Alumni-turned-filmmakers put spotlight on historical Texas music scene

(Left to right) Randel Bird, director of photography; Jimmie Vaughan, guitarist; Kirby Warnock, filmmaker; and Chase Arrington, audio technician, finish shooting an interview. Photo courtesy of Kirby Warnock

By Kalena Reynolds | Staff Writer

While they didn’t graduate with film degrees, Baylor alumni Kirby Warnock and Mike Markwardt both found a magnetic attraction to cinema as a medium for sharing their passions. Now, they tell stories of the historical Texas music scene.

Markwardt, director and executive producer of “The Birth & History of Western Swing,” spent his time at Baylor studying business while being a pole vaulter on the track and field team and a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

After graduating in 1981, Markwardt went on to have a successful career in the import business. Upon retiring, he switched his focus to sharing his love of Texas musicians and learning how to create a film centered around historical background.

“In the beginning, it was blind leading the blind,” Markwardt said. “I started asking questions, and I found this videographer in Fort Worth, and he said, ‘Well, Mike, you obviously need to interview a bunch of talking heads. Who do you have on your mind?’ And I started listing all these famous western swing artists as well as historians.”

After receiving advice from professionals, Markwardt began interviewing people and traveled to 11 different cities.

“I interviewed 28 different talking heads, including Vince Gill, Michael Martin Murphey, Junior Brown, Ray Benson,” Markwardt said. “And then I had these real good historians. The guy that wrote the Bob Wills book — Dr. Charles Townsend — he’s a treasure. He was 90 years old when I interviewed him. He sadly passed away last year, but he was unbelievable.”

Markwardt has been working on the film for over two and a half years. He is now in the final stages and doing select private screenings.

Meanwhile, Warnock, producer of “Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan: Brothers in Blues,” majored in history and minored in journalism during his time at Baylor. He worked in print media after college, utilizing his love of storytelling and art.

“When I got out of college, my first job was working for a daily newspaper in Colorado,” Warnock said. “Then I lived there for about two or three years, and I came back to Dallas. I got that job at Buddy, but I’d always wanted to work in journalism, so it’s not that big a leap from journalism to filmmaking or telling a story.”

While Warnock relates his love of storytelling to journalism, he attributes his ability to piece together the story of the Vaughan brothers to his education in history.

“I looked at this film as kind of an old history on film, you know, because I interviewed all these people about the Vaughan brothers,” Warnock said. “So, really, I kind of got my chops [at Baylor]. The thing about film is you can always hire people to help you. I hired an editor to help me edit it and make it look clean, and I hired a good professional cameraman to shoot all the interviews.”

Both Markwardt and Warnock hope to inspire other Baylor students and show that getting a degree is step one, but perseverance is key.

“The biggest thing I can tell someone is perseverance,” Warnock said. “I mean, you get told ‘no’ all the time, … but you’ve just got to persevere and stay with it.”