Charles Wayne Sexton (born August 11, 1968) is an American guitarist, singer and songwriter best known for the 1985 hit "Beat's So Lonely" and as the guitarist for Bob Dylan's backing band from 1999 to 2002, 2009 to 2012, and 2013 to present. His style of playing has varied and he has been associated with artists in the blues, folk, rock and punk genres.
Sexton's mother was 16 years old when she gave birth to him in San Antonio, Texas. When he was four, he and his mother moved to Austin, where clubs such as the Armadillo World Headquarters, Soap Creek Saloon, and more notably the Split Rail and Antone's Blues Club later exposed him to popular music.
After a brief period living outside Austin with his mother, Sexton moved back to Austin at the age of 12.
By the early 1980s, while Charlie and his brother Will Sexton were still young boys, they were both taught how to play guitar by the local Austin legend W. C. Clark, known as the "Godfather of Austin Blues". With the help of Joe Ely and other local musicians such as Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sexton developed his talents as a musician.
In 1983, Sexton (under the name "Guitar Charles Sexton") appeared on a five-song EP by the group Maxwell (a.k.a. the Eager Beaver Boys). Entitled Juvenile Junk, the EP's credits list the following musicians: Maxwell (lead vocals), Charles Sexton (guitars, backup vocals), Alex Buttersworth Napier (bass, backup vocals, maracas), and Gary Muddkatt Smith (drums, backup vocals, claves). Song titles are "Straight As An Arrow", "Don't Cha Know", "Anna Lou", "Back To School Blues", and "Oh Baby Show". All five songs appear on side one (with side two being empty dead space). Old album jackets by groups such as the Flock were turned inside-out and used in the making of the EP's homemade covers. The front side is simply a pasted-on sheet of lined tablet paper with "Maxwell" and "Juvenile Junk" written in crayon; the back side is a pasted-on blue sheet with credits and photos. Juvenile Junk is one of the rarest and most sought after items in Sexton's vinyl discography.
In 1985, Sexton released his debut full-length album, Pictures for Pleasure. Recorded in Los Angeles when he was 16 years old, it yielded the Top 20 hit single, "Beat's So Lonely". Pareles of the New York Times described him as a teen idol singing David Bowie-style rock during the years he was promoted by MTV.
In 1987, Sexton was an occasional opening act for David Bowie on his Glass Spider Tour. Sexton appears on the Glass Spider home video playing guitar on Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat.
While he was still in his late teens, Sexton's skills as a guitar player were in great demand and he became a popular session player, recording with artists such as Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards, Don Henley, Jimmy Barnes and Bob Dylan. He eventually followed up his debut with the self-titled album Charlie Sexton, recorded at the age of twenty.
In 1988, Sexton worked for a time with Will Sexton, his brother. The band, Will and the Kill, released a 38-minute self-titled album featuring both Sexton and Jimmie Vaughan on tracks. The album was recorded at the Fire Station Studio and produced by Ely and released via MCA Records.
Sexton later contributed songs to various motion picture soundtracks, including True Romance and Air America, and made a cameo fronting a bar band in Thelma & Louise.
In 1992, Sexton, along with Doyle Bramhall II (son of Stevie Ray Vaughan's writing partner Doyle Bramhall), Tommy Shannon, and Chris "Whipper" Layton (both from Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan's famed rhythm section) formed the Arc Angels. The blues/rock band recorded and released a self-titled album on Geffen Records that same year. The Steven Van Zandt-produced disc was well received by fans and critics alike. However, due to internal strife, including lack of communication (all members involved) and drug abuse (Bramhall), the band broke up in less than three years.
Next was the Charlie Sexton Sextet in 1995. Under The Wishing Tree was released on MCA Records. Although sales were disappointing, it was met with critical acclaim.
In the meantime, Sexton continued to perform with other artists, appearing on such notable albums as Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Shawn Colvin's Grammy-winning album A Few Small Repairs (uncredited).
Association with Bob Dylan
In 1999, Sexton was hired by Bob Dylan to replace Bucky Baxter. Sexton had previously played with Dylan during a pair of Austin, Texas, concerts in 1996, and on some demos recorded in the fall of 1983.
Sexton's residency with Dylan from 1999–2002 brought him great exposure, with many critics singling out the interplay between him and Larry Campbell, who was also a guitarist in Dylan's backing band. Hailed as one of Dylan's best bands, the group recorded a number of studio recordings, including Things Have Changed (from the 2000 film Wonder Boys) and 2001's critically acclaimed album, Love and Theft. He also performed and appeared with them in 2003's Masked & Anonymous.
In October 2009, Sexton rejoined Dylan's touring band, replacing Denny Freeman. Sexton played with Dylan's band until the final gig of 2012, on November 21.
In 2013, Duke Robillard took over on lead guitar in Dylan's touring band but was let go after just 27 shows. Sexton and Colin Linden subsequently began switching off lead guitar duties for the band from July and into early August. By the third leg of the 2013 Never Ending Tour however, which took place in Europe, Sexton again became the sole lead guitar player and remained as such through the end of the touring year.
In the meantime, Sexton continued working with other artists, producing Double Trouble's Been a Long Time and Lucinda Williams's Essence, both released in 2001. Since first leaving Dylan's band, Sexton has produced numerous other works, including Edie Brickell's Volcano (2003), Jon Dee Graham's Great Battle (2004), Shannon McNally's Geronimo (2005), and Los Super Seven's Heard It on the X (2005). In late 2005, Sexton released his latest album, Cruel and Gentle Things. He has continued his record-producing role for other artists, including 2007's release Wall of Fire by Canadian Peter Elkas.
In 2002, the Arc Angels began playing occasional "reunion" shows around Austin and Dallas. In 2009, it was announced the band, with original members Layton and Bramhall (but not Shannon), would begin touring extensively — including a stint with Eric Clapton in England — and recording a second album, their first new studio album in 17 years. He played the guitar and sang alongside Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris, who performed Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for the Hope For Haiti Now Benefit.
On April 24, Charlie and Will Sexton made a rare appearance as a duo, opening for Roky Erickson and Okkervil River at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. Sexton was also the guest performer for Conan O'Brien's Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour stop in Austin on May 14, 2010.
Most recently, Charlie appeared as a guest guitarist on the band Spoon's performance on the television show Austin City Limits. The episode premiered on PBS on October 9, 2010. Sexton appeared on one song, Who Makes Your Money.
In early 2013, Sexton, Jakob Dylan, Brady Blade, Dave Matthews, and Sexton's brother Will, recorded an album at Blade's studio in Shreveport, Louisiana. The group subsequently became a band called The Nauts. A release date for the album has not yet been announced.