Last March, when Janis from Texas and I were in New Braunfels for the Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard shows, we got to spend some time with Jerry Rezloff. Jerry has an extensive Willie Nelson & Family collection of photos, posters and memorabilia from the ’70’s and ’80’s when he was with Lone Star Beer and spent time with Willie Nelson.
Last year Jerry donated some of his collection to the Wittliff exhibit, at the Texas State University in San Marcos. When I was in Texas, Jerry kindly gave Janis and I a tour of the exhibit.
Armadillo Rising marks the debut of a major new archive recently acquired by the Wittliff: the 1970s Texas Music/Lone Star Beer Collection of JERRY RETZLOFF (featured in Texas Monthly’s November 2014 issue). As the Lone Star Beer district manager in Austin during the 1970s, Retzloff was in the thick of the action. He was a longtime friend of Willie Nelson, and he collected many keepsakes now recognized as pop-culture treasures. The Retzloff Collection includes posters, flyers, unique 1970s memorabilia, and personal photos of Nelson and other stars, richly illuminating the Austin music scene during this era. LONG LIVE THE LONGNECK!—a satellite exhibition of Retzloff’s collection is on view on the first floor of Texas State’s Alkek Library through March 31.
When Willie Nelson returned to Texas from Tennessee in 1972, Willie saw the lively, growing music scene in Austin at the Armadillo World Headquarters and other clubs. He felt strongly those young music lovers would appreciate his live shows, if given a chance to hear him. Lonestar Beer was also interested in that youthful market and Willie called Jerry Retzloff, and invited him to get together after a show and throw around ideas. The result was a lasting friendship and an informal relationship, that helped blur that demarcation between redneck straight folks and hippies. Willie struck a deal with his friend who would would provide beer for backstage, and Willie would enjoy that beer onstage. Jerry would also provide LoneStar for Willie’s friends, Kris Kristofferson, and Leon Russell, too.
“Back then I had about a $90,000-a-year backstage beer tab. Poodie [Willie’s longtime stage manager, Poodie Locke] and the boys really had a way with the beer.”
— Willie Nelson
Author John Spong sat down and interviewed Jerry Retzloff and wrote a great article here:
The well known picture of John Travolta in Urban Cowboy with his long neck showed young people had started thinking differently about Lonestar Beer
Artwork of famous Austin graphic artist Jim Franklin helped promote the brand further with his Lone Star posters.
“Retzloff was a reluctant newcomer to Austin, having been abruptly transferred from the brewery’s San Antonio headquarters the previous summer. Budweiser had started taking huge bites out of Lone Star’s Austin sales, in large part by targeting college kids. Retzloff knew that Lone Star president Harry Jersig, a first-generation German Texan and beer man of the old school, was unwilling to court the youth market. Their long hair sat ill with Jersig’s buttoned-up sensibility, and he didn’t want to appear to encourage underage drinking. And even if Jersig eased up, Retzloff would still have Lone Star’s long-standing image to contend with. Its slogan at the time, as voiced in commercials by Ricardo Montalbán, was “The Beer From the Big Country.” It was a rural, outdoorsman’s beverage, a beer for cattle pens, deer blinds, and bass boats.
But when Retzloff arrived in Austin, he saw a surefire new angle emerging. He spent his days cultivating relationships with the distributors who brought Lone Star to town and the bartenders who sold it. His nights, however, were spent listening to music in the city’s budding progressive country scene, and he noticed an ungodly amount of Lone Star being drunk at its epicenter, the Armadillo. A check of the books at the brewery confirmed his impression: more Lone Star draft beer was sold at the ’Dillo, capacity 1,500, than any venue in the state except the 44,500-seat Astrodome. Whether it was a Texas nativism that even a hippie couldn’t shake or some precursor to modern-day hipster irony, the longhairs were threatening to make the cowboy beer their own.
Retzloff persuaded his superiors to let him pursue them. He brought the vice president of marketing, a thick-necked Canadian named Barry Sullivan, to the ’Dillo to hear the scene’s golden boy, Michael Murphey. When Murphey opened the second verse of his anthem, “Cosmic Cowboy, Pt. 1,” by singing, “Lone Star sipping and skinny-dipping,” every hippie in the room raised a Lone Star toward the rafters and screamed. Sullivan was sold.”
by John Spong
Read complete article, see more photos:
Janis took these photos, thanks, Janis. That’s me with the Lone Star.
The exhbit ended at the end of March, but there are some items from Jerry’s collection still on display.