can’t be as cool as the former Antone’s location on Guadalupe1 where I witnessed Otis Rush and Stevie Ray Vaughan have an extended guitar duel (SRV won, even though Otis Rush was the headline act), or John Lee Hooker delve into grunge2
Too bad Clifford Antone has passed on. RIP.
Antone was like the music scene’s maitre d’, greeting friends and strangers warmly, always ready to help in any way he could. He was known for paying acts more than they took in at the door, dipping into his own wallet to help both aging bluesmen and young, broke enthusiasts who moved to Austin from all over the world because they had heard that the world’s greatest blues club was here.
One by one, Antone’s heroes passed away — Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Jimmy Reed, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown — but not before they played the club Antone opened as a 25-year-old in 1975 on Sixth Street, back before Sixth Street was known as an entertainment district. At that first of four locations, he’d often book them for a week at a time so the original electric blues cats wouldn’t have to travel between gigs. Every night, Antone would stand at the side of the stage with a broad smile. His gushy introductions were almost as legendary as his club.
While much of the Austin population became aware of Antone mainly through two high-profile marijuana busts — in 1984 and 1997 — for which he served two stints in federal prison, those who knew him personally describe a warm, big-hearted blues encyclopedia who truly did it all for the music more than the money. “He loved to book the big names, but he also liked to turn folks on to the great sidemen,” said Connie Hancock of the Texana Dames. Eddie Taylor, Wayne Bennett, Hubert Sumlin, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Luther Tucker may have been better known for backing others, but at Antone’s they were superstars. “Playing at Antone’s for the first time was an incredible thrill,” said guitarist Eve Monsees, who was called up to join a blues jam when she was just 15. “Clifford had never heard me play, but when he asked me who I liked and I said ‘Magic Sam’ he figured I’d be OK.” “He was a giant,” said blues musician Jon Blondell. “He lived for the music, and if you were a musician, that meant he existed for you.”
He backed his affinity with an unmatched knowledge of the blues and taught a class on the subject at the University of Texas for the past two years. “How many other teachers at the University of Texas got their name in the title of the course?” said Kevin Mooney, the music professor who organized “Blues According to Clifford Antone.” “He adored the students and loved giving back to them. He didn’t want that class to end every day; there was so much material he wanted to share with them.” If you liked the music of Lightnin’ Slim, Snooky Pryor or Sunnyland Slim, you had a good friend in Antone, the cherubic Lebanese American with the askew hair, who grew up in Port Arthur and came to love the blues when he traced the roots of acts such as Cream and Fleetwood Mac.
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