John “Tex” Gibson. Photo: Lee Leal
In my life, I’ve seen a lot from the skateboarding world. I’ve seen the sport actually get called a sport, I’ve seen it go from skaters being called outcasts to skaters being called cool, and I’ve seen more and more skaters from Texas become pro. However, when I started skating at the age of twelve, there was pretty much only one pro skater from Texas, John “Tex” Gibson. Coming from Pasadena and getting on the cover of Thrasher, Gibson was different from everyone else in style and that he was ours. The Houston born skater was always a source of inspiration in that anything is possible. After vert skating started to go away, the fact that I could see “Tex” anytime I wanted when he played with the killer band Sugar Shack was never lost on me. Even talking with Tommy Guerrero about Gibson still trips me out, and proves that when you’re amazing, the whole world knows. Now with his own skateboard company Embassy Skateboards, Gibson still proves that anything is possible, even for a kid born in Houston, Texas. Free Press Houston was more than thrilled to get to pick the brain of one of the most original skaters to ever carve a pool.
Free Press Houston: You were born in Houston and were raised in Pasadena correct? What got you into skating and what was the skate scene in Pasadena like back then?
John “Tex” Gibson: I started in the mid 1970’s, 1976 or 1977, when everyone had a Nash deck. I dug my older brother’s deck out of the garage, and in Pasadena we always had these great ditches to skate. We took the old Gulf Coast Skate Park fiberglass ramp and moved it down here, where it traveled around Pasadena until it landed in a backyard. That’s how I met Ken Fillion. There’s nothing to do in Pasadena, so we just skated a lot and we had a really strong scene because of that.
FPH: Where did the “Tex” nickname come from? Was that something you did yourself or was it from the California guys?
Gibson: When I was sponsored by Caster, in the Summer of 1979 they flew me out to California after seeing me in a contest in Oklahoma City. I was placing in a contest and everyone called me “that redheaded kid from Texas.” That’s what everyone knew me as, they couldn’t remember my name, just “the redhead kid from Texas.” So that’s where Tex came from. I hated it at first, but it grew on me eventually.
FPH: What year did you start riding for Zorlac and was it ever weird for you to see the guys from Metallica holding your deck with the Pushead graphic?
Gibson: I started in 1978, back when Jeff Newton was making the decks outta’ his garage. The Dallas guys would come down here and skate these boards with the name Zorlac etched into the decks which we thought was really cool. The Dallas guys were always so snobbish, so when I went to Dallas to be in a contest, it was cool that Jeff approached me to ride for them. He’s who took me to Oklahoma right after I’d learned Ollie Airs. Chris Strople from Caster approached me to ride for them, so I did. But then the company bombed after Bill Caster got sick, so I went back to Zorlac and that’s when I got my own board.
I was flattered by the Metallica thing. We were all such fans of their music, but the whole Metallica thing eventually fell apart after Newton had all of these decks and shirts made, and they were flying off of the shelves. Lars got involved and the band collectively wanted something like four or five dollars from every deck sale, and they wouldn’t let Jeff sell any of the Metallica branded shirts. So he had this warehouse full of shirts he couldn’t sell, which helped cause a lot of the financial problems that caused Zorlac to fold.
FPH: You were the first Texas skater to turn pro, was there a lot of pressure or was it all about fun, and did that ever resonate with you, the magnitude of it?
Gibson: No, it didn’t resonate really. Vicki Vickers turned pro before me, but I think that because she was originally from Houston but moved out to California early on, people considered me to be the first. When I turned pro, skating was completely dead. My first professional contest at Whittier, they had to scrape pennies together to get me out there.
FPH: I remember the Alva team photos, and everyone kind of had a similar look in the pics. What year did you head to Alva and what was it like riding with guys who seemed to be the renegades of the skate world?
Gibson: A lot of those guys were into the whole Rastafarian thing, so they all had dreads. Me and Craig Johnson didn’t do the dreads thing cause’ he had already had them and it wasn’t my thing. The team photo I think you’re talking about, we were into wearing black leather jackets at that time cause’ we thought it looked cool. But we also had them on because that photo was taken in Chicago, and it was like twenty two degrees outside when it was taken.
When I signed with Alva, I was speaking directly to Tony himself. After I signed the deal, I noticed that his business partner was this guy named John Falahee, who was with Gyro wheels when I was with Caster. He was really rude to me back then, so I wasn’t pleased to have to deal with his arrogant attitude when I was with them. I was with Alva from 1987 to 1989, and I left because vert was dying and John sent me to do a skate demo that was supposed to have a vert ramp. But when I showed up they wanted me to do tricks on a curb instead and the ramp was nowhere to be found, and I slammed my board into it and broke one of my trucks because I wasn’t about to do tricks on a curb. So, after all of that, I left the team.
FPH: What year was it when you realized that vert skating was dying or dead and did you have a backup plan at the time?
Gibson: That incident at the demo was when I realized vert was dead. So I left skateboarding and I went to technical school to learn how to record bands. But after getting into it, I realized there really wasn’t that much money in it, and it was going to be difficult to live off of it. So, for the last fifteen years I’ve been at Houston Grand Opera with Eddie Hawkins from that band Horseshoe. There’s a union and it’s a great gig, I love working there.
FPH: You were in the band Sugar Shack, who I know had a huge fanbase including Little Steven. While the band changed the sound from long haired punk to garage over the years, was there a reason that you guys called it quits or had it just run it’s course?
Gibson: We were all kind of shocked when it ended. But you have to remember that they had been doing the band since 1987, and I didn’t join until 1994 when they were doing more garage rock. We put out a record with an Australian label and we got to tour Australia. That whole ride was a blast. A lot of great people and great bands. We did a couple more records, but after people started getting married and having kids, Andy was just kind of done with it. So I guess you can say that it ran its course. It’s sad that it’s over, but when we did those reunion shows, we realized quickly how much they wore us out.
John “Tex” Gibson with Skateboarding Legend Steve Olson. Photo: Lee Leal
FPH: Embassy Skateboards started up in 2009, can you tell us where the name came from and were you scared to do your own thing?
Gibson: The name came from Lee Leal. He and some other guys had moved to DC at one point and they had a house near the White House that had shows, parties, and what not. These guys from Cedar Crest (Country Club) used to hang out there all of the time and they referred to the house as the Texas Embassy. So, when we were setting up the logo, we went with that name, but changed it to just Embassy to make it more global of a name.
I wasn’t scared. We steered from doing a retail thing because that’s just a nightmare. We were just like, “let’s just do decks,” and that was what we knew best. We started up in a recession while everyone was broke. We just took things slow and started from the underground.
FPH: You have a respectable crew of riders including legends like yourself, with Ken Fillion and Craig Johnson. How do you find new team members and how often do you skate nowadays?
Gibson: Well, nothing was happening in the 2000’s and every company just wanted street skaters. Lee wanted all of the Texas guys to be a part of the team, as well as give each of us partial ownership in the company. So, we did it for the love. Lee does all of the work. He travels to get the newest skaters and keep things going smoothly. As team riders and pros, we put our board royalties back into the company to help it grow and increase our ownership stake. Doing that helps pay for the new guys to travel to contests and keep the name out there, so it works best for everyone.
Back in the day, Texas had such a strong scene with skating and music, especially in the 1980’s. It felt like, in other places, when the ramps were all torn down from the skateparks, they didn’t really know what to do. Because Texas never really had much, we were used to just building our own ramps. In 1983, we even did a backyard tour across the country, and it was really cool. We just wanted that kind of vibe again with the company. That like it’s always been, we do our own thing here in Texas.
FPH: I know from talking to Tommy [Guerrero] that he and Mark [Gonzales] are huge fans of yours, especially your invert style. How did the guest deck for Krooked come about and do you have any plans for more of that stuff in the future, like the Dave Duncan Embassy guest deck?
Gibson: I never talked to Mark, it was Jim Thiebaud who called me up and said, “Mark wants you to do a guest deck.” So we talked, he sent the contract, I signed it, and then I got some decks and a big check six weeks later. It was pretty easy and cool.
The Dave Duncan deck we did and we also did a Bill Danforth deck. We have a great artist, Shane Munce who is a tattoo artist who does all of our stuff. We have some people in mind for the next one, so I’m sure we’ll do more of them in the future.
FPH: You’ve seen the rise and fall and rise again of skateboarding, yet you’ve always seemed to follow your own path. If you had the chance, would you change anything or would you do things the same way?
Gibson: I think about that. When Bill Caster got sick, I wondered if I should go to a big company like Santa Cruz or go to a small Texas company like Zorlac. Todd Prince told me that I should go to Zorlac and it turned out great. That time was when the Big Boys, The Dicks and Butthole Surfers were all happening while Thrasher was just getting started. We had our own world in Texas back then. Neil Blender would get G&S to pay for him to fly down here and he’d just hang out for three weeks at a time. He just liked what was happening here and he came down more than once. Thrasher and the rest of the world were into what was happening down here which placed us on a global stage. So yeah, I’d keep things the same. It turned out great the way it all went down.
No matter what, Gibson proves that you can carve your own path by doing things your own way. By putting Texas on the map in the skateboarding world, John “Tex” Gibson deserves a thanks from every kid who rides in a park that’s located down here. You can find his and other Embassy team riders’ decks here, and you can listen to Sugar Shack here. Keep your eyes peeled out there for Gibson, who still skates regularly and spreads the Embassy Skateboards brand all over Texas.