Monday, May 11, 2009
– Roots rocker Stephen Bruton, 60, died Saturday due to complications of an ongoing battle with throat cancer. Bruton was in Los Angeles undergoing treatment and completing work on the film "Crazy Heart," on which he served as music producer and composer, at the time of his death.
Bruton was working on the film with his lifelong friend, producer T Bone Burnett up until just a week ago. He was able to see the completion of the project before his death. While in Los Angeles he also played on sessions for an upcoming Kris Kristofferson record, "Starlight and Stone."
Bruton released five records as a solo artist, the last three for the New West label. As a lead guitar player, he worked with Kristofferson for 17 years and Bonnie Raitt for several more. He produced records for Alejandro Escovedo, Marcia Ball, Storyville and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Bruton's songs have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Martina McBride, Patty Loveless and Kristofferson. He also worked as an actor in the films "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," "Heaven's Gate," "A Star is Born," "Songwriter," "Miss Congeniality," "The Alamo," "Sweet Thing" and "Man Of The House."
Turner Stephen Bruton grew up surrounded by music in Fort Worth, Texas. His jazz drummer father ran a record store where he was weaned on the musical classics from blues, country, jazz and pop to classical. "He always said, if you're going to listen to music, listen to the best music," said Bruton on his web site.
By his teen years, Bruton and his buddy Burnett put down tracks in Burnett's makeshift home studio in between gigging with friends like Delbert McClinton, while digging on musical giants like Freddie King and Ornette Coleman, who could be heard in the local clubs. Bruton played high lonesome bluegrass by day and then soaked up some soul by grinding out the blues at night.
"The thing about Fort Worth is that there was no scene there," Bruton said. "No one was looking at Fort Worth, believe me. But there was great music there and always has been. It's always been black guys and white guys playing together. There was this great exchange of music."
In 1970, Bruton went to Woodstock, N.Y. One night, he headed down to Manhattan to catch a gig by his friend Kristofferson and was offered the guitar gig in the rising songwriting star's band. That launched nearly two decades of regular roadwork with Kristofferson as well as touring with Raitt, Christine McVie and others.
By the mid 1980s, Bruton returned to his Texas roots and settled in Austin, where once he had a break from the road, he became a part of the city's music community. Although he had produced an album with Burnett for Fort Worth musician Robert Ely and the song Amnesia & Jealousy for Burnett's "Behind The Trap Door" album, his production career began in earnest when Jimmie Dale Gilmore asked him to produce his major label debut, "After Awhile."
Bruton also debuted as an artist in his own right with "What It Is" in 1993. And as he stepped out from being a sideman into the spotlight with his own songs, they began to be recorded by such notable artists as Nelson, Jennings, Cash, Loveless, Kristofferson, Raitt, Hal Ketchum, The Highwaymen, Little Feat, Jimmy Buffett, Lee Roy Parnell and Martina McBride among others.
Since appearing in "A Star Is Born" with Kristofferson in 1976, Bruton has acted on TV and film. "When Kris started doing films, he would bring his buddies along because he always had the bullshit meter with us. So we wound up reading for parts," Bruton said.
"In acting, you use everything you use when you are playing music live," said Bruton. "It's an ensemble thing. It's real similar in terms of support and collaboration."
"The guitar is the constant among variables in my life," said Bruton. Since playing with Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge on their "Full Moon" album in 1973, he has recorded with Raitt, McClinton, Burnett, Elvis Costello, Carly Simon, The Wallflowers, Sonny Landreth, Peter Case, Ray Wylie Hubbard and others.
"I really enjoy doing lots of things, whether it's playing a bit part in The Alamo or playing guitar with Bob Schneider for a couple of years. And then I produce and do my own thing," he said.
The funeral will be held in Fort Worth.