The Lost Gonzo Band
A Brief History by Bob Livingston
Poster by Danny Garrett.
As I remember things... THE LOST GONZO BAND got its name in early 1972 on the way to a Jerry Jeff gig at a club in Austin called Castle Creek. It was cold outside, but Austin was jumping with new adventures and we were in the thick of it. I was riding in the back of a black Checker cab with Michael McGeary, Herb Steiner and Craig Hillis. Gary Nunn was at the wheel. Gary had bought this fine ride from a guy that had driven it down from New York and he had painted it jet black. It had a big back seat with lots of space that could hold a lot of musicians and equipment. It was a cosmic limo and we went everywhere in it.
(Note: I know exactly what kind of car it was and how it rode and how much space there was because a couple of years later, I borrowed that black Checker from Gary to bring my wife, Iris, and new son, Tucker Boots, home from the hospital.)
We were all bumping along in Gary's Checker with our guitars and amps piled on top of us. Gary was driving erratically for all sorts of reasons. Hillis was trying out an Eric Clapton riff he planned to insert that night in "Pot Can't Call the Kettle Black." Cowboy Herb was holding court on stocks and bonds and McGeary was going on about his latest..uh...conquest. Only I was deep in higher thought...
Lost Gonzo Hot Sauce label by Ben Bays, 1997.
We were playing with both Jerry Jeff & Michael Murphey - sometimes simultaneously! Gary and I had played on Murphey's album, Geronimo's Cadillac and on Jerry Jeff's first MCA album, Jerry Jeff. Gary, Hillis, Herb, McGeary and I had played on Murphey's Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir in Nashville. When we played gigs with Murphey, we were called the 'Cosmic Cowboy Orchestra'. But with Jerry Jeff, we were a band without a name, no identity. It was spooky. So we had to come up with a different name every night. "The Unborn Calves" & "The Rodeo-dee Riff Raff" are two fine examples of our genius. Jerry Jeff was a part of these games, but he gave us a lot of leeway and mostly left it up to us.
Poster by Bill Holloway, 1971
(Another note: Searching for a band name is always an unique endeavor and you never know where it will lead. In 1969, I was in Breckenridge, Colorado playing in a band with Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rick Fowler and Michael McGeary. We needed a name for the band and were tired of looking at random words in National Geographic, so we wrote down words on pieces of paper and put 'em in two hats. We each wrote down 20 words, they were supposed to be additives and nouns but things got all mixed up. Four guys X 20 words = 80 divided by two = forty possible band names in one round! Then you can scramble them around and do it again, and again. Hours of fun! "Icewater Enema," "Blue Goop," "Flintlock Termite," "Burned Out Vagabonds" and "Bloody Chimney" came out of this session. During one of my turns, I pulled out the words "Tucker Boots." I thought it was a cool name for a band, but eventually "Texas Fever" won out. Years later, I named my first son, Tucker Boots Livingston.)
Meanwhile, back in the Cosmic Checker...
In the BIG back seat, I was consumed with reading a book called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Allah rest his soul). It was gonzo this & gonzo that with a lot of talk about "Dr. Gonzo" and gonzo states of being. As we were pulling up to Castle Creek someone asked, "Who are we gonna be tonight?" I had just read a passage about 'getting gonzo last night" so I offered, "What about the gonzo band?...the lost gonzo band?"
Everyone said OK and the "gonzo" name stuck. Jerry Jeff liked it too because he was a personal friend of Thompson and if there ever was was a gonzo character, it was Jerry Jeff. With Jacky Jack plowing ahead, we were hurtling down wild dirt roads & backstreet highways and played the roadhouses and honky tonks of America like nobody's business...
Gonzo publicity photo for MCA, our record company.
In late 1972, we had to make a choice about playing with either Murphey or Jerry Jeff. Hillis, McGeary, Herb and I chose Jerry Jeff. Gary had gone to England with Murphey and came back with a song called "London Homesick Blues." Kelly Dunn, a California keyboard player MeGeary brought to town, joined the band. We all met back up with Jerry Jeff in Luckenbach, Texas and recorded the classic Viva Terlingua in the dance hall. That was the first time the Lost Gonzo Band name appeared in print. Sweet Mary Egan, Micky Raphael, from Willie's band, and Jo Ann Vent were also there. For the next record, Collectibles, John Inmon, a great Austin guitar player who had played with a rock band with Gary called Genessee joined up after Hillis left for personal reasons. John had been in the wings for awhile, playing with Murphey after we left him to play with Jerry Jeff. We had to get him in the band and finally did. We were really rockin' & rollin' now! We added wild man, Thomas Ramirez on sax & Donny Dolan became the Gonzo drummer. We were kick ass and opened most of the Jerry jeff shows. We finally got a record deal of our own and cut two albums for MCA: Lost Gonzo Band in 1974 and Thrills in '75.
Another wacky Gonzo publicity photo!
We really wanted to tour and record more on our own, so we left Jerry Jeff at the end of 1976. There have been a lot of other "once and future Gonzos" along the way: Bobby Smith joined us in 1976 and took over the bass duties from Gary and I so we could concentrate on piano, guitar, singing and jumping around onstage. Mike Holloman, a young talented drummer from College Station became our 'youth element.' We cut Signs of Life for Capitol in 1976 and embarked on a hectic schedule of touring. Holloman left us to play in the pit band for the Broadway version of "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," so we got Paul Pearcy, an ubiquitous drummer who played with everyone, and the only Austin native of the lot.
Kelly Dunn, Gary P. Nunn, Bob Livingston, Mike Holloman, Bobby
Smith and John Inmon at the House of Wax in 1976.
We left Jerry Jeff with great expectations. We had received great reviews in magazines and papers like Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. Our manager, Michael Brovsky, put us out on the road in a Buick station wagon and a big Chevy truck to hold our equipment. We toured everywhere and played every joint and cock-pit from Louisiana to Long Island. We played honky-tonks and buckets-of-blood in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, dodging beer bottles and wild punches. We played with jugglers in Canada, the Allman Brothers in Nashville and with the one eyed beggar in Juarez. We also played some pretty cool venues like the Bitter End in New York and the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix. We started another record project in 1979 and recorded over 50 songs. Brovsky said we could be the "Moody Blues of country music," but Capital said, "Where's the country band we signed?" We dropped out of the major label race by mutual design.
Out on the road, it became a rogues gallery of insanity and the band broke up on a cold windswept day after a freezing tornado night in Nebraska in 1980. We weren't exactly at each others throats, but close. Both of our vehicles were broken down, so we each took separate flights home and left *John T. Davis, our roadie at the time, to sort things out, repair our band truck and drive home alone. I think we left the Buick in a cornfield...
*John T later became a writer for such publications as the Austin American-Statesman, the Austin, Chronicle, the American Way, Dirty Lenin and many more.
New Gonzo directions...
We were crazed, broke and homesick and we had to do something to support our families. At that exact time, Ray Wylie Hubbard called me up and asked me if I was free to play some gigs with him. He didn't even know the Gonzos had split up a few days before. I said well...yes, I guess I can find the time and called John and Paul and we joined right up. For me, this is still one of the most fun musical experiences I have ever had. Ray Wylie was fair and square and absolutely hilarious and fun at all times. I loved his songs and we were really rockin'! And we made good money, a major plus after the last few years.
Bob Livingston, Ray Wylie and John Inmon at
Willie's Picnic 1980. Not pictured on drums, Paul Pearcy. (Photo by Scott Newton)
Gary moved to Oklahoma, played his own shows with the Sons of the Bunkhouse Band and recorded, Nobody But Me, the first of 12 solo albums. He wasn't around Austin much, so John, Paul and I occasionally played as a Gonzo trio. We called ourselves the Gonzo Survivors and had some wild nights at a bar on 5th street called Smitty's in the 80's - "Gonzo Nite!" Lot's of folks sat in - Ely, Butch, Jerry Jeff. We also played at a club called the Treehouse several times. Once, on Christmas night, Stevie Ray Vaughan came in and sat in the corner listening to John's hot licks.
Dan Cook (sound man, roadie & friend) Paul, Bob,
Stevie Ray & John confer in front of a meat locker at the Treehouse... (Photo by Peach Reynolds.)
In 1982, John and I got back with Jerry Jeff again and the gonzo standard was upheld with the advent of the Gonzo Compadres! Freddie Steady Krc, a rock steady drummer from LaPorte who had played with Jerry Jeff in the Bandito Band after the Gonzos left in 1977, joined up too. John, Freddie and I blasted through gonzo space and time with Jacky Jack for much of the 80's & 90's and into the 21st Century!
John, Freddie Steady & Bob after meeting with
the White Buffalo in Wisconsin in 1998.
John and Freddie both left Jerry Jeff in 2002. John released his own CD, plays with folks like Jimmie LaFave and Eliza Gilkyson and does a lot of producing in Austin. Freddie is involved in quite a few projects, has produced several CDs of his own and plays with his own band sometimes called the Shakin' Apostles, sometimes called Wild Country but now days is called the Freddy Steady 5.
From 2003 to November 2006, I played with a new Gonzo Compadre outfit with Mitch Watkins, a great player - who does double duty with Lyle Lovett and his own jazz band and teaches jazz guitar at UT. Steve Samuel joind up on drums who came to town from Los Angeles after playing with folks like Natalie Cole and Englebert Humperdink. These guys are some hot pickers! We kept the Gonzo Spirit burning. I left Jerry Jeff to follow a solo career in November 2006.
"And they call us the Gonzo... the Gonzo Compadres!"
Mitch Watkins, Steve Samuel, Jerry Jeff and Bob. (Photo by Penelope Davies)
Gonzo Rumblings and Rumors (real and imagined)...
It's nice to know that folks out there still remember the Lost Gonzo Band and that the records continue to sell. We have two "modern day" Gonzo CDs: 1992's 20th anniversary, Rendezvous, followed by 1994's, Hands of Time, both on Vireo Records, an independent company out of Austin. In 1998, an English company called Edsel issued a compilation CD of the two MCA records. They called it Dead Armadillos and put Bill Holloway's cover of Thrills on it. We're waiting for Capital to re-release Signs of Life!
Cover of Dead Armadillos, MCA compilation - by Bill Holloway
The LOST GONZO BAND is sort of like Brigadoon. Once every hundred years or so, we appear out on the moors and play a gig, or cut a record. The last time the whole band got together was at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2008. Gary, John, Paul, Kelly Dunn and I were joined by Paul Pearcy, Lloyd Maines and Radoslav Lorkovic. It was a magical and fun night of Gonzo Folk-Rock. Gary, John and I have done a few Lost Gonzo Acoustic Trios over the years, the last being at the Saxon Pub (scene of many crimes) in 2010. The latest 'Brigadoon gig' will be at the MusicFest in Steamboat Springs Colorado in 2012 for a "Legends Tribute." Be there or be L7!!
I know I've left out a lot about the Gonzo history due to the frayed edges of time and the blurred memory of the writer. Like I said, this is "how I remember things..." There will be updates and additions to the story, more gigs to play and books to be written. There are hours and hours of Lost Gonzo live recordings and outtakes for past recording sessions that will one day see the light of day. It 'aint over yet by a long shot.
--B.L Updated July 4, 2011. (Send questions, Gonzo remembrances and photos to Bob@TexasMusic.org)
Check out "All Things Gonzo" in the Photo Section.
EVEN MORE GONZO...
Visit our favorite Gonzo artist, Danny Garrett, and his world famous Lost Gonzo Band poster from the Armadillo World Headquarters circa 1977.
Send your comments and we'll post 'em here!
BACK IN 1977, A FRIEND AND I SKIPPED ONE OF OUR HIGH SCHOOL CLASSES AND DROVE INTO SHERMAN,TEXAS(WE WENT TO SCHOOL IN TOM BEAN)AND WENT TO THE MUSIC STORE WHERE I FOUND AN EIGHT-TRACK OF THE LOST GONZO BAND. ONE OF SONGS WAS ABOUT THE LAST THING I NEEDED THE FIRST THING THIS MORNING WAS TO HAVE YOU WALK OUT ON ME AND ANOTHER SONG WAS ALL ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING THAT I HAD MISSED ........NO BEGINNING AND THERE IS NO END. THAT EIGHT-TRACK FINALLY UNRAVELLED GOING DOWN THE HIGHWAY WHIZZING IN THE WIND,WHERE MOST FOLKS HAD A SIMULAR EXPERIENCE WITH THEIR EIGHT-TRACKS.NOW I WOULD LIKE TO ORDER ALL THAT GOOD OL' STUFF BUT I'D LIKE TO DO THE ORDER THRU THE MAIL FOR YALLS LOST GONZO MUSIC. IS IT POSSIBLE? SINCERELY A FAN FOR LIFE JERRY B. SOUTHER e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
I wanted to write to Mr. Livingston and let him know that his music has greatly influenced my own career in entertainment. thank you Mr. Livingston for keeping it trucking, man.
Also, I should point out that i am a disciple of Mr. Floyd.(Harold "Lucky" Floyd)He was my band director in high school and he taught me two important things:
1. How to be a great musician for a living.
2. How to be a great man for life.
I am indebted to Mr. Floyd for all of his positive influences in my life. I was too young to understand his wisdom back then, i was just a kid. He was like my 2nd dad, because he would get so angry at me, he would turn red in the face... i was his ace in the hole, 1st chair alto saxophone; i am a lead guitarist and vocalist/songwriter now. He turned me on to you. I found
out about you through him.
Thanks for the music, man.
iz abila jr.
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The Band Behind The Best Of Austin's Progressive Musicians, October 26, 2004
In the 1970s the new and interesting music coming out of Austin had the national music columnists looking for the words to describe it..."Progressive Country", "Cosmic Cowboy", "Redneck Rock", or simply "The Austin Music". The music could be experienced at Armadillo World Headquarters or any of the dozens of music clubs in and around Austin.
The core unit of these talented and intelligent musicians were Michael Murphey's original backup band in the early 70s, before joining Jerry Jeff Walker and becoming The Lost Gonzo Band.
The primary Lost Gonzo Band included Bob Livingston, John Inmon, Gary P. Nunn, Donny Dolan, Kelly Dunn, Tomas Rameriz, and sometimes Jimmy Baker. (On "Viva Terlingua" the band also included Craig Hillis, Michael McGeary, Herb Steiner, Mary Egan, Mickey Raipheld, and Joanne Vent.)
The definitive albums of progressive country, the classic "Jerry Jeff Walker" self-titled first Austin album (YET to be released on CD), "Viva Terlingua" (recorded live in the dance hall in the hamlet of Luckenbach, Texas), "Walker's Collectibles", "Ridin' High", "It's A Good Night For Singin'", "A Man Must Carry On", etc, well-represent what was going on in Austin in those years.
In the late 70s the Lost Gonzo Band left Jerry Jeff Walker to record their own albums. Most of the best of the songs from those albums are included on "Dead Armadillos". But like most great bands, they were at their best live.
The Lost Gonzo Band opened for Jerry Jeff Walker in the first season of Austin City Limits. They played outstanding versions of several songs included on this CD, then Jerry Jeff came out and they backed him up for one of the most spontaneous and improvised Austin City Limits ever. For the full hour, beginning with their set until Jerry Jeff joined, it is the Lost Gonzo Band at their video-taped best...free-form, one song flowing into the other, and Jerry Jeff at his most soulful.
The 2nd season of ACL had The Lost Gonzo Band for a 45 min. show without Jerry Jeff Walker. It was another free-flowing performance.
This CD contains the songs they performed in the small clubs of Austin in those heady times in Austin music. (A favorite memory of the band...an entire second set at the original Soap Creek Saloon...extended jams and one song flowed into the next.)
The members of Lost Gonzo Band individually continue to make interesting music. This CD represents the musicians who came to be known as Austin's version of The Band. They could back up any musician like the musician had never been before (or since), and also create their own amazingly original music.
The roots of Cosmic Country
Is it Blues? Is it Jazz? Is It Rock? Is it Country or Texas Swing? And say, doesn't that sound like something the Beatles did? This Gonzo music is part of the roots of what became known as Cosmic Country. The Lost Gonzo band were masters at creating their own sound, and Dead Armadillos, a re-release of their first two albums is a great introduction. I was lucky enough to be in Texas, and frequently in Austin, during the mid 1970s. There was a lot of good music there and it was infused with a sense of energy, excitment, enthusiasm, and fun that is unparalleled. The music on Dead Armadillos reflects that spirit. Also highly recommended is the Lost Gonzo Band's third album "Signs of Life", which I don't believe has been released on CD. It contains the Gonzo's signature song "London Homesick Blues" (I wanna go home to the Armadillo) which became the theme song for the PBS TV series Austin City Limits.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
great songs, lousy packaging
Reviewer: A music fan (Alexandria, Va)
This pulls together the LGB's best LPs -- Thrills and their eponymous debut. The songs are great, tho' mysteriously a couple of songs from the debut album are missing. But, a big-time raspberry to Edsel on the packaging -- particularly the lame liner notes. Seems like an interview with some of the band's principals might have solved some on the mysteries pondered in the notes -- like where are they now, who was M.D.Shafter , etc.
Oh well, don't hold it against the Gonzos 'cuz this reissue label doesn't know what it's doing. Get this one today!
gary p nynn, john inmon, rob libvingston, 3 aces
Reviewer: A music fan
California country it isnt. its all original its Texas music and you cant get any better. These guys influence all genures of music and expecially the country scene wouldnt be what it is today with out these pioneers. Still fresh and inovative. Check out the campfire records website for another infusion of culture.