John Morthland, renowned music journalist and longtime Austinite, dies

Updated March 08, 2016

John Morthland, a longtime contributing editor at Texas Monthly magazine who began his career amid the first wave of music journalists at Rolling Stone and Creem, was found dead at his home in Austin on Tuesday, close friends reported.

Cause of death was not immediately known, but Morthland, who was 68, recently had recovered from a broken leg and had been battling various health issues in recent years.

In 1964, as a high school journalist writing a teen column for the daily paper in San Bernardino, Calif., Morthland interviewed the Rolling Stones before the first show of their first American tour.

It’s a story that echoes Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film “Almost Famous” — a fitting comparison given that Crowe’s mentor in the movie was renowned rock critic Lester Bangs, who became one of Morthland’s close friends when both were at Rolling Stone in the late 1960s. After Bangs died in 1982, Morthland became literary executor of his estate.

Morthland enrolled at Cal-Berkeley in 1965 and started writing for Rolling Stone in 1969, helping with coverage of the infamous Altamont, Calif., concert at which four concertgoers died and writing about Jimi Hendrix’s death in 1970.

He helped welcome fellow veteran Austin music journalist Ed Ward to Rolling Stone in late 1969. “He was like my guide to Rolling Stone when I moved to San Francisco (from Ohio),” Ward recalled Tuesday. “We were really close during the time I worked there. He was always around when there was good but unknown music happening.”

Morthland worked at Creem magazine in Detroit for much of the 1970s and then moved to New York, where his book “The Best of Country Music” was published by Doubleday in 1984. He moved to Dallas in the mid-’80s to work for a music publication there, then migrated to Austin, where he wrote regularly for Texas Monthly and many regional and national publications. He also worked as panels coordinator for the South by Southwest Music Conference in the early 1990s.

Because of Morthland’s deep knowledge of country, blues, Tejano and other American roots forms, record labels often sought him out to write liner notes for historical reissues. Austin author Joe Nick Patoski recalls recently asking Morthland for a critique on a book manuscript before submitting it to the publisher, because “he’s the one guy I could trust.”

Friends also remembered Morthland as an avid baseball fan who had Round Rock Express season tickets and a barbecue aficionado who made weekly trips to Lockhart’s renowned barbecue joints.

Survivors include his mother, who lives in Killeen. A sister preceded him in death. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.