Chronicle writer became great champion of Austin music scene
Moser, the driving force behind the Austin Music Awards, died Friday.
Margaret Moser, a longtime staff writer for the Austin Chronicle, director of the Austin Music Awards and a champion of the Austin music scene, died late Friday after a four-year battle with colon cancer, according to her husband, Steve Chaney. She was 63.
Moser was born May 16, 1954, in Chicago, but her musical life was shaped by the Gulf Coast and Texas. In a sprawling piece she wrote for Oxford American magazine in 2014, she identified New Orleans, a city with sparkling parades where “rhythm infused the earth below into the clouds above,” as the origin point of her musical identity.
Her family relocated to San Antonio in 1966 when her father accepted a teaching position at Trinity University. As a teen, she
immersed herself in the city’s small but vibrant counterculture music scene.
In the late 1960s she became a regular at Sunday afternoon concerts at the Japanese Sunken Gardens amphitheater at Brackenridge Park, which she wrote about vividly for the Austin Chronicle in 1995: “These Sunken Gardens shows were acid-drenched, Texas-flavored versions of the San Francisco hippie-era concerts, and they’re where I was baptized by the spirit of live rock & roll.”
The school of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll trumped traditional academia for Moser. Eventually she dropped out of high school and chased her hallucinogenic-enhanced dreams to Austin, where in 1976 she took a job cleaning the offices of alternative biweekly the Austin Sun. She pestered her way into a writing position, which she held until the paper folded a few years later.
When the Austin Chronicle launched in 1981, she signed on as a gossip columnist. Her column, peppered with tidbits she picked up during late-night conversations with bands in the back rooms of Austin clubs, became essential reading for Austin music fans.
“She kind of galvanized the scene around her column,” local music writer Michael Corcoran said.
As a female music writer, Moser was an anomaly during the boy’s club era of rock ’n’ roll, but she flipped the script on any presumed limitations. She used her womanly wiles to gain access where men dared not go. Her first piece for the Austin Sun was an interview with Randy California of the band Spirit conducted in the bathtub of his hotel room at the Driskill. “I was naked except for my notebook and pen,” she wrote in the Oxford American piece.
Moser wrote fearlessly about sex. She wrote of zany escapades with her glittery, giggling girl gang, high on life and assorted illicit substances. She seemed to laugh in the face of anyone who dismissed her as just a groupie. Her posse of rock-loving gals, the Texas Blondes, were the life of the party, and she was the queen of the groupies.
But she also became a scholar, delving deep into the origins of Texas music and developing an encyclopedic knowledge of the state’s sound. She traced the history of rock, punk and the blues, piecing together clues in songs with oral histories collected in a thousand bleary late nights.
Moser was known for her magnanimous presence. “Even when she was writing a gossip column, none of it was mean-spirited. To me, that’s big,” said Dianne Scott, public relations manager for the Continental Club.
Moser formalized her role as Austin music’s best friend by launching the Austin Music Awards in 1982. She moved to Hawaii for a few years in the late ’80s after marrying tattoo artist Rollo Banks, her second husband. (She’d previously been married to Austin photographer Ken Hoge.) After returning to Austin in 1991, she picked up where she’d left off at the Chronicle and remained there until retiring in 2014.
In her later years at the Chronicle, Moser made a point of supporting Austin’s burgeoning under-18 music scene. She took teen bands such as Mother Falcon under her wing long before they rose to national acclaim.
“From the beginning, Margaret’s attention provided us with a vital dose of courage to keep moving forward and creating new music,” Mother Falcon musician Tamir Kalifa said in a Moser tribute section the Austin Chronicle published in late June.
During her last week at the Chronicle, the city of Austin decorated a small area on West Third Street downtown, just west of Nueces Street, with a guitar sculpture and a historical marker naming the location Margaret Moser Plaza.
After retiring, Moser moved to San Antonio with her third husband, Chaney. For the next few years, she seemed to thrive despite chemotherapy treatments. She founded the South Texas Popular Culture Center, or Tex Pop, collecting artifacts and memorabilia to celebrate the city’s musical heritage.
In 2016, the Austin Chronicle added the Margaret Moser Award to the Austin Music Awards ceremony. The award was designed to honor a “living legend with deep roots in the community.”
“It’s a cruel luxury to know death will come soon, but it’s a bizarre comfort to know how it will likely come,” Moser wrote in the Oxford American later that year.
In early June, she announced that she had decided to discontinue chemotherapy and was going into home hospice.
Survivors include her mother, Phyllis Stegall; her husband, Chaney; and brothers Scott, Stephen and Bill. Contact Deborah Sengupta Stith at 512-912-5928. Contact Peter Blackstock at 512-445-3762.
Margaret Moser kicks off the 2006 Austin Music Awards at the Austin Music Hall. She launched the awards in 1982, not long after she joined the Austin Chronicle as a gossip columnist.
Margaret Moser (right), longtime director of the Austin Music Awards, is serenaded by dozens of musicians at the end of her final Austin Music Awards in 2014. After retiring, she moved to San Antonio with her husband.