For Your Weekend Listening Pleasure: The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of Arizona Dranes
Were it not for my good friend Michael Corcoran, the music critic at the Austin American-Statesman, I doubt I'd know who Dranes was. A few years ago, Michael had become obsessed with filling in the estimable gaps in so many of the life stories of Texas's forgotten (and often most important) musical pioneers. Dranes especially appealed to him: She was a blind Pentecostal piano player of whom there exists but a single photo (a group shot at that in which she's barely visible), and the music she recorded in the 1920s was surely strange then and positively beguiling now -- that "Crucifixion" is one hell of a toe-tapper.
Dranes was from North Texas (Greenville? Sherman?), learned how to play in Austin (where she attended the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths) and was discovered by an Okeh talent scout while living in the State-Thomas neighborhood here. Writes Michael: She was an influence on a line extending from Mahalia Jackson to Jerry Lee Lewis, she was "the first person to ever play piano on a gospel record [and] the musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe credited [Dranes] with influencing her raucous, syncopated style." Michelle Shocked is also an admirer, having once written that when Dranes died (at the age of 72 in 1963), she left "those funky chords clattering in the East Texas air behind her, to be used in barrelhousing, in Western Swing, in honkytonk, and in sanctified church to this day."
Reason enough to keep this going at least one more week.