ROCK-AND-ROLL. Texas musicians have profoundly influenced the development and evolution of rock-and-roll and the various branches of its musical tree—rockabilly, blues rock, Tex-Mex, psychedelia, and redneck rock. Some of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's most high-profile inductees, including Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Janis Joplin, pioneered the direction of the musical idiom. The Hall has also honored other musicians, both native Texans and those who made a name in the Lone Star State, as early influences critical to the genre's development. These musicians include T-Bone Walker, Lead Belly, Robert Johnson, Charlie Christian, and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
Rock-and-roll's historic roots lie in a fusion of several musical genres that came into prominence in the early decades of the twentieth century. Texans played major roles in pioneering these varied styles, including blues, jazz, and western swing. Blues guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson from Freestone County, Texas, is credited as the first blues star. His recordings from 1926 to 1929 were the first blues records to be commercially successful and thus introduce what had been an African-American music form to a national audience.
In the 1930s, "race labels" recorded many black blues musicians in Texas. Two landmark sessions in San Antonio (1936) and Dallas (1937) captured the only recorded legacy of guitarist Robert Johnson, the itinerant Delta bluesman from Mississippi. Many music historians and guitar aficionados credit these songs, which include his legendary "Cross Road Blues," for laying the fundamental groundwork for rock-and-roll. Another historic blues great, Huddie Ledbetter ("Lead Belly"), traveled to Texas where he played his twelve-string guitar with the likes of Jefferson in Deep Ellum. Field-recording pioneers John and Alan Lomax discovered his guitar prowess while he was incarcerated in the Louisiana State Penitentiary and thus brought his blues to the world. These early players inspired later guitarists like Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, Freddie King, and Albert Collins and their Texas blues sound, a highly improvisational style that encouraged a variety of personal playing techniques. The early bluesmen played an important role in the evolution of rock guitar. Legendary groups and players from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airplane, to Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, all credit these blues players as major musical influences.
Texas jazz players also contributed significantly to the development of rock. In 1935 guitarist Eddie Durham of San Marcos was one of the first performers on the electric guitar, and he made the first jazz recording of the amplified instrument. Fellow jazzman Charlie Christian of Dallas further elevated the electric guitar as a lead instrument. Guitarist Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, born in Linden, forged the link to the modern electric guitar in the 1940s and established the instrument as the foremost soloing tool for rhythm-and-blues.
In Texas in the 1930s another musical sound, the interesting mix of jazz, hillbilly, boogie, blues, and country that became known as western swing, also influenced the beginnings of rock. Three bands were very representative of the catchy sound that caught on: the Light Crust Doughboys, Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Both Brown and Wills had originally played in the Light Crust Doughboys before forming their own groups, and radio presented a popular medium to reach a wide listening audience.
In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s the Big D Jamboree barn dance and radio program in Dallas cultivated local talent and recruited national acts. In additional to country performers, the show also explored new trends and presented a bluesy sound mixed with country and bluegrass (or hillbilly) music called rockabilly. Big D Jamboree and its larger Louisiana counterpart, the Louisiana Hayride, often featured one of the most visible rockabilly stars—a young Elvis Presley. Several native Texans, however, are recognized as groundbreaking rockabilly performers, including Charline Arthur, Dean Beard, and Johnny Carroll. In the mid-1950s Charline Arthur, born in Henrietta, Texas, headlined the Big D Jamboree. Her bold stage presence earned praise from Elvis, and music historians have credited her as a major precursor to rockabilly, but her aggressive manner and rowdy stage shows did not fit in with the times. Other rockabilly pioneers were Dean Beard of Coleman County and his West Texas band the Crew Cats, who recorded "Rakin' and Scrapin'" in 1956. That same year Johnny Carroll from Cleburne, a Big D Jamboree and Louisiana Hayride favorite, recorded his "Crazy, Crazy Lovin'" for Decca in Nashville. Carroll was the featured star in the cult movie Rock, Baby, Rock It! filmed with other local music talent in Dallas.
During the 1950s Houston record executive Don Robey gathered an impressive lineup of blues performers for his Duke and Peacock Records labels. One artist, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, recorded "Hound Dog" in 1953, and the song became a major rock-and-roll hit for Elvis in 1956.
The emergence of rockabilly as a new musical style and the steady output of blues recordings set the stage for the development of a new genre—rock-and-roll. The windblown plains of West Texas furnished a wealth of musical talent. In 1956 Happy, Texas, native Buddy Knox and his band, the Rhythm Orchids, which included Knox's classmate Jimmy Bowen, learned of Norm Petty's recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico, from another up-and-coming West Texas musician, Roy Orbison. The group recorded "Party Doll," and Knox subsequently became the first artist in rock to write and perform his own Number 1 hit with that song. Bowen's "I'm Stickin' With You," originally the flip side of "Party Doll," also got into the Top 20.
In early 1957 another West Texas rocker, Buddy Holly of Lubbock, ventured to Petty's studio. The tracks recorded by Holly and the Crickets resulted in the release of their first single, "That'll Be the Day," on May 27, 1957. The song soared to Number 3 on the pop charts, and subsequent releases "Peggy Sue," "Oh Boy!," and "Not Fade Away" also met great success. The pioneering influence of Holly, an inaugural inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986), on the development of rock-and-roll cannot be overstated. Holly wrote much of his own material, and his band, the Crickets, brought to the forefront the combination of guitars, bass, and drums as a viable self-contained musical combo. These two precedents set the standard for rock groups. Young fans, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and other future British rockers saw Holly perform in England and were inspired to emulate him. His star shone brightly for less than two years, until he lost his life in a plane crash in Iowa on February 3, 1959. The Big Bopper, J. P. Richardson of the Beaumont area, also perished. His fun-loving single "Chantilly Lace" had been a hit in 1958. Another rising Texas musician and Holly's guitarist at the time, Waylon Jennings, was not on the plane. The crash, which killed the pilot, Holly, Richardson, and teenage star Ritchie Valens, marked the end of the first chapter of rock-and-roll, an event that songwriter Don McLean later so aptly proclaimed "the day the music died," in his anthem "American Pie" in 1971.
Texas rock-and-roll progressed, however, as the 1960s dawned. Singer–songwriter Roy Orbison carried the banner of the West Texas rockers throughout the early 1960s and, in fact, was one of the few American stars to hold his own on the charts against the rising Beatles. Born in Vernon, Texas, Orbison (in the band the Teen Kings) had made his own pilgrimage to Norm Petty's Clovis studio in the 1950s. His recording of "Ooby Dooby" caught the attention of Sun Records in Memphis, and in 1956 Orbison joined the ranks of a group of emerging rockabilly stars. He gained the reputation of a successful songwriter, but when he could not attract the interest of either Elvis or the Everly Brothers to record his "Only the Lonely," Orbison recorded it himself in 1960 and introduced to the world his soaring voice and a string of aching rock ballads that became his signature style. Rock-and-roll singers from Elvis to the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen heralded the dramatic voice of Orbison. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Orbison, like Holly, has shown incredible staying power, as evidenced by his popular comeback in the 1980s with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne as the Traveling Wilburys and his best-selling album Mystery Girl (1989) after his death in 1988.
Mexican-American rockers entered the national rock-and-roll scene in the early 1960s. In 1960 Baldemar Huerta, better known as Freddy Fender, had a hit with "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." In 1963 a band from San Antonio called Sunny and the Sunglows (later known as Sunny and the Sunliners) became the first all-Tejano group to play on American Bandstand. Dallas's Trini Lopez had a hit in 1963 with an upbeat version of the folk song "If I Had a Hammer." This emergence of such Mexican-American performers hinted of musical influences adopted from the rich Mexican heritage of Texas.
Also in the early 1960s Major Bill Smith of Fort Worth produced a number of artists who had national hits. Ray Hildebrand and Jill Jackson, known as Paul and Paula and formed in Brownwood, had a Number 1 song, "Hey Paula." Bruce Channel of Grapevine recorded "Hey! Baby." Denton's Ray Peterson scored a 1960 hit with "Tell Laura I Love Her," while Lufkin's J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, a band formed in San Angelo, had a Number 1 smash with "Last Kiss" in 1964. Both songs were symbolic of the "teenage tragedy" subgenre of rock in the early 1960s. Another young Lubbock group, Delbert McClinton and the Ron-Dels, recorded "If You Really Want Me To I'll Go." McClinton, who had cut his musical teeth on the Jacksboro Highway blues scene of Fort Worth, had established himself as a rising rockabilly–blues player and went on to sustain a lengthy musical career encompassing various styles. McClinton played harmonica on Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby." A longstanding legend tells that it was McClinton who, while on tour with Channel in England, advised John Lennon on his distinctive harmonica technique—information that the Beatle subsequently immortalized in the harmonica solo of "Love Me Do."
When the Beatles burst upon the American music scene in 1964, their performances had an impact on the growing stable of Texas musicians. Savvy music producer Huey Meaux of Houston decided to jump on the "British Invasion" bandwagon but with a distinctively Texas flavor. The result produced one of the enduring bands in Texas rock history—the Sir Douglas Quintet. Meaux approached San Antonio musician Doug Sahm, whose musical legacy established him as a quintessential rock-and-roller. Formed in San Antonio in 1964, the Sir Douglas Quintet consisted of frontman Sahm, Augie Meyers on organ, Frank Morin on horns, Jack Barber on bass, and John Perez on drums. Their stylish suits and Beatle haircuts, mandated by Meaux, were designed to give the band an English flavor and thereby to capitalize on the British Invasion. Meaux had to "break" the band in England before it played in the U.S., but the group scored a major international hit in 1965 with "She's About a Mover." The song's infectious hook was the thin "con queso" line of Meyers's Vox organ. Reminiscent of an accordion fill, this reflected the Tex-Mex influence on the group. The band eventually moved to the budding rock scene of San Francisco and released other notable tracks, including "Mendocino" in 1969.
Other noteworthy bands of the mid-1960s hailed from Texas and also echoed their Tex-Mex musical traditions. Domingo Samudio (Sam Samudio) of Dallas led Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, whose hit "Wooly Bully" topped the U.S. charts in 1965. Billboard, in fact, selected "Wooly Bully" as Record of the Year. They also enjoyed success with "Lil' Red Riding Hood." Question Mark and the Mysterians likewise tapped into their own queso organ hook, played by Frank Rodriguez of Crystal City, in their hit "96 Tears" in 1965.
Meaux also produced the early material of versatile vocalist Roy Head from Three Rivers, who later, as Roy Head and the Traits, scored a Number 2 pop single in 1965 with his soulful "Treat Her Right." Houston native B. J. Thomas was also in the Meaux stable before moving on to pop and country stardom with such hits as "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."
As Beatlemania swept the nation, Hollywood sought to capitalize on the British Invasion in the mid-1960s and introduced the Monkees. Bandmember Michael Nesmith was born in Houston and grew up in Dallas. Nesmith, considered the best musician in the quartet, also achieved other musical success. His song "Different Drum" was a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1967. He later went on to front his own country rock band in the 1970s and became a music video pioneer, winning the first Grammy given for a video in 1981.
West Texas gave forth another popular group, the Bobby Fuller Four from El Paso. The band had a national hit in 1966 with "I Fought the Law," a tune written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets. Fuller's success was cut short by his suspicious "suicide" on July 18, 1966.
Psychedelic and its heavier variation, acid rock, emerged from both folk-rock and electric roots during the mid-to-late 1960s. Texas spawned its share of garage bands, known for their original compositions and free-form improvisation, and these psychedelic groups had both regional and national impact. Red Krayola emerged from Houston. The punky blues of Zakary Thaks came from Corpus Christi. Mouse and the Traps was born in Tyler. The band Bubble Puppy, which formed in San Antonio, recorded in Houston at Gold Star Studios for International Artists in 1968 and scored a national hit, "Hot Smoke & Sasafrass." International Artists also signed another band—the 13th Floor Elevators. Formed in Austin in 1965, the 13th Floor Elevators commanded a devoted local following and created a potent combination when they added vocalist Roky Erickson to the lineup. His song "You're Gonna Miss Me" became a hit; it was from their 1966 album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. A second LP, Easter Everywhere (1967), also had a strong showing. Musicologists have heralded Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators as pioneers of acid rock, but their overt drug use, also a trademark of the psychedelic culture, took its toll on the band and especially Erickson. Convicted twice for drug possession, Erickson opted for a sentence to the Rusk State Hospital over state prison in 1969. During his incarceration he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and treated with various drug therapies and electroshock. He was never the same after his release in 1972, and took years to return to some semblance of musical coherence. But in the 2000s, on medication for his schizophrenia, Erickson made a comeback. In 2005 he played his first full-length concert in two decades at the Austin City Limits Festival. Many performances have followed, including debuts in New York and London.
Janis Joplin, another innovator and ultimately victim of the psychedelic counterculture, burst on the rock-and-roll scene in the mid-1960s. Born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, she moved to San Francisco and joined the band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her electrifying rendition of the song "Ball and Chain," which had also been recorded by one of Joplin's musical mentors, Big Mama Thornton, at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 immediately earned her and the band national acclaim. Rock critics praised Joplin as the greatest white blues singer, but an accidental heroine overdose ended her life on October 4, 1970. Her posthumous single "Me and Bobby McGee," penned by Texan Kris Kristofferson, reached Number 1 on the charts.
The 1960s and early 1970s saw many Texas-born musicians earning musical names for themselves outside of the state. The impressive list includes Billy Preston, who was born in Houston, Sylvester "Sly Stone" Stewart of Dallas, who performed in Sly and the Family Stone, and Houston native Johnny Nash, whose catchy "I Can See Clearly Now" reached Number 1 in 1972. Mason Williams of Abilene won a Grammy for his pop instrumental guitar hit "Classical Gas" in 1968. Houston's Kenny Rogers and his pop group First Edition had a hit with "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In." Dallas-born Stephen Stills found fame in the late 1960s in California as a member of Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
The 1970s ushered in the radio-popular genre of soft rock, with smoothly crafted, tight songs that inspired the term "California Sound." Notable Texans helped influence the California Sound. Seals and Crofts was one of the most popular mellow rock acts of the 1970s. Jim Seals, born in Sidney, Texas, and Dash Crofts of Cisco, played as teenagers with rockabilly star Dean Beard and the Crew Cats in the late 1950s. The two, along with Beard, moved to Los Angeles and joined the Champs, who had the instrumental hit "Tequila" in 1958. Eventually playing together as an acoustic duo, they hit it big with their song "Summer Breeze" in 1972. Seals's brother Dan, who performed with John Colley in the Dallas psychedelic group Southwest F.O.B., achieved his own fame with Colley in the duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. Dan Seals died on March 25, 2009.
The Eagles, a hugely successful group of the 1970s, owe a lot of their success to two Texans. Drummer–vocalist Don Henley was born in Gilmer and played in a hometown band called Shiloh, before the group moved to California in 1969. Henley was one of the founding members of the Eagles in 1971, and his songwriting and distinctive voice helped propel the group to fame. Henley, as a member of the Eagles, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Eagle associate J. D. Souther of Amarillo played in the Cinders, a Panhandle band of the early 1960s, before heading West. Souther wrote some of the Eagles' most memorable songs, such as "New Kid in Town" and "Best of My Love," and later recorded a hit of his own, "You're Only Lonely."
In the early 1970s the hard-edged sounds of rock and blues were still alive and well with Texas musicians. Brothers Johnny and Edgar Winter grew up in the Beaumont area and listened to the records of blues masters like Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker. Johnny attracted a massive audience with the release of Johnny Winter (1969), which showcased blues–rock guitar prowess, including a considerable penchant for slide guitar. Winter has established himself among aspiring guitarists as one of the modern blues greats. Brother Edgar achieved success as a keyboardist. Edgar's part jazzy, part rhythm-and-blues tunes earned him respect as an amazing multi-instrumentalist (he also played saxophone) and vocalist.
The early 1970s saw prolific output from a band formed in Fort Worth, Bloodrock, which issued six albums from 1970 to 1973. Their second LP, Bloodrock 2, earned a Gold Record Award and included a popular single, the morbid "D.O.A." Fort Worth guitarist and vocalist John Nitzinger, though not a formal member of the group, contributed some of Bloodrock's songs.
The band ZZ Top became the Lone Star State's most successful rock act of the 1970s. This threesome emerged from the ashes of the Texas psychedelic scene. Drummer Frank Beard and bassist Dusty Hill had played in the American Blues in Dallas, and guitarist Billy Gibbons performed in the noteworthy Moving Sidewalks in Houston. Evidently he had turned heads, because Jimi Hendrix, while appearing on the Tonight Show, had praised Gibbons as the next hot young guitarist. Gibbons, Beard, and Hill came together in Houston in 1970 (after Gibbons had replaced two previous band members). They built a strong following with their touring and Southern-influenced, guitar-driven rock. Their third album, Tres Hombres (1973), went platinum on the strength of the hit "La Grange." Throughout the following decades, ZZ Top's continued popularity with releases such as their best-selling Eliminator (1983) attested to the band's popular appeal and staying power. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
In the early 1970s Texas gave birth to a distinctive and unusual blending of country music and urban blues and rock that resulted in a hybrid style known variously as redneck rock or progressive country. The redneck rock movement began in Austin as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and a group of country and rocker songwriters congregated to create a burgeoning music scene. Nelson had rejected the slick commercial environment of Nashville and returned to his native Texas. The redneck rock movement inspired enthusiasm from both native Texans and Northern transplants in search of its laid-back, open-minded attitude. Rock and country musicians Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore formed the Flatlanders in rock's root town of Lubbock before each eventually moved to the Central Texas area.
Jerry Jeff Walker, B. W. Stevenson, and Michael Martin Murphey were three singer–songwriters who symbolized the redneck rock movement and garnered acclaim with big crossover hits. Walker, a transplanted Texan, penned "Mr. Bojangles," and the tune became a major radio hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1971. The big voice of Dallas native B. W. Stevenson belted out "My Maria," which went to Number 9 in 1973. Michael Martin Murphey's "Wild Fire" was a huge hit that went to Number 3 on the charts in 1975. The outgrowth of this flourishing Austin redneck rock scene also led to the creation of the syndicated public television program Austin City Limits, which brought numerous Texas country, blues, and rock musicians to a national audience.
The mid-to-late 1970s continued the tradition of Texan musicians gaining national and international fame. Players who had headed west in the 1960s included Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs, high school classmates in Dallas. During the 1970s each went on to success. Dallas native Marvin Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, scored national hits with his musical theatrical flair, and his Bat Out of Hell (1977) became one of rock's biggest-selling albums.
The 1980s ushered in the national fame of Christopher Cross. Formed by San Antonio native Chris Geppert and consisting of some notable Austin-based musicians, Christopher Cross swept the Grammys with five awards, which included Best New Artist, Album of the Year—Christopher Cross (1980)—and three awards for the hit single "Sailing." The crisp recording and production of the songs earned Christopher Cross a place as one of pop music's biggest acts in the early 1980s. He also won an Oscar for Best Original Song, "Arthur's Theme" for the movie Arthur (1981).
The emergence of punk music and its mellower cousin new wave claimed its roots in the psychedelic bands of the 1960s, most notably Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators. Other musicians also adopted styles tinged with Tex-Mex nuances that harkened back to the influences of the Sir Douglas Quintet and Question Mark and the Mysterians. By the early 1980s punk bands performed throughout the state. The Judy's of Houston achieved moderate success. Dallas contributed acts like the Nervebreakers, and Austin spawned the Big Boys and the Next. Austin-based musicians such as Joe Ely toured as the opener for the Clash, and Joe "King" Carrasco's high energy, Tex-Mex–flavored "nuevo wavo" was a perennial draw on the club circuit. One of the early punk Texas bands that has shown staying power is the Butthole Surfers. Trinity University students Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary formed the group in San Antonio in the early 1980s. Their screeching sounds and societal satire have evoked shock and loathing in some, but have also inspired a devoted cult following for three decades.
Pop bands such as Timbuk 3 and Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians had their day in the sun in the mid-to-late 1980s. Timbuk 3's husband and wife duo, Pat and Barbara MacDonald, who had moved to Austin, wrote the very catchy "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" in 1986. The New Bohemians were an established band playing in Deep Ellum when they added art student and singer Edie Brickell in 1985. A revamped lineup signed with Geffen Records and released their debut, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars (1989), which included the hit "What I Am." Brickell's airy vocal style and the band's hippie harkening image caught the public eye for a time. Both Timbuk 3 and Edie Brickell and New Bohemians were destined to be relegated to one-hit wonder status.
The 1980s saw the increasing recognition of the skill and versatility of a new generation of Texas guitarists. Numerous awards and polls in guitar magazines have heralded Austinite Eric Johnson as one of the technically best guitarists. He first turned heads as a member of the Austin jazz fusion group the Electromagnets, which featured founder Bill Maddox, Stephen Barber, and Kyle Brock, in the mid-1970s. Word of Johnson's virtuosity continued to build as he worked as a session player for the likes of Carole King, Cat Stevens, and Christopher Cross. His first solo album, Tones, came out in 1986, followed by Ah Via Musicom in 1990.
Van Wilks is another formidable guitar player in the Central Texas area. Listeners have often compared the blues rock master to ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, and he has toured with ZZ Top. Wilks released the album Bombay Tears in 1980 to critical acclaim. He and his band have also been the winners of many newspaper polls in recognition of their popular hard-rock style. Van Wilks and Eric Johnson teamed up in a memorable guitar duo performance of "What Child Is This" for the Texas Christmas Collection (1982).
The Vaughan brothers, Jimmie and Stevie, finally earned their long-sought national attention in the 1980s. Born in the Dallas area, the brothers had moved to Austin by the 1970s. Guitarist Jimmie Vaughan hit it big in the Austin-based blues group the Fabulous Thunderbirds, whose songs "Tuff Enuff" and "Wrap It Up" became national hits and featured videos on MTV in 1986. Jimmie's younger brother Stevie and his band, Double Trouble, stormed the blues rock scene with their release of Texas Flood (1983) and Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984). Both brothers had performed and collaborated at various times with songwriter/drummer Doyle Bramhall, who co-wrote several songs for Stevie and played drums on the Vaughan brothers’ Family Style (1990). Musicians recognized Stevie Ray Vaughan as one of the great new guitarists. Vaughan, standing on the shoulders of the old Deep Ellum blues greats, influenced countless young players, and many guitar magazines and instructional books have analyzed his use of heavy-gauge strings and tuning to achieve his distinctively fat sound. His tragic death in a helicopter crash in 1990 cut short a remarkable music career.
Two years later the rhythm section of Double Trouble, bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton, teamed with Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II in Austin to form the Arc Angels. Arc was taken from the initials of the Austin Rehearsal Center. What began as a musical outlet for the members soon erupted into media labels of "supergroup." Their debut album on Geffen Records and live shows quickly attracted national exposure, but the group fell apart in 1994. At South by Southwest in 2009, the Arc Angels reunited to record and perform once more. That year they opened for Eric Clapton on his European tour.
One of the biggest Texas acts of the 1990s consisted of legendary veteran rockers Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, and conjunto accordionist Flaco Jiménez. The supergroup the Texas Tornados released its eponymous debut album with Warner Brothers in 1990. Once again the musicians relied heavily on their Texan-influenced roots, combining Tex-Mex conjunto rhythms with catchy lyric and melody hooks that had crossover appeal in the rock world. Throughout much of the 1990s the group toured nationally and internationally and was ready to embark on a new journey when Doug Sahm died on November 18, 1999. Sahm's career epitomizes Texas rock-and-roll, a meeting of cultures that borrows from the black blues greats, border-flavored Tex-Mex, and Texas cowboy and folk music, with some doo-wop thrown in. Freddy Fender, who had started his career as a young rocker in the late 1950s, died on November 17, 2007. The Texas Tornados found new life in the 2000s, however, as Sahm’s son Shawn joined forces with Meyers, Jiménez, and several original sidemen (including Louie Ortega on guitar, Speedy Sparks on bass, and Ernie Durawa on drums) to form a new incarnation of the band. They released ¡Está Bueno! in 2010.
The significant influence shown by notable rock pioneer Roky Erickson was honored in the 1990 Warner Brothers release of Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, on which various rockers recorded his songs. Another noteworthy tribute album resulted in an unlikely, but compelling combination. Twisted Willie (1996) was a compilation of Willie Nelson's songs as performed by some of the nation's top grunge bands. The alternative rock scene of Seattle in the early 1990s nodded to the legacy of the Texas Outlaw, redneck rocker Willie Nelson.
Fort Worth provided its own alternative grunge offering in the Toadies. Formed in 1989, the band gained considerable exposure with its extensive touring in the 1990s, opening for White Zombie, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bush, and other well-known acts. They broke up in 2001 but reunited for shows in 2006 and 2007 and released their album No Deliverance in 2008 and Feeler in 2010.
The rise of female singer–songwriters in the rock industry in the mid-1990s also featured a Texas-born artist whose unlikely commercial path led to stardom. Dallas native Lisa Loeb secured a place in music history for achieving the first-ever Number 1 hit single without having a record deal. In 1994 her song "Stay," which was featured on the soundtrack of the film Reality Bites, bulleted up the charts. Subsequently, Loeb signed with Geffen and later participated as a featured artist on the Lilith Fair tour promoting female musicians in 1997.
The Central Texas band Sixpence None the Richer entered the music scene in the 1990s. After several years of obscurity, they finally got national recognition with their hit "Kiss Me" in 1999. After the release of their second album Divine Discontent in 2002, the group disbanded in 2004 but reunited in 2007.
Throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, heavy metal bands (and their various subgenres such as death metal or thrash metal) have flourished in the Lone Star State. Arlington's group Pantera actually formed in the early 1980s but, after building an impressive following through several album releases and tours, came into their own in the 1990s. Their formidable album Far Beyond Driven entered the U.S. and U.K. charts at number one in 1994, and releases and tours throughout the 1990s cemented the Texas group as a worldwide force. Other listeners, perhaps not familiar with thrash metal's blazing tempo and heavy atonal guitar riffs, got a taste of Pantera's style when the group wrote a brief metal theme song for the NHL team the Dallas Stars during their Stanley Cup season in 1999. The band broke up in 2003. Tragically, founding member and lead guitarist "Dimebag Darrell" (Darrell Lance Abbott) was shot and killed while playing onstage with his band Damageplan on December 8, 2004.
King's X, a band based in Houston, garnered critical acclaim for its interesting and intricate blend of vocal harmonies, progressive rock elements, and metal tendencies. Their often spiritual and introspective lyrics for their early releases led some to classify them in the genre of Christian rock, as evidenced in their successful LP Faith, Hope and Love (1990), a label that the band itself has opposed. They continued to tour and release works through 2009.
The hard-hitting rock band The Union Underground formed in San Antonio in 1996. By 1999 they signed with a subsidiary of Columbia Records, and their debut, An Education in Rebellion (2000), earned praise from critics as some of the best heavy metal of the day. Their recording and performance of "Across the Nation," the theme song for World Wrestling Entertainment's RAW show from 2002 through 2006, brought the group to an even larger worldwide audience, though they broke up not long after its release.
Another metal splash occurred for the Dallas quartet Drowning Pool in 2001. The group formed in the late 1990s and toured with alternative metal bands Sevendust and Kittie while peddling their demos. Eventually they signed to a major label, and the group's debut album, Sinner (2001), went platinum on the strength of the breakout single "Bodies." The band rode the wave of stardom as a major stage act on the Ozzfest tour, but suffered a great setback with the sudden death of singer Dave Williams in August 2002. The band continued to tour and record, however, and had issued three albums, each with different lead vocalists, through 2007. They released a live album, Loudest Common Denominator, in 2009.
In the 2000s Texas rock remained a powerful force in the music industry. The late King Curtis (born Curtis Ousley) of Fort Worth was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of rock's most talented and influential sidemen. He played tenor sax on recordings by the Coasters, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, John Lennon, and countless others.
Texas musical groups and solo artists that emerged in the 2000s covered a broad spectrum of genres as well as cultural influences. Los Lonely Boys consists of brothers Henry, Jojo, and Ringo Garza of San Angelo. Their music, named "Texican Rock and Roll," draws from an amalgamation of rock-and-roll, blues, country, and conjunto. Their debut single "Heaven" in 2004 was a Top 40 hit and reached the top of the Billboard adult contemporary chart. It won a Grammy in 2005 for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
Black Angels, a heavy psych group from Austin, originated in 2004 and represented a new generation of rockers influenced by early Texas psychedelic bands such as Red Krayola and the 13th Floor Elevators. The proverbial students teamed with the master, so to speak, when the Black Angels performed with Roky Erickson in 2008.
The Wichita Falls band Bowling for Soup, considered pop punk, produced a Billboard Top 40 hit with their song "1985" in 2004.
The television sensation American Idol discovered a dynamic performer from Fort Worth in its first-season winner, Kelly Clarkson, in 2002. Lauded for her powerful voice, Clarkson won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2005. The singer had released five albums by 2012. Her fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, debuted at Number 1, and her single, "My Life Would Suck Without You" quickly reached Number 1 both in the United States and United Kingdom.
The Simpson sisters, Jessica and Ashlee, both achieved considerable recognition in the pop world. Jessica Simpson of Abilene was a pop star and actress in the early 2000s, though in 2008 she delved into country music. Her younger sister Ashlee, born in Waco, won the Billboard Award for New Female Artist of the Year in 2004.
Annie Clark, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who grew up in Dallas, received critical acclaim after the release of her debut album Marry Me in 2007. The musician, who performs under the name St. Vincent, won the PLUG Independent Music Female Artist of the Year award in 2008 and released her second album, Actor, worldwide in 2009. Her third album, Strange Mercy, hit Number 19 on the Billboard 200 in 2011.
Mars Volta was formed in 2001 in El Paso by Omar Rodríguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The group's fusion of progressive rock, jazz, punk, and Salsa attracted attention in the rock world. They won an ASCAP Vanguard Award in 2004 and have toured with System of a Down and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Rolling Stone proclaimed them 2008's Best Prog-Rock Band, and that same year their fourth album The Bedlam of Goliath debuted at Number 3 on the Billboard 200. Mars Volta won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance in 2009 for their song "Wax Simulacra."
Texas rock-and-roll at the dawn of the new millennium continued to bring both veteran favorites and fresh faces, all classified under the broad umbrella of rock music. Veteran musician Delbert McClinton still toured heavily. Guitarists Eric Johnson, Jimmie Vaughan, and Van Wilks, as well their inspired protégés such as brothers Charlie and Will Sexton, participated in a vibrant scene. The Flatlanders, Ely, Hancock, and Gilmore, performed together again in 2002 and still occasionally toured in 2011, and ZZ Top still appeared before packed audiences worldwide. The strength of Texas rock-and-roll also lies in the many regional and road bands playing at venues across the state. With the proliferation of home recording studios and the marketing exposure of the Internet, Texas rock-and-roll bands have increasing opportunities to present their music to new audiences.
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