Austin Punk Chronicles: The Shock of the New – The Violators and the Skunks Invade Raul's
14 days after the Sex Pistols break up and mainstream media declares punk dead, Austin's scene begins at a Tejano bar on the Drag in Chapter 5, Part 1 of the "Austin Punk Chronicles"
"It Had About 10 Names Since 1974"
"It's a little different," says Father Roy Gomez as he walks in from the blast furnace afternoon heat in the University of Texas' West Campus district into the dimly lit, wooden interior of Mockingbird Saloon. "A lot different, right?"
Monday, May 16, 2022, marks the first time Gomez set foot in 2610 Guadalupe St. since 1980, when he sold the business which once bore the name he anglicized for his public school teachers' sake: Raul's, described by king of all rock critics Lester Bangs in a 1980 Musician magazine piece about Austin as "a rather uptight little place with paintings of giant rats along one inner wall and graffiti about local bands all over the outside." The slight, unassuming Gomez, a Catholic priest since 2015, wears his ancient Raul's T-shirt for the occasion like the badge of honor it is.
"Raul's was a Tejano bar," says Skunks drummer Billy Blackmon. "The guys who ran it were friendly, and they wanted people in there to sell beer and make money. They didn't really know anything about the music and didn't really care, as long as there was a crowd."
"Raul's … serves a function roughly analogous to early CBGB as being the locus of Austin punk/New Wave hap'nin's," Bangs continued. "Raul's is the place where Elvis Costello and Patti Smith played and where punks can be found pogoing most any night of the week to the bands which are the club's staple, 1977 Xerox Ramones-clones with names like the Dicks, the Big Boys, Sharon Tate's Baby and the Inserts."
"I like all these bands," Bangs added, though it might be hard to tell with his ungenerous, off-base assertion that these bands aped JohnnyJoeyDeeDeeTommy. But we are jumping ahead of ourselves here.
"There used to be a wall all along here," Gomez gestures toward the entrance before indicating the southeast corner.
"Raul's was furnished with pool tables and a bar in the rear," notes historian John Slate, several years past his role as pioneering Austin punk zine editor Control Rat X of Xiphoid Process, in an item about Raul's for the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas website. "A stage was in the front of the room, with a very small dressing room adjacent to the front door."
"The stage was there, in front of the window, from where that pool table was to the wall," Gomez continues. Indicating where we are standing, he says, "This is where you would have to step up. The bar is pretty much in the same place. I don't think ours was that long."
Was the office in its current location? "Oh, no. We didn't even have an office." The giant rat mural painted in 1979 by UT students Sarita Crocker and Claire LaVaye, which adorned the back wall, is now covered by the same rustic wood which comprises the Mockingbird's entire interior. It remains preserved underneath, covered by a sheet of plexiglass.
The 2,631-square-foot structure was built in 1944, the year before Raul "Roy" Gomez was born to immigrants from San Luis Potosí, Mexico. As he grew up in East Austin and tried vainly to train those gringo school teachers his name's proper pronunciation, 2610 Guadalupe bore several different monikers. These included Touchdown Lounge, Pink Lizard Lounge, Buffalo Gap, and the Hungry Horse.
"Jesse [Sublett] and I used to play there when we were in Jelly Roll," says Skunks guitarist/Violators roadie Eddie Muñoz. "It was called the Hungry Horse. It had about 10 names since 1974."
Gomez lived a few blocks from lifelong friend Joseph Gonzales, and stayed on the Eastside even after marrying and pursuing a career in the restaurant business. A 1960 photograph by Neal Douglass depicts 2-J Hamburgers ("Over 6 million sold") with a large model of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Sanders emerging from its roof, holding a sign reading "Colonel Sanders Recipe." Gomez began working at 2-J around the time of this photo, managing the KFC side of the business. Company Vice President Jearl Ledbetter eventually started 2-J Restaurants, running Sandy's Hamburgers on Barton Springs Road and developing the Short Stop chain.
"That Was All Because of Project Terror"
In 1977, after he and his wife built a house in North Austin, Gomez decided he wanted to start a Tejano bar in UT's West Campus area. He bought out the rock club that had been at 2610 Guadalupe, Gemini's, installing Gonzales as manager of the newly renamed Raul's. Gonzales handled day-to-day operations and booking, as his close friend Bobby Morales worked security.
"Bobby was of the stature that he could be intimidating, if need be," laughs Gomez. "He kept things peaceful."
Generally sweet in disposition, future Delinquents leader Brian S. Curley on several occasions witnessed Morales go from zero to "don't fuck with this ol' boy" in a few seconds' time. He had special ire for the neighborhood frat boys.
"They started driving by in their fucking Z28s, Camaro GTOs, and Trans Ams, throwing beer cans at people standing out front smoking," laughs Curley. "Bobby would stand out there with a couple of full beer cans. And if somebody would drive by and throw a full can of beer at somebody, Bobby would fire two back! I saw him break at least one windshield, and no, they did not stop!"
The Raul's management triumvirate was perfectly content presenting everyone from local conjuntos like Salaman, led by Ben Marinez, and Steve Jordan, the notorious Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. Muñoz recalls seeing Shorty & the Corvettes and Little Joe y la Familia there many times.
"I would go in there when Raul and those guys bought the joint, just to hear the Mexican bands," he says. "I heard it one night on the Drag, and I thought, 'I can't believe I'm hearing this! Conjunto music on the Drag?! I gotta go!' It's music of my youth, and it's happy music, even if you're singing about revolution."
Joe Teutsch, an Anglo guitarist from Dumas who gained the nom de stage Joe "King" Carrasco by playing with conjuntos, rocked that happy revolutionary sound a number of times at Raul's with both Shorty & the Corvettes and Salaman. He also had a sprawling, San Antonio-style R&B outfit called El Molino, continuing gigging there as the room transitioned to something else.
Raul's still presented local hard rockers Project Terror, a leftover from Gemini's, on Thursday nights. January 12, 1978, Project Terror drummer Stevie Wilson's girlfriend's band opened. She was Marilyn Dean, 17-year-old drummer for Austin's First Punk Band, the Violators. Austin's nascent punk scene got what's now called a "soft opening" at Raul's that night.
"That was all because of Project Terror," insists Violators guitarist Kathy Valentine, who remarks that the distortion of the timeline and lack of credit where credit's due "pisses [her] off … It was their idea."
Precious little is known about them these days. "Austin, Texas band formed by Billy Maddox," reads their discogs.com entry, which also lists their membership: Maddox, normally a drummer, on guitar and vocals; Stevie Wilson, drums; Tony Dukes, bass; and one Eric Johnson on guitar. Others remember them as a threepiece: Maddox, Wilson, and future local bass guitar all-star Glenn Fukunaga. The former lineup is listed on Discogs for an obscure 45 released in 1977 on E.G. Records, "In Memory of Buda" b/w "Thermal Underwear," which the music database classifies as "Hard Rock, Avantgarde, Prog Rock, Heavy Metal." Their page is accompanied by a photo of three Project Terrorists with Ted Nugent, which should scare off all but the most ardent, die-hard fans of boneheaded Camaro & hash pipe rock.
"Project Terror was NOT a prog band," growls Muñoz. "They were down and dirty. They would have been prog only if Bill had been playing drums instead of Stevie Wilson."
"It's true that Project Terror played a part in cultivating ground zero for Austin's punk scene at Raul's, and I suppose Gemini's before that," says Violators bassist Jesse Sublett. He adds that if they weren't prog, they did cover Frank Zappa and Hendrix, concluding that he considers them "a garage rock band."
"They were doing Frank Zappa-ish, punky songs, yes," agrees Muñoz. "They couldn't help it. They all came from a serious background. But they were also funny motherfuckers. You could say they were a joke band. It started on a lark, and Bill wrote some stupidly funny songs."
"They were great musicians, and they were cool," says Valentine. "They saw the same things other people saw in punk. They liked the energy, so they started Project Terror. It wasn't by any means a traditional or classic punk band, but they wanted the freedom to do something outside of what they had been doing. Bill played drums with Eric Johnson in the Electromagnets. In Project Terror, Bill played guitar. But they're the ones that approached Joseph and Bobby about the first gig, Project Terror and the Violators. It was mainly their audience."
"We’ve Got Some Different Kind of Music Coming!"
Sublett credits Texas blues rocker Van Wilks with naming the Violators, as well as Valentine and Dean's earlier aggregate Lickedysplit.
"Jesse was playing with us because he was friends with Eddie," says Violators lead guitarist Carla Olson, who passed a lot of essential musical knowledge and skills on to bandmate Valentine and boyfriend Muñoz. "And he saw us struggling, trying to rehearse without a bass player. And he said, 'Well, I'll play bass for you.'"
Sublett recalls both bands opening for Tubes-style theatrical satirists Uranium Savages at Soap Creek Saloon on New Year's Eve 1977. This stemmed from a recording session the Skunks played, demoing songs Savages guitarist Charles Ray had written.
"They hated us!" laughs Sublett. "Margaret Moser liked us, maybe a couple of other people. But we were roundly hated. And Kerry [Awn, chief Uranium Savage] came up while they were setting up and delivered this monologue about how we were gay, how awful we were. Man, it pissed me off!"
"We started getting booked, and then the Skunks got going with Eddie on guitar and Billy Blackmon," says Olson of Austin's Second Punk Band. "Billy was working at the Schlotzsky's on South Congress. He was a great drummer, and he used a huge, huge marching snare, so it sounded like the Kinks! And Billy was a huge Mick Avory fan. They started playing together not long after us, maybe a couple of months. But we were there first."
Four days after the Sex Pistols left a lot of slack-jawed Austinites in their wake in San Antonio, the Violators played Raul's for the first time. Moser sounded the bell in her "Inside Austin" column for The Austin Sun, headlined "Austin Goes Punk": "Call it punk, call it new wave; whatever it's called, it's made its way to Austin's music scene," she hyperventilates. "The Violators are not only loud, but are predominantly female and young."
They warmed up Project Terror's crowd with a brace of instant punk classics – the Pistols' "Pretty Vacant," Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance," the Damned's "Problem Child."
"It was mainly covers, because I had been so focused on trying to be a good guitar player," says Valentine. "We just wanted to be a punk band, so the way to do that was to either play a song we liked faster and with more snarling, kinda unintelligible vocals, or to play an actual punk song."
She recalls renditions of Iggy and the Stooges' "Shake Appeal," the Pistols' "Sub-Mission," Mott the Hoople's "Death May Be Your Santa Claus," and "'Let's Spend the Night Together' really fast, like 90 mph." Then Muñoz delivered a righteous, set-ending reading of "Search and Destroy" before picking himself up from the pools of spilled beer and disconnecting Marshall 4x12 cabinets.
"Jesse brought a song or two in, and Jesse and I wrote a song or two," Valentine reveals. Among Sublett's contributions was "Gimme Some," a co-write with Muñoz. Sublett's book Never the Same Again recalls its composition being a mutation of the Spencer Davis Group's white soul chestnut "Gimme Some Lovin'." The lyrics stemmed from overhearing Dean and Valentine discussing "the sexual attributes of certain guys in local bands." "You call me on the telephone," snarled Valentine in the Violators' rendering. "You say you don't like being alone/ So I say I'm going home/ Hey boy, you wanna come?/ Gimme gimme gimme gimme/ Gimme gimme gimme some!"
"Joseph saw more people in the club than he'd seen in a while," says Valentine. "So he immediately gave us another gig. I think that's when the Skunks said, 'Hey, we've got a place to play now!'"
"Joseph told me, 'We've got some different kind of music coming!'" Gomez laughs. "'Be aware!'"
"The Lyrics Were Sick, but the Song Seemed to Energize the Crowd …"
January 14, 1978: Johnny Rotten ends the Sex Pistols at their biggest gig ever, at San Francisco's Winterland, archly snarling, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" The mainstream media declares punk rock over, a flash in the pan. 14 days later, January 28, 1978: Austin's punk scene, largely inspired by the mayhem the Pistols unleashed at Randy's Rodeo 20 days earlier, begins at a Tejano bar on the Drag.
Sublett's Never the Same Again account of the evening has a half-dozen plastic cups and cans hurled at the stage by the third song of the Skunks' opening set. Hardly the deluge the Pistols met at Randy's Rodeo, but enough for the singer/bassist to hope for a swift end to the fad. His mind's eye sees "maybe a hundred people" witnessing their set, including the Count Five garage standard "Psychotic Reaction," Nick Lowe's Ramones pastiche "Heart of the City," and Muñoz's charmingly titled "Adolf Hitler Was a Closet Case."
"The lyrics were sick, but the song seemed to energize the crowd," he quips.
"I don't think there were that many there," demurs Curley, there with future wife (and fellow future Delinquent) Mindy Church, after houseguest Richard Luckett – licking his wounds on their couch after getting kicked out of the Coast Guard in Galveston – met the Skunks that afternoon. "Maybe 50 or 60, more like. 100 was a big crowd at Raul's. And those first shows, especially the local bands, didn't start getting bigger crowds until later."
The small crowd divided their reaction as the Skunks flexed their considerable musical muscles. They mixed Sixties and Seventies power-chord rockers with Sublett's incrementally increasing stash of originals – Stooges/Dolls-ish ravers such as "Thigh High" and "Television Lover." Some punters resembled deer in headlights, unsure of what they were witnessing. The rest split sharply between instant fans and instant haters.
The Violators, meantime, "turned a lot of regular guys into mouth breathers," he continued in his book. "I should've expected it after the Skunks' set, but there were a lot of freaky reactions … You'd have thought the girls were naked."
"It was mainly people who didn't seem to know what to make of cute girls playing guitars and drums," remembers Valentine. "More than the music, it was the fact that we were female that they had no reference for. The only females in Austin doing this played fiddle – Marcia Ball was the only real musician in a band. Everybody else played fiddle or sang or were folk people."
More than anything, it was the shock of the new. The Skunks were a powerful hard rock act with a Sixties garage vocabulary traveling at Ramones velocity, featuring a budding songwriter with a strong Lou Reed influence. The Violators were mostly young, attractive women playing loud, fast, Sex Pistols-meets-Ramones punk. And they were doing this in a Tejano bar on the Drag, in a town musically ruled by Cosmic Cowboys and white bluesmen. Everything was changing. You either changed with it, or you opposed it. There was no room for the lukewarm.