Q&A with Sue Donahoe
on her book
NEVER HEARD OF ‘EM: Austin’s Music Explosion, 1994 – 2000
WLT member Sue Donahoe is celebrating the first birthday of her book NEVER HEARD OF ‘EM: Austin’s Music Explosion, 1994 – 2000 at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Along with the book signing, this is also the last night of the “Music Under The Star” summer concerts. The Gourds and Red Volkhart are performing for free and the museum is open late and is free!
So come out Friday, July 27th, 5:30 – 8:30 PM, for a great time with Austinites.
1800 N. Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701
Q&A with Sue Donahoe
WLT: What awakened your passion for the music scene in Austin, Texas? How did your shop LOCAL FLAVOR start and what impact do you think it had on the community?
Sue Donahoe: I was born in Austin. I remember being a teenager in the ‘60’s and seeing a folk trio at a coffee house at noon, a string quartet at an art gallery in the afternoon, a country band at a hayride in the evening and a psychedelic rock band at night. However, there were only a handful of clubs back then and only a dozen or so local bands I can recall. All of that grew over time. In the Mid 1990’s it grew enormously and quickly.
My husband (Mike) and I had a shop that sold things our friends made…books and poetry zines, jewelry, art and t-shirts. We saw the numbers rising of self produced tapes by local bands and we learned that CD manufacturing was about to become available to independent artists. We just knew that would mean an explosion. No record store at that time seemed interested in all those unknown artists. We were! We moved from near UT to downtown so we would be visible to people coming to the growing scene looking for all the newness Austin was beginning to offer. It worked.
LOCAL FLAVOR was called a “vortex” by some. We happily accepted almost any music that walked in our door. Every two weeks we paid for everything that we sold. And we studied their music. When a journalist or radio programmer or simply a music fan came in looking for new blues or country or bands of any style…we knew what was on the streets. We liked to say we were the “cheerleaders of the Austin music explosion”. Over time the music industry and the artists all knew that could depend on us to play “match maker” for them. We did not “make” anyone. We simply said “Look what just came in” and the world looked.
WLT: What do you think is different about Austin’s music history compared to other music capitals like Seattle or New Orleans?
SD: I’ve been to New Orleans, but not Seattle (yet). The many people who visited our shop over the years all reported that there were then (and are today) two things that make Austin distinctive in the music world: Abundance and Variety. We simply have more new original music (new songs or new styles) and more bands and performers than anywhere else. Because we have that combination… our artists are more able to create their music with an array of influences simply not available in other cities. For example…new country blues here might have a great African rhythm beat on one song and a Zydeco influence on another.
WLT: How do you feel about local Austin music post-2000? Is it still a big part of your life? What are some differences between now and then?
SD: I love this town and every single one of its’ musicians! For nearly a decade I was away from Austin. Family needs took us to Corpus Christi and the music in South Texas came into our hearts. After Mike’s death I began writing this book and it brought me back here. Now I have two cities and more music than anyone has a right to enjoy!
Not much has changed! Some of the clubs and bands who were favorites then are still favorites today. Some bands and clubs are gone….but they haven’t left a hole in the city by any means. New venues and new artists have taken their place and the world still looks to Austin for newness.
One of the most important functions of a “development city” (Austin is one of the most important of those in the world) is the existence of “development venues”. These are clubs that devote a few nights each week to allowing brand new bands to play, and learn and grow. If a band can learn how to draw a crowd, the club will keep giving them dates. Most can’t. It’s tough. But the bands that have the talent and the willingness to grow can do so. That was what made 6th Street famous in the 1990’s – development venues and new bands. These days the clubs on Red River do that job.
WLT: Were there any struggles in writing Never Heard of ‘Em? How long have you been working on chronicling Austins’ Music Explosion? How did the idea come about?
SD: The only struggle in writing Never Heard of ‘Em was meeting my own deadline. I needed to finish it in time to have the series of Book Release Concerts I planned with the artists I hoped to perform were not on tour. That was tricky! And the book was very expensive. I knew I wanted to publish it myself because it was all about the musicians who had to pay for their own CDs out of their own pockets. I didn’t even look for a publisher.
The middle section of the book (almost half of it) was already written in the shop years. From 1995 – 2000 I wrote about Austin music for magazines in three countries. Twenty-two of those articles are reprinted here. The first section is memories of the wonderful growth of our little world and of this big city full of music and love. The last section is the sweet, happy story of putting it all together.
The book actually came about when, out of sadness and boredom after Mike’s funeral, I decided to sort out “all those shop photos”. While sitting in the middle of stacks of articles and photos I was crying and laughing and remembering all that magic and it just hit me…this is a book!
WLT: What was especially rewarding about writing and finishing Never Heard of ‘Em? How have the featured local musicians received it?
SD: Everything about writing and finishing Never Heard Of ‘Em was especially rewarding! The process is thrilling. Hitting a phrase just perfectly made me stand up and cheer! Struggling to do it again made me grow. Seeing how the Editor tweaked my words and how the Book Designer made them beautiful to look at were all very rewarding experiences. Ripping open the first box and holding the first book was thrilling. But it is actually how the musicians received it that has been the most rewarding. They all just love it. They are all proud of it, to be in it and to sign it whenever a fan hands it to them at a show. Most of them know what pages have their photos or some part of their story. When I mentioned to one of the musicians that my book had been accepted in The Bullock Museum, he said “Then we all have been accepted in the Bullock Museum.” He continued, “Wherever your book goes, it takes all of us with it.”
Yes, I’m happy!
Sue Donahoe was born in Austin, Texas, and attended St. Edward’s University in her mid-30s. She spent most of her life in marketing, retail, and management. As a freelance writer on the side, she wrote a few dozen articles for Junction Magazine regarding issues of single people and their relationships, a scattering of marketing pieces for various magazines and more than 100 music articles for five different publications. Sue also wrote more than 100 articles about local businesses, and areas of special interest for West Austin News under the name Evelyn Donahoe.
She is currently finishing a humorous memoir about being a widow who is trying decide how to also be a woman. The title is Channeling Mae West (or Is That a Banana In Your Crepe?). She is co-writing a book, with Leti De La Vega, titled 300 Years In Texas: the Border Families of the Rio Grande.