He Does It All

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Stephen Bruton, who plays at Monterey Live this Thursday evening, is more than just a guitarist however you look at him.  On one hand, you could look at his other musical achievements – songwriter, vocalist and record producer are just a few of them.  Or you could look at his credits as an actor – he has appeared in movies including “Convoy,” “Miss Congeniality” and “The Alamo” and television series including “Matlock.”  Alternatively, you could just look at the sheer amount of heart and soul that he puts into any of his endeavors.

Bruton, who has worked with most of the top names in music Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and Elvis Costello are just three of the artists he has played with.  He is currently on tour to promote his newest album “From the Five.”  The album shows the breadth of his musical influences, melding rock, blues, country and jazz into a distinctive and very personal sound.

Stephen Bruton grew up in a musical family in Fort Worth, Texas.  His mother played piano and his father was a professional jazz drummer as well as the owner of a local record store.  As a result, the young Bruton was exposed to all kinds of music.  “Being raised in a record store, I could hear everything,” he said.  “My dad was from the Duke Ellington school of music.  That us, there are only two kinds of music – good music and bad music.  If I was listening to something he’d say ‘That’s good, but you might want to check this out.’” 

One day, a group of local high school students were hanging out in the record store and playing folk music.  “One of the guys played an acoustic guitar and that swept right through me,” said Bruton.  “I thought ‘This is it.  I dig it!’”  His father bought him a guitar and some lessons.  Soon Bruton was playing in local folk groups and bluegrass bands.  He also went to the blues clubs on the other side of town, sneaking in because he was underage, and saw performances by some of the great blues artists.

In 1970, he moved to New York and its burgeoning music scene.  There, he went to see his friend Kris Kristofferson, who was at the beginning of his rise to fame, play.  Kristofferson offered Bruton the lead guitar slot in his band, a position that Bruton would fill for the next twenty years.  As a result of his working in Kristofferson’s band, Bruton also got a role in the movie “A Star is Born.”  This would prove to be the beginning of his other successful career as an actor.

By the mid 1980s, Bruton was tired of constant touring and returned to Texas, this time settling in Austin, where he began a career as a record producer.  It wasn’t until 1993 that he released his own first album, “What It Is.”  With the album as a showcase for his songwriting talents, Bruton soon found artists such as Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash queuing up to record his material. 

“From the Five” is Bruton’s fifth solo album.  Looking back over his career, Bruton said “I’ve got no complaints.  I get to do what I love.  How many people can say that?  And that’s worth more to me than anything.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, December 8, 2005

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