Hometown Harmony: East Texas' Musical Roots

Fox 51
Monday, February 3, 2014 - 11:14am

When you think about East Texas music, current names may come to mind such as Miranda Lambert, Casey Musgraves, Neal McCoy, and Lee Ann Womack.

But the region's rich musical history reaches far deeper than than this hand full of today's current stars, starting in Tyler.

To say Robin Hood Brians is a staple in East Texas music would be more than an understatement.

Since 1963, his house on Sunnybrook in Tyler, has been a gateway for some of the biggest names in music, and he is just a just a starting point as we look back on East Texas' musical roots. .

But before the big names and record breaking hits, this studio, was Brians' childhood home, and it was a trip to Tennessee, that changed the direction of his life forever.

"I had been to Nashville this in 57, I recorded my record and the minute I saw Bradley Studios, I told my mom and dad, I said this is what I want, I want to do this the rest of my life," said Brians.

His parents supported his passion, and helped him build this studio addition to their house, before tragedy suddenly struck.

"This studio was finished in July of 1963, my father passed away four months later, you've heard people say that they hit the ground running, well I hit the ground running scared," said Brians.

His parents faith in him paid off immensely.

At the time there were many great studios across Texas in big cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston, but Tyler, was the only place to cut a real record.

"When once you got out of Tyler you'd experienced more than most musicians had done at 25 or 30 years old, at that time no other place in this state had recorded more hits as was coming out of here," said Lynn Groom, a local East Texas entetainer.

Brians recorded artists such as John Fred and his Playboy Band, the Five Americans, Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Stampley and the Uniques, along with Mouse and the Traps

"I am very lucky to have had those people come through my door because in the recording business it's a great thing to have a good engineer and a great pianist and all that, but if you don't have the talent come through, with the great songs," said Brians.

Well there was this other little group who made there way through Brians' door, they called themselves "The Moving Sidewalks", and after recording with Brians, threw the records out.

But they did return, under a new, and more recognizable name.

"Some time past they come back this day they said our name is ZZ Top.  Okay, and we worked for quite a while, they went home, threw it all away," said Brians.

But once again, they came back to Tyler, but their publicist, Bill Ham, wanted a particular sound, and wasn't satisfied with Brians approach.

So Brians came up with an idea to get Ham out of the studio, so he could get the group recorded, by sending him to the Country Tavern to pick up some bar-b-que.

"Well when he walked out the door I said fellas, Country Tavern is in Greg County, we've got about a hour and 35, 40 minutes. let's get going," said Brians.

When ham finally made it back, he got to hear what Brians and the boys put together.

"Billy reached over and pushed play on the recorder and when Bill Ham heard that his eyes got big and said, that's it, that's the sound, that's the way I want you to record everyone of the songs," said Brians.

ZZ Top would go on to record their first four albums in Tyler "ZZ Tops' First Album," Rio Grande Mud" "Tres Hombres" and a significant portion of "Fandango".

But there is another staple of East Texas music history in downtown Tyler, and you can hear him everyday from nine to eleven on 104.1 The Ranch.

Tom Perryman has worked along side the likes of George Jones, Johnny Cash, Jim reeves, and many many more.

"I've went from picking cotton to picking records in 1947 it's all I've ever done and I've done pretty well at it," said Perryman.

Among all his accolades and experience, Perryman was an integral part in one of the most famous performers of all time, Elvis Presley, when he received a call to help him and few buddies out.

"Tom we need some help we have three boys down here from Memphis that are broke they can't get out of the motel, they can't buy gas to get back to Memphis and you been playing that one record they got.  Do you have a place where you can put them so they can make a little money? The first money Elvis Presley ever made in the state of Texas was right there at one of the clubs, beer joints we called them in those days just this side of Gladewater on the Tyler highway," said Perryman.

Elvis made ninety dollars that night, and Perryman let him keep it all, not changing his usual 15%  promotional fee.

Elvis, never forgot.

"He came back in January with the Browns, Jimmy and Maxine Brown off of the Hayride, stayed at the Rest More Hotel over there and we worked every day and every night somewhere including the Mayfair building here in Tyler," said Perryman.

But East Texas hasn't only produced and hosted great musicians, one of the most successful songwriters is from Chapel Hill, and currently lives in Tyler.

The name Will Jennings may not ring too many bells, but his library of work speak for itself, including one of the greatest hits of all-time, "My Heart Will Go On," the featured track for one of the most successful movies of all-time, Titanic.

Performed by Celine Deon, the song won the Oscar and Grammy for best song, and also best song specifically written for a motion picture, among other accolades.

"It's a rich history and it's still going, it's still going," said Brians.

but sadly, it's a history, too many have forgotten.

"Words cannot describe what it was like to be riding with your date one Friday night and turn the radio on and your own song come on that's what it meant to me, that was worth everything.  Just wish those things were still available to kids today," said Groom.

Nat Stuckey, Bill Mack, Tony Douglas, Dale Hawkins, and Stevie Ray Vaughan are just a few more who have become apart of this often forgotten East Texas heritage.

But according to Robin Hood Brians, history in East Texas music, is still yet to be made.

"It's been a good ride, but just between you and me, the good part is yet to come."


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