Texas. Got back there as fast as I could!

IMG_0906Sitting here after making it through another USA to Australia flight, I am filled with the exhaustion that comes with liven large for a short time  in a place that just fills your senses, and the excitement of seeing my wife and boys, and all the Family centered chaos of immediate needs that comes with family life.

I tried numbing myself out with movies, American Sniper (love Clint Eastwood, what a talented life he has left, a true master of his art) CAKE (To much like work, and I aint back yet) and Stephen Hawking’s life story. He is an amazing man, he sure made Lemonade.

15 hours into to longest single flight in the world ( Dallas to Sydney), I knew I had to stop hiding, and start facing up. So Sturgill Simpson is the soundtrack to this verse. Every so often I forget, that music always starts flowing from and new and original source, someone comes along like Sturgill, and just blows your boat clear out of the water. He is the next big thing, of this I have no doubt. Seeing him live restored my faith in Country Rock and Roll! The perfect mix of Nostalgia and originality. Man I needed it, with all the replicators out there regurgitating Bro Country bullshit, Sturgill sure is kicking the shit out of that Barn door.
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Coming back from Texas always has me feeling sad, I could live there in a heartbeat. I have felt right driving on the wrong side of the road there for over 8 years now. I love the Music, the people, the food, the way the place feels to me. Usually I am home based in San Antone, but this time around I was the House guest of Ruby Dee and Jorge Harada, from Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers. Finer hospitality you could not have hoped for, and as I get on in years, I am surprised when I make a new friend.

Sitting out on the back porch with Jorge as we shared our smoke of choice, me my Peterson’s pipe with a hometown San Marcos blend, and him, his stogies. Talking music, life, women and the road as only men hitting 50 can. Old enough to have seen dream’s come and go. Old enough to know who you are, and what’s likely to be. Old enough to still harbor fantasies it can be different. Young enough to attempt them.
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Jorge put together the Snakehandlers for my early shows, and AJ Mac on Drums and Dylan Cavaliere on Country Bass were a great fit for Chucks Wagon tunes. Playing my Texas inspired music with Texans always ads something extra to the mix. For the shows that the Snakehandlers couldn’t do I have Stephen James from San Marcos on Guitar and John Duer on bass, with Tony Gloria on Drums. Different feel, same Texas magic.
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This time around it was short and sweet. I was there for my day job, which in itself was inspiring, apart from my time at the Meadows with Master Craftswomen Pia Mellody, I was able to spend my downtime in Texas with John Lee (The Flying Boy). John is a Psychotherapist, Author, Men’s worker and Storyteller. I have been influenced by his work for over 20 years, so to spend so much face to face time with such a man was soul enriching, thought provoking , and thoroughly guidance providing when it comes to my future in that field. Him being a Texan,  well hell y’all, that was just cherry on top of the Pie. My work with John was about finding and living from my King, but that’s a story for another day.

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This trip had many surprises. Getting to see James McMurty , two weeks in a row, at Midnight, watching him get all his new material together, ready to roll put on tour, just standing in front of him, alone, enjoying the moment, like no other existed. When you write songs, and perform them, and then have moments where you stand in front of someone who is just in a different stratosphere, it’s humbling and exciting all at once.

You want to write songs and burn your guitar all at once. That being said on this night I just stood there, admiring, dancing, and belonging. Right place, right time. I wasn’t the only one. There was regulars that come to the church of James. Met another one right up front, never really spoke till after, but we shared a lot in common.

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When she, Andrea, Light worker, Energy healer, asked me up to Willie Nelson’s Ranch to see her son who was making a movie, I just knew you do not say not to an offer like that. I was cool just walking around Willies. One of the original Outlaws. A man who believed in himself, believed in what he could do so much so, he turned his back on it all and did it his way. The rest is history. So just being up there, soaking it all in felt special.

Going to the Broken Spoke in Austin Texas, going early, and learning to Two Step. Getting out of my comfort zone. I really like to dance, but I get to comfortable just standing inside of myself, instead of getting in to the soul of my body, and then getting into the limbs, and moving to the music. It was stressful, it was fun, I was glad it was over, but then you had to practice, otherwise why do, so I did. Now it’s time to learn it with my wife, we need to dance more. It’s that simple.
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I got to see older men, men that have spent their lives building their relationship with their craft. Heybale at the Spoke, seeing those seasoned veterans of the dance halls sending them folks around the floor nearly effortlessly, was amazing. Red Volkart, Ernie Poole Ball brothers in Honky Tonk arms. Seeing James McMurty’s band though was the same, generation or to younger, but grown men in the mastery years of their craft. Was special to watch. Seeing Cornell Hurd and Rosie Flores at Ginnys Little Longhorn was the same, and Casper Rawls with the Legendary Bill Kirchen on guitar was the same. Thankyou gentleman, and for the punters that keep going and hearing good music that comes from heart.

There was those though still keeping Austin weird . Thunderosa, AJ Macs “other” band. Nashville Pussy crazy rock and roll, was fun singing a punk version of Folsom Prison Blues with them.
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When I first came to Texas to play 8 years ago, it was Jeff Smith of Hickiods Fame and Saustex Media that booked me. He still is booking me. Getting to see the Hickiods is always grinning material, Jeff always end up near nude, and when they played at the Women’s Roller Derby, and he could get away with getting a chant of “Whore”, in Mexican of course, going with the whole crowd chiming in. It’s a long story, but let’s just leave it with the Whore chant!
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The other end of the scale was seeing Sturgill Simpson, young, charging, on fire, raising eyebrows, getting people talking. Exciting, humbling, Rock and Roll.

Being at the White Horse and seeing Bar Brawl 3, just rocking out, versatile, on it, people dancing. Awesome. Singing Humdinger with the boys just made it all a better kind of Texas evening.

Being at Luckenbach Texas, catching up with Darryl Magg,  Troubadour, Texas Red Dirt Aficionado. The hours I have spent sitting at his bar after closing as he turned me onto bands and songs I hadn’t heard. Well Darryl got me up on stage on the dance hall with Country Folk artist Kevin Deal. It was a cool as shit, playing Waylon Jennings at Luckenbach. Cheesy, but still cool as shit.
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Still it was playing, seeing friends and new people enjoying my songs. Some new venues I had not played, Ginny’s Little Longhorn, what a legendary place, Giddy Up’s and Moontower, all great shows with the Snakehandlers. Triple Crown was the usual fun, Happy Hour show, but we still played load and proud. Beethoven’s at San Antonio is always a stand out. The worlds a funny place. Why a German beer Halle has taken a crazy Aussie under their wing I will never know, but I love the welcome I get there all the same. Wonderful.
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The same can be said for the friends I have made over the years, whether they be older or younger, Christian or pagan, I have a great time in Texas. Thank you to the beautiful Cliff and Rita Leach and show me that loving lasts a lifetime. Dawn and Stefani Duke who are simply two of the best Texas woman I know. Billy Milano who just lives with a beating heart for all to see on the outside of his chest, love him like a brother. Thank you or believing in me Billy. To Andrea, a light worker, seeker and two step companion, it was a blast.
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To my musical brethren, Chris Rhoades, Tony Gloria, AJ Mac, John Duer, Dylan Cavaliere, and Ruby Dee and Jorge Harada. Thank you for laying down the swing so this cowboy from downunder to sing to. Without it I would be a lonely voice.
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So, one hour to go till this flight touches down in Sydney and life will become all to real to fast, and driving around Texas and staying up all night will be but a dream.  I have had been able to listen to Sturgill and James whilst writing, and now I am onto Absent Father by Justin Townes Earle. Beautiful.

That’s enough for now, I will post this when I get some signal, put my head back into Willie Nelson’s new book, “Roll me up and Smoke me when I die!”  Will let Justin get me home.

See you on the road my friends.

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Birth of our second son Maverick James Alexander Stokes

ImageI am very pleased to announce the Birth of our second son, Maverick James Alexander Stokes, born on the 6th of February, at 4.45pm weighing 9 lbs and 3 oz’s. One things for sure Jen ( Mrs Wagon) and I sure do make big babies. We were lucky Maverick came a week early, cause Marshal came a week latter, and he was over 10 lb. I know they make babies bigger than that but Jen is only little, and just like Marshal she took it to the line in  regards to labour, and just could get the head to fit out that whole. We were in the hands of Royal North Shore’s head of Maternity, as the file we brought from St George Hospital, after all we went through for Marshals birth, and Jen’s close mysterious shave with death, became compulsory reading. They certainly didn’t want that happening on their watch. There was a moment in the operating theatre where I was reassuring Jen that everything was ok, but then I could see they were struggling to get him free. His head was just jammed. I had the video camera running, but just by my side, and it ran for 15 minutes, 12 of those they were trying to pull him free. When they got him out he was blue, and I left Jen’s side to go the the baby table, and they wiped Maverick down, then pumped some air into his chest, It felt as though it went forever, but then , his lungs filled, and he let us have it. Awesome, nothing like it, that first cry.” Beautiful, Beautiful Boy”, John Lennon, you got that right. Unlike Marshals birth, we got to go back to the ward as a family, and there began 4 nights of sleeping by Jen’s bed, helping were I can, to change nappies, and rock a bye baby, but the lions share was done by mum. Her heart was set on breast feeding from the get go, and Maverick sure did have an appetite. It did take some time, and the third night was murder, one hours sleep, 15 hours of crying, feeding, shitting, and that was just us! No, really, old Maverick ran us through our paces, see what we had in us. What he doesn’t know, or maybe he does, and that’s why he picked this little family to come into to, is that me and his mother, well we don’t give up, ever, on nothing. Especially family.

I knew when I was in Tamworth that Jen could go into labour any time, I always had my phone on me, and was prepared to head back at a moments notice. When Marshal was born, the gap was to fine, and I cancelled the shows I had booked and stayed close, but this year with I Play Country out on the CMC, and the new record, I just knew we had to go, and Jen understood. It was the last of the release shows to for the Album, a tour that started in Sydney in October, and headed to Texas/Colorado and then back again for East coast dates of Australia, ending at the Tamworth Festival. I am now having 6 weeks off before my next show. Time to take stock, re-focus and then go hard. This year I am putting it all on the line. Three singles to come of the record, three singles to go onto the CMC. My family needs me now, to make it or break it with Chucks Wagon. I have played Music for the last 25 years, and the next 25 I am sure I will be playing music to, but when I started Chucks Wagon, I had not re-met Jen. I say re-met, because we knew each other when I was in Psychobilly band, The Psyclones. I loved that band, and I was the creepy old guy in it, with front man Paul O’Conner only 26, and young Jordan C Thomas only 16 yrs old on Bull fiddle.Simon Wale was 32 at the time on drums. I was married, and Jen was just a punk rock fan, Imagethere for the Music. no Sparks, nothing, that I knew of anyway. Yet years latter, at the Empire Hotel for a Barfly Ska vs Rockabilly Night, we met up, It was great to see her, and we made a date for coffee, and that started a long and I would say rocky courtship. Not rocky in a bad way, I was just used to woman who were a bit more rowdy then Jen, so I miss read some of her cue’s, which were a lot more subtle then I was use to. I was glad I came to my senses, as Jen has a lot of dignity , and it was her dignity that attracted me to her, and she wasn’t going to just fool around with no Honky Tonker till she got to know him, and now when I look back I really respect her for that. At the time it felt like she was the Hotrod in the garage, and I didn’t have the keys yet! But the coffee that we had, did lead to the closest thing to family I have ever known. I am older than Jen. Ray Charles would even be able to see that.She always told me from the start that it doesn’t concern her. As long as your happy was the advice, she took it, I’m a lucky man. She is the ice to my fire. I worry, I am a stress head. The band breaks my heart several times a week, and she is just there, cooling my engines. She said, when we got pregnant with Marshal, that she was looking forward to becoming a Family, not just a couple any more  She is always coming out with things like that, that make a lot of simple sense to me. I was worrying about something once, maybe me not appearing good enough for some situation, and she said, don’t worry, we are not fancy people. I have always remembered that. I am not a fancy person, it will be ok. And it always has.

As I write this, we are at home, first night out of hospital. My Mother in law is here for the week, and her help is magnificent. I lucked in on that front folks. My parents came over today. They had not seen Maverick yet, and still hadn’t seen Marshal for his Birthday, so it was awesome to watch them light up when they played with their Grandsons.Image

My Mother and Father gave me everything they could. Both come from Poverty and worked hard all their lives.My Father is a very decent man. I have alot of respect for him, and how he always looked after us as a family, and Mother created a home, full of activity and there was never a dull moment. That is all another story, I will tell it here one day. For now though, just seeing them, with their hearts full of love, filled me up. I had to go and get them, as neither drive as well as they use to. I worry about them on the roads all the time, so it was a relief for me to be able to do them that courtesy , and bring them here and home again after the visit.

So it’s been along day, and I need to crash. Baby Maverick is asleep in our room, Marshal in his own, Mum in law out the back. . Life, it’s what happened to me while I was making other plans.(John Lennon again!) I never knew that Jen and I would form a unit, but she is my Queen Scout ( She is actually a Queen scout!) Mother and Wife. We have two big boppers, full of beans and I cant wait to see who they turn into.

Chucks Wagon, well this year, I ‘m really having a go. I have lost a few folks on that last tour. Simon Wale, Dave Turner, John Wardle. I cant believe it really. Yet I picked up the Mighty Den Hanrahan and Al Fisk and Mark Fairhurst. Dodge Dave always told me he was in it for the long haul, and he has remained true to his word. . The first show I will be doing post Maverick is a Songwriters in the Round. I am really looking forward to some solo shows this year, including the USA and talks again regarding Europe. How I would love to play London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam! Who knows. Stranger things have happened!

Thanks to our lovely friends that helped out and sent us all their love from afar. Four for a special mention, are Emma Woods, who received our emergency “Waters Broke ” call at 2.30 am, and was their 15 minutes latter when I picked her up so she could look after Marshal, my mother in law Fiona

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for coming to stay and baby sit Marshal while we were in hospital, and now to help Jen for the next week, and my dear friends Suzy and Gary Imagewho came down bearing love and gifts yesterday and lifted our spirits.

Time to get a move on.

OK, it’s Fathers Day here, that used to be a one way street, me to my dad, but with Little Marshal being 18 mths old, it’s my second time round as a Dad on Fathers Day, and just quietly, that’s pretty cool. I had to pick him up from childcare the other day, and I was presented with the Fathers Days artwork, it made me feel good, simple as that is. Robert Fulghum, the author, pointed out that there is ” Treasure like this in shoe boxes under beds, and stuck onto fridges, in all the countries around the world. I think he is right.

Right now, I am trying to get my head around getting another record out there, studio album number three. The title, well that was a hard one to settle on, at first it was going to be “Family Man”, then Shooter Jennings put that out last year, so end of that one, eventually settled on the single “I Play Country”, and the title became easy. After touring Texas now for the last five years, I was stoked to record there last year. It was a crazy ride. Originally Texan Chris Wall was going to produce, after we met at Greune Hall while I was on the road the year before to discuss it, but that turned into Chris turning us over to Tommy Detamore, and the rest is history. It wasn’t easy though.We had arranged to record after the tour in 2011, while we headed back over from Colorado. I rang Tommy heading back to Texas to check it was all good to go ahead. He said, ” Don’t know what to tell you this Chuck, but the studio Burnt to the ground last night!” I really felt for Tommy, and I am a believer in synchronicity and serendipity. I told him it was my belief that I was meant to record with him, and if he could sort something out, we would still go ahead. He did, and we did. Tommy was bailed out by a generous offer by B.A.M. studios and Bobby Floores in San Antonio, and Robert De Gaza came on as engineer, and Tommy produced, and we knocked out the basic tracks in a week, with Texan Stephen James on lead Guitar from San Marcos. Stephen had been on the road with us , was amazing and I wanted him on it. I had Tom Miller from San Antonio on bass, but Chris Rhoades from Two Tones of Steel guested on three tracks as well. Our Aussie drummer Simon Wale was in the engine room, and Buzz Talay who was touring with us from Australia played on Road Trip. Most of the record was written before I got there, but I still had some Lyrics to pull together, and as Neil Young says, sitting next to the Rabbit Hole got the record finished. I wrote the lyrics for Road Trip and Burn It Down in the car park over the week, as well as I Prayed Today. Robert De Gaza was a true gentleman, was prepared for us everyday, and we worked our asses off, as we had limited time.Having Little Marshal and Jen there was a gret way to be on the road, even though there was no sleeping in with him around!

We were still doing gigs at nights, recording all day, and when the week was done, the basic tracks were all completed. The plan was that I would be back for the mixing. It was a plan, cause Sydney is along way from San Antonio, but I just knew it had to happen, and in this band, that’s how I have worked for along time. I have always punched above my weight, and lived outside of my means. I have put everything into this band, friends have bought houses, go on nice holidays, have decent cars, I make records, film clips , tour Texas/Colorado/L.A./ New York, everywhere we can actually, plus all around Australia, us much as we can anyway. This has worn out band members, managers, exhausted wallets and hearts, but yet the drive has mostly remained. Even when I got married, and then Marshal came along, our Honeymoon was touring Texas, I really wanted my wife to see the Texas that I knew. Little Marshal was a real trooper, if he started crying while we drove, Lullabies went on the stereo till he calmed, and then back to Rock and Roll. It was funny how it calmed the whole band. 

I was able to get back to Texas this year for SXSW, and after I did some shows for the festival, I headed up to San Antonio and mixed the record with Tommy.  Since I had been back in OZ he had  added his Pedal Steel, which is mighty and sounds awesome on this record, and other over dub’s,Fiddle, backing Vocals, and we started from there. With technology the way it is , mixing was a dream, I wanted my original bass player on the record, so with the assistance of John Wardle, Chuck’s Wagon’s new guitar Player, and his mobile recording unit, he and Dodge Dave flew some tracks in from Australia, and all went into the mix.Australia’s Banjo Slayer, Mark “Bucky” Collins flew some tracks in, and again, like on Lipstick and Sin, it was amazing.! I added a Texan Trumpet player, Kullen Fuchs on I Prayed Today, and we pretty well had it. I got back to Australia, and scraped all the money I needed to get to Tommy, and it was hard, especially when my wife was in a car accident, and our car that gets the family around was written off, but we got there. 

Then it was sorting the mastering, and I always use Don Bartley, and with some fine tuning between Tommy and Don we are getting there.

I knew we had to push a single out there, so “I Play Country” was released on the CRS singles for this September release, and now we have to get in behind it, and again John Wardle , has been the Angel , supplying contacts for artwork and the film clip, all being done on the smell of an Independent Musicians Oily Rag! This week we work towards organizing and signing off on all of these, but I put a draft of the artwork out there , just so folks have something to listen to.

I figured, I would start to blog this chapter in the bands History, it’s an important time. Third Record, another push to getting our name andImage songs out there. Another throw of the dice on the Country Music Channel, The Tamworth Awards, not to mention Texas! I am stuck between two worlds, I Love Texas, but I am not a Texan, even though “I did get there as fast as I could!” My love of Texas , and it’s Music, seems to keep me on the edge over here. So be it. My understanding is that the Original Texas Country Outlaws turned their back on Nashville, and went it alone. Inspirational, and that’s what I need right now. Inspiration to get this job done. 

Thats enough for now, but it doesn’t end here. It’s just the beginning.