Art Rock

R.I.P. Bill Narum, KLOL Co-Founder, Leading Texas Counterculture Artist and ZZ Top Stage Designer

Bill Narum, a key figure in Houston's counterculture in the late 1960s and early '70s, passed away Wednesday night 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.

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."

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray