SEXTON BROS & ARC ANGELS | AUSTIN, THE BRAMHALL LEGACY & VAUGHAN…

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.

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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 | BING & BOWIE’S EPIC AND TIMELESS HOLIDAY CLASSIC DUET

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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.

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

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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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THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS, ca. 1980 | PHOTOGRAPHY OF ART MERIPOL

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

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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

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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

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“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
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THE ROLLING STONES’ 1972 AMERICAN TOUR | STP– STONES TOURING PARTY

“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

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

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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.

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

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“GREGORY’S GOING TO GET SCREWED-UP FROM TIME TO TIME– AND SO AM I.”

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

–Cher

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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.

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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.   

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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…THE FILM | SCOTT TOEPFER & CREW, “SHOW, DON’T TELL.”

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.

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Image by © Scott Toepfer
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Image by © Scott Toepfer

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“YOU KNOW I’VE GOT SOUL” | THE LEGENDARY 1967 STAX EUROPEAN TOUR

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

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Stax Records began as a small regional record label in Memphis in 1957 by brother and sister team, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, with the simple intent of selling records by taking advantage of the immense talent of the African American singers the South had to offer.  By the time the label went defunct in the mid ’70s it had provided the soundtrack for the Civil Rights movement and had rocked the music world. Artists Black and White alike would be profoundly influenced by the sometimes smooth, sometimes rough, but always hardworking soul singers like Al Green, Sam and Dave, Joe Tex, Carla Thomas, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, and the big man– Otis Redding.   There is nothing better than a funky, greasy, soul song and nothing was more soulful then the legendary Stax Records tour of Europe in 1967.  In my humble opinion this is when Soul music took over the world.

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Stax Records headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee — Image by Bill Carrier © API photographers inc

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The European Tour was to open these markets to the Stax sound and take advantage of the growing interest in Black American music, especially in the UK. By the time the tour was finished music would not be the same.  Stax management knew they had to tear it up every night if they were going to realize the commercial gains they wanted for themselves and their artists.  So they stacked the tour with an all star team– Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, and Arthur Conley were backed by the legendary Stax house band Booker T. and the MG’s and there equally epic horn section The Mar-keys.  This epic line up along with a good spirited competition to top each other made the show a raging success.

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Pictured — Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart, siblings and co–founders of the legendary Stax Records (“ST” ewart + “AX” ton = Stax) — Image by Bill Carrier, © API photographers inc

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Yet no one launched their star into orbit more the legendary big man from Macon, Georgia– Otis Redding. With vocals that combined the delicate phrasing of a balladeer with the shouts of a deacon in church, Redding destroyed it in the UK.  People still talk about Otis and his legendary performance in London–taking the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and giving it the Stax treatment along with his classics like “Try a Little Tenderness” and “These Arms of Mine”.  This along with his now legendary performance at The Monterrey Pop Festival that same year made him an enormous international star.

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Otis Redding (at the Olympia Theatre, Paris), one of the legendary soul singers featured in Sweet Soul: Stax/Volt Revue — Live in Norway, 1967 — Image by © Jean Pierre Leloir, courtesy of Stax Records
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The musicians, initially, viewed “Hit the Road Stax” with some trepidation, viewing themselves as a small, regional record label done good versus a global brand.  Some were even concerned that the European audiences wouldn’t like the music of a small, racially integrated label from the South.   That was until they got to England-everyone and I mean everyone of any import from the London music scene was scrambling to get tickets to see these shows.  Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Eric Burdon, John Mayall, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, and The Beatles were all angling to see the London shows and hang out with the Stax artists.  In a now classic footnote of music history, The Beatles sent limos to pick up the Stax crew each night after the shows and, in a story no-one can verify, Paul McCartney supposedly kissed the great Booker T. and the MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper’s ring because he viewed him as the greatest guitar player he had ever heard.

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RISE AGAIN LEE SCRATCH PERRY | PLAYING CRAZY TO CATCH WISE

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“For me to survive, me have to find something for myself and it was like a spiritual vibration, so me said– me going to make spiritual music.  This spiritual music coming– they call it Reggae.”

–Lee “Scratch” Perry 

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Reggae and Dub master, Lee “Scratch” Perry is often overshadowed by the Reggae giants that followed in his footsteps– namely Bob Marley.  Not that Marley doesn’t deserve praise– Perry is just long overdue, and grossly under-acknowledged.  Growing up in rural Jamaica, he later moved to Kingston and worked his way up from music studio janitor to songwriter and producer. Perry’s debut single “People Funny Boy” was one of the first recordings to sample– the sound of a baby crying.  In fact, what “Scratch” Perry was able to lay down on old, broken-down, low-tech equipment is nothing short of genius.  Perry’s crazy garb and outlandish, eccentric behavior have oft played perfectly to his reputation for being crazy– but many believe (and by his own admission) it was more a ploy to shield himself from the brutality of Jamaica’s badasses.

Now, to coincide with Lee “Scratch” Perry’s 75th birthday, there’s the release of the new album Rise Again, and documentary film called The Upsetter (narrated by Academy Award Winner Benico Del Toro)which chronicle’s Perry’s epic songwriting and producing career– highlighting his pioneering recording techniques, and ground-breaking (and still influential) contributions to reggae and dub music.

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Reggae / Dub master Lee “Scratch” Perry at his Black Ark studio in Jamaica

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Lee “Scratch” Perry

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Jamaica, 1976 — Lee “Scratch” Perry (and The Heptones) — Image by © Kate Simon  via

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PEOPLE ALWAYS CALLED ME BLONDIE | AT SOME POINT I BECAME DIRTY HARRY

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“Hi, it’s Deb.  You know, when I woke up this morning I had a realization about myself.  I was always Blondie.  People always called me Blondie, ever since I was a little kid. What I realized is that at some point I became Dirty Harry.  I couldn’t be Blondie anymore, so I became Dirty Harry.”

–Debbie Harry

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Debbie Harry of Blondie, Coney Island, NY, 1977 — Image © Bob Gruen

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“It was in the early ’70s and I was trying to get across town at two or three o’clock in the morning.  This little car kept coming around and offering me a ride.  I kept saying ‘No’ but finally I took the ride because I couldn’t get a cab.”  

“I got in the car and the windows were are rolled up, except for a tiny crack.  This driver had an incredibly bad smell to him. I looked down and there were no door handles.  The inside of the car was stripped. The hairs on the back of my neck just stood up.”  

“I wiggled my arm out of the window and pulled the door handle from the outside.  I don’t know how I did it, but I got out. He tried to stop me by spinning the car but it sort of helped me fling myself out.”

” Afterwards I saw him on the news–  Ted Bundy.”

–Debbie Harry

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Debbie Harry, NYC, 1976 –  Image © Bob Gruen

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1978 — Debbie Harry of Blondie — Image by © Martyn Goddard/Corbis

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PHOTOGRAPHY OF ROBERT ALTMAN | PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE

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After attending Hunter College in NYC, Robert Altman apprenticed under none other than Ansel Adams. He then went on to serve as Chief Staff Photographer for Rolling Stone magazine from 1969-1971. Many of Altman’s images became iconic for the brilliant and passionate way he captured those that shaped music history in particular, and the ’60s & ’70s culture at large.

The Sixties: Photographs by Robert Altman is a must own. Oh, and he’s not to be confused with Robert Altman the film director – both epic in their own right.

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Holy Man Jam festival, Boulder, Colorado, August 1970 — Image by © Robert Altman. “I love this photograph. You’ve got the perfection of a very pretty young lady, hands raised, holding a maraca. Right between her is this jubilant face… Another second or two, and her expression may have changed, an arm might have moved in front of an eye, and it’s a whole different photograph. Sometimes photography is alchemy, pure magic. Sometimes it just all comes together.” –Robert Altman

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January, 1970 — Author Ken Kesey at home in Springfield, OR — Image by © Robert Altman. Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and a master mind of The Sixties was an original and much loved figure, and the focus of Tom Wolfe’s best seller “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Sadly Rolling Stone ran this photo as a double page spread when Ken passed the acid test and also passed onto the next great adventure. via

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The Gold Rush Festival, October 4, 1969 – Tina Turner, “The Fan” — Image by © Robert Altman

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