by: Jim Beal Jr. and Hector Saldaña
San Antonio Express News
Taco Land was a small bar with no shine and no sheen. But for many bands and fans, it was the biggest and best joint in the world. A week ago, in an apparent robbery, Taco Land owner Ram Ayala was shot and killed. Two employees, bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger and doorman "Gypsy" Doug Morgan, were wounded.
Musicians honor memory of Ram Ayala
Outpourings of grief, Taco Land tales and floods of memories have continued nonstop. It's unlikely Taco Land will ever reopen; without Ram there is no Taco Land. It's likely memories of Taco Land will continue to roll for decades.
"The man was a legend in this town. If there's a San Antonio rock 'n' roll hall of fame, he deserves to be right there at the entrance," said White Rabbit owner Rick Sciaraffa, noting the late-night danger that can lurk in the bar business. "He's somebody that you look at his heart and his intent. It was so pure what he was about. He didn't care about money. But he had a zero-tolerance policy with respect to anyone starting trouble."
A sampling of Taco Land memories, compiled by San Antonio Express News staff writers Jim Beal Jr. and Hector Saldaña:
Boxcar Satan leader and Express-News business writer lists his most memorable shows:
L7/Cat Butt (1992): Then-unknown female punk quartet L7 invaded Taco Land for a gloriously over-the-top performance that helped explain why they later went on to big things. Fire codes, liquor laws and God knows what else were broken that night.
Steel Pole Bathtub, El Santo, Boxcar Satan: Steel Pole, from San Francisco, let the feedback genie out of Ram's mystery bottle that night and held the crowd in a trance with its precision rhythm section and shimmering arcs of guitar noise. Another spectacular show that came to Taco Land thanks to the selfless efforts of legendary San Antonio punk band El Santo.
Thrall, Boxcar Satan, Two-Dollar Whore: Michigan's Thrall brought its brand of performance-art-meets-noise-rock to Taco Land with such fury, the show climaxed with audience members hanging from the rafters and figuring out ways to dive off a nonexistent stage. Singer Mike Hard wandered naked through the audience much of the night, dripping with sweat and danger.
Eugene Chadbourne/Paul Lovens: The mad scientist with the electric rake and the Fake Book that won't quit teamed up with the German avant-garde jazz drummer Lovens with stellarly warped results. At the end of the night, an inebriated Lovens declared, "In Europe the bars are nice but the owners hate the music; at Taco Land, the bar is not so nice but the owner LOVES THE MUSIC!" Pretty much summed up the Taco Land experience.
Jim Beal Jr.
Express-News arts writer and bassist with the Ear Food Orchestra lists his favorite shows:
Tex & the Horseheads: Singer Texacala Jones, clad in a torn slip and cowboy boots, started the evening chatting with every member of the crowd as if she was the hostess at a family reunion. She ended the night fronting the band while screaming like a banshee and rolling on the floor.
Eugene Chadbourne, Country Giants, Big Drag:
In '92, long before his electric rake was a thing of rock 'n' etc. legend, Chadbourne did a midweek Taco Land show that held everyone, even hard-core regulars, in thrall with a mixture of blues and outer-space experimentation. Country Dick Hays of Country Giants and the Hickoids and guitarist/singer Milton Robichaux of Big Drag, Where the Action Is and Happy Dogs were among those who helped Ram Ayala make Taco Land a music landmark. In retrospect, this was a quintessential Taco Land night.
This edition of the annual memorial for the late Frank Lugo, former manager of Hogwild Records, epitomized the best elements of Taco Land by being memorial, family reunion and full-on Taco Land music night featuring an array of bands including young punks Total 13, working with the veterans of Double Clutch and Suzy Bravo & Hammered.
Former manager of the SWC Club also spent a lot of time at Taco Land and booked shows there from '99 to '01:
Fleshtones, Sons of Hercules, Where the Action Is: July 2000 show brought out all the high-energy people. We were only allowed to act like that at Taco Land. Ram was so unfazed by the changes that went on around him.
Punk rock musician and promoter:
The Minutemen (1984): There weren't too many people there, recalled Smith, who booked the concert. "They were such a great band in such an unlikely venue," he said. "They weren't so happy about (playing Taco Land) when they walked in."
Miles Zuniga, Fastball
Not every concert at Taco Land was memorable. Of course, it depended on point of view.
"We were being shocked by the microphones over and over," Zuniga told the San Antonio Express-News in April 1999, calling the booking the gig from hell. "And there was some drunk weirdo guy there (no, it wasn't owner Ram). I had to get right in his face, and he started flipping me off. He left, and I thought he was going out to his truck to get his shotgun."
Longtime punk-rock fan says her favorite Taco Land concert was Sons of Hercules. "A lot of times I would hold the door open to let out the smoke," Lease recalled. "Ram never made me pay for my beer. I've been crying about it a lot. I've been going there for 20 years."