Blame it on the Bottle Rockets.
Shilah Morrow was having a nice career in the corporate world, working her way up to product development manager for the giant Warner Elektra Atlantic record group. And then Atlantic signed the Bottle Rockets, the scruffy alt-country trail-blazers from Festus, Mo., and Morrow decided that this was the kind of earthy music she wanted to work with.
Morrow eventually traded the company credit card for a business card that identified her as the owner of Sin City Social Club, an independent music marketing business that concentrates on Austin Americana acts such as Shurman, Jesse Dayton and Ruby James. Sin City promotions include sampler CDs, live events and an active online community. "With the Bottle Rockets, I heard the kind of music I was raised on — that Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, Allman Brothers stuff. They took me back to my roots."
A native of Los Angeles, Morrow moved Sin City to Austin in June 2007, following her friend-since-high-school Polly Parsons, who happens to be Gram's daughter. Sin City established itself in L.A. by hosting the monthly Sweethearts of the Rodeo shows at Molly Malone's from 2001 to 2006. Morrow and Parsons also co-produced a 2004 Gram Parsons tribute concert at the Universal Amphitheater that featured such acts as Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Norah Jones, Keith Richards and Dwight Yoakam.
The daughter of television actress Heather Woodruff and folk singer Steven Morrow (who met when they toured Vietnam together in a USO-formed folk trio), Shilah Morrow was raised in the Topanga Canyon artist community, where songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Don Henley and Jackson Browne created the 1970s Southern California sound.
"My parents decided to give me a name that no one else had," says Morrow, born during the height of hippiedom. "I consider myself fortunate when I think about some of the names they could've given me."
Morrow's parents divorced when she was young, and single mom Woodruff, who eventually married Jethro Tull drummer Doane Perry, took Shilah to parties thrown by famous musician friends. At age 7, she was a flower girl at the wedding of Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers.
"One day my mom took me to Roger McGuinn's house for his birthday party," says Morrow. "He had a room full of ferrets and I was so fascinated, I stayed in that room the whole party and didn't notice what else was going on. Later, my mom told me that Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson were singing songs in the living room."
When it came time for Morrow to chose a career, she decided to try sound engineering right out of El Camino Real High. "I wanted to be behind the scenes," she says. Her instructor at the audio school told Morrow her personality was better suited to a manager-producer than engineer and she ended up leaving the school and taking an entry level job at Warner Elektra Atlantic.
Morrow spent the next 15 years moving up and learning the business from such mentors as Eagles manager Irving Azoff. "In my early 30s, I was head of sales at a major label, but I couldn't fake it through another Ozzfest," she says of the motivation to go solo in 2001.
While at the record group, Morrow met another Atlantic recording artist who would prove to be influential. "All roads lead to Jim Lauderdale," Morrow says with a laugh, referring to the Kevin Bacon of Americana music. Through singer-songwriter Lauderdale, Morrow would meet many of the acts whose music she currently champions at her Sin City Social Club nights at the Scoot Inn in East Austin and other venues.
"I've been coming to Austin for South by Southwest for years, and it's just crazy," she says. "But one time Polly and I came when it wasn't South by and we got a chance to feel the heartbeat of the city. I said, 'Why are we killing ourselves in L.A. when we could live here?' That was in November 2006, and by June 2007, we were both living here."
Parsons operates the Hickory Wind Ranch sober living facility on her property in South Austin.
The musical link between Austin and Los Angeles has been strong since the 1980s, when Lucinda Williams, Rosie Flores, Dale Watson and other Texans were shaking it up with Dwight Yoakam and the new Bakersfield Sound. L.A. has long looked to Austin, not Nashville, as a model for how country music can stay true to traditions while remaining unique to the artists.
And now with the Sin City Social Club tirelessly networking out of East Austin, the two scenes have even more in common. "There are so many of us from the L.A. country music scene now living in Austin," Morrow says. "In my very first Thanksgiving here, we cooked for over 20 people."