Three years that changed Austin music forever.
On Dec. 31, 1977, Roy “Raul” Gomez, Joseph Gonzales and Bobby Morales opened a bar at 2610 Guadalupe Street where they wanted to feature Chicano music. But the Sex Pistols made for other plans. Nine days after Raul’s opened, the British punk rock sensation played Randy’s Rodeo in San Antonio and every cutting edge music fan from Austin was in the crowd thinking “I could do that, if I only had the guts.”
Four who did were Kathy Valentine, Carla Olson, Marilyn Dean and Jesse Sublett, who formed a band called the Violators. Joe King Carrasco, who played Raul’s in a Tex-Mex band called El Molino, had told them about the dive on the Drag, which actually wasn’t doing so well. Hispanic employees in the area, especially construction workers, just wanted to go home after the whistle blew.
The kids approached Gonzales, who figured what the hell and put them on a bill with Bill Maddox’s art-rock band Project Terror in March ’78. It didn’t take long before Austin had its very own CBGBs. This sort of thing was happening all over the country, but because Austin was already a live music city where the unconventional flocked, the bands were really good, not just drunks stumbling around onstage and taunting the audience. The Big Boys and the Dicks, lead by overweight queens, were like no other bands in the country. Then you had the art rock of Terminal Mind and F Systems, the melodic quirkiness of Standing Waves, D-Day and the Jitters, and the flamboyant singer- focused bands like the Next with Ty Gavin and the Jitters of Billy Pringle.
The Raul’s scene started getting a national rep with “The Huns Bust” of Sept. 1978, when cops, who had targeted the punk club, mistook staged chaos onstage for real violence, and started busting heads and dragged in six clubgoers (including Austin Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro.) Touring acts like Patti Smith and Elvis Costello popped in to jam, then up-and-coming acts like Psychedelic Furs and the Cramps started getting booked.
“The thing about Raul’s was that when it took off, it turned all notions of what passed for cool in Austin upside down,” said Roland Swenson, the SXSW director whose entree into show biz was managing Standing Waves. “The social order was disrupted… If you cut your hair short, wore black and hung out at Raul’s you became a target for frat boys and hippie rednecks alike. That bonded the kids in the ‘scene’ in a way I’ve not seen since.”
Punk rock was a gang, a family, for those who felt left out.
When I was living in Hawaii, “the Rock,” looking for a town to move to, I got a photo in the mail from my friend Andrella, who was doing lights for the Cramps on tour. It showed shirtless singer Lux Interior in the middle of a delirious packed crowd in full-on punk and rockabilly regalia. “This is TEXAS!” she wrote on the back.
But by the time I moved to Austin, Raul’s was gone, closing in ’81.
Perhaps the worst group of musicians to ever play Raul’s was responsible for the club’s most notorious night. On Sept. 19, 1978, a group of Radio-Television-Film students, led by flamboyant singer Phil Tolstead, debuted their band the Huns at Raul’s with great anticipation. “The stage was set for theater,” Louis Black recalled in the Austin Chronicle nearly 30 years later. The Huns certainly weren’t going to wow people with their musical ability. “We sounded like the Sex Pistols with Sid on every instrument,” Huns drummer Tom Huckabee wrote in the liner notes of a 1995 reissue of The Huns Live at the Palladium 1979.
Someone threw a trash can onstage to start the chaos that became the riot of 9/19/79. It was getting crazy, with band and audience both part of the show, when beat cop Steve Bridgewater sauntered in, just to check out what was going on. Tolstead spotted him and started directing the lyrics of “Eat Death Scum” at the man in blue: “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” Tolstead pointed at the cop and the cop pointed back. Some naughty words were said and the officer took the stage to arrest the singer for obscenity. And then he kissed him: Tolstead full on the lips of the cop, as he was being handcuffed. When officer Bridgewater put in a frantic officer-in-distress call, his radio was knocked out of his hand by the Huns guitarist and a melee ensued. But within minutes there were 10 police cars outside. There had also been a couple of plainclothes cops in the audience, according to a report in the Daily Texan, and when they started shoving people, someone poured a pitcher of beer over an undercover cop’s head and all hell broke loose. SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro said “Are you proud of yourself, asshole?” to one cop, and he was arrested. Inner Sanctum manager Richard Dorsett was also singled out as an instigator and he shared a cell with Barbaro that night. In all, six Raul’s patrons spent the night in the slammer, but then were released without charges.
Tolstead went to trial and was fined $53.50, but “The Huns Bust” has become such a exaggerated part of Austin clubbie lore that the six arrested grew into the “Huns 11” and 120 people on hand have multiplied to thousands through the years. But that night put Austin on the map as a place where other types of music besides “progressive country” was played. It also established the Austint as a town that doesn’t take itself too seriously. “I saw a cop walk onstage and I couldn’t believe it,” Huckabee said in the Daily Texan. “We said on posters, ‘No Police.'”
The Daily Texan article was picked up all over the country and led to stories in Rolling Stone and NME. Riots at punk shows were big news, as America wondering what the hell happened to white kids. One of those who read the Rolling Stone story was a high school kid named David Yow, who joined the growing number of Raul’s regulars after the bust. “It changed the way I thought about music,” Yow has said. There was something going on with rock and roll and lines were being drawn. Many stepped over to the Raul’s side 36 years ago and never came back. Or they went the other way.
Tolstead became a born again Christian, a soldier in Jerry Falwell’s religious right crusade, in the mid-‘80s and appeared on The 700 Club, denouncing his past as a punk rock provocateur. That’s the strangest part of the whole story.
Cover photo by Drew Dillard