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Austin Music Awards

Louis Black Reminisces on the Austin Music Awards

The Austin Music Awards is closing in on nearly four decades of disseminating accolades to exceptional Austin musicians and industry rock stars. Now in its 37th year, the event has evolved from a backyard barbecue aesthetic in 1982, to a local equivalent of the Grammys. Winners of the Austin Chronicle's music poll will share the stage with national artists like Jakob Dylan, Suzanne Vega and John Doe of X; while surprise guests always threaten to steal the show. A regular staple of the AMAs, Louis Black is a founding father of many Austin institutions. A serial entrepreneur and tireless creative;The Austin Chronicle, SXSW and The Austin Music Awards all have his finger prints on them. We spoke with Louis to learn about the AMAs inception, history and dig up a few of his best memories.

The Austin Music Awards began in 1982 and there was concern that if local punkers, The Big Boys, won ‘Artist of the Year’, that The Chronicle would be seen as too ‘street’. 

What happened was, Jeff Whittington, who was the music editor; really wanted to do the poll. We all agreed and we were ready to run it and I suddenly had this concern, well we were having problems with were we too ‘street’ at the time. We were only a few months old. We were all pretty crazy. We were working all the time. And so I had ... briefly I had this thing where I said, "Well, maybe we shouldn't do this. Maybe people will think we're too punk. And I took one look at Jeff who was about to have a nervous breakdown and dropped that. I’ve brought it up more recently because I'm friends with Chris Gates and Biscuit and I thought it was indicative of how l wrong I had been on many occasions.


When the actual awards are taking place and the planning is all done, what do you take the most pleasure in once the ceremony is actually started? Where do you have the most fun?

I think the awards are really remarkable in that it is really collaborative and cooperative and it's about music and it's not about money or celebrity. You can make a lot more money in New York or LA or Nashville. You can become a bigger star. I think most people in the Austin scene really are into thecollaboration ... not that they don't want to be successful, of course they do. But there's a nature of which this community really works together. And so the awards now, having done it for 37 years, I don't think it's about the accolades ... and even early on I would get nervous about that. Because I think that kind of competition thing, I think is counterproductive. But it's really about who's had a really good year.

And since we've being doing it for so long and so many categories. It was 50 then we cut it down to 35 but we added another 10 to make the music industry awards. So it's like 60 categories now. And so many people have won it. So many people have been honored. And I think there's only a handful of people who might have deserved to get it and didn't. I can't think of anybody offhand. So really ... It seems to me to be very much an Austin event. It's like a high school reunion or something. Everybody's happy to see everybody else. The community votes on it. It's not critics. It's not industry. And so I think there's something very organic about it. And I realize ... And I hadn't even thought about this but I realize like last year, everybody shows up. And I think that says something. Out of the 35 categories, maybe two people won't be there because they're on the road or they didn't allow time.

When we just did the Austin Music Industry Awards last Sunday, for the first time we didn't tell people who had won. It was just they knew they had been a finalist. But the didn't know who had won. And every winner was there except for Jody Denberg who thought hanging out with Yoko Ono in New York was more important.

Yeah, I can see why hanging out with Yoko might be ...

A little bit more important. I've been bitching about Jody but I'm kidding.


The awards look like a reunion. It’s exciting just seeing some legends run into each other and have those interactions. Do you have any favorite moments from the awards?

There's a lot of them. Actually the second year we did it, Stevie Ray Vaughan flew in on his own nickel and did two-thirds of Texas Flood and then he played with Jimmy. I think it was one of the first times he and Jimmy played together on stage, at least in Austin. That was like the second year.

There were two with Roky Erickson. One where he was going to play with Doug Sahm. He agreed to come and to play but he basically wandered around the stage and didn't play. And then other time with Roky when he played with the True Believers and he wouldn't get off stage. They were doing "Two-Headed Dog" and Roky kept running up to the microphone and singing "Two-headed dog, two-headed dog, stuck inside the Kremlin with a two-headed dog" again and again. At one point, three of the guys had him cornered with their guitars and had him pushed off to the side of the stage and he broke through and sang "two-headed dog" again. I thought that was pretty cool.

There are so many times though when different people played together. Margaret got Okkervil River and Roky to play together and then they recorded an album that did really well. Having Pete Townsend come out with Ian McLagan or having Alejandro Escovedo go, “Oh here's another guitar player”, and Bruce Springsteen walks out, was pretty cool. You know the backstage is where everybody is waiting because they come in groups. And all of those people ... Some of them haven't seen each other in a while and there's a real camaraderie.


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