The cultural center for the counterculture
BY JANICE BLUE
An interview with Ryan Trimble, co-
founder of the late Liberty Hall.
Janice Blue: How did your interest in
music begin? JB:
Ryan Trimble: It started with Ikey, my
next door neighbor. He played the RT
guitar and I played the banjo. We did
the folk songs back then. That was
when I was 13 or 14 years old.
This was in Beaumont?
This was in Nederland, Texas. JB:
Nederland? That's where Karen Silk- RT
wood grew up.
I knew Karen Silkwood. Karen and I
went through junior high, high school
and we went to Lamar University. JB:
We were friends. I dated her girlfriend. RJ:
What was she like?
Karen was independent and smart.
She was pretty smart. Karen and her
friends had a clique, sort of a small
sorority. They all made good grades.
They were a little elitist, but they
were smarter than most of the other
JB: How did you react to her death? RT:
RT: I was freaked out when I first learned
she had been contaminated (with JB:
Plutonium) and everything after that.
JB: That's another story, I know. Tell me RT:
how you got from playing the banjo
to getting into the music business?
RT: I bought The Halfway House in Beaumont from Mike Condray, who was
to be my partner in Liberty Hall a
few years later. Mike and I met while
we were going through Lamar. I had
some money. I saw the club and
bought it on the spot for about $1500
back in 1966. It was at Second and
Broadway in Beaumont, Texas. It
was a Victorian-style two-story house
with 20-something rooms. It had big
pillars and a large wrap-around porch.
It was a real nice club, a kind of a
folk club where we served exotic coffees. We had a chess room and set
aside two rooms for student art
JB: You were still a student then?
RT: Yes, I was a . . .
JB: A business major, sounds like.
No, I was a government major. I had
about six or seven majors. But, anyway, I was popular because I had a
club, popular among the liberal-
Is it true Janis Joplin would come
and sing there? JB:
RT: Yes. Janis and I met at Lamar. She
was a singer and she came to the club. RT
She dated my friend, Ed Kalbaugh.
He was a singer and songwriter. He
and I used to play the guitar together,
so we used to show Janis the chords
and how to do it.
Are you saying she got her start at
Yes. She sang at the club and I never
even paid her because she was a friend.
I would have paid her at Liberty Hall
but Janis never made it.
[Joplin died in 1970.]
What did she sing at your club?
She did blues. She liked to scream
real bluesy songs. Rhythm and blues.
She had a personality to fit that blues
What do you mean by that?
She cussed a lot. Her grammar was
awful. She said fuck a lot. Back then,
girls didn't say fuck. Janis had a habit
of hanging out and not taking care of
herself. Her hair would be stringy,
She wouldn't use deodorant she
wouldn't take baths or brush her
teeth. She was just like . . .
Well, more like a dirty hippie. She just
didn't take care of herself.
Who were the other artists that played
at your club?
I gave Jerry Jeff Walker and Guy
Clark $10 or $15 a night because they
had to come all the way from Houston. My cover charge was a dollar. I
didn't serve alcohol, so I couldn't afford to pay talent very much.
You know who else used to hang
out with me there? Don Sanders.
He's here in town, still sings folk
music. In fact, Don is still singing
some of the same songs he sang in
Beaumont, back in 1967.
You ran your club as a business. I'm
amazed you did all this while you
were still in college. Most of us had a
hard enough time working summers.
At one point, I had the club, a 40-
hour job and was taking 15 hours a
Did you sleep?
I slept about three hours a night.
What motivated you more, your interest in music or the business part?
I like being independent. I like to be
around artists, creative people. I like
the way they're different. I don't like
to be around people who sit and
watch the football game every week
and drink a couple of beers.
Didn't you ever want a career as a
Well, at Liberty Hall I used to have a
band. We'd play after hours. We'd get
up on the stage. Mike would sing,
Roberto Gonzalez would play bass,
and I'd play guitar and piano. I've
played some real famous people's guitars. I've played more guitars than
anybody in town. Everyone who left
their guitar at the Hall, I'd play it.
JB: How did you get from The Halfway
House to Liberty Hall?
RT: I straightened up my whole act. I
graduated from college in January
1969 and moved to Houston in
March. I was an underwriter for the
Hartford Insurance Company almost
JB: Why did you leave?
RT: The company was very conservative
and was giving me a hard time about
my cutting my hair above my ears—it
was about as long as it is now—and
they told me if I wanted a raise, I'd
have to get married. I was handling a
million and a half's worth of their accounts and I was over 40 of their
agents. I would have stayed with the
company if they allowed me my freedom, but I got a real good business
training at Hartford, which I put to
good use when I opened Liberty Hall
in February 1971.
JB: Liberty Hall was the cultural center
for the counter culture in the seventies. What did the founders want it to
RT: Mike [Condray] and I wanted to start
a place where people would work together without it being like ITT. It
was a social experiment, not just a
music movement, an ethical-type
movement showing people could
work together and not depend on the
big money scene, not rip people off
with prices, yet give a good thing.
JB: How were you able to do it?
RT: Our rent was cheap, all of our overhead was cut to the bare minimum
and these other promoters had to
charge $5-$6 for a concert. We were
putting them on in a smaller place,
charging half the price and that made
them look pretty foolish. We put a
lot of promoters through some bad
trips. We undercut their prices and
probably put on better shows. Nobody got rich off the place, the people
got the benefits, not the owners.
Mike and I put the money back into
the place. It wasn't a capitalistic trip.
JB: What about money? How much did
it take to open a counter-culture business?
RT: About $3000, and $2000 was just
for the lease. The rest was for paint
JB: How did you live before the business
RT:Mike, his girlfriend, Linda Herrera,
and I decided we'd all live together,
we'd all eat together, we'd all work
together. When we opened Liberty
Hall, we all ate there. We ate brown
rice and beans, a lot of brown rice
and beans. I didn't have many of the
physical, materialistic comforts, but I
had the comforts of going to the
shows and knowing I helped put on
those shows. Plus, I didn't have any
free time to spend money. I had all
the entertainment I could ingest.
JB: How did you happen on the building
at 1610 Chenevert?
RT:We got the old American Legion hall
from these World War I veterans.
They really let the place get run
down. They only met once a week to
play penny-ante cards. It was trashed
out, so some of the workers got lifetime passes for their contributions to
Liberty Hall. We didn't have any
shows booked but we had a building.
JB: How did you go about booking
RT:We had a policy before we'd book
anyone that we'd all vote on a suggestion. We tried to take anyone's
suggestion. Right at the start, we went
to Austin. We had good connections
there. We met Freddie King and we
ran into C. C. Courtney, the director
of the Earl of Rustin troupe. We
signed a deal with both of them and
they were our first acts. They were a
JB: So Liberty Hall just took off?
RT:Like any business it had its ups and
downs. After the Earl of Rustin,
which ran for five weeks, we did a
blues review. Six weeks of the blues
with Mississippi Fred McDowell,
Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton, Willie Dixon and John Hammond, and I promptly lost $10,000.
But, then, I produced some rock and
roll shows and we made it back.
JB: Why didn't the blues work?
RT:The blues worked. The blues established us as a place in the U.S. to
play. All these blues players we had
were national acts. We got mass media
coverage but we lost money because
there weren't that many people who
came. But we were reviewed in all the
trade journals and it let the booking
agencies on the West and East coasts
know we were here.
JB: Were you in competition with the