Thoughts on Grulke and on the Music Scene

RECEIVED Wed., Aug. 15, 2012

Dear Editor,
    I don't really know how I first met Brent Grulke, though I guess I'm not the only one who would say that. Austin was a much different place in the 80s. In my mind, it seems that I met a few of the Chronicle staff (Louis Black, Roland Swenson, Margaret Moser, and Brent) all around the same time [“SXSW Music Fest Creative Director Brent Grulke Dies,” Earache! Music blog, Aug. 13]. The earliest recollection I have is walking into a very cluttered, cramped, and tiny office, which I think was at 28th and Neches, probably the first office of the Chronicle.
    At that time, in Austin, if you were involved in music, film, theatre, dance, or art, you would inevitably run into the same people wherever you went, and I guess that's what happened with Brent. I knew that he liked music, and I'm sure I ran into him at one show or another, on occasion.
    When I began hosting Trendsetters on KUT, I tried to keep in touch with various people at the Chronicle. I believe that in order to keep any kind of "scene" alive, and to have it thrive, all media has to be involved. Periodically, if I was doing an interview with someone, or playing something special on the show, I would contact the Chronicle. In a relatively short time, Austin's free, weekly paper became the only thing to read if your world revolved around contemporary, or alternative, pop culture. Brent Grulke was a large part of making that happen.
    The strongest memory that I have of Brent is during a benefit at Liberty Lunch. I had been badgering the KUT management for several years to let me host a live show as part of our pledge drive. Eventually, they said OK. Of course, then I had to find bands that were willing to play for free.
   I also planned to record the show.
    Tim Kerr, of the Big Boys, was willing to loan me a Tascam Portastudio, an early 4-track cassette recorder. I was setting it up just before the show, and Brent came over to see if I knew what I was doing (which I clearly did not). I didn't know, until Brent told me, that although this was a 4-track machine, it would only record on two tracks at the same time. Brent knew this immediately. He was clearly unhappy, and frustrated, by my ignorance.
    After a few minutes of considering the options, Brent took matters into his own hands, and came up with a workable solution (one that I would have never thought of); he ran one line off the PA system on stage to one channel of the Portastudio, then hung a mic above the audience, about halfway between us and the stage into the other channel. It wouldn't be in stereo, but it would be live.
    Somehow, I had managed to convince five (or was it six?) bands to play for free: the Vertibeads, Black Spring (Melissa Cobb and Barry Shank's band, who were among the first to cover songs by Daniel Johnston), Doctor's Mob (who were particularly hot that night), the Texas Instruments, who had already received a cease-and-desist letter from the attorney of a particular tech company that was unhappy about their name, and Scratch Acid, in what became the only benefit they ever played.
    Later, I was able to take that tape into a studio, and use a different EQ on each channel, making it "fake stereo.” Moneywise, the show was a flop – no one wanted to pay the $5 fee to get in, and Liberty Lunch looked pretty sparse on that Sunday night. But thanks to Brent, I was able to make up for that when I aired the tapes on my show. We raised a fair amount of money that year. I still have those tapes, and I cherish them dearly.
    I think the last time I talked to Brent was after I started volunteering for South by Southwest. I needed to get some discs that were in his office, because I was helping to create the MP3s of the musicians that were playing. His office was stacked with literally thousands of CDs, cassettes, and vinyl. Later, we got to talk for a brief moment, and he was giddy over the 10-CD set of the Stooges that he got – the complete recording sessions for their first album.
    Brent Grulke's passion was music, and that is something I can certainly relate to. Like so many other people who helped create the Austin music scene, he was able to accomplish things that I have only dreamed of. To lose someone so dedicated, so rigorous in following his muse, is a great blow to Austin music. We will never be the same. There are not many people like Brent Grulke around any more.
    I know I am not alone in saying that he will be missed, and my heart goes out to his son, Graham, his wife, Kristen, and his family at the Chronicle, at SXSW, and in the world of music.
Phillippe LaVere
Formerly host and producer of Trendsetters
KUT Austin ('81-'86), KCRW Santa Monica ('89-'91)
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