Anytime I went to my Aunt Kathy’s house in small town panhandle Perryton, Texas , one of the things I would look forward to is seeing my cousins play music. I thought it was the coolest thing they were musically talent… because I am defintely not!
Cody Sparks Band
Long story short, my cousin, Cody Sparks decided to make music his life. Recently, his band, the Cody Sparks Band, which includes his younger brother, Seth Sparks, has taken off right here in the music capital of the world. In the month of March alone, they played all week during SXSW, put out an album on itunes titled “Sinners and the Saved,” and are playing every chance they get.
After being in this class, I became more intrigued in his career. Therefore, I had the privilege of sitting down with my cousin and getting to understand his personal story and what it really took to devote his life to his passion, country music.
(Above is a track from their album titled Oklahoma Fool)
What got you interested in music?
Music for me was something I liked since childhood, but never knew it would be such a huge part of my life. When I was a Freshman in college I saw a guy playing acoustic guitar at a venue in Colorado and immediately became fascinated. I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas and thankfully got it. Little did I know that seeing that show would completely turn my life around in such a different way.
When did you know that you wanted to make music your life?
For the longest time I never actually thought that I could make music such a big part of my life. Before music I was coaching High School football and basketball and very much into that. I just suddenly realized that I might be good enough to try this music thing out. Lucky for me, so far so good. Like I always say, I can always go back and coach when I’m older. Im not always going to be so young and “cool.”
Why country music?
I think being born and raised in a small Texas town most definitely set me up for country music. There wasn’t really a lot of other genres that I was really into. We really don’t have to get into my “punk rock” phase. Texas country music just seems more real to me than any other music out there.
How long did it take for you to get your foot in the door?
Getting our foot in the door hasn’t been the easiest thing. We truly have been blessed with opportunity though. I think we have come a long way since we first moved to Austin 3 years ago. We still have a long ways to go to really get to where we want to be. But like with any career, the harder you work, the greater the reward.
How does living in Austin, the music capital of the world, benefit the band’s career?
Moving to Austin was a big decision for us. We had long discussions about it and knew that it was the best place to be for what we wanted to do. A lot of bands are based out of ATX and we are happy to be one of them. There is always something going on everyday of the week in the music world here. It really helps for networking. And in this business, it helps to have friends that do what you do. Advice and guidance from other musicians is vital. We are proud to call Austin our newest home.
You guys just finished your first album. What was the hardest and best part of the process?
Our album is finally finished and we couldn’t be more proud. This was a learning experience for sure. I think the hardest part was figuring out the process. There are so many little things involved that I had no idea even existed. Some people think that it takes a few weeks or even a couple of months to complete but thats not the case at all. There is so much more that goes into it than walking in and recording some songs. I think the best part of the process was actually doing it, completing our project and getting our music out there. It was great to see us all come together creatively. We really grew closer as a band and as friends. Learning is always a positive thing and we experienced a lot of that.
What is your favorite song on the album?
I think my favorite song on the Album is the title track “Sinners and the Saved.” I put a lot of time and effort into this one. It is a song written about my two grandfathers and most definitely most meaningful to me.
(Below is the a piece of the track!)
What inspires you to write a song?
There are a lot of different things that can inspire someone to write. The sun, mountains, trees, maybe a girl or heartbreak. Honestly you could pick any topic and make up some type of song about it. I like to write about things that have happened to me in life or maybe someone close. Real life things are usually the ones that turn out the best.
Who has influenced your style of music?
I think at the end of the day there really are certain people that stand out to me as influential. Groups such as The Eagles or Conway Twitty, and Willie Nelson go way back before I was even born. To people like King George Strait who has had a major impact on my music style. It all boils down to people who really got me started listening to the Texas/Red Dirt music scene. Pat Green,Reckless Kelly, Cody Canada and Stoney Larue. Those guys really pulled me in.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a singer/songwriter/in a band?
For me personally I think the most rewarding thing about being a singer/songwriter in a band is getting together and making something so great with the guys in the group. Seeing a positive fun look on peoples faces while hearing us play means more to us than anyone will ever know. We love when people get out and dance and party to our tunes. We have a good time doing what we do. So its great when people respond the same. We are more than just a band, its a family.
Any big plans for the near future?
The album is now out on iTunes, so our future plans are to push and promote the record. We want to keep getting our name out there. The more people that hear our stuff the better. We always welcome new fans and friends.
Here is the link for Cody Sparks Band facebook page. If there is anything I appreciate about Cody is how much I have seen him grow with his music and the hard work he has put in. And I am not just saying that because he is family!
In the middle of November a couple of years ago, four of my friends and I were feeling claustrophobic in Austin after midterms, so we decided to go on a day trip to New Braunfels for a German festival called “Wurstfest”. When we pulled into town, tacky lederhosen and fake German façades were everywhere, but they couldn’t mask the smell of sausage and beer. As we walked towards the food stands, several people who were leaving started giving us all of their coupons. It turned out that this was the last day of the festival. After exchanging these tickets at the food stands, we found our arms filled with free pitchers of Miller Lite and skewered knackwurst sausage. As we made our way into the beer hall to feast on our bounty, an elderly German band played the Gene Autry dancehall classic, “South of the Border.”
Right as we sat down, however, smoke began to fill the enormous hall from a nearby sausage stand. It turned out that there was a minor fire on the cooker, which was quickly extinguished. While this ended up not being a threat to anyone’s safety, the beer hall was deserted in the frenzy. After a few minutes, one of my more astute friends noted that there was plenty of beer left abandoned on the tables and nobody seemed to be returning. This good fortune added onto our previous stroke of luck left us as very rich men in this fake German village. As our stomachs filled, the band (who were apparently unfazed or maybe even uninformed about the fire) closed their set and the crowd thinned out outside of the beer hall. We realized that it was time to go.
As we were about to leave town, we decided to stop by Gruene Hall because one of our friends had never been. We parked down the block and walked up to the front door, but the bouncer told us that it was a sold out show and that we couldn’t get in. Being the thrifty college opportunists we were, we decided to walk around back to see if there was another entrance. We saw a light from the side of the building and approached it. It was an open door, and through it, stood Willie Nelson, about twenty feet away from us playing his hit, “Crazy” with his full band, and with “Trigger”, his infamous guitar, in his arms.
We were dumbfounded.
None of us ever thought we’d be able to see the Red Headed Stranger play a legendary venue like Gruene Hall. As the song went on, a cop approached us and told us that we could stay for a few more songs before he got in trouble. He also informed us that if Willie invited him to smoke in his tour bus, he wouldn’t feel professionally obligated to say no.
As we got back in the car to go home after the show, I realized that I’d been able to cross off a long-time item on my bucket list, on accident. It was always a dream of mine to see Willie play at Gruene Hall but it was always too expensive for my friends and I or sold out too quickly. While we couldn’t buy tickets to actually go into the dance hall, I’m still grateful for that cop letting us watch the show from the musicians’ entrance, also known as “Willie’s door.”
Willie using the musicians entrance to Gruene Hall, or “Willie’s Door”
Note: This is an example of Blog Post 5, in which you are asked to reflect on different experiences you had over the course of the semester.
Three of the things related to country music that I have done throughout the semester that have shaped my perception of the genre include watching the Dixie Chicks Documentary “Shut Up and Sing,” exploring new featured Country artists in an issue of Garden and Gun Magazine, and attending a Jerry Jeff Walker Concert at Gruene Hall. Each of these things has given me a unique insight into what the world of country music has to offer.
Let me first dive into “Shut Up and Sing” and explain my take on it. To start, you should know that I am a huge Dixie Chicks fan and had never actually done the research to find out why they fell off the face of the planet about 13 years ago. I knew it had to do with slamming Bush but I didn’t know what exactly was said and why it had such a huge effect on their career. After watching the documentary, I can see why their words upset so many people. In short, Natalie Maines, the head singer, expressed that she was ashamed the President was from Texas regarding his decisions on the war in Iraq. Her comment caused radio stations to ban their music from being played as a consequence. This documentary has shown me just how conservative the world of country music is at large.
Secondly, I have learned more about Country music through my discovery of several artists featured in Garden and Gun Magazine. These include Aubrey Sellers, Parker Millsap, Margo Price, and Andrew Combs. Of these, my favorite is Parker Millsap. He brings a kind of different flavor to the country scene. His music has a country sound with a little bluesy, rock and roll feel. I typically am not a huge fan of genre mash-ups but for some reason Parker Millsap does it for me. Through this discovery, I have broadened my horizons and become more open-minded to different takes on Country Music.
And lastly, my experience at Jerry Jeff’s concert at Gruene Hall has left a lasting impression of why I love Country Music so much. When you look around and not a soul in the crowd is wearing something other than cowboy boots, you know you’re in good company. I have been to several Jerry Jeff concerts in the past but something about Gruene Hall made this one particularly special. It was a two-steppin, singing every word to every song, surrounded by good people kind of night. I can’t think of a better way to see one of the greats do what he does best.
Each of these experiences has shaped my view of Country Music. Whether it clarified a characteristic of the genre, opened my eyes to new aspects, or solidified why I am such a fan, I have learned something from each one. My perception over the course of this semester has been stretched and has grown into a deeper appreciation for the greatest type of music known to man. I am now that much more confident that Country Music is my all time favorite type of music.
Every young swimmer faces a hard time when they start the dreaded morning practices. The alarm starts ringing early, and life seems to be lived in the dark. When I was fourteen I was moved to the senior group of my home swim club, FAST. This meant that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I was in the water at 5:30 am sharp.
To be in the water by 5:30 I had to get to the pool by 5:15 which meant getting up at 4:50 to eat. Needless to say it was a hard adjustment for fourteen-year-old me. Getting up wasn’t even the worst part. It was going straight to school from the pool that did me in. Out of the pool at 6:50 we had to be at school by 7:30, which meant leaving the pool at 7:10. With the day entirely planned out we had just enough time for the highlight of the mornings. A warm, almost loving, shower. For a while we would just shower, and watch our time wind down before we had to go make it through school, then come back for another practice. Then country music changed everything.
Armed with a water proof speaker, we were now ready to beat the day. There were about ten of us that would really listen to the music coming out of the speaker, and we had ten different opinions about what should be coming out of the speaker.
Each and every one of the swimmers in the men’s locker room would hear a song and say “NO, NO, NO! We can’t listen to this to start the day! I am not going to have Katy Perry in my head all day.” This constant bickering lead to the demise of our beloved speaker. It stayed away for about a week when two juniors on the team, Jason and Austin, walked in the locker room with the speaker proudly above their heads, and grins stretching across their faces.
These two guys had found a song, so perfect, so right for the start of the day, and so easy to sign along to it would reunite the ten of us in the showers. Hounded with questions they said nothing except “Listen up”
Travis Tritt’s twangy voice rolled smoothly out of the speaker as he sang “I’ve got some rice cookin’ in the microwave.” The entire locker room audience was hooked as his voice boomed in singing “and im doing all right, and it’s a great DAYYY to be alive.” The coming weeks this song about each day being great was a staple of our locker room listening diet.
I still believe that we liked this song because we could all relate to what he was saying. Even if none of us made homemade stew, or had three day beards that need shaving, we all knew what it was like to be a little down… We were at morning practice for gosh sakes. No matter how down we would get about a hard practice, or a mountain of homework waiting at home we would always know that it was a great day to be alive.
This one song brought us together and it turned into a way of cheering up a friend who was down. If a teammate was obviously upset, all it would take to bring up their spirits was simply saying “Hey man, it’s a great day to be alive.” This had our team sitting as happy as could be.
As Jason and Austin Graduated, we listened to less and less of Travis Tritt in the locker room. He faded away just as Tritt’s voice does in the singing of this song. Even though “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” was no longer a fan favorite at the pool, it’s message would be something that never leaves my mind, and I think that’s something only county music can do to its listeners.
There is no denying that country music has an influence on society, but sometimes it is surprising how far-reaching that influence goes. Peter Orlovsky, the life partner of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, suspects that the name of Ginsberg’s best-known poem “Howl” was influenced by Hank Williams’ song “Howlin’ at the Moon”. Orlovsky says that he sang “Howlin’ at the Moon” to Ginsberg during one of their many nighttime walks through San Francisco. Days later Orlovsky saw the first draft of “Howl” on Ginsberg’s desk. Unfortunately Orlovsky and Ginsberg never actually had a conversation about whether the song influenced the poem and Ginsberg is not alive to confirm or deny Orlovsky’s comments. Nevertheless, it is extremely probable that Ginsberg heard Williams’ music around the same time he was writing “Howl”.
“Howlin’ at the Moon” is an upbeat, humorous song about a man who is so in love that he is acting like a hound dog. The song light-heartedly talks about how love can drive us crazy. “Howlin at the Moon” even includes howling in the background by the fiddler Jerry Rivers. The song was very successful and was one of eight of Williams’ song to reach the Top Ten on the country music charts in 1951. Although Williams’ career was taking off in the early 1950’s, his personal life was taking a dark turn. He struggled with alcohol and drug abuse which lead to divorce, expulsion from the Grand Ole Opry, and eventually death. Ginsberg also did drugs, had a troubled love life, and struggled to fit in. Because of the similarities of the two men, Ginsberg may have felt like he could relate to Williams and might have even considered Williams to be one of the outcasts that he writes about.
“Howl” was written in 1955 and is well known for its long, rhythmic lines that criticize the widespread materialism and suburbanization of society in America in the 1950’s. “Howl” begins with the famous line “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked” and goes on to describe the experiences of himself, his friends, and other outcasts of the generation. “Howl” vividly describes controversial topics like homosexual sex, drug use, and mental illness using profane language which lead to a court case in 1957 to determine if the poem was obscene. The judge ruled that “Howl” was not obscene and had “redeeming social importance”. To this day, “Howl” is widely regarded as one of the most important poems in American literature and has a lasting influence on society.
So how, if at all, could “Howlin’ at the Moon” have influenced “Howl”? The song “Howlin at the Moon” makes listeners think of a happy couple that is about to get engaged and probably will have a wholesome, suburban family like so many others in the 1950’s. After marriage, we can assume that the man would stop acting like a dog, become a domesticated family man, and probably stop howling. Ginsberg might have thought this man was giving up his originality in order to conform to the cookie-cutter lifestyle of the 50’s. “Howl” suggests that people should continue to “howl at the moon” instead of conforming and that there is something special about those who do not fit in. Whether or not “Howlin’ at the Moon” actually influenced “Howl” is not known, but we can speculate how country music influences even the most unlikely works.