One, Two, Tres, Cuatro: Lives Well Spent
Life cycles of those who sold their souls for music
The subject Saturday morning was music and motherhood, as decreed by Carla DeSantis Black, notorious mover and shaker of Rockrgrl magazine and founder of Seattle's Rockrgrl Music Conference. Now relocated to Austin, she's wasted no time stirring things up with her Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women conference at Momo's, and wrangled onstage Sara Hickman, Elizabeth McQueen, and Shelley King, with me as moderator.
If I had any hesitation as a nonmother, it was brushed aside by the endless stories the three women told: the joy of lactating onstage or being the lone pregnant female in a large male band. King described a male fan hesitant to approach the merch table because she was breast-feeding.
"Listen," the singer-songwriter confided to him in a no-bullshit tone, "after I get done selling CDs and feeding, I have to go onstage and sing. If you want my autograph, get it now."
DeSantis booked the afternoon full of other panels and topics, so we wrapped up with audience commentary from veteran rocker Patti Quatro (see "The Pleasure Seekers," July 29), who verbally high-fived King. Had we talked longer, the topics surely would have wound around to our own mothers, almost uniformly supportive of the unconventional paths their daughters took. As Sarah Elizabeth Campbell said of her own mother who'd recently died, "Two musicians for kids couldn't have been easy."
Sudie Campbell "traveled to festivals [and] gigs all over, and [was] a total regular at Artz [Rib House] and Donn's [Depot] every Monday for many, many years," says Sarah. Though Sudie later followed her daughter and sometimes her son, guitarist Bill Campbell, as a young couple she and husband William Wallace Campbell waltzed across Texas to hear the touring dance bands. Sarah claims she was conceived in San Antonio after a Harry James dance; Bill recalls being set onstage "between the stand-up bass and trombone player for the entire first set" of a Les Blume Swing Band show.
Bill Campbell still ranks as one of Austin's finest blues guitarists, maybe the most uncelebrated considering his own remarkable history as the "token white boy" in many of the Eastside's best bands of the 1960s. He was the hometown guitarist sought by the Vaughan brothers when they relocated here in the early 1970s, and Gary Clark Jr. was wise enough to work with him early in his career. Bill, like Austin singer Shirley Ratisseau, played color-blind at a time when being the lone white in a black band came with different rules.
Bill's younger sibling Sarah didn't follow the road their older sister Marge did. Marge was a drum major in high school in the 1960s, but Sarah heard the siren call of the muse while Marge had the family grandbabies. Sarah migrated to California, playing festivals and cruises in string bands, and "the distance of mother-daughter angst started to smooth." It smoothed into maternal pride by the time Sarah moved back to Austin in 1989.
"It's hard to remember a gig she missed," wrote Sarah, planning a memorial for her mother on Nov. 28 at the Veterans Hall. "Always at Bummer Night at La Zona Rosa and after Gordon [Fowler] and Marcia [Ball] sold La Zona, Artz became her second home on Monday's. She loved the music and all the 'young people.' Unless she was really ill, she was there. After Artz, we would make the trek to Donn's Depot where her table was set, waiting with her cup of cocktail cherries and juice with fruit sticking out all over it like a boat drink."
When life is young and its promise bright, parents aren't really in the picture, just painted in the background. As we age, they once again occupy more space, more effort in our lives, perhaps living with us again, as my mother does with me. That wasn't anything I planned; it just happened that way after my stepfather died in 2005. It meant many changes, some I'm still adjusting to.
One of our rituals is monthly trips to the hair salon, an event she would like to schedule more often and I less. For most of the last five years, Brandi Cowley has done my hair. Besides all the chitchat and catch-up, I've also enjoyed the charming friendship of Georgia Bramhall, the stylist who worked alongside Brandi until opening her own salon, Honeycomb.
As word of her father Doyle Bramhall Sr.'s death went out Sunday, Georgia's name wasn't even mentioned in some reports. Perhaps it's because her brother Doyle II has emerged in the spotlight as a guitar superstar every bit as talented as his father's friend and co-author Stevie Ray Vaughan. The elder Bramhall, who died at 62, enjoyed as successful a life as can be had from music – critical acclaim, personal satisfaction, monetary reward, the Grammy nomination – while DB II is making his mark playing with Eric Clapton and Roger Waters. He's come a long way from passing tip jars.
Given the choice about when to check out, Big Doyle probably wouldn't have picked now. He'd had serious, recurring bouts of hepatitis C when we'd spoken for a Chronicle cover story (see "Life by the Drop," Feb. 21, 2003), but his artistry still thrived. His legacy is life by the drop.
When the Austin Music Memorial inducts punk rocker Randy "Biscuit" Turner on Friday, Nov. 18, (7-9pm at Austin City Hall with an afterparty at the Parlor), his name will add a neon glow to a list that includes gospel, country, blues, rock, and Tejano notables across the decades. Also being honored are Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood of Uncle Walt's Band, Gloria Jean Brown-Manor from Jean & the Rollettes, Anderson High School bandleader B.L. Joyce, drummer T.J. McFarland, patriarch Raymond Guerrero Donley, Dolores Fariss of Dolores & the Blue Bonnet Boys, Pariah's Sims Ellison, and the enigmatic blues bassman Keith Ferguson.
All have their stories. Some – like Ellison, Ferguson, and Turner – have also been on the cover of the Chronicle. Others, like B.L. Joyce, are a biography unto themselves. However long they each walked the Earth, here's reward for a life well spent in music.