Friday, January 30, 2009

Satellite Radio and Customer Service

Less than three months after merging and changing channels and schedules, Sirius-XM goes the extra mile to irritate longtime loyal customers with this email:

We are offering select subscribers like you, who have multiple subscriptions, a special opportunity to lock in the current low rate on their additional radio subscription.
On March 11, 2009, the monthly rate for your discounted subscription will increase from $6.99 per month to $8.99 per month upon renewal.* You can lock in the special discounted rate of $6.99 a month by choosing a longer-term plan at - but only if you act quickly.
And if you renew now, you can continue to listen online FREE for the entire length of your subscription. Effective March 11, 2009, online listening will be upgraded to a higher quality digital audio and no longer included as part of a base subscription at no charge.
Save with Longer Subscription Plans.
Depending upon the Subscription Package and Plan you choose for each radio, you could enjoy an average annual savings of more than $90.00 with two radios on an Annual Plan. Save even more with two- and three-year plans. Any credits on the account from earlier payments made will be applied to your renewal – you'll only be charged the difference.
It's Easy to "Lock In" & Save.
You will need your account and complete phone number on record above.
With SIRIUS you can listen to great channels, programs, personalities, legendary DJs and celebrity hosts. Plus, we recently added more exclusive programming like Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, Tom Petty's Buried Treasure and B.B. King's Bluesville. And more great programming is on the way. So don't wait, click on to lock in your low rate today and save on the best in audio entertainment!"

To which I say, Ya basta! I’ve already let XM go in one car, so I think I’ll keep one Sirius sub and let the other drop.
Again, the concept is great, listening to music w/o commercials is great, all the NPR feeds are great. But these folks don’t know customer service from Houdini and with the economy the way it is, customer service comes first.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Terlingua Parade of Homes

Not your normal Parade of Homes, for sure.

From the Big Bend Sentinel:
Tour unique Terlingua homes

TERLINGUA - The 8th annual Terlingua Home Tour is scheduled for Sunday, February 8.

The focus of the tour is alternative energy and/or construction materials and the showcased homes in the tour this year feature adobe, rock, and straw bale construction, solar and wind energy, water catchment systems, and unique artistic flavors. The tours will begin at noon and 3 pm on the porch in front of the Terlingua Trading Company in the Terlingua Ghostown.

Tickets are $20 per person.

Transportation is generously donated by Big Bend River Tours, Desert Sports, and Far Flung Outdoor Recreation Center although participants may be asked to caravan in personal vehicles if necessary.

A wine and cheese reception will follow each tour at Espresso y Poco Más in the Terlingua Ghostown.

All proceeds from the tour will benefit Last Minute Low Budget Productions, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to supporting the dramatic arts in south Brewster County through community productions and educational opportunities.
Call the library at 432.371.2639 for reservations.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brian and Joe Nick's Brooklyn nosh about Willie

Brooklyn being the Fort Worth of New York, I've always found the borough soulful, hep, and reasonable enough in a big city context.

I like it even more after reading Brian Berger's Willie book piece in Brian, a displaced Country Boy in the Great Big Freaky City, weighs in on Willie Nelson: An Epic Life from a Brooklyn perspective (despite him being in Athens, GA, at the moment, another cool second city like Bklyn, FW, and Odessa.)

Somewhere In Texas: Willie Nelson Biographer Joe Nick Patoski

Jan 21st, 2009 by admin

Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price turned his songs into standards; Miles Davis named one of his Jack Johnson-era jams after him; he bailed Dennis Hopper out of jail after one of The Last Movie auteur’s notorious mid-‘70s acid benders; your mom may have sang along with Julio Iglesias and him; the great Carla Bozulich covered his pop-star making Red Headed Stranger en toto: this is the world Willie Nelson made, and that’s just scratching the surface. Getting deeper in is a job long overdue for a serious cultural historian and, thankfully, long-time Texas music writer Joe Nick Patoski is up to the task. While Patoski’s biography, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life (Little, Brown) isn’t the final word on his achievements as a brilliant songwriter, musician, celebrity, icon and activist, it’s by far the best Willie book yet and and an inspiring eclogue to Joe Nick’s and fans and the manWillie’s native Lone Star State, the importance of which to nearly all the musics we love can’t be overstated. Writing this on a 18 degree night in South Brooklyn, I realize I forgot to ask Joe Nick about Texas’ other unimpeachable contribution to the American experience, barbecue (mea culpa), but drop him a line at and I bet he can hook ya’ll up.

Brian Berger: Seventy-five years, 500 plus pages— An Epic Life indeed. Another word that comes to mind thinking about Willie is “persistence.” When did Willie really get you in a way that you went wow, this guy is something else, both musically and personally?

set shot?Joe Nick Patoski: The first time I took Willie seriously was seeing him play on a flatbed trailer in the body shop of McMorris Ford, a typical country band until the middle of “Bloody Mary Morning” when the whole ensemble took off on a spacey jam.

The first time I realized this was more than a music thing was The Fourth of July Picnic at Liberty Hill in 1975, which drew 75,000 and validated Willie as Something Bigger in my eyes. He’s been doing it to me pretty much ever since, up to the spontaneous kick boxing demonstration at the end of his interview with me for No Depression in 2004, and the Wat-Air water cooler sales demo he did when I brought him his copy of the book. He was so into his sales routine, he could’ve been selling me anything. And I would’ve bought it.

Brian: As a Fort Worth kid in the 1950s and 1960s, were you raised amid country music fans? I’m in awe just typing the names: Milton Brown, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Cliff Bruner, Floyd Tillman, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price— even Tex Ritter could be great and that’s not getting into jazz, blues or Tejano, Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller, etc.

Joe Nick: We weren’t country music fans per se growing up in Fort Worth, but my stepmother, who I lived with after the age of 10, had worked at KCUL before she met my dad, and I was a total radio nut as a kid, so I was always dialing between the Top 40 stations, the soul station KNOK, and KCUL and later KBUY, the country stations for Fort Worth. Country music is part of the fabric of Fort Worth, so even if you didn’t like it (and I did like it), you couldn’t escape it. The Fat Stock Show was the social event of the year in Fort Worth, everyone wore jeans and boots, and we got let out of school to go to the rodeo. I first heard Willie’s music when Faron Young’s “Hello Walls” crossed over to Top 40 radio. I used to see him on television, hosting Cowtown Jamboree, the live show from Panther Hall that aired every Saturday on Channel 11 to hype that evening’s show at Panther Hall, where Willie was a semi-regular. But even when Willie was known primarily as a Nashville songwriter, country radio in Fort Worth played his records a lot. So “The Party’s Over” was a hit in my mind long before I heard Don Meredith sing it on Monday Night Football.

Brian: I’d read quite a bit about Willie before but much of what you wrote about Willie’s roustabout Texas career was new to me. Was there anything that surprised you, as a researcher? With sides on D Records and Sarg, Willie could have ended up another Country Johnny Mathis, say— a talented guy in a fertile regional scene.

Joe Nick: So much of Willie’s musical life before hitting it big as a country music songwriter was a revelation. Maybe it’s because when Willie told the story, he kinda skimmed over that early period. To me, it was the most fascinating period: he wanted to be a performer but had to struggle to get heard. That’s the real critical period. Yeah, if ol’ Charlie Fitch responded to Willie’s demo tape, no doubt he’d be holding forth in some country club, playing the hits of the day for the local audience’s listening and dancing pleasure. The D sides were really revealing because over the course of two years, they show how much he matured as a recording artist. You can hear the change in the first versions of “Night Life” aka “Nite Life” which Pappy Daily refused to release it was so bluesy and soulful.

Similarly, his first recordings for Liberty Records, which signed him for his songwriting prowess, were very much in that Country Johnny Mathis groove. The label chief Joe Allison heard a lot of Sinatra in Willie’s delivery. Then again, what if he had had a huge hit as a Nashville recording artist under Chet Atkins’ wing and had never left Nashville? Ah, the twists and turns of this life.

Brian: One of Willie’s most important personal and professional relationships has been with Ray Price, whose work through the early 1960s at least was pretty unimpeachable. What did Willie learn from Price, both about the country music racket and the opportunities and perils of going pop? I recall a line from John Morthland’s The Best of Country Music (1984) about Price’s stubbornness being the “the mark of a true Texan boy.”

Joe Nick: Morthland nailed Price to a T with that one phrase. Price was Willie’s role model in so many ways. Willie found salvation by getting hired to write for Pamper Music, Ray’s publishing company. He found what he was looking for when Ray hired him to be a Cherokee Cowboy. That experience introduced Willie to Jimmy Day and a slew of hotshot pickers, gave Willie a real whiff what the touring life was all about, because Price had the best road band in country music, and really showed Willie how Texas was solid ground because that’s where Price made his money, no matter how long he’d been in Nashville. The experience rubbed off on Willie. One, he figured out he didn’t just want to write songs for Ray Price and other stars. He wanted to be Ray Price and perform his own songs as well as the songs of others. The experience also established his sartorial preferences. He told me he started dressing sharp – suits, ties, turtlenecks, Nehru jackets – because after wearing the Cherokee Cowboy Nudie suit, he never wanted to wear another one again.

I don’t Willie ever fussed over the perils of going pop. He wanted a hit and judging from his Liberty recordings, he was comfortable with doing pop and jazz and selling it as country. Whatever it took. Willie probably learned more from Price about the value of danceable music. Ray was king among Texas-two steppers, a reputation that was established with the song “Crazy Arms.” The steel guitarist on that classic recording was Jimmy Day and Day and Willie became best friends and long time running buddies through the Cherokee Cowboys. Ray’s association with the Countrypolitan sound may be best known through his cover of Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times,” but his covers of “Night Life” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” really epitomize best Ray’s ability to fuse country, pop, and string together into a cogent sound.

Brian: For lots of legitimate reasons but also some Yankee ig’nance, Nashville has a lousy reputation as a record town, being birthplace of “countrypolitan” and all that. As a proud owner of Nashville Was The Roughest, Bear Family’s collection of Willie’s RCA period, I’d say two things: 1) Willie’s 1960s records are mostly very good or better, even with some gauche production. 2) Chet Atkins tried— and succeeded with other idiosyncratic talents like Don Gibson, Bobby Bare, Porter Wagoner, Connie Smith, etc. There was lots of crap coming out of Davidson County in the ‘60s but moreso it just wasn’t Willie’s time yet. Do you agree or am I letting Nashville off too easily?

Joe Nick: That Bear Family collection was my compass in doing research into the Nashville period. Willie’s records in the ‘60s were generally very good, and at times sounded even better thanks to Nashville Sound embellishments. The territory covered in these recordings prove Chet and Felton Jarvis and RCA really did try to find the right sound for Willie. Seems to me they most often tried to capture the country-folk sound defined by Johnny Cash and championed by Bare, Gibson, Jennings, George Hamilton IV, et al, even though there were attempts to tie Willie to Ernest Tubb (some of his best Nashville sides were recorded with the Texas Troubadours) too, or package his music thematically, as was the case of Texas In My Soul. What became clear was throughout this period of trying to break through as a Nashville recording artist, Willie was laying the groundwork for what was to come by playing clubs in Texas, doing the roadwork and honing his live act, which is why I spend time in the book dissecting the making of the Live Country Music Concert album that was recorded at Panther Hall in Fort Worth in 1965. It shows Willie as an ascending country-folk artist who writes deep, dark songs and chooses his cover material well, as was the case of his interpretation of the Beatles “Yesterday,” who weren’t being covered by country artists. Playing live in Texas was Willie’s bread and butter, the reason he didn’t last long on the Grand Ole Opry (every Opry performance robbed him of a good weekend payday back in Texas), and where he developed his ability to work a crowd. So Nashville was not entirely for naught.

Brian: Whatever Willie’s struggles as a recording artist, he was always highly regarded as a songwriter. The late ‘60s saw the emergence of Kris Kristofferson—a fellow Texan— and Tom T. Hall, a Kentuckian, both of whom became very successful in… Nashville. Although close to Kris, as far as I can tell, Willie has never recorded any Tom T. Hall songs, although he was probably the most liberal writer in an outwardly conservative genre. Later we’d learn both Willie and Tom T. were among President Carter’s favorite musicians. Have you ever noticed this and any thoughts? If Willie can keep up with Hank Snow (on 1985’s superb duo album, Brand On My Heart) he could handle “Turn It On Turn It On Turn It On” and many others.

Joe Nick: Tom T. was part of the Nashville singer-songwriter scene that grew out of the country-folk movement so he and Willie were fellow travelers. My guess is, they weren’t tight because they came from different backgrounds and had a very different approach to performing. In the early 1970s, Willie found a new home at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin and tapped into a new audience that was wild, rowdy, and over the top in their response to his music, which Willie had ramped up and supercharged into a variant of Southern rock, regardless of his more introspective material. When Tom T. played the Armadillo, he was still doing subtle country-folk (“I Like Beer” was about as rowdy as Tom T. got). Despite that song, Tom T. didn’t sell any beer at the Armadillo, in marked contrast to Waylon and Willie. Maybe that’s why Tom T. was never embraced by the hippies in Austin. He was regarded as pretty much a mainstream country artist, even though it was obvious that he was a real thinker. That difference, in my mind, explains why he and Willie were neither soul mates nor kindred spirits.

Brian: What did you think of the “Outlaw” schtick at the time and in retrospect? One irony is that, except for Willie, all these guys probably made more good-to-great recordings under the aegis of Nashville than on their own. Willie’s two Atlantic lps (Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages), were excellent but not exactly blockbusters, although they do seem to have expanded his non-country audience.

Joe Nick: The Outlaw shtick was shtick. I’m so glad Jerry Bradley weighed in for the book because he made clear Wanted: The Outlaws was nothing but a marketing ploy meant to utilize existing tracks that RCA owned on Willie and capitalize on the Willie-Waylon brand and what was going on down in Texas. The Atlantic albums were artistically significant because Jerry Wexler showed Willie the possibilities by taking him out of the Nashville mindset. But for all the hype, Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages sold less than Willie’s RCA albums.

Brian: Red Headed Stranger was the breakthrough yet Willie’s discography after RHS is a minefield of brilliance, high level hackwork and the accommodation of outside production aesthetics ideas as dreary as anything Nashville threw at him. We who love Willie have learned this is just how it is, and perhaps even tried to learn from his ecumenicism but how do you explain Willie’s post-RHS discography to the casual fan? I just start with the genius: Tougher Than Leather (1983), Spirit (1996), and what I think the best of his Nashville rapprochements, It Will Always Be (2004) and tell folks to explore from there.

Joe Nick: Willie’s post-RHS discography is Clint Eastwood – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a case of a recording artist who’d spent the previous 25 years trying to break through, and once he did, gladly took on whatever was thrown his way. Willie is still the salt-of-the-earth, a Welcome All Comers kind of guy when it comes to recording. His discography after RHS reflects that, particularly the duets. Over the past fifteen years, his records break down into Willie records, the ones he makes on the spur of the moment, and Mark records, the projects that his business advisor Mark Rothbaum helps put together, such as the Wynton Marsalis album or Willie’s collaboration with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals.

Spirit marked a sea change, moving Willie to downshift the live sound from a freight train to a more subtle approach when he took away Paul English’s drum kit and replaced it with a snare and brushes. The change, along with the death of Grady Martin, brought Willie’s guitar playing front and center for the first time since the early ’60s. The cat knows his Django swing. Your comment about It Will Always Be is spot on. In so many ways, it’s a classic Nashville production. Willie took the songs to producer James Stroud, Stroud picked the musicians to perform the music, Willie came in and sang and played his lines. The only difference was, Willie got to take the tracks back to Texas and fool around them some more in the studio. For all that Nashville rebel/outlaw hype that’s been put on Willie, It Will Always Be was about as conventional a Nashville country album could be. To me, it underscores how Willie made his peace with the business end of music.

Brian: Willie has sung many duets, both full albums and as a guest with others; my own favorite among the latter be Neil Young’s “Are There Any More Real Cowboys,” a perfect convergence of ridiculous sincerity and genius. What are some of the duets you most treasure?

Joe Nick: I think you have to put the Julio Iglesias recording of “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” as the ultimate convergence of ridiculous sincerity and genius, mainly because it was so implausible and yet became a huge hit. illie claims the Guinness Book of World Records for duets, although I could find no such category. Doing a duet used to be a country tradition, and a means of extending one’s career by partnering with another singer. Willie’s first top ten country hit was a duet done with his second wife, Shirley Collie called “Willingly,” which succeeded more on the strength of Shirley’s voice rather than Willie’s name. On the first Bear Family box, It’s Been Rough and Rocky Travellin’, set you can hear an outtake track of Willie and Shirley dueting on “Columbus Stockade Blues,” like they were part of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, scatting their way through a very jazzy rendition of an old country chestnuts. That’s one of my favorite duets of all.

Willie took the whole duet trad to the extreme, singing duets with everybody and anybody, save for Tom T. Hall (now you mention it, I wonder why he didn’t). Willie told me the only artist he hadn’t done a duet with was Barbra Streisand which would have been interesting to say the least. I gotta say, the freestyling Snoop Dogg did with Willie on Willie’s jokey song “Superman” that was recorded in Amsterdam last April, as seen on YouTube, is amazingly simpatico. Now that he’s done hip-hop, Willie’s just about covered every form of American music there is. Going back, I’m surprised how slick Chips Moman’s production is on Willie and Merle’s “Pancho and Lefty.” That’s one of the most significant duets Willie has done, and it made Townes Van Zandt’s career. But for all that, the production sounds, well… a tad too twee for me.

Brian: It seems hokey from the outside, this affection and loyalty so many of us feel towards Willie but, unless you’re one of his ex-wives, he seems to have done far more good than ill. Interestingly even after becoming an icon, Willie hasn’t soured on people. Compare this to his musical peers Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and—I think— Jerry Garcia (as songwriter and icon), each of whom seemed weighted down by the attentions that accompanied their successes. Have you ever gotten the feeling Willie was weary of the world he made?

Joe Nick: About fifteen years ago, I was riding around Willie World in a pickup that Willie was driving, passing a joint back and forth and just talking. At one point, I blurted out, “Do you ever get tired of being Willie?” He stopped and gave me a strange “What Are You Talking About?” look. I repeated the question and asked if there are days that he didn’t feel like being Willie. He said on a day like that, he just won’t go out. He’ll stay inside. This is a person who honestly loves what he’s doing, and enjoys the adulation and attention. There’s the anecdote of the Vegas promoter back in the 1970s asking Willie if he’d rather sneak out the back way than deal with all the fans lined up for an autograph. Willie told him that he’d been working most of his life to get people to ask him for his autograph and there was no way he was going to blow them off now. That personal interaction is very important to Willie. It keeps him humble, grounded, and reminds him why he’s in this business. Despite his one name superstar status, he is a populist at heart. Dylan doesn’t want his sidemen looking him in the eye backstage because he gets hit on so much by fans. Merle sometimes acts as if he’s still behind bars or being chased. He’s not real at ease with his public although one on one, he’s an engaging, smart man. I guess Jerry has his cross to bear too. In terms of organizational charts, Willie and Jerry were fellow travelers. Both were the heads of extended families, each was an innovator and when the chips were down, knew how to improvise, and the respective sounds they were associated with had very organic foundations. I don’t know about Jerry towards the end, but Willie does not show signs of being burdened by what he’s created. I get the sense he very much enjoys being Willie Nelson.

Brian: I voted against George W. Bush the first chance I had—outside Wheatsville Co-Op in 1994, when he defeated Ann Richards in the race for Governor. Since 2000, I’ve tried to explain more than once that W. wasn’t entirely Texas’ fault. Conversely, it seems to Willie’s importance has only increased in the last eight years in that he is an exemplar—however flawed, as he’s first to admit— of the other Texas, the one we love: of Scarface and Flaco Jimenez, Big Bend and the Piney Woods, etc. How much has the last eight years effected your view of Willie?

Joe Nick: You and me both. I still don’t understand how or why Ann lost. One of the primary reasons I wrote this book was to correct the record on the public perception of Texans. Bush, who it must be pointed out was a blueblood born in Connecticut, has damaged and denigrated the Texan brand. So I wanted to explain Texas and Texans not just to myself but to others who think Bush is a Texan. He’s not. Willie, in my mind, is the most important Texan of the 20th or 21st century (although Jack Kilby, Lyndon Johnson, and Bob Wills come close). More importantly, Willie embodies all the qualities that distinguish Texans from everyone else in a good way. He’s independent, an iconoclast, an outsider, a great storyteller, an outlaw, a figure who is equally comfortable with the sacred and the profane, a contrarian, stubborn and mule-headed, a gambler and a risk taker, a traditionalist keeper of the flame and a political progressive sufficiently enlightened to think outside the box, an urban sophisticate and a farm kid from Hill County, a good ol’ boy who is larger than life and whose story mirrors the history of a state and its people from the Great Depression to the here and now.

I hope by shining the light on Willie’s life, the image of Texans around the world can be rehabilitated and refined beyond Bush.

Brian: As long-time observer and participant in the Texas music scene, who are some of your favorite overlooked bands and songwriters? At the top of my list would be The Texas Instruments— David Woody, Ron Marks, Steve Chapman and a bit later, Clay Daniel on second guitar— and Terry Allen, although he’s lived most of his adult life in California and New Mexico.

Joe Nick: I’ve always been drawn to the outsiders and weirdos, and Texas is full of them. Where to start? I do dig TI and Banana Blender Surprise, whose leader is now a city councilman in Marfa. Terry Allen’s Lubbock on Everything remains the definitive work on Lubbock and music, thanks to Terry’s sharp eye, lyrical wit, and Lloyd Maines’ steel guitar. But the real outsider from Lubbock is Norman Carl Odam, aka the Legendary Stardust Cowboy whose 1969 recording of “Paralyzed” which featured T. Bone Burnett on drums, was promoted as the “World’s Worst Record.” Wes Race, a record collector from Fort Worth who once managed Hound Dog Taylor, has an outstanding new CD, Cryptic Whalin’! Shazam! (Cool Groove) that fuses Charles Bukowski with bop.

Cuatitos Cantu, twin dwarf accordionists who had six fingers on their hands, Homer Henderson, whose “Lee Harvey Was A Friend Of Mine” remains a classic and who does Jimmy Reed better than anyone else on earth when Homer does his One Man Band thing, Steve Jordan, the avant-garde conjunto accordionist with an eye patch, Sir Doug Sahm, the best all-around Texas player I’ve ever heard and my old clients Joe “King” Carrasco, the band True Believers, and Dino Lee had their quirks. I dig Fathead Newman and Dewey Redman as Texas tenors, but I dug Rocky Morales (best known for his work with Doug Sahm) even more. And don’t get me started on conjunto and zydeco accordionists – Clifton Chenier, Rockin’ Dopsie, John Delafose, Step Rideau, Mingo Saldivar, Don Santiago Jimenez, Valerio Longoria, Narciso Martinez. The next generation of zydeco and conjunto players are working these flashy Gabbaneli models that are as outrageous to their genres as Chingo Bling and Mike Jones are to theirs.

The blues cats continue to intrigue, although I peaked in the 1970s with Robert Ealey and the Five Careless Lovers in Fort Worth, who introduced me to Curley “Barefoot” Miller, the barefoot tap dancer who was going as The World’s Oldest Teenager, Toro, the Lightbulb Eater, Finney Mo, the guitarist Johnny B, and U.P. Wilson, perhaps the greatest one-handed guitar player ever. Consider Goree Carter who whistled, or Hop Wilson who played lap steel guitar, or Bongo Joe who was doing freestyle rapping accompanied by his hand made 40 pound oil barrels and rattle-shakers on the streets of Galveston, Houston, Fort Worth, and finally San Antonio, thirty years before the Geto Boys came into being – by the by, I hear Scarface is going deep and recording a blues album his own self. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, the Ice Man (Albert Collins), all the way to Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan – outsiders all.

It all goes back to Texans being outsiders in the first place, because all Texans come from somewhere else if you do the family genealogy. One of the first Texans to be recorded was Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas, a contemporary of Scott Joplin who sang and played guitar and pan pipes. Henry’s recordings were discovered in the late 60s by a record collector named Bob Hite who played in a band called Canned Heat. Their version of “Bull Doze Blues” became “Going Up the Country” and put Thomas on the map. Taj Mahal later covered Thomas’ “Fishin’Blues.”

Brian Berger ranks the barbecue states 1) Texas 2) Georgia 3) Florida and Tennessee (tie). His favorite Willie songs this morning are 1) “I’ve Just Destroyed The World I’m Living In” 2) “Darkness On The Face Of The Earth”3) “We Don’t Run” and “Tougher Than Leather” (tie)

Selected Joe Nick Patoski Bibliography

Willie Nelson: An Epic Life (2007)
Big Bend National Park (2006) with Laurence Parent
Texas Mountains (2001) with Laurence Parent
Selena: Como la Flor (1996)
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught In The Crossfire (1993) with Bill Crawford

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

EP's Beto O'Rourke: 70% now back drug legalization resolution

A new update on the El Paso City Council's Resolution to Legalize Drugs in the hope of reducing drug murders across the river in Juarez from the January 18, 2009 edition of the El Paso Times:

Rep. Beto O'Rourke: 70% now back drug legalization resolution


By Gustavo Reveles Acosta / El Paso Times
Posted: 01/18/2009 10:02:47 PM MST

What do you think? Add your comments | Read more politics stories

EL PASO -- South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke has been in the hot seat since he successfully lobbied the rest of City Council to approve a resolution that included an amendment that asked for an open and honest debate on the legalization of narcotics.

The resolution by the Border Relations Committee called for federal intervention to quell the crime wave in Juárez that claimed 1,600 lives in 2008. O'Rourke added the part of a debate
South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke spoke recently about his addition to a Border Relations Committee resolution. (Mark Lambie / El Paso Times)
on legalizing narcotics, the rest of council agreed with him but Mayor John Cook vetoed it.

After making national headlines, being on the losing end of the veto and taking on a congressman, O'Rourke discussed the interesting week-and-a-half he has had.

Q You praised the original resolution drafted by the Border Relations Committee as well thought out, yet you decided to add the amendment on the drug legalization debate. Why?

A It appropriately expressed our solidarity for our sister city and the compassion for the people who have suffered terrible violence. It also made some strong policy recommendations. But it just didn't go far enough. To not say something that significantly changes the equation, I felt, would
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not be responsible. And so with that I added the famous -- or now infamous -- 12 words asking for an open and honest debate ending the prohibition of drugs.

Q The reaction to the City Council's support of the amendment has garnered regional and national attention. Did you know what you were getting into?

A To a degree. We were certainly trying to draw regional and national focus on an incredibly significant problem that affects not only Juárez and not only El Paso but

City Beat

City Beat

* City Council may be late to the inauguration
City Council did a cool thing and decided to recess their weekly meeting in order to give the public…
* Reyes now says debate on legalizing drugs could come later.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes told City Council to back off from the this whole "let's talk about legalizing drugs"…

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the entire country. To a degree, it was designed to draw the attention of the country ... and to that degree it worked.

Q All city representatives said they received a lot of calls and e-mails on this issue. Can you share some of the feedback you received?

A Right off the bat most of my correspondence was split 50/50 pro and con. Later on, I got more 70 percent pro and 30 percent con. Someone at my Monday morning breakfast meeting said that when they first read the headline he wondered what I and the rest of City Council were doing. But that then, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that we were right. That all options needed to be on the table.

Q Is it your belief that El Paso would have lost federal and state funds if the veto had been reversed on Tuesday?

A The honest answer is I don't know. And part of why I don't know is because the congressman (U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas) and his office and the state House delegation offered no specifics or facts. In fact, what they did offer was speculative. It's speculation. There is no specific threat, no specific dollar amount or no specific project that is in peril. It's just too bad that there wasn't more I believe, is not well founded.

Q Talk about Mayor John Cook's role in this issue. You had said earlier that you were disappointed with the way he went about his veto. How is your relationship with him right now?

A The mayor is doing a good job. He has a really tough job. I have 80,000 constituents I hear from. He has almost 700,000. He issued his veto based on his convictions and he stood up for that. I was disappointed last because he said not a word during the meeting anddidn't issue his veto until the last minute of the business day. He also didn't have the courtesy to let me know he was vetoing it. He has apologized publically and privately, which I think says a lot of about him and the kind of character he has. He was very tactful and didn't pressure council to change their votes. We're lucky to have him as our mayor.

Q Another controversial issue is the city's approval of more than $90,000 in waived fees, in-kind donations and actual general budget funds to help in the filming of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in El Paso last week. Why did you vote against funding this project?

A Wow, this is such a feel-good project. Here we have a nationally televised program that comes to El Paso and they're going to help out a very worthy family in town. I am not against it as a project.

What I oppose is spending $90,000 in cash and in-kind city services on a project from a company like the Disney Corp. (which owns ABC) that would have done the project anyway without the city having to spend the money.

I also was disappointed that when a woman in Chihuahuita who wanted to distribute toys to the children in that neighborhood, one of our poorest, she was told that she needed to pay all the fees for using the recreation center. Where do we draw the line?

Q Another hot topic is the management of the stormwater utility, which you and most on council think should remain with the Public Service Board. Yet, nearly 5,000 people signed a petition saying they want to have a chance to change that. Has the majority on council lost touch with the voters?

A We made the unpopular decision to create the utility. We then made the appropriate decision that this utility should run as efficiently as possible. No one, then, could do it better than the PSB. The city tried managing stormwater for 100 years and we did an extremely poor job of that. Storm 2006 is proof of that.

Having said that, there is significant discontent out there and there must be some way to address the legitimate concerns people have brought up. Issues like access to information, transparency and the public's ability to participate in the rate-making decisions and the capital decisions.

There definitely needs to be some kind of release.

Q Finally, for all the CNN anchors of the world, including Rick Sanchez, could you please tell us how to properly pronounce your first name?

A Beto does not rhyme with veto. Another way they said it was "bayto." That's wrong, too. I've been getting some funny responses from friends on this. But if nothing else, we got some much-needed attention on a real serious problem in our area. I don't mind the mispronunciation in the context of everything else.

Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at; 546-6133.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Space Opera odyssey, Chapter Three

Frank Gutch, Jr. has posted the third chapter of his Space Opera musical history, and has moved the whole story to a new website,

Here's Chapter Three:


“We played three songs for (Clive Davis). He listened carefully and said our music was 'interesting', then gave us the now classic line, 'I don't hear a single.' We chatted for awhile, told him how we had always revered the Columbia label, home of Dylan and The Byrds--- how much we were influenced by The Byrds' albums, especially The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Davis said, 'That was the only Byrds album that didn't sell. I told McGuinn he'd better never do another one like that.'”


Playing gigs with the odd musician was not the way to proceed, the trio decided, so the next move was to get organized. They finally had a business man, a manager, Michael Mann. Bullock and White both credit Mann with much of the band's success.

“He was the one who actually got us all our jobs and negotiated contracts,” Bullock emphasized, “and found sources of money that we needed to gear up and survive. Michael's hard work and creativity was the reason we went from 'new band' to Columbia Records' artists in less than three years.”

“I hired Michael while in college,” said White. “My father, rest his soul, had told me that if I would finish high school and prove to him that I got into college, he would buy me the car of my choice. So I went and took this GED test, which had questions like which animals bark--- frogs, bulls, puppies. If you could pass that test, you got the equivalent of a high school diploma, which would mean that I was eligible to get into Tarrant County Junior College. To make it short, I took all of this to my father about two days after our conversation. He figured I was maybe two years away. I said, Dad, I'm in college, I want an MG. So he bought me one.

“About the third week of college, I ran into Michael Mann. He and I had lunch together and talked things over and I asked if he was interested in being our manager and he said sure. So we went out to his car--- he had an MG, too. At that point, it had something to do with what is fine and grown in Mexico and the next thing you know, I hired him to be our manager. I figured I could finesse him in. I could say, look, he's willing to do this and he's willing to do that.” (NOTE: The official date for Michael's hire, according to Bullock's journal, was November of '68, shortly after the release of the Whistler, Chaucer album)

“Michael joined us before we found Brett and started Space Opera, when we were still trying to fit the pieces together,” said Bullock. “He helped us do that by managing our business and getting us work. With Michael on the business end, we were free to make music. He provided the forums we needed--- club dates, concerts, recording dates. He helped attract financial supporters and kept expanding our business network and strategy. He was an equal partner with us and we were an insular, tight family living and breathing (eventually) Space Opera.”

“I had no experience,” Mann related, “and started off by finding places for the band to play, hauling equipment and doing sound. Shortly after that, Phil and I both just walked away from school and rented a two story house in the same neighborhood David lived in.

“Phil was outgoing, athletic and liked trying different things. For instance, he was very interested in exploring different philosophies and the like. He was the one always willing to try new things, and we went along because he was a fun guy, but as time went by my relationship with him became mostly business. We were all very close, almost like brothers, but we were very focused on becoming a success and doing our respective jobs.”

Mann spent a short time working with the various lineups gleaned from three legs of the Whistler, Chaucer days. The first show he set up outside of the clubs and occasional party gigs was the Scott Theater concert where they were billed as The Unwritten Works (see Chapter Two). He would soon prove himself to be worthy of equal partnership.

Now that Mann was in, the next link was musical--- a drummer. Continuing with fill-ins would never work. While in Austin during late Spring of '69, they happened to ask around. Drummer? Sure, someone said. In fact there was a good one, and he happened to be from Fort Worth. Space Opera tracked down and met with the final link in the musical equation: Brett Owen Wilson. Wilson was not unknown to the guys. He had gone to school with them at Paschal, had been in fact a popular cheerleader there, and had played drums around Fort Worth in various jazz combos, most notably with compadre Ridgway Scott. Arrangements were made for a tryout.

Wilson told his then girlfriend and future wife, Claudia Wormley, about it. There was something about the guys--- a positive energy. After the first session, it was a lock.

“I remember Brett feeling like this was something he had to do,” she recalled. “He wasn't really going to school to any great purpose. He had just become eligible to become a day student when I met him, in March.”

Wilson packed up his drums and headed for Fort Worth.

The newly formed unit decided to take the name Space Opera because they were interested in science fiction and the advent of manned space exploration, virtually a comic strip being brought to life.

“We saw the 60s as the beginning of a new high-tech age,” said Bullock, “not so much the leftist utopianism of the hippies, but as a time when art and technology would bring new enlightenment and new opportunities. The element of ethereal, spacey sound was an important part of our music. So to us, Space Opera was a play on words, meaning ethereal songs. We didn't philosophize on the subject. We just chose the name and moved on. I don't think the name kept people from listening to our music. Then again, it does sound a bit too much of the period, in my opinion.”

When Claudia graduated a few months later, she also left Austin for Fort Worth. “I moved in with Brett when he was in the band house, but he wasn't happy with that,” she said, “so I moved into a duplex with Brenda, Phil's then-girlfriend. Mike (Mann) was at the house. Scott still lived at home, as I recall, but he was at the house all of the time. When Brenda ended up going somewhere else, Brett and I decided we'd move in together. We rented a house and two years later ended up buying it.”

The early days were a learning experience, but it quickly became obvious that the band had something beyond the norm.

“They were tight,” said Claudia. “They were all such good musicians and Brett brought a whole new aspect to the other three guys because of his jazz experience. By the time Brett tied up with them, he had been playing jazz for about nine years. I thought they were fabulous. This was a unique thing I was experiencing and to have the man I love up there performing--- it was like if I was smitten beforehand, while watching them I was completely smitten.”

Other pieces began to fall into place as well. Cass Edwards III, who had bankrolled and produced the Mods' sessions, signed on as sound man. He had left Fort Worth after The Mods to attend Cornell University. Upon his return, Space Opera filled his time and, for all practical purposes, he became a vital part of the band's operations.

“In fact,” Bullock emphasized, “Cass was audio engineer for the Whistler Chaucer concert earlier that year. From The Mods all the way to Space Opera and beyond, Cass has been part of our thing, longer than anyone.”

The band played their first gig as Space Opera at the End of Cole club in Dallas in June of '69 and played Fort Worth continually July of that year, having become the house band at the HOP, a popular tavern/pizza house known as the House of Pizza before the band's friend Craig Liddell bought it. Liddell also teamed with Mann to open Zeke's, one of Fort Worth's early forays into fish and chips. Mann hired two girls to help run Zeke's, Julie Smith and Mary Rhoads. Both were to become important parts of the Space Opera saga. “Julie was the one who opened The Unwritten Works concert at Scott Theater,” Mann pointed out.

“We played three nights a week, four sets per night at the House of Pizza,” according to Bullock. “The HOP was a college hangout and from playing there we got quite a few private party gigs, mostly frat parties. We also played some at The Greek Letter, four sets a night and six on the weekends. It was operated by an Italian guy named Lou DeMarco, who always treated us well. The gig ended when the place burned to the ground.”

Through Angus G. Wynne III, they were booked to play the Texas International Pop Festival over the Labor Day weekend. Headliners included B.B. King, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Ten Years After and Chicago Transit Authority, with less notables Shiva's Headband, Nazz, Rotary Connection, Incredible String Band and Freddy King, among others. It was the band's first major concert and a big learning experience.

“We had developed a relationship with Showco,” said Mann, “the promotion company which produced the festival. It was owned by Angus Wynne and Jack Calmes. They were both very savvy and ethical businessmen and well connected socially.”

“Wynne wasn't a Space Opera backer,” explained Bullock, “but he did befriend us in the early days. His family is old Dallas money, but Angus is a soul man. He was always involved with the music scene. He booked us to play private parties as well as the Texas International Pop Festival, which was his creation.”

For the Pop Festival, Space Opera was originally scheduled only for the Free Stage.

“The Free Stage was set up in an area outside the Main Stage,” Bullock pointed out. “It was admission-free, so those who didn't have tickets for the main stage could hear some music. Wavy Gravy and Ken Babbs of The Merry Pranksters, whose bus 'Further' was parked immediately behind the stage, shared emcee duties and ran the Free Stage.

“Some great musicians also came and played the Free Stage. One night, there was a great jam that included B.B. King and Johnny Winter, two great blues guitarists in their prime. It was magic and it was so cool that musicians like that came over and played for free.”

According to Richard Hayner, whose website is devoted solely to the festival and related activities, Grand Funk, scheduled to open all three days, pulled out of Monday and left the festival in a jam, so to speak. Space Opera was asked to fill in on the main stage, which they gladly did. It was another feather in a fast-growing cap.

Even with success, it was fast becoming obvious that the band needed something other than promises and word of mouth to further their future in music They decided to record a demo. They entered Delta Studio in Fort Worth and laid down a Fraser tune called “Old Sal”. The session was gratis.

“Our usual deal, from that point on,” said Bullock, “was to record on spec, or the studio would just give us a free ride based on their interest in our music.”

While at Delta, they reacquainted themselves with a friend from the Sound City days, David Anderson. Through him, another recording opportunity materialized.

“He had been a partner with T-Bone at Sound City and was hanging out at Delta,” said Mann. “He was then attempting to be a songwriter and introduced us to a guy who introduced us to Bubba Fowler, a Nashville producer.”

“Anderson was an ordained Baptist minister, but not a practicing man of the cloth,” added Bullock. “He was a very genial and positive person who had always been good to us in the Sound City days. On a side note, he played drums with The Legendary Stardust Cowboy on Rowan and Martin's Laugh In television show. He was in on that session at Delta (again, a freebie for us) and suggested Fowler as a contact for recording in Nashville.

“Fowler was a songwriter as well, and an aspiring producer,” added Bullock. “It was an opportunity, so we flew out and stayed with Fowler in his house. Brett, Scott and I slept in his unfinished attic, being very careful not to fall through the ceiling. We recorded two songs at the Columbia Studio in Nashville under Fowler's auspices (5/4, a Bullock song, and Lovin' Stream by Bullock and White). Both songs, including vocals, were cut in one session. The band had not really thought about what they might do with the recordings, though, and nothing ever came of it.

Then, in late '69, they got a break. “We were introduced to Jim Meeker,” said Bullock. “Jim was an oilman and art collector, about 15 years our elder. He was Ivy League-educated, single and lived in a large modern house adjacent to a country club golf course. Artists and musicians, both established and ascendant, along with ne'er-do-wells of all stripes, stayed or visited Jim's salon.”

“Gary Scott, a friend of the band, was dating a very pretty socialite named Janie Beggs, who knew Meeker,” Mann added. “I think Meeker and Beggs were somehow related. Beggs later married Glen Frey of The Eagles. Meeker, in my opinion, was the single most influential person in Space Opera's career. He was our money man. He hired Julie Smith to handle some matters for him and she did a great job. He was in the business of buying and selling art and Julie was in the middle of all that and became our inside contact. She kept our books and helped us keep up with the bills.”

Smith handled whatever affairs Meeker handed her, including those of the band. “Michael had 50% of a fish restaurant, Zeke's,” she said, “which I helped open along with Mary. I quit Zeke's and began working for Meeker, and I also kept the books for Space Opera. Looking back on it, I was liaison between Mike and Zeke's, Mike and Meeker, while looking after the band's interests. I went from handling receipts that they'd bring in--- hamburger receipts along with a french fry or two in a paper bag sent to me through the mail--- to handling real money. Later, Michael would sometimes request a payout, or Meeker would sometimes just tell me what to send after having talked with Mike. I did that with a number of artists. I was the go-between. They came to me instead of dealing with Meeker, occasionally. That was my job.”

“At Meeker's place,” Bullock continued, “we met Eric Andersen (who played a role in introducing the band to Columbia Records). Others who passed through included Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Bob Neuwirth, and a beautiful girl who called herself Tonto (Phyllis Major, who also visited us in Williamsville two years later and ultimately married Jackson Browne). Jim also introduced us to his fine arts friends such as Peggy Bernier. Jim became our patron and friend and we hung out at his house at night, enjoying his hospitality and playing music for fun.

“Jim often mentioned this old friend of his who was a songwriter in Nashville. One night, he invited us to have dinner and play some songs for this friend. After that dinner, we played a few of our tunes on acoustic instruments. We sounded pretty good by that time, our harmonies tight and pure, and we were full of confidence. Ascendant.

“This old guy, very drunk, pulled out his beat-up Martin with autographs carved into it and began to play. I remember thinking, this poor guy, he doesn't sound so good and he's already 33(!), over the hill! Maybe we can help him when we get famous. Ironically, every song he played that night was a huge hit within the next year and we never even cracked the charts. His name was Kris Kristofferson.”

A month later, in October, they opened for Johnny Winter at Panther Hall in Fort Worth. The young kid who had been just short of playing in a band with Winter in Houston was thrilled. And when Meeker, through connections, got them an audience with Adrian Barber and Warner Brothers Records, they flew to New York to audition in a rehearsal room at the Ed Sullivan Theater. The band thought this was it! The audition, though, was a reality check.

“I believe that the audition with Barber came about through one of Meeker's contacts,” Mann related, “ maybe through Kristofferson or his manager. It was our first time in New York and we were not well prepared. I don't mean so much the band, but in general. We were a bit overwhelmed, while being excited just to be in New York. We had to rent some shitty equipment that did not do the band justice, the room was small, and I remember feeling that we were not in control of the situation the way were accustomed to be. Barber and his associate asked us if we were going to see the Allman Brothers that night. I don't think that any of us had even heard of them at that point.

“The audition was okay, but it was more a few guys sitting around on uncomfortable chairs listening to Space Opera play on that shitty, rented equipment. The Allman Brothers dominated their conversation. They seemed surprised that we were not interested, but the guys were not social that way like a lot of musicians seem to be. I don't recall them ever letting anyone sit in or them sitting in with anyone else. They were very focused on their music, and it served them well. In the end, I don't think we made too big of an impression on Barber and Co. because it was not really a performance as much as an attempt by the band to show their obvious musicianship and songwriting ability. They may have been expecting something more polished.”

Directly afterward, back in Texas, Space Opera headed back into the studio. “We recorded four songs at IRI,” said Bullock, “including the first versions of Country Max and Singers and Sailors. Singers and Sailors was one of our most popular songs in the early Space Opera days. It was one of the few songs that Scott and I collaborated on, so it is special to me for that reason alone. We often showed each other new songs in his den, him at his mother's Steinway and myself with my old Gibson J50. One day he played me this beautiful slow song in Dorian mode. Brett had played us an album by Denny Zeitlin earlier and I think that was the inspiration for this song. Scott had the piano parts and the refrain lyrics, 'We're singers, and we're sailors, and we've been here for twenty years.' He asked me to write the verses. I scribbled them on a yellow legal pad (I still have them) and we played it through. I suggested we also try it at a fast tempo, a rock version. It sounded good both ways. We later recorded both versions at Exit 4 Studio and also played both onstage.”

Country Max was to follow the band through a series of sessions, and for good reason. According to White, “Dave may have just been on point when he wrote that song. There was no conscious effort to do a quote/unquote commercial song. That was a period when Dave was hot and he probably, just through osmosis, absorbed the dynamics of what makes a hit single. And I'll tell you this, wherever we played it, people reacted to it as though it was a hit.”

The IRI sessions also included two other originals, Long Before the Fight Began, written by Bullock, and Fraser's The Major.

“That batch from IRI was the first cohesive set Space Opera ever recorded,” Bullock noted. “The later Exit 4 versions were much more polished, but those earlier versions were the ones which established us on local radio.”

They turned the tapes over to KFAD-FM. KFAD immediately added it to their playlist and gave the band a good deal of exposure over the next year or so. Bullock pointed to Joe Nick Patoski, Phil Cook and Don Swancy for the help given by the station.

“I'm flattered to hear that,” commented Joe Nick when contacted,” but to be honest, Phil Cook and Don Swancy had way more to do with their popularity than I did. Their album (the IRI tapes) was already being played and promoted on KFAD by the time I got there. Phil Cook was instrumental in breaking the band via the radio station as were Dave Thomas, Tim Spencer, I believe, and John Dillon.

“All that said, Space Opera was the first progressive rock band to break out of Fort Worth during that period. Bloodrock, who emerged out of the same 1960s teen scene as did Space Opera, had greater success but trafficked in arena pop rock in the footsteps of Grand Funk Railroad, earning special notoriety by having one of the last teen tragedy pop hits with D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival). If Fort Worth was New York two years later, Bloodrock was Blondie at C.B.G.B.'s and Space Opera was the Talking Heads, a collaborative effort that was all art, using rock as the foundation to explore more exotic, classical and experimental sounds as few bands were.

“If it had been another time or another place, more people would be having this conversation about Space Opera. As it is, they were a cult band with all the right ingredients.”

That cult status grew until Space Opera was backing the biggest names in the business, including The Guess Who, Jethro Tull, Quicksilver and Jefferson Airplane.

“We were booked to open for Jefferson Airplane on November 1, 1970 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth,” Bullock recounted. “For this concert we devised a set of music that would be totally seamless and continuous. Transitional elements, mostly instrumental, would tie the songs together and allow us time to reconfigure. It was to be a kaleidoscope of instrumental color and dynamics, from guitars/bass/drums to flute/grand piano/contrabass/vibes and everything in between.

“We previewed the concert on KFAD by playing a live recording of the set, done in our rehearsal room. Phil Cook, the Program Director at KFAD, was the emcee at the concert. People knew our music from the radio and from other shows but had never heard them played in this unusual format. The concert was a great success.”

An earlier concert in September at the Dallas Fair Park Music Hall with Quicksilver followed a similar format and caused Cook to say “... right now, Space Opera is better than 80% of the new albums I review every week. Even after Quicksilver's set, I still walked out singing 'We are singers, we are sailors, and we've been here for 20 years...'”

During that period, Claudia Wilson's favorite show was Space Opera's set opening for The Byrds at Panther Hall. “At first, I'm backstage because I'm with the band,” she said, “and then we're out in the audience. I would give good money to know if The Byrds played the same encores everywhere they played or whether they were chosen specifically for that night. There were two tunes: Mr. Spaceman and So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star. To me, Space Opera and The Byrds were equals on the stage and Space Opera was so good that surely The Byrds realized that this was a group that had it. I thought they were impressed and kind of taken aback, but I was so full of ego for the man I loved and the band that I loved that I thought they were invincible.”

Rick Benedict, musician and music enthusiast, was there that night as well. “That was the first time I saw Space Opera,” he wrote. “Roger McGuinn wore a cool cape jacket that night and when Space Opera played their last set, Scott Fraser was wearing it.”

That may have been the first time Benedict saw the band play, but the band was gaining popularity fast enough to also be included in the rumor mill. Benedict's favorite: “It was rumored that when The Byrds' Notorious Byrds Brothers album came out that the Mods or whoever they were at that time played the whole album the Wednesday night of the following week.” If true, an accomplishment Benedict thought impressive, as would others..

Shortly after the Jefferson Airplane gig, an opportunity to record at Exit 4 Studios in Dallas presented itself. A solid year playing before audiences of all sizes and their experiences in three studios gave them confidence. It was time.

“(The IRI tapes) were getting us a lot of attention,” remarked Bullock, “but they were a bit crude and definitely outdated.”

They entered Exit 4 November of '70 and by March had a completed album in hand.

“It was a really good representation of the band at that time,” Bullock continued, “and we would have been happy to release it but weren't able to find an outlet. But it did attract interest at Columbia and helped us move to a different level.”

“We did that album before the Epic album in Dallas,” confirmed White in a recent interview, “but decided it wasn't up to our specifications, excellence-wise, so we shelved it. I heard it a couple of years ago (I happened to come across an old diesel-powered tape machine or something) and played it, and it is spectacular. It's fabulous. But at that time, it just shows that the bar was set very high--- by ourselves and for ourselves.”

“Exit 4 Studio was on Fitzhugh Avenue, at that time exit 4 off Central Expressway,” recalled Bullock. “The studio had two Scully 8-track recorders. It was a nice, comfortable studio, warm sounding. We recorded the up-tempo and slow versions of Singers and Sailors. We made the slow version in one take, all together in the studio. Scott played piano, Phil played upright bass, Brett played vibraphone, and I played flute. The song had three-part vocals, too. The Exit 4 album as a whole was looser than the Columbia album, and had less 12 string density, some great bluesy solos by Scott, loads of harmony – a nice balance of earthiness and spacey-ness.”

They began shopping for a label.

“I don't remember who we sent the demo to,” said Mann, “but I do remember the studio engineer, Dean Acheson (who had engineered the IRI sessions), and the producer, Roger Bland. They were both nice guys and somewhat in awe of the band's talent and recording savvy. Dean was much the typical recording engineer, even to the point of wearing a pocket protector in his shirt pocket. Roger Bland's claim to fame was that he was somehow connected to the Four Seasons and had something to do with record distribution. That was why I was interested in him and anything he could help me with.”

Claudia Wilson remembered the Exit 4 phase as a turning point. “They did Exit 4,” she said, “but when they finally landed the deal in Toronto, that was the major interest they were looking for. I've heard a lot of tape over the years and Exit 4 was good. There was material on that, talk about timeless, which made it onto the Epic album, if I recall.”


Though things were going well enough in Texas, getting label people to take the band seriously was a hard task. A happenstance meeting with a booking agent planted the seed which took them to, of all places, Canada.

“A Canadian agent, Jerry Hebsher, heard us play in Fort Worth and convinced us that our music would be well received in Canada, and we were ready to move on,” said Bullock. “Hebsher introduced us to John Brower, a promoter in Toronto.”

“The move to Williamsville, New York was mostly serendipity,” Mann claims, “because we wanted to get the hell out of Fort Worth. I had met a guy from Rochester, New York who went to school at TCU. Now, all I knew about Rochester was that it was in New York. When I visited, I saw an ad in the paper for a place in Williamsville, just outside of Buffalo.” When Mann checked it out, it seemed perfect.

“The location was chosen for its proximity to Toronto, where we planned to work,” commented Bullock. “We wanted to live in New York State but be free to cross into Canada when we needed to without going through immigration hassles. During extended stays in Canada, we had to get work visas.

“The house itself was tudor style, two stories, built in the early 20th century. In the living room was a large, elaborately carved wooden fireplace and wood paneling covered the walls. There were enough bedrooms to accommodate eight of us---band and crew---as well as frequent visitors. The basement was big enough to set up a space for rehearsal with a separate recording area, plus a workshop where speaker cabinets were built.”

“Cass again put himself at our disposal,” according to White, “and at great sacrifice because we lived in squalor. Cass added dimension as a sommelier (a wine taster) and a gourmet cook. He also built a basement studio for the band, used for rehearsals and basic demo tracks, and continued working as Space Opera's engineer.”

“The house sat on almost three acres of what once had been cherry and apple orchards,” continued Bullock, “so there were still plenty of fruit-bearing trees. There were several varieties of evergreens, big ones, all over the grounds. A perimeter of trees hid the house from the neighbors. There was a large clearing in back of the house, perfect for a croquet court, where we spent a lot of time during the summer. Rabbits and pheasants roamed about and there was a man-made pond under an arbor. When winter came, we found out why Buffalo is called the Snow Belt. Being from hot Texas, we loved that snow.”

The house also afforded Cass Edwards room to build. “Our rather complete 4-track studio in this house Hans P. Nonne built,” he elaborated, “served as practice area as well as pre-production facility. Usually, going all the way back to '68, the composer of a new work and I would go into the practice room/studio to make a preliminary recording for presentation to the band. It was always exciting to see the other band members and occasionally immediate extended family reeling in the wake of a new song, invariably debuted in Brett's bedroom where the best playback was heard.”

Edwards was also in charge of building equipment, a task he turned over to others. “All the speaker cabinets were handmade at Williamsville by Gary Mann and Greg Boren,” he said, “the band's all-around best hands.”

“The move to Williamsville started great things happening for us,” said Mann. “I met a guy named Philip Simon who fell in love with the band's music. His idol was Bill Graham, and he was sure that by helping us he could follow in Graham's footsteps. I also found a booking agent named Lucille Cudney, a middle-aged lady who booked frat gigs and the like. She thought David was the next Jim Morrison.”

“We played quite a lot in upstate New York,” according to Bullock, “often at the university in Oswego, and other SUNY campuses. We also played gigs in Ohio, Connecticut and Virginia while based in Williamsville.”

Jim Meeker during this period introduced Space Opera to Rex Farr, “a Manhattan and Southampton blue-blood”, according to Bullock. Farr was a photographer and came to Williamsville to take pictures of the band. He soon became a crucial cog in the band's fast growing machine but is remembered at that time for the camera, always at hand.

The band was constantly attempting to break through the walls erected by the record companies. “At various times, we discussed production deals with a lot of people,” said Bullock, “Paul Rothschild and Bobby Colomby were some I remember. Aligning ourselves with a successful producer would have given us an inside track to a label deal, but nothing clicked.”

“Those were fabulous days because we were being courted by all of the top record companies,” White recalled. “They came to us and we entertained at our house. We were always in suit and tie and our clothes were made by Morty Sills in New York City--- the famous tailor to princes and kings and movie stars.

“All (of the record people) were amazed by the service that they got. They were casually greeted at the door by one of our 'staff' members, dressed in NASA-looking Space Opera jumpsuits. The people who served the 'guests' must have been girlfriends, but not reduced to servile wenches or anything. They really liked doing it. It was their nature to be accommodating, to serve. The 'guests' would be waited on and we would sit down and give them our pitch. And in all but one case, we said thank you very much, we'll get back to you. (More than once), we decided not to go with a label because they were telling us we were not going to get a better deal in this business. You're hooked up with a producer, boys. That's the way the system works. We were among the first to change that.

“We learned early on from the music and the music, in a sense, became our children. The idea of us changing so much as a brush stroke of our music at the behest of some record company guy was just not going to happen. If you look on our album, there's a statement that says everything you see, hear and hold in your hand was written, produced, arranged and compiled entirely by Space Opera, right down to the artwork. That was not done at that time. You could not get a record deal that allowed you that much autonomy. You absolutely couldn't. Well, we finally did, in spite of what Bobby Colomby and Paul Rothschild and the others told us.”

Bullock attributes the nickname to Rothschild always eating peanuts, but agrees with White about the offer. If anything can be said about the band at the time, it is that they had a oneness of mind.

“(Our attitude) came partially from our association with T-Bone Burnett,” said White. “Well, not so much attitude as position, I guess. Everything we had was self-designed to fit Space Opera, including our stance of what we would and would not do concerning record companies. At the time, you either took the deal they handed you or forgot about it. There was no Internet you could use. You couldn't press anything on vinyl unless you went to Nashville or California. The record companies had a system of extortion where you either did it the way they wanted or you forgot about it. You're a garage band or a big star, one or the other.

Even those on the fringe noticed the stance. According to Claudia, “They were focused on 'let's get the deal'. I mean, they wanted to get a contract and do an album, but the one compromise they wouldn't make was artistic control. It was unheard of in those days for a bunch of kids to demand that. Self-production, to record people, was out of the question.”

“I mean, if you'd go to Picasso and say 'there's too much green here, you should change it'”, agreed White, “he probably would have been a lot less delicate in his response than we were. The idea, like I said, of us changing so much as a brush stroke of any of our music was just not going to happen. That was the trouble we ran into with these record guys. When we talked about the bar being set, they thought we meant drinks. Musicians on the whole weren't really concerned with their own excellence. (They were only) concerned with the buying and posturing to get the record deal. To get them out of Spokane or Bismarck or Cleveland or wherever they were practicing in the garage.

“I mean, the record deal was the big fantasy. The record deal. And back then, when you dealt with record people, they would get you under their thumbs and let you know, well, we might be interested, we think what you have done here has a little potential, but... And it's fair enough to say that they thought that way because at the time Columbia, Capitol, Epic, Polydor--- all those labels--- had huge staffs. A&R guys, producers, recording studios--- and that's how it was done. They had to justify their payroll by using the guys they had in those positions, so to have some upstart band come along and say they didn't need any of those services, well...”


“We had developed good contacts at Columbia in 1971,” Bullock maintained. “Our friend Kris Kristofferson had suddenly become a huge success and was signed to Monument Records, which was owned by Columbia. Another ally was Bob Devere, a Columbia A&R exec and a great man who understood and enjoyed our music. Bob later worked with Weather Report.”

“Bob Devere,” sighed White. “What a sweetheart. Ruined his life. At the time, he was managing an up-and-coming band called Weather Report, who turned out to be not so shabby. That gives you an idea of his taste and powers of perception. He became interested in us, and more than interested, which was what we were looking for. We weren't looking for willing, we were looking for eager. He became absolutely convinced that we were not only the next Beatles, but were in fact the next Space Opera. He had that kind of emotional feeling for us.

“Of course, he was our A&R guy. Back then, those guys had a higher turnover than cocktail waitresses. You know. You make a good decision, you're in. Make a bad one, bye-bye, and your house in Newark, everything, gone.”

The connections with Columbia were, as mentioned, courtesy of Kristofferson and Andersen. They eventually led to an audition with Columbia Records, a label which had shown interest.

“During a break in the Autumn of '71,” said Bullock, “we were back in Texas for a short time and Eric Andersen, a folk singer who had signed with Columbia, heard us play a few of our songs on acoustic guitars at a party one night. The next day, he sent a multi-page telegram to Clive Davis suggesting that he hear us play. Two weeks before Christmas, we played an audition showcase for Clive in New York at Columbia's 30th Street Studio, known as The Church. The 30th Street Studio was the place where countless important jazz and classical recordings had been made. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stravinsky, Copland and scores of others had created monumental works of art there.

“A stage and lighting grid were set up at one end of the studio with chairs facing the stage. An invited audience of about 50 industry insiders , Texas friends and New York swells attended. Kris and Eric sat on either side of Clive. At the end of our show, Clive was unconvinced, but interested enough to invite us to a private audition the following week.

“Dressed in our best Morty Sills suits and armed with acoustic guitars, we arrived at Davis' CBS offices on East 52nd Street. It was just us and Clive. We played three songs for him. He listened carefully and said our music was 'interesting' and then gave us the now classic line, 'I don't hear a single.' We chatted for awhile and told him how we had always revered the Columbia label, home of Dylan and The Byrds, how much we were influenced by The Byrds' albums, especially 'Notorious Byrd Brothers.' Davis said, “That was the only Byrds album that didn't sell. I told McGuinn he'd better never do another one like that.'

“He continued to talk and we were crestfallen, realizing that there probably wouldn't be a place for Space Opera on the famous red label. We parted company cordially. There was no agreement on terms for a contract. Probably the most truthful thing that can be said is that we could not reach an agreement with Columbia/US. With or without the signing, it was one of the highlights of our 'career'. I still think we dropped off Clive's radar the moment we left his office and that Bob Devere probably negotiated this cheapie deal, the best he could get for us. So while the 'turning down Clive Davis' story has been blown out of proportion, it is true that we were offered a deal by the New York office and turned it down.

“A few months later, based on an instrumental titled Guitar Suite that we cut at Manta Studios in Toronto, Columbia Records of Canada offered us the deal we'd always wanted: complete artistic control, self-production and full publishing rights. We never would have gotten that from Clive.

“We played constantly in that area, mainly Toronto, (which is) where we met Gary Muth, a rep for Columbia Records in Canada. He was the one who arranged for us to 'try out' a new studio in Toronto called Manta Sound.

“Manta had a Neve board and Studer 16-track recorders and was a beautiful facility. We recorded a live-in-the-studio version of a new instrumental we called 'Guitar Suite', which was composed of favorite snippets from a dozen songs of ours. (We recorded it live) because we had limited time in the studio, not enough to work on vocals and mixdown. That was all we were offered. And anyway, we just wanted to feel the place out and see how it sounded.

“Gary played the tape for his boss, John Williams, who also became interested in us. We sealed the deal when they came to visit us at the Williamsville house. We played several songs acoustically in our living room and then we all went down to the studio in the basement for an electric set.

“After hearing that demo and hearing that audition, they signed us. In fact, Columbia Records of Canada was the only company to offer us artistic control. Michael Mann and Maury Reichmann negotiated for us, with Gary Muth and John Williams from the record company. Muth and Williams conceded other points as well which sweetened the deal.

“While the contracts were being finalized, we moved from the Williamsville house to Rex Farr's house in Southampton. We spent a couple of months there rehearsing and writing some new songs for the album. There was a Steinway grand piano in a big room which faced onto Southampton Bay, and we used that for our music room. Phil wrote Outlines on that piano and I remember him playing it for me as I worked out the flute parts. Across the road on the other side of the house was the beach. It was nice to take a walk by the ocean even though it was the dead of winter. Sometimes you had to get out of that house. We were in the lap of luxury but there were too many intense personalities under one roof, and too many stimulants. While Southampton was a nice change from Williamsville, it was a relief when the time came to sign contracts and move to Toronto.

“The five of us and Rex Farr drove into NYC from the house in Southampton,” Bullock remembered, “and checked into our usual digs, the Gramercy Park Hotel. The next day our attorney, Maury Reichmann, brought the contract. We had our own little signing ceremony and then took a flight to Toronto.

“Columbia Records of Canada was obviously an arm of CBS Records in New York, but they were autonomous when it came to signing and producing artists. I believe we were the only American band they signed. Most of their acts were from Toronto and Montreal. It also seemed that Columbia Records of Canada's product was distributed on the Epic label in the US. Why that was the case, I don't know, but Epic was a subsidiary of Columbia in the US.”

Famous red label or not, the band had certainly pulled off a coup, but it came with a price. After they settled themselves at the Waldorf Astoria in Toronto, they rolled up their sleeves. They had refused to shut up. Now it was time to put up.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Gospel According to Bullock, Fraser, White & Wilson

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Willie's Place Open Now

Driving back from Jefferson on I 35 E south of Dallas, I noticed the lights were on at Willie's Place at Carl's Corner, as was a billboard just before the exit, so I pulled in to check it out.

The old Carl's Corner has been remodeled and gussied up considerably, and there were people milling around inside, purchasing Willie memorabilia. The hallway between the store up front and the performance space retooled into a Willie Walk of Fame and I was pleased to see Willie Nelson: An Epic Life prominently displayed in one of the showcases, so I fetched another copy to give to the store.

The cashier called up the store manager, Jeff Promes, who'd shown me around the facility while I was writing the book. Jeff said the new joint did a soft opening during the Christmas holidays, and was still about a week away from getting the biodiesel refinery cranking and the biodiesel pumps working. Right now, there are traditional gas pumps for everyday motorists, competitively priced ($1.69 a gallon for regular and $1.89 for super premium).

Jeff walked me back to the theatre where Willie and Asleep at the Wheel will close out their short tour promoting the Willie and the Wheel western swing album on February 24, which will mark the Grand Opening of the Truck Stop of the Future. Off to one side is the radio studio for Willie's Place (and Outlaw Country and the Open Road channels) on Sirius XM radio where Eddie Kilroy and Dallas Wayne do their daily shows. The studio allows for impromptu performances and live recordings including the February 24 show.

Jeff said Willie's Place at Carl's Corner won't be fully up and running until the restaurant and bar open, which should be no later than late February.

It's been a long and slow go since Carl's closed two years ago but the wait should be worth it.

Willie, flanked by noted hustler/raconteur/gambler/dancer Carl Cornelius and the late Zeke Varnon, Willie's partner-in-many-crimes

Check out more info at and the slideshow at the Waco Tribune

Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs' Girlfriend Weekend

The tiaras were out for the Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend gathering in historic Jefferson, TX this weekend, the last steamboat port on the Red River.

It kinda made me wish I was a chick lit writer, since testosterone was overwhelmed by estrogen, and I don't look good in leopard print, but other than that, it was big fun.

There were lotsa hugs and big welcomes from Kathy Patrick the proprietress of Beauty and the Book, Jefferson's only beauty shop/book store (

Author Joe O'Connell, the other guy on the guy's panel and a cool Austin cat from the gitgo, displays his book Evacuation Plan: A Novel from the Hospice.

My old Joe "King" buddy from New York, Tim Raglin, now living in Independence, Kansas on the family homestead, showed up bringing along his array of wonderfully illustrated children's books, as well as the design for this year's Girlfriend Weekend t-shirt.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Corkey's in Houston

Lindy Pollard, a Houston honker, recently queried me about the location of the old Corkey's in Houston, his curiosity pricked by an article I'd done on Blaze Foley in No Depression. Blaze and Gurf Morlix were Corkey's regulars.

My first guess, that it was the jazz club at the top of a high rise at the corner of Montrose and Richmond, was wronger than rain. That was Cody's, Lindy said.

Lindy seemed to recall Corkey's was in the Montrose on Hawthorne Street maybe.

Drivin' Ivan Kuper, the producer of Joe King's "Houston El Mover" b/w "Party Weekend"and Los Vertigos drummer, remembered it like this:

"It was on Hawthorne St. east of Montrose Blvd. I think it was around until the late 80’s. It was in an old bungalow that became a site for several townhouses due to Montrose gentrification. It’s where the second string of Houston songwriters held court: Shake Russell, David Rodriguez, Lucinda, etc. (before moving to Austin)"

Then Jim Barham and Bruce Bryant, who are finishing their film documentary on Houston's storied Anderson Fair "For The Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair" (, tracked down Shake Russell, who remembered Corkey's well, telling Bruce, "It was on Hawthorne St (600block) east of Montrose blvd and down the street from Cody's(the roof top club). Remember? Happy New Year!"

Who says no one cares about old clubs that have died and gone away?
Can't wait for the Anderson Fair movie. I've seen a rough cut and was fairly blown away. Bruce and Jim make a strong argument that no venue alive or dead has honored the Texas singer/songwriter like Anderson Fair has.

Bruce Bryant adds a P.S.: "I remember that Corky's had lots of shade...the bar was in the music room...very friendly place. Reb Smith (a fiddle player and picker) was robbed right outside on his bicycle one night....made him dare they rob a poor folk singer!"

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

El Paso Wants Feds To Consider Legalizing Drugs

Hmmmm. It's come to this.

From the January 6, 2008 edition of the El Paso Times.

El Paso wants feds to consider legalizing drugs
The Associated Press
Posted: 01/06/2009 04:01:21 PM MST

EL PASO, Texas—Concerns about the the bloody drug war being fought just across the Mexican border have El Paso leaders asking the federal government to consider legalizing drugs.

Beto O'Rourke, an El Paso city councilman, pushed a resolution Tuesday that asks the U.S. government to start an "open, honest, national dialogue on ending the prohibition of narcotics."

"We think it should at least be on the table and so far it hasn't," O'Rourke said.

The council, which oversees a city of more than 600,000 people that is considered one of the safest U.S. cities of its size, unanimously approved the request.

The nonbinding resolution suggests that legalizing drugs in the United States could help curb a volatile and bloody drug war that claimed nearly 1,600 lives in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, in 2008. Thousands more were killed across Mexico.

But the request may be a tough sell to a newly minted Congress facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and two wars.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent, said he has not seen the resolution and was not available for comment Tuesday.

from the January 6, 2008 edition of the El Paso Times online:

EL PASO - Mayor John Cook on Tuesday vetoed a unanimously supported resolution from City Council asking the federal government to seriously study the legalization of narcotics as a way to respond to the plague of violence that last year killed 1,600 people in Juárez.

The council on Tuesday had voted 8-0 on a resolution drafted by the city's Border Relations Committee, outlining 11 steps the U.S. and Mexican governments can take to help El Paso's "beleaguered and besieged sister city."

All city representatives also supported an amendment by South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke that added a 12th step: the encouragement of the U.S. federal government to start a "serious debate" on the legalization of drugs.

Cook said it was the amendment that forced him to use his veto power for just the third time in his administration.

"The action of council ... undermines the hard work of the committee by adding new language which may affect the credibility of the entire resolution," he said in his veto.

"It is not realistic to believe that the U.S. Congress will seriously consider any broad-based debate on the legalization of narcotics," Cook added. "That position is not consistent with the community standards both locally and nationally."

Cook's veto angered several on council, including some of his closest political allies.

"I am really disappointed. I went and told him that personally," O'Rourke said. "This amendment received unanimous support from council and it also received the support of the members of the committee who wrote the resolution."

Eastridge/Mid-Valley city Rep. Steve Ortega said he respected Cook's decision, but disagreed with it.

"The controversial amendment merely calls for the initiation of a debate regarding the prohibition of narcotics ... (it) does not endorse the legalization of drugs but it places it on the table for debate," he said. "Ending cartel related violence in Juárez represents this region's biggest challenge and

Cook did find some support from U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who said Tuesday that the council's resolution wouldn't have been supported in Washington, D.C.

"Legalizing the types of drugs that are being smuggled across the border is not an effective way to combat the violence in Mexico," he said. "I would not support efforts in Congress that would seek to do so."

O'Rourke and others on council said they are not advocating for the legalization of drugs, much less their use.

Rather, they want lawmakers to have a serious debate on whether the end of drug prohibition would have a positive impact on the level of violence that has erupted along the U.S.-Mexico
Narcotics legalization

Do you agree with the City Council resolution expressing solidarity with Juarez and asking the U.S. government to begin a debate on the legalization of narcotics?

"I completely understand ... this is a very uncomfortable conversation to have," said West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd. "But the reason that I am compelled to support the resolution as we approved it is that whatever we have been doing in the last 40 years has not worked."

But Cook said the council missed the point on the message that the resolution as first drafted was meant to send.

"The whole purpose of the resolution was to get national attention to the violence in Juárez," he said. "After it was amended, the focus was placed instead on legalizing drugs in the United States."

O'Rourke said that the resolution was powerful as it was originally presented, but that his amendment was successful in taking the document "to the next level."

"We started a conversation about solutions ... a conversation that was supported by everyone on council," he said. "The mayor, though, didn't say a word during the meeting. It wasn't until I received a Xerox copy of his veto that I heard from him."

Cook said he was sorry that he didn't voice his opposition to the amendment, but "frankly, I didn't think it was going to pass."

Byrd, who has previously criticized Cook's vetoes, said the mayor needed to take action during the open meeting and not wait until the afternoon to act.

"It's almost like policy- development in the back room ... there is no public discussion," she said.

Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at; 546-6133.