The stars sparkle brighter then I have ever seen now that the final lights in the city have all gone dark. We have not seen electric lights in weeks. Last month I was a radio DJ (who broadcast up till the moment before Austin fell to the hoard , I will have that remembered) and now I am running for my life. All I have in my pack is a can of black beans and another un-marked can that sounds like some kind of fruit when I shake it. Who knows what it really is but fruit is what I am hoping for. Those things were all over the place just an hour ago. Policemen, schoolgirls, the man that worked at the dry cleaner, my father, my mother….now in this new dark day…my own mother! Flesh rotting from her face as she smoked a cigarette. Zombie mother! As the tension treats my mind like a rubber band he sits down next to me. Railroad conductor cap pulled down low on his face he places the guitar on his knee like one would a child, yet his hands clutch it rather like the shotgun he had precisely wielded as he blasted his way through the hoard to save my life only a short time before. This is his true weapon…with a musical weapon doth he come to save me from the monsters of this nightmare world and ease my senses with song. I sit around the camp fire and open the can of beans in a world that is no longer the world of man but the world of the zombie! Then the firelight catches his eye as he picks his guitar and begins to sing …”Zombie’s have begun their invasion of Antarctica! A country that they can call their own.” The man is Country Willie and he sings of the frozen “Zantarctica.”
Country Willie is a singer and songwriter based in Texas and his music is about so much more then just zombies. That’s why I was shocked when after having Country Willie on the Smooth & Demented Show (broadcast on http://www.kaosradioaustin.org in Austin, Texas) I was questioned by one of his musical peers (Dan Grissom of McMercy Family Band) if Willie had “played his zombie songs” for me? My chin flapped open like a rusty draw bridge as I shook my head “No!” I quickly booked Willie for another show and his zombie songs he spilled like rotten guts on the squalid floor. Willie now has been on KAOS radio a dozen times between the Smooth & Demented Show or Annie St. Radio and ever since has gladly given the KAOS radio fans their zombie fix when he is a live guest. Zombie songs may sound as novelty at first, yet Willie draws from a deeper well then that. Country Willie is an artist through and through. He is a singer that seems truly free within his art form as he is able to transition from one style and genre to another sound completely while still staying pristinely true to his roots. Country Willie is without a doubt at his most raw when he is alone with his acoustic guitar but when Willie teams up with his other incantations fireworks happen! There is the more electric sound known as Country Willie & The Cosmic Debris where the music takes on a sparse and improvised feel. Spacey, sometimes psychedelic and galactic-ly jazzy at other times this is a band formed by Willie after the space shuttle exploded over Texas and rained pieces to earth in the area of one of Willie’s most beloved towns …Nacogdoches. As the legend goes the drummer plays with parts of the exploded space shuttle Columbia itself! Yet Willie can turn the volume (and weirdness ) up another notch with his most outlandish form called Moonhammer! The band known as Moonhammer is a sound that verges on straight up heavy metal ! Guitar slinging and wild drumming back Willie up as he takes on the role of heavy metal frontman/guru, putting the guitar down and taking the microphone in hand to attack these songs as a vocalist! This is pure rock! High kicking and thrashing from Willie onstage displays quite a change from his acoustic, country based musings in a straight back chair. This diversity has caught the attention of such varied Texas artists as well-known bluegrass outfit Green Mountain Grass, Alt. country pioneers Old97’s …all the way to the likes of the more obscure country-punk Dirty Charley whom all sing the praises of talented Country Willie, a musician that draws the eclectic minded like a bear to honey and has even caught the lens of an American filmmaker who captured the crazy touring adventures of Country Willie in a exciting documentary called “The Rainbows End”.
Country Willie has much lurking under the surface of his songs. The more you listen to Willie’s music or see him in performance you peel back the layers. Songs about lonely train riders and hard living seem form fit for the tough economic times of today. His zombie songs are no different in poiniance as Country Willie has tapped his way into the same infected vain that so many have in popular culture as of late and the zombie is the perfect metaphor for a people who feel on the edge of collapse or apocalypse. Part of Country Willie’s creative brilliance is the merging of these two issues. Old-time sounding music is popular right now because as time moves on and technological advancement progresses, people look to the past for what is comforting and authentic. Even pitifully sad songs about coal miners may be comforting for no other reason then it is real. People need real things and old sounding music feels that way. It simply feels real. The theme of zombies in Willie’s music however, is emblematic in my opinion of the fractured world society fears inheriting. The threat of global warming and endless war for dwindling resources would make it seam that the true enemy and danger the future holds is looking back at us in the mirror. That eventually we will eat each other and empty the streets of the sights and sounds of humanity to fill that void with an endless death. Hard to say if this is Willies, long-term artistic intent …but for me it suggests that we should not take for granted the world that we live in and should strive to make tomorrow better then today. Don’t excuse Willies zombie tunes as novelty so quickly. Willies performance and recordings encapsulate all of this. So when that lonesome trains rolls by to blow her nighttime whistle…and my ramblin’ heart longs for a ride in her dark and dusty boxcars. I know Willie is writing true-blue, uncompromising, old-fashioned country music about hobos, train-riders, cowboys, coal miners, pretty women and the occasional zombie outbreak. The kind of songs to quell that rambling, tom-cat feeling as the red light of the caboose fades into a moonless night.
Willie finishes his song, takes a deep breath and trades his guitar for a shotgun. He rises and walks into the darkness to stand as watchman in the zombie night. I toss a log on the campfire and go to open the mystery can I am desperately hoping will be a nice desert of fruit and not “hominy” or some other foul tin of crap. I open the can up and suddenly I hear from the darkness Willie ask …“ Peaches?” It was, in fact, peaches in that little silver and unmarked can of mystery. Sweet and syrupy peaches. Perfect! “Yep Willie, sure is. How did ya know?” I ask him through the veil darkness. “Sounded like peaches” he responded. I guess Country Willie knows a good sound when he hears it!
“Ya know, he is great! Country Willie is a man on his own path…it’s a weird path but it is his!” -Old 97’s Murry Hammond
Download or stream from archive.org…
Country Willie-live from Old Settlers Fest campgrounds