Van Wilks has witnessed the Austin music scene change tremendously over the last 40 years. A Texas Blues Rock legend, he recently released his 6th solo album, “21st Century Blues,” decades into a collaborative career spent playing local venues and touring the globe with renowned acts like ZZ Top, Heart, Van Halen, Journey, Aerosmith and countless others.
Wilks returns to the Frank Erwin Center to join the Longhorn Pep Band at the Texas Longhorns Men’s Basketball game vs. Long Beach State on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 5 p.m for a special halftime show. The ensemble will play a medley of “Drive By Lover,” which Wilks co-wrote with longtime friend and ZZ Top member Billy F. Gibbons, and “Danger in the Dark,” from his first album “Bombay Tears.”
“The best thing that can happen in any college sporting environment is something that fans can only experience there,” says Longhorn Pep Band Director Josh Gall. Wilks has never played with a pep band before.
“It’s very exciting,” Wilks shares, “I’ve never had a horn section or sheet music with a piccolo. We had a great rehearsal and it was the loudest thing I have ever heard, and very beautiful.” This Saturday will be a new experience for the seasoned musician and for Longhorn fans.
“We listened to a number of Van’s songs and decided to use two songs that we thought would really benefit from this particular treatment,” says Gall. The custom arrangement was created by Drew Bonner to support Wilks’ songs while still highlighting the student-musicians.
“Van has an incredible energy in his music and adding a 70 person backing band brings the music to life even more,” adds Gall.
Wilks has “survived all the fads” and says his philosophy has always been “do what you do and see what sticks.” It sounds simple, but he has spent years learning the profession. This has undoubtedly helped him blossom into the mentor he has now become to many local artists. He explains, “you experience frustrations and ups and downs as a musician. What started out fun later becomes an obsession and later a business. The trick is to keep the fun mindset throughout it all.”
“I’ve played so many types of shows- just a few songs, to 40 minutes, to 2 hours, all types of crowds…the highlight for me would be performing with ZZ Top at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2013. That was a real honor.” Wilks began playing guitar in a junior high band made up of friends who, like him, “all wanted to be the Beatles.” He recalls being influenced by family members involved in music growing up, including an uncle who directed a high school pep band.
The halftime show will also include vocal harmonies from singer-songwriter Lisa Tingle. Wilks will lead with vocals and guitar, an instrument he has spent years mastering and teaching to others. “I love the guitar so much I don’t know what else I would do- music sustains my soul,” says Wilks.
Wilks started teaching 15 years ago at the Austin School of Music and now runs a private studio, fittingly named Guitarland. He says, of his accomplishments, he’s most proud “that I have found my love and always stuck with it.” His newest album “21st Century Blues” includes special guests Grammy-winner Christopher Cross and Austin vocal hero Malford Milligan. He hopes to begin a new tour in 2017.
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