Thought you all might appreciate my Archive May 2000 Interview with "Austin City Limits" longtime Producer Terry Lickona discussing the show's at the time 25th Anniversary, the many artists and guitarists who have performed on the show and much more. We discuss The Allman Brothers Band, Doyle Bramhall II, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lightnin' Hopkins, Vince Gill, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, and many more!
This very extensive interview was in 4 parts. Apologies but Part 2 and Part 3 were somehow deleted by the publication this was published in!! 🙁
Part 1 The Greats Of Austin City Limits-Terry Lickona
By Arlene R. Weiss
© Copyright June 19, 2011, 2016 by Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
In May of 2000, I was deeply honored to interview in great detail and depth the venerable and esteemed producer, Terry Lickona of the prestigious, internationally televised, PBS, live music showcase “Austin City Limits.” ACL was celebrating its 25th Anniversary at the time, so we discussed the show’s fascinating and insightful musical history, which includes hosting and showcasing some of music’s most legendary guitar players and music artists. The show does that even more so to this day, highlighting and branching out to a wide international and far-reaching array of music artists and music styles.
Some 11 years later, preparing for taping their 36th Season, “Austin City Limits” now can attest to being the longest running televised music series in America’s history. The show has also spawned the now internationally acclaimed annual, “Austin City Limits” Festival in Zilker Park, Austin, Texas, which this year will feature Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, Kanye West, Alison Krauss and Union Station, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, and many more prestigious artists.
Many TV music showcases have come and gone, but “Austin City Limits” has weathered, never catered to, and successfully endured, trends, fads, commerciality, and changing tastes and tides in the viewing audience, who still regularly and adoringly tune in.
There is no secret to ACL’s longevity. Terry Lickona and the staff and crew of “Austin City Limits” set out from the show’s inception to create a no frills, back to basics, live music series that lovingly supports, develops, and nurtures music artists, from seasoned veterans to talented newcomers, showcasing them on a worldwide performing stage to an appreciative audience.
Here’s a look back with Producer Terry Lickona at the extraordinary history of “Austin City Limits” and the phenomenal and often legendary guitarists and artists who have graced its performing stage.
Stevie Ray Vaughan Lenny Photo: Rick Landers
Arlene R. Weiss: The wealth of sublimely talented guitarists who have graced the stage of “Austin City Limits” is just phenomenal. They hail from Austin, from all over Texas, from music towns and cities nationwide. Tell me why the show’s producers are so lovingly drawn to guitarists, and why you think guitarists in turn are so likewise, also lovingly drawn to perform on “Austin City Limits”?
Terry Lickona: Well, I can tell you where it probably all began was with Bill Arhos, who is a would be guitar player himself. He’s tinkered around with the guitar for all of his life, and he’s always been particularly drawn to guitarists and different guitar playing styles. That was part of the original inspiration. But beyond that, is the fact that the focus of the show has always been on originality. That’s the bottom line criteria for me when I book talent. I’m looking for somebody who has something original to say in the way that they express themselves, either by playing an instrument, or by writing a song. That’s part of the overall concept, especially with guitarists.
Since the show is Texas-based in its roots, and continues to have a strong Texas flavor, frankly, guitarists stand out. If you look at the list of Texas artists and musicians over the years, there are so many classic Texas guitar players, going back to people like Charlie Christian, one of the pioneers of jazz guitar, on up to the present day where there are young kids, twelve years old that are playing at clubs like Clifford Antone’s Blues Club. They’re following in the footsteps of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Guitarists especially have always enjoyed the freedom that they have on a show like “Austin City Limits” because they can really stretch out. One of the unique things about our show is the format; it’s a one hour show without interruptions. It doesn’t have the commercial breaks that most other shows on commercial or cable TV have. We don’t tell an artist that they have to keep their songs down to three or four minutes. They can play as long as they want, so a guitar player has the ability and the freedom to really stretch out and play a long solo, play their heart and soul out. That is rare on television, for an artist to have that kind of freedom.
Arlene: With vast changes in today’s musical landscape, the Internet, trends, MTV, and videos, “Austin City Limits” has continued to endure and remain vital for over 25 years. Why do you think that the artists continue to embrace the show as the premier, esteemed, televised forum to showcase their talents?
Terry Lickona: People like Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow will say that it’s the hippest show on TV. And the reason is, it’s all about music and nothing else, just an outlet to showcase music. The artist has total freedom to come on and do whatever they want. Some TV shows, all they’re interested in is the hit. They want things as short as possible. We don’t tell artists what to play. We give them complete input, as much input as they want to have in the editing process. They get to pick what songs air on the final edit, although some artists will actually defer to our judgment. It’s usually a two way street.
But, yes, artists still see it as the premier showcase, and that’s part of the reason it’s been around for so long. Even some of these younger artists today, like Jonny Lang, who is I guess eighteen years old now, but he was seventeen when he did our show for the first time, talked about how he had grown up watching “Austin City Limits” since he was five years old and he had always dreamed of wanting to be on the show. And so it’s interesting, not only that the older, more established, legendary artists like Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, or Vince Gill, consider the show to be special and they keep coming back to do it again. But also, there’s a new generation of kids, who some of them weren’t even born when the show started, who still see it as the best showcase for their music, as well as for everybody else.
Arlene: Do you think that maybe that’s the reason that the viewing public, likewise continues to feel the same way, still embracing the show?
Terry Lickona: Absolutely. It’s also different in terms of our creative approach to the show. Most of the time, if you look at most music shows, especially MTV, VH1, or commercial television, there’s just too much emphasis on the glitz, glamour, and pyrotechnics. The Director will have twelve different cameras and literally every five seconds, the camera shot will change. It’s constantly changing from a close up shot to a wide shot to a reverse shot.
As a music fan myself, and as a viewer, that’s really distracting because to me, that takes away from the music. We have what one writer described as a more “loving” approach to capturing the music on our show. In other words, we tend to linger on a shot. If somebody is playing their heart out on a guitar solo or somebody is singing a really powerful verse to a song, we will stay on that shot of that person playing guitar or singing, for a long time, because it just draws you into it that much more, and it’s exciting. You feel like you’re more a part of it. And again, it gets back to the music. That’s what it should all be about.
Arlene: Yes, especially in a spontaneous forum like “Austin City Limits”, where it’s live.
Terry Lickona: Well, it’s about as close to being live as it gets. We will never ask an artist to do a song over. We give them the option to do that if they really botched a song or if somebody breaks a guitar string or forgets a song lyric. But unlike a lot of TV shows where the Director will ask the artist to do the same song four, five times before he’s satisfied, we don’t do that, so it really is a live show. An artist and their band will roll in here off the road, set up on our stage, and basically come out and play a concert, like they would any other night, only we capture it on cameras.
Arlene: Texas, and particularly Austin, is world renowned for its wealth and diverse array of gifted guitarists, informed in unlimited musical styles. Culturally and musically, why do you think that this geographic area is so conducive and nurturing to spawning this particular wellspring of talent?
Terry Lickona: Austin has always been thought of here locally, and by people in other places, as an incubator for creative performers. Not only guitarists, but it also applies to songwriters, singers, other kinds of musicians, and every style of music. It’s not so much a music business scene. It’s a music creative scene.
It’s a place where people in the case of Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brother Jimmie, moved here from Dallas when they were teenagers. Other artists from other parts of Texas and all over the country, move to Austin. Once they come here, they get out there and play the clubs night after night. It’s a chance for them to really create, to discover, new ways to express themselves, to hook up with other musicians, to start bands, and if there’s a lot of cross fertilization, well that applies to guitar players. Austin is a comfortable place to learn your stuff, learn your style, learn how to express yourself, as opposed to any other place in Texas, or beyond. It’s a very stimulating environment, especially for guitar players. And frankly, more people play guitar than any other instrument, so it seems especially in Texas and in Austin , there are a lot of aspiring guitar players, learning at the age of well….five.
Arlene: Being a live music forum, how has the show’s crew and stage continually adapted to the set-up and changes of guitarists, their instruments, gear, their acoustics, sound engineering, and sound equipment, through the course of their sets?
Terry Lickona: That’s been a challenge, but one of the great things about the staff here, is that a surprising number of our production staff are musicians themselves. Our Audio Director, David Hough is a drummer. He’s played with bands around Austin for many years and he’s been with us since the very beginning. Some of our camera operators are musicians who play in bands.
Arlene: Are there any particular artists whose technical or artistic needs are particularly challenging or even demanding, and if so, which ones, and how so?
Terry Lickona: Well, one that you’re very familiar with yourself, Eric Johnson comes to mind. I know that you have written about him. And Eric is, when I say demanding, I don’t mean in a personal way, because Eric is one of the nicest people that you’ll ever meet. But I mean in terms of his…
Arlene: The integrity of his needs….
Terry Lickona: Right. And his technical requirements and his stage set-up and you know how meticulous Eric is, even when it comes down to the guitar chord that he’s using and the kind of connectors that he uses. His stage set-up takes a very long time, five times as long as any other artist. And even once the show is shot, he takes many days sometimes to remix the music from the show, whereas most artists do their remixes in one, or at the most, two days. Eric will spend several days or more, and that’s quick compared to months, or even years that it takes him to complete each new studio album!
Eric Johnson Photo: Rob Cavuoto
Arlene: Does he remix it, do you remix it, or do you collaborate together?
Terry Lickona: It’s a collaboration. Some artists will actually come in themselves. Some artists will send their Producer or their Engineer to work with our guy. Some artists will insist on doing it all themselves. In fact, a recent trend seems to be that some artists would prefer to take the tapes and not mix them here at our facility at all, but to take them either to their own studio or another studio, wherever they live. Even Clint Black who recently did a show, he’s got his own Pro Tools set-up in his house in Nashville. He mixed the entire show himself without an Engineer or anybody.
It’s a different world out there today than it was twenty five years ago. So if an artist wants to mix a show themselves, they’re welcome to come here or if they would rather take the tapes and go mix it at home, then they can do that, as long as the results are up to our standards and so far we haven’t had any problems with that.
Arlene: Now I know that sometimes those challenges go beyond that, and I had read the little anecdote that’s in your 25th Anniversary Book, about famous Bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. About the bottle of “ Jack” and his payment and so forth. I thought that was really cute.
Terry Lickona: It was, and it was true. It was my first year as producer and so it was part of my education. Dealing with some of the legendary Blues artists, especially those who aren’t around any longer….They grew up in a different time, when African American artists were so often cheated by record companies and by others who took advantage of their lack of education. So they had a tendency not to trust anybody. Well, people like Lightnin’, whenever they performed at a club or anywhere, they expected to be paid up front in cash.
Well nobody told us that and of course being a Public Television Station, we had a certain way of dealing with the payment. We would pay everybody by check, not even on the day of the show. It would take about a week or so before we could process the payment. But when we did the show with Lightnin’, he didn’t have a Manager or anybody taking care of his business. I actually booked the show through his bass player. Now interestingly, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ bass player also happened to be a State Legislator from Houston named Ron Wilson, who is still a politician. He was the one who convinced Lightnin’ to do the show, but I guess it never occurred to Ron about the payment part of it.
So on the day of the show when Lightnin’ walked in, he had a conversation with Ron and said, “Where’s the money?” That’s when Ron came to me and said, well, “Lightnin’ wants to be paid in advance and he would be very unhappy if he is not. In fact, if we expect to get a good show from him, somehow we will have to figure out a way to pay him. The sooner, the better.” Well, it was a Sunday, so the first problem was that all of the offices were closed here at the station, and number two, the banks were all closed so….We’re not talking a lot of money here because the money was and always has been basic scale. At the time it was about $400. So, I basically took up a collection from the staff and the crew, with the promise that it would all be paid in a day or two. We managed to pay Lightnin’ in cash by pooling our resources together and he was a happy man, with a bottle of “Jack” to go with it. He came out there and just gave it his all….put on a great show.
Arlene: Three amazing youthful Blues prodigies, Jonny Lang, Doyle Bramhall II, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd have all brought their talents to your show. What do you think that talents this young bring to the show’s live forum and in their performances, as opposed to seasoned veterans who have had many more years to enjoy the rewards yet also endure the prices and sacrifices of the music business and performing live? Do you find a certain freshness and exuberant innocence to youthful performers such as these three?
Terry Lickona: Absolutely. I think there’s something about watching an artist, especially a guitar player who is still learning their art, still learning how to create music, and growing and evolving, practically day by day. And there’s a certain rawness to their style. At the same time, there’s that innocence, exuberance; that’s a great way to refer to it. And Stevie Ray Vaughan was a good case in point.
Arlene: How old was he when he first appeared on the show in 1983?
Terry Lickona: I think he was in his early 20’s. Then he came back and did the show again in 1990. In 1983, he also had of course, a lot of substance abuse problems.
Arlene: It seems with Stevie Ray, it was actually the reverse. Later in his life, it was like he got a new lease on life (after Vaughan’s successful sobriety), and that he appreciated what he had, and I don’t mean just his talent, I mean life itself. That came through in his second performance. Sometimes, life goes around and teaches you things and with age, you actually get more innocence, if that sounds kind of ironic.
Terry Lickona: Yes, that’s right. When he did the show in 1983, he was incredibly insecure and lacking in self confidence, compared to when he came back in 1990, where he just exuded self confidence and control on that stage.
Arlene: I saw that 1990 show where he played the guitar behind his head. Unbelievable, and he never missed a lick.
Terry Lickona: Yes, and it’s also a part of documenting history. How people like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd play when they’re in their teens, where Doyle, who I think is in his 30’s. Then, hopefully, they’re able to come back and do the show five or ten years from now and we’re able to capture their musical growth. To have it all on tape, in our library, rather than just waiting until they’re older and more seasoned veterans.
Arlene: You’ve also featured some monumental rock bands that feature immensely talented guitarists such as The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat, and George Thorogood and The Destroyers, all renowned as influential rockers who are equally renowned for their spontaneous jams.
Terry Lickona: One of my favorites in that category who doesn’t always get mentioned is Coco Montoya, a guitar player with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers when they appeared on our show. Montoya practically stole the show. And he was so fluid and passionate in his playing. He has since gone out on his own. He’s got a CD that came out in the last year, Suspicion on Alligator Records.
Arlene: Do you think that these bands, especially when they get into their spontaneous jams, bring a particularly celebratory feel in their performance that is extended to the audience and that likewise, is then extended back to them?
Terry Lickona: Oh yes! There’s a lot of that going on in our show. That’s another unique aspect of our show, the studio audience. Compared to other TV shows, where the audiences tend to be invited guests or industry people who get passes, the audience in our studio is about 450 people, and they’re Austin music fans from the community. Artists who come to town, will often say that the audiences in Austin are the best anywhere, and the energy level is five times that. There’s a tremendous amount of synergy going on between the audience and the artist on stage. That flow back and forth is an important part of what makes “Austin City Limits” work.
Arlene: I think with music, when artists have a certain celebration, love, and passion for their music, and that is extended to the audience, and the audience is in love with what the artists are doing, and they give that back. It’s like this constant flow that goes back and forth, a continuous circle.
Terry Lickona: And it’s especially true with a hometown guitarist like Eric Johnson or Stevie Ray Vaughan or Doyle Bramhall II. But it also works the same way with these bands like Little Feat, The Allman Brothers, and more recently, Lynyrd Skynyrd, when they came through to do the show. It just drives the crowd wild, especially when there are two or three guitarists going at the same time on stage, as is the case with these three bands.
© Copyright June 19, 2011, 2016 by Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
[Edited on 11/7/2015 by ArleneWeiss]
Part 4 where many of the esteemed artists who have performed through the years on "Austin City Limits" did interviews with me offering their fond memories of ACL. Including Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Jonny Lang, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan, Susan Tedeschi, and more!
"Guitar Legends Speak Out About Austin City Limits"
By Arlene R. Weiss
© Copyright June 19, 2011, 2016 by Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
“Austin City Limits” has lovingly embraced every style of music and likewise opened its arms to an array of legends and stylists; the great Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Alison Krauss, and so many more. It has earned a world-class, legendary reputation for showcasing, above all, a monumental who’s who of guitar greats. The program has introduced and showcased a dazzling constellation of stars whose measure has more than placed them as glittering fixtures among the firmament. From rising unknowns receiving their first due and exposure to seasoned veterans, from international stars to influential mentors, the show has meant a lot to a great deal of artists, and they don’t hesitate to say so.
Buddy Guy Photo: Jesse Mazzoccoli
“Austin City Limits” has meant a great deal to both Vaughan brothers. It is wonderful to see a quality, live music, TV show spotlighting Blues, Country, and Jazz in this age of video programs and MTV. I feel privileged, and I always get excited to be a part of the show. I hope to do many more.”
– Jimmie Vaughan
“While I have very happy memories of all of my appearances on “Austin City Limits,” the best was being able to perform with many of my good friends for the “A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan.” When I can share a stage with B.B., Eric, Bonnie, Robert, Dr. John, Aaron, Jimmie, and all the others, that is special.”
– Buddy Guy
“It wouldn’t be Texas without “Austin City Limits”!”
– B.B. King
“Stevie Ray was thrilled to be asked to perform on “Austin City Limits.” It’s a wonderful show for promoting American music, and of course, that was when monumental things started to happen for Stevie and he became an international star.”
– Chesley P. Millikin – Reflecting on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1983 “Austin City Limits” performance, at which time, he was Stevie Ray’s Manager.
“Austin City Limits is one of the greatest things ever to come out of the State of Texas . It has helped expose a lot of people to real American roots music. My first appearance in 1976, reintroduced me to American audiences after a lull in my career. That appearance on “Austin City Limits” led to a booking at the National Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C., which led to a State Department tour of eight countries in Northeast Africa . It has been nonstop ever since!”
– Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown
“It was an honor to be a part of “Austin City Limits” and follow in the footsteps of some of my influences and heroes.”
– Doyle Bramhall II
“Austin City Limits” has always been a program that I love to watch and I have always wanted to be a part of. The music is American and the audience is right there with you. You can’t beat it!”
– Robert Cray
“I never imagined I could be a part of an institution that has featured many of my inspirations. Performing on “Austin City Limits” has been one of the biggest thrills in my career.”
– Jonny Lang
“My first appearance on “Austin City Limits” was one of the turning points in my career that was greatly appreciated. I have always held the show in high regard, and I am always excited to be a part of it. Terry Lickona, Jeff Peterson, Susan Caldwell, and the whole crew are highly professional and easy to work with.”
– Eric Johnson
“The first time that I ever watched “Austin City Limits”, Stevie Ray Vaughan was the guest. So for me, it was a great honor to be invited to perform on the show. I had a wonderful time, with wonderful people. I believe that “Austin City Limits” turned a lot of people on to my music that would not have otherwise found it.”
– Susan Tedeschi
“As far as “Austin City Limits”, I’ve done….I’ve lost count. I think it’s 16 or 17 shows. As far as being on the show, to me, they’ve set the standard for live music taping. They always have good sound. They’ve always got great camera shots. It’s the pinnacle of TV shows that bands and artists strive for. Terry Lickona has always maintained a great staff. My first show was with Joe Ely around 1977. And some of the same staff members, the same camera people are still there today. So when you’ve got people that have been around that long, you know it’s something good, that it’s a quality production. From a musician’s standpoint, they go above and beyond the call of duty to make you feel comfortable. It’s a real no pressure show. Everything about it is first class, and they have always treated the artists in a very comfortable manner. You know that when you are on that show, you have definitely made it as far as TV shows. They’ve set the standard for other live music shows to follow. From a guitar player’s standpoint, it’s the show to do.”
– Lloyd Maines
© Copyright June 19, 2011, 2016 by Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved