Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sounds of freedom, raining over the black lands

The world can go to hell; I am going to Tokio. – Al Cinek

Tokio Store – Somewhere, there is a place where men have a serious interest in the lyrical quality of their picking, where they want to bring a vocal ring to their guitar.

It's a place where they discuss such items as which guitarist from the blacklands of the Texas prairie influenced which star – who stole what from whom – where that style wound up – and which tunes on what labels carried them on to fame.

It's not an untypical conversation in terms of Sunday afternoons in jazz clubs, blues joints, folk music haunts or rock and roll halls. Pickers, shouters, drummers and bass men gather on Sundays from coast to coast, jam to their heart's content, and the fans who come to dig the sounds have serious afficion for the mano a mano that inevitably happens whenever these men of the road settle in for a serious work-out.

The place is a little patio beside a a store that has been in business since 1858 selling cold beer, good country music, and a driving beat.

A place to dance on weathered board flooring, whistle, clap, jump, stomp, scream and shout.

Tokio Store.

A guitar-pulling, Sunday style. Yes.

And that's when a small combo tunes up, strikes the first chord, and the smooth baritone of a father-son duo like David and Butch Giddens, a veteran singer who can make like Lefty Frizzell or Merle Haggard at the drop a hat, backed by his son on Stratocaster, while Casey Kelley and lead picker David Doran “second” on an old song off the “190 Proof” album, “Think I'll Just Stay Here And Drink.” Syncopated two-stepping beat, lots of picking that cries and tugs at the heart. Yes. The vocals, alternated with Casey Kelley's, sounds like they are coming clear and sweet out of the bell of a golden horn.

That's right. Yes, sir.

Mr. Haggard never did it better, and the sentiment is still the same. “My mind ain't nothin' but a total blank – think I'll just stay here and drink...” Those lyrics just lay up beside the beat, the melody, the voicings. Cooks.

They then swung into Mr. Billy Joe Shaver's “Honky Tonk Heroes;” thence to “It's another hot day in Texas;” “It takes foldin' money;” and Townes Van Zandt's classic, “Pancho & Lefty.”

Looking out at the much-needed driving rain storm sweeping through the deep creek bottom at the corner of “Old Railroad Road” and “Tokio Road,” one gets the idea it's not the first time the old place – established in 1858, as mentioned previously – has heard the folks getting loud.

Won't be the last.

Said David Doran, a picker with a white boy blues style smooth as silk, of a legendary teacher named Kenny Frazier, “He taught me things that, even now, come back to me at the oddest moments - stuff I'd totally forgotten.

“He would always listen, then he'd play it his way, and say, 'Get more lyrical with it.'”

He and Mr. Giddens, Casey Kelley, and an interlocutor have been discussing vocal stylings and brining the cry of the country voice into the lyrics of the guitar.

They mention legendary names like Hank Thompson and Lefty Frizzell, finish their brew, snuff out their smokes and get right back at it as the personnel in the jam changes, rearranges, and changes again.

Then there is talk of who wrote what and who gets to “put it out there” by consent of the writer – the sweetest recognition of all.

Casey Kelley had done a haunting ballad the night before at Papa Joe's in Lorena, a road house on I-35, something about a killing over a huge diamond ring - something it would take two years' work to buy - on a strange woman's hand, someone who wound up in the wrong place and got killed for her mistake. That's the beginning and middle of the story. Then there's the end, which is just as filled with horror.

The narrator's woman, upon whom he bestowed his ill-gotten swag, wears the ring to town and flaunts it. That leads to his arrest and conviction for the killing. As it turns out, the chilling truth is, he's singing ice cold hell from a prison cell he will likely never escape alive.

Silver daggers, the old triangle on the moors and heaths, the prairies and mountains – a little something called outlawry that followed us all over the ocean, through the mountains, and across the rivers - to Texas. Chuck Robinson wrote it, said Casey Kelley could “put it out there” - and there it is.

That's what you call a guitar pulling. Watch these columns for word of more such as this in the future in other locations anywhere - everywhere - up and down America's Main Street.

Sundays at Tokio Store. Worth the price of admission, which is nothing. Burgers, barbecue, cold brew – plenty of parking – and some very serious sounds, served up way out in the country near West, Texas.

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