Let’s look at Austin music in the ‘60s. There were folkie clubs like the Cliché in West Campus, the Eleventh Door on Red River (where Janis Joplin played) and the Chequered Flag, which had an auto racing theme in reflection of co-owner Rod Kennedy’s obsession. There was the New Orleans Club, which took its name from the preferred Dixieland jazz, but then started booking rock acts like the 13th Floor Elevators to fill the club. The Jade Room on San Jacinto was another ‘60s club, but they never committed to original rock music and booked cover bands on the weekends. Club Saracen was one of the first clubs to mix beatniks and frats, then there was The Fred, a short-lived club that had light shows to rock music, and over on the East Side, the I.L. was booking longhairs. But all this early psych-rock activity was scattered until the hippies got their musical hangout.
The Electric Grandmother collective, which booked psychedelic shows at Doris Miller and the September 1967 “Love-In at Zilker,” rented out a storefront with a big, square room at 316 Congress Avenue and called it the Vulcan Gas Company. There was a war between dope-smoking longhairs and law enforcement in Austin (even though it was an ex-Marine with a crewcut
who killed all those people from the Tower in 1966), so the Vulcan didn’t even try to get a liquor license. Instead, the city hassled them relentlessly over code violations, especially having to do with the Vulcan’s electrical set-up. The Statesman refused to advertise shows at the Vulcan, so the club’s 23” x 28” posters were of great importance and such artists as Gilbert Shelton, Jack Jackson and Jim Franklin blew minds and sold tickets.
The counterculture pleasure dome was a shithole, with inconsistent sound and no air conditioning. But 900 heads would pack in there to see acts like Big Mama Thornton, the Velvet Undergound, Jimmy Reed, Moby Grape, Mance Lipscomb and local faves Conqueroo and Shiva’s Head Band play to a backdrop of exposed pipes. Club favorite Johnny Winter met his hero Muddy Waters in ’68 when he opened for the legend at the Vulcan. Waters couldn’t believe the authentic sound coming from Winter’s guitar and so he held up a phone for a friend to hear. “He white,” Muddy said into the receiver. “I mean, he REALLY white!”
Janis Joplin and Big Brother were too big for the Vulcan and so the owners, including Don Hyde and Houston White, booked them at the Hemisfair Theater in San Antonio on Nov. 21, 1968. But after Joplin canceled the sold-out concert due to illness, promoters lost $3,500 and a disgusted Hyde dumped 3,000 posters he had made- one for each ticketholder, into the trash.
The Vulcan tried selling membership cards- at $1 a year- to stay afloat, but the club finally sunk in the summer of 1970. That was a few weeks before the manager of Shiva’s Headband found an abandoned National Guard Armory near the intersection of Barton Springs Road and Riverside that was just about the same size as the Fillmore in San Francisco.
316 Congress later became the location of Duke’s Royal Coach Inn, a short-lived, yet beloved punk/new wave club that opened after Raul’s closed.