Nearly half a century after first meeting as 4-year-olds on the playground of an East Dallas kindergarten, Bill Claxton and Paul Welch, now 58, decided to start playing music together. As the Claxton Welch Band, they’ve just released their second CD, Close to the Bone, featuring 14 original songs by Claxton. Their style is what Claxton dubs “Americano,” a mix of folk and rockabilly, influenced by vintage rock, R&B and a hint of Tejano, with songwriting inspiration from Willie Nelson, John Prine and James Taylor.
At a recent gig at Opening Bell Coffee at Southside on Lamar, the duo also brought along three young drummers — Job Henry, Pierre Niyo and David Nizeyamana, all immigrants from Burundi. Claxton met them through his church, Grace United Methodist, where Welch is also a member. It’s a new sound Claxton Welch Band is exploring, with shades of the thundering percussion of Paul Simon’s Graceland.
Claxton says he’d admired his friend Paul Welch’s guitar playing since hearing Welch’s teenage band The Gravitational Pull at sock hops at the old East Dallas Y when they were classmates at Woodrow Wilson High School in the 1970s. They both had learned guitar as kids, taking lessons at the old McCord’s Music Center in downtown Dallas. Welch also had private lessons in the late 1960s with Fred Holmes. (See Holmes here as lead guitarist with The Wipeouts at Sons of Hermann Hall last year.)
There’s a lot to like on Close to the Bone. Claxton’s lyrics are smart and speak to listeners who have a few years on them and some heartache to show for it.
After graduation, they lost touch for many years. Claxton went to Texas A&M for a degree in veterinary science. (He’s still a small animal vet in Quinlan, Texas, and has a ranch in Hunt County.) Welch, an oil company geologist, is a UT Austin grad.
After running into each other at church about 10 years ago, they started jamming in their living rooms, singing songs Claxton had been writing since high school. Welch says he hadn’t picked up his guitars in a decade, “but it came back pretty quickly.” Pretty soon they were performing at small gigs on weekends. They played at the White Rock Marathon, did some shows at cafes and wineries in Commerce and Greenville, and drew a good crowd at the Wildflower Art & Musical Festival in Richardson in 2010. They’ve now played four times at Poor David’s Pub.
Along the way, they added drummer Ricky Turner, bass player Jared Calkins and accordionist Crutch Williams, who all play on the new CD, which was recorded at Verge Music Works in Farmers Branch.
Claxton admits that nailing down the style of the band makes marketing and booking a problem. “I don’t know what to call it, so I just call it ‘Americano,’” he says. “I’ve been writing music for so long and have so many different interests. Some of it is rock, some is country, some is Tejano kinda. Some is folk music because it kind of tells a story. It’s just all music that I like.”
“It was the first place I ever saw black music performed live,” Claxton says. “I’m sure I’m not the only white kid that got turned on to rhythm and blues at the State Fair.”
And there’s a lot to like on Close to the Bone. As a singer, Claxton’s high, reedy voice is Bob Dylan with better diction. His lyrics are smart and speak to listeners who might have a few years on them and some heartache to show for it. Williams’ accordion playing hums sweetly through the New Age-y “Dance of the Waters,” in which Claxton observes, “There’s no jungles or mountains/on the streets of East Dallas.” The Tejano influence can be heard on the tune “Depression,” a waltz-y ballad about coping with chronic blues. “Call it what you want to, depression is my name,” sings Claxton. “No matter what they tell you, I’ll come ’round again.”
The uptempo “Something Goin’ On” sounds like something Buddy Holly and the Crickets might have sung back in the day. But Claxton’s lyrics for the tune tell of sour feelings post-divorce: “I used to think that I’d be there when the cake got cut; now I’ve come to realize you just play too rough.”
Welch’s hard-driving rock chords punctuate the catchy “Rain Comes.” And Claxton remembers the old State Fair sideshow in a joyful number called “The Cotton Club Revue.”
“That’s a true story,” he explains. “At the State Fair of Texas when I was a kid, one of the sideshows down off the midway was called the Cotton Club Revue. They had cool banners, girls dancing in miniskirts up on a stage and a barker to get customers in. His name was Little Anthony, kind of a James Brown type. The show was a great rhythm and blues band and girls dancing. I was about 14 when I went in there, and it had a major influence on my life. It was the first place I ever saw black music performed live. I’m sure I’m not the only white kid that got turned on to rhythm and blues at the State Fair.”
What’s next for Claxton Welch?
“Dallas is a hard place to crack as musicians,” says Bill Claxton. “I love playing live, sharing it with people. You get in a groove with the band, connecting with people in the audience. I don’t want to be a rock star, but I sure do enjoy performing and getting feedback.”
Their biggest problem? Getting friends their age to come out to the shows. “It’s hard,” says Claxton, “because everyone I know wants to go to bed at 10 o’clock.”
Listen to Claxton Welch Band’s CD Close to the Bone here.