Houston, Texas 1978. Or possibly 1979. My RAM isn’t what it used to be.
I was mourning a failed marriage, sharing an apartment with a friend in the Montrose, an area best described as “awaiting gentrification.” It was affordable and convenient to the Delta Airlines reservations office where we both worked, but perhaps the best thing about it was its proximity to several small funky bars where there was good live music several nights a week. This was in the heyday of urban cowboys and the Austin sound, and there were lots of talented kickers schlepping their guitars around Texas.
So rather than sit around the apartment, bemoaning the tragedies of our lives, Jan and I sought consolation in music and margaritas, and we didn’t even have to drive home because most of the clubs were within walking distance. Perfect!
It was at a place called Corky’s that I first heard Shake Russell.
Music has always been a touchstone for me, certain songs or types of music becoming the embodiment of my mental and emotional state at various times. At that time and in that place nothing could have suited me better than the music of Shake Russell. Beautiful melodies, bittersweet lyrics and the voice of a man who’s seen his share of life. I bought the album (yes, the 33 rpm LP) “Songs on the Radio,” and the tracks “You’ve Got a Lover” and “Deep in the West” comforted me long after Texas was a dust cloud in my rear view mirror.
Fast forward to New Mexico August 19, 2009.
A woman named Dee Madole left the following message in the guestbook on my website:
Hi, Judi–I just received this email from my friend Helen! How did you hear Shake?
(Helen wrote) “I woke up early this morning, around 5am – too early to get up, so I picked up the book I’m reading. It’s The Baker’s Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks. After reading for a while, I came to a new chapter that began like this:
He likes going to Rhiannon’s in the morning when he’s the only one there. Sometimes he has a mooseburger, sometimes just coffee. She plays her entire collection of Texas music for him, some of it good, some awful, some he figures is simply an acquired taste. His favorite is one tape she has by a guy named Shake Russell. The recording sounds like it was done in somebody’s garage, maybe just because it’s a tape made from an old LP. But the tunes are contagious, the lyrics poignant, and the guy’s voice has just the right amount of gravel.
Curious, was this “Songs on the Radio”?
Turns out Dee Madole is Shake Russell’s wife. We began a three-way email correspondence—Dee, her friend Helen and I—which culminated in lunch at the Magnolia Café when I was in Austin visiting my friend Susan.
New Mexico July 23, 2012
Shake Russell played last night at the Santa Fe Plaza bandstand. We asked some friends to go with us and it was a great evening. The rain held off, the temperature cooled down, the Plaza was filled with people, sharing picnic suppers, dancing, singing along. There were kids and dogs, tourists and locals.
Someone requested “Deep in the West,” and the first bars yanked that string in me and I was suddenly awash in memories. I watched our friends slow dancing in front of the bandstand. As it happens, Jerry is my ex-husband from all those years ago, and his wife, Karol, is now one of my closest friends. After the last encore, I finally got to meet Shake Russell and tell him what his music has meant to me.
Life is so funny. So interesting. And often lovely.