Five Decades Into His Career, Gary P. Nunn Talks The Past and Present of Texas Music
Singer-songwriter Gary P. Nunn has been making music for nearly half a century.
In that time, Nunn has played with a Who's Who of Texas country musicians. Best known for writing "London Homesick Blues," the theme song for Austin City Limits, Nunn has worked with, among others, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphy and Willie Nelson. Nunn is also considered the father of the progressive country scene that started in Austin in the early '70s.
Last year, Nunn released Taking Texas Music to the Country, and the effort showed that the performer had lost none of the wit and wisdom that has become his trademark.
Speaking from his home in Austin in anticipation of his show tomorrow night at 8.0 in Fort Worth, Nunn was nice enough to talk to DC9 about what he thinks makes Texas music so special.
In 2007, Governor Perry made you a musical ambassador fpr Texas. You think he'll run for president?
I don't think his chances are very good. Besides, that job is too much work and too much heartache.
You've received honors from both Governor Perry and former Governor Mark White.
That's right. We don't play favorites when it comes to music.
You've played music for a half of a century. Have you seen it all?
I doubt that I've seen it all, but I've seen a lot of it. I've seen it from a Texan point of view. I've watched this Texas music industry from its beginning, and seen it grow and grow. Even in the past 10 or 15 years, it has really grown and developed. I think the music scene all over Texas is very special.
How has the industry changed the most?
There was a time that if you didn't have a major record deal, then you couldn't make a record. We started off just trying to make our own records. Then we saw the coming of CDs. And now the Internet has revolutionized music sales and marketing tremendously.
The music that you and Jerry Jeff Walker made in Austin in the '70s was labeled progressive country. Of course, that label came years after you had been making music. What did you call your style back then?
Originally, back in those days, we were all in rock 'n' roll cover bands, playing college bars and frat parties. About as close as we came to country music was listening to Buffalo Springfield. What changed things was the coming of songwriters like Jerry Jeff Walker and Michael Murphy and Stephen Fromholz and, of course, Willie Nelson. They wrote their own songs. The sound came more from the folk scene than the country scene. It evolved into a kind of folk/country thing and it got the label of progressive country. Compared to traditional country music, it wasn't even close. People were country dancing to our music, that's for sure.
Why do you think Austin has been such a revered spot for Americana music?
Originally, it was the fact that University of Texas was there and there was a market for bands. There were a lot of clubs, and the fraternities were always booking bands. The college students drove the market. The better-paying gigs were in Austin, especially during the fraternity rush season. We'd drive in from Lubbock when I was in a band called The Sparkles. There were just a lot of gigs to be had. That hasn't changed. Austin is just a great city on a beautiful river in a great part of the state. The city is changing, however. It is changing right before our very eyes. It is now a much more metropolitan area, more urbanized. It's a big city instead of a small college town.
You started out playing bass for Willie Nelson, Michael Murphy and Jerry Jeff Walker. Those are three very different personalities.
Yes, they are, but once you get to the music, the personality issues go away. You always just play the best you can. And you always focus on the music. Now, when I played with Jerry Jeff in the Lost Gonzo Band, those were wild days. Jerry Jeff liked pushing the envelope and talking on the ledge.
Was any one of the three easier to work with?
That's very hard to say. It was all a challenge and a learning experience. I was delighted to have the opportunity to play bigger venues. These guys had record deals. I was excited to be out of the bars for a while.
Is it true that your most famous song, "London Homesick Blues," was a throwaway written in a hotel room?
When you are doing it for fun, when you are not trying to craft a song for an audience, when you are spending time and expressing yourself, often those songs are the best ones. When I wrote that song, I wasn't thinking about how audiences might react to it. Now, I think that's why people like it so much.
You are considered an icon of Texas music. When people find out that you are originally from Oklahoma, do they tease you about being a traitor?
I think I've been here long enough and everybody knows where my loyalties lie. I did buy some property in Oklahoma a long, long time ago and I had to go up there and take after my family's place for a while. We enjoyed the country living and doing the ranching thing, but the music business is all in Texas.
In your song "Austin Pickers," you sing "They don't like me in Nashville." That song came out in 1999. Do you think they like you now?
People in Nashville have always been guarded about people from Texas. I suppose they view us as maybe taking some of their business away. They are sensitive about the Texas scene. I think it all comes down to dollars and cents. Any dollar that is made singing country music in Texas is a dollar not made in Nashville. It's a regional thing as well.