'Playing to a Full House' chronicles HC music
Special to the Courier
Pictured: Phil Houseal's new book, "Playing to a Full House: The People Who Make the Music of the Texas Hill Country," features 60 stories of Hill Country music and musicians.
From his first trips to Texas as a professional musician in 1978, to writing columns covering the musicians and music he used to play, Phil Houseal has had a front row seat on the arts and entertainment of the Texas Hill Country.
To ring in the New Year, he has released a book with stories on more than 50 of those artists - "Playing to a Full House."
"People have been asking me for years to compile my best pieces into a book," Houseal said. "The challenge was that I still have to turn out seven columns every month along with the work I do for my PR clients. I couldn't 'stop' writing articles long enough to 'start' writing the book."
But this year he decided to step down after 20 years running the popular Club Ed adult education program, giving him more time to work on his own projects, including starting his marketing firm, Full House PR.
The book itself covers a wide range of artists and topics. That was another challenge.
"How do you put an interview with Ray Price next to a story about a guy that plays the turkey baster next to a tender story about the clown who lost her child?" he asked. "The answer? I just did it. And I think it works - that's life, after all."
Some of the chapters break real news. For example, he writes about what guitar whiz Monte Montgomery learned as a boy at Luckenbach - hint, it embarrasses the author; how a radio star was blackballed by Bing Crosby; and why Larry Gatlin would have changed one of his hit songs.
Many of the stories have a Hill Country connection. He interviews 13th Floor Elevators drummer John Ike Walton, Boerne resident and opera tenor Don Braswell and Fredericksburg residents Stephanie Urbina Jones and John Arthur Martinez, along with many local characters, including a mysterious Elvis who still plays Main Street in Fredericksburg.
The result is a compelling read, even for people who may never have set foot in the Texas Hill Country. One reviewer wrote:
"The reason Phil is the best columnist in the Texas Hill Country, and among the very best in the state of Texas, is that he cares more about the story than anything else. He delivers on the stories people want to read because they're the stories he'd want to read himself. This collection represents the absolute best one of Texas' most unique and charismatic writers has to offer. Phil began as an entertainment columnist; what he has become is an entertaining columnist."
The description fits.
"That part about writing stories I'd want to read is pretty accurate," Houseal said. "I am now in a position where I receive many suggestions and requests from musicians to cover them, but I only write about what I find interesting. Sure, that might be something as silly as the guy who made a piano out of a typewriter, or as profound as the composer who is creating a new genre of music. But the story is always what drives me."
This is Houseal's second book with a Hill Country theme. In 2011, he wrote "Finding Fredericksburg: A Self-Guided Tour of Historic Fredericksburg, Texas." It features 84 of Fredericksburg's historic homes and sites within two blocks of Main Street, complete with color photos, a one-page description of each and travel directions.
Houseal is also finishing up his first children's book, which will be released in the coming weeks.
Both "Playing For A Full House" and "Finding Fredericksburg" are available online at amazon.com and fullhouseproductions.net. The books are also available at Wolfmueller's Books in Kerrville, and in Fredericksburg at the Pioneer Museum Gift Shop, Gastehaus Schmidt, Remember Me Too, Nimitz Museum, Fredericksburg General Store, Choo Choo Patio Shoppe, Peach Tree Gift Shop, Luckenbach General Store, Rockbox Theater, and Books on Main.