RT: Roberto Gonzales got married there.
He had two best men, John Lee
Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins. And
Philip Bowles, who worked with
lights, staging and the creative ideas
got married there, too. I picked out
two Gordon Lightfoot albums for
the wedding music. Philip and Caroline had a preacher and they got married on the stage.
When the entertainers came to
town, some of them that I liked, I'd
drive down to Kemah and get a fresh
batch of shrimp and cook shrimp
gumbo for them. We used to take
care of the people who came to the
Hall. We'd invite them into our family. We'd eat with them, we'd have
fun with them, and we'd work with
them. That's what I enjoyed most,
the personal contact.
JB: How would you describe the audience?
RT: All the way from lower class to upper class. Ninety percent white and
100% pot smokers. Maybe 1% didn't
smoke pot. The police could have arrested every house, every night. I lived
in seven years of fear because I knew
we were breaking the law every day.
JB: I've always wondered, did you pay
off the police?
RT: No. The cops never asked me for any
money. They sometimes asked us to
help them locate a missing person or
with some VD problem. They'd ask
how they could reach this person.
They knew we were getting kids off
the street. We were giving them entertainment. We were running a real
clean operation. We weren't dealing
in drugs. The only thing wrong was
that we had people that smoked pot
in our place.
The police did raid the place in
1971. John Lee Hooker was on the
stage. At midnight, two young policemen came to check ID's. After a
brawl, seven or eight people were arrested for abusive language and stuff
like that. I went down and bailed
everyone out. The next day, some of
the motorcycle police came out and
brought me some chocolate cupcakes.
Somehow I can't imagine the police
doing that, especially during the
Herman Short era. Sure they weren't
Is it true Liberty Hall created the
That's not true. Austin created the
cosmic cowboy. Liberty Hall introduced it to Houston. We just happened to be booking country and
western acts and we booked Michael
Murphy and he was singing about cosmic cowboys. That's how that myth
JB: What was the high point at Liberty
RT: That had to be One Flew Over The
Cuckoo's Nest. It was a real success.
It got a lot of critical acclaim and we
went on TV and radio shows to talk
about it. We cast it, produced it, directed it—all the money came from
Liberty Hall. It ran for two months,
from March to May of 1972. Oh
yeah, and Jerry Jeff Walker—that
was a good show. He played one year
for New Year's Eve and played all
JB: And the low point?
RT: That had to be Ripped and Wrinkled
by C.C. Courtney. It was a "musical
fantasy" and the critics thought it
was awful. Come to think of it, C.C.
had the high and the low—he also
produced, directed and acted in
JB: I just have to ask you about the poster art, that's what I remember over
the years, seeing some really good art
go up on those telephone poles. That
was such a good way to communicate. I know there was Space City!,
Southern Voice and KPFT publicizing your shows, but it's the poster art
that I remember.
RT: Posters had to go through a committee for approval and we used some
good artists like Bill Narum, Ham,
and George Banks.
I developed a distribution route, a
scientific method, with a key map, of
blocks, corners and intersections. I
didn't put them up indiscriminately,
so a thousand posters went a long
way. I even figured out how to put
them on the poles so everyone could
see them from four corners.
JB: Well, I thought they were everywhere.
RT: I figured out that we probably put
out over three and a half million posters in seven years.
JB: When Liberty Hall closed in 1977,
was that the official end of the sixties for Houston?
RT:That was the end of an era in music
when you could go to a small place,
see a name act and not pay much
money for it. We didn't scalp people.
We didn't buy the acts cheap and sell
them expensive. We bought them
cheap and sold them cheap. We wanted to have shows that people, like
ourselves, could afford to see. At the
time we opened, I was 24 years old.
We thought it would be better for
the club to have people like it because
they got a good deal. We thought the
community would support it and
they did. People in Houston supported Liberty Hall.
JB: Do you think Liberty Hall was a
product of its time?
RT: Yes. It seemed like the people of the
early seventies had more of a bond
together. We were fighting against
the war, we were fighting for the
legalization of marijuana, we were
fighting for human rights. We were
fighting for a system to work together
and not have rip-off profits. All these
things we were fighting for seemed to
dissolve when people realized there
was nothing holding them together.
Today, we have a population that's
#more individual-oriented. Bonds are
developed on an individual basis.
JB: Are you saying the changing times
closed Liberty Hall?
RT: The business was a hard business. It
had its problems. Mike and Ken got
out. We had a disagreement in 1975.
I got fed up with the business for
personal and drug reasons. People
coming to the Hall were getting uncontrollable. They were taking uppers
and downers and getting sick and I
got sick cleaning up the place. Also,
the new wave of music, punk stuff,
was coming and I didn't like that.
When I lost the enjoyment of putting
on shows, making people happy for
my self-fulfillment, I lost everything
I was there for, so I got out in 1976.
Roberto kept it another year. He lost
some money and went out of
The drugs were always there, weren't
The only drug around Liberty Hall
was marijuana. There was no heroin
ever, or cocaine, Quaas, uppers and
downers. Liberty Hall didn't have
rules. We were loose. We gave people
freedom. Our name was Liberty Hall.
We wanted people to come and do
whatever they wanted, as long as it
didn't hurt other people or themselves. It was good for a long time.
But, later, when it became abused,
when they abused their bodies, they
were abusing the place and the other
people around them. People were
killing themselves on Mandrix. The
late seventies became a down generation. People realized they weren't
going anywhere. They were getting
older, they hadn't accomplished anything. I mean, every day you're down
and out on a Quaalude and alcohol,
is a day you aren't going to accomplish very much. They're wasting a
lot of time being stoned.
But people were stoned on marijuana,
too. Do you think you just got burned
out, I mean, after seven years, you
were entitled to?
Well, I'd been there six and a half
years, every night, and I'll tell you,
Janice, towards the end I'd go to the
place, open the show, and stay outside with my friends.
That sounds like burnout.
Well, the reason for being burned out
was because the New York Dolls
were on stage and I couldn't tolerate
their music. They were loud, abrasive,
stupid . . .
But I've heard some people say that
was a stroke for Liberty Hall to bring
a group like the Dolls to Houston, a
couple of years before people had
even heard of punk rock, glitter rock,
mascara rock, whatever.
We had indications people here
wanted to see that group. I thought
they were awful.
So, the change in music, the new
wave, had a lot to do with closing the
It wasn't only that the music was degenerating—in my opinion it was—
but I think the music came about
because the young kids, as they grew
up, didn't have the discipline to sit
down and learn music, so what
evolved was a bunch of musicians
who had energy and ambition, but
no musical skills.
Ryan, that sounds like what our parents said to us in the 1950's about
Elvis Presley and in the 60's about
Well, my definition of music doesn't
fit the definition of music of what
the New York Dolls is about. I think
that's a bunch of crap that they're
putting out. I play the guitar and I
can turn my guitar up really loud and
send somebody on a psychic trip, too,
but where's that? What universal
beauty is in that? What poor peasant
in the Tibetan mountains can appreciate that bombardment to the ears?
You're saying that the new wave was
brought on by the drug problem.
I think people's minds under drugs
are at a point where that music
makes sense to them, because they
have a dull sense of awareness. I think
it takes something really loud and
hard to get through those people's
dull senses. I think that's why it's
JB: What about disco?
RT: The same goes for the disco beat.
That beat is mindless. That beat is
appreciated by people who can't appreciate other qualities of music.
That's why it's so popular. People
haven't been educated in music.
They don't understand the finer
parts of it.
JB: So, it was the change in music that
caused you to lose interest in Liberty
RT: I took my name away from Liberty
Hall because I wasn't satisfied with
what was coming down, the acts that
the record companies wanted to promote. We couldn't book an act without record company cooperation and
the record companies decided they
wanted to push new wave rock.
Also, the record companies decided they wouldn't promote the acts
on the road. And if I couldn't get record company money, I couldn't
operate a place like Liberty Hall and
put on the same kinds of shows I was
used to putting on. So, when the record companies took their funds
away, they killed a place like Liberty
JB: Did the oil embargo in '74 have a lot
to do with the record companies
pulling their supports out of live entertainment?
RT: There was a vinyl shortage and records are made from petroleum.
They're plastic. The cost of records
went up, real fast. They had cash
flow problems, so they quit promoting their smaller acts. A lot of artists
ate it, went under, because they
couldn't make it on their own. The
record companies were just putting
their money into their sure things
and their top stars. It's a big business.
JB: Do you think Liberty Hall would be
as popular today?
RT: The shows would be as popular because we had the best shows in the
country. But, whether or not our clientele would have that bond, like the
anti-war, anti-Nixon, or marijuana
thing, that wouldn't be there, but
they'd be there because the entertainment was good.
You must realize that we did
Liberty Hall to entertain people and
to give ourselves a way to make a
living that we enjoyed doing. We
didn't create Liberty Hall to be a
charity organization. We created
Liberty Hall to entertain people. And
we did let some of our political views
come through. We did a lot of benefits for progressive candidates, like
Sissy Farenthold, Leonel Castillo,
Ron Waters and Fred Hofheinz and
for KPFT-Radio. And at the same
time we tried to help the city
become a better city through our
JB: What do you see for the eighties in
music? Do you see a return to message music?
RT:Well, the message music has really
slowed down, but it's a cycle. I think
it will come back real heavy in the
eighties and I think people are going
to get away from the disco beat.
They're going to get away from the
hard rock beat. They're going to start
listening to lyrics again, and they're
going to start paying attention to a
more refined mode of music.
Janice Blue is an editor of Breakthrough.