Don Williams R.I.P.

photo by Scott Newton

We here at Austin City Limits were saddened to learn of the death of country singer Don Williams at the age of 78.

Blessed with a smooth baritone and an imposing build, the Gentle Giant of country music became a potent force in the genre when his first single, 1974’s “We Should Be Together,” hit the top five on the country charts. When “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me” hit number one, it kicked off a string of top ten hits that lasted until 1991. Forty-two of his forty-six singles went top 10 – a remarkable feat in any genre of music. One of his biggest hits, “I Believe in You,” crossed over to the pop charts at #24. Possibly his signature song, “Tulsa Time” won the Academy of Country Music’s Single of the Year Award in 1978, the same year he was named Male Vocalist of the Year. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

Williams appeared twice on ACL, in 1980 and 1983. Here he is doing “Tulsa Time” from 1983.  

R.I.P. Glen Campbell

photo by Scott Newton

We at Austin City Limits were saddened to learn of the death of country pop great Glen Campbell at age 81.

The Arkansas native began his career as a first-call session guitarist in Los Angeles, playing as part of the infamous Wrecking Crew and adding licks to a staggering array of hits records: the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” and singles by everyone from Jan & Dean and the Monkees to Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole. In 1964, he subbed for the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson on tour and in 1967 sang uncredited lead vocals for the cult sunshine pop group Sagittarius.

Campbell scored his first solo hit on the country charts in 1966 with “Burning Bridges,” but it was in 1967 that he became a household name with “Gentle On My Mind.” He followed that with even bigger hits, forging a special bond with songwriter Jimmy Webb via “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston,” “Where’s the Playground Susie” and “Wichita Lineman,” which became his signature song. He parlayed his musical stardom into a major acting gig in the 1969 John Wayne vehicle True Grit, for which he also performed the title tune, and the host job on the popular TV show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour from 1969-1972.

Refocusing on music, Campbell earned some of his biggest hits in the 1970s, including the #1 pop smashes “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights” and the top 20 hit “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.).” While his pop stardom faded, he remained a major force on the country charts for years, also expanding into gospel and Christian music. In 2008, he released Meet Glen Campbell, an album featuring covers of songs by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the Replacements, Green Day and the Foo Fighters. His 2010 follow-up Ghost On the Canvas followed a similar vein, and was intended as a farewell LP. But his 2011 diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease led him to one final album (Adios, recorded in 2012-13 but released in 2017), a farewell tour and a documentary, 2014’s award-winning Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. His final recording, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” was released in 2014, by which time he was living in a Nashville memory care facility. He died in Nashville on August 8, 2017.

Campbell appeared on Austin City Limits during Season 10 in 1985. Here he is on the show performing his signature hit “Wichita Lineman.”

R.I.P. Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman performs on ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival 2011

Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the death of Gregg Allman from liver cancer on May 27, 2017 at the age of 69. The singer, songwriter, keyboardist and guitarist appeared on ACL with the Allman Brothers Band in 1996.

Though born in Nashville, Allman came of musical age in Florida in the mid-sixties, forming the Allman Joys with his guitarist brother Duane. The Joys evolved into the Hour Glass, which in turn morphed into the Allman Brothers Band. Based out of Macon, Georgia, the Allmans used their instrumental firepower and improvisational spirit to push the blues further than it had ever gone before. After Duane died in 1971, Gregg continued with the band, but also began striking out on his own, recording several LPS over the years both solo and with the Gregg Allman Band, and scoring hits with “Midnight Rider” (originally recorded by the Allmans) and “I’m No Angel.” He continued touring with the Allman Brothers Band until its dissolution in 2014.

In 2011 Allman released Low Country Blues and received a lifetime achievement award from the Americana Music Association. The next year saw the publication of his memoir My Cross to Bear. Before his death, Allman completed the Don Was-produced album Southern Blood, scheduled for release later this year. As he wrote in his book, “Music is my life’s blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, ‘Nice work, little brother—you did all right.’ I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I have had me a blast.”

Below, the Allman Brothers Band performs Gregg’s signature song “Midnight Rider” during Season 21 of the show in 1996.

 

R.I.P. Jimmy LaFave

photo by Scott Newton

Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the death of singer/songwriter Jimmy LaFave at the age of 61 after a yearlong battle with spindle cell sarcoma. The longtime Austin mainstay appeared on the show in 1996 as part of our Season 21.

Born in Wills Point, Texas, LaFave came of musical age in Stillwater, Oklahoma as part of a collective of songwriters who helped develop what’s now known as “Red Dirt music.” After relocating to Austin in the early 90s, LaFave became known for a sound the magazine Folk and Music Exchange rightly called “reminiscent of the Dust Bowl heritage of Woody Guthrie, the early rock of Chuck Berry, the quiet folk reflections of Bob Dylan, and the rock anthems of Bruce Springsteen.” He recorded several albums featuring his gritty voice and poignant songs over the course of his two-plus decades in Austin, including Austin Skyline, Highway Trance, Buffalo Return to the Plains, Depending On the Distance and his most recent LP The Night Tribe, named after his long-running band. LaFave gave an emotional farewell concert at Austin’s Paramount Theater on May 18, surrounded by his friends, family and peers, passing peacefully at home three days later. May he rest in peace.

You can watch his episode of Austin City Limits below.

Sharon Jones R.I.P.

photo by Scott Newton

We here at Austin City Limits were deeply saddened to learn about the premature passing of Sharon Jones after a heroic battle against pancreatic cancer, at the age of 60.

As anyone who ever saw her perform with her crackerjack band the Dap-Kings knows, the Brooklyn native was a powerhouse onstage. Her rich vocals and dynamic stage presence could rouse a dead man from his grave. She spent her first forty years as a session backup vocalist, wedding singer, corrections officer and armored car guard – it’s as if it all came bursting out when she was finally given her turn in the spotlight in 1996, when she recorded her first single “Switchblade.” Once she had the Dap-Kings writing for, producing and backing her on the road, she was unstoppable. She released a series of classic old-school soul and funk LPs on DapTone in the new millennium, starting with Dap Dippin’ in 2002 and sadly ending with her 2015 Christmas album It’s a Holiday Soul Party and compilation soundtrack to the acclaimed documentary Miss Sharon Jones! Tunes like “Stranger to My Happiness,” “I Learned the Hard Way” and “100 Days, 100 Nights” will last as long as the 60s soul and R&B classics that inspired them. With her unflagging optimism (even in the face of cancer) and soaring musical capacity, Sharon Jones was a shining light in an often dark industry, and she will be missed.

Jones and the Dap-Kings rocked the ACL house in 2008 during Season 34. Here she is performing the opening cut, joined by a member of our audience on the funky “How Do I Let a Good Man Down?”

Leonard Cohen 1934-2016

photo by Scott Newton

We at Austin City Limits are greatly saddened to learn of the passing of the great singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen at the age of 82.

Transcending genre, the Montreal native was one of the most unique figures in all of popular music. Many songwriters are credited with bringing literary acumen to their work, usually without any real justification. But for Cohen it’s true – he’d already had a career as a poet and a novelist before turning to music as his main artistic outlet, and he brought his full authorial weight to the songs he recorded. His lyrics reveal a craftsman’s eye, knowing exactly what words to include and what to leave out, and his melodies strip down to support the libretto without becoming forgettable backdrops. While often accused of dwelling too often in the darkness, his songs travel a wide range of emotional terrain, from anger to joy to confusion to, yes, depression, exploring them all with an intellectual’s wit and a poet’s sensitivity. Cohen had a special affinity for navigating that mysterious space between the sacred and the secular – unsurprising for this grandson of a rabbi and follower of Buddhism. His ability to blur the lines between the sensual and the divine highlighted the truth in unbridled passion and the grace in a sense of wonder – not for nothing did Cohen once claim he “Came So Far For Beauty.”

Cohen had a special connection to Austin. On the 1979 tour captured on the live album Field Commander Cohen, he used the Austin jazz fusion group Passenger as the core of his road band, and guitarist Mitch Watkins, keyboardist Bill Ginn, saxophonist Paul Ostermayer and, especially, bassist Roscoe Beck would be off-and-on staples of his backup groups from then on. (Longtime backing singer Julie Christensen also did time in Austin prior to joining Cohen’s troop.) Perhaps it was this connection that led to his decision to make his major U.S. television debut on Austin City Limits. Recorded on Halloween night in 1988 and broadcast in 1989, Cohen’s hour-long episode was and is one for the ages, a tour-de-force of songcraft and performance that has become one of our most beloved and requested shows.

“Leonard was not much aware of ACL until his Austin friends and cohorts convinced him to do the show,” remarks Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “The band played a late show in L.A. the night before and took the red-eye straight to Austin, arriving just in time for rehearsal. They were all wearing the same clothes (Leonard never did change), and his only request was for a bottle of tequila, which the band easily dispensed with. The show was mesmerizing, as was the reaction from viewers who had never heard or seen anything quite like him. Leonard told me some years later that that Austin City Limits performance ‘saved his career in America’ at a time when he had all but been forgotten.”

Cohen returned in 1993 in support of his trailblazing record The Future. The maestro was so pleased with the results he included two of the songs on his 1994 concert record Cohen LiveWe’re honored to have these two classic appearances to document his unforgettable legacy.  You can watch the first one below. 

 

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.”