The year is 1970. Janis Joplin has just died, and there are fewer than 250,000 people living in Austin. It’s the year Armadillo World Headquarters opened its doors, sparking Austin’s music community and setting the stage for several UT alumni to create some of Austin's most iconic musical institutions. In advance of this week's Austin City Limits Festival, the Daily Texan spoke with some of the individuals who played instrumental roles in shaping the Live Music Capital of the World.
EDDIE WILSON: Armadillo World Headquarters, 1970
Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff
For a decade, the heart of Austin’s music scene thrived in an abandoned National Guard armory. The Armadillo World Headquarters, founded by UT alumnus Eddie Wilson in 1970, became the place for Austin’s hippies, cowboys and rockers to share their love of music.
Within the first few years of the venue’s opening, Time Magazine observed that more than 200 musicians had relocated to the city to be a part of Austin’s burgeoning music scene. Wilson said booking acts such as Frank Zappa, Charlie Daniels and Bruce Springsteen alongside local Austin performers meant there was no such thing as a typical Armadillo show.
“We were atypical,” Wilson said. “There was a range [of performances] that can’t be typified because there were these great mixes of two completely different social groups.”
Wilson said during its operation, Austin’s older generations often clashed with the counterculture scene at the Armadillo.
comic by Jack Jackson
“The Armadillo was so much like the hippies,” Wilson said. “It was considered ugly, thought of as dirty. In the beginning it was us and them and they finally figured out that it was a business and like it or not we had lots of people who wanted to be in that business.”
Local musician Spencer Perskin originally brought the idea of a performance hall to Wilson when his band Shiva’s Head-band needed a place to play. Perskin said even when the venue struggled to fill its 1,500 seats, its loyal fans kept the venue going.
courtesy of Eddie Wilson
“It fostered a spirit of creativity,” Perskin said. “There was a lot of camaraderie that kept the show going on.
The love of the music and the love of the art, fostered a place where everyone could share those things together.”
As the venue’s end loomed nearer, low ticket sales and an approaching rent deadline forced the “‘Dillo” to finally close its doors in 1980. Even after its reign, Wilson said the Armadillo’s legacy continued to resonate through Austin’s music scene.
“I think it inspired people to open places,” Wilson said.
“It got a lot of national and international attention and that made a lot of people in the city look at what was going on here with a little bit less disdain.”
JEFF PETERSON: Austin City Limits, 1974
Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff
After regularly attending shows at the Armadillo, Paul Bosner, UT alumnus and Austin City Limits co-creator, set out to capture the venue’s magic on tape.
Bosner, director Bruce Scafe and UT alumnus Bill Arhos eventually created the Austin City Limits series in order to document the growing Texas’ country music movement. By 1974, the group filmed ACL’s pilot episode with Willie Nelson in studio 6A of UT’s communication building.
With the pilot episode in hand, Arhos managed to convince five stations to support the series. The show was officially on the market and they began filming in September 1975. What started with Willie Nelson and Texas’ own brand of country, has now gone on to feature acts from the Foo Fighters to Norah Jones.
Jeff Peterson, ACL producer and UT alumnus, acted as audio supervisor at the show’s KLRU station two years after the show’s debut. Peterson said the performances that came before Austin City Limits motivated them to create the series.
“The creators of ACL were going out and seeing music those years immediately preceding [the show],” Peterson said. “There’s not question that the ambience, the music loving nature of Austin, the great clubs contributed to the original idea of capturing the sound and broadcasting it to America.”
The show, now in its 41st season, is the longest-running music series in American television history. In the 2010 book “Weird City,” which discusses the social, cultural and economical changes in Austin, Arhos said he felt it was necessary to document the Austin music scene.
“What was the most visible product of Austin? Music,” Arhos said. “It was obvious. It would be like ignoring a rhinoceros in your bathtub.”
courtesy of KLRU
Since the show’s first episode, Peterson said Austin’s talent has helped the show as much as the show has helped Austin. The show’s city-wide impact expanded when the show inspired the ACL Festival in 2002, which brings 75,000 people to Austin each year.
“I’ve always thought of the relationship between Austin and ACL as being kind of symbiotic,” Peterson said. “I think we reflected what was going on here, but kind of promoted it as well.”
Austin City Limits’ executive producer Terry Lickona said ACL couldn’t have happened anywhere else because of the dedication of Austin’s music fans.
“There’s an obsession in Austin with live music,” Lickona said. “The audiences here are just much more into it than in any other city that I’ve been in or have been to, and I think that’s the biggest part of the success of our show.“
JOHN KUNZ: Waterloo Records, 1982
Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff
The day Louis Karp opened Waterloo Records in 1982, UT alumnus John Kunz handed in his resignation at local record chain Hasting’s.
Kunz, Waterloo’s current owner, left his managerial position because he wanted to start his own path. He partnered with Karp, envisioning a store that was different from the record stores they frequented.
"We always knew that Austin wanted and deserved a really eclectic store,” Kunz said. “We wanted to curate a store in the sense of a well curated art gallery. I think we’ve succeeded at becoming the musical town square meeting place music lovers and music makers can get together.”
When Kunz first arrived in Austin he said he saw how the collaboration between venues, publications and music stores allowed the music scene to gel and grow together.
“I got here in the fall of ’72,” Kunz said. “It was a really passionate scene. There’s always been a real cooperative scene that doesn’t exist in a lot of other places, and here it’s kind of all for one, one for all.”
courtesy of John Kunz
By attending shows around the city and acting as a ticketer for the Armadillo, Kunz said he learned about the country’s different music scenes. He said hearing about the Chicago blues scene from the Fabulous Thunderbirds inspired him to bring musicians from around the country to Waterloo such Sheryl Crow and Nirvana.
“Austin has always kind of been the oasis in the desert,”
Kunz said. “In a pre-internet world, traveling musicians were the troubadours. I wasn’t traveling all over the country, but [the musicians] were, and they would come back with all sorts of tales. It was better to have Jimmy Vaughan telling you around a bar or from a stage than googling it now.”
After Karp left the business in 1987, Kunz said he made it his mission to highlight Austin’s local talent. By organizing performances, he could help bands who were juggling classes, rent and the cost of producing a record.
“It’s always been a crusade of mine,” Kunz said. “People say all the time ‘that music changed my life,’ so if you really love that music and it really touches your heart, wouldn’t it be worth supporting that band? Buying the ticket? Buying the CD? I think it is.”
Since he began working at Waterloo, Kunz said he continues to attend live shows, supporting local musicians several times a week.
“Music, and particularly live music is something that I just need in my life,” Kunz said. “Almost every day like you need sunshine, like you need water, like you need oxygen. I like sharing that knowledge with people.”
LOUIS BLACK: South By Southwest, 1987
Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff
When the Sex Pistols took the stage at their 1978 San Antonio concert, a group of UT students who would go on to change Austin’s music scene stood in the crowd.
“Everything comes after the Sex Pistols show,” UT alumnus Louis Black said. “Up until that moment, I really thought music was just about music. It was the liberating notion that the line between who’s in the audience and who’s on stage is convenient. It brought together a whole community.”
Just a year after graduating, Black and UT alumnus Nick Barbaro partnered up to create the Austin Chronicle in 1981. The duo’s desire to place an emphasis on reporting Austin’s music and film scenes garnered them the support and readership to print their bi-weekly paper weekly.
courtesy of Theresa DiMenno
“What happens is that we start the chronicle in ‘81,” Black said. “By 87 there’s an intense amount of local coverage where we’re helping to create and helping to nurture an amazing local scene.”
In rented apartments with cinderblock bookshelves and secondhand furniture, Black said the enthusiasm and sense of belonging to Austin’s community pushed them when their dreams seemed impossible.
“We were all driven by passion,” Black said. “We thought about movies and music and creating every minute that we were awake and dreamed about it when we were asleep.”
Years later Black and Barbaro were approached by New York’s New Music Seminar about holding a festival in Austin. Though the Seminar’s plan never panned out, Black said he and Barbaro were drawn to the idea of showcasing their city’s creative community to the world. By 1987, the two had founded South By Southwest expected 700 attendees.
courtesy of Louis Black
“All of a sudden we start South By Southwest and between ‘87 and the mid ‘90s everybody from around the country comes to Austin,” Black said. “Not only do they see this remarkable scene, but they see this paper where the priority is covering the local scene. Literally it creates a shift in the focus of music coverage in this country.“
As Black and his friends frequented shows around the city he said it wasn’t uncommon to see musicians such as Stevie Ray Vaughan supporting other acts. Black said it was Austin’s community’s passion that created the city’s icons — not individuals like him.
“If there hadn’t been an Armadillo or a Chronicle, a lot of what happened would’ve happened anyway,” Black said. “It’s a mistake to think it’s one club or one person, it’s a community.”
In the 28 years since SXSW’s inaugural run, Black said the music scene that shaped him now has a hand in shaping the music scene on a global level.
“South by Southwest is a magnifier for Austin,” Black said. “It’s not abnormal. You come to Austin any day of the year, it’s going on regardless. South by Southwest brought Austin to the world.
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