Bluesmen & Pink Ribbon Cowgirls

The deaths of Brenda Hutchison and Nick Curran give us pause

Brenda Hutchison
Brenda Hutchison

Did Brenda Hutchison and Nick Curran know each other? Their deaths were about a week apart, both from battles with cancer that were hard fought. Both left earth much too young, and both dedicated part of their lives to the music that makes Austin so special.

For better or worse, Curran followed in the sharp, deep footprints of modern blues guitar as imprinted by Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan – literally in the case of the latter. A native of Maine, Curran toured with Texan Ronnie Dawson, “The Blond Bomber” of rockabilly fame, then settled into the Lone Star State with Kim Lenz & the Jaguars and his own Nick Curran & the Nitelifes, which led to a 2004-2007 stint with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

That’s where Curran earned his stripes, under frontman Kim Wilson’s searing harp and soulful vocals. The guitarist brought a rich, almost irreverent, vintage blues style to the band Jimmie Vaughan set the standard for. In his other bands, punkers the Flash Boys, Deguello, and the Lowlifes, Curran honed his edge and broadened the scope of fearless playing by always staying open to exploration. He was 35.

Brenda Hutchison didn’t spend her time in the spotlight, but in her various positions throughout the music industry, she made it possible for the Nick Currans of the world to do what they do. A graduate of San Antonio College, she worked as a deejay on KSYM, then moved her experience and passion for music to Austin where she joined the earliest core of South by Southwest staffers in 1988 – even before Brent Grulke came aboard.

That’s where I met Brenda. I headed the 1988 SXSW Volunteer crew during its second year in addition to directing the Austin Music Awards. Brenda worked as panels coordinator and I was struck by her forthrightness, intelligence, willowy beauty, and her love of pets. I was impressed when she left SXSW in 1995 and went on to work with labels like Spindletop, alongside executives including Irving Azoff, and for producers and management companies here and there.

I also understood the lure of Austin when she returned home in the late Nineties, but wasn’t really aware of the iron backbone she possessed until she fought the cancer invading her body by organizing the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls support group. She was 52.

Their deaths, like that of Brent Grulke in August, fills me with a yearning kind of sadness, for all three were younger than I am. Young enough to have come from the next generation down or be children. Brent and Brenda were of an age that fit in my life as younger siblings, a relationship the former spoke of in his Geek Weekly interview.

I had been writing for a year when Nick Curran was born in 1977. He’d be the age of the children I didn’t have.

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Brenda Hutchison, Nick Curran, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kim Wilson, Ronnie Dawson, Kim Lenz, Flash Boys, Deguello, the Lowlifes, SXSW, Brent Grulke, Spindletop Records, Irving Azoff, Pink Ribbon Cowgirls

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