R.I.P. Bill Narum : Legendary Artist of the Texas Counterculture

Below, cover of Space City!, June 1, 1971. Illustration and design by Bill Narum.

Bill Narum was a dear friend of The Rag Blog and my personal friend and colleague for more than four decades. He was art director at Space City!, the pioneering underground paper we published in Houston in the late Sixties and early Seventies. He was a major force in the Houston underground radio scene — at KLOL and KPFT — and became one of the most important graphic designers and poster artists in the Texas counterculture. And he was still going strong.

He was also an activist, deeply committed to social justice, to basic political and cultural change, but — as with most things in his life — he did it without bombast or bluster.

Bill Narum was an exceptional talent; he was also a calm and gentle human being. His death leaves a void that cannot ever be filled.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / November 19, 2009

R.I.P. Bill Narum:
Legendary Texas counterculture artist,
underground radio pioneer

By Chris Gray / November 19, 2009

See gallery of Bill Narum art, Below.

Bill Narum, a key figure in Houston’s counterculture in the late 1960s and early ’70s, passed away Wednesday night, November 18, 2009, at his home in Austin. The cause of death was an “apparent heart attack or something that took him quickly while sitting in his studio at the art table in his chair,” said Narum’s close friend Margaret Moser, who profiled him for the Austin Chronicle in 2005.

Austin native Narum, who was in his early 60s, grew up in Houston and discovered his talent for graphic design early on. “In the fifth grade, I’d been drawing girlie cartoons from Playboy in a notebook, and I left it in my desk after class,” he told the Chronicle. “The next day I was reprimanded for disrupting class because they were passing around my notebook.”

In the late ’60s, Narum co-founded Houston free-form FM rock station KLOL and worked as an illustrator for underground newspaper Space City News. He struck up a long-lasting friendship with a band then just starting out, which had recently rechristened itself ZZ Top. Narum would go on to become ZZ’s house graphic artist, moving from posters and album covers such as 1976’s Tejas to epic murals for the band’s fleet of semis and the famous cactus-and-cattle-skull stage design for the trio’s legendary 1975-76 “Worldwide Texas” tour.

Bill Narum, from left, with Houston underground radio pioneers Dan Earhart and Larry Yurdin. Photo by Gloria Hill, Austin, 2008.

After moving back to his hometown in the ’70s, Narum continued designing posters for venues such as Antone’s and Armadillo World Headquarters, and explored a budding interest in both video and computer-game design. In 2005, he was elected president of the board of directors of Austin folk-art storehouse the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture around the same time his 40-year retrospective, “You Call That Art,” opened at the museum.

Speaking of Narum’s many achievements, SAMOPC director Leea Mechling told the Austin Chronicle: “He’s a major contributor to the cultural dynamics of not only Austin, but Texas, the United States, and the world.”

Source / Houston Press

Senator John (Corn Dog) Cornyn, R-Texas, aka Lapdog to President Bush. Graphic by Bill Narum / The Rag Blog / May 23, 2008.

Also see:

The Rag Blog

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8 Responses to R.I.P. Bill Narum : Legendary Artist of the Texas Counterculture

  1. I enjoyed the posters; noting all the great artists (like Carlos Santana, Bad Company, Joe Cocker and obviously ZZ-Top).

    I was lucky enough to see all of these artists in live concerts (more than once), so I’m guessing your friend must have had an exhilirating life as he mastered his craft, and met many fascinating people while doing so.

    You didn’t mention what took his life; hopefully it wasn’t something lingering, since the 2009 photo’ of him showed him looking tanned; smiling, and seemingly very healthy.

    I just lost one of my former piano pupils (she was 10 when she started with me; she died this past week at 52), and when I see people younger than me die; when my children have friends that also lose their lives so very young, it touches me hard – be they well-known artists such as your friend was, or simply energetic and active spirits who suddenly have life swiped from them all too early.

    I had a chance to meet Carlos Santana back in 1976; again in 1977 and 1978 – having friends who work for radio stations and get free back-stage passes, made for some great memories as I was often handed one or two passes and was able to meet not only Santana but Joe Cocker.

    There’s nothing like a ZZ-Top’s concert; even though it’s been well over 30 years since I first saw them and grabbed up every record and tape they put out, I still get chills as I remember the concerts I went to – the crowd’s reaction, and the ‘vibes’ were not only felt, but essentially ‘visible’…….

    “Texas Boogie”….the best!

    I am truly sorry to learn of your loss, and truly enjoyed the tribute to him. /ds

  2. lesley says:

    Thank you for this venue to honor the spirit of Bill Narum. He has left an impressive legacy.

  3. Doug Zachary says:

    Wow. Bill Narum! Wow. I hope there are a few orginals under good care!

  4. *My dad didn’t die at home in Austin. He died on his land “The Acorn” in Thorndale. He had been working on the property with a friend. My father said, “I am going to take a break” and began wandering off. His friend found him in the new metal structure Dad has been working into a studio for The Acorn. He was in his canvas chair with his legs crossed and appeared to be sleeping. The friend let him rest until it became dinner time. When checking on him, the dear friend discovered he had passed. The only thing a little strange was a clenched hand. They are not certain what killed him, but it was something to with heart and lungs. We will not know for sure until the official documents are released.

    *He was 62. My Dad BILL NARUM had an amazing life. He lived like a RockStar but didn’t play any instruments really. [He does have a gold record AND a grammy for his art, though!] He had interests in every media and resource before they even became hip. He understood the benefits of communal living, and was “Green”-er then you could imagine for someone who loved Chicken Fried Steak and all the other wonderful food at Threadgill’s. His friends have been life long and very loyal. The women he loved all adored him fiercly and never stopped being special to him, even after they parted ways. Everyone who ever knew him – or of him – will be affected deeply by his passing.

    *Bill Narum was also the father of two amazing women. I have lived a path very similar to his in my own ways and been a true Narum to the core. My younger sister Nico is not only brilliant, but talented and beautiful as well. While we were 15 years apart, and children of different mothers, he frequently made efforts to bring us into each others lives. Each of “Bill’s Girls” has her own memory of the man which we shared and will treasure a lifetime. Together we have bonded into an undeniable force. We are working on a few projects to provide a legacy worthy of such a multifaceted and multitalented individual.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just in case you don’t read what posted in the Houston Press, NIco and Michelle this is for you. Your father loved you both SO much; and really want you two to stay close to one another. Do this please not only in his memory but for yourselves.
    He will always be with you.
    (a very saddened) Ana, your Dad’s friend from Portugal

  6. Pleas McNeel says:

    I suggest that when we mention fallen comrades we use the term “evolutionary” instead of “countercultural” Bill was one of a very small group of people who helped create the current media environment. We used to get high and visual a global village. I will miss Bill as we evolve the planetary nervous system.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hey are you a professional journalist? This article is very well written, as compared to most other blogs i saw today….
    anyhow thanks for the good read!

  8. Gloria says:

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Bill. He held The Rag Blog in highest esteem, and when he had something important to say, this is where he sent it. Love to you all, Gloria

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