Monday, December 28, 2009

Yeti and OxAm

Getting some hard copy love from Yeti Magazine, which ran part of the Jim Dickinson oral history I did for the Voices of Civil Rights Oral History Project for AARP and the Library of Congress. Buy it for the cool cover alone. $12.

and from the Oxford American, whose December 2009 Southern Music issue features Arkansas and my reminiscence of Bongo Joe, the street musician who made Texas a more interesting place.

OA did a Q&A with the issue's writers. Here's mine:


Why is music important to you?

Music is better than any language or form of communication because it can move your body as well as your mind.

Please name the first recorded song that you ever truly loved and how old you were.

“Cool Water” by the Sons of the Pioneers followed by “Waterloo” by Homer and Jethro.

What song can’t you abide and why?

America’s “Horse With No Name” because the words are beyond dumb (“in the desert, you can remember your name, for there ain’t no one for to give you no shame”) even if they sound sorta like Neil Young.

What is your favorite line from a song?

“In the desert, you can remember your name….” and “It’s too late to stop now.”

Please name your favorite music-themed book.

DINO by Nick Tosches.

Please name your favorite music-themed movie.

PERFORMANCE (some twisted mofos behind that one).

Please name the most underrated album of all time.

TOGETHER AFTER FIVE by the Sir Douglas Quintet.

Please tell us of any interesting encounter you’ve had with a famous or semi-famous musician.

Sold two used records to Bob Dylan once while manning the counter of OK Records in Austin (the VERY BEST OF ERIC CLAPTON and WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH by the Mothers of Invention). I was not impressed with either selection, especially since I was spinning Buddy Holly on the sound system.

Please name an annoying cliché that can be found in too much music writing.

Any phrase with the word “Best.”

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done at a music show or concert?

I’ve never been embarrassed at a concert because everyone is always making asses out of themselves at concerts. No way could I stand out. First beer I ever bought when I was sixteen was at a James Brown show in Fort Worth. Then again, I did try to yell a few times during the recording of JAMES BROWN LIVE in Dallas, 1968, but I have never been able to pick out my voice. And I guess I did embarrass myself when I was flown to KC to interview Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas before a show at Arrowhead Stadium. The story got killed but I did charge a bottle of Jack Daniels to room service after I observed Ed Ward doing the same before a Willie Nelson picnic. The management didn’t like it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

John Mueller Speaks

John Mueller, son of the late Bobby Mueller of Louis Mueller's Bar B Q in Taylor and former proprietor of the most excellent John Mueller's B B Q on Manor Road in Austin before high rents and other factors drove him out of business, is plotting a comeback.

As he informed me via email the other day:

"Taking your advice. One brisket at a time.

"Hope all is well,

"John Mueller"

John, I've been missing you for too long. I can wait a little longer for that next brisket to come out of the pit. Just save me some crust and fatty slices.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hill Country cattle pasture

documented by Kris Cummings, December 2, 2009

Texas Sheiks: How They Came to Be

as explained by Bruce Hughes and Geoff Muldaur

from the camera of Kris Cummings, Sunday night, December 6, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bill Narum

Been thinking about the first encounter with Bill Narum when he was running Taylorvision from a beautiful old mansion in beautiful downtown Taylor back in the early 1970s , and the second encounter a few years later, when he was minding the Longhorn, the rattlesnake, and the turkey vulture on the breakthrough ZZ Top World Wide Texas Tour.

I never could figure out how he convinced a small town cable system to give them the house and let them air videotaped performances the night after a show. Austin City Limits didn't exist and video was reel to reel tape.

The animals trained for the ZZ tour by listening to KILT, Houston's Top 40 station, played full blast for two weeks. None seemed perturbed sharing the stage with Dusty, Frank, and Billy although the vulture fidgeted and attempted to fly off more than once.

He had a cool studio on Fifth Street, above the Swede and the other ol boys who cut hair at the Sulphur Wells Barber Shop - one of downtown Austin's pioneering modern urban dwellers.

He spent time with the Tarahumara in Chihuahua, Mexico, a life changing experience we talked about numerous times.

I wrote the liners for the Hank and Shaidri Alrich album that Bill was
designing. He stayed vital to the end (see below). He went while at work in his studio

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Remembering Doug Saldana

Remembering Doug by Oscar Garza


Incredibly, it's been 10 years since Doug Sahm died. This is a piece I wrote for the 2008 Pop Music conference, held annually at the Experience Music Project in Seattle:

In Les Blank's 1976 documentary, "Chulas Fronteras," Rumel Fuentes--a singer/songwriter from South Texas--performs the song "Chicano" with Los Pinguinos del Norte. "Chicano" was the quintessential anthem in the 1970s for Mexican-Americans who resisted that hyphenated label in favor of an identity that reflected their political and cultural awakening. The song boldly asserted that this new generation would not be subservient or passive; they would stake their claim to America and call on their cultural pride to carry them through.

The odd thing though is that "Chicano" was not written by Fuentes, nor by Los Pinguinos, nor by any other Chicano artist. It was written by Doug Sahm, aka child steel guitar prodigy Little Doug, aka Sir Douglas of the Sir Douglas Qunitet, aka C&W singer Wayne Douglas, and--most importantly here--aka Tex-Mex vato loco Doug Saldaña.

How could a white boy--a self-described "honky"--have the audacity to write "Chicano"? Well, you have to know a little bit about Doug Sahm and the place he came from. He was born in San Antonio (also my hometown) in 1941. The city was then about evenly split between Anglos and Mexican-Americans, with a smattering of Blacks. Sahm grew up on the East Side, where most of the Blacks lived, and in his teens would sneak into nightclubs to watch and learn from the likes of T-Bone Walker. But San Antonio was historically, and remains at its essence, a brown town. Doug loved it. He was a sponge who took it all in, and he was a chameleon who thought it perfectly natural to change colors when it suited him musically.

The evolution of the Sir Douglas Quintet is well known. In the wake of the British Invasion of 1964, renegade Texas music producer Huey Meaux convinced Sahm that his band should take on a British persona. With their tailored, Carnaby Street-style suits and Beatles haircuts, they certainly looked the part. But their breakout hit, 1965's "She's About a Mover," was pure Tex-Mex. It was essentially a polka, with Augie Meyer's Vox organ subbing for an accordion. But Texas wasn't a friendly place for hippie-types, and after a drug bust--for which they were eventually cleared--the band headed for California.

Sahm continued to pursue his eclectic musical taste--country, blues, jazz--in a series of albums that also produced the Quintet's other big hit, "Mendocino." While in California, Doug spent some time around the farmworkers' movement in Monterey County, and I can only surmise that this may have partly inspired him to write "Chicano."

But after an exile of five years, Sahm was ready to go home. By spring of 1971 he had returned to San Antonio, where Chet Flippo came to profile him for Rolling Stone. As Sahm drove around the Mexican part of town--he told the writer: "Man, the West side is so beautiful, so soulful. There's 400,000 people on the West side, man, the original soul Mexican thing of the world. See, the West side is pure Chicano...I'm into Mexican music very heavily. I'm gettin' me a bajo sexto, a Mexican 12-string." But the story concluded with Sahm telling Flippo that he was thinking about recording a country album in Nashville: "Maybe then people would see that I'm really just a hillbilly with long hair."

Sahm, however, would remain in Texas to record another album with the Quintet. Fully embracing his Chicano persona, Sahm titled the album "The Return of Doug Saldaña"--a nickname reportedly bestowed upon him by some Chicano friends. As Ed Ward wrote in the liner notes to the 2002 release of the album on CD: "At this point, he had completely identified with the Chicanos he lived with...And to those who didn't know him or understand him, this was embarrassing, but it was entirely in character."

Sahm soon moved to Austin, where the "Cosmic Cowboy" era was blooming. Willie Nelson had just moved there from Nashville, and in the Summer of 1972, the legendary producer Jerry Wexler came looking for Sahm. As Wexler told Flippo: "He's like the Rosetta Stone of Southern music."

It wasn't long before Sahm and an amazing assemblage of musicians were in New York City, recording at the famed Atlantic studios, with Sahm, Wexler and Arif Mardin producing. The band included Sahm's Sir Douglas mates, including organist Augie Meyer, bassist Jack Barber and drummer George Rains. There also was the great Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jimenez. And the other guest artists included Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg, and David "Fathead" Newman.

The album, released early in 1973 and titled "Doug Sahm and Band," was a typically eclectic Sahm affair, with the tracks including the country classic "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?"; Dylan's "Wallflower"; T-Bone Walker's "Papa Ain't Salty"; Willie Nelson's "Me and Paul," and several Sahm originals.

Several leftovers from those sessions made it onto Sahm's second--and final--album for Atlantic. Titled "Texas Tornado," and also released in 1973, the album included "Chicano." A classic Tex-Mex polka, the song featured the Sir Douglas musicians, plus--incongruously--Dr. John on piano and David Bromberg on steel guitar. Ed Ward wrote that, with this song, Sahm would "completely step over the line...he saw [it] as an anthem for the Chicano movement and nearly everyone else saw it as the worst gaffe he'd ever committed in public. This rankled him for years." Ward said that Sahm later told him: "People still get down on me for that song, but you know what? The guy who works on my car, little Chicano dude down in San Antonio, he told me, 'Doug, that's my favorite song of yours. It makes me proud and I sing it to myself a lot.' See, people just don't understand!"

Sahm's vindication would come with Rumel Fuentes' rendition of "Chicano." But Fuentes would improve on the original. Sahm's version was just one verse and the chorus, each of them repeated once. Fuentes made some subtle but powerful lyric changes, and he added two verses and also translated the chorus into Spanish, all with clever bilingual wordplay.

In Fuentes' first new verse he sings: "Chicano, soy Chicano, I can fly just as high as I want to / Some people call me violent 'cause I'm no longer the silent, pobrecito Mexicano." And then he turned the chorus from "All across the U.S.A. / I just woke up and say Chicano, soy Chicano..." to this: "Todo el mundo lo sabrá / y este vato les dirá / Chicano, soy Chicano..." ("All the world will know it / and this guy will tell them / I'm Chicano." By the way--making those lines rhyme in the future tense is a pretty good trick.) Finally, Fuentes finishes with a new verse in Spanish: "Chicano, soy Chicano, soy café, tengo orgullo, y yo sé que yo lo voy hacer / Algunos me dicen hippie, otros me dicen caifan, pero yo sólo sé que soy puro Mex-i-can." ("...I'm brown and proud and I know I'm going to make it / Some people call me hippie or bum, but I know I'm pure Mexican."

Given those improvements, as far as I'm concerned, Fuentes has just as much claim to the song as Sahm. But I can't ask Rumel how he feels about it because he's gone to that great big cantina in el cielo. And I can't ask Doug how he feels because he's gone to that great big honky tonk in the sky, where there's an endless supply of Pearl beer and mota from Michoacan. But, in the end, Rumel would not have been inspired to improve upon the original unless there had been an original. And Doug Sahm, my friends, was an original.

Que viva Rumel Fuentes, y que viva Doug Saldaña!

Download 08 Chicano (Sahm)

Download 09 Chicano (Fuentes)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Goin' to... El Paso, Thurs, Dec 3

A head's up to all my friends in Far West Texas:

Author Joe Nick Patoski to discuss Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Last of the Great Texas Bluesman
December 3, 2009
5:30-8 p.m.

Joe Nick Patoski Stevie Ray

$4 museum members, $8 nonmembers – Seating is limited.
This is the fourth and final lecture the El Paso Museum of History is hosting on Texas Music History.

Joe Nick Patoski has been writing about Texas and Texans for more than 35 years. In addition to biographies on Stevie Ray Vaughan, Selena, and Willie Nelson, he has written the text to the books Texas Mountains, Texas Coast, Big Bend National Park, and Conjunto. A former staff writer for Texas Monthly magazine, his cover story in the August edition of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine details his killer hike along the ridge of the Franklin Mountains a year ago.
Patoski’s lecture will explain how and why Vaughan became the legend he is today, leading a brief journey through the blues scenes in Dallas and Fort Worth in the 1960s and in Austin in the 1970s that informed Vaughan and an entire generation of players. Most went to school in the bad parts of town to witness bluesmen like Freddy King and Lightnin’ Hopkins in their element, learning by example. But the opening of Antone’s Home of the Blues nightclub in the mid 1970s changed everything. Clifford Antone elevated blues into a fine art in Austin and his venue became the incubator for SRV and Double Trouble, Jimmie Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Lou Ann Barton, Angela Strehli, Marcia Ball, and many others.

5:30-6pm, Snacks - Meet & Greet
6-7pm, Lecture
7-7:30pm, After lecture discussion
7:30 – 8 p.m. Blues discussion at the Double Tree
Purchase a membership on December 3rd and get in free
RSVP to 351-3588

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Onward and Upward, Luther Dickinson & The Sons of Mudboy

When James Luther Dickinson departed this world in August, there was no funeral. Instead, three days after he died, his older son Luther gathered with members of Mudboy & the Neutrons, Jim's favorite band of them all, along with Steve Selvidge, Sid's son, and Shannon McNally, at Zebra Ranch in northern Mississippi, the Dickinsons' home ground, and made an album that Memphis International Records has now issued.

Jim produced the project in absentia, and wrote the liner notes, which say all that needs to be said about Jim, his life, his music, and his deep sense of place.
Listening brought a smile to my face and a few tears. Most of all, it made me appreciate the fact Jim was my friend. I miss him badly, but Onward and Upward let me know he's still around, still in the air.

Lean in close to the speaker and you can hear the fife of Otha Turner, the cacophony of the Memphis Jug Head, and the shouts of joy and cries of sorrow of the men, women, and children who worked the Delta dirt for centuries.

As good as the music is, Jim's liner notes are even better:

"I refuse to celebrate death. My life has been a miracle of more than I ever expected or deserved. I have gone farther and done more than I had any right to expect. I leave behind a beautiful family and many beloved friends. Take reassurance in the glory of the moment and the forever promise of tomorrow. Surely there is light beyond the darkness as there is dawn after the night. I will not be gone as long as the music lingers. I have gladly given my life to Memphis Music and it has given me back a hundredfold. It has been my fortune to know truly great men and hear the music of the sphere. May we all meet again at the end of the trail.

"May God bless and keep you.
World Boogie is coming.

James Luther Dickinson"

Do yourself a favor and order it now right here:

Completing the circle, Luther's significant other, Necha, gave birth to a sweet baby girl named Lucia. Mary Lindsay Dickinson wrote to tell me the news:
"It seems like Necha's been pregnant forever, yet I remember like yesterday when she and Luther told us the good news, over dinner in Oxford. I can't help feeling sorry Jim can't be with us, but I have faith he's smiling down on us from Heaven and feeling proud."

And doing so in perfect rhythm and melody.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bobz World, Los Fresnos

Driving across the Rio Grande Valley, listening to Hugo de la Cruz doing the Friday Night Scoreboard in Spanish to the tune of football marching music and team corridos makes one appreciate the unique sense of place the Valley conveys. You're like nowhere else.

The latest evidence was found out on Texas Highway 100, on the other side of the booming roadside town of Los Fresnos from Little Graceland, 18 miles east of Port Isabel and South Padre Island, just west of the Vickie Roy Home Health Care billboard with Vickie Roy posing with her husband Chad Roy in an Elvis jumpsuit.

In the vernacular of oversized concrete sharks and creatures that decorate the fronts of T-Shirt shops up and down the Texas coast, Bobz is a series of mixed-themed giant sized monuments. That's because Bobz' corporate parent, Seven Seas, is the warehouse for those shops - you think those elaborate lamp shades and curtains of hundreds of tiny shells are one-of-kind? There's plenty more where that came from. In that spirit, Kevin the artist has constructed an impressive collection of concrete creatures either nautical, such as the the giant sea snail or the leaping squad of happy dolphins, or prehistoric, as the brontosaurus out front suggests, although a pirate theme was emerging judging from the rebar skeleton.

Inside were more souvenir shop items than a Bowlen's on Route 66. There was a snack bar with ice cream, beach wear, shell art, personalized pens, fart powder, computer mouse joy buzzers, cheese, kitsch, cutesy, Biblical themed merch - everything a roadside attraction should have. A Christian music radio station played on the sound system. The cashier didn't understand my question until I asked in Spanish. Free. But don't climb on the statues.

UPDATE: I googled Bobz and found that there was more to Bobz World than met the eye, and what I was seeing was the home office of Seven Seas. For $15 I could've experienced the full tilt Bobz, with a fake volcano. Instead, I saw it on this you tube vid:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wink Honors Roy Orbison

The West Texas town of Wink in the Permian oil patch produced one of the greatest voices in music, Roy Orbison. Although Roy's been gone awhile, it took even longer for Wink to recognize their hometown boy. There is a museum dedicated to Roy in Wink and now, finally, formal recognition has come in the form of an historic marker, according to this article from my friend and colleague Jimmy Patterson of, the website of the Midland Reporter-Telegram:

(click on the headline to link to his site):

Wink finally receives historic marker commemorating favorite son Roy Orbison
Walt Quigley with Wink's new Roy Orbison historical marker.
By Jimmy Patterson
Online Editor
Published: Saturday, October 17, 2009 1:35 AM CDT
WINK -- Walt Quigley finally met his marker. After two years of lobbying the Texas Historical Commission, convincing them that Roy Orbison was indeed worthy of his own marker, history arrived his week, perpetuating the legendary rock and roll performer on an iron sign that reads simply “ROY ORBISON” at the top. (Related story: Quigley turns attention to refurbishing historic theater in Wink.)

With over 60 financial supporters also recognized for their efforts at the site of the marker, Quigley said the dedication of the sign was the culmination of months and months of hard work.

“This is the location of one of the homes Roy lived in as a boy,” Quigley noted. “His mom lived here until 1961, when urban renewal took many of the homes and some of the businesses away in Wink during that time.”

Not only did Quigley have to prove to the Texas Historical Commission Orbison's significance and contribution to Texas history and music history, he also had to prove that where the sign would be planted would in fact be where his boyhood home once stood. Such an effort, Quigley said, required much documentation.

All that is left on the site now is a vacant field where the house once stood, but Quigley hopes to one day find a proxy house that can be moved onto the property to, he said, give Orbison fans something to visualize about where Orbison’s home once stood.

Quigley, a transplanted Arizonan who now splits time between a home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and Wink, performing in both regions as an Orbison karaoke tribute artist, began working on the marker over two years ago out of his fondness for a singer he said was forever “a true gentleman.” As the marker arrived in Wink last week, Quigley’s efforts to immortalize the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who influenced everyone from the Beatles to Elvis to Bruce Springsteen, have more to do now with perpetuating on the singer’s legacy for future generations.

“When you think how quickly time is passing, you realize these things have to be done in a timely manner,” said Quigley, who never met Orbison. “I think had we waited any longer, some of the interest may have been lost. The people living now appreciate Roy more and should leave his memory to future generations, where the interest might not lie as much, so it’s important we do these things in our time.”



Text taken from "ROY ORBISON" historical marker, issued by the Texas Historical Commission and designated last week in Wink:

Roy Kelton Orbison was one of America's most famed rock and roll musicians. Born in Vernon (Wilbarger Co.), Orbison and family moved often and by 1946 they had settled in Wink. The Orbisons lived at 102 Langley Way (now 105 N. Roy Orbison Drive). As a high school student in Wink, Orbison formed his first band, the Wink Westerners (later The Teen Kings). He attended North Texas State University at which time the Teen Kings recorded "Ooby Dooby," a song which led to their signing by Sun Records in 1956.

By the early 1960s, Orbison had signed with Monument Records, where he had his greatest commercial success, recording songs like "Only the Lonely (Know The Way I Feel)," "Crying," "In Dreams," "Running Scared" and "Oh! Pretty Woman." By this time Orbison had perfected his unique, powerful singing voice, while focusing on complex melodies in his music. He also began to wear his familiar dark sunglasses during performances.

By the mid-1960s, though, Orbison's career languished. In addition, he suffered a number of personal tragedies. In 1966, Orbison's wife Claudette (Frady) died in a motorccle accident; two years later, two of their three sons died in a fire; in 1969, Orbison remarried. He would have two more sons. In the late 1970s, other artists began covering Orbison's music and by the late 1980s, his career was revived. Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1988, he recorded the album "Mystery Girl," which included the hit, "You Got It." Before it was finalized Orbison died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The album was released posthumously and was a success. Today, Orbison continues to be remembered for his legacy of music, which has inspired generations of successful musicians.

Copyright © 2009 - Midland Reporter-Telegram

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shirley Caddell Collie Nelson's book

One of the most fascinating characters I found in researching my book Willie Nelson: An Epic Life was his second wife, Shirley Collie, who was married to disc jockey and record promoter Biff Collie when she and Willie met in Los Angeles where they were label mates on Liberty Records. I wrote that Willie fell in love with her voice on their meeting, their voices blended together so well. As much as Willie's known for his duets, Shirley was his first singing partner and helped him get his first top ten country hit with "Willingly" back in 1961.

Shirley and Willie were so in love, they left their respective mates, married in Vegas, and performed together on the road, where Shirley played bass in the band. Willie eventually talked her into staying home in Ridgetop outside of Nashville, where she helped raised his three children he had with first wife Martha - Lana, Susie, Billy.

When Shirley found out about Willie's affair with Connie Koepke from Houston, their marriage fell apart in the late sixties and Shirley retired to her native Missouri, cutting short a promising career.

But don't take my word for it. Let Shirley tell her story as she knows it best. Click on the headline how to order her recently published book, Scrapbooks In My Mind. She's got some good stories to tell.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Latin Music USA

The Public Broadcasting System series Latin Music USA attempts the impossible this week and next week with six hours devoted to the various styles of Latin music in the United States (click on the headline for the details). That's a tough task between Puerto Rican and Cuban salsa have little to do with the polkitas of Tejano and conjunto and the brassy banda sound that's welled up from the western Mexico states of Sonora and Sinaloa.

Last year, I got to preview the California-Texas segment that airs next week. I went in wondering how director John Valadez would wed the two disparate sounds together and came away impressed. The parallel stories are told through the rock and roll sounds that Richie Valens tapped into with "La Bamba" while Freddy Fender nee Balemar Huerta was doing the same out of Texas with "Wasted Days, Wasted Nights," through the Latin rock sounds of Cannibal & the Headhunters, Little Willie G, Thee Midnighters, Lalo Guerrero, and Chuco Valdes,and the Chicanismo movement of the 1960s and 1970s when Little Joe Hernandez and Steve Jordan from Texas began plugging into the Cali sound blowing up around Santana, Malo, and War.

Texas gets its props by showcasing Little Joe, Flaco Jimenez, the leading exporter of the Nowhere But Texas conjunto accordion sound, and Selena, the great standard bearer of modern Tejano.

I was prepared to pick nits, and yeah, Sunny & the Sunliners, Tortilla Factory (featuring El Charro Negro, Bobby Butler),Lydia Mendoza, Narciso Maritinez, Los Alegres de Teran, Esteban Jordan, Mingo Saldivar, Fito Olivares, Sir Doug and loads of others could have been showcased. But to squeeze two very different regional sounds together as one and make sense of them both demonstrates Valadez' understanding and appreciation of Texas-style Latino music. has a pretty decent chart that explains Latin Music in Texas and California here:

Main thing is, Texas and Tejanos get their due. Next time, the state should get all six hours to tell the rich story like it deserves to be told.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Texas High School Football

Ratliff Stadium, Odessa, home of Friday Night Lights

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Ruins of the Bwana Club Juke Joint

Back in the 1970s when I was working at the Austin American-Statesman, I wrote a feature on Joseph Henderson, a street artist who painted commercial signs for beauty shops, bars, cafes, and other small businesses in East Austin, which was largely African-American and Mexican-American.

Henderson had a distinctive style that featured floating heads - renditions of people's heads minus their bodies - along with fanciful, elaborate lettering. It turned out he was a trained artist from Kansas City who'd lived in Austin for years and painted whenever he needed money. A few examples of Henderson's work remain if you look real hard around East Sixth, Seventh, Eleventh and Twelfth streets or out on Webberville Road.

Joseph Henderson opened up the world of juke joint art to me, as did Freddie Cisneros who collected hard cardboard Chitlin' Circuit posters affixed to telephone poles. An extended residency at the New Blue Bird Nite Club in the Como section of Fort Worth, TV's Lounge just east of downtown FW, and the strip of clubs along East Fourth Street east of downtown in a section known as the Bottoms enriched my appreciation for the various styles employed by Joseph Henderson's peers. Then I found Birney Imes' wonderful book of Mississippi juke joints which elevated the art to something serious and formal.

Although juke joints have pretty much vanished from the southern American landscape, I tend to take notice when I discover even remnants, as I did on my drive between Marshall and Karnack near Caddo Lake in Far East Texas.

I don't know who painted the side of the cinder block building that was identified as the Bwana Club, how long it operated, or when it was abandoned for a larger dance club on the same property. But the exterior walls told some kind of story, which I attempted to photograph.

I imagine there are still some jukes hiding back in the pines somewhere in Far East Texas even today. But in lieu of that discovery, this artifact of another time will have to do.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge

For once, the good guys won. The 8,400 acre Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Texas was dedicated on National Public Lands Day on the last Saturday of September, its existence laying down a marker in a decades-long contentious fight that pitted the locals of Uncertain against big money, politically-connected interests in nearby Marshall, Don Henley against power plant fatcats, the natural world and science against economic development boosters and the Growth Is Good At Any Cost crowd, and vindicating the efforts of Don Henley, the local boy from Linden who made it big with the band he belonged to called the Eagles, who never forgot the place where he caught his first fish in 1955.

I'd written about Caddo Lake twice since 2001 - in Texas Monthly magazine ( in the Texas Observer ( - and showed up in Karnack to take part in the celebration.

The refuge, a dense mix of pine and hardwood bottoms - a flooded wetland forest, as it were - sits where the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant once was located. Twenty years before the refuge's dedication, the U.S. Army destroyed its last Pershing 1-A missiles here under terms of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The last remnant of that era is a 1941 vintage guardhouse, the only one of 451 buildings erected on the site still standing; its restoration was ironically aided by a $25,000 grant from the City of Marshall, which had previously sought to increase the amount of water it took from the lake and tried unsuccessfully to put a power plant and an industrial park on the site, among other schemes. But it was the proposed Daingerfield Reach barge canal that sparked a protracted fight from communities around the lake and prompted Henley to underwrite the creation of the Caddo Lake Institute in 1991 near the town of Uncertain.

That was then. Now, the odd coalition of lake defenders including the Greater Caddo Lake Association, the town of Uncertain, the Chamber of Commerce, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and the Caddo Lake Institute, among others, could revel in the fruits of their labor - a wild place next to the lake that would remain that way.

The event was crawling with Boy Scouts who assisted with parking and led the Pledge of Allegiance and the presentation of the color guard.

Booths were set up representing Friends of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the Cypress Basin chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, Operation Game Thief and Texas Parks & Wildlife, Native Plant Growns Texas Forest Service, Texas Conservation Alliance. A silent auction for the refuge offered all sorts of goodies to bid on including Fire Ant bait.

But perhaps the most important player in the protracted conservation effort, Dwight Shellman, was absent. The Aspen, Colorado attorney who Henley enlisted and who eventually moved to Caddo to become part of the community was stricken with a degenerative disease and can no longer travel. His son came to represent him.

Robbie Speight, the burly head of the Greater Caddo Lake Association, introduced me to his new wife, who is a wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife. Tom Walker, a librarian active with the coaltion, was positively giddy as he made introductions, including one to Richard Bowden, the force behind Music City Texas and the music guy whose band was the first Don Henley ever played in. Jack and Nancy Canson, who helped publicize the conservation efforts and work, filmed the event.

Master of ceremonies retired appellate Judge Ben Z. Grant opened the event acknowledging folks like Loucille and Fred Dahmer, who wrote extensively about Caddo Lake in the 20th Century (his 1988 short history "Caddo Was" remains a classic)and Betty and Robin Holder (she was the sassy, outspoken Mayor of Uncertain). Grant concluded by saying with confidence, "God smiles on our undertaking. This land — if you go back in history — was part of the Caddo Nation. In my mind's eye, I can see a time when this land was home of the Indians."

Members of the Caddo Culture Club, part of the Caddo Nation descended from the original human inhabitants of the refuge, blessed the event with the Drum Dance, "one of our most sacred dances tied to our creation myth in which we came from under the ground into the light," explained Phil Cross of Four male drummers drummed while chanting and moving in a large circle, followed by five women and one girl dressed in 19th century floral-print gowns with C-shaped combs, shuffling their feet in small side steps to the rhythm of the drums. [CLICK ON THE HEADLINE OF THE STORY TO SEE A SHORT FILM CLIP]

Representatives of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Army spoke. Refuge manager Mark Williams welcomed the audience. A senior western swing trio fiddled and swung. The On the Caddo Lake Singers, an old-fashioned singing group, harmonized as they sang "Floating Down the Caddo." The Bobby Mercy Oliver Jam City Revue, specializing in blues, played the low down stuff after the ceremonies.

Louie Gohmert, the Congressman best known to those outside his district as one of the House Republicans acting up and clowning around during President Obama's address to Congress, was on his best behavior. He opened his remarks by telling the audience he'd asked Don Henley if he'd ordered up the warm sunny weather for the day (Henley told Gohmert he didn't have that much clout, according to the Congressman) and how Louie's daddy took him to the lake when he was a kid. Gohmert did manage to inject a little bit of politics into his address (although, wisely, not a peep on heath care, not in front of this crowd) by stating that the Giant Salvinia, the invasive aquatic plant that is choking the lake's surface, may be the biggest challenge of all that Caddo Lake is facing. It's true. The lake may be saved, but the gonzo salvinia threatens to kill it by choking out all other vegetation and aquatic life. Gohmert closed by paraphrasing the Eagles' "Hotel California" ("Welcome to Nature's Hotel Caddo Lake, what a lovely place,what a lovely space, anytime of year, you can find it here..."). I guess he meant well with the tribute.

Don Henley spoke last. Dressed casually in a black t shirt and open oxford shirt and olive slacks, and wearing shades, he recalled his boyhood connection to the lake, his realization how special and unique the ecosystem is, other outside threats such as mercury pollution from numerous lignite coal plants in East Texas (a major source of air pollution at Big Bend National Park) and his adulthood desire to do right by it. Caddo is Henley's Walden Pond, in the great tradition of Henry David Thoreau. On this day, he could see the payoff for his efforts in the thousand people who showed up to celebrate the creation of the refuge with him.