Ham Jam House -Concert
Jeff Plankenhorn & Michael O'Connor
Jeff Plankenhorn & Michael O'Connor will play a fine acoustic concert Saturday, January 30th, 2016, at 7:00 PM.
Jeff Plankenhorn (or Plank as he's known in Austin music circles) was born in Ohio
in the early 70's, where he began singing at an early age as a boy soprano in church,
musical theatre productions, and various local youth choirs. He began playing guitar
at the ripe age of 10yrs old, and quickly became proficient in a number of styles
performing and recording through his high school years and college education in
music at the University of Michigan.
After becoming a major voice in the Ann Arbor, MI music scene with jazz, bluegrass,
funk, hip-hop and other styles he then moved to Nashville, TN. There he studied and
honed his skills as Dobro player learning from such great masters of the instrument
as 'Uncle' Josh Graves and Gene Wooten. One mic band bluegrass was not enough though,
and at the urging of his friend and mentor Ray Wylie Hubbard, he moved to the Texas '
hill country' and began playing alongside Ray. "It was the beginning to a wonderful
education in the craft of songwriting," Jeff says. There he began seriously devoting
his time to songwriting and performing/recording with such Austin hard-hitters as
Willis Alan Ramsey, Ruthie Foster, Eliza Gilkyson, Slaid Cleaves, Bruce Robison,
Bettysoo, Susan Gibson, Gavin DeGraw, and many, many more.
His multi-instrumentalist stylings and ability to vocally harmonize with ease gave
him preferred status with Austin's best musicians. He has been called 'the Swiss
Army Knife' of sidemen and Emily Robison (of the Dixie Chicks) said of Jeff that he
was 'a chameleon' of performing with anyone with ease on his many instruments. Jodi
Denburg of Austin radio said, "If there's a finer dobro or lap slide player in Austin,
I don't know him." Jeff put out his first solo album, self-effacingly titled "Plank"
with Gurf Morlix producing in 2002, and has been playing his own gigs from Gruene Hall
to Austin hot spots like the Saxon Pub ever since.
He has had songs in a number of independent films, and recently joined the band
"The Resentments" after the passing of another of his great mentors, Stephen Bruton.
The Resentments plan to record later this year for the first time in this configuration.
Jeff can now be seen regularly playing with his band, a rock/slide/soul band consisting
of himself on vocals and lead guitar and lap slide, Austin Music Hall of Fame bass
player Yoggie, Brannen Temple on drums, and Phil Redmond on keys and backing vocals.
With this group last year Jeff recorded on 'An Evening With The Songs Of Stephen Bruton,
' a tribute to the Grammy winning Austin songwriting and guitar-slinging legend, with
the soulful crooner Malford Milligan (Storyville, The Boneshakers) at the helm. Jeff has
been said to have paid homage to his mentor with taste and great respect. "It was the
most humbling gig (recording) I ever have had the pleasure of playing." Jeff continues
to play lead guitar and sing background vocals for the Malford Milligan Band, due to
record this year.
This year Jeff has also toured with The Courtyard Hounds, a side project of Emily Robison
and Marty McGuire of the Dixie Chicks, singing a duet every night on tour alongside
Emily. He also has recorded with Joe Ely this year on his latest critically acclaimed
CD, 'Satisfied At Last' and has helped Joe tour and promote it from Texas to New York City
Jeff released the much anticipated 'Speed of Hope' earlier this year. This acoustic album
features a number of fan favorites including 'Trouble Find Me.' Be on the lookout for a
live cd of Jeff's band later in 2012.
In 2010, after well over 20 years of plying his trade in dive bars, listening rooms,
theaters and festival stages across America and Europe, journeyman Texas songwriter and
guitar player Michael O’Connor finally got his due. Or at the very least, a couple of very
fine next best things: co-billing with one of his favorite fellow writers, Adam Carroll,
on one of the best albums of both artists’ careers (the acclaimed Hard Times), and his
very own star on the South Texas Music Walk of Fame — located right in O’Connor’s hometown
of Corpus Christi. Along with fellow 2010 inductees like Terri Hendrix, Ponty Bone and
Geronimo Trevino, O’Connor’s name is now part of the same Lone Star constellation as such
Texas legends as Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, and the late Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender.
Overall, not a bad way to kick off a very good year. But in the wake of releasing Hard
Times and humbly accepting his Walk of Fame honor, O’Connor did what journeymen songwriters
and guitar slingers do best: went straight back to work. On top of promoting Hard Times
with Carroll, he hit the road for another long run of sideman dates playing with Slaid
Cleaves, capping a 10-year run together with the recording of Cleaves’ first live album,
the new Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge. And on his days “off,” O’Connor
also squeezed in several trips to producer Jack Saunders’ White Cat Studio in Houston to
record Devil Stole the Moon, his third “solo” album and first since 2007’s Giants From a
“I started it kind of right away [after Hard Times],” says O’Connor, who lives with his
wife in the small town of Brenham, Texas, located halfway between Austin and Houston. “I
didn’t have any backers or anything, just did it all on my own, so it took me about a year,
on and off. I’d record for a few days, then go back on the road for maybe a month or so
until I had some more money for it, and then I’d go back in for a few more days."
O’Connor had worked with Saunders in the studio before, on both his own Giants From a Sleepy
Town and as a guitarist on fellow songwriter Susan Gibson’s 2005 album, Outer Space. Before
that, they crossed paths a number of times playing in different bands on the Texas circuit.
“I actually met Jack probably in ’87 or so, when I opened for Shake Russell and Jack was
the guitar player,” O’Connor says. “He just kind of gets what I’m trying to do; he knows
the kind of Tom Waits/Townes Van Zandt fucked-up sound that I want, so he’s cool with just
letting me wing it and not trying to polish things too much. But I also trust him to tell
me if it sucks or not!”
In addition to producing and engineering Devil Stole the Moon, Saunders also played bass
and mandolin and sang back-up vocals. Rick Richards (Ray Wylie Hubbard, Gurf Morlix) played
drums and percussion, and O’Connor played all the guitars as well as lap steel, mandolin and
harmonica. The record also marks the seasoned studio and road dog’s debut playing keyboards.
“I’d never really done that,” he says. “It’s just something I started messing with while we
were recording. I bought an old chord organ for $30 at the junk store, and then Jack came in
one day and said, ‘Hey, I found something in the dumpster,’ and before I even knew what it
was, I said, ‘Let’s use it!’ It was a Casio keyboard. So we ended up using both of those. I’m
not really a keyboard player at all, but I didn’t really want a bunch of fancy stuff on the
record, and being in the studio allowed me to stop and start just enough to figure out a little
chord pattern here and there.”
Playing keyboard may have been new to O’Connor, but the songs on Devil Stole the Moon all
pick up right where Hard Times left off; three of the songs were even co-written with Carroll.
“A few of those songs probably could have fit onto Hard Times, but we didn’t write them until
later,” O’Connor says. “I didn’t really plan it this way, but I think there is kind of a theme
there, about losers and maybe people who had chances to do things but maybe pissed them away.
It happens all the time, right?”
“I guess I learned to write about what you know,” O’Connor continues with a chuckle, crediting
said advice to none other than famed Texas songsmith Ray Wylie Hubbard. And what O’Connor knows
is the plight of the down and out, from blue-collar workers to unsung musicians to drunken
Gulf Coast ne’er-do-wells. “Michael O’Connor’s songs have that ring of truth,” admires Cleaves,
who recorded two of O’Connor’s songs on his 2006 album, Unsung. “You can tell he’s not making
anything up. He’s painting a picture of something that’s real. He’s been with those underdog
characters; he’s lived in those?boarded-up towns.”
“I’m pretty happy now, with a nice house and a great wife and a good dog, but I definitely lived
in some pretty fucked up situations in my day, so I can draw on that,” O’Connor says, adding that
his taste in movies, music (Waits, Van Zandt, Mance Lipscomb) and books (Charles Bukowski and
Larry Brown) also leans heavily toward underdog narratives. Across the somber, gritty noir-ish
sweep of Devil Stole the Moon, his characters (some fictional, others directly inspired by friends,
family, and associates) wrestle with addictions, broken dreams and mortality, while O’Connor
himself confronts?his own hardscrabble Corpus Christi roots.
“I really had a love/hate relationship with Corpus when I left there,” O’Connor says. “I was really
glad to leave, because it’s the kind of town where you can get in all kinds of trouble; I spent a
lot of time down there playing rough gigs and running around doing stuff I shouldn’t have been doing.
But I’ve been going back there more often recently, and I kind of don’t feel that way about it
anymore … I’ve grown up enough to realize those were my own bad choices and I can’t blame any of
that stuff on geography. Now I’m already thinking about going back down there to start writint the
next record. So I would say it’s definitely had an influence on me, and I’m using it and liking it
rather than resisting it. I used to fight it, and now I’m kind of going with it.”
In his late teens and all through his twenties, O’Connor honed his chops playing blues, jazz and
rock ’n’ roll in the rough-and-tumble shrimper and biker bars of the Gulf Coast before finding his
way into the singer-songwriter and folk circles via studio and sideman gigs with friends like Terri
Hendrix, Susan Gibson, Adam Carroll, Cary Swinney and the aforementioned Ray Wylie Hubbard. Hubbard,
who produced O’Connor’s 2000 debut, Green and Blue, approvingly notes that O’Connor “has the big
four: tone, taste, groove and grit. He’s cool.”
“Ray was the one who encouraged me to write my songs and start recording,” O’Connor says. “I
probably never would have done that otherwise. Before that, I’d been writing, but I’d never had
the money or gumption to pursue recording. I guess I just didn’t believe in myself or my songs.
But when someone like Ray kind of encourages you, it gives you a little validation.”
Nevertheless, O’Connor happily spent most of the last decade devoting more time to sideman gigs
than on his solo career. But with the release of Devil Stole the Moon, the 45-year-old songwriter
is gearing up to finally shuffle over to center stage. “I’ll still be doing some selective sideman
gigs, but I’m going to be concentrating more on doing my own thing,” he says. “Its just time for
He makes it pretty clear, though, that shifting his primary focus over to his own music has
nothing to do with ego, let alone aspirations to fame and fortune.
“I’m not trying to be famous or nothing,” he says. “I just write these songs that I play on guitar,
and I’m doing it because it’s what I think I’m supposed to do. But I can make my records pretty
affordable, so I don’t have to sell thousands to make my money back — I only have to sell hundreds.
I don’t have the kind of money to do a big campaign or anything, but I won’t let that stop me from
having 10 songs and sharing them with people, you know what I mean? All I can control is the work,
and I let the universe take care of the rest of it.
“I don’t need to be rich,” he says simply. “I just want to make my living.”
Jeff Plankenhorn's website
Michael O'Connor's website
Doors open at 7:00 and the concert is 8:00 to 10:00.
$20 suggested admission donation
BYOB and hors d'oeuvres are welcome!
The band suggests an admission donation of $20. Daren suggests folks bump in more if they can in support of music in Austin. The entire donation goes to the musicians.