Rod Moag: The Pickin'-Singin' Professor


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90th Birthday Tribute Concert for Johnny Cuviello

On October 26, 2005 Rod, along with Tim Hertenberger organized and a 90th birthday tribute concert and dance for his friend Johnny Cuviello, The Texas Drummer Boy, in Austin. Johnny was a member of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys from 1946-47, and recorded the famous song, "The Texas Drummer Boy," in which Bob calls out his name several times. Cuvie, as he's known in Western swing circles, as usual received standing ovations for his drumming, and further pleased the audience (except for maybe a few jealous husbands and boyfriends) by dancing with all the ladies.

Rod told the other musicians, "I want to make this a different experience for Johnny. When he's booked at Western swing festivals, he's invited onto the stage as a guest to play only one or two numbers. This time Johnny's going to be the main attraction to play as much and as long as he wants to." In fact, that's exactly what Johnny did, he amazed all those present by staying on the drums for 90 minutes, then coming back for the final half hour of the nearly four-hour night. . He would have played more, but he wanted to give two other drummers who had come a chance to sit in. One of these was Ernie Durawa of the Texas Tornados who drove up from San Antonio especially to meet Johnny for the first time.

In 2002 when Johnny was a mere 87 years old, Rod Moag wrote and recorded a tribute song to Johnny, "The Story of the Texas Drummer Boy," which appears on his album, A Salute to the Heroes of Texas Swing. Johnny plays solos on this number with a cheering section heard in the background. He also appears on several other tracks on this album (see Rod's discography).

Accompanying Johnny Cuviello on stage at his 90th birthday celebration were fellow Texas Playboys Herb Remington on steel (who co-authored the Texas Drummer Boy) and fiddle and mandolin virtuoso Johnny Gimble. In true Bob Wills fashion there was a fiddle section composed of three outstanding fiddlers-Mr. Gimble, Elana Fremerman (formerly of Hot Club of Cow Town) and Austin fiddler John Kemppainen. Rod played third fiddle till Gimble arrived and then switched to electric mandolin. Paul Schlesinger was on rhythm guitar, while various bass men provided the bottom to the rhythm section. A large number of guests came in to sing or play a few numbers including eight year old swing singer Lauren Beller, Emily Gimble, Elizabeth McQueen, Freddy Powers, Sonny Throckmorton, Billy Mata, Dave Sanger of Asleep at the Wheel, saxophonist Del Pushart and others.

Rod remarked while handling the emcee chores, "All around these days you hear talk about 'the generation gap', here tonight we're experiencing 'the generation bridge' with performers from eight years of age to ninety playing Western swing together." One of the guests said, "I can't believe the amount of talent and love in this room tonight." Jim Nivens of Austin, who has attended every Western swing function since year one, stated emphatically, "This is the greatest jam session I've ever seen." Summing it all up was a thank-you note from now North Texas resident Cathi Parson: "Just wanted to thank you and Tim for putting on such a great party for Johnny, and the rest of us. What a magical evening so full of great music and friendship. Exactly the kind of night that reaffirms my decision to move to Texas." Besides fans from around Texas, people from Britain and the Netherlands were also in attendance.

The party must have been a success, for Cuvie is already asking about doing another one next year. Johnny returned to his home in Milpitas California on Oct. 28. His trip to Austin was sponsored by the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX where he appeared as guest on a concert featuring Johnny Gimble and Texas Swing.


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