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Updated: Friday, 22 Jun 2012, 6:45 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 21 Jun 2012, 2:33 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - First, let's meet the players:
Earl Poole Ball spent 20 years playing piano in Johnny Cash’s band.
Accordion maestro Joel Guzman has played with a Who’s Who of Texas music stars.
Drummer Brandon Temple is in constant demand by bands from all over the country.
Bass player Glenn Fukunga is a veteran of gigs with the likes of Bob Dylan, Dr. John and Robert Plant.
Every one of these musicians now have something in common: They formed the backbone of a band recruited to give life to the farewell album of a Belgian musical phenomenon.
For Erik and Sanne Van Neygen (Hint: Google Erik and Sanne and select “Translate this page for an English version), who hail from the northern part of Belgium, known as Flanders, the opportunity to play with these giants of Texas music is a fitting end to a fairy tale journey.
“Can you imagine? I saw Lloyd Maines playing in Joe Ely's band in '78,” said Erik Van Neygen. “And from that moment, we had contact and we created a very good relationship between the two of us.”
But there was always a special place in his heart for legends with a Texas connection, people like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Townes Van Zandt.
With an ocean between the Belgian and his heroes, however, he could only dream of playing at their sides in a Texas recording studio.
In their own country, though, the Van Neygens have built a following of their own, a following that many Texas musicians would envy. It started on Nov. 4, 1989, when Erik Van Neygen played a festival in Belgium.
Backstage, he noticed a crowd of people watching a television. It turns out the closed-circuit signal was feeding video and audio of a 16-year-old girl performing onstage. He joined the group and was stunned at what he saw.
“Sanne (pronounced, SAHN-uh) had a beautiful dress with flowers and a flower in her hair,” Erik recalled.
“And long curls,” Sanne added.
“Yes,” said Erik, “and everyone was in love with her.”
The girl’s lilting soprano voice, combined with body movements that were at once easy, graceful and seductive, clamped a death-grip on the 38-year-old man’s heart.
She first noticed him backstage, when she looked at a mirror and saw his eyes.
“He was standing in front of the mirror. He was combing his hair with a green comb and he had a very nice little butt,” Sanne laughed.
“So I looked into the mirror, into his eyes and he looked into mine and he said, ‘Oh, you have a very nice voice,' and I said, ‘Well, thank you very much, sir.’”
The record deal
A few days later, Erik took a demo cassette recording of Sanne’s voice to a record company.
“I told them, 'I know a fantastic singer; she is just looking like the girl next door and that's what you need at this moment,’” he said.
“They asked, ‘Can we see this girl?’
“I said, 'No, you can't see her. Just listen to the tape and sign the contract. You have three or four hours and then you say yes or no.
“That same day, I got the phone call and I signed a contract for three or four CDs. From then on came the gold and platinum records, one after another.”
Their first hit record was called, ‘Veel te mooi,’ a melodic heartbreaker about two star-crossed lovers.
“It's about two people who were together for a very short time, but they knew their relationship is too beautiful to be true,” said Sanne. “They knew it was not going to work because it was too good to be true.”
It was the unlikely pairing of a young woman and a man twice her age that set Belgians to wondering if the song might not be a premonition of sorts.
“People were sitting there and asking, 'Would they be a couple or not?'” said Erik.
“It was obvious that we were,” added Sanne.
In time, the two would marry and have a daughter, Maartje, now an aspiring singer herself. At one point in her young life, the girl fell seriously ill, to the point that her parents actually thought she had died. She recovered, however, and the three of them spent a gloriously happy life together as she grew.
Then, trouble hit again. Two and a half years ago, Erik Van Neygen suffered two major hemorrhages. Doctors tried everything, including surgery, but the attacks left the guitar player with severe and constant pain in his head and his left arm and hand.
“We noticed,” Sanne said, “that if we are playing on stage and doing all the things that go with the music, the stress that is related to the concerts and everything, it's really not good. It's making his pain worse.”
Finally, the couple faced the inevitable: It was time to end their storybook music career. At one of their last gigs, they played a festival in Belgium. There, they saw
a performance by a young American named Carrie Rodriguez and her boyfriend, Luke Jacobs.
( Full disclosure: Carrie is the daughter of this reporter’s wife, Katy Nail.)
Erik and Sanne had already been blown away by a CD of music by Rodriguez and “Wild Thing” writer Chip Taylor and they were astonished to find her in the small village hosting the festival.
They introduced themselves to her and asked if she would play on their final recording. Rodriguez was delighted and made a suggestion of her own: Why not come to Austin and record an album there?
The Van Neygens slept on the idea and decided to go for it, on one condition: Rodriguez would be the producer.
And so, in the late spring of this year, Erik, Sanne and Maartje Van Neygen made their maiden voyage to the “Live Music Capital of the World” and set up shop in South Austin's Cedar Creek Studios .
“Meeting Carrie and recording this album with these great musicians in this atmosphere and this vibe, is like a gift from heaven,” said Sanne.
“Many people, all people get gifts from heaven but you've got to know how to catch them. Some people just stand there and watch them crash on the floor.
“You have to catch them because if you don't do it yourself, nothing's going to happen,” Sanne went on. “That's what Erik did when he said, 'OK, we're going to Austin.'
“If we were scared, if we said, 'Oh, we're going to stop performing anyway; we're not going to do that anymore,' then none of this would have happened.”
“These were the most beautiful days of our life, I think,” said Sanne.
“Yes, nearly 14 days in Austin, if heaven would be like that,” added her husband.
“Oh, yes, and I could die right now,” Sanne said.
Their new album is called, “de fantastische expeditie,” or “The Fantastic Expedition.”
Perhaps it refers to the couple’s journey to Austin. Or perhaps it is about their life together, a life that in the beginning might have looked alarmingly similar to that of the doomed lovers in “Veel te mooi.”
“But we made it work,” Sanne said. “For us, it was not too beautiful to be true; we made it work.”
Back in Belgium, in September, the Van Neygens will appear at a series of farewell performances. Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs will be at their sides onstage, sealing a bond forged across a wide ocean on the waves of music, the rhythmic heartbeat of the human soul.
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