Deborah Sengupta Stith
Influential Austin bassist Yoggie Musgrove, who played with everyone from Brannen Temple and MC Overlord to Stephen Bruton, Bob Schneider and Bonnie Raitt, died on Thursday following a cancer diagnosis in June. He was 58.
In a career spanning over 30 years, Musgrove played everywhere in Austin, from old Sixth Street haunts like the White Rabbit and the Mercury Lounge and South Austin staples like the Saxon Pub to vaunted concert halls like the Paramount Theatre and ACL Live. For close to two decades, he also was the house bassist at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Originally from Baton Rouge, Musgrove grew up in San Antonio, where he learned to play bass at an early age. He moved to Austin in the ‘80s after studying bass formally in California. The long list of bands he founded or played in includes the View, the Automatix, Bad Mutha Goose, Hot Buttered Rhythm and Blaze.
He also logged regular rhythm section duties with Bruton and Malford Milligan, among many others. Alongside Temple, he held down the backline in “The Road to Austin,” a 2007 celebrity concert event orchestrated by Bruton that included performances from Delbert McClinton, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Ely and Bonnie Raitt. A film by the same name that chronicles the history of Austin music and culminates in the concert was released in 2014.
From 1987 onward, if any musician in Austin “came across this cat’s deep, resonant tone, r&b soul grooves or earth shattering funk then, in my humble opinion, you are the richer and wiser for the experience,” Temple, Musgrove’s longtime sideman and collaborator, wrote in a tribute on Facebook in June. “If you don’t know him, trust me … he’s an influence on (the musicians) you DO know!”
Musgrove could be a “tough taskmaster, but at the same time, he was so respected and revered,” his longtime friend and former roommate Carl Settles said on Friday.
Terell Shahid, who played with Musgrove in MC Overlord’s band as well as the party band Les and the Funk Mob, described him as a bass virtuoso and a perfectionist.
A bigger believer in rehearsal and work ethic than natural talent, “he really pushed to elevate those around him to do things the right way,” Settles said.
“We were around other musicians that were, like, over the top. So we didn't want to be in any situation where (anyone) wasn't that good,” Shahid said.
“Anybody that saw him play, there was just a level of excellence, where he would have people shook,” Temple said on Friday.
Yoggie Musgrove pushed boundaries, inspired many Austin musicians
“Back when Sixth Street was really a mecca for real music and craftsmanship,” Temple said he and Musgrove pushed the boundaries of funk and soul with Hot Buttered Rhythm and Blaze. These bands “helped reshape” the scene into what it is today.
“You're talking about a Black man that shaped the lives of young white kids, because (that's who) used to come hear us play at the Mercury,” Temple said.
“I was just a punk-hippie immigrant kid in the mid-late '90s and the streets of Austin were my school,” Brazilian musician and Frederico7 frontman Frederico Do Mar wrote on Facebook on Friday. “Throughout the decades Yoggie continued to be the best bass player in town and I can vividly remember the many Hot Buttered Rhythm shows that enlightened my soul.”
Nick Malkiewicz, a member of Blaze who performs and records as DJ NickNack, called himself “one of the fortunate ones” who shared stage and studio time with Musgrove. “He dripped the funk out of every pore. He lived in the pocket, yet he never seemed rigid. To me, he's the gold standard bass player,” Malkiewicz said.
Musgrove was a quiet man with a strong spiritual core who understood “what he was put here to do,” Temple said.
“He could minister to people with just his energy or just his words,” he said.
His wife of nearly 14 years, Brenda Musgrove described him as “a cut and dry type.” He wasn’t pretentious. “He didn't have facades and he didn't engage in unnecessary platitudes,” she said.
Brenda Musgrove stood behind her future husband singing in the church choir for five years before they ever spoke. One night she was at Cedar Street Courtyard downtown fending off suitors, but wanting to “dance with somebody platonically.” When Yoggie Musgrove showed up because he had friends in the band, she decided it would be safe to “dance with the guy from church.”
The two went out afterward and romance bloomed.
Though her husband loomed large in stature, she said he was “really a sensitive man not afraid to cry, not afraid to say ‘I love you.’ And he was a big kid.”
“People don't understand how good an athlete this dude was,” Temple said, adding that Musgrove “whipped a lot of tail in racquetball.”
In the later years of his life, Musgrove scaled back on “street playing,” focusing more on using his music to serve the church, Shahid said.
“Musicians are (in) a very fought over area of society because you can take music any direction, negative or positive,” he said.
But Musgrove's legacy in Austin music will live on through his broad influence.
“There's no genre that was not affected. Not one. There was no musician that was not affected. Not a one. I say this emphatically,” Temple said.
“It didn't matter whether it was urban. It didn't matter whether it was Steve Bruton. It didn't matter whether it was Bonnie Raitt,” Shahid said.
“He was part of the fabric of music, which brought international, national and local into one place.”
Musgrove is survived by his wife, Brenda Musgrove, and his daughter, Jaleesa Haynes, as well as Brenda Musgrove's large family who loved him like a brother and a son.
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