Eddie Wilson‘s long-awaited book, “Armadillo World Headquarters,” written with Jesse Sublett, is packed with well-told stories. With their permission, we are sharing some of the choice yarns over the course of a few weeks.
The Austin spot at South First Street and Barton Springs Road was known for more than music, beer and other recreational substances. Food was central to its identity. Many of the stories in the book revolve around the kitchen, where visiting musicians often gravitated.
In this case, legendary singer-songwriter Van Morrison presented a humorous conundrum for Wilson’s crew:
“We were pleased as punch that Van Morrison chose the Armadillo to kick off his Caledonia Soul Express tour in January 1974. Van was big box office at the time, and to cover the premium price we paid to get him, we raised the cover to $3 for his show. All three nights sold out.
Van was supernaturally gifted and more than a little eccentric, but we did our best to keep him comfortable and happy. Genie and I even put him up at our house. During his entire stay in Austin, a young, attractive female companion did all his talking for him. She was introduced as his ‘masseuse and interpreter.’ A typical interaction went like this:
‘Van would like an omelet,’ said the interpreter
‘OK, I’ll be glad to make Van an omelet,’ I said.
Whisper, whisper, whisper.
‘Van would like me to make his omelet,’ said the interpreter.
‘Sure thing. No problem.’
It was a weird three days and nights.
Looking back on all of this, it almost seems preordained that the former lead singer of the band, Them, who popularized the durable-as-a-hammer songs ‘Gloria’ and ‘Here Comes the Night,’ would be knighted in 2015 by Queen Elizabeth. His full title became Sir George Ivan Morrison OBE (Order of the British Empire).
After the last night of Morrison’s three-night run, we made an inquiry into how he had enjoyed the backstage hospitality. We were informed that Van enjoyed the spread, but he didn’t get the shrimp enchiladas Jerry Garcia had told him about. Jan Beeman promised Van that if he came back, she’d have a big heaping plate ready for him.
Van already had another gig on Sunday, but he was off on Monday. We had nothing on the calendar for Monday. Van was agreeable to another show, so we booked the gig, got the word out, and Monday evening, Sir Van had enchiladas for dinner.
One year after taking Frank Zappa to see the yurts (an Austin colony living in round Mongolian tents), I took Morrison to see them. Van listened to the spiel about the healing powers and other attributes of yurts, but unlike Zappa, he never asked a question or spoke a word. That wasn’t surprising, since he hadn’t said a thing during his stay at my house either.
As we left Yurtsville, I was anxious to know what Van thought about it. ‘What does Van think about the yurts?’ I said.
Whisper, whisper, whisper.
‘Van says he really needs his corners.’”
Remembering the 1970s
Send your own memories of the Armadillo World Headquarters to firstname.lastname@example.org.