Represent Texas

2009-10 Austin Music Awards encore

Cowboys and Cadillacs: Denny Freeman delivers his emotional thank-you for his Hall of Fame induction
Cowboys and Cadillacs: Denny Freeman delivers his emotional thank-you for his Hall of Fame induction (Photo by Jana Birchum)

"What's your favorite category?" It's the most common question about the workings of the Chronicle's Austin Music Poll, and the answer I love most to give is "Hall of Fame." It's a category about career achievement, and although significant achievement can be and has been recognized in younger musicians and bands, Hall of Fame winners tend to be older, veteran local performers, for whom sometimes an AMA is their only recognition. For many Austin musicians, particularly those considered the finest when they're not the best known, the award is an affirmation. To Denny Freeman, the Dallas guitarist who moved to Austin in 1970 to play the blues and nearly 40 years later toured as Bob Dylan's guitarist, his Hall of Fame win at this year's AMAs (see "Tell Me True," March 26) was a culmination of his life's work. He sent me this e-mail the morning after the ceremony. – Margaret Moser

Hi Margaret. I guess you know by now that I blew it last night with my acceptance speech. Sorry. I didn't know Susan Antone was going to be the presenter, and that was wonderful, but her presence there brought so many things into an intense focus that I couldn't get out everything I wanted to say. I was going to try to say something like:

Thank you for this honor, for the nomination, and for the voters and ballot stuffers. I don't want to thank a lot of folks you don't know, and I'm very grateful to too many people for too many things to mention them all now. But there's one person I want to thank publicly, and that's Margaret Moser. If you don't know who I am or what I was a part of, it's not her fault.

Blues Boy Hubbard, another AMA Hall of Famer, was handpicked by Black Joe Lewis for this year's closing jam
Blues Boy Hubbard, another AMA Hall of Famer, was handpicked by Black Joe Lewis for this year's closing jam (Photo by Jana Birchum)

I was a part of something very special, and important, I think, in the 1970s and 1980s here in Austin, and there isn't much left of it now. A bunch of us moved here: me in 1970, followed by Jimmie Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall, Paul Ray, then Stevie, Angela Strehli, Lou Ann Barton, Clifford Antone, and many others. Derek O'Brien was already here.

Everyone knows about Jimmie and Stevie and Clifford, but there were many others. We came to play blues. Not many folks cared at the time, but of course Jimmie, Stevie, and Antone's all became pretty well known around the country and the world later on. There was much music going on in Austin at the time, and it was all good, but as is so often the case, blues can get ignored, forgotten about. There just isn't much left of what we were doing, even as special and magical as it was.

That's why I want to thank Margaret, because from time to time, she attempts to remind folks, or inform others, about what we had with our little blues cult. And we're all grateful when someone does that. So, thank you, Margaret. And Susan, because you represent so much that was so wonderful to me about that time in my life that was so unbelievably wonderful. And I don't want to talk about me, but just that – about Margaret and Susan and Austin and a little about Texas history.

When I was a young lad growing up in Dallas, I didn't understand the big deal about Texas. I liked Dallas. It was a good place to grow up. Much exposure to music. That's where I got most of my musical education. Not completely unique, but almost. I heard Elvis at the Cotton Bowl in 1956, Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley at the State Fair Music Hall, Smiley Lewis at the Sportatorium, and blues on the radio – all as a young teen or adolescent. So it was good.

Susan Antone (left) and arts patrons Eloise and John Paul DeJoria introduce Denny Freeman.
Susan Antone (left) and arts patrons Eloise and John Paul DeJoria introduce Denny Freeman. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

And yet, all the images of Texas at the time were oil wells, longhorn steers, cowboys, Cadillacs, all that. None of which was in my life. So I didn't get it. And then, in the late 1970s, early 1980s, it happened that if you were a musician from Austin, you could get work across the country and in Europe, again, just for being from Austin. For my band the Cobras, it was opened up by Jimmie and the T-Birds, then Stevie.

So, off we went, and it was fun – cool to be from Austin.

But wait, Austin's in Texas, so it was about that, really. And it was being on the East Coast and other places that I could look back, look at Texas from afar and at Texans, and get a perspective on all that. I liked it. I saw who we were, what made us different. It wasn't just all cowboy images. It was who we were – our gumbo of music. And it was good.

So, if you're new to Texas, welcome. I think you'll like it, because it's good to be a Texan. And the point of all this is, as I go out into the world, I feel like I represent Texas in some small way. I promise I'll try to make Texas look good.

Thank you.

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Denny Freeman, Austin Music Awards, Margaret Moser, Susan Antone

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