Many folks remember 1968’s “Mr. Bojangles” by Jerry Jeff Walker well – it was the song that put him on the map.
By 1973, the singer-songwriter was due another album for his record label, and overdue for a hit record. But what neither he nor his label – nor anyone else in the music scene – could have seen coming was what Walker and a band of musical outlaws were about to pull off in a sleepy little Hill Country outpost called Luckenbach.
What happened there 50 years ago was heard and felt not just across Texas, but Nashville and way beyond: Not just the recording of “¡Viva Terlingua!,” a now-iconic album, but at its heart, a freewheeling musical gathering memorialized on tape – what some have described as the “Big Bang of Texas Music.”
Terlingua’s actually about 400 miles from Luckenbach. So where did the album title come from? Hector Saldaña, a veteran music journalist and musician, and Texas music curator for the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos, said Walker and the musicians he was with at the time all had a great sense of humor.
“You know, there on the album cover, Hondo Crouch’s index finger pointing to the little – to Jerry Jeff Walker’s face. But there’s that ‘Viva Terlingua’ bumper sticker,” he said. “I think, just like a lot of musicians would say, ‘Hey, man, that’s kind of cool. Let’s just call it “Viva Terlingua.”’ That’s as near as I can get to a story, and I’m sticking with it.”
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Jerry Jeff Walker and his wife, Susan, donated his entire archives to the Wittliff Collections in 2017. Now, a new exhibit, “Viva Terlingua: The Big Bang of Texas Music,” includes never-before-heard recordings from Luckenbach.
”Among the photographs, posters, letters to his grandmother, hats, all kinds of things, are the 16-track master recordings of ‘¡Viva Terlingua!’ We digitized them – I had advocated for doing that – and scoured them with the hopes that, you know, could there be some additional material that had not been heard?” Saldaña said. “There’s about an hour’s worth – actually a little bit more. And it’s them rehearsing, alternative takes, outtakes, unreleased songs, and four live performances from the now-iconic concert that sort of culminated their week out there at Luckenbach. That was Aug. 18, 1973. So, we can put you as close into that room as possible.”