It has been argued that Austin in the 1970s set the stage for Austin in the 2010s.
And no outfit better reflected the open, unhurried, hybrid city of the ’70s than the Armadillo World Headquarters, the big crossover music, food and drink emporium behind a skating rink at South First Street and Barton Springs Road.
Thanks to its founder, Eddie Wilson, and his buddy, author and musician Jesse Sublett, we now have a more complete understanding of the place. Their magnificent new book, “Armadillo World Headquarters,” is not just a collection of anecdotes, it is a crucial measure of its time and place.
It is now available at both Threadgill’s locations. It will arrive in bookstores as well soon.
With the authors’ encouragement, we’ll offer occasional excerpts from this fabulous Austin history. Send your own memories and images from the era to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the first chapter, Wilson sets up the unlikely origins of the Armadillo HQ during a late night call of nature.
“If not for the coincidence of a swollen bladder and a flimsy lock on a derelict building, there might never have been a place called Armadillo World Headquarters. What followed is such a strange and unlikely story that, 45 years later, I sometimes wonder if it really happened at all.
“But it did happen, starting on a night in July 1970 after I had consumed several warm beers watching a band called the Hub City Movers at a South Austin bar called the Cactus Club. I needed to take a leak, but a long line of guys waiting to use an overflowing urinal stirred a primal instinct to venture outdoors.
“Joining me on this quest were band members Jimmie Dale Gilmore and John Reed. We crossed the parking lot and found a wall that suited our purpose. Normally, I might have told them how much I enjoyed their set, but as I stood there relieving myself in the dim light, I was having a fantastic vision, one that compared with the best chemically enhanced hallucinations I’ve ever experienced — and I’ve had some doozies, skull epics that would compete with Steven Spielberg and Cecil B. DeMille.
“My epiphany was prompted by the sight of a cinderblock wall, maybe 200 feet long and more than 20 feet tall. High up were rows of metal-framed windows, some of them broken. There had to be a huge room on the other side.
“After zipping up, I left them and walked around the building in the dark until I found a loading dock on the west side. It was even darker there, because of a giant oak tree looming overhead, but I was still able to jimmy the lock and slip inside. The only light came through the overhead windows, but what I could see was enough to make my heartbeat shift into jackrabbit gear.
“The blend of fear and excitement was just as strong as when, four years earlier, after being tricked into joining the Marine Corps, I had gotten lost and stoned in the wilds of Mexico and gone bull riding.
“I went back to get ‘Big Blue,’ my ’66 Dodge Charger, and drove around to the building. I raised the garage door, pulled in, got out, and held my breath. It was an auditorium, enormous and scary.
“Scary because I knew that I was looking at my future.”