Austin City Limits

Mark Proct's Camera Captures Four Decades of Texas Music History

Brothers Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan during the recording of the Family Style album in 1990. It is Mark Proct's favorite of the thousands of photos he took over 40-plus years.
Brothers Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan during the recording of the Family Style album in 1990. It is Mark Proct's favorite of the thousands of photos he took over 40-plus years. Photo by Mark Proct
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has a better working knowledge — past and present — of the Austin music scene than Mark Proct. In the summer of 1974, the then-teenaged college student spent three weeks in the city on the trail of pedal-steel guitar knowledge, and fell in love with everything about it. He returned the next year, driving his ’67 Pontiac, and never looked back.

Over the years, Proct has worked as a roadie, a driver, a sound engineer, a tour manager and an artist manager for acts both world-famous and only known locally. Along the way, he took just a few snapshots — most of them unposed.

Book cover courtesy of Mark Proct
These shots feature Texas music icons such as Willie Nelson, George Jones, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Doug Sahm, The ARC Angels, and Albert Collins. Also caught in his viewfinder were Gregg Allman, Carlos Santana, the Grateful Dead, Ron Wood, Dr. John and Leon Russell. The settings stretch from club stages in Austin to larger venues in Europe.

Now, Proct has collected his favorites — and added personal commentary — in Home Today, Gone Tomorrow (156 pp., $25.99), written with Nettie Reynolds. Proct will sign copies and talk about his music history at 4 p.m. this Saturday, July 15 at Cactus Music. Prior to that, at 3 p.m. will be a live set from Proct’s new band the Milligan Vaughan Project, featuring ex-Storyville vocalist Malford Milligan and Tyrone Vaughan – guitarist son of Jimmie and nephew of Stevie Ray.

Recently, the Houston Press asked Proct to look back on four-plus decades of Austin and Texas music history.

Houston Press: What made you decide to put the book out?
Mark Proct:
I started taking pictures when I was 20 years old, putting them in photo books and boxes. Of course, I accumulated thousands of photos. A few years ago, I had friends look through all those pictures and they were really impressed, encouraging me to put out a book. That’s when I decided to do it. I got on the computer, opened Microsoft Publisher and began putting the book together.

I love that so many of the photos are casual or just people goofing around. But did you ever have a sense that you were chronicling music history, or is that really overthinking things?
I never stopped to think of it in that way. This was the life I wanted to pursue, and I followed a path that allowed me to experience so much of what would ultimately become a part of music history. You have to remember that I wasn’t a photographer on assignment but a sound engineer, tour manager, bus driver and manager with a camera in my hand. These weren’t organized photo shoots, nor were all these individuals just clients. They were all friends.

I had seen plenty of photo books of guitar players and bands onstage. I wanted my book to be different. I wanted to take people to places they would not necessarily get the chance to see. Backstage, the studio, the airport, the tour bus, and at times when most were at ease without lights glaring in their faces. While I was putting the book together is when I realized how much of Austin’s music history and Texas music history I had been a part of.

click to enlarge Willie Nelson plays for a captive audience at Huntsville State Prison, 1976. - PHOTO BY MARK PROCT
Willie Nelson plays for a captive audience at Huntsville State Prison, 1976.
Photo by Mark Proct
There are a lot of photos of the Vaughan brothers in the book. What’s something you could tell me about each one of them that might surprise even their biggest fans?
First, how humble they were. They didn’t have security or bodyguards around them at any time. The three of us could walk the streets of Manhattan or Memphis or Dallas and they would always speak to anyone that recognized them, always sign an autograph.

I’d also have to say that recording the collaboration Family Style was the biggest musical event in both of their lives. They were the happiest I had ever seen them during those recording sessions, and both very proud of the music they were making. Family Style is a great album, but a big departure musically for what Stevie had done up to this point.

Is there a single favorite photo of yours in the book – one that, say, you would have blown up and put in your living room if it could only be one?
Probably the B&W photo of the Vaughan Brothers [top]. That one picture says so much!

What has been the single biggest change in the Austin music scene today from when you first arrived?
The support for live music has really diminished. It just seems that the younger generation, the millennials, are not attracted to music the way the generations before them were. It’s really hard to get them out to see a live band. Also, the camaraderie just doesn’t exist amongst musicians the way it did in the '70s and '80s and even the '90s.

And finally, the same question for the city of Austin in general.
Austin is still a great city to live in, but it certainly has grown way too big. I would always say that back in the day it was the students, the musicians and the politicians who put Austin on the map. Somewhere along the way, the musicians were forgotten — only remembered when it’s convenient or it can help someone.

Mark Proct will sign copies of Home Today, Gone Tomorrow at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 15 at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth. The Milligan Vaughan Project will play at 3 p.m.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero