RIP Joe Gracey, Austin Media Giant
Another Austin music legend, Joe Gracey, passed away this morning of cancer complications. He was 61.
When Lonesome, Onry and Mean arrived in Austin in June, 1973 after having worked in radio in West Texas, Gracey immediately became our hero. A disc jockey at the notorious KOKE-FM, Gracey and cohort Rusty Bell were the voices of the progressive country movement, having invented a format that basically spun nothing but what we would today call alternative country. It was an amazing mishmash that included Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphy, Jimmy Buffett, Commander Cody, Kinky Friedman and a host of others who were making what would later be termed Redneck Rock.
Gracey, who had ties to all the Austin bands bubbling along in that red hot scene -- Freda and the Firedogs, Greezy Wheels, the Lost Gonzo band and a dozen others -- was the coolest cat on the airwaves. What he and Bell achieved at KOKE caused the staid, old-school country stations like KVET to up their game, yet this was just the tip of the iceberg of achievements of Joe Gracey in a life of activity and creation.
Gracey was also the rock critic at the Austin American-Stateman during the infancy of the Cosmic Cowboy and Outlaw period, and he frequently pointed readers towards guys like Willie Nelson, whom Gracey once described as the Bob Dylan of country music. Gracey also did advertising work and was the voice of the legendary Austin venue, the Armadillo World Headquarters.
The Fort Worth native, who married folk singer/playwright Kimmie Rhodes, was instrumental in causing the birth of the Austin City Limits television series. Along with KOKE-FM, which Billboard magazine named its Radio Trendsetter of the Year in 1974, Austin City Limits became a lynchpin in making Austin "the live music capitol of the world." Gracey was the original talent coordinator for the series, and in that capacity exposed the world to Townes van Zandt, Clifton Chenier, Marcia Ball, and Asleep at the Wheel. He was also the driving force behind the reunion of Bob Wills and the Playboys.
Cancer struck Gracey in 1978 and he had his larynx removed, ending his career as a radio/tv personality and a singer. But Gracey bounced back from the operation and hooked up with Alvin Crow, handling radio and promotion for the budding Austin country act. Legendary Nashville producer Cowboy Jack Clement befriended Gracey and inspired him to open Electric Graceyland Studios, where he recorded Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Skunks and numerous other Austin acts. He was also a huge supporter of Austin roots music maverick Calvin Russell.
He met Ms. Rhodes when she was brought to record at the studio and they married in 1979. The couple has one daughter, Jole Morgan Goodnight Gracey.
Photo by Lluís Sala
In his later years, Gracey continued to play bass in Kimmie's band and to record. One of his last projects is the Ray Price/Willie Nelson album recently released on Lost Highway, Run That By Me One More Time. There are a slew of other projects in the mill, including another Willie Nelson album. He appeared as a dancer in the world premier of Windblown, a Texas-based musical written by Rhodes and Joe Sears. He also became an avid blogger and wrote extensively about cooking and food as well as a diary of his cancer treatments and operations. He was a frequent contributor to Saveur magazine.
For the past several months, Gracey had been living off and on in the Hotel Zaza and taking treatment at M.D. Anderson. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Lonesome, Onry and Mean will forever remember Gracey's radio catch phrase: "Another day in paradise."