Former Lone Star Brewing Co. district sales manager Jerry Retzloff flashed back half a lifetime to Austin and the Texas music scene in the heady mid-’70s in an exclusive interview with the author on April 20, 2015,
It was the day after The Wittliff Collections’ “Armadillo Rising” event at Texas State University in San Marcos, celebrating the storied Armadillo World Headquarters music hall in Austin.
“Armadillo Rising” also featured “Long Live the Longneck!,” a selection of rare artifacts from “Lone Star Jerry’s” massive trove of 1970s Texas music and Lone Star Beer memorabilia.
Outside the storied Gruene Hall roadhouse in Gruene, Texas, over a couple cold Lone Star longnecks, Retz recalled how his longtime friendship with Willie Nelson led to a working relationship that turned out to be extremely beneficial for both – but without any money changing hands.
The big deal began with a little private conversation:
“Willie and I had already known each other a long time, so we were talking, and he said, ‘You know what? We’ve both got a big problem.’
“I said, ‘Whaddaya mean, Will?’
“He said, ‘Well, you’re trying to get the youth crowd to drink your beer.’ I said, ‘I sure am.’
RELATED: Lone Star Beer: Texas Music and Texas Beer Join Forces (Cash Box, Feb. 14, 1976)
[From Abbott, Texas, Nelson by then had already morphed his physical image from clean-shaven, short-haired suit-and-tie cat in Nashville to bearded, long-haired, t-shirt-and-sneakers-wearing Austinite when he returned to his home state in the early ’70s. But he wasn’t connecting with the “youth crowd” as much as he wanted.]
“He said, ‘Well, guess what – I’m trying to get the youth crowd to listen to my band. Their parents were into country music but [their kids] want to hear rock music. They’re not listening to my country music.
“‘So I need to change something so I can sell to them. And you need to change Lone Star, which the kids don’t want to drink because it’s their parents’ beer. So I believe we can work together.’
“I said, ‘I think that’s a good idea, Will.’
“He said, ‘I’m never gonna pay you a dollar, and you’re never gonna pay me a dollar. It’ll be a straight trade-off, because if they find out that you bought me or I bought you and it was a whore deal, it’s no good.’
“So I said, ‘That’s just fine with me. We’ll just keep it between friends.’”
Nelson was among the Texas music artists who’d soon be featured in Lone Star Beer’s “Long Live Longnecks” radio spots that ran all over the state on rock, country and R&B stations.
Cases of ice-cold Lone Star longnecks and cans began showing up backstage at Nelson’s and other Austin-based bands’ gigs all over Texas – miraculously, even in dry towns.
Nelson’s traditional country audiences swelled with younger beer drinkers and hell-raisers. When Willie and the band and all their favorite Texas bands hoisting Lone Stars onstage, those fans followed suit.
By early 1976 – when the pilot episode of the “Austin City Limits” concert program premiered on PBS featuring Willie with Lone Star a sponsor (to the tune of $400,000, according to Retzloff), and Cash Box published this writer’s in-depth feature on how Lone Star tied in its marketing with Texas music (although Willie and Jerry’s Texas Music Conspiracy was still secret then) – the co-branding was a done deal.
Nelson had broken through to large non-country audiences in Texas and far beyond in 1975 with his “Red-Headed Stranger” album, his first for Columbia, goosed by Atlantic’s rediscovery of his “Shotgun Willie” and “Phases and Stages” albums for the label a few years earlier.
As a bonus, Willie saved tens of thousands of dollars on his backstage beer tab that year.
The Lone Star Brewing Co., meanwhile, served up its first profitable year since 1969, abruptly ending a five-year sales skid.
Missions accomplished. Willie and Jerry’s Texas Music Conspiracy remained a semi-well-kept-secret for years. And the two remain great friends to this day.
Top photo: Stephen K. Peeples; other photos courtesy Jerry Retzloff.
Watch Jerry and Stephen’s River House interview the same day, April 20, 2015.
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples began his career writing about American music and pop culture for Cash Box, the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Weekly, Circus, Picking Up the Tempo, Modern Recording, Performance, Rocky Mountain Musical Express, Rock Around the World and other publications from 1975-1977. He is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992), a veteran record industry media relations executive (Capitol Records, Elektra/Asylum Records, Westwood One, Rhino Entertainment, 1977-1998) and website content manager (Warner New Media, 1998-2001). Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for the Westwood One Radio Network from 1988-1990. He was music and entertainment features writer/columnist for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal (2004-2011), and The Signal’s award-winning online editor (2007-2011). He wrote news and features for Santa Clarita’s KHTS-AM 1220 News (www.hometownstation.com) and SCVNews.com (2011-2016), and hosted, wrote and co-produced the WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview show on SCV community TV station SCVTV (2010-2015). Peeples was also Vice President/New Media & Editorial with Los Angeles-based multimedia pop culture company Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. (2010-2016). In 2015, pursuing his other passion, animals, he co-founded Pet Me Happy Treats and created an all-natural treat for dogs. For more information, email skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com or visit http://www.stephenkpeeples.com.
Article: Willie Nelson, Lone Star Jerry Retzloff & The Texas Music Conspiracy
Category: News and Reviews, Blasts from the Past
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com