Kill it again, it’s not dead yet
Clifford Antone was a blues fanatic who wanted to meet his idols. He also wanted to turn others onto the music of all those Chicago greats nicknamed after their size. His club would book the legends for five nights in a row, to give them a break from hard travel for a week and a nice payday in a town that treated them like royalty. They all came to Antone’s to play- Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Taylor, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, Albert King, Big Joe Turner and on and on. Everybody but Howlin’ Wolf, who was in ill health when Antone’s opened and died in Jan. 1976.
The Antone’s that opened on Sixth Street in July 1975 was a classroom for such blues musicians as the Vaughan brothers, Lou Ann Barton, Derek O’Brien, the Thunderbirds and Charlie Sexton. But it was leveled in 1979 and the Home of the Blues moved to Great Northern Boulevard, near Anderson Lane. Bigger room, bigger shows, with B.B. King, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis, but Clifford wanted to be closer to downtown. He had some Lebanese relatives looking out for him and they helped get him the place at 2915 Guadalupe St. across the street from their Centennial Liquors.
Now, scene oldtimers will tell you that the greatest location of Antone’s was the first one, in an old used furniture store across from the Driskill Hotel. But I don’t see how it could’ve been better than the one on Guadalupe. That place, a former Shakey’s Pizza Parlor, was pure magic. It’s where U2 jammed with Stevie Ray Vaughan and T Bone Burnett after their sold-out show at the Erwin Center in ’87. It’s where Buddy Guy, who’d been semi-retired, came back hard to show everyone where Jimi Hendrix got some of his licks.
Every celebrity passing through the ATX had to pop in at Antone’s and if they thought they could play a little they jumped onstage. My favorite night was when Bruce Willis jammed with the house band. Not that part, the next, when Snooky Pryor followed and shoved that weak harp shit right up “Bruno”’s tailpipe.
Antone’s long “Cliffipedia” intros were legendary and he especially loved to rattle off the resumes of little known sidemen like Wayne Bennett and Matt “Guitar” Murphy. Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist Hubert Sumlin practically lived at Antone’s.
Let’s see if we can name all the Antone’s locations: 1) Sixth Street 2) North Austin 3) 2915 4) West Fifth and Lavaca 5) East Riverside Hell and now 6) on East Fifth. The new location seems committed to following the initial vision of Clifford, who passed away from a heart attack in 2006, of honoring the blues musicians who gave birth to rock n’ roll.
Six seems like a good number for Antone’s, a club that has had its share of dead nights, but continues to represent a quality live music experience to the rest of the world.