite accomplished at this and while the guitar was so bad Robin Hood could have used the neck as his preferred Bow, I later bought an American Standard Strat, a US Telecaster, almost an original Les Paul Recording and presently own a bizarre thing I bought in Saudi Arabia. My heart was actually in drumming, this all later changed as drumming isn’t very conducive to having happy neighbours.. So the guitar was king again and I must add that it has probably kept my sanity for many years.

So rolling the clock forward to the last few years and who were my idols? Well I have in my possession (and have shown it on this blog) an invite to New York to meet the one and only and now sadly; late Les Paul. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the trip but hey… that’s how life is – but I have visited Marshall.

In the world of guitar gods – there are many, many different styles. I never liked Hendrix much because I don’t think Hendrix understood what he himself was doing and Carlos Santana (while an awesome guitarist) never floated my boat either.

But there was one guy who did. In fact when I first heard his version of Hendrix’s Little Wing, I thought there was more than one guitarist… In my mind, this guy actually “got” Hendrix and furthermore – took it all to a level far higher.

Sadly in 1990 the very same guy was killed in a helicopter crash after leaving a gig at Alpine Valley, along with several of Eric Clapton’s own band members.

Today he is widely regarded as and was one of the finest guitarists to have ever lived and while his main genre was Blues, he performed with many others (including David Bowie) and in many other styles as well.

That guy was Stevie Ray Vaughan and this week as part of an accompanied road trip I have had the privilege of visiting many of his old haunts and visiting his grave side in Dallas.

I can’t add any more to this, but if I can be called a fan of any type, it would be of SRV and I am so in full knowledge that I simply do not have the skill and talent to be able to play close to 1% of his own level.

Finally I spent New Year in Austin Texas where he cut his teeth before making the big time. Here in his honour stands his statue.

I feel strangely privileged.

If anyone wishes to visit his Grave Side, below are maps of the actual location of the Vaughan Family Estate in Laurel Land Cemetery, Dallas (click to enlarge). But please, be respectful, don’t cover up his name and do NOT steal anything .


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