We did it! The Indiegogo Campaign for The Shopkeeper: A Documentary about Mark Hallman and the Congress House is a success!
However, in the flurry of the final days I failed to achieve my goal of posting a little something about a few of the artists who have recorded at the Congress House. So without further ado, here are the final five of the CH All Stars!
Originally hailing from Minnesota, singer/songwriter/guitarist Randy Weeks was a founding member of the Los Angeles-based country-rock band the Lonesome Strangers, who recorded his song “Ton of Shame” on their 1986 album, Lonesome Pine. The group’s self-titled 1989 album featured his song “Daddy’s Gone Gray,” and both his “Fine Way to Treat Me” and “Ton of Shame” were on 1997’s Lonesome Strangers album Land of Opportunity. (All three songs were co-written by Jeff Rymes, co-leader of the band.) Weeks appeared as a vocalist on Dwight Yoakam’s albums Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room (1988) and Under the Covers (1997). He sang and played several instruments on the 1989 self-titled album by Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts, which featured his song “I Was Just Feeling Good.” He has appeared on albums by Pete Anderson, Rick Shea, Ramsay Midwood, Anny Celsi, Dee Lannon, and Tony Gilkyson. His recording of his song “Countryside with You” was featured on the soundtrack of the film Shallow Hal in 2001. His most successful song is “Can’t Let Go,” which has been recorded by the Burden Brothers, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Mason Daring, Hometown News, and Lucinda Williams, and was featured on the soundtrack of the 1998 film Jack Frost, in Williams’ version. Weeks’ debut solo album, Madeline, was released by HighTone Records on March 13, 2000. He self-released Sold Out at the Cinema on June 6, 2004, and followed it with Sugarfinger on August 22, 2006. Relocating to Austin, TX, from his longtime base in Los Angeles, he signed to Certifiable Records, which released his fourth album, Going My Way, on February 24, 2009.
Although the work of new traditionalist singer/songwriter Kelly Willis earned widespread critical acclaim, she found little in the way of comparable commercial success; her sound, a smart hybrid of country and rock, simply assimilated both musical styles too well to gain acceptance in either camp. Born in Oklahoma and raised in the Washington, D.C., area, she began performing in her boyfriend (and future husband) Mas Palermo’s band at the age of 16. Her powerhouse vocals were so popular with club audiences that soon the group was renamed Kelly & the Fireballs in her honor. After Willis graduated high school, the band moved to Austin, Texas, only to break up six months later.
As a result, Willis began learning to play guitar while drummer Palermo honed his songwriting chops. The duo started a new band, Radio Ranch, with guitarist David Murray, steel player Michael Hardwick, and bassist Michael Foreman. One of Radio Ranch’s performances so impressed singer Nanci Griffith that she began lobbying her label, MCA, to sign to group, leading to Willis’ 1990 debut, Well-Travelled Love. In an attempt to capitalize on Willis’ stunning looks, she was marketed as a girl-next-door type, and despite the presence of the full band, only her name appeared on the album jacket. Despite the glowing reviews, the LP fared poorly, and so, for her 1991 sophomore effort, Bang Bang, she was depicted as a coquettish pinup. Again, however, the good publicity the record received did not translate to radio airplay, let alone chart sales.
For her third album, comprised largely of her own songs, Willis joined forces with pop producer Don Was; the self-titled 1993 effort suffered the same fate as its predecessors, however, and she was dropped by MCA shortly after its release. Following a few years of relative inactivity, she resurfaced in 1995, duetting with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar on the Red Hot & Bothered compilation, and after issuing a 1996 independent label EP, Fading Fast, announced plans for a 1997 LP on A&M. In late 1996, she married fellow Austin musician Bruce Robison.
As the ’90s drew to a close, Willis inked a deal with Rykodisc. Her fourth album, What I Deserve, appeared in 1999 and it was a breakthrough hit for Willis. Time Magazine hailed the album as “the smartest, most consistently worthwhile country CD” to have been released that year. Three years later, Willis returned to the scene with Easy, which included collaborative efforts with Vince Gill, Union Station’s Dan Tyminski, and Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile. Willis tossed her hat into the crowded yuletide scene in 2006 with the amiable Happy Holidays, followed by her seventh album, the Chuck Prophet-produced Translated from Love in 2007. In 2008, Willis announced she was taking some time off from the road. She made only sporadic appearances, usually as a guest with Robinson, but otherwise kept a low profile. She finally emerged from her long silence with Cheater’s Game, a collaborative album with her husband produced by Brad Jones. The set featured songs by Dave Alvin, Robert Earl Keen, Hayes Carll, and others; it was released in in time for Valentine’s Day in 2013. Critical and popular reception of the recording proved so promising, the two decided to collaborate on another duets collection with the same producer. Our Year was released in the spring of 2014.
Wiretree is an indie rock band from Austin, Texas led by Kevin Peroni. Initially a solo project based on homemade recordings, Peroni released Bouldin in 2007, and later recruited other band members to solidify the project. Four albums later, the band has been featured on “Satellite Sets” (an Austin City Limits live taping), toured Europe and played numerous music festivals including SXSW and China’s biggest music festival, the Strawberry Music Festival.
Since 1995, multi-instrumentalist Miriam Davidson and songwriter Kiya Heartwood (Stealin Horses) have made an art of inspiring performances and award winning songs. A Wishing Chair concert is a passionate mix of intelligent lyrics, spell-binding storytelling and breathtaking harmony over a full folk and roll sound. Heartwood’s percussive guitar work and wide open vocals compliments Davidson’s tasteful use of a myriad of instruments: piano, accordion, banjo, hand drums and bouzouki.
They perform in venues ranging from The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville to Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, Uncle Calvin’s in Dallas and Club Passim in Cambridge,The Ark in Ann Arbor and at festivals including the National Women’s Music Festival, the Kerrville Folk Festival, the Clearwater Folk Festival, the South Florida Folk Festival and the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Their eighth and latest CD, “Stand Up 8” has just been released. Wishing Chair’s music has received many honors including, Best New Folk CD of 2006 from JPFolks for Underdog. Their seventh CD, Folk and Roll, was nominated for a 2009 Best Contemporary Folk CD award.
54 Seconds were an American rock band from Austin, Texas. Consisting of Spencer Gibb on vocals and guitar, J. J. Johnson on drums and vocals, Stewart Cochran on piano, synthesizer, keyboard and vocals and Glenn McGregor on bass. The band’s first name was Jez Spencer but later changed to 54 Seconds.
Spencer Gibb, who formed the band is the eldest son of Robin Gibb, best known as a member of the Bee Gees. His mother is Molly Hullis worked as the personal assistant to Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein until his death. The group’s story originally begins with a dream, a dream that Spencer had in Miami, Florida, urging him to move to Texas as he explains: “If there’s anything I can say about living in Miami and doing drugs, it’s that I learned to play guitar”. Spencer formed a band called Jez Spencer the original line-up was Gibb, Johnson, Stewart Cochran, Johnny Goudie and Einar. Johnson suggested Cochran, who he had seen play with Abra Moore and David Garza. Gibb e-mailed Cochran, who at the time was touring Europe with Jimmy LaFave. When Cochran got back to Texas, he hooked up with Johnson and Gibb at the Austin Rehearsal Complex (ARC), and after hearing some demos, decided that he was in for the long haul. Later, Johnny Goudie left early to formed his band Goudie. After eight months, Einar also left the group as he also participated on the band Goudie. The remaining members played with a numerous of bassists including George Reiff. For the next few months, Jez Spencer played shows, until Reiff left. “A perfect pop song chorus comes in at around 54 seconds,” he said. Gibb thought he was crazy and told Wadlow, “We’ll name our band 54 Seconds and you can go [censored]”.
The quartet have become a popular band in the Austin area and they play every week at the Speakeasy at 412 Congress Avenue. Their debut album E.P. was released. They call their style, Alternative rock and pop, psychedelic and they were influenced by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Prince.
“You’ve got three camps when it comes to being famous,” he explains. “One, people who don’t know or care at all. Two, people that do know and expect you to sound like your father and are disappointed when you don’t. Three, people who don’t want you to sound like your father but look for the similarities. ‘Aha! I heard vibrato!'”