The Lone Star International Film Festival (LSIFF) Stephen Bruton Award celebrates each year an artist whose career, although anchored in music, includes extraordinary achievement in film. The intent of the award has and always will be to honor Stephen Bruton, the man as well as Stephen Bruton the songwriter, musician, actor, mentor, producer and friend to many.
This year the LSIFF is honored to bestow this recognition upon Willie Nelson. Born April 29, 1933 in Abbott, Texas, Willie Nelson and his sister were raised by their paternal grandparents who encouraged both children to play music. By the mid 1950s he was working as a country deejay in Fort Worth while continuing to pursue a musical career, recording independently and playing nightclubs. In 1962 Nelson scored his first two Top 10 hits as a recording artist for Liberty Records. He moved back to Texas in 1972 and emboldened by the rock and folk music becoming popular in Austin, Nelson and his music began to change. A fixture on the singles charts over the next several years, Nelson’s star rose even further with the 1978 releases Waylon & Willie and Stardust. His stardom soon translated to another medium with roles in feature films including The Electric Horseman, Honeysuckle Rose, Stagecoach and many more.
And the hits kept coming.With a six-decade career and 200 plus albums he has earned every conceivable award as a musician and amassed reputable credentials as an author, actor and activist. In 2009, his new album releases included Naked Willie, Willie and the Wheel and the critically acclaimed American Classic. This past April, Willie Nelson’s Country Music, produced by GRAMMY and Oscar winning T Bone Burnett, was released on Rounder Records and recently received a GRAMMY Nomination for Best Americana Album.
Stephen Bruton grew up surrounded by music in Fort Worth, Texas. His jazz drummer father ran a record store where he was weaned on the musical classics from blues, country, jazz and pop to classical. By his teen years, Bruton and his buddy T-Bone Burnett were laying down tracks in Burnett’s makeshift home studio in between gigging with other pals like Delbert McClinton, all the while digging on musical giants like Freddie King and Ornette Coleman – who could be heard in the local clubs. Bruton sharpened his guitar chops playing high lonesome bluegrass by day and then soaked up some soul by grinding out the blues at night on the other side of town.
In 1970 he moved to New York and eventually was offered the guitar gig in friend and rising songwriting star Kris Kristofferson’s band. That launched nearly two decades of regular roadwork with Kristofferson as well as touring with Bonnie Raitt, Christine McVie and others. By the mid 1980s, Bruton returned to his Texas roots and settled in Austin, where once he had a break from the road, he became a part of the city’s thriving music community.
Bruton also debuted as an artist in his own right with What It Is in 1993. And as he stepped out from being a sideman into the spotlight with his own songs, they began to be recorded by such notable artists as Kristofferson, Raitt, Ketchum, The Highwaymen, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Little Feat, Jimmy Buffett, Patty Loveless, Lee Roy Parnell and Martina McBride among others.
Ever since he appeared in A Star Is Born with Kristofferson in 1976, Bruton also built an impressive resume as a film and TV actor. “In acting, you use everything you use when you are playing music live,” noted Bruton. “It’s an ensemble thing. It’s real similar in terms of support and collaboration.”
Stephen Bruton passed away on May 9, 2009. His memory lives on in his music and films as well as with friends, family and – we hope – in the spirit of the LSIFF Stephen Bruton Award.