When then-President Richard Nixon sat down at the piano on the stage of the Grand Old Opry in 1974, he was reinforcing a conservative, polemical wall of sound to help contain several decades of transformational popular music, from blues and jazz to rock & roll. Music was the last thing on his mind.
At his Grand Old Opry gig, Nixon bragged that White House performances by Merle Haggard and others had been huge successes with his “very sophisticated audiences” because the country singers spoke to “the heart of America.” He was lying, of course. In his diary, Nixon aide Bob Haldeman confessed that the Haggard concert “was pretty much a flop because the audience had no appreciation for country/western music and there wasn’t much rapport.”
Nixon’s tricky fib and Haldeman’s confession are just more evidence of conservative elites’ cynical manipulation of lower middle class whites in the wake of the Civil Rights Act and other transformative rebellions of the 1960s. Nixon had nothing in common with Merle Haggard’s audience. Blueblood George H.W. Bush had nothing in common with Lee Greenwood’s audience when he deployed Greenwood in his 1988 campaign. That didn’t mean they couldn’t pretend.
But it was the middle man of the night, Damon Bramblett, who blew the roof off the Mean Eyed Cat.
One of the greatest living country songwriters, Bramblett has been covered by Kelly Willis, Bruce and Charlie Robison and Sarah Hickman. But no one does his songs quite as memorably as Bramblett himself, who sings them with a straightforward style and a voice as rich as his lyrics.
At the Mean Eyed Cat, he peppered his set of originals and country classics with favorites by the Man in Black, playing artful renditions of Tennessee Flat Top Box, I Walk the Line, and The Home of the Blues. The impeccable drum-style of nationally-known Lisa Pankratz and the sturdy bass of Brad Fordham rounded out Bramblett’s sound.
The bar filled to capacity and eager music fans unable to enter pressed their noses against the windows to watch and listen for as long as they could tolerate the cold. But anyone who wasn’t allowed in (or didn’t make it to the show) can listen to a quality recording at the link above.
Damon Bramblett will play The Mean Eyed Cat again on Wednesday, March 10.
I’ve read that perhaps one in a hundred thousand aspiring screenwriters manage to break into Hollywood. Texas screenwriting partners Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman have beat those daunting odds.
Shipman, a tall, lanky Corpus Christi native, wears signature weathered cowboy boots and emanates an effortless cool. Partying with friends, he often has a cheap beer and a bottle of good whiskey on the table before him.
McGreevy, an adopted Texan originally from Pittsburg, acts as a talkative foil to Shipman. Athletic and an omnivorous reader, he can easily riff on a wide range of topics of interest, from Jungian analysis to Batman.
The two synergistic partners met while students at UT’s Michener Center for Writers. The ultra competitive MFA program, funded by the late James Michener’s generous donation, provides ten writers a year who are accepted with three years of funding to write. Both McGreevy and Shipman graduated from the program in 2007.
While at the Michener Center, Shipman and McGreevy took fiction and screenwriting workshops together and hit it off immediately. The first script that they co-wrote together—Of Every Wickedness—was based on the story of the serial killings of African-American servant girls in the central Austin former slave colony of Clarksville. The murders, which took place from 1884-1885, terrified Clarksville’s residents and prompted the short story writer O’Henry to dub the murderer the “Servant Girl Annihilator.”