Sound check is completed and all lights and cameras are in position for Alejandro Escovedo's Austin City Limits taping.
Sound check is completed and all lights and cameras are in position for Alejandro Escovedo's Austin City Limits taping.
Bucks Burnett

Namedropper: A Beer With Mick Ronson 34 Years Ago Led Me Backstage at Austin City Limits Last Week

Bucks Burnett has met most of his music idols. In this monthly column he shares tales from the front lines and backstage.

Last Wednesday, my plan was to go down to Austin, watch Alejandro Escovedo tape his fifth Austin City Limits performance, get interviews with him and his band and chat up the ACL publicists. But when your goal is to get backstage, nothing ever happens quite the way you plan.

Once again, I got wrapped up in the barbed wire ballet of the backstage. From the first sip of free bottled water and a dip of French onion on so-so broccoli, my senses left me. I took pictures of people with their iPhones and watched Escovedo lead his band through sound check with only 10 people watching.

You might be thinking that this story differs from my others in that it takes place now rather than 30 years ago, but that's not exactly true. This gig actually has its roots in 1982.

Thirty-four years ago, I snuck into the sound check at Fast And Cool club in Lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas at four in the afternoon. T Bone Burnett was in town to promote his Warner Bros. debut The Trap Door, and he'd brought along Rank And File, who were opening behind their own debut. It was a dream bill and I had to meet them all.

So I met the Kinman Brothers, Chip and Tony, and the guitarist Alejandro Escovedo. They all seemed like nice guys. While I was looking for T Bone I went to the bar and said hi to a guy because he looked like Mick Ronson. That’s because he was actually Mick Ronson. I asked him what the hell he was doing in Dallas.

“T Bone’s guitarist fell ill, and T Bone had my number from the Rolling Thunder tour, so he asked me to fill in a few dates,” Ronson said. “Fancy a pint?” After my drink with Bowie’s Right Hand, I met T Bone and we hit it off. He even gave me his number. I took pictures with my Kodak.

Shortly after that I wrote a review of the gig for my Mr. Ed Fan Club newsletter, “The Horse’s Mouth.” I included my bad Kodak pic of T Bone and Ronson rocking out, xeroxed at the defunct Kinko’s Copies and glued to paper around hand-typed text. It was a piece of paper folded in half to barely create a zine. I mailed it to Warner Bros. Records, because they were my favorite label. “Here’s what I wrote about T Bone,” I wrote. “Call me.”

It took about three years but they did eventually call me. Pete Johnson, vice president of creative services, offered to fly me to Burbank, give me an office, rent me a car and pay me decent money to see if I could write ads and artist bios. Suddenly, in early 1985, I was working at my favorite label, because of a fanzine about a talking horse. Makes sense.

Johnson arranged for me to visit the office of Slash Records, which was now distributed by Warner, where I met a cool guy named Bill Bentley, who was running the label out of a tiny office. “Want some promos, Bucks?” he asked, to which I replied: “Why yes I do, Bill.”

By the end of 1985, Bill Bentley was in my office at Warner Bros., because I had quit and he was my replacement. “Want some promos, Bill?” “Why yes I do, Bucks.” I came back to Texas for the alternate version of my life, and he took over my office to begin the alternate version of his.

So now it’s Nov. 30, 2016, and I am driving to Austin for my first ACL taping, because I’ve been added to the guest list by the publicist at Alejandro’s current label, Fantasy records. That guy’s name is Bill Bentley. If I hadn’t quit Warner, would I now be the publicist at Fantasy? And just who is the publicist for Reality?

I made it to Austin in a record two and a half hours. And then I spent 90 minutes looking for a parking place near the venue. Keep it weird, Austin, but add some fucking parking, will ya?

Instead of checking into the Moody Theater through the front door, as instructed, where my name was on a list, and my laminate awaited, I decided to go in through the back door and take my chances with security. Gotta keep my chops up! It’s more fun to sneak into sound check than sign in to sound check, trust me. Maze after hallway after guard, a lady announced herself and asked curtly, “Sir, this area is restricted, do you have an access pass?”

“I know, I’m with the band and I’m late,” I said. “Where is soundcheck?” “It’s that way but who are you?” she asked. “I play the flute and I’m late,” I lied. “I’m a panicked flautist.” That kind of line can’t be rehearsed, it just comes out. “Let me escort you to the stage, then,” she said. “How long have you played the flute?” “About two weeks,” I answered. “Nice place ya got here. El Paso is bigger than I thought.”

Once I was in the arena I said hi to Bentley, and immediately ran around the room taking photos. If you’re an immature middle-aged rock groupie, there is nothing like sound check. After it was over the band came offstage and Peter Buck smiled and said, “Hey Bucks.” I said, “Hey Buck.” We do that because we can.

Peter and his Minus 5 companion Scott MacCaughey are part of the killer new ensemble The Burn Something Beautiful Band, named after the new Escovedo album that is produced and co-written with Escovedo by Buck and MacCaughey. The record and the new band are very loud and crunchy, bringing the tooth-killing sweetness and ear-killing loudness back to rock ’n’ roll.

They destroyed at sound check even though there were only 10 people there and it was three in the afternoon, and they destroyed again for a packed venue at eight. We all partied backstage until almost 3 a.m. I was 58, acting like I was still 56.

I also somehow missed Bill Murray who was backstage for 15 minutes. They say if you were at a party and missed Bill Murray, it must’ve been a great party. Hey, he missed me too. I slept until noon the next day at the Quality Inn in Round Rock. What can I say, I was a sleepy panicked flautist. Do Not Disturb.

Alejandro Escovedo's latest Austin City Limits performance will be broadcast on Feb. 11, 2017. Visit acltv.com for more.

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