Clifford Antone Of Famous Texas Bar Faces Drug Sentence

Proprietor of blues label, world-renowned Austin club faces 10 years on drug, money-laundering charges.

AUSTIN, TexasClifford Antone, whose nightclub and record label here helped launch careers and provided a focal point for the city's emerging music scene, may soon be sentenced on federal drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges stemming from a 1997 indictment.

On Jan. 6, 1999, he pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and money laundering, but his sentencing has been delayed several times.

Antone, who helped Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Sue Foley and others get their start, is scheduled to go before the judge again in mid-May.

"I've just kept doing what I love," said Antone, who has been free on bail and still keeps a high profile at his club, Antone's. "I'm a changed man. All want to do is help people, in any way I can."

The original indictment against the 49-year-old club owner, filed in June 1997, accused him of being part of a drug ring that stretched into Mexico and netted Antone an estimated $1.5 million from 1994–96.

Though there were originally 11 counts of drug-trafficking charges against him, Antone plea-bargained down to one count. This is the second time he has been charged in a drug case. In 1984, he was convicted for possession of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana and served a 14-month jail term.

He faces a maximum imprisonment of 10 years, said his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, who has worked on high-profile cases as a representative of relatives of Waco's Branch Davidians and also in defense of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Hutchinson was accused of improper campaigning in a case that was dropped.

Rallying Support

DeGuerin has helped organize a letter-writing campaign urging leniency from the judge in Antone's case. "We're hoping that everything Clifford Antone has done for the community will be taken into consideration," DeGuerin said. "Without Clifford, the Austin music scene and blues music in general would simply not be what it is."

Anyone familiar with Austin's enduring nightclub scene is probably familiar with Antone's. Though it has been housed in four locations, including the one considered the birthplace of the city's famed Sixth Street nightclub district, the club remains central to all of Austin's blues players, as well as many of its country and rock musicians.

Joe Ely's new live album, due in June, was recorded at Antone's. So was last year's Live From the Limo disc by the Texas Tornados, whose late founder Doug Sahm was memorialized over two nights at Antone's a week after his death in November.

The club opened in 1975, when young turks such as Vaughan, the T-Birds, Lou Ann Barton and Angela Strehli shared the stage with such legends as Albert King and Muddy Waters. Since then, many more musicians have been schooled under the Antone's marquee, including Charlie Sexton, Ian Moore and Doyle Bramhall II, some of whom, such as Sue Foley (RealAudio excerpt of title track of Foley's Big City Blues), also released albums on Antone's Records, which remains active, largely in European sales.

"Clifford is like a father figure to everyone who's taken his stage," said Moore, who is among the many in the music scene who have voiced their support for Antone.

Keeping Club Afloat

Antone's should remain stable with or without its founder. Ever since his club fell on hard times in the early '90s, Antone has used outside investors to help keep things afloat.

Also, most of Antone's portion of the business has been in his sister Susan Antone's name since 1984. Susan Antone also helps run the club. Even with her brother's pending sentence, this could be one of the best years for Antone's.

On May 13, the club offers the second annual Antone's Blues Festival in Austin's Waterloo Park, with John Lee Hooker, Susan Tedeschi, Jimmie Vaughan and the Robert Cray Band scheduled to perform. In July, the club will host a series of star-studded shows to mark its 25th anniversary.

"It's going to be great," said Antone, who doesn't know if he'll be around for the anniversary. "You just pray a lot when you're in this sort of situation. You turn it up to the man upstairs and hope for the best."

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