by: Thomas D. Mooney
Three songwriters walk into a bar. They’re essentially royalty when it comes to what Lubbock music is over the past decade. Projected first ballot Hall of Famers. That kind of thing.
Charlie Shafter, Red Shahan, and Rodney Parker are sitting in the pool room opposite of The Blue Light stage on Saturday night at around closing time. Bar backs and door guys are threatening to take up your drinks. You can hear them shouting at the trios thirty closest
lingerers friends in the other room.
They’ve just finished off a set of about 30 songs between them. The songs come in punches. There’s no skips, mail-ins, or junk. Turd polishing will not suffice.
That’s what makes a song swap like this work. Shafter, Shahan, and Parker aren’t just great songwriters. They’re not just friends. There’s genuine respect between one another–an underrated aspect. You’re not just playing with some other songwriter; you’re playing with top shelf. In
some most cases, it’s just as important to impress the songwriter sitting to your right as it is the people sitting around the scattered tables on the dance floor.
A friendly, but necessary competition begins to brew. It’s possibly unbeknownst to Shafter, Shahan, and Parker, but it’s happening. You can’t be the guy who follows up “Guitars” with a shitty song about buying a girl a drink or your best backroad song. Fuck that. You better follow it with “East Side River Snake” or “Lost in a Crowd” (which is exactly what happened).
It’s little surprise that the three admire each other’s songs. They’re singing harmonies. Shafter is playing guitar on “Atlantic City” trying his best to mimic Levon Helm’s mandolin action on The Band’s version. They’re in silence when Shahan begins “14 Miles from Home.” They’re mesmerized by Shafter’s “Black Wind.”
Not that common courtesy shit either. Not that “We’re both songwriters and in one way or another, we’re into this together” sappy chicken shit front. It’s not a facade.
They give a shit. They give a shit about the songwriting, the craft, the process, the story, and the finished product. They don’t give a shit about whether it’s popular or is going to be the summer anthem for incoming college freshmen.
I’m not going to say they’re playing the set they’d play if no one was in the room except the three of them, because that’s probably not true. They’d probably show each other songs they’ve been working on over the year or so. They’d show each other the stuff they’re hesitant to show an audience–not because of insecurities or anything, but because they haven’t finished and perfected them just yet.
But what they do play is a series of heavy hitters. Song after song of Shafter, Shahan, and Parker staples with a handful of covers (The Grateful Dead, Ryan Adams, Tom Petty, Merle Haggard, Jackson Browne, Robert Earl Keen, Springsteen, Garth Brooks, and John Legend for example) and a new song or two mixed in–but for the most part, it’s the songs that leave you wowed and wanting more.