Saturday, July 20, 2024

Obits 2009: Robin, Rusty, Poodie, Paul, Narum, Simcoe

October 2009

In April 1994, Kevin Connor was fired from KGSR-FM for unspecified reasons and was moping at home, taking occasional “keep your head up” calls from friends. “My identity was so wrapped up in my job that when that was taken away from me, I was completely distraught,” recalls Connor, who’s now head of programming at ME-TV. One day he got a call out of the blue from Robin Shivers, whom he’d met casually when she was chairwoman of KLRU and hosted fundraising galas starring Garth Brooks, George Jones and others.

“She said, ‘You need a place to go every day,’ and said she had a spare office,” Connor says. “That was the best thing anyone could’ve done for me. It got me out of the house and back on my feet.” From his new office in a downtown high-rise, he was soon able to land a job as music marketing manager for the Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. And two years later, he was back on KGSR.

Anecdotes such as that were flying all over town last week after the Austin music scene’s angel died in her sleep Oct. 26 from undetermined causes. The daughter of Fort Worth venture capitalist John Ratliff, Shivers was born into wealth, then married into Texas political royalty in 1978 when she wed the legendary former governor’s son Allan ‘Bud’ Shivers Jr. Among the Shivers’ closest friends were George W. and Laura Bush.

And yet Robin Shivers, who was just 53 and apparently in good health when she passed away, did not carry herself as a woman of privilege. “She’s just the coolest, most soulful and spiritual person I’ve ever known,” said Susan Antone of Antone’s nightclub. “She was a visionary who got things done.”

Shivers’ funeral will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at St. Mary Cathedral (203 E. 10th St.). Her closest musician friends, including Troy Campbell and Scrappy Jud Newcomb of the Shivers-managed Loose Diamonds, will play at the service.

Bringing affordable health care to working musicians was one of Shivers’ passions and Shivers used her connections with the Seton Family of Hospitals, where she and Bud served on the board for almost three decades, to found the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians in 2004. HAAM has provided low-cost health care to 1,600 uninsured musicians. Shivers’ work has saved lives and has provided a model for others to follow. When a group of musicians and club owners in Tucson, Ariz., decided to start a similar musicians assistance program, Shivers met with them and energized the effort. “What a woman,” David Slutes of the Tucson Artists and Musicians Healthcare Alliance, posted on “She set us on a course that we were able to follow and begin our successful organization.”

Robin was never one to just write a check, Connor says. “She was always thinking ‘how can we make this work?’ She had a business sense to go with her amazing spirit of generosity.”

There are people who don’t play music, but they make it with the way they live their lives. Robin Shivers had a rhythm of righteousness in everything she did. She drew you in like a great song that will forever live in your heart.

“Robin’s passing has left a big hole that we all have to work harder to help fill,” Connor said.

Oct. 2009

Hearing was Rusty Wier‘s last sense to go, so although he was almost unresponsive when surrounded by relatives and friends, including Jerry Jeff Walker, at his son Coby’s house in Driftwood on Thursday night, Wier tried to raise up his head when the group sang “Amazing Grace.”

By the next morning, the Austin musician, who had a hit when Bonnie Raitt covered his “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance ” on the soundtrack to “Urban Cowboy ,” was dead after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 65.

“There’s this myth about the hippies and the rednecks meeting at the Armadillo (World Headquarters) and passing joints and Lone Stars to each other,” Austin musician John Inmon said. “But the rednecks and hippies were the same people. That was Rusty. He was a redneck son of Central Texas, but he was also a hippie.”

Although Wier got his own chapter in Jan Reid ‘s book “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock ,” which chronicled Austin’s “cosmic cowboy” scene of the early 1970s , Wier’s contribution to Austin music goes back to the mid-1960s. As a student at Southwest Texas State , the Manchaca-raised Wier was recruited to play drums in the Wig . He later played drums and sang in the Lavender Hill Express , a country/rock cover band.

But Wier wanted to step out front.

“One day he just gave up the drums and started woodshedding on guitar,” said Inmon, who played with Wier in the trio of Rusty, Layton and John. “He locked himself in a room and practiced and practiced. He was a natural entertainer, so he could get his music across, but it took him awhile to get good.”

He established himself in the early 1970s as a folk singer with rock ‘n’ roll eyes and an ever-present, low-crowned black hat. Wier’s first three albums – “Stoned, Slow, Rugged” in 1974, “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance” in 1975 and “Black Hat Saloon” in 1976 – came out on three different major labels.

But it was in the clubs that he made his money.

“Bartenders loved Rusty,” musician Bob Livingston said. “He had this thing during his show where he’d hold up a shot of tequila and everybody would go to the bar to buy their shots. Bar business was always good when Rusty played.”

Wier played the Saxon Pub every Thursday for nearly 15 years, almost never missing a gig, owner Joe Ables said.

“He played the Saxon one last time in March,” Ables said. “He was so sick I had to carry him to his wheelchair, but he was in a great mood. People had come from all over to see him. He truly got to find out that he was loved.”

A memorial service will probably take place at the Saxon, Ables said, though details are still being worked out with Wier’s family.

Wier is survived by four children from four different wives, Inmon said.


May 2009

“There are no bad days” was the slogan Randall “Poodie” Locke, Willie Nelson’s stage manager of 34 years, put on a sign outside his Poodie’s Hilltop Bar and Grill in Spicewood. But Wednesday was a dark one for members of the extended Nelson family after Locke died of what is thought to have been a heart attack at his home in Briarcliff, about 30 miles west of Austin. He was 56.

“He wasn’t feeling well, and Shaye (Groves, Locke’s girlfriend) called for EMS at around 2 in the afternoon,” said Bryan Dixon, a manager at the Hilltop. “Poodie collapsed just as the ambulance got there, but they couldn’t revive him.”

As news spread, Locke’s club quickly filled up with mourners.

“Willie loved Poodie’s exuberance,” said Casey Monahan of the Texas Music Office, who hung out with Locke on Saturday at Nelson’s show at Carl’s Corner . “Willie’s whole thing is living in the moment, and that was Poodie.”

In Nelson’s band of gypsies, Locke was the ringleader who had a hug for everyone no matter how much was going on. Everybody wanted time with Locke, a large man with a braided ponytail down his back, but there was work to be done, so both of the Nelson crew buses had signs that said “Poodie’s on the other bus.”

“He was the heart and soul of the road crew,” said Joe Nick Patoski, author of the Nelson biography “An Epic Life.” No other roadie had his own logo as well as a signature line of barbecue sauces.

On Nelson’s official Web site, a message was posted Wednesday about Locke’s death: “With great sadness, we want to inform you that Poodie Locke, Willie’s long-time stage manager, friend and golf partner, passed away today. ” Our thoughts and prayers are with Momma Locke, Cindy, Shaye and Poodie’s family and friends.”

When Locke opened his beer joint eight miles down the road from Nelson’s Pedernales Recording Studio, it became a place where Willie’s cronies and crew could hang out between tours. Locke spent many of his “off” days working on his laptop at the bar, setting up stage specifications for tours. He handled most of the advance work and was in charge of setting up the instruments onstage.

The Hilltop became a place where musicians like Nelson, Merle Haggard, Garth Hudson of the Band, Dave Mason and Big & Rich would sometimes play for hours, unannounced. Locke also had an eye for up-and-coming acts, and he helped the careers of Kevin Fowler, Carolyn Wonderland and others.

As his mother, Gloria “Momma” Locke, loved to tell people, Poodie Locke won the Most Beautiful Baby contest in Waco when he was only a few months old. The nickname “Poodie” is derived from “purty.”

Waco native Locke was only 12 when he met Nelson, a regional star from nearby Abbott. Locke went on to work as a roadie for B.W. Stevenson , then jumped to Nelson’s crew when he was 22, just before Nelson’s 1975 album “Red Headed Stranger” went platinum. A two-week tour ended up lasting about three years.

Locke became part of a family that became known for its loyalty and longevity – most of the band members and crew have worked with Nelson at least 30 years.

“We’ve got the best job in the world,” Locke said last year in a Statesman story about Nelson’s crew. He said the only thing he never wanted to do was let his boss down. But at the same time, Locke, who dressed in drag and chased Owen Wilson in a recent Nelson video, knew how to have fun.

Summing up their life on the road, Locke used a quote from Nelson: “Indecision may or may not be our biggest problem.”


Steven Bruton also passed away in May. Here’s the dedication chapter in my book.


Feb. 2009

Austin guitarist Paul Skelton, the twangmaster of the Telecaster in the Cornell Hurd Band for 22 years, died Sunday morning of lung cancer. He was 55.

“He was more than a guitar player,” Hurd said of the musicians’ musician with the no-nonsense demeanor and quick wit. “Paul was truly, truly an amazing man.”

Besides backing such artists as Wayne “the Train” Hancock, Ted Roddy, Libbi Bosworth and many more, Skelton worked for Collings Guitars, an internationally recognized custom guitar shop, for 13 years.

“He planned his solos a fraction of a second before he played them but executed them with precision and a sense of beautiful urgency,” Bosworth said. “He was a master.”

Skelton and Hurd, who both grew up in California’s Silicon Valley, had played together off and on since Skelton joined Hurd’s Mondo Hot Pants Orchestra in 1976.

Skelton lived in New York City in the 1980s, working in quality control for ESP Guitars and later assembling and repairing guitars for Matt Umanov’s shop in Greenwich Village.

“Paulie was very skilled,” Umanov said. “We always thought he was a native New Yorker because he was so ornery, which we loved.”

Skelton and his wife, Annie, moved to Austin in the early ’90s to start a family and reunite with Hurd.

He is survived by his wife and their 16-year-old son, Jess.

November 2009

Various friends, including Theresa Jenkins of the local Grammy chapter, have confirmed that visual artist Bill Narum, who worked closely with ZZ Top and other bands, died Wednesday at his home studio east of Austin. He was 62. A heart attack is suspected.

“What a beautiful man,” said booking agent David Cotton. “We are all so lucky he was here. This is going to leave a hole that will be impossible to fill.”

Narum produced cover art for such albums as “Tres Hombres” and “Fandango” for ZZ Top and worked as art director on albums by Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, Stevie Ray Vaughan and many more. Originally from Houston, Narum was part of the infamous Sheauxnough Studio gang that produced posters for the Armadillo World Headquarters and other venues in the ’70s and ’80s.

Some of Narum’s artwork can be viewed online at


June 2009

Today was going to be warmly eccentric Del Valle restaurant owner Dick Simcoe‘s 75th birthday. But the man who brought authentic Thai food to Central Texas in 1981 with Little Thailand didn’t quite make it, succumbing to stomach cancer Thursday morning.

“I have no regrets,” Simcoe said last week , after doctors told him he had just days to live. “I had a vision and followed through on it.”

Former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan often schedules flights to Austin to arrive when Little Thailand, located just east of the airport, is open.

“The food’s great; then there was Dick,” McLagan said. “He was a remarkable chap.”

The restaurant will remain open, but it won’t be the same without Simcoe greeting customers at the door or fixing his famous Thai bloody marys in the restaurant’s lounge, which the veteran fashioned after the “hooch bars” soldiers often build in combat zones.

Born in Honolulu, Leland Richard Simcoe enlisted in the Air Force in 1951. He worked his way up to major in the Air Force and flew Spectre gunships during two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Simcoe then ran a charter airplane business in the Philippines, offering flights to Bangkok and Hong Kong for less than $200, including lodging. “I was putting the commercial airlines over there out of business,” Simcoe said, “so the Philippine government gave me two weeks to leave the country.”

Simcoe settled in Austin with his first wife and opened the original Little Thailand in a trailer near the back gate at Bergstrom Air Force Base . A freshly divorced Simcoe married his wife Surin in 1987. The couple had five children and raised Surin’s three children from a previous marriage.

When asked what made him such a popular host, Simcoe said he just loved being around people: “I feel blessed to have seen the smiles of so many good, good people. That’s what I’ll remember most.”


Obits by Michael Corcoran ran in the Austin American Statesman


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