VULCAN GAS COMPANY
VULCAN GAS COMPANY. This popular Austin nightclub, located at 316 Congress Avenue, opened on October 27, 1967, and closed around July 1970, one month before the opening of the Armadillo World Headquarters. Houston White, Gary Maxwell, Don Hyde, and Sandy Lockett originally opened the club, and Jim Franklin joined them in October 1967. Franklin, a noted poster artist, lived in the building—winters on the ground level behind the office, and summers in a loft near a skylight that opened onto the roof.
The club featured original "counterculture" music accompanied by psychedelic light shows. Musicians who played at the Vulcan include Doug Sahm, Angela Strehli, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, and groups such as the Conqueroo, 13th Floor Elevators, Shiva's Headband, and Canned Heat. The Vulcan became a venue for musicians of various styles who refused to perform Top 40 pop tunes.
A platform suspended along the east wall of the building held eight slide projectors, three overhead projectors, and other special-effects equipment. Light-show and liquid-projection effects converted the stage, situated in the northwest corner, to a "living canvas." Special-effects artists used clock crystals filled with colored oil and original artwork to enhance the mood according to the type of music being performed. Although the Vulcan is commonly associated with hippie blues, it also served as a model for other Austin music venues, such as the Armadillo World Headquarters, that were later established by some of the people associated with the Vulcan Gas Company, including Jim Franklin and Eddie Wilson.
The Vulcan Gas Company closed, in part, due to its location on a crowded stretch of Congress Avenue. Young people who were not willing to pay the $1.50 cover charge would gather around the doorway and listen from the street. Some people bought marijuana from street dealers. Consequently, the Vulcan became associated with the illegal use of drugs and alcohol and rowdy street crowds. At times, Austin police officers would form a line in front of the Vulcan and make a sweep across the street and into the club, arresting suspects along the way.
Many stories are associated with the Vulcan. Besides its intriguing hole-in-the-wall entrance from H&R Block off of Fourth Street, the Vulcan sat atop a cistern that provided echo effects for experimenting musicians. The Vulcan's storefront windows often were covered by drapes that allowed people outside to peep through slits and holes to view strange window dressings featuring provocative mannequins, artwork, and lighting. After the Vulcan's popularity as a hangout for hippies made it increasingly unpopular with local authorities, Jim Franklin became convinced that he could save the Vulcan only by changing its name; the name he chose was Armadillo Gas Company. Although the plan was not successful, the armadillo, a regular feature in Franklin's posters, became the mascot of the Vulcan's successor, Armadillo World Headquarters, in 1970.
Austin Business Journal, December 24, 1999. Dallas Morning News, August 8, 1987. The Complete Illustrated List of Vulcan Gas Company Posters and Handbills (http://www.faculty.missouristate.edu/D/DennisHickey/vulcan.htm), accessed February 15, 2011. Rush Evans, "Armadillo World Headquarters" (http://www.armadilloworldheadquarters.com/info.htm), accessed December 7, 2011. Jim Franklin, Telephone Interview with author, Coupland, Texas, March 27, 2001. Houston Chronicle, August 18, 1988. Jo Carol Pierce, Telephone Interview with author, Austin, Texas, March 27, 2001.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Cheryl L. Simon, "Vulcan Gas Company," accessed June 27, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xdv01.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 18, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.