Ray Benson, the lead guitarist
and vocalist of Asleep at the Wheel,
is a very long drink of water, standing at about 6’5”
It seems as though he had to hunker down here in order to
fit into the frame of this bill. However, he and his band
fit in perfectly at the new Antone’s
location. When it originally opened five years before, Antone's
was reverently dedicated to the blues by Clifford Antone;
and I can’t recall anything but the blues being played
at the original location. At that time the Austin music scene
was almost exclusively Progressive Country, with a strong
bent toward the singer-songwriter variety as exemplified by
musicians like Jerry Jeff Walker, Willis Allen Ramsey,
Townes Van Zandt, and Michael (Martin) Murphy.
A couple of years before, all of this crystallized with the
arrival of Willie Nelson. He had quit the Nashville country
establishment to return to his native Texas and the sound
transcendent of Country music that was coming out of Austin.
His initial performance at the Armadillo World
Headquarters in 1972 was a land mark occasion,
formalizing the sound and beckoning disciples to it. Clubs
like Castle Creek, the Split
Rail, Soap Creek Saloon,
the Alliance Wagon Yard, and The Texas
Opry House sprang up, meccas to this music and
contributing greatly to Austin’s growing music scene.
Eventually the city’s reputation would draw in this
band from West Virginia as well.
By the middle of the decade Progressive Country dominated
the music scene here and garnered reputation as a place of
musical alchemy, amalgamating such disparate musical forms
as folk, traditional Country, and 70s rock into an original
and dynamic musical form that became a cultural anomaly, definitive
of the music flowing from the capitol of Texas. In the teeth
of this Antone’s set up a blues shop on Sixth Street,
then a skid row. With reverence and somewhat defiant of that
establishment, in 1975 this orthodox blues chapel was set
up among the PC cathedrals. With the passing of the decade
that dynamic changed. By 1980 progressive Country had dispersed
with centers in California, Georgia and Alabama among others,
diluting its exclusive Austin connection. The Armadillo had
closed on New Years Day 1981, with the Texas Opry House taking
up the slack as the top-dog venue. By this time a significant
blues community had sprung up around Antone’s and was
growing in diversity and sophistication, spurning new blues
clubs. Oil money was pouring in, and transforming a college
town rapidly into a city; soon downtown development and the
incipient formation of an entertainment district on Sixth
forced Antone’s to a new location far north of downtown.
This change in location precipitated a change in character,
where establishment Country acts increasingly found a home
in the blues house. Besides the Nashville acts, Antone’s
opened its doors to the local progressive Country talent as
well. It was a change of booking, not attitude; Clifford had
always respected this music and as their venues dwindled he
brought them into his club. And so it was with Asleep at the
This gig inaugurated that trend and many celebrated singer-songwriters
were attendant that night. Bob
and John Inmon of the Lost Gonzo
Band were there, as was Townes Van Zandt, and
Blaze Foley. But perhaps the most notable
musician in the audience that night was Doug Sahm.
The San Antonio native had been making music all his life,
and building on his local successes, he and his band had gained
national fame and success in the 1960s by adopting a quasi-British
persona as the Sir Douglas Quintet.
Their hit Mendocino spoke to a connection
with San Francisco and its signature psychedelic sound of
the late 60s. It all fell out in the early 70s as Sahm returned
to his roots in Texas and began another re-invention of himself.
As both a component and driving force in Austin music, he
was in the audience that night. He and Clifford became fast
friends and he became a part of the fabric of the club. And
this show was when that all began.