A long long time ago, in a decade far far away called "The Eighties," local (at that time) guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughn and I were talking offstage one night. He had just finished a set opening for the then-hot Delbert McClinton at an Austin night club, now long gone, called Club Foot. This is back before he became "THE Stevie Ray Vaughn," and Stevie was still Austin's own private little secret.
We were chatting about some of the local musicians who he favored, and he mentioned that he was really impressed by this new kid known as "Little" Charlie Sexton. Charlie had been opening a number of sets at Antone's and other venues about town, and amazing people like Stevie with his prowess. At that time, Charlie was only thirteen or fourteen, and was already creating a strong buzz among Austin industry veterans, rightly being labeled a child prodigy. I made it a point to check out this guitar wunderkind, and after seeing him play at Antone's I, too, was impressed both with his skill with a guitar and with his look as well. With his Matt Dillon-like chiseled features, he had the look of a rock star.
Shortly after our chat, Stevie Ray Vaughn went on to fame and later misfortune, releasing his classic album Texas Flood, touring with David Bowie, and then much later dying tragically while en-route to play at Alpine Valley. Stevie's everlasting legacy is that his rise to stardom lifted all of Austin's musical boats, helping to make Antone's and Austin's live music scene legendary, and propelling a number of local artists into the national spotlight. Charlie Sexton, and to a lesser extent his equally talented younger brother Will Sexton, were direct benefactors of some of that legacy. Charlie went on to his own mainstream success with his 1985 album release of Pictures For Pleasure, released when he was just sixteen, charting the hit single "Beats So Lonely," and setting the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of teen girls aflutter.
Charlie Sexton at Antone's photo by staff photographer jeff barringer
Charlie, always seemingly a little uncomfortable being the frontman, backed out of the spotlight and spent a few years doing session work with artists like Ron Wood and Keith Richards, as well as Bob Dylan. Later he would team up with the former members of Stevie Ray Vaughn's band Double Trouble and Doyle Bramhall II to form the Arc Angels, releasing a single album in 1992. In 1999 Charlie replaced Bucky Baxter in Bob Dylan's band and since then has been both in front of and behind the mic, working with a variety of local and international artists as both a session player and a producer.
My sister Susan invited me and a friend of hers to go see Charlie's set at Antone's, and as I hadn't seen Charlie perform since the 80s, except for a fleeting glimpse of his set at ACL Fest 2006, I gladly accepted. My sister was hoping for performances from his "pop star" days, but I knew better. Knowing that he had accomplished far more and grown musically since the 80s, I anticipated an evening of all of his newer stuff, the accomplished singer-songwriter work, rather than parading out 20-year-old pop material.
"Little" Charlie Sexton, that skinny guitar wielding kid that I saw at Antone's way back when, has certainly grown up, and can be considered "little" no more, although he's still lean, wiry, and has that same drawn face and those high cheekbones. Every once in a while, I saw a flash in his smile of the 16-year-old from back then, but with a maturity in his manner and his music that belies the years, the experiences, and the relationships that have impacted his life since, he is far from being that same 16-year-old.
Starting acoustically, solo with Gospel, he transitioned into songs with his backing band, all seasoned pros, changing out guitars as often as Madonna changes her onstage wardrobe. He is still one of the shyest performers onstage, rarely lifting his gaze even when singing. After a couple of songs, and with the band onstage, he seemed to relax quite a bit, sliding over to play the piano on a couple of numbers with Kyle Crusham, before returning to his trademark guitar work. You can almost hear Stevie's soul in some of his fingerwork, the student channeling the master in a sense, but with his own flavor and stylings surpassing even that .
I have to admit, I like the older Charlie even more. The pop stuff of his early career was really more of an anomaly, maybe a nod to the mainstream. The indie singer-songwriter direction seems to be much more akin to his talents than doing the big radio shuffle. If the rest of the world never finds out just how good Charlie really is that's just fine by me. He'll always find an audience here and we'll keep it our little secret.
Charlie's supporting musicians for this set were....
Billy Cassis gtr mando gtr and vocals
George Reif Bass
Kyle Schiender drums
Kyle Crusham piano and keys....
Antone's 1-27-07 Set List
I'd do the same #05
Bring it home #35
Once in awhile
Cruel & gentle
Reg grind #36
Under the gun
Just like love
Thanks Charlie for supplying the set list and your band's info. You will see me at your next Austin set.
Kyle Crusham and Charlie Sexton at Antone's - photo by staff photographer jeff barringer
Thank you so much for posting the pics and this write up about Charlie's concert from earlier this week. I have never been fortunate enough to see him in concert. Seeing all of the photos and write up makes me want to pick up roots and move to Austin so that I might have the chance to one day see this amazing artist live! I've been a huge fan since 85!
Charlie....I think Marlo needs to come to Disney World some time soon....and if you were so inclined to play at House of Blues while there.....;-)