Danny Crooks claims that he moved to Austin in 1970 for its organic recreational amusements, but what he attained was a legacy in the city’s music history as owner of the influential music venue, Steamboat. The club, located in the heart of Sixth Street for the majority of its quarter decade history, made downtown the place to be and showcased unknown local acts in the best light. Under Crooks’ watch, Steamboat became an anchor on the strip, one which cultivated young talent and by its presence radically changed the area’s environment from one of desolation to a thriving metropolitan retreat.
Some of Austin’s favorite musicians graced Steamboat’s stage and made it an insider’s haunt, including Christopher Cross, Eric Johnson, Charlie Sexton, Ian Moore, Bob Schneider, and Vallejo, many of whom built their reputations there. Crook’s aim was to give artists a regular gig to drum up a fan base, “showing them the ropes of the business,” and he instituted a myriad of unique marketing strategies. Never wavering in his commitment to the players, he gave 100% of the door to the acts. “We made money on whisky and they made money on the door.”
Crooks formative experiences with civil rights and political events in the late sixties generated in him a social consciousness that later defined him as a club owner. Steamboat, regularly used by charities for concert benefits, carried a reputation as a haven for liberal thought. Crooks not only encouraged his roster to contribute their time to causes, he went the extra step of introducing ignored styles of music like hip-hop to the scene. In effect, with this act Crooks provoked the social order in the local industry; an industry which had rarely encouraged the fusion of urban music into the mix.
Steamboat closed in 1999, joining other fabled venues which carried Austin through a golden age of music. “Everything has been turned into a shot bar, a martini bar . . . the Steamboat was a music club,” Crooks states. Never predictable during his time as owner of Steamboat, Crooks still has a mind to make another go at the business. He believes that Austin’s music scene should stand behind the younger generation of bands who are in need of attention. From his South Austin digs, Crooks considers the media as the main vehicle for making that change. As Steamboat once breathed life into a fragile music scene, Crooks believes fresh is where it’s at.