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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the May 8, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Jimmy LaFave Savors the Roots Connection

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jimmy LaFave can’t

be pinned down. Is it country, contemporary folk, roots-rock, or


He calls what he does "the roots music of America," and he’s

good at it. Although he’s a gifted songwriter in his own right, LaFave

doesn’t shy away from singing the classic songs by other songwriters

he admires. Two of his prime influences are Bob Dylan and Woody


On Saturday, LaFave will perform with a trio at Concerts at the


in Titusville, singing songs of his own from his latest album,


He’ll also offer some classic tunes by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and


The album title, "Texoma" stands, not surprisingly, for


and Oklahoma," and the album is a reflection of the influence

the music these two states had on him during his formative years.

"I think jewels of songs like Dylan’s `Emotionally Yours’ and

Guthrie’s `Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad’ should not be left to

fade away," LaFave tells us last week by phone from his house

in Austin.

LaFave, 46, the son of a Canadian heavy equipment salesman father

and Texas-raised housewife mother, grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma,

and in East Texas. He moved to Austin — always a good place for

musicians — in 1986.

"I started learning about Woody after I moved to Oklahoma, since

Stillwater is only an hour away from Okemah," says LaFave, a


Dylan fanatic as a teenager. "Actually, a whole lot of good music

came out of that part of Oklahoma — J.J. Cale and Bob Wills and

the Texas Playboys and others. And since I was a Dylan fan, I kind

of moved backwards and wanted to know more about his influences."

In his youth, his mother got him his first guitar with S&H Green


and later, got him a drum set as well.

"In high school in Stillwater, I remember driving to Okemah, and

the walls of Woody’s old homestead were still there," he recalls.

Four years ago, LaFave was part of a group of musicians who helped

launch the first Woody Guthrie Festival in Guthrie’s native Okemah.

The festival is held every July during Guthrie’s birthday week, and

not surprisingly, it has grown as interest in Guthrie’s music and

legacy has grown. The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit

of Guthrie’s sketches, poetry, notebooks, photographs, and songs is

currently on view at the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City.

Because of Guthrie’s left-leaning politics, borne out of the dust

bowl and Depression era in which he lived, LaFave says "it took

a generation of people to leave or move on before they began this

Woody Guthrie Festival, and they’ve even erected a statue of him in

Okemah. They finally got past whatever local and state politics there


`Part of his family still lives


Okemah, and after the government there came to terms with the whole

political aspect of it, they put him in the Oklahoma Music Hall of

Fame and the governor came out to the opening of the exhibit,"

LaFave adds.

"Texoma" is LaFave’s sixth album for Rounder Records, and,

unlike others who are part of the Austin scene, LaFave makes it his

business to get out on the road and tour every year, as opposed to

staying home in Texas — which many Austin-based musicians tend

to do. LaFave says that like Guthrie before him, he gets inspired

to write songs by going out on the road.

"There’s so much music here and in the outlying areas that a lot

of musicians here fall into that velvet rut, and they just play here

in Texas. There’s 26 million people here, and they just eat Mexican

food and live inexpensively," he says, "it’s kind of a trade

off. You can be a big fish in a small pond, or, like me, occasionally

get out on the road and play for 30 people in a small coffee house

where nobody knows who you are. But I find my inspiration out on the


Asked how he writes songs on the road, when so many other musicians

are too wrapped up in the business of getting to the next gig and

getting a proper sound check in before show time, LaFave says he


with a tape recorder in his pocket.

"If I see a billboard and like the words on it, when I get back

to the motel I’ll work on it. For the most part, my songs come from

my road experiences," he says. He agrees with the notion that

it’s very much in the tradition of Guthrie to write songs based on

"Goin’ Down The Road." A glance at the "Texoma"


song titles tells you more: "On a Bus to St. Cloud," "Rock

and Roll Music to the World," "Red Dirt Song," and "On

the Road to Rock and Roll" are all here.

The folk music magazine "Dirty Linen" describes


sound as "a mixture of rock, folk, rockabilly, country, and


Asked about the roots element that’s not mentioned — the blues

— and LaFave says the blues influence is there as well. He loves

the music of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and other

pioneers in the idiom. "Austin is still a great blues town,"

he says, "when I moved here in 1986, Stevie Ray Vaughan was still

around, and I used to love to go and see him. J.J. Cale has always

been one of my favorite performers," he adds.

"I’ve always loved all the roots music groups of America, blues

and folk, rockabilly and country, everything from Chuck Berry to


Johnson to Dylan to Bob Wills, Hank Williams and the other older


music people," says LaFave.

"I read somewhere that you are what you listen to musically, so

I try not to listen to anything that’s too derivative. I came to


when Stevie Ray Vaughan was still around, and since then, hundreds

of young kids have moved here trying to be Stevie Ray. I’d rather

go and listen to Albert King or Hubert Sumlin. And I’d rather listen

to Dylan than anyone who’s derivative of Dylan," he explains.

Asked what he makes of this legion of young singer-songwriter types

who don’t know traditional folk songs, LaFave says every once in a

while someone comes along who restores his faith. At the Folk Alliance

conference in Florida, in February, he heard Serene Ryder, a


from Canada. She restored his faith, he says.

"I asked her who she was influenced by and she says, `Roger


Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, and Etta James.’ And then when I asked

her about Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, she says, `I’m not really

familiar with them.’ I was just so amazed she was into Hank Williams,

and she’s in like five different bands." LaFave has had Ryder

open several shows for him at the University of Texas’ Cactus Cafe,

an Austin folk music venue.

At the Unitarian Church in Titusville on Saturday, LaFave will play

acoustic/electric guitar. He’ll be accompanied by Will Landin on bass

and Danny Click on electric guitar. "Lately, as I’ve gotten older,

my ears are more comfortable playing acoustic guitar," he says.

"They’ll be a little bit of blues, a little bit of rockabilly,

all the roots, and some basic Woody Guthrie and some Dylan. I’m amazed

at the number of young people coming up to me at shows, mistakenly

thinking I wrote some great Dylan song," he says, "Again,

jewels by Dylan and Guthrie shouldn’t just fade away."

— Richard J. Skelly

Jimmy LaFave, Concerts at the Crossing, Unitarian

Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville, 609-406-1803. Opening act

by the acoustic folk duo, the Wiggins Sisters. $15. Saturday, May

11, 8 p.m.

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