"Nothin' but the straight and natural blues." This is what you will hear more than once at a Texas Red show. Paul Halperin, better know in blues circles as Texas Red, has had a long and storied blues career and I was fortunate enough to catch his latest live show and conduct this interview (via email) during the month of May 2001.
The Texas Red Band performed May 5, 2001 at the Narrows Blues Saloon in Navarre. Band members were long time cohorts in blues crime: Texas Red (guitar and vocals), Dan Schwalbe (guitar and vocals), Curtis Blake (harmonica and vocals), Jack Taylor (bass) and Greg Shuck (drums). Its hard to get a better group of traditional blues musicians like this together and the results were one of the best "natural blues" shows I've been to in a long time. They only play together every few months so you best not miss their next gig, again at the Narrows, on Saturday, June 30, 2001.
The spirit of Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters was definitely in the room the night of this show. Texas Red is almost a medium for this blues transference. There are no pedals, no frills, no fancy "stuff," just straight ahead, down in the alley blues. From the high register harmonica blowing of Curtis Blake on a Jimmy Reed song, to Red's moaning out a Muddy tune to Dan's inspired guitar playing and the steady rhythm playing of Jack and Greg we were treated to more than 3 hours of music that would satisfy any blues craving.
Curtis was blazing hot all night long and Schwalbe was stunning on the Frankie and Johnnie instrumental. Red featured a new song from his upcoming album called Life In Texas that had an Asleep At The Wheel feel to it. It was non-stop blues fun the whole night.
Ray: Where are you from and when were you born? And what was it like growing up in Texas during the 50s?
TEXAS RED: I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, 1946. Growing up in Texas
in the '50's was pretty much like the 50's as depicted on Ozzie and Harriet.
Ray: How did you first get interested in music? In the Blues? Why the
TEXAS RED: I listened to AM radio growing up, and I went to the neighborhood record
store and listened to 45's. I first got interested in blues when I heard
Jimmy Reed on the radio. The other major factor was my best friend David;
his father was the GM of a radio station that had a nightly R&B show.
Ray: What did you listen to when growing up?
TEXAS RED: The DJ on that nightly R&B show was Scratch Phillips...Scratch turned
David and me on to Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, and ultimately
James Brown. Through high school in the early '60's I was a James Brown
fanatic...also listened to Motown a lot; I couldn't stand surf music.
It was a few years later that I first heard the Robert Johnson
recordings...everybody has a "the first time I heard Robert Johnson" story.
The first time I saw Muddy Waters was at the Vulcan Gas Co. in Austin,
Texas...that was about 1967.
Ray: When did you first start playing the guitar and singing?
TEXAS RED: I started playing when I was about 10...I started singing shortly thereafter.
Ray: Who do you consider your major musical influences?
Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Son House,
B.B. King, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, Howlin' Wolf, Bob Dylan...and many,
Ray: Tell me about your career? When did you start playing professionally?
What bands were you in and when that was, etc.?
TEXAS RED: I started playing for money in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1971...I was playing as a solo and duo. Next I was in a band called the Blues Kings
(1971), then Terraplane (1972), and I formed Texas Red and the Hartbreakers
in 1973. The concept of Texas Red and the Hartbreakers was that it would be
a five-piece (two guitars, harmonica, bass, and drums) band that played
nothing but blues all night long.
Ray: What prompted your move from Texas to Kentucky (was that where you went)?
TEXAS RED: In 1968 I moved from Texas to Los Angeles to work in the movie business, then to Santa Cruz, California, then to Kentucky.
Ray: Where did you go from there?
TEXAS RED: From Kentucky I moved to Arizona, and played music around Arizona for a couple of years in the mid-70's, then I moved back to San Antonio. It was when I moved back to Phoenix from Texas in 1983 that I reformed Texas Red
and the Hartbreakers.
Ray: I see you were inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame in 2000.
Tell me about your time in Arizona and about this honor.
TEXAS RED: According to numerous accounts in the press, Texas Red and the Hartbreakers turned the Phoenix blues scene upside down in the mid-80's.
The band ruled the scene for about three years. On the strength of that
popularity, three of us from the band were inducted into the Hall of Fame
last year. Then in August, 2000, we did a Texas Red and the Hartbreakers
reunion show at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, and the place was sold out all
Ray: Who were some of the blues people you have played with over the years?
TEXAS RED: Texas Red and the Hartbreakers toured nationally with The Robert Cray Band in '85 and '86. We opened shows for a long list of people: B.B. King,
Bo Diddley, John Hammond, The Isley Brothers...and many more.
Ray: Please share some of the interesting stories about some of these
TEXAS RED: I don't really have any interesting stories, except that I've always been impressed by how outgoing, patient, and gracious B.B. King is.
Ray: What is the deal with Lyle Lovett?
TEXAS RED: I've known Lyle for about 15 years, and in 1993, I worked and traveled
with him as his Personal Assistant. On a number of occasions, Lyle has
called me up onstage, often without warning, to play a song. Years ago,
many of the musicians in The Large Band were friends of mine from Phoenix,
so everyone got a kick out of my surprise when I'd get called up out of the
Ray: When and how did you end up in the Twin Cities?
TEXAS RED: I came here from San Francisco in 1989 to work on the Rolling Stones
"Steel Wheels Tour" at the Metrodome with my old friend Dwight Dario
(drummer for The George Jackson Band). Six months later I moved here to do
concert production with Dwight.
Ray: Watching you on stage, I can tell you like what you are doing, do you
have any particular philosophy about how you perform and what you like to
accomplish at your shows?
TEXAS RED: In the days of Texas Red and the Hartbreakers, the plan was to get some
laughs and whip the crowd into a frenzy of uninhibited craziness. Now I'm
happy if the band sounds great, and the audience is moved by the groove.
Ray: Who have you played with in Minnesota? Tell me about your blues music in Minnesota.
TEXAS RED: Part of the plan when I moved here was to play with Blues Deluxe, the band Dwight was playing with in the 80's. Since then, I've played with Mojo
Buford, R.J. Mischo, Dan Schwalbe, Jack Taylor, Greg Shuck, Curtis Blake,
Ted Morgan, Jeremy Johnson, Phil Schmid, Percy Strother, Jeff Hester, Jay
Wilkinson, Tom Burns, Dave Larson, John Franken, Lee Tedrow, John Beach,
Steve Grosshans, John Schroder, Brad Moe, and more.
R.J. Mischo and I did a lot of gigs as a duo, before he moved to San
Francisco. These days I'm playing as a five-piece band under the name Texas
Red with Dan Schwalbe (guitar), Curtis Blake (harmonica), Jack Taylor
(bass), and Greg Shuck (drums).
Ray: How has the blues music business changed since you started out compared to today?
TEXAS RED: There are many, many more blues clubs, blues recordings, blues festivals, and blues fans than there were in 1970. On the other hand, it's
still very difficult to make a living playing blues.
Ray: What are your thoughts about the young blues players making a name for themselves today?
TEXAS RED: In 1972, some friends and I went to the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, and we took along a National Steel Body guitar. Upon arrival on the
festival grounds, some people asked us to hand the guitar to a young, blind boy who was sitting on the ground. He took the guitar, untraditionally fingered the neck over the top, and proceeded to play Robert Johnson note-for-note...we were all in shock...you just never know.
Ray: What is your recording history?
I've recorded in Phoenix a lot. In 1992, I played rhythm guitar on some tracks with Chico Chism, along with some live recordings that I did for a Phoenix radio show. I've recorded here with Blues Deluxe and Rockin 'Daddy and the Rough Cuts.
Ray: Tell me about your current CD (title, label, players, any anecdotes?)
TEXAS RED: As of right now, my only CD is Texas Red, "What Kind of Woman Is That!" on Blue Loon Records. It was released in 1997, and has a long list of great players from the Twin Cities and Phoenix.
Ray: How about the new CD you mentioned you are working on. When will it be ready and what type of material and players will be on it?
TEXAS RED: The new CD, which is now in production, was recorded in March and April of this year. I'm happy to say there are lots of shuffles on the new album. I wrote the majority of the songs on the project, plus there is a handful of
covers. The band is Schwalbe, Blake, Taylor, and Shuck. Since Blue Loon
Records is closing I don't have a label right now, so I'm looking for a new
label, and my goal is to have European distribution and to tour in Europe.
Ray: What is your opinion of the blues musicians in the Twin Cities compared to other parts of the country?
TEXAS RED: There are great blues players here, and I've been fortunate to play with many of them.
Ray: Who do you like to listen to?
TEXAS RED: Muddy Waters, of course, and all the original artists that I've mentioned. But at any given time it could be the James Harman Band, Marcia
Ball, or Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers.
Ray: What is your opinion of the health of blues scene in the Twin Cities?
And blues in general?
TEXAS RED: It's great that there are always new venues popping up, like The Narrows Saloon in Navarre, where I've been playing for the last year. We've lost
some great venues, like The Blues Saloon in Frogtown...I loved playing there. Fortunately Whiskey Junction continues to have blues, and there are a number of other venues that keep live blues going in the Twin Cities. My other mainstay gig is at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, which is a classic showcase blues club in every sense of the word...The Rhythm Room will be celebrating it's tenth anniversary this fall, so that's a testimony to the health of blues in general.
Ray: Is it hard to get gigs for a band that plays traditional blues like you
TEXAS RED: Sure, it's just not mainstream music, so it's more difficult. As I said before, it's very difficult to make a living playing traditional blues.
Ray: Tell me about this quote about you: "Texas Red is about the biggest
blues hellraiser you'll ever meet..." Did you lead a wild life back when?
TEXAS RED: That quote came from Bob Corritore in Phoenix. Bob and I go way back. He's the proprietor of The Rhythm Room, he has a blues radio show, he's a
record producer, and he knows me pretty well. Bob always enjoyed the fact that once I got onstage, my mission, along with playing the blues, was to do anything it took to excite the audience.
And yes, I did more than my share of hellraising back then. It was all part of the persona and the lifestyle...fortunately I made some major changes in 1987, and I'm happy to say I survived all that fun, so that I can still go out and play "nothin' but the straight and natural blues."
Ray: How did you get your nickname?
TEXAS RED: In 1972 when Terraplane began in Louisville, I decided that all the band members needed nicknames. I was from Texas, and I had red hair, so I gave myself the name Texas Red. At the time I was using the name Paul Hart, Hart being the surname of a relative of mine. In 1974, I formed Texas Red and the Hartbreakers, with the spelling of "Hartbreakers" as a play on the name Hart.
One of my favorite Marty Robbins songs is "Big Iron," in which he talks about the outlaw "Texas Red." Though I'd heard the song years before giving myself the nickname, it's purely coincidental.
Contact Texas Red:
This interview is copyright © 2001 by Ray Stiles, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.