Armadillos to the Highest Bidder

Eddie Wilson banks at Saturday’s AWHQ auction

Eddie Wilson (l) and Jim Franklin (r) at Burley Auction Gallery Jan. 17, 2015
Eddie Wilson (l) and Jim Franklin (r) at Burley Auction Gallery Jan. 17, 2015 (by Kevin Curtin)

A yard sale wouldn’t do. Neither would Ebay. Eddie Wilson’s massive unloading of concert posters, antique beer advertisements, and local music artifacts called for a live auction.

The founder of landmark Seventies concert hall Armadillo World Headquarters and current owner of Threadgill’s was moved to sell his personal collections, in part, because he needed to move them out of a storm-damaged storage space. He also hopes to finance a new Threadgill’s – possibly in New Zealand.

Wilson said he’d be “nervous as hell” at the auction, uncertain of what interest his pieces of history would generate. On Saturday, those fears proved unfounded as the parking lot of the Burley Auction facility in New Braunfels overflowed and the interior was shoulder-to-shoulder with survivors of the Austin music scene. Up front, a motor-mouth cowboy with a headset microphone slung vintage beer advertisements to bidders who hollered “yyyep” even when the price crested $15,000.

Notable venue owners were visible in the crowd, including Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer and Hotel Vegas honcho Jason McNeely, who acquired a vintage sign reading, “Raven & Giese Auto Repairing. Phone 6470. 605 Red River.” That address later housed notorious hotspot Emo’s.

After about 100 pieces of neon beer brand ephemera were flipped, the first lot of local music memorabilia went up for sale. Veteran poster artist Jim Franklin sat in the front row and watched his framed originals of the Armadillo’s opening night and Willie Nelson’s inaugural Fourth of July Picnic sold for $2,000 and $1,700, respectively.

Later, Franklin took the stage to introduce his mural of Freddie King and Leon Russell, which served as a backdrop to the AWHQ stage. It sold for $29,000 – even more than venue’s house piano, played by Count Basie, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis, for which bidding topped off at $22,500. Talk to Levi Good of Good Company Restaurants if you’d like to tickle its ivories.

Auctioneer Robb Burley was brought to tears when telling the story of that baby grand, which was handed down to Eddie by his late mother, Beulah Wilson. Otherwise, most of the stories shared at Saturday’s auction were as fun as the kind you hear while sharing a pipe with an old hippie.

Wilson himself got the audience laughing, referencing some illicit deeds in relation to a beautiful, armadillo-adorned leather satchel that was made for him by future Whole Foods co-founder Greg Weller. It was meant to hold demo tapes of Austin bands to share on business trips, but there was a special feature:

“The bottom’s got a Velcro cover on the inside so you can put about 100 joints down there – the cops weren’t using dogs then,” he offered, adding that the bag was too heavy for his means so he loaned it out. “It was used in service of a friend who flew around the world doing nefarious stuff. We’ll call it his map-holder and leave it at that.”

“We’ve been laughing all week,” Burley admitted. “All of these items have great stories behind them.”

One tale came from famed ATX poster artist Micael Priest, who gave an explanation of a painting he made for Jerry Jeff Walker. According to Priest, in 1982, Walker had commissioned him to paint a large, cartoon-y mural. The plan was for Walker and his children to be photographed in front of the mural and use that image as a stage backdrop for his concerts.

Upon completion of the painting, Priest hired a photographer for $100/hour and waited for Walker, who showed up eight hours late, drunk, and without his kids. Priest says he was never paid for the art – until Saturday, when it was bid up to $8,000 before the hammer came down.

“All I ask of you all is to tell these stories,” Priest told the audience. “The reason we’ve survived through all the things we did is to pass them along.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Eddie Wilson, Armadillo World Headquarters, Threadgill's, Jim Franklin, Micael Priest, Robb Burley, Jerry Jeff Walker, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Freddie King, Steve Wertheimer, Jason McNeely, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis

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