I want to go home with the Armadillo….
As an iconic phrase as has ever been written in the annals of Texas music. The man that supplied it was an Oklahoman turned University of Texas hippie cowboy who fell in with a rowdy bunch making noise around Austin that included Ronald Clyde Crosby, Russell Wier, Michael Murphey, Ray Hubbard, Guy Charles Clark and John Van Zandt. These guys provided a framework and network for the burgeoning musician Gary P. Nunn to ditch his pharmacist plans and begin chasing music with the same level-headed common sense he had applied to his studies. The Lost Gonzo Band bloomed around this time to back up all these guys who would craft stage names like Jerry Jeff Walker, Rusty Wier, Michael Martin Murphey, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. Nunn proved an adept combo with bassist Bob Livingston to back up any act on any type of song. He continued writing songs while playing guitar, piano, bass and just about anything else. The Lost Gonzo phase petered out around the same time the Armadillo World Headquarters closed and Nunn went solo.
It was at this time, that he became even more prolific as a songwriter. A natural musician, Nunn also became adept at lending common phrases a weighty consciousness. This is the case, most famously, on “The Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”. The tale of a woman walking out on her man is peppered with slices of everyday life details that cut to the bone. Lines like “I spilled all the coffee, and I opened the door on my knee” seem inconsequential out of context, but alarmingly brutal within the song.
The early solo years found Nunn treading water and driving hundreds of miles to only play for a couple hundred bucks. This was the lean years between the 70’s insurgence and the 90’s redux boom. He could be heard each Saturday night on your local PBS station, and then live in person at the local dive. His place as the father of progressive country music in this state was cemented when he began cranking out songs like “Guadalupe Days”, “What I Like About Texas”, “Road Trip”,
He found contemporaries in folks like Brian Burns and Larry Joe Taylor. Nunn even launched his own festival called “Terlingua North” that served as a launching pad for many hot bands of the late 90’s/early 00’s including some young upstarts named Pat Green and Cross Canadian Ragweed. Gary P. became an institution and a living legend walking among those he influenced. Along with his 70’s buddies, Jerry Jeff, Rusty, Murphey and RWH, he continued to influence from the stage and from the songbook. A blueprint emerged of writing songs, playing them, having others cover them, touring the hell out of the state and region and then repeating it. Gary P. Nunn was a good time, a good influence and a good guy. All things that were apparent the first time you met him, saw him or heard him play.
The announcement this week that Gary P. Nunn will be retiring from touring after 50 years hitting the highways is one that should be respected and lauded. This life ain’t easy and he did it better than most, longer than most without too many scars to show for it. That’s pretty incredible. Gary P.’s legacy is one that will last forever. He’s been proclaimed the Official Ambassador of Texas to the World by the Governor’s Office, as well as the Official Ambassador for Texas. Throw in the platinum and gold records from the covers of his songs, one of the most iconic songs to ever emerge from the Lone Star state, an lineage and tree of songwriters and musicians to have played with and around him and Gary P. Nunn may be putting the van in park, but the music will drive on in perpetuity.