The primary time Charley Crockett noticed a poster of James Hand, it was a second of instinct for him. He was within the AllGood Cafe within the coronary heart of Deep Ellum, and there was Hand’s face amid the music memorabilia that covers the restaurant’s partitions, which incorporates footage of Edie Brickell, Ray Value and lots of extra.
All of the younger Crockett knew about Hand on the time was that Willie Nelson as soon as known as him “the true deal.” There wasn’t a lot of be aware to the poster, however there was a glance on Hand’s face, a glance of hardship and confidence that mirrored Crockett’s personal gaze.
Born in San Benito and moved to Irving at age 9, Crockett would finally work the bars and streets of Deep Ellum with a frenzied dedication that launched him onto the Texas blues and nation scene, the nationwide Americana charts and finally worldwide excursions. However this was practically a decade earlier than his rise, in 2007, and he was residing a lifetime of transience, “hoboing” across the nation for years from Northern California to New Orleans to New York. He doesn’t bear in mind precisely when he noticed the Hand poster; AllGood was a frequent hang-out of his again then. It may need been after a visit to the previous Brooklyn’s Jazz Cafe within the Cedars hoping to see somebody nice on stage. “I used to look at David ‘Fathead’ Newman play down there again earlier than he handed,” Crockett stated.
It could be about 5 years till Crockett and Hand met for the primary time in Austin. Hand, who died at 67 final June, was an inspiration, mentor and buddy of Crockett, whose new album, Lil’ G.L. Presents: 10 For Slim — Charley Crockett Sings James Hand, comes as a shock launch from Son of Davy/Thirty Tigers and is a tribute to the person whose music he holds in the identical regard as that of anybody who’s ever sang a track in Texas. “To me, he had no equal,” Crockett stated.
Hand, or “Slim” as he was usually known as, was born in Waco, and raised within the unincorporated city of Tokio (estimated inhabitants of 24) about 10 minutes from the birthplace of Willie Nelson. Hand performed in bands as an adolescent and acquired a document deal earlier than he completed highschool in 1969, however his grandparents insisted that he was too younger, so he made a residing off careers within the rodeo, driving vehicles and as a bouncer. Maybe the music trade moved on from nation singers like Hand or maybe it was unhealthy luck, however he didn’t document his first album, Shadows The place the Magic Was, till 30 years later in 1999 when he was 47. He by no means fairly broke out as a Nashville radio star, however he was a legend to many in Texas, astonishing followers and aspiring musicians with performances at Austin venues just like the Saxon Membership and the Damaged Spoke, and at different spots throughout Texas for years.
“The world shouldn’t be as brilliant at present along with his loss,” stated fellow Texas nation singer Dale Watson in a press release after Hand’s passing. He spoke of “The identical dimness that we had when Johnny [Cash], George [Jones], and Merle [Haggard] handed.”
“The one distinction between him and Willie and Waylon and George Jones and all these guys is he’s 20 years youthful and no person obtained ahold of him till he was 47,” Crockett stated. “I’m 37, and I’m placing out my ninth and tenth albums this yr.”
Their friendship was outlined by Crockett’s reverence for Hand, and the heat that Hand confirmed in return. Years after that evening within the AllGood Cafe, Crockett had made a little bit identify for himself taking part in in bars, and he determined to sneak into the 2015 Ameripolitan Music Awards, hosted by Watson, in Austin. He was within the mezzanine of the Paramount Theater, afraid he may get caught, and Hand was there alone sporting a white and pink go well with. Everybody else had gone to their seats. The 2 weren’t shut then, however Hand acknowledged Crockett and will inform he was nervous.
“He took me underneath his arm and did that Hillbilly Shakespeare factor that he can do,” Crockett stated.
Later that evening, Hand, at 62, would win the Male Honky Tonk award, whereas Crockett watched, standing within the aisle. After the present, on the Continental Membership, Hand carried out “Classes In Despair” (a standout on Crockett’s new album) with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes. The lived feelings that Hand displayed in his efficiency froze Crockett, who watched from under the stage. It was like the entire world’s ache was in Hand’s face that evening, the identical manner it was on that poster years again. In that second Crockett thought to himself, “There’s no query he’s the best nation singer on Earth.”
In 2018, that very same award present moved to Memphis, the place the 2 frolicked on Beale Road and Crockett watched Hand carry out Tom T. Corridor’s “That’s How I Acquired To Memphis” within the Blue Metropolis Deli. Moved by the efficiency, Crockett rapidly discovered and recorded the track, which is the one one in every of his that’s charted on Billboard. The music video doesn’t characteristic any footage of Crockett. His voice merely accompanies scenes of Hand strolling round Memphis. Two years later, Crockett gained the Male Honky Tonk award on the Ameripolitan Music Awards.
Hand’s music, very similar to Crockett’s music, combines nation and Texas blues. His lyrics are about navigating and dealing with misfortune, and when he sang them, he conveyed a gratitude for having made it over the newest hurdle. “A track is one thing you do for 3 minutes that you simply hope any person else understands,” Hand instructed Waco’s KWTX in December 2019. “Life writes ‘em. I simply attempt to bear in mind the phrases.”
“That’s what he gave to me,” Crockett stated. “Simply in the way in which he performed in a honky-tonk, and it didn’t matter if anybody in there realized his greatness or not. I do know one thing about that as a result of I used to be residing that life for a very long time.”
The primary time Crockett and Hand formally performed collectively was after Crockett confronted his personal nice hurdle, one which threatened to finish his profession. After years of relentless touring and gigging in bars, a uncommon coronary heart rhythm dysfunction he was born with reemerged in 2018, and a heart specialist decided he was a yr away from coronary heart failure at 34. Crockett had open-heart surgical procedure during which one in every of his valves was changed with tissue from a cow.
Crockett’s first exhibits again after coronary heart surgical procedure have been in Dallas on the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff. He bought out a two-night stand, and the second present included James Hand. Whether or not or not the Dallas crowd knew Hand’s music earlier than the present, he’d earned a standing ovation by the top of it, 14 months earlier than he’d be gone.
As their friendship continued, the 2 performed collectively sporadically round Texas. One evening in early 2020, they have been performing on the historic Gruene Corridor in New Braunfels. Hand was sipping vodka from a flask behind the stage when Crockett proposed one thing. “I stated, ‘James, I’d such as you to think about popping out on the highway with me this summer season. We’ll get you in entrance of all these audiences.’”
Crockett’s most profitable and most up-to-date album, Welcome To Onerous Instances, was set to come back out, and he had a full tour and quite a few music festivals booked. Hand’s music could possibly be showcased to the audiences he’d by no means had an opportunity to see in his profession. Crockett’s crowds have been already primed to like Hand, Crockett reasoned. Crockett’s band would again up Hand, and Crockett would get to tour along with his hero. Hand stated he would give it some thought. Quickly after, your complete tour can be canceled attributable to COVID-19.
And in June, Hand died of congestive coronary heart failure at a Waco hospital.
Crockett, who has launched loads of covers from numerous nation and blues legends through the years, was at all times planning on recording a few of Hand’s songs, however now 10 For Slim is his manner of holding Hand’s music alive. “When he died, I used to be like, ‘Man, I don’t wish to see this man simply fade on the market.’” Hand’s hard-lived lyrics delivered with Crockett’s uniquely heat voice make the songs delightfully listenable.
Not lengthy after Hand died final summer season, Crockett was sitting in a buddy’s yard in New Braunfels when his telephone rang. It was an in depth buddy of Hand, who had hung out with him earlier than his loss of life. He stated that proper earlier than the pandemic, Hand had been considering lengthy and onerous about Crockett’s request to come back on the highway with him. He’d been on the fence. He was nearing 70, and music hadn’t at all times handled him with the identical reverence that he felt for it. A full tour appeared like a proposition for a younger man, perhaps the one who was supplied a document deal 50 years earlier. However, the buddy stated, Hand had decided.
He’d determined that he had it in him to provide it one other shot.