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.”
Kick off the New Year with a good ‘un: Austin City Limits presents ACL Hall of Fame: The First 6 Years, a special broadcast featuring a victory lap of some of the finest performances from the first six years of the annual ACL Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, from the inaugural induction celebration in 2014 to 2019’s sixth annual ceremony. The Austin City Limits Hall of Fame was established in 2014 to honor beacons of American music who have played an instrumental role in making the iconic music series a music institution. The 14-song, all-star salute, recorded live in Austin, Texas, features best–in-class performances and collaborations, many never-before-broadcast, from the annual celebrations in a performance-packed hour with Hall of Fame honorees including Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson performing alongside special guests. ACL Hall of Fame: The First 6 Yearspremieres Saturday, January 2 at 8pm CT/9pm ET. Check local PBS listings for times. The special will be available to music fans everywhere to stream online beginning Sunday, January 3 @10am ET at pbs.org/austincitylimits.
The Hall of Fame celebration captures one-of-a-kind performances and emotional moments as the hour kicks off with the very first inductee into ACL’s inaugural Hall of Fame in 2014: Willie Nelson, who appeared on ACL’s pilot episode in 1974, and performs his classic “On the Road Again” joined by special guests Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett. Blues giant Buddy Guy, a 2019 inductee, performs an electrifying take on his gem “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” joined by a longtime friend, bluesman Jimmie Vaughan. For her induction in 2017, Rosanne Cash shares the stage with friends Elvis Costello and Neko Case, trading verses on her early chart-topping anthem “Seven Year Ache,” joined by legendary guitarist Ry Cooder. A trio of music’s most expressive vocalists, Chris Isaak, Brandi Carlile and Raul Malo, join forces to celebrate the legendary Roy Orbison’s 2017 induction with a joyous rendition of the pioneering rocker’s signature “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Isbell performs a moving solo rendition of Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark’s classic, “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” saluting the 2015 inductee. Bonnie Raitt celebrates her induction in 2016 teaming up with handpicked guests Mavis Staples and Taj Mahal on a blazing rendition of her smash “Thing Called Love.” Kris Kristofferson, a fellow 2016 inductee, lights up the stage with a moving, solo acoustic performance of his early 70s classic “Lovin’ Her Was Easier.” Celebrating her induction in 2019, Shawn Colvin delivers a captivating performance of her early gem “Diamond In the Rough,” from her 1989 debut Steady On, joined by a pair of Texas singer-songwriters, Sarah Jarosz and fellow inductee Lyle Lovett. The queen of country music, Loretta Lynn, who first appeared on the series in 1983, is celebrated during her 2015 induction by country singer Patty Loveless, with a stirring rendition of the living legend’s first number one country hit “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’”.
The “first family of funk,” The Neville Brothers, the first New Orleans act to appear on ACL in 1979, are saluted by Trombone Shorty and members of the next-generation Nevilles Band for a scorching NOLA-style tribute to the influential funk ‘n’ soul collective in honor of their 2017 induction. Legendary Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt is inducted in 2015 with an all-star tribute of his “White Freightliner Blues” with music greats Lyle Lovett, Ray Benson, Vince Gill, Gillian Welch, Dwight Yoakam and more trading verses on the classic. Blues-rock star Gary Clark Jr. puts down his guitar for the occasion and steps up to the mic to pay vocal tribute to 2018 inductee Ray Charles, delivering a radiant “Night Time Is the Right Time” while vocalists Ruthie Foster, Carolyn Wonderland and Shelley King do The Raelettes proud with show-stopping backing chorus. American originals Los Lobos join the fifth class of inductees in 2018 performing a classic from their celebrated four-decade career, “La Pistola Y El Corazon”. The broadcast comes to an epic close saluting blues-rock icon Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 2014 induction into the first class of inductees, as a murderers’ row of guitar greats, including Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy and Johnny Lang, perform a blistering “Texas Flood,” the Lone Star classic Vaughan made famous when he performed it on his now-classic 1983 ACL debut, in a performance for the ages.
Austin City Limits Hall of Fame: The First Six Years setlist:
Willie Nelson w/ Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett “On the Road Again”
Buddy Guy w/Jimmie Vaughan “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues”
Rosanne Cash w/Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Ry Cooder “Seven Year Ache”
Chris Isaak w/Brandi Carlile, Raul Malo “Oh Pretty Woman”
Jason Isbell “Desperados Waiting For A Train”
Bonnie Raitt w/ Mavis Staples, Taj Mahal “Thing Called Love”
Kris Kristofferson “Lovin’ Her Was Easier”
Shawn Colvin w/Lyle Lovett & Sarah Jarosz “Diamond in the Rough”
Patty Loveless “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’”
The Nevilles Band w/Trombone Shorty “Meet De Boys on De Battlefront”
All-Star Cast f. Lyle Lovett, Ray Benson, Vince Gill, Gillian Welch, Dwight Yoakam “White Freightliner Blues”
Gary Clark Jr. w/Ruthie Foster, Carolyn Wonderland, Shelley King “Night Time Is the Right Time”
Los Lobos “La Pistola Y El Corazon”
All-Star Finale f. Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Johnny Lang, Lukas Nelson, Doyle Bramhall II, Robert Randolph “Texas Flood”
Viewers can visit acltv.com for news regarding future tapings, episode schedules and select live stream updates.
About Austin City Limits
Austin City Limits (ACL) offers viewers unparalleled access to featured acts in an intimate setting that provides a platform for artists to deliver inspired, memorable, full-length performances. Now in its 46th Season, the program is taped live before a concert audience from The Moody Theater in downtown Austin. Austin City Limits is the longest-running music series in television history and remains the only TV series to ever be awarded the National Medal of Arts. Since its inception, the groundbreaking music series has become an institution that’s helped secure Austin’s reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World. The historic KLRU Studio 6A, home to 36 years of ACL concerts, has been designated an official Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Landmark. In 2011, ACL moved to the new venue ACL Live at The Moody Theater in downtown Austin. ACL received a rare institutional Peabody Award for excellence and outstanding achievement in 2012.
ACL Hall of Fame: The First 6 Years is produced by Austin PBS, KLRU-TV and funding is provided in part by AXS, Dell Technologies, and Cirrus Logic. Additional funding is provided by the Friends of Austin City Limits. Learn more about Austin City Limits, programming and history at acltv.com.
ACL @ the Alamo returns on August 27 with a special evening featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan. First up is Stevie Ray Vaughan: A Retrospective, our season 20 episode that combines the Texas guitar slinger’s 1984 and 1990 appearances with his band Double Trouble. All your favorites are here: “Love Struck Baby,” “Texas Flood,” “Pride and Joy,” “Cold Shot,” “Crossfire” and an absolutely incandescent version of “Riviera Paradise.” While these performances have been released on DVD before, they’ve never been seen before on a big screen, and we’re excited to make that happen.
Following the Retrospective will be A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, a PBS pledge special filmed in the ACL studio that presents Stevie’s music as performed by his friends and fans, including B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Dr. John and, of course, Stevie’s brother Jimmie, who also leads the band. Far from a somber occasion, this show is a true celebration of Stevie’s musical legacy, with joyful performances. As with the Retrospective, this has been available on DVD but never shown in a theater.