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Capital Blues

Forgive W.C. Clark if he makes the most of his association with Stevie Ray Vaughan. Clark isn't just some opportunistic sideman who did a stint or two with the late Austin blues rocker and is trying to parlay his brief brush with fame into a career. No, the soulful Clark anchored the Austin blues scene before the white folk, Vaughan included, ever discovered its existence.

Though such talented Caucasians as Lou Ann Barton, Doyle Bramhall and Vaughan put Austin on the modern blues map, blues music was thriving in the capital city well before they were born. The east side of town, home to a web of small clubs, nurtured a number of excellent players in the 1950s and 1960s whose reputations never extended much beyond the Austin city limits: Grey Ghost, Blues Boy Hubbard, Bear Track. And W.C. Clark.

Born and raised in Austin, Clark wasted no time tapping into the blues scene, playing his first show at age 16 at the now- defunct Victory Grill. Like any hot-blooded youth, he was attracted to flashy guitar tricks and learned to play behind his back, with his teeth, between his legs. Then he looked around, heard how much music the local legends were putting out minus the histrionics and discovered the heart of the blues.

To make a living under tough economic circumstances, Clark learned to play both bass and guitar and sing in a variety of styles, drawing from the rich trove of Texas blues, soul and gospel for inspiration. He landed his first major touring gig as a bassist with soul legend Joe Tex before going on to join forces with belter Angela Strehli. Together, they formed the band Southern Feeling, where Clark honed his song writing talents. After the band disintegrated, Clark went into semiretirement, taking a job as a mechanic at an Austin Ford dealership.

That's when Vaughan, who with his brother Jimmie had scoured the city and become acquainted with the wealth of east side blues talent, approached Clark and asked him to join his new band, again as a bassist. After several years tearing up the world with the Triple Threat Revue, Clark split amicably to form his own blues revue; he has since become a staple at Antone's and other key Austin hot spots.

In 1994, Clark finally broke out of the Austin arena with his first national release, Heart of Gold, a compendium of Texas blues sounds with an emphasis on the soul side of the equation. Teeth-gritting, clenched-fist soul power drove his follow-up album and defines his live shows as well. In that respect, Clark often sounds like a throwback to the deep-soul glory days, when names such as Green, Pickett and Redding graced the chitlin circuit throughout the South. The slow-dancing soul specials are tailor-made for Clark's croon, but he's equally adept at shifting tempos to shuffle or jump blues.

Clark's smooth delivery, falsetto breaks and impassioned lyrics wring every drop of emotion from a song's notes, each of which has its own character and intensity. Emphasizing those keystone notes is the core of Clark's attack. "The spirit is there," he says, "because the best accomplishment you can make in music is to learn how to make a note correctly, just one note."

-- Bob Burtman

W.C. Clark performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at the Outpost Tavern, 18113 King's Lynn, Webster. Tickets are $5. For info, call 333-1235.

Larry Carlton -- What do Dolly Parton, Miles Davis, the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra have in common? They've all utilized the guitar services of Larry Carlton. He's recorded with so many artists that even if you've never heard of him you've probably heard him. Carlton gained his greatest notice during a stint with Steely Dan, though his work as a member of the Jazz Crusaders runs a close second. And it's his work with the Crusaders that his solo work most closely mimics -- that slick, smooth, clean, almost too perfect Los Angeles jazz style. Not that he's completely locked into the smooth grooves; he recently toured with fusion masters Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke, and you've got to be a smoking monster to hang with those cats. Whether burning or chilling, Carlton does it with taste. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Thursday, May 8. Tickets are $22.50 to $37.50. 869-TICS. (Mark Towns)

Splitsville -- The Greenberry Woods should go down as one of the most unjustly ignored bands of the '90s. Before its membership scattered last year, the melodic Baltimore quartet manufactured a Beatlesque power-pop meld as polished as a freshly minted silver dollar. Still, as aesthetically stunning as the band's two CDs were, they lacked any real sense of spontaneity and fun. Coming to the rescue is Splitsville, a hook-drunk garage trio led by Matt and Brandt Huseman, the same sibling songwriting team behind the Greenberry Woods. Ultrasound, the group's new CD, is a breathtaking sonic pileup. And given the Huseman brothers' titillatingly tuneful track record on tour, expect nothing less from Splitsville in the flesh. With Shonen Knife and Pluto at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam, Friday, May 9. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8. 225-0500. (Hobart Rowland

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