This coming Sunday afternoon, July 22, Unity Church of the Hills will be hosting a “multicultural musical extravaganza,” featuring Texas music legend, Bob Livingston and the inspired musical ensemble, Cowboys & Indians. This a rare opportunity to experience this “Wild East Show of the Imagination,” which has been aptly described as “Mahatma Gandhi and Sitting Bull meet Buddy Holly and Ravi Shankar. Advance tickets are only $20 through July 21, and $25 at the door. To purchase advance tickets, go here.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to interview Bob Livingston for an episode of The Atticus Report podcast. He generously told stories from his near half-century musical journey, which intersected with Texas music legends from Joe Ely to Ray Wylie Hubbard to Michael Martin Murphey and Jerry Jeff Walker, among many others. At the time, he also spoke at length about how the Cowboys & Indians project came to be. If you would like to hear that episode, go here.
Featuring some of the finest musicians in all of Texas music, Cowboys & Indians is an internationally flavored musical event, blending the rhythms, influences and instrumentation of both East and West in imaginative arrangements, featuring a diversity of styles ranging from straightforward songs to yodels to ragas to chants and much more. This multicultural musical event is anchored by the brilliant storytelling musician and Texas Music Legends Hall of Fame member, Bob Livingston.
The Lost Gonzo Years
Although I only met him a few years ago through my work with the Austin Songwriters Group and The Atticus Report, I have known of Bob Livingston as a musician since I was a teenager in the seventies. Those were the ascendant years of Austin’s progressive country music scene, which was inspired in part by the rising popularity of Willie Nelson’s music. Also known as “Outlaw Country” or “Cosmic Cowboy” music, this was a truly golden era of Austin’s musical history, and Bob Livingston was a key player in that scene.
Mostly playing bass guitar during those years, Bob was a founding member of the world famous Lost Gonzo Band, which supported many of the highest profile Texas music legends in that storied era, including Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Michael Martin Murphey, among many others. If you are familiar with the world-famous, live recording of Gary P. Nunn’s “London Homesick Blues,” (aka, “I want to go home to the Armadillo”) then whether you know it or not, Bob Livingston’s musical spirit already resides in your consciousness.
That song, which first appeared on the legendary, multi-platinum, Jerry Jeff Walker album, Viva Terlingua, was later adopted by the perennial PBS favorite, Austin City Limits, as its theme song, and has now been heard around the world by countless millions. However, that is only one of many historic songs and albums that included Bob’s musical contributions. One of my long time personal favorites was Michael Martin Murphey’s classic “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” which is the song and album that first brought Bob’s name to my consciousness. There is a good bet we might hear the Cowboys & Indians version of that classic song on Sunday.
From Lubbock To India and Points Between
Bob Livingston’s musical journey begins in Lubbock, Texas, where an encounter with a young Joe Ely transformed his life and set him on a musical journey that has literally taken him around the world as an ambassador of Texas music. As he tells it, West Texas was where his interests turned more ‘cosmic’ than ‘cowboy’ and prompted him to delve into the music and mysteries of many cultures.
After the popularity of progressive country began to wane in the ’80s, Livingston’s growing fascination with India led to reinventing himself as a musical ambassador. He has since traveled the world for the U.S. State Department, performing and teaching the history of folk and country music in more than 30 countries, while continuing to write, record and release brilliant albums like my personal favorite, Original Spirit from 2006, and Gypsy Alibi, which won “Album of the Year” at the Texas Music Awards in 2011.
During his global travels, Bob has taken Texas music as far afield as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Africa, Vietnam and the Middle East, demonstrating again and again the unique power that music has to build bridges between peoples of the world. As Livingston says, “When all else fails, music prevails.” These tours earned him the honor of being appointed “Ambassador of Goodwill” by the State of Texas and “Austin’s International Music Ambassador” by the City of Austin.
The Emergence of Cowboys & Indians
This world-traveled view was first reflected in Livingston’s 2004 CD, Mahatma Gandhi & Sitting Bull, which was a musical romp through the juxtapositions and intersection of East and West. Even after close to 50 years as a professional musician, Bob Livingston continues to be a busy man. He continues to perform over 150 shows a year, as both veteran singer-songwriter and master storyteller, capturing the hearts and imaginations of his audience from the very first note to the last.
To experience a Bob Livingston performance is to accept an irresistible invitation to travel down the cosmic musical highways and rutted back country roads that his globetrotting rambles have taken him on over the years. With Cowboys & Indians, Livingston once again defies musical expectations at every turn.
He first got the idea for Cowboys & Indians while he was in India for a U.S. State Department cultural exchange tour. Local musicians, using their indigenous instruments, sat in almost every night. Everyone mixed themes, influences, rhythms, instrumentation, and insights from both East and West. They played songs and yodels from Texas and ragas and chants from India. A newspaper in New Delhi described the shows as “country ‘n eastern music.”
Inspired by these experiences, Livingston wanted to take the sounds and charm of the India shows back to Texas. Together with longtime songwriting friend Bobby Bridger, they wrote new songs, and the concept for Cowboys & Indians began to emerge. Drawing on his network of international musical friends in the vibrant Austin music scene, Cowboys & Indians came to life. They now perform in theaters, clubs, schools and other venues throughout Texas.
Supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department, more than 45,000 Texas students have experienced a Cowboys & Indians show. Livingston and Bridger also have grander ambitions for developing the show into a full-fledged musical for the theater. The unique combination of eastern & western music, and their respective lore is a cultural sharing experience with guitars and sitars, incense and cactus, boots & bare feet.
As stated at the top of this article, it’s like “Mahatma Gandhi & Sitting Bull meet Buddy Holly & Ravi Shankar,” and an event you do not want to miss. Once again, advance tickets are only $20 through July 21, and $25 at the door. To purchase your advance tickets, go here.