At Home with the Armadillo

At Home with the Armadillo

by Gary P. Nunn


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 “I want to go home with the Armadillo.”
​And you will, too, once you’ve picked up Gary P. Nunn’s new memoir of the life and times of this true Texas original.
As one of the founding fathers of the progressive country music scene in Austin, Texas, Nunn helped change the face of popular music. His anthem “London Homesick Blues” was the theme song of the wildly popular Austin City Limits—the longest-running music series in American television history—for over two decades. His hit songs, such as “The Last Thing I Needed First Thing this Morning” and “What I Like about Texas,” have been recorded by artists from Jerry Jeff Walker and Michael Martin Murphey to Rosanne Cash, Willie Nelson, and most recently, Chris Stapleton.
At Home with the Armadillo is a unique and revealing debut work that showcases Nunn’s exceptional abilities as a storyteller. His obvious songwriting talents have translated naturally into honest, captivating prose as he recounts the story of his life from a humble childhood in rural Oklahoma to playing with members of the famous Crickets to his move to Texas and into the burgeoning Austin music scene of the early 1970s.
The story of this extraordinarily talented musician will captivate a broad audience. It’s a book for lovers of country and rock-and-roll music, students of the history of those genres, people who grew up in Austin or Texas in the sixties and seventies, and those who wish they had! This is a heartfelt narrative that doesn’t hold back as Nunn reflects about the good times and the bad of a young musician on his way to a future that wasn’t always clear. As much as this is the story of Nunn’s life, At Home with the Armadillo is also an homage to Texas, to the rich and star-studded history of Austin music, and to all the musicians and other personalities Nunn met on their respective ways through the music world of the last five decades.
Personal stories of musicians like Murphey, Walker, and Nelson are integrated with tales of the festivals, clubs, and venues from Los Angeles to Nashville where their careers and Nunn’s were made. Nunn shares wild adventures in Mexico, his personal encounter with the Viet Nam War, and the glory days of Austin when the “Live Music Capital of the World” was coming into its own.
Whether you’re a country music fan of any age, a cosmic cowboy, an aging hippie, or anyone who wants to know how it all happened, this book will take you back to the days. To the days of the Armadillo World Headquarters—where, as Nunn states, “It’s been said that our music was the catalyst that brought the s***kickers and the hippies together at the Armadillo.”
Nunn notes, “I have been blessed with good health, and I have driven over two million miles alone without an accident—knock on wood! ‘Success is survival,’ as Leonard Cohen told me many years ago.”
To readers of At Home with the Armadillo: We’re lucky to be along for the ride!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626344877
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 01/23/2018
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,271,602
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Gary P. Nunn is a renowned Texas country music singer-songwriter whose career began in the 1960s with the Fabulous Sparkles. Today he is a Texas institution and is considered one of the fathers of the progressive country scene that started in Austin in the early 1970s. One of his most famous songs, "London Homesick Blues," was used as the theme song for the popular television show Austin City Limits for two decades. Nunn’s songs, such as “The Last Thing I Needed the First Thing This Morning” and “What I Like about Texas,” have been recorded by artists from Jerry Jeff Walker and Michael Martin Murphey to Rosanne Cash and Willie Nelson. With a continuing array of successful solo albums and an army of fans, Nunn has made a permanent mark on the Texas/Southwestern/Country/Folk music scene and draws devoted fans wherever he plays.

Read an Excerpt


Sonny Boy

THE DAY HAS ARRIVED for my procrastination to end and for me to begin the project I have been contemplating for years. It's hard to know where to start, so I'll just start at the beginning. I intend to just write off the top of my head, see what comes out, and let an editor do his or her job.

I was born on December 4, 1945, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. The story is that my father, William Ulysses Nunn, drove my mother, Flossie Loraine Crocker Nunn, to the hospital in the school bus, as their '43 model Kaiser was broken down. They forded the iced-over creeks that crossed the county's dirt roads from their home in the small, rural community of Eram, where they were employed in the public school system.

My father was the superintendent. He taught math and science, coached girls' basketball and softball, and my mother taught second grade when she didn't have babies to care for. They lived in an apartment inside the schoolhouse, as that was the housing provided for them. I had two older siblings, the oldest being brother Max, who was five years older than me, and sister Judy, who was three years older. Our lives naturally revolved around the school.

My first memories are of my mother in a small room in the schoolhouse. I recall the sunlight shining through an elevated window illuminating the dust and lint suspended in the air. I was sitting on her lap. She was reading a letter aloud to me from my Uncle Robert and Aunt Mary Lou, my dad's brother and sister-in-law, announcing the birth of their first child, Tollie — a family name borne by my fraternal grandfather who had come down the family line through a connection with a family by the name of Tallifero.

My memories of the five years we spent in Eram are dominated by scenes of basketball games; of school Christmas assemblies where my dad played Santa and every kid got a brown bag of hard candies and Brazil nuts; of me trying unsuccessfully to get a bottle of Grapette or Nehi Red or RC Cola out of the coin-operated pop machine (without inserting any coins!); of boys on their knees in the dirt shooting marbles ("shootin' 'doo-gees'" it was called); of girls playing Jacks and London Bridge Is Falling Down; and of the school playground where students played a game called "Work-Up," a baseball-type game played with a softball and few gloves, if any. Breaks from class for recess, lunch, and "School's out" were announced with a handheld bell. Almost before the bell quit ringing, boys and girls from first grade through high school would race out to the ball field.

The game of Work-Up started with three batters: In a race to decide who would be first, the first kid to touch home base was the first batter, the second kid was second batter, and the third kid to arrive was the third. The next in line to touch home base was the catcher, then the pitcher, then first base, second base, and so on. Slow pitch softball was the format, so all could play — boys and girls, large and small. When a batter struck out or when an out was made, that person had to go to right field, and everyone would move up a position — the catcher would become the batter and so on. If you caught a fly ball, the batter would exchange positions with you. If you didn't make an out, you got to continue batting. The games would start early, before school, and go till the first bell. First graders and seniors together — all the kids played happily for twenty-five minutes or so till the hated bell rang. Play would often last till dark for the kids who lived close by and didn't have to ride the school bus.

Of course, I was too young to play with the big kids at Eram because I hadn't started school yet, but that's all I could think about, and I lived for the day when I would be old enough to play. This is where my love of baseball and sports in general began.

IN 1950, WE MOVED to another small country school in a community called Olney, which was near Coalgate. Ada was the nearest town of any size, about forty miles away, and that's where my brother Steve was born. At Olney, we lived in a teacherage that was provided for the superintendent's family on the school grounds, which occupied ten acres or so. The teacherage was an old converted Army barracks that became available in the years just following World War II. There were no toilet facilities, and we shared the privy outhouse that was provided for the school. Our living quarters were in the front half of the building, which was divided into three rooms. The front room served as the living room and my parents' bedroom. When we had company, my folks would surrender their bed to them and sleep on a quilt pallet on the floor — a common practice in our family when there was a shortage of beds. Baby brother Steve slept in the room with Mom and Dad. The middle room held the kitchen, dining room, and a back portion, which served as a bedroom for me and my brother and sister. I slept in a metal child's bed. A door at the back of our bedroom led directly into the school cafeteria, where two or three school cooks wearing starched white uniforms and hairnets cooked nutritious home-style meals.

My dad fenced off a wooded area adjacent to the school property and built a barn to store hay and feed. We always kept a milk cow and a couple of hogs (that we fed with the slop from the cafeteria). It was my brother Max's chore to slop the hogs every day after school and milk the cow every morning. It was my chore to get up at 5:00 a.m. and accompany him — rain or shine, sleet or snow. Max was only eleven years old at the time, and I was only six, but this was an every-morning occurrence for the five years we lived in Olney — except during our holiday trips, which were always to my grandparents' farm near Hanna, Oklahoma. I'll write more about those days later.

I remember some trying times for my brother Max on bitterly cold mornings when the cow would frequently either kick over the bucket or step in it, despite the metal hobbles he put on her back legs to prevent her from doing it. This always resulted in a lot of hollering (a typical Nunn family trait inherited from Grandpa Tollie) at the cow, and I believe this is when my brother started cussing.

Olney was only a slightly bigger school than Eram, having around one hundred students in all twelve grades. Like Eram, elementary school had first and second grade in one classroom, third and fourth grade in another, fifth and sixth in another, and seventh and eighth together, with one teacher teaching both grades. It was a good system, and all the kids learned reading, writing, and arithmetic. The high school, which was constructed of stones found locally, was at the other end of the schoolhouse. This was the early '50s and a boy's typical attire was Levi's blue jeans, which, when new, were rolled up several inches to allow for shrinkage and potential growth yet unrealized. A typical summer shirt was a white T-shirt or a short-sleeve, cotton plaid button-up shirt. It was fashionable in those days to roll up your sleeves. Some of the older, more rebellious boys would push their Levi's down on their hips and stow a pack of Lucky Strikes in the roll of their T-shirt sleeve. I suppose by this time, they had been exposed to Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild One and used him as their role model.

My dad didn't approve of this style at all, and it was usually those boys who made the most trips to his office. Everyone knew about the possibility of a session with my father's wooden paddle wrapped with athletic tape at the business end! Girls wore shirtwaist cotton dresses, or skirts and sweaters, and bobby socks with black-and-white saddle oxfords. None of the kids ever got too out of line because anyone who crossed my dad's discipline line got the dreaded wooden paddle across his or her backside. There were very few disciplinary problems at school or at home because the same rules applied in both places in those days.

My first- and second-grade teacher was a very special lady who had a great influence on me. Her name was Lola Gatlin. By the time I was five, my mother had a hard time keeping me in the house, and I would sneak out and climb through an open window of Mrs. Gatlin's first and second-grade classroom. There was no such thing as air-conditioning back then, so the windows were always open during the warm weather seasons. Mrs. Gatlin didn't mind me sneaking in and let me stay. Eventually, my dad would find out and come and make me leave and go back to the house. However, I paid attention while I was there and learned a lot of what was being taught to the real first graders. I turned six in December 1951, but my dad held me back and didn't let me start school till the next year. I was thrilled at last when time came for me to enter first grade.

Since I was familiar with first grade schooling already, first grade was a snap — straight As all the way. Second grade was easy too, since I had been exposed to what the second graders were learning too. It was much the same when I went to the next teacher for third grade. Life was school and playing ball with the big kids. Summertime was short pants, bare feet, catching buzzing cicadas and fireflies, homemade ice cream, an occasional watermelon, The Lone Ranger on the radio, and staying out playing till after dark. When we came in, Mom was there with a wash pan full of warm water, and she would give us a washcloth scrubbing from head to toe to remove our covering of sweat and dirt.

SINCE MY DAD WAS the school administrator, his duties required him to make a trip on Saturdays to nearby Coalgate, the county seat of Coal County, to do whatever business he had in the courthouse there. He would take me with him and drop me off at the movie theater. He always gave me a quarter, which was good for the price of admission, a pop, a box of popcorn, and an all- day sucker. On Saturday mornings, they showed ongoing serials of Westerns featuring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue, and Hopalong Cassidy, but my very favorites were Red Ryder and Little Beaver; Little Beaver, played by Robert Blake, was an American Indian boy and the sidekick of Red Ryder, and he rode the prettiest paint pony bareback. That's what I wanted to do! Oh, how I pined to have a pony to ride. I had the greatest time in my dreams, when I'd even dream that I had one. But when I woke up, I'd run outside, only to be disappointed with the reality that there was no pony.

But one day, my dream did come true! With no advance notice or fanfare, my dad came home with a full-sized paint horse! I was in heaven! Her name was Nellie Belle, and she was a good mare, very gentle and easy to handle. I would get a couple of washcloths from the house and tuck them in my short pants for a breechclout, raid my mother's lipstick to use for war paint, and stick a hawk's feather in one of my dad's neckties tied around my brow like Willie's bandana. I was the next best thing to Little Beaver that a tow-headed, sunburned kid could be. I rode her bareback all over the dirt roads of the countryside. The only bad part was that I had no one to share my fun with because none of the other kids around had horses.

Then one day my dad up and sold Nellie Belle. She was no trouble that I could see, but I guess we couldn't afford the extra expense, and my parents were planning to locate to another school.

OUR LIVES REVOLVED AROUND school, of course — and church. My mother came from a family of Baptists, and she made sure that we got raised in a Christian manner. My love of music began at Olney, where there literally were no churches as it was so sparsely populated. So the folks in the community organized a Sunday school there in the combination gym/auditorium at the school. We had our classes in the same rooms where we went to school. Mrs. Gatlin was my Sunday school teacher as well as my classroom teacher: I think I might have been what you call the teacher's pet! The congregation met on Sunday mornings, and hymns were sung, prayers were prayed, and news announcements of the area were read.

The school gym was also made available for funerals and what were called "singing conventions," where folks would gather occasionally on Sunday afternoons; they would bring food, socialize, visit, gossip, talk politics, and sing hymns all afternoon. It was a diversion from the normal routine at least. Entertainment in Olney was limited to an occasional "donkey basketball" game, a pie supper, a cakewalk, or a rare family trip to Wapanucka or Coalgate for a movie, which my mother characterized as "bang-bang-shoot-'em-ups."

Donkey basketball was a great and humorous form of entertainment where a basketball game was played by two teams mounted on donkeys that were provided by traveling showmen who visited country schools with a school bus loaded with a dozen or so donkeys.

We didn't have a minister, so there was no preaching and no sermons. Mr. Riley, the local mailman, was the head of the loosely knit, nondenominational congregation. (I was always trying to get close to him, as he owned a Shetland pony farm, but I was too shy to ask him if I could come to his place to play with them.) I first sang in front of an audience at these Sunday morning services. My friend Alan Morrison and I sang together — no doubt a children's Christian song, the name of which I don't recall. From that point on, if there was any sort of music going on, I found a way to be right in the middle of it.

From time to time, fundamentalist Christian groups would hold revivals in the gym for a few nights running, and that's where I saw people actually talking in tongues! It was a wild scene for a little kid to see the worshippers become possessed with the spirit of the Lord. As they were overcome, they began raising and waving their arms toward the heavens, uttering undecipherable sounds, and they would sometimes roll around on the floor as if overtaken by some sort of epilepsy! This must be where the term holy rollers originated. Sun-ditty-ah, sun-ditty-ah was the sound they uttered repeatedly during these sessions of apparent religious ecstasy.

My dad hired his brother Robert to teach and coach at the school. He and his wife, Mary Lou — who was beautiful, part-Cherokee, and whom I always adored — moved to Olney and lived on a one-hundred-acre farm they had bought in partnership with my folks a couple of miles down the country road. My people had all come from the land, and the path to upward mobility required the ownership of a piece of ground. They bought some registered Hereford cows; a brand-new little Farmall Super C tractor with a plow, a disc, and a harrow; and tried to farm a little. But as is so often the case, small operations cost more than they bring in, so they eventually sold the land when it came time to move to the next school.

MY DAD AND UNCLE Robert taught me how to swim in the Clear Boggy River near Olney, and swimming became another of my passions. It was always so hot in the summertime, and swimming was so cool and refreshing. It didn't matter to me if it was in a river, a creek, or a stock pond. I just loved the water. At least once a summer, we would pack up for a picnic day trip and go to a place called Ballard Park, somewhere down around Tishomingo. There was a dammed-up creek with clear, green water that passed through a swimming pool and a gristmill that was not in operation except for show. The moving water turned its big waterwheel, and my first near-drowning experience was there. When we arrived, I already had my swimsuit on. I jumped out of the car, ran to the pool, jumped in at the deep end, and sank straight to the bottom. My dad had to fish me out.

In those days, there were few dams to control flooding, and when we would have a big rain, the creeks and rivers would get up and out of their banks and spread out over the countryside. I can recall times when we drove to Coalgate after some of those rains, and as we approached the Clear Boggy River, we would see it completely out of its banks and covering everything as far as you could see. My dad, with maybe the whole family in our '50 model Chevrolet, would just drive off into the water as if he was unconcerned about any danger that might be involved. Nothing ever happened, and we always made it through with no problems, but thinking about it today, it's not something I would ever consider doing. Seems like there was a lot more chance-taking back then. Perhaps it could better be described as doing whatever needed to be done to solve the problem at hand.


Excerpted from "At Home with the Armadillo"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Gary P. Nunn.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword vii

Chapter 1 Sonny Boy 1

Chapter 2 Home with the Armadillo 37

Chapter 3 Moving to Texas 46

Chapter 4 Enter Guitars 62

Chapter 5 Enter the Sparkles 82

Chapter 6 Moving to Austin 102

Chapter 7 The Murphey Era 140

Chapter 8 Jerry Jeff Era 188

Chapter 9 Lost Gonzo Band 213

Chapter 10 Gary P. Solo 234

Chapter 11 European Tours 274

Chapter 12 Enter Ruth 296

Epilogue 318

Gary P. Nunn Discography 323

Songwriters 324

About the Author 327

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