Austin-based guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter Denny Freeman passed away Sunday, April 25th, from cancer at the age of 76. Freeman was an integral part of Austin’s seminal blues scene, coming up alongside the Vaughan Brothers, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and more.
After growing up in the Dallas area, he landed in Austin in 1970, where he became a staple on the town’s blues stages and played with many ACL favorites. He shared lead guitar duties with Stevie Ray Vaughan in the Cobras, founded Southern Feeling with ATX blues mentor W.C. Clark and Angela Strehli, and became a member of the Antone’s house band, backing the likes of Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and Lazy Lester. He worked closely with Austin blues siren Lou Ann Barton, and recorded and toured with Jimmie Vaughan. After moving to Los Angeles in the early 90s, he became a mainstay in Taj Mahal’s touring band.
Before moving back to Austin in 2011, Freeman landed his most high-profile gig yet as lead guitarist for Bob Dylan. His five-year tenure in Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour band included a headlining spot at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the recording of the singer/songwriter’s acclaimed LP Modern Times. He also made records with soul singer Percy Sledge, Stevie Ray Vaughan co-writer Doyle Bramhall, and L.A. scene keyboard veteran Barry Goldberg. Along the way he released six mostly instrumental solo records of his own.
As a key member of Austin’s blues mafia, Freeman appeared on Austin City Limits three times: in Season 15 with W.C. Clark, in Season 20 with Jimmie Vaughan, and in Season 26 with Double Trouble and Friends. Here’s Freeman in 1990 tearing up his Stratocaster with Clark and Angela Strehli on “Big Town Playboy.”