an­tone’s cel­e­brates 35 years

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­trick Cald­well

When he was still a — rel­a­tively — young pup, lo­cal blues gui­tarslinger Derek O’Brien first stepped onto the stage at the orig­i­nal An­tone’s Night­club at Sixth and Bra­zos streets. The year was 1975, An­tone’s had only re­cently opened its doors and the still-green gui­tarist was set to back Delta blues pi­anist Sun­ny­land Slim, a leg­end in the Chicago scene. The club’s founder, the big-hearted Clif­ford An­tone, al­ways ded­i­cated to giv­ing fresh tal­ent a chance, had roped O’Brien in on the gig.

“I was on stage in the tra­di­tion of giv­ing young play­ers a chance. I was 25, so I wasn’t as young as some of the guys to­day, but I had only been play­ing about five years,” O’Brien says. “And I don’t re­mem­ber if the rhythm sec­tion was to­tally Chicago guys, but it was very in­tim­i­dat­ing. But the thing about Clif­ford is that he was re­ally good to all those great old blues guys and they were happy, and be­cause of him, it was a com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment.”

Four lo­ca­tions and 35 years later, O’Brien is an An­tone’s fix­ture who has backed an ar­ray of the blues’ best — Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Al­bert Collins — as a mem­ber of the club’s house band in the ’80s. He’s also one of many Austin blues tal­ents to be pa­tiently shep­herded by the late Clif­ford An­tone — from a young cat named Ste­vie Ray Vaughan to Austin’s man of a thou­sand bands Bob Schneider in the ’90s

through to Gary Clark Jr. and Eve Mon­sees (to­day a co-owner of An­tone’s Records).

The club cel­e­brates its an­niver­sary this month with 35 days of shows rep­re­sent­ing ev­ery era of An­tones’ devel­op­ment — from kick­ing off with pi­o­neer pi­anist Pine­top Perkins to ’90s gui­tar he­roes Soul­hat to to­day’s mer­cu­rial rock­ers White Denim. And even in An­tone’s ab­sence, his ded­i­ca­tion to cul­ti­vat­ing a scene re­mains alive.

“Ev­ery young player that came to town or lived here that was com­ing up, Clif­ford tried to give them a place to play and to meet their he­roes,” says Chris Lay­ton, drum­mer for the Arc An­gels — play­ing the club tonight — and, along­side bassist Tommy Shan­non and Ste­vie Ray Vaughan, a found­ing mem­ber of Dou­ble Trou­ble.

Even af­ter four lo­ca­tions — the orig­i­nal on Sixth Street, a brief so­journ up north to An­der­son Lane, a fa­mous spot on Guadalupe Street and to­day’s build­ing on West Fifth Street, now the long­est-lived in­car­na­tion — Lay­ton says that at An­tone’s, he finds a sense of be­long­ing.

“Ev­ery time the club went to a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion it was a whole new place,” Lay­ton says. “But even af­ter all those changes, it’s all like fam­ily now. I’ve known the peo­ple at An­tone’s for way more than half of my life, so it’s kind of like go­ing home in a way.”

Which is not to say there haven’t been changes. Af­ter Clif­ford An­tone died in 2006, sis­ter and co-owner Su­san An­tone picked up the torch, and to­day she books the club along­side man­ager Jes­sica Jar­rett, who met the An­tones through their fundrais­ing work for Amer­i­can Youth­Works. Lo­cal booker David Cot­ton also books some nights at the venue, as does pro­moter C3 Presents, which fields most of the room’s na­tional and tour­ing acts.

All of which means that An­tone’s days of be­ing a straightup blues club are in the rearview mir­ror; to­day you can see a blues leg­end like Perkins and an in­die dance rock act like Mi­ike Snow within a few weeks of each other.

“I have a phi­los­o­phy that I al­ways tell peo­ple: The kind of peo­ple that we wind up book­ing over the years, re­gard­less of when it was or who it was, they’re soul­ful mu­si­cians with their own rhythm,” Su­san An­tone said this week. “You can hear any kind of mu­sic. But if it has soul, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to like it. That’s my phi­los­o­phy, and it has been for a re­ally long time. There’s so many tal­ented peo­ple out there. And are they Muddy Wa­ters or Ju­nior Wells? No, they’re not. But there are a lot of other dif­fer­ent things that are ter­rific.”

Not that there’s no time for blues at An­tone’s. July 27 sees a Chicago blues show that would make Clif­ford An­tone proud, with Perkins and gui­tarist and singer Hu­bert Sum­lin. Mar­cia Ball an­chors a trib­ute to this year’s in­ductees to the Austin Mu­sic Me­mo­rial, in­clud­ing Clif­ford An­tone and long­time An­tone’s fix­ture Ste­vie Ray Vaughan. Some of the club’s most de­voted fe­male mu­si­cians — from Ball to Mon­sees to Toni Price and An­gela Strehli — will play a blues jam July 29. And the month closes with Jim­mie Vaughan, who Su­san An­tone de­scribed as “as much a part of An­tone’s as any­body else on Earth.”

For Su­san An­tone, who tears up at men­tion of her brother, steer­ing An­tone’s is a charge to keep.

“I feel very lucky to have been able to do this all these years. It’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity, but it’s a priv­i­lege. It’s in­cred­i­ble to me that the club is open af­ter all these years,” she said. “I know that my brother back when he started it would have been like ‘What? 35 years? There’s no way it will last that long!’ But I give all of that to the spirit of the mu­si­cians in this com­mu­nity. And my brother’s re­lent­less­ness. He was a mu­sic man, and he loved Austin.”


The late club owner Clif­ford An­tone, left, asks mu­si­cians to take a bow on the An­tone’s stage dur­ing a South by South­west jam ses­sion with Doug Sahm in 1998. Austin gui­tar mas­ter Derek O’Brien, right, got his start at An­tone’s.

1999 Amer­i­cAn-stAtes­mAn

Jim­mie Vaughan, left, joins Clif­ford An­tone on stage af­ter Vaughan’s per­for­mance at the An­tone’s Blues Fest at Water­loo Park in 1999. Vaughan will close the 35 days of shows.

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