Writer Jan Reid Was Seminal To Austin Music’s “Improbable Rise”

If not for author Jan Reid, there would be no Austin City Limits. And without Austin City Limits, there may not have been any national awareness of what was happening in the Texas Capital back in the early and mid 70’s and beyond, as hippies and cowboys intermingled and became the catalyst for what would become a country music Outlaw revolution, and the establishment of Austin, TX as a major music hub.

Jan Reid was the sports editor of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung in the early 70’s when he saw a musical phenomenon breaking out in Austin, fostered by artists such as Jerry Jeff Walker and Michael Martin Murphy who already had a little national name recognition behind them when they arrived and began intermingling with rising local stars such as Willis Alan Ramsey, Kinky Friedman, Steve Fromholz, and Townes Van Zandt.

After Willie Nelson’s house outside of Nashville burned down and he decided to relocate with his band back to Texas, he found the burgeoning scene in Austin behind venues like the Armadillo World Headquarters the perfect place to land. The attitude that put music and the creative freedom of artists first in Austin soon began to expand, and even reached to portions of Nashville. Next thing you knew, they were referring to Austin as the Live Music Capital of the World.

It was Jan Reid’s book in 1974 called The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock that helped to establish and legitimize Austin, TX as a music destination. Setting out to chronicle what he saw taking place in Austin through the lens of the individual artists, the book became the direct inspiration for the Austin City Limits television show, which started with a pilot episode featuring Willie Nelson in October of 1974, and has since logged 900 episodes and is the longest-running music show on television.

Subsequent editions of The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock kept up with the Austin scene as it continued to develop and grow, following the career paths of Delbert McClinton, Marcia Ball, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Jimmy LaFave, Kelly Willis, Joe Ely, Bruce and Charlie Robison, Robert Earl Keen, and others. It was the definitive work on how Austin music became Austin music.

Though Jan Reid was not very well-known in the music scene—and The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock would be the only music-oriented book that he would publish out of the dozen or so titles under his name—Austin music may not look the same, or be remembered and chronicled as closely as it was if it wasn’t for Reid’s contributions.

Jan Reid also wrote for Texas Monthly, and covered a number of subjects such as sports, politics, and culture, along with authoring fiction works. After being shot in 1998 during a robbery in Mexico City, Jan Reed’s health was a regular concern, and he was commonly seen walking with a cane. But he continued working to capture the Texas and American experience.

Jan Reid died early Saturday morning, September 19th, at the age of 75 due to heart failure. Though not the household name that many of the artists he covered would become, many Austin musicians may have never rose to the stature they did without Jan Reid there to tell the world about it.

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