In the seventies, teenagers galvanized by rock and roll noodled around on guitars, sang into hairbrushes, and dreamed about becoming stars. Kathy Valentine lived the real thing. By the time she was sixteen, the Austin native and future bassist for the Go-Go’s had sat in with roots rocker Doug Sahm onstage, hitchhiked to see ZZ Top perform at a mud-soaked outdoor festival, and become a fixture at Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan shows. “While other teen girls shopped for prom dresses, I gazed up at Freddie King onstage, sweat pouring off his face, taking me on a tail-spinning ride of hot-rod, gutted guitar playing,” she writes in her new book All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir (University of Texas Press).
The book vividly evokes the “very lax” musical mecca of 1970s Austin, where Valentine lived with her freewheeling single mother and became an active part of the local music scene. Through a chance encounter at the Los Angeles venue Whisky a Go Go, Valentine became the bass player for the rock band the Go-Go’s, whose 1981 debut album, Beauty and the Beat, was the first by a group of female musicians and songwriters to top the Billboard charts.
To help her write her memoir, Valentine put together a playlist that spotlights the foundational songs of her life, year by year. “They were in the airwaves, pulsing and pounding out of concert halls and clubs, record stores and tape decks,” she says. At Texas Monthly’s request, Valentine handpicked three—well, four, really—of those songs that are by Texas artists and explained what makes each of them important to her.
I saw Doug play a lot, usually either at the Rome Inn or Soap Creek Saloon—clubs that were a big part of my teenage musical education. When he found out I played guitar, he said, “Why don’t you come sit in sometime?” I was about sixteen. I showed up the next week, and he just gestured for me to come up. It was the first time I’d gotten on a stage, and we did “Carol” by Chuck Berry. But the song that represents Doug to me most is “She’s About a Mover.” I love the grammar—what does that even mean, “She’s about a mover”? I don’t know, but I like it.
Jerry Jeff Walker
This cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s most famous song was part of Walker’s classic live album ¡Viva Terlingua! It represented everything that was happening with the whole cosmic cowboy subculture that permeated Austin in the seventies. There was no escaping it, nor did any of us want to. You didn’t have to choose between being a cowboy or a redneck or a hippie; you could have long hair and like country music. That subculture reinforced what I had already learned from growing up with my single mom: the feeling that rules didn’t apply to me.
These are the leadoff tracks to Tres Hombres, the album that turned me on to ZZ Top. There was no space between those two songs; it’s like one long journey into the world of thick, swampy blues. When I put together my first band, a trio, we thought, “Okay, we’re going to be like ZZ Top.” They were our band in Texas.
This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “She Got the Beat.” Subscribe today.