- Renee Collins Cobb
Greg Austin - Kentucky Sports and Country Music Icon - Celebrates "70"
By Renee Collins Cobb, M.Ed.
Greg Austin is a country music icon and the namesake of Austin City Saloon.
Greg Austin is a name that goes with live music like Kentucky goes with bourbon.
The Greg Austin Story is a documentary film project designed to tell the history of Kentucky’s most storied high school athlete and front man and founder of The Greg Austin Band. There are many stories that come from The Greg Austin Story that make this a significant chapter in Kentucky Athletics and Music History and to this day, Greg serves as an inspiration to the younger generation of musicians and to all who are lucky enough to be in his presence when he is performing or simply telling a story about his life, his career, his best friend -Cincinnati Reds Big Red Machine Team Member and 2 Time World Series Champion -Doug Flynn, his beautiful wife, Stacy and the audience who adores him and appreciates the joy he brings to their own lives.
Starting to play guitar at age 6, music became Greg Austin’s friend and a form of comfort all during his early childhood years extending into his high school years. Growing up with his best friend, Doug Flynn, a boy who would later become a two time World Series Champion with The Cincinnati Reds, the two bonded over their love of sports and music and they remain best friends even to this day.
Many have said that Greg Austin was one of the best overall athletes in the state of Kentucky earning more letters than anyone in Lafayette High School’s history in football, basketball and track. He was also a star baseball player in summer leagues. He was named 1st-team all state football, 3rd-team all state basketball and won and set a state track record in triple jump.
His high school basketball coach, Jock Sutherland, called him the perfect high school athlete in every way. He had the drive, dependability, disposition and the discipline - a perfect combination of four attributes- that served him well in his athletic endeavors. These same four attributes would also serve him well in his music career in just a few short years post his collegiate career. Recruited by 70 colleges in four different sports - including The University of Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and even the Dallas Cowboys- Austin startled everyone with his decision to leave Lexington behind and play in the SEC for the Auburn Tigers basketball team.
Here is the story of when legendary basketball coach Jock Sutherland spotted Greg on the basketball court for the first time.
In 1974, after 2 years of college basketball at Auburn University and three knee operations, Austin started searching for another career. He didn’t have to go far to find it. He immediately tapped into his other love- music - and in 1974 he got his first paid job at the Upstart Crow in Lexington where he was paid in beer instead of money.
He eventually joined a group called Rockcastle River Company, a folk, Bluegrass and comedy act consisting of Austin, Nick Heyl and The Kingston Trio’s Pat Horine and he toured with them for five years.
The years between the mid-70s and beginning of the 80s ushered in the formation of "The Greg Austin Band" after his band members made a group decision to name the band after Mr. Austin. The band was better known in Texas and the Northeast than in the state of Kentucky at the time. Doug Flynn had joined the band by that time and often played with them in Manhattan when Doug was with The New York Mets. Greg attributed the bands fast rise to national fame to the addition to Mr. Flynn who was then playing MLB baseball for the New York Mets.
On December 11, 1981, it was opening night for Austin City Saloon, a bar purchased by Greg’s four friends, playing off the popularities of Greg Austin’s name, the TV show- Austin City Limits, and country line dancing to act as a home base for The Greg Austin Band when they were not touring across the country. The bar was filled to capacity with “squeezing room only”. Described by one reviewer -it was a place with plenty of high heeled boots and dozens of pairs of legs sheathed in denim. Greg’s cousin, then Lt. Governor Martha Layne Collins, was sitting at the edge of the stage because she couldn’t find an empty chair. The band at that time was in process of recording its third album, Midnight Driver, released in 1982. Flynn sang lead on the song “Crawl to The River” and New York had eagerly awaited the single because Flynn was so well known in the city. Austin City later becomes the birthplace of the careers of John Michael Montgomery, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry.
From 1981-1983, the Greg Austin Band had been on national TV five times and were on the way to releasing their fourth album. In 1983, the band made album #4 “The Greg Austin Band – If The Dream Could Stay” produced by Exile’s JP Pennington. Most of the songs were written by Austin and Pennington and it was one of Austin’s favorites.
In October 1983, The Greg Austin Band had found a loyal following, then described as a rockabilly group that was constantly on tour but was based in Lexington.
During Governor Martha Layne Collins administration, The Greg Austin Band delighted fans at Kentucky Derby parties including the likes of Olivia Newton John, Susan Lucci, Gary Collins and Mary Ann Mobley.
In 1987, The Greg Austin Band VI was released and featured “Somewhere in Kentucky” written by Greg Austin and NBC Sports Kenny Rice. The song had a great deal of national airplay and continues to be a sentimental, timeless fan favorite to this day. Local artist Grayson Jenkins recently recorded this song on his latest release which continues the legacy of Greg Austin in many ways.
Here is the story behind "Somewhere in Kentucky" told by Greg, Kenny and Grayson Jenkins
Band members over the years included Rex Hart, Chris Neito, Ernie King, Craig Chapman, Curt Chapman, Troy Gentry, Ron Daly, Mark Dennis, Earl Stayton, Paul Settles, Keith Barrett, Mickey Conley, David Malacowski, Tim Whaley, Robbie Shapp, Jeff Carroll, Howard Judy, James “Bubba” Hudson, Ray Adams, Wanda Barnett, Robert Pearl, and his best friend Doug Flynn.
Country Rhythms Magazine proclaimed that “Austin has an engaging voice that feels just as much at home rendering a slow and sensitive ballad as it does on more up-tempo arrangements, and the band has a fresh and distinctive sound that is quite appealing." The group cut several albums, had a national fan club based in New Hampshire and was a client of one of the most prestigious public-relations firms in the nation.
In 2018, Greg became a Lexington Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Honoree. Greg now lives in Lexington with his wife Stacy and their beloved dogs and cat children – Henry, Luke, Honey and Frankie Lee.
Greg now performs regularly in the Lexington area including every Monday evening at The Twisted Cork and Bronte Bistro on Friday evenings where he delights the new and old crowds alike. He is considered to be a mentor to young local artists like Grayson Jenkins and Garrick Howell, (who is also releasing a version of Greg Austin’s song “Kentucky Bound”) and is an inspiration for his friends and his loyal fanbase. He is the subject of a documentary film being produced by Room 17 Productions and The Greg Austin Oral History Project at the University of Kentucky Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History. A commemorative bottle of Old Forester bourbon commissioned honoring Austin City Saloon 37th Anniversary and its namesake Greg Austin in December 2018.
The bottle reads “Greg Austin is a country music icon and the namesake of Austin City Saloon. Greg Austin is a name that goes with live music like Kentucky goes with bourbon.”
Drive, Dependability, Dedication, Discipline – The words used by Jock Sutherland in describing Greg Austin in 1968, have now come full circle to describe him even today – right here, right now -some 50 years later.
Renee is the President/Owner of Collins Consulting Group, Listen Locally, LLC and is the Executive Director of Room 17 Productions, a nonprofit organization that promotes music education. She is the former host of Red Barn Radio and current host of radio shows titled "Overtones" a local music showcase and “Gray Matters” - a show about unconscious bias which airs weekly on WLXU, Lexington Community Radio. She is also the co-chair of the University of Kentucky School of Music Alumni. Renee is also the project manager for The Sara Holroyd Oral History Project, The History of the UK Cheerleaders Project, The Greg Austin Story and I Am Diversity at the University of Kentucky Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History. She has also served many years in the organizational effectiveness, diversity/inclusion and human resource development fields. She serves as an executive coach, keynote speaker, organizational consultant, facilitator of change and team development coach.