Thursday, February 26, 2009
Willie's Place at Carl's Corner
Right after Willie's Third of July Picnic at the world's most famous truck stop that is its own incorporated city, Carl's Corner was shut down to be retrofitted as a biodiesel refinery and futuristic truck stop. Too many false starts and delays later, the new Willie's Place at Carl's Corner, right on I35 East, a couple miles from the I 35 split at Hillsboro, reopened with a bang Tuesday night with a special concert by Willie and Asleep at the Wheel promoting their Willie and the Wheel western swing album.
The new Carl's (or Willie's, or whatever you want to call it) is nice and shiny with a bar and restaurant, a huge convenience store and gift shop that is the defacto home of Willie souvenirs, the Sirius XM studio home of Willie's Place where Dallas Wayne sits behind the mic Monday through Friday, and the 800 seat Willie's Place theater.
Carl Cornelius remains the Godfather of the truck stops and locals who grew up with Willie in nearby Abbott are frequent visitors. Carl's right hand man, Jeff Promes, who showed me around the work in progress a couple years ago when I was finishing the Willie book, was on hand for the reopening, putting out fires and admitting to me he didn't think he'd see the day. But here it is.
Trucks were filling up on BioWillie biodiesel and cars were gassing up on conventional fuel reasonably priced ($1.79 a gal for regular).
The chicken fried steak, burgers and salads all got my thumb's up, the photos on the wall are a wonderful tour of Willie's life, but it was the radio station and the concert hall that got me hot n bothered. I sat with Dallas on-air on Willie's Place, and then Dallas yielded his chair to Bill Mack, who will be on Willie's Place 11 to 2 daily, broadcasting from his home studio in Fort Worth with Sweet City. Bill proceeded to interview Kinky Friedman and Steve Fromholz, who provided the punch lines to all of Kinky's comments ("Drunk Driving" was priceless, Steve), before the concert was broadcast live. It will be aired again on Willie's Place radio Saturday at 2pm central.
I saw Jackie and Faye Dell Clements, Willie's childhood friends, and chatted with Wally Selman of the Texas Opry House. Wally told me that people ask him if all the stuff he told me for the book was true and he tells them Yes. Then he paused and said, 'It's a good thing I didn't tell you everything, or we'd both be dead.'
John Burnett, National Public Radio reporter and ace harmonica player, was on hand. He said he met Mickey Raphael for the first time earlier that evening and that they also shared a love of cycling, so I see a friendship in the making and possible coverage for Mickey's upcoming project, the Naked Willie album, which strips away all the Nashville sweetening on Willie's 60s vintage recordings, much like Naked Beatles stripped the Phil Spector bombast from Let It Be. Bob "Daddy-O" Wade, the artist who created the dancing frogs on the roof of Carl's, was on hand as were loads of fans from all over the state. The Kinkster said he drove his truck alone from Medina to make the show.
Ruby Jane proved herself to be a fiddler to watch, the clarinet and trumpet added a rich sheen of New Orleans jazz on top of the western swing base, Willie rose to the occasion with some fine guitar picking (playing songs not normally in his set list took him out of his comfort zone and he responded admirably). But I gotta say, I got off most on watching the interplay between Floyd Domino and Ray Benson. The Wheel's pianist and guitarist go back almost forty years and were the two players on stage most familiar with one another, effortlessly quote Thelonius Monk and other jazz cats into the swing tunes.
Before the show, I had the pleasure of introducing Floyd to Bill Mack, who is not only the world's greatest truckers' disc jockey but a hell of a songwriter. Bill's biggest hit was "Drinking Champagne" and Floyd told him it was an honor to record the song with George Strait in the studio. In other words, Floyd had a hand in playing the song that has earned Bill hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Carl's is going to book music on a regular basis. This weekend it's Darrell McCall, Mona McCall, Justin Trevino, Amber Digby, and the Heart of Texas Music revue from Brady, under the direction of Tracey Pitcox. Johnny Bush and Ray Price are coming soon.
All of a sudden there's plenty of reasons to take a pause for the cause at the I 35 split, other than the Turkey Shop in Abbott.