Motel Cowboy Rides Platinum Pony
by Lindsey Eck
Add to this list Chris Wall, who dons both the comic and tragic masks with ease. I first encountered Chris' Austin-flavored country at Aquafest 95, where his act was clearly the main country attraction. By that time, Trashy Women was on the way to platinum success. We met at Austin's Waterloo Ice House38th St. in August 1996 and taped this interview. Subsequently Wall released a live album which scored phenomenal success in the U.K.
|Q||Not everyone knows Chris Wall yet but everyone knows the Confederate Railroad version of Trashy Women. Can you tell us how that song came to be written, and how it came to be recorded?|
Yeah, I can
as far as the writing part of it goes. We were in L.A., and we were in a bar called the Crazy Horse, and this girl walked by that, uh was quite voluptuous and great looking, and she had her hair all piled up, and she had a leather jumpsuit with rivets and lots of studs and rivets and zippers. I just made the remark that that's the kind of girl for me. Someboday said, Really? and I said, Yeah I like my women just a little on the trashy side and boy! all the song alarms went off. So I wrote it real quick after that.
Then they were performing it in the Famous Motel Cowboy Band that I was in in Jackson Hole, and Jerry Jeff heard it, and then he heard some other songs, and wanted me to come down here he ended up recording three of them, including Trashy Women, and he had a minor hit with it in Florida. And Confederate Railroad at that time was David Allan Coe's backup band, and they heard it on the radio. And they really liked it. And afterward they told me they heard it, and they couldn't figure out what it was and the station was fading out, so they actually got on the shoulder, backed up so they could get the station again.
And then I met em when Jerry and David Allan Coe did a show together and they were doin it live and we got talkin. And they recorded it against their labels objection. Hated the song, producer hated the song everybody hated it except for the audience. On their album they had four singles that all did pretty well. And then they werent going to release a fifth single, but the album wasnt ready. The disk jockeys were just playing that anyway. So they went ahead and released it as a single and it went through the roof. It really did phenomenally well. Yeah. Theyd sold about 500,000 something albums and then in the 16 weeks that song was on the charts they sold another million Theyre nice guys too; I'm glad for em.
|Q||My next question was, did you make any money off the song?|
|A||A bunch. Thirty percent of it went to Uncle Sam but, well, you know, yeah, it did very well.|
|Q||Howd you get the idea for Give Me Half of What Killed Elvis?|
|A||I was sittin in a barroom with a friend of mine, Pinto Bennett he was the leader of the Famous Motel Cowboys and the bartender said, What do you want, Pinto, your usual? And Pinto said, No, tonight just give me about half of what killed Elvis. So I took his line, just heard it in a bar, wrote the song.|
|Q||How long does it take you to put together one of those?|
That one there was not long. The novelty ones are pretty easy. But the more serious, the better the song, the longer it takes. You know, I hear guys say that they write a song in 15 minutes or 20 minutes; I dont totally buy that because I mean, Im not gonna call anybody a liar, but you may get a verse and a chorus in about 15 minutes but then
you polish it.
So much of songwriting is really kinda carpentry. Its sawing a little off here and makin it fit, you know, rearranging stuff.
|Q||Do you hone a lot of stuff after you perform it before a live audience?|
|A||Yeah. Usually theyre done; what happens with a live audience is they tell you which songs are good and which arent. And I try to figure out not which ones they like but which ones I like and theyll nail it through applause or requests or whatever. If you dont have requests for it and no-one applauds then gradually, you stop playing it. Unless its a song that you really believe, theyve just got to hear on record, sitting in front of their CD player. Thats where its gonna get em. Rather than on a dance floor where sometimes you cant hear the words.|
|Q||Most of the dancehall circuit around here is bands covering Nashville Top 40. You do original tunes, and your stuff goes over great with an audience, but is it tough to get dancehall bookings in central Texas being an original country writer?|
Absolutely. There are places that simply wont talk to you.
That is really difficult to do. Dale Watson fights the same thing and consequently plays in places that I think theyre nice places but he should be playing to a much bigger audience, hes so great. Its true, many of my friends Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, Charlie Robison try to find dancehall bookings.
But thats the great thing about Austin, I mean, you can find some places to play. Theres a place in Dallas and a place in Houston and a place in Bryan, you know, and so you make a tour. And you fill in with a few fat parties and keep the band paid, keep us working, and allow us to relaly kind of practice on the fly. But its hard. I mean, audiences have a right to what they ask for, so you cant fault anybody for it, but I really believe if they could hear Dale on the radio, whatever they would request his stuff as much as any Allan Jackson song or anything else. Hopefully thats true of all of us.
|Q||Many of your lyrics border on a parody of country music. Yet youre authentically country in your approach. Do you think that helps the audience feel, Hes laughing with us, not at us?|
|A||Hopefully. I think that it all depends. You know, Ray Wylie Hubbard says, the problem with irony is the really dumb motherfuckers dont get it. You know if somebody thinks youre making fun of em, but Im not doin that. I think its a fairly clear-cut parody when it is. Hopefully it is.|
|Q||Do you think it helps that theres an element of self-parody that your persona admits to liking women others would find trashy or owning up to the desire for an entourage or half of Graceland?|
|A||In both songs you try to write a line, a verse thatll get you out of the building without getting shot. Basically its your out verse, you know, I need a woman thats as tacky as me, There was more in that song [Trashy Women] than I it was such a joke and women like it so much I was amazed. I mean, you cant even say bimbo in any context, whether youre making fun of yourself or not. The hackles go up, and weve become such a hypersensitive people. So theres a danger there. So now I just poke fun at Okies.|
|Q||I understand youre a sort of protégé of Jerry Jeff Walker. Is that a good way to put it?|
|A||Well, yeah, protégé, for want of a better term.|
|Q||Or was he a mentor to you?|
He brought me down here. We were gonna write songs together but its real hard to do with Jerry. Hes real busy and hes real strong-willed even about his own music, and I mean that in the sense that he has a clear vision of what hes trying to do. Which makes it difficult for him to cowrite with anybody.
Im kind of the same way. I know pretty much what I want. In the end we never wrote a song together. But he sure taught me a lot about live performance and just watching how he deals with the crowd, which can be real friendly one night; it was kinda hostile the other night but its kind of interesting. Four years. Believe me. Real interesting.
Opened a lot of shows for him. And his wife was our manager. And it was a great experience, I mean, just kind of getting clubbed into Austin. And I hope people dont see it as a clone thing; I know some people do; if you really listen to it my music is very different.
|Q||Did you cross paths with another Walker protégé, David Bromberg?|
|A||I bought one of his old guitars. I actually met David in New York City, and he came down to play with Jerry Jeff on Austin City Limits. And what a guitar playin musician. Just phenomenal.|
|Q||So youve got a couple of CDs coming out. Is that exciting?|
Yeah. You just get drowned in what happens when youre making em yourself. You listen to em so much, you just get so sick of em youll never listen to them again. And thats happened. Ive never listened to any of my CDs after theyve been finished. Just cause theyre finished. Plus we play them so much live, so if I have some weird need to hear them, I mean I do it every Friday and Saturday night anyway.
Its exciting, its fun, uh, its a little discouraging on the small independent kind of thing because youre aware from the get-go of the limited kind of airplay you can expect, you now, form mostly the KUTs and the public radio stations and KFAN out in Fredericksburg. There are a few of them. But thats a little discouraging, and you know youre not going to get the distribution. But I think if you set realistic goals as far as what the albums are gonna do, that that can be a happy thing. If you think youre gonna have the one independent album that goes through the roof that everyone talks about forever, then youre probably in for a big disappointment cause I dont think that albums been made yet.
If we can keep playin live and makin some money doin that, and if we can build a reputation there, then thats what its all about.