Local Live

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Austin Alley , Soulful Troubadour of Humboldt plays Has Beans

Its 5:00 PM on Friday the Thirteenth in Old Town Eureka and you can see the fear in eyes of the people passing you on the street. The CEOs are getting fatter while the rest of us stand in line for unemployment checks, or work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Street corner talkers wonder what their going to do. The sirens wail up the street as the court house employees march along the sidewalk with satchels in hand. Where do you go when the world is in trouble and it gets you down? (Downtown) Me? I choose to escape into a small corner of international flavors and order myself a nice hot beverage from my local barista in Has Beans Café, on the corner of Second and I Street.
A small group of regulars are sitting inside as a slender man with short cropped hair and steely eyes of blue sets up a microphone in front of a stool. Out of his case comes a beautiful amber colored acoustic guitar with what must have been a pick guard, now frayed with play like Willie Nelsons favorite axe. I was in the presence of the infamous Austin Alley, minus the Rustlers. “This should be interesting.”
Austin Alley is a native of Northern California and has played in clubs, festivals, concert openers and private events. He has completed over 100 songs, and continues to flourish. He formed Austin Alley & the Rustlers in 1983 in Eureka, CA with James Raymond on drums and Robin Cobb on bass. Austin recorded "We Are the Rustlers" in 1987. The current lineup, together since 1999, features Bill Moehnke on drums and Norm Crawford on bass. But, today, we were all in for a treat as Austin flew solo.
With very little set up, Austin launched into a Cat Stevens song, “The Wind” ( released 1970 on Tea for the Tillerman), followed almost immediately with an unreleased original of his own from 2006 titled “Pandora”. He sings with a low vibrato that’s a cross between Willie Nelson and David Nelson (NRPS) and picks the guitar like ringing a bell.

“Baby the Rain Must Fall” was set up with a little history. Austin explained about how he heard this song written by Glen Yarbrough when he went to see the film by the same title. Yarbrough left the Limeliters in 1964 and recorded the theme song from the film Baby The Rain Must Fall, which reached US number 12 in 1965 with Steve McQueen as a troube-prone country singer and Lee Remick as his estranged wife.” Steve McQueen has always been a hero to me”, Austin proudly beamed, “He was the King of Cool.”

When Austin was a kid, he watched the most famous variety show just like the rest of us. “At the time, Ed Sullivan had all types of acts, including animal trainers and handlers. So, when I heard that the Beatles were going to be on the show that night, it wasn’t a big deal. Then all of a sudden there is a band on playing a sound I would never forget.”

It was only befitting that he chose to perform “Norwegian Wood” (Rubber Soul, 1965) which he ended with a little tap on his guitar with the palm of his hand. He then played a beautiful ballad; “The Locket” based on his Mother, his Father and the Second World War. Thankfully, Austin’s Dad made it back, unlike the character in the song.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald “a Gordon Lightfoot song, told the saga and the mystery that surrounded an infamous American Great Lakes freighter launched on 8 June 1958. Until the 1970s, she was the largest ship on the Great Lakes. Although it had reported having some difficulties during a gale on Lake Superior, the Fitzgerald sank suddenly on 10 November 1975 in 530 feet (162m) of water without sending any distress signals. “Sweet Whiskey” is another unreleased original from 2006, edgy and rough, yet romantic and inviting, followed by “Wonderful World” (Sachmo aka L. Armstrong, 1968), ”Knight in Rusty Armor” (Peter and Gordon,1967), “Rock-a-bye Sweet Baby James” (James Taylor, 1970), and then another Austin Alley original “Under Your Spell Again”.

One of the audience members called out to him, “I really appreciate hearing you without the band. I think they overshadow your vocals, and that is a shame. You have such a beautiful voice!” A hint of red flushes over his face as he thanks the kind lady for the compliment. Then, just to surprise us all, he does a Led Zeppelin song! “Hangman” is based on an old Blues song called "Gallis Pole," which was popularized by Leadbelly. The song is considered "Traditional," meaning the author is unknown. Jimmy Page got the idea for this after hearing the version by California folk singer Fred Gerlach.. Popularized again on Led Zeppelin 3, 1970, this is the only Led Zeppelin song that features a banjo. With only his trusty guitar, Austin made the strings chime as you imagined the impatience of a man on death row waiting for salvation. To end his show, he played another original, “Just Can’t Get it Right” from his latest release, Country Metal, a collection of hard edged country songs written and performed by our own Austin Alley and the Rustlers. Look for it in stores near you. I had the good fortune to pick up a copy of this when I was interviewing Austin. Of course, the audience wouldn't have it if he didn't play an encore. Aiming to please, Austin whips out a fiery version of the Beatles classic "Hide Your Love Away".
And, now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Austin Alley Interview!

1. What was your first instrument and what convinced you to learn how to play?
It was Guitar and it was seeing The Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan show that made me want to play.
2. Who do you think is the greatest influence on you and your music?
My mother, she got me started. As far as the famous people are concerned, it's probably Hendrix though as much for recording technique and the 3-piece format as anything else.
3. How do you feel about the growing numbers of Rock, Funk and Punk musicians getting on the proverbial Country band wagon?
There has been for 40 years or better a huge influx and turnover of people in the music business in the areas you mention. I'm not aware of it being anything new although I agree the numbers of people trying their hand appears to be growing. The Country Band Wagon? I didn't know there was one. That doesn't mean there isn't one. It just seems to me for every Bonafied Country Band or Act (here in Humboldt anyway) there must be a dozen acts in other categories
.4. If you could play with one person that has passed on, who would it be?
My Mom. I miss her. Ok, you meant someone famous. Keith Moon on drums behind me. That would be a blast. Or Felix Papalardi on bass. Woops! That was two. Sorry.

5. If you could play for one person that is here with us, who would that be?
Depends on what mood I'm in. Today? Willie Nelson. Tomorrow? Who knows?

6. Where is your favorite music venue in Humboldt County?
That's a difficult as well as delicate question. I play for so many venues, I would risk offending all the ones I didn't pick. But let me be honest. The club that I enjoyed playing the most (which is no longer in business) was the Angelina Inn at Fernbridge. I played that club for years and for three different owners. The acoustics were good, the dance floor was great (some thought it was a little small) the stage was band friendly and you weren't in anyone's way. Much fun and great memories.

7. If there was one thing you could change about Humboldt Co., what would it be? That's a tough one. So many of the things that would be candidates for change are the same things that make the subtle differences that make life good here. I'd be afraid of upsetting the balance. Change seems to be slow here be it for better or worse. I guess one thing would be fewer white powder drug abusers and less alcoholism. Less crime.

8. Who is your favorite Artist?
I have a pretty broad range of artists that I consider myself a fan of. How do I pick one? I guess I'll use who I first ever bought a record from as the qualifying criteria. That would be The Who.

9. What do you think about digital recording as opposed to tape?
Digital as opposed to tape recording? Don't get me started.( Just kidding). I definitely like the warmth and honesty of tape. But let's be real. They both have advantages and disadvantages. Tape disintegrates in a few years. But Oh, you can back up your tape recordings by transferring them to some sort of digital media! Right, but now you are back to digital. Although I suppose if the original master was on tape, your digital back up is at least "of" tape.

10. What does the future look like for you and the band?
I don't have a crystal ball. I do know that as long as I am physically able, I will play/perform music for who ever will listen. That's not the answer you wanted was it. Ok, we have bookings going a few months into the future and I have more recording projects in the not too distant future. Some new out of town ventures coming up and we are coming into the wedding season so we like playing those. That's been a staple for years.

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