Rusty Wier, songwriter, Texas musician, and one of the central figures in Austin’s “Cosmic Cowboy” movement in the 1970s, was born in Corpus Christi on May 3, 1944. He was the son of Dorsey Otto and Owana Wier. Though born in the Coastal Bend area, he spent almost his entire life in Austin. Wier’s father was in the restaurant and hotel management business, and in Austin he owned both the Tally Ho Restaurant, located at Seventh and Congress, and the Plantation restaurant near the University of Texas campus. Young Rusty developed an affinity for “hamming it up” before an audience at a very early age. At three years old he rode his stick horse between the tables of his father’s restaurant to the pianist’s strains of the William Tell Overture and to the delight of patrons.
Wier grew up listening to Dixieland music as well as the fiddle music at family reunions. He was practicing on the drums at the age of ten. He attended Porter Junior High School and Travis High School. Throughout his teen years and while attending Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University) in the 1960s, he drummed for a succession of rock-and-roll bands, including the Centennials, the Wig, and Lavender Hill Express, a group that also included Gary P. Nunn.
Wier, however, made the choice to go in his own musical direction and began learning guitar. Inspired by acts such as the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, as well as the country of Hank Williams, he embraced and helped cultivate the rich blend of folk, country, rock, and blues that was developing in the Austin music scene of the late 1960s and into the 1970s. As a songwriter and performer, Wier helped define the growing Cosmic Cowboy and Outlaw era of the Austin sound along with Michael Martin Murphey, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and others.
He signed with ABC Records and released Stoned, Slow, Rugged in 1974. His Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance came out on 20th Century in 1975, and Black Hat Saloon was released on Columbia in 1976. He made appearances on Austin City Limits in 1976 and 1977. He would also play on the show in 1986.
Wier’s biggest break came when artist Bonnie Raitt recorded his song “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance” for the soundtrack of the smash movie Urban Cowboy (1980). The song eventually sold more than two million copies and went double platinum. Other artists, including Jerry Jeff Walker, Barbara Mandrell, and John Hiatt, have covered the song, which became Wier’s signature tune. Riding on the popularity of his hit, he toured with a variety of musical acts such as the Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Willie Nelson, Commander Cody, Ray Charles, and the Allman Brothers.
As Wier weathered the various and changing musical tastes of the 1980s, he became a regular Thursday night act at Austin’s Saxon Pub in the 1990s and remained for almost fifteen years. Never one to be pigeon-holed, his performances offered a musical spectrum from blues to country to rock and all points in between concocting a unique combination that Austin music writer Margaret Moser termed “Rusticana,” all while wearing his trademark black riverboat gambler’s hat.
He produced more than a dozen albums during his career. In 2002 he was inducted into the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame, and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell proclaimed August 30, 2009, as “Rusty Wier Day.” Wier, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 2008, died at his son’s home in Dripping Springs, Texas, on October 9, 2009. He was survived by four children. Wier is also honored in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame.