Black Music Matters Festival

Cornell Hurd: Garth Brooks' worst nightmare?Print article

By Robert Wooldridge, June 1999

Though the Cornell Hurd Band is often referred to as "Garth Brooks' Worst Nightmare," Hurd has no delusions of supplanting Garth and his contemporaries on the country charts.

Instead, Hurd, who just self-released a live disc, is content to live in Austin and play the honky tonk and swing music he loves for the fans who appreciate real country music.

Hurd grew up in the Bay Area of California listening primarily to rock music. It wasn't until his late teens that he discovered country. "I remember seeing Little Jimmie Dickens and Leroy Van Dyke on TV," he recalls. "Little Jimmie Dickens - I mean, this sawed off guy in this wild suit came running out screaming, and it hit on everything I kind of liked. The power of rock and roll with the cowboy image."

From that point Hurd learned about such greats as Ernest Tubb, Ray Price and Hank Williams. "Once you discover Hank Williams, those kind of songs are pretty hard to deny."

It was seeing Commander Cody during his college days in the early '70's that inspired Hurd to play country himself. "It was something about those guys that were closer to my age, guys that I could relate to and they were playing country music. You could have a Hank Williams record or Ernest Tubb, and culturally these guys were a million miles away from what I was."

After transferring to Berkeley Hurd started his first country band.

Hurd has never received the amount of attention of Commander Cody or his college friend Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, but he has stayed active and even had a Number One hit with "Bicentennial Boogie" on the Dr. Demento show in the late '70's.

Hurd first played in Austin in 1977, but did not relocate there until 1989. He and his wife Debra (who often plays piano in the band) had been living in Florida when he lost his job.

It was Debra who suggested that they move to Austin. "She said, 'You know, you wait all week to watch Austin City Limits to see one of your stinking friends on TV. Why don't we just go there?'"

Once he knew it was alright with his wife, Hurd made up his mind to go to Austin for good. "I wanted to go to Johnny Bush country."

After a decade in Austin Hurd's roots are now firmly planted. "My two boys were born here," Hurd says. "My father is buried here. I'm a Texan now."

These days Hurd, who works as a headhunter during the day, plays two or three nights a week, exclusively in Texas. "One of the great things about Austin - you're 90 minutes from San Antonio, you're 3 hours from Houston, you're 3 1/2 hours from Dallas. You can play all of these gigs, and drive home after the gig."

Though Hurd has never signed a record deal, he has released his own records since 1974 on his own Behemoth Records label. He objects when his band is referred to as unsigned.

"I'm signed to Behemoth, and they treat me great. I get to sleep with the head of the art department (wife Debra)," Hurd jokes. Hurd believes more artists will release their own work in the future. He has been approached by independent labels, but feels he is better served with Behemoth.

The latest Cornell Hurd Band release is "At Large in South Austin, Texas," recorded live at the Texacalli Grill. Hurd's hero Johnny Bush makes an appearance as does Wayne Hancock. "Wayne's the real deal," says Hurd. "The guy's a genius. He's very creative, writing all the time, thinking all the time."

The album is a mix of originals and covers, with much on stage banter included between songs to give the feel of a live performance. Hurd says his only regret is that he did not tell more about Stoney Edwards in the liner notes about the song "Two Dollar Toy." Hurd and his friends had seen Edwards perform in the Bay Area several times in the '70's. "We stood in awe of the guy. Whatever intestinal fortitude it takes to be a black country singer, I have no clue."

Though "Two Dollar Toy" was a minor hit for Edwards, Hurd says, "That's too much emotion for what they're doing today. But it's real. Loving your children and moving your ego to the back of the line is a topic they don't deal with too well in Nashville."

These days Hurd rarely listens to mainstream country radio. "I take real issue with a music that works hard to eliminate the blues from within it's core," Hurd says of today's sugar coated country. "That's what used to be country music's strength, in my book, it touched the part of the human emotion that you can't quite spell out for yourself."