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Gary P Nunn: “when you’re screwing up, don’t flinch”

It seems that the problems facing society today stem from a breakdown of the family, the loss of moral values, the lack of knowledge of history, and the lack of basic skills for survival. Cell phones have become substitutes for human interaction, and the list goes on and on. If I could, I would start […]

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It seems that the problems facing society today stem from a breakdown of the family, the loss of moral values, the lack of knowledge of history, and the lack of basic skills for survival. Cell phones have become substitutes for human interaction, and the list goes on and on. If I could, I would start a movement that provided for troubled youth, giving them a place to go for one month a year, to live a spartan existence on a farm without tv or electronic devices. They would be in touch with the earth, employed raising gardens, planting trees, tending animals, and any sort of activity that contributed to providing for and the preparation of the food they ate.


As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gary P. Nunn.

Gary P. Nunn is one of the founding fathers of Texas Music since 1972 when songwriters Michael Martin Murphey and Jerry Jeff Walker moved to Austin with a bag full of songs and no band. Nunn was instrumental in the production of their first records which were the first released on major recording labels out of Austin, Texas, and a new genre known as Texas Progressive Country Music was born. Joining Jerry Jeff Walker in the old dancehall in Luckenbach for a recording session in 1973, Gary P. Nunn recorded “live”, his song, LONDON HOMESICK BLUES, aka HOME WITH THE ARMADILLO, which was an instant hit on Walker’s multi-million selling album, VIVA TERLINGUA. The song soon became a Texas anthem and helped propel Jerry Jeff Walker into the national spotlight. The song was selected by the then start-up PBS series, AUSTIN CITY LIMITS, and served as the theme song for 30 years.

Nunn has received numerous honors in his long and storied career spanning over 50 years. He has been inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame, the West Texas Ring of Honor along with such notables as Bob Wills, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and Roy Orbison. He has been proclaimed the “Official Ambassador of Texas Music” by three governors. In 2019, he was honored and recognized on the floors of the Texas House, Texas Senate, and by Gov. Greg Abbott for his contributions to the Texas Arts.

Gary P. Nunn has 17 albums to his credit and his songs have been recorded by Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, David Allen Coe, Johnny Bush, Chris Stapleton, and Roseanne Cash.

In Nunn’s autobiography, AT HOME WITH THE ARMADILLO, he tells the story of his life and documents the beginnings of the Texas music scene and the integral role he played. Gary P. Nunn has been instrumental in giving young songwriters the break they needed to get started and you can find many of their names among the top singer-songwriters of the Texas music industry.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/659545d7284d903069d25e43d2b023c2


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

I was fortunate. I excelled in school, sports and music, all of which came naturally to me. Of course, I had guidance and direction from my mother, who helped me focus on schoolwork, and my dad, who coached me in sports, and kept me on the straight and narrow. They were not musical, but they made sure that me and my siblings were exposed to music. When I was in the 8th grade, I came home one day to discover that my dad had bought me a guitar, an amplifier, and a set of drums. From that day onward, one could say, my career path was set before me.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

One funny story, certainly one of the most embarrassing ones, goes like this. I was the president of the student council in school. At all school assemblies, it was my duty to lead the student body in the “Pledge of Allegiance”. I stepped to the microphone and said, “please all stand for the pledge of allegiance”. Then I began, “Our father, who art in heaven…” The laughter lasted several minutes. The lesson: think before you speak.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

I would advise a young person to avoid the mistakes I have made. I never intended to make a life’s career in the music business. It was an enjoyable hobby, a way to support myself through school. I studied medicine and expected to find a career in the medical profession. Obviously, as it turned out, that was a misdirection of my focus and energy. The key to success, first of all, is that one should pursue an endeavor that he/she enjoys, so work is not work, but play. One has to have specific goals and a clear image of where they want to go in life. It’s really as simple as that. There’s nothing that can’t be accomplished if you can visualize what the goal is. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get anywhere! It was very late in the game before I began to focus on the music business exclusively. Since then, I have been able to accomplish quite a lot….more than I ever dreamed possible.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey had a profound influence on me. When we met, Michael had years of professional songwriting, music publishing and performing experience. I was barely free from full-time school. I had talent, but no knowledge or experience with the actual business of music. Michael became my mentor, who shared with me the basic fundamentals that established a solid foundation for me to build on. He gave me an image of myself that I had the potential to succeed if I was willing to work for it, and that was all I needed to know.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

I try to bring goodness to the world by example. I have found that honesty, integrity and following basically the “Golden Rule” is the best way to do good and to avoid the “chuck holes” in the road of life. So much energy and resources are wasted just trying to recover from the results of poor decisions; mistakes that could have been avoided. I have tried to mentor young people and share with them the best advice I could to help them avoid making bad decisions in life and in business. It’s hard to be in a position to help others, when you’re trying to get out of a hole you’ve dug for yourself.

The project I am involved in and has been occupying all my time for the last five months is the creation of an advocacy organization called the Texas Maskuerade Party, whose purpose and goal is focused primarily on educating and encouraging Texans to protect each other by wearing a mask as well as the preservation of historic music venues and the Texas music business in general. These, as well as many other entertainment businesses, have been devastated by the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic. Historic venues that have been the centers of social activity and have supported Texas musicians for decades are in danger of having to close their doors forever. Thousands of performing artists, musicians, audio and lighting technicians, stagehands, theater workers, venue staffers, literally everyone employed in the performing arts industry, have been put out of work. The future of these venues, and the future of the Texas music industry have been severely damaged and are in jeopardy of being lost forever.

Our efforts have been concentrated on building a coalition of performing artists, venues, corporations, and prominent individuals to lobby for our cause, and to raise funds for the production of radio and television public service announcements to promote public health and social responsibility.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

The coronavirus outbreak is what prompted me to take up this particular cause. It literally threatens the existence of our profession and the entire entertainment industry. Live music is the one thing that brings all people together, and if we lose that we have a lost vital link that binds our society.

When the news of the coronavirus broke, businesses were being required to close their doors, we were meeting with our staff to contemplate how we could respond to the situation. Several ideas were bandied about, when someone said, “why don’t we have a Maskuerade Party?” It struck a chord and seemed to be a creative concept that could be the solution to the problem we face by allowing performance artists and support personnel to regain their livelihood and at the same time enable music venues to survive.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

At the present time venues are still prohibited from presenting live shows, but our proposals have gotten a very positive response and appear to be getting closer to being approved by state officials

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

First of all, we need everyone to pledge their support to the idea that preserving Texas music and the entertainment industry is vital to our society and culture. We need their pledge to support live music events when they are permitted, and adhere to the very reasonable conditions for protecting themselves, their fellow patrons, and the performing artists and service personnel. Equally as important, we need their support in the form of financial contributions to help us spread our message through the media. This can easily be done by going to our website TexasMaskParty.org and making a contribution online.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

Honestly, I have no regrets about getting involved in this movement. It’s been a lesson in human nature.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Oh my, that’s a tall order. It seems that the problems facing society today stem from a breakdown of the family, the loss of moral values, the lack of knowledge of history, and the lack of basic skills for survival. Cell phones have become substitutes for human interaction, and the list goes on and on. If I could, I would start a movement that provided for troubled youth, giving them a place to go for one month a year, to live a spartan existence on a farm without tv or electronic devices. They would be in touch with the earth, employed raising gardens, planting trees, tending animals, and any sort of activity that contributed to providing for and the preparation of the food they ate. Basically, it would be what I would call a “life skills” school, where young people would be exposed to the basic, useful skills they will need to live organized, clean, and healthy lives. It seems to me that one month a year spent in an environment such as this could bear a lifetime of fruit.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

Megastar songwriter Leonard Cohen once said to me, “Success is survival”! That is the life lesson quote that I fall back on when things get tough. As long as you survive, you are still in the game!

Another humorous quote came from the notoriously raucous singer-songwriter, Jerry Jeff Walker. He would always say, “when you’re screwing up, don’t flinch”!

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The one person I would most like to have a private lunch with is Paul McCartney! I have been in the songwriting and music business my whole life, and Paul has been my hero and inspiration since I first became aware of the Beatles. Having reached the pinnacle of success, it seems Paul has retained a balance, a steadiness and humility that has allowed him to live a long, incredibly productive, healthy and happy life, which I greatly admire. It would be the ultimate thrill for me to meet and visit with Paul McCartney!

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

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