The Stories Behind the Music

Texas musical luminaries reveal the family histories, powerful influences, and big breaks that made them the artists they are today.

Illustration by Max-o-matic; Franklin: Mickey Bernal/Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival via Getty; Colvin: Neilson Barnard/Blackbird Productions via Getty; Crockett: Amy Harris/Invision via AP; Burnett: Anna Webber/Americana Music via Getty; El Dusty: Jason Merritt/LARAS via Getty; Rodriguez: Steve Helber/AP

Over the course of several months, Texas Monthly worked with the South by Southwest festival to put together a show called “Texas Music: The Untold Stories,” a singular event that would reveal the hidden narratives behind the careers of some of our state’s most beloved artists. Six Texas musicians—Austin singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin; multihyphenate Houston performer Kam Franklin; Corpus Christi nu cumbia pioneer El Dusty; Houston rapper Lil Keke; Rio Grande Valley roots artist Charley Crockett; and San Antonio boogie woogie pianist John Tennison—developed stories to share onstage at ACL Live at the Moody Theater on March 17, accompanied by Austin musician Carrie Rodriguez and her band.

Unfortunately, just as this issue was going to print, we learned that the City of Austin, responding to the coronavirus outbreak, ordered SXSW to cancel the festival, meaning that “Texas Music: The Untold Stories” would not go on as planned. Though the live show was the heart of this project, we believe that these stories, which are by turns funny and serious, but always frank, stand on their own. 

Below, we’ve compiled a selection of the monologues, as well as stories from Rodriguez and Austin musician Walker Lukens, who penned a special song based on a reader-submitted confession that he had planned to perform. Each of these stories illuminates a vital moment, conversation, or idea that animated an artist’s aesthetic evolution. Together, they remind us why this current moment in Texas music is so exciting. 

“The song was playing in the studio, and Screw starts pointing to me. He thought I was going to do a freestyle, but I had something else planned. I didn’t hesitate.”

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“How highly regarded was Omar Sharriff? In 1977 Contemporary Keyboard magazine ranked him the second-greatest living blues pianist in the world. The first was Ray Charles.”

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