July tends to be a slow month in most of Austin’s nightclubs, but at Antone’s it’s the coolest time of the year, regardless of how hot it is outside. When Clifford Antone opened his first place in downtown Austin on July 15, 1975 — just a couple of blocks from where the sixth location sits today — he couldn’t have had the foresight that anniversary shows might help his venue get through the tough summer stretch. But it sure has worked out that way.
We ventured down to Austin’s home of the blues for three of the past four nights, catching a good deal of Saturday’s tribute to James Cotton and Muddy Waters as well as Sunday’s 88th-birthday party for Miss Lavelle White and Tuesday’s reunion of the women who made the 1990 “Dreams Come True” album for Antone’s Records. The video above gathers a handful of highlights from each of those nights.
Saturday’s show was especially significant from a historical perspective. Coming on the heels of a Thursday bill that centered on Mississippi blues and Friday’s focus on Louisiana swamp-pop, the Cotton/Waters tribute was all about sweet home Chicago. Not many musicians who played in Waters’ band are still living, but most of them were at Antone’s on this night, including steady rollin’ Bob Margolin on guitar and Austin’s own Paul Oscher, who played guitar, harmonica and keyboards. A major crowd-pleaser was bassist Benny Turner, who proved an ideal bandleader even as he mourned the loss of his good friend, keyboardist Deacon Jones, who’d been booked for this show but died two days before it happened.
Turner stuck around on Sunday for White’s bash, which featured two sets by the hometown birthday girl plus a bevy of special guests. We gathered highlights from White’s set in a video posted yesterday, but it was worth revisiting to hear the snippets from Jimmy D. Lane, Bobby Patterson and Lazy Lester that we’ve included above.
Tuesday brought together singers Angela Strehli (back from the Bay Area), Lou Ann Barton and Marcia Ball, as well as bassist Sarah Brown, who was also a key contributor to the “Dreams Come True” album that became one of the Antone’s label’s highest-profile releases. Performing short sets separately and then a longer one together, they kicked off a night that also featured Antone’s label veteran Sue Foley, with the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson sitting in.
A major last-minute-add to Tuesday’s bill was a late set from Mud Morganfield, the eldest son of Muddy Waters, who stayed in town after capping the Saturday night lineup. We weren’t able to stay for his appearance, but we caught up with Morganfield last year when he took part in an Austin360 Studio Sessions interview as part of the Big Head Todd Blues Club Tour.
Wednesday brings night two of the “Dreams Come True” reunion, this time with Beaumont guitar great Barbara Lynn following the women. Everything leads up to Saturday, the actual 42nd-anniversary night, with Jimmie Vaughan and his Tilt-A-Whirl Band playing the late show after an early-evening tribute to Doug Sahm starring Sauce Gonzalez & the West Side Horns.
Back in the early days of Antone’s, these anniversary stretches were about bringing together the pioneers of the blues, most of whom are no longer with us. As bassist Sarah Brown noted about Saturday’s show, “I told my husband it was just like the old anniversaries, except without Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Hubert Sumlin” and many others now gone.
That only underscores how important these anniversary gatherings continue to be. As we lose the legends, the torch continues to be passed. From eightysomethings like Lavelle White and Lazy Lester, to next-generation offspring like Lane (son of Jimmy Rogers) and Morganfield, to former Austin upstarts such as Jimmie Vaughan and Marcia Ball who are now elevated to official Texas State Musician status, the blues rolls on. And Antone’s remains its heart and soul.