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Clifford Antone, 56; Austin Blues Club Owner Helped Launch Career of Stevie Ray Vaughan

May 25, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Clifford Antone, owner of the namesake blues club in Austin, Texas, credited with launching the careers of Stevie Ray Vaughan and other musicians, died Tuesday. He was 56.

Laura Albrecht, a spokeswoman for the Austin Police Department, said officers responded to a 911 call at Antone's home. The death did not appear to be suspicious, and the cause was being investigated.

Fats Domino, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King performed at Antone's, which became famous as the home club of rising Texas stars Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in 1990.

Antone grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, and moved to Austin at 18 to attend the University of Texas. That's when he found a new style of music to appreciate.

"When I finally heard the Chicago blues, man, it was like I finally discovered what had been in my mind my whole life," he told the Austin American-Statesman in 1997.

Antone was 25 when he founded the club, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year. The first show in 1975 featured zydeco band leader Clifton Chenier. Over the years, performers included blues veterans Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed.

Antone commanded the stage, a scruffy, overweight, dark-haired man in a suit with shirttail flapping, introducing his beloved blues musician friends.

In 1987, he also started Antone's Records and Tapes, a recording label that featured many of the club's top acts.

Antone went to prison on federal charges of drug trafficking and money laundering in 2000 and was released in 2002.

The charges stemmed from a plot to distribute more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana and launder roughly $950,000 in drug proceeds. Dozens of conspirators pleaded guilty in the scheme. Antone also pleaded guilty in the early 1980s to a marijuana charge and served time in a federal prison camp.

For the last two years he had taught a class on the blues at the University of Texas.

The club is now controlled by a board of directors, led by his sister, Susan Antone.

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