Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rarities From The Past - Clay Blaker Releases Live Album - Through The Years 1979 - 2002

THTB circa 1980 - Donnis Hammond, Jimmy Day, Clay & Allene Blaker, Jack Shelby  

The music business simply wasn't the same anymore. While in his heydays Clay Blaker and The Texas Honky-Tonk Band would be playing over 250 gigs a year, many of the old clubs and dancehalls disappeared, people got older and the young folks wanted to see their stars in gigantic arenas swinging over their heads and using pyrotechnics.

Looking back on a 30-year-old career Clay and his wife Allene decided to call it quits. On one of their earlier vacations, they bought a little piece of heaven on an island off Panama's mainland and that was to be their retirement. Clay or "Slick" to his buddies, used to compete in surfing, actually, Blaker surfboards built by his dad until 1970 are still in high demand, so the surf off the island is an extra bonus.

As a songwriter Blaker is known to have written songs for anybody from George Strait, Tim McGraw, Clay Walker, LeAnn Rimes, Bill Kirchen and Kevin Fowler to Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis. For many upcoming musicians, he was also known as a mentor and sometimes a partner in songwriting. His private picking parties, sometimes till the cows came home, were legendary. For many young artists, it was the place to premiere their new songs among a small circle of fellow musicians, friends, and occasional music-industry people. What especially younger people may not know, is that Blaker and his Texas Honky-Tonk Band, first and foremost built a reputation as a touring outfit, not only crisscrossing the Lonestar state but also exporting Texas country music into Europe, where a sizeable country music fandom started in the late 70s and peaked in the mid-90s.

That's where "CLAY BLAKER AND THE TEXAS HONKY-TONK BAND - LIVE - THROUGH THE YEARS (1979 - 2002)" comes in. It's a collection of songs that every band in Texas during that era "had" to play to get the dancers onto the floor to scoot through the legendary dust. And to no surprise, as the band is revving up their engines for the night to come, the album starts with an old R&B instrumental "Hold It", written by saxophonist Clifford "Honky Tonk" Scott, first released in 1958 by Bill Doggett. But instead of a reed instrument, it's legendary steel guitarist Jimmy Day, that takes it away into the country sphere. That opener speaks volumes about the wide open range what Texas music is. Frontman Clay joins the band on the tender and rather rare subject of a single father raising his kids. "Holding Things Together," written by Merle Haggard and Bob Totten and originally recorded by The Hag on his 30th album in 1974. Tip to the hat for playing that live, as it is probably 180 degrees away from the machismo scene that normally dominated the dancehalls.

It continues sentimental and again lets Day shine on his instrumental interpretation of the traditional Irish song "Danny Boy." Jimmy played with everybody, being a Cherokee Cowboy for Ray Price, to Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Faron Young as well as a non-pedal steel player for Elvis and Hank Williams. And that leads us to

Honky Tonkin'

What started with Bob Wills and other Western Swing Bands in the 30s and 40s, was the desire of the people to dance to the music and in Texas with its dancehalls and Honky Tonks, people started two-steppin' and waltzin' way before the end of World War II, when women started to join the work force and became more liberated. No wonder then, it was Bob Wills who was the first to bring a drum kit to the Grand Ole Opry and caused quite a stir. That tradition also asked for a special breed of music; an amalgam of Swing and Country with side influences from German and Bohemian immigrants who brought Polkas and Schottisches and then Ray Price who came up with the 4/4 shuffle. And all these influences could be summed up in two words: Honky Tonk. And that's how Clay named his band, The Texas Honky-Tonk Band, And the next seven songs all belong into that category, from Hank Williams' "Take These Chains From My Heart" to another Fred Rose composition, "Roly Poly" made famous by Wills and his Texas Playboys.

In between are gems like two songs about Hank Williams, the first one written by his other former steel guitar player, Don Helms, the second song also mentioning another Texas Honky Tonk great, Corsicana born Lefty Frizzell. One of the early Honky Tonk hits bringing the subject of being left by a lover to the forefront was the Hawkshaw Hawkins hit "Lonesome 7-7203" written by Justin Tubb. With the change of society, cheatin' songs became part of the Honky Tonk staple as well, great examples featured here are Mel Street's "Borrowed Angel" and Ray Price's hit "Another Bridge To Burn" penned by master songwriter Harlan Howard.

A good title instead of "Through The Years" could also have been the Bootleg tapes, as these songs were recorded in Texas as well as in Germany and some of the "masters" weren't recorded off the soundboard. So yes you may hear the public, here and there - but all these recordings transcend a piece of oral Texas Honky Tonk music history. Also with time passing, some of these recordings are almost 40 years old, it's quite hard to remember venues and exact lineups of the Texas Honky-Tonk Band.

I reached out to Clay and Allene Blaker and received the following info:

"Unfortunately, most of the tapes that these cuts were taken from are unmarked so I'm mostly relying on my memory in regards to dates, venues, and musicians. The first cut is definitely Gruene Hall, the second is definitely Dorpen, Germany, and the third is another venue in Germany. The musicians on these three songs are the same as in the promo photo we sent. However, Dan McCoy replaced Donnis Hammond on lead guitar during this period and that sounds like Dan on Track 1. The time period for these songs is 1979-1981, Tracks 3 thru 8 are from 1983 at a venue in Longview, Texas. I don't recall the name of it. Musicians on these tracks are Dan McCoy, Mark Kuykendall on drums, David Farenthold on steel, Allene on bass and Bryan Duckworth on fiddle. Tracks 9 and 10 are from the Cabaret in Bandera in 1985. Dan McCoy, Ken Kelly on drums, Bob Kelly on steel, Ricky Turpin on fiddle and Allene on bass. Bob Kelly had played steel at one point for Bob WIlls' Texas Playboys and Ricky won the Texas State Fiddling Championship several times."

The album, as well as single songs, are available for download through every digital retailer as Amazon, iTunes (currently presale, downloads from 7/28), Google Play. A second volume is scheduled to be released in October of this year.

Clay Blaker & The Texas Honky-Tonk Band - Live - Through The Years (1979 - 2002) Vol 1 Song list:

1. Hold It (Billy Butler, Clifford Scott)
2. Holding Things Together (Merle Haggard, Bob Totten)
3. Danny Boy (Traditional)
4. Take These Chains From My Heart (Hy Heath, Fred Rose)
5. Hank (Don Helms)
6. Hank & Lefty Raised My Country Soul (Dallas Frazier, A.L. Owens)
7. Lonesome 7-7203 (Justin Tubb)
8. Borrowed Angel (Mel Street)
9. Another Bridge To Burn (Harlan Howard)
10. Roly Poly (Fred Rose)

Edited version: on 7/20 Clay released the video to "Holding Things Togehter" which is now embedded as well, it may not be of the best quality, but it's definitely a part of history.


  1. Michael ... thanks so much for posting this. You have had a handle on the Texas country music scene longer than anyone we know. You know every musician, who they ever played with (and when), you have the words memorized to every song, have been to every venue in Texas at least once (and some thousands of times). Panama is waiting for you, but you won't have to bring your boots. Just come and see what Clay and I have going here. You'll have to write another blog about it. Love and hugs .... Allene

    1. Allene - thanks for the kind words. Yes I've been to a lot of places and I need to go see more good "Honky Tonk" music, preferably in smaller places where the dust on the dance floor still helps you boot-scoot. And unfortunately these good places become scarcer any day. Music, not just Country Music, has became to a great degree fast-food. Easily devoured with no nutritional benefits - everything tastes the same, smells the same and is mostly bland.
      I love my home cooked music, where lyrics tell a story in a poetic way, where musicians may leave out certain notes, to enhance the flavor according to the motto - less is more.
      And yes one day I will make it to Panama.

    2. Hope you like lobster. :-)

  2. Love, love, love... Thanks for a Great article about one of my Favorites!
    Written with Great info and insight!

    1. Cindy - thank you so much and thanks for taking the time to actually post a comment. It does mean a lot for a writer to get some feedback (good or bad).
      That said - I also recommend you to browse through two of my other blogs - one about Country Music in a bit more general way - and one about music in general - - what used to be newspaper articles are now blogs, as hardly a newspaper can afford an entertainment staff anymore. So it is the deep love of the subject that keeps me going.
      So if you have a chance, check them out and maybe share an eye on photography blog as well -
      A. Michael Uhlmann

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