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.