Scuttlebutt from the Dead Club Capital of the World

Armadillos and Old Lace

Nearly 23 years after the Armadillo World Headquarters closed its doors for good on New Year's Eve 1980, the converted National Guard armory continues to cast a long shadow over the Austin music scene. Even former owner Eddie Wilson, normally the last person ever to be at a loss for words, finds it difficult to explain the 'Dillo's lasting influence. "I'm trying to figure that out," he says, "but interpreting the past is not a whole hell of a lot easier than predicting the future." Nonetheless, Wilson is presently "fishing for stories," seeking out anecdotes from anyone connected to the club, from musicians who used to play there to the now-grown children conceived in the parking lot. (He says he knows of at least two.) The stories would be used in Wilson's "sex, drugs, and rock & roll" memoir, which, along with a book of more than 500 Armadillo posters and a DVD of footage shot at the club, he hopes to have ready in time for the 'Dillo's 35th anniversary in 2005. In the meantime, he's secured a rear-projection screen from Omega Graphics to show some of those 100 hours(!) of footage as part of the free 33rd anniversary party tonight (Thursday), at Threadgill's South located next door to the old venue's location on Barton Springs Road and South First. Kinky Friedman, Greezy Wheels, the Uranium Savages, and Mary Hattersley's violin-student ensemble Blazing Bows will provide the music, with Friedman also expected to announce his candidacy for governor. (Really.) Additionally, the cigar-chomping mystery novelist/gadfly has donated a truckload of his private-label hot sauce to the silent auction, a fundraiser for Kent Findlay, the cancer-stricken owner of San Marcos' Cheatham Street Warehouse. (A year's free pass to Antone's will also be up for grabs.) Even today, Wilson is continually amazed by the scope of the Armadillo's legacy -- like learning local power-pop siblings Cruiserweight's parents both worked at the club or that, shortly after he began dying his hair, Elvis Presley played the site all the way back in 1955. "We had some strange magic there," he marvels.

Back Room Blues

Along with the Broken Spoke and (more or less) the Hole in the Wall, the Back Room is one of the few Austin clubs to have survived since the Armadillo era, but the metal outpost on Riverside Drive has had a devil of a time organizing its 30th anniversary. General manager Mark Olivarez's original idea was to do a three-day celebration, one night per decade. "It sounded great on paper," says Olivarez, noting that the club's original incarnation was as a blues bar and that W.C. Clark was one of the first people to sign on to play. The trouble arose when scheduling conflicts and other difficulties precluded Dangerous Toys and Pariah, two of the club's marquee names from the late Eighties and early Nineties, from coming aboard. On a happier note, the club's current crop of local headliners -- Rubberhed, Dynamite Boy, Ünloco, HeKill Three, and the Riddlin' Kids -- have all expressed enthusiasm about the anniversary and are eager to play, Olivarez says. Olivarez, who recently celebrated his own 15-year anniversary of working at the club, now hopes to organize something for late October or early November and hopes to hear from some other bands who played the club's headbanger-heavy middle period. These days, the club remains afloat by booking underground metal acts like Nile and Chimaira before other local promoters are willing to take a chance on them, and taking a similar attitude with local bands. "We're in a position to work with bands so they can play to five people first and 500 later," Olivarez says. "We went out on a limb at a time when no one else would talk to these bands about booking them, and the club that gives you that first break you're going to be real loyal to."

A Sniffy Goodbye

Red River will be a different place come September, when Rebekah Whitehurst, who holds down the low end for School Trauma Flashback, Sniffy, and the Sexy Finger Champs, moves into a spacious Williamsburg, N.Y., loft with a pair of girlfriends. Whitehurst, an Austin resident since 1993, says she's interested in exploring NYC's much-touted music scene, meeting people from all over, and possibly even working in the industry, although she admits, "I don't know if I want to make the thing I love to do my job." Basically, she says, she wants to get out of the golden rut so many Austinites fall prey to. "It's so cush here," she says. "It's easy to be really content and do the same thing for a while. That's why we love it." Whitehurst, a former member of Mata Hari and Solid Gold 40, says she's "bummed" about leaving, but at the same time, "I don't want to work at Chuy's until I'm 50." Well-wishers will have plenty of chances to see her off, at Sniffy's final show, Aug. 29 at Room 710 with Excess Lettuce and the Rockland Eagles, and her final Sexy Finger Champs gig, Sept. 5 with the Tuna Helpers and Swingles, at the same place. School Trauma Flashback, the band she started with Sweatbox Studios owner Bryan Nelson, plays Beerland on Aug. 28 with Adult Rodeo, but not as a farewell show. "We'll probably play together until we're old," she notes, adding, "I will be back here eventually -- I just need a faster pace right now."

New Band Alert!

Although they still lack a bass player and a name, one band that should have no trouble attracting an audience when it hits the clubs later this year is the new project from Gibby Haynes and Nathan Calhoun of the Butthole Surfers and ex-Pariah mates Shandon Sahm and Kyle Ellison. Though the nascent band is still very much in the "jamming" stage, drummer Sahm says they have already come up with rough sketches of 10 songs -- titles include "Redneck Sex" and "Kaiser" -- and are hoping to add 10 more to round out the set list. As for the sound, "It's very eclectic -- 'Redneck Sex' is straightforward, down and dirty, but this other one has background vocals that sound like Sonny & Cher," relays Sahm, who also remains active as a solo artist and a member of local AC/DC acolytes Broken Teeth. As might be expected, other efforts afford Haynes, who Sahm says has been faithfully driving up from San Antonio for weekday rehearsals, an opportunity to indulge his well-known love of oddball effects. "There's a track with all this freaked-out stuff, and we just play over it," Sahm says. The as-yet-unnamed group already has one eye toward making a record -- though whether an LP or EP is undetermined -- and will hopefully be ready to hit the clubs by October or November. "We're very much in transformation," Sahm says. "Everything's just really out there."

Mixed Notes

A limited amount of space-available tickets for Neko Case's Austin City Limits taping will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis starting noon Friday outside the KLRU offices at 26th and Guadalupe on the UT campus. The taping is 8pm Saturday at the ACL studios upstairs... One of Austin's best-loved benefits returns to the Continental Club 6:30pm Monday as a cast of thousands says happy birthday to Bakersfield buckaroo Buck Owens. Proceeds, as always, go to the Children's Advocacy Center of Travis County... Cover of the week: a reunited LJ All-Stars ripping through Mötley Crüe's "Live Wire" at the Keith Palumbo benefit at Emo's last Saturday, which left the Sea of Thousand drummer and recent brain-surgery patient more than $1,000 richer... Jeff Johnston has been playing his Li'l Cap'n Travis bass parts on a Moog while he waits for his sliced-up hand to heal, as the band preps its third CD at the Bubble and Adult Audio Megaplex studios. Eyeing a November release, drummer Mandon Maloney says the quintet has 18 songs, and "we're trying to figure out what to do with them"... Robert Earl Keen's first Audium/Koch album, Farm Fresh Onions, is scheduled to hit stores Oct. 7. Produced by Keen guitarist Rich Brotherton, Onions features guest shots from Shawn Colvin and Ian McLagan... A recent two-night benefit in Chicago sponsored by Bloodshot Records raised around $13,000 for Alejandro Escovedo's ongoing treatment for hepatitis C... Austin's Two Guy Trio served as the house band for a night of boxing in the parking lot of Dallas men's club Silver City last weekend. Topping the bill was former Olympic figure skater/white-trash queen Tonya Harding, who, the band relates, "really got her ass kicked" in about 20 seconds... Texas mood-rockers Blue October's "Calling You" appears on the American Wedding soundtrack and in the film -- though, tragically, not in the scene where Stifler chows down on a fresh dog turd... Beerland. Wednesday. 6-9pm. "TCB" town meeting. Be there...

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle