Punk With a Twang
The wild bygone days of Austin, Texas punk as seen through the lens of Pat Blashill
By Pat Blashill
Reading time 11 Minutes
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. I loved rock and roll, and two of the first records I bought were ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres and Roxy Music’s Greatest Hits — that may explain why I eventually gravitated towards the strange amalgam that was Texas punk rock.
In 1979, just after I started attending the University of Texas, my friend Steve Collier invited me to a club called Raul’s to see his band, the Big Boys. I grew to love Raul’s, because that’s where I first realized musicians were actual humans — you could talk to them and everything.
At the same time, I had begun studying for a photojournalism degree at UT. One of my professors gave us some simple but smart advice: “Photograph your own life — it will mean more to you later.” I figured punk rock was my life at the time, so I started making pictures of Steve and David Yow and their bands as well as some of the other friends and bands I’d met at Raul’s. I was pretty terrible at first, and I never became a technically sophisticated photographer, but I learned the most important thing: be in the right place at the right time.
I’ve never stopped taking pictures, but life took me to some very different places after that. In 2013, I finally began scanning and editing these Texas punk photos for a book (which will hopefully be out later this year).
That meant going back to images I have loved for almost forty years. But in the process, I also discovered photos I’d never noticed or printed before. If my work documenting that time and place is successful, it’s because I thought everything was interesting. I was taking pictures of bands onstage, but also shooting photos of dirty bathrooms and cowboy boots covered in duct tape and runaway skinhead kids on Sunday mornings. These aren’t just photographs of crazy-ass musicians, but something more like a portrait of a community.
Sally and Bill, fall 1984
Sally and Bill, fall 1984
Sally King was a Texas punk goddess, with a radiant smile, gentle wit and the most perfectly mussed blonde hair I’d ever seen. Her look was punk rock-square dance — she would wear Western style gingham skirts with spikes or men’s dress shoes. Her boyfriend was Bill Anderson, who played guitar for Poison 13. I took this photo in the middle of the night, while the group were recording their debut album.
The Hickoids, Continental Club, February 1985
The Hickoids were a Lone Star mutation. They infused honky-tonk songs with adrenaline and distortion, and did a withering cover of the Eagles’ “Take it Easy” — which was great because a lot of us Austin punks were sick of arena rock and country schmaltz. Seen here are guitarist Jukebox (R.I.P.) and singer Jeff Smith. Jukebox was also a great poster artist and pyromaniac — for a time, he tried living in a teepee. Jeff Smith still sings for the Hickoids, who travel the US, Europe and beyond, delighting their loyal following and forever seeking the best fish tacos on the planet.
Swimming hole, Woodshock, June 1985
The Austin post-punk music scene began to fracture and sub-divide, but all the tribes came together in July of 1985 for one last ring-tail-tooter called Woodshock. It was an orgy of bands, barbecue and psycilocybin mushrooms at an amazing swimming hole in Dripping Springs, Texas. A young Rick Linklater was sweeping through, filming the proceedings with a Super 8 camera, and it often been suggested that the back-to-back performances of Poison 13 and honorary Texans Tales of Terror helped in the birth grunge music. I mostly remember holding hands with a beautiful woman and jumping off that forty-foot cliff.
King, Butthole Surfers, San Antonio, July, 1984
King Vitamin a.k.a. Jeffrey “King” Coffey had been in a Fort Worth band called the Hugh Beaumont Experience, and also an editor for Throbbing Cattle fanzine before he moved to Austin to join the Butthole Surfers. When the Buttholes began recording their wonderful and decrepit second album, Rembrandt Pussyhorse, I invited myself along to document the process. Here is King in the back of the band’s sawed-off Chevy Nova, which they would soon use to wander the USA for nearly two years. The Buttholes became the most notorious of the Austin bands, and King went on to run a legendary noise-punk label called Trance Syndicate. I’m fond of this picture because I don’t think King was fantasizing about any of those future exploits — he just looks like a dreamy kid, watching the clouds roll by.
Roger, Buddy, Tommy (R.I.P.), and Jerry (R.I.P.), April, 1986
Okay, these guys. Violence at punk shows in Austin started getting worse in 1983, and was often instigated by skinheads. Some of them were racist assholes; others were more complicated. Roger, a Mexican-American fellow also known as El Borracho (the Drunk), was often blotto, and lost as many fights as he won. Tommy Pipes, second from the right, was from Vidor, Texas, an infamous town in east Texas controlled by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite his Iron Cross tattoo, people who knew him swear Tommy was not racist. Roger and Tommy never did me dirt, but I tried to steer clear of them.
Fang, Liberty Lunch, fall 1984
Occasionally a touring band would show up in town and set the whole place on fire. Fang, from Berkeley, did just that when they played at the sprawling, semi-outdoor Austin club Liberty Lunch. The only thing I knew about them was their song “Everybody Makes Me Barf.” But everybody and their uncle went apeshit that night. Singer Sam McBride, a.k.a. Sammytown, was an awesome, hyperkinetic front man. Five years later, he murdered his girlfriend and went to prison. Today, Sammytown is out and again touring with Fang.
Ralph and friend, winter 1984
She called herself Ralph, but her real name was Lisa. Ralph was at almost every hardcore show, looked kinda rough, and knew a lot more about Roxy Music than you would have thought. Between bites of a Thundercloud sub, she is kissing a woman here. I don’t know whether Ralph identified as straight, bisexual or lesbian, but in Austin punk, that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. Ralph is still alive, which is notable.
East 12th St., January 1985
I spent some late nights in a skinhead flophouse in East Austin, where I took this picture on-the-fly one lost evening, and I didn’t look at it again for twenty-five years. I don’t know the name of the young man wearing a bandana, but that’s a poster of the great Apache leader Geronimo over his shoulder. At the time, the punk musicians, artists, and all-around troublemakers in Austin felt a kinship with these old world renegades. Michael Nott’s fanzine Western Roundup was a particularly brilliant conflation of the myth of cowboy and Indian heroes with that of the hardcore kid. East 12th Street was a rough place. I’m glad I didn’t get scalped.
Butthole Surfers, Uncle Sue Sue’s, winter, 1984
No one ever knew what would happen at a Butthole Surfers show. Before they started using shotguns, strobe lights and penis reconstruction surgery films as part of their shows, the band was riveting because they were musically and visually bizarre. Singer Gibby Haynes, a former high school basketball star, was as charismatic as Jim Jones, only funnier. For many Texas punk shows, the audience was amazing too. Surfing that sworl was like being inside a pinball machine. But if you fell down, the others picked you up.
Gary Floyd, The Dicks, Voltaire’s Basement, April 1984
The Dicks may have been the best punk band ever to walk the earth. “The Dicks Hate the Police,” their searing indictment of institutional racism, is unrivalled. But the original, thug-like incarnation of the band fell apart when singer Gary Floyd moved to San Francisco, while the other Dicks — Texans to the core — stayed behind in Austin. In 1984, Floyd returned to town with new backing to play this show in a firetrap called Voltaire’s. Floyd was (and is) gay and proud, a passionate Communist, and an amazing, bloozy singer. Right up front, I see Mara, Rene, Christi and Shannon — all these young women, proof that hardcore punk in Austin wasn’t just for straight white boys.
Pat Blashill shot images and wrote about rock and pop music for Rolling Stone, SPIN and Details. He grew up in Texas, consuming a steady diet of Butthole Surfers records and Ed Wood movies. He now lives in Vienna, Austria.