This Week in Texas Music History, London punks launch a scene in a Lone Star honk-tonk.
by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
The question of when and where punk rock started seems almost, improbably older than punk itself. Was it 1970s London or New York? Was it further back in Texas-inflected garage bands like the 13th Floor Elevators or ? and the Mysterians? But there was no doubt that punk had arrived in the Lone Star State when London’s Sex Pistols stormed Dallas and San Antonio in early January 1978. This was the group’s only American tour, with just seven dates, mostly in the South where the Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren hoped to stir up maximum controversy. Texas did not disappoint. On January 8th, Johnny Rotten led his merry provocateurs on stage at Randy’s Rodeo in San Antonio, and Sid Vicious clobbered a taunting audience member with his bass. Two days later, the Pistols’ appearance at the Longhorn Ballroom, a venerable institution founded by western swingster Bob Wills, generated one of the iconic images of the punks’ American tour: a barn-shaped marquee above a longhorn sculpture that read: “Tonite Sex Pistols, Jan 15 Merle Haggard.”
The tour’s next stop was another of Bob Wills’s old stomping grounds, Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. The San Francisco concert days later would be the Sex Pistols’ last. They succeeded in shocking the South, but they also inspired a generation of curious Texans to form their own punk bands: the Vamps, Ultra, and the Nervebreakers opened those San Antonio and Dallas shows, and future members of The Violators, The Skunks, the Go-Gos, the Krayolas, and the Huns, among others, were all in attendance. As an epilogue of sorts, in 2022 the legendary shows played out all over again, when British director Danny Boyle brought the fictionalized version of the story, Pistol, to the recently revived Longhorn Ballroom, re-staging the Sex Pistols’ Texas antics over four decades after the fact.
Jon Savage. England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock. London: Faber & Faber, 1991.
Jesse Sublett. Never the Same Again: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Gothic. Berkeley: Boaz Publishing Company, 2004.
Kathy Valentine. All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020.