Clifford Jamal Antone
October 27, 1949: Port Arthur, TX to May 23, 2006: Austin, TX
To understand Clifford Antone, you must begin in Port Arthur, Texas. Born into a large American family of Syrian and Lebanese descent, Clifford had an enduring love for his family and his heritage. Clifford developed an affection for the music he grew up with. That passion was nurtured in his hometown, a blue-collar refining area lying east of Houston and across the Sabine River from Louisiana. It is a unique cultural crossroad, soaking up all the sounds of the region: Country music, Zydeco, Cajun, Swamp Pop, Soul, Gospel, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and, of course, the Blues.
Clifford opened the first incarnation of Antone’s in an old department store on Austin’s East Sixth Street. It was a rough neighborhood back then. He filled his club with an eclectic collection of artists, like Clifton Chenier from his hometown, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Albert Collins. He also booked the giants: B.B. King, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Albert King, and Buddy Guy.
Antone’s operated on a simple principle: blues musicians were American masters, like William Faulkner and Georgia O’Keeffe, and they were deserving of the same respect.
Clifford also mentored over an expanding group of young Austin musicians who wanted to play on the big stage. Every night, the veterans took the young-bloods to school.
What arose was a thriving blues scene that Austin could call its own. The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan went on to become bona fide stars, but locals like Angela Strehli, Paul Ray and the Cobras, Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton, Doyle Bramhall, Doyle Bramhall II, Denny Freeman, Derek O’Brien, Charlie Sexton, Sue Foley, The Moellers, and the Keller Brothers could hold their own anytime.
Antone’s also nurtured other kinds of Austin music. Multi-talented songwriter and artist Bob Schneider held down a residency for years. Country-rocker Joe Ely loved playing the club. The fabulous Doug Sahm and even Willie Nelson found themselves on Antone’s stage from time to time.
Clifford inspired and encouraged young musicians all of his life. Gary Clark, Jr., who enjoys international success today, started there at age 15, with Clifford beaming from the wings. Gary was one of the last of a long line of youngsters that he took under his wing.
Antone's generosity was legendary. Time and again, when a blues legend would come down from places like Chicago, Clifford would dig deep and pay for dental work, a doctor’s visit, or help out with a bill they couldn't afford. Towards the end of his life, he virtually adopted Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters’ famed piano player.
He also gave back in other ways, most notably through his “Help Clifford Help Kids” benefit shows for American Youth Works. Clifford Antone passed away in 2006.
Despite five relocations, Antone's “Home of the Blues,” survives today on east 5th street in Austin, Texas. Local musicians still mix it up with touring stars, and devotees worldwide and pay homage to their favorites. For his efforts, Clifford was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 1985. He was enshrined into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Austin Music Memorial in 2010.
The Clifford Antone Foundation continues the work of honoring the past and investing in our musical future. This foundation is perhaps his most important legacy. The Clifford Antone Foundation is an Austin nonprofit that partners with organizations to provide for veteran musicians and encourage the next generation.
In the early 2000s, Clifford taught a course at the University of Texas and at Texas State University called “The Blues According to Clifford Antone.” Clifford Antone was a scholar of the blues all his life, and it all started with his early years growing up in Port Arthur, TX.