The Austin Chronicle

One of a Kind

By Jim Caligiuri, May 13, 2009, 1:17pm, Earache!

I didn’t know Stephen Bruton very well, but there are a couple of moments that will stick with me forever. 2007’s Road to Austin show, where he served as bandleader, is the type of event that could only happen here. Yeah, his longtime famous friends – Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Delbert McClinton – heartily took part, but it also served as a snapshot of where the Austin music scene was at that very moment, giving a larger stage to Ruthie Foster, Carolyn Wonderland, and James Hand. Although he’d probably demure to its impact, it was a celebration of Bruton’s life as a friend to a music scene that now has a huge hole to fill.

I’m pretty sure I first met Bruton in December 1998, while he was producing some sessions for bluesman/singer-songwriter Chris Smither, which turned out to be 1999’s Drive You Home Again (Hightone). In a tiny nondescript studio on South Lamar, they were working on a track called “No Love Today.” Both men were gracious and personable and seemed especially proud of the New Orleans street vibe they had created with a small horn section that was almost funereal. Smither explained that the song attempted to evoke an old-time street vendor who hawked fruit out of the back of his truck, but had no love for sale. Listening to the song today, it’s safe to say they nailed it.

I contacted Smither, who is best known for writing “Love You Like a Man,” one of Raitt’s signature tunes, via email asking for a remembrance of Bruton. His response is also note-perfect:

“I first met Stephen when he was playing with Kristofferson in the early 70s. We hit it off immediately, and remained friends and colleagues from then on. I'll remember him for many things, but probably best and most gratefully for teaching me how to have fun making records. Before I worked with Stephen, recording was a nightmarish chore fraught with anxiety, and the certainty that I was going to be uncovered as a fraud. We made three albums together, and he transformed my attitude and my career. I will miss him more than I can possibly say.”

Check out Bruton's "Waiting For a Long Time" here.

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