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The Mississippi Boy Who Went Home With the Armadillo

Half the gatefold of ¡Viva Terlingua! Gary P. Nunn seated far left with guitar; Jerry Jeff on the right, kicked back in Luckenbach, Texas.
Half the gatefold of ¡Viva Terlingua! Gary P. Nunn seated far left with guitar; Jerry Jeff on the right, kicked back in Luckenbach, Texas.

I’ve only been to Austin, Texas once, in 1998. Austin was, to me, a Mecca, home, of course, of Willie Nelson, but more importantly to me, Jerry Jeff Walker, whose albums with the Lost Gonzo Band had molded me and led me to become a songwriter. For me, it all started when, as a child, I marveled in wonder at the sounds (via eight-track) on his groundbreaking, loose ¡Viva Terlingua! album from 1974. The song yielded many classics, but one of the standouts was “London Homesick Blues,” sung by Lost Gonzo Gary P. Nunn. The album made Nunn famous, with his name shouted out during the performance: “Mister Gary P. Nunn!” The song went on to be his calling card, putting a cherry on the top of Jerry Jeff’s great album. It became the theme song for the television show Austin City Limits.
Me with Gary P. at the Broken Spoke.
Me with Gary P. at the Broken Spoke.

Over time, I would seek out records by any artist related to Jerry Jeff’s sphere of influence, including Nunn’s. The prospect of a trip to Austin was truly a chance to go “home with the armadillo.” Austin was to me as the Mississippi Delta is to Led Zeppelin.
By the time I made my visit, the first night there, I saw in the paper that my hero Gary P. Nunn was playing at the Broken Spoke. We arrived during the last song of his first set. During the set break I approached him and talked and told him what a fan I was and that I’d played “Jaded Lover” (a song Jerry Jeff recorded) at the Gin in Oxford, Mississippi a week earlier. He thanked me for saying hello.
When Nunn got back onstage and asked “that Mississippi boy” to come up and sing with him. For some reason, he played “Margaritaville.” He motioned to me to sing the second verse. I was nervous and couldn’t remember which verse was the second one, so I made up something about Scooby Doo and made it rhyme. He leaned over in my ear and said, “Shit, son, who don’t know Margaritaville?”
The way I look at it, I was writing a song with Gary P. Nunn. Yeah, that’s it.
In honor of July 4, 2014, here’s one of my favorite video clips—from July 4, 1974 at Willie Nelson’s picnic. It’s Gary P. Nunn singing his trademark number with Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band.
— Tad Wilkes, tad.wilkes@hottytoddy.com

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