CHARLEY CROCKETT FROM WACO TO THE ALAMO
“The man from Waco/ it was there that he shot her while the lovers were embraced/ with the bullet he intended for the man who took his place/ he cried through the night as he made his escape/ but the rain that was falling could not wash away his shame/ the man from Waco.” - The Man From Waco - Bruce Robison-Charley Crockett-Kullen Fuchs-Taylor Grace.
When Texan troubadour Charley Crockett was forced to cancel his 2019 Australian tour it wasn't a shooting in a bar that derailed him.
Charley, 38, cancelled his tour with West Virginian singer-songwriter Sierra Ferrell after he suffered a hernia and had quadruple open heart by-pass surgery.
“It probably took me two years to fully recover from it,” Charley told Tamworth Country Music Capital News and Nu Country TV on the eve of his belated Australian tour.
Crockett's recovery was aided by mentor Willie Nelson's herb superb.
“Oh, man, the Red Headed Stranger came in and saved the day,” Charley explained.
This time Crockett will be fit and firing when he opens at Sydney Factory Theatre on March 1 and plays Tivoli, Brisbane, on March 2, Mt Duneed near Geelong March 4 and Northcote Theatre on March 5.
Charley is touring here with photographer-songwriting partner Taylor Grace and his Blue Drifters Band.
It's the latest chapter in a long journey that began when Crockett and his siblings were raised by their single mother in a Texas trailer park in Los Fresnos.
Charley's mum bought him his first pawn shop guitar when he was 17 but now the singer-songwriter and his Blue Drifters have a vast galaxy of guitars.
Crockett is touring to promote his 12 albums including latest - The Man From Waco - featuring 14 of his original songs recorded with his Blue Drifters and fellow Texan Bruce Robison at Bruce's studio in Lockhart, Texas.
Charley hails from San Benito in South Texas and releases his albums on his Son Of Davy record label that takes its name from his famed Alamo ancestor Davy.
The Man From Waco title track came to Crockett as he and his band rode through Waco late one night on tour.
“We were driving over the Brazos River and started talking about a guy named James Hand who passed away in the pandemic,” Charley revealed.
“One of the guys was playing accordion and I started singing a melody, and over time what started as a joke song turned into a whole saga. It's not a true story, it's a work of fiction. I didn't write it about James Hand but we used to call him the man from Waco. It started out as a term of endearment. Later it became a very serious western ballad. I was very much influenced by Bob Dylan's records he made in Nashville in the late sixties like John Wesley Harding.”
Waco singer Hand inspired his 2021 tribute album 10 for Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand.
Crockett admits the song shares a theme with gun fights by another Waco warrior - the late Billy Joe Shaver who died at 81 on October 28, 2020, after touring here with singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman.
“I didn't realise they also called Billy Joe the man from Waco. Now that I have the record out a lot of people have tied the album to Billy Joe Shaver in a way that I hadn't anticipated. I kind of like that. James Hand inspired the name but Billy Joe Shaver would have been more likely to live out that story.”
Crockett and Sydney touring partners Caitlin Harnett and The Pony Boys follow his Texan peers Robison and Willie Nelson, now 89, on Australian sojourns after the pandemic.
Charley confessed he found solace when homeless in locales diverse as California, Paris, Spain and Morocco by listening to Willie songs such as Face of A Fighter and Home Motel .
“I'm still homeless, I lived as a transient for seven or eight years,” Crockett explained.
Ironically, Charley was listening to a Willie Nelson Greatest Hits album in his car when he was arrested by police for drug possession in south-west Virginia in 2014.
Crockett proved to the cops he was a country singer by pulling out his guitar and singing apt Willie classic The Party Is Over.
“I was listening to Bloody Mary Morning when I got pulled over by this state police officer,” Crockett revealed.
“I was in jail for about 30 days before I got out. I was busted several times but that was the worst and last one.”
Crockett has since played Willie's July 4 picnics and toured on his Outlaw Music Festivals.
“Willie called me out of the blue about a year ago and asked me to play shows with him. It turned out I didn't have anything else going on then I ended up hooking up with his agent and worked with him for the last year or so. I had listened to his Red Headed Stranger.”
Crockett honoured Bob Dylan by updating his 1973 album title track Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid to new song Tom Turkey.
Charley features many Lone Star State songs on The Man From Waco including Trinity River, Odessa, All The Way From Atlanta and Horse Thief Mesa.
ODESSA MEMORIES REBORN
“I've got Odessa on my mind, I stay worried all the time/ wish I didn't hurt so much but I don't have that kind of luck/ it's a low down dirty shame now I can't even hear her name/ so I'm selling off my pride with Odessa on my mind/ I've got Odessa in my head, I think I like to wake up dead/ then I'd finally take my rest and get this weight up off my chest.” Odessa - Charley Crockett.
“Odessa was based on an experience I had in the city of West Texas by the name of Odessa,” Charley explained.
“We were broken down in a rough isolated part of town for days. I was really stranded. We were supposed to be in Amarillo. I decided that if I was going to lose out on all that money I might as well get a song out of it. I turned it into a song about a woman I was missing or longing for.”
Odessa was also home of Barbara Bush - wife of one president and mother of another.
“I can't say I was ever romantically involved with Barbara Bush,” Charley quipped.
Crockett shared songwriting credits with Bob Dylan on Tom Turkey he updated from the title track of Dylan's 1973 album Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid.
“It ties into this album because Billy the Kid was on the run too” Charley explained.
“I've always been fascinated by his story, a young guy with some bad luck who was dead by 21.”
Crockett released autobiographical song I'm Just A Clown as the album's first single.
“As a person who's lived many lives and spent some time on the street, I know what it's like to be the clown, the drifter, all those things,” he added and explained the source of murder ballad July Jackson .
“I wanted to tell a story where a woman takes the law into her own hands, because obviously society wouldn't hold the man in her life accountable for what he's done.”
Crockett added the late Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Waylon Jennings, who all toured Australia, among his very much alive mentors Willie and Bob Dylan.
“I really admired their more obscure stuff like Townes Van Zandt's Turnstyled Junkpiled and the life Waylon and Willie led was more interesting to me as I have always been out there on the highways as a rambler, gambler. I know what it takes in the hard living that is behind the songs that I write. I'm more interested in the rough sketches. The best songs Townes ever wrote were Tecumseh Valley or maybe Mister Mud - Mister Gold .”
“Trinity River, such a dirty little river/ but that don't bother me/ dirty little river sure to get me clean/ Trinity River and it flows because I cry/ sure to keep me honest with everybody telling lies/ damp scent of evening hung everywhere/ and gamblers turn they cards/ drinking on that whiskey hard.” - Trinity River - Charley Crockett.
Crockett elaborated on sources of another Lone Star State song Trinity River.
“ Trinity River was inspired entirely by the Trinity River that runs through Texas just north-west of Dallas-Fort Worth,” Charley explained.
“The west side runs through Fort Worth and the east side runs through Dallas. The gig I'm playing at tonight backs up to the levee of the Trinity River. I wrote that song sitting on a small bridge over the Trinity River between the levees looking at the Dallas skyline. Many years ago I wrote that song and re-recorded it for The Man From Waco because I felt that it was due time to give it a fresh look. Jim Jarmusch's film The Dead Man was a primary influence for the Man From Waco as a concept album as a whole. Southside Ballroom the venue I'm playing tonight. If you grew up in Texas it's more famously known as the Old Gilley's - the honky tonk in Pasadena outside Houston, Texas. It's a really large honky tonk here in South Dallas.”
Equally accessible was All The Way From Atlanta .
“ All The Way From Atlanta was just an idea I had in The Man From Waco story,” Charley recalled.
“I heard that phrase somewhere and it stuck in my mind all the way to Atlanta. I wrote it down. I learned that song from the way James Hand used to do it on a stage in Memphis on Beale Street there several years ago. He performed it one night. His rendition struck me so deep that I want back to my motel that night and stayed up until the sunrise and learned it and played it every night for years after that. I think That's The Way I Got To Memphis was one of the greatest songs ever written – one of the greatest story telling songs you could hope to write. All The Way To Atlanta is me trying to put forward by best effort to get something in there.”
HORSE THIEF MESA
“I'm going up on Horse Thief Mesa/ I'm going up on Garrapata Ridge/ I'm going up in to the canyon/ I'm taking with me reckless abandon/ lost all I had and I can't stand it/ Horse Thief Mesa/ I wasn't always seeking vengeance/ counted in a class of desperate men/ I once lived in a peaceful valley/ now I'm hiding my face in an alley/ I'm up here looking for a grand finale on Horse Thief Mesa.” - Horse Thief Mesa - Charley Crockett.
Crockett crossed the border into New Mexico to create Horse Thief Mesa.
“ Horse Thief Mesa is a real place so is Garrapata Ridge,” Charley explained.
The same locale inspired Time Of The Cottonwood Trees .
“ Time Of The Cottonwood Trees I wrote right there in that same spot parked just a few hundred yards off the Rio Grande River north towards the Monte Cristo Mountains,” Crockett revealed.
“It's a term the native Americans use to describe the era we live in this world. They refer to it as the Time Of The Cottonwood Trees - those pretty valleys where the farms are cotton. I wrote that song about my baby - my girlfriend Taylor Grace. I don't think any artist is writing fiction even when they say they are. I wrote those songs about what I wanted to add to the man's story. Those songs wouldn't have been written if I hadn't been thinking of The Man From Waco as a broader concept once I had them recorded.”
Charley has many reasons to bring Taylor and his Blue Drifters down under.
“Taylor has a really good eye even though she doesn't use photography as her profession on camera,” Crockett added.
“She's so good at capturing my true nature, taking candid photos of me on her I-Phone. The Blue Drifters are coming to Australia too. I wouldn't think of being caught red-handed without those boys. Taylor's my girlfriend but I want to change that.”
So, do the couple have children?
“No, just my guitars and my songs,” he confessed.
“I'd like to chat with you when we meet up some time in Australia.”