A Dreamer Tells His Story
Kent Finlay (and Various Artists)
Book – Texas A&M University Press
CD – 30 Eight Records
An Unsung Hero Of The Emergent Americana Scene.
If like me, you have never visited Texas, or more specifically Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, you will never have heard of Kent Finlay; but if you are a regular reader of this website and like any or all of Americana, Alt. Country, Honky Tonk or what used to be called Nu-Country you will be thankful he ever existed.
Why? You ask; well for over 40 years he ran that club and was one of the very first people in the whole of the United States of America to book (and re-book) the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard,Todd Snider, James McMurtry, Slaid Cleaves and more important in the pantheon of American music….George Strait and a young Stevie Ray Vaughan!
To celebrate Kent Finlay’s life and work his daughter Jenni has lovingly curated a biography of her Dad’s life and a CD, featuring a host of acts who started their careers playing that humble club.
As a promoter and singer-songwriter himself I asked my friend Graeme Anderson aka Shipcote from the Jumping Hot Club in Newcastle to pen a few words about the book.
Dreamer – The Musical Legacy.
I’ve been a busy body in music all my life. Indeed, many years ago I even had a road trip all around the state of Texas, but sadly I’ve not been to San Marcos. I’ve been to quite a few of the legendary Texas music venue’s though, the Broken Spoke, Liberty Lunch, Guene Hall; but not the Cheatham Street Warehouse.
Over the intervening years I’ve booked many a Texan Songster for the Jumping Hot Club in Newcastle; but sadly, I’d never even heard of the music man Kent Finlay until now. That’s all changed with the new book “Kent Finlay, Dreamer” co – written by his daughter the excellent Finlay & Brian T Atkinson (author of Townes Van Zandt book – I’II be here in morning).
Basically Kent was one of the real good guys (he passed away in 2015 aged 77) who worked as a small time music venue owner/songwriter/curator/ mentor, looking out for young Texas songwriters – a fatherly figure, for want of better words. The book’s an insight into his fascinating life through interviews Jenni Finlay did with her Father in the last few years and subsequently the musicians he knew & supported over 40 years or more. Actually, The Cheatham St Warehouse in San Marcos was his life, and the Wednesday night songwriters circle (which he took part in and officiated for 40 years) were legendary and are now part of Texas music history.
The book is split into two parts. The first part’s a little bogged down with Kent’s rambles regarding the co-writes & tunes he wrote, but that’s not unexpected as many went on to be recorded by some household names (well, in my household anyway). It has to be added that he launched the careers of some mighty big country artists, including George Strait who started off playing at Cheatham St and was driven to Nashville by Kent for his first ever recording session.
The second part is where the fun really is and the book really comes to life with a whole host of Cheatham St. (and Jumpin Hot Club!) regulars sharing anecdotes about the songwriting man and; of course the venue. I’ve known Slaid Cleaves, Jon Dee Graham & James McMurtry and many others who are featured here, for a lot of years and their stories are all lovingly told; often bringing a smile to my face and a tear to the eye and they all make me wish I’d met Kent; as he comes across as one of our industry’s ‘good guys’ and there are only a few of us left!
I’II not spoil it for you, but Todd Snider, whom Kent had a long association with, and who and he most valued as a songwriter, has left an interesting legacy for Kent a great drinking tale to go with it…. Its all in the book; read it…..and you will wish you had met Kent too.
A Tribute to Kent Finlay
Running alongside the book of the same name; Terri Finlay has collated a veritable Who’s Who of Americana artists to celebrate her father’s fabulous life.
Everyone here played the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas many times and all are mentioned in the book; and even without that thread to pull them and their songs together, this would be an album I would buy if I saw it in a Record Shop.
All of the songs here were written by, with or about Finlay; and go to show what a great and sadly; unheralded songwriter he was.
The warm voice of Terri Hendrix opens the album with the delightful I’ll Sing You a Story, and the mood is set for an hour or so of stories (and a poem) set to music that will occasionally sent a shiver down your back; and more likely make your eyes sparkle and your lips smile.
While I knew most of the acts here; there are still a few surprises with Sunny Sweeney duetting with her old College friend Randy Rogers on Between You and Me; and a couple of singers who are new to me, HalleyAnna (I’ve Written Some Life) and especially the world weary voice of William Clark Green (Still Think About You) making me delve a little deeper into their back catalogues.
But it’s the ‘Stars’ of the Americana scene that will bring most people to this album; and of those Slaid Cleaves’ Lost is a gem of a song that I’ve never heard him sing before; and Brennan Leigh & Noel McKay have never sounded better than when singing Yesterday’s Oatmeal; proving great Country Music really is timeless.
On an album chock full of surprises; James McMurty’s live recording of Comfort’s Just a Rifle Shot Away; brought back memories of the only time I ever saw him live many years ago and the song is an absolute doozy.
The album closes (sort of) with Jamie Wilson and (Finlay’s famous?) Hill Country Choir performing the powerful Hill Country, which will surely bring a tear to a glass eye; and a finer tribute I can’t think of.
My copy of the album appears to have a ‘secret track,’ Saturday Night by Brennan Leigh and Noel McKay (again) and if this ‘Border Song’ is also from the pen of Kent Finlay I really must check out his actual recorded work; and you should too.
Kent Finlay; a life well lived and fondly remembered.
Book – Issued March 2nd 2016
CD – Released April 1st 2016