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Arts & Culture

Gary P. Nunn And The Funny Story Behind Going Home With The Armadillo Song

Fredericksburg’s Pioneer Museum continues with its Roots Music series. I got to visit with its next performer—a Texas Music legend. He’s Gary P. Nunn, and anyone who knows Texas Music knows he’s…

“Jack of all trades!” he laughed.

Although he claims to be a master of none, his track record shows otherwise. As to his musical roots, they’re surprising.

“Well, I’ve been all over the board. I started out playing Ventures, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and that sort of stuff when I was just a kid" he reminisced.  "‘Course, we went through the 60s and learned how to play all the Cream and Hendrix tunes.”

He made his way to Austin not long before the Cosmic Cowboy music explosion of the early 70s.   

"We had fun. We were some of the very first acts to perform on Austin City Limits, and then they picked up my tune”

His tune is London Homesick Blues which Austin City Limits used as their theme song for decades. When he wrote the song in London he was bored and saw it as just a way to kill some time.

“Never had any thought of anything ever coming of it because who writes songs about armadillos?”  he laughed.

In case you don’t know, the song originally came out not on a Gary P. Nunn album, but a Jerry Jeff Walker album—the career-establishing Viva Terlingua, recorded live in a Luckenbach barn. The record’s biggest hit, London Homesick Blues almost didn’t happen, but during the live recording in front of a raucous crowd, Jerry Jeff said this to Gary P.

“'Sing that song you were singing out under the trees this afternoon.' So I sang it and the crowd went nuts.”

But there was a problem with the recording—the engineer ran into the barn and said…

“’You gotta do it again! You gotta do it again!’ Well, that was kinda hard to do after bringing the house down. So if you’ll recall I say on the recording ‘let me see if I can put myself back in that place again’.”

(Hit Listen above to hear)

He did put himself back in that place, and the rest is history. But back to Luckenbach—this was not a standard recording studio. It was a barn.

"We used these little small amps and set hay bales in front of ‘em to baffle the sound. Y’know, we put drums on the stage and covered ‘em up with a bunch of hay bales. [The recording engineer] Michael Brovsky and I went out to a hay field and loaded up a pickup truck of hay to do the baffles. We set up on the dance floor. And so it was very primitive from a recording atmosphere standpoint."

The song took on a life of its own and over time morphed into something else: a reggae version. It happened strangely enough in Germany after a winery tour. Back at the hotel on a whim he put the song to a reggae beat.

"One night I went ‘Aaaay-Oh and the whole crowd went ‘aaaay-oh’ and I thought this is magic!”     

(Hit Listen to hear the reggae version)

And now you know the rest of the story.

We've more on Gary P. Nunn here

We've more on Gary P. Nunn's May 30th Fredericksburg performance here.