Category Archives: Music
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.
Let me tell you about a big dream I had, and how I made it come true. When I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in ’86, I started working full-time for Austin Records, managing the recording studio—Austin’s Riverside Sound. That didn’t work out. I’ll save the details for another day, but the result was that by ’88 I was bartending at Baby Acapulco and making money. For a few years I kept bartending, saving money, then taking long travel vacations (following dreams) to Europe, Mexico, Central and South America. By ’92 I was depressed—I didn’t like bartending, and I had discovered that travel was a short-term fix with no constructive advancement for my life. Then I got this dream, a crazy dream, really impossible for a man of my limited means. I wanted my own recording studio.
I thought about it a lot. I drew up numerous sketches of my dream studio. I even looked at some cheap real estate and tried to imagine how I could transform the dump into something. It was fun to think about. Then one day, Brian Hargiss offered me his 8-track recorder (not the cassette, the ¼ inch reels) and I started fooling around with it. I needed a patch-bay for all the connections, and decided to call Jim Gilbert, a professional carpenter I knew. I went to his shop, located in an industrial complex in South Austin, and my eyes went wide at the space. Suddenly I realized I could rent one of these spaces for the same amount I was paying to rent my apartment, and live there. There were already a couple of artists doing the same.
I did it. I fine-tuned my sketches, then went to Home Depot and bought all the supplies I needed to build my dream studio. All my friends got involved. It became a community project, and most of my clients came by word of mouth via these same friends. Thus was born Breakfast Surreal Studio. It was a blast. I made a lot of friends, helped a lot of musicians record for cheap, and eventually went bankrupt. I got so high from the experience that, when it all came down just three years later, I hit a rock-bottom depression. I was forced to re-invent myself, again. This dream made me who I am today, put me on the path to now. Dreams are serious stuff.
In December ’98 I was lucky enough to travel to Havana with the band Ache’ Pa’ Ti for the Annual Jazz Festival. It was so awesome, I stayed for a full month. We got to watch some world-class acts up close, even back-stage like Los Van Van here. Here’s a great video.