Originally published in the Austin American Statesman 1/6/13
SAN ANTONIO. “Wow, 35 years!” exclaimed Ty Gavin, singer of the regrouped band the Next, whose members met at the infamous Sex Pistols show in San Antonio on Jan. 8, 1978. “Has it really been that long?”
Three days before the anniversary of the most notorious rock show in Texas history, downtown San Antonio nightclub Backstage Live paid tribute to the Sex Pistols, hosting 10 bands under the banner “The Filth and the Flautas,” which was a play on “The Filth and the Fury,” a famous headline about the Pistols in a London tabloid. Some of the acts on the bill had opened for the two Pistols shows in Texas on the punk band’s only U.S. tour, which lasted all of 12 days. Some acts were inspired to form after Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones and Paul Cook played a 1,200-capacity country nightclub on Bandera Road called Randy’s Rodeo.
The punk rock Alamo, Randy’s is now a bingo parlor, run by a Catholic church. Although they’ve kept the name and the signage, Randy’s current operators wanted nothing to do with the anniversary show, said Margaret Moser, who co-curated a museum exhibit “We’re So Pretty: The Sex Pistols in San Antonio”, at the South Texas Popular Culture Center.
For 35 years, the Sex Pistols choosing to play San Antonio, “the Detroit of the Southwest,” instead of hipster haven Austin, remains a point of pride to the city located 70 miles to the South.
Although influenced musically by U.S. groups, Alice Cooper, the Ramones and the New York Dolls, the Pistols and their visionary manager Malcolm McLaren added their own theatrical sound, ripped fashion and nihilistic philosophy to create cultural upheaval in the U.K. They were a rude and snotty reaction to, not only corporate rock, but a future that held no allure for bored, jobless youth.
From across the Atlantic, their brilliant album Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols also stirred bold pockets of stagnant American youth. Their music was too rough for the masses, but in “God Save the Queen,” released during a national celebration honoring the Queen’s 25 years on the British throne, we heard a band of hoodlums get in the face of the establishment like never before. “God save the queen/ she ain’t no human being/ there is no future/ in England’s dreaming.” Rebellion isn’t hope, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got.
Banned to play public concerts in the U.K. after too many destructive incidents, the Pistols announced their first American tour, with only seven dates on the itinerary: Atlanta, Memphis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Tulsa and San Francisco.
San Antonio? A hotbed of hair bands and heavy metal, S.A. was an unlikely destination for the first U.S. tour by British sensations. But the Alamo City had robust concert promoters Stone City Attractions, who found Randy’s and also booked the Pistols into the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas.
McLaren intentionally bypassed the major metropoli in favor of mostly-southern cities where the encroachment would be more significant and confrontation more likely. In Texas and Oklahoma, McLaren booked his charges into country music clubs, including Cain’s in Tulsa, made famous by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. These were the same kinds of venues Elvis Presley played on his first tours and Presley’s death six months earlier provided a bit of subtext to the Pistols tour, which promised to usher in the death of rock n’ roll.
In actuality, the foray of January 1978, which ended with singer Rotten asking a crowd in San Francisco if they’d ever had the feeling they’d been cheated, was the Sex Pistols suicide tour. After that S.F. show, the band broke up and bassist Vicious died of a drug overdose while on bail for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
By the time the Pistols arrived in San Antonio, they already knew their demise was brewing. Band, crew and a legion of security guards arrived at Randy’s on a tour bus with “NOWHERE” on the destination sign. Bassist Vicious, a heroin addict, was so dope sick he carved the words “Gimme a Fix” on his chest.
Modeled, in part, on Iggy’s Stooges, the band members were fast becoming Malcolm’s stooges. Their manager seemed numb to the idea that the band and producer Chris Thomas had made a modern day classic with “Bollocks” and so he felt the need to market the Pistols as a shocking freak show.
Taunting them with homophobic slurs, the band carried utmost contempt for the Randy’s audience, which included everyone in the nascent Austin punk contingent, as well as curious Randy’s regulars who paid the $3.50 cover to watch the trainwreck. This was the show where Vicious, tired of the taunting from an audience member who admitted he had come to start trouble, viciously tomahawked his electric bass into the audience, barely missing heads that would’ve surely been cracked open. “Oh, dear, Sidney’s lost his guitar,” Rotten sneered.
Rotten later acknowleged the Randy’s show as the band’s best on the tour. And McLaren got what he wanted, as one British tabloid splashed the headline “Sid turns Vicious as the Sex Pistols battle with U.S. Fans.”
The Sex Pistols trafficked in chaos, putting violence of the mind into motion, but as testified by the last song they ever played, at Winterland in S.F. on Jan. 14, 1978, it was becoming “No Fun.”
Opening the Pistols’ swang song was the Nuns, whose guitarist Alejandro Escovedo was forever influenced by the experience. Never Mind the Bollocks has never lost its power and continues to inspire bored youths to pick up guitars.
In Texas, the shows are best remembered for what they inspired. A group of University of Texas film students who trekked to Randy’s would start a music and culture magazine called the Austin Chronicle. And many bands would spawn from the chaos, just as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the Beatles and Stones of punk, fortified after the Ramones played London on July 4, 1976.
Opening the Randy’s show were a pair of quite different bands: Ultra, the S.A. prog-rock kingpins, and a new punk band called the Vamps, whose singer Frank Pugliese now fronts the Sons of Hercules. Ultra played earlier at the 35th anniversary show and as the guitarist played a meandering lead to a roaring bass/drums rhythm, Austin singer Tex Edwards whispered in my ear, “this is the kind of music we were rebelling against in 1978.”
Edwards’ band the Nervebreakers opened for the Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas and were scheduled to reunite at Backstage Live, but because of a death in the family, the Nervebreakers were replaced by another Edwards band Purple Stickpin.
The Hickoids, whose S.A.-based singer Jeff Smith co-organized the “Flautas” show, had the privilege of recreating the Sex Pistols Randy’s set. At least that’s how it was was advertised. Instead, the band played such Pistols numbers as “Bodies,” “Anarchy In the UK,” “Holidays In the Sun” and “EMI” in no particular order and inexplicably omitted “God Save the Queen,” which opened the Randy’s set. Still, the Hickoids were tight and the crowd of about 800 was into it, even if singer Smith wandered the stage in a state of low interest in his duct-tape pants. Perhaps Smith, age 14 in 1978, is still upset about his older brother not taking him to the Randy’s show, as promised. “That song goes out to my brother Barry,” Smith said after singing “Liar.”
The Pistols broke up a week after the Randy’s show, with Rotten stranded in S.F. with no money or credit cards. The next year he would form Public Image Ltd., a band that would prove to be almost as influential as the Pistols, but in a more subtle way.
The Pistols show wasn’t the last punk rodeo at Randy’s, as the Ramones and the Runaways played the low-ceiling country nightclub the next month, followed by Patti Smith and Squeeze a few months after that. But neither of those concerts had the lasting implications of the Sex Pistols set.
San Antonio must have a bit of an inferiority complex when it compares itself to Austin, with SXSW and an international reputation for live music. “Keep San Antonio Lame” is a t-shirt you can buy in the proudly unhip Alamo City.
But for a night in 1978 in a bowling alley turned country music nightclub, San Antonio was the center of the musical universe. Something that can’t be taken away. Something no one there will ever forget.