Texas singer-songwriter Calvin Russell, an ex-convict and one-time protege of Townes Van Zandt who became a country music star in Europe, died of cancer April 3 in Garfield, Texas. He was 62.
Born Calvert Russell Kosler in Austin, he was a troubled teenager who did jail terms for forgery and possession of marijuana. After his release from jail in the late ’60s, he became a member of the Austin singer-songwriter community and was taken under the wing of the legendary Van Zandt.
By the late ’80s, Russell had developed a catalog of songs and began hunting for a deal. At an Austin birthday party, he passed a demo tape, intended for songwriter-producer Charlie Sexton, to Patrick Mathe, owner of the roots-based French label New Rose Records.
Mathe almost immediately signed Russell, and the musician’s 1990 debut album “A Crack in Time” became an instant European hit. Russell would go on to release 15 albums — almost all of them continental successes — and attained a reputation as an authentic outlaw in the Merle Haggard mold.
Though he toured very successfully overseas, the hard-living Russell never lost his rep as a real-life miscreant: As late as 1995, he was convicted in Texas for cocaine possession.
Survivors include his wife Cynthia.