Forty-four years down the road from the summer Clifford Antone brought the blues home to Austin in 1975, his namesake nightclub still celebrates with an anniversary bash that’s unlike any other in town. It’s not an evening or a weekend, but something more like an overgrown fortnight, with special shows scattered across the calendar from June 28 to July 20 this year.
Regional favorites including Barbara Lynn, the Ike Stubblefield Trio and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band dot the schedule, but some of the best gigs are showcases for hometown folks such as Marcia Ball, the Peterson Brothers and Lou Ann Barton.
But it’s hard to imagine the party without Jimmie Vaughan, who brings his Tilt-A-Whirl Band to the club on July 6 for a show that likely will draw out some of those who first saw him play the original Antone’s with the Fabulous Thunderbirds in 1975, a couple of blocks from its current location.
Times are good right now for the blues-guitar great, who released a new album, “Baby, Please Come Home,” last month. He wasn’t in Austin on the week it was released, but that was because he was in London opening three nights of Eric Clapton concerts at the storied Royal Albert Hall.
“The whole thing was a great honor, and it’s beyond words,” he said on a recent Friday night between sets at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, the South Congress haven where Vaughan plays most weekends with B3 organ ace Mike Flanigin. Speaking of great honors, C-Boy’s recently repainted the back wall of its building with a giant mural featuring Vaughan, Flanigin, and local singer Soulman Sam.
“I was blown away,” Vaughan marvels as it looms behind us, noting the owners hadn’t told him they were going to do it. “It’s big! Take my picture in front of it,” he encourages. (I gladly obliged.)
Though Vaughan is as deeply associated with the blues as just about anyone in Austin, he says the thing he liked about making “Baby, Please Come Home” is that he didn’t pay much heed to style or direction.
“I just found a bunch of songs that I liked, and then went and did them,” he says. ‘We’re always kind of pushing it one direction or another, but we’re not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel or anything like that. It’s just a bunch of tunes that I liked, some that I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager.”
He cites Jimmy Donley’s 1964 single “Just a Game,” which they’d just played onstage inside the club a few minutes earlier, as an example. I note that his take on country legend Lefty Frizzell’s “No One to Talk to But the Blues” was a nice twist that sidestepped genre boundaries.
“That’s kind of what we do, right there,” he responds. “Maybe they were on different radio stations for different audiences, but my philosophy is it was really the same thing. It’s the same format, the same kind of music. What I really have been enjoying the last few years is kind of blurring the lines — maybe doing some stuff that you’re not supposed to do, but trying to do it anyway.”
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That’s plenty evident in the Antone’s anniversary run as well, with the likes of hip-hop act Devin the Dude and the roots-rocking Joe Ely Band broadening the horizons beyond the club’s blues base. For his part, Vaughan is just happy that the club — which was absent from Austin for two years — reopened in 2016, allowing these anniversary bashes to roll on.
“I’m so happy that Susan (Antone, Clifford’s sister) and all the guys who are running it now have a great attitude,” he says. “For all the guys like us, it’s fabulous. Hopefully the fans like it too.”
In the meantime, Vaughan says, he’s just glad to have the gigs. “The great thing about the musicians I get to play with these days is that we have a good time,” he says. "We’re happy to play, and we like to play music. So it’s not really about trying to get our careers going or any of that kind of stuff anymore. Not that we don’t want to have a good career — but it’s really just great fun to just play.
“And, you know, if I don’t have a gig, I’m playing at home anyway. So I might as well have a gig.”
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