Husky-voiced blues and soul singer Angela Strehli
has often been called the "First Lady of Texas Blues." Indeed, her
contributions both on and off stage have done much to propel the Austin
blues scene toward international prominence. Whether recording with such
friends as Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton, Sue
Foley, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.,
or helping mastermind policies behind the success of Antone's---the
legendary Austin blues club---she has performed with unerring taste and
verve. For a major modern blues figure, the sultry blonde has not
recorded prolifically, preferring to treat each album as a special
event. However, the albums she has chosen to share with the public are
remarkably entertaining and expressive slices of gut-bucket blues
revival and scintillating uptown soul.
Blues Singer with a College Degree Born in Lubbock, Texas, on November 22, 1945, Strehli grew up
in a household that valued education; her father was a college
professor, and her older brother, Al, was later a composer of classical
chorales and a proficient Spanish folk guitar player. Former neighbor
Jimmie Dale Gilmore recalled on the Virtualubbock website that The Whole
family studied Argentinian folk music and spent a lot of time in South
America, where Strehli's mother was born.
Listening to various West Texas and Mexican border radio stations helped
young Angela develop a keen appetite for the blues. "Angela and I were
interested in folk music," Gilmore told Virtualubbock, "and we were in a
folk music club together. But she specifically was into the blues and
became more and more obsessed with the blues and became just extremely
knowledgeable about it."
Always a good hard-working student, Strehli attended Carlton, a small,
highly respected liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, but
after two years she missed Texas and the blues, and returned to finish
up at the University of Texas, where she earned a degree in sociology
and psychology with a minor in Spanish. After serving an eye-opening
stint as a social worker in San Antonio, Strehli stumbled upon an
opportunity that changed her life. "I had an opportunity to go to
Chicago as a representative of the student YWCA," she told Contemporary
Musicians. "So, I would go to the conventions during the daytime and ...
then at night go out to the blues clubs ... and down to the Southside of
Chicago. So, I got a nice big heavy taste of blues there, and that was
wonderful and I still managed to finish college."
Made Her Mark at Antone's Although she occasionally worked as a substitute teacher,
Strehli couldn't resist the lure of the growing Austin music scene. She
joined a local contingent called the Fabulous Rockets, singing a mix of
R&B, soul, and blues at local clubs and parties. Hoping to make it big,
the band changed its name to Sunnyland Special and drove out to Los
Angeles. Strehli recalled, "I worked at the Troubadour and the Ash Grove
and did all right musically, but I was not ready to record and I knew
it. I'm glad I wasn't pressured into doing it."
After returning to Austin, Strehli sang with a local soul band called
James Polk and the Brothers. She remembered, "At one point it was a big
revue and just about all black people. That went for a couple of
years---it was a weekend band." Bluesman W.C. Clark had also been part
of that revue. When it wound down, he asked Strehli to start a new band
with him called Southern Feeling. Strehli recalled, "That was really a
neat band because it had two front people---W.C. and myself. So, we
worked in Austin for at least two or three years. It was a very popular
band. By that time, there were a couple of neat places to play, but
strictly for blues. ... That's when Clifford Antone got the idea to
start a club and invite the masters, so people---especially
students---would be exposed to real blues."
Antone was looking for assistance in setting up the club, and Strehli
took the opportunity to help out. "We opened this place and I just did
everything from being a stage manager and making sure the artists were
comfortable, to doing a little sound in an emergency, and was on the
other side of the picture from being in a band. At the same time, I
would sit in with one of my heroes and meet them. It was just a
Despite its popularity with local college students, keeping the club
running smoothly was difficult during those early years. "Strehli helped
me through so much of this," Antone told the Austin Chronicle. "Her
brains helped everything." It was Strehli's idea to begin taping some of
the shows featuring legendary bluesmen, particularly those who no longer
had a label. She also supported young talent, most notably a young
guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan..
"Stevie was a perfect example of someone who took good advantage of the
scene at Antone's," she observed. "When Stevie first came to town, he
had a couple of little rock bands, but he was really captured by blues,
as his older brother had been. ... He decided that he should learn how
to sing. He asked me to help him get started singing. ... I just said,
'Stevie, pick a song that you love and just try it.'" Vaughan chose a
tune from Strehli's onstage playlist, "Flood in Texas," and it was the
song that inspired John Hammond at Columbia to sign him to a major label
contract. In 1984 Vaughan would repay Strehli's professional kindness by
inviting her to sing at his historic Carnegie Hall concert.
Strehli began taking tentative steps toward her first album in 1986 with
the EP Stranger Blues. The following year she released her first
full-length solo album, Soul Shake. Mixing such powerhouse standards as
Elmore James's "It Hurts Me Too," J.B. Hutto's "20% Alcohol," and Eddie
Taylor's "Bigtown Playboy" with her self-penned "Take it From Me" and
"You Sweetness," she crafted a fine debut album. However, despite a
guest appearance on the Austin City Limits TV program and a tour with
Doug Sahm, the poorly distributed Soul Shake was not a big seller.
Recorded with Marcia Ball and Lou Ann Barton By far the best-known recording project Strehli did at Antone's
was the 1990 Dreams Come True album with her Austin scene contemporaries
Marcia Ball and Lou Ann Barton. "It was really a happy circumstance,"
Strehli said. "Clifford was always trying to get us to do shows together
and that was a way we could at least hear each other. ... So, we went
into the studio and made a little demo of 'A Fool in Love' and I think a
Sarah Brown song. ... Sure enough, our voices blended together. ... That
was the inspiration point to make that record."
Dreams Come True featured all three artists at the peak of their
respective abilities, and for a hard-to-find independent release, it
proved remarkably popular. "When we would do shows together," reminisced
Strehli, "we'd come out and be our own selves, establish our own
identities, and then do our stuff together. It was the most fun I've had
singing. It's no mystery to me why audiences loved it. ... I would have
done it forever."
Moved to California After years of devoted service to both Antone's club and its
record label, Strehli left after 1993. She resurfaced on Rounder with
her urban soul-drenched album Blonde and Blue. "Antone's was always
struggling and just not able to put out that record," the artist
recalled. "I had been lucky enough to make my records and then offer
them to record labels." It had been seven years since her previous
full-length solo outing, but she never worried about productivity for
productivity's sake. "I just thought that recording was such a privilege
that I shouldn't abuse it," she explained. "I wanted to make sure that I
had a group of songs that I thought were worthy."
Far more eclectic was 1998's Deja Blue, which ran the gamut from soul
and jazz to prewar juke blues and a clever
Jimmy Reed tribute. The album was her best since Soul Shake, but
outside of her most loyal fans, few heard it, as two months later the
House of Blues label folded.
By then, Strehli was not completely dependent on the music industry to
sustain her. She had married Bob Brown, the former manager for Huey
Lewis and the News, and she moved out of her beloved Austin to Marin
County, California. For a few years she flew into Texas to work with her
old band, before deciding to scale back her tour schedule and find
California musicians to back her. By 2006 much of her time was spent
helping her husband run a high class roadhouse called Rancho Nicasio,
where she booked acts and occasionally performed.
Strehli kept her hand in the recording industry by making guest
appearances on albums starring Maria Muldaur and Pinetop Perkins, and
released a live album to sell off the stage at shows in 2001. She
finally returned in 2005 with the gospel-oriented M.C. Records release
Blue Highway, which boasted guest appearances from Marcia Ball, Maria
Muldaur, and former boxer-turned-soul-singer Paul Thon. At age 60, her
voice is as good as ever, although most of her self-penned ditties, such
as "Austin's Home of the Blues" and the Stevie Ray Vaughan. tribute
"SRV," revel in personal nostalgia. Even the title track harkens back to
her shared triumph with Ball and Barton.
However, this does not seem to be a sign that Strehli is planning to
close down her career anytime soon. "When it gets right down to it," she
stated, "what really thrills me the most is just singing the most low
down blues that there is. If I'm doing an Elmore James song, I'm just
completely fulfilled as a singer. I feel this thing that I first felt
when I first heard blues."
by Elizabeth Wenning and Ken Burke
Born on November 22, 1945, in Lubbock, TX; married Bob Brown (her
manager), 1995. Addresses: Record company--M.C. Records, P.O. Box 1788,
Huntington Station, NY 11746, phone: (631) 754-8725, fax: (631)
262-9274, website: http://www.mc-records.com, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Management--Bob Brown Management, P.O. Box 779, Mill Valley, CA 94942,
phone (415) 381-0181. Website--Angela Strehli Official Website: http://www.angelastrehli.com.
Booking--Monterey Peninsula Artists, Inc., Contact: Paul Goldman, phone: