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Texas troubadour Gary P. Nunn finds his home in the Highland Lakes

Gary P. Nunn

Texas singer-songwriter Gary P. Nunn. Courtesy photo

When singer-songwriter Gary P. Nunn says he wants to “go home with the armadillo,” he now means his property just east of Marble Falls, where he settled in 2003 with wife Ruth. The famous lyric is from his best-known hit, 1973’s “London Homesick Blues,” which was the theme song for the “Austin City Limits” TV show for 28 years. Nunn was at the heart of the cosmic-country music movement of the ’70s with fellow poet Michael Martin Murphey, hell-raiser Jerry Jeff Walker, and Texas treasure Willie Nelson.

Among his accolades are Official (Texas) Ambassador to the World (1985), Texas Hall of Fame inductee (2004), and Musical Ambassador for Texas (2007). 

However, Nunn said he’s most proud of being added to the West Texas Walk of Fame (1995), where his name is engraved alongside legends Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and Roy Orbison. 

Although a native Okie, Nunn’s body of work is imbued with imagery unique to Texas in a style that helped shape modern country music.

“My major focus in my performing and songwriting is trying to make music that people in Texas can identify with and to just kind of celebrate the Texas lifestyle,” he told The Picayune Magazine in a recent interview. “It’s not about me, it’s about my audience having fun.”

Born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, in 1945, Nunn and his family moved to Texas when he was in the sixth grade, and he grew up outside of Lubbock in the small town of Brownfield. He was heavily influenced by the big band sounds like that of Duke Ellington, but rock ‘n’ roll and folk eventually crept into his musical rotation. He even played in a locally successful rock band called The Sparkles but parted ways when they moved to California to “make it big.” Country music didn’t grab his ear until he got to Austin in 1968.

Nunn moved to the capital to study pharmacology at the University of Texas but kept up with music, playing in local bands while in school. Diving deeper into the Austin music scene, he played bass for local acts such as Murphey, Walker, and Nelson. 

Things got crazier when he signed on with The Lost Gonzo Band, Walker and Murphey’s road musicians, in 1972. That was the year the world lost a budding pharmacologist and gained a cosmic cowboy. Nunn was unintentionally riding a counter-culture wave that would change country music forever. 

“We didn’t know what we were doing, but we sure were having fun,” he said.

Nunn, Walker, Murphey, and Nelson were part of the progressive country movement challenging the traditional Nashville sound that had dominated the airwaves for decades. 

“We were all involved in that so-called social revolution that was going on at the time, and, of course, Austin was the hotbed and the center of it,” Nunn said. “We were all looking for wisdom and nirvana and all that, and cosmic consciousness. It just fit the times, and it helped bring the (country music and counter) cultures together.”

He and the rest of The Lost Gonzo Band whipped out three records in the 1970s: “The Lost Gonzo Band” in ’75, “Thrills” in ’76, and “Signs of Life” in ’78. The band also backed Murphey’s poetic album “Geronimo’s Cadillac” in ’72 and Walker’s vivid vinyl “¡Viva Terlingua!” in 1973.

Nunn went solo in 1980 and since then has released 18 albums and over 200 songs that have garnered him multiple gold and platinum records.

He talked a bit about his award-winning songwriting and music-making process with The Picayune, using “London Homesick Blues” as an example of how a song is created. 

“I was over in England when I wrote that song,” he said. “I had been cooped up over there for a couple of weeks in this cold flat. I had a guitar in my hand, I was looking out the window, and it was one of those cold, dreary, damp, dark days that was typical of English weather. I just had plenty of time on my hands, and I was homesick and my dad was sick with heart trouble. The armadillo was the iconic mascot of the counter-culture that was going on at that time, and it rhymed with Amarillo.”

Some of Nunn’s biggest hits are obvious devotionals to his adopted state: “What I Like About Texas,” “Guadalupe Days,” “The Chili Song,” “Terlingua Sky,” “My Kind of Day on Padre,” and “Why Don’t You Meet Me Down in Corpus?”

Texas loved — and loves — him back. He received the 2019 Texas Living Legend Award from the Country Music Association of Texas and was honored by the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019 for his lifetime achievements and outstanding contributions to the state. 

“I just fell in love with the whole idea of what it means to be Texan,” Nunn said. “It seemed like an ideal sort of character to emulate, the cowboy character.”

Nunn returned to his family ranch in Oklahoma in the 1980s but moved back to the Lone Star State in 2003. He and Ruth settled in the Highland Lakes area, just east of Marble Falls on RR 1431. They were looking for small-town charm close to Austin, and they found it. 

He credits his wife with bringing him back to Texas and managing his success.

“Living in this area has been the happiest time of my life,” he said. “I just enjoy being in the Hill Country, and all of the folks around Marble Falls have been so welcoming and encouraging to me.”

Follow Nunn’s upcoming appearances at garypnunn.com. 

dakota@thepicayune.com