The songs of Mickey Newbury came from a place of serenity and sadness, beautiful recollections of the ones we left behind, pretty portraits of love’s bittersweet residue. He pulls the memories to the surface and leads us through the pain, ultimately to a place of resignation and quiet joy. There is no anger in these songs, and little regret, just dusty gratitude for the love he had and the life he lived.

Newbury came from a different time. Born in Houston in 1940, there were no footsteps to follow, no radio folksters to awaken or inspire him. He was a natural poet, with something inside of him that had to get out. As a teenager he locked himself in his room to dream, write poetry and learn to play a wooden guitar.

At nineteen he joined the Air Force and spent a few years in England, then returned to the States to become a songwriter. He chased gigs to showcase his work in Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana, living in his car and working the shrimp boats when he needed money. He ended up in Nashville and, in 1964, signed with Acuff-Rose. Now a full-fledged contract songwriter with Nashville credentials, Newbury honed his craft in the days before labels and wholesale commercialization, and soon found his songs being recorded by the disparate likes of Don Gibson, Tom Jones, the First Edition, Eddy Arnold and Solomon Burke.

He released his first album of his own work, Harlequin Memories, in 1969, married soon thereafter, and produced three classic albums in the coming years, including Looks Like Rain, Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help the Child. These were his finest songs, utterly original and compelling work that was mostly overlooked in the cultural frenzy of the late sixties. But other writers were listening. You can still hear him in their songs.

In 1973, having built a respectable stream of songwriting royalties, Mickey and his wife Susan moved their family to her hometown in Oregon. He continued touring and, in 1980, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He decided to take a break from the business and focused on his family for a few years. Imagine a Texas songwriter living in Oregon, looking like a cross between Robert Mitchum and Pat Boone, playing golf in double-knit pants.

He came back strong in the nineties and produced a wealth of more fine work before passing away in 2002.  Newbury released more than twenty albums over a long career, changing the course of folk and country music alike.

Three things you should know about Mickey Newbury: (1) country DJ Ralph Emery called him the first “hippie-cowboy”, (2) he convinced Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt to pursue songwriting careers in Nashville, and (3) Elvis Presley famously covered “An American Trilogy”, Newbury’s arrangement of classic American folk anthems.

If you love Mickey Newbury, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Chip Taylor, Vince Bell and Will T. Massey.




Guy Clark, who left this world on May 16, 2016, was one of the Texas songwriters who made the path and led the way. His work embodies all that is good about “progressive” country music. Truth and passion. Storytelling. Stories worth telling.

Born in deep West Texas, Clark was the son of a country lawyer, a good and steady man he celebrated in “The Randall Knife”, possibly the most compelling song a son has ever written about his father. Guy hit the road to find the world of songwriting, living over the years in Los Angeles, Austin and ultimately Nashville, where he worked as a contract writer and carried on with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt. He stayed there for the rest of his life. It was, as he said, “where the business was”.

Early on he met the love of his life, a lovely painter from Atlanta, Texas by the name of Susanna. They were together, through thick and thin, till she passed in 2012. Listen to “My Favorite Picture of You”, from his last album of the same name, and hear eternal love put to words.

Van Zandt was a life-long friend of both Guy and Susanna, and they weathered their wild lives together until Townes’ death in 1997.

Clark’s poetry is best demonstrated by his first and seminal album, 1975’s Old No. 1. He was a master at taking us back to the stories of simple folk forging lives in hard places with their backs, hands, and hearts. He was also known for the work he did to supplement his earnings as a songwriter, driving heavy equipment, shaping wood in his workshop, crafting guitars. Listen to “Boats to Build”, a testament to honest craft and proud self-reliance, in which he urges us to turn away from the noise and fear and put your hands to the work that you love. Everything will be all right.

Clark practiced his art for over forty years and was a steady friend and invaluable mentor to those who followed his path. Folks like Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Robert Earl Keen and others gathered often around the Clarks’ kitchen table to drink, listen and learn.

Guy Clark was a physical presence, tall and lanky and handsome, his eyes both mischievous and wary. When he spoke the results were equal parts wisdom and silliness, always profane. He was one of those giant souls who gave intelligence and dignity to the songwriter’s art, and he makes us proud to call this music our hearts’ home. The one-woman man, the gentle philosopher, the natural poet of simple presence and strength.

A very tall Texan, and we miss him dearly.

Three things to know about Guy Clark: (1) he was instantly recognizable by his denim shirt and big turquoise ring, (2) he was often accompanied on stage and on record by the great Verlon Thompson, and (3) he first learned to sing in Spanish.

If you love Guy Clark, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Mary Gauthier.




Looking a bit like an Amish Hoss Cartwright, B. W. “Buckwheat” Stevenson turned heads even in the spectacle of seventies Austin. A native of Dallas, his beautiful tenor and surprising falsetto shone through on simple folk melodies, some reaching a national audience before his premature death in 1988. Stevenson’s early work is his best, full of tender hope and outsider loneliness.

B.W. was born Louis Charles Stevenson, but even that formidable handle wasn’t quite big enough for a man of this stature. So it was “B.W.”, or “Buck” to his close friends. He attended high school in Oak Cliff and began to discover his love for music hanging out with like-minded outlaws such as Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Fromholz and Michael Martin Murphey. Blessed with a booming operatic voice, he attended college for a year on a music scholarship, did some time in the Air Force, and started stretching his wings in the bars and clubs around Dallas.

Stevenson arrived on the Austin music scene in 1970, at the very beginnings of the progressive country movement, but there was little work to be found. Austin City Limits was no more than a glimmer in the eye of the folks at klru, and only a few clubs were showcasing the new cosmic cowboys roaming around the Texas Hill Country. Frustrated, Buck left the Lone Star state to find fame in Los Angeles.

This was a theme that haunted Stevenson’s short life. A big dog never let loose for the hunt. A major talent showing up a bit too early, again and again, often ill advised and mismanaged.

He arrived in Hollywood with a broken heart…his long time girlfriend refused to make the trip…and started writing some of the lovesick ballads that would become his trademark. It was one of these that caught the attention of RCA Records, and he signed up with his first label in 1971 and recorded and released his first record, B. W. Stevenson, in 1972. The album included many songs that resulted from a collaboration with old friend Murphey, as well as some of B.W.’s best work, particularly the longsome songs like “On My Own” and “Longsome Song”. RCA never promoted B.W.’s original work from this album, but the folks in Austin paid close attention, and welcomed him back as an integral member of the redneck rock scene. Stevenson returned to town and became a regular on stages with Kenneth Threadgill, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hubbard and others.

Stevenson suffered through more bungled attempts at commercialization, nine albums in total, and RCA never gave up trying to market him as a pop artist. The shameless Three Dog Night had a corporate hit with his “Shambala”, actually bumping his own version off the charts. Buck then released “My Maria” to some success on the pop charts, but became the Billboard’s #1 “Country Song of the Year” when covered by Brooks and Dunn in 1996.

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.” With his last album, Rainbow Down the Road, Stevenson accomplished what he had always wanted, an independently conceived and executed journey into the heart of a very fine artist. Willis Alan Ramsey helped with production, and the record featured many old friends, including Willie Nelson, Walker, Fromholz, Christine Albert, and Stephen Bruton.

Buck left us in 1988 at the age of thirty-eight. Way too early…a legend never fully appreciated…a gift only partially unwrapped.

Three things you should know about B.W. Stevenson: (1) in October 1974, he recorded the first episode of Austin City Limits, but the resulting tape was too poor to broadcast, and Willie Nelson’s performance taped the following night ended up being aired instead, (2) RCA came up with the nickname “Buckwheat” and (3) Buck and Stevie Ray Vaughan both rest in Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas.

If you love B.W. Stevenson, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Willis Alan Ramsey, Houston Marchman and Will. T. Massey.




Ted Hawkins lived a hard life, but his journey was a gift to us all. Born black and poor in Mississippi, he did time in reform school and prison before trying his hand at music after hearing the work of Sam Cooke. The talent was obviously there all along.

While Hawkins traveled the rocky road of a hard-core bluesman, his music is rooted more in folk than traditional blues. The delivery is spare, unadorned rhythm guitar utilizing innovative open tunings. You can hear the strains of the Delta in his corncob voice, dripping with soulful joy and steeped in hard lessons learned. He was the musical poster boy of the “outsider” artist, big and raw-boned and completely oblivious to the etiquette and expectations of those around him.

He made his name as a busker on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, California, and his recorded output is sparse. A few dedicated admirers worked hard to corral Ted in the studio, attempting to navigate his addictions and tendency to disappear for extended periods of time. By his death in 1995, he had produced several albums of original work and magical takes on the songs of others. Like so many other great American artists, Hawkins found more respect and appreciation on the other side of the Atlantic. His dedicated European following was primarily the result of the admiration and efforts of British disc jockey Andy Kershaw.

2015 saw the release of a tribute album, Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins, an Austin salute to the work of this great artist. Produced by our own Kevin Russell, Jenni Finlay and Brian T. Atkinson, the disc features Hawkins’ originals interpreted by Austin Songwriter favorites Shinyribs, Mary Gauthier, James McMurtry, Jon Dee Graham, Gurf Morlix, Danny Barnes, Ramsay Midwood and Randy Weeks.

Three things to know about Ted Hawkins: (1) he claimed that damaged fingers preventing him from bending notes in the blues tradition, (2) a documentary of his life and art, Ted Hawkins: Amazing Grace, was released in 1996, and (3) he died at about the time of the release of what would be his most famous album, The Next Hundred Years.

If you love Ted Hawkins, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Blaze Foley, Jesse Winchester and John Hiatt.




The story of Blaze Foley, the songwriter, is too often lost in the legend of Blaze Foley, the “Duct Tape Messiah”. Hard drinking, homelessness, and a squalid death all contribute to the sad story that can overshadow this poet’s spare, aching songs and searching voice. But legend springs from a life like Foley’s, and this particular legend is made up of equal parts inspiration, irony and plain old bad luck.

Born Michael David Fuller in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Foley had music in his veins. From a young age he performed itinerant gospel with his mother, brother and sisters as The Singing Fuller Family, and the stage life stuck. Over the years the troubled troubadour would be known as “Depty Dawg”, “Blue Foley” (after his admiration for country artist Red Foley), and then “Blaze Foley”.

After roaming across Georgia and other parts of Texas, Blaze hit Austin in 1976 with Sybil Rosen, the love of his life, in tow. Over the next decade he gained the status of artist savant or court jester, depending on whom you asked. But the people that mattered loved him. Lucinda Williams called him a “genius and a beautiful loser”. Townes Van Zandt, with whom he developed a deep but reckless friendship, said “…he is one of the most spiritual cats I’ve ever met: an ace picker, a writer who never shirks from the truth; never fails to rhyme; and one of the flashiest wits I’ve ever had to put up with.”

When the “Urban Cowboy” frenzy hit Texas, and folks were walking around with silver tips on brand new cowboy boots, Foley took to putting silver duct tape on the tips of his beat up pair. Later he walked around Austin is a suit made completely of duct tape. The legend of the “Duct Tape Messiah” was born.

Other parts of his legend were not so shiny. Blaze had serious problems with alcohol, and was banned from playing, or even entering, such landmark Texas venues as the Cactus Cafe of the Kerrville Folk Festival. He often slept in his car, sometimes on the street. In February of 1989, when he was thirty-nine, Foley was shot and killed by the son of his friend Concho January. Carey January claimed self-defense and was acquitted of murder.

Just a month before his death, Foley recorded Live at the Austin Outhouse. Backed by Champ Hood and Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, this is the definitive collection of his small but profound catalog of music. Try “Oooh Love”, a stunningly simple sketch of the spark of new love, and you will smile and remember.

During his short life Foley worked with Gurf Morlix, Van Zandt and Calvin Russell, among others. His songs have been covered by Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett, and John Prine. Townes wrote “Blaze’s Blues” about his friend, and Williams wrote “Drunken Angel” as a tribute to Blaze. Morlix released Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream, a collection of Foley’s songs, and a documentary film, Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, was released in 2011. The “beautiful loser” lives on.

Three things to know about (the death of) Blaze Foley (1) he is buried in Live Oak Cemetery in South Austin, (2) at his funeral his friends wrapped his casket in duct tape, and (3) Van Zandt claimed that he and friends dug up Foley’s body to retrieve a pawn ticket for Townes’ guitar.

If you love Blaze Foley, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Townes Van Zandt, Mary Gauthier and Mickey Newbury.




It is absolutely worth your while to rediscover the recently passed Jesse Winchester, a writer of uncommon heart, wit and grace.

Born in 1944 in Bossier City, Louisiana and raised in Memphis and Mississippi, Winchester started playing guitar in high school and continued at Massachusetts’ Williams College. Shortly after graduating in 1966, he received a draft notice and, instead of reporting for Vietnam, boarded a plane for Montreal. He would become a Canadian citizen and stay there for thirty-five years despite the fact that President Carter granted amnesty to draft evaders in the seventies.

Winchester joined a Montreal band called Les Astronautes and began to write his own songs. Word got around and Robbie Robertson came to meet him, and agreed to produce his first album, Jesse Winchester, recorded in Toronto and released in 1970. Third Down, 110 to Go followed in 1972, then Learn to Love It in 1974, Let The Rough Side Drag in 1976. Be sure to revisit “Mississippi You’re On My Mind”, a 1974 love letter to the south from a young man very far from home.

Jesse released the incredible Nothing But a Breeze in 1977, the same year that Rolling Stone credited him with “the greatest voice of the decade”. That voice. Longing and hope and conscience all dipped in southern honey. Deep wisdom mixed with silly lust and sung in perfect pitch. A captivating, beautifully controlled yodel.

Winchester released four more albums, A Touch on the Rainy Side, Talk Memphis, Humour Me and Gentlemen of Leisure, before moving back to Memphis in 2002 for the love of a woman. He is remembered in Montreal as much for his Quebecois “ya’ll’s” as for his songs, rich in story, melody, rhythm and humor. He ultimately settled in Charlottesville, Virginia, and lived there with his wife until his death on April 11, 2014.

Over the years Jesse’s songs have been recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Elvis Costello, The Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Buffett.

During his life Winchester’s persona evolved into a sort of dancing Memphis dandy, best demonstrated in 1999’s Gentlemen of Leisure, a completely original gem that cannot be described but must be experienced.

Jesse released Love Filling Station in 2009. In 2012, notable artists paid their respect to Jesse on a tribute album, Quiet About It, including Tex-centrics Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell and Lyle Lovett as well as James Taylor, Rosanne Cash and Costello. It is a testament to Winchester’s performing prowess that none of these giants improve even a whit on his originals.

Winchester’s last album, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble, was posthumously released. Remember Jesse in the way he would have wanted. Listen to “good music, slow and steady, and share it.”

Three things to know about Jesse Winchester: (1) he arrived in Canada with $300, knowing no one, (2) he met Robertson in the basement of an Ottawa monastery, and (3) Jesse formed the band the Rhythm Aces, which ultimately became the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

If you love Jesse Winchester, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out BettySoo, Willis Alan Ramsey and James McMurtry.




Roy Orbison‘s voice might have been enough, as strong and versatile as ever to grace American roots music. But stack that voice next to the songwriting prowess and the stage presence of the yearning introvert with the thick glasses and the jet-black pompadour, and we remember why this kind heart was one of the early giants of rock and roll.

Like other such giants, Elvis and Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins and Little Richard, Orbison knew that rhythm was the bedrock of this new American form, this artistic and political tsunami, this child of R&B and blues. But he also understood, or at least intuited, that the rhythm was only the beginning, that the form could be taken in a thousand different directions. With this understanding he helped build the stage for the work of folks like, say, The Beatles.

His two most revered compositions show the range of Orbison’s talent. “Pretty Woman” is one of the best, and most famous, rock and roller albums of all time, gritty and driving and joyous and unforgettable, not even for a moment. The finest of the genre and a completely original marker that would liberate what was to come. “Crying” was at the other end of love’s spectrum, a composed wail of lost love that built to a powerful crescendo of grief and release.

Raised in Vernon, Fort Worth and Wink, Texas, Orbison was an awkward kid with bad eyes and a shy disposition. But he was an artist, through and through, and lived a life of music that began with a high school rockabilly and country band in West Texas, the “Wink Westerners”. Early on, having figured out that rock and roll was as much attitude as substance, he dyed his hair, picked up some dark Ray-Bans and became “The Man in Black”.

His career began with the legendary Sun Records in 1956 and ended with his death in 1988, and the road between was in turns brilliant and dismal..meteoric stardom and complete professional obscurity, lots of money, and unbelievable tragedy. His true love taken from him by his wife’s death in a motorcycle accident and the loss of two of his children in a house fire. Through it all Orbison remained both a brilliant artistic and an exemplary human being.

Early on he befriended the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and his influence on their work was both obvious and acknowledged. Like fellow West Texan Buddy Holly, he helped steer the ship of rock and roll in the early years, lighting the path to the future, whatever that would be.

The year 1964 saw the release of “Pretty Woman” and was the apex of his career. Then, in an array of personal tragedies and professional missteps, the wheels came off the tracks. Orbison fell into an obscurity that lasted into the mid-eighties. Then, in an almost meteoric series of events that commenced in 1986 and continued beyond his death in 1988, Roy was graced with the success he had earned and the legacy he deserved. In 1986, David Lynch released Blue Velvet, a disturbingly beautiful film that featured a perverse obsession with Orbison’s song “In Dreams”. The following year he was welcomed by Bruce Springsteen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, released In Dreams: The Greatest Hits, an album of fresh versions of his old songs, and recorded a stunning duet of “Crying” with the great k.d. lang.

In January of 1988, Springsteen honored Orbison with Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, a filmed Los Angeles concert featuring performances by Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bonnie RaittJackson Browne, T Bone Burnett, k.d. lang and, of course, The Man in Black. Finally, Orbison joined the Traveling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, and was there on their first album, released in October 0f 1988. Roy was also creating his last solo album, Mystery Girl, a magnificent piece and proof that his talent had neither faded nor diminished.

Roy Orbison’s many professional friends had succeeded in returning him to the public stage, but the satisfaction would not last long. Roy died of a heart attack on December 4, 1988. Mystery Girl would be released posthumously.

Three things to know about Roy Orbison: (1) he was neither blind nor albino, (2) he was introduced to music by listening to Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Lefty Frizzell, and (3) in 1987, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Springsteen.

If you love Roy Orbison, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Van Morrison, Doug Sahm and K Phillips.




Hailing from Gilmer, Texas, Freddie King held his own with B. B. King, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and other masters of the electric blues. In the cauldron of the early seventies Austin scene, “The Texas Cannonball” was the local ambassador of the blues, schooling young hippies at Armadillo World Headquarters and other legendary venues. Remembered in Texas as a kind giant with an armadillo bursting from his chest, King delivered the goods until his tank ran dry in 1976.

Although originally from Texas (born in Dallas), his family moved to the South Side of Chicago when he was six. That same year the youngster began learning to play rural country blues under the tutelage of his mother and uncle, and listening to the likes of Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Louis Jordan. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was beginning his journey to “stir the souls of millions and inspire and influence generations”. This prophetic vision, courtesy of his great grandfather, a full-blooded Choctaw, would serve as a driving force in King’s life.

King was a student of the blues, full of grit and determination. He played records over and over, learning and perfecting the smallest licks and details, then put a distinctive Freddie King spin on it all. He developed his thumb and finger picking style of his own, in contrast to B.B. King’s single-string style and the manic slide style of another hero, Elmore James. Other Chicago mainstays helped Freddie hone his craft and carve out his own place in history, including Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Hound Dog Taylor.

That success didn’t come easy, though. King was repeatedly refused the opportunity to record for the premier South Side blues labels, ultimately bolting for the up and coming West Side scene. There he found his place, and the world finally found Freddie King.

His influence on other artists was as deep as it was wide. He toured with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown and played alongside such greats as Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mick Taylor and Lonnie Mack. The list of those he influenced is just too long to cover, but his songs were performed by the likes of Magic Sam, Dave Edmunds, Peter Green, and a host of others. It’s a sure bet that a certain South Side label regrets missing Freddie’s mark.

King lived his life like he played his music…fearless, full throttle and larger than life. Ultimately, his body couldn’t take the wear and tear of touring 300 days a year. King left us all too early at the age of forty-two. His legend remains, however, and his presence can still be felt in the work of a hundred guitar greats, both in the blues and rock genres.

Three Things (no, make that six…this guy is a true legend) you should know about Freddie King: (1) he was one of the first bluesmen to have a multi-racial backing band at live performances, (2) in Chicago he married a fellow Texan, Jessie Burnett, (3) he recorded and produced an album with Eric Clapton called “Burglar”, (4) he picked cotton just long enough to earn the money to purchase a good guitar, (5) he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, and (6) he preferred a bloody mary to solid food to save time when setting up for a show.

If you love Freddie King, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Carolyn Wonderland, Ruthie Foster and K Phillips.




Jimmy LaFave, who passed away on May 21, 2017, was another Austin artist who took the building blocks of folk and country, strength, soul and an acoustic guitar, and made something all his own.

Born in Wills Point, Texas, outside of Dallas, LaFave came of age in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and his music also bears the distinct imprint of time spent on that rugged and fertile ground. Every song is a celebration, of joy, of new love or old love, of strength or justice or the just way that things should be. Work and love and what’s right. Seems pretty simple.

As a young man, LaFave helped birth the “red dirt” scene, a strongly sincere and purely Oklahoma take on progressive country. He moved to Austin in 1992, and after having devoted more than twenty years and fifteen albums to the songwriting life, his local influence had grown to where there is now such a thing as a “Jimmy LaFave song”, whether written by Jimmy or not.

LaFave’s ballads are soaring testaments to joy and hope, a dusty voice pulling you into a very big heart. His rockers are stirring soups of old style rock and roll and rockabilly, with a little gospel thrown in to heavy the load. The road was a common theme, but while many artists sing about the pain of leaving, Jimmy would much rather have celebrated the joy of arriving.

Three things you should know about Jimmy LaFave: (1) he was a disciple of the great Woody Guthrie, and was a regular contributor and performer at the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma, (2) he was a respected interpreter of the work of Bob Dylan, and occasionally Bruce Springsteen, and (3) he listed Oklahoman Chet Baker, a mystical genius of jazz, as an important influence.

If you love Jimmy LaFave, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Michael Fracasso, Eliza Gilkyson and Walt Wilkins.




Perhaps the purest poet of all Texas songwriters, Townes Van Zandt wrote essential love songs and portrayed the shattered lives of lonely outsiders. Sometimes his fingers stumbled, and his voice was barely up to the task, but there was never any music more real. Brutal observations of life’s lows, often based on personal experience, followed by a lullaby of perfect beauty and hope.

Born of a prominent Fort Worth family, Van Zandt didn’t live anywhere for long, bouncing between Austin, Houston, Nashville, Colorado and other places of refuge. A wanderer and a troubadour, never far from trouble, his heart gave out in 1997, just too big to last too long.

His father gave him a guitar for Christmas in 1956, and after watching Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show that same year, decided he too would become a musician.

Townes was an intelligent and precocious child but began to struggle with depression as a young man, and would struggle with alcohol and drug dependencies his whole life. In 1962 he was diagnosed with manic depression and received insulin shock therapy that erased much of his short-term memory. He was then prevented from joining the Air Force after a finding of acute depression.

Van Zandt decided to seriously pursue his artistic ambitions and began playing regularly in Houston clubs, where he met folks like Lightning Hopkins, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Eric Taylor. He started out covering the songs of others but was soon writing his own stuff, and making a splash with the quality of that work. In 1968 he met Mickey Newbury, who invited him to Nashville and introduced Townes to “Cowboy” Jack Clement, who would become his producer well into the future.

Over his career Van Zandt released ten albums of original work. He died of heart failure on New Year’s Day, 1997, leaving his then wife Jeanene and four children, John Townes “J.T.” Van Zandt II, William Vincent Van Zandt, Katie Belle Van Zandt and Chad Whitson. Three LP’s of demo material were released after his death.

Van Zandt is touted as the heart and soul of Texas songwriting, and is an acknowledged influence on an array of important artists, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Gillian Welch and Conor Oberst, and his songs have been covered by artists too numerous to mention. His songs always silenced the room. They still do.

Townes Van Zandt lived life the only way his soul permitted. His ghost is always with us, just beyond the light, gaunt but smiling, fire in his eyes and liquor on his breath. Performers reach for his songs at the end of the night, maybe in tribute, or maybe because they need them just like the rest of us.

Three things to know about Townes Van Zandt: (1) Van Zandt County in East Texas is named for his family, (2) Townes’ closest friends were Guy and Susanna Clark, and they spent much time around the Clark’s kitchen table in Nashville, schooling young writers, and (3) after his death, and according to his wishes, Israeli singer David Broza recorded Night Dawn: The Unpublished Poetry of Townes Van Zandt, a random collection of Townes’ unreleased poems and lyrics which he set to music.

If you love Townes Van Zandt, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams and Mickey Newbury.




>Janis Joplin‘s short life illuminated many hard truths. The isolation of a social outsider, the perils that lay in wait for a willful and hard spoken woman and the deadly mix of insecurity, hard fame and unbridled self medication. Her life also stood for the ferocious cultural collision of black blues, poor white soul and the driving and newfound rock and roll of the sixties, and the resulting impacts on America, good and bad.

Born in the petroleum wilderness of the Texas Gulf Coast, Joplin hit Austin in the early sixties and immediately made her mark on the burgeoning folk scene. Soon she was hanging out and singing with the legendary >Kenneth Threadgill and igniting the sparks of what would become the Live Music Capital of the World.

From there she traveled an arc of genius and loss that ended in her overdose death in 1970 at the age of twenty-seven. Her memory continues to sear at the collective American consciousness. She reminds us of how we often mistreat those that seem different, of  the repression of raw female sexuality, of how fame and adoration sometimes lead to abject loneliness. She also reminds us of the visceral celebration of love and life that was her art.

Janis didn’t sing, she stomped and wiggled and wailed her way through a song. She was rock and roll at its finest and most elemental. Pure energy, pure abandon, pure love. But off stage was a different matter…constant battles with self worth in a world that was often less than kind. Everyone was mesmerized by the spectacle of Janis Joplin, but the world kept her at arm’s length, and destroyed her in the process.

Janis was regarded as a singer, but she also wrote songs, alone and with others. Great songs like “I Need a Man to Love”, “Kozmic Blues”, “One Good Man”, “Women Is Losers” and the unforgettable “Mercedes Benz”.

Three things to know about Janis Joplin: (1) in 1962, the campus newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin portrayed her as a very early hippie; (2) for a while she wheeled around San Francisco in a psychedelic Porsche, and (3) she was romantically linked to Kris Kristofferson when she died.

If you love Janis Joplin, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Carolyn Wonderland, Freddie King and Lucinda Williams.




Gram Parsons was born Ingram Cecil Connor III, in 1946 in Winter Haven, Florida, to Coon Dog and Avis Connor. By his death at the age of twenty-six, he had forged a beautiful union of the infantile urges of rock and roll and the timeless wisdom of traditional country music. Parsons just knew that these distinct American art forms were a natural fit, if not a marriage then a fine affair, and he pulled on his Nudie suit, grabbed them both by the neck, and made it so…an unlikely accomplishment and, all in all, a good life’s work.

“Cosmic American Music”, Gram called it, and in the beginning it existed only in his restless imagination. But it was the beginning of the sixties, the world around him was diving off the cliff of what-was into the churning sea of what-will-be, and by the age of sixteen the boy from Florida was playing folk music in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village coffee houses. While attending Harvard for a semester in 1965, the vision was cemented when he had the chance to see Merle Haggard perform, and by 1968 he had joined The Byrds and influenced their album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which is generally considered the first major “country rock” album. Also in 1968, to the consternation of Ralph Emery and the Nashville establishment, Parsons and The Byrds were the first “hippies” to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

In short order Parsons and Chris Hillman left the band to form The Flying Burrito Brothers and released two more milestones of early country rock, The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe. Then he moved to France to hang out with Keith Richards for a while, coming back inspired to begin a solo career and with the help of a young Emmylou Harris, released two albums of original work and covers, GP and Grievous Angel, before succumbing to the typical excesses of the time in September of 1973. The story of his death is a sordid tale and the stuff of legends.

Parsons made country music cool for an entire generation of longhairs and rock and rollers. He was a courageous advocate of the pure joy and beauty of this preeminent American folk music, and while he left a relatively small body of original work, his music is still beloved and celebrated, his contributions to the art of songwriting deep and profound. If ever there was a fallen angel, it was Gram Parsons.

Three things to know about Parsons: (1) he met Emmylou at a music club in Washington, D.C., (2) just prior to his death, he played to loving crowds at the Armadillo World Headquarters and Liberty Hall in Houston, and (3) for a decade an annual festival called Gram Fest was held at Joshua Tree, California.

If you love Gram Parsons, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Willis Alan Ramsey, Steve Earle and Joe Ely.




Raised in a Fort Worth musical family, Stephen Bruton grew into a pillar of the Austin music scene before his death in 2009. He made his name as a prized session and touring guitarist, but evolved into a producer and mentor, shaping the work of veterans and up and comers with musical prowess, reliable taste and kind demeanor.

Bruton’s raw talent was discovered in the early seventies when Kris Kristofferson drafted him to play guitar, and over the next twenty years or so he also served in that capacity for Bonnie Raitt, and played alongside folks like Bob Dylan, T-Bone Burnett, Willie Nelson, Delbert McClinton, Rita Coolidge, Christine McVie, Malford Milligan, Yogi Musgrove, Elvis Costello and Carly Simon. Over time he produced records for Kristofferson, Alejandro Escovedo, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Hal Ketchum, Storyville, Chris Smither and the Hellbillies of Norway. His looks and talent got him roles in movies and on television.

Stephen also wrote great songs. Moving glimpses of love and loss, rolling testifiers to the freedom he chose and lived to the hilt. Between 1993 to 2005 he released five solo albums of moving original work, including What It Is, Right on Time, Nothing but the Truth, Spirit World and From the Five.

He was the genesis of the best damn weekly residency ever to grace the stages of Austin, The Resentments, and worked with folks like Jon Dee Graham, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Jeff Plankenhorn, Bruce Hughes, Miles Zuniga and a continuing roster of all-star guests. The group released three phenomenal albums, and they still put on a show every Sunday night at the Saxon Pub.

Bruton was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 but reacted with strength, resolve and an acceleration of creativity. He recorded a stellar traditional album, The Texas Sheiks, with Geoff Muldaur, Cindy Cashdollar, Suzy Thompson, Johnny Nicholas and Hughes. He also helped Burnett and Ryan Bingham write and perform the music for the film Crazy Heart, which was released after Stephen’s death in May of 2009 and dedicated to his memory.

Stephen Bruton was a hell of a Texan. He is remembered with great love, and his talents are sorely missed.

Three things to know about Stephen Bruton: (1) as a boy he worked in his family’s record store in Fort Worth, (2) his brother is noted blues guitarist Sumter Bruton, and (3) he played Captain Almeron Dickinson in the 2004 film The Alamo.

If you love Stephen Bruton, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Bob Schneider.




Doug Sahm’s influence on Texas music is not well enough known, but impossible to overstate. With his original stew of rock and roll, country, soul, Tejano and rhythm and blues, a little Motown and a little psychedelic polka, Sahm pushed the scene along for close to fifty years until his untimely death in 1999. He pulled us into unexpected eddies and cultural confluences, always with a smile on his face and a Pearl in his hand. “You just can’t live in Texas unless you got a lot of soul”, he said, and then set out to prove it so.

Sir Doug was a child prodigy. He came of age on the stages of San Antonio, made his name posing as part of the British invasion, and moved to San Francisco (with the likes of Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter and Boz Scaggs) as a Texas ambassador to the Summer of Love. In the seventies he moved to Austin, his “Groover’s Paradise”, to help fuel its exploding musical adventure. He stayed for the rest of his life.

First there was the Sir Douglas Quintet, San Antonio boys with Beatle cuts, then the Texas Tornados, with Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez. The fabulous Augie Meyers was always by his side. Sahm could lay down a sad country tune, but his trademark was something else entirely, a sort of rolling Texas jump funk that pulled hippies, rednecks and old folks alike out on the dance floor. His lilting drawl and hammering guitar, Augie’s pumping Vox, the testifying honk of Rocky Morales and the West Side Horns. Joy, set to rhythm.

Check out “Beautiful Texas Sunshine”, a sketch of the carefree Austin of the seventies, and imagine laying on a big slab of limestone with the lover of your dreams, clear waters swirling all around you, “Cowboy Peyton Place”, a two-steppin’ ode to serial heartbreak and “Just Groove Me”, a classic Sahm bluesy groove that will have you sliding and swaying around the kitchen table.

Doug’s son Shawn carries on the tradition in Austin with the Tex-Mex Tradition, and second son Shandon is a noted drummer with the Meat Puppets. In 2008, Austin dedicated Doug Sahm Hill to the man, looking over the lake in downtown Austin. He would have considered that groovy.

The happy hippie in a ten-gallon hat, the original cosmic cowboy, the pied piper of the Texas Hill Country. Doug Sahm changed our music forever.

Three things to know about Doug Sahm: (1) he sang “Teardrops In My Heart” on San Antonio radio at the age of five, (2) in Austin, 1953, two weeks before his death, Hank Williams pulled Doug up onstage to play, (3) in 1973, Atlantic Records released Doug Sahm And Band, featuring appearances by Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg and Flaco Jimenez.

If you love Doug Sahm, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Joe Ely, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.