Posted January, 2016
The interviews that grace this webzine are normally of iconic, legendary, or up-and-coming artists. Big names, so to speak. This month, you are going to learn about a talent well before the rest of the world is turned on to him.
His name is Austin Crum and believe me when I say that this sixteen year old guitar prodigy is definitely the next Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Bonamassa. Rock. Blues. Country. You name it, Austin nails it.
Born to Gina and Chad Crum and raised in Newport, Austin literally cut his teeth on the guitar. To hear Austin’s parents tell it, they discovered that their son was gifted on the guitar at a very early age. Chad said:
To hear Austin’s parents tell it, they discovered that their son was gifted on the guitar at a very early age. Chad said:
“We knew he had talent when he was a baby. He could keep rhythm.”
Gina chimed in and said, “Yes! He had a little toy guitar. I’m talking little bitty. He was, probably, one. We gave him a pick and he would play along.”
Chad added, “He always carried a pick. When we would get ready to go to church, he would make sure that he had a pick in his little pocket when he was old enough to walk around.
“At our church we have a lot of music. We have a lot of drums, the bass, guitars, acoustics, piano; we had an organ at one time. We had a lot of music. Austin would watch the guitar player and he would actually have his pick. We’d be singing in the choir and he would be over there playing the guitar player’s licks.
“He sung his first song in church when he was four – ‘There’s Been A Change In Me’ – the old Gospel song.”
Gina added, “I sung it to him when he was little – taught it to him. When he was four, he learned the whole song and stand in church and sing it.”
The church they’re talking about is Centerview Free Will Baptist Church in Newport, Tennessee, and is where Chad Crum was “born and raised” in.
I asked the Crum’s if they thought that pre-natal learning factors in to Austin’s talent. They both share a story in answer to that question.
“When World Championship Wrestling was really big, Hulk Hogan was really into wrestling. Gina has two brothers and when we first started dating at a real young age – and her nephew was thirteen. He was at a very impressionable age and me and him just kinda clicked. He was like my first son or little brother, whatever. We got to
where we were watching wrestling. The boys would come to our house and stay the weekend and watch wrestling with us.
“We got to noticing that Hulk Hogan was walking out to ‘Voodoo Chile’ and we’re, like, ‘Man! That’s just a rockin’ version of Voodoo Chile! We gotta figure out who that is. We actually went to a CD store to look for it. The guy there told us that it was probably Stevie Ray Vaughan. He recommended ‘Live Alive’ and was the very first album I bought.
“I worked at a body shop and a guy that I worked with – an older gentleman – he kinda dabbled in guitar just a little bit. He said, ‘Stevie Ray is an unbelievable guitar player. You just wouldn’t believe how good he is!’
“The first time I’d seen him was on the Johnny Carson Show. He had his initials on his guitar and he just wore it out! I got addicted to listening to him. Every time that I was in the car when she was pregnant, I was really, really hard core into Stevie. I bought all of his records and went back – even his earlier stuff. I went back to Texas Flood – just couldn’t get enough of it. I mean, really. I don’t know if that had anything at all to do with it. Ha! Ha!
“But it all started with wrestling and Austin – he got RSV whenever he was three weeks old and really sickly. When he had trouble sleeping at night, we would put Pride And Joy on headphones and (snapping his fingers) he would go out just like a light. It’s truly his favorite song.
“I don’t know. I guess only God knows if that had anything to do with it.”
I asked Gina and Chad how they’ve nurtured their son’s talent once they noticed that there was something special there. Pointing to Chad, Gina said, “He’s gone over and beyond anything he (Austin) has ever wanted due to that.”
Chad added, “You know the little toy guitars that you can buy from Wal-Mart? He used to get those. We use to have to buy the ones with steel strings because he’d know that when he drug that pick across them, it had to make a noise. The plastic ones, he just broke. He’d know that they weren’t real.
“I played acoustic at the time in church. Whenever you’d had him the acoustic when he was small, he would actually try to strum the strings versus most of the kids would just jingle and jangle away. But he would actually look and try to give a rhythm.
“But the little guitar’s she’s talking about that he had, he’s still got it. We probably wouldn’t sell it for anything!”
Later in our conversation, Chad mentioned, “When I noticed that he had rhythm was when I was listening to Pride And Joy and he was chunkin’ with Stevie in the song. No gettin’ out of time. No nothin’! I can actually remember being at a mall parking lot – Gina had run in to get something – and I was trying to work with Carlee (the Crum’s daughter) – she was real small – working on the groove. Austin was just little. They’re just two years apart. Austin was, like, ‘No, Sissy! Like this! Like this!’”
Surely, with all of this talent, there have to be some challenges that are faced.
“I guess people not taking him serious because of his age. I’ve seen him get mistreated a lot. Disrespect and envious of his talent. ‘You’re just a kid.’ He don’t play like a kid. They just look at him and disrespect him.
“Austin’s got a tremendous ear for tone. I mean tremendous! Most of your kids – most of your guitar players that you’ve got in high school – I teach high school now – they take a twenty dollar guitar pedal and plug it up. It’s just a racket. Austin’s like, ‘That’s not what I’m looking for.’ He’s got an ear for what he wants. All of his pedals are boutique pedals. The newest pedal that he’s got that’s a store bought pedal is the Mini Tube Screamer because we built him a small pedal board to travel to Nashville. The rest are boutique pedals that we’ve YouTubed and ‘I’d like to try that. I like that overdrive sound.’ Then we get it and, sometimes, he don’t like it. Then I put it on eBay and lose money on it. Ha! Ha!
Coming back around to the challenges faced, Chad concluded, “I guess trying to keep up with the sound that he’s looking for in his head. I think we’ve nailed it ‘cause people thinks he’s a Stevie Ray Vaughan prodigy; like he’s mimicking Stevie. But I’ve listened to Stevie so much, I hear Austin covering some Stevie songs with a Stevie lick here and there – it’s not note-for-note Stevie Ray Vaughan. I see kids on YouTube try to do that and it’s not. His (Austin’s) music tastes is getting so vast and so wide now, he’s venturing out into jazz. He’s a country picker. He can do some country stuff. It’s not just this box of Stevie Ray wannabe. I don’t want him to get painted that way. I don’t want him to get painted with that brush because I think he’s too talented to get painted with that brush.”
As a dad, myself, I know that I’ve run interference on things that involved my daughter. I asked Chad and Gina if they’ve had to do that.
“I’m real a real easy going kinda guy. You’ve got to do a lot to get under my skin. I think that’s a lot of the reason that’s kept people from getting hit in the mouth. There was one guy that talked down to him pretty bad and I didn’t even know it. Austin was eleven or twelve. He talked down to him. We had actually gotten in the car and Austin told me what he said. Who downgrades a kid? You should be wanting to be encouraging a kid that’s wanting to do and play.
“A couple of weeks later, I got back around that man. Austin was doing some recording. I walked in to the sound engineer and I said, ‘Look, man, I’m not trying to tell you how to run your business but that guy better leave or I’m gonna whoop him right here in front of everybody. I haven’t gotten over how he talked to Austin last time. He needs to go somewhere. It’s either him or us. Whichever one you want it to be. No hard feelings either way but that’s my son.’ He left. We’d done what we were supposed to do.
“But that’s probably the only time that I can say that I was about to lose my Christianity. I was fixin’ to hit somebody with the hand of fellowship! Ha! Ha!”
After getting a feel for the background and upbringing of this guitar prodigy, I turned my interviewing guns on Austin and began by asking him his earliest memories of loving the guitar.
“Well, everybody in the family plays. My cousins, Matthew and Steve play. I use to watch them growing up. Learned a lot of stuff off of them and just kinda built on it to
my own. That’s basically it. Everybody else was doing it at the time and I guess I wanted some of it, too. It led in to more than I thought, I guess.”
Austin couldn’t remember the first song that he learned but proud momma, Gina, knew: “Folson Prison Blues. That was the first song you ever performed out somewhere besides in church. And, you played it on a flat top.”
And Austin’s first gig?
“We’d done a kind of a talent show thing at school. We did Folsom Prison and he played bass and I played guitar and my granddaddy – he sings bass in church so he sung Johnny’s part on Folsom Prison. That’s probably our first thing we’d ever done out in front of many people like that.
“I was probably pretty nervous. It was in front of, probably, twelve hundred high school kids, or so. I liked it. I really enjoyed it. I wanted more of it.”
Kids can sometimes be pretty tough on each other – especially if they’re jealous of a peer for whatever reason. Responding to my question of whether his peers gave him a hard time or not, Austin said:
“They treat me really good, actually. They think it’s cool that I can play. They ask me to play. We have some guitars in the back of the chorus building. They tell me to get one out and play something. I mean, they’re actually pretty supportive about it. There will be a couple every now and then. They’ll be, like, ‘Betcha can’t play as good as my cousin.’ I just shrug it off my shoulder. It don’t bother me none.”
“In grade school, he entered a talent show four years in a row. He won First Place four years in a row. In his eighth grade year, he and Carlee entered together and did Sweet Child of Mine. She sung it and he played it.
“But most of his buddies are, like, ‘Austin’s the baddy on the guitar.’ I’ve not ever seen any jealousy or envy because I know of two guys that he went to school with ever since kindergarten and Austin’s told me that they’re the best basketball players he’s ever seen and they’ve said the same exact thing about Austin and the guitar. Mutual support and respect.”
As if I didn’t already know from hearing what all Gina and Chad had already said, I asked Austin who were his biggest influences on the guitar.
“I’d have to give it to Stevie. I mean, I’m straying into different kinds of music now but he’s the one who started it. I remember having a VHS of him and put it in and just watch him with his music videos and try to learn. I just have to give it to him. Austin City Limits, El Mocambo, Live in Tokyo – we got ‘em all, as far as I know.”
As we kibitzed about SRV, Chad added this little morsel of trivia:
“Austin actually got to share the stage with his (SRV’s) keyboard player, Reese Wynans. You couldn’t have washed that smile off of his (Austin’s) face. Austin was sitting in with Whitey Johnson at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Nashville. It sounds awful but it’s a family atmosphere. He shared the stage with Whitey Johnson and Reese was sitting in with Whitey. Austin come off stage and I remember him telling us, ‘Man, that was such a weird feeling to look over at Reese and nodding off to him, like, ‘Go ahead, Reese, take that.’”
The list that Austin gave me when I asked who all he’s jammed with is impressive.
“Bart Walker. We jam all the time. Any time he’s in town, he always asks me to come play with him. He calls me his little brother all the time. I’d love to play with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Jack Pearson. Brent Mason. I’m listening to them more and more all the time. Of course, Kenny’s still got the good stuff but I’m venturing out to new things.”
Austin obviously has a good head on his young shoulders – the product of a solid family and strong upbringing. So, I asked him where he wants to be in five years. He answered without even so much as a nanosecond of hesitation.
“Nashville. I want to be a studio musician. I plan to move there when I’m eighteen and just play all the time and have a good time.”
East Tennessee has produced a lot of amazing, world-renowned talent. Mark my words: Austin Crum will be known as one of them. Because of that, I suspect that Austin will be nodding to many more great musicians in the future.