Special Exhibit & Tribute: 2 Austin Music Icons

Forty years ago, in 1970, there was a shift in the counter culture continuum. The Vulcan Gas Company closed in April and in August that same year the Armadillo World Headquarters opened.

The Vulcan folks had been producing music performances for a year or so starting in the mid 1960s- at first at Doris Miller Auditorium, and then in October 1967 the Vulcan Gas Company opened at 316 Congress Avenue, headed up by Don Hyde, Gary Maxwell, Sandy Lockett and Houston White. For the next almost-three-years those young people turned musical experiences around to another dimension. Not only did they book the leading psychedelic bands like Shiva’s Headband, the 13th Floor Elevators and the Velvet Underground, masters of the blues scene appeared- young Johnny Winter and his trio, not so young Big Joe Williams, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters. Local bands like the Conqueroo, Greezy Wheels, Angela Strehli and the Georgetown Medical Band were regular performers. The Vulcan staff made up for somewhat rustic conditions inside with a light show that made patrons forget about the appearance of the joint. (Article continues below slideshow.)

Click through the art and photos below to take a tour of the the ending of one and the beginning of another. The photos are a preview of the latest special exhibit and tribute at the South Austin Popular Culture Center.

With the arrival of 1970, it was clear the Vulcan was failing. Even with a benefit concert by Johnny Winter in March 1970, the club would close in April.

Shiva’s Headband had a record deal and a new manager, Austinite Eddie Wilson. Eddie, along with supporters like writer Bud Shrake, young attorney Mike Tolleson and key people from the Vulcan, including Jim Franklin and Bobby Hedderman, used a portion of the funds from Shiva’s record deal advance (yes, they were young, and it’s a good thing; if they’d been older and wiser they’d never have embarked down that path) and opened the Armadillo World Headquarters on August 7, 1970.

The contribution made by Spencer & Susan Perskin and the rest of Shiva’s Headband cannot be understated. Using their record production advance meant they had to cut corners in the production of their record, and they chose to make that sacrifice. Shiva’s was the defacto house band at the ‘dillo and supplied listeners with their special brand of psychedelic rock.

Armadillo World Headquarters began a 10 year ride, booking an eclectic mix of national and local bands, hosted the Austin Ballet Theatre once a month and the Friends of Traditional Music. A musician referral service was started and an art gallery sprung forth. Onion Audio, Hank Alrich’s recording studio, was housed inside the former armory building.

The ‘Dillo staff were also instrumental in the birth of the television show Austin City Limits. A body of music related artwork was amassed that was like no other before it…or after. Due to increasing financial difficulties a major shift in management occurred in fall 1976 –the joint regrouped and was actually stronger than before, successfully working through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization lead by musician and Onion Audio owner Hank Alrich. After the landlord, MK Hage, sold the property in 1979, the Armadillo World Headquarters closed December 31, 1980.

What is shown here is a mere overview of the two music venues, focusing primarily on the artwork created. Although there are over 400 items being exhibited, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what is available to document these two music clubs. Hopefully with the art, the press clippings and photographs on display visitors will get a sense of what the clubs were about and the impact they had on Austin and its culture. The showcase opens June 5 and runs through August 28.

Leave a Reply

1516-B S Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78704 | (512) 440-8318
Usual hours of operation are Thursday through Sunday 1 – 6pm and by appointment or chance.
Like us on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter | Follow us on Instagram