It is iconic. Especially for a door.
Come back with me to 1973. A relative newcomer to the music scene named Jerry Jeff Walker decided to record a live album at a little town in Texas called Luckenbach.
That record contained future classics such as “Redneck Mother,” “London Homesick Blues,” “Desparado Waiting For A Train,” and “Backslider’s Wine.” Along with banter from Hondo Crouch, an impromptu sing-along from “The Music Man,” and chickens cackling in the background.
This was back when the album cover was as important as the contents. And this album cover featured a photo of the door to the Luckenbach bar, displaying a bumper sticker that read “Viva Terlingua!”
That became the name of the album that exploded on the music scene and let Nashville know that Texas was going to have a say in the direction of country music.
Now let’s jump 43 years ahead. One day last May, I received a phone call from Cris Graham, Hondo Crouch’s daughter.
“Phil,” she said. “A crew from the Country Music Hall of Fame is here to take down the door and ship it to Nashville. Can you come and take photos?”
That’s the kind of call a writer dreams of. I zoomed out.
I first walked through that door in 1978, right after the hit, “Luckenbach, Texas” put the town on the map. I ordered my first Lone Star longneck and sang my song, “Rocky Mountain Oysters.” Now, just as Gary P. Nunn sang about moving London Bridge to Arizona, they were shipping the Luckenbach Door to Tennessee to be in a new exhibit.
“From a musician’s point of view, there is no Nashville versus Austin dichotomy,” said Mick Buck, who was here as Curatorial Director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “This exhibit is all about the connections and commonality.”
The exhibit is titled, “Outlaws and Armadillos: Country’s Roaring 70s.” It opens May 28 and will run for three years. The 5,000-square-feet display shows what was going on in country music in the early to mid-1970s, when Waylon, Willie and other songwriters found their spiritual home in Texas, according to Lee Rowe, Director of Exhibits.
“There were all these connections between Texas and Austin and Luckenbach and then the Nashville country artists who were dissatisfied with what they were doing there in studios, frustrated they didn’t have creative control,” Rowe said. “It captures the spiritual and artistic scene that was going on in Texas at the same time.”
The exhibit grew organically out of a project by Eric Geadelmann, who was researching a film “They Called Us Outlaws.” He found more material than he expected.
“It was so deep and rich, with such incredible music and remarkable culture,” Geadelmann said. “One thing led to another until something magical happened. The museum decided it would be a fantastic major exhibition.”
So, the Hall of Fame sent a crew to Texas to do research. That’s when they discovered “the door.”
“We said, we have to get that door,” Buck remembered saying. “Because ‘Viva Terlingua!’ is such a milestone representing that era, and ties in so closely to the story. As an artifact, it is an incredible piece. And its significance in representing that period can’t be topped.”
Watching the door come off the hinges and go into the specially-built packing crate that day evoked strong — and mixed — emotions from onlookers, including some who were around for the original recordings. But the packing crew was sensitive to the situation, citing their own personal connections with Luckenbach, and long-time appreciation for its history.
“I don’t want to leave,” said Buck, who has been a regular visitor over the years. “I just want to stay here. This place is the center of the universe.”
As the door came off its hinges, Cris Graham was busy showing visitors the artifacts that will accompany the exhibit, including an original album signed by Jerry Jeff Walker, Hondo’s battered hat with the coral snakeskin hatband and antler button, and his signature red bandanna. These will join other memorabilia, including art posters by Kerry Awn and Sam Yeates, and photos of Waylon, Willie and Kris Kristofferson at Willie’s 1978 Fourth of July picnic.
“This is just incredible,” she said. “I am proud of the creators and brains behind it, and my heart explodes that Hondo’s name is going to be a part of it. Who would have thought! It truly was a magical time.”
The obvious storyline here is the irony. Willie, Waylon, Walker and the boys rose up in the 1970s to wrest away control of country music from Nashville. “Viva Terlingua!” was pivotal in that struggle. Four decades on, the success of the movement was exemplified by the fact the Country Music Hall of Fame was flying that door from Luckenbach to 222 5th Ave. South in Nashville.
But it’s there, waiting to tell the story of some good ol’ Texas boys who sported beards and bandannas, eschewed the corporate path to airplay, and kept spiritual and artistic control of the music they wanted to create.
And Luckenbach is still open, everybody is still somebody, and the music plays and the rooster still crows.
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