Ralph Stanley R.I.P.

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits mourns the loss at 89 of a true musical giant: Ralph Stanley. The Virginia native was not only a bluegrass titan as a performer, but as an innovator. Along with Flatt & Scruggs, his brother Carter and Bill Monroe, Stanley could lay claim to helping create one of America’s most distinctive musical forms. His high, lonesome singing, virtuoso clawhammer banjo picking and vast repertoire had a tremendous influence on bluegrass, folk, country, gospel and Americana. Though he didn’t write them, Stanley’s renditions of old-timey tunes “Little Maggie,” “Pretty Polly,” “O Death,” “Angel Band” and “Man of Constant Sorrow” (re-popularized by the film O Brother Where Are Thou) made them standards in the American songbook.

“Ralph Stanley was the last of the living bluegrass legends, after Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs,” remarked ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “Like the others, he invented his own sound, his clawhammer banjo style came straight out of the hills, and his voice sounded like it had been around since the beginning of time itself. He was a gracious gentleman, with a gentle spirit. His appearance on ACL with Bill Monroe in 1986 was historic, a rare performance by the two bluegrass giants. Another important part of America’s musical past is gone.”

Here is Stanley with his Clinch Mountain Boys in 1980 with his signature song “Little Maggie.”

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.”

Guy Clark 1941-2016

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits is saddened by the passing of legendary singer/songwriter Guy Clark this morning after a long illness. Along with his compadre Townes Van Zandt, the Monahans, TX native and longtime Nashville resident wrote new rules for starkly honest songwriting. Distinctive from the West Coast confessional approach and the East Coast folk revival, the writing that came out of the  Lone Star State in the late 60s and early 70s defined a new style of songsmithery that has proven hugely influential not only on Texas music, but on what would become known as Americana. The author of inarguable classics “L.A. Freeway,” “Dublin Blues,” “The Cape,” “Heartbroke” and “Desperadoes Waiting For a Train,” Clark sat in front of a large, talented and influential class, showing everyone with a guitar and a pen how it’s done.

Clark appeared on Austin City Limits seven times, in 1977, 1982, 1983, 1990, 1998, 2000 and 2008, and was inducted into the ACL Hall of Fame in 2015 by Lyle Lovett, who said, “He is my hero. His songs have touched all of us in Texas and people around the world.”

“Call him the ‘Dean’ or ‘King’ of Texas songwriters, he was simply the best there was, and set the standard for all the others,” said ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “If you want to know what makes Texas songwriters different, just listen to Guy Clark. He was a storyteller and a rascal with a poet’s heart. Most of the personal stories I have about him I can’t tell, but maybe someday. I doubt if there will ever be anybody else quite like him.”

May he rest in peace with his wife Susannah and his best buddy Townes in that great songwriters’ bar in the sky.

Here’s Clark singing “Depseradoes Waiting For a Train from his 1977 debut appearance:

“L.A. Freeway” from the 1983 songwriters special:

“Dublin Blues,” from the Lyle Lovett & Friends guitar pull, 2008:

Merle Haggard 1937-2016

photo by Scott Newton

We at Austin City Limits were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of the great Merle Haggard on his 79th birthday, due to complications from pneumonia. An American original often cited as the greatest country singer of all time, Haggard made an incalculable contribution not just to country music, but American music in general. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know at least a handful of his many classics. “Mama Tried,” “Big City,” “Silver Wings,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “Okie From Muskogee,” “Daddy Frank,”  “If We Make It Through December,” Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” “Sing Me Back Home” – these songs are essentials threads in the fabric of the American musical tapestry. 

Haggard appeared on our show a total of nine times, in 1978, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1994 and 1996 (twice). “Other than Willie, Merle Haggard was the first major country artist to appear on Austin City Limits in its early years (season 3), and he appeared many times since,” said ACL executive producer Terry Lickona.” He told me once that he was so proud of his ACL performances that he considered them ‘a scrapbook’ of that time in his career. He was a maverick and a true original.”

Below is Haggard from his first appearance on ACL in Season 3, 1978. May he rest in peace.

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.

 

Johnny Gimble 1926-2015

photo by Scott Newton

We here at Austin City Limits were saddened to learn of the passing of the great Johnny Gimble, Texas swing and C&W fiddler extraordinaire. The Tyler, Texas native and Dripping Springs resident was 88.

Following a stint in the army, Gimble played with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in the late 40s, appearing on the classic 1950 recording of “Faded Love.” After spending a few years in Waco working as a barber and raising a family, the fiddle virtuoso moved to Nashville and became a first-call session musician. Gimble appeared on recordings by Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Marty Robbins, Ray Price and his longtime musical running buddy Willie Nelson, with whom he toured in the late ‘70s. Gimble was also recruited for Nashville session supergroups the Million Dollar Band (frequent performers on Hee Haw) and the Superpickers, and backed Carrie Underwood at the Grammy Awards in 2007. He also scored a country hit of his own in 1983 with “One Fiddle, Two Fiddle,” featuring Ray Price, and appeared in Clint Eastwood’s film Honkytonk Man as his old boss Bob Wills. His most recent album is 2010’s Ray Benson-produced Celebrating With Friends, recorded in collaboration with the Country Music Hall of Fame. That album also includes performances with his singer/pianist daughter Emily, who makes her ACL debut later this year as a member of Asleep at the Wheel.

Gimble was also a frequent guest on Austin City Limits, appearing numerous times with Willie Nelson, as well as making memorable appearances with the Superpickers in Season 4 and on the Season 6 Mandolin Special, on which he demonstrated his expertise on his other instrument, the electric mandolin. Gimble fronted a double-header episode in Season 5, headlining the first half and leading the Texas Swing Pioneers in the second half.

“Aside from being a Texas Playboy, he was the most renowned Country and Western Swing fiddler – ever!” remarked ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “He played with heart and soul and had an infectious spirit and sense of adventure – in both his music and personality. Before Lloyd Maines set the current record, Johnny played more times on ACL than any other musician. There was a time when everybody wanted Johnny Gimble to play on their show.”

Our condolences go out to his family and friends, of which he had hundreds. May he rest in peace.

 

Goodbye, Steven Fromholz

Steven Fromholz on ACL

We here at Austin City Limits were saddened to learn of the passing of Steven Fromholz, songwriter, poet, author, actor, playwright and whitewater river guide who was named the Poet Laureate of Texas in 2007. Along with Michael Murphy, Rusty Wier, Bobby Bridger and Willis Alan Ramsey, Fromholz was part of the original wave of Austin singer/songwriters from the early 70s who combined counterculture values with folk and country to create a whole new Texas thing. Best known for “Bears,” “I’d Have to Be Crazy” and the iconic “Texas Trilogy,” Fromholz appeared on ACL five times, including in the first season and as part of Lyle Lovett’s 25th season tribute to his influences, Step Inside This House. He will be missed.

 

Ray Price: R.I.P.

Ray Price

We here at Austin City Limits were saddened to learn that country music legend Ray Price passed away yesterday at the age of 87. The Texas native, whose hits included “Crazy Arms,” “Heartaches By the Number,” “Night Life” (written by his pal Willie Nelson) and the immortal Kris Kristofferson song “For the Good Times,” appeared on ACL three times.  Price’s first appearance came in a 1980 songwriters special which was followed by memorable solo appearances in 1981 and 1999.

“I remember Ray as a class act, a true gentlemen,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “He blazed his own trail, gave Willie his first gig, and left an indelible mark on country and pop music.” Our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and fans.

Watch Ray Price’s 1981 ACL segment below. *Note that only the first 20 minutes will play on this page; to watch the entire 28-minute segment, please click through and watch it at video.pbs.org. Thanks.