by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
This Week in Texas Music History, we head home with the armadillo through Luckenbach and Terlingua.
In November 1973, fifty years ago this month, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band released the iconic album Viva Terlingua. Jerry Jeff Walker, a New York folk singer by way of New Orleans and Key West, already had a hit song—“Mr. Bojangles”—by the time he moved to Texas in 1971. He didn’t continue on the traditional path to stardom, though, and Austin’s position outside the limelight, its musicians’ attention to spontaneity and raw, rough edges, attracted Jerry Jeff. He recorded his first Austin album in an abandoned dry cleaners on Sixth Street to get away from formal studios and to capture the sound of the band making music for themselves. They upped the ante with Viva Terlingua, setting up shop in Luckenbach in August 1973, recording jams and rehearsals and quiet moments leading up to a rowdy concert in the historic dance hall.
Or “London Homesick Blues”
The album mixed Walker’s originals with songs by Ray Wylie Hubbard, Michael Murphey, Guy Clark, and closed with Gonzo Gary P. Nunn’s anthemic “London Homesick Blues.” The musicians on the record—Nunn, Bob Livingston, Craig Hillis, Michael McGeary, Herb Steiner, Mary Egan, and Mickey Raphael—drew on their mixed influences of folk, rock, country, blues, and even reggae. The album’s 1973 release capped off an explosive year for new Texas music with Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie, Doug Sahm and Band, Michael Murphey’s Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir, Waylon Jennings’ Honky-Tonk Heroes, B. W. Stevenson’s My Maria, and the debut albums of Billy Joe Shaver, Kinky Friedman, and Asleep at the Wheel. No album better embodied the moment than Walker and the Gonzos’ Viva Terlingua. Listen to it yourself to hear why, or visit the Wittlliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos, currently hosting an exhibition on the album’s recording and legacy.
Jan Reid. The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004 .
Barry Shank. Dissonant Identities: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Scene in Austin, Texas. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
Travis Stimeling. Cosmic Cowboys and New Hicks: The Countercultural Sounds of Austin’s Progressive Country Music Scene. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.