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Buy the album

Find his latest album, More Than We Was, on  CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

 

 

 

 

With guest appearances from artists Joe Pug, Emily Gimble, Alice Spencer, 

and Grammy award winning musicians, Joel Guzman and Lloyd Maines.

 

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The Tracking Angle:
reviewed by Michael Fremer 

Take an audiophile producer with a jazz sensibility, a no bullshit gravel voiced, West Texas country singer/songwriter, then add a legendary Austin, Texas pedal steel guitar player (Junior Brown) and a jazz pianist whose played with everyone from Gary Bartz, to Jackie McLean to Blood Sweat and Tears (Larry Willis). Oh, and add a sax player, a fiddler, some gospel singers and a jazz infused rhythm section. What do you get? A bizarre cross cultural experiment; the ingredients for a potentially disastrous mess. 

Fortunately for all concerned here, it adds up to a unique homebrew hybrid consisting of unequal parts jazzy urban sophistication, country, Tex-Mex border dust, and some fifties rock, all ably serving the cause of Harvey Thomas Young's gruff, yet intimate songs. 

The title tune, Highways Of Gold, a bitter, heartfelt articulation of the "life sucks, then you die" view of the world, serves as a paradigm for the album. As you listen to Thomas' plaintive voice on the chorus - backed only by his acoustic guitar: "There's no highways of gold, there's no rivers of brilliant diamonds, there only hearts made of stone and the money the world survives on" you can clearly hear a kick ass commercial country band breathing chart popping energy into the song. You can also hear how that action would ruin the chilling, almost uncomfortable intimacy of the moment. 

When the drums and piano come in, its not with a country crack. They kind of insinuate themselves into the mix with a delicacy not usually found in this genre of music: partly due to the deftness of the playing and partly due to the simple miking which places the drummer way in the background. 

It takes some time getting used to the off the beat playing accompanying the straightforward West Texas sensibility of Young. At first the two styles clash, then the accompaniment ³ mixed way back ³ seems like an annoying afterthought. Its only after your ear become accustomed to the strange combination, that you begin to appreciate the audacity of this fascinating project. It doesn't always work, (Bad Feelings starts with a piano line out of Bach's Goldberg Variations, turns into an early •60s Phil Spector vamp and finally falls flat on its face) but when it does, it hits a home run ³ as on the title tune and on the ethereal Dreams and Distant Shores

The minimally miked analogue recording is redolent with room sound and the natural projection of acoustic instruments playing live in a space. Young and his acoustic guitar are highlighted in the mix, with the other instruments playing dreamily in the background. I would have preferred more drum kit, and more of Junior Brown's achingly gorgeous pedal steel, but compared to commercial recordings, this is a brutally honest portrayal of live music. 

Some of these tunes deserve commercial treatment (Start Again for example) and I hope Young gets the recognition and financial reward such treatment would bring him. But you won't find more effective renditions of Young's material than he gives them on this very special disc. Take a chance and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

 

Tex Thomas to bid adieu to Sunday night Hut's gig

By Peter Blackstock

 

     "It all bleeds into one big long Sunday night."

     "That's how Harvey Young, a.k.a. Tex Thomas, described his memories of 10 years of Sunday evening gigs with his band the Danglin' Wranglers at Hut's Hamburgers, an Austin tradition that comes to an end this weekend -- sort of. 

     The show will go on, as Tex and the Wranglers will move their act to the Continental Club April 14. But this Sunday's show will be the final chapter of a storied career for the band at Hut's, where it played nearly every Sunday night since June 15, 1981. 

     Many of Austin's finest players frequently stop by to listen to Young's sharp-witted songs and the ever-changing but invariably excellent musicianship of his band. Occasionally the shows included sit-in sessions with such Austin luminaries as Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Young and Hut's owner Mike Hutchinson said they mutually agreed to call it quits recently, because of dwindling attendance and because as Hutchinson put it, "10 years just seemed like it was probably a good time to end it." The Wranglers' gig is the only night live music is featured at Hut's, which operates primarily as a hamburger restaurant. 

     Young said the show basically will remain the same at the Continental, with the possible exception that the starting time may be moved up from 10 to 9. 

     "We're looking forward to going over there because of quality of the sound in that room," Young said, adding that the Wranglers played their earliest gigs at the Continental 12 years ago.

     Hutchinson recalled a few particularly memorable moments over the years, but more importantly noted that "every Sunday's different. That's one thing about Harvey -- as much as I've heard the music, I've never gotten tired of it. He's always been very entertaining."

 

 

 

 

Tex Thomas lets music take lead

Artistry more powerful than antics in LP

By Peter Blackstock

 

         Call Tex Thomas to task for his lack of tact if you must – but it’s hard to deny his impeccable taste when it comes to music.

         The veteran entertainer, who in real life goes by the name of H.T. Young, has long cultivated a controversial status within the Austin music scene. His regular Sunday-night gigs at Hut’s with his band the Danglin’ Wranglers are renowned among the local community, both for Thomas’ outspoken antics and for the outstanding musicianship of his band.

         The former often has overshadowed the latter in legend and lore, but Screamin’ in the Night puts the musical talent in the spotlight. The Wranglers handle jazz, soul, rock, country, blues and hybrids of the above with equal aplomb. Furthermore, the diverse instrumental arrangements have been captured in the studio with extraordinary precision and dynamic sense. The sound quality of this recording is unparalleled among independent releases.

         Keyboardist Danny Levin, who cofounded the Wranglers with Thomas about 10 years ago, is the ringmaster. Along with drummer Barry Smith, guitarist Robert Atwood, bassist Dale Dennis and a horn section anchored by trombonist Jon Blondell, Levin has crafted a derivative et creative style that defies pigeonholing.

         In the center of it all is the distinctive personality of Thomas, whose vocals and lyrics are strong enough o focus the considerable musical energy that surrounds them. Thomas changes his character as often and as effortlessly as the music shifts from one style to another, which allows the album to endure repeated listening without growing stale.

         On No Job, No Drive, No Prospects and Fugitive Animal, the album’s opening tracks, Thomas comes across as a street-beaten loser: “I’m a mutt, no papers, I escaped from the local dog pound.” But on Maybe Me And My Baby, the perspective is dramatically different, as Thomas paints a realistic yet ultimately optimistic portrait of a loving relationship.

         Other tunes present a variety of themes. Long Time Comin’ offers up a hilarious eulogy: “And on my own tombstone I want it understood / He was a long time comin’ but he’s gone for good.” The countryish Highways of Gold acknowledges the inevitable hard truths of the real world. Daddy’s Dream, a delicate lullaby from father to daughter, is beautiful in its hopefulness and simplicity.

         Interspersed throughout are bits and pieces of monologue taken from live recordings of Hut’s gigs that help fill in the colors of Thomas’ character. It’s appropriate that the liner notes claim “the part of Tex Thomas is played by H.T. Young,” because the album effectively presents the persona Young has created through years of developing the role.

         Note: The CD features four extra songs taken from the 1984 album Dare to Dangle, the group’s only previous release. 

 

 

 

 

7-year hitch

Tex Thomas and Danglin' Wranglers remain true to the music's message          

            Joe Ely describes the weekly show as Sunday services for musicians. Nels Jacobson, graphic designer and bartender, calls its minister the “rawhide messiah,” whose parishioners “bring their sacred cows” to hear a “good ol’ boy run amok.”

            Services are every Sunday night at Hut’s Drive-In, and have been for the past seven years.

            Tex Thomas and the Danglin’ Wranglers, led by singer and songwriter Harvey T. Young and keyboardist/arranger/fiddler Danny Levin, began a self-described “project” the night after the Memorial Day flood of 1981. The show is an institution only in terms of the amount of times they’ve spent doing it.

            The Tex Thomas show is eternal unpredictability set against musical perfection at odds with barroom protocol. When Young takes the stage, neither his public persona (Tex Thomas), his five-member band nor his audience, can be certain what will ensue. There’s usually a theme for the night, often the week’s biggest news item, or something personal, such as a visit from Young’s mother.

            Young goads and reflects, exhorts and repents, philosophies, and slanders. His prescient perceptions are couched in characters Levin refers to as “a preacher, a drunk and an obnoxious West Texas bigot, or an occasional lapse into being Harvey.” With the freedom to roam the characters of his own design, Young explores serious social and personal issues from what may at first appear to be an idiot’s viewpoint.

            But listen closely to his music and the meaning behind his between-song proselytizing, and what emerges is some of the most probing and soulful work ever put to a dance beat.

            The range of subject matter that gives rise to his songs spans family life and modern warfare, love and cancer. No subject is too serious or non-commercial to be put to music. It is appealing both as listening music and as simply something to dance to.

            Young’s serious side stems from an old-fashioned sense of morality. According to ex-Danglin’ Wranglers guitarist RC Banks, Young’s music is fueled by “the actual moral presented in his songs.” The meaning of his compositions “is always kind of hidden, like his song Southside. You can’t tell it immediately, but it’s about over-population and regionalism,” Banks said. “He’s a moralist, and a damn good one. All his songs have a real-life angles – there’s no veneer or pretense.”

            To see Tex Thomas at Hut’s and to talk to Harvey Young in person is to meet two different people.

            On stage, few are spared from his good ol’ boy locations. The understanding and ridicule of racism and religious prejudice are essential elements of the Wrangler project, but rather than decry and denounce these human blights, Young acts out what others fear.

            To show how absurd these learned attitudes are, Young uses members of the band, public figures ranging from the pope to the president, and even occasional audience members to make his point.

            The product of what he describes as “East Coast, liberal Jewish family,” Levis is portrayed by Young as a member of the “devil religion” that “controls all money.” The Wranglers’ sometimes saxophone player, Tomas Ramirez, is described as part of an ethic group “who used to work cheap on my daddy’s farm.”

            “He doesn’t tell jokes,” Levin said. “He doesn’t tell Aggie or Jew or dirty jokes. He tells the truth.”

            “Everyone and everything is fair game to him. It’s just an act, he’s not cutting down my race or your race, he cuts down everyone, himself included,” Ramirez said. “It’s happened more than once that he went too far for somebody in the audience, and Harvey’s friends have had to save him. He’s always saved from irate Mexican Americans by Mexican Americans. It’s like, ‘No buddy, you’re the one who’s messing up, not Harvey.’ ”

            An Austin area resident for 18 years, the 37-year-old Young has played the Tex Thomas character so well and for so long, it’s easy to assume it’s really hi m. The misconception is quickly dispelled when Young is asked offstage for his thoughts about racism. With the methods of Lenny Bruce rather than Martin Luther King Jr. Young delivers a message that is as serious as his character act is comedic.

            “If someone acknowledges the existence of racism, they are racist,” Young said. “If someone is a victim, he feels, ‘I am that.’ If it offends him, he’s also promoting it – feeding the very thing that keeps racism going.”

 

            Through Tex Thomas and the Danglin’ Wranglers, Young seeks to bring racism “out into the open and make it plain that it is a problem. I want to show it in its proper place – a position of ridicule,” he said.

            Young is concerned when an audience member misinterprets his intent and takes offense at his act at Hut’s. Equally disturbing are fans who feel right at home with the character of Tex Thomas. In the course of this project some people have dug into it the wrong things and become overzealous,” he said. “Sometimes I think I’ve turned it into the exact opposite of what we intended. It’s probably my fault it hasn’t worked that well.”

            Even without the outlandish character of Tex Thomas, the songs of Harvey Young and the music of the Danglin’ Wranglers are strong enough to stand on their own. With a songlist of 75 original tunes, Young and his band have a repertoire unmatched in depth and woefully under-represented by their only album release, Dare to Dangle.

            At the tip of the iceberg are songs such as Daddy’s Dream, about what every father wants for his daughter; Tears, an unrecognized American classic; I Need You, an eloquent plea for a relationship’s renewal; and Games of the Ancients, a four-minute history of the reasons behind warfare. Bad Feeling finds the need for love balanced with a look at life’s necessities in light of laziness: “I need a lover that’s got a log of honey/ a lot of lovin’ and a whole lotta spending money/ I need the shelter that kind of situation carries.”

            Ramirez sees art behind the veil of the Thomas character. “He’s a poet – his songs have form, structure and meaning,” Ramirez said. “There’s so much balance, on both an emotional and intellectual level to his music. His songs are paintings that make the world just a bit more understandable – and interesting.”

            Carrying the weight of these songs is Young’s voice. Simply described as one you either love or hate, it nonetheless demands attention. In terms of soulfulness and character, it is in the tradition of Ray Charles, Stoney Edwards, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Bland or Hank Williams.

            It’s a voice that “makes people think,” said former Danglin’ Wrangler Chris O’Connell. “It satisfies people in the middle of heartbreak. It scares people It makes all your feelings rise to the top. His voice gives him the common man connection. Harvey puts himself on the line every time he sings his songs,” she said.

            That seven years at Hut’s has brought about only limited success for the band is a reflection of both the confines of commercial music and the unwillingness of Young or Levin to compromise the fruits of their work for the faint promise of commercial reward.

            “Success for a band means the road, and we tried the road for a couple of year,” Levin said. “We opened for acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Asleep at the Wheel, Dr John, Joe Ely , at showcase clubs in the all the major markets in Texas and we averaged $27 per person in pay. Harvey and I agreed that we are too old to get in the pickup and drive to Houston for that kind of money.

            “All of this is part of a more general consideration that I have a large family, and Harvey has a family,” Levin said. To make a living Levin “has to put on a tuxedo and play a strolling violin and play in 10 different bands. Promoting the product of our project has always been a buck burner deal with me,” Levin said.

            Sooner or later songs as hot as Young’s will burn up the stove. A recent writing flurry brought eight new tunes to the Wrangler saddlebag, and plans are in the works for a second release, tentatively titled Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. The double album will be equally divided between studio-recorded ballads and live shots of the best from Hut’s.

            Playing a hybrid of country, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, blues and jazz makes them work harder than most bands, and makes it even more difficult to find a musical niche in today’s format-oriented music business. But after seven years, doing something different by now second nature. 

 

The T-Birds & Tex Thomas

Cotton Eyed Joe's, a while back

Reviewed by Tom X

 

     I had never seen either the T-birds or the Tex Thomas band until a few years ago at Cotton Eyed Joe's on North Lamar. 

     The big club had a full house and Tex Thomas was saying hilarious things between and during amazing music by the Danglin' Wranglers who were having a good time waiting on the Birds to get there late off of a road job. 

     Tex Thomas is no teen idol. But I was impressed by this bunch of weirdos, looking like old Peanuts cartoons, trying to move the audience to dance. Charlene and I danced everything but precious few other couples ever hit the floor. This was some of the most interring, inspiring, original dance music I'd ever heard!

     Then, an hour or two late, the Thunderbirds started playing and everyone there, except Charlene and I, jumped out on the floor. What the hell is this?!?!?

     I couldn't believe it.

     It was like a Sunday School party compared to the gritty opening act. It struck me as good clean fun. In spite of the bad-ass appearance of Kim Wilson and Keith Ferguson (balanced somewhat by Jimmy and Fran) this band had the vibe and music that mommmys and daddys would approve of for a kids' party. I liked it. But its simplicity and familiarity following Tex' jazz was simply good food for an unhungry man. 

     Now with the Thunderbirds' success, which we all knew must surely come, I find myself trying to derive a conclusion of some sort of wisdom from my first impression of them. It's more complicated than I care to write about, but its somewhere in the realm of making the blues happy. Much like Bob Wills wise-cracking and hollering while Tommy Duncan sang those sad songs during the Depression. 

     T-Bird music says get out of your mind, get happy, get dancing, get your butt rocking'. This ain't no serious blues. America arise and party! And someday some of your grandchildren will pull out your old obscure Tex Thomas record and say to their friends, "Yeah, but listen to this!"

 

Still Rockin’

All danglin’ aside, just who on earth is Tex Thomas?

By Byron Wheeler

 

            I could have had the local scoop on just exactly who or what danglin' wranglers are, and what, if anything, it is they dangle. I could, that is, if Harvey "Tex Thomas" Young had bothered to tell me, but he didn't. Or, if I thought anyone really needed to know, but I don't. 

            Actually, it’s just that I was so taken by this Austin music man that such mundane data as the origin of the band’s name just never crossed my mind. The mystery remains, and I hope no one loses any sleep over it. Better that they focus on Tex the music man. Unlike the Robert Preston version, however, probably the only con he ever pulled was letting Asleep at the Wheel think he was their roadie for life, instead of the unique Texas soul singer and songwriter he is today.

            I first saw Tex and the Danglin’ Wranglers at Fitzgerald’s, a club in the Houston Heights at which I have also had the dubious honor of playing on several occasions. They were opening for Stevie Vaughan, and when I arrived, the band (minus Tex) was on stage. A few minutes later, Tex, appearing very laid-back (or layed out), did the slow Stagger Lee stroll up to the microphone. I must confess, not knowing him from Adam Ant, I thought he was another of those time-honored clowns whom the spirits – in the form of 12 beers – have convinced are cooler than James Dean raised from the dead. Once Tex started singing in key and on beat, I wised up.

            Few people know that Tex Thomas does not begin and end with the Danglin’ Wranglers. He has been in the Austin music world since moving here from Lubbock in 1970. (Ah, Lubbock. I think there must be some secret Texas law which requires any expectant mother who wants her child to be a musician to relocate either to Austin, Lubbock, or Dallas for birthing.) Well, anyway, Tex wasted little time before teaming up with Randy Banks, with whom just about everyone has played, in a band called Muskrat Fun. Tex played drums, and Randy, of course, was the guitar player. In 1972, Tex put together Showdown, a house band for the old Cricket Club, but two years later he was back with Randy, this time joined by sax player Ed Visard and Junior Medlo (now singer for the Cobras) in a band called Blue Beats.

            Like a good mother’s son, Tex left the band in 1976 to operate his mama’s bail bonds business back in Amarillo (Say that ten times). However, this hiatus probably proved to be the turning point in the dangler’s musical life. He stayed in Amarillo for six months, but shortly after his return, he met longtime friend-to-be, Chris O’Connell. She was singing with Asleep at the Wheel at the time, and soon talked Tex into climbing on board as their roadie. Tex and the bus, christened Slut Dog II (don’t ask), never got along.

            “We played every town in America that would have us. We got to some place in Washington State that had board sidewalks, and we were greeted by 2,000 dirty, barefoot mountaineers coming down to take a look,” says Tex. A potpourri of other horror stories involving various combinations of Greeks, Jews, yoga, and chopped liver (all on the bus) made six months of this six months too much. Combined with the ridiculous overhead, it was truly not worth the agony. “We broke down once in Springfield, Missouri, and it cost us 20 G’s to roll the bus.”

            Tex left the endless tour and waited patiently for the inevitable departure of Chris and keyboardist Danny Levin from the group. (The trio did leave their mark on the band, however, as one of their collaborations, “Don’t Get Caught Out in the Rain,” was a single on the Wheel’s “Framed” album.) Left with a large quantity of time, talent, and material, what could the three do but form a group and call it the “Danglin’ Wranglers?”

            Tex doesn’t have to mention that he’s just one of the boys – it’s written all over his face. That and a few thousand other things. He describes himself, reluctantly, as a “khakis and Red Wings” type of person, which if you don’t understand, you probably won’t ever have to. Simple folk he may be, but I wouldn’t advise calling his bluff if such topics as quantum mechanics or heavy water should come up (and somehow they do), because he’ll tell you exactly what they are, and just what you can do with them. Fortunately, I didn’t feel like a total idiot, since anybody knows what heavy water is. Ice, right? Tex does, in fact, seem to be in a constant state of non-confusion concerning the kind of universal trivia that control, alter, and ultimately destroy our lives. Be prepared to talk about them and suggest alternatives.

            Right now, though, he likes nothing better than to talk about his soon-to-be-completed album, tentatively titled “Dare to Dangle.” I love it. It has such a fill-in-the-blank appeal to it. “We’ve got 11 songs that we’ve been recording for about eight months now, but actually we’ve been working on the arrangements for about three years,” he says.  Here we go with the collective “we” again. No matter how deserving or undeserving, Tex will give credit to anyone and his dog for his own talent and success, and actually mean it. In this case, the credit is well-deserved by the Lone Star Recording Studios where the album is being produced with co-backers Ed Guinn, Vince McGarry, and Stan Copperinger supplying the encouragement, among other things. With Joe Sublett and Smokey Joe Miller doing the sax tracks, Danny Levin on keyboards, and an array of Austin all-start ready to plug in on request, I can see why Tex feels no need to hop a bus for Muscle Shoals.

            Besides finishing the album, trying to find a record label, and hustling to book the Wranglers, Tex has also been struggling to keep open the Austex Lounge, which he co-owns. Everything for Tex, it seems, is a struggle, but then anything artistic or exciting or worthwhile usually is. At the risk of sounding maudlin, if it’s possible to score less than zero on the pretention meter, Harvey Thomas Young might just be the one to do it. But that should come with the territory for someone called “Tex.” It’s just that he sings the songs he’d lived and lives the songs he’s yet to write, from ne’er-do-well to well-to-do, from broke to broken-hearted. He may contemplate space and time, but he knows they don’t mean enough to sing about. If you like real music, good music, good Texas soul music, you can hear it at Hut’s every Sunday night, but don’t wait too long, or Tex and Slut Dog III are gone.