Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Ghosts of Raul's || The Riot of the Huns

I worked at the Texas Showdown for over 10 years. I don't think a week ever went by without someone coming in to the bar and saying, "Didn't this used to be Raul's?"

I graduated high school in 1980 and, unfortunately, attended S.M.U. for three years. Anytime I got the chance, I headed down to Austin. I never hung out at Raul's. But a had a few beers there. I wasn't into punk rock at the time. I remember one night walking into Raul's and feeling the palpable hatred of the mohawked pierced pale punks for those that looked like me. I had a quick beer and headed out.

I wish that I would've stayed.

As it was with so many places in Austin, you heard the legends and great stories after they were closed down and long gone.

One of the many Raul's stories that I heard while working at the Showdown was about the notorious riot at Raul's. Phil Tolstead, the lead singer of the Huns, tried to kiss a police officer during the performance of the song Eat Death Scum. As you might imagine, a riot ensued.

After I initially posted this piece, someone asked me why I cared about an event that happened over 30 years ago, that I didn't even experience first-hand, in a place that I never actually hung out in. I care for three reasons:

  • The Riot at Raul's and, by extension, the club itself, refused to fade away into the history of forgotten bars and the stories that die with them. From where I stood, it signified a defining attitude of Austin as a place where art and music - and those were committed to living "all the way up" - got into your face and tried to kiss you - damn the consequences. 
  • It is amazing and weird how many people who were (and still are) central figures in the character of Austin were present - some arrested - at Raul's that night.
  • The Showdown was there for almost 25 years. Raul's - as best as I can tell - was there for about 5 years. Nearly every time there was an article or any press about the Showdown, it would include the epithet, "formerly home to the legendary punk club, Raul's." Clearly, even riots aside, there was something about the place that made it - that makes it - important to remember.

From Greg Beets at The Austin Chronicle:

Few Austin bands have ever played as memorable a first show as the Huns. The motley quintet of vocalist Phil Tolstead, keyboardist Dan Transmission, guitarist Manny Rosario, bassist Joel Richardson, and drummer Tom Huckabee debuted on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 1978 at Raul’s, a UT-area proto-punk dive located at the present-day site of the Texas Showdown. Five songs into the band’s set, Austin police officer Steve Bridgewater entered Raul’s in response to a noise complaint. According to police accounts, Huns vocalist Tolstead screamed, “I hate your fucking guts, pig!” When Bridgewater approached the stage, he was greeted by an open-mouthed kiss from Tolstead. Two plainclothes officers jumped onstage to help Bridgewater subdue Tolstead, and a small-scale riot ensued, resulting in the arrest of Tolstead and five others, including future Austin Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro. The riot made the front page of the Austin American-Statesman and was mentioned in Rolling Stone and New Musical Express. Rosario quit after the Huns’ third show and was replaced by John Burton. The absurdist punk quintet’s sole 7-inch, released in 1979, pitted “Busy Kids” against “Glad He’s Dead,” a pro-JFK assassination anthem. The Huns broke up in 1980, but Tolstead’s riot-related court case dragged on until 1983, when the singer abandoned the appeals process and became a born-again Christian. He even went on The 700 Club to denounce his punk rock past. In 1995, Existential Vacuum and Get Hip co-released a live recording of a 1979 Huns in Dallas.

The Hun's at Raul's - July 4, 1979
At one point Tolstead says something about 
"an officer down, needs assistance at 2610 Guadalupe."

From Wikipedia: Raul's

Originally a bar run by Hispanics Joseph Gonzales (deceased in May 1996) and Roy "Raul" Gomez, when, in late 1977, four musicians, Jesse Sublett, Kathy Valentine, Carla Olson and Marilyn Dean, approached them, looking for a venue to play, since those performers had difficulties being accepted elsewhere. The four musicians had formed a new punk band called the Violators. Jesse Sublett, along with Eddie Munoz and Bill Blackmon comprised the other new punk band in town, The Skunks. Raul's gave both bands a chance, but at first did not enjoy the new style, which they deemed too chaotic, preferring rather Tejano music. The Violators and the Skunks first played at Raul's in February 1978 to a wildly enthusiastic audience. Thereafter, the Skunks garnered a huge following, not only at Raul's but other, more conventional venues around Austin.

Then there was the September 19 incident of the arrest for obscenity of the singer of The Huns, Phil Tolstead, while on stage for their first performance, which drew considerable attention after a scoop article on the matter was published in the university students' newspaper, The Daily Texan, and on to other publications such as Rolling Stone and the NME in the UK. A photograph had been taken at the moment where a bare-chested Tolstead, being handcuffed on stage, was reaching to one of the police officers for a kiss on the cheek. The punk rockers insisted, and the establishment experienced a noticeable increase in clientèle, fueled by curiosity, especially among the young people, as its proximity to the university should supply.

Eventually the place became the punk rock venue in town, and its reputation was somewhat echoed throughout the United States.

 From the Austin Chronicle

A recording was made there, the 1979 Live at Raul's, a compilation of songs by five of the most popular of the Raul's bands: The Skunks, Standing Waves, Roky Erickson, The Explosives, The Next and Terminal Mind. Other regular performers included: Radio Free Europe, Eddie and the Inm'8s, Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns, Sharon Tate's Baby, The MiƧtakes, Boy Problems, the Chickadiesels, the Re*cords, the Reactors, the Delinquents, D-Day, the all-girl band The Foams, Action Toys, the Electric Tools, the Stains, the Gators, the Derelicts, Radio Planets, the Rejects, Secret Science, Perverted Popes, the Invisibles, Toxic Shock; then later, the Big Boys, and The Dicks.
The club hosted a number of touring bands from elsewhere such as The Plugz from LA, who had Texas roots, in the summer of 79, and The Dils, also from California. Also: The Psychedelic Furs on their first US tour (1980), the Dinettes from Santa Barbara, on June 25 and 26, the Controllers from L.A. (November 17 and 18). Patti Smith made an appearance, and so did Devo, and Elvis Costello. Robert Fripp was once spotted in the audience.

From - Tom Huckabee's Hun's Site:

After our first show caused a riot and generated gobs of local front page press — not to mention blurbs in Rolling Stone and New Musical Express — we became international celebrities in our own minds. (It doesn't take much to inflate the egos of pseudo-intellectual hicks prone to megalomania). We at arrived at parties early, scarfed the refreshments and split. We booked gigs and didn't show. We insulted friends, fans, other bands, sound engineers, journalists, managers, producers and club owners. (Once, backstage after a show, Joseph Gonzales, proprietor of Raul's, was forced to pull a loaded .38 on our lead singer to rectify a personal slight). We were mean, arrogant, pedantic, petty, pious, selfish, whiny, insensitive, greedy, lying, effeminate, lazy, lecherous, inconsiderate, self-aggrandizing, vindictive pricks. For a brief, glorious period at a little club in Austin we were on top, and the world was our bottom. We had a license, perhaps an obligation, to be assholes.

But the public, which issues sphincter permits, is fickle, and they soon revoked ours. We went from critics' darlings to pariahs within a year, and then spent another year pathetically trying to regain the ground we lost. Bands that we inspired, that followed us at Raul's — the Dicks and the Big Boys for instance — surpassed us by gigging steadily, mastering their instruments and embracing their audience. Gary Floyd and Biscuit Turner were people with whom you'd want to share a beer, people you'd trust with your firstborn. The Huns were boors, backstabbers, wife beaters, bigots, freeloaders, carpetbaggers, perjurers, adulterers, blasphemers, pedophiles, gluttons, Reaganities, public urinators, nose pickers and quitters.

People at the time thought our signature number — the song that got us arrested — "Eat Death Scum", was a daring broadside against the Austin Police Department, when it was really a vile attack on a girl who Phil thought had given him the clap. The only line I can remember is, "I want to bludgeon your pussy with a mace"; so it's just as well that the words were never audible above the din, and that even now it doesn't exist on record. [...]

What possessed Phil Tolstead to kiss a cop on the night of September 19, 1978? It was a mad urge, a dramatic notion, an instinct for contradiction, and John Lennon saying, 'Give me a kiss' to a bobby in Hard Day's Night. Most newspapers at the time described it as an attempted smooch; but I'm telling you it was full lip-to-lip contact, however brief, which caused the chain reaction that ended in a police riot and the beating and arrest of several of our friends and fans. Phil's charges were disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and abusive language. No mention of forcible osculation.


Wikipedia: Raul's
The Improbable Rise of Asshole Rock by Tom Huckabee
Raul's Myspace Page
The Austin Chronicle: Raul's
Video: Live at Raul's (almost)

Note: I have lost my sources for some of these photographs. If that means you, I apologize. Please send me an email and I will happily give you credit.

Thanks to those of you that did contact me. I will update the page as I get more information.