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Clay Thrash: In Love With The Mystery


By Johnny Griffith

It’s pretty much a given if you want to be a working musician, at some point you’re going to have a day job, or two, or three. Some people have full-blown careers and simply perform to give themselves an escape, a few extra bucks for bad habits, or simply for the love of it. More commonly, musicians will work part-time jobs in between weekends to fund the gas and food for the next road trip, buy that next instrument, or pay their bar tab at the next show. East Texan Clay Thrash decided to take up the family business and become a barber while writing material for his next album.

A native of Quitman, Clay grew up pretty much the poster-child for the stereotypical “cool” kid: playing football and track all four years, state qualifier in the pole-vault, setting records along the way. In fact, Clay didn’t even pick up guitar until around the age of 16 when Clay’s dad bought his mom a guitar, and Clay began to teach himself some chords along the way.

After leaving Quitman for Angelo State University on a track scholarship, Clay continued to pursue music, developing a love for performing even though the pay was almost non-existent, like the time he played for $50 and a case of beer. From those roots, Clay went on to record an album and toured in support of the album, getting some Texas Radio attention and making the rounds to several major-market radio stations in the process. A couple of years removed from that time-period, Clay has settled back down in Quitman, working full time, and keeping an eye toward the future and his next album.

Clay gave us some time this month to see what he’s up to and what’s coming up in 2018:

Johnny: When did you initially develop an interest in music?

Clay: I initially developed an interest in music in elementary school, probably kindergarten, with a mild obsession with Elvis. Then later in the third and fourth grade it was grunge and alternative rock, bands like the Toadies, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. My mom was horrified when she found me screaming “Do you wanna die?!” along with The Toadies’ song Possum Kingdom.

Johnny: What was the hook for you, that grabbed you and drew you into to the musician lifestyle as opposed to say, a barber?

Clay: The hook for me was Pat Green. Plain and simple. I’d catch him every time I could and was just fascinated with the idea of this normal dude going around making a real living basically throwing a party. Of course, he’s anything but normal. I think the dude is a genius in his own way; a great writer and even better performer.

Johnny: How was that conversation with your parents when you decided to tell them this was what you wanted to do?

Clay: They never had a problem with it. They were always very supportive of whatever I’ve wanted to do. I’ve been very lucky with my folks. They are the best parents I could have asked for, and they love me unconditionally, so there was no drama there to speak of.

Johnny: When did you make the jump from sitting in your garage or living room strumming on the guitar to deciding to get up on a stage in front of people?

Clay: That’s an easy one; I credit that with my old roommate at Angelo State. Spencer played the guitar, and he was on the track team. He was much better at talking to people than I am, and probably still is. His personality is larger than life and can come across as a jerk, but a lovable one! I went up to Spence one day in the weight room and said, “Hey, man, I hear you play the guitar?” He said, “Yeah, you should come over to my apartment tonight.” This was before we moved in together. We kind of messed around for a night, and he was like, “We should really try to get some gigs.” I honestly had never even thought of it like that up until that point. All of a sudden it became a reality! I think it was that weekend we ended up at this place called The Scrub Pub in San Angelo. (I’m dating myself, I’m sure). Mark David Manders was playing that night, and Spencer, in typical form, goes up to him and asks him if he and I can open for him the next night of their two-night-stand, and Mark said yes! We show up and stagger our way through 45 minutes of terrible covers, but that was the beginning.

Johnny: I’ve listened to your debut album, and it’s a nice, high-energy melding of older and newer country styles with a rock flair here and there. Which artists would you say had the most influence in the development of your current sound?

Clay: Well, I’d say that sound isn’t current to what I’m doing now. The stuff I’m writing now, of course it’s still me, so there will be parallels, but as far as that album goes, it’s tough to say. I was kind of all over the place. Radney Foster was always an influence, but probably a little less these days. I’m actually more into pop driven stuff now, but still with that rock and country flare. I wouldn’t say I’m trying to be FGL, not that kind of pop, but big pop, big choruses, big moments, and big hooks. That’s what I’m trying to do these days.

Johnny: About how many shows a month are you playing?

Clay: I’m kind of in a hiatus and working as a barber pretty much all the time. I’m writing, and we are planning on starting back up in 2018. But I’ve needed some more stability. I tried to kind of live a normal nine to five, thought I had a girl to marry, and that ended up just being more fuel for great songs. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that, for now.

Johnny: What are some of your hobbies when you’re not thinking about work or music?

Clay: I’d say hunting is up there, though I haven’t gotten to go much lately. I read a ton of stuff. I’m interested in Cormac McCarthy novels. You know, the guy that wrote “No Country For Old Men.” I like stuff based in the south and with a bit of mystery. Currently, I’m reading “A Time to Kill” by John Grisham. I guess I like books that have been made into movies. One kind of weird thing I’m interested in lately is that I’m a bit fascinated with paranormal stuff. UFO’s and stuff like that. The idea of it all fascinates me. My birthday is on the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. So, of course, I’ve always been interested in that stuff. Really, I guess it’s a fascination with what’s behind closed doors, the mystery of it all. I’ll always chase a good mystery.

Johnny: You’ve enjoyed some success in recent years, making the rounds on Texas radio, recording your debut album, touring to promote the album and gain exposure. At any point has it been hard to keep sight of Quitman, Texas and the path that’s brought you this far?

Clay: Absolutely not. I’m there almost every weekend right now.

Johnny: What has been your best memory so far in your musical journey?

Clay: Playing Gruene Hall.

Johnny: What’s on the agenda for 2018?

Clay: A record, no doubt. I have songs that are the best stuff I’ve ever written, and they need to be heard.

For more info about Clay Thrash and his music go to or




July 27th: SFO, A Journey Tribute Band at Bergfeld Park

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The City of Tyler will host the annual Bergfeld Summer Showcase at Bergfeld Park, located at 1510 S. College Ave., on Friday, July 27. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with fun and food trucks and live music beginning at 7 p.m.

This year, SFO – A Journey Tribute, a Nashville native band will take the stage. SFO recreates the experience of a 1980’s concert, playing all the Journey hits that you know and love with a special salute to Kansas and Foreigner. The band is made up of top-notch musicians from Nashville, Florida, and Minnesota who bring the highest level of musicianship to the audience.

Frontman Gabe Jacobs delivers powerful vocals to his audience by closely emulating the vocals and stage presence of legendary Steve Perry.

“This band will transport you back to the 80’s with all the songs you know by heart!” said Adriana Rodriguez, event coordinator.

The local favorite food trucks will be present for quality dining including Say Cheese, Weinerland, Lupita’s, Kona Ice and Pokey O’s.

For more information, contact Adriana Rodriguez at (903) 595-7248 or at

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The Haggertys: Hey Hey We’re The Haggertys

By Johnny Griffith

There are times when things just click with someone and you know it from the start. Then, years later you come back across them and it’s almost as if no time has passed. That’s kind of what is like for local Tyler favorites The Haggertys. Having all been members of different bands, some together and some collaborative, over the years, the lineup of “Patrick James” Freden (guitars, vocals), Brad Thurston (bass, backing vocals), and Clint Hiltz (drums/percussion) have been together as The Haggertys since 2013 and have been exciting audiences ever since with their setlists of 90’s standard rock covers as well as reinterpreting some classic songs along the way.

We sat down with the guys recently to get some more history on the band and a better snapshot of the members.

Johnny: How about we start with a brief bio of yourself and your background in music.

Patrick: I was born in Minnesota, moved to Tyler in 1974 and then left in the summer of 1977. I basically grew up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi playing Dungeons & Dragons, riding BMX bikes, and listening to albums over at a friend’s house. My first band was a punk band called Spastic Fury in high school. After that, I did some college in Mobile, Alabama, and eventually came back to Tyler in 1988. I played in bands all through the 90’s and started a solo acoustic project in 2005. I’m a self-employed graphic artist by day building websites, designing logos, etc., and music is my second business. I’m a full-time dad and husband, a professional tinkerer who likes craft beers, Les Pauls, Orange Amps, and hanging out in my favorite music store, Action Sound in Hawkins.

Brad: I’ve been playing music since I was 15 when I purchased my first guitar. It cost me $50 and was in a brown paper bag in pieces. After getting it put together, I started looking around for a band. No one needs a guitar player, so the next year I went and bought a bass, found a band, and the journey began. The start of my high school music career included rock bands like Conspiracy, Guardian, and Blue Steel. After high school, I branched out and did a did brief stint in a country band.

The call of the Hair Bands drew me to California, Hollywood to be exact. I moved in with a friend from high school, joined a band, and played the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. within the first 3 weeks of being in California. I played in other bands there, like Hammer Lane. I did shows at The Roxy Theater and The Whisky A Go-Go. After wrapping up my California time, I moved back to Tyler, found an alternative band, Center Mass, which was later known as “Did Lee Squat?” (DLS?). That’s where I met “Patrick James.” We played venues in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and even Shreveport, Louisiana.

This too ended and I started my family, got a job, and put the band on the back burner. After some time, I started playing with Livid, a cover band around the Tyler/Longview area. This project just kinda wound down and I took a job out of town. More time passed with both family and job changes. I started playing bass in a praise band for Pollard United Methodist Church and did that for a few years until one day Patrick called. No, it was not the “I’m getting the band back together” kinda call. He wanted to redo his current project. I think he said he wanted to play more electric guitar and just rock out…so here we are.

Clint: I’m the baby of the band, born in Austin in 1974. I lived in Alvin, Texas through my 5th-grade year and moved to East Texas in 1986 where I joined the Union Grove percussion section in junior high and continued throughout high school. I played in the band and every sport Union Grove offered. As I got into high school, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to play football then at halftime, I’d take off my shoulder pads and march in the marching band. In 1992, I moved to Tyler and was offered a scholarship to join the Tyler Junior College drumline, better known as the Apache Punch. My hobbies are hunting, fishing, shooting guns, and working out. Currently, I work at Suddenlink as a Commercial Sales Supervisor.

Johnny: Who would you say was personally responsible, individually, for instilling that love of music you’d take the rest of your lives?

Pat: My mom for sure. She was the one that got me going as a kid…from playing Johnny Cash records to buying me a guitar and taking me to lessons.

Brad: My mom, she had me taking piano at the age of six, and we loved Elvis.

Clint: Hands down, my father. He played drums as well and he got me started gigging at the early age of 13 when I would sit in for him and play Wipeout.

Johnny: When did you three first meet?

The Haggertys: During the 90’s, Pat and Brad were playing in a band called DLS? and Clint was in a band called Affinity. The two bands did several shows together, including one at the Oil Palace in Tyler with DLS? as the headliner and Affinity providing support…the friendship and collaboration grew from there.

Johnny: How did the idea of starting the Haggertys come together?

The Haggertys: Sometime in the summer of 2013, Pat was doing his solo acoustic thing and had done some earlier shows with Clint and Brad as the Patrick James Band but these were still “acoustic” shows. After playing these kinds of shows for so long, Pat just got the itch to play with electrics and amps again, and Clint was on board to “get loud.” A permanent bass player was recruited and the band was formed. Really the Haggertys morphed out of the Patrick James Band and the guys started rehearsing so the song list grew. The band covers lots of material but kinda focuses on 90’s rock. The old “If it’s a good song, it’s a good song….doesn’t matter what genre it’s from” always applies.

Johnny: Okay, so the name. Where did it come from and whose idea was it?

The Haggertys: During one of the early rehearsals the idea of a band name came up and of course lots of stuff was thrown around. Pat noticed that all the band members had some righteous beards going at the time and this got him to thinking about people with beards and the one person that came to mind was a childhood hero from the show Grizzly Adams. Pat said, “the best beard ever, in my opinion, hands down, was Dan Haggerty, let’s call the band that!” So originally he wanted the band to be called the Dan Haggertys which morphed into the Damn Haggertys which quickly changed, for obvious reasons, and the band settled in with The Haggertys.

Johnny: When and where was the first Haggertys show?

The Haggertys: The first show was March 22nd, 2014, at Shoguns (#2) under their black tent outside. It was an alright turnout, and the band had fun. We later learned that many people were turned away or had to wait to get outside under the tent because of limited seating and fire codes.

Johnny: How would you describe your sound to a new listener?

The Haggertys: Straight-up, no-frills, fun-having, 3-piece rock cover band with a few surprises.

Johnny: You guys move in and out of different genres and decades of music pretty easily. Would you say there is one you’re more comfortable with than the others?

The Haggertys: Being a 3-piece with everyone doing something, we kinda gravitate towards 90’s rock songs we can easily play and cover well. More complicated songs with multi instruments tend to be harder (or impossible) to pull off with just three instruments, so we shy away from them. However, the art of taking a song and “making it your own” remake/cover is what we strive to do. Really any song we can cover well and make our own stays on the set list.

Johnny: Are you primarily covers or are you throwing some original stuff in the mix?

The Haggertys: We all played in what we called “Showcase Bands” back in the 90’s…all original songs and we all made albums, struggled to get gigs that paid, rehearsed a lot, tried to get signed, etc. Today we just play covers, play a lot, rehearse way less often, don’t care about getting signed, and get paid to play, which is nice. We won’t rule out that one day we might start writing songs again, but it isn’t on anyone’s radar anytime soon. We have done some reunion shows by combining Did Lee Squat? and Sand Dollar band members into a group called Did Lee Dollar. This allowed us to reconnect with old bandmates and fans and play some of the old originals. Come to think of it, it’s probably time for another one of those shows.

Check out The Haggertys online at:



  • Thursday, July 12th – Razzoo’s, Tyler, 7-10pm
  • Friday, September 14th – Gregg County Fair on Dennis Hiltz Memorial Stage, Longview
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Southern Charm: Small Town Girls With Big Time Sound

By Johnny Griffith

So there’s an old saying that has something to do with ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ and that certainly holds true with the two talented, dynamic artists in the East Texas duo Southern Charm. Both hailing from small East Texas towns, Shelby Ballenger and Billie Jo Sewell have been making a name for themselves both as successful solo artists and the fast rising duet, Southern Charm. Both artists have honed their crafts on many local stages and along the way found they had a knack for harmony and similar musical interests. Borne of a shared passion and great timing, Southern Charm takes advantage of each artist’s unique vocal ability and is greater than the sum of its parts…which is saying something because Shelby and Billie Jo both have burgeoning solo careers in their own right. So much so that Southern Charm as a duet has to book six months in advance and then they have a seven show run in seven east Texas venues.

We caught up with them in the middle of this latest run to get some more background on these ladies and their “Southern Charm.”

Johnny: When did you two first take up an interest in music?

Shelby: From the age of 13 I began singing at The Wylie Opry. From there, I was self-taught to play the guitar. I eventually began going to open mic nights all around north Texas to make a name for myself. About 2 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my day job and pursue music full time. I haven’t looked back.

Billie Jo: I started singing when I was 4 years old and grew up singing in church. I went from singing at church to Opry’s, restaurants, and festivals, to opening for people such as Ray Price, Gene Watson, Justin Moore, Mike Ryan, and Stoney LaRue. I had the honor to be on “The Voice” where I made top 150 on season 6 and recently I made top 100 on “American Idol.” I just recently signed to TXM Records and am currently in the studio working on my first country single!

Johnny: Who were some of your early influences?

Shelby: I always looked up to dominant female singers growing up. My lead inspirations were Shania Twain, Lee Ann Rimes, and The Dixie Chicks. When I began songwriting, I leaned on lyrics by Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, and local artists such as Meredith Crawford and Matt Grisby for inspiration.

Billie Jo: I was raised by my grandparents so I was inspired by the oldies but goodies, as I like to call them, such as George Jones, Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and many others.

Johnny: When did you decide music was more than just another hobby and was something worth pursuing?

Shelby: Once I began taking the stage with my guitar, people began talking about the talent and potential I had. I tried to make an impression at every new venue and began to see the joy it brought to people listening. I began entering songwriting competitions once my repertoire grew and placed with within the top four each time out of hundreds of hopefuls.

Billie Jo: I knew at a very early age that God didn’t give me this voice to just sing at home. I just knew that He gave me this voice to share with the world and that one day this would be my full time career which, gratefully, I’m very close to being able to say. I’ve always wanted to use my gift that God gave me in hopes that the audience may come to know Him through my music and testimony.

Johnny: How did you two first meet and when did the idea of a duo project come up?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We met at an East Texas singing competition a little over four years ago. From there, we became instant best friends.

Johnny: When and where was your first show as Southern Charm?

Shelby & Billie Jo: Our first official show was at The Foxhole where we won a karaoke competition. We took home $2,500 which made it our first paid gig together. From there Southern Charm played The Forge in Ben Wheeler and then our solo careers started taking off. We now book six months in advance for the Southern Charm East Texas Tour.

Johnny: How about the name? Where did that idea come from?

Shelby: Billie Jo’s son Chandler won most handsome baby boy at the Emory Rains pageant in 2014. I saw Billie Jo make a post on Facebook needing a car to ride in the parade with. I offered her convertible slug bug for the event. While we were in the car, we started trying out songs to sing together. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to put a duo together and name the act Southern Charm. Billie Jo loved the idea so we ran with it!

Johnny: How would you describe your sound?

Shelby: Southern Charm’s sound has a pure tone and the harmonies blend extremely well. I [Shelby] have more of the bluesy tone and Billie Jo brings the powerhouse country twang. Together, our voices mesh to create a unique country sound.

Johnny: What do you feel you bring to the table individually that compliments your partner on stage?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We know the dynamics of music. We never try to overpower each other onstage and that’s something every duo needs in order to be successful.

Johnny: About how many originals do you try to work in during a show?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We try to work in all of our most favorite originals at each and every show. Usually there’s about four to five each.

Johnny: You’ve had a busy summer already, what’s coming up on the radar the rest of the year that you’re excited about?

Shelby: I’m currently working on my full album with Joe Austin as producer. I’ve written 12 brand new songs and my new single “Heartbreaks & Hangovers” will be released late July while the album will drop next summer.

Billie Jo: I have a big secret I’ll be able to announce in a couple months about where I will be on the National Stage. Currently I’m in the studio with Chad Mauldin and Mauldin Productions working on my new single that will be released in early August.

Johnny: What can a first timer expect at a Southern Charm show?

Shelby & Billie Joe: Harmonies that give goosebumps and two best friends shining, as they do what they love onstage.

Keep up with Southern Charm online at

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