This past week I had the mind-blowing opportunity to meet some of the innovative personalities behind Austin’s venerable 1970s live music venue, The Armadillo World Headquarters. The Armadillo WHQ represents a decade of music, art and community that forever altered the landscape of this city and is largely responsible for it becoming The Live Music Capital of The World.
Without a trace of hyperbole let me just say, The Armadillo was big.
It boasted musical acts such as Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Freda and the Firedogs, Freddie King, Asleep at the Wheel, Van Morison, Bob Seger, Leon Russell, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Garcia, The Clash. ACDC’s first American show was at the Armadillo.
It was also meant to be a community for artistic expression and Jim Franklin was one of the more legendary artists to make his mark at The Armadillo with his massive murals and show posters. Including the poster from the club’s opening:
Last week I was on a quest to fill in a few puzzle pieces about The Armadillo for my book and ventured to local restaurant Threadgill’s which now hosts much of The Armadillo’s memorabilia and artwork. Imagine my shock when the manager told me Jim Franklin, the famed artist himself, was in the dining area having a late lunch. I about fell over. She encouraged me to introduce myself, which I did, and he couldn’t have been kinder or more supportive about my book project.
It was a very cool Austin moment.
But there’s more.
The next day I received a call from Eddie Wilson, owner of Threadgill’s and the man who founded the Armadillo in 1970! After a fascinating conversation he invited the Professor and me to come to his restaurant for Sunday brunch to talk about the Armadillo and see other memorabilia.
So over succulent chicken fried steak, mac-n-cheese and crisp green beans we sat with Eddie Wilson and learned more about the history of Austin’s music scene than I have heard in the 13 years I have lived here.
I am still processing all the tales he shared, but I marveled at one fun fact in particular. According to Eddie Wilson, armadillos are always born in a litter of four. Always four, always of the same sex. Four males or four females. Which means that they can’t inbreed, which means as a species, the armadillo hasn’t changed since the beginning of time.
Thankfully there is still a lot of armadillo love represented at Threadgill’s, for both the music venue and the animal. Here is the Professor in front of a replica of a Jim Franklin painting done for Lone Star Beer, replete with a team of armadillos pulling the stagecoach…
And the iconic Armadillo t-shirt is still available for purchase:
And just when it seems like my life can’t get any more fairytale, there is a new delicious layer.
As we were having brunch, a musician named Hank Alrich and his daughter Shaidri were playing/singing the most beautiful music. Fiddle, mandolin and exquisite harmonies gave it a timeless bluegrass feel. Hank Alrich, who is visiting from California, was also part of the Armadillo power structure in the 70s. Eddie Wilson explained that Hank was “just some old hippie mopping the floor at The Armadillo” when he found out Eddie was struggling to keep the place afloat financially. So Hank pulled out a check and gave Eddie tens of thousands of dollars from his trust fun to keep the place alive. Hank felt it was too “important” to close. After a number of years, Eddie Wilson moved on to other ventures and Hank took over running the Armadillo.
So I was in a room with two men who ran and owned the famed Armadillo World Headquarters. And they couldn’t have been any more kind, open-spirited, generous, intelligent, fun and cool. Just as I would have imagined them to be. And of course Hank’s talented daughter Shaidri was every bit as lovely and dynamic as we all bantered about Austin music then and now.
(That’s Shaidri holding her niece, Hank Alrich, me, and Eddie Wilson at Threadgill’s 9/22/13)
Armadillos may typically breed four-at-a-time but the Armadillo World Headquarters was born all by itself. There was, and always will be, only one Armadillo.
Did anyone ever see a show at the Armadillo? If so please share, I will be green with envy, but would still love to hear about it! Also curious how many of you outside of Austin have heard of the Armadillo?
Copyright 2013 Christine Warren