SA native Patricia Vonne adapts her cinematic visions to song form
Early in his career, Jackson Browne developed such a reputation for writing tributes to deceased friends that when Warren Zevon experienced chest pains on a flight, his first thought was: "God, please don't let me die and have Jackson Browne write a song about me."
Patricia Vonne shares Browne's penchant for paying musical tribute to those close to her, but her subjects have no cause for the kind of dread Zevon once experienced. Vonne, a San Antonio native currently based in Austin, writes raucous songs about subjects who are very much alive and kicking up considerable dust while they're here. Her 2005 sophomore release, the beautifully crafted Guitars & Castanets, includes homages to friends/heroes Joe Ely ("Joe's Gone Ridin'"), Alejandro Escovedo ("Guitarras y Castañuelas"), and Johnny Reno ("Sax Maniac"), as well as her sister ("La Gitana de Triana"), a flamenco dancer in Sevilla, Spain.
|Patricia Vonne: A consistent presence in brother Robert Rodriguez' films since she was a child.|
Reno holds special meaning for Vonne because the first live show she attended in San Antonio was a gig by Reno's Sax Maniacs, while Ely and Escovedo provided her support and instant credibility on the Austin music scene after she moved to the Capital City from New York in 2001. With "Joe's Gone Ridin'" she seamlessly mixes cowboy mythology ("tumbleweed, devil dye, and they spit between your eyes") with music-biz reality ("there ain't no opening band for no wine festival/but if Joe says, Joe says!"), and makes it all sound like the same heroic story.
"`Ely` let me open up for a prestigious wine festival where there were no opening bands, and the booker let me know that," Vonne says by phone from London, near the end of her band's seven-week European tour. "And that's when the doors started opening for me. And Alejandro, too. I couldn't get the bookers on the line, they wouldn't call back. My husband and I book and manage ourselves. It's all very in-house and sometimes it's impenetrable. So Alejandro helped us out several times and so did Joe."
Vonne's move to Austin came after a decade of establishing herself on the New York club scene, fronting a band of transplanted Texans with her dramatic, highly romantic combination of the roots-rock she learned from her brothers and the Mexican folk music championed by her mother.
"It wasn't until South By Southwest 1999 that I came back for the first time to showcase the music and that's when I realized, 'Man, it's time to come home.' I was up there long enough. I got what I needed, honed the craft. But it was time to come home and be closer to family."
By any measure, that family is a formidable one, with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Sin City) merely the most famous of Vonne's nine self-possessed siblings. Vonne grew up in the Monte Vista district and attended Providence High School. Her father spent much of his time on the road selling cookware, while her mother fostered her children's creative impulses with regular trips to the Olmos Theater.
"I think that's why my brother's a director," Vonne says. "We would just go to the Olmos Theater and watch the old MGM musicals, Hitchcock double-features, and things like The Red Shoes, just classics. My mom was very hesitant to take us to the movies that were out at the time, they were kind of risqué."
Vonne believes those Technicolor big-screen experiences made her a more visual person, and her best songs feel cinematic and stylized, suggesting the kind of border intrigue found in many of her brother's films, particularly Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Once Upon A Time In Mexico. Consider this evocative couplet from "Lonesome Rider": "With blood red boots a shadow stumbled through my door/throwing matches, flicking ashes at my dirt floor."
| Patricia Vonne |
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With her raven hair, long slender face and hypnotic green eyes, Vonne is a striking visual presence who would seem an on-screen natural. But despite appearances in several of her brother's films (most recently as Zorro Girl in Sin City), she shows little enthusiasm for a second career as an actress. "My brother's been doing this since he was 13 and he's always had us act in his films," she says. "I never said no, so he's got a backlog of films that we're all in.
"When I lived in New York, I did a lot of commercial acting and it was definitely competitive. I think music is more of my bag. Certainly, if a project comes up, I'll consider it, but it'll have to be the right context. That's why it's easy with my brother: If he needs me, I don't say no."
Much like a director building a dream cast, Vonne and her husband/musical collaborator Robert LaRoche assembled the studio team for Guitars & Castanets from a wish list of players they admired. Their biggest coup might have been pairing guitar aces Charlie Sexton and San Antonio's Joe Reyes on the wild rocker "Rebel Bride."
Vonne says, "I thought if Charlie and Joe Reyes could breathe on this song and bring it to life the way I hear it, with their styles, it would be like a blank canvas put to life. It was an honor to have such great people playing on the record, because they could have said no." •