Joe Priesnitz, who managed Austin guitar great Eric Johnson for nearly 40 years and helped further the careers of Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others as a booking agent or manager, died Saturday at home in Austin after a seven-year battle with multiple myeloma. He was 66.
Born Frederick Joe Priesnitz on April 16, 1954, in Carlsbad, N.M., Priesnitz earned a degree in microbiology at New Mexico State University in 1976. At NMSU, he began booking and promoting campus concerts, which led him to be hired as a booking agent in 1977 by Austin company Moon Hill Management.
In 1979, Priesnitz left Moon Hill and co-founded the booking agency Rock Arts, Ltd., which represented Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Christopher Cross, Joe Ely, Charlie Sexton, Eliza Gilkyson and dozens of others. In the early 1980s he launched Priesnitz Artist Management, with Johnson as his first client. The two continued working together until Priesnitz’s death.
Johnson called Priesnitz "an irreplaceable jewel in my heart" in a text message on Sunday. "We had such cherished and wonderful times together, building musical dreams and adventures. He had my highest respect; he was honest and extremely trustworthy. He was always a gentleman and looked at the positive in everything.
"Even going through cancer, he never complained. He just did what he had to do. Joe was well tempered with eloquent equipoise, never getting mad and unruly. I will miss him so much and so will many, many other folks."
Other artists Priesnitz managed at various times over the past four decades included the Gourds, Kelly Willis, David Garza, Charlie Robison, David Halley and Chris Duarte.
Priesnitz managed Willis in the mid-to-late 1990s after she’d left MCA Records’ Nashville division and was reestablishing her identity as an Americana artist.
"He was just the right person to help me at that time in my career," Willis said. "I was out in the wild after Nashville and he was forging a new path for me. So good at listening, so steady. He treated everyone with respect in all areas of the team. You could trust him."
Gourds co-leader Kevin Russell, addressing an online audience Saturday during a five-hour tribute to the Austin band that split up in 2013, expressed his condolences to Priesnitz’s family and friends.
"He was a really good man, and he served the Gourds very well. I appreciate everything he did for us," Russell said.
Others in the music community had similar words of respect. KUTX’s Jody Denberg met Priesnitz in the early 1980s.
"We quickly became friends because he was such a passionate, knowledgeable music man and a warm, kind companion. His work as a booking agent and artist overseer helped pioneer Austin's ascension as a music center, but Joe never lost sight of art and relationships as the driving force behind his life's work."
Priesnitz’s first wife, Cindi Lazzari, also worked with many Austin musicians as an attorney until her death from breast cancer in 2007 at age 52. In 2011, Priesnitz married Barbara Nadalini after the two met through their children.
Priesnitz was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2013 and underwent bone marrow transplants that year and in 2016. He participated in several clinical trials at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, traveling back and forth between Austin and Houston many times in recent years. He entered hospice care at home on April 17; family members and close friends were with him in his final week.