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RIP Joe Sun

We here at Austin City Limits pay our respects to country singer Joe Sun, who passed away of natural causes Oct. 25 at his home in Florida. He was 76. 

After a stint in the Air Force and as a radio DJ, the Minnesota native went to Nashville in the seventies in hopes of becoming a country singer, scoring a hit in 1978 with “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You.” Over the next few years Sun earned seven more top 40 country hits, before turning his attention to Europe. He also recorded ads for Budweiser and Timberline Boots, and appeared in the 1985 film Marie with Sissy Spacek, Jeff Daniels and Morgan Freeman. His rich, bluesy voice and rootsy honkytonk sound will be missed. 

Sun appeared on ACL in Season 5, 1980, paired with Carl Perkins. Here he is with his biggest hit, “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You.” 

Austin City Limits #512: Joe Sun – “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You” from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.
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RIP Paul Barrere of Little Feat

We here at Austin City Limits are saddened by the passing of Little Feat singer, songwriter and guitarist Paul Barrere on Oct. 26. He was 71. No cause of death has been announced, but Barrere was undergoing treatment for liver cancer. 

The Burbank native joined Little Feat in 1972, just in time to record the band’s classic LP Dixie Chicken. Besides serving as an alternate singer and skilled guitar foil to bandleader Lowell George, Barrere wrote or co-wrote several Feat classics in its repertoire, including “Time Loves a Hero,” “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” “Old Folks Boogie,” “Down on the Farm,” “Skin It Back” and “All That You Dream.” When the band reconvened in 1988 following George’s death, Barrere assumed the frontman position, leading the Feat through a further nine albums, including the gold-selling Let It Roll and its most recent LP Rooster Rag. Barrere also played live and in the studio with Taj Mahal, Jack Bruce, Carly Simon, Chico Hamilton and Nicolette Larson, among others. In between the two eras of Little Feat, he recorded two solo albums and led the band the Bluesbusters. He will be missed by bandmates and fans alike. 

Little Feat performed on Austin City Limits in 1991. Here they are with the Barrere-led “Old Folks Boogie.”

Austin City Limits 1611: Little Feat – “Old Folks Boogie” from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.

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R.I.P. Art Neville of the Neville Brothers

Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the death of ACL Hall of Famer Art Neville, keyboardist, songwriter, singer and co-founder of funk/soul legends the mighty, mighty Neville Brothers and the Meters, and an ambassador for New Orleans music worldwide, on July 22. He was 81. 

The eldest Neville Brother, Art was born in 1937 in the Big Easy. Though he claimed that the brothers had no radio or records growing up, Art still discovered music, falling under the spell of both the 1950s doo-wop groups like the Orioles and the Drifters and the New Orleans piano greats Professor Longhair and Fats Domino – obvious influences on both his instrument of choice and the R&B harmonies of his brothers’ band. He scored a regional hit early on with the Hawketts, recording “Mardi Gras Mambo” when he was only 16. The song is still a staple of New Orleans Fat Tuesday celebrations. 

Following a stint in the Navy, Art formed Art Neville & the Neville Sounds, becoming the house band for Allen Toussaint’s many productions and eventually evolving into the beloved funk outfit the Meters. With the Meters, Art contributed the classics “Hey Pocky Way” and “Cissy Strut” to the musical lexicon, recorded acclaimed instrumental albums like Rejuvenation (named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time) and backed artists like the late Dr. John (“Right Place, Wrong Time”), LaBelle (“Lady Marmalade”) and Robert Palmer (Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley). 

Following the expiration of a contractual obligation that prevented them from working together, Art joined forces with his younger brothers Cyril, Aaron and Charles, backing their uncle, Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief George “Jolly” Landry on the landmark 1976 Wild Tchoupitoulas album, and released their self-titled debut as the Neville Brothers in 1978. The siblings recorded frequently and toured relentlessly for over thirty years, issuing classic albums like Fiyo On the Bayou, Yellow Moon and Valence Street and iconic songs “Sitting in Limbo,” “Brother John,” “Yellow Moon,” “Congo Square” and, of course, the immortal N’awlins anthem “Iko Iko.” Art also resurrected the Meters as the Funky Meters, continuing to perform with both groups as his health allowed until he retired from the stage in 2018.  

Called “the captain of the ship” by New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival director Quint Davis, Art Neville made three iconic appearances on ACL with the Neville Brothers, the first Big Easy band to grace the ACL stage: in Season 4 (1979), Season 11 (1986) and Season 20 (1995).  We were proud to honor them with an induction into the ACL Hall of Fame in 2017, featuring tributes from some of New Orleans finest including Trombone Shorty and the late Dr. John.  Here is Art singing the first number in the band’s 1979 ACL debut: the Neville Brothers classic “Sitting in Limbo.” 

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Amazing Rhythm Aces’ Russell Smith R.I.P.

Austin City Limits was saddened to learn of the July 12 passing of Amazing Rhythm Aces singer Russell Smith of cancer. He was 70. The group appeared on Austin City Limits in our second season in 1977. 

Born in Nashville, the Tennessean started his music career in the state’s other Music City, Memphis and co-founded the eclectic roots rockers Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1972. The band scored two hits from their 1975 debut Stacked Deck: the top 20 pop hit “Third Rate Romance” and the top 10 country hit “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song).” The Aces won a Grammy in 1976 for ‘The End is Not in Sight,” which took home the award for Best Country Vocal Performance By a Group. The band dissolved in 1980. 

Smith then moved into country music, writing songs for a wide variety of artists. He penned number 1 country hits for Randy Travis (“Look Heart, No Hands”), T. Graham Brown (“Don’t Go to Strangers”), Ricky Van Shelton (“Keep It Between the Lines”) and Don Williams (“Heartbeat in the Darkness”), as well as placing cuts with Tanya Tucker, Rosanne Cash, Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys and many others. Smith even scored a hit of his own with 1989’s “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.” 

Following two albums in the 1990s with the bluegrass novelty band Run C&W (which also included the Eagles’ Bernie Leadon), Smith rejoined the reformed Aces in 1994. The band continued to record and perform up to the present day. He will be missed by the Aces’ loyal fan base. 

Here he is from the Aces’ ACL episode, performing “Third Rate Romance”:

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Dr. John R.I.P.

Austin City Limits was disheartened to learn of the death of the legendary Dr. John of a heart attack on June 6, “at the break of day,” according to a statement released by his family. The Night Tripper was 77. He is survived by his wife, three daughters and sister.

The multi-Grammy winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was born Malcolm Rebennack on November 20, 1941 in New Orleans. At 13 he met Big Easy piano great Professor Longhair, a lifelong mentor. By the fifties he was one of the city’s first-call session guitarists, recording many sides for legendary producer Cosimo Matassa. He switched primarily to the piano only after having one of his fretting fingers shot in a bar fight in 1960, and became one of the New Orleans greats at the keyboard.

Following a mid-sixties stint in a Texas prison on drug charges, Rebennack moved to Los Angeles, joining a group of fellow New Orleans expatriates led by producer Harold Batiste and eventually ending up in the world-famous Wrecking Crew. A lifelong student of New Orleans voodoo, Rebennack created the character of Dr. John, combining the nascent psychedelia of the period with stories about the Senegalese prince of the same name, a nineteenth century NOLA spiritual and medicinal healer. Originally developed for his friend Ronnie Barron, the identity passed on to its creator when Barron was contractually obligated elsewhere. Dr. John the Night Tripper released his first album Gris-Gris in 1968, putting his own distinctive spin on New Orleans culture and reintroducing the city’s music and iconography to a new audience. He went even further with 1973’s Gumbo, a collection of Big Easy classics like “Iko Iko” performed in a more traditional (or as traditional as the Night Tripper would ever get) style that really brought the music of his hometown back to the masses.

Dr. John spent the rest of his long career alternating between celebrating his city’s jazz, blues and funk heritage and exploring a tripped-out ether all his own. He scored a top 10 hit with the irresistibly funky “Right Place, Wrong Time,” produced by Big Easy icon Allen Toussaint and performed with Neville Brothers precursors the Meters. He put his piano heroes Professor Longhair and James Booker back in the spotlight with 1981’s remarkable solo piano album Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack. He won the first of his six Grammys in 1989 for “Makin’ Whoopee,” a duet with Rickie Lee Jones from his album In a Sentimental Mood, a collection of pre-rock & roll standards. He won a Best Traditional Blues album Grammy for 1992’s Goin’ Back to New Orleans, a rollicking batch of NOLA standards that he brought to the ACL stage in Season 18. He spent the next quarter of a century going back and forth between tributes to his influences (Duke Ellington on 2000’s Duke Elegant, Johnny Mercer on 2006’s Mercernary, NOLA music godfather Louis Armstrong on 2014’s Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, his final album) and albums that dug back into his Night Tripper roots (1998’s Anutha Zone, 2001’s Creole Moon, 2012’s Locked Down, produced by Dan Auerbach and another Grammy winner).

Here is Dr. John performing “Goin’ Back to New Orleans,” from his 1993 appearance on Austin City Limits.

Austin City Limits #1803: Dr John – “Going Back to New Orleans” from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.

Rebennack became an activist for New Orleans following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, releasing the EP Sippiana Hericane in 2005 to benefit the New Orleans Musician Clinic and 2008’s groovy, scathing City That Care Forgot, another Grammy winner. He appeared in the Band’s 1978 concert film The Last Waltz and PBS’s 1995 A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan (recorded in ACL’s Studio 6A), contributed to the soundtrack of Disney’s New Orleans-set cartoon musical The Princess & the Frog (itself based loosely on NOLA activist and chef Leah Chase, who died just a few days before John) and served as the inspiration for Dr. Teeth, leader of the Muppets’ house band the Electric Mayhem. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University in 2013, becoming, as some wags noted, Dr. Dr. John. He returned to ACL in 2017 to join fellow NOLA all-stars in a salute to Fats Domino during the induction of N.O. legends the Neville Brothers for the ACL Hall of Fame.  That appearance ultimately became his last performance as he retreated from public life shortly after.

An in-demand collaborator, over the years Dr. John performed with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Van Morrison to Spiritualized. He is as much of an icon in New Orleans music as Louis Armstrong, Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas. The world is a brighter, stranger, groovier place for having him in it.

“As an entire generation of music icons continues to fade away, Dr. John not only embodied but in many ways personified an entire era of New Orleans musical culture,” comments ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “It took us almost 20 years to get the good Dr. to the ACL stage in 1993, but he was in rare form and obviously enjoyed himself. It was an honor to have our stage be his last public performance in 2017, honoring the great Fats Domino. You can’t help but smile when you think of Dr. John.”

Here’s the conclusion to Dr. John’s ACL episode, with the Night Tripper boogieing off stage left to the funky strains of “Capucine” as he’s boogied out of this mortal coil. He will be greatly missed.   


Austin City Limits #1803: Dr John – "Capucine" from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.

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Roky Erickson R.I.P.

We here at Austin City Limits were deeply saddened by the passing of the great Roky Erickson on May 31. He was 71.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Roger Kynard Erickson was the godfather of the Austin music scene. Pre-dating the cosmic country scene of the seventies, his Austin-based group the 13th Floor Elevators – the first band to whom the term “psychedelic” was applied on their 1966 debut The Psychedelic Sounds of – created an explosion heard ‘round the world with “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” an instant rock & roll classic. Originally performed by Erickson’s teenage band the Spades, the song would go on to be a staple in the repertoire of punk, garage rock, metal and psychedelic bands for decades afterward. If he had vanished from the face of the earth following the release of that single, he would still be a legend.

Fortunately for music fans, he didn’t. After three albums with the Elevators – including the psychedelic staple Easter Everywhere – and years of well-documented legal and health troubles (check out the documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me for the full story), Erickson came back strong in the late seventies with a string of singles and gigs, often backed by Austin power trio the Explosives. He enlisted ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook as producer for the overlapping albums Roky Erickson & the Aliens, The Evil One and I Think of Demons. Along with 1986’s harder rocking Don’t Slander Me, the LPs introduced a new batch of classic tracks, from “Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer),” “I Think of Demons” and “If You Have Ghosts,” to “Starry Eyes,” “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer” and “Creature With the Atom Brain.” His songs have been covered by Foo Fighters (who recorded “Two Headed Dog” in Studio 6A for ACL’s fortieth anniversary special), ZZ Top, R.E.M., Doug Sahm, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Ghost, the Butthole Surfers and many more. He was the subject of the 1990 tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, which became the model for the tribute LP deluge of the nineties.

Erickson remained active up to his death, releasing new albums All That May Do My Rhyme in 1995 and True Love Cast Out All Evil in 2010, collaborating with psych rockers the Black Angels and Okkervil River, and gigging regularly with a band led by his son Jegar, most recently at SXSW 2019. His visceral songwriting, slashing rhythm guitar and powerhouse vocals set a standard for psychedelic rock & roll that has been often emulated, but never matched. 

“Before there was a Willie, there was Roky,” notes ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “Roky Erickson put Austin on the musical map, and arguably created a music genre – or at least a name – that didn’t exist: psychedelic. To say he was a musical genius would be a gross understatement. What’s even more amazing is that despite his tragic personal history and struggles, he created music that inspired and stood the test of time. It was one of our proudest moments to capture the full glory of Roky Erickson on the ACL stage in 2008. Nothing and nobody else can compare.”

Erickson appeared in full force on Austin City Limits in 2008, backed by his old pals the Explosives, as well as members of the Summer Wardrobe and his fellow Texas psych contemporary Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top/The Moving Sidewalks. Here he is with the opening song: “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” of course. We’ve also included the Foo Fighters’ version of “Two Headed Dog.” We will miss him greatly.

Austin City Limits #3312: Roky Erickson – Youre Gonna Miss Me from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.