By Kathleen O’Keefe
(March/April 2012/vol. 5 – Issue 2)
Every year at the MusicFest in Steamboat, Colo., one of the most anticipated events of the week is the festival’s annual “Tribute to a Legend” concert, during which many of the attending acts perform heartfelt, acoustic versions of the honoree’s material, followed by a set performed by the legend themselves. Past Tribute honorees include Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kevin Welch, Robert Earl Keen, and Leon Russell. This year’s concert, held Jan. 8 in the ballroom of the Steamboat Grand Hotel, saluted one of the hardest working — and partying — acts in Texas music history: the Lost Gonzo Band.
Merging rock, country, and folk sounds, the members of the Lost Gonzo Band performed and recorded with three of the biggest stars to come out of the 1970s progressive country scene — Michael Martin Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Early on, before they even settled on their name, they formed the core of Murphey’s touring band for his seminal Geronimo’s Cadillac album, and, soon after, rode off with Walker to help him make a string of his most famous recordings — including Jerry Jeff Walker, ¡Viva Terlingua! and the aptly-titled Ridin’ High. The Gonzos were not just great musicians, but accomplished songwriters, too — penning several of Walker’s most memorable and enduring songs from the era, including “London Homesick Blues” (Gary P. Nunn), “Public Domain” (Nunn and Bob Livingston), and “Goodbye Easy Street” (John Inmon).
By the second half of the ’70s, the Gonzos were so hot, they were given their own record deal, resulting in three Lost Gonzo Band albums to close out the decade before the members went their separate ways in 1980. Full band reunions since then have been rare, but Nunn, Livingston, Inmon, Kelly Dunn, Craig D. Hillis, and Paul Pearcy all made the trip up to Steamboat for their MusicFest honors — along with their old boss Murphey, with whom they also performed a much-heralded Cosmic Cowboy Band reunion set.
“It was amazing,” enthused MusicFest producer John Dickson. “During the tribute, you could close your eyes and it felt like you were at the Armadillo World Headquarters. The musicianship is of the highest caliber, and along with their unique style, it really took you back to that time and place.”
Naturally, the band members all seemed to enjoy the festivities, too — especially the portion of the evening when the other Steamboat acts played their favorite Lost Gonzo classics. “The Gonzo tribute was a blast and we were all honored that we were honored,” said Livingston. “To have all the young bands play our songs was really something. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when Kelley Mickwee from the Trishas sang my song, ‘Original Spirit.’”
Livingston was pretty impressed with the real thing, too: “All things being equal … we rocked!”