Legendary Club Owner Clifford Antone's last Interview
If I had known that this interview would be my last opportunity to ever speak to Clifford Antone, I would probably still be asking questions today. I looked forward to spending an entire semester as his student at UT, doing what I always did during encounters with Cliff — listen and take notes.
I called to talk about the upcoming two-night residency of Maceo Parker, a stand-out sax player that caught his break backing Marvin Gaye and James Brown, at Antone’s beginning June 9. What ensued, however, was something far greater.
For Antone, Maceo Parker represented the last of a dying breed of musicians — those rare professionals with real talent, loyalty and charisma — that helped build the legacy of Antone’s nightclub. The mere mention of his name seemed to simultaneously transport Cliff back to a time when he first fell in love with music and remind him of just why he did so. Now, thanks to his own efforts, a new generation has the opportunity to do the same.
Clifford Antone: Hello, this is Clifford.
Austin Powell: Hi Mr. Antone this is Austin Powell from The Daily Texan. Susan gave me your number to discuss the upcoming Maceo Parker show.
CA: Oh okay.
AP: Do you have time now?
CA: Sure, I’ve always got time to talk.
AP: What do you remember from the first time Maceo played at Antone’s?
CA: Oh it was incredible and Maceo so you know, he’s always been a hero of mine way before he played my club. That was the first chance we got to get him back in the ‘80s, maybe the early ‘90s, I’m not sure of the date, it’s been a long time. He also had Fred Wesley; do you know who he is?
AP: No I don’t.
CA: Fred Wesley is the trombone player for James Brown, who was as great as Maceo was on sax, but Fred Wesley. And they were in bands together after James Brown.
He had Fred Wesley with him and that was just amazing, American history and culture.
They had a gig for a 90-minute contract with me at my old club they got on at 10 p.m. It was in the middle of the summer. Oh this is great ... they were wearing full suits with vests and everything and they got on and they played from 10 p.m. to one in the morning without stopping, and that just blew my mind.
And then they came back. They took a break and came back all they had to play for was 90 minutes.
They played almost 4 hours in the heat of the summer in suits with vests on, and it just reminded me of what professional musicians used to be like compared to the lazy and lackadaisical attitudes of the musicians today. It was a chance to see and remember what a real band was like, real entertainment, real professionals.
The bar has been lowered so much it is almost on the ground. There was a time you really had to be something special to be called a musician. And you had to work very, very hard. And that’s my great memory of Maceo. He is an unbelievable professional. That was when I met Junior Walker who was with Motown. You ever heard of Junior Walker and The All-Stars?
AP: I think I have, briefly.
CA: Junior Walker and The All-Stars, write that down, you should know who that is. The Motown tradition of excellence - when he got on stage he was absolutely perfect in every way. Showmanship and those things, great professionals give us a chance to see.
AP: How often has Maceo come back over the years?
CA: Anytime he can. It’s funny; he doesn’t seem to get booked in Houston or Dallas. So he just comes and plays for us and then goes to New Orleans. He’s been with Prince as you know, and all that stuff, so he’s been busy all over the world.
He is so loyal, and that’s another thing that’s missing from the music business today, is loyalty. And Maceo, like Albert Collins, was and some of the other people that we’ve worked with over the years. You can’t get him for money to not play for us. He won’t do it. Most people say “Yeah I’ve heard $100,” but Maceo, he’s got that real loyalty. We brought him when no one else really wanted him. He got real great here in Austin, he played four or five nights for us and everyone just went crazy. It’s the best party of the year, at least one of them.
AP: Do you remember any of times you saw Maceo play with James Brown when you were a kid?
CA: Yeah I do, the greatest show I ever saw, when I saw him with James Brown.
James Brown with that band is by far the greatest that there ever was, by far. There’s no one even close.
AP: Do you remember where that was at?
CA: Port Arthur in a place called Pleasure Island. Almost all black, like 99 percent. I was like, 14, I guess, and me and my friends hopped on our motorcycles drove over there. Told my mother I was going to the library.
AP: That one still works.
CA: It was the greatest thing I ever saw.
AP: What do you think of Maceo’s current line-up?
CA: He always has a great band. Especially make sure you have the drummer and the bass player that can do that much work. And you’ll see, it is a lot of work. So much more work than what these bands put out today, this is real work. If you get to see it, you’ll see what I mean. And you have to have
rhythm. And that’s missing from so much of the music today. They got rhythm.
AP: What are you expecting from this upcoming two-night stand?
CA: In the past it has been the greatest show of the year, or one of them for sure, you expect nothing but the best. I’m going to be happy to see them. His brother was James Brown’s drummer too, Maceo Parker’s brother.
AP: Apparently he’s teaching somewhere now.
CA: He’s came to the club and played drums, he’s awesome.
AP: Does he fit into the class you teach at UT?
CA: Does he fit in on my class? Most definitely, a whole day on just them. I got books about the history of James Brown’s band and the guys he’s worked with, and all that stuff. James Brown’s band is as important as him. It’s 50 percent of his success. Like I say when you learn about guys like Fred Wesley ... Are you going to take my class?
AP: Yes, next semester.
CA: My sister told me that.
AP: Yeah, I’m pretty excited.
CA: You’ll see what I’m talking about. We really discuss all these people.
AP: Well, thank you for your time today, and I’ll see you next semester.
CA: Call me anytime you want to talk.
AP: Alright, thank you very much.
CA: Alright, buddy.
AP: See you.