Steven Fromholz: A 1986 Interview (Part One of Two)
On Monday, May 26, a Steven Fromholz Memorial Concert will be held at Threadgill Theatre as part of the 2014 Kerrville Folk Festival. A reminiscence of the Memorial Concert will form the fourth and final part of this tribute to the late musician. Below, you'll find an interview with Steven Fromholz dating from 1986, which constitutes Parts One and Two. Part Three of this tribute is a biography, which includes details of Steven's exploits 1986 - 2014.
This interview with Steven Fromholz was conducted in Room 216 of the Y.O. Ranch Resort Hotel, Kerrville, Tex., on the evening of Tuesday May 27, 1986. Steven had just played the interviewer a tape of his latest recording, which at that time, was titled Love Songs. The interview commenced as follows:
Steven Fromholz: I was born in Temple, Tex., in 1945--June 8th. I had a Texas mom, born in Kopperl, Tex.--Bosque County--a small town girl. My father was a Wisconsin guy, from Randolph, Wisconsin--areal sharp guy, named Al Fromholz, who was a major in the Army when they met. My mother worked at Camp Hood and they got together. I was born there because the war was still on. The war ended, and dad went to work for the Ford Motor Company. We travelled in the Mid-West from Wisconsin to Texas until, I guess, I was eleven years old. We always came back to Texas, when things got weird. I attended eleven different Grade Schools. It was fun being a kid, living in all those places. Being the new kid I quickly learned how to get to know people. I know a bunch of folks who are my age, who were raised in Airforce and Army families. One of my partners in Felicity Records was an Airforce kid. He went to sixteen Grade Schools - same thing - you're the new kid all the time. You've got to learn to fight, or you got to learn to talk (laughs) - and I come from a long line of talkers.
Folk Villager: What was your first contact with music?
Both my folks sang real well, and I sang. My dad was a Catholic and mom was a Methodist, so we ended up Episcopalians. It was a pretty natural compromise. I sang in the choir at the Methodist Church in Kopperl, Tex., because my grandmother went to church every Sunday. We went to church when we were down there, and I was down there a lot, as a kid. In the Episcopal Church in Des Moines and in Memphis, I sang in choirs there. They had real big churches downtown, and real big choirs. I can't remember if it was Memphis or Des Moines, but I had my picture in the local newspaper, as one of the top three choir boys. I love to sing like that. My older sister Angela also liked to sing--she had a different father, the same mom. Angela sang all the time and played great piano by ear. By the time I was five or six years old, I was already singing the current hit songs--Teresa Brewer songs and stuff. I would sing harmony with Angela. She cut records for Sun Records in the early '50s. She was Angie Bailey and sang country music on the Louisiana Hayride and Hayloft Jamboree and similar shows. She'd love to hear me say that. She sang all the time and would have been a ballerina, but she was almost six feet tall. There wasn't much call for six foot ballerinas. She sang great, still sings great. The first time I ever saw a guitar really played in person, Angie played it. I sang with her all the time, probably from about five years old. I guess all of us who came from the country, sang in the churches. I came from the country and the city; it was a country-politan thing. The first time I ever performed in public was at the Grove School in Kopperl, Tex., and I sang "The Yellow Rose Of Texas." I sang the shit out of it. That’s where all that comes from.
How did you end up in Denton, Tex.?
Mom and dad divorced, and I ended up back in Texas with mother. We settled in Denton. This was in 1957, and I was in the sixth hrade. I had met Elvis Presley, because my sister dated him in Memphis, Tenn., around 1954-55, just as he was starting out. His first single wasn’t even out. He came to my house, and Angela dated him. When his first record hit Denton, I told my schoolmates about that, and they said “Bullshit!” But it was true. That's just what happened, so I felt a kinship in that and I got off hard, you know, at twelve years old. My mother remarried, and the man she married ran a coin machine business in Denton. Coin machines being jukeboxes, pinball, drinks, coffee, candy and cigarette machines. I worked on jukeboxes from the time I was thirteen, until I left home at seventeen years old. I installed wall boxes in cafes. I bought the singles in Dallas, when "Everyday" was a hit [Editor's Note: Initially "Everyday" was the B-Side of the 1957 Buddy Holly hit "Peggy Sue"), I bought that record in Dallas from Big State Records and put it on the jukeboxes in Denton. I graduated high school in 1963. Denton, Tex., that year was American Grafitti--the movie--that was exactly what it was, right down to the kid getting killed in the car wreck and the ladies fighting in the bath, the whole nine yards. The music was always there, and I heard all the songs when they first came out. I bought the damned records. In Ellison’s Record Shop in Denton back in 1959, you could go down there pick your favourite platter go into the listening booth and play it. So I did. We’d be there during the afternoon, when we weren't playing basketball. I got to introduce other kids to these records, because I told my step-daddy what to buy. I bought them all. Once I could drive, I went to Dallas and bought the records. It was fun.
When did you start attending North Texas State College?
I went to North Texas State in 1963. I’d been going to High School in Denton, and married my High School sweetheart. The really big mistake she made was to give me a banjo for a wedding present. In the 1950’s I was tuned into the Kingston Trio. They killed me. The Limelighters slayed me. I mean, they tore me up. Then I got into Clarence "Tom" Ashley and Doc Watson and those guys. I was buying records out of Playboy--I bought this big folk collection which, I guess, my ex-wife still has. The box was about two inches thick and full of these old folk records. I also listened to Appalachian music and Erik Darling records. I wanted to play banjo, and so I got one. I even started playing banjo in bed. That’s a bad sign. I bought myself a guitar around a year later, and that was the end of it. I went to North Texas State and, although I didn't play with a band, I could sing pretty good, so I ended up President of the North Texas State Folk Music Club. My old pal Travis Holland attended North Texas State, and he has played with everybody from Michael Murphey, to me, to Jerry Jeff Walker. He was our guru for a long time, and still may be again. I hope he is. I met Michael Murphey there. I met Donny Brooks. The harmonica work you heard on my new tape that was him. He is currently a member of the band in the show Big River--the Broadway play that Roger Miller wrote the music for. I digress. Johnny Vandiver--the late great Johnny Vandiver, who was brutally murdered in Houston--he was in that area at that time. From 1962 to 1965 we all played a lot of music.
You played for Rod Kennedy at the Zilker Park Summer Music Festivals...
I played for Rod Kennedy as a member of the Dallas County Outpatients, which was me and Segal Fry, one of our mentors--all of our mentors--plus Vandiver, Travis Holland, Donny Brooks, Murphey and a jug player named Ted Kak--a great jug player, with incredible endurance. [Editor's Note: Initially I thought that by making a joke of the band name, Steven was playing down his involvement with Murphey and Fry in the Dallas County Jug Band. However, the Outpatients were mentioned in Kathryn Casey’s article "Blues And Bad Blood," in Issue 521 of Rolling Stone magazine. The article focused on the brutal February 1985 murder of Vandiver and his girlfriend Debbie Davis. Vandiver was also regular performer at Kerrville, and Fromholz contributed to Casey’s article.] Prior to that, I was in the Michael Murphey Trio at North Texas State. It was the first truly organized singing I did with others. It was me, Patty Loman--beautiful girl, lovely girl--and Michael. We sang on the green bean circuit. The cold grey meat, green bean circuit that's they have in Lion Clubs and Qantas Clubs, social functions like that.
Murphey at that point, then seemed to zoom off...
Well, he zoomed off. I’ll give you the chronology on that. I ran away from home in February 1965. I filled my car with gas, threw in my guitar and headed for New Orleans. I left my wife and ran away from home at twenty years old.
Was your daughter Darcie around at this stage?
No. Darcie didn’t arrive till later, with my second wife. I’ve had three of those. I’m married to my third wife at the moment. Darcie was born after I came back from New Orleans. I ran away, started to write songs, and lived in the French Quarter with a pal of mine and his wife. I was drinking cheap vodka and being crazy. Listening to the blues at a place called the Dream Castle. Once I’d done that, I knew that music had to come first. It was music that took me away from home. It's what I wanted to do all the time. I didn’t exactly know how to say that back then, or else I would have told my wife. When I came back to Texas, it was then, that the jug band came together. That lasted April, May, and June. In July, I went to California because the band had broken up. Everybody had lost interest. We weren’t making any money. It was just a wonderful, wonderful lark.
Murphey moved to California and fell in with Randy Sparks [founder of The New Christy Minstrels] and all those folks. Michael Nesmith was involved in that stuff at that time. Anyway, I moved out there. My mother was in California by that stage, leasing properties in Century City. I went out to live with her and worked for 20th Century Fox digging ditches for a while. I made $3.39 an hour riding a jack-hammer. It was great work. I was dating this beautiful girl, named Penny Barnett.
Late in 1965, I got my draft notice. By then I was divorced, so I joined the Navy. I didn't want to go to Fort Polk and join the Army, and go fight in Vietnam and get killed. I was in the Navy in California from 1965 till 1968. I spent the last year and a half of that in San Francisco. That is where singing in clubs really set in--and singing with other folks. For a time I had a duo called the Buffalo Chips with a gal named Judy Caldwell. I met Michael Williams out there, and he was part of Frummox for a while. Then he went in the Army, and Dan McCrimmon and I became Frummox. I was singing four nights a week, and was in the Navy five days a week. I got out early, because they thought I was crazy. I guess I was at that time, because I wasn't sleeping well. I must have been crazy. It was an honorable discharge, and then I began singing full time. I moved to Arizona for a while and wrote "Man With The Big Hat" while I was there. I wasn’t there very long. Maybe February 1968 till May 1968. Then I headed to Colorado and that’s when I really became a folksinger. I lived in Denver for a couple of years and in Evergreen for two years. I also lived in Guadio for two years. Dan and I worked together from around September 1968. We did some gigs, and became Frummox from October 1968 till May 1971.
Where did you meet Dan?
I met Dan on the third day I was in Denver at a bar downtown. I was just wandering around. By then I’d met Dow Patterson and Becky Patterson, Hondo Crouch--you’re hip to Hondo Crouch? Becky Patterson is Hondo Crouch’s daughter. They were in the Air Force and living in Denver. Dow and Becky had known Mike Williams back in Texas. We went over to their house on the second night and hung out with them. Dan and Dow also knew each other. Anyway, next day, went to this bar and McCrimmon walked over and said, “You must be Dow’s hippie friends” [laughs]. So Dan started playing harmonica with me and Mike Williams.
Yes, he was a stage shy person. He’s not stage shy anymore, but he's still very low key. Unfortunately, compared to me, everybody except Mike Williams is stage shy. [Editor's note: Here’s a short Mike Williams history. Raised in Birmingham, Ala. After his army service, he settled in Austin, Tex., and performed on the local folk music scene. He founded BF Deal Records, and released his own albums and others by Bill & Bonnie Hearne and Nanci Griffith.] Daniel had a softness and a gentleness about him that was very appealing. Our voices blended in a very funny way. They’re nowhere near alike - they just blend in a funny way. We worked at it. We were together all the time, for a long time.
Where did the name Frummox come from?
Judy Caldwell, my partner in Buffalo Chips...we sang at the Drinking Gourd on Union Street, every Thursday night. It was a great joint. That’s where "Texas Trilogy" was first performed in public. I wrote the song in San Francisco during 1967. Anyway, she thought I was clumsy and put Fromholz and lummox together, and that’s where Frummox came from. Interesting huh? [laughs]
After Frummox you continued living in Colorado...
I didn’t leave there till 1974. I went to work for Stephen Stills during 1971. I had met Stills in 1969, I guess. We made the Frummox record Here to There. It was released in 1969 and included my "Song For Stephen Stills." I sent a copy of the album to him and he called me one night in May 1971 and said, “Come to my house. I want to talk to you.” So I did.
Dick Weissman who produced the Frummox album, is he the guy who had been in a folk group with John Phillips?
You mean the Journeymen, with Scott McKenzie and John Phillips? Yes, that’s the same guy. The best banjo player I ever heard in my life.
Supposedly, he was more of an academic than a performer.
He is an academic, but he also spent... those early Philadelphia hits--the Bobby Rydell stuff--all that stuff that came out of Philly... that was Dick Weissman playing guitar on those songs.
Totally incongruous, but Dick was this homely Philadelphia Jewish kid, who became a great musician. As a kid, he’s playing on all those cuts. He went to New York after that and became one of the most sought after studio players there. He could play anything with strings on it, pretty much. A really great guitar player. Almost any style you wanted to hear. His forte, in my mind, was the banjo. He also produced lots and lots of stuff. He is a great musician, but he’s very academic. He’s a stylist and an artist, as well as an academic. Harry Tuft ran the Denver Folklore Centre and it was the first place I ever played in Denver. Dan and I worked for him. We played his joint, when he put on concerts. He had the most sought after little concert hall in Denver, or the West for that matter... well, the mountain West. He said, Weissman was the guy to produce us, so he got us together with Dick. We cut that record in August, so I guess we met Dick in July. We went to his house and just worked on all the ideas we had for the album.
"The Texas Trilogy" is an incredible song. Did all those characters really exist?
There really was a Mary Martin and a Billy Archer. They didn’t marry. that was just me being poetic. The situation was there however, but the names were different. I went to school with those people. Billy Archer and I thought that Mary Martin was the neatest thing that ever walked the face of the earth. The situation occurred with different people, and I used Billy Archer and Mary Martin’s names because they were so dear to me at that time. They just stayed with me. The situation, however, is totally real.
Going back to Stephen Stills...
I went off to play rock and roll [laughs]. It was an amazing experience. I went as far into that as you can go into the rock and roll experience, and still survive. I loved it.
Did you appear on any of the tracks on the first, double Manassas album?
I think I have one rhythm track on the first record. I’ve listened to it. I quit the band because it was not making sense to me. I guess it must have scared me. I had to evaluate the priorities in my personal life. Janey, the lady who puts up with all my crap, was a lot more important to me, as was my sanity. It just didn’t make sense to me, what I was doing. There was a "rock" that I knew about, and I flew her down to see if that would make it better, but it didn’t. It was just a situation that I was in. I had walked willingly into it, and would not change a thing, except perhaps do a bit more. I thought I had a good time. Eventually I’m gonna write my autobiography.
You toured with Stills though, along with the Memphis Horns.
We did twenty-four shows in fifty days. This was before Manassas. We went to England on 1st June 1971 and stayed there three weeks and rehearsed. Came back, and went to Memphis for ten days and rehearsed. Then we went out on the road. I was playing rhythm guitar and singing second vocals. Originally, we had a five piece band. When Joe Lala joined us, we started doing a six-piece rock androll set.
Stephen, myself and Fuzzy Samuels, who is an incredible bass player, plus Dallas Taylor the drummer and Paul Harris, who is a great, great keyboard player. That was the five-piece band and then Joe Lala joined us after a while, on percussion. We became a six-piece. Stephen and I did an acoustic thing together with two guitars, and after a while I started to do two or three songs on my own during the set.
Were these your own songs?
Yea, they were my own tunes. Stephen would come out and do a big piano thing--"America’s Children" and stuff. Then the Horns came out and we ended with a thirteen-piece onstage, and we really kicked ass. We were great, when we were great. We were awful, when we were awful. We had some great nights though.
Backtracking to Frummox, there’s a comment on the liner of that first album, about staying in New York with Jerry Jeff Walker and his first wife, while you were recording the album...
Yes. I met Jerry Jeff in Austin in 1969. This was in early 1969, prior to going to New York. We were working down there, playing at a place called the Chequered Flag that Rod Kennedy owned. At that time, it was Rod’s club. Segal Fry and Allen Damron took over shortly after that. Anyway, I met Jerry Jeff down there. He was a great help in New York, because Dan and I had never been there before...well, I think Daniel had been there once. We stayed in New Jersey for a while and hung out with Dick. That was in Roosevelt, New Jersey and we rehearsed and put shit together. Dick got Eric Weissberg to come in and play--all those wonderful players. We spent some great times at Jerry’s house. We didn't have any money, and Jerry at that time, had a lot of money. Jerry and I together, could roar as hard you would want roaring done. If you wanted something roared, he and I could roar it for you. He could do it by himself, but with me, we could bring the house down. We drank all the ale we could in a bar on 65th Street one night, and then got thrown out for bitching, because they had ran out. That was lightweight shit. Jerry and I have been friends for a long time. We returned the favour when Janey and I lived in Gold Hill. He came up there on his birthday in March, two years running. He just showed up. His birthday is the day before St. Patrick’s Day, and the celebration in Gold Hill was tough anyway, because there were some Irishmen up there. It’s a little mountain town above Boulder. Jerry certainly added to the celebration. It was crazy, but it was wonderful crazy, and I was always pleased to have Jerry come up. We were up in the mountains. He’d come up and play some shows in March, in the mountains, at 8,300 feet. There's snow everywhere, and he shows up in a snakeskin jacket, that he traded Gordon Lightfoot out of. This was his warmth. He wouldn’t move far away from the bed he was in, except maybe for the length of the cord on the electric blanket. Our outhouse was always out, and he had to go pee outside. It was fun. We’d just drink all the Irish Whiskey we could, and then go down to Denver and get an egg salad sandwich, to feel better [laughs]. He returned the favour.
We came back to Texas. I quit Stills in the Fall of 1971, crashed and bottomed out that Christmas. I ran out of money. I ran out of cocaine. I had damned near run out of friends. Janey and I decided I needed to play music, because that was what I did. By the following April, we’d packed. We had a house built on the back of the pick-up truck - a big house, built in there. We just packed up and gave away a third of our shit. Sold a third of our shit and threw away a bunch. We hit the road from April till September that year in that truck. I played my songs in Texas and travelled around. I played clubs all over. Went over to Arkansas and saw old Roger Hopps, one of my pals from the Memphis Horns. I played dates wherever I could. I sold a guitar here and there, if I needed loot. Then I began hooking up with some Texas players who had wound up back in Texas. We were living in Evergreen by that Fall. I started putting bands together. Bands like Captain Duck And The Farmers Electric Co-op Boys, which was a little psychedelic country band. I also had a band called the Bluebonnet Plague, and played - this was just before progressive country hit, or scared us, or whatever that was. We played lots of music. Then I moved down to Texas in 1974, because the business was there. I hooked up with Moon Hill Management and cut with Capitol from 1975 onwards.
Going back a little, you cut an album for Countryside Records in 1973, but it was never released. Where had you met Michael Nesmith?
I’m not exactly sure how that came about. Larry Watkins was my manager at the time. He also handled Rusty Wier and Michael Murphey for a while, and B. W. Stevenson. He had a contact out in California and sent them some of my stuff. I was still living in Colorado, and working with management out of Texas. Michael came out to see me in Colorado, and we decided to make the record. He was working with Countryside Records which was part of WEA--Warners Bros, Elektra and Atlantic.
Jac Holzman was still there at that time.
He was the key. Holzman got kicked upstairs, or wherever they kick those folks. Michael, as they say in California, “lost his powerbase.” He got dumped and so the record never came out. I’ve got the masters. He sent me the masters. Michael is a gentleman. They’ll never come out. I listen to them now and again.
I have a tape copy of that album and I think that it’s pretty good.
It never had a chance to get mixed up right, and be taken care of right, because of all that was going on. Everything was shaking real hard and Michael didn’t know where the hell he was standing. It was a really good experience for me, however.
Don’t you think that it was the difference between Holzman being in control of a label, where the product had a degree of credibility, and the next guy who came along--David Geffen--having one objective in mind, which was making money irrespective of quality?
I’m not sure what it was. That was as naive as I ever was, making records. The Frummox record, I was not naive because I knew nothing, and knew that I knew nothing. A little knowledge is very dangerous. I'd actually known Michael since 1965. I’d met him when he was working with Randy Sparks - Randy had these "farm troupes" for those singers he had--the New Christy Minstrels. He had this "farm club," which was called Leadbetters. When I worked for 20th Century Fox, $3.39/hour was pretty good money for a twenty year old kid. I went out a lot with my friend Penny Barnett, and we would go down there a lot. I heard a lot of folk music down there. I would listen closely to the songs they performed. My writing was really starting to change from being a student in College, writing funny, right-wing protest music. That was what I had been doing, because America was always right, and God was on our side. Once I had been out in the bigger world and saw more things and bigger things--not necessarily better--seeing that different stuff, my writing started to develop. I was listening to whatever I could hear. The Ash Grove was only down the street from where I lived in Los Angeles. I would go there and listen to the best bluegrass in the world. Everybody came through town, I had never had that experience before. Nobody ever came through Denton, and I didn’t go to Dallas that much. There was a most definite change in my writing at that time.
Once you knew the Countryside album wasn’t coming out, was that motivation to move to Austin?
I had a market here, and I could work out of here successfully. At that time, I could make a living in Austin alone, in 1974 to 1976, what with the progressive country scene. It was incredible. That’s where it really happened. It didn’t happen anywhere else in the country, for real, but it happened in Austin. It happened hard. Everybody was real, real high and real, real drunk and having the greatest time of their lives. Everybody was real young and real hot. The summer nights were hot and the girls weren’t wearing many clothes. It was Austin at its best I think. The mid-seventies were dynamite.
Oh, it's just fine these days, but it's not like... it has outgrown that relaxed, unembarrassed frivolity. It has become very self-conscious. Austin is self-conscious, and Austin wasn’t self-conscious during the seventies. The players weren’t. The audiences weren’t. Now everybody is cool. The players are still boisterous, I think, but they’re older you know. There are younger players coming up and there are great players all over town, but the music is changing too. Austin is full of music, lots of different kinds of music. You can hear the best of the best, down there, I think. It doesn’t sound like it does anywhere else. You can hear great new wave music. You can hear some serious folk music, once again. You haven’t been able to do that in a long time. Austin is hot. Jazz musicians have grown up there, that are alive and active and forty years old. They have grown up there, playing music for twenty years. The Johnny Inmon’s of the world--from the Lost Gonzo Band. The Van Wilkes of this world. The Spencer Starnes, who is a bass player. They’ve grown up there, and they know what they are doing.
How did the Capitol deal come together?
That was Moon Hill, through Chalice Productions, who were David Chackler and Lee Lasseff out in California and then into Capitol Records. The timing was great too. I don’t think I did a very good job on those records. I didn’t know what control was. I was out of control and uncontrollable, I guess. I wouldn’t go back and do them over again, but it was a growing process. I thought they were better than what folks got to hear of them. I thought they could have been heard more than they were. I mean, I wasn’t putting out shit. The songs are still good.
The songs are sound.
The song are sound [laughs].
The voice is still there.
What I like the most is that the voice is still here. I like that the most. The voice was young and edgy in those days. It was a young voice, but bright songs and great players and good productions, you know. We cut the first record--the Rumour record--we cut that in three different studios. We cut it in Tulsa, Okla., Austin, Tex., and Los Angeles, Calif. "Knockin’ On Wood" is Jerry Jeff’s favourite song, that I ever wrote, he told me. He actually said it was "Cowjazz." That’s a great cut.
"Bears"...people holler for "Bears" everywhere I go. I still haven’t cut "Texas Trilogy" the way I want to cut it. I cut it again on the Lone Star label record, the thing I did for Willie (Nelson). The Jus' Playin' Along album...I love that cut, but it was Nashville. I call that record, Uncle Wiggly Goes to Nashville. I haven’t cut that song right yet. This next record that I’m going to cut, it will be just perfect.
The Frolicking in the Myth record was also a growth record. It was different ways to do things. Different sounds to play, and a producer with whom I didn’t see things, totally eye-to-eye. He knew all the stuff, and said he was--and is--a really good producer. He taught me a lot of stuff. [Editor's note: Steven was referring to Joe Renzetti. Among other albums Renzetti produced was The Buzzard of Love, by the notorious Simon Stokes.] I had a chance to go with Joni Mitchell’s producer, but he told me that what he does, is sit and let Joni do whatever she wants. I had no idea what I wanted, so I couldn’t go with him. Henry Lewy was his name. Now, I’d like to do one with Henry simply because, if he is still alive, he knows so much about making records. I’m just realising that I can make records "in there." "In there," being the booth. In the studio, I think I know what to do now.
Was the deal with Capitol just for the two albums?
No. I felt like I wasn’t being treated well by Chalice, the production company. I didn’t think I was getting any support from them, and I had them between me and the record company. My management situation wasn’t pleasing me either. I was thinking bigger than I was getting. Whether I was ready for that or not, I’m not sure, but it wasn’t right. I took my lawyer and went to California and broke the Chalice contract. Capitol said at the time, “You can stay with us, just pick up the debt.” I’d been smart enough to realise that $50,000 was nothing, I’d have taken up the debt and stayed with Capitol, and still be there probably. I wasn’t and I didn’t, and that’s the way that goes. Then I started spending time--well, I came back to where my strength was--Willie had covered my song "I’d Have To Be Crazy" and had a big hit. It never got to No. 1, but it stayed at No. 2 or 3 for a long, long time. It still delivers nice little cheques, now and again.
At the time, you made your first movie...
Yes, I made Outlaw Blues.
Can you explain why there are songs by you on the soundtrack album, which don’t feature in the movie? The album was released by Capitol Records.
The soundtrack record was made the early-to-middle winter after the movie was completed. The movie was made in October, and we made the soundtrack in, like, January. They put my songs on there, just because they had to put some songs on the record.
Yes [laughs]. They called me. Jerry Jeff and I were on the beginning of a roar. Early in the roar. I get a phone call that tracks me down from L.A. This is early 1978. My sister Angela is managing me at the time. I got this phone call and it said, “You got to be in L.A. tomorrow. They want you to work on the soundtrack record with them.” I’m hanging out with Jerry Jeff and we’re just crazed. I said “You bet,” and Jerry Jeff said “I’ll go with you.”
We sit and roar all night long. Got more crazed, and went by my sister’s house, because she has some vitamin B12. She gives both of us a shot, and puts us on the aeroplane (laughs). Jerry had telephoned ahead. The folks are waiting for him in California. We get to the night before we’ve got to go to work. We end up down at The Palomino Club, roarin' and raising hell.
Jerry Jeff is well known. No one knows who the hell I am, except in certain circles. I lived at a friend’s house. We do some cutting late one afternoon and only have, like two songs. I’m singing like I sing, and the band loves it. Hoyt is being “a horse’s ass,” and Jerry Jeff tells him, “Hoyt, let the man sing.” I end up that night, at the house of a pal of mine - this lady friend of mine - The Magic Princess. We stayed up all night long. I go in the next day, to cut the vocals, and I hit it - nailed the son of a bitch, and pleased Hoyt just fine. I could hardly stand up, but he liked them. Nothing I’d done before was right, and I guess I had jet lag, but I was well ahead that day. I’d forgotten that story. That’s how that happened. I just got called up to put some songs on there. I got the part in the movie because I went to pitch a song to Stephen Tisch the producer. He liked the song. He said “I’ve got this part in the movie. It’s meant for a black guy. You could do it couldn’t you?” I said “Sure, I could do it.”
In Outlaw Blues, you were the soundman, and it became your job for life in movies.
I was Elroy. I was also the soundman in Songwriter [A 1984 Tri-Star movie which starred Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson with Lesley Ann Warren and Melinda Dillon providing the female interest. As the movie title suggests, the Bud Shrake screenplay was about the trials and tribulations of a couple of country singers. A soundtrack album was released by CBS in the States and in Europe. It featured Doc’s Side (Willie) and Blackie’s Side (Kris).] I got a great internal laugh off that though, being the soundman in that movie. They cut about half the movie before they realised that the director was a jerk. He had Willie dressed up like Gene Autry. (Sydney) Pollock came in, fired him, and took over production of the project with Alan Rudolph directing the thing. The picture came up looking real good. At one point during the first part of the filming, my role was a lot bigger. I guess I dressed right. The gal who plays Willie’s ex-wife comes in and says--I’m the soundman, remember--we had lines together. She says “What should I call you?” And I said “Just call me Elroy” [laughs]. Then I told Willie, “This is my second picture as the continuing saga of Elroy.” I called it “Elroy goes to Nashville” [laughs]. I’ve broken out of that now. In this new movie coming out, called Positive I.D., I play an undercover cop called Roy. I got the El off.
Going back to the soundtrack album for Outlaw Blues, there is a song on there by Lee Clayton. I believe he is a friend of yours.
Yes, he is. I met Lee Clayton in Nashville, Tennessee. Just outside Nashville actually. I’d gone... Alex Harvey was comin’ through town, and we were friends from golf tournaments. We knew each other and had played some dates together. [Editor's note: The Alexander Harvey that we are talking about here is the writer of songs like "Delta Dawn," "Reuben James," and "Tulsa Turnaround." Not the late Scottish-born bluesman.] He had a couple of real good players with him at the time--this was like 1976 or 1977--that I loved a lot. Really good guys, who played well and were fun people to get high with. Play music with, whatever. He came through Austin on his way to Nashville to do a demo for Allen Reynolds. He needed some players. He needed a rhythm player, a fiddle player and another good lead guitar player. He and Craig Hillis--my partner in Felicity Records--were also pals. He picked up Hillis and myself, to play rhythm guitar. We picked up Alvin Crow to play fiddle, and we were going to Nashville. Stopped off in Dallas and tried to get B. W. Stevenson. We woke him up at the Howard Johnson. He’s in there with some chick. We pound on the door, till he gets out of bed. It was ruthless. I once had a great big yellow GMC motor home, you know, and I love to drive those big things. I said, “I’m driving, if we’re going to Tennessee.” In the end, B. W. didn’t go with us. We got there and cut this demo record and it sounded real good. I played twelve-string guitar. Lots of guitar. These were Alex’s tunes. Simple productions, but it sounded nice. I liked it. Nobody else seemed to like it, at that time.
The night before we left, we had a big party at the Loveless Motor Hotel. Lee Clayton came to the party. He’d been at the studio, but I really hadn’t had a chance to see him, because I was in there playing. He and I just hit it off. I liked him immediately, because there is an honesty in a man’s eyes that is hard not to observe. Then we didn’t see each other for a bit, except when I went to Nashville. I opened for Michael Murphey at the Exit/In, a couple of times. Stuff like that. Saw Lee while I was up there. Then - I was playing Dallas a lot, and having to drive there a lot. I had a tape in the car. A friend of mine had the record at her house - the Waylon Jennings record that had all the Lee Clayton tunes [Editor's note: The album is Ladies Love Outlaws, recorded by Waylon in 1971. Two years later, Lee released his first solo album on the MCA label.]
My friend Travis and I were driving from Austin to Dallas. I'd never really heard Lee’s tunes before. I mean, I’d heard them - but I’d never really heard them on that level. I was so stunned by what he said. Like I say, I’d heard them, but I wasn’t listening closely in those days, I guess. The songs I heard Waylon sing killed me. His songs are special, and that record had a bunch of Lee Clayton tunes on it. Then he and I saw each other more and more, and we just became pretty good pals. He lives in Austin now. He has moved, just in the last month or so. Lee is in Austin, Texas right now. I could put you in touch with him tonight. Lee’s a wonderful player and a wonderful songwriter and a dear man. He’s a spiritual kind of guy. "If You Can Touch Her At All," that song... I mean that’s real, man. My wife says, “That’s reaching up, and touching it.”
In 1978, Willie was suddenly offered the world by the Phonogram label...
They wanted Willie to quit CBS and go to Phonogram. He didn’t do that, so they dropped his Lone Star label. They made my album, one by the Geezinslaw Brothers, Ray Wylie’s and Cooder Browne. [Editor's note: Plus Willie’s Face of a Fighter, recorded in Nashville in 1961 and Bill Callery’s debut album. Of course, we shouldn’t forget the Six Pack compilation/sampler album.] Anyway, I loved mine.
Did you feel that you had been dumped again?
You can look at it that way, if you like. As things would have it, the planned single didn’t come out. I had a song scheduled to go on the charts at No. 67 with a bullet. That’s the way it goes.
You just said that you loved your Lone Star album.
Oh, I enjoyed doing it a great deal. I had a chance to be "Uncle Wiggly Bill in Nashville." I got to go up there and get the best players in town to sit around me, and play my songs. We made some real good music. That’s what it was. I sat down and got eleven players around me. The only thing overdubbed on that, is a couple of my vocals and the background vocals. Everything else is pretty much damned straight. It was a thrill.
He helped me pick the players. He was a very nice man, and knew what he was doing. He was a good producer and did the very best that he could with me. I held him back to a degree, because I did what I wanted. I got the players to sit down with me and run through my songs. I had a chance to do that, and I took it. He said, “Let’s put strings on this.” I’d say, “No. I don’t want strings.”
I was a purist in those days. A bit more than I am now, as far as like, with a harmoniser. I wouldn’t use the electronic gadgets that he had. I wouldn’t mess with that stuff. I wanted those players sitting around me, to play my songs pretty much live, and we did that. It sounds great. Of my records, up until what I have just done here with this new tape, Jus' Playin' Alsong is my favourite album. The Frummox records stand alone because they were not my records, they were our records--me and McCrimmon. Of the rest of my stuff, that Lone Star record is my favourite. It was a step toward maturity and good times. Good tunes. A bunch of new tunes and a couple of old tunes were on that record.
001 HERE TO THERE , Frummox gatefold album cover, L. to R. Dan McCrimmon, Steven Fromholz
002 L. to R. Steven Fromholz & Dan McCrimmon (Photo: unknown)
003 A RUMOUR IN MY OWN TIME  album cover
004 Steven Fromholz, pic. from rear of RUMOUR cover (Photo: unknown)
005 Steven Fromholz (Photo: Michael Ochs Archive)
006 FROLICKING IN THE MYTH  album cover
007 OUTLAW BLUES  album cover
008 JUS’ PLAYIN’ ALONG  album cover
009 Steven Fromholz pic. from rear of JUS’ PLAYIN’ ALONG cover (Photo: Dick Reeves)
Brought to you from the desk of the Folk Villager.