Comes in Threes

R.I.P. Stephen, Bud, and Poodie

Yes, that’s me desperately trying to look like I am in the conversation between Stephen Bruton and Billy Bob Thornton, Texas Film Hall of Fame, 2005.
Yes, that’s me desperately trying to look like I am in the conversation between Stephen Bruton and Billy Bob Thornton, Texas Film Hall of Fame, 2005. (by Todd V. Wolfson)

Any one of the deaths last week were enough to send me into that thoughtful frame of mind, the one that always accompanies a fresh loss. A recent trip to Hawaii to scatter Rollo’s ashes and my brother Stephen’s Sword of Damocles cancer isn’t much help.

The first time I saw Bud Shrake, he’d stopped into the offices of the Austin Sun on 15th Street. What he was there for, I don’t remember. What I do remember is how I was struck by his presence, that innate something I still can’t put my finger on. Maybe it was just his sheer talent or the aura of celebrity. Hey, he had schmoozed with Jack Ruby and Willie Nelson. The Shrake I knew was a gentleman. I liked him best for being Ann Richards’ “longtime companion,” to put it as quaintly as they did. I know they say it was lung cancer, but I think he just couldn’t do without Ann any longer.

Poodie Locke’s sudden death last week was the first of the three, and at 56, it seems much too early. He’d worked for Willie since the 1970s, and known him longer than that. Any time I needed Willie Nelson, I called Poodie, not the management. If Poodie wasn’t around, I left a message at Poodie’s Hilltop Bar. He always returned my calls.

As Willie’s stage manager and right-hand man, it’s a damn shame Poodie never wrote a book. Not because he had secrets to tell – oh yes, more than a few – but because he elevated the often-disparaged role of roadie into a position of respect. Poodie wasn’t lucky to work for Willie, Willie was goddamn privileged to have Poodie. They didn’t come anymore loyal than Poodie Locke. That cracking sound you hear coming from Spicewood is the mold being broken on men like him.

The news of Stephen Bruton’s death came in an oh-so-21st-century way: text. I stared at it, the dull ache from two hits now aggravated by a third. This one was much closer to home, however. I’ve been fortunate to write about Stephen Bruton and work with him; reporting on his passing is distressing. He’s been so dear to my heart for so many things, one of the silliest being that he wore Rollo’s Day of the Dead Chronicle t-shirt in a photo with Kris Kristofferson. And since so many others will acknowledge his music and other talents, I’ll stick with loving him for making my life on this earth a little better to hear.

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Stephen Bruton, Bud Shrake, Poodie Locke

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