Welcome to Radio Raul's
In the winter of 1978, the Sex Pistols — barbarian combatants of London's revolutionary punk scene — set out to conquer North America, following up on successful campaigns in Europe. Their stateside tour, marred by drug abuse, infighting, and the band's manager's Machiavellian incitements, began without incident in Atlanta on Jan. 5th, then imploded spectacularly eleven days later at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco. Two of the group's mere seven performances in the US occurred at c&w dance halls in Texas — Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio on Jan 8 and the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas on Jan 10.
In Austin, concurrent with the Pistols' ill-fated American putsch, two fledgling hard rock acts, the Violators and the Skunks — inspired by the British new wave movement and sharing a bass player — booked a weeknight slot at Raul's, a Chicano-owned night club at 2610 Guadalupe Street on the drag.
Raul's was a block away from the teaming communications compound on the UT Austin campus, home to student, faculty, and non-academic opinion-makers— many working for the highly-influential Daily Texan and Austin's ambitious affiliates of NPR and PBS — not to mention the UT radio, TV, and film departments from which many future Raul's creatives would emerge.
Even closer in proximity to Raul's than the UT campus was Austin's wealthy "Greek" neighborhood. Fraternity brothers and their sorority sisters greatly contributed to the outsized and lucrative dining and entertainment industries in the capital city; however, before September 20, 1978, Raul's was not on their radar or anybody else's.
Except for major holidays and Spring Break when the campus area seemed deserted, but especially on weekends, over 40,000 students and their associates packed the discotheques, mainstream rock venues, cosmic country saloons, gay bars, jazz & blues hotspots, folk music nooks, and traditional country dance halls—but nobody who was anybody set foot inside Raul's.
Overshadowing every other locale perhaps was the beloved Armadillo World Headquarters, a mid-sized venue of impeccable taste that attracted cutting edge artists of practically all sub-genres of American popular music. It was also the birthplace of Cosmic Cowboy culture. The only trend in international rock music that the Armadillo was loathed to champion was punk rock, especially local groups identified with the genre.
Despite all the journalists and critics hustling for stories just a football kick away from Raul's, neither the musicians nor the management expected many of them to show on Jan 19th? Why would those egg heads, squares, and snobs care about checking out two unsung bands on a school night at an unknown club? In fact, the Skunks and the Violators had plans to relocate to LA in toto for the obvious reason that there was no punk scene in Austin to support them.
Raul's management, ignorant of this new musical trend on the horizon with disaffected white kids, had gotten used to empty houses, counting the days before the bank foreclosed on their mortgage.
Roy Gomez was a good-natured, philosophical, progressive, do-it-yourself entrepreneur, proud of his Tex Mex roots, willing to bet on his instincts and trust that God would provide. He had an idealistic notion about introducing live Tejano music to the mostly white student demographic west of I35 and recruited good friends Joseph Gonzalez and Bobby Morales, as manager and bouncer, respectively. Almost immediately, they had
trouble making ends meet, showcasing big Tejano acts like Salaman and Little Joe y La Familia, who required cash advances to perform. Not only did white people not come, Chicanos from East Austin, reluctant to cross I35 even to see their favorite acts, shunned the place. Or maybe they never got the word. Neither Roy nor Joseph were marketing experts.
Fortunately for everyone involved, between the time the Skunks and Violators booked their debuts and the date itself, curiosity created by the Sex Pistols' blitzkrieg through Texas had generated a huge buzz among UT media students; so that the existence of not only one but two local punk bands was an event worth previewing before the fact and reviewing afterward in the Daily Texan.
The mostly-female Violators and all-male Skunks were overnight sensations, a fact they deftly milked, performing a quick series of engagements, as lucrative for the bands - who got to keep the cover charge — and the club who got the beer sales.
Within weeks at least two more punk bands debuted at Raul's, including Bodysnatchers and the Next, competing with the Skunks and Violators for status in the fledgling scene. All of them received inordinate media attention in comparison to local acts in other genres.
The Next, driving up from San Antonio for gigs at Raul's, were the only one of the four that completely identified as punks — it was already a lifestyle, not merely a musical genre — and the only band that played their own material exclusively. To one degree or another, the Violators, the Skunks, and Bodysnatchers were slumming, dipping their toes in the trend, suspicious of its larger sociopolitical context and pretense. Their sets mixed a few originals with revved-up covers of 1960s midwestern garage rock a la Lenny Kaye's seminal compilation, "Nuggets," and gems from the 1960's British invasion, plus novelty new wave hits from out of London like "Neat Neat Neat" by The Damned. They were betting short that punk rock wasn't here to stay.
This very brief, legendary period in Austin musical history — when only these four groups constituted a scene— climaxed when international touring sensations, Patti Smith and Elvis Costello, respectively, dropped by after sold-out gigs at the Austin Music House to sit in with the Skunks. Not long after that, the Violators moved without their bass player to LA; and the original guitarist for the Skunks joined Costello's circus as a guitar tech.
Back in Austin, a hardcore following of youths — about 100 altogether, half urban intellectuals from upper-middle-class suburbs and half working-class street kids from small Texas towns — fairly mixed in ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender — could be counted on to show up at Raul's on the weekends, no matter who was playing, as long as it was fronting as punk rock or new wave.
Raul's also started booking out-of-town punk acts from Houston, Dallas, El Paso, LA, etc. It got hooked into a circuit. Like Austin, most cities in America with a sizable liberal college had one club where punk rock was allowed. Big cities, like New York, San Francisco, and LA each had at least two venues.
Bands would drive up to 1500 miles to play one night at Raul's. And everybody dug it. It was a decent, even righteous place to play.
Roy, Joseph, and Bobby, pleased by the press coverage, burgeoning attendance, and liquor sales, embraced the wild young musicians and their fans wholeheartedly, providing an oasis of artistic freedom and protection from hostile forces opposed to the new cultural trend.
Although most famous for the punk bands that called it home, Raul's never turned its back on Tejano. Indeed, they covered the waterfront, welcoming all musical styles, as they embraced all types of people.
Management at Raul's put up with just about anything but willful disrespect. They could tell the difference between mock violence— kids horsing around— and real violence. The former was tolerated; the latter was nipped in the bud without calling the cops. Joseph carried a pistol in his belt. I never heard of him firing it, but he leveled it point-blank at the lead singer of one of my bands and cold-cocked the older brother of the Re*Cords guitarist. Both of these people had crossed the line of respect, which Joseph had drawn so clearly
Then, on September 20, 1978, about one in the morning, a uniformed police officer accompanied by two undercover cops entered the packed and rowdy club on a noise complaint and attempted to interfere with a performance by The Huns, sparking a melée that resulted in the arrest of the band's lead singer, four friends of the band, and Bobby Morales. Photos from the event show Roy Gomez on stage attempting to mediate between the cops on one side and the band, the crowd, and his staff on the other.
The story went viral across Texas and got picked up by the AP wire, earning mentions in Rolling Stone and London's New Musical Express.
In the immediate wake of the "Huns Riot" and subsequent trial, more groups formed and debuted at Raul's, including Terminal Mind, Standing Waves, Reversible Cords, F-Systems, Sharon Tate's Baby, Radio Free Europe, D-Day, the Foams, Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns, Radio Planets, Gator Family, the Explosives, Boy Problems, Invisibles, Eddie & the Inmates, Ideals, Big Boys, Mistakes, Chickadiesals, the Delinquents, the Shades, Life on Earth, Max and the Makeups, Trouble Boys, and the Skyscrapers.
In its three years of existence, Raul's booked new wave bands from all over Texas, including the Nervebreakers, Really Red, Plastic Idols, the Hates, Fort Worth Cats, Vomit Pigs, Teenage Queers, etc., and hosted national and international acts, The Plugz, The Dils The Urinals, The Dinettes, The Cramps, The Controllers, Psychedelic Furs, and Black Flag.
Out in LA, the Violators morphed into the Textones. When the Textones broke up, one of the co-leaders joined the Go-Gos and the other co-leader formed a group with Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones. The Skunks' guitarist abandoned Elvis Costello to play lead for the Plimsouls.
Former 13th Floor Elevator Roky Erickson premiered his new horror songs at Raul's, first backed up by the Reversible Cords, then the Explosives, and later by members of the Delinquents.
Several bands toured America and Europe, and some found major record deals, like D-Day and Joe King Carrasco & the Crowns. Celebrities who visited the club include Annie Lennox, Robert Fripp, Sterling Morrison, and members of Devo and Blondie.
Events at Raul's fed stories to the Austin American Statesman, Texas Monthly, and weekly entertainment rags. Several notable journalists, critics, and photographers made their bones, capturing Raul’s habitués and happenings. At least three significant fanzines rode its wave: Sluggo!, Contempo Culture, and Xiphoid Process. Young graphic artists hitched their wagons to their favorite bands and started designing posters, record covers, and PR materials for the club.
Dozens of 45s, EPs, and LPs — almost all of them featuring original material — are highly collectible today. Two compilation albums— both called LIVE AT RAUL'S but featuring different acts — are still in print.
In February 1980, Roy Gomez sold the club to a new owner who kept the name while making improvements to the stage and sound system. Many felt the soul of the place left with Roy, Joseph and Bobby; however, it was more like a cycle, for if some of the original groups disbanded — like my bands the Huns and Reversible Cords, others like Terminal Mind, Standing Waves, and the Skunks found purchase at more mainstream venues in Austin, like Soap Creek, the Continental Club, even the Armadillo.
Meanwhile, the third wave of Raul's associated groups, led by Big Boys and the Dicks, debuted at Raul's or were directly influenced by shows they saw there: The Stains/MDC, Toxic Shock, Delta, Rank and File, Meat Joy, The Hickoids, Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers, Doctor's Mob, Glass Eye, Texas Instruments, the Wild Seeds, Bad Mutha Goose, True Believers, Sons of Hercules, The Reivers/Zeitgeist, Daniel Johnston, and Timbuk 3.
Raul's closed its doors forever after one last show on April 1, 1981, featuring the Reactors, the Next, Big Boys, the Inserts, and Really Red from Houston.
Through the years, the club's reputation grew. Members of the scene founded the Austin Chronicle and South by Southwest. Others signed major record deals or distinguished themselves in other media. Ever so often, Raul's alumni staged reunions at sundry Austin clubs, sparking retrospective articles in newspapers and magazines. Joseph Gonzales attended all of the reunions, occasionally promoted shows, and enjoyed the status of a semi-legendary cultural figure until he died in 1996. Bobby Morales died at least ten years before in an automobile accident.
Not much was known about Roy Gomez. He had always been, mostly, the man behind the curtain, reserved and professional. Bobby and Joseph were the avuncular, middle-aged extroverts who bonded with the young musicians, their friends, and their families.
As the epicenter of the early punk community in Austin, Raul's played a vital role in transforming the Capitol city's musical landscape, championing original material over cover songs, and helping make Austin an internationally-recognized destination for live music of all types.
In February 2020, members of the Next, Explosives, Skunks, and Standing Waves played a show celebrating the 40th-anniversary re-release of the first Live at Raul's album. A few days later, the drummer of the Huns and a guitarist for D-Day went looking for Roy Gomez, whom they heard had become a Catholic priest. They left a note for him on Holy Family Catholic Church's front door at 9322 FM812 in far east Austin.
Father Roy responded later that day, delighted to be remembered. Breakfast was arranged for Feb 18 at Amaya's Taco Village in North Austin. Joining Roy was his son Michael, who had been a bar back at his dad's club 40 years earlier. Former members of the Skunks, Huns, Glass Eye, Standing Waves, Radio Planets, the Explosives, Reversible Cords, and the Delinquents reminisced with Roy and Michael, expressing their deep and abiding respect for the man who had given them a place to express themselves and pursue their dreams of stardom.
Michael may have remembered us better than Roy. We were stars to him. If Roy didn’t remember us, he did a good job faking it. He remembered the club, that's for sure, and his friends Joseph and Bobby. He was proud of its legacy. Tickled that it was so fondly thought of by so many. I told him about the documentary I’d been co-directing for the last five years and ask him to sit for an interview the next time I could get back to Austin. (My partners Ken Hoge, Clay Luther, and Erin Parisi and I had already interviewed everybody else at the table.)
We talked about Roy's spiritual evolution, from catholic layman to priest to Vicar at Holy Family. I told him that many Raul's alumni, including myself, had taken analogous journeys to his. He was particularly interested in learning about the remarkable Christian conversion of the Hun's lead singer and the conversion to Hinduism of the lead singers of the Reversible Cords and the Dicks.
Covid - 19 struck a couple of weeks later. Production on the movie slowed considerably, although we continued to collect interviews via Zoom. At the same time, seeds of a larger endeavor — which could include the movie, many movies for that matter — were planted during that breakfast at Amaya's Taco Stand with Roy and Michael Gomez.
It had always been our intention to leave behind an online archive of the complete interviews collected for the movie so that more projects could be made once ours finished, of course. We had so much footage, the thought of editing it was daunting. I worried about all the great stuff that would have to be left out. Would it take another five before we had a rough cut? How many band members would die before we finished? How could I avoid being accused of favoring my own bands and music over the other bands? What old wounds had yet to be reopened and dead bodies unearthed? Yes, Raul's circa 1978 - 80 was a great time in my life. And painful! I was going a little insane keeping up with who hated who and quoting Rodney King all day long in my mind.
Did I really expect a bunch of 65-year-old punks, most of whom weren't crazy about each other 40 years ago, to get along.
Raul's was organized chaos, a boiling crucible, a fetid womb from which myths were born. The Huns Bust! How mythic was that? Behind the drums, I was already making up shit to say to reporters when Bridgewater was still wrestling with Tolstead on the stage.
Pictures from that night show the future Father Roy Gomez on stage trying to mediate during a riot are priceless! What indeed was he saying?! "Now, now, everybody, remember the Golden Rule."
It’s funny, but I think that's what he was doing. While Tolstead and Bridgewater were hell-bent on getting their kicks while the whole shit house went up in flames. Roy was trying to put it out the fire. Of course, he was! It was his place. His house! His sanctuary. We desecrated it. And then he let us come back three weeks later. And every other week on Saturday night for a couple of years.
That's Roy. You know what I’m saying. It's just like what he's doing now forty years later at Holy Family in East Austin, the flagship diocese of a new, inclusive, activist catholic denomination unaffiliated with the Vatican, that allows for female priests, for all priests to marry, that believes in a woman’s right to abortion, and is adamant about following the philosophy and imitating the ways of gentle Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. He's just like what I want to be like when I'm 80.
Why not reopen Raul's in cyberspace, I started thinking.
It was not an idea that lit up like a lightbulb above my head. It was not my idea at all. But a collective yearning, a buzz I tuned into at the same time other people around me were slouching toward the same thing.
Enter John-David Bartlett of Singing Hearts Arts with notions of aggregating some of the music associated with Raul’s into a digital archive ad monetizing the music across platforms, so that the songwriters and band members might start receiving royalties for the first time. That sounded great, after all I was a member of two of the groups.
It was then that the idea for re-opening Raul’s was coceived. The outbreak of Covid-19, advances in web technology, improvements in collecting royalties on digital media, not to mention the diaspora of the old clientele, dovetailed in such a way as to suggest that a cyber-based club was the way to go.
It only remained to see if Roy would approve. He couldn't have been more amenable. We signed a contract giving my LLC the right to exploit his name, likeness, and life story. He wasn't interested in money for himself, just asked that a share of potential profits would go to his favorite charity, a convent in San Antonio.
Back in Feb 2020, at breakfast, I asked Roy about his nickname Raul. He said that it was his given name. He took on the anglicized form as a teen in the 1950s because white people couldn't pronounce "Raul."
If and when we ever do his interview for the documentary, I'll ask him what he thinks of punk rock.
Feb 27, 2021
Edgecliff Village, Tx