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'Waltz Across Texas' with these great songs about the Lone Star State

Michael Barnes
Austin American-Statesman
Ernest Tubb, center, plays with his band  Feb. 7, 1953, on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium during the Grand Ole Opry Show. Tubb made famous reader favorite "Waltz Across Texas," written by his nephew Quanah Talmadge Tubb and later covered by Willie Nelson and others.

I asked. You answered.

In volumes.

My query: What are the best songs about Texas?

To prime the pump, culture writers Deborah Sengupta Stith, Nancy Flores, Peter Blackstock and I — in a Jan. 25 "Think, Texas" column — made our cases for 20 great Texas songs.

We also listed 17 other fine Texas songs.

Your responses were immediate. And did not let up for days. Mission accomplished.

Just as with my previous forays into "Best Books About Texas" and "Best Movies About Texas," the initial column was meant to spark an exchange of ideas, not to end it.

Happily, very few readers resorted to snark. Comments such as "shameful!" and "outrageous!" were taken in good humor.

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More perplexing were the number of readers who expressed dismay that we had forgotten a major song — that was actually on one of our original two lists. This included "Amarillo by Morning," which inspired the first column, and "Waltz Across Texas," which figured prominently on our list of "Other Fine Texas Songs."

I listened to a lot of Texas music after your votes rolled in, and I learned a lot. Enough to share here, and in at least one more future "Think, Texas" column.

Patsy Cline performs June 26, 1955, before a packed crowd during the Nashville Tennessean Centennial Park concert. Cline recorded one of the most popular versions of "San Antonio Rose," one of the songs about Texas that our readers wanted on a list of great songs about Texas.

Pay attention to the numbers

Numbers are not everything, but they clear the way to opinion.

  • 121: Number of readers who responded to our two lists of Texas songs
  • 82: Number of Texas songs nominated by readers
  • 196: Number of total votes for those 82 Texas songs
  • 48: Number of nominated songs with "Texas" in the title
  • 25: Number of nominated songs with a Texas city or town in the title
  • 13: Number of nods for the three songs with "Amarillo" in the title
  • 10: Number who nominated Quanah Talmadge Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas"
  • 9: Number who nominated Marty Robbin's "El Paso"
  • 8: Number who nominated Bob Wills' "San Antonio Rose"
  • 7: Number who nominated Steven Fromholz's "Texas Trilogy"
  • 7: Number who nominated ZZ Top's "La Grange"
ZZ Top during their 1977 concert in Abilene at the Taylor County Coliseum. Dusty Hill is at the left with Billy Gibbons. A good number of readers nominated their song, "La Grange," for our list of "Best Songs About Texas."

Now add these Texas songs to the list

This week, I'll take a second look at the songs about Texas you liked the most.

"Waltz Across Texas" — Written by Quanah Talmadge Tubb, known on stage as "Billy Talmadge," this western swing song was made famous by his uncle, Ernest Tubb. It has been covered by Willie Nelson, Raul Malo, Bob Wills and countless others. It also made our "Other Fine Texas Songs" list on Jan. 25. But so many readers wrote in to endorse it, perhaps it should be elevated to the top 20 list.

"You missed out on a whole generation of Texas music," writes Jonathon Griesheimer. "How could you not include Bob Wills' 'San Antonio Rose' or Ernest Tubb's 'Waltz Across Texas'? Those are just two of many. Some of the best of Texas music was recorded in the '30s, '40s and '50s."

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"El Paso" — Marty Robbins' narrative song with the horseback rhythm is told in several short chapters about betrayal, shootouts and romantic death. Its broad strokes are closer to a Hollywood Western than any of the other 81 songs that our readers nominated.

Several readers also associate it closely with our westernmost city.

"I had to read through the article three times searching for it," Irv Schaver writes. "I cannot believe that your list would not include Marty Robbins' 'El Paso.' It is a classic.

"Having lived in El Paso for 18 years, and often hearing the comment that El Paso was the forgotten part of Texas; I now have had to confirm that belief."

Actually, "El Paso" figured on our second list, which Schaver discovered and graciously acknowledged.

"Oops!" he writes. "I was reading from the digital edition and hadn’t seen the sidebar yet. Anyway, I still think that 'El Paso' belongs in the top 20."

Good point!

"San Antonio Rose" — Bob Wills' song of lost love in "San Antone" changes meaning when its western swing tempo is altered. Patsy Cline slows it down a bit to make it wistful, while Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys speed it up for maximum dance impact.

Merle Haggard keeps the tempo upbeat but plumbs the soft melody, while George Strait does what he always does: Take a straight-as-a-line path delivered in a priceless baritone.

It started life as a 1938 instrumental piece that became a hit, so Wills and band members added lyrics and called the 1940 recording "New San Antonio Rose."

"I have read accounts that claim that there were towns or communities in Western Europe in which the most English known to the inhabitants were the lyrics to Bob Wills' 'New San Antonio Rose,'" Gary Brantley writes. "It seems that American GIs had brought the music with them and apparently played it a lot! That famous recorded version was made in 1940 and therefore must've been still a popular song of the day. I can't remember when I didn't know that song, and the lyrics, too, of course!"

"Texas Trilogy" — The late Steve Fromholz's fierce, gritty trio of songs about the fading community of Kopperl (pop. 225) relates the daily life — and some darker truths — of a small Texas town.

In 1992, he and theater director Don Toner turned it into a play called "Bosque County."

"I chose 'Texas Trilogy' because the song is about a small Texas town," Tim Patrick writes, "biscuits, heat, bugs, pies, pickups, drought, a cotton gin, lakes, Texas cities, fishing, trains, ice cream, Mom, free-range childhood, job opportunities, church, drive-in movies, high school sweethearts, cattle, ranching, cactus, guns, rattlesnakes, more drought, more cactus, cattle with screw worms, more biscuits, and more heat.

"And that covers a lot about Texas." 

Patricia Knapp writes: “'Texas Trilogy' depicts my parents' and perhaps grandparents' experience of relationships and hardships in rural Texas."

And how lucky was Grady Giles and a friend one night:

"One time, my date and I were the only diners in the old Lock, Stock & Barrel," Giles writes, "and Fromholz serenaded us with 'Texas Trilogy.'"

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"La Grange" — A little respite spot outside La Grange inspired this blues rock song as well as the musical and movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Curious match-up.

"By the third note, you know this song is coming," Charlie Vereen writes. "Rowdy bass and drums followed by furious lead guitar licks make this a great driving song. But keep your eye on the speedometer!"

I have to admit that, although I've always liked the music, I had never paid much attention to the mumbled lyrics.

"'La Grange' is a definite top 10 Texas song," Scott Jenkins writes. "It has stood up to the test of time. I can't say that for some of the songs on the list. People like 'new' while I prefer 'classic.'"

Reader fave Flaco Jimenez is among the esteemed artists to be discussed in next week's column.

Up next: More beloved Texas songs

Fear not. We have not ignored the dozens of other songs about Texas that you, the readers, have nominated, or your eloquent cases for them. 

Next week, among the songs I'll consider are "Amarillo Highway," "Beautiful Texas Sunshine," "Come Down To Texas," "Flatland Boogie," "The Eyes of Texas," "It's Raining in Port Arthur," "Texas Love Songs," Texas Me" and "You Ask What I Like About Texas."

Among the artists, look forward to reading about Alex Harvey, Calico, Doug Sahm, Doobie Brothers, Flaco Jimenez, Freddie Fender, Gary P. Nunn, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marty Robbins, Michael Martin Murphey, Terry Allen and Walt Wilkins.

Our lists of great songs about a great state

There's more to come, but here are the lists so far:

List No. 1 published on Jan. 25: Best Songs About Texas, as picked by our culture writers

"Ain't No Big Thing"

"Amarillo by Morning"

"Big Yellow Moon Over Texas"

"Borderland"

"Daddy Lessons"

"Deep in the Heart of Texas"

"Galveston"

"Leavin' Texas"

"Llano Estacado"

"Lonestar"

"Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)"

"Miles and Miles of Texas"

"Never Left the Lone Star State"

"Pulga 290"

"This Land"

"Texas"

"Texas Air"

"Texas Sun"

"Tops Drop"

"West Side of Town"

List No. 2 published on Jan. 25: Other Fine Songs About Texas, as picked by culture writers

"All My Exes Live in Texas"

"Beautiful Texas"

"Dallas from a DC-9 at Night"

"Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?"

"El Paso"

"God Blessed Texas"

"Gulf Coast Highway"

"Headin' for the Texas Border"

"London Homesick Blues"

"A State of Texas"

"Streets of Laredo"

"Texas Flood"

"Texas (When I Die)"

"That's Right, You're Not From Texas"

"Trinity River Blues"

"Waltz Across Texas"

"Yellow Rose of Texas"

List No. 3 published on Feb. 8: Favorite Texas Songs About Texas, as picked by our readers

"El Paso"

"La Grange"

"Texas Trilogy"

"San Antonio Rose"

"Waltz Across Texas"

List 4 to be published on Feb. 15: More Favorite Songs About Texas, as picked by our readers

Check back next week for other solid-gold Texas nuggets.

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at mbarnes@statesman.com.