“London Homesick Blues” (1973)
Written by: Gary P. Nunn Recorded by: Gary P. Nunn with Jerry Jeff Walker
When Gary P. Nunn, an Austin bass player and pianist, went to London in 1973 to back fellow Texan Michael Martin Murphey, he stuck out like a cactus on a moor. While Murphey met with the press and went sightseeing with his English wife, Nunn stayed behind in her brother’s Hyde Park flat, sleeping on the couch and watching TV. It wasn’t particularly cozy—the heat came on only at night—but the foreigner had little money and nowhere to go. When he did venture outside, he felt even more alone. Nunn remembers, “I would go out in my boots and cowboy hat that attracted a lot of attention, comments like, ‘Hey, cowboy, where’s your ’orse?’ and ‘Look, it’s John Wayne.’ ” And watching the buskers at the Marble Arch tube station made him homesick for his hippie musician friends.
One day, playing guitar in the flat, he started singing, “Well, it’s cold over here, and I swear, I wish they would turn the heat on.” Nunn hadn’t written much before ( “a couple of cosmic rock and roll things,” he says), but he decided to try his hand at an actual country song. His experiences rolled out, from the local girl who’d stood him up to the limeys eyeing his boots to his longing to be “home with the armadillos” (“the term I applied to the folks in the counterculture scene in Austin,” he explains).
That summer, Nunn was back in Texas, recording the ¡Viva Terlingua! album with Jerry Jeff Walker in front of an audience in Luckenbach. While the tape was rolling, Walker, who had heard Nunn playing his new song earlier in the day, asked him to sing it. The band had never rehearsed “London Homesick Blues,” but they followed along, finishing to rapturous applause. Then, because the sound crew hadn’t caught it all, they played it again, capturing an ineffable moment as well as the lonesome feeling of being far from home. In 1977 the song became the theme to Austin City Limits, setting it up to be one of the most well-known songs about Texas. “It was just an exercise in writing a song,” says Nunn. “I never imagined anything would come of it.”