It would be difficult to find someone with a more impeccable, unimpeachable resume in the realm of roots music than that of Texas tunesmith Stephen Bruton – singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer. It’s all the more impressive that he did all he did without ever seeming to draw much attention to himself.
He produced killer albums for Alejandro Escovedo, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Chris Smither, Storyville, Marcia Ball and Hal Ketchum. He played in Kris Kristofferson’s band for 17 years, and also manned the guitar position in bands for Bonnie Raitt, Christine McVie and Delbert McClinton. His songs were recorded by the likes of Martina McBride, Johnny Cash, Little Feat, Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett and Patty Loveless. And his guitar playing talents can also be heard on albums by Gene Clark, T Bone Burnett, Geoff Muldaur, Peter Case, Elvis Costello, James McMurtry, Bobby Charles, the Wallflowers, Sonny Landreth, Carly Simon, Ray Wylie Hubbard and, of course, Willie Nelson.
Look down the yards-long list of roots greats and eventually you’ll come across the name of Barbra Streisand, too. Yes, that’s Bruton playing guitar on the soundtrack of the 1976 re-re-make of “A Star Is Born,” co-starring Streisand and Kristofferson.
Bruton’s final guitar recordings will likely also be heard in movie theaters. Bruton flew out to LA two months ago to play guitar on the T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack of the upcoming movie, “Crazy Heart,” starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell.
Despite his total package as a musician and recording artist, Bruton only made a handful of albums in his own name over the course of a career than spanned more than 35 years. And if my memory serves me well, I believe that his only Nippertown performance as a bandleader was back in “>1995 at the Guilderland Performing Arts Center in Tawasentha Park.
I talked to him then and asked about his approach to the art of record producing. “Well, as a producer you have to be able to lose your ego and go after what the song itself dictates,” he explained. “The job is to bring the song and the artist into the spotlight, and it doesn’t have anything much to do with what you have in mind.
“It ain’t about the frame,” he pointed out. “It’s the picture.”
And after a two and a half year battle, Bruton finally succumbed to throat cancer on Saturday, May 9. He was 60 years old.