He’s feeling fine, he’s been cancer-free since undergoing treatment several months ago, and he’s still playing, writing, and producing. But last week, legendary Fort Worth native and current Austin resident Stephen Bruton had to cancel his upcoming show at Bass Performance Hall’s McDavid Studio – on doctor’s orders.
“The doc told me, ‘No singing,’” the country-blues guitar-slinger said. “Believe me, there’s no one more disappointed than I am.” The last time Bruton played his hometown was about a year and a half ago, when he performed at 8.0 Bar & Grill’s spacious outdoor stage. “Seems like every time you make plans, there’s this laughter from the heavens,” he said wryly. Before the cancellation, Bruton told me he was planning to show up in Cowtown “with bells on.” As for when he might be allowed to sing onstage again, he said he’s “on a need-to-know basis.” But Bruton said he has enough to keep him busy.
Wearing his producer hat, he’s putting the finishing touches on bawdy Austin lady Marcia Ball’s new album. And in his solo-artist hat, he’s writing material for a new album. (A release date has not been set yet.) While his health setbacks have affected his songwriting – “no two ways about it,” he said – he stresses that he is not defined by his illness. “My next album’s not gonna be called ‘Survivor’ or anything.” He said he has about 40 songs lined up already. “I’m not a quick writer,” he said. “I’m not prolific. And I usually want more keepers than I need” when walking into the studio.
On Bruton’s last album, From the Five, he introduced some novel flourishes, mainly brass sections, courtesy of another Austinite-via-Fort Worth Malford Milligan. (MingoFishtrap – from Austin but no stranger to Fort Worth stages – was scheduled to handle horn duties for Bruton’s McDavid show.) Though Bruton said he doesn’t set out to recreate the wheel every time he records, he tries to keep from repeating licks, turns of phrase, or structures he’s used before. “I am trying not to make the same song over and over again,” he said. His songs have been recorded and performed by almost all of the greats, including Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, Jimmy Buffett, Patty Loveless, and Martina McBride, and he’s performed and recorded with fellow Fort Worthian T Bone Burnett, as well as Kristofferson, Raitt, and Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie. Bruton’s also acted in a few films, including Man of the House (with Tommy Lee Jones), Heaven’s Gate, Miss Congeniality, The Alamo, Sweet Thing, Convoy, A Star Is Born, and Songwriter.
Bruton moved to Austin in the early ’80s to work on the feature film Songwriter and never left. “The last five years have been nothing but condos,” he said, referring to the Live Music Capital of the World’s skyline. “The sleepy little Austin I moved to has changed. … It’s a cool place to live, and a lot of people have come here for that – that was me 20 years ago!” Though Bruton still has family in Fort Worth, he says he doesn’t make it back as often as he would like. And his doc ain’t helping matters.
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