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Thinking About Stephen Bruton

There’s just no getting over some people

By William Harries Graham, 11:47AM, Tue. May. 14, 2013

Stephen Bruton’s smiling face
Stephen Bruton’s smiling face
photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Margaret Moser’s cancer diagnosis gave me reason to throw what some called one of the best shows this town had ever seen this past Sunday at the Continental Club. It got me thinking about Stephen Bruton.

It’s been four years to the week since Bruton died from throat cancer. He was on tour with my father, Jon Dee Graham, in Germany when he first mentioned having an irritation in his throat.

Last summer, when we started the Proper Nang Night at Maria’s, everything felt like kismet. Photographs of Bruton’s smiling face adorn the walls of the South Lamar taco shop and in fact he lived just a few blocks away. My generation of Austin musicians will miss out on seeing him perform, but he always watched over us.

For years my dad and Bruton played Sundays at the Saxon Pub in the Resentments. I saw them play every week of my life until Bruton went to finish his days in Los Angeles working with his childhood buddy T Bone Burnett on the movie Crazy Heart.

Bruton didn’t have children of his own, but my memories of him are like a child’s. I knew a side of Bruton that few did.

He’d call me up, set up a “play date,” and come get me in his vintage Sixties Porsche. We’d both put on pairs of my swimming goggles and he’d flip his windshield wipers out straight. We were transformed, often into jet pilots from World War II. A fantastical drive usually ended at Amy’s Ice Cream.

Bruton loved guitars – he had an enormous collection – but he loved his dogs Lucky and Dosey just as much. I remember walking with him and those dogs through Gus Fruth Park. His dogs ran wild through the creek.

Sometimes we’d stop and sit on rocks along the creek. Everybody who knew Bruton could testify that he was one of the great storytellers. It seemed like he’d known, met, or played with just about every musician you’ve ever heard of – from Bob Dylan to Christine McVie.

I know Bruton would’ve had a lot of advice to offer my generation and stories to tell. He was serious about his craft, both guitar playing and songwriting. He liked to share his wisdom, whether you wanted it or not.

I was one of the lucky ones that knew him well and got to see him play. His absence, as Moser admitted last summer, still hurts. It’s one we’ll just never get over.

It’s one of my great hopes that the young bands in Austin will see it fit to discover Stephen Bruton’s music.

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