Your Online Guide to the Arts in the Brazos Valley

Photos and articles by one of the Brazos Valley's leading artists... guiding you to great art and entertainment opportunities. For a blog about Brazos Valley Music History, Click HERE:


Scroll down to read reviews of Beau Hinze,  Two Bit Palomino, Old Bridge Rhythm Band, Randy Pavlock, ...

Randy Pavlock playing the slide in the Filling Station parking lot...

There is LIVE MUSIC out of the kazoo, and fabulous musicians near you, every week end. BrazoSphere we keep you updated on our local stars like Randy Pavlock, Beau Hinze and Leanasaurus Rex...

Leannasaurus Rex

As well as the excellent artists passing through... Marcia Ball, Johnny Bush, Ray Wylie Hubbard and many more!

Marsha Ball at the Mance Lipscomb Birthday Party in Navasota...

Two-Bit Palomino
@ Bernhardt Winery, Plantersville

An expectant crowd of music lovers spreads out at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville. 

I had heard Andi and Peter Renfree first as "The Renfrees" at the Corner Cafe several years ago. They came back the next year re-invented as "2 Bit Palomino," with a new guitar picker and keyboardist, and unveiled their new songs... But being in transition, I chose to reserve my judgment and wait for more input before writing about them... Then a mutual friend invited me to see them at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville.

2 Bit Palomino is a veteran threesome of Houston-based singer-songwriters who have found an original sound and written some catchy, solid songs. These are songs that make you remember those things in your sub-conscious that have been pushed aside by the tyranny of the urgent; things we need to hold on to.  

They were named the Vocal Group of the Year in 2011 and 2013 by the Academy of Texas Music. My favorite song is an epic song they sing, made famous by Chris LeDoux, and written by Andrea C. Renfree, Willie McCullough and Clay Canfield, called The Buffalo Grass. I promise, it sounds better than... it sounds... Anyway I'll bet this song had something to do with the fact that Howlin' Dog Records just signed them to a contract. The three are quite pleased with their new situation and looking forward to cutting the new album. Persistence and excellence have paid off.

Andi Renfree strolls among her crowd at Bernhardt Winery before she performs. With casual, down to earth ease, she explains how far her faith was stretched, how far she had to step out on faith, before the band was seemingly "instantly" rewarded with milestones of success in their respective careers.  Now they are going to enjoy the coming journey with appreciation that has been fermented like a fine wine. 

Bill-       Andi-      "Ren"
Bill Ward, the songwriter- guitarist and keyboard player, explains that he just performed in front of the Alamo. Now THAT is a Texas moment. He is doing his second performance in as many days, with a grueling drive in between. And the real work is just beginning. Only talent and commitment and down-right hard-headedness would have gotten them this far. And now, almost running on empty, they generously give us, who sit casually in our lawn chairs, an evening to remember...

Peter Renfree

2-Bit Palomino sings about No cowboys in Dallas, buffalo grass... and even about a whore. Bill sings a protest song. He finds no comfort that everyone agrees with his protest, that there is no more middle class in America. So it must not be a protest song... he explains, if everybody agrees with him... Their sensitive, sincere message strikes a chord with the audience. America is changing right before our eyes. The songs hit us where we sit; regular folks seeking a measure of peace and serenity in the middle of somewhere. And for just a moment,  remembering.

As in the days of yesteryear, songsters are the voice of our social conscience- and our consciousness. And for the moment, there is music, and friends, and Grimes County wine.

It has been a perfect evening. Too perfect. Native Americans would intentionally place a random bead in their bead work, a concession that only God can make perfection, and to keep themselves humble. I looked around and found the Bernhardt's "random bead"... a little light bulb had gone out.

You probably wonder about their name... it is also the name of one of their great songs... about that mechanical rocking horse we all begged to ride for a quarter as children, in front of the grocery store... Meanwhile 2 Bit Palomino has grown and matured into a promising act, and will be away, more than ever, on the road or in Nashville or whatever, and we are fortunate to have had an evening with them. And now they can get rested up for the challenges ahead. Good luck to them, and God Bless! And thanks for refreshing my memories!

Beau Hinze

Beau Hinze lit up the Corner Café Friday night. It was a special treat just for his devoted fans; a private concert with a good meal in a nice place. It was all very cozy, with his faithful followers from Washington County and beyond, turning out and leaving few chairs to spare. A few non- Brenhamites got seats, and I was one of those privileged few. Hinze is from just across the river… and speaks of the remote crossroads known as Independence and William Penn like I do… he sings unpretentiously about the people and places that I have grown so fond of over the past thirty years, as I have painted the bluebonnets “Plein air” along the Hidalgo Bluffs in Washington County.
And that was just the problem.

Beau is a very talented singer-songwriter, a truly gifted entertainer, and his band is primo. He is going places. I hear his song all the time on the radio. The one called “Dumbass Rusty” about the guy who goes on a stealin’ binge and ends up dead. He sang a new one about a guy who got murdered, but was found headless. I liked it better than the ones about the girls with dirty hair, the Bud Lite girls with their britches painted on, or the one that names every flavor of Boone’s Farm wine. Then he sang a promising song about his grandfathers… that was, damn it, also about drinkin’. So if you’re a Beau fan, don’t get mad at me if I say I HATE drinkin’ songs. Even my all-time favorite, Rusty Wier lost me when he began to waste his song, crooning about Cuervo’s Gold. So that means I really didn’t care, to be kind, for much for the content of Beau’s show. Yet.

Watching and listening to Beau, a young, likable, budding star
, singing on and on about what is apparently the importance of alcoholic drinks in his life, made me think some deep thoughts, as I fondled my Shiner…
And it was probably because so many of his songs are so obsessed with drinking, beer, wine, whiskey, and other relatively mindless preoccupations. Those Washington County Germans sure love their beer. Still, it seemed infantile for song after song to be so centered in the culture of alcohol. I wondered if Beau could possibly be that shallow. Or that far gone, when the whole world is struggling with issues of addiction and drunk driving and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Now my closest friends know I love beer, even though I gave it up for twenty years after my ordination as a Baptist deacon. I abstained as the SBC had requested until I left the Baptist denomination. Twenty years, even though most of my non-deacon Baptist friends snuck a little drinking in whenever they could. Everybody winked like it was a private joke. They were getting away with something. Still, I grew to understand that a lot of folks need a non-alcohol environment, because they have a problem with abuse or addiction. So I lived with the foolishness and the hypocrisy too long.

I told you, deep thoughts…

So I’m not a prude or anything about alcohol. I am an artist… and a writer… maybe a little bit of a philosopher, and I expect more out of such talent as this… this bohemian Brazos-bottom beer bard. "To whom much is given, much is expected." And then I put the dipstick in my own pocket.

I thought about my bluebonnet paintings. They are my bread and butter. Many folks, art connoisseurs, look down on them as too commercial, unoriginal, trite, appealing to unsophisticated tastes, ineligible for true art. An artist has to really be good to take on old, seemingly worn out standards and do them in such a way as to establish himself as the new king of the hill. Until he does, he is just another hack. No matter how good he is. I wondered if art collectors looked upon my bluebonnet paintings the same way I looked upon Beau’s boozin’ tunes. They probably do.
Fondling my shiner, (You can use that for a song if you want to, Beau) I wondered if Beau was as sincere as an artist about his boozin’ tunes as I was about my lupinus texanus. He may be. Just like a twelve year old would be if he wrote songs about his penis.
There is nothing like the age of discovery. Everything is new and wonderful, even Bud Lite girls with their pants painted on. I gotta admit, Beau made me smile. He and his band are damn good and a lot of fun, and that is more than I can say for all of the paintings I have ever made.

But finally, inevitably, Beau snatched me as a loyal fan with his last song of the evening. A real promising piece called Flathead Yellow Named Undertow. It reminded me of all the hearty river rats and “noodlers” I have ever known that answered the call of the behemoth river catfish, catfish so big they might drown a man. It is a great song. It ranks right up there with David Lutes’ Rise Up Elijah and Kevin Higgins’ tornado song called Out in the Fields… We have seen and heard the very best Americana we will ever hear, … right here in Navasota Texas.

Check out this fun video... precious actually, about a 92 lb. "flathead yellow named Undertow!" by our back porch masters across the river in Washington County!

Beau Hinze and the Back Porch Shufflers

Just click below to find the video on YouTube!

I was sitting there, tired after an exhausting week, thinking about how glad I was that I came, to hear this kid, knowing he would soon be too big to appear in such a small venue here in Navasota. The drinking will fade away… I hope… “when I was a child, I thought as child, spoke as a child, and then one day I put away childish things.” I look forward to what kind of an artist Beau will be, when he grows up, and until then, I’m going to enjoy being a kid whenever I listen to his CD. It’s called UNDERTOW.

And Beau, maybe someday I’ll see you on the bluffs. And maybe we’ll have a beer…

Old Bridge Rhythm Band: There's room on the dogtrot...

Chris Puente is a young man I have known for around thirty years. In other words most of his life. His parents were very talented performers that I knew when we lived in Plantersville. Chris has taken the family knack for song and made a real contributuion to Texas music. Erin Marie Kost, his accompanist plays a mean saw, and YOU HAVE TO HEAR HER! It is too wild, and beautiful!

Puente delivers driving, grinding, time travelling blues lyrics out of some Louisiana juke joint alter-ego that enters his throat when he begins to sing... all while his graceful partner begins to make a saw whine and ring.  Like sirens from deep down in a place that make you instantly think that this is something so cool... that it is ahead of its time, and you are the first to partake of this fresh and invigorating sound... or something so old that Druids once danced to its vibrations.

And now they have formed a new band called Old Bridge Rhythm Band and have released an album with the same name.

The dogtrot or dogrun was a breezeway in the middle of frontier homes where everyone met at the end of the day.

I’ve heard musicians say that “music is time,” or rather music is time experienced through sound. On the Internet, you find similar, heady equations about the relationship between the two, like “Music is time in the air,” or“Music is the art of time.” All of this is true about the new CD by the Old Bridge Rhythm Band, in more ways than one, though ironically it is the product of the latest digital recording technology. It is never-the- less already an ancient-born, timeless creation. 

Freshly renamed, Chris Puente and his band have once again scavenged in the dusty storage warehouse of the American subconscious and found a treasury of Americana. 

They have made this music booty their own and resurrect and introduce it anew… as Old Bridge Rhythm plays it with a new ear and delightful originality. You’ve heard of “Back Porch.” This music is so back porch it is… dogtrot. Before there were porches in Texas there were “dogtrots. ’’ They were basically just elevated boardwalks between the main halves of the typical, bisected frontier log house, which separated the living quarters from the heat of the kitchen and pantry; A deck right through the middle of the house. How cool is that? 
The dogtrot was where the children played on rainy days, where grandma gossiped and snapped peas, where the preacher waxed into the evening about God’s purpose, and where daddy rosined up the bow.

And that is the Old Bridge River Band, as their songs conjure up these images and much more. Their new CD takes you back to a time of old, when people actually spent time together, talked until the sun set, and shared the gift of song.

The Old Bridge Rhythm Band leads us into the soundscape of lost American memory;  Acoustic guitar, wash tub bass, harmonica, resonator, mandolin… and a haunting, soaring, primeval saw, that gives the whole album the sense of melancholy. Their sound is original and markedly different, yet familiar to our souls, like severed nerves in search of each other; Sounds and notes and melodies based on ancient, nearly forgotten sounds of frontier America.

And Chris Puente seems to sing from his upper intestine, lifting a powerful, husky voice rarely heard since the Civil Rights Movement. His counterpart Erin Marie Kost masterfully makes her saw cry for all that is worthy of remembering, yet left dormant in our abandoned cultural archive. Like Beauty and the Beast, her pristine vocals contrast his and have the ring of truth that testify of everything enduring about the people we once were.

You have heard some of these before, classics like Tom Dooley, Freight Train, and the obligatory She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain... and Trouble in Mind. But Old Bridge has unearthed a couple of songs which are so old they are new to almost everyone, like Bury Me Beneath the Willows. You can almost taste the must and moss. They introduce us to unique interpretations as well, such as their especially artful, bluegrassy, and yet soulful version of Summertime. Old Bridge Rhythm brings many ingredients to the table from which we sup, where blues and folk and American traditional music mingle like so many tadpoles in the same pool.

Chris Puente and Erin Marie Kost are the contrasting voices of the Old Bridge Rhythm Band.

 Of special interest to me was their offering of some great blues standards and some that should have been, like Ain’t No More Cane On The Brazos, an old Leadbelly tune, Taters and Wine, C.C .Rider, one of Mance Lipscomb’s favorites, and Big City Blues No, not the version done by Luther Allison, or the other one done by Barry Manilow, or the new one called by the same name by Charlie Robison, or Sue Foley, or Big Maceo… I don’t know where they found this one.

And no collection of American classics would be authentic without at least one old gospel song, and Old Bridge knew that, celebrating Pharoah’s demise in Oh Mary, with Sunday School enthusiasm. It seems our ancestors had dark senses of humor, even finding joy in the drowning of enemies!

This is not music for everybody. It is roots music and appeals to those who love the mystery and depth of antiquity, and the adventure of time travel, or at least those with a sentimental bone in their body.

If you have to have all the latest bells and whistles, all the new high-tech, formulaic, mindless, made-for-radio jingles, you will probably not enjoy this album. But if you ever sat alone at dusk and thought about your grandparents, or the heroes of this country, and sought some kind of medium to feel them once more… If you ever played and laughed on grandma’s porch, and would like to feel that way again… if you ever wondered, ever wanted to glimpse into the souls of our forefathers and mothers… you will understand and appreciate this collection of their popular songs, a poignant slice of the past.

Singing the songs of your ancestors seems to help make peace with your past. Maybe that's what the old timers meant by "facing the music."

"Bury me beneath the willows." Popularized by the oriental legend associated with Blue Willow china, the willow tree was an essential symbol, often used on grave stones, suggesting mourning for the dead, and yet hope of eternal life, even reincarnation for early Americans.

   The Old Bridge Rhythm Band is based in Plantersville, Texas. The CD was produced by Horsehead Records at the Filling Station in Navasota, Texas. It is available at Blues Alley in Navasota.

Randy Pavlock

Hey Joe. Where ya goin’ with that money in your hand?

Over the years we have heard Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, The Music Machine, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and many more do this song. So much so, we have never really thought deeper about it. It’s a great song; An essential American classic. Everybody has to do their version of it. But because of over saturation, nobody cares about the story behind it. It’s like the dollar bill, we have seen so much of George Washington’s face, but we really know very little about him. The superficial familiarity preempts further investigation.

When The Leaves first recorded Hey Joe in 1965, with a somewhat spastic prototype, nobody noticed, but it rose in the charts within the Billboard top 100. In fact they were responding, somewhat poorly, to a great song that they had heard wafting around on the California music scene, made popular by the songwriter, Billy Roberts, and an early California country-rock group called the Byrds, none of whom had botherted to record this American classic yet!

Born in South Carolina in 1936, Billy Roberts was a San Francisco music guru, a true California hippie, before we knew what that was, and he wrote hundreds of songs. Hey Joe was his only claim to fame. His excellent folk version of the song, recorded with his band called the Grits, seems to be its true musical root, even as we hear it today. In 1966, several budding rock groups covered the song, including David Crosby (who loved the song and begged his group the Byrds to record it) who soon had "discovered" the song and attracted a handful of copycats, including The Leaves who actually beat everybody to the recording studio. 
Randy Pavlock performs at the Navasta Bluesfest

By the time Hendrix recorded it, he was under the impression that it was a cowboy song put into a blues format, suggesting the song had almost archaic roots. Although no adequate explanation of the origin of the song has ever emerged, there is no doubt that its deepest root was in folk and country soil.

Later another songwriter named Tim Rose would claim the song was a “traditional” song, and could be recorded without concern over copyright infringement. Rose claimed that he had been the channel through whom the song had passed to Hendrix. He also claimed he had heard a "traditional" song by that name, although the lyrics were somewhat different, as a child while growing up in Florida. And here is where the confusion overwhelms most researchers.

Hey Joe, where ya goin’ with that gun in yo hand?

HEY JOE! Where ya goin’ with that gun in yo hand?

I’m goin’ to shoot my ol’ lady, she’s been runnin’ round town with another man…

It turns out that a country performer named Carl Smith had recorded a song by that name in 1953. So Tim Rose may have been telling the truth, albeit deceptively:) And then again, he may have been carefully crafting his words, like a man caught in a fib. Perhaps he was taking advantage of the confusion of an incredible artistic coincidence, there being two songs, both named Hey Joe, both rising out of the southern, rural culture, both structured as a question and answer dialogue put to music. But Carl Smith’s version was a happy, upbeat love song... the only similarity in the lyrics are the words "Hey Joe, WHERE..." But it is very possible this was the inspiration for Billy Roberts, who rearranged the song to fit his needs.

But Hendrix graciously gave the credit on his album to … Billy Roberts, not Tim Rose, and not Carl Smith; It was not a random folk song with no genesis, and not a rip off of Carl Smith, but stood on its own. Amazingly, Rose made himself a celebrity in Europe by presenting his version of the rock classic, which was overly crazed, but a damn good one, claiming and perhaps exaggerating his part in the story. If you want to hear a good contemporary version on You Tube today, listen to Guitar Shorty, or Navasota’s own Randy Pavlock.

Old songs find new messengers, old guys discover new sounds, and new musicians bring unexpected enhancements to old standards. Randy Pavlock’s version of Hey Joe is a wonderful example of that.

By the time Randy began to pick on the guitar, Hendrix was dead and Hey Joe had become a rock standard, drugged, butchered, paradied and regurgitated. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Cher, The Music Machine and others had sung it wild, weird and woefully expanded. Others condensed it, or adapted it or just tried to faithfully salute it.

So when Randy Pavlock came out with his own version of Hey Joe, I was very unprepared to fully appreciate it. I wondered why he would cover such a common song. I was no music historian, but even I knew Jimi Hendrix and a few others had done various versions.

But Randy had an incredible ace, and he played it like a river boat gambler. We all had a clue what was brewing when he brought a famous drummer with him one year to perform at the Navasota Bluesfest.

Randy had befriended Buddy Miles, one of Jimi Hendrix’ celebrated drummers. Randy wanted to do Hey Joe, and he invited Buddy Miles to sit in with him. Weak and near death, Miles agreed to attempt one last version of the song, with Randy, and the rest will be history. The album is called Miles To Go. When I first heard it, I knew immediately what it was all about, and my skepticism melted away. No wonder he covered the song!

If ever a cover song was especially inspired, this is it. Nobody will question that Randy can handle the axe, and the vocals, but what he captured in that session was something mystic, something compelling. As if out of the depths of rock history, Miles’ vocals register in your subconscious, like the spirits of rock legends in a séance. And he is not faking it. In fact he passed away soon after, and Randy was right there with him.

It’s great story, but it has a serious downside. Randy is never going to know the thrill of doing that song, with Buddy Miles, LIVE. The recording is kind of a moment unto itself, with no way to artistically or commercially capitalize on it. The CD is a full and singularly unique experience. Every time I hear it, I live a once in a lifetime experience…

And that’s powerful. A great, classic “cowboy” song, written by a hippie guru, made famous by rock legends, now polished to perfection under the tutelage of Buddy Miles. About the third time I heard the song, I was wondering when the Hey Joe revival was going to hit the air waves. But because of sad changes in the industry, it never materialized.

Randy Pavlock typifies the tragedy of the current American music mess, where the very best musicians struggle amongst the hoards, to take command of the vast quicksand of the Internet stage. Very, very few artists have the determination, money or breaks necessary to overcome the odds. Those that do are still fighting against random popular currents, changing technology, and cut-throat Media venues who only consider the bottom line. Today an Elvis or a Jimi Hendrix would die of exposure before he ever got that "big break."

Because of the nostalgia, and the saga of the song itself, and the beautiful way Miles connected with Pavlock and did the song one more time… the last time, it is the last and best, or at least my favorite version of the song.  Randy expressed his own pleasure at the outcome. I asked him how hard had it been, to get such an artistic result, especially out of an eccentric performer who had so many health issues… “Just one take,” he smiled and added… “I’m one of those who believes that things happen for a reason.”

From now on whenever I hear that song, I don’t picture Hendrix, or David Crosby, or Billy Roberts, but Randy’s capstone tribute, melding with the legendary Buddy Miles, one foot in rock history, and the other foot in immortality.

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