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2000: The 25 Most Powerful People On the Austin Music Scene

Posted by mcorcoran on March 3, 2015

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Published Feb. 17, 2000 in XL

drawings by Guy Juke.

Power. Clout. Influence. Juice. Who’s got it in the Austin music business?
Here they are: the scene’s heaviest hitters. These movers and shakers are the ones who get their phone calls returned in an instant and who can get an audience with national bigwigs.

1. BILL HAM

With his Lone Wolf management company out on Bee Cave Road, Ham kept ZZ Top prosperous years beyond their prime by embracing MTV during its early “synth years” and mining the Texas mythology. He’s also given hope to upstart rockers Pushmonkey, getting them gigs at Woodstock ’99 among other plums. His Hamstein Publishing arm, meanwhile, was recently ranked No. 2 in the country music field by Billboard, with five No. 1 singles in 1999. In the pop market, Hamstein co-owns such international smashes as “Believe” by Cher and “Bailamos” by Enrique Iglesias. Ham’s greatest accomplishment, however, is perhaps his most bittersweet: Just as country music was about to explode, he put a black cowboy hat on a kid singing James Taylor songs in a pizza parlor, but then was taken to court years later by that protege, Clint Black, who charged Ham with taking astronomical management fees. The suit was settled out of court, but Ham still owns Black’s publishing on his first three albums.

2. STEVE HICKS

After founding the Capstar radio giant in 1996, Hicks helped introduce the “virtual radio” concept, delivering major league homogeny to the minor markets. Radio Ink magazine’s “Executive of the Year” in 1998, Hicks quickly started acquiring stations, including the SFX group for just over a billion dollars. Locally, he paid $90 million for KASE and KVET and created a format sensation (since subsided) with the ’70s funk station KFMK (105.9). The biggest news came in October when Hicks’ stations (now under the AMFM umbrella held by brother Tom Hicks) were part of a $23.5 billion deal with Clear Channel of San Antonio, which created the largest radio group in the world. Real power is when you get Elton John, Jimmy Buffett and the Beach Boys to play for your friends, as Hicks will do later this month when he celebrates his 50th birthday in the Caribbean.

3. WILLIE NELSON

Willie calls his band Family, but that description extends throughout the local music scene, especially in the Pedernales and Arlyn studios owned by his nephew Freddy Fletcher and the venues owned by his longtime business associate Tim O’Connor. An American folk hero and Austin’s good-vibe ambassador to the world, Willie’s also been one of the scene’s major employers through the years. And Willie knows how to give back, doing countless benefits and helping out individuals in need.

4. ROLAND SWENSON

(with Louis Black, Nick Barbaro and Brent Grulke)

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Willie may have given the Austin music scene a national profile in the early ’70s, but as the director of everybody’s favorite music conference, South By Southwest, Swenson keeps us vital in biz consciousness year after year. SXSW shows the crowd (800 bands, 7,000 badge-wearers, etc.) the best side of Austin and generates incredible press. What’s more, Austin’s often-strapped nightclubs get a windfall that will usually get them through the lean months. As editor and publisher of the Austin Chronicle, Black and Barbaro, respectively, could get their own entry on the list. But in terms of national influence, SXSW is the most important thing they’ve done for the local music community.

5. TIM O’CONNOR

O’Connor’s Direct Events business (with partner Tim Neece), which controls such venues as the Backyard, Austin Music Hall and La Zona Rosa, has prospered because of the flexibility in booking acts according to ticket demand. If a La Zona Rosa show sells out quickly, he can move it to the twice-as-big AMH. If a Music Hall concert is tanking, he can move it over to the 1,400-capacity La Zona. His next big project is expanding the capacity of the Backyard from 3,000 to 7,500, which will give Austin a much-needed mid-size venue. Tim’s a tough one. When all the other club owners in town were delighted with packed houses and happy to give SXSW the door proceeds, O’Connor demanded a cut — and he got it.

6. JODY DENBERG

jodydrawingThe road to Susan Tedeschi’s Grammy nomination in the prestigious Best New Artist category began at KGSR, when program director Denberg and music director Susan Castle heard something they liked and started playing the record to their loyal listeners. The same thing is happening with Shelby Lynne, who’s starting to get a big push from her record label after being encouraged by early Austin sales due to KGSR airplay. Even more important, KGSR’s playlist is closely watched by other stations across the country, who’ve added such Jody-approved acts as R.L. Burnside, Buena Vista Social Club and Patty Griffin. Kelly Willis has sold 16,000 copies of her recent album in Austin, and a lot of that is because of KGSR’s support. What’s more, Denberg compiles the hugely successful “Broadcasts” CDs that benefit the SIMS Foundation to the tune of about $60,000 a year.

7. RAY BENSON

Most Austinites know him as the affable leader of Asleep at the Wheel, a group up for six Grammys Feb. 23. But Benson is also an astute studio owner, a co-founder of the R&B Foundation and a polished producer, whose most recent discovery, 11-year-old Billy Gilman, was recently signed to Sony Nashville. He not only sings on that McDonald’s commercial pushing breakfast burritos, but he produced the spot and snagged the account. Benson’s an old Austin icon who knows his way around the new Austin.

8. CARLYNE MAJER

As executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Majer has signed up more than 700 members and made Texas a real force in the Grammy voting body. They’ve even started a Tejano category because of the influence of NARAS Texas. Even more noteworthy, however, is the way this former Austin Music Commission chair is often consulted by politicians on issues pertinent to the local music scene. As a former club owner, band manager and song publisher, Carlyne has done it all, so her opinion weighs a lot.

9. JOHN KUNZ

His Waterloo Records store is nationally respected and locally loved for its selection and staff of music lovers. Not only has Waterloo been named Record Retailer of the Year by trade groups (it’s up against Amazon.com this year), but it’s the best place to find releases by obscure Austin artists. And this is one place where acts get a stage for in-store appearances.carlynekunz

10. TERRY LICKONA

The producer of “Austin City Limits,” Lickona decides which local acts get national exposure (Monte Montgomery, Mary Cutrufello) and which ones don’t (Alejandro Escovedo).

11. PETER BAY/JANE SIBLEY

Sibley kept the Austin Symphony going through the lean years, and just as it seemed to outgrow her guidance, along came conductor Bay, who instantly won the respect of his musicians and audiences. Bay has gone well beyond the core job description of leading the orchestra and doing a few pops concerts every year. By working with Austin songwriters like Darden Smith, Bay has expanded the boundaries of what a symphony can be, and through his charisma as a conductor, he leads the charge to turn Palmer Auditorium into a world-class concert hall.

12. DANNY LEVIN AND WALLY WILLIAMS

As owners of the Tequila Mockingbird studio, these guys have turned “keep your day job” from being an insult to musicians to one of the main ways they can survive strictly by playing music. Such local artists as Jon Blondell, Charlie Sexton, Lisa Tingle and David Halley have helped pay the bills by doing commercials for such T.M. clients as Southwest Airlines, Budweiser and Ex-Lax (Halley made $15,000 for singing “City of New Orleans,” also known as “Good Morning America,” on an Ex-Lax commercial). The top ad agencies in the world know about Tequila Mockingbird, which has turned out to be a great thing for local working musicians.

13. LOWELL FOWLER

He’s come a long way since he did psychedelic light shows at such legendary Austin clubs as the Vulcan Gas Co., Mother Earth and the Bucket. Today, Fowler’s the founder/chairman of High End Systems, one of the world’s largest concert lighting companies, with branch offices in London, L.A., Singapore and, in two weeks, New York City. Most of High End’s 350 employees work out of the headquarters on Braker Lane, where the state-of-the-art Wholehog lighting console is produced. Besides concerts, from Lilith Fair to Metallica, High End’s lights have also been used in the “Austin Powers” movies and in the most recent Super Bowl.

14. DAVIS McLARTY

Before this former Joe Ely drummer retired from playing to start a booking agency, Austin artists might’ve had to go through as many as four different regional agents to book a national tour. But McLarty, who knows through his playing experience how unforgiving a badly conceived tour can be, puts his stable of acts such as Kelly Willis, Reckless Kelly, Bad Livers and Ana Egge in clubs coast to coast, all from the garage office of his South Austin home. Business has gotten so good that McLarty recently took on Wayne Nagel to handle such newer clients as Soulhat and Mojo Nixon.

15. CHARLES ATTAL

The Stubb’s co-owner is also the manager of up-and-comers the Damnations. But the biggest thing is yet to come, when he partners with J-Net Ward and Mark Pratz on the new version of Liberty Lunch that will give Attal control of venues that can handle any crowd from 50 to 2,000.

16. CLIFFORD ANTONE

He may seem more like a figurehead or greeter at Austin’s most famous nightclub, especially with his impending sentencing for a marijuana trafficking conviction hanging over his head, but make no mistake about it, Antone’s is Clifford’s club.

17. CINDI LAZZARI/JOE PRIESNITZ

She’s the lawyer who helped get big settlements for Austin acts Gomez and Olive when European bands started using their names. She also sued for Dale Watson to get royalties owed by High Tone, and she’s the key figure on the side of acts in the ongoing Watermelon bankruptcy saga. He’s the manager of Eric Johnson, Kelly Willis, Chris Duarte and Charlie Robison whose clear-headed decision-making and personal attention inspires loyalty from his clients. Together, they’re married and the parents of three children.

18. CASEY MONAHAN

A matchmaker supreme, Monahan, of Gov. Bush’s Texas Music Office, is a one-man chamber of commerce for the music industry, helping to put the people together who make the deals. He also compiles the Bible of the biz, the Texas Music Industry Directory, perhaps the single most valuable resource for Texans who make their living in the music trade.

19. SUSAN WALKER

She didn’t write “Mr. Bojangles,” but her tenacity and commitment in guiding the career of husband Jerry Jeff has been even more important in building the Tried & True Music mini-empire. Every talented flake needs a Susan Walker in their life, but very few are lucky enough to get one.

20. BOB WOODY

Besides owning several Sixth Street clubs (the Ritz, Soho Lounge, Shakespeare’s, Blind Pig, the Ale House) and the Old Pecan Street Cafe, Woody is known as the guy who gets things done downtown through his leadership in the East Sixth Street Community Association and the Downtown Commission. He’s the unofficial “mayor of Sixth Street.”

21. BILL MARTIN

They call him “the Mailman” in reference to his former day job, but as president of the Texas Gospel Announcers Guild, Martin dedicates himself full-time to the effort to expand the reach of gospel music these days. He not only does a show on KIXL (970 AM), but has a hand in just about every major gospel event in the state, from promoting Kirk Franklin concerts to organizing the annual TGAG convention. The TGAG has also helped develop interest in secular sounds through its gospel workshops and a project coming soon, a play written by great gospel songwriter Thomas Dorsey called “Precious Lord.” There are 159 stations in Texas playing black gospel music, and “the Mailman” is known by the program directors at all of them.

22. PAUL LEARY

The guitarist for the Butthole Surfers has turned a gift for hard work and detail into traits that make him one of the most successful producers from Austin, with platinum albums by Sublime and Meat Puppets on his resume. He’s just wrapped up Reverend Horton Heat’s next LP and is working on Won Santo Condo before he gets back to his first love, the Butthole Surfers’ next album.

23. MARK PROCT

Two years ago he would’ve been in the top five, but after he was dropped by Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II and watched Storyville break up, Proct’s Mark I Management company had to start all over. His rebound has been remarkable, however, as he landed the most promising band in town in Vallejo and got them a nice deal with Sony offshoot Crescent Moon.

24. STEVE WERTHEIMER

If Wertheimer is a fan of your music, he’ll book you into his Continental Club and stick with you even if the crowds are slow coming. Such acts as Toni Price, Junior Brown, 8 1/2 Souvenirs (whose first record was a hot-seller for Continental Records) would not have reached their current level of success if not for Wertheimer’s loyalty. And with a second Continental Club opening soon in Houston, Steve will give Austin acts a new home on the road.

25. GARY POWELL

As the leading storybook and song album producer for Disney, (including “A Bug’s Life,” for which he’s up for a Grammy), Powell is the baby-sitter you only have to pay once. The longtime producer for Joe Scruggs helped take children’s music beyond the nursery rhymes. His studio in Oak Hill employs several local musicians and has had the likes of Goldie Hawn trudging out 290.

JUST MISSED THE LIST

* Paul Korzilius: As Bon Jovi’s manager, Korzilius handles a multiplatinum act about three years away from a lucrative reunion tour. But Korzilius resides on the outskirts of Austin in virtually every way. Not a force, locally.

* Jan Mirkin: This veteran manager has moved in major circles, but her main client, Ian Moore, has been on a fatherhood-related hiatus, which has taken Mirkin out of the flow. She does get extra power points for being the local ASCAP rep.

* Sandra Bullock: Yeah, she can get you on the “Tonight Show,” but only if you’re dating her.

* Charlie Jones: The unflappable Middleman Productions honcho did a great job with A2K and the Antone’s Blues Festival. He’s definitely one to watch in 2000.

* Andy Langer: He profiles local groups for the Chronicle, plays their music on 101-X and does weekly “Backstage Pass” segments for News 8 Austin, yet the biggest thing he’s done for Austin music was getting a tape of Magneto USA (now Fastball) into the hands of a Hollywood Records A&R rep.

* Willie Cisneros: Longtime Tejano promoter, who’s recently branched out into rap concerts.

 

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