As much as anyone in a very select group, Angela Strehli personified Antone’s. Instrumental in the founding of the club, Angela was also a blues performer of the first caliber. After moving to Austin from Lubbock, she started out in the Fabulous Rockets, an R&B, soul and blues band that played at local clubs and parties. The band changed its name to Sunnyland Special and made a small but significant splash in Los Angeles. After returning to Austin, she joined with bluesman W.C. Clark in forming Southern Feeling – a very popular local band, but with few venues for performing. Enter Antone’s. The club on Sixth Street was a success; especially for Austin’s struggling blues musicians, and more especially among the college students and other twenty-somethings that Clifford had hoped would attend and discover the blues. Here Angela learned the hard side of the business -- managing, producing, handling the artists and occasionally doing sound at the new venue. But all of the time and effort paid off -- it was at Antone’s in 1987 that she released her first album, Soul Shake.
Prior to this however, Angela was one of the constant performers at the club. She played with many of the legendary blues groups that frequented the club. Angela was basically running the place when it relocated from downtown to its second incarnation on Great Northern Boulevard. When in 1982 it moved yet again to A.J.’s, the once Shakey’s Pizza location on Guadalupe near the University of Texas, she gave up the managing of the club and devoted herself fully to her music. It was at this time that she formed The Angela Strehli Band, with Denny Freeman as her lead guitarist, and set up a constant mid-week slot at the new location. Shortly after that I was commissioned to create this musical bill. She played the Wednesday gig for more than a half a dozen years. She was one of the many local musicians that backed up the blues greats and boosted the reputation of the venue into one of the most revered in the world and the business. Musicians such as Derek O’Brien, George Raines, Sue Foley, Alex Napier, Bill Carter, the Sexton Brothers and the Vaughan Brothers played regularly within and without bands of their own. The Antone’s Records label was also formed at this time and was located across the street in the record store. Angela also performed and cut records with the blues chanteuses of the city in the 80s, Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball, and Sarah Brown. All in all this was the golden age of the venue and Angela was front-and-center, both as an overseer of the various endeavors and as a talented musical artist in her own right.
The club, the label, and the record store did very well in the 1980’s, with even an Antone’s Blues Cruise grand tour of the West and East coasts launched in 1988. These successes were mitigated by the absence of Clifford, due to his legal problems. Ironically, it was the money raised from those acts that enabled this blues empire to be established and to thrive in the first place. The Eighties saw a renewed interest in American roots music, and the light and heat of Clifford’s passion took advantage of this renewed focus, carrying all of these efforts forward and placing the energy and talent of the Austin blues scene before the whole country and the world at large. Paralleling those efforts were the successes of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. It seemed for a while as if Clifford’s dream would come true, and everyone would appreciated the power and scope of the music as much as he. The decade would pass however, and the 1990’s saw the blues slip again into the shadows. But a decade and a half had been very good to the music and the venue. And at the center of all of it were Angela Strehli, her dedication and her music.