Austin Stories B. C. – The Armadillo

An Austin story B.C. (Before Children), sometime between 1975-1985.

The nine banded armadillo was adopted as the Texas small state mammal on June 16, 1995. The state held a mock election with hundreds of elementary school children to decide on the state mammal. Support for the longhorn and armadillo was equally divided so the state decided to create a designation for small state mammal and large state mammal. The armadillo is most frequently seen as road kill along Texas highways and known as a garden pest that roots around plants for insects and uproots them in the process. But I guess they can be kind of cute.

In Austin, the armadillo took on iconic status during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Having moved to Texas in 1969 and to Austin in 1975, I am no authority on the subject and encourage you to do your own research if you are so inclined. I will venture a guess that the band Shiva’s Headband and album cover artist Jim Franklin had something to do with the elevation of the lowly armadillo. Jim Franklin described why he was “drawn” to the armadillo:

“I had found a handbook on the mammals of North America. And there was a painting of an armadillo. Franklin recalls. “It keyed a memory of a hunting trip with my father, where we were creeping up on a sound in the bush. And it was an armadillo. My father laughed. I slipped under the wire and when it stood up. I froze. It goes back to digging. I get right up to it. The damn thing turned around and walked between my legs.”

“I get a request to do a handbill for a love in concert at Woolridge Park. The armadillo was occupying my imagination for a couple of days. I did an ink drawing. It’s just come across a pack of papers and about three or four joints rolled and laying there on the ground, and the armadillo’s got one in its mouth puffing. And overnight it turned the armadillo on to all the hipsters. What struck me was that at the time beatniks were getting beaten up by bubbas from the university, frats in Austin. It was dangerous if you had long hair to walk around the streets of Austin at night.”

“So the idea of using the armadillo as to illustrate the beatnik audience, I thought, well, perfect, because we’re always getting run over by rednecks and pickups.”

I met my husband in college in 1972. He was a doodler of armadillos, frequently including the words, “Take me to the mountains.” I didn’t know why. I later learned that Shiva’s Headband had a song and album by that name, released in 1969.

The back cover provides a cartoon explantation of the title: “If I can ever … get out of this cement … I’m going to the mountains! And if I do get to the mountains … I don’t think I’ll ever come back … to the city!”

Inside the album jacket is a booklet, about 6×9. More armadillos!
Click to enlarge.

Shiva’s Headband was an Austin band formed in 1967. They were the house band at Vulcan Gas Company on Congress Ave. and the first local band to release an album nationally and sign with a major label. While he was in high school, my husband saw them at Of Our Own in Houston, a night that also included a long set by ZZ Top (pre-beards, I’m guessing). My husband spent his junior year of college at UT and saw them a few times at the Vulcan. The album covers and posters were obviously the inspiration for his many doodles of armadillos engaged in any number of poses and activities. My future husband sent me many letters during that year away, and almost all of them bore an armadillo after the signature.

The Vulcan closed in the summer of 1970 and the band and their manager, Eddie Wilson, were instrumental in opening the Armadillo World Headquarters so that the band would have another home base. The artist, Jim Franklin, rendered many an armadillo over the years.

When we moved to Austin in 1975, the Armadillo was a major influencer of music and culture in Austin.

We didn’t actually spend much time at the Armadillo. We don’t think we ever attended a concert, but we both remember sitting in the beer garden where food and beverages were consumed. Shiner Bock was the beer of choice for many an Austinite, although I never learned to like beer.

One of the ways the Armadillo helped cover the rent was through the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, which we did attend several times. It was a place for local artists to make some money selling their wares. These posters are not dated, but the admission increased from 50 cents to 1.50 and a location away from the Armadillo by the 7th year.

Johnmatthewwalker1974, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, the Armadillo closed on New Year’s Eve 1980. Even though we did not frequent the Armadillo, we were really sad to see it go. It was so important to the local culture. A big part of Austin’s identity would be gone. It would be replaced by an office building. No art or culture there.

The last show was broadcast on the local PBS radio station. It was a long night, but my husband recorded it on cassette tapes. He was able to convert them to digital files that now reside in our itunes. Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel closed out the show and everyone sang “Goodnight, Irene” to end an era.

Below are some photos my husband took of the Armadillo. The Armadillo is hidden from view by the skating rink in the pic below.

August of 1980, several months after the Armadillo was shuttered.

Murals on the side of the building.

In January 1981, shortly before the building was torn down, the murals were repainted with some revisions

and an admonition to “Remember the Armadillo.”

We have purchased a number of Armadillo World Headquarters t-shirts over the years. Here I am with two of my sisters who were visiting us.

We have a few other items to remind us of the Armadillo. For one thing, my husband’s doodles and love for the iconic armadillo led to a small collection. I even made a crewel embroidery armadillo for him.

And we made purchases at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar over the years. The bazaar is still going on, but the admission is well above $1.50 these days! This little armadillo and wizard are early Christmas Bazaar purchases.

We also have a couple of posters. We think we had at least one more, but who knows where it is hiding. They are works of art, but were just made for each concert and stapled to telephone poles. Sometimes you could just pick one up somewhere.

The poster of the last night was a gift.

During the 2016 presidential election, a friend and I did a “Hillary and Bill Tour of Austin,” visiting sites where they had been sighted in Austin, mostly as young adults working on political campaigns. They are said to have frequented the Armadillo, so as part of the “tour,” I took our poster from the last night and set it by a tree in the parking lot of the office building where the Armadillo used to be.

As I was gathering information for this post today, I found an account at KUTX that puts Bill and Hillary at the Armadillo:

And there’s this story, from a time when the Armadillo was having a problem with overzealous security, told by longtime employee Bruce Willenzik.

“I shouldn’t have been working there that night. But we were trying to keep security under control and a situation happened. It was the Black Oak show, November of 77. And the fire marshal had given us a bunch of hell about people putting chairs in fire aisles. I’ve been back in the security office, had just burned a big one, and was headed back to the kitchen. And I see this big redneck put two chairs down in the fire aisle. He’s got this girl with him with glasses on and curly hair. He’s big. So I go over there to go talk to him. The first band had just started in. They’ve never played there before. Way too loud. The guy could not hear me at all. I’m trying to tell him he’s got to move. ‘You gotta move!’ He can’t hear me. He didn’t know who the hell I was. I’m probably not handling it well and I’m feeling the pressure of the fire marshal who said, we’re gonna ticket you. We’re gonna close you down. So I was fairly aggressive with the guy. He could not hear me at all. Finally, he stood up. I thought he’d heard me. So I grabbed his chair. She stood up. I grabbed hers. He took exception and took a swing at me.”

“By then the first song is over. ‘No, you don’t understand,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to help you.’ ‘What? What Do you mean you’re trying to help me?’ ‘You’re in the wrong place.’ And right as I said that, I saw a big arm, Jerry’s arm, go across the guy’s neck and I look and there’s terrible Tom cocking his fist to go right through the guy’s jaw. And I’m thinking, got to stop the brutality. I don’t know this guy, and he just punched me. But I’m not gonna let him get hurt. ‘STOP!’ I scream and I can be a human megaphone when I need to. They both froze. ‘He’s a friend from high school. Leave him alone.’ ‘Sorry, man.’ They back off. And the guy is totally freaked. So is his girl.”

So I explain to him, now that the band’s down enough, he can hear me. ‘I’m going to move you to a better place where you’re legal.’ ‘Oh, man. I’m sorry. I thought you were trying to steal my chair.’ Don’t worry about it, it’s all OK.’ ‘No, I’m sorry, man. I’m sorry.’ All these apologies I get people to scooch over. We get the chairs in there, we get them set. They’re still apologizing. And I said to the guy, ‘Look, you’re OK. Security is not going to touch you because they know you’re a friend of mine now. And I’m not a lawyer. I’m not going to sue you.’

“And she goes, ‘Oooooh!’ Oh, shit. I said the wrong thing. What did I say? She said, ‘We’re both lawyers.’ You got to be kidding me, I think. What kind of lawyer hits a stranger? She says. “My husband Bill is Attorney General of Arkansas, and my name’s Hillary. I work for the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock.’ “

“’Oh, my God. Sorry.’ ’No, you don’t need to apologize. We need to apologize.’ So I go back to the kitchen and tell my little brother what just happened. And I said, ‘Man, we’ve got to get serious about the brutality here, because imagine the headline, ‘Attorney General of Arkansas gets Mauled at the Armadillo’. We’d have been out of business. During the break, I went brought him beer and nachos and I was all apologetic and they were all apologetic, it was really funny. So at the end of the gig, I went and gave them the whole tour, and left them with the band.”

“Twenty-two years later, I’m at the opening of the new airport, here’s Bill Clinton again. He was the chair of the new airport terminal task force. I was on the board. I was with all the VIPs and he comes right up to me. I said, ‘I met you at 77, at the Armadillo, the Black Oak show.’ ‘You know, Hillary and I were talking about that last night. What a great experience that was, our best night ever in Austin. Somebody on the staff was so nice to us. That was you, wasn’t it?’ He comes right through the thing. He’s all hugging me. He’s all friendly. He comes back four times to thank me. Mayor Watson, on the bus on the way back, asks  ‘What’s the deal with you and Clinton?’ ‘Old times,’ I say.”

In 1977 I had not heard of Hillary and Bill. If only I had known and gone to the Armadillo that evening!

I’ll close with this.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday. I may continue with Austin stories as the prompt photos work through the alphabet. Please visit other Sepia Saturday participants here.

Sepia Saturday 565 Theme Image : Ladies Curling Club, Olds, Alberta. Provincial Archives Of Alberta (Flickr Commons)


5 thoughts on “Austin Stories B. C. – The Armadillo

  1. Great post! I love your crewel embroidery of an armadillo, and the story of Bill & Hillary at the Armadillo with Bill Willenzik and then the coincidence of meeting Bill again 22 years later was a hoot! I love ‘small world’ stuff like that. 🙂

    • Finding that story was completely unexpected, but what fun to stumble onto it! Gave credence to our little tour. 😄

  2. Ahh, the 70s. As the man says, it was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I still am fond of the illustration cartoon styles that started with the free radical newspapers. In a way they were the seed that grew into the internet and blogging that we enjoy today. The story of Bill & Hillary was a hoot!

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