By Leyla Anderson
Jerry Jeff Walker was a cowboy and country music artist who shaped the genre during it’s early stages in the 1960s; he released around 30 albums in his lifetime. Hector Saldana, the art music curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, oversaw creating the newest exhibit: “Viva Terlingua: The Big Bang of Texas Music.
“We digitized the original 16 track tape, and we found an additional about 75 minutes’ worth of audio that was never released. That’s just playing in the [exhibit] room.” said Saldana.
The Wittliff and Saldana will be given producer credits on the newly discovered recordings. The original album was released 50 years ago and the new recordings were discovered this year. These recordings are receiving attention on the national level. The newly discovered recordings of the album caused Saldana to be invited to New York to speak on his findings and process. Sharing Walker’s life story is important to Saldana.
He is working to make sure the backbones of country music are remembered by future generations. Saldana breathes new life into the album after having the chance to meet the musicians, Los Gonzos Band, and it’s lead singer song writer, Jerry Jeff Walker. The album “Viva Terlingua” came out in 1973. The Wittliff’s collections is made up of art in a variety of mediums. Walker visited the museum multiple times before his passing away in 2020.
“He came to the Wittliff, we had a couple of events for him. Actually, one time, it (the hat) was in a case similar to this and he said, ‘open up that case’ and he put the hat on and said, oh man it still fits.” said Saldana.
Saldana also said that during a visit to The Wittliff, Walker saw a replica of the ukelele he played growing up, asked for the case to be unlocked and began playing the ukelele and singing. That same ukelele is on display in the “Viva Terlingua: The Big Bang of Texas Music,” and is an exact replica of the model of the one he played when he was about college age, according to Saldana.
The Wittliff collects and works to preserve the cultural heritage of Texas, the southwest and Mexico through the artwork of storytellers within the area. They are located on the seventh floor and are open seven days a week; the hours vary. They have been preserving and showcasing art for more than 35 years. “Viva Terlingua: The Big Bang of Texas Music” will be on display until May 2025.
“There’s a risk he could fall though the crack of history, so I wanted to do Jerry Jeff in a big way, which I think it deserves.” he says.
Part of Saldana’s tedious and rewarding job is searching through the archives he gains access to.
The Wittliff coordinated displaying photographs, posters, correspondence letters, handwritten lyrics, costumes, instruments and more. Three of the instruments on display are loaned specifically for the exhibit. The piano and the base drummer’s petal used to record the album are on display, being loaned from the musicians themselves.
Bob Livingston loaned his piano so that it may go on display. Saldana also had the pleasure of meeting Livingston and the band he was in- the Los Gonzos Band. Los Gonzos Band recorded “Viva Terlingua” with Walker, Walker wrote the lyrics, played guitar and sang while the band did the rest.
Graci Barrett, Witliff employee, answers phone calls and questions about the gallery. Barrett has worked at The Wittliff for over two years.
“Not a lot of people realize how interconnected Texas country music is with every other genre of music.” said Barrett.
She believes that country music has a unique and inspiring connection to other music genres. The album came out 50 years ago and proves The Wittliff lives up to its mission statement of preserving the cultural heritage of the region.
“We wanted to celebrate the record, but also take it beyond just Jerry Jeff Walker’s archives… I never wanted Jerry Jeff to be a player in his own movie.” said Saldana.
Saldana takes pride in knowing the history behind the southwest and Texas’ diverse music history. Walker made history and secured his spot upon releasing this album just two years after his first hit single that came out 53 years ago.