Armadillo World Headquarters

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The Armadillo World Headquarters ("behind the Skating Palace") in 1976

The Armadillo World Headquarters (usually called simply The 'Dillo) was a music hall and entertainment center in Austin, Texas, United States from 1970 to 1980.

History[edit]

In 1970, Austin's flagship rock music venue, the Vulcan Gas Company, closed, leaving the city's nascent live music scene without an incubator. One night, Eddie Wilson, manager of the local group Shiva's Headband, stepped outside a nightclub where the band was playing and noticed an old, abandoned National Guard armory. Wilson found an unlocked garage door on the building and was able to view the cavernous interior using the headlights of his automobile. He had a desire to continue the legacy of the Vulcan Gas Company, and was inspired by what he saw in the armory to create a new music hall in the derelict structure. The armory was estimated to have been built in 1948, but no records of its construction could be located. The building was ugly, uncomfortable, and had poor acoustics, but offered cheap rent and a central location. Posters for the venue usually noted the address as 525½ Barton Springs Road (Rear), behind the Skating Palace (approximate coordinates 30.258 -97.750).

The name for the Armadillo was inspired by the use of armadillos as a symbol in the artwork of Jim Franklin, a local poster artist, and from the building itself. In choosing the mascot for the new venture, Wilson and his partners wanted an "armored" animal since the building was an old armory. The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) was chosen because of its hard shell that looks like armor, its history as a survivor (virtually unchanged for 50 million years), and its near-ubiquity in central Texas. Wilson also believed the building looked like it had been some type of headquarters at one time. He initially proposed "International Headquarters" but in the end it became "World Headquarters."

In founding the Armadillo, Wilson was assisted by Franklin, Mike Tolleson, an entertainment attorney, Bobby Hedderman from the Vulcan Gas Company and Hank Alrich. Funding for the venture was initially provided by Shiva's Headband founder, Spencer Perskin, and Mad Dog, Inc. an Austin literati group.

The Armadillo World Headquarters officially opened on August 7, 1970 with Shiva's Headband, the Hub City Movers, and Whistler performing. The hall held about 1,500 patrons, but chairs were limited, so most patrons sat on the floor on sections of carpet that had been pieced together.

The Armadillo caught on quickly with the hippie culture of Austin because admission was inexpensive and the hall tolerated cannabis use. Even though illicit drug use was flagrant, the Armadillo was never raided. Anecdotes suggest the police were worried about having to bust their fellow officers as well as local and state politicians.

Frank Zappa at the Armadillo World Headquarters on September 13, 1977.

Soon, the Armadillo started receiving publicity in national magazines such as Rolling Stone. Time magazine wrote that the Armadillo was to the Austin music scene what The Fillmore had been to the emergence of rock music in the 1960s. The clientele became a mixture of hippies, cowboys, and businessmen who stopped by to have lunch and a beer and listen to live music. At its peak, the amount of Lone Star draft beer sold by the Armadillo was second only to the Houston Astrodome. The Neiman-Marcus department store even offered a line of Armadillo-branded products.

The unique blend of country and rock music performed at the hall became known by the terms "The Austin Sound," "Redneck Rock," progressive country or "Cosmic Cowboy." Artists that almost single handedly defined this particular genre and sound were Michael Martin Murphy, Jerry Jeff Walker and The Lost Gonzo Band.[1][2][3] Many upcoming and established acts such as Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and ZZ Top played the Armadillo. Freddie King, Frank Zappa, and Commander Cody all recorded live albums there. Bruce Springsteen played five shows during 1974. The Australian band AC/DC played their first American show at the Armadillo with Canadian band Moxy in July 1977.

The Clash played live at The Armadillo with Joe Ely on October 4, 1979 (a photo from that show appears on the band's London Calling album) and the Austin punk band The Skunks. After the concert, Ely and members of the Clash jammed with The Skunks for a sold out crowd at the Continental Club.[4] The show was so successful that Joe Ely and The Clash teamed up for a 1980 U.S. tour.[5]

Despite its successes, the Armadillo always struggled financially. The addition of the Armadillo Beer Garden in 1972 and the subsequent establishment of food service were both bids to generate positive cash flow. However, the financial difficulties continued. In an interview for the 2010 book Weird City, Eddie Wilson remarked:

"People don’t remember this part: the months and months of drudgery. People talk about the Armadillo like it was a huge success, but there were months where hardly anyone showed up. After the first night when no one really came I ended up crying myself to sleep up on stage."

This predicament was blamed on a combination of large guaranteed payments for the acts, cheap ticket prices, and poor promotion. The club finally had to lay off staff members in late 1976 and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1977. Another factor in the club's demise was that it sat on 5.62 acres (22,700 m2) of prime real estate in what soon became a prime development area in the rapidly growing city. The Armadillo's landlord sold the property for an amount estimated between $4 million and $8 million.

The final concert at the Armadillo took place on December 31, 1980. The sold-out New Year's Eve show featured Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. Some reports say the show ended at 4 a.m., while others claim that the bands played until dawn. The contents of the Armadillo were sold at auction in January 1981, and the old armory was razed for a high-rise office building.

Legacy[edit]

The commemorative plaque at the site where the Armadillo once stood

With the success of the Armadillo and Austin's burgeoning music scene, KLRN (now KLRU), the local PBS television affiliate, created Austin City Limits, a program showcasing popular local, regional, and national music acts.

The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar began in 1976 at the Armadillo, and is still held annually during the Christmas season. The Bazaar was another attempt to improve cash flow for the hall. When the Armadillo closed, the Bazaar first moved to Cherry Creek Plaza (1981–1983), and then on to the Austin Opry House (1984–1994). In 1995, the Bazaar settled at the Austin Music Hall for twelve years. Due to remodeling of the Austin Music Hall, the Bazaar had to move its 2007 show to the Austin Convention Center. The Bazaar has become one of the top-ranked arts and crafts shows in the nation with a long waiting list of artisans who wish to show their work.

On August 19, 2006, the City of Austin dedicated a commemorative plaque at the site where the Armadillo once stood. Co-founder Eddie Wilson was on hand and stated:

"It is still on the lips and minds of a lot of people 26 years after it closed. This is noteworthy for me because of the zero-tolerance mentality, and now the city erected a memorial that glorifies the things of the past that are not accepted today."

Some acts that played at the Armadillo[edit]

Live recordings made at the Armadillo[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Hillis, Craig [4] "Cowboys and Indians: The International Stage", "Journal of Texas Music History, Vol. 2, No. 1", Spring, 2002
  • Stimeling, Travis D. [5] "Viva Terlingua: Jerry Jeff Walker, Live Recordings, and the Authenticity of Progressive Country Music", Journal of Texas Music History, Vol. 8, No. 1", 2008
  • Reid, Jan, [6] "The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, New Edition", "University of Texas Press, 2004" 98, 106, 107, 109, 261, 281, 304
  • Long, J. (2010) Weird City: Sense of Place and Creative Resistance in Austin, Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°15′29″N 97°45′00″W / 30.258°N 97.750°W / 30.258; -97.750