978-1-64843-211-8 Paperback
6.12 x 9.25 x 0 in
280 pp. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 09/27/2023


  • Paperback $32.95
Many books and essays have addressed the broad sweep of Texas music—its multicultural aspects, its wide array and blending of musical genres, its historical transformations, and its love/hate relationship with Nashville and other established music business centers. This book, however, focuses on an essential thread in this tapestry: the Texas singer-songwriters to whom the contributors refer as “ruthlessly poetic.” All songs require good lyrics, but for these songwriters, the poetic quality and substance of the lyrics are front and center.

Obvious candidates for this category would include Townes Van Zandt, Michael Martin Murphey, Guy Clark, Steve Fromholz, Terry Allen, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Bell, and David Rodriguez. In a sense, what these songwriters were doing in small, intimate live-music venues like the Jester Lounge in Houston, the Chequered Flag in Austin, and the Rubaiyat in Dallas was similar to what Bob Dylan was doing in Greenwich Village. In the language of the times, these were “folksingers.” Unlike Dylan, however, these were folksingers writing songs about their own people and their own origins and singing in their own vernacular. This music, like most great poetry, is profoundly rooted.

That rootedness, in fact, is reflected in the book’s emphasis on place and the powerful ways it shaped and continues to shape the poetry and music of Texas singer-songwriters. From the coffeehouses and folk clubs where many of the “founders” got their start to the Texas-flavored festivals and concerts that nurtured both their fame and the rise of a new generation, the indelible stamp of origins is inseparable from the work of these troubadour-poets.


Introduction, by Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hillis | 1

Part One. The First Generation: Folksingers, Texas Style
Too Weird for Kerrville: The Darker Side of Texas Music | 17
Craig Clifford
Townes Van Zandt: The Anxiety, Artifice, and Audacity of Influence | 27
Robert Earl Hardy
Vignette—The Ballad of Willis Alan Ramsey | 36
Bob Livingston
Guy Clark: Old School Poet of the World | 39
Tamara Saviano
Kris Kristofferson: The Silver-Tongued Rhodes Scholar | 49
Peter Cooper
Vignette—Don Henley: Literature, Land, and Legacy | 59
Kathryn Jones
Steven Fromholz, Michael Martin Murphey, and Jerry Jeff Walker: Poetic in Lyric, Message, and Musical Method | 61
Craig D. Hillis
Vignette—Kinky Friedman: The Mel Brooks of Texas Music | 83
Craig Clifford
Billy Joe Shaver: Sin and Salvation Poet | 85
Joe Holley
One Man’s Music: Vince Bell | 92
Joe Nick Patoski
Vignette—Ray Wylie Hubbard: Grifter, Ruffian, Messenger | 101
Jenni Finlay
The Great Progressive Country Scare of the 1970s | 103
Craig D. Hillis (interview with Gary P. Nunn)
Plenty Else to Do: Lyrical Lubbock | 109
Andy Wilkinson
Roots of Steel: The Poetic Grace of Women Texas Singer-Songwriters | 115
Kathryn Jones
From Debauched Yin to Mellow Yang: A Circular Trip through the Texas Music Festival Scene | 136
Jeff Prince
Vignette—Bobby Bridger: “Heal in the Wisdom,” Creating a Classic | 145
Craig D. Hillis (interview with Bobby Bridger)
Interlude: What Do We Do with Willie? | 148
—I. Willie (An Early Encounter) | 148
Craig D. Hillis
—II. Willie (On Everything) | 151
Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hillis

Part Two. The Second Generation: Garage Bands, Large Bands, and Other Permutations
“Gettin’ Tough”: Steve Earle’s America | 161
Jason Mellard
Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen: Cosmic Aggies | 166
Jan Reid
Vignette—Walt Wilkins: Spirituality and Generosity | 174
Craig Clifford (interview with Tim Jones)
Lucinda Williams: Poet of Places in the Heart | 176
Kathryn Jones
Rodney Crowell: Looking Inward, Looking Outward | 185
John T. Davis
Vignette—Sam Baker: Short Stories in Song | 192
Robert Earl Hardy
James McMurtry: Too Long in the Wasteland | 193
Diana Finlay Hendricks

Part Three. Epilogue: Passing of the Torch?
Drunken Poet’s Dream: Hayes Carll | 203
—I. Good Enough for Old Guys | 203
Craig Clifford
—II. Good Enough for Young Guys | 207
Brian T. Atkinson
Roll On: Terri Hendrix | 209
Brian T. Atkinson
From Riding Bulls to Dead Horses: Ryan Bingham | 212
Craig Clifford (interview with Shaina Post)
Bad Girl Poet: Miranda Lambert | 218
Craig Clifford
Challenge to Bro Country: Kacey Musgraves | 221
Grady Smith
Beyond the Rivers | 224
Craig Clifford

Notes | 231
Selected Sources | 233
Contributors | 243
Index | 251

Texas Music Series, Sponsored by the Center for Texas Music History, Texas State University

Published by Texas A&M University Press