by: Thomas D. Mooney
Tuesday night at The Blue Light. It’s nearly 10pm. From across the street, the lights eliminate the hollow dancefloor in front of the stage and accompanying empty bar. A handful are standing near the bar. Outside, a few surround a table with beer bottles in their hands.
On approach, their faces become defined. Their voices become recognizable and distinct. Dave Martinez, Stephen St. Clair, and Lou Lewis are standing with a few friends discussing old bands and the last time they’d bought cigarettes from Firehouse on the opposite corner of the intersection.
You just hope it’s not a dead night. You just hope it’s not a crowd full of shitheads celebrating one’s company. More or less, you’re hoping they don’t just dismiss the names on the bill as nobodies–as background noise that just interrupted the great house music.
From around the corner comes the fourth of four Lubbock songwriters playing. He’s carrying a couple of guitar cases and looks just as giddy as you’d imagine a high school Spanish teacher on summer break would be.
The four–Martinez, St. Clair, Parks, and Lewis–are in this strange category of Lubbock music. By their own admission, they’re unknown to the larger part of Lubbock. They’re not on the radio. Combined, they have less than 1,500 Facebook likes. Their ReverbNation stats aren’t all-star numbers. Those who came in on a whim, they’re unfamiliar with their songs–they literally heard about 28 new songs if they stayed all night.
Yet, in their own way and for various reasons, they’re mentioned by Lubbock songwriters and musicians as some of their absolute favorites. It’s absolutely deserved.
The list could go on for a while, but the four would all be near the top of a hypothetical “Lubbock’s Most Underrated Songwriters” list.
It’s around 11 and the four get on stage each armed with a guitar. A few minutes of soundchecks happen. A few tables in the front fill up. The bar gradually turns around looking at the stage. The corner of yawpers carry on with their rowdy tendencies and counting down to midnight (Apparently someone was celebrating a birthday).
The four, at times, fumble over each on the microphones between songs–hell, it’s the first time the four have been on stage together. It feels like they should take it on the road–at least a few in Far West Texas. I imagine flyers and posters in which they pose like the cover of Young Guns would be best.
The night rolls on.
They’re not the same songwriter. Lewis’ dark, dusting, and haunting high and lonesome folk ballads get balanced by Parks’ country folk storytellers. St. Clair’s jumping jazz moments fill the room when Martinez’ soaring vocals leave it. Guitar picking parts come in when two-chorders finish.
After a song is finished, you see it in singer’s eyes that they sort of just want to jump off stage and watch from the front table until it’s back to his song. In that sense, it’s reminiscent of a guitar being passed around a kitchen table or a back patio on a calm summer night.
At some point, the turned heads aren’t just looking at what’s going on by whoever is playing and turn into “what can I do to add to this moment?” Parks pulls out some brushes and uses his guitar as an improv drum top. Some extra guitar parts get added to this and that. They’re just playing along. Toying with the whole thing.
You get the impression that Parks wouldn’t mind producing each of their next records. Wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
“I’m so glad to have shared the stage with these three guys tonight,” is said numerous times by each guy as the night goes on. In a way, it’s sappy–a bromance on stage.
It goes back to what I’ve said a hundred times: Sometimes–most of the time–it’s more important that the other folks on stage get it than anyone else in the building. It’s more important that your contemporaries value your running catalog of songs than you or I.