Andy Warhol cultural icon, and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones — Image by © Ken Regan

It was spring of 1975, and The Rolling Stones were gearing up for their epic Tour Of The Americas (TOTA)– which they would later kick off  in NYC by performing “Brown Sugar” on the back of a flatbed truck driving down 5th Ave. Looking for a place to rest up, rehearse for the tour, and work on songs for their upcoming album, Black and Blue, the boys rented their pal Andy Warhol’s pad (for 5k a month), and got busy being themselves. Let’s just say their presence did not go unnoticed by their buttoned-up neighbors:

“Throughout April sensationally loud music welled through the windows, into the ruts and hollows over the tangled crab-grass of an estate in Montauk, Long Island. Residents of the Ditch Plains trailer park were woken in the night – yapping dogs, even wolves, the loud grief of coyotes. From East Hampton to New York the word spread with the ferocity of a brush fire: The Rolling Stones were rehearsing!”

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Kirk West is probably best known as the long-time tour manager, archivist, and photographer for the Allman Brothers Band— but before that he spent many years shooting many other musical legends while living in Chicago. Many of those images laid dormant for decades, and now with time on his hands since his 2010 retirement from ABB, the amazing images have now come to light– and many of them are stunning in their honest, fly-on-the-wall, honest energy. Being a lover of the Blues, I was instantly strike by many of his images of legends in a bygone time that I’d love to step back into.

1978 — Blues guitar great, Johnny Winter at Chicago’s Park West theatre –Image by © Kirk West There’s a famous story about a time in 1962 when Johnny and his brother went to see B.B. King at a Beaumont club called the Raven. The only whites in the crowd, they no doubt stood out. But Johnny already had his chops down and wanted to play with the revered B.B.”I was about 17,” Johnny remembers, “and B.B. didn’t want to let me on stage at first. He asked me for a union card, and I had one. Also, I kept sending people over to ask him to let me play. Finally, he decided that there enough people who wanted to hear me that, no matter if I was good or not, it would be worth it to let me on stage. He gave me his guitar and let me play. I got a standing ovation, and he took his guitar back!” via

1985 — Late guitar great, Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Chicago Blues Fest –Image by © Kirk West     From Guitar World Magazine ’85 — “Vaughan remembered something that came from Johnny Winter, the first white Texas blues guitar hero, who’d preceded him down the long path. ‘He said something to me when the first record was doing so well,’ Stevie Ray recalled. ‘It made me feel a lot of respect for what we did, for the music. He said that he wanted me to know that people like Muddy Waters and the cats who started it all really had respect for what we’re doing, because it made people respect them. We’re not taking credit for the music. We’re trying to give it back.'” I dig that attitude– doing what you love, and doing it well– to give back to those who cam before you– and the music as a whole. You don’t hear  enough talk like that these days. That’s real heart and soul right there.

1978– Johnny Winter, Bob Margolin, & Muddy Waters at Harry Hope’s, Cary IL where they recorded Muddy “Mississippi” Waters – Live  –Image by © Kirk West. During early live performances, Johnny Winter would often recount about how, as a child, it was dream of his to one day play with the great blues guitarist Muddy Waters. In 1977 Winter’s his manager creating Blue Sky Records to be distributed through Columbia,  Winter now had the opportunity to bring Waters into the studio for Hard Again. The album became a best-seller, with Winter producing and playing back-up guitar on the set that included Waters, and  the legendary James Cotton on harmonica. Winter produced two more studio albums for Muddy Waters – I’m Ready (this time featuring Walter Horton on harmonica) and King Bee. The partnership produced Grammy Awards, a best-selling live album (Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live), and Winter’s own Nothin’ But the Blues, on which he was backed by members of Muddy Waters’ band.

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The epic tales of Miles Davis and his need for speed have been on heavy rotation again lately, as they are just too damn good to die. I mean, who splits their Lambo Miura on the West Side Highway, and screams at a good samaritan responder for dumping two bags of blow for him before the cops show up? Both ankles were crushed and all Miles wants to do is jump out to see how busted-up his ride is. Cocaine is a helluva drug. The love of cars can be a vice all its own, and Miles had it bad from early on.

Miles Davis, Red Ferrari, New York City, 1969 – Image by © Baron Wolman

Miles Davis And His Mercedes 190SL:

“…In 1955 Miles Davis dragged his quintet into the Prestige Records studio and recorded five albums in a row for the purpose of satisfying his obligations to the label. Although Davis himself had turned away from the worst of his heroin addiction, his crew was all hooked on something — from John Coltrane, who had conspicuous tracks up both his arms, to ‘Philly’ Joe Jones, who showed up to the session with just one drum and a hi-hat because he’d pawned the rest to get high — and nobody could have predicted that the group would settle down and turn out some of the greatest music in recorded history.

Miles hated Prestige. They famously paid $300 a record and didn’t seem to be familiar with the concept of residuals. The moment he had a chance to jump the fence to Columbia, he did so, and celebrated by buying a Mercedes 190SL with pretty much all the money he had at the time.

A new 190SL cost about four grand — easily four times what Davis had just cleared on the Prestige session — and it was not exactly a rapid automobile. Most of them wheezed perhaps 85 horsepower back to the swing-axled rear wheels to push the 2600lb mass. The real hot ride was the 300SL, famous today as the ‘Gullwing’ but far more popular as a convertible back in the day, but Miles would have had a hard time buying one and a harder time keeping it maintained.

Miles eventually fell in with the fast crowd, which included the Baroness Pannonica ‘Nica’ de Koenigswarter-Rothschild. She rolled in a Bentley, and she was well known among the community. PIanist Hampton Hawes recalls:

Thelonius Monk and his wife and Nica and I driving down Seventh Avenue in the Bentley at three or four in the morning… and Miles pulling alongside in the Mercedes, calling through the window in his little hoarse voice… ‘Want to race?’ Nica nodding, then turning to tell us in her prim British tones, ‘This time I believe I’m going to beat the Mother F#cker.’”

Miles Davis, Red Ferrari, New York City, 1969 – Image by © Baron Wolman

“That photo of Miles Davis and his red Ferrari (275 GTB) was taken on New York’s West Side Highway in 1969. We had just shot some portraits in his apartment near Central Park. He said he wanted to go to Gleason’s Gym to work out. He was an amateur boxer, as you probably know. Anyhow, we’re driving along and I said, ‘Miles, pull over. Let’s do some shots of you and this totally cool car.’ He said ‘yes’, we did, and then proceeded to the gym where he threatened to knock me out.” –Baron Wolman

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“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

― Jimi Hendrix

Too often in life we seek only to be heard instead of truly listening to, and understanding those who matter to us most– the ones that we love in this world. Jimi knew, and it would serve us well (me especially) to heed his wise words. At the end of the day, it’s the love that we give and receive– in other words, relationships, that make this life beautiful and worth living. Sometimes we must decrease so that the relationship can increase. After all, what’s more important–  being happy, or proving how smart we are and being right all the time?

Jimi Hendrix, 1967  Image by © Gered Mankowitz

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I love Texas. There are more Rock, Country, Folk and Blues music greats from the Lone Star State than you can shake a stick at– not to mention the colorful and storied scene they created that lives-on today. The loyal fans who were around back then dutifully keep it alive through a rich oral history.

My buddy Bruce is one of those guys. Ask him if he recalls when the Sex Pistols toured through Texas in ’78 and his eyes light up like a Christmas tree. Before you can catch your breath, out come tales of the filth, fury & raucousness of that time like it was yesterday– “You mean that Sid Vicious kid?  Yeah man, of course I remember it. It was a mess! He was runnin’ his mouth, spittin’, and swingin’ that bass around like a baseball bat on stage– mowin’ people down.  They wanted to kill him!” Ask him about Charlie Sexton, and out come tales of the early days of him and his lil’ brother Will playing in clubs before they were teens…then with the Vaughan brothers (Jimmie & Stevie Ray)…and Charlie’s much-loved band, Arc Angels, with Doyle Bramhall II, son of the legendary Doyle Bramhall…and how Doyle (Senior) and the Vaughan brothers own history together (among many others, Jimmie and Doyle both came out of the legendary band, The Chessman) was foundational in laying the groundwork for the Dallas / Austin music scene in the 1960s & 1970s that is so prolific, relevant, and vital to this day. Whew.

These three families– The Vaughans, the Bramhalls, & the Sextons, are forever entwined with one another in the history of Texas music. Everyone knows about Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan, ’nuff said. Doyle Bramhall (Senior) is a legend who left his mark on this world that sadly lost him back in November. Doyle Bramhall II is known for his early days with Charlie Sexton in Arc Angels. Young Doyle went on to be a singer in his own right, and a much in-demand guitarist who has backed-up some of the greats like Roger Waters and Eric Clapton. Then we have the Sexton brothers…

Charlie Sexton was often railed as a Post-Wave pretty boy, which he definitely was during his mainstream popularity. (I remember a few of the hip girls in High School with Charlie Sexton posters on their walls, and tee-shirts emblazoned with his pouty lips & piled-high coif on their budding chests.) His rising star somehow failed to reach its promised heights back then, but over the years Charlie has silenced his critics by becoming a very well-respected musician (his guitar playing is simply incredible) and producer who has toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in the business– Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, to name just a few. And for you hipsters out there– he even played with Spoon on Austin City Limits back in 2010. Will Sexton is less known, but no less talented– and perhaps even the more sensitive, thoughtful musicians of the two. Definitely more folksy, in a good way. (In all fairness, the video clips I chose of the Sexton brothers are of when they were very young, back in the ’80s, in fact. I think it’s safe to say we all have some fashion / hair moments from those days that we’d all like to forget. Go on YouTube to see their current work, which is very solid.) Charlie and his little brother Will went off on different musical paths, but those paths will bring them together again, as both make their mark in the annals of Texas music history for us to savor, and the next generation to discover.

July 4th, 1982 — A very young Charlie Sexton,13-yrs-old, playing with the Joe Ely Band (which toured as the opener for The Clash back in the day– you heard me right, this kid opened for The Clash.) at Gilley’s, Pasadena, TX. That Rockabilly look would carry through to Charlie’s next band, the Eager Beaver Boys– in fact, the hair would get higher and higher. –image Tracy Hart

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“Peace on Earth” has long been one of my all-time favorite Holiday tunes. Even more so when I learned about the odd and magical pairing of David Bowie & Bing Crosby many years ago. It was an epic moment in music history that almost didn’t happen– in more ways than one.

Bing Crosby & David Bowie taping the TV special “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” back in 1977.

When the producers of Bing Crosby’s “Merrie Olde Christmas” TV special asked Bowie to sing “The Little Drummer Boy” with Bing in 1977, he flatly refused.

Ian Fraser, Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman left the set and found a piano in the studios’ basement. In about 75 minutes, they wrote “Peace on Earth,” an original tune, and worked out an arrangement that weaved together the two songs. Bowie and Crosby nailed the performance with less than an hour of rehearsal. Bowie liked it.

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So I recently came across these incredible images of the Fabulous Thunderbirds taken back in the ’80s by photographer Art Meripol that really grabbed me. The shots of Jimmie Vaughan are epic, and Kim Wilson is also looking pretty damn good. The bands’ storied bassist, Keith Ferguson (July 23, 1946 – April 29, 1997), the most colorful character in the bunch (and the original hipster), was even in a few of the pics. Ferguson was an anchor in the Austin music scene whose longtime drug use and increasingly odd behavior eventually led to his separation from Austin’s legendary Antone’s and many of those he once called friends. One thing’s for certain, he will always be an Austin legend (in many ways) and a revered musician. They say that to see Keith Ferguson in his prime was unforgettable. I dug through the archives of The Austin Chronicle and Dallas Observer to get the skinny…

“…When I first saw Ferguson with the Fabulous Thunderbirds at Rome Inn in 1976, about a year after they’d formed, it was one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life. Not quite 30, Ferguson was the oldest member of the band, yet he, like the rest of them, played the blues like a grown man– and they sure as hell didn’t sound like a bunch of “white kids.” Still a decade away from commercial success (there were about 25 disinterested patrons at Rome Inn that night), Ferguson, Kim Wilson, Jimmie Vaughan, and the soon-to-join Mike Buck already showcased the indelible influence they would have on blues bands coast to coast, and around the world. Collectively and individually, the original T-Birds sired cults and mini-cults, changing the way musicians played, dressed, stood, combed their hair.

At the center of all this was Ferguson– a unique, colorful, even charismatic persona, but that was just the icing on the mystique. At its core was one simple truth– he was as good a blues bass player as there was in the history of blues bass players. Even in capable hands, the subtle art of blues bass can be the musical equivalent of the witness protection program, yet Ferguson carved out a singular niche without ever saying ‘look at me’ with his instrument.” 

–Dan Forte for The Austin Chronicle


Austin, Texas, 1980– Blues guitar great Jimmie Vaughan playing with his band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. “Jimmie Vaughan playing behind his head” –image by © Art Meripol. via “It’s whispered that the T-Birds were the only white blues band that intimidated the Rolling Stones, for whom they opened twice at the Dallas Cotton Bowl, and twice at the Houston Astrodome during the 1981 tour.” –Josh Alan Friedman for the Dallas Observer

ca. 1980– The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ lead singer/harpist Kim Wilson with legendary bassist and band mate Keith Ferguson in Austin, TX. –image by © Art Meripol. via “…there were knock-down, drag-out, shit-kicking fist-fights between Ferguson and Wilson — the distinguished, sharply dressed ambassadors of the blues.” via

“Keith Ferguson died with a monkey on his back. I’m not speaking figuratively– the man literally died with a picture of a monkey on his back. It was tattooed there, the head of a fang-toothed baboon permanently inked into his shoulder. That was Keith Ferguson’s statement to the world. So, when a friend called last week to tell me that Ferguson was in the hospital and probably wouldn’t make it out alive, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Not to me, and probably not to Ferguson, either. The obituary cited liver failure as the cause of death, and that may indeed be what’s on the death certificate– but that’s like jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and having the resultant death termed a swimming accident. Liver failure was the cause of death in name only, because for 30 of his 50 years, Ferguson shot heroin.” 
–Dan Forte for The Austin Chronicle


“Some of my most outrageous nights– I can only believe actually happened because of corroborating evidence.  No wonder I’m famous for partying!  The ultimate party– if it’s any good– you can’t remember it.” –Keith Richards


Keith Richards & Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones on stage, 1972 –Image by © Ethan Russell


The Rolling Stones embarked on their 1972 American tour to support the release of Exile on Main Street— which in and of itself was a push into new territory for the band, both musically and commercially. What followed rewrote the game for The Stones and the music industry, and basically set the stage for a decade of big, balls-out tours that went from being simple promotional vehicles the pop culture events. Nothing like this had been done in Rock ‘n’ Roll prior and all subsequent tours would follow the ’72 tour blueprint for scale, attempted musicality, logistics, legal entanglements, drugs, women, hilarity, hangers-on, and general debauchery.


Mick Jagger & Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones on the  STP tour, 1972 –Image by © Ethan Russell

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“Our whole world as we knew it was shot to ratshit.  I ought to write a soap opera.” 


Being a child of the ’70s, the one over-riding vibe stuck in my memory is that it felt messy. Very messy. Nothing felt solid, like it could all collapse at any given time. Maybe we were all dealing with the after effect of the ’60s free love, drugs, rock & roll deal– only now there were kids, complicated relationships, and worldly responsibilities popping-up that we didn’t feel ready for and certainly didn’t fully embrace. Still hanging on to our freedom– no one wanted to admit it was time to grow up and get real. We graduated from pot to cocaine and hard drugs, and went back to our father’s crutch– booze. Too much.

Looking back on these pics of Gregg Allman and Cher, I’m struck by that feeling. Two messy lives, neither one able to get out of their own way, coming together for an epic meltdown. People magazine, and the like, would have all the coked-out celebrity fodder ever needed to fill the racks at the supermarket checkout lines. Business was strong. Life felt cheap. You better at least look fucking fabulous if you want to survive.

Cher, smoking in bed, in the grip of a 1,000 yard stare… The Allman Brothers Band (and  fans) did not have kind words for Cher– likening her to their own ‘Yoko Ono’ for distracting Gregg and the resulting disintegration of the group. Truth is, Allman was seriously coked-out and a mess.  His weight dropping down to 125 lbs at one point. His head was all fucked-up from the loss of his beloved brother Duane Allman in a motorcycle wreck. Then, unthinkably, almost exactly a year after Duane’s tragic passing–  ABB bassist Berry Oakley also died in a motorcycle wreck only about a block away.   

1973, San Francisco– Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band –Image © Neal Preston/Corbis. While with Cher, Gregg Allman found himself labeled a snitch for testifying against ABB’s road manager Scooter Herring in exchange for his own immunity in a drug case. Seems Scooter was busted for supplying Gregg with 1/2 gram of cocaine a day– he reportedly even saved Allman’s life once by resuscitating him during an overdose. Cher stood by her man claiming, “Gregory makes a great villain because he’s taken drugs. They acted as if he had turned his road manager into a drug dealer when it was the other way around.” Most folks didn’t see it Cher’s way. Allman’s name became mud in Macon– death threats were flying and the locals wanted his head. Even the federal judge on the case smelled a rat stating, “the person who ought to be prosecuted is Mr. Allman.” Gregg claimed things were cool between he and Scooter, and that they both understood what Allman had to say and do to escape a prison sentence. It was all cool. In Allman’s mind, if anyone was the fall guy it was him. Somewhere in the middle there lies the truth.

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It’s Better in the Wind” by Scott Toepfer (shot mostly on Super 8mm) chronicles the freewheeling life of adventure on the road.

Scott was kind enough to bless TSY with a look at this masterpiece, featuring his good buddy Chuck Ragan who’s contributing some original songs for the soundtrack– which is a combination of music and spoken word. I’m pretty stoked to see the completed work.

For me, “It’s Better in the Wind” is the essence of leaving the hassles and drama of the 9-to-5 grind in the dust– where it belongs. That’s the vibe that Scott captures so beautifully.  It’s not about posing, man.  It’s about showing. The images crystalize the adventure and joy of hitting the road with good friends– to inspire themselves, as well as us, to never stop living for the day– not the man.  Hell yes.

Image by © Scott Toepfer

Image by © Scott Toepfer

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