Every afternoon from Monday through Friday down in Gonzales, Texas, the local radio station, KCTI 1450 A.M., features the Double A show, hosted by a singer-songwriter/DJ who’s an inductee of the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame. Aaron Allan, born Allan Aaron Crenwelge in 1929 in Fredericksburg, Texas, landed his first radio gig back in 1948 – playing his guitar and singing traditional cowboy and folk songs on a live fifteen-minute daily program on an area station.
During the nearly 60 years since then, Aaron, or “Double A,” as many of his friends call him, has carved out a career not only in radio but also as a prolific songwriter whose credits include Willie Nelson, Charlie Walker, the Osborne Brothers, Stoney Edwards, Chet McIntyre, and many others. Perhaps even more importantly, he still plays traditional country music on his show, and he often invites upcoming roots-based songwriters to perform on his show.
At this stage of his life, in particular, he’s less interested in the commercial appeal of an individual artist and more interested in whether or not the artist writes good songs from the heart with integrity and conviction.
When I first laid eyes on Aaron about 7 years ago, it was songwriters’ night at Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas. I could tell from the way he looked and dressed that night with his tight pants tucked into yellow boots, a stylish European shirt, his long hair flowing behind an old hat, and a pipe in his mouth that this was someone I’d like to get to know better. As he strummed a twelve-string guitar and sang, “Winds of Time,” (Time Is, 2004), his down-home stage presence, rich baritone voice, unique strumming style, and philosophical lyrics only reinforced my sense that here was someone with a rich history, irrepressible spirit, and a lot of stories to tell.
I soon began to take my guitar and hang out with Aaron nearly every Saturday at the Hill Country Humidor–a little tobacco shop in San Marcos where local songwriters often outnumber customers on Saturdays and where Kinky Friedman’s political supporters comfort each other. At times, customers have to squeeze their way into the store past a long line of writers and their guitars. It’s no secret that the owner, Rob Robinson, who’s also a musician and longtime friend of Aaron’s and Kinky’s, is more interested in the political discussions and song swapping than in sales figures on a given day. In fact, customers might have to wait quite awhile for Rob to ring up their sale if he’s accompanying someone on a song at the time.
On Saturdays, Aaron makes the twenty-mile trip from his apartment in Luling to buy pipe tobacco and just hang out, swapping stories and songs with whoever happens to come in. I remember one time a kid came in to the shop and after listening to Aaron sing a couple of songs, asked him if he knew anything by Willie, who in 1970 cut Aaron’s song, “Truth No. 1.” Everybody broke out laughing, including Aaron, but the kid never did figure out why his question provoked such laughter.
Willie used to listen to Aaron’s program on KBOP radio in Pleasanton, Texas, where Aaron had taken a job in 1953. In fact, Willie later replaced Aaron at that station when he moved on to WOAI radio and TV in San Antonio. Willie later revealed that it was Aaron who inspired him to want to sing and be a radio DJ at that time. They’ve been friends since about 1954. Much later, Aaron emceed Willie’s 4th of July Picnic for about seven years.
One of Aaron’s fondest memories dates back to his days at WOAI in San Antonio. One day he saw a 45 record in the waste basket–put there by a record librarian who told him, “Aw, it’s some new artist. He’s no good, besides, nobody would want to play it. I just threw it away.” Aaron recovered the record, which turned out to be Johnny Cash’s, “Cry, Cry, Cry” with “Hey Porter” on the flip side. Aaron remembers that “it was a new sound, it was a sparse sound, it was a basic sound that nobody else was doing, and it was exciting.”
Several months later, just when Aaron was about to go on the air at WOAI, the station operator called to say that someone was in the station to see him. Aaron said he didn’t have time to see anyone but asked her who it was. After a brief pause, she came back on the line, “Says his name is Johnny Cash.” Aaron then told her to send him on back to see him. “I didn’t tell him about them throwing away that record,” Aaron recalls, “So he was my guest on the air that day, and he was nervous, and made me kind of nervous, but nevertheless, I knew that he was gonna be something.”
Months later, while in Nashville to attend a DJ’s convention, Aaron saw Cash and a big entourage in the hotel lobby. By this time, of course, Cash’s popularity had skyrocketed, and reporters’ flash bulbs were going off all around him as he signed autographs and looked around at the crowd. As Aaron recalls, “Well, I thought, well he won’t know me anymore,” but “after about fifteen minutes I thought maybe I ought to get up there and see him myself. But he looks up all of a sudden and he spies me, and he points to me and everybody looks at me, and he says, ‘You see that guy back there? That’s the first man that ever interviewed me on the radio.”
Although Aaron has written nearly 1100 songs, he’s never “made it big” as far as the song writing business is concerned, but he’s philosophical about life’s twists and turns that have caused financial success and security to elude him for the most part over the years. He is a very spiritual person with deep interests in astronomy, science, and universal questions, but he is highly skeptical of organized religion.
As suggested by one of his powerful songs, “Deliver Me” (Time Is, 2004), his recent song writing has taken him more and more in a philosophical direction. Whether criticizing government deception, threats to free expression from those in high places, the hypocrisy of moralistic people who try to force their rigid views on the rest of us, or an increasingly centralized radio industry that keeps good music off the air for political reasons, Aaron continues to be a champion of good, meaningful song writing.
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Doctor G (otherwise known as Dr. Gregg Andrews) is a multitalented singer/songwriter and storyteller. He’s an accomplished labor historian and the author of Nationally Awarded books like City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer and Insane Sisters. But he’s most comfortable when he’s raisin’ hell against the system or delivering his Swampytonk music in his Mississippi-mudded snakeskin boots.
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