- The Texas Troubadours: A Singing, Songwriting Tradition
The Texas Troubadours: A Singing, Songwriting Tradition
By Taryn Plater
Born in Crisp, Texas in 1914, Ernest Tubb was the original Texas Troubadour – the namesake for a new folk supergroup comprised of Ruthie Foster, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Carrie Rodriguez. As a musician in the southern states and pioneer of early country western music (known at the time as “Old Timey Music”), Tubb inevitably participated in the age-old practice of sharing ideas and swapping songs with other musicians.
It is this tradition of collaboration that still defines the music of Texas.
Even before Tubb’s time, musicians were brushing shoulders in certain historic venues across the Lone Star State. Many of the locales that were known as hotbeds for musical innovation in the early 20th century are still important today, and some new influential stages have cropped up too.
Threadgill’s Filling Station and Beer Joint
Opened in 1933, Threadgill’s was essential in shaping Austin’s music scene. It was a popular destination for musicians grabbing a drink after a show, and was where Janis Joplin got her start. By the 60s, Threadgill’s was a favourite of hippies, beatniks, and folk/country fans alike. It was a place where vastly different groups of people crossed paths and absorbed diverse music styles.
Texas Star Inn
Now operating as a BBQ joint, the Texas Star Inn has seen its share of definitive live music acts since its opening in 1946. In addition to hosting a who’s who of classic country, it attracted local talent and gave upcoming songwriters the chance to jam with some of the greats. The inn’s neon sign, visible from the Bandera highway in Leon Valley, TX, is still a landmark and symbol of the area’s rich musical history.
Gold Star/SugarHill Studio
Established in 1941, Gold Star Studio (né Quinn’s Recording) was the first in Houston, and launched the careers of countless Texas singer songwriters, including Lightnin’ Hopkins, George Jones, and Willie Nelson. Originally focused on Texas blues, Quinn’s clients over the decades spanned blues, country, gospel, R&B, and rock. This piece of Texas musical history is still operational today, now under the name SugarHill Studios.
Devil’s Backbone Tavern
Established in 1932 in Comal County, TX, the Devil’s Backbone draws visitors both for its live music and ghost stories. Always a popular spot for live bands and dancing (a dancehall was added in 1950), the Devil’s Backbone is still open, hosting meetings between local songwriters as well as weekly jam sessions.
Austin City Limits
The Austin City Limits festival was started in 1976 with the mission of celebrating the music of Texas. Now broadcasted all over American and beyond, ACL is both a valuable platform and a rite of passage for singer songwriters. Ruthie, Carrie, Jimmie, and Jimmie’s band The Flatlanders have all been featured on the ACL stage.
Inspired by exceptionally diverse musical genres, from ranchera music to the blues, Foster, Gilmore, and Rodriguez’s collaboration is a modern-day example of Texas’ collaborative musical tradition, and a strong re-imagining of what the original Texas Troubadours were all about.
Styles have evolved since the time of the original collective, but excellent songs, distinct voices, and a spirit of collaboration still define the rich musical landscape of the Lone Star State.
“My songs are about life and living. Sometimes I’ll use someone else’s experience and write something from that and what that means to me. I’ve often written songs that mean one thing to me and someone interprets that song as something totally different. … If that’s what makes someone feel better and helps them to understand what the song means to them, then that’s fine. I just write from my own experiences, and I borrow other people’s lives, and put that to music too.”Ruthie Foster (Austin City Limits, 2015)
About the author
Taryn Plater is in her second year working as Marketing & Communications Assistant at the Chan Centre. She pursuing a double major in Music and Linguistics at UBC, as well as a Master of Management, and is passionate about expanding the role of the performing arts in our society.
The Texas Troubadours perform at the Chan Center on Wednesday November 8, 2017 at 8pm.