b. 1930, Rochelle, New York, USA, d. 22 March 1996. A larger-than-life bluesman, Austin never lived to achieve the recognition he deserved. A precociously talented child, Austin was taught musical theory in Chicago, but developed his ‘hog calling’ vocal style on his grandfather’s farm. He was primarily influenced by Wynonie Harris, whose ‘blues shouting style’ Austin attempted to emulate. Illegally visiting one of the New York blues clubs as a teenager, Austin upstaged his idol Harris’ show one night, taking the microphone from the ill singer and singing for the rest of the night. Suitably impressed, Harris became Austin’s legal guardian and took him out on the road. Austin played piano, drums and bass with Harris’ band for 18 months, as well as writing one of his biggest hits, ‘Bloodshot Eyes’, before forming the Five Sharps with Eddie and Bobby Buster, the latter of whom gave Austin his nickname following an altercation with Jimmy Witherspoon. Austin then appeared to have achieved his big break backing Percy Mayfield in 1951, but was arrested for draft-dodging and forced to fight in Korea. After his return he did several menial jobs while still playing at weekends, sitting in with jazz musicians including Duke Ellington and Count Basie. It was not until the 90s that Austin finally had his big opportunity, when booking agent Joe Roesch set up his own record company in order to release the singer’s material. The release of Steel Trap in 1992 was greeted by strong reviews, and, following some extensive self-promotion, reasonable sales. Baby’s Back cemented his reputation, but Austin died before he could finish work on an eagerly anticipated third album.
Share this page