In the shadow of Texas’ gleaming, post modern skyscrapers, in that state’s booming cities, lie inner city neighborhoods with small taverns, neighborhood lounges, domino parlors and ice houses. In the vicinity are old homes populated with folks who host backyard barbeques, pot lucks and fish fries that happen under the shade of sprawling pecan trees. Blues music has been heard in these places for generations. Yet few outside these dwindling pockets of soul have ever heard these sounds. That is until the musicians who make this music meet a man by the name of Eddie Stout. Stout continues to bring these artists and their music to the world.
Eddie Stout has been at the center of the Austin, and larger Texas, blues music scene for parts of the last four decades. He has seen firsthand his home town become the Live Music Capitol of the World. He is also the founder and president of Dialtone Records. He has made two dozen full length albums for that label of some heretofore undiscovered talent whose recognition had been postponed for decades. He is a folklorist for the new millennium. Eddie Stout is nothing short of a 21st century Alan Lomax. The expression “Down Home Blues” may mean different things to different people. When I think of down home blues, I think of the music being recorded that is deep in the heart of Eddie Stout.
I sat down with Eddie as he was getting ready for a record convention in Austin which took place on the fourth weekend of October. We talked about a great many things including Longhorn football and of course the past, present and future of the quintessential American music...Texas style. The latter is the focus of this interview. Enjoy a conversation I had with the one and only Eddie Stout.
David Mac (DM): Eddie you grew up surrounded by music in this town.
Eddie Stout (ES): I grew up in a music city that is for sure. Before Austin became known officially as the Live Music Capitol of the World, it actually was just that.
DM: What were some of the bands and some of the musicians that had an impact on you early on?
ES: In high school I had a friend who was a few years older than me who lived next door by the name of Billy Etheridge. He played piano in a band called Storm. Before that it was called Texas Storm and prior to that Fabulous Chessman and even farther back, just The Chessman. It was Jimmie’s (Vaughan) band. They had Doyle (Bramhall) singing and playing drums. Billy always invited me to come see him play. I wasn’t really old enough yet to get into these places so Billy would sneak me into clubs under his coat. I would hang out in the back with his wife Lynn. That was my introduction to a real blues band. Billy was a terrific piano player.
DM: That is a pretty good starting off point that’s for sure. I happen to know Eddie that you are a bass player.
ES: I played bass in a band called The Dynaflows. It was our first band when we were all just kids with guitarist David Murray, who was a good friend of mine. We had Keith Dunn singing and playing harp, Stevie Fulton on drums. I mean that was a hot little band. We played at Stubbs, The Aus-Tex Lounge, The Black Door, The Rome Inn and places like that. Stevie Vaughan would even come to our gigs and sit in with us sometimes.
DM: For point of reference we are talking about the late 70’s.
ES: ...and in to the early 80’s. Things were on the verge of shifting. By the 70’s the bottom kind of fell out of the east side of town but in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, wow what a juke joint that part of town was. There were a couple of clubs left over there still, Chester’s and The East Side Lounge. I even named a band after that club, The East Side Kings.
DM: It is about this time that Clifford Antone rolled into town from Port Arthur.
ES: That’s right. Antone’s became the place where everyone seemed to gravitate. We had musicians coming into Austin during this time from all over. It became the place to go to hang and play. It was a hip little thing we had going on. Austin had this weird law about closing the clubs back then. It really was weird, but what it did was bring us musicians closer together.
DM: How so?
ES: When they closed the club we would just go to somebody’s house and play. I mean we would have house parties until three or four in the morning.
DM: Who were some of the bands you were playing with in Austin in those days?
ES: I was in a band with Lou Ann (Barton) called Lou Ann and the Flip Tops. I played with Johnny Nicholas in a band called Johnny Nicholas and the Ethnic Lovers.
DM: (laughs) I haven’t heard of that one.
ES: I played with a gal by the name of Kathy Murray
DM: I remember Kathy and the Kilowatts.
ES: She’s still making music. Mostly, I played with a guy named Paul Orta. We made three albums together.
DM: Then you landed a big time gig with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets. How did that come about?
ES: I just heard that somebody up in Dallas needed a bass player. They were playing out of a place called Poor David’s Pub. I just hopped on a bus and went on up there and sat in with the band. Anson just said, “You got the gig if you want it.” So I moved up to Dallas.
DM: Was Anson doing the same type of intense touring in those days that he was doing not too many years later when he had Sam Myers in the band?
ES: Oh yeah and that’s what burned me out. It was really tough for me to be on the road that long. Sometimes we would be on the road for a month and a half, maybe even two months straight. We would swing out to California and come back through Colorado. Then back to Dallas. On weekends we would go back out of town and do gigs. I mean we never played in Dallas except Monday nights at Poor David’s. I was with Anson for about four years or so. Man, he was a real road warrior, let me tell you. His singer Darrell Nulisch and I drove the whole time. That’s a real hard life.
DM: I am guessing that the experience with Anson got you to thinking that there might be a better way to cut it in the music business.
ES: Well that’s pretty much it. That’s when I started my first record label while I was up there called Pee Wee Records. I named the label after my older brother.
DM: Did you have anyone up there that could kind of show you the ropes?
ES: Old man Bob Sullivan was a huge help and inspiration to me. By the way he is still is alive and kicking in Oklahoma. He did the Louisiana Hayride for twenty five years. He recorded some big stars on that show.
DM: Such as....
ES: They had Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. They also had Elvis Presley just to name a couple. He recorded the first T-Birds album. I still call him to this day when I’m setting up mics. He would do extra work for me and say "If you can’t afford to pay me on this one that’s OK."
DM: Who are some of the artists you recorded up at Pee Wee Records?
ES: We put out a record on Darrell. I have the first recordings of Reverend Horton Heat. I did a U.P. Wilson album. We did a couple of albums called Texas Harmonica Rumble Volumes One and Two back in the early 90’s.
DM: It is so funny Eddie, I had not been aware of the Harmonica Rumble albums until a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine who lives out here in Southern California told me that he participated in one of those.
DM: What’s so funny?
ES: (still laughing) You are talking about Al Blake. I was just listening to some Big Al Blake music when you called this afternoon. That is so crazy man. He played on the Texas Harmonica Rumble Volume 2. He brought Larry Taylor out here to play bass with him. I got Bob Sullivan to help engineer. We brought in some mobile trucks and we recorded the whole thing in front of a live audience at Antone’s. We put out two of those on Pee Wee Records and the most recent one, Volume 3 is on Dialtone Records.
DM: What got you back to Austin from Dallas?
ES: I shut down Pee Wee Records and moved back to Austin and got a job with Amazing Records. All my stuff on Pee Wee Records was licensed to Europe. So I told the folks at Amazing Records I can jump in and help secure licensing agreements for them. Then I did the same thing for Antone’s Records. Everybody on the Antone’s label toured Europe and every record had a European licensing and distribution agreement. I am the one that set all that stuff up. I was the international representative for Antone’s. I don’t know how many artists I bopped over to Europe it must be two hundred or more.
The first time we all went over there was 1989. I took Lou Ann Barton over to the Soviet Union along with twenty two other Texans including Greg Fingers Taylor, Gary Primich and the Reverend Horton Heat. When I was with Antone’s, I booked every one of their artists except maybe one or two over to Europe. I booked Kim Wilson over their right when he came out with his first solo album, Tiger Man. He played all over the place over there. I also worked at the Antone’s Record Store.
DM: Is that the one that was up on Guadalupe, just north of the University?
ES: That’s the one. It’s still there. Mike Buck and a couple of other partners went in and bought it. You can find some real gems in there. Next time you are in Austin Dave you have to check that out. You would have a ball in that place.
DM: When did you start Dialtone Records?
ES: In 1999...my first record was of Bells of Joy with A.C. Littlefield. They were still so awesome then. They still had their voices. They had a hit back in 1949 called Let’s Talk About Jesus. They sold over a million copies of that record.
DM: When you started the label did you have a philosophy in mind as to what you wanted to do or a mission in mind, maybe an idea as to what kind of records you wanted to make?
ES: I just wanted to make music that sounded like the music I grew up listening to. I was always a fan of Duke Records and Chess Records. I just wanted to make records that have that vintage sound. That’s what I am always going for. The second part of this is I also wanted to record the older guys. I want to record the traditional black blues artists.
DM: You have twenty four records in your catalogue. Are there any that stand out or that you are particularly fond of?
ES: Each record has their special moment. I mean take a listen to that 2012 album I did on Jewel Brown and Milton Hopkins. She sang with Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton. I gave her a call and she said, “Sure, I’ll come up and sing on a record.” I am actually putting her back in the studio for another album. We are flying over to Japan early next year to do a record with her and a Japanese swing band. We are going over songs right now.
DM: That record was one of my favorites of 2012. You also made a record with a guy from Fort Worth who is one of the most recorded guitarists of all time.
ES: That’s right. That turned out to be Cornell Dupree’s very last recording. I carried his oxygen machine around everywhere we went. I think he struggled to stay alive just so he could put his stamp on one more record.
DM: We had talked about another guy from Houston you recorded.
ES: That first Little Joe Washington record I did is one of my favorites. I took him out of his element altogether. I stuck him in a car and drove him straight up to Austin and put him in the studio right away. He was laying down such good music. He just blew me away. In the studio he became a real musician.
DM: What do you mean by that?
ES: It was the first time I could see why guys like Johnny “Guitar” Watson dug him so much. I could see why he was playing with all these guys like Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Joe “Guitar” Hughes.
DM: Let’s talk about your most recent project which is the brand new album you did with a guy named Gene “Birdlegg” Pittman.
ES: Birdlegg moved to Austin from Northern California a few years ago. He has been playing around town four or five nights a week. He is just hustling gigs and doing what it takes to be a full time musician. He cut his teeth out in the Oakland area with Sonny Rhodes. He traveled to Europe with Joe Louis Walker. The guy has been around.
DM: Is there a methodology or a formula you use when you get into the studio?
ES: If I am recording someone it means that I have seen them live. It also means I Iike what they were doing live. Then I just try and capture that feeling in the studio. I try to get that warm sound that you had on those old Duke records or the old stuff at Chess. I try the best I can to record in the old school way.
I also get to know the artist. We become friends and we work together to try and find the right material. The main thing though is the sound. I just try and capture a real warm sound. I also try and find the right musicians to back up that particular artist.
DM: (laughs) That doesn’t appear to be a big problem for you.
ES: That’s what’s so great about Dialtone Records. We are just so fortunate to have this great farm team of exceptional musicians. I mean even on the new record, Birdlegg, we have Omar Kent Dykes playing guitar on it. We have Mike Keller and Jason Moeller from the T-Birds playing guitar and drums on the thing. We got Gary Clarke’s bass player Johnny Bradley. Nick Connelly is on piano and Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff is on sax.
DM: Couldn’t you find anybody good?
ES: (laughs) That’s Austin man. All I have to do is work around their schedule. I’ll call them and they will say, ‘Sure, that sounds like fun.’ We bring everyone in and develop some camaraderie in the studio which I think is real important.
DM: I know you produce the records and make this thing go from top to bottom Eddie, but you must have some help.
ES: Thanks for bringing that up Dave. There is my partner Randy Reagan. He is a real nice guy who is just a huge music lover. He came in about four years ago and owns 50% of the company. Then there is my engineer, Lars Goransson. He does a lot of the mixing and mastering. Sometimes he knows what sound I’m looking for without me having to say anything. We work real well together.
DM: Is there anybody out there that you haven’t recorded that you would like to work with?
ES: You know Dave you aren’t supposed to let your eggs out of the hatch, but I would love to get Ray Sharpe in the studio. He’s just sittin’ up there in Fort Worth. I’ve been talking with him for about six years. There’s another guy out of Dallas named Dempsey Crenshaw who is off the beaten path. He is playing around, but nobody has ever recorded him. There are some local guys too I would love to work with. There’s a guy here in town named Mack Macintosh. He sounds like Johnny Adams. I’d love to record this guy. There’s another guy in town; he sings and plays piano like freakin’ Ray Charles. His name is Pee Wee Calvin and he’s just hanging out.
DM: What are you working on now Eddie?
ES: Of course I mentioned the Jewel Brown project. That should be a great record. Also, there is something else I am real passionate about doing which is putting out a series of 45s. I would like to do five 45s and release them every couple of months and then at the end of the year put them out on a vinyl album with bonus tracks and put it out on CD as well. I would like to do that on the guys that are around here. I also do a festival called the Texas East Side Kings Festival. My partner on that is Jason Moeller. We are doing it with all of these black artists from the east side of Austin who just aren’t getting their due.
DM: If any of our readers are interested Eddie, where is a good place to find a Dialtone record?
ES: Anyone can go online and find our entire catalogue at Charlie Lange’s Bluebeat Music. In fact Charlie is in Austin this weekend for the record convention. I’m going to have lunch with him tomorrow.
DM: I will put Charlie’s logo at the bottom of this interview Eddie and if anyone is interested they can click on that and go directly to his site. I know the record business is not an easy business. What keeps you going Eddie?
ES: “Record business”... wow that is an oxymoron. (laughs) But seriously...it is just what I do Dave. I am a record man. It is just a passion, a love and a way of life. I like to document this stuff. I like to get it down. I like the camaraderie of it all, but most of all, I just love the music.
DM: Amen to that Eddie.
ES: Thanks Dave. Stay in touch.