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Stephen Bruton one of Austin’s best guitar players passes away

on May 9, 2009 No comments

Sat, May. 16, 2009
By Teresa Gubbins – Special to the Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH — If you didn’t hear much live music Saturday, that’s because nearly every musician in town was at an hour-long memorial for Fort Worth native Stephen Bruton, a singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer who died of throat cancer May 9 at age 60.

The ceremony, at Holy Family Catholic Church in west Fort Worth, included remarks by Kris Kristofferson, the actor and musician with whom Bruton played for 40 years, and songwriter, producer and friend T-Bone Burnett, at whose Los Angeles home Bruton died. Burnett played a recording made by Bruton just a few weeks before his death.

Holy Family Catholic Church in west Fort Worth
Holy Family Catholic Church in west Fort Worth

Musician Bonnie Raitt, with whom Bruton once toured, also attended, though she came and went via a side entrance and did not speak.

Bruton’s relatives, including mother, Kathleen, wife, Mary, and brother, Sumter Bruton III, were joined by more than 500 people, forming a veritable who’s who of Dallas-Fort Worth’s blues music scene. The crowd also included Anson Funderburgh, Rob Roy Parnell, Bugs Henderson, Linda Waring, Mike Buck and Monty McClinton. Among the pallbearers were James Pennebaker, Glen Clark, Dave Millsap and Donnie Wade.

Writer and musician Mike Price, who has a music partnership with Sumter Bruton, said he appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with Stephen Bruton over the years.

“Sumter and I stayed put in our hometown, while Stephen sought to broaden his range, though he never sought stardom simply for the sake of it,” Price said. “For the past two years, he was ill, and we reveled in his seeming recoveries. There was a lot of genuine hope and some false ones, too.”

Bruton had become a bright light in the Austin music scene, where he lived in recent years and produced albums by Alejandro Escovedo, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Marcia Ball. Johnny Cash and Jimmy Buffet recorded his songs. He also toured with Delbert McClinton and Bob Dylan and recorded five solo albums.

Kristofferson, clearly shaken, faltered at times, including a labored pause before his comments. He recalled a trip he and Stephen Bruton took down river rapids in Idaho — an experience that cemented their friendship after Bruton fell in and was nearly carried away by the current.

“There was a look on his face I never saw before or after,” Kristofferson said. “The river pulled him in, and I jumped in after him. … And I could see the headlines: ‘Stupid musicians.’ I remember telling him to swim with the current, not against. I think he felt like I did, that our friendship had passed a test that neither of us could have imagined would last throughout our lives.”

Burnett recalled meeting Bruton when both were teenagers. They would get buried in the stacks at Record Town, a music store owned by Bruton’s father, Sumter Bruton II.

“Much of what I know about music, I learned from his family,” Burnett said. “He was a friend who gave much and expected nothing in return, a great musician, great songwriter and great teacher who taught me to love as if there were no tomorrow.”

The two recently worked together on the soundtrack for the upcoming Jeff Bridges movie, “Crazy Heart,” of which Burnett is a producer.

“His music is the beating heart of this movie,” Burnett said before introducing the recording Bruton made of “Playing for Keeps.”

More than a few tears were shed by the assembly at the bittersweet pleasure of hearing Bruton’s last recording, his plaintive voice accompanied by a few simple strokes of his guitar:

I smile to myself
Words can’t express
I lose all track of time
when I look into your eyes.

Tribute concert

Bass Performance Hall will pay tribute to Stephen Bruton on Sunday at 2 p.m. at McDavid Studio, 301 East Fifth St., with a free concert featuring many of his friends, including Johnny Reno, Dave and Richard Millsap, the Tejas Brothers, Gary Nicholson, Rollo Smith, Linda Waring, James Hinkle, Yogi Musgrove, Randy Case, Lewis Stephens and Bill Ham, along with special guests.

The concert is free and open to the public.

817-212-4280 or

Source: © Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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