Austin hip-hop pioneer Donnell Robison, aka MC Overlord, has died

The Austin music scene is reeling following the death Wednesday night of Donnell Robinson, who was better known as MC Overlord, one of the city’s most prominent hip-hop artists. He was 49.

MC Overlord. 1997 Shelley Wood for American-Statesman

Robinson was the first rapper to be accepted into the fold of Austin’s downtown music scene and he remained a perennial presence in the Austin Chronicle’s Austin Music Awards rankings for best hip-hop artist for years, even during the period in which he put performing as Overlord on hold to focus on his children’s music project, Big Don.

Large in stature with a jovial disposition, friends and fellow rappers remember him as a big teddy bear of a man.

He never talked bad about anybody, never talked down to anybody. He was always friendly, would shake your hand and sign autographs…he was a people person,” Baxter Russell, who raps as MC Fatal, said on Thursday morning.  

Robinson moved to Austin from St. Louis in the early ‘90s to pursue a music career. He met one of his longtime producers, Ter’ell Shahid when the two men worked as bouncers at a Sixth Street club.

“He wanted to get in the clubs, but there was no hip-hop in clubs. They wouldn’t allow rappers to perform in clubs in Austin, so we found a way to get him in by putting a band behind him,” Shahid said on Thursday morning.  

He rapidly developed a loyal fan base in Austin’s mainstream music scene, but it wasn’t the typical hip-hop crowd.

“It was a predominantly white audience,” Shahid said.

His music was unique, a hybrid of hip-hop and the funky rock that was popular in Austin at the time. Shahid characterizes it as “alternative hip-hop.” It was good music, but also, non-threatening.

“He was a bridge,” Shahid said. He believes the widespread appeal of Overlord’s songs was in “the uniting factor.” He rapped about struggles and pushing through, but his music was loaded with love.

The love came across when he performed, both in his gregarious stage presence and his generosity with stage time.    

“He paved the way for people like me to be able to come onto the other side,” Russell said, noting that after Robinson started calling on him to freestyle on sets, he was booked into the South by Southwest Music Festival and began to land downtown gigs.  

“We was all rapping in the neighborhoods, on the corners and in the street clubs and stuff like that…he got us where black people could start performing in front of white crowds and break that barrier, going over to Sixth Street,” he said.  

“He shared the air with me,” rapper Bavu Blakes said Thursday. “He was very non competitive…he was the type of dude who was like, ‘Get it, get it. You’re incredible.’”

“We stood side by side and never had a beef and shared in each other success as if it was our own,” Terrany Johnson, who raps as Tee Double, wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

Though he recorded an MC Overlord album in 2017, Robinson’s focus in recent years was on his children’s music project, Big Don.

“His music has always brought young people out, even as Overlord,” Shahid said. As Big Don, Robinson was “trying to teach the kids, help them find moral compass,” he said.

In recent years, Robinson’s health had been up and down. Earlier this year, he returned home following the death of his mother and, while in St. Louis, he was hospitalized

“He ended up having a hernia that was strangling out his intestines and he had to do a bunch of surgeries,” Shahid said. Friends at home rallied with multiple benefits to help defray his medical expenses.

Shahid said a friend took Robinson to the doctor on Wednesday because he was feeling unwell and “his heart just stopped.”

Robinson will remembered as the godfather of Austin hip-hop. “He was a godfather in terms of showing that god-like love as a predecessor and just being welcoming and affirming to additional presence in a place where he had made his mark already,” Blakes said.

“He built his own lane,” local journalist and hip-hop promoter Matt Sonzala said Thursday morning. “He toured a bit … but he mostly was that Austin artist who really existed in Austin and thrived on his own.”

Robinson is survived by two sisters and a brother. 

PUBLIC VIEWING: 2 to 4:30 p.m., September 30 at King Tears Mortuary at 1300 East Twelfth St.

 

Austin Blues Society honors Lavelle White, more at inaugural awards show

Lavelle White at Antone’s on June 25, 2017. White received a Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Austin Blues Society on Sept. 7, 2018. TAMIR KALIFA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Local musicians Lavelle White, Alan Haynes and the Soul Man Sam Band were honored over the weekend at the inaugural Austin Blues Society Blues Awards, held at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul on Friday night in conjunction with the Eastside Kings Festival opening party.

White received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Awards, while Haynes and the Soul Man Sam Band were named Best Blues Artist and Best Blues Band, respectively. The Eastside Kings served as the house band for the event, which included performances by each of the award winners.

The Austin Blues Society, formed in 2006, is a nonprofit “dedicated to creating higher awareness and greater appreciation for” blues music, according to its website. The group hosts a monthly blues jam at the Skylark Lounge on the last Thursday of each month and serves other functions locally such as helping to present “Blues in the Schools” programming.

RELATED: Lavelle White still sings the blues, and a whole lot more

Montreal’s Piknic Électronik comes to Auditorium Shores in October

Piknic Électronik, a two-day, “picnic in the park” electronic music event, is set to go down Oct. 27-28 at Auditorium Shores. The lineup is yet to be released, but organizers promise “an eclectic mix of techno, house and disco, showcasing 12 national and local artists on 2 stages.”

Mark Myers and Michelle Rodriguez dance at Auditorium Shores during South by Southwest on Thursday March 17, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

The original Piknic Électronik is a summer concert series in Montreal that aims to be the opposite of an all-night rave. The event was founded in 2003 by a group of electronic music enthusiasts who hoped to make the genre more accessible “by bringing it out in broad daylight.”

The Auditorium Shores shows will run from 2 to 9:30 p.m. each day.

The event is family friendly. Kids 10 and younger are free, and there will be a Petite Piknic area with special children’s programming.

Curated food selections from Central Market are available for pre-order, and there will be food trucks on site.

Piknic Électronik organizers have staged versions of the event in various locations around the world including Melbourne, Dubai and Santiago. This will be the first American edition of the event.

Early bird tickets are $15 and available through Front Gate Tickets.

More information. 

 

Utopiafest releases daily lineups, single-day tickets

Utopiafest has released the daily lineups and single-day tickets for the tenth anniversary of the music and camping event, which will take place on Nov. 2-4. This year, the festival moves from its original home at Four Sisters Ranch in Utopia, Texas to a private ranch outside Burnet, roughly 45 minutes from Austin.

04/08/17 Suzanne Cordeiro/ for American-Statesman Patty Griffin performs at ACL Live in Austin.

 

The festival kicks off with a pre-party on Thursday night featuring hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash and singer-songwriter Keller Williams performing solo.

The main action begins on Friday when Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real and Patty Griffin headline a bill that also includes the Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown, Keller Williams’ Pettygrass, Rubblebucket, Diet Cig and more.

On Saturday, the party continues with Sound Tribe Sector Nine headlining a bill that also includes Medeski’s Mad Skillet, Valerie June, All We Are and more.

Single-day tickets to the festival are $109. General admission wristbands for the weekend are $215, which includes camping. Tickets to the Thursday night pre-party are $35. A kids pass for children age 2-12 is $20. More information.

Austin City Limits Radio: Deal with KGSR brings iconic brand to the airwaves

[cmg_anvato video=”4477397″ autoplay=”true”]

From television show to outdoor festival to music venue, and now to the radio dial: The iconic Austin City Limits brand is extending its reach once again, with Thursday’s announcement that longtime local station KGSR-FM is becoming Austin City Limits Radio.

The change, which takes effect at 5 p.m. Thursday with a satellite broadcast from Austin’s Arlyn Studios, will create a new format based primarily around the broad range of artists associated with the other Austin City Limits brand. Key KGSR staffers involved with the move said they expect roughly 50 percent of the station’s playlist content to be different with the ACL Radio designation.

Indiana-based Emmis Communications still owns KGSR and will keep those call letters. Emmis will license the Austin City Limits name from the television show, which launched in the mid-1970s. The program licensed its name to the Zilker Park music festival in 2002. When downtown concert venue the Moody Theater opened in 2011 and became the new site of the TV show’s tapings, a deal was made to call the venue ACL Live.

AUSTIN360 ARCHIVES: ACL Live becomes the new home of “Austin City Limits”

Adding radio to the mix was primarily the brainchild of KGSR on-air personality Andy Langer, who’s been with the station for 11 years. It started, he says, almost as a joke, when program director Emily Parker presented a list of potential adds to the station’s playlist that seemed beyond its usual AAA-format scope.

Leon Bridges played the first Austin City Limits Radio live studio session at KGSR’s Dell Music Lounge on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. KGSR is rebranding itself as Austin City Limits Radio. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“I said, ‘Great, what are we going to call the new station?’,” Langer recalled. “My knee-jerk reaction led me to something I should have thought of five or 10 years ago.”

Adding a radio element to the ACL brand indeed seems like a natural extension. Tom Gimbel, the general manager of the “Austin City Limits” TV show and the executive who approved the multi-year licensing deal after Langer approached him with the idea, noted that the station “will be the first ACL brand touchpoint that is on 24-7, 365 days a year.”

Like Langer, Gimbel seems almost surprised that the notion hadn’t arisen earlier. “As we look at it now, I think it does seem quite obvious,” he said. “Sometimes great ideas sit in front of you for years before someone points it out.”

The change “allows us to broaden our scope,” said Scott Gillmore, senior vice president and Austin market manager for Emmis, whose local radio properties also include KLBJ-FM, KLBJ-AM, 101X, Latino 102.7, Bob-FM and La Zeta. “Even though we had changed our music over time, people still had an image about what KGSR was that maybe went back a ways.”

RELATED: Past format tweaks at KGSR

Gillmore was part of the team that launched KGSR in 1990 with original program director Jody Denberg, now a DJ on KUTX. Under Denberg, KGSR helped to pioneer the “adult album alternative” format that eventually became known in the industry as AAA radio. Gradual shifts over the years found the station leaning more toward Americana, or mainstream pop, or other subgenres.

“KGSR has gone through so many iterations trying to stay true to its roots but embracing the new Austin at the same time,” said program director Emily Parker, who’s been with the station since 2015, first as music director. “It’s this constant tug-of-war back and forth, playlist-wise. Now we won’t have that tug-of-war; we’ll be embracing new and old and everything in between.”

Asked for examples of what might carry over from the current KGSR format and the new ACL Radio vision, she suggested that “center-lane, big-brand heralds of AAA” such as Coldplay, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Mumford & Sons would remain. “But we’ll go to the left of that,” she said, with Texas legends such as Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Stevie Ray Vaughan, all of whom were KGSR staples in the 1990s. (Nelson’s traditional live-show opener “Whiskey River” will be the first song played on Thursday’s inaugural Austin City Limits Radio broadcast.)

“And we’ll widen on the other side for artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and others who have played the festival,” Parker added, making it clear that hip-hop — an increasingly prominent genre at ACL Fest in recent years — would be part of the mix.

While the station won’t be a marketing arm for the festival per se, Parker acknowledged the station likely would be putting some focus over the next month on acts playing the October event, citing St. Vincent and Metallica as potential examples.

RELATED: More news about ACL Fest 2018

Another key indicator: When Fort Worth soul sensation Leon Bridges was in town last weekend for a two-night stand at ACL Live, he stopped in at KGSR’s Dell Music Lounge to tape a four-song segment with Langer for what will be the first-ever ACL Radio live session, set to air Saturday at noon. Bridges also paid a visit to KUTX’s Studio 1A last weekend, suggesting that the two stations might share more common ground as a result of this new development.

KGSR, which moved from its original 107.1 frequency to 93.3 about a decade ago, also is picking up another spot on the dial with the change. Starting Thursday, ACL Radio will be heard at 97.1 in addition to 93.3. On the internet, the station will stream live at acl-radio.com.

Langer, who also books the station’s wildly popular summertime Blues on the Green concert series in Zilker Park and puts together its annual “Broadcasts” benefit CD sold during the holidays, will add the title of Brand Marshal to his KGSR vitae. He believes a major advantage for the station will be the widely-recognized identity that Austin City Limits provides. “That identity is probably 90 percent of the battle to get somebody to actually listen,” he said.

Gimbel, who also recently worked out a deal with the University of Texas and concert promoter C3 Presents (which puts on ACL Fest) for a series of “Longhorn City Limits” concerts before UT football games this fall, says the KGSR partnership may also present other opportunities that haven’t yet been contemplated. Might KGSR broadcast some of ACL Fest live at some point? There’s no plan for that yet, in part because the licensing deal was arranged quite quickly, proceeding from concept to reality in just three or four months.

Gimbel credits KLRU director of communications April Burcham for coming up with a summary catch-phrase that has resonated with the Austin City Limits brand’s keepers. “She said, ‘We don’t just have a stool; now we have a table.’ It’s the fourth leg.”

RELATED: More news about the “Austin City Limits” TV show

Don’t you think this outlaw bit done got out of hand? Ethan Hawke, Charlie Sexton, Ben Dickey spoof Highwaymen with Jimmy Fallon

Ben Dickey, left, and Ethan Hawke play to a small crowd in the Gibson guitars showroom in Austin on March 14, 2018. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

Making the media rounds to promote the new Blaze Foley biopic “Blaze,” director Ethan Hawke joined stars Ben Dickey and Charlie Sexton on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on Tuesday night to talk about the film. But not before engaging in a little musical-comedy hijinks.

Fallon joined his three guests in a send-up of classic country supergroup the Highwaymen, with Hawke and Fallon leading the way in the roles of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, respectively. Nelson’s classic “On the Road Again” is recast as a musical argument between Nelson and Cash, who’d really rather “just stay here,” Fallon sings. Eventually they drag Sexton (as Kris Kristofferson) and Dickey (as Waylon Jennings) into the debate. Here’s the video clip:

“Blaze” continues to screen at several theaters in Austin this week, including the Violet Crown downtown, Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, Barton Creek Square 14 and the Regal Arbor 8 in Great Hills.

RELATED: Our Austin360 review of “Blaze”

Dickey’s new EP of his own material, produced by Sexton, was released this week on the new Dualtone Records imprint SexHawkeBlack (a partnership between Sexton, Hawke, and former Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black, a producer of “Blaze”).

HEAR MORE: Charlie Sexton covers Townes Van Zandt on the “Blaze” soundtrack

 

Hosea Hargrove, godfather of Austin blues, dies

Guitarist and singer Hosea Hargrove, an artist often referred to as the godfather of Austin blues, died early Monday morning. His daughter, Hosetter Irwin, confirmed the news with an emotional post on his Facebook page Monday night. “My Daddy, a.k.a. the blues man, has got his heavenly wings,” she wrote. He was 88.

Hosea Hargrove is inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame at the Austin Music Awards at the Austin Music Hall during the SXSW Music Festival. 2009 Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hosea is the foundation of music itself for Austin. He was here 60 years ago playing in all these small clubs,” Eddie Stout, founder of the local blues label Dialtone Records, said on Wednesday morning. 

Hargrove grew up East of Austin near Smithville. He was a self-taught guitar man.

He made his own guitar from a cigar box at age 14 or so,” his daughter, Shirley Vincent said on Wednesday morning. 

“I didn’t take no kind of music lessons or nothing,” Hargrove told the Statesman in 2011. “Nobody could get used to my style. They couldn’t stop me from doin’ nothin’.”

“He didn’t listen to records,” Stout said. He’d hear songs on the radio or a jukebox, then go home and try to recreate them. “His chord changes were different from the record because he didn’t know exactly how it went. So what he made up is what he stuck with.”

Guitarist Hosea Hargrove of Dialtone Records on Feb. 8, 2011. Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hargrove was a regular at Antone’s and other Austin blues clubs. He also toured extensively, opening for and sitting in with some of the top blues players in the country, including B.B. King. Stout also took him to Europe once. He never achieved widespread acclaim, but his local influence was significant.

Guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan was among the artists who studied Hargrove’s style.

Jimmie Vaughan used to come to Elgin and sit in with me when he was young, before his brother even played,” Hargrove said in 2011. 

Hargrove was inducted into the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2009.

He was serious about his craft, carrying his guitar with him everywhere. “(Music) played a big role in his life. It was all that he knew,” Vincent said. 

“Without people like Hosea nobody would be here. None of the stars that we know today,” Stout said. “They all relied on some kind of foundation and Hosea built that foundation.”

Ethan Hawke, Charlie Sexton form new record label with Louis Black

Actor Ethan Hawke has teamed up with Austin guitar hero/super producer Charlie Sexton and Louis Black, co-founder of the Austin Chronicle and South by Southwest, to form a new record label.

Ben Dickey, left, and Ethan Hawke play to a small crowd in the Gibson guitars showroom in Austin March 14, 2018. Dickey stars in “Blaze,” which Hawke directed. The film screened at South by Southwest on March 16. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The new label will be called SexHawkeBlack, a somewhat unfortunate moniker that the Hollywood Reporter (who broke the story) reports the three “jokingly” came up with while promoting the movie “Blaze.”

RELATED: Blaze is a terrific portrait of the artist as a poetic screwup

Hawke co-wrote and directed “Blaze,” a biopic about Austin musician Blaze Foley. Sexton starred in the movie as Foley’s friend, Texas music legend Townes Van Zandt, and Black was an executive producer on the film.

The Hollywood Reporter says “the group became involved with ‘Blaze star’ Ben Dickey’s new recordings and found themselves wanting to promote their friend’s style of folk, country and blues music.”

RELATED: Charlie Sexton covers Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Marie’ from ‘Blaze’ soundtrack

They released a three-song EP on Tuesday with a full-length album due out in January. The album was recorded at Arlyn Studios early this year. The label will operate in conjunction with the Nashville-based Dualtone label. We will have a review of the EP in Peter Blackstock’s On the Record column later this week.

 

Waterloo Records files suit against new Waterloo Music Festival

Waterloo Records has presented live music events in its parking lot during South by Southwest for the past nine years. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman 2018

Longtime local record store Waterloo Records has filed suit against the new Waterloo Music Festival over the use of the name “Waterloo,” the record store announced in a press release sent out Saturday evening.

Waterloo Music Festival is scheduled to make its debut at Carson Creek Ranch Sept. 7-9 with headliner String Cheese Incident plus more than two dozen other national and local acts.

Waterloo Records’ press release stated that the store filed suit “reluctantly” after seeking to work out an amicable solution with Jam Fest LLC, the promoter of the festival.

Waterloo Records owner John Kunz said in the press release that “under Texas and federal law, if we don’t defend ourself against infringing use of our name, trademark, and common law rights, we risk the surrender of all those rights. Additionally, WMF’s use of the name ‘Waterloo’ has caused a great deal of general confusion, both locally and nationally, as to whether or not Waterloo Records is producing this fest.”

An unnamed spokesperson for Waterloo Music Festival responded via email Sunday: “We find this lawsuit to be without merit. We respect Waterloo Records and appreciate all it does for Austin music. It’s unfortunate that we are not in agreement on this issue.”

Speaking by phone on Sunday afternoon, Kunz said that the lawsuit was not seeking an injunction to stop the Waterloo Music Festival from happening. He added that he hopes a deal can still be struck before the festival begins on Friday. If the festival does take place with usage of the Waterloo name, then the outcome of the lawsuit could potentially lead to financial ramifications for the festival’s producers.

Waterloo Records opened in 1982. Other businesses in Austin have used the name Waterloo over the years, including Waterloo Ice House, a local restaurant chain that opened in 1976 and presented live music at some of its locations for many years. (The chain currently has four Austin-area locations.) Waterloo was the original name for the city of Austin, before it was renamed after Stephen F. Austin.

RELATED: Why was Austin originally named Waterloo?

Kunz said Sunday that although he’s never filed for a federal trademark of Waterloo pertaining to live music performances and festivals, “through common-law usage we’ve been doing those things under the name of Waterloo for decades.”

He cited the store’s regular live-music in-store performances, as well as “a couple of decades’ worth of music festivals both inside the store and, in the last nine years, outside the store during South by Southwest.” While the multi-day events during SXSW have been officially promoted as “Waterloo Day Parties” and not as a “festival” per se, Kunz says he believes his store’s SXSW events essentially constitute a festival presentation.

In the press release, Kunz said that the record store’s legal action “in no way intends to put any damper on the bands and fans looking to have a great experience at the Waterloo Music Festival. … Additionally, we wish the festival promoters well. We simply need for them to find another name for their fest that doesn’t step on our Waterloo Records name.”

UPDATE: Epitaph Records drops Austin band Summer Salt

UPDATE: Epitaph records has dropped the Austin band Summer Salt from their roster. “Due to recent developments Epitaph is parting ways with Summer Salt,” a representative from Epitaph said in an email on Tuesday.

The band had signed with the label earlier this year and their debut album was due out later this month.

FROM 8.31.18: Local band Summer Salt, who recently signed to Epitaph records, has decided to part ways with bassist Phil Baier following allegations of sexual misconduct by several women on social media. The band announced their decision on Twitter on Tuesday.

https://twitter.com/SummerSaltATX/status/1034627159141359616

Courtesy of Epitaph Records.

The band has been rising through the ranks of the Austin indie scene. Their debut album on Epitaph is due out on Sept. 28. We have reached out to the label for comment.