AUSTIN (KXAN) — Family and friends are remembering the man behind one of Austin’s most famous music stores. Ray Hennig died on Thursday. He was 91-years-old.
For decades, Hennig owned and ran Heart of Texas Music stores. He started the business in Waco in the early 1960s. But it was the store he opened in 1973 on Lamar Boulevard in South Austin that earned him a place in Texas music history.
Hennig’s customers included musicians like Willie Nelson, Ray Benson, Billy Gibbons and many more. Two then-soon-to-be famous brothers also frequented the store: Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“Stevie was within walking distance of my store,” Hennig recalled in a 2015 interview. “So, I’d go to work in the mornings, here’d be Stevie.”
In the interview, Hennig told how Stevie Ray found the guitar that helped shape his signature sound. He described how Heart of Texas Music had rows of guitars hanging from racks along the walls. Hennig said every day Vaughan would go down the rows, touching the neck of each guitar, looking for one with the right feel.
One day in 1974, he found it.
“He got to this old ’59 Strat. That done it,” Hennig recalled. At the time, the instrument did not seem special to Hennig.
“I said, Stevie, you happened to find the biggest piece of junk I have ever traded for,” Hennig said. He gave the back story, saying musician Christopher Cross traded in the well-worn guitar. Vaughan told Hennig it had the feel he had been searching for.
“He told me so many times after that, he said, ‘Ray, I would never have ever played guitar like I do if I hadn’t have found that old ’59 Strat hanging on that hook that day,” Hennig said.
According to his son Steve, Hennig became known as the ‘Godfather’ of Texas music stores. His landmark Heart of Texas Music store was a south Austin fixture for decades.
“After 38 years here, you really don’t have to steer your car here, cause 38 years in the same place, it’s sort of home,” Hennig said shortly after he received news that a developer would be tearing down the property.
The store closed in 2012. Where it once stood is now home to a mixed use development, that includes an Alamo Drafthouse theater.
“To me, it’s kind of sad. You trade music for condominiums,” Hennig said when the closure was announced.
Though the store shut down, Hennig’s connections to Texas musicians and his contribution to the music scene live on.
“I’ve met ’em all and I understood musicians,” Hennig said.
His family plans to hold a celebration of life ceremony when it’s safe to have large gatherings again. His son said the plan would likely include performances by Texas musicians.