Sunday, September 30, 2018

Micael Priest (1951-2018)


Weirdly, Micael Priest finished his walk with us this September on the 11th as another 9/11 memory gets burned into our collective history. He was born on October 11th.

His public life is pretty well known by folks in the music scene here in Austin.  Here's the opening from the Austin Chronicle story:

"Micael Priest, whose poster art remains deeply representative of Austin music, passed away yesterday at age 66. He had been suffering from multiple health issues, including diabetes and a bad heart.

Micael Priest was the most prolific of the Armadillo Art Squad,” says South Austin Museum of Popular Culture Director Leea Mechling, referring to the legendary in-house team at the Armadillo World Headquarters, which included Jim Franklin, Guy Juke, Danny Garrett, Bill Narum, Henry Gonzalez, Kerry Awn, G.L. McElhaney, Ken Featherston, Nels Jacobson, and Sam Yeates. “Known for his iconic laconic style of drawing, his work was unmistakable. Quick witted and with an incredible sense of humor, Micael drew his way through life."

But my story is a little more personal.

I first met Micael when my housemate over on Grooms street knew of someone who had a Volkswagon bus.  We were moving a refrigerator.  Turns out that the guy who had the bus was Micael Priest.  At the time, I was working on putting together a pants store over on Koenig street.  After seeing Micael's drawings, I asked him to do a logo for the shop.  He ultimately drew murals in each of the dressing rooms.  He also acted as the art director in our painting scheme.

It was then that I learned that he was color blind.

Several months later, Micael moved back to the Fort Worth area to work at a professional illustration studio called the Sketch Pad run by Don Punchatz.  It was there that Micael did the work on a national magazine cover for a 1984 story.  (it was probably 1970)  Micael had turned the three dimensional numbers into military tank like figures with large battleship rivets.  It was truly a great illustration that he never got credit for due to his employ with Don.

There in Fort Worth, Micael lived with Paula his young beautiful wife and his very young son.  He was trying to live the normal life.  But Micael was no where close to normal.  He at the time was one of the most unusual people I had ever met.  And, perhaps more importantly, we shared a lot of beliefs about the nature of reality and other metaphysical constructs. And his language was unique.  I still say "horse pistol" instead of hospital.

Within about a year, my work developing jean shops morphed into a small advertising agency called Directions Company.  

After getting several accounts lined up like Mother Earth and Castle Creek, I went to see Eddie Wilson at the Armadillo.  As he says in his book, I got the account because of my last name which is identical to Eddie's middle and original last name.

I needed someone to do the poster work, so I made my way up to see Micael.  I told him it would make him famous. His marriage was headed for the rocks at the time and so he said yes, moving almost immediately back to Austin, living in the refurbished attic of the advertising agency.  It was barely that, but we did get a bathroom up there. Given that the ceiling was a giant orange parachute, it would have made a perfect scene in Slacker.

Over the next few years, as Directions Company became more prominent as the place for posters and high quality radio spots, Micael was a drawing machine.  We became brothers of a different mother. But we were busy, so we brought in other poster artists like Ken Featherston, Guy Juke, Danny Garrett, Kerry Fitzgerald, Sam Yates and others.  And because of the increased concert load, we brought in Joe Gracey to cut spots in our private recording studio.

It was there that we cut the spots for Willie's first big picnic.  We even cut the spots for Lloyd Doggett as he ran for state representative as a very young man.

As Directions Company went Everwuchawe,  (literally) Micael and our stable of artists moved to the art studios at Armadillo where he and his fellow artists would draw and create the memorable hay day of  Austin Music scene art. It has since found a home at the museum of culture on South Lamar over the last several decades.

Many years later, Micael and I reconnected again as he moved for a time to Real de Catorce, our little Mexican town 9000 feet in the mountains in the state of San Luis.  We spent many hours together riding the altiplano.  Micael never really did drive.  It was just too much for him to keep together.

His good friends managed to get him on social security so he could survive in the public housing that he passed away in.  There, friends would check on him and take him out to lunch.  He stopped drawing a decade ago. Some of us tried to get him to Nashville for the Armadillo show at the Country Music Hall of Fame this summer, but it never worked out.

I was thinking of Micael just the other day, actually marveling at his tenacity and love for life that he possessed.  The next day,  Rock n Roll Jimmie called me to tell me he had been found by Bobby that morning.

Micael was the first person I knew who would say "Weird with a Beard".

And he was that and so much more. He was more than unique.

He was extraordinary.

Micael had a brother named Al and I presume his son is around.

I look forward to seeing them at Threadgills on November 11th for his special service.

Directions Company 1973

Here is a rather remarkable video produced by Bob Simmons about Micael:

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*photo courtesy of the Austin Chronicle


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