Disturbing news updates set aside, friends of slain Sorta multi-instrumentalist and singer Carter Albrecht gathered at the Barley House last night. After waiting out the ruckus-raising revelers from the SMU-Texas Tech game, a crowd of mourners grew steadily from 8:30 p.m. on, in spite of the glaring lights and probing cameras of local TV outlets crowding the bar’s front deck.
It was a somber yet celebratory gathering. Funny anecdotes about the respected musician filtered through sobs and emotional greetings as nearly every face from the local music scene made their way to pay respects to Albrecht’s memory and to his bandmates. Among those in attendance: Albrecht's bandmates, Salim Nourallah, Kristi Kruger, J.D. Whittenburg, comedian Dave Little and members of The Drams, Shanghai 5, The Crash That Took Me, Shibboleth, Deathray Davies and Pleasant Grove. A single candle burned on the back bar, illuminating a photo of Albrecht.
Some discussed the last memory they had of him. Some speculated on the gruesome course of events that claimed his life. Some wailed in disbelief. Others waited patiently at the bar while bartenders who knew him well tried their best to keep it together and serve patrons as though Carter were perched in his regular seat, that one well-worn stool near the cash register that someone propped on the bar in honor of the man.
Tony Hormillosa of Pleasant Grove talked about Albrecht teaching him to tend bar ages ago at Muddy Waters and of how Albrecht was the only one to ever truly succeed at smoking and playing guitar on stage without sacrificing notes. The silly but sentimental comment was well received and garnered a bittersweet and almost grateful laugh from those around.
“He was the Nicky Hopkins of Dallas, if not the Nicky Hopkins of any scene in the last 20 years,” said The Drams’ Keith Killoren. It’s a true liner-notes musician’s compliment that shows just how much respect Albrecht had amongst his peers. (The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street and Let It Bleed and The Who’s My Generation feature the piano and organ skills of Hopkins, a lauded session musician.) Killoren closed the bar he tends last night so he could go to Albrecht’s impromptu wake and mourn with friends. He told the assembled that Albrecht’s Sunday-night slot at the old Barley House, and his donation of his time on stage and in the studio, inspired many Dallas bands and musicians to meet and share members and, ultimately, become the tight-knit community they know now.
As the crowd swelled, Barley House owner Richard Winfield took the mike to say a few words about Albrecht and invite others to do the same. Some offered just a few spoken words to commemorate the loss and pain; others took to song, beginning with Pleasant Grove’s Marcus Striplin who, with amazing composure, played a poignant “Only a Mountain” and “Solid System.” Chad Stockslager (The Drams), Killoren, Kristi Kruger and others followed in somber and inspiring suit.
But there was also hopeful discussion of a possible memorial show soon, as well as of the upcoming Sorta album and Albrecht’s solo work, which Sorta's Danny Balis -- Albrecht's housemate -- hopes will one day see release. And many will play with an invigorated sense of band brotherhood after such an evening of camaraderie, as evidenced by one choked-up voice from the parking lot shouting to who knows who else: “Yes to practice Wednesday, and I love you, man."
If there is anything to be said about the late Albrecht, it is that he was unquestionably talented and that many, many of his colleagues not only agreed with that, but loved him too. So many of them (and some civilians as well) were at one of Albrecht’s favorite places last night because he couldn’t be. And, sadly, he won’t ever visit there again. --Merritt Martin