George Strait

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

The Republic of Texas only lasted for 10 years, but Texas’ spirit of independence will live on in its musicians forever. Texas, a long-time bastion for music, is the birthplace of thousands of famous musicians. In honor of Texas Independence Day, let’s take some time to recognize musicians who have made the Lone Star State proud.

Bob Wills, known as King of Western Swing during the 1930s and ’40s, created the Texas country style. Wills and his band, The Texas Playboys, sold millions of records across the U.S. while singing about historic Texas battles, locations, and the Texas spirit. “New San Antonio Rose,” Wills’ all-time best seller, exemplifies his musical genius. Although the lyrics were somber, Wills kept the feeling of the song upbeat and lively.

Willie Nelson, another famous Texas country singer-songwriter, helped reclaim country from the conservative performers in Nashville with his outlaw style. His 1975 album, Red Headed Stranger, clearly demonstrates Nelson’s audacity. Filled with stories of murder and redemption of the Old West, the album’s only moment of respite is “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which feels as wide open as Western Texas itself.

If there is one person who represents the Texas country sound today, it is George Strait. His discography is chock full of music professing his love for Texas, including “Amarillo by Morning,” “Somewhere down in Texas” and, most notably, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” Strait’s smooth sound embodies the spirit of modern Texas country.

In contrast to Strait’s style of Texas country, the Dixie Chicks’ bluegrass music is more laid back. They have sold over 30 million albums since 1989 and have won 13 Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. The ties to Texas in their music are strong. On their very first album, the group’s song “West Texas Wind” tells a narrative of a traveler who wishes to come home to Texas.

With strong roots in African-American culture, Texas blues has become just as popular as Texas country. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s recordings, which incorporate an improvisational jazz style and simple guitar accompaniment, are some early examples of Texas blues. In the 1930s, Lead Belly used his multi-instrumental skills to tell stories of the Texas trains he heard pass by his prison daily. A decade later, T-Bone Walker’s music in the 1940s would pioneer the electric blues sound.

As the emerging rock scene in the 1970s and ’80s enthralled the rest of America, Austin’s own Stevie Ray Vaughan brought the Texas blues back into the limelight. In his debut album, Vaughan declared himself to be the best bluesman of modern times. “Texas Flood” is slow and dramatic, but Vaughan tears up the track with his dramatic guitar riffs. His influence on Texas still resonates today.

Gary Clark Jr., heir to the Texas blues throne, saw his career take off in the late 2000s. Clark, who was born and raised in Austin, has performed alongside blues royalty, such as Eric Clapton and B.B. King. He made a name for himself with his smooth vocals and improvisational guitar solos. “Gary Clark Jr. Live” is Clark’s defining moment, bringing both his original tracks and covers together to demonstrate the emotional dynamics of electric blues blended with contemporary R&B. Clark’s “Travis County” is based on a real-life run-in with Austin law enforcement.

From Vaughan to Sandy Cheeks, the influence of Texas is reflected in the work of its musicians.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

Sitting on a large drafting table is a watercolor painting of George Strait. The painting is almost finished, but the artist is concerned about the eyes. “Does this do it for you? Can you feel it in the eyes?” he asked eagerly. 

William K. Stidham, a visual artist, has been making original watercolors for the last 13 years. He specializes in portrait paintings of other famous artists. According to Stidham, music festivals are the perfect place for people to discover his work. For the past eight years, he has set up shop within the confines of the ACL Art Market.  

“It’s my biggest show, and I do the biggest music festivals in the country,” Stidham said. “It’s like a homecoming for me.” 

Stidham is from San Antonio and graduated from UT with a degree in radio-television-film. He moved to Hollywood after graduation but did not have the fortitude to succeed at his age, he said. He ended up selling insurance until he quit at age 28. His next five years were spent writing a novel, which was never published. He said his failed attempt at publishing a book left him devastated with a lingering creative energy.

He started painting watercolors after buying a novice paint kit at Walgreens. He uses watercolors exclusively and develops depth in his paintings through layers of paint and a technique of pouring water straight on top of the paper. 

“I am considered a master watercolor artist,” he said. “And no one in the world paints like I do — you know why? Because I taught myself how to paint.”

Stidham is known mostly for his series of Sacred Heart paintings. According to Stidham, the Sacred Heart series draws people to his ACL booth. In his booth, there are portraits of musicians from many different genres, but in each portrait, there’s a heart emblem on the chest. 

“The heart represents that heart energy — that emotional milestone that we experience when we hear our favorite musicians,” Stidham said.

According to Stidham, a music festival is an appropriate venue for his work because of the communal aspect of experiencing music.

“There are people who come back year after year; there’s friends,” Stidham said. “Me being here for so long — everybody comes by the booth.”

He painted for a few years, mastering his technique before debuting his first Sacred Heart portrait of Willie Nelson. In the portrait, Stidham uses red, black, gold and white. His concert was Stidham’s first concert and also the first of many musicians that Stidham has painted.  

“My passion for rock ’n’ roll, my passion for the music, my passion for the people I was painting were really exhibited in these paintings,” he said.

Stidham’s studio is full of paintings, but not all of them are portraits of musicians. People commission Stidham to paint other popular figures who exist within the collective unconscious — Andy Worhol and Robin Williams, for example.

“I’m all about thriving,” Stidham said. “There’s no starving artist here; I don’t believe in it.” 

Joe Satriani performs at a benefit concert in Austin on Monday night. Fire Rel

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Texas musical legends Willie Nelson and George Strait donated their time and talent to aid Bastrop residents in rebuilding their community during a benefit concert held at the Frank Erwin Center Monday night.

Fire Relief: The Concert for Central Texas, was proposed by American guitarist Eric Johnson as a way to raise money for the community of Bastrop in light of September’s wildfires.

UT joined with the Frank Erwin Center, The Medina Group, the Austin Community Foundation and various Texas musicians in organizing the event, hosted by screenwriter and actor Turk Pipkin and actor Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights.

“We’ll get through this,” Johnson said. “The sun will shine and everything will be alright.”

According to western musician Ray Benson, Johnson started the idea of getting together the benefit concert in hopes of rebuilding not only the homes of the Bastrop victims, but also their spirits.

“Bastrop county will survive, it will come back from this,” Bastrop fire chief Henry Perry said.

Tickets, T-shirts and all proceeds gained from the concert went towards the Texas Wildfire Relief Fund. About 24,000 people attended the concert and raised about $500,000 for the victims.

The concert began with a performance by Chris Cross and proceeded with performances by Johnson, Benson, Terri Hendrix, Joe Satriani, the Texas Tornados, the Randy Rogers Band, Asleep at the Wheel, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Willie Nelson, the Avett Brothers and the Dixie Chicks. George Strait ended the night with a few popular songs and thanked the audience for their support.

“People came from all over the country and all on their own time just to be here for this benefit concert,” Pipkin said.

Pipkin and Chandler encouraged the audience to donate what they could to the relief fund between each act, and short films and documentaries were shown of the victims and their losses. After each film, an advertisement encouraging a minimum donation of $10 to the relief fund was displayed on the screens.

Pipkin said the benefit concert could not have been so successful without the voluntary efforts of the musicians and sponsors.

“The goal was to help people effected by the fire regain their livelihood,” Pipkin said. “This fire is not going to get us down.”