R.I.P. Whitey Shafer

Whitey Shafer on ACL 10

Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the death of C&W songwriter Whitey Shafer on Jan. 12 after a long illness. He was 84.

Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer was born in Whitney, Texas, where he first played in school bands. After touring the country with a then-unknown Willie Nelson, he moved to Nashville in 1967 intending to make it as a singer. However, it was his songs that caught the country music establishment’s ear, and before long he was scoring hits with George Jones (“Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong”), Moe Bandy (“Bandy the Rodeo Clown”), Keith Whitley (“I Wonder Do You Think of Me”) and Johnny Rodriguez and Merle Haggard (“That’s the Way Love Goes,” co-written with Shafer’s pal Lefty Frizzell). He also wrote two of George Strait’s iconic hits: “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” both number ones and both nominated for CMA “Song of the Year” awards.

In recent years Shafer continued writing for contemporary country stars like Lee Ann Womack, John Michael Montgomery and Kenny Chesney. In 2004, Shafer earned a different kind of hit, as his own recording of “All My Ex’s” appeared on the soundtrack of the hit video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Few country songwriters of his generation can claim that, and it’s one of many reasons we’ll not see his like again.

Shafer appeared on ACL in 1980 and 1981 as part of a two-part Songwriters Special, and again in 1985 under his own name. Here he is in 1985, singing “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind.”

Freddy Powers 1931-2016

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of yesterday’s passing of the great Freddy Powers at the age of 84. His name may not be immediately familiar, but his songs are. The Oklahoma-born/Texas-raised “country jazz singer” wrote or co-wrote hits for George Jones (“I Always Get Lucky With You”), Willie Nelson and Janie Fricke (“A Place to Fall Apart”) and, most prolifically, Merle Haggard (“Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star,” “Natural High,” “Amber Waves of Grain,” “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room”). He also co-produced Nelson’s platinum album Somewhere Over the Rainbow, hosted the CableACE nominated talk show Rogers and Hammerhead and appeared with Haggard frequently as opening act and special guest, as well as releasing his own albums. On top of all that, he served a stint in the Marines, was a staple in 1970s Las Vegas and appeared on both The Tonight Show and The Today Show. Having already accomplished more than most in one lifetime, Powers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004, which slowed down his productivity. But he continued to write and perform as long as he was able to sit in front of an audience and entertain. Along with his buddies Nelson and Haggard and co-author Jake Brown, Powers completed his memoirs, entitled The Spree of 83 and due to be published in February 2017.

“Freddy might not have been a household name, but most of his musical buddies were,” says ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “Willie & Merle were two of his closest friends, and they were kindred spirits, musically and personally. He had an infectious passion for what can best be called country jazz, and he had a direct hand in bringing Willie and Merle together for one of the most memorable songwriters shows we ever did, in Season 9. He was also a remarkable songwriter; my favorite was ‘I Always Get Lucky With You,’ which became part of Merle’s repertoire for many years. Freddy’s spirit lives on!”

Powers appeared on Austin City Limits four times: in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1996. Here he is in 1984 with his pals Willie ‘n’ Merle with “After You’re Gone.”

George Jones R.I.P.

photo by Scott Newton

We here at ACL were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of George Jones this morning at the age of 81. Few country singers had as big an impact on the genre as Texas native Jones, whose career includes such iconic hits as “White Lightnin’,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Race is On” and, of course, the immortal “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” He had a big impact on us as well, appearing on the show in 1981, 1986 and 1990.

“George Jones ranks right up there with Hank Williams in my book as one of the all time greatest country singers,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “He was the first major country star I booked in my third year as ACL producer, when he and his voice were in their prime. It was an uplifting, breathtaking performance.”

May he rest in peace.

Darrell K. Royal – in memoriam

Darrell K. Royal, published in the book Austin City Limits by Clifford Endres. Photographed in Studio 6A by Scott Newton.

We here at ACL were saddened to learn that legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell K. Royal passed away this morning at the age of 88. Not only was Royal the “winningest coach in University of Texas history,” as noted by the Austin-American Statesman, but he was also a longtime friend of Austin City Limits. He helped us grease the wheels with the many artists he knew personally, including Merle Haggard and George Jones. The “guitar pulls” at his house that featured his buddy Willie Nelson and veteran and up-and-coming writers inspired our Songwriters Specials. And we also remember him as being one of our most loyal fans. His friend Terry Lickona, ACL executive producer, had this to say:

“Darrell Royal – or just Coach, as we called him – was one of the best friends Austin City Limits had back in its early days. He would come to many, if not most, of the tapings in the original Studio 6A. In fact, we saved a special seat for him at practically every show, ‘just in case.’ It was in the corner of the back row of the middle bleacher, where everyone entering could see him and he could greet the fans as they came in. In fact, he actually helped us book Merle Haggard during Season 3, at a time when most major artists had never even heard of the show. He had a passion for music, especially songwriters, a quick wit, an iron-grip handshake and an ear-to-ear smile. There are few, if any, Austin icons like him left.”

Goodbye, Coach. May you rest in peace.

Coach and Willie Nelson at the Austin Opry House, 1977. Photo by Scott Newton. Copyright 1977 Scott Newton.