It was 1974, and in Austin, Texas, the cosmic cowboys ruled the roost. Fiddles and steel guitars sweetened the mix of folk, rock and country that was putting the Texas capital on the national music map.
But there was a group of new arrivals, mostly from Dallas, who weren’t having any of that. Instead of digging the likes of Bob Wills and Willie Nelson, they were following in the steps of blues, soul and R&B legends like Bobby “Blue” Bland, Otis Redding and T-Bone Walker. Tony Lama cowboy boots and Lone Star Beer T-shirts weren’t for them; cats like Denny Freeman, Jimmie Vaughan and his little brother Stevie, and Doyle Bramhall all dressed sharp, exuded cool and drew the best- looking women in town to their gigs.
Perhaps none dressed sharper or sang sweeter than a tall, cool drink of water named Paul Ray. After relocating to Austin, Ray put together a virtual Murderer’s Row of some of the best R&B talent in town, including guitarists Denny Freeman and Stevie Ray Vaughan to form Paul Ray and the Cobras.
The Cobras would change personnel over the next several years (Ray himself was obliged to quit the band in 1978 due to health reasons), but they remained one of the strongest draws in town, presiding over a robust blues scene that only added to Austin’s national reputation as a musical hotbed.
Which brings us to Caught Live At the Continental Club (Jungle Records 1014), a new 40th Anniversary Edition of the vintage recording which documents the Cobras at the height of their considerable powers. The original incarnation of the recording was a seven-song 10” vinyl release on the local Big Money label. In 1991, an expanded version of the show was issued on Germany’s Big Money label. The new release marks the first time the full show set (minus one song) has been available stateside.
Recorded one January night in 1981 at the famous South Austin landmark venue, Caught Live features one of the most dynamic iterations of the band, featuring Denny Freeman on guitar, along with Joe Sublette and Luke McNamee on tenor and baritone saxes respectively, Rodney Craig on drums and vocals, and Leland Parks on bass. Fronting the band was a riveting and charismatic lead vocalist from West Texas, “Junior” Medlow Williams.
As with most Cobras shows, this one offered a master’s class in rhythm and blues, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and blues. Opening with the feral, prowling groove of “Tomcat” (a Freeman/Sublett original) to the walking-bass-and-wailin’ sax outro of the “Peter Gunn” theme, the sprawling 16-song set ranges geographically from Chicago to Houston, with many a stop in between.
“Learn To Treat Her Better” and “See See Baby” are classic Texas R&B shuffles, while “Blow, Joe, Blow (Crazy ‘Bout A Saxophone)” and “House Party” are classic Satrday night throwdowns in the Amos Milburn tradition. “Checkin’ On My Baby” features some classic Denny Freeman-style ice picking, a’la Albert Collins” while their take on Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Gangster of Love” is classic Lone Star badass.
“That’s How Strong My Love Is,” “I’ll Go Crazy” (featuring a scorching Junior Medlow vocal) and “Further On Up the Road” puts the Cobras stamp on a trio of classics and Rodney Craig’s “Mary Sue “ proves the band was no slouch when it came to original material.
For ten years, the myriad musicians who passed through the band made the Cobras Austin’s standard bearers for blues and R&B, a walking, wailing house party that helped pit the city on the map. Caught Live At the Continental Club shows just exactly why.
Listen/Buy: Caught Live At the Continental Club
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