The Austin Chronicle

Bursting With Attitude

Paul Sessums Remembered

By Marc Savlov, August 21, 1998, Music

Top to bottom: Paul Sessums Jr., Paul Sessums, and Sasha Sessums.

photograph by Bruce Dye

Paul Sessums, owner of the Black Cat Lounge and longtime fixture of the Austin music scene, was killed early Monday morning when the van he was driving lost control on Highway 71 just outside of Bastrop. The exact cause of the accident remains unclear, but it is known that Sessums was thrown from the automobile during the rollover. He was 57. Sessums, who was headed into Austin from his home in Palacios when the accident occured, is survived by his family - wife Roberta St. Paul, son Paul "Martian" Jr., and daughter Sasha Sessums - as well as by the lasting imprint he left on the local music scene.

Opened in 1985, the Black Cat has become a world-famous symbol of Austin nightlife, attracting a multitude of visitors from around the globe, not to mention the occasional touring band looking to play an impromptu after-show set. More importantly, the Sixth Street club has served as a launching pad for some of Austin's most notorious bands: everyone from a young Ian Moore & Moment's Notice to Joe Rockhead, Soul Hat, Near Dark, Two Hoots & a Holler, and on down to current Saturday night residency holders, Flametrick Subs and Satan's Cheerleaders.

Although the club has been overseen by Sasha for some time now, the Black Cat remains an extension of Paul Sessums' gregarious personality - the kind of bar where the beer is cold and cheap, the music loud and raucous, and the atmosphere a purely Austin amalgam of wild biker bravado, punk rock fisticuffs, and rockabilly panache.

Such Sessums' touches as his "free hot dog policy" of the late Eighties, where bargoers were assured at least a quasi-decent meal while drinking oceans of Shiner, set the ever-smiling clubowner apart from the competition; there was also the time Sessums actually installed a makeshift fire pit at the back of the club to offset the fact that the Black Cat's only source of heat during the winter came from patrons' circulatory systems. Other times, the thunder of Harley-Davidson motorcycles lined up two- and three-deep outside his club threatened to drown out the music inside.

Over the years, Sessums remained steadfastly vocal in his criticism of the city's ever-changing anti-noise regulations, the facade above the Black Cat's door always festooned with various eye-catching screeds against the offending parties; Sessums' amazingly accurate bullshit detector brought a begrudging respect from all sectors of Austin's music community.

With the Black Cat in the able hands of his two children, the senior Sessums spent the bulk of the last several years in the small South Texas community of Palacios, a city that, to hear the clubowner tell it, he was on the way to fully owning. "If you ever pass through town," he would say, "Just tell anyone you see that you're looking for Paul. They'll know where to find me."

Having his own feifdom at his beck and call was never enough to keep Sessums from regular travel back to the Black Cat. Not only did he have family there, the club was his family. Once a month or so, he would hop into his vehicle and make the trek to Austin, stay for a few days, and return to Palacios. It only adds to the tragedy that the road he was travelling at the time of his death was the path that so often had led him home.

The Black Cat Lounge remains the same as it ever was, a little wild, occasionally out of bounds, but like Paul Sessums, innately Austin, crammed to bursting with attitude, music, and love. And beer. Lots of beer.

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.