If I haven’t mentioned it before, Austin probably has the most diverse music history in the world… Yes, I will hear people cry “Oh what about New Orleans, London, Memphis etc… but frankly, some incredible people have emerged from this, the most diverse and cosmopolitan and capital city of Texas… It’s was after all the whole reason for the now globally famous South by South West (SXSW). But seriously though, no city I know of celebrates it’s musical origins as much as Austin.
So why do I mention this, I’m not talking about the bars, nightlife – so… what? Well Austin through the years and decades has not only had incredible artists and clubs where they cut their teeth, but it has some pretty amazing people behind the scenes too… But Austin is musically vast in its diversity, from hip-hop through to its popular and gritty Indie scene. There are just so many bands and individuals who come here to make their mark – and they do. And like with all bases of great live music, it has its own “in” scene of the time – yet Austin caters for nearly all scenes at once. Even today while many can talk about the explosive Blues scene of the 70’s and 80’s, you really don’t need to walk too far to hear those dulcet tones that are so familiar even to those do not follow it.
I have already mentioned Stevie Ray Vaughan, yet I didn’t mention his brother Jimmie Vaughan, an outstanding and highly accomplished blues player in his own right, with a very discerning style too, both of whom cut their teeth here. But you know “that” guitar… the one Fender spent a fortune on replicating for an initial rrp of $8000 and created a whole collectors dream guitar that you simply will not obtain for less than 10’s of thousands of dollars… Well Stevie Ray Vaughan bought the original guitar from a now very famous guitar shop in South Austin… Ray Hennig’s “Heart of Texas Music”… and today Ray Hennig and his family are still crucial suppliers to the entire music scene in Austin – irrespective of genre or taste. Even a Wikipedia quoted Ray on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar purchase:
“ When he came in, like every other day, we had a long row of guitars and he wouldn’t take them off the hook. He’d simply walk down and feel them and look at them and move on to the next one. He stood there and looked at that old thing and I thought, oh no. Then he reached down and felt it, just like he did always. And then he took it off the hook, hitting some licks on it. He said, ‘Ray, where’d you get this?’ I said, ‘Stevie, you have got to have picked the biggest junker on the wall.’ ” —Ray Hennig,
Well today, before leaving Austin, I made my way to the “Heart of Texas” and met both Ray and Mary who are frankly the most outstanding, friendly and helpful people you could ever dream of meeting. Mary took time to talk to us and we talked about the UK and their own travels across the UK and Europe – and of course, had a great dig at the Fr**ch :-)
Now you only have to glance at the walls at this place to see the history enshrouded here, the place where the people we’ve all heard of go to get guitars, guitars setup and all manner of other things. Yet this isn’t a used up “has-been” place! Many of the pictures are new and some have surprising faces on them too. But the importance of this shop, the passion of the owners has been instrumental in quality and excellence of not only many famous artists, but the actual sound that has adorned all of our ears at some point.
Today, as we entered we were greeted by the frankly stunning Mary Hennig who took time to talk to us and explained much while towards the rear of the shop Ray was working hard on an acoustic guitar and doing what he does best.
It was a breath of fresh air to finally meet these two wonderful people who had a lifetimes experience and knowledge of the true Austin music scene, unlike rumour, reading stuff on the web etc. and to talk guitar tech in the form of the next generation of Hennig’s – Shane.
Sadly the site the shop presently occupies and has become famous because of it – is to be bulldozed and rebuilt by the owners of the land where it now stands. While this maybe a new beginning opportunity for the Heart of Texas Music – it is frankly the most wrongful destruction of a significantly historical landmark that has served, supported not only the musicians, live music scene and artists that have become household names – but has made a real impact the overall history of Austin and US wide music history… Hey put it another way, I live 5000 miles away and I know of this place and I normally haunt Denmark Street (UK’s Tin Pan Alley) in London.
It’s also strange that as a teenager I had my idols, but ever since becoming a musician of sorts (not a very good one I hasten to add) and even from the early days of working in a studio in Sheffield, I rarely consider the term “fan”, in fact I tend to look at other musicians as peers of the passion I guess, if they make something of it for themselves, then good for them – it’s often only in their demise we truly acknowledge their greatness! Yet without The Heart of Texas – where would they have been…
I hope to spend more time in Austin in 2012 and the coming years, and I would love to one day hear the stories of these wonderful people.
But if you have time to visit – DO!! Yes, tell them of TWBrit, and please – thank them for what they bring to the industry and to Austin (and buy something of course)
To Ray and Mary, thank you for your time and I hope I see you all again sometime in the future… Oh and the reason I had my back to the 60th Anniversary Telecaster – because I wanted it of course and I’d have looked at it any longer I’d have bought it :-)
The Heart of Texas Music website