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¡Viva Terlingua!
¡Viva Terlingua!

The TXST exhibit serves as a tribute to Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band. Above, at the piano is Lost Gonzo Band bass player Bob Livingston. Below, Livingston checks out images of the band that are part of the exhibit presented by Wittliff Collections.
Daily Record photos by Shannon West

¡Viva Terlingua!

Lost Gonzo Band bass player Bob Livingston, left., Texas Music Curator Hector Saldana, center, and band guitarist Craig Hillis.
Daily Record photo by Shannon West

¡Viva Terlingua!

Sunday, September 17, 2023

'I wonder, Lord, has every well I've drilled gone dry?'

The words of Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band still ring as true today as they did in August of 1973 when they recorded their pivotal record.

More of those words may now be heard than ever before as previously unreleased recordings can be heard as part of a unique exhibit in San Marcos.

Texas State University has a tribute to the ¡Viva Terlingua! album on view through Spring 2025, at the Wittliff Collections on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library. The album was recorded in the famous dance hall in Luckenbach, Texas and gets its name from a bumper sticker on the barn-style door. The exhibit features instruments, photographs and other memorabilia related to the band and other prominent musicians and figures of that time. Playing in the background is music recorded during the ¡Viva Terlingua! Session, a 16-track analog tape of a live performance, that was lost in time, previously unreleased.

Walker, who passed away in 2020, was not always a country music star. Prior to the Lost Gonzo Band, The Wittliff Collections Texas Music Curator Hector Saldana said Walker wrote 'Mr. Bojangles,' was in a psychedelic rock band and went AWOL from the New York National Guard, living under an alias for three years.

“He was born in New York,” Saldana said. “So, you have this New York guy that made the Texas record.”

Jerry Jeff Walker and The Lost Gonzo Band’s Craig Hillis, who played guitar, and Bob Livingston, who played bass and other instruments, perused the exhibit with excitement and took what could only be described as a trip down memory lane—taking pictures and singing along to the lost recordings that they had never heard and played 50 years prior.

“It’s exciting,” Livingston said. “To have somebody think it’s worth doing a whole collection on.”

Livingston recalled when the album was originally recorded all those years ago, noting that they were in their 20s with no idea what they were doing.

“He had gotten a world class recording studio–a mobile unit–from New York to come down,” Livingston said, adding that they plugged it in next to the dance hall, which blew all of the town of Luckenback’s electricity. “Jerry Jeff got there about two in the afternoon, and he’d be making a big vat of sangria.” The song Sangria Wine has the recipe in it, which Livingston said was “really good.”

Saldana listened to the lost recordings with enthusiasm that matched that of the band members, as he pointed out the parts of the recordings that he found to be the most dynamic and discussed how the band led to the creation of the term Outlaw Country—noting that it was a term journalists came up with later in an attempt to describe their music.

'One of the things that makes that record so cool is the chemistry between Jerry Jeff Walker and that band, the Lost Gonzo Band,” Saldana said. “It’s very much like the way Bob Dylan worked with the group, The Band … with Robbie Robertson.”

Saldana added that their music is still relevant and influential half a century later as a Texas State student, Avery Armstrong, wrote her masters thesis on the Lost Gonzo Band in 2020. The thesis can be read online at digital. e7861608-0286-4730b4bc-95593a32d124/full.

“I’m very proud of stuff like that,” Saldana said. “It shows that … we’re not letting this history fall through the cracks.”

Also on display is Livingston’s piano, which he took to playing as soon as he laid eyes on it. The video of this moment is available on his Patreon, an online service to pay artists directly. He said the piano keys were a bit worn out from being played too much by various musicians.

'Reese Wynans, who was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Stevie Ray Vaughn,” Livingston said. “He played it.”

Livingston added that the band was a rag tag group of “Yay-hoos” that happened to take off.

“We played Carnegie Hall twice,” Livingston said. “It was just amazing.”

Livingston told a story about one of the Carnegie Hall shows in which Walker goaded him into a fight, adding that he could not imagine hitting anyone now.

“He would bring you to a point where the only answer was a fist,” Livingston said as he chuckled. “We walked on stage and Jerry’s got a black eye, and as soon as he went ‘Hi Buckaroos,’ this naked girl streaked the stage.”

Adding that combination of events really set the stage for an interesting show. Livingston said he and the rest of the band were just excited to be involved.

“We were young–freshfaced with beards,” Livingston said. “We couldn’t even believe we were making a record at a dance hall in Luckenbach, Texas.”

Hillis said that 1973 was a time of inner turmoil for the United States, which bred a lot of divergent views and made for great art.

“A lot of these different genres with respect to music, with respect to art were mixed and matched together– hence, the album at hand,” Hillis said. “Where you have Jerry Jeff–a folk singer, if ever there was a folk singer, a rock and roll guitar player, another folk singer Bob Livingston playing bass, Michael Mc-Geary–a drummer from San Diego–along with his buddy Kelly Dunn, and then the beautiful Mary Egan who was a classically trained violinist. So, that’s a pretty good hodge podge.”

Hillis described Walker fondly, saying that he was enigmatic and incredibly talented.

“He had an idea of who and what he wanted to create,” Hillis said. “And he went about it in an effective way.”

Hillis is currently writing a book, “¡Viva Terlingua! Jerry Jeff Walker and the Creation of a Classic,' to be published in Spring 2024.

San Marcos Record

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