Raised on both sides of the Texas-Louisiana border and schooled in the bustling sounds of both states, Marcia Ball bloomed into a roadhouse rose. Her graceful swagger permeates her piano and pen -- sassy yet stately, she can swing from boogie to ballad in the turn of a triplet.
The four-time Grammy nominee and longtime Austin resident is part of the second edition of the Big Easy in Buffalo Mardi Gras Jam at 6 tonight in the Town Ballroom (681 Main St.). The show benefits Music Is Art and also features the Crescent City sounds of Papa Grows Funk and Big Sam's Funky Nation, along with local stalwarts Eric Crittenden and Ron Davis, aka Leeron Zydeco.
During a break in a five-show, three-day benefit bash in Austin celebrating her upcoming 60th birthday, Ball sat down to discuss her lineage and legacy.
What does it mean to you to be an ambassador of Louisiana music, and how has that changed since Katrina?
Although I've lived in Austin a long time, my connection to Louisiana is deep and is truly my taproot. Austin's been a wonderful place for me, but that connection is important -- especially since Katrina, where this was an outpost, and so many people came here. Austin opened its arms so wide -- the whole community -- and we gained members of the Neville family, Henry Butler, George Porter and the Iguanas were here for a while, and we gained a lot by their presence.
In reverse, I've always appreciated the fact that my music has been informed by not only the rhythms of Louisiana, but the lyricism of people I know here -- Texas songwriters like James McMurtry, Eliza Gilkyson, Butch Hancock. And like Doug Sahm said, we don't really recognize the borders -- there are similarities in music between the west side of San Antonio and the east side of New Orleans, and all the byways in between. Gatemouth Brown, Lonnie Brooks -- these guys play blues and wear cowboy hats. It's a wonderful part of the country and a wonderful tradition to be a part of.
How has your music changed since you left Louisiana?
When I came here in 1970, I'd been playing rock 'n' roll in Baton Rouge, but music here and around the whole world was changing. Gram Parsons had met up with the Byrds and, with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, took that jangly, twangy, pop, folk sound, and pushed 'em more toward country. Asleep at the Wheel, Commander Cody, the Band -- there was a lot goin' on that brought country and pop music together. I met some Texans playing real country music and joined 'em. The only song I knew that was vaguely country was "Me & Bobby McGee," but I was with them for two-and-a-half years. The Wheel and Jerry Jeff Walker were here, and when Willie came back, that blurred the line. I remember the first time I ever saw Willie, at Big G's in Round Rock, Texas -- he was wearing a suit. Me, Willie and Bee Spears [Nelson's longtime bassist] were the only hippies in the place. So much has changed over the years, but Austin has kept me grounded and set me free.
Do you have a new outlook as you approach 60?
I don't consciously make resolutions, but I do have a sense of urgency. There's still a lot I want to do, and time's a wastin', so I gotta do it.
-- Seamus Gallivan, Special to The News