1970s Austin No. 3: Eddie Wilson on nightlife shifts

We asked thoughtful locals why the 1970s left such a lasting imprint on Austin. We received many provocative answers, which we’ll share here first. 

Feel free to send yours to mbarnes@statesman.com.

Eddie Wilson, founder of the Armadillo World Headquarters (1970-1980), current owner of Threadgill’s and community historian

Note: This was pieced together from a wide-ranging afternoon conversation with Wilson at his home in early 2016.

In 1973, the Texas drinking age was lowered to 18. For the first time, clubs opened until 2 a.m. Liquor by the drink came in. Sixteen-year-olds with their sisters’ ID came in. That got the 35-year-olds off the sofa and back on the streets.

Soap Creek Saloon actually had more to do with sinking the nail of the times — hippies mixing with rednecks — than the Armadillo. We were more “All in the Family” by comparison. Soap Creek was out of town. Right before your eyes you could see the rednecks coming out of the hills with the slightly longer hair. It was the hippie chicks’ fault.

The Armadillo was hidden behind a roller rink at South First Street and Barton Springs Road. Not out in the open, but somehow in the open.

I like to think (Nighthawks owner) Harry Akin had something to do with the change in the times. He gets credit for integrating Austin restaurants. Had a black manager at the door. We’d go over to the No. 1 Bar behind the Nighthawk across from Armadillo, dressed up, looking good, minding our manners, flirting with the girls in lampshade dresses and fishnet. The guys in suits were livid. So they came over to our place. Bob Bullock, Ed Wendler, Sr., all of them.

Historical Beer SHINER 2.JPG
1976 Hand out photo of the Beer Garden at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: Burton Wilson.

The late hours, liquor by the drink, the proliferation of honky tonks who could put a band on the concrete floor in front of the pool table: The Austin music scene went from almost nothing to more than you can count.

The Checkered Flag under Rod Kennedy combined American folk music with race cars. One of the hardest to like people I’ve ever known. The Vulcan Gas Company opened the very same month that the Checkered Flag opened. The crowd was out into the middle of the street, barefooted. Those two three blocks of Congress Avenue were vacant.

There were toilet bowls and mannekin parts sticking out from storefronts on Congress. Poster artist Jim Franklin thought for sure they would get busted, climbing upstair to “Jim’s Attic.” It was Faulknerian and I’m from Mississippi. It looked like everything that America was afraid of.

Why was the armadillo adopted as the mascot? Because Jim Franklin is a genius. He picked it because it was so unusual and multi-layered. In symbolism, it replicates the hippie. Bud Shrake did an article in Sports Illustrated in 1970 about it: The armadillo was freaky looking, well-designed for survival, nocturnal like hippies and shared their houses like people do.


1970s Austin No. 1

1970s Austin No. 2

Author: Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history for the Austin American-Statesman and austin360.com.

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