First Draft Follies: Music and the “New” Beer, c. 1970. Part 2 of 2

Part One — Part Two 

Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification.

This two-part excerpt concerns the use of music to market beer in the early 1970s.

_____________________

When Harry Jersig called, Sullivan listened. Jersig owned Lone Star Brewing in San Antonio, Texas. The company had done well over the years, mostly because Jersig tended the local market with loving care.

But in the early seventies, Texas was changing and bigger brewers were invading his market. Jersig knew that it was time to rethink his strategy. He hired Barry Sullivan as Lone Star’s new vice-president for marketing.

Sullivan signed on in the fall of 1973, just as the peak of the baby boomers hit their early twenties. There were, Sullivan could see, a lot of potential fans for Lone Star. He could also see, however, that Lone Star’s image needed some work. Jersig had always sold the beer as pure Texas, a down-to-earth beer for hard-working, down-to-earth people. Texas was being overrun by another kind of “people”: young, urban, educated, and relatively liberal. Down-to-earth-hard-working wasn’t going to work on them.

Music, however, would. And music was something Texas had plenty of in the early seventies. And not old-fashioned Bob Wills-type stuff, but deep country steeped in rock and roll and rhythm and blues. “Woodstock in Western wear.” (*1).

The epicenter of this new country rock was the Armadillo World Headquarters, a cavernous club–it could accomodate fifteen hundred people–on Austin’s south side that began life as a National Guard armory.

The AWH opened in August 1970. Willie Nelson, who had left Nashville for Austin and become a godfather of the new “cosmic cowboy” music, played there. So did Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, Asleep at the Wheel, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bonnie Raitt, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. The Armadillo specialized in weird pairings: The Clash billed with died-in-the-wool Texan Joe Ely. Bruce Springsteen and The Pleasant Valley Boys.

This, Barry Sullivan decided, would become the nursery for the new Lone Star. He gave free beer to the groups playing the Armadillo. He hired those same players to record one minute radio jingle, “Harina Tortilla.” When producers from public television began filming sets at the Armadillo and broadcasting them as Austin City Limits, Lone Star underwrote the project.

Outside the Armadillo, Sullivan focused on print and radio. His “art director” was about as far off Madison Avenue as it was possible to get: Jim Franklin was a skinny, bearded young kid who dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and sandals.

Franklin fancied armadillos and one of his first ads for Lone Star consisted of a desolate landscape, where “‘everything was laid to waste and the only things that were left were [Lone Star] longnecks sticking out of the ground and armadillos running around.’” (*2)

The television commercials were just as goofy: A camera crew filmed real Texans as they engaged in “‘bizarre cultural rituals,’” Texas style: seed-spitting and buffalo-chip-tossing competitions, an armadillo beauty contest, a “Ceuero turkey trot.” (*3)

Funny. Irreverent. Completely off the wall. Perfectly suited to baby boomers who’d long since left their parents’ paths. Sales rose by a million cases in 1974. Lone Star, small regional beer par excellence, was hip.

________

*1: Michael Ennis, “The Beer That Made Armadillos Famous,” Texas Monthly 10 (February 1982): 175.

*2: Ibid., 177.

*3: Ibid., 179.

One thought on “First Draft Follies: Music and the “New” Beer, c. 1970. Part 2 of 2

  1. Interestingly, I think Lone Star is still achieving that same stature to this day. Even though the beer itself is not fantastic, hipsters don’t shy away from drinking it, and it is still mentioned frequently in Texas country music.

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