Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stephen Bruton - He Was the Guy Behind the Guys

Singer-songwriter-producer-guitarist Stephen Bruton died Saturday, May 9th at age 60 from throat cancer. Most of you have probably never heard of him. But, you have definitely heard of the artists he has supplied songs for, played guitar for, or for whom he produced records. The list is lengthy, but includes Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, and Alejandro Escovedo. This Counrty Standard Time piece details Bruton's career much better than I can.

I remember Stephen Bruton as being part of one of those "oh, I get it" moments in my life. The moment, or more precisely, night, happened Thursday, April 28, 1994. My friends "Vern", "J.D." and I were in New Orleans for our first Jazz Fest. We spent the day at the actual festival at the Fairgrounds where we each drank well into double digit beers. Sometime that evening, we got back to the condo where we were staying in the French Quarter, regrouped (aka took a nap), and headed to Jimmy's to see Delbert McClinton.

Stephen Bruton was the opener for Delbert McClinton that night and none of us had ever heard of him. I vividly remember turning to "Vern" and "J.D" as Bruton was taking the stage and saying "this guy is going to be really good or he's going to suck". Needless to say, Bruton didn't suck. Bruton mostly performed songs from his debut solo CD What It Is. Not too long into his set, Bruton did his song "Big Top Hat" which includes the line "You can kiss my a** 'til my hat pops off". That's when I started to realize that, although I got to see a variety of bands at the Fairgrounds during the day, the club shows at night were really what Jazz Fest was all about to me. Bruton played a great set before turning the stage over to Delbert McClinton around midnight. Delbert came on and, to the best of my memory, played until after 3:00 a.m. Delbert was incredible. To this day, I consider that concert to be one of top 10 concerts I've ever seen. In fact, a poster from that concert still hangs in my dining room. So, while the music industry will remember Stephen Bruton for his work behind the scenes, I'll remember him for being front and center on stage, introducing me to the night scene of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

You can see Stephen Bruton performing "Too Many Memories", one of his more mellow compositions here.

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