GENE AUSTIN

 

Lemuel Eugene Lucas, better known as Gene Austin, was born June 24, 1900 in Gainesville, located in the Red River Valley of north Texas. He was the only child of Nova and Belle Lucas, both Missouri natives. Nova, the son of George Washington and Kate Lucas, would die in 1943, long after he and Belle were divorced. Belle, the daughter of Alva and Elmansa Hearrel, was a descendent of a famous Shoshone maiden, Sacajawea, her great, great grandmother. Sacajawea - known as the "Bird Woman" and celebrated for her courage, resourcefulness, and good humor - accompanied Lewis and Clark in their expedition from North Dakota to the Pacific Coast, 1800-1806. Belle would die August 3, 1956 and be buried alongside Nova in Gainesville.

 

In his autobiography, Gene would recall those early developmental years with considerable fondness.

My Texas childhood...was rich in the stuff that mattered most to a small boy

at the start of the twentieth century. Plenty of room to grow in, fresh air and

sunshine, nourishing simple food, friendly neighbors, pleasant climate, horses,

cattle, rabbits, chickens; and most of all, first-hand contact with the singing

cowboys. It was a typical Mark Twain childhood.

 



Gainesville was located in cattle country crossed by the Chisholm Trail, the fabled thoroughfare traveled by cowboys and steers on the way to the stockyards of the Upper Midwest. While still a toddler, Gene would wander off to the Trail while his mother was engaged in chores, drawn to the western trail songs sung by the cowboys during the cattle drives. His access to this music, however, was cut short by Belle - who upon hearing these songs re-enacted at home by Gene - denied him access to "at dreadful trail where any bolting steer could trample my child to death, or gore him!"


Restricted from enjoying one form of forbidden fruit, Gene substituted another in short order, gravitating to the parlour houses located on a few side streets of the town which presided over a thriving prostitution trade. Hearing the exotic improvisations of the piano-playing "professors," he inched his way up to the stoop, eventually being invited inside by the friendly occupants. This district became the new center of Gene’s life, and he curried favor by running errands for the professors and attractive ladies of the night. His mother’s suspicions were again aroused when he echoed this new music at home; despite his evasive responses to her inquiries, she soon discovered the source of his new material, and once again he was denied access to what he perceived to be an innocent pleasure.


Gene, however, had greater distractions to deal with at this time. His parents didn’t get along. The headstrong Belle, who longed for adventure and travel, had tired of life with Nova, a gentle soul who was unwilling to assert his preordained authority. Acquiring a divorce, Belle took Gene off for a prolonged visit with her relatives, an unruly lot given to extended bouts of arguing and fighting. She eventually returned to Gainesville and, in short order, decided to marry a blacksmith named Jim Austin. Jim insisted soon after the marriage that his young stepson adopt the Austin family name.


Although a county seat, Gainesville was small enough to afford daily encounters between Belle, Jim, and Nova. It appears that this circumstance played a large role in Jim’s decision to move his family to Louisiana and open his own "smithy". Gene would later relate that he instantly disliked his new home in the swampy village of Yellow Pine.

The air was heavy, the shadows thick and plentiful, the sky visible only in

patches, the rains frequent, the insects, heat and humidity unbearable; this

could never replace what I had left behind. What a change! Then and there

whatever feeling I could have had for Big Jim vanished. To me it seemed

my adventurous days were over, because the area was infested with snakes

and alligators, creatures I didn’t like; and there were bogs, quagmires and

quicksand. Also, I couldn’t understand the people, who spoke unlike us

Texans; and worst of all, I couldn’t hear any of my favorite music…All I

heard was Mother nagging me to go to school; and after school, Big Jim

ordering me to make myself useful around the shop.


To make matters worse, Jim began drinking heavily and "nice" families shunned the Austins due their humble working class background. As a result, Gene instinctively withdrew into a shell.


While loitering after my school in order to delay the inevitability of chores in the forge, Gene discovered the songs of cotton pickers working the nearby plantations. One of the workers, a kindly old black man named Esau, befriended Gene after hearing him singing along to the music. Over his parent’s protestations, Gene regularly visited Esau’s shanty in "The Quarter" for the next ten years. "Uncle Esau" provided the human dignity and understanding Gene required in the face of a steady stream of beatings and verbal abuse at home.


By his early teens, Gene had because big and strong enough to stand up to his step-father. When Jim came at him one day, threatening to beat the music out of him, his rebellious spirit surged to the fore. "You an’ that ol’ smithy can go to the devil! I’ve taken my last punishment from you," Gene snarled back. After an evening stopover with Uncle Esau, Gene went to the local railroad yard in order to catch the first freight train passing through Yellow Pine. His brief adventure as a runaway took him back to Gainesville where he became reacquainted with his natural father, Nova Lucas. A fracas with one of the town’s leading businessmen, a Colonel Mills, however, resulted in his father advising him to return to Jim and Belle.


But Gene’s inability to submit to his stepfather’s enforced regimen of physical labor without the pleasures of Uncle Esau’s company and plantation music caused him to leave home again shortly after his return. Hopping a train which carried him deep into the heart of Texas, he began fraternizing with the professors with the hope of adding to his repertoire of songs. He moved on to wide array of jobs, including selling balloons for a circus and playing a calliope for a traveling carnival. Gene would later provide the following assessment of this period of his life:

In my wildest imagination, I had never thought that the wanderlust of my

mother had rubbed off on me. But I soon developed a restlessness that kept

me on the go; fortunately for me I was always able to hustle some grub and a

place to sleep. I became good at my job, but not wanting to limit myself as a

parlour-house professor, I decided to try my luck in cabarets, which today would

be considered honky tonks, singing the songs of Uncle Esau’s people, as well as

songs I had picked up from the cowboys on the trail, and the parlour-house

"blues." I became an itinerant entertainer, and my wanderings took me all

over the country.


Gene eventually matriculated to New Orleans. Associates always seemed to be touting that city, arguing that if you could make it there as a singer, then you could succeed anywhere. He soon located the parlour-house district and, shortly thereafter, joined the army as one of General Pershing’s recruits for the ill-starred Mexican expedition. In pursuit of the elusive Pancho Villa, Gene’s army service—which largely consisted of inclement weather, treachery from civilians, and ambush from guerrillas—was abruptly terminated when fellow soldier Tom Mix, the future film cowboy star, instigated a check on his date of birth.


Discharged from the military and back in New Orleans, Gene picked up where he’d left off. Becoming a top entertainer in parlour houses, he moved on the cabaret circuit. On the eve of his seventeenth birthday, he received a special delivery letter from his mother indicating that she and Jim were coming to take him back home. In the face of this dilemma, Gene again enlisted in the army and was assigned to the 156th Infantry of the 39th Division. After four months of guard duty on the New Orleans docks, with most of his off-duty time spent performing in the parlour-houses, he was transferred to Camp Merritt, New Jersey, where he did stevedore work in the depot detail.


Wishing for more adventure, Gene—responsible for getting a company onto a troopship headed for France--absent-mindedly-on-purpose remained aboard until the boat had sailed out well beyond docking area. Following an obligatory reprimand by the commanding officer, he was rewarded with immediate assignment to a company scheduled to leave for the front. Surviving a year of battle in the trenches, Gene became a victim of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. During his convalescence, he met a Medical Corps dentist, Lieutenant Knapp, who had admired his singing at the military "Y" hut. Knapp convinced him that becoming a dental assistant would be a good trade to learn, not only while in the army but as a civilian.


He stayed in Paris for a year after the signing of the Armistice, working as Lieutenant Knapp’s assistant. On the way home, Knapp offered to take Gene on as an associate if he would go to dental school. Following a stint in a preparatory school, Gene enrolled in the University of Maryland dental program. In addition to working in Knapp’s office, he continued performing in obscure night clubs, which helped in financing his education. By now familiar with the problems in getting some patients to pay their bills, Gene switched to law school, convinced he’d be of greater use if he could help Dr. Knapp collect outstanding accounts.


One night another performer, Roy Bergere, who’d been impressed by Gene’s singing during a night club engagement, suggested that they work together in vaudeville. It didn’t take much persuasion for Gene to begin rehearsals for a piano-and-song act with his new partner after apologizing to Knapp that the entertainment business would always be his first love. A break-in date at a Philadelphia theatre, however, was so poorly received that the manager felt impelled to cancel the balance of the engagement. Undeterred, the duo headed to New York City, spending several lean months in an attempt to secure vaudeville bookings.


During his free hours, Gene began developing another dimension of his musical talent, that of songwriting. He relates that the inspiration behind his first successful song composition came about while sitting on a city park bench, watching people walk by as sparrows in the trees engaged in morning singing.

Before long, I became bothered by a tune in my subconscious mind that

seemed to be crying to be written. The unknown tune soon found its way

to the surface. The rhythmic sound of high heels fell into place with the

"tweet-tweets" of the sparrows. Without much knowledge of what I was

doing, I pulled out a pencil and some paper and wrote these words, "When

my sugar walks down the street, all the birdies go tweet-tweet-tweet." I

continued to write until I had completed the entire chorus and a verse.
 

Several days later, Gene came up with the idea for another song while riding the elevator up to his hotel room. When Gene absent-mindedly dropped the shells of the peanuts he was eating on the floor, the elevator operator groaned, "Mistuh Gene, how come you do me like you do?" Feeling that these words succinctly expressed his misgivings about the recent months of futility in New York, Gene quickly improvised a melody to complete the song.


"How Come You Do Me Like You Do" was not only accepted by the song publisher, Mills Music, Inc., but Austin and Bergere were engaged to help promote it. This work enabled the duo to make valuable contacts with both performers and cabaret owners. After the song became a big hit, they began a successful run playing at Lou Clayton’s Mahjong Club. When Bergere started working professionally with his new wife, Gene continued there as a single until prohibition agents found sufficient liquor on the premises to have it shut down.


Hoping to eventually break into the vaudeville circuit, Gene began working for the song publishers, Stark & Cowan, as a general demonstrator. (The firm would publish the Austin and Bergere composition, "Tell Me If You Want Somebody Else," in 1924.) During one appointment in April 1924, he met his future wife, a vaudeville dancer still in her teens named Kathryn Arnold. Despite the awkward arrangement of having to include her mother as a chaperone on all of their dates, the courtship proceeded smoothly and, on June 16, 1924, they were married.


The August 16, 1924 issue of Billboard would report that Austin was employed as a songwriter and contact man with the recording companies by Jack Mills, Inc., an up and coming music publisher. The first week on the job proved unproductive; Gene, who’d always subscribed to the conventional wisdom that "songs write themselves," found himself pressing in trying to come up with a decent song. He was rescued from his immediate dilemma when directed to demonstrate the Mills catalog to the Vocalion label. After listening to a few songs, the executive—recognizing Gene’s regional dialect--confided to him about a "southern problem" facing the company.

There’s a chain of music stores in Nashville that sent up a blind man

to record some hill-billy songs. They happen to be one of our largest

accounts and we can’t afford to offend them. But this George Reneau’s

voice sounds absolutely impossible.


Sympathetic about the plight of both Vocalion and the blind musician, who wanted nothing more than to return home, Gene agreed to try lending his voice to some recording sessions. The approach clicked, and Austin cut a series of records to Reneau’s guitar and harmonica accompaniment between April 1924 and February 1925, including "The Wreck on the Southern 97"/"Lonesome Road Blues" (#14809), "You Will Never Miss Your Mother Until She Is Gone"/"Life’s Railway To Heaven" (#14811), and "Turkey in the Straw"/"Little Brown Jug" (#14812). The label on these releases read as follows: "Sung & Played by George Reneau – The Blind Musician of the Smoky Mountains – Guitar and Mouth Harp." Although Austin professed no great affinity for country music, the credibility of his singing and yodeling reflected its close proximity during his youth combined with his natural skills for mimicry. The success of these releases spurred Edison to bring the duo into the studio to record many of the same songs during September 1924.


In the meantime, Reneau confided that he was on the "Oregon Short Line" (out of money). Gene suggested that Reneau play his guitar and harmonica on New York street corners while he kept a lookout for the cops. This ploy proved so successful that the blind musician had second thoughts about returning home; only Gene’s warnings that they would inevitably be apprehended by the law convinced Reneau to board a train headed back to Nashville.


Austin’s big break as a recording artist came when Mills asked him select some songs and demonstrate them to Victor’s star singer, Aileen Stanley. After being introduced to Miss Stanley and musical director Nat Shilkret at the Victor Company studios, he ran through his first selection, the self-penned "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street." He couldn’t believe his ears when Stanley responded, "Don’t bother with the others, this is just what I wanted. Thank you, young man." After listening to the song one more time, Shilkret then took him aside and said, "you’re going to sing on [Miss Stanley’s] record. You know, young man, I have a hunch if you cut some recordings alone, we may be able to start a new style of singing in popular records, I’m going to take a chance on you. I’ll give you a hundred dollars a record. If they sell, we can talk about a contact."
 

When asked what gave him the idea for his type of singing, Austin replied, "Well, Mister Shilkret, when I came to New York, all the singers were tryin’ to follow the great Al Jolson. I knew I could never sing as loud or perhaps as good as Mister Jolson, so since he was always talkin’ about how his mammy used to croon to him, I just croon like his mammy."


This conversation would appear to have Austin placing himself in the vanguard of the crooning tradition. While crooning didn’t become a full-fledged movement within the record industry until the introduction of electronic microphones by the major labels in mid-1925, Austin’s soft, laid-back style translated well using the acoustic process. However, he was not the only singer to achieve success employing this type of understated vocal technique prior to the advent of electronic recording. In 1924 Cliff Edwards, popularly known as "Ukelele Ike," enjoyed success with "It Had to Be You," "All Alone," and other releases for Pathe and the American Records conglomerate, as did Nick Lucas, "the Crooning Troubador," with the Brunswick label. Furthermore, Whispering Jack Smith, Johnny Marvin, and others possessing a crooning delivery were extremely popular with record buyers shortly after the electronic process became widely used. Nevertheless, Austin’s immense success--among singers, he was only rivaled in popularity by Al Jolson during the 1920s—made it inevitable that he would be viewed as the figurehead, if not the actual originator, of the crooning genre.


Austin accompanied Stanley on "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street" in Victor’s New York City studio, January 30, 1925. On the strength of this performance, more sessions followed over the next three months, including a duet with country performer Carson Robison, comic sketches accompanied by Billy "Yuke" Carpenter, and "tenor with orchestra" fare. His first hit release of note, "Yearning," backed by "No Wonder" (Victor 19625), was recorded March 12, 1925.


Austin felt confident enough about his prospects to quit his job with Mills Music. While waiting for the public’s verdict on his first group of releases, he and his wife put together an act and hit the road. By the time they hit Columbus, Ohio, however, Nat Shilkret was on the phone, exclaiming, "For heaven’s sake, Gene, why did you run off without letting us know where you were going? I spent over a week trying to locate you. I have good news for you. All I’ve heard for the last month is, ‘More Gene Austin records!’ I want you to leave immediately and get back to New York as fast as you can."


One hit record seemed to follow another during Austin’s early years as a Victor recording artist. He claims that royalties during the first three months for his first four records under the Victor contract totaled ninety-six thousand dollars; he carried the uncashed check around for a considerable period of time in order to impress skeptics. Nurtured by his wife, and—in view of the uniqueness of his singing style—given free rein by his label to select song material, Austin would look back on this period as the happiest of his life. He prided himself in his ability to find first-rate material that had often been ignored or rejected by established singers. Notable choices from that first year included "Yes Sir, That’s My Baby" (composed by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson), "The Flapper Wife" (Beatrice Burton-Carl Rupp), "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" (Young-Lewis-Henderson), "Sleepy Time Gal" (Alden-Egan-Lorenzo-Whiting), and "Sweet Child" (Whiting-Lewis-Simon). However, he remained uneasy over his inability to convince Victor officials of his need to interpret the soulful music he’d learned from Uncle Esau. But for the time being, he and Kathryn focused on adjusting to a significantly more lavish lifestyle punctuated by a beautiful new home, a large car, expensive clothes, and access to the best that New York night life could offer.


Eventually the pressures that are a natural by-product of success began to undercut his peace of mind. He became defensive when told that the Tin Pan Alley denizens were convinced he could turn any song into gold. Decades later, he would comment, "They were so wrong. I’d always told them hit songs don’t care who sings them. They wouldn’t take no for an answer; and when I refused to be pushed into a song I didn’t think suited me, I got the reputation of being high hat and hard to get along with."


Austin decided that automobile tour back to his hometown of Yellow Pine would be just the ticket for regaining a fresh perspective on a career that seemed to be rapidly spinning out of control. On the way down to Louisiana, he pointed out the milestones of his life to Kathryn. The visit with Jim and Belle, who had relocated to the nearby town of Minden, went smoothly; they both seemed to be deeply impressed by Gene’s newfound celebrity. As soon as he had finished an informal performance for houseguests on the first evening home with his parents, he slipped off the visit his beloved mentor, Uncle Esau. Esau, refusing Gene’s offer to buy him a new home, proved as kindly and helpful with his counsel as he had in the past. Austin’s chief regret was that he still hadn’t shared the secret of this special relationship with his wife.


The next morning, Austin was awoken from a deep sleep by a phone call from Nat Shilkret in New York. He exclaimed, "We are flooded with so many orders for new Gene Austin records, I want you to come back as fast as you can make it. Can you leave immediately?" Austin hastily made preparations to return back East, but not before arranging the purchase of a large farm house for his parents as well as providing funds for Esau’s immediate needs.
 

After meeting his recording obligations, Austin formed his own music publishing company with the aim of placing African American songs in a position to be recorded by Victor and the other major labels. He also began booking personal appearances as a means of funding his new venture as well as to popularize this music. Caught up in a whirlwind of conferences with songwriters, booking agents, theatrical managers, bankers, and record company executives, Austin agonized that Kathryn always seemed stuck with either "a moody husband or an absent one." He justified the situation to her by noting that in the uncertain world of show business, it was best to "get it while the getting’s good."


One day not long after Austin’s return from Louisiana, the latest batch of records he’d sent Esau was returned with the word "deceased" stamped crosswise across the package. Despite his outward success, Austin relates that his personal life fell into complete disarray.

For months to come, I tried to cling onto a form of communication with

Esau’s spirit. The practice of spiritualism left me shaken and lost in a

solitariness of forsaken gloom. This was the beginning of such gnawing

doubts and fears that I turned to another spirit, alcohol, to bolster my

imagination into believing that I was a complete individual and did have

the power and initiative to carry on without the help of the one I believed

had supreme authority and held the key or controlling influence over my

voice, deeds and person.
 

He added that heavy drinking, rather than numbing the pain, made him temperamental, arrogant, and belligerant. In the process, he disappointed, even hurt, those closest to him. Realization of the impact of his behavior led to further self-recrimination.


By mid-1925, his records were so popular in England that London’s prestigious Princess Club made Austin an offer to perform there. He eagerly accepted, in part to escape the stifling atmosphere of New York, but also to hopefully make contact with British scientists then investigating survival after death. The English reserve, combined with his own extreme shyness, dictated against Austin’s wishes to gain entry to a scientific sťance. In his words, "The net result of my three months in London was that the supply of Gene Austin records was sold out in England as well as in America; and ‘Nipper’ was yelping for his star to hurry back; and I picked up some English songs for my music company’s catalog, which turned out to be hits."


Upon his return to the States, Austin, thirsting for the blues music of his youth, began frequenting the Harlem club scene. One of his new associates was pianist Fats Waller, who had first approached Austin with songs to publish while he was employed at Mills Music. He also was attracted by Harlem’s reputation for "conjur" activity, believing that it accounted for his career. Looking only for proof of the continuation of the bond between Esau and himself, he gave any "prince" or "princess" a fair trial, stipulating only that he be treated as any other client from downtown.


One of his recordings from this period, "Me Too" (Victor 20143)—coupled with "For My Sweetheart," has baffled more than one fan of early sound recording history. Recorded in New York on August 12, 1926, the song exhibits a considerable amount of rumbling noise, a feature one wouldn’t expect of a release from a major artist on the label then known for the highest quality sound reproduction. One researcher, Don Peak, consulted the August 13, 1926 issue of The New York Times for clues. The front page headlines read, "STORM TIES UP CITY TRAFFIC, FLOODS SUBWAYS, KILLS BOY" and "LIGHTNING STARTS 15 FIRES." Other records recorded on that day do not display similar background noise. However, Austin’s cut included a spare accompaniment (violin and piano, only), whereas some of the other releases featured a fuller band arrangement. Furthermore, the full impact of the storm may have been limited to the Austin session. Regarding the aesthetic judgment of the Victor brass in deciding to release the track, The New Amberola Graphic (Number 47, Winter 1984) observed that "most [sound reproduction] machines in use in 1926 were not sensitive enough to reproduce the low frequency of rumbling thunder, so it is safe to assume that the customers never even noticed it."
 

Following another stage tour, while his wife remained back home with her family in St. Louis expecting their first child, Austin entered the Victor studios resolved to record a song which had been in the files of a leading publishing for several years. As noted by David Ewen, in All the Years of American Popular Music,

"My Blue Heaven"…was written in 1924, three years before its publication;

{Walter} Donaldson wrote it one afternoon at the Friars Club in New York

while waiting for his turn at the billiard table. George Whiting, then appearing

in vaudeville, adapted the lyrics to the melody and used it in his act, but the

song failed to attract much attention. For three years it lay in discard until

Tommy Lyman, a radio singer, picked it up for use as his theme song.


By now, Austin’s arrangement with Victor regarding the choice of material to record had soured. He was convinced that the best material which he brought to the company’s attention was going to other artists. In view of his own family situation, he felt this was one song he had to commit to disc. He pleaded, and finally gave Nat Shilkret an ultimatum that he wouldn’t do another session unless his interpretation was commercially released. According to Austin, an agreement was reached for "My Blue Heaven" to be coupled with "Are You Thinking of Me Tonight?", the most highly regarded song among those he was planning to record at that time.


Austin relates that it was scheduled last on the September 14, 1927 recording agenda in order minimize potential conflicts with the Victor brass. However, as soon as satisfactory takes had been achieved for the other songs, the orchestra members put away their instruments and filed out of the studio. When Austin complained, Shilkret replied, "I’m sorry Gene. I didn’t know at the time I made you that promise that the musicians had another date and would have to leave. We can make it another day." H. Allen Smith, in A Short History of Fingers, documents the singer’s refusal to back down:

I grabbed an old guy with a cello and talked him into standing by. Then

I grabbed a song plugger who could play pretty fair piano. And the third

fellow I got was an agent who could whistle – bird calls and that sort of

thing. I made the record with those three.
 

When Austin proved intractable, Shilkret resigned himself to the possibility of Austin’s first major flop. To the contrary, however, it immediately struck a chord with the American public. Austin would later claim, in an interview published by the Los Angeles Times (March 8, 1959, Part V) that the record sold over eight million copies. The song would also have an unhappy postscript; ready to leave for St. Louis with a freshly pressed copy of "My Blue Heaven" to be united with his family, he received a telegram notifying him of the death of his newborn son.


Following an interlude of healing, which consisted primarily of "soaking up the blues and booze" with Waller and other musicians in Harlem, Austin was able to return to his apartment and once again deal with responsibilities of both his career and everyday life. Kathryn finally agreed to return from St. Louis provided he maintained certain standards of sober behavior. Gratified at his improvement, she agreed accompany him to activities involving New York’s social elite. Since Kathryn seemed to particularly enjoy weekend excursions on their stockbroker’s yacht, Gene suggested they purchase one of their own. The process of gathering information on boats and navigation helped bring the couple closer together. They submitted blueprints to a custom boat builder in Maryland who’d come highly recommended. The yacht, paid in full by a certified check for seventy-five thousand dollars, was delivered to a Hudson Rover mooring directly alongside the couple’s apartment. Christened My Blue Heaven, Austin convinced his wife that a whopping party was needed to launch it in style. He would recall,

What people came to see us off! Songwriters and music publishers,

vaudeville and night club headliners, agents, stockbrokers, newspaper

columnists. Walter Donaldson, Benny Davis, composer of my first big

hit record, "Yearning," Harry Warren and I took turns at the little piano

rolled out on the deck. Aileen Stanley and I re-created our duet of "All

the birdies go tweet-tweet-tweet." The fun was endless, there was a

spirit of friendship; and even Jimmy Walker, popular mayor of New

York, dropped in for a couple of choruses of his famous song, "Will

You Love Me in December as You Do in May"!


The Austin’s planned itinerary - sailing to New Orleans and then up the Mississippi, across the Great Lakes and the St. Laurence, and completing the voyage down the North Atlantic back to New York – was widely covered by the media. With the boat setting sail in a southerly direction, the first few days were spent touring the Atlantic coast. Night were spent in ports along the way. Upon reaching Southport, North Carolina, Captain Ott told Austin that a storm warning had been issued on the receiving radio; the Coast Guard was advising those in the vicinity that the winds could reach hurricane force. Due to the danger of floundering in shallow waters if they stuck to the inland route, Ott recommended that they head out to sea and ride out the bad weather.


The storm hit with intense fury almost immediately after the boat had left the harbor. With no sending equipment on their radio, the captain focused his efforts on locating one of the small islands in the area in order to beach the vessel. With Kathryn in virtual hysterics, Austin retreated to his liquor cabinet and poured out his troubles to the steward inside the galley.


When calm weather finally appeared, it came with astonishing suddenness. Surrounded by heavy blankets of fog and unsure of their location, the crew retreated to the cabinet radio set. Out of the static they heard a voice say,

Those were three more songs introduced and made famous by Gene

 

When My Sugar Walks a Down the StreetThe Lonesome RoadMy Blue Heaven

Austin grew up in 
Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, located east of Shreveport. In Minden, he learned to play piano and guitar
Austin joined the 
U.S. Army at the age of 17 in hopes of being dispatched to Europe to fight in World War I. He was first stationed in New Orleans, where he played the piano at night in the city's notorious vice district. His familiarity with horses from helping his stepfather in his blacksmithing business also prompted the Army to assign Austin to the cavalry and send him to Mexico with General John Pershing's Pancho Villa expedition, for which he was awarded the Mexican Service Medal. Thereafter, he served in France in the Great War.

(This was 100 years ago or so, but, does anyone know who taught him piano and guitar?)

As a youth I heard my family mention him. I think his uncle lived in Minden 

Submitted by Tom Carey, Class of 65