Musicians Off the Record: Eddie Wilson

If ever there was a character that deserves a statue next to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s on the bank of Austin’s Town Lake, it is Eddie Wilson, a name synonymous with the capital city. In an era before music economic development strategies, commissions and grand marketing slogans, Wilson offered Austinites an assortment of amusements which made tongues wag. His Armadillo World Headquarters, which opened in 1970, was a controlled environment of weirdness that featured some of music’s most legendary acts in a cozy setting.  It was also the venue for Willie Nelson’s first foray into what was dubbed “redneck rock.” Gracing the stage of the Armadillo, the red headed stranger shook off the dust of Nashville and kicked up an outlaw music movement. In so doing, Nelson unintentionally carried Austin into the music mainstream and made Wilson’s shadow all the longer.

Wilson spent part of his formative years just a stone’s throw from legendary yodeler Kenneth Threadgill’s North Lamar joint, in operation since 1933. Threadgill, “The Father of Austin Music,” hostedfolk and country music enthusiasts every Wednesday, University of Texas students Janis Joplin and Wilson among them. The Armadillo carried on Threadgill’s music legacy with a communal spirit that could best be found in its “beer garden of Eden.” “More people have told me that they made up their mind to stay in Austin while sitting in the beer garden,” Wilson swears. With little capital, he remodeled the former National Guard armory in South Austin and bred a new subculture of “cosmic” cowboy-hippies who gave rapt attention to visiting performers of all stripes. From 1970 to 1980, the Armadillo’s praises were heard, coast to coast, from the mouths of Jerry Garcia to Bruce Springsteen. And it wasn’t just the social climate that created a buzz, but the home cooking served up to ravenous players.

In 1981, just hours after the Armadillo shuts its doors for the last time, Wilson reopened Threadgill's old service station as a quaint, southern styled restaurant. The food, low prices and ambience stirred the hearts of locals who also indulged in Wednesday music sessions, most notably those of Jimmie Dale Gilmore during the 80s. Awards for “Best American Restaurant” have stacked up over the years, as have requests for Wilson’s cookbook and frozen food line. A second diner opened in 1996 near the former site of the Armadillo, Threadgill’s World Headquarters, which features a popular Beer Garden concert series that hearkens back to the hey-day of Austin music.  

Wherever Wilson stirs, he is surrounded by creative freethinkers, politicians, musicians and happy patrons alike. He continues to reflect the best of Austin and remains the quintessential Texas medicine man of good times.