By Dustin Saulle
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael O’Connor played his first gig in his hometown,
Corpus Christi, at a local pizza parlor, called Panjo’s Pizza, in the early 80s. Playing
smaller venues across the local circuit in his late teens and throughout his twenties,
O’Connor was playing rock ‘n’ roll, blues, folk, and country with the bands Silent Slim &
The Locomotives, and Blues Farm. He would play at dive bars, festivals, and theaters,
including local Corpus Christi joints like Creeper’s Alley and Cantina Santa Fe, which
are both no longer resources for the local music scene.
O’Connor had a job, as an electrician’s assistant to earn the money he needed to live off
of. Then in 1986, when he was earning enough money on his music alone, he decided to
quit his job to strictly focus on music. After being told by his high school counselor that
he would never be able to make money from music, he had a strong sense of pride when
he proved him wrong.
In the early 90s after O’Connor had established local popularity, he was playing at places
like Executive Surf Club and Doctor Rockit’s, in Corpus Christi. Moving around and
touring through Texas, O’Connor finally moved away from Corpus Christi for the final
time in 1998. With a strong love/hate relationship with the city when he left, O’Connor
saw it as a town where you can get in all kinds of trouble, but recently when returning to
his hometown, he feels differently about it. Growing enough to realize that they were his
decisions that led to trouble, not the cities. The city definitely influenced him and he
“used to fight it, but now [is] kind of going with it”. In 2010, Michael O’Connor was
honored by his hometown with his very own star on the South Texas Walk of Fame. An
honor he can forever share with Texas legends Guy Clark and Freddy Fender.
While touring with Slaid Cleaves starting in 2000, O’Connor began working on his own
solo albums such as Giants From A Sleepy Town (2007), Hard Times (2009), and then in
2011, with the release of Devil Stole The Moon, O’Connor decided that it was time to just
devote himself to his solo work which he said “was a dip financially, but it was time”.
With O’Connor now writing his own music, he declared that he “learned to write about
what you know”, and that is the reason his lyrics explore the troubles of the down and out
blue collar workers, to the unsung artists. In fact, Slaid Cleaves admires that “Michael
O’Connor’s songs have that ring of truth,” and he recorded two of O’Connor’s songs on
his 2006 album, Unsung.
With three solo albums under O’Connor’s belt, he is always trying to bring something
new to each album. On his most recent album from 2011, Devil Stole The Moon,
O’Connor played all of the guitars on the record, as well as the lap steel, mandolin,
harmonica and for the first time in his life, he played the keyboards on the album.
Claiming he had “never really done that,” and that “it’s just something I started messing
around with while we were recording”. O’Connor had purchased a chord organ for $30 at
a pawnshop right before album producer, Jack Saunders, came in with a Casio keyboard
that he had found in a dumpster. Enthusiastically, Michael shouted, “Let’s use it!” With
no desire for anything too fancy on the album, and as Michael figured out some chord
patterns here and there, both of the newly acquired keyboards were used on the recording
of the album.
Currently O’Connor has plenty of booked Texas dates for the summer, but is also
venturing out to North Carolina and even Alaska at the end of July. Being no stranger to
touring, he has done shows in every state except for Wyoming. O’Connor is just a
humble man, traveling all over America, sharing his gift of musical talent. “I’m not trying
to be famous or nothing,” he says. “I just write these songs that I play on guitar, and I’m
doing it because it’s what I think I’m supposed to do”.
As far as future album work, O’Connor is planning on releasing a new rock ‘n’ roll
album in the fall or early next year. “No acoustic guitars, pure rock ‘n’ roll”, he said.
Being a great songwriter, guitar player, and even better person, Michael O’Connor will
only continue to release good music and share it with the fans. “I don’t need to be rich,”
he says simply. “I just want to make my living.”
Words by Dustin Saulle