Abraxas Club

During the early 1970s, the rhythms of Austin's much-acclaimed live-music scene reverberated through McLennan County from Bellmead's Abraxas Club.

Until the club's founding, Waco had remained relatively closed off to the music culture that thrived ninety miles to the south in Texas's live-music capital. That changed, however, when Roy Delgado, Steve Espinoza, Jesse "Jay" Ortiz, Arthur Ramos, and Pete Saiz set out to open a nightclub of their own, one which would bring some of Austin's best blues, rock, and Tejano performers to McLennan County listeners. The co-owners dubbed the new venue Abraxas, a nod to Carlos Santana's 1970 album of the same name.

As news of the up-and-coming venue spread, the Abraxas Club succeeded in attracting a growing number of talented artists. With help from Austin-based booking agent Charlie Goodnight and musician Jimmie Vaughan (older brother of the famed Stevie Ray Vaughan), the venue went on to book such performers as the Allman Brothers Band, Freddie King, Ruben Ramos, Paul Ray, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Wet Willie, and David Zychek. While the weekly lineup at the Abraxas featured musicians from a variety of genres ranging from blues to boogie to Texas rock, the club's Tejano flavor quickly emerged as one of its most defining qualities.

In addition to cultivating a space for Tejano music to thrive in Central Texas, the Abraxas Club played a part in the growing Chicano movement of the early 1970s. The club's owners were eager to lend resources and support to their fellow Mexican Americans in the struggle for social, political, and economic empowerment. The founders worked to solidify the movement in the Waco area by offering their club as an organizing space to activist groups such as the Chicanos Unidos, Mexican American Youth Organization, and the political party La Raza Unida. During its four-year lifespan, the Abraxas Club also served as a center for community discussion groups on the Chicano experience. In this way, the club's impact extended far beyond its weekly audiences, contributing to a much broader revival of Mexican-American consciousness in the early 1970s.

Although many were drawn to Abraxas's countercultural, activist vibe, the venue's association with drug use kept many in the area from patronizing the establishment. Several of the club's owners and patrons recalled frequent police raids, in which officials searched the premises for illicit substances, underage drinkers, and AWOL military personnel fleeing the draft in the closing days of the Vietnam War. Financial setbacks associated with these raids and steep booking-agent fees ultimately took their toll on Abraxas. The club often could not afford to entice would-be musicians with competitive compensation, and eventually ceased operation in 1974 following a drug raid led by local police.

For some, the club's closing was a victory in the fight against societal vices. For others, it proved an ill-fated end to a beloved musical and cultural community. Despite the Abraxas's checkered legacy, the club's life provides an illuminating glimpse into several significant cultural, social, and political impulses in 1970s Texas, and as such remains a valued piece of Waco history.



Labor of Love:
Abraxas founder Steve Espinoza tells how the idea for the Abraxas club came about, and how he and his friends got the venue up and running despite their limited funds. ~ Source: Espinoza, Steve Interview by Chris Lemley, March 24, 2017. Baylor...
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Getting the Word Out:
Steve Espinoza recalls making connections in the Austin live music scene to find acts to perform at the Abraxas Club. ~ Source: Espinoza, Steve Interview by Chris Lemley, March 24, 2017. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, Texas.
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Ups and Downs:
Steve Espinoza talks about securing big-name acts through a booking agent, and the financial realities of running a fledgling venue. ~ Source: Espinoza, Steve Interview by Chris Lemley, March 24, 2017. Baylor University Institute for Oral History,...
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