Leon Rausch R.I.P.

photo by Scott Newton

We here at Austin City Limits are saddened to learn of the death of Western swing legend Leon Rausch.  The Texas Playboys singer passed on May 14 in Fort Worth. He was 91.

Born in Billings, Missouri in 1927, Rausch grew up in the Show-Me State, singing with the family trio. After serving in the armed forces during the Korean War, he and his wife Vonda moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, with Rausch finding work in a glass factory and singing on the weekends with Johnnie Lee Wills, the younger brother of Western swing titan Bob Wills. The elder Wills recruited Rausch to the Texas Playboys in 1958 for a partnership that lasted until 1963, when Rausch left to form his own band.

The singer reunited with Wills for the latter’s final album, 1973’s For the Last Time. After Wills passed in 1975, leadership of the Playboys passed on to Rausch and steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe. Rausch continued to be the voice of Western swing, with and without the Playboys, until his death. He will be greatly missed.

“Leon was not only the voice of The Texas Playboys in their final days, he pretty much personified what made their music so much fun to listen – and dance – to,” remarked ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “Western Swing has lost a real champion.”

Rausch appeared on Austin City Limits four times, including the debut episode of ACL’s first season, and most recently with Asleep At the Wheel in Season 41. Below are a pair of clips from those appearances: “San Antonio Rose,” the first song from the Playboys’ first appearance on the show in 1976, and “Milk Cow Blues,” in collaboration with the Wheel in 2015.  

Austin City Limits #101: Texas Playboys – San Antonio Rose from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.

Austin City Limits #4102: Asleep at the Wheel With Leon Rausch – Milk Cow Blues from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.

Raymond D. “Son Geezinslaw” Smith 1942-2019

Son Geezinslaw, right; photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits was disheartened to learn of the death this weekend of Raymond D. Smith, AKA Son Geezinslaw of ACL three-timers the Geezinslaw Brothers, nearly a year after the passing of his partner-in-crime Sammy Allred. He was 77.

The Geezinslaws were one of Austin’s first breakout acts, with a career going back to the fifties and stints on the Louisiana Hayride with Elvis Presley. The pair released twelve albums over the course of forty-plus years, starting in 1963 with The Kooky World of the Geezinslaw Brothers and concluding with 2005’s Eclectic Horseman. The duo scored with cuts like “Five Dollar Fine,” “I Wish I Had a Job to Shove,” “Help I’m White and I Can’t Get Down” and unique takes on classic tunes like the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” and Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Besides ACL, the band appeared on The Tonight Show, The Smothers Brothers Show and The Roger Miller Show. “As a boy. Son would walk down the streets of old south Austin to guitar lessons,” noted his obituary in the Austin-American Statesman. “As a man, he played before presidents, across the screens of America’s televisions, and with some of the greatest legends of Country and Western Music.”

Unlike Allred, whose radio career continued apace after the final Geezinslaws record, Smith stayed out of the spotlight once the band had run its course. “Son was easily characterized by his thorny exterior,” says the Statesman. “Perhaps we would call him the perpetual diamond in the rough, but after being preceded in death by his wife and daughter, those that really knew him could see that bashful self that had been singing us truths for the past sixty some odd years.”

“Son had the voice, Sammy brought the schtick,” says ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “But seriously, Son was a great country singer, and combined with Sammy’s offbeat comedy, there’s been nobody quite like them ever since. In their own way, they were ‘keeping Austin weird’ even before there was such a thing.”

The Geezinslaws performed on ACL in 1982, 1986 and 1989. Below is a clip of the duo putting their own spin on My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live,” preceded by Allred paying tribute to his poker-faced compadre in his own unique way.

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.”

Dick Peterson 1943-2018

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We here at Austin City Limits are deeply saddened to report the death of former ACL executive producer Dick Peterson.

An Austin native, Dick started working for KLRU-TV after college in the mid-sixties, back when it was still KLRN and a shared station with San Antonio. Following a stint in the Air Force, he returned to public television via WQED, the home station for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, before moving on to KUHT in Houston and KAET in Phoenix. Dick then moved on to the Mecca of television production: Hollywood. While there, he worked as an editor for sitcoms The Bob Newhart Show, Maude (whose star Bea Arthur called Dick “a peach”) and the short-lived Maggie Briggs, whose headliner, Suzanne Pleshette, called Dick her favorite editor.

Dick returned to KLRU in 1984 to take over as vice president of production. In that role he brought the skills and professionalism he learned while in Hollywood, applying those same standards to local productions, including Austin City Limits. He also brought a mastery of stretching budgets, knowing how to get the most out of limited funds – a not inconsiderable skill in the waxing and waning fortunes of public broadcasting. When he became executive producer of Austin City Limits in 2000, he was able to adhere to the production values for which ACL had become known during years lean and fertile. Never a fan of the spotlight, Dick stayed resolutely behind the scenes, rarely, if ever, taking credit for the work he did for the show.

Dick retired from KLRU in 2009. “Dick did many great things for KLRU and for Austin City Limits,” says KLRU Vice President of Programming Maria Rodriguez, who worked with Dick for three decades. “And he loved working with people. Dick will be greatly missed.” ACL producer Jeff Peterson adds, “No one cared more about KLRU and ACL.”

Current executive producer Terry Lickona calls Dick “one of the most important and unforgettable people in KLRU history. During my time as producer of ACL, I worked with him for over two decades when he was VP Production, then executive producer. He stayed out of the spotlight (mostly in the back of the room during a taping), but his larger-than-life presence was felt by everyone, from volunteer to senior management. But most of all I remember that smile (slightly embarrassed – he hated having his photo taken!) and laugh.”

“Some of my best years have been spent at KLRU with a great group of experienced, creative, dedicated friends that are the best in the country,” Dick once said while reflecting on a near-50 year career in television. “I am one lucky dude.”

Dick was a true believer in public television as an idea, a means of communication and a standard by which to tell stories, and he believed in Austin City Limits as a way to convey those values. It’s why, in the last years of his career, he’d taken to signing off his correspondence with a simple but elegant phrase that encapsulated his belief: keep the faith. We will, Dick. Thanks for your guidance.

Dick was inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame in 2016. His time with and importance to the show was captured in the video below, produced for the induction ceremony.

Roy Clark 1933-2018

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We at Austin City Limits extend our condolences to the family and friends of country guitarist, singer and comedian Roy Clark, who passed away today at the age of 85.

The always smiling, fleet-fingered multi-instrumentalist was born in Virginia and raised in New York and Washington, D.C. After winning multiple guitar and banjo championships and appearing on the Grand Ole Opry as a teenager, Clark became a regular on Jimmy Dean’s D.C-area TV show. He went on to play with Western swing bandleader Hank Penny and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. When Dean hosted The Tonight Show, he invited Clark to perform, introducing the nation to his protegé’s prodigious musical skills. Clark signed with Capitol Records in 1963 and scored several top 10 hits on the country charts. In 1969, he became the host of country comedy program Hee-Haw, a post he would hold for nearly a quarter of a century, until the show’s demise in 1993.  The show had an audience of more than 30 million viewers at the height of its popularity.

Though his Hee-Haw stint brought him his biggest fame, it ended up obscuring Clark’s musical talent, which was considerable. A master guitarist, banjoist, fiddler and mandolinist, Clark was conversant in many styles of music, as apt to play jazz, blues and rock & roll as country and bluegrass. He could throw down with the best of them – not just country pickers, but bluesmen Gatemouth Brown (with whom he appeared in a memorable double-header episode of Austin City Limits in 1980) and Count Basie. Though he was no slouch as a comedian, as Hee-Haw and appearances on The Odd Couple and The Beverly Hillbillies attest, it’s ultimately his amazing musical skills that will be his legacy, as he proved with regular performances at his theater in Branson throughout the nineties and ‘aughts.

Clark appeared on ACL in 1980 with Gatemouth Brown, as noted above, and again in 1982 for a solo show that was released that same year on LP at The Roy Clark Show Live From Austin City Limits. Here he is in 1980 playing one of his signature songs, “Under the Double Eagle.”

 

Tony Joe White R.I.P.

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits is saddened to learn of the sudden death of singer/songwriter Tony Joe White of a heart attack at 75.

The Louisiana native started playing music while still in high school, inspired to start writing songs after hearing Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” “Polk Salad Annie,” his fifth single, reached the top ten in 1969 and was the herald of his distinctive swamp rock sound, a funky blend of blues, soul, country and rock & roll that took advantage of his wah-wah guitar and deep, growling voice. While he never gained that kind of chart standing again, he had plenty of success as a writer with classic songs “Rainy Night in Georgia” (B.J. Thomas, Brook Benton), “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” (Dusty Springfield), “Steamy Windows” (Tina Turner), “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” (Elvis Presley, who also recorded “Polk Salad Annie”) and “¾ Time” (co-written and performed by Ray Charles), along with many others. He appeared on Austin City Limits in 1981 with a wide-ranging survey of his brilliant catalog. White continued to tour and record throughout the decades, with his most recent LP Bad Mouthin’ released in September of this year.

Tony Joe White was one of a kind, a pioneering iconoclast who can never be replaced. Here he is from his episode of ACL with “Polk Salad Annie.”

Paul Allen R.I.P.

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Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the death of tech and investment giant Paul Allen non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 65. The Seattle native co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, which, along with Apple Computers, revolutionized the computer industry. After leaving Microsoft in 1982, he branched out, founding investment firm Vulcan Capital and investing in aerospace technology, sports franchises, film production and real estate. An accomplished guitarist himself, Allen released an album Everywhere at Once with his band the Underthinkers.  Allen also founded the non-profit Seattle’s Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (now combined into the Museum of Pop Culture) and the Flying Heritage Museum.

Allen also founded the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that gives billions of dollars to scientific and medical research (with a particular interest in preventing the spread of the ebola virus), environmental and conservation concerns, educational organizations and exploratory efforts. Austin City Limits has been one of the beneficiaries of his generosity – he helped us pay for the preservation of our video archives. That’s forty-four years of performances and over 8,000 hours of musical treasures, on various living and extinct formats – a major challenge for any archive, and one that would have been impossible to overcome without the support of Paul Allen.  

“He was fond of saying, ‘If it has the potential to do good, then we should do it,’” noted his old friend and partner Gates on Allen’s passing. We can attest to his devotion to that motto. May he rest in peace.

Ponty Bone 1939-2018

photo by Scott Newton

The folks here at Austin City Limits were saddened to learn of the death on Friday of singer/accordionist Ponty Bone, an Austin institution. He was 78. He appeared on ACL with Joe Ely in 1980 and 1996, with Jimmie Dale Gilmore in 1992 and with his own showcase in 1987 as part of Season 12’s Squeezebox Special.

Born and raised in San Antonio, Harry DePonta Bone began accordion lessons when he was five years old. Moving to Lubbock in the sixties to attend Texas Tech, he became part of the beloved “Lubbock Mafia,” taking Texas music by storm alongside Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Tommy Hancock and the other West Texas luminaries who resisted any idea of musical categories. Bone moved to Austin in 1980 as part of the Joe Ely Band, he formed the Squeezetones a couple of years later, recording several albums while continuing to work as a sideman for Ely, Gilmore and Christine Albert on her landmark LP Texafrance. His output slowed down in recent years as his health declined, but his spirit never surrendered.

Well-versed in conjunto, zydeco, polka and any other kind of music that required an accordion, Ponty Bone never failed to bring the party whenever he stepped onstage. Here he is from the Squeezebox Special with “a little thing that represents my personal philosophy in life,” “Easy As Pie.”