Pennsylvania Station Blues

The first year I lived in Austin, I moseyed on down to the SXSW film festival to see if I could get in to the Jerry Wexler documentary. Lacking a wristband, I was herded into the have-nots line. With mutual disgruntlement as an icebreaker, I wound up chatting with a couple of other wristband-less, musicianly-looking dudes. Eventually we all got in, and afterwards, in a fit of bonding over the finer points of Señor Wexler’s career, we drifted off together to some forgettable downtown bar in search of beer and A/C, not necessarily in that order.

The audience for cult documentaries about storied R&B producers is a somewhat self-selecting one, so it wasn’t so surprising to discover that two of us were songwriters, and we found enough worth discussing that afternoon to motivate us past the awkward dude moment of exchanging phone numbers in a bar so we could continue the conversation at a later date.

It was in this fashion that I made my first good friend in town, the first of two compadres with whom I soon instigated a weekly songwriting group. The only rule, modeled on the Jack Hardy Monday nights I used to attend in New York at the “Houston Street Hilton,” was that you had to show up and sing a new song you’d written within the past week. We lasted, off and on again but mostly on, for about three years, and in that time I threw a lot of songs on the pile, many started at around 7pm for our eight o’clock meeting.

When I began a weekly solo residency at Flipnotics a few years later, I began pulling some of those songs from the pile, dusting them off, and seeing how they held up under actual performance circumstances. A few did. After one show, my wife asked, “Who wrote that one, you know, with the line about the Pennsylvania Station…” At that point I figured, if it sounds like I got it from somewhere else, it must be worth continuing to play.

I’ve been working on a new record this summer, here and there, so I’m getting to record a few from the pile and a handful of more recent ones. It’s not being produced by Jerry Wexler, but I’d like to think it’s in good hands nonetheless.

(Thanks to Rusty Shackleford for shooting and posting footage from this summer’s Acoustic Music Camp in Dallas)


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