By Kate Stow
With a career that began as a nine-year-old guitar player sitting in with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Will Sexton has had a long career as a musician, songwriter and producer. On July 15th, he performed at Six Springs Tavern in Richardson with his wife, upright bassist Amy LaVere as part of their North American tour.
As a teenager, Will was signed to MCA Records and released one self-titled album in 1988 with his band, Will and The Kill, which reached #129 on the Billboard 200. The featured single, “Heart of Steel,” peaked at #28 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
The young band included David Grissom and Will on guitar, Alex Napier on bass and Jeff Boaz on drums. That one and only album was produced by Texas musician Joe Ely.
Born in San Antonio, Will is the younger brother of Charlie Sexton – a music producer and guitarist in Bob Dylan’s band. The younger Sexton was labelled a music prodigy at a young age.
While his solo albums are few, he has been busy as a songwriter, producer and session player on a long list of acclaimed albums over the past three decades. His most recent sit-in was playing guitar on Al Green’s “Perfect Day,” released this year.
On a December morning in 2009, Will developed a dull headache, but continued working. Three nights later, he opened his mouth to sing on stage at Austin club Hole in the Wall, and no words came. He could remember the music, but not the words.
The morning after, the father of two checked himself into the University Medical Center Brackenridge, where he discovered that the dull headache was a minor stroke. Will was diagnosed with prothrombin gene mutation, a condition that creates a surplus of protein in the blood that causes stroke-inducing blood clotting. A prescription for blood thinning medication keeps the condition at bay.
“For a while there, I couldn’t read or write or do a lot of things, but I was able to go and tour and play guitar,” said Will.
When the tightknit Austin musicians crowd got wind of Will’s medical issue and the fact that he had no health insurance, a fundraising concert was held at Antone’s with a star-studded list of performers in 2016. Brother Charlie joined Chris Layton, Roky Erickson, Patty Griffin, Eliza Gilkyson, Tommy Shannon and more. The concert and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, of which Will is a member, helped pay his hospital bill.
“Tommy was a mentor when I was about 9 years old and me and Charlie would sit in with Stevie (Ray Vaughan) and his band in San Marcos,” Will Sexton told Michael Corcoran of the Austin American-Statesman in 2016. “It’s ironic that 30 years later he’s helping me with the training wheels again.”
The stroke changed many things about Will, but some were positive changes. He quit smoking and drinking, started eating healthier, and claims that his guitar playing has improved. Speech therapy gave him his voice back.
Another positive change is his marriage to fellow musician Amy LaVere – herself an accomplished bassist with more than a few albums of her own. For several years they have collaborated both at home and on stage.
“We were touring together with Motel Mirrors and then we just realized we enjoyed traveling together and playing together and it was like we seemed to gravitate to each other,” Will said. “I was finishing a tour and I went and jumped in with her band and toured for a while and then we just decided we’re gonna be a couple and travel around the world.”
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Amy’s family travelled throughout the United States and Canada for her father’s job. She moved to Memphis in 1999 and Will joined her nine years ago.
Signed by Archer Records, Amy released her debut album “This World Is Not My Home” in 2006. That same year she made her acting debut as Wanda Jackson in Walk The Line, and another role in Black Snake Moan.
In 2007 Amy released “Anchors and Anvils,” produced by Jim Dickinson. This second album rose to number six on the Americana Music Charts and earned her a nomination for the Americana Music Association Awards Best New or Emerging Artist.
Her sweet soprano voice, coupled with her whimsical and biting lyrics, is the reason The City of Memphis named Amy “Best Singer in Memphis” in 2010 and 2011. In 2012 she formed The Wandering – a quintet bluegrass band – with Luther Dickinson, Shannon McNally, Valerie June and Sharde Thomas.
In 2019 Amy released her eighth album, “Painting Blue”; Will released “Don’t Walk The Darkness” – his first post-stroke album – in 2020. Since their 2014 wedding, the couple have collaborated on “Hallelujah, I’m a Dreamer” (2015) and “Painting Blue” (2019).
When not touring, Will is the go-to guitarist for producer-engineer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price and Jason Isbell among others) and Bible & Tie label owner Bruce Watson at Delta-Sonic Sound Studios. Amy is working on her ninth album and constantly writes new songs.