Washboard ace, neighborhood activist: ‘On Wednesday, a mighty whiff of the Old Austin spirit disappeared’
By Michael Corcoran / August 21, 2008
Someone called Danny Young “the Mayor of South Austin” and it stuck like an arrow because Young’s warm, gregarious personality and passion for Texas music lit up the whole 78704 Zip Code. The big-hearted neighborhood activist was the friendliest guy you could ever meet… and he met everyone who ever walked into his Texicalli Grille.
Danny Roy Young, who also played rub board in Cornell Hurd’s band for years, died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 67. The stream of shocked phone calls and sad emails from friends started circulating at about 9 p.m. More details will be known Thursday morning.
“What a guy!” Susan Antone wrote in an email. “He was a class act always and a great friend. He’ll be sorely missed.”
A native of Kingsville, where his parents ran a diner, Young and his wife Lu moved to Austin in 1975 and opened the first location of Texicalli Grille (the signature Texicalli sandwich was named after Gene Autry’s “Mexicalli Rose”) on South Lamar Boulevard. He became the unofficial mayor of South Austin in the mid-1980s, when the city planned to widen South Lamar and put in a continuous median, to make it more of a thoroughfare. Fearing an expansion would change the soul of the neighborhood, Young organized other affected business owners, who gathered petitions, took their concerns to City Hall, and eventually got the expansion project dropped.
“It used to be, ‘All them Bubbas live over there with toilets in their front yards.’ And there’s still some of that,” Young said of South Austin in a 2002 American Statesman profile. “But it’s the most beautiful, supportive community. It doesn’t matter if you have long or short hair, Skoal in your back pocket or a joint in your shirt pocket; here people really care about people.”
Nobody spread the love like Danny Young, who tooled around town in Big Lu-Lu, a 1954 Chevy station wagon, waving at friends and playing a mix of music ranging from conjunto to blues to zydeco to western swing.
Young retired in 2006 at age 65 and sold the Texicalli, which brought funky charm to an old Taco Bell on East Oltorf Street in 1989. The restaurant, known for its Texan twist on the Philly cheesesteak, closed in July 2007 because of rising rents.
A storyteller, rabble rouser and minor league baseball fanatic, Young loved to hold court at a big, round table at the poster-covered Texicalli, where musicians, artists and neighborhood eccentrics used to gather to complain about government and “progress.”
“In South Austin, we do things the way we want, and we hope you like it,” Young told former Statesman columnist Don McLeese in 1996. “But if you don’t, we’ll do it anyway.”
On Wednesday, a mighty whiff of the Old Austin spirit disappeared. They’ll never be another Danny Young; you can be sure of that. On stage he kept the rhythm on a metal washboard he played wearing leather gloves with Mercury dimes glued to the fingertips. But it was the pulse of Danny Young’s personality, his love of life and music and conversation, that helped give the ‘04 it’s beat.
Source / Austin360