One slow Sunday morning, Herschel Cunningham came to Chuys for breakfast. I sat down and told him I was majoring in sound engineering and he responded just as everyone in the music industry did, “You can take classes in that?” Well, he let me intern at the studio for free, mostly cleaning up and taking out the trash. I did find some interesting items in the ashtrays, in fact I got the feeling that the musicians were leaving roach offerings for “the kid.” There was some great rock’n’roll music made there, and the occasional country act came through, but most of all it was a blues scene.
Austin’s Riverside Sound, at the far end of Riverside Drive, on the edge of town, was basically created as a playground for Richard Mullen, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s engineer. It was his gold albums that hung on the wall, from Stevie’s first two, that made the studio, and Richard was part owner. Richard Mullen never got the credit he deserved for Stevie Ray’s success, although he really enhanced the music with the same pristine, other-worldly sound he had given Christopher Cross, of “Sailing” fame, years before. Later, Richard was Eric Johnson’s main engineer for over a decade, which says a lot. It was incredible watching and listening to Richard meticulously craft every nuance into those tracks. He charged $70 per hour at the time, and he took all night, slowly slurping down a 12-pack of Miller Lite, to make every project as perfect as possible.
Most of the acts that recorded at Riverside were blues players that would hang out at Antone’s, the greatest blues club in Texas. One time Clifford Antone brought to the studio some old guys from Chicago that used to play with Howling Wolf—Hubert Sumlin and Co. The drummer (E.G?) derided me for keeping “our” beer in the fridge, where “that bassplayer” could get to it. “Can’t you drink warm beer?” he asked.
My first album credit was on Trash, Twang, and Thunder—Big Guitars of Texas. That was a very impressive experience, and it made a huge impression on me. The producer basically just gathered six of the best players he could get ahold of and put them in the studio together. In four days they came up with what turned out to be a Grammy Nominee.
Of course the band I was most involved with was Omar and the Howlers, a jamming blues rock act that packed Austin clubs on a weekly basis, when they weren’t packing stadiums in Sweden, where they were treated like gods. This was an Austin Records group and I was doing anything and everything needed to release their albums, and later to get them signed with CBS. Those guys were good friends and I really enjoyed hanging around with them. Omar has always been an inspiration to me as a model of how to focus on what you do best and putting your all into it.
Click on the links to see videos of these performers.