Rules were broken last night at the 7th Annual Texas Music Showdown in the Stockyards semi-finals competition.
But that’s okay.
It means next Wednesday’s championship at White Elephant Saloon will feature three bands instead of two battling for a top prize that includes studio time, music gear, travel accommodations, etc.
Fort Worth’s Left Arm Tan played first last night, but got off to a ragged start. Frontman Troy Austin’s got some strong pipes but the band seemed lethargic, off kilter, and even uninspired considering it was a competition. By mid-set, however, they summoned the muses and found a shot of adrenaline that carried them to the final song.
Dallas’ Tom Cheatham, on the other hand, came out of the gate strong with “Georgia On A Fast Train” and then segued into several original songs that were equally upbeat and in yo face, sucka. Musicianship-wise, this band was best, but the feeling among the judges was that Left Arm Tan had a more refined sound and crisper vocals.
Judges included myself, Okie troubadour Bo Phillips, and Fort Worth singer songwriter Steve Helms, led loosely by chief judge and master of ceremonial revelry Brett Dillon, morning deejay at KHYI 95.3 “The Range.”
Confession: I’m a Fort Worth native with a “homer” mentality, but I gave the edge to Dallasite Cheatham. His band kicked ass, particularly the lead guitarist. One judge agreed with me, but two judges favored Left Arm Tan. With a split vote, we hunkered down for a debate to determine the winner. Instead, we became a deadlocked, slightly inebriated jury of wafflers.
Dillon zigged instead of zagging and did something he’d never done in seven years of White Elephant band battling — he called a draw. Both bands move to next week’s final against the formidable Rodeo Clown Dropouts.
May the best band win. And may there also be an odd number of judges to avoid a deadlocked decision.
The battle of the bands was fun, but the highlight of my night was meeting Owen “Boomer” Castleman, who just happened to be in the crowd. Talk about a songwriter — this guy’s name is on songs long considered as Texas Music benchmarks. Castleman and Michael Murphey co-wrote “Boy From the Country,” “Five O’clock in the Texas Morning,” and “What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round?”
He’s a killer guitarist and played on Murphey’s monumental recording of “Wildfire.”
Oh yeah, and he co-penned another little ditty that’s become a Cowtown classic — “Fort Worth, I Love You” or as some folks refer to it, “Foat Wuth, Ah Luv You.”
Castleman is also heralded among country-and-western guitarists as the inventor of the palm pedal.
The Nashville veteran recently moved back to Texas and will be making more frequent appearances in these parts with drummer Lois Hess. His next local gig is May 19 at Pop’s Safari.
Castleman is full of great stories, and he told me a funny one involving Murphey in 1963 when they were both teenagers. Murphey was booked as a solo act at the Lewisville Folk Festival but was scheduled to follow an insanely good gospel band that had just brought down the house.
Castleman was backstage talking with Murphey and noticing that his buddy was crumbling.
“‘How am I going to follow that?” Castleman recalled Murphey saying in nervous desperation.
Castleman has always worn sunglasses, and he came up with a novel idea. Murphey donned the sunglasses, and Castleman led him out to the stage as if he were blind. The crowd instantly hushed out of respect, and Murphey won them over with a heartfelt performance. Afterward, Murphey was so excited that he sprinted off stage, forgetting about his blindness, which caused a few dropped jaws and grumbles among the crowd.
I look forward to seeing more of Castleman around these parts.
On the way home, I noticed a brilliant sky dotted by fast moving clouds and a bright moon. It was late when I got home, and my roommate, Hazel, had already put her head down on her pillow and turned in for the night.