Leon Russell R.I.P.

photo by Scott Newton

The Austin City Limits staff was sorry to learn about the passing of rock & roll legend Leon Russell on Sunday at the age of 74. Though not a household name like so many others of his generation, the piano-pounding singer/songwriter was an important trailblazer of 60s and 70s rock and a prime influence on artists as diverse as Elton John, Bruce Hornsby and Pixies vocalist Black Francis. After relocating from Tulsa to Los Angeles in the 1950s, the Oklahoma native became a first-call session musician, playing on records by the Byrds, Glen Campbell, Gary Lewis & the Playboys and many, many more, including regular dates for super-producer Phil Spector. In the late 60s, Russell became musical director for British soul singer Joe Cocker, producing his 1969 hit self-titled album, penning the hit single “Delta Lady” and pulling together the loose conglomeration that backed Cocker on his star-making live LP Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

Russell’s solo career began in earnest in 1970 with his eponymous LP, which contains the standard “A Song For You,” as covered by everyone from Ray Charles to the Carpenters to Amy Winehouse. (Not to mention Willie Nelson, whose recording of the song from the 1975 ACL pilot gives our upcoming documentary its title.) Russell worked prolifically from then on, as songwriter, producer, sessioneer and solo artist. As well as label owner – his Shelter Records housed not only his own work (including gold records Leon Russell and the Shelter People, featuring “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and Carney, featuring “Tight Rope” and “This Masquerade”) but also Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Freddie King, J.J. Cale, the Dwight Twilley Band, the Gap Band and the sole album by Texas’ own Willis Alan Ramsey.

For the last 30-odd years the iconoclastic Russell worked in any idiom that struck his fancy, merging rock, country, blues, jazz, bluegrass and Dixieland into a style uniquely his own. He’s toured and worked extensively with Willie Nelson and B.B. King, among others. In recent years he teamed up with longtime admirer Elton John for the 2011 duets record The Union, produced by T Bone Burnett, and most recently released the album Life Journey in 2014. He continued to tour, slowed down only by a heart attack earlier this year. Russell was a man living within in his own place in time, not a revivalist but a revival unto himself. He will be missed.

Russell appeared on Austin City Limits twice: as a headliner in Season 14 (1987) and as a guest of Willie Nelson in Season 25 (2000). The clip below is taken from the former, and features his take on his great ballad “A Song For You.”

Austin City Limits Hall of Fame 2016 induction ceremony a huge success

photo by Gary Miller

Last night we were thrilled to induct three giants of American music into the third annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame: B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Kris Kristofferson. The evening featured one-of- a-kind music performances and tributes from Willie Nelson, Billy Gibbons, Mavis Staples, Rodney Crowell, Gary Clark Jr., Taj Mahal, B.B. King’s Blues Band and Eve Monsees. 

Bill Stotesbery, KLRU-TV, Austin PBS CEO and Terry Lickona, Executive Producer of Austin City Limits welcomed to the crowd to the special evening.

Comedy supercouple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally hosted the celebratory evening which will air on New Year’s Eve on PBS. The entertaining duo kicked things off with a playful attempt to claim the Hall of Fame inductions for themselves, before introducing the night’s first inductee: legendary songwriter Kris Kristofferson. Singer/songwriter and Austin City Limits veteran Rodney Crowell took the stage to pay tribute to one of his heroes and greatest influences. Clad all in black, Kristofferson accepted his award saying, “This is as good as it can get!” Crowell then moved center stage to lead the house band in a rollicking rendition of Kristofferson’s “Chase the Feeling” and an expressive version of his classic ballad  “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” The man himself then arrived for another pair of ballads, specifically the hits “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” and the oft-recorded “For the Good Times,” his voice craggy with experience. Kristofferson then welcomed fellow Austin City Limits Hall of Famer and longtime friend Willie Nelson to the stage, who plugged in Trigger and led everybody in a shuffling take on Kristofferson’s signature tune “Me and Bobby McGee,” to a huge smile from its writer.

Offerman and Mullally returned to introduce the induction of Bonnie Raitt, and gospel soul great Mavis Staples took the stage (to a standing ovation) in order to induct her longtime friend with a touching and hilarious speech. Raitt accepted her award with excitement and humility, then joined Staples onstage for a romp through the swampy Bob Dylan/Danny O’Keefe co-write “Well Well Well.” Staples then quit the stage to be replaced by eclectic bluesologist Taj Mahal for the rocking “Gnawin’ On It,” with Raitt, house band guitarist David Grissom and Mahal (on harp) trading solos around. Willie Nelson joined Raitt onstage to reprise their duet on Stephen Bruton’s (her former guitarist) lovely “Getting Over You,” recorded by the pair on Nelson’s landmark LP Across the Borderline twenty years before. One standing ovation later, Raitt thanked the hardworking Austin City Limits crew and welcomed Staples and Mahal back to the stage for “Thing Called Love.” The trio enhanced the John Hiatt song that’s become one of Raitt’s signature tunes with electric ukulele and sanctified tamborine for a kick-ass performance.

Mullally and Offerman delivered a shout-out to house bandleader Lloyd Maines, introducing the night’s ace band before intermission. The second act began with KLRU-TV CEO Bill Stotesbery returning to the stage to induct Dick Peterson, who worked for KLRU from 1984-2008. A TV veteran with decades in the business, the Austin native took over as Austin City Limits executive producer after co-creator Bill Arhos retired in 2000, and received his award for his decades-long work behind the scenes. The night’s hosts returned to introduce the evening’s final inductee: great blues titan B.B. King. Rock legend and blues scholar Billy F. Gibbons from ZZ Top took to the stage to induct one of his greatest inspirations. King’s award was accepted by Myron Johnson, the bluesman’s longtime personal assistant and tour manager. Offerman and Mullally returned to inform the audience that the trophy would reside in the B.B. King Museum and to introduce the B.B. King Blues Band – not only the band that backed King on the road for many years, but in the case of some of them, musicians who appeared with the King of the Blues on his 1983 debut ACL appearance. Fronted by guitarist/singer Jesse Robinson in King’s absence, the band rolled into a faithful take on his classic “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss.” Gibbons then came back, fronting a trio with King drummer Herman Jackson, Austin organist Mike Flanigin and, of course, himself on guitar. The threesome reached back to the 60s for the 12-bar “The Jungle,” with Gibbons and Flanigin trading blistering solos. The band segued immediately into “You Upset Me Baby,” King’s lascivious #1 R&B single from 1954.   

The King band re-took the stage, joined by previous inductee Raitt and guitar great and Austin native Gary Clark Jr. The pair launched into “The Thrill is Gone,” probably King’s most famous song, filling it with scintillating singing and sizzling solos. Raitt exited and Clark took the spotlight for a faithful “Three O’Clock Blues,” the Lowell Fulsom song that was King’s first hit in 1952. Clark then brought on his friend and Austin blues standout Eve Monsees.  The pair, who learned the blues together while still in high school, romped through King’s 1953 single “Woke Up This Morning.”Willie Nelson returned to the stage to join Clark Jr. for a relaxed but blues-soaked version of “Night Life,” the Nelson original that became a staple of King’s setlist. Nelson’s distinctive picking proved itself as adept at the blues as the country for which he’s known.

Offerman and Mullally came back and brought the entire cast with them for a memorable grand finale- the inductees, the guests and both the house band and the King band. The all-star line-up went into “Everyday I Have the Blues,” another indelible King hit that helped define not only his career, but the genre itself. Both band and audience had a great time, the latter on its feet for the entire song. The celebratory evening came to a close with the entire cast singing a serendipitous version of “Auld Lang Syne” to mark the event’s New Year’s Eve broadcast, with a take so bluesy King’s spirit was surely smiling. For the crowd it might as well have been the real thing, considering the kissing, hugging and celebration going on. Mullally and Offerman thanked everyone for coming and it was over. It was quite a night, the best Hall of Fame ceremony yet, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this Dec. 31 on your local PBS station.

ACL announces Hall of Fame 2016 talent and ticket on-sale date

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Austin City Limits announces an all-star line-up of performers for the 2016 ACL Hall of Fame Inductions and Celebration on October 12, 2016: Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, Rodney Crowell, Gary Clark Jr. and Taj Mahal are slated to perform in tribute to the newest class of inductees. The celebration will feature one-of-a-kind music performances and tributes, as three giants of American music are inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame: B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Kris Kristofferson. Comedy super couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally will emcee the celebratory evening. Joining the superstar line-up will be honorees Kris Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt, who will also perform at the ceremony. More information about performences, presenters and additional guest stars will be announced prior to the event.

The event is open to the public and will take place at ACL’s studio home, Austin’s ACL Live at The Moody Theater. Tickets are on-sale May 20th at 10am at acltv.com/hall-of-fame. Musical highlights and inductions from the ceremony will be broadcast in a special episode as part of ACL’s Season 42 which premieres in the fall on PBS.

The Austin City Limits Hall of Fame was established in 2014 to celebrate the legacy of legendary artists and key individuals who have played a vital part in the pioneering music series remarkable 40+ years as a music institution. The inaugural induction ceremony in 2014 honored Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Lloyd Maines, program creator Bill Arhos and Darrell Royal. 2015’s second annual ACL Hall of Fame ceremony honored Asleep at the Wheel, Loretta Lynn, Guy Clark, Flaco Jiménez and Townes Van Zandt, along with the original crew of the show’s first season in 1974-75.

The 2016 Austin City Limits Hall of Fame is sponsored in part by SanDisk, Stratus Properties, Heritage Title Company of Austin, Dell and Cousins Properties. For sponsorship opportunities contact Laura Villagran at lvillagran@klru.org.

Austin City Limits announces Hall of Fame 2016 inductees

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Austin City Limits is proud to announce the newest class of Austin City Limits Hall of Fame inductees: late blues titan B.B. King, songwriting icon Kris Kristofferson and the legendary Bonnie Raitt. The 2016 ACL Hall of Fame inductees will be celebrated at a ceremony highlighted by all-star music performances to be held October 12, 2016 at ACL’s studio home, Austin’s ACL Live at The Moody Theater. The event will be open to the public and ticket onsale information will be announced at a later date.  

The announcement was made this evening by KLRU-TV, Austin PBS General Manager Bill Stotesbery at an event in Austin. “We established the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame to pay special tribute to the people that have helped make the show the standard bearer for music on television,” said Stotesbery. “Now in its third year, we’re proud to honor three incredible performers. Each one has a catalogue of work that has influenced generations and been a vital part of the history of Austin City Limits.”

The latest class of inductees features music legends who have all graced the ACL stage multiple times, setting the standard for excellence and contributing to more than four decades of incredible performances. Legendary bluesman B.B. King made two classic appearances on Austin City Limits, in 1983 and 1996. When he first appeared on ACL in 1983 it was rare for a blues artist to command a full hour on national television; his powerhouse performances rank as two of the finest in the show’s illustrious history.  An American original, Kris Kristofferson is regarded as one of the world’s greatest songwriters.  The charismatic Texas native has been a fixture on the music scene since the 1960s, penning some of the most beloved songs of all time.  He debuted on ACL in 1982, returning in 1997 and 2010 and for ACL’s 40th anniversary special in 2014.  Ten-time Grammy-winner Bonnie Raitt is one of the most revered artists in music.  Over four decades into a remarkable career, on the eve of her twentieth release, the magnetic singer-songwriter-guitarist continues to deliver outstanding work.  Raitt has played an invaluable role in ACL’s history, with standout performances on the series in 1984, 2002 and 2012 and returning for the 40th anniversary special in 2014.

The Austin City Limits Hall of Fame was established in 2014 in conjunction with the iconic television series’ 40th Anniversary to celebrate the legacy of legendary artists and key individuals who have been instrumental in the landmark series’ 40+ years as an American music institution. The invitation-only inaugural induction ceremony took place April 26, 2014 at ACL’s original Studio 6A. Hosted by Oscar-winning actor and Texas native Matthew McConaughey, the historic evening honored the first class of inductees, featuring American music icon Willie Nelson (who starred on the original ACL pilot program), Austin blues rock giants Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and legendary steel guitarist and Grammy Award-winning music producer Lloyd Maines. In addition, non-performers who played a key role in the evolution of the program were honored: original show creator Bill Arhos and longtime ACL supporter, Texas Longhorns football head coach Darrell Royal. A star-studded line-up paid tribute with incredible music performances, including: Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph, Doyle Bramhall II and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The second annual ACL Hall of Fame ceremony took place June 18, 2015, honoring Western swing institution Asleep at the Wheel, country icon Loretta Lynn, songwriting legend Guy Clark, master Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jiménez and the late Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt. In addition, the original television production crew that worked on the first season of ACL in 1974/1975 were recognized in the non-performer category for their contributions in setting the foundation for the series. Hosted by Dwight Yoakam, the event featured memorable moments and musical highlights from an all-star cast including Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, Jason Isbell, Patty Loveless, Gillian Welch, Laura Marling, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, Los Texmaniacs and JT Van Zandt.  

About the 2016 Austin City Limits Hall of Fame Honorees:

photo by Scott Newton

B.B. King:

The foremost ambassador the blues has ever had, the late, great B.B. King brought the genre to new artistic and popular heights with his powerful voice, incomparable axework and classic songs. With his guitar “Lucille” strapped to his chest, the undisputed King of the Blues made two legendary appearances on ACL in 1983 and 1996. King’s debut episode was recorded in 1982 and originally broadcast in 1983 as part of Season 8.  The 11-song set spans the length and breadth of his career to that point, from his then-new album Love Me Tender (including “Since I Met You, Baby” and the title track, a cover of the Elvis Presley classic) to his own standards “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “The Thrill is Gone.”  In a powerhouse performance, King hits full-force with a voice that is neither harsh nor sweet, that bends, like his fingers, with each note. “There was electricity in Studio 6A that night like no other,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “It was pure B.B. – just him, Lucille and one of the best road bands he ever toured with. He mixed up hardcore blues with Elvis ballads, and had the audience in the palm of his hand, following his every lead. It was historic!”

photo by Scott Newton

Kris Kristofferson:

Rhodes scholar, Golden Gloves boxer, college football player, film actor, acclaimed songwriter, social activist—few artists can boast the kind of freewheeling career enjoyed by songwriting legend Kris Kristofferson.  The Brownsville, Texas native gave up a promising military career in favor of life as a self-described “songwriting bum,” arriving on the music scene in the 1960s.  He expanded the language of country music songwriting with emotional truth and revealing honesty, penning enduring classics (“Me and Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “For the Good Times”) that continue to resonate with audiences worldwide.  His incredible body of work includes his many film and television roles, (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, A Star is Born, Lone Star).  An American original, he is a lifelong activist who continues to speak out on social justice and human rights issues. Kristofferson first appeared on ACL in 1982, returning in 1997 and 2010 and for the series 40th anniversary special in 2014.

photo by Scott Newton

Bonnie Raitt:

More than just a best-selling artist, respected guitarist, expressive singer, and accomplished songwriter, Bonnie Raitt has carved out an enviable forty-five year strong career. The ten-time Grammy winner was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and Rolling Stone named the slide guitar ace one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” Her landmark albums Nick of Time and Luck of the Draw have secured her place as an American music treasure. Raitt’s widely-acclaimed 2012 release Slipstream sold over a quarter-million copies, making it one of the top selling independent albums, and earned Raitt her 10th Grammy Award (Best Americana Album). A tireless performer with decades of non-stop touring under her belt, in 2012 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance from the Americana Music Association. In February 2016, Raitt releases her highly-anticipated 20th album, Dig In Deep. When not burning up highways on tour with her band, the devoted activist has championed and spoken out on behalf of many social causes. Raitt performed on ACL in 1984, 2002 and 2012 and most recently for the series’ 40th anniversary special in 2014.  

Encore: B.B. King May 30th

photo by Scott Newton

Once again for the first time, welcome to the Austin City Limits stage: the King of the Blues, Mr. B.B. King.

B.B. King personified blues music for the whole world,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, “but when he first appeared on Austin City Limits in 1983 it was rare for a blues artist to command a full hour on national television.” In honor of the late, undisputed King of the Blues, ACL is proud to bring that iconic hour out from the vault and back to television for the first time in 22 years.

The first of two legendary appearances on ACL, King’s debut episode was recorded in 1982 and originally broadcast in 1983 as part of Season 8. The 11-song set spans the length and breadth of his career to that point, from his then-new album Love Me Tender (including “Since I Met You, Baby” and the title track, a cover of the Elvis Presley classic) to his own standards “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “The Thrill is Gone.” In a powerhouse performance, King hits full-force with a voice that is neither harsh nor sweet, that bends, like his fingers, with each note.

“There was electricity in Studio 6A that night like no other,” says Lickona. “It was pure B.B. – just him, Lucille and one of the best road bands he ever toured with. He mixed up hardcore blues with Elvis ballads, and had the audience in the palm of his hand, following his every lead. It was historic!”

“He was larger than life, but a gentle man with a kind soul and big heart. His ACL performance ranks as one of my personal favorites, and I was never more proud than when he somehow slipped ‘Austin City Limits’ into the lyric of his classic rendition of Willie Nelson’s ‘Night Life.’  We’ve lost a giant.”

Go here for more information on this episode, and check here to see where/when you can catch it. Be sure to follow our Facebook and Twitter pages for the latest ACL update, and subscribe to our newsletter for even more info. Next week: Bob Mould and Delta Spirit.

B.B. King 1925-2015

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits is saddened to learn of the passing of B.B. King. Not only did the King of the Blues visit Studio 6A for two classic performances in 1983 and 1996 (the latter recorded on his 70th birthday), but the man born Riley B. King made a massive contribution to American culture. The blues would not have been the same without BB’s hits: “Three O’Clock Blues,” “Sweet Little Angel,” “How Blue Can You Get,” “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother,” “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss,” “Playing With My Friends,” the titanic hit “The Thrill is Gone.” The world will be a sadder place without the creator of those classics in it.

“B.B. King personified blues music for the whole world,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona, “but when he first appeared on Austin City Limits in 1983 it was rare for a blues artist to command a full hour on national television. He was larger than life, but a gentle man with a kind soul and big heart. His ACL performance ranks as one of my personal favorites, and I was never more proud than when he somehow slipped ‘Austin City Limits’ into the lyric of his classic rendition of Willie Nelson’s ‘Night Life.’ We’ve lost a giant.”

May he rest in peace.

 

ACL @ the Alamo: Stevie Ray Vaughan

photo by Scott Newton

ACL @ the Alamo returns on August 27 with a special evening featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan. First up is Stevie Ray Vaughan: A Retrospective, our season 20 episode that combines the Texas guitar slinger’s 1984 and 1990 appearances with his band Double Trouble. All your favorites are here: “Love Struck Baby,” “Texas Flood,” “Pride and Joy,” “Cold Shot,” “Crossfire” and an absolutely incandescent version of “Riviera Paradise.” While these performances have been released on DVD before, they’ve never been seen before on a big screen, and we’re excited to make that happen.

Following the Retrospective will be A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, a PBS pledge special filmed in the ACL studio that presents Stevie’s music as performed by his friends and fans, including B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Dr. John and, of course, Stevie’s brother Jimmie, who also leads the band. Far from a somber occasion, this show is a true celebration of Stevie’s musical legacy, with joyful performances. As with the Retrospective, this has been available on DVD but never shown in a theater.

As always, this screening benefits the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, a most worthy organization. You can find the skinny on tickets here. If you’re in Austin, please join us!