Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide

Black Cat

Photo of Sessums with a big Black Cat sign.

Sasha Sessums of the Black Cat

photograph by John Carrico

When people talk about Austin's live music institutions, they invariably talk about Antone's, Broken Spoke, Cactus Cafe, Hole in the Wall, and Liberty Lunch. Here are a few reasons why it's downright criminal that the Black Cat never seems to make it into the same sentence:

The Concept: Most clubs have a shtick. Paul Sessums had a vision: cheap beer, cheap music, free hot dogs (until the health department outlawed them in 1993). No renovations, just necessary repairs. The Black Cat does not accept demo tapes. To play, you audition live. Bands are "residents." The same bands play a given night of the week, every week. It's the residents' responsibility to promote their shows and draw people, not the club's. The Black Cat has no phone. The Black Cat has never advertised in either the Chronicle or the Statesman.

The Legacy: The first Black Cat opened on Sixth Street in 1985 in what is now Joe's Fun Shop. The club has been at its present location next door since 1988. Just some of the residents that Sessums hired when almost nobody else would give them a gig: Evan Johns, Two Hoots and a Holler, Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, Charlie Robison, Chaparral, the Booze Weasels, Near Dark, Chris Duarte, Ian Moore, Johnny Law, Junior Medlow, E.R. Shorts, Joe Rockhead, Soulhat, Little Sister, Ugly Americans, Sunflower, Pushmonkey, Dale Watson, Flametrick Subs. All played three-hour sets, sometimes twice a week. None took breaks.

It's a Family Thing: Paul Sessums and wife Roberta St. Paul started the club in 1985, and their children, Paul Jr. ("Martian") and Sasha have worked there since long, long before they were old enough to drink. Martian worked at the Black Cat until 1995; it's his design on the club's T-shirt. Sasha has run the business since 1995. The Sessums, minus Sasha, moved to Palacios, Texas in 1997. Paul Sessums died in a car accident in 1998. In March of this year, Martian and Roberta will open the Black Cat Cafe in Palacios.

The Club That Time Forgot: Last month, the Black Cat's outhouse-style bathrooms were painted for the first time in nearly 10 years. Otherwise, the Black Cat is still the Black Cat. Cover is still $2-$5. There is funk. There is country. There is metal. The Sessums family still lives off selling beer -- cheaply. Bands still keep the entire door. There is music six nights a week -- on Sixth Street, no less. The Black Cat has never had a benefit for itself.

It's an Institution: Enough said. --Andy Langer