The Rocks Off 100:
Jack Saunders, Dealer of Grit & Jangle
By Chris Gray Thu., May 2 2013 at 8:00 AM
Categories: Only In Houston, The Rocks Off 100Who?

James Killen
Houston Music Review
May 11, 2013 at 12:01 AM
Jack Saunders? Didn’t he play bass for Shake Russell?
Leaving Jack’s career at that point would be like saying…"Abe Lincoln? Didn’t he write speeches?"
Jack was indeed Shake’s bass player, his cohort in songwriting and the melody voice on many of those old favorites from the Houston based folk band. Since those days, Jack Saunders has founded one of the most successful recording studios in Texas and lent his talented ear to help a lot of musicians (including Clint Black, Dale Watson and Susan Gibson) on to popular recording careers. Jack has played as a session musician and has put out four discs of his own, the latest of which is “Grit and Jangle”.

Jack says that he coined the phrase when he was complimenting Greg Trooper on his disc, “The Williamsburg Affair”, saying that it had “grit and jangle”. Jack decided to use the phrase to title a disc that he would dedicate to the lives of travelling singer/songwriters. Jack tapped the talents of a number of Texas names like Rick Poss, Casper Rawls and Tommy Dar Dar for musical contributions to this well crafted recording.

This recording does indeed “jangle” from the progressive C&W, “Mustache on the Mona Lisa” to the Cajun “Acadian Angel”, a Russell/Saunders/Cooper tune released previously on their collaboration, “The Thrill of Love”. Every song is carefully conceived and brilliantly executed with a clean but simple and direct production that delivers the lyrics to the listener’s mind. “Raindrops” is one of those tunes best heard with your eyes closed, so that you feel every note.

ImageAs the son of a native Houstonian and a 44 year resident myself, I can’t help but believe that the local chamber of commerce should be chasing Mr. Saunders around, begging to use his “If You’re Ever in Houston” for an ad campaign. The Celtic prayer, “Saints be Kind” reminds one of the drought driven wild fires of a couple of years ago and how people banded together to save what was most important…each other.

My personal favorite tune on the disc is titled simply “Trust” and bears the line “the one thing that will matter when life’s reduced to dust is that someone thought enough of you to trust”. It’s a powerful line, delivered on a subtle, but equally powerful guitar solo, by Jack himself.

This one is worth several listens just to crack the surface and worth a few more spins to get in deep. You can find Jack Saunders’ “Grit and Jangle” at a record store near you. 

Jack Saunders is one of Houston's most dependable singer-songwriters and guitarists, and is rarely lacking for work. Alongside Shake Russell, he was one-half of arguably the most popular folk duo around these parts for most of the '80s and into the '90s. He has also released four albums of his own material, and seems to be picking up the pace -- his brand-new Grit & Jangle comes hot on the heels of last year's A Real Good Place to Start; Saunders says the new album has "more of an emphasis on the rock side of folk and country."

Saunders grew up a Navy brat, bouncing around California, Rhode Island, Alaska, "and many states in between." When the British Invasion dawned, so did his life's ambition: "make girls scream!" A friend bringing by a Bob Dylan record steered Saunders toward the songwriting side of the continuum, he adds.

As a sideman, Saunders has played with many top troubadors, including Ray Wylie Hubbard, Greg Trooper, Randy Weeks, Susan Gibson, and Hayes Carll. He has also produced and/or recorded dozens of titles at Houston's White Cat Recording, the studio Saunders opened in 1996.

Home Base: McGonigel's Mucky Duck, which is hosting the Grit and Jangle release party this Saturday evening.

Good War Story: "I was playing a roadhouse gig in a small town on the way to Abilene, called Mingus, Tex., with Ray Hubbard," Saunders says. "Ray was known in his younger days as the hard-living life of the party.

There was a group of three women who were telling Ray they had some great pictures of the last time he played there -- he's been sober for a long time -- and that made him pretty nervous. When they brought the pictures to the stage to let him see, I glanced down and noticed that the guy in the photo was really Gary P. Nunn!

One Texas icon was the same as the next, I guess. During the break they all wanted to have their pictures taken with me. I told them, "You know I'm not Ray Hubbard, right?" They looked totally confused and wandered off...

Why Do You Stay In Houston? "I really like this city," Saunders says. "The two biggest cuts on Houston is that it's too hot for too long in the summer, and they're right. I hate Houston summers, but the rest of the year is great.

"The other is that there is no natural beauty within easy driving distance," he continues. "I go to a place that's an hour away, is in the shallow back bays

of Galveston and is a wildlife refuge. It's beautiful and wild, gators, more species of birds than you can count, and the fishing is unreal.

Houston has everything culturally a big city needs, and a rich musical history," concludes Saunders. "It's also a cheaper place to live, at least for now."

Music Scene Pet Peeve: "The same knock [on] most places these days," sighs Saunders. "People don't go out to hear music as much as

they used to because they have so many choices for entertainment without leaving their couch. There are not enough clubs here for a city this size."

Best Concert You Ever Saw: "Tom Petty's concerts at the old Summit, because he paced a long show perfectly, with the right amount of grit and jangle," says Saunders. "He slowed the tempos down a little it seemed, so as to make the songs sound bigger and give them a little more gravitas."

Or any Richard Thompson show," he adds. "He's brilliant every time I see him. His playing and writing are as good as live gets.

First Song You Fell In Love With: "'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' off Dylan's Blonde on Blonde record," he says. "The whole side of a vinyl record with one song, and no one was jamming. It was almost all lyric, and it broke every standard and rule of pop in its day."

War Story No. 2.: Saunders sent this in a little while after his first one, but we don't feel compelled to run just one.

"I was playing with an art-rock band called Taxi Dancer, and we were opening for Jerry Lee Lewis at the Texas Opry House in Houston. That rowdy bunch did not want to hear some band of young longhairs singing about who knows what. Jerry was late getting to the gig, so they had us stretch our set out even longer, which really pissed off the rowdies even more.

After a while, they booed us off the stage. Then the promoter had Jerry's daughter, who was in the band, get up to stall for time. They booed her off the stage and she left in tears. Finally Jerry shows up and cannot walk, he is so shitfaced.

They took him upstairs and gave him some kind of upper; you can guess what it was. He took the stage to thunderous applause, stopped in the middle of the first song and told everyone there was a brain in each one of his fingers. He then proceeded to suck as only a drunk could.

The crowd loved it. I decided it didn't matter if I practiced, and have been searching for the brain in my fingers ever since."