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FEB 2024

By Salwa Khan

Joe Nick Patoski:

Unraveling the Tapestry of Texas Music

On Air Personality Profile Picture



Salwa Khan: 
I’m speaking with Joe Nick Patoski and his show is The Texas Music Hour of Power. How did you get your start in radio and in Texas music?

Joe Nick Patoski
I made the conscious decision in 1973 to move to Austin to write about music. I sensed the scene coming up. Who was documenting it? There weren't many local writers. I wanted to be a regional writer. So I moved to Austin, got a job in a chain record store. And within a year, I'd talked my way onto a program on KUT-FM at the University of Texas on Saturday night. It was called Texas Radio and the Big Beat. So that was kind of the foot in the door.
KUT wasn't even stereo then. My friend Huey Meaux, the record producer who had a radio show at KPFT in Houston - he was an old-style shouting and screaming disc jockey, a lot like Wolfman Jack - came up to KUT and we did a 12-hour special, ostensibly to raise money, so KUT could go stereo. This was like 1976. Asleep at the Wheel and The Fabulous Thunderbirds came and played. Jim Miller who edited the book, the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, and Sterling Morrison from the Velvet Underground, who were both in Austin then, showed up. it was a totally cool, totally spontaneous production.
I did the same thing a couple years later up in Dallas at KERA, the PBS TV channel that started an FM (radio station) in the garage of KERA’s facilities. Glenn Mitchell hosted a lot of programming for KERA-FM and he called me up and we did an all-day marathon at KERA playing nothing but Texas music.
Growing up in Texas, how could you not listen to Mexican American music, Tejano Music, Tex-Mex music? It's in Spanish, but it's all over the radio. I was really taken with this strange rhythm. Other Latin music styles in the United States were all based on the cumbia sound; Texas Mexican music was all about the polka. It was about cultural appropriation in the early 20th century when Texas Mexicans heard music played by Czechs and Germans at dances and reinterpreted it, making it something new and completely different.
I was into zydeco music, which is Creole music, the music of black Cajuns from Louisiana. There was a huge pocket of zydeco in southeast Texas and still is. I got into all these sounds that are Texas Indigenous, the corrido, which is the great storytelling tradition of Texas Mexicans. Instead of newspapers, news was transmitted by music.

I wrote about Texas music for national magazines. By 1975, I'm stringing for Rolling Stone. I'm writing for Creem magazine, a Texas magazine called Buddy Magazine that published me. To support my habit early on, I worked at Record Town, a crappy chain record store in Dobie Mall, drove cabs, any kind of gig I could. But by 1975, I kind of made a name for myself, and that's when, at 2 am one morning at Soap Creek Saloon in Westlake Hills in Austin, I meet a guy Richard West who writes for Texas Monthly magazine. He's read my stuff, and he said, Why don't you write for us? Texas Monthly had just started publishing in 1973. I got there two years later and became the pop music columnist. And when you're doing that, you're not writing about Kiss or the Beatles or whatever, you're writing about Texas. It's Texas Monthly. So that basically helped form my focus and specialty. And I became the Texas Music guy.

By 1979, I'm a regular columnist for Texas Monthly, a contributing editor. I'm such a smart ass that I not only think I know about how the music business works, I start to advise this band, this Anglo guy that I met named Joe Teutsch who had the stage name of Joe Carrasco. He got my girlfriend, Kris Cummings, to play in this band, Joe King Carrasco and The Crowns, and I was giving them advice. By the fall of 1979, I got them to New York, and I used all my music critic friends to hear the band when they played the Lone Star Cafe, the Mudd Club, and CBGBs. Joe King had to go to New York as a Tex-Mex rock and roll band to get legitimate among the punk scene here in Austin. That’s when band got big. I quit writing for five years to manage the band. We got to see the world, Europe seven or eight times, South America, Mexico, coast to coast, United States, Canada. My girlfriend and I eloped while on the Son of Stiff tour in 1980, took the train from Berlin to Paris and married ourselves on the Pont Neuf. 

Kris eventually got pregnant, and it was time to get off the road. I went to Greg Curtis, who had become the editor of Texas Monthly and he tried me out on a couple stories. I had a cover story, the 10 best swimming holes in Texas in the June 1985 issue. I did a thing on the toughest miniature golf course holes in Texas, which is a little more whimsical. I was hired to write stories like that for Texas Monthly and to write about music, although I was kind of burned out on music at that point. I was a staff writer for 18 years at Texas Monthly.
Those experiences helped me when I went on to write books about Stevie Ray Vaughan, Selena, Willie Nelson. Having managed a band and getting them signed to record labels, I knew how record deals went down. I knew how the business worked. That gave me a lot of insight and just practical experience. Writing for Texas Monthly taught me a lot about telling a story in print.

Salwa Khan:
At some point, you returned to radio. Tell us about that.

Joe Nick Patoski:
I always loved radio. I'm always listening to radio, and I frequently a guest on radio programs. During the 1990s, I was a regular on Kevin Connor’s morning show on KGSR-FM in Austin. In 2011, a brand-new station started up in Marfa (Texas), a station that was made up out of thin air. KRTS-FM was the smallest National Public Radio affiliated station in the lower 48 states with one employee, Tom Michael, the station manager. Tom had known me because among other things, I'd written a book in 2001 called Texas Mountains which was all about Far West Texas. I had started hanging out in Marfa in the nineties when no one was hanging out there.

Tom, knowing my interests, said, Why don't you do a show on Texas music? It was an interesting idea, but how do I do it? He introduced me to GarageBand, an app where I could make a radio program on my laptop. I did it initially once a month for this little bitty station. Somewhere along the way, I posted my show’s playlist, and then I started live blogging during the show on Facebook. A handful of people would follow what they were hearing played live. I posted up the name of the song and would put up a picture of the artist or whatever. That's the beginnings of Picture Radio. When the show airs Saturday at 7 pm, I open up my personal Facebook page and invlte Image Wranglers, the folks listening to the show, to post pictures and comments. In real time, we blog the show.

There are generally 300 to 400 posts per show. I do probably 30 posts myself. Marfa’s station was so small that they didn't have a lot of bandwidth. Several times so many people were listening online, it would fry their system. Now, they can host more listeners, the station is up to five employees, and station manager is on the national Board of National Public Radio. It's a tiny little station, but it's got beaucoup influence. 

It's not unlike KCRW in Los Angeles whose music shows influence the music industry. They break hits the way that commercial radio used to do. Commercial radio doesn't do that anymore. It just plays the classics. Country Radio does to some extent. So, a very influential station.
Marfa has a network with frequencies in Presidio, in Marathon, Alpine, Marfa, and in Odessa/Midland. You start in Presidio and you can go all the way up beyond Midland, which is about 300 miles and you can hear Marfa Public Radio; you can also hear it for about a hundred miles on Interstate 10.

Salwa Khan:
What can a listener expect to hear on your show?

Joe Nick Patoski:
It’s Nuevo Border Radio. It's taking that border radio spirit of the high-powered X radio stations in Mexico on the border with English language programs that featured hucksters and preachers who sold anything and everything to the listening audience. A lot of the religious offered salvation while selling bogus stuff like autographed pictures of Jesus Christ. My show offers salvation too – through the music: Salvation Thru Texas Music. I've invented fake call letters, XXXX. At the very start of my show, I've got a voice saying, Eh-kees, Eh-kees - XXXX. I'm creating a theater of the mind.

Salwa Khan:
How did you come to KWVH?

Joe Nick Patoski:
I kept up with KWVH's beginnings because I'm friends with Susan Raybuck, and I'm a cynic. You’ve got to understand that being a writer and a reporter, a journalist tends to get a little cynical sometimes. So when Susan was going through the early stages of applying for a low power operating permit for KWVH, I was always, Good luck. You’ve got a steep hill to climb. There was already a competing frequency that wanted to own the Wimberley market, but not from Wimberley. Susan kept at it, nose to the grindstone, and in many ways, the flood of 2015 got things up and running. 

I was always listening, but I'm a laid-back guy. I got my show, and so, I watched the Wimberley Station come to life. I was a little bit critical when they were using a syndicated program, after hours, to kind of fill the programming. Where was the local programming? I ran into Lon Bozarth who was in music business in Austin back in the nineties. He had heard my show and said I needed to get it on the station here in Wimberley. He was volunteering at the station. Then John Brown took the initiative and got the show on KWVH.
Salwa Khan
Tell us more about your theater of the mind.

I broadcast my show from a secret location in an unmarked cave on the wrong side of the Rio Grande. That's the Nuevo Border radio thing. By broadcasting from a secret location in an unmarked cave, you're somewhere else, you're not where you think you are. That’s how I start my show.
Occasionally, I do a cave emergence, a live broadcast. I do them usually twice a year in Marfa, and did one here over the Labor Day weekend. When I do the live broadcast, again theater of the mind, so you won't see Joe Nick Patoski as your broadcaster, even though I'm Joe Nick Patoski’s voice, mic side.
When I perform on the air live, I put on my sunglasses and I wear a turban in the great rock and roll tradition of the singer Chuck Willis, Count Rockin’ Sidney and the Dukes. There've been a lot of turbans worn in rock and roll, for some reason. So I'm taking that and I put on my shades. I'm another person.
And I preach on the air. You’ve got to get up that higher power, and that higher power is Texas music. Texas music can satisfy your soul. It brings good things to you; material wealth, romance, it will cure bunions, it will take care of your halitosis. If you just open yourself up to Texas music, all things are possible. 

I'm playing with the old radio preachers who would guarantee all these things if you just send them some money. We do have radio spiritual prayer cloths which are sometimes available for a good faith offering. I'll let you know if that was a good enough faith offering or not. If you get your cloth, then it was a good enough offering. If you didn't receive your cloth, you ought to try again.

And in the meantime, I'm looking for Texas music every week. And whatever you think of Texas music, I'm here to open your eyes and show you it's so much more. I play Willie Nelson. I play Waylon Jennings. I play a lot of Doug Sahm, he's one of my core artists. 

But I go back to the beginning of recorded music, about a hundred years now. I play some new artists too. But it's all about groove and energy and getting lifted. Each hour has an arc that peaks towards the end of the hour.

And I try to get into every groove that there is, all the indigenous musics of Texas, blues, rhythm and blues, country and western, hillbilly, Western swing, rock and roll, Chicano blues, conjunto, Tejano, Zydeco. It's pan-Texan. What's great about Texas music is a lot of artists sing in English, but a whole lot of artists sing in Spanish or bilingually. Over in southeast Texas, we've got artists that sing in French. And then of course, in central Texas, if you reach back far enough, back in the fifties and forties and thirties, there's a whole sound called Tex-Czech. So I play a lot of Adolph Hofner from San Antonio who sang not only in English and German, but sometimes sang in Czech.

I like telling stories. I always try to ID my artists, where they're from, and I'm always discovering. I'm one of those who think I know a lot about music, but I'm telling you, I'm learning something new every week. And that's the fun of it, learning, and then trying to figure out what's going to fit sonically. I like to think that there's a sonic cohesion.

So you listen to the show, you can make yourself a party. That's one of the guarantees we have. It's party music. It's upbeat, uplifting. I don't do too many singer-songwriters. I don't do too much downbeat. Occasionally it's good to slow things down just to let people catch their breath, but it's an uplifting thing. I try to get people high without any kind of substance abuse. You can get high on the music. That's my thing.

Is it a hobby? Is it an obsession? I don't know what it is, but this keeps me going. I don't know when I'm going to stop. It's just great to see how radio work. For such an old, antiquated technology, it makes you think, it makes you imagine. Watching TV, you don't have to imagine the images. In radio, it's theater of the mind.

Salwa Khan:
Where do you record your show?

Joe Nick Patoski
I record the show here on my laptop, I use GarageBand. I lay my music tracks down, and once I've got all my music done, I'll go back and then I'll record vocals. If I yak for a minute between songs, things slow down, and you don't do that often unless there's really something important you’ve got to convey. To do two hours, takes me about four hours. I'll record generally on Monday or Tuesday and share it with Marfa and with Brach Thomas here.
It's a party atmosphere. It's having fun, not getting too serious. It's playing something goofy every now and then, got to play Willie every now and then. I've got my core artists and I've got my new artists, and I'm always looking for the new stuff that comes across. I love turning people on to stuff.

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