Rock Moment: Texas Cosmic Cowboys
It’s been a busy week for us, and we must apologize for not tending the blog recently. We’ve done a few interviews in advance of South by Southwest, those are coming soon and we have some other cool stuff on the horizon – promise.
Today we want to give you something for the weekend … a little remembrance of the Texas “cosmic cowboy” movement of the 1970s. The other day we mentioned Shiva’s Headband, the psychedelic country rockers partially responsible for the creation of the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin. But even before the Armadillo, Texas’ capital city was a mecca for young longhairs who liked country music.
I suppose Michael Murphey coined the phrase “cosmic cowboy” back in 1973, on his album Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir. He also sort of laid out the blueprint for the movement in “Cosmic Cowboy” from that album … “Lone Star sippin’ and skinny dippin’/and steel guitars and stars.” You could say a cosmic cowboy was one quarter redneck and three quarters hippie, a guy who’d happily loan you his pickup truck and his wife.
In 1972, Willie Nelson’s Nashville home burned down and he decided to move to Austin. When he inaugurated the Fourth of July picnic that year Willie rounded up his buddies Waylon Jennings, Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson and rocker Leon Russell. That was really rocked-up country, played with electric guitars and dubbed “outlaw country.” The cosmic cowboy movement kind of grew out of that, among the second-stringers not yet stellar enough to join the outlaw gang. Guys like Murphey, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Willis Alan Ramsey, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Rusty Wier played acoustic country folk, but they weren’t afraid to plug in and get all electric on ya. Doug Sahm tired of the San Francisco hippie scene and also packed up for Texas, where he found the outlaw/cosmic cowboy movement in full swing and naturally fit right in.
Dudes like Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen and others came along in the late 1970s and early 1980s to keep the flame alive to this day. “Austin City Limits” beginning in 1975 and the Armadillo World HQ starting in 1980 took the movement nationwide and out-of-towners like John Prine, Steve Goodman, Emmylou Harris and John Stewart were allowed into the club. But by the beginning of the 1980s, everybody had stopped calling them “cosmic cowboys.” It was time for the “urban cowboy,” and we’ve talked about that before.
Here’s some authentic cosmic cowboy music from Texas in the early 1970s, and a few from the latter-day Texas music icons.