By Tim W. Jackson
Will Sexton was born in San Antonio but moved to Austin where he and older brother Charlie soaked up their musical surroundings and started playing with iconic musicians in the Austin scene at very young ages. While still in his teens he fronted the big-haired ’80s band Will and the Kill and was known as a revered guitarist and vocalist. He also became recognized as a talented writer, producer, session player, and solo artist with critically acclaimed albums under his belt. Just over a decade ago, though, Sexton suffered a stroke that brought significant changes in his life—musically and otherwise.
Sexton says that early on, playing guitar was still possible, though writing and singing were struggles. He was happy to be a side guitar player while his body and mind recovered. Now, more than 10 years after the event that threatened his musical career, Will Sexton is releasing his solo album Don’t Walk the Darkness, due from Big Legal Mess on March 6.
For this album, Sexton joined forced with The Iguanas, a roots rock band from New Orleans that has been around since 1989. Sexton says the band was a staple at the Continental Club in Austin, where he became especially enamored with the bass style of the band’s René Coman. “I was blown away by his playing,” Sexton says, “and just fell in love with the whole band.”
So when it came time to finally record a new solo album, Sexton was looking for a great fit in terms of musicians. “I still become mentally fatigued doing session work,” Sexton says, “so The Iguanas idea was effortless. I just came up with some songs and sang in front of them. We all clicked so well. It was natural and just a great experience recording with them.” Sexton also enlisted the talents of saxophonist Art Edmaiston along with vocalists the Barnes Brothers and Susan Marshall.
The result is an outstanding collection of 10 songs that show the world that Sexton is back and is completely on top of his game. “‘Witness’ and ‘Oh the Night’ were a couple of the first songs we did, and they immediately put me at rest,” Sexton says. “I didn’t want to celebrate too early but after those two songs I definitely said, ‘We got this.'”
The album is smooth and easy going. “That’s just the kind of stuff I’d been writing,” Sexton says. “I had lost grasp as a lyricist so I just had these pieces of songs that I sent kind of as phone demos to Bruce Watson, who produced the record. Bruce is the kind of guy who wants to hear everything you have. He was instrumental in helping that collection turn into this album.”
Sexton moved to Memphis a few years ago when he connected—musically and emotionally—to Amy LaVere, who is now his wife. “I moved from one great music city to another,” he says. He’s been active in the Memphis music scene and produced LaVere’s record, Painting Blue, released last August. He’s played guitar on a lot of other records, too, and is happy to be a part of his new hometown. He says he’s already planning his next record and that he and Amy will be touring together playing some double bills. The Iguanas plan to join in on a few shows.
“This material is really fun to play live,” he says. “I’m loving it.”