Off the Record
Rusty Wier (1944-2009)
Not only did Rusty Wier help develop the "Austin Sound," he embodied it. "Six-foot-five in boots and hat," Wier was the original cosmic soulman, merging the psychedelic Sixties with the Seventies' outlaw attitude, his music similarly torn between hard living and rough-hewn grace. After a two-year battle, Wier succumbed to liver cancer on Friday at his son Neil Williams' house in Driftwood. He was 65.
"He had that whole progressive and independent spirit – Slow, Stoned, Rugged," says Ray Wylie Hubbard, referencing Wier's 1974 classic of the same name. "But underneath that he was a very caring, gracious musician. He understood the craft of songwriting. He didn't waste words. He'd cut right to it."
While best known for his anthem "Don't It Make You Wanna Dance," which earned double platinum status via Bonnie Raitt's version on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, the Manchaca-raised songwriter amassed a remarkable body of work over his five-decades-long career, most notably including 1976's Black Hat Saloon. Wier, who started behind drums at age 13 with the Centennials before joining the Wig and Gary P. Nunn's Lavender Hill Express, was also a great interpreter of songs ("Rustification" as he called it) and among the first in town to cover artists such as Willis Alan Ramsey and John Hiatt. Yet, more than anything, Wier was an entertainer.
"He had a total commitment to his audience, a way of reaching them and making them feel close to him," smiles longtime manager Vicky Moerbe. "That was his gift."
A public memorial is scheduled to take place tonight (Thursday, Oct. 15) at the Saxon Pub, where Wier held down a legendary 15-year Thursday residency until he became too weak to do so in 2007. As Saxon owner Joe Ables puts it, "Everyone will be on Rusty's guest list." He is survived by four children.
"I've had a wonderful time," Wier once told the Chronicle (see "I Before E," May 31, 2002). "There's nothing else I could have possibly done in my life where I would have had as much fun and made a living. I play songs, I make music, that's what I love to do. And I don't have to kiss nobody's ass."
What was supposed to be the start of a new residency at the Hole in the Wall for Austin's Bankrupt & the Borrowers – a promising young outfit with a penchant for distorted roots-rock and broken-down blues – turned into a memorial benefit last night for founder Jon Pettis. The multi-instrumentalist and band founder died of smoke inhalation early Friday morning after an electrical malfunction of a power strip caused a tragic house fire at the group's shared Eastside residence. He was 28. "Jon was the most kind and genuine person, and his music touched a lot of people," relates manager Gene Griffin. A proper tribute is in the works, and donations for the band, which lost everything in the fire, are being accepted at www.bankruptandtheborrowers.com.
Eastside drummer Willie Sampson, 66, a member of the Texas Northside Kings and fixture in Austin's Dialtone Records stable, died Oct. 1 of cancer. "He was so original, one of the best of the shuffle drummers I ever heard," professes label owner Eddie Stout. "There's no replacing him." Services will be held at Austin-Peel & Son Funeral Home (607 E. Anderson) Friday, Oct. 16, at 11am.
Without a bang or whimper, MC Overlord quietly retired from the Austin rap game last week, dropping off the bill for what was to be his final show, Save KUT's Twang Dang Doodle on Sunday, due to scheduling conflicts. Considering D-Madness' recent departure and the imminent exodus of colleague and standard-bearer Bavu Blakes, the move signifies a larger end of an era for local hip-hop. "I accomplished all of the goals I set out to achieve; all that was really left was to continue the pursuit of a major label," says Donnell Robinson, né Overlord, who, over his solid 20-year reign, earned a shelf's worth of Austin Music Awards and gained mainstream acceptance in the Nineties' Steamboat crowd. Robinson isn't hanging up the mic altogether, but rather shifting focus to his Big Don Productions. The entertainment company approaches hip-hop with the same modern, positive perspective found in Overlord's oeuvre but makes the content appropriate for the Kidz Bop generation, waxing lyrical on familiar stories (the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Humpty Dumpty) and what Robinson calls "character-building tunes," such as "A Little Help" and "Good Manners." Big Don has already been added to the children's stage for all three days of the 2009 Voodoo Experience music festival in New Orleans later this month. "There are no legitimate rappers doing children's music," he stresses. "It's cool because the kids get the experience of working in a real studio. They are so energetic and so smart."
"One of our singles is going for like $78 right now," laughs Andy Burr, the singer/guitarist for Woven Bones, with mild amusement. That hefty price tag is undoubtedly a testament to the value of limited edition vinyl but more so to the rising stock of Woven Bones. Since forming locally late last year, the trio has quickly emerged with an abrasive brand of tribal psychocandy that meets halfway between the Cramps and the Bad Seeds, as if Kid Congo Powers never existed. The band has issued three singles, each sharper and more difficult to come by than the last, and drops its searing new 12-inch EP, The Minus Touch, released by Dum Dum Girls' Zoo Music, at Beerland on Sunday, with Thee Oh Sees and A Giant Dog. As if that weren't enough, Woven Bones will also be featured on the new Matador Records compilation Casual Victim Pile, curated by locally based label co-owner Gerard Cosloy. Featuring contributions from the Young, Dikes of Holland, Elvis, the Golden Boys, the No No No Hopes, and recent label signees Harlem, the 19-song sampler, due Jan. 26, is shaping up to be the most impressive regional comp since 1983's Cottage Cheese From the Lips of Death. "I think everything's been done," Burr concedes. "We have obvious influences, but there's no facade to our music. It comes through on its own terms, short and sweet."
• The Sword has been added to the lineup for Fun Fun Fun Fest, Nov. 7-8, at Waterloo Park, and Transmission Entertainment has announced a slew of aftershows: www.funfunfunfest.com.
• The Continental Club hosts a memorial for beloved longtime local fiddler Amy Farris on Wednesday, Oct. 21, with Dave Alvin, Exene Cervenka, Kelly Willis, Jon Dee Graham, and Jesse Dayton, among others.
• This Saturday is officially proclaimed Austin City Limits Day by the mayor's office, coinciding with the 35th anniversary of Willie Nelson's pilot episode. Stream the program in all its vintage glory at www.austincitylimits.org.