Playback: Sunday Morning Coming Down

Last Sunday marked the death of two Austin music connectors; plus, in regard to local public policy, Mayor Steve Adler calls

Jimmy LaFave (l) and George Reiff (Photos by Todd V. Wolfson)

Late last November, resentment consumed Jimmy LaFave. Because of his record label partnership with Dakota Access Pipeline villain Kelcy Warren, the Austin singer-songwriter found himself under attack on social media and drowning in hate mail.

During an unpublished, 55-minute phone interview with "Playback" about his ties to the billionaire oil tycoon – in which he declared Jackson Browne "full of shit" for disavowing his affiliation with Warren, decried social media activism as "a witch hunt gone wacko," and lamenting proposed label boycotts as "McCarthyism bullshit" – he then dropped a bomb:

"There's too much hate for someone in my position right now. I'm beat down. I'm tired. I have some really bad cancer that can't be cured. I'm trying to tune it out and live out my life."

Last Thursday, body weak and wheelchair bound, LaFave succeeded at precisely that. In front of a sold-out Paramount Theatre, he closed his Songwriter Rendezvous with a curtain call of "Goodnight Irene," singing the Leadbelly folk standard into a mic gripped by one of the concert's organizers and his friend Christine Albert.

"What I felt as I held the microphone was not his desire to take a final bow to accept our love and gratitude," says Albert. "He willed himself on that stage to express his love and gratitude to all of us – for making his life so rich."

Three days later, the iconic crier whose tender tenor presided over 14 heralded albums since moving to Austin in 1986 and was considered a kindred spirit by the descendants of his principal muse, Woody Guthrie, died at home surrounded by family and friends. He was 61.

LaFave had managed to keep his grim diagnosis largely private until last month. Even with his Music Road Records partner, in attendance at the Paramount, offering to finance any treatment, there was no saving the singer's life. In a second interview with "Playback" last month, he'd vowed to "go out in the presence of laughter, music, and friends."

At the Paramount, he did (revisit "I Love You, Jimmy," May 19).

Influence reverberates eternal – tiny consolation in a musician's demise – but such deaths can still feel like a truncation for survivors. In a cosmic compounding of heartache for Austin's music community, George Reiff expired within hours of LaFave on Sunday. The beloved local bassist, 56, had undergone 10 months of treatment for lung cancer that spread to his brain, liver, and bone marrow and finally caused multiple strokes this month prompting a rapid decline.

Reiff personified the connective tissue holding Austin music together. The New Yorker made the scene in the early Eighties as bassist for Joe "King" Carrasco and went on to play with Ian McLagan, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jon Dee Graham, Michael Fracasso, Charlie Sexton, Cotton Mather, and dozens of other local favorites over the next three-and-a-half decades.

Meanwhile, his Finishing School studio fostered crucial albums by Band of Heathens, the Mastersons (see "Texas Platters," May 26), and Shinyribs. A patient and astute mentor, Reiff cultivated young talent, producing Lincoln Durham, linking up Carson McHone's career-boosting appearance on Hubbard's "Chick Singer Badass Rockin'," and even welcomed yours truly into his space to track mandolin on the Beaumonts' "If You Take Drugs (You're Gonna Die)."

Reiff's flooring credits include gigs with Joe Walsh, Court Yard Hounds, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Jakob Dylan, and Black Crowes' leader Chris Robinson, plus appearances with drum deities Levon Helm and Ringo Starr. Musically intertwined with Reiff since hanging out with him at legendary punk dive Raul's, Charlie Sexton feels the loss of George's "incredible spirit."

"He was so multi-layered," says the guitarist. "Without being pretentious, he could sit down with Terry Allen and talk about what artists he loved, or talk about poetry. He could discuss philosophy, he knew about Judaism, he was a self-taught pastry chef, he knew the difference between Protestant and Catholic whiskey, and he knew records. He was the original Austin hipster – before it was a drag – because he was so well-versed in vast interests.

"He was always present, interested, and caring. He would adjust what he was doing and what he wanted to do based on what was appropriate and what the music needed. That's just who he was. He just gave and gave and gave."

Mayor Addresses Contentious Music Legislation

Following my editorial last week, "Music Policy Draft Fails Venues," which lambasted a lazy proposal by city staff to let hotels off the hook in sound disputes between music venues and developments, while also calling for a largely punitive entertainment license that offered no incentives for clubs, "Playback" received a call from Mayor Steve Adler.

Bracing for a tongue-lashing, I instead found a sympathetic reader.

"I want you to know I share some of the same concerns that you have and hope and expect that it's not going to be poor when it's done," he said of the legislation.

Adler agreed that Agent of Change should include any development with overnight stays.

"I thought it would pertain regardless of use, so someone's going to have to explain to me why we'd differentiate between Downtown condos and Downtown hotels," he stated. "Agent of Change is a principle and I'd like to see us demonstrate that we really believe in it."

The mayor also acknowledged staff's challenges of creating venue-centric policy as the Music Office's top seat sits vacant. In fact, he revealed that he'd like to tap former department head Don Pitts to advise on music issues. He emphasized the policy is still mid-process.

"We send something like this out, staff comes back with a draft, the community reacts to it, Council gets involved, and then you come up with a product," he explained. "This point in the process is when people should be looking at it and saying, 'Yes, this works' or 'No, this doesn't work.' It's not done."

Nearly a dozen venue operators contacted "Playback" last week to express dismay over current legislation. The Music Venue Alliance, a policy-centric advocacy group led by attorney Rebecca Reynolds that's received pledges of support from 21 prominent clubs, sent Mayor Adler and each council member a letter expressing specific concerns with the "incomplete" policy draft and requesting that its expected June 8 City Council vote be delayed. MVA's missive offers to work with Council offices over their five-week summer break – beginning June 23 – to help craft better legislation.

Asked about the path to getting a better version of the two policies passed, Mayor Adler outlined more civic process.

"Part of it is checking to see when we think we have the votes and when we have a product that's ready to go forward," he offered. "We're meeting with staff and venue owners. At this point, we work to make the document what we want it to be and do the politics to see if we can get six votes."

Half Notes

Stevie Wonder closes F1 weekend with a performance on Sunday, Oct. 22, at Circuit of the Americas – followed by a victory lap in the winning car (kiddin'). The concert, a night after Justin Timberlake's F1 appearance, marks the Motown great's return after an April 2015 Erwin Center extravaganza. Weekend passes, $159, are available now.

Mullet Merch: Superfast string band Whiskey Shivers are fundraising for July's Some Part of Something LP by selling key chains and bracelets made from singer/fiddler Bobby Fitzgerald's trademark mudflap. Cop your hockey hair jewelry on the band's PledgeMusic page.

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Jimmy LaFave, George Reiff, Mayor Steve Adler, Agent of Change, Christine Albert, Kelcy Warren, ACL Fest 2017, Whiskey Shivers, Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake

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