I have not posted many new blogs this summer as I have been bogged down with a lingering under-the-weather thing for months. A little hangover from cancer treatment 14 years ago which wiped out my immunity. But what the hell, it’s nice to be alive. However, summertime in central Texas, you often wonder if you have dropped down to Satan’s backyard barbecue instead.
I’ll be posting some new material soon, but a conversation with my friend Rob Hamlet about the South Congress Avenue hood near St. Edwards University and the old dive Bel Aire Motel, got me thinking, and I dug up this clipping about the famed drug bust of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators. Some of them lived at the motel for a while, and others lived around the corner. This was the first big drug bust of the band in January 1966, and was part of a concerted, overt and covert effort to destroy the band. Local cops, including APD vice, state narcs, and county sheriff’s department all were convinced that the Elevators were a menace to society.
Harvey Gann, who was chief of APD Vice from 1955 through about 1984 or so, has said this on numerous occasions. There was a good bit of vice then in numerous parts of Austin and as most of us history aficionados know, just beyond the city limits, prostitution flourished under the watchful, greedy eyes of Sheriff T.O. Lang. Ernie’s Chicken Shack, over on Webberville Rd. in East AUstin, run by that notorious capitalist and underworld character, Ernest Charles “Charlie” Gildon, was a “zona rosa” — a zone of tolerance, where things were pretty much wide open, as long as Charlie kept a lid on things. Which he did, more or less. Charlie died in 1979, I think it was, of a shotgun blast at the little store he ran. Supposedly it was a robbery.
The Chicken Shack was a place where you could get a bottle of booze in a brown paper sack (mixed drinks were illegal) and the music, by the house band, Blues Boy Hubbard and the Jets, went way after hours, and touring bands came in and jammed. The club was started as a neighborhood joint, that is, a place where black folks could go and feel comfortable, as opposed to Charlie’s other joint, Charlie’s Playhouse (1206 E 12th Street), which became over run with whites, especially UT students. You could meet a girl there, rub shoulders with legislators, pimps, gambles, dealers, and all kinds of nice adventurous folks.
Members of the Overton Gang were regulars. Charlie always treated Timmy Overton like a VIP, gave him a good table, shot craps with him in the back, etc. Another regular was Bobby Layne, the former UT Longhorn who went pro and played 15 years with the Detroit Lions and was a hard-living, hard-gambling man. Bobby would go out with his minder and a stake of $5,000 or so, which would be his limit for the night, and spend every dime, and call that a good time. And so they loved Bobby at the joints like the Chicken Shack.
Timmy Overton would be there with a couple of gals or more and just like in the gangster movies, people would come by the table and show their respect. Old friends, including guys who went to school with him at Austin High, where he was a star football player, and later, at UT, where Darrell Royal gave him a scholarship to play for the Longhorns, and these guys, including guys who were NOT in the life, Timmy would often offer them a “date” with one of his girls, on the house, or say, Hey man, you need some money? Peeling off a couple of C-notes from his big money roll. Stuff like that. Exciting times.
By the way, January 1966 was a wild time in Austin. The Elevators first single, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was hot-hot-hot, having been just released, right after the band formed, the previous month, and was burning up the airwaves until the APD & local vigilante posse (I can explain, and will, later, in my book about the Austin Underworld), put out the word that this drug menace had to be STOMPED OUT. So the airplay stopped, all but KAZZ stopped playing the single. Then the bust happened. And Timmy Overton, who was, no coincidence, also the subject of surveillance and dirty tricks by Lt. Harvey Gann and other representatives from Austin’s finest, was also making lots of news. In January he got shot by a nut case vigilante (no relation to the posse, which was made up of upstanding uptight citizens, whereas this guy was from the State Hospital) and then, upon his release from the hospital, Timmy and his attorney / accomplice in jewelry fencing, Jerry LeMond, were busted for federal conspiracy charges. After their release, Timmy took Jerry for a ride, and I mean that in a classic sense. Jerry was found in the wee hours of the next day, suffering from all kinds of injuries, having been dropped off rather roughly and unable to walk home. Jerry, by the way, never talked about his dealings with Timmy and the jewels which they had fenced in San Antonio and also in Los Angeles. And Timmy beat the rap.
Anyway, as some of you know I’ve been writing about Timmy Overton and his adventures in Austin vice for a few years now. I had to put the book on the back burner for a while, but hope to finish and publish later this year. I wrote a piece about the Overton Gang for Texas Observer a couple of years ago. At that time, I was going to redo the story as a novel, but since then, I’ve gone back to NONFICTION, which is what it needs to be. But the Observer piece is still a good intro. Read here.
I have rambled here. Mostly I wanted to post a couple of the new pix shot by my great pal, Todd V. Wolfson. More news to come, soon.