FREDDIE “STEADY”: Well the new CD is called Tex-Pop by The Freddie Steady 5 and the title pretty much implies what the music is. I had my first pop group The Explosives in the late 70s early 80s and then I did some records with my band the Shakin’ Apostles in the 90s for a label called East Side Digital–they were part of Ryko Disc. While with them, I made what I thought was my most pop record ever and I turned it in and the president said, “I really love this. We are kind of going in that country direction.” And I went, “UH”. My point is, that I’m so inspired by the Beatles and British pop and sixties stuff–that’s why the stuff is pretty and arranged and melodic–but it still sounds like a guy from Texas doing it. My long time partner, Cam King, who was also in the Explosives, co-produced this record with me and we co-wrote four songs on it and it’s kind of, if anybody knows my history, it’s kind of like The Explosives but with a keyboard. It’s kind of power pop. It’s Tex-Pop.
AD: You’ve had a long musical journey. Tell us about your time in England.
FS: I had made a solo record when I left The Explosives. I went over to England and had an extended stay over there. I started writing again and the stuff I was writing was kind of Americana although the term wasn’t really being used then—this was 1986. I was kind of focusing on the music I grew up on–I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast in La Porte. It was a French settled community and I listened to a lot of Cajun music, a lot of blues down there, soul music along with all the rock and roll stuff and country. Joe Tex was from Baytown just across the tunnel. It was kind of like when you look at a picture closely you don’t really get the full scope until you step back. When I was far away from home it was easier for me to see those things.
AD: Did you miss Austin when you were overseas?
FS: Oh yeah. I missed it a lot. In 1986 I was there half the year and that’s when I wrote all this stuff and recorded it—it was called Freddie Steady’s Wild Country: Lucky 7. A friend of mine’s manager, David Sandison, he had been a press agent for the Rolling Stones, loved the CD. He underwrote it. Dave Goodman, the Sex Pistols engineer, engineered it and he was really fun. By the last week he came in and said, “Fred I’ve written a country song and I want you to hear it.” It wasn’t very good but he was a really nice guy and great engineer and we had a wonderful time. I almost thought about moving over there. I was getting a lot of work: I did a television soundtrack playing drums and I did some commercials. I did Quaker Oats for France that was recorded in London. I made a record with Roger Waters from Pink Floyd. It was a movie soundtrack for an animated black comedy called When the Wind Blows about the nuclear war. It was a weird time. It was 1986, and everybody in England was using electronic drums. This was like a big bold step to go back to drums.
AD: When you were over there what did you to listen to?
FS: I saw a lot of live music.
AD: When I was over there it was so hard to find the music clubs.
FS: When were you over there?
FS: Let me tell you man, just like LA and San Francisco it has drastically changed. When I was spending all that time there in the mid-80s it was popping. There were clubs everywhere. But man it has really changed. I was there a few weeks ago and there weren’t as many clubs–it was just different.
AD: All I found was djs and “dodgy” pubs.
FS: It’s very sad. Do you remember Graham Parker and the Rumour? Martin Belmont the guitar player is a friend of mine and we email each other occasionally and I had emailed him a couple of years ago when I started teaching at the Rock and Roll School for kids and he emailed me back and said, “I’m teaching a lot too because there just aren’t any gigs.”
There are still plenty of gigs in Austin but London, LA, San Francisco, no.
AD: That’s leads us to my next question: so much has changed here. What do you miss the most about the old Austin and what is the best new addition?
FS: You know what? I don’t think the music scene has changed. I think the city has changed which somewhat affects the music scene but I’ve been here since ’74 and there are just as many gigs and just as many bands that want the gigs–they are all still here too. What has changed is the economy of the city. God when I moved here, and I know that was a long time ago, I lived off $40 a week. The hard part about becoming a professional musician is that if you have a day job you still got those strings. And I had to not get that day job. There were no cell phones back then. There weren’t even answering machines. My daddy would go, “Why don’t you go to Manpower and work” and I said, “Well dad because if I’m not at my phone and somebody calls me to work and I don’t get it they are going to call somebody else. I have to be available all the time.” That first year I played guitar in a barbecue house 5 days a week from 4-6 and I got $5 and a free plate of barbecue. And tips, which I was too painfully shy to ask for—not anymore—but I was back then. I played drums in a Dixieland band—luckily I like Dixieland. A good week that year was $60—that was the most I made. But I could live off of that. That was the difference between then and now. I could stay home and work at my craft and be available for whatever came my way. People can’t do that anymore. Everybody has a day job or two. They hope they can keep their band together to go play. Unlike San Francisco for example, last time I was there, it just broke my heart because I couldn’t find anything to go see. In the late 70s early 80s when the Explosives were out there a lot there were dozens of clubs and dozens of bands and they are gone. It got too expensive. That’s what we need to look at when thinking about this city. That’s what we are in danger of. In San Francisco, the artists are gone. Everything that drew everyone there is gone. That could very well happen here. It’s happening.
But the rest of it, I don’t see any difference. I see plenty of places to play. There are things that are kind of not fair. Like it’s always been guys like me that are professional musicians who need to work to make their living and there are guys who are going to college and just want to play in front of their friends. Most club owners don’t care. As long as you put rear ends in the chairs and sell beer they don’t care who is playing. But that keeps you on your toes. That’s what I like about this town. And as far as song writing, it’s a very healthy scene because just when you think you may have just turned a good phrase or two, you hear someone else and go, “Ooh, they are pretty good too.” For instance I remember being on the road one time and I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the guy that opened the show was going, “Well I’ve written 100 songs.” And I said, “Well do you have any records out?” And he said, “No.” And I thought, Well if I’d written 100 songs and hadn’t gotten any records out or gotten a record deal I might kind of rethink what I’m doing. I wouldn’t be boasting that I’d written all this and nobody was interested. That’s the difference between being here and in an isolated place. I’m sure there everybody told him how great he was. And that doesn’t happen here and that’s a good thing. It makes you work hard.
AD: You played drums with Jerry Jeff Walker and with The Explosives. You play guitar also. Do you play any other instruments? Do you prefer one over the other?
FS: Drums is technically my main instrument. That’s the instrument I’m most studied on. I was self-taught on guitar but I do ok. I was never interested in being a lead guitar player but I wanted a musical instrument to be able to create songs with. I play a little keyboard and I wish I played more because there are so many different voice-ings on a keyboard—especially for songwriting. I play a little harmonica. I used to play violin but haven’t in 10 years and that’s an instrument you really have to keep up with. But I mainly play guitar and drums. When I was a high school kid I grabbed an accordion, I got a mandolin, and I got a violin and I was studying all this stuff which I think was healthy and good but one of my drum instructors said, “You know if you really want to do this for a living you should focus on a couple of things and really work hard.” And he was right. I really took drums and guitar and focused on those instruments.
AD: I understand you started a label. How is that going?
FS: It’s going great. It’s called SteadyBoy records and I started it in 2003. I had made that record Freddie Steady’s Wild Country over in London and it’s been out of print for years so when I got the ownership of the master back I decided to start a label mainly to keep my stuff in print. So it’s available; people can hear it. That’s how people pick songs for things they want to use. So I reissued Freddie Steady’s Wild Country in 2003 and then in 2005, the Explosives stuff had never been released on CD. We consistently through the years have gotten orders for our vinyl. In fact in 2004 an Italian label released a vinyl LP of the Explosives. I released that and licensed it to a label called Wizzard in Vinyl in Japan. That’s been doing really well. So I had those two releases and then I got involved with the teenage power pop group Jenny Wolfe and The Pack and I decided to put it out on my label. I released that and then I released a singer songwriter Vince Bell. And then mine is coming out on it.
AD: Do you like having the control of being a label?
FS: Yes. Of course along with that comes responsibility but what has happened is I have a staff publicist and I have a staff accountant and administrator. That takes so much off my shoulders and these are people that I totally trust. I know how to do it. The Explosives had set up a label called Black Hole Records in the late 70s so I got my feet wet doing that. That was in the real early days of indie records and it was so hard to get money out of distributors and I learned how to do all that stuff back then. It’s time consuming but I’m happy spending my time doing that.
AD: From a musicians standpoint you can do everything the right way.
FS: Absolutely. And I can offer that to whoever is on the label. The next thing, there is a really fabulous woman, a singer songwriter named Pamela Richardson, from Chicago. I’m going to produce her new record and that will come out this fall. I’m going back to England this September for three weeks. I’m going to do a bunch of gigs and then I’m going to record Freddie Steady’s Wild Country Part II. It will be released 20 years from when it was released in England and it will be with all the same guys. It’s Wes McGhee who is a singer song writer that I went over there to play drums with. BJ Cole the steel player, he is the guy. He played on “Tiny Dancer”, Elton John’s song. I saw him play in New York with John Cale. He played with Sting, The Who. Geraint Watkins, the guy I was talking about who plays with Van Morrison. Bob Loveday is a fiddle player who plays with Sir Bob Geldof. It’s really going to be fun.
AD: History question: How did you get started in music? When did you know that it was your path?
FS: I’m 53 and I started playing when I was 91/2. When I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, me and a million other kids went, “I want to do that”. I did it. I knew from when I was 10 years old that is what I wanted to do for a living and I have come to really appreciate that I was that focused. I thought everybody knew what they wanted to do. I did attend college—I did four semesters in one year. I went one full year straight through. It was stupid but I did it. Since I was 19, since ‘73, I’ve been playing for a living. I played in a Holiday Inn band when I first started—I didn’t know it wasn’t cool, I just wanted a gig. The great thing about that is you would play 4, 5 or 6 sets a night and there was no way than that to get better. I did that for about a year and then realized I needed to focus on original stuff. So then I moved to Austin in January of ‘74.
AD: I was going to ask what brought you here.
FS: when I quit playing music for a living I moved to Dallas briefly, I still don’t know why but I did, and then I moved back to Houston where I’m from. I was playing in a Holiday Inn band locally and I would go to this club Liberty Hall. That’s where I first saw B.W. Stevenson and ended up playing with him, the first time I saw Jerry Jeff was there. All the Austin stuff I saw there. I also saw ZZ Top there. It was right on the edge of downtown. They would have two shows and they would sell the first show and then if you kept your ticket you could see the second show. It was one of the only places I have ever been that people went there specifically to hear music. They weren’t there to score or pick somebody up. They knew if they went there they were going to hear something good. Those are rare. I remember I went to see Jerry Jeff and started talking to Herb Steiner, who was playing steel, and I said, “I really love this music and would love to get involved in it.” And he said, “Well move to Austin. That’s what going on.” And the light bulb went off and I moved here. The first year was slim. And then I got the gig with BW Stevenson–that was June ’75–so I was just barely 21. The next month we are going to LA to make a record. I was such a kid and it’s been good since then. I played with Jerry Jeff and then wanted to have a band that was doing my stuff so I started The Explosives in ‘79. Coincidentally, just a month after the Explosives got started Roky Erickson came back to town and a mutual friend said to him, “You ought to play with these guys because they are really great.” We started playing with Roky—in 2 years we did 46 gigs with him. Roky’s manager ended up becoming our manager.
I was so excited about the punk and new wave stuff. The 70s rock didn’t appeal to me at all. This was more real to me. Then like everything else that got bought up. You went from this really original scene to a flock of seagulls. Duran Duran, is that what I want? That’s not what I want. The most I could hope for was to end up with something like that. It got bought and cleaned up to be sold to white middle-America. That’s when I went over to England and started really looking at root stuff. Rock and Roll was in a terrible state then.
AD: What’s it like playing with the Explosives and Roky today?
FS: It’s so cool. I had old footage of us at this club called the Island in Houston from 1980 and we transferred it to digital and did a presentation at the Alamo and then we played. Cam King was the guitar player, I was the drummer, the original bass player, Waller Collie, is not involved anymore–we have Chris Johnson playing with us. We did these shows and they were a pretty high profile thing. About a month later Roky calls and says, “I’ve been thinking about playing again, would you guys back me up?” It was just like 20 years before. He was a little more tentative. When he came here from San Francisco he was right on the money but he hasn’t played in a while. So we worked out 3 songs for the Ice Cream Social that year and that was a big deal. From there we now do a whole set and are playing festivals everywhere. Besides the gigs and the music getting to watch that guy be happier than I’ve ever seen him is the best part. He got his driver’s license. He hadn’t had his driver’s license since he was a teenager. He’s gotten custody of himself back in the courts. He’s seen his ex wife Dana. He has a girlfriend. He quit smoking. He walks every day. It’s just heartwarming seeing how well he is doing and how happy he is. The guitar player, Cam and I have been best friends for 30 years. He was the best man at my wedding. All the records I made when the Explosives ended except for the one in England he’s come and played something on. Now he is playing on the Freddie Steady Five. It’s really been great.
AD: What do you think when you hear that Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World”?
FS: I think that it is but I feel that if you have to make it into a slogan then maybe it’s not. Having said that, I love our new airport. I played there last week. They have Amy’s ice cream, there’s barbecue, Mexican food–I think that’s very cool.
AD: Give me some wisdom for hopeful musicians who might be reading this.
FS: I would say obviously work hard. You have to be good at your instrument. Anybody that plays bass, guitar, drums or keyboard if you want to sing please sing. I try and teach my young students that if there are two bass players looking for a gig and one of them is a singer, who is going to get the gig? The more you can bring the better you will be. Be on time. Do what you say you are going to do. You are laughing but I’m telling you it happens. I know I can play but I attribute a lot of my success to being on time and doing what I said I was going to do.
AD: Is there anything else you want to tell Austin?
FS: Come see me play.