Interview with renaissance Freddie Steady Krc, a charismatic Texan performer with captivating presence

"I think the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Garage and Psychedelic are a common need for self expression and experimentation."

Freddie Steady Krc: Texasologist Ph.D

Austin Music Awards Hall-of-Famer Freddie Steady Krc comes by his name honestly. This multitalented renaissance Texan has plied his musical wares around the world the past few decades. A charismatic live performer, Krc wins over any audience with his captivating original songs and engaging stage presence. Krc landed in Austin at the moment that a musical revolution was getting started at a styles-don’t-matter joint called the Armadillo. The kid and the town were a perfect match.

His first love was rock and roll, which had first found its way into his native Southeast Texas by way of the Beatles. By the time he hit Austin, he was also passionate about the Tex-Mex mix of the Sir Douglas Quintet, the psychedelic sounds of rock innovators like the 13th Floor Elevators, and the soulful folk of singer/songwriters like B. W. Stevenson and Jerry Jeff Walker. Freddie Steady would eventually work as a band member with each of these artists, all while fueling his own musical ideas.

He had a role as a session drummer in the movie Outlaw Blues, starring Peter Fonda and Susan Saint James. Krc has appeared on Austin City Limits as B.W. Stevenson’s drummer, and he would soon begin a long run as the rhythmic foundation with Jerry Jeff Walker. Session drumming includes studio work with everyone from Augie Meyers to Carole King, Roger Waters to Ronnie Lane. Freddie’s greatest stage memories include performing for “one-off” drumming gigs with Big Brother and the Holding Company and with legendary San Francisco’s Charlatans. He’ll never forget performing with Jerry Jeff when Neil Young joined in for a set. His dozens of credits as a record producer include Peter Lewis of Moby Grape, Sal Valentino of The Beau Brummels, and Al Staehely of Spirit.

In 2005, The Explosives helped bring Texas legend Roky Erickson out of retirement, serving as his band for several years, just as they had years earlier. Roky and the Explosives enjoyed great success with the release of the Freddie-produced Halloween, on Freddie’s own SteadyBoy Records label. Krc took front and center on the guitar with his country band, Freddie Steady’s Wild Country, and his Western folk rock outfit, The Shakin’ Apostles, but his earliest and purest rock and roll tendencies all come together in his latest and greatest incarnation: The Freddie Steady 5. He also performs solo and duo acoustic.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in music and what are your first musical memories?

I saw The Beatles’ first performance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964.  I was nine years old and, at that moment, decided music was what I wanted to do for my living. I began taking drum lessons and by the end of the year, I had formed a band called The Sound Kings.  The first band I saw live was The Sir Douglas Quintet in Baytown, TX.  It’s across the channel from my hometown of LaPorte, TX. The second band I saw live was The Boogie Kings from Louisiana. They were performing at the Bamboo Hut in Galveston. Although I was too young to get in, it really was a bamboo hut and I stood outside on the beach and watched them through the bamboo!

How do you describe Freddie Steady sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I describe my sound as a blend of all the influences around me growing up in LaPorte, on the Galveston Bay outside of Houston, TX. I really love rock & roll, country, blues, cajun, tex-mex and folk music. So, there is a little bit of all those styles in my music. Regarding my music philosophy, I agree with Louis Armstrong. He said there are only two kinds of music, good and bad. In other words, I keep my ears and heart open to all music. I feel that even if you are playing only rock music, you have a richer palette to paint with if you have other influences.  A great example is Chuck Berry. An R&B rock musician who loved country music. That’s why his lyrics tell stories and it makes him unique.  

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I have had ups and downs. Great years and not so great years. Really, it’s all been interesting for different reasons! I have been blessed with many great moments in my career. The best moment of my career is today! I am in northern California getting ready to play a show in Felton (Santa Cruz) with my friend, Peter Lewis of the Moby Grape. They are one of my top four all time favorite groups. Peter and I have done a couple of shows together, one in Austin, TX and one in Hollywood, CA. I really enjoy playing with him and regard him as one of the best singers/writers/guitarists ever. The worst moment was seeing a guy get stabbed in a club in Baytown, TX when I was singing on stage.

Do you remember anything funny from the recording and show time with Roky Erickson?

I remember quite a few funny stories regarding Roky. Most people don’t know that Roky is really a very funny guy with a great sense of humor. He sort of behaves in a way that he thinks you expect him to. I believe he got that way from being institutionalized. If you treat him like a normal guy, he will be a normal guy. Treat him like a rock star, he’ll be a rock star. Treat him like he’s crazy, well…Back in 1979 we were playing a club in San Antonio, TX. The club owner saw Roky as a rock star and guy with mental problems. When he greeted Roky and welcomed him to his club, it was with apprehension in his eyes.  Roky replied “I’m gonna see you die tonight, brother”. Of course he didn’t mean it. It’s a line from a horror movie. That was an example of Roky behaving as he thought he was expected to behave. The club owner’s mouth dropped open and he went white as a ghost. It was pretty funny to us but probably not to the club owner!

Freddie with Roky Erickson and Billy Gibbons at Austin City Limits (Photo by Scott Newton/KLRU)

Why did you think that Texas music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I guess Texas has a vibrant feel all its own. Because we have such a rich musical history, there is a real pride in creating your own music and “keeping it real”.

From the musical point of view what are the differences between Texas and the others music scenes in USA?

Texas, and especially Austin, has many venues and many bands. I think it makes for healthy competition. Just when I think I have turned a pretty good lyric phrase on some song I am working on, I go see someone else who “kicks my butt” and that makes me work a little harder.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I really couldn’t name just one. I do love jamming with my buddy Shawn Sahm (Doug Sahm’s son), Ponty Bone, Wes McGhee, RC Banks. Wow, there are too many to mention.  Some of the most memorable gigs are singing and playing guitar as a headliner at the International Country Music Festival at Wembley Arena in London. I played with Jerry Jeff Walker at the US Fest in 1982 to 400,000 people. I played drums with Jerry Jeff at the 1985 Willie Nelson Picnic and Neil Young (founding member of Buffalo Springfield, also in my top four all time fave groups) sat in and played a set with us. I played drums on a “one-off” gig with Big Brother & The Holding Company.  I played for and met two US presidents, Clinton and Ford. I played drums with the San Francisco Charlatans at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. A set at the Austin Chronicle Music Awards Show a few years ago with my band The Explosives and our guests Stu Cook (CCR & Explosives’ record producer) and Peter Lewis. 

Left: Jerry Jeff Walker, Neil Young, Bob Livingston, Willie Nelson, John Inmon & Freddie on drums at Willie Picnic 1985. Right: Dave Perkins, Freddie, Carole King & Jerry Jeff  at Pecan Street Studio in Austin 1978.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

The most important meeting for me was with pedal steel guitarist Herb Steiner. He was playing with an Austin-based recording artist named Michael Murphy at a club in Houston. I was living there when I was trying to start my music career. He advised “move to where the music scene is”.. The best advice ever!  I took it and moved to Austin, TX in 1974. A year later I was playing with BW Stevenson, had made a record in Los Angeles for Warner Bros and was “off to the races”!

You have a pretty interesting record label. Where did you get that idea?

My song publisher, Randy Poe, of Trio Music (Leiber & Stoller’s company) suggested I keep my song catalogue in print. Any master recordings of mine that I owned were re-issued on my SteadyBoy Records label.  It sort of grew from there. I have been in business with SteadyBoy for ten years now with about 25 releases and more to come. 

Which memory from Carole King and Roger Waters makes you smile?

Carole King came to Austin to make a record with the Jerry Jeff Walker band, of which I was the drummer. She really got into the whole cowboy thing and showed up at the studio one day with one of those cowboy hand tooled leather belts with “Carole” stamped into it. Pretty cool, really. When I recorded with Roger Waters in 1986, after the session at his home studio, we walked down to his local pub for a pint. It makes me smile to recall discovering he was not the “dark, brooding” artist I imagined he was and that we both enjoyed some tequila shots!

"Happiness is enjoying life with my wife Karen, playing music, songwriting, producing records, teaching and helping the younger generation of promising musicians and songwriters coming up."

What do you miss most nowadays from the 60s – 70s? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I miss the innocence of the 60s and the creativity, too. I am not saying there is nothing creative now but I feel pop/rock music is largely derivative and so commercial-oriented not much new stuff feels “real” to me.

What are some of the most memorable tales from Outlaw Blues movie and Sal Valentino?

The Outlaw Blues movie was one of the first, if not the first, movie filmed in Austin. It was amusing how some of the locals began behaving like they thought Hollywood people would behave. You know, wearing sunglasses inside, etc. The film company decided they would use really musicians in the movie. I was cast as a recording session drummer. None of us musicians had been in a movie before. They had us sitting for hours at our instruments as they set the lighting for the scene. We got bored and began to play our instruments. The director got so angry and yelled at us “That’s why we don’t use real musicians!  Knock it off, you guys!”.

It was a thrill and honor to work with Sal Valentino. I produced a record on him titled “Come Out Tonight”. We later did a West Coast promotional tour from LA up to San Francisco. Sal told me about how it was touring in the early mid-60s with Beau Brummels. No tour bus, airplane or tour manager. Beau Brummels in two station wagons with all their gear. Sal was de facto road manager. He said they would play those teen dances in old armory halls. Admission would be one or two dollars. On break between their two shows, Sal would go to the box office to settle up and get paid by the promoter. He would have to go back out for the second set with his front pockets stuffed full with dollar bills as they had no real road manager to hold the money. He said it was a pretty funny sight. I think Sal is one of the best singers ever in rock and roll.  I learned a lot watching him sing in the studio. He has a great style. I really enjoyed his company.

How has the music changed over the years? Do you believe in the existence of real Blues, Rock & Folk nowadays?

As I stated earlier, I feel music has grown more commercial and derivative.  Not all bands, but it seems like a lot.  There is a new, young artist on my SteadyBoy label named Emily Grace Berry who I think has just the right amount of respect for what and who came before her and her own personal stamp.  She’s a country rocker in the style of Emmy Lou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. There is a new, young rock band named The Cry! From Portland, OR that I am gonna sign.  They are power pop in the best, truest sense of the name. They remind me a lot of my old group, The Explosives. I guess I do believe in the existence of real Blues, Rock and Folk but you have to look harder to find it.  It’s all you will find on SteadyBoy Records.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Garage and Psychedelic?

I think the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Garage and Psychedelic are a common need for self expression and experimentation. I have traced it in my home state of Texas and have been able to see how one thing built on another.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Definitely the Monterey Pop Festival! I feel like it heralded and celebrated the most creative period for rock/pop music.  Which day would be hard to decide? Can’t I go all three days?

Which things do you prefer to do in your spare time? What is your MUSIC DREAM? Happiness is……

What spare time?!  My MUSIC DREAM is to continue the path I have been on since I was 10 years old.  Happiness is enjoying life with my wife Karen, playing music, songwriting, producing records, teaching and helping the younger generation of promising musicians and songwriters coming up.

Freddie Steady Krc - official website

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