I first became familiar with Jerry Jeff Walker’s album, ¡Viva Terlingua!, on the fourth of July a couple of years ago. I was playing in a band at a house party in East Dallas. We heard that there was a great group playing next door so we went over to check it out. There we found a grizzled pair of old men playing early rock standards such as Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and Sam the Sham and the Pharoh’s “Wooly Bully.” At the end of their set, they played a song called “London Homesick Blues.” The drunken crowd seemed to already know every word.
“I wanna go home with the Armadillo,
Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene,
The friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen.”
I’d never heard the song but it was impossible not to sing along. Afterwards, my friends and I introduced ourselves to the band and talked with them for a while. The leader turned out to be Bob “Cosmic Bob” Livingston who was a founding member of Jerry Jeff Walker’s band The Lost Gonzo Band.
The next day I woke up and listened to ¡Viva Terlingua!, the album that featured “London Homesick Blues” as well as many other songs the band had played the previous night. It instantly became one of my favorite country albums I’ve ever heard.
¡Viva Terlingua! was a live album recorded at Lukenbach, Texas on August 18th, 1973. It’s often seen as the seminal album of the progressive country scene. This offshoot of country music occurred mostly in Austin in the 70’s when country artists started embracing the hippy movement. I think this “progressive” sound comes through in the album in its laid back, party feel. At times Jerry Jeff sounds almost drunk while singing as the crowd yells out in approval. The first song on the record,“Gettin’ By” is an autobiographical account of Jerry Jeff’s carefree, hell raising lifestyle he was living as a musician.
In the next song on the album, Jerry Jeff dips into the catalog of fellow Texan and folk musician, Guy Clark with “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train”
The song is about Guy Clark’s childhood mentor growing old and slowing down. The haunting violins and intensified drumbeat late in the song give it an eerie runaway train sound.
The next song on the album is “Sangria Wine” a fun song about drinking with friends. This is followed a sad song with an upbeat tempo, “Little Bird,” and the rock influenced “Get It Out.” Following these songs is the classic “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” written by Ray Wylie Hubbard.
“Backslider’s Wine” and “Wheel” follow “Redneck Mother” and have a more somber feel.
Closing out the album is “London Homesick Blues,” written by piano player, Gary P. Nunn, which is about a country singer feeling homesick for Texas while on tour in Europe. For me, this track sums up what country music and recordings should be. The band is tight but is at the same time playing relaxed.
The repeated chorus and howls from the crowd towards the end of the song left a huge impression on me that July 4th a couple of years ago and continues to resonate with me to this day.
Here’s the version from the album, which is my favorite one, as well as a later live version.
1. “Gettin’ By” – 4:01
2. “Desperados Waiting for a Train” (Guy Clark) – 5:47
3. “Sangria Wine” – 4:25
4. “Little Bird” – 4:10
5. “Get It Out” – 3:37
6. “Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother” (Ray Wylie Hubbard) – 4:32
7. “Backslider’s Wine” (Michael Martin Murphey) – 3:34
8. “Wheel” – 6:00
9. “London Homesick Blues” (Gary P. Nunn) – 7:43