Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall tales from Texas about characters I know and have known. Who knows, you might be one of them.

My Texas Garden of Eden That Never Ends


When my wife and I purchased our home, it was newly built. Sitting on a rocky hill facing Comanche Peak, the beginning of the Texas hill country, it was the perfect size for us, and the view was beautiful. The exterior was dirt and rock, a clean slate for a landscaper/ artist. That is how I see myself these days; or did for a short while.

A railroad tie retaining wall was added and backfilled, then dirt for a backyard, then 4 pallets of grass, then more dirt, then a 12 yard load of 1 inch gravel, then 6 yards of decorative pea gravel and I wasn’t even close to installing plants. I should probably mention that I was going through radiation treatment for cancer at the time I was doing this task, and my wife Maureen was working as a nurse here in Granbury. I was trying to get as much done before the high dose radiation kicked my ass, and by some miracle, I succeeded and then collapsed for a few months to recover. The ordeal was only beginning.

Our intent was to install as little as possible, using gravel, rock and native Texas plants to save water and time. The less maintenance the better as you age, but, somewhere during the process, my OCD Artistic Creative gene kicked into full gear. I was helpless and my body went with the flow. There was no sleep; only nightmares of plants multiplying and gathering for a siege. I am the Alamo, the fauna is the army. Every waking hour was spent spreading gravel, digging holes, wrestling with unruly petulant plants and dangerous cactus. I was a slave to the land, and could see no reprieve. By this time, the radiation was taking it’s toll on my body. I looked like Betelgeuse on a good day.

My wife suggested counseling, so I called a local radio plant show, the Dirt Doctor. He told me I was a sick puppy and to sell the house and move or I was going to collapse and expire while holding my Craftsman shovel. He happened to know a guy that would give me a good price. Right?

I called my famous friend Dr. Wu. He suggested I come in for a series of acupuncture treatments and Chinese meditation to rid me of my plant based demons. Neither one did any good. I was still as possessed as Rasputin and the siege of the greenery advanced. I tried to ignore them. It didn’t work. The plants, still in their plastic pots, sent telepathic signals to my tortured brain. They were making a pod person of me so the landscaping could continue when I stroked out.

Six Chaste Trees, multiple cacti, Oleanders, Texas Sage, Lantana, flowers, more cactus, Agave’s, Salvia, more cactus, more gravel, rock retaining walls, 100 bags of top soil, large rock stacks and sculptures, bird feeders, Canna’s everywhere, stepping stones to nowhere in particular. A landscape vision out of control. And then, for no apparent reason, we constructed a raised garden using concrete block and 50 bags of soil. The garden didn’t do squat. A few tomato’s, some cucumbers and some okra. It’s back to H.E.B. for veggies.

More later, the remaining plants are knocking on my door and staring into my Ring Doorbell.

Trashy Juanita’s


This will be my 5th installment of childhood feel-good memories to take your mind off the present situation that greets us every morning. It always starts with the “we are all in this together ” the horror movie called “The Evil Bug From the Continent We can’t Name Because It Will Offend Someone And Make Them Cry Or Tear Down A Statue and God Help Us If That Misunderstood Sock Cap Wearing, Birkenstock stepping, Back Pack Toting, Green Haired, Pierced Eyebrow Unemployed Young Person Is Squished.” It’s a long title, but you get the message.


Childhood memories are like teeth, we all have them, good ones, and rotten ones. If you grew up in Texas in the 1950s, you will identify with some of mine, or maybe not.

I was nine-years-old before I dined in a Mexican restaurant. I knew they existed because my father and mother enjoyed them, bringing home little mints and matchbooks touting the restaurant’s name. I got the mints, my parents put the match books in a jar in the kitchen. I dreamed that one day, I might visit one.

In Texas, Mexican food is part of life. It’s one of the major food groups, and a boy cannot grow into a man of substance without it. Looking back, not having real Mexican food at that young age affected my evolution into a healthy young specimen. I harbored a nervous tick, I stuttered at times, and one leg was shorter than the other. All those maladies were cured, once I ate the real-stuff. The medicinal qualities of Mexican food is amazing.

I had for many years, eaten tacos at my cousin’s house and believed those to be authentic Mexican food. Sadly they were nowhere near the real deal. A few times over the summer, my cousin Jok’s mother, Berel, would cook tacos and invite the families for a feast. Cold Beer and Tacos. Pure Texas.

Berel would stand at her massive gas range, a large pot of ground beef, and a cauldron of boiling grease heating up the room to cooking temperature. She would drop that Taco in the witches cauldron, pull it out and toss it to the pack of wild African dogs sitting around her breakfast table. The dogs, of course, were my cousins and me. My poor mother would leave the room. She could not bear to see her son eat like a feral child: growling, biting, snarling as we consumed the tacos like they were a cooked Wildebeest. That is what I considered to be Mexican food and proper behavior when consuming it.

If you drove northwest of downtown Fort Worth on Jacksboro Highway, right before you come to the honkey tonks, you would find “Trashy Juanita’s” Mexican restaurant. Legendary for its Taco’s, frijoles, and cold Jax Beer. It was also legendary for other things that my father would not mention until I was older. Gambling, shooting dice, and in general questionable behavior was part of the after-hours entertainment. It wasn’t on Jacksboro Highway for the view.

Juanita Batista Carlita Rosanna Danna Esposito, the owner, was not a trashy woman, but a middle-aged Latin beauty with a bawdy laugh and sharp wit. It was the restaurant’s front yard adornments that earned the name. Offended at first, she finally accepted her crown and wore it proudly.

Two old rust-eaten pick-up trucks, one painted blue, and the other yellow sat abandoned in the front yard behind a cyclone fence. Pots of flowers decorated the fenders while the beds were overflowing with vines and small flowering trees. Fifty or more chickens strutted and pecked around the yard, giving the place a barnyard atmosphere. Some saw a work of art, while others called it a junkyard that happened to serve great food.
In an interview in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Juanita claimed to be related to General Santa Anna, Pancho Villa, and the Cisco Kid, making her royalty in Mexico. The people of Fort Worth loved her, and she was considered a local character.

Trashy Juanita’s was my first introduction to real Mexican food, and all that comes with it.

My father sold a fiddle to a buddy, and with the profit, he took the whole fam-damly to dine at Trashy Juanita’s on the Fourth of July, 1958.

Juanita had gone “whole hog” on this holiday. American flags hung from the front porch and draped the cyclone fence. Two small children sat in the front yard shooting bottle rockets at the cars driving on Jacksboro Highway, and the chickens were wrapped in red-white-and-blue crepe paper streamers. Very patriotic, and also very redneck Texas.

A jovial Juanita escorted us to a large table next to the kitchen doorway. A waiter delivered tortillas, salsa and two Jax beers for my father and grandfather. Large, frosty glasses of sweet iced tea for the rest of us. There was no menu; it was Tacos or nothing at all.

The unfamiliar aroma of exotic food floated on a misty cloud from the kitchen, filling my young nostrils and activating my juvenile saliva glands, causing a torrent of spit to drip from my mouth onto the front of my new sear-sucker shirt. My mother cleaned me up and wrapped a napkin around my neck. I was ready; I had my eating clothes on.
We decided that the family would dine on a medley of beef and chicken Tacos, frijoles and rice, and guacamole ala Juanita. The waiter rushed our order to the kitchen.

The evening was turning out great. My father was telling jokes, the Jax beer was flowing, and then a waiter walked past our table into the kitchen. Under each arm, was one of the patriotically wrapped chickens from the front yard. My grandfather must have forgotten that there were two young children at the table and remarked, ” there goes our Tacos, can’t get any fresher than that.”

His remark went unnoticed until I chimed in, asking my father, ” Dad, or we going to eat the pet chickens from the front yard?” He didn’t offer an answer.
I got a big lump in my throat, and my eyes got misty. My sister whimpered and cried like a baby, and my grandmother, seeing her grandchildren in such distress, shed tears in support. Mother gave the two adult men the worst evil eye ever. The mood at the table went from happy to crappy in a minute or less. So much for a joyous family celebration. We might as well be eating Old Yeller for supper.

There was a ruckus in the kitchen, yelling, pots and pans clashing, and the two chickens, still wearing their streamers half-flew and half-ran through the dining room, and out the front door. The cook was right behind them but tripped over a man’s foot, knocking himself out as he hit the floor.

Juanita, standing in the middle of the dining room, announced that there would only be beef Tacos tonight. The two doomed birds had escaped the pan, and my sister and I were happy again. My father breathed a sigh of relief that the night was saved, and my grandfather bent down and polished the new scuff on his size 12 wingtip.

Defending Texas 2.0


I am, by my own admission, a proud Texan that will go toe to toe with anyone that diminishes the history and heritage of my state. I haven’t needed to do that in many years, but the piss and vinegar is still there if needed.

Statues are inanimate objects. They can’t shoot you, slap you or speak to you. The only way they might cause harm to one, is to fall on you as they are being pulled down by an uneducated mob of hoodlums wielding ropes and ladders.

Texas has more statues than Forest Gump has shrimp. There are brass, bronze, metal and stone statues of the defenders of the Alamo, various animal hero’s, horned toads, our founding fathers, soldiers from all wars, questionable politician’s and scores of others. I saw a statue of Flipper the dolphin in Galveston, so I guess everyone that has their own statue is not bad.

In Granbury, where I live, the town is named for a famous southern general named Granbury. He served in the confederate army and lived in Waco, where he practiced law. He has a statue of course, and the town carries his name, and has for over well over a hundred years with no complaints or problems created by the inanimate object.

Now, in Granbury, like the rest of the state, and country, people want them removed because the site of a statue hurts’ their feelings or makes them think of injustices, either real or imagined, committed centuries ago in a country that was far different than the one they are now attempting to ruin. With young men and women that depend on Google for information and education, can we expect less? Our education system has failed them. Texas history is barely touched on and smoothed over with a pacifist brush.

Our state history is not pretty: It is rough and tumble with a lot of bloodshed and dying by all. Indian wars, The Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto, hand to hand knife fighting musket shooting battles that were horrific. In those hard scrabble days, people were tough: life was tough, and a young Texas ranch wife would kick your butt as good as her husband. My grandmother was one of those gals.

The Alamo mission, in San Antonio, is the most sacred piece of history in our state. It is a shrine held in reverence by Texans since 1836, when the mission, held by volunteers and led by William Barret Travis, fell to General Santa Anna and his army. Most of our counties and many of our towns are named for the defenders. Now, there are mobs and hooligans that want to tear down the mission because it hurts their feelings. Fortunately, our Texas Rangers and other patriots are guarding the Alamo to keep this from happening. Texas history will not go down without a good fight. God bless The Alamo and Davey Crockett, and God Bless Texas.

Entertainment Is But A Phone Call Away


This past year or so, I noticed that phone calls from friends and family had dwindled drastically. Not that they were that frequent in years past, but now, the calls have almost ceased. The holidays count for a few, and if there is a surgery or accident, that will bring one or two sympathy or curiosity calls.

One can assume that as you age and become a seasoned person, your friends and family are in the same boat, and you can talk about medical issues and health only so much before your head explodes. My sister, bless her heart, does call every few days to chat about nothing in particular, but she is down from four dogs to one and is easily bored. She watches a lot of Netflix.

My multi-tasking son rarely calls. He lives in North Padre Island, by the beach, surrounded by an impressive collection of “man toys.” He and his wife own a business that keeps them hopping, so I get it. The rest of his time he divides between Cub Scouts and baseball games with my grandson. He is a busy young man and appears to have broken all his fingers on both hands, or lost my phone number. I am considering sending him an amazon package with my picture and a burner cell phone.

My generation X grandson keeps in touch via text, the preferred form of communication for people in their twenties. Sometimes he will answer his phone, and it takes me a second to remember his voice. He sounds much like his father, who passed away seven years ago, and if I am melancholy, it unnerves me a bit, so texting is alright for now. As he ages, actual speaking will replace texting.

My late-late mother, ever the geriatric comedian, in her golden years, remarked on how lonely life can be, and she wouldn’t have anyone to talk with if the telemarketers and scammers stopped calling. I laughed at how ridiculous that sounded, but alas, I may be in that same position.

Medicare enrollment is upon us with a vengeance, and I receive a dozen calls a day, most of which my spam app catches and disperses them back into cellular orbit. I did answer one a few days ago because it displayed a number with fourteen digits, and I was curious who has that many digits. What the hell, have some fun.

The youngish man on the line started his spiel about Medicare, and I could tell he was either “in” or “from” India. I listened for a minute then asked him where his call center might be? he answered, ” Indiana.” Then I asked his name, which he replied, ” Ronnie.” I politely told him that was bull crap, you are in India, and your name is not Ronnie.

He was busted, so he fessed up. Speaking in a pleasant accent, he said, ” yes sir, I am in India, and my name is Aakash. I work at the call center for American Exploitive Insurance.” He seemed like a polite young man, so I continued the conversation.
“Tell me, Aakash, do you have Netflix and Amazon Prime in India, and if you do, have you seen Jack Ryan and The Kaminsky Method ?” I enquired.
He was quiet for a few seconds then responded, “yes, we have those, but we watch only Bollywood movies here. Our movies have much drama, love love, and shooting guns, then everyone dances and sings happy songs. It’s joyously entertaining. India is a happy place, mostly.”
” And what do you mean by mostly?” I say.
I could sense his hesitation and the frustration in his voice, but he needed to vent to someone, and I am three-thousand miles away, and that’s as safe as it gets.

This young telemarketer begins spilling his guts to a stranger, in America, over the telephone, hoping to receive a form of absolution from a non-Catholic, even though I am wearing a black t-shirt and eating Mrs. Pauls fish sticks for lunch so that counts for something. Speaking in a comforting voice, I urge him to continue. He lets it all hang out.

In a desolate cracking voice, he wails, ” my girlfriend lives with me in a tiny, tiny, tiny apartment, and all day, she plays this Brittney Spears person’s records and dances about like a hoochie lady. It is making me a crazy man. Last week for the evening meal, I try to make American Texas Terlingua chili using Indian spices and goat meat, and it gives us both the running bathroom visit for days. We have more nuisance monkeys in our neighborhood than residents. The little mean shit animals dismembered my moped, and then they break into my apartment and eat my James Taylor albums and raid the food closet leaving my home a mess. I have no gun, so I can’t shoot them dead; the mean monkey has more rights than me. I have applied for citizenship in your country, but it takes two lifetimes. I have four degrees from a university but make little money. My life is a hot fresh cow pie residing in the middle of the road.”

I am bewildered by his predicament but yet amused at the absurdity of it all. We exchange pleasantries, and I tell him to call me again next week for another chat, to which he agreed and wished me well.
Who knew telemarketers could be so exciting.

Little Audie Murphy


A third installment of “feel good” stories from my childhood. Virus’s, Riots and Looters…Oh My! The only thing missing is the gang of Flying Monkeys terrorizing Granbury.
With all the mayhem now in our small towns, I should take my firearm when shopping at H.E.B. for groceries. You never know when ANTIFA will come down the aisle and set fire to “Uncle Bens” and “Aunt Jemimah” products. This recount should take your mind off of the bad stuff and hopefully leave you sedate and smiling.

The farm. Santa Anna, Texas. July of 1955. My two uncles, Jay and Bill, need more to occupy their time. I need them away from me. I’m a six-year-old kid, and their influence is ruining my childhood. They told me Howdy Doody is not real, and Captain Kangaroo hates kids. I cried for days.
The chaw of Red Man chewing tobacco behind the smokehouse was the last straw. Seeing a kid puking for two hours seemed funny to them.
My grandfather told the two grown kids that a man in Coleman has a pig that won the ” Purple Paw” award. Every year, the governor of Texas bestows the prize on an animal that has performed a heroic act. Who knew there was a hero nearby?
Of course, my two uncles have to see this pig, so they head for Coleman with my cousin Jerry and me in tow. Arriving in Coleman, we stop at the feed store for directions and a coke.
The owner tells my uncles to be very respectful of the pig since he saved the farmer and his family’s lives. In appreciation, the farmer named the pig “Little Audie Murphy,” after the famous WW11 hero and movie star. I am more than impressed. This pig is the real deal.

Arriving at the farm, we are met at the gate by the proud farmer. My uncle Bill has a $10.00 bet with Ray that this is a load of bullcrap. They never stop.

Ray wants to hear the pig’s story, so the farmer is more than happy to recount.

The farmer takes a chaw of Red Man and begins, ” I was plowing one day, and my old tractor hits a stump and tips over, trapping me underneath. I’m yelling for help for an hour, and finally, my old pig shows up. The pig grabs a timber and scoots it underneath the tractor, then stands on it so’s the tractor tilts up, and I can scoot out. That porker saved my life.”
I can tell by the look on my uncle’s faces that they think this is B.S.
The farmer continues, ” about a week after that, I’m in town at the domino parlor, and my house catches on fire. My wife and kids are knocked out by the smoke, and the pig pulls them out of the burning house and revives them—a true porcine hero, that pig.”
Now my uncles are impressed. I see a tear trickle from Bill’s eye. I got a lump in my throat.

At this point, we want to see this pig for ourselves, so the farmer takes us to the barn. He stands outside the corral and yells, ” Little Audie, come on out.”
A huge Yorkshire pig wearing a ribbon and gold medal around his neck makes its way out of the barn. I’ve seen pigs before, and this wasn’t any normal pig. He was missing an ear and a front and back leg. Where the legs had been, the pig now sported homemade prosthesis. He seemed to walk fine and was friendly.

My uncle Jay was shocked and asked the farmer what the hell happened to the poor pig?
The farmer took a minute to answer that question. Then he smiled and said, ” well, a pig that special, we couldn’t just eat him all at once.”

The End of The Innocence


A perspective and opinion from a proud Texan. I’m not sure what is going on with WordPress, but I am re-posting this. The first post was an un-edited version. My apologies to my readers. I blame ” The Rona.”

Dazed and Confused ?

The death of George Floyd is a turning point in our United States of America. I have heard many times from mystic sources of the unknown, that “out of tragedy comes good,” but not always. I believe Churchill spoke these wise words, but it may have been the captain of the Titanic, or perhaps William Travis, and we all know how that ended for him.

The weeks of peaceful protest is gone. We now have groups of anarchists that hi-jacked the Black Lives Matter movement for their use.

America’s soft spongy underbelly lies exposed while thugs and criminals lay waste on our cities and society. Parts of our pristine city blocks look like a war zone. Protesters, bystanders, and business owners that wish to make their point peacefully are attacked and beaten by the infiltrators if they intervene. These hoodlums even had the nerve to destroy and loot a Starbucks in Portland.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when the people that want and need the change in our police departments and city governments or the ones seen on television carrying a shopping cart full of flat screens or a pair of $600.00 Nikes from a looted store. Nothing builds the bridge of peace and brotherhood like looting.

In Austin, Texas, the capital of my home state, a black American capitol policeman, was mobbed and attacked by a group of “keep Austin weird” type of folks. My apologies to Austinites that do not wish to stay weird. They appear, on television, to be young, white, and likely students from our prestigious University of Texas, and they are damn lucky they weren’t shot. Knowing UT, I’m sure there were a few Antifa kiddies in the group to add flavor and support. One can assume that the food trucks on South Congress didn’t do much business that day. All there customers were busy at the capital.

My parents taught me a valuable lesson when I was a young’n. You don’t assault a police officer: in any way, or it is likely to turn out bad for you. Do these young people not have parents to teach them right from wrong? The “everyone gets a trophy, and I want it for free” generation has a lot to learn.

Thank you, Austin, for showing us what you are, pulling back the tye-dyed curtain for us to see the wizard. The “hippy-dippy live music capital of the world persona” you have pushed for decades has soured and gelled into a smelling heap of Whole Foods dumpster refuse. I have friends that live in Austin, so this doesn’t include them unless they were at the dust-up, as mentioned above.

“Keep Austin Weird” was once a fun slogan that the city was proud of owning. I wonder now if that slogan is appropriate? God Bless Davy Crockett and The Alamo.

The Father of the Austin Music Scene


I wrote this story in 2012 after a visit to Threadgills on Barton Springs Road. I was in, and out of Austin in those Armadillo Headquarters days, and knew many of the musicians that were responsible for it’s progressive music scene. No one can remember who, what, or how it started, so I figured, why not make it an Armadillo.

A. Dillo was the influence of a generation of Texas musicians and tunesmiths. This precocious little Armadillo was found on the lawn of the state capitol one hot day in September 1970, by a group of hippies lounging on the grass sunning themselves, and smoking pot.

He was a sad little armadillo, lost, searching for his family unit, after being separated from them in Zilker Park a few days earlier, during a vicious thunderstorm and flash flood. A happy reunion was not to be. His mother and father were tits-up on Congress, and his siblings had been lunch for a pack of wild dogs. He was an orphan.

The dazed but kindly hippie’s were drawn to the friendly little tank. They took him back to their pad just off Congress and proceeded to raise him as one of their own. They christened him A. Dillo.

One of the girls in the house was majoring in animal behavior and journalism at the University of Texas and was soon tutoring the ardent little critter in reading and writing.

Within six months, A. Dillo had mastered penmanship and was writing prose. Within a year, he was writing short stories and speeches for the university’s professors and prolific student protesters.

He experimented with strange substances and started hanging out with artist types and deep thinkers. He could write about current events, political science, theology, and music with the best of them. He was, in a sense, humanized.

A. Dillo’s popularity grew off the charts, and he was invited to give readings of his work at private parties and student gatherings. He was, in a sense, a critter version of Alan Ginsburg.

But, being an armadillo, he couldn’t wear human clothes, so he employed an artist friend to decorate his shell to resemble a fashionable tie-dye t-shirt. He took to wearing round, rose-colored sunglasses and a variety of peace symbols and buttons. He was beyond cool and a perfect fit for Austin.

His popularity, rapidly spreading beyond the tribal bounds of the Congress neighborhood, and into the local community of aphorism, infuriated his adopted bohemian family. Jealous, though silently envious, they accused A. Dillo of ” selling out” to the man.

The bad vibes from his former adoring family were bringing him down.
Unable to create in the hostile atmosphere, he packed his sparse belongings in a Piggly Wiggly shopping bag and headed for Barton Springs and Zilker Park, to find some peace and tranquility among the woods and good water.

While shuffling down Barton Springs Road, he happened upon a recently opened venue called Armadillo World Headquarters.

Delighted to find a place that so openly celebrated his kind, he immediately scurried through a hole in the fence and took up residence beneath the beer garden stage. Enjoying the clamorous musical atmosphere and the continual supply of spilled Lone Star beer that flowed through the cracks of the stage floor.

A group of guitar picking musicians that frequented the club’s beer garden eventually befriended the little fellow, and soon he was anointed as the “official mascot” of the headquarters. He was cool again, but he didn’t understand this new scene where long-hairs wore cowboy hats and listened to country music. He just assumed it was not his to follow.

The little poet was soon inspired by his energizing surroundings, once again, began putting his thoughts and prose to paper. In a moment of trusting innocence, he exposed his talent, and shared his library of work with a few of the beer garden musicians, hoping for a morsel of recognition.

The musicians were so impressed, they immediately confiscated his poems and lyrics and made them their own. That this library of written work came from an Armadillo, at that time, to this group, seemed utterly reasonable. After all, it was Austin in the early 70s, and it’s a well-documented fact that if you remember that time, you weren’t really there.

Within a few months, the musicians and wailers at the headquarters were singing songs about Austin and everything Texas. A handful of the local artist was drawing A. Dillo’s likeness on their concert posters to promote the rapidly changing musical landscape.

Willie and Waylon took up residence at the headquarters and became the shaggy royal ambassadors of Austin music. Heady times they were.

A. Dillo was heartbroken. He had been bamboozled by the “love your brother and sister” preaching musicians, who were nothing but scoundrels, thieves, and false profits. His trust had been violated. His soaring soliloquies, his enlightening prose, his ramblings about his Texas, all stolen or plagiarized, with no hope of recovery, in a hundred different tunes. One cruel musician, blatantly and without remorse, took his favorite poem and made a song about taking himself “Home with the Armadillo.” That was the deepest cut of all. He was a broken critter. ” Oh, the pain of it all,” he wailed.

He soon left the headquarters, again packing his Piggly Wiggly bag and stealing away into the night.

A. Dillo returned to his home burrow in Zilker Park. He reconnected with the park’s inhabitants, giving nightly readings of his poetry, to an enthusiastic and adoring crowd. He was elevated to star status among the park’s animal population, and his name was known to all creatures for miles. He was finally at peace with himself and his life.

A. Dillo was the real spark of inspiration for Austin’s progressive music scene of the 1970s. Without his influence and the spread of his stolen words, tunesmiths, musicians, and vocalist all over Austin would still be writing and singing those dreary Three-chord hillbilly songs.

Jerry Jeff, Willie, Waylon, and the boys would have had to seek inspiration elsewhere, and the city would not have evolved into Austin as we know it today.

It was rumored that some years later, on a stormy night, much like the one that started his journey, A. Dillo was hit by a vehicle while attempting to cross Barton Springs Road.

An old lady that lived in the Shady Grove trailer park scooped up his remains and fed them to her two Chihuahuas, using the painted shell as a planter to adorn the steps of her small Air-Stream trailer.

That little shell, its colors faded from time, sat on the steps of that old trailer for decades, and, Couples with gray hair, walking to one of the many restaurants on the street, grandchildren, and dogs in tow, would sometimes notice the little shell full of colorful flowers. The ones who had known the little poet, or knew the legend, would approach the small shrine and pay homage by explaining to their grandchildren, the true story of the “real” father of Austin music.

“Let Go of My Lego”


If you raised kids, then you have lego’s in your home.

A Danish company invented these small interlocking blocks 87 years ago. The Lego playsets are considered the staple toy of one’s childhood. My two sons and now my grandchildren love these things. Having stepped on a few in the dark, barefoot, I consider them small weapons that masquerade as an educational toy.

The Dane’s, besides giving us Lego’s, introduced the world to Toaster Struddle Danish, Swedish meatballs, modern teak furniture, Ericson phones, Ikea, and of course, my favorite, the Vikings. They view themselves as a modern progressive save the world and planet type of folks.

Blond, fair-skinned, healthy, and a bit too educated, the populace of this country believe that a 16-year-old girl is an expert on climate change and world affairs. She dressed down the poor folks at the United Nations with an epic screaming and crying fit. The bewildered world organization was crushed. They had no idea the U.N. destroyed her childhood.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from NBC news this morning. Lego is ceasing production and sales of playsets that feature first responders or police because of the ongoing brutality against the poor, misunderstood rioters. The company is afraid that it may be targeted for violence if it gives the impression they support law and order in the United States. What the hell? I guess there is no law and order in Daneland? I don’t think ANTIFA is going to take a plane over to Europe and blow up Lego headquarters, but then, they might, loot and pillage the Lego Land installations in our high-end malls.

Don’t be surprised for this Christmas season, Lego introduces their new line of ” Protest and Riot” playsets. Wow! The kids get two choices: a peaceful protest with little mask and signs, or a riot set, complete with Lego figures equipped with spring-loaded arms that throw small Lego bricks and bottles into Lego block built Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Target stores. For an additional charge, you can purchase the electronic and Nike displays for looting. Our kids have a penchant for violent video games, so my guess is the riot set will be the best seller.

I have a suspicious feeling that a 16-year-old girl has been talking to the Lego folks.

A Beach Day in Texas in 1969


Port Aransas 1969

The hint of daylight gives enough lumination for me to find my way down the steep steps of my family’s beach house. Grabbing my surfboard, wax, and a few towels, I load my supplies into the back of the old Army jeep and leave for the beach. The old vehicle takes time to wake up, and it sputters down E Street, doing its best to deliver me to the water’s edge.

Port Aransas is quiet this morning. Fisherman and surfers are the only souls moving on the small island.

As I drive to the beach, taking the road through the sand dunes near the jetty, the morning dew on the metal surface of the jeep, pelts me like fine rain. The salt air is heavy and I can see the cloud of mist rising from the surf long before I reach the water. The seats are cold on my bare back and legs. The vehicle lacks a windshield, allowing bugs to hit my face and chest. Texas is a buggy place. That’s a fact we live with.

I park near the pier and see that two of my friends Gwen and Gary are kneeling in the sand, waxing their boards. I am usually the first to arrive but today they beat me by a few minutes. I join them in the preparation. We are quiet. This will be a good morning and making small talk might interfere with our zone.

The Gulf of Mexico is glassy and clear. The swell is four feet, with a right break. We enter as a group of three and paddle out past the second sand bar.

Sitting on my surfboard, I see the first half of the sun rising over the ocean and feel the warmth on my upper body. A tanker ship is a few miles offshore. The smoke from its stack gives us a point to paddle to.

Today will be hot, and by noon, these beautiful waves will evaporate into a slushy shore break full of children on foam belly boards. But this morning, the three of us are working in concert with our beloved Gulf.

We ride for hours. The ocean is feisty this morning. The waves are doing their best to beat us, but we show them who the boss is. The beach fills with other surfers, and now the line-up is crowded,, and we ride into shore. Gary and Gwen leave, and I make my way home to go fishing with my father. The Kingfish await.

This day and this moment in time, we are young and selfish in our happiness: blissfully oblivious to what lays ahead.
Life will take an unhappy turn for some of us. There is no time or interest to ponder the meaning of our existence. Life to us is this moment.

Gary and Gwen are gone now and have been for some time. Gary lost in Vietnam, and Gwen from an auto accident the next summer on his way to the island. If they were still here, I would like to think that we would have kept in touch and shared our surfing stories around a good glass of bourbon at Shorty’s Bar. Three old men telling lies.

Bobblehead Dogs


On a rainy morning not long ago, while searching for elusive Christmas decorations, I stumbled across a box of family photographs. When I opened the lid, the room filled with that distinct smell of “old memories.” Black and white images of family members long deceased, smiling into the Brownie camera, knowing that they would never be a minute older than that particular moment.

One particular, faded picture, made me smile. My late Uncle Ray leaned against the trunk of his 1957 Cadillac, dressed in his best Sunday suit, holding a shotgun, and a can of Pearl beer. I’m not sure how those odd ingredients came together for that picture, but it was nice to see his face again. He smiled a lot-and drank more Pearl than anyone I have known.

As I studied the photo, remembering Uncle Ray and the joy his car gave to him, a small object sitting on the rear deck caught my eye. It was barely visible and obscured by the sun’s reflection on the glass, so I placed my magnifying glass over the picture, and it popped into clarity. There it was, Uncle Ray’s long lost Bobble Head Dog – Mr. Pooch.

Ray loved that plastic mongrel as much as that Detroit battleship of a car, a fact that his eight ex-wives grudgingly affirmed.

As family stories are told, I recall the night a wandering opportunist, broke into his Cadillac and stole his precious Mr. Pooch; leaving a loaded shotgun and a cooler of Pearl beer in favor of the faded plastic ornament. Uncle Ray, beyond consolation, moped for days, sitting at his dining room window, stalwart, praying that the thief would find remorse and return Mr. Pooch. His hope diminished by the hour, and that happy reunion never materialized, Uncle Ray, saddened to his last bone, mourned his Mr. Pooch until his end day.

That evening, I made a trip to the pharmacy to collect a prescription. My errand accomplished, I turned for home, and while stopped at a traffic signal, found myself staring at the rear end of a well preserved 1957 Cadillac. I marveled at the rocket tail-fins aerodynamic design, the beefy rear bumper, dual tailpipes, and the glaring chrome appointments. An excellent machine representing the best efforts of an era past. Seeing that old car reminded me of Uncle Rays cherished Caddie and the lost bobble head dog, Mr. Pooch.

As I followed the Caddie in the slow traffic, I glimpsed something odd, sitting in the car’s rear window. Pulling closer, I identified the object like a small brown dog, happily shaking its head, perched on the back deck. The driver, worried that I was following too close, tapped the breaks to warn me off, and, with that warning, the dog’s eyes “flashed” like red lasers. Startled, I slowed and gave the Caddie a wider berth.

After a few blocks, my curiosity won over safety, and again, I closed the gap between our vehicles. Mesmerized by the dogs blinking eyes, I failed to notice the old Caddie had stopped, and I rear-ended the beautiful machine.

At 20 mph, you can’t do much damage to an old tank like that, but my “thin-skinned” foreign auto was in poor shape.

Gazing through the cloud of steam that spewed forth from my radiator, I saw the door to the Cadillac swing open and a “white-haired gal” way shy of five feet, exited the car.

“Dressed to the nines” in designer duds, all the way down to the required white Rockport’s, she was the perfect poster girl for “Sun City.” My golfing buddies had warned me about these old gals. “Little Pit Bulls with lipstick,” as they were known, and they all had at least one offspring that was an attorney.
I concluded I might be in big trouble.

Exiting my ailing vehicle, hat, and insurance firmly in hand, I attempted a half-baked explanation for the accident. The dog with the piercing red eyes, the memory of my Uncle Ray, and his long lost Bobble Head Dog- Mr. Pooch, my poor driving skills. The more I rattled on, the more it sounded like “mental ward gibberish,” so I ceased the blabber and politely inquired if she and her little dog were alright?
She said she was excellent, and the dog, absolutely “felt no pain.” All was well and good. Minor damage, no harm done.
I noticed the collision had un-seated her little dog, and he was feet up on the rear deck.
“I really think your little dog may be hurt, he’s not moving,” I said.

She chuckled, and explained that: her old dog, “Giblet,” had been dead for 20 years or more, and that her late husband Murray, who had been an electrical engineer with an “off-kilter” sense of humor, missed the little guy so much, he had the mutt stuffed. Then as a nod to his own electrical wizardry, he installed red lights in the dogs’ eyes that light up when you mash on the car breaks. I suppose my Murray turned my little Giblet into a real-life bobblehead dog.”

Her story was so outrageous, I couldn’t control my laughter, and neither could she. Crazy people laugh the loudest.

Relieved that she was uninjured, I accompanied her back to her car to exchange insurance information. Finishing the exchange, she opened the car door, and there, in the passenger seat, illuminated by the dome light, sat and an older gentleman. Startled, I asked, if her passenger was okay, did “he” need to see a doctor? She shushed me off with a wave of her hand, and she exclaimed that he, “didn’t feel a thing.”
Now, having just heard that morbid explanation regarding old Giblet, I asked,” why didn’t he feel a thing?”

With a twinkle in her eyes and a saucy wink, she replied, “oh, that’s just Murray, he and Giblet go everywhere with me.”

On that parting note, the little gal gunned the Caddie, pulled into traffic, and faded away, while I stood staring at the departing Bobblehead dogs red eyes blinking back at me.

Junior Gives Fort Worth The Blues


An old friend of mine passed a while back. Though we have been out of touch for many years, he always occupied a special spot in my memory. I have used him, or bits and pieces of his colorful life in my short stories. His name was Junior Edify. No first name, or namesake, just, Junior.

In 1957, he opened a coffee house in downtown Fort Worth Texas. History will lead you to believe that “The Cellar” was the first, but the “Hip Hereford” beat them by a full year.

Junior was meant to be a cowboy. It was his lineage and destiny, but he rebelled against the code of the west and his family, becoming a club owner, a poet and a beatnik type of fellow. He said that sitting on a sweaty saddle and smelling cow farts all day was not how he envisioned his life.

Opening night was Halloween, 1957. Junior hires two winos to help run the door and do odd jobs. They were reluctant to give him their birth names, so he christens them Wino 1 and Wino 2. As long as Junior paid them and kept the Mogen David flowing, they were good to go. The following is an excerpt from the unfinished story.

Around 7:15, Wino 2 informs Junior that the first performer has arrived and takes the stage for the introduction. He steps to the mic and, in that pleasant voice, says, “Ladies and gents, please welcome to the stage, Mr. Blind Jelly-roll Jackson and his nurse Carpathia.”

An ancient black man with hair as white as south Texas cotton, holding a guitar as old as himself is helped to the stage by a prim female nurse dressed in a starched white uniform. The old man wears a red smoking jacket, a silver ascot and black trousers. Dark sunglasses and a white cane complete his ensemble. The old fellow is as blind as Helen Keller.

The nurse gently seats the old gentleman in a chair provided by Wino 1 and lowers the large microphone to a height between his face and his guitar. She then stands to the side of the stage, just out of the spotlight. Blind Jelly Roll starts strumming his guitar like he’s hammering a ten-penny nail. Thick, viscous down strokes with note bending riffs in between. His frail body rocks with every note he coaxes out of his tortured instrument. He leans into the mic and sings, “We’s gonna have us a mess o’ greens tonight…haw..haw..haw…haw…gonna wash her down with some cold Schlitz beer..haw..haw..haw..gonna visit ma woman out on Jacksboro way…gonna get my hambone greased”. This was Texas blues at its best.

On cue, his nurse steps into the spotlight, extract a shiny Marine Band harmonica from her pocket, and cuts loose on a sixteen bar mouth-harp romp. Her ruby-red lips attack that “hornica” like a ten-year-old eating a Fat Stock Show corndog. The crowd loves it. They dig it. When Blind Jelly Roll finishes his song, Wino 2 passes a small basket through the group for tips. Jelly Roll and his nurse take their kitty and depart. He’s due back at the old folk’s home before midnight.

The Home Prison Blues


A personal observation and rant by Phil Strawn

I have lost count of my days in this government-induced social distancing hysteriademic-in-home prison sentence. Being confined to the cactus patch has made it bearable to a point, but then on some days, I want to run screaming down the county road that runs alongside our home. Our local sheriff, a nice young man, would find me and be obliged to return me to my wife. He’s a youngster, but astute enough to know that old people can go batshit crazy at any time. They don’t need a jail, just a bowl of corn flakes.

It’s been eight weeks since my last haircut, and I can, if needed, pass as a 1970s televangelist or a former musician at Woodstock. I considered asking my grandson to assist me in starting a Youtube channel with a donation button and deliver deep-daily thoughts to the confined masses. I have the required icky look but don’t possess the lack of morals it requires to rip other old people off. So I watch pap on Amazon and Netflix instead.

I have turned into that old guy that sits by the window, awaiting the postman to deliver his junk mail and utility bills. At my age, even grocery store flyers can lend some comfort. It’s quite exciting when you get a coupon for buy one get one free.

The nice young man in India has stopped calling me about my automobile warranty, and the fraternal order of the Hood County Police knows better than to ask me for another donation.
My wife has baked every pie and cake imaginable and a few days ago made a banana pudding that would send Aunt Bea to the woodshed.

Young folks are whining and gnashing about being confined and missing their friends and graduations and parties and all that their age group does. Cry babies and pansy asses. They have years ahead of them when things return to normal. So shut up and do your homework on your laptop. And get off my lawn. I hope this mess ends before I do.

Fast Food Testing


The fast-food industry needs to step up to the plate just as Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreen’s has done. The CEO’s of these companies have pledged space in their parking lots for drive-up Corona Virus testing tents. Novel Idea. Pull up to a tent full of people in hazmat suits and get swabbed and disinfected. I don’t know how the rest of America feels, but I am afraid of people in hazmat suits. It always turns out bad, or they wouldn’t be wearing them. Young children tend to be easily frightened, so screaming kids trying to escape from the car is not a good scenario. Let’s use a kinder and gentler approach.

Why not have Ronald McDonald, The Burger King king, and Jack from Jack in The Box stand by the order speaker and offer free food or a toy with every swab? Since half of America eats at these places, its a perfect solution.

When Good People Go Stupid


By: Phil Strawn

My pal Mooch called me a few minutes ago from the HEB grocery store. He is standing in the toilet paper aisle, watching two middle-aged women fistfight over the last 8 pack of Northern toilet paper. He and another male shopper are betting on the skinny gal because she was moving faster, and had the other older women in a Nolan Ryan headlock.

We continued our conversation as he walked the store, commenting on how low the stock is on each aisle, and how stupid people are acting. You would think Channel 5 called for snow flurries tonight. Suddenly, Mooch screams and starts cussing at no one in particular. ” HEB is sold out of pork rinds and beer!” he yells into his flip phone.

Now, I know this virus is severe. Rednecks cannot survive without pork rinds, and beer, its a food staple and will last for years in any bunker or deer camp. They are gluten-free, fat-free, and carb-free, so at least a boy can eat healthily if he is quarantined.

I could hear a scuffle over the phone. Voices yelling, carts bashing into one another; general mayhem. Mooch said,

” I’ll call you later, buddy, there’s a brawl at the Red Barons Pizza freezer, and I have to get me some of those.”

Just In Case You Forgot


Yes, folks, she’s in the news again. Popping up here and there, accepting little awards and being fussed over by an age group of devotes that don’t know what the Vietnam war was, or when it happened. Just in case you forgot what “Hanoi Jane” ( Jane Fonda ) really was, and is, I included this adorable picture. I think it catches her best side. I would assume she took some excellent color shots of our POWs with her fancy camera and shared the photos with their families back in the United States.

Hipster Dogs Are Among Us


By: Phil Strawn

Pictured for your educational pleasure is a sweet little dog with a strange name. “Graphon Chardonnay” is what’s known in 2020 as a “Hipster Companion Service Dog.” I’m sure little Graphon would rather be out pissing on trees and digging holes in flower beds than wearing a beard and leather jacket. Dogs look odd in human clothing, and they look alien when they sport the same beard as their owner.

While strolling the “hot new neighborhood” on West 7th street a few weeks ago, my wife and I stopped into a small outdoor café for lunch. It was one of those sunny February days where it wants to be pleasant, but you still need a coat if you dine outside. A teaser day, us Texans call it.

A nice looking couple sat down next to us with their small dog. They were dressed in expensive “Fort Worth Hip” to the tee. The young man had a formidable beard, a ” Stallone” pork pie hat, Ray-Ban sunglasses and skinny jeans. The woman was dressed similarly but without facial hair. These aren’t your poor retro-hippies, these Kats have dough, good jobs in IT and live in an expensive high rise overlooking the Trinity River. They most likely drive a Tesla or a hybrid Beemer.

The two diners immediately immersed themselves in their Apple I Phones. Hipsters are required to use Apple products only: Sorry Samsung and HTC.

I felt sorry for the little pooch, he didn’t have a phone of his own or even a bowl of water, so I asked a kind waitstaff to bring the wee fellow a dog bowel of H2O. When his bowl of water arrived, the man gasped and removed the water dish before the parched dog could catch a drink.

” Graphon does not drink regular water” he shrieked. ” He’s chlorine intolerant.”

Of course, I apologized for not knowing the dog was allergic to water, so I asked his father, what does Graphon drink?

The young woman looked up from her I Phone and smugly replied “Graphon Chardonnay drinks only Starbucks decaffeinated coffee, “Chateau La Pew” white wine and natural spring water from Tibet. He is also vegan and has an IQ of 165.” Well, holy hot-shit, I am impressed that this furball with two names is smarter than most of us humans; myself included.

I had already figured out these two were vegans, so when our juicy hamburgers arrived, we made a big deal of our meal, loudly commenting on every greasy bite we took. The two gave us the ” hope you die” look.

In my meat-eating frenzy, I accidentally knocked a French fry off my plate. The little genius, Graphon, caught it before it hit the ground and gobbled it down. His father screamed, grabbed the dog and began the “Heimlich maneuver ” until the dog coughed up the slimy fry.

” That fry is cooked in animal fats, are you trying to murder my dog! Graphon could die if he ingests anything other than his special veggies” he shouted. The woman was crying and having a small breakdown after witnessing her vegan dog eating the evil French fry.

The young couple was so traumatized, they took little Graphon Chardonnay and departed the patio. I got the last laugh. I slipped the pooch a nice bite of my burger while they weren’t looking. I’m pretty sure he is going to have some righteous gas.

I’ll Have An Order Of Fries With My Blessing


A Short Story by; Phil Strawn

On Ash Wednesday, I made a somewhat firm decision to give up my beloved Cheeto’s for Lent. Last year it was Ding Dongs and Pepsi Cola, and I wound up eating Twinkies and Dr. Pepper when after three days, I fell off the Lent wagon. At least, I stuck with my original plan. 

On my way to see Father Frank, my priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Repentance, I stopped by Walmart for one last Cheeto fix. Standing in line at the checkout, I noticed shoppers with a tiny ink cross on their forehead. Odd. Then, I saw the lady behind me sported a small “Pokemon” sticker on her forehead. She noticed I was staring like a goon and said, “our priest ran out of palm ashes, and this was all he had left. It’s the blessing that counts.” Well, she had a point. When the Holy Father runs out of blessed stuff, he has to make do with available products. 

I headed over to the church, finishing my bag of Cheeto’s and hiding it under the seat like a teenager does a beer can in the family car. 

Two blocks from the church, the traffic was hardly moving, and I think business must be brisk for the good Father. 

As I inched closer, I saw Father Frank standing at the curb, giving his blessing to the occupants in the car, leaning through the windows, and marking their forehead. Next car up, the same protocol. He was running cars through the line like a good day at Jack In The Box. Then it dawned on me, Father Frank was offering take-out Lent blessings to our flock. What a novel idea, so 2020. 

I pulled up to his curbside church and rolled down my window. The multi-tasking Priest handed me a pamphlet with a prayer, crossed himself, and touched my forehead. ” Go in Peace, my son,” he muttered and gave me the peace sign. “Sorry about running out of ash,” he said.

 ” Back at, you, Father,” I responded and drove away.

When I arrived home, my wife asked me where I had been for so long. I explained the trip to Walmart, the Cheeto binge, and then Father Franks take-out Lent blessing and such, thus the extended time frame. She was staring at me like a goon when she asked, ” did you find anything at the garage sale?” 

” What garage sale?” I replied.

She reached up to my forehead and pulled off a small round orange sticker with $1.00 written on it. 

The good Father has to make do with what he has available. It’s the blessing that counts. Right?

Traumatized By Puppets!


By: Phil Strawn

The asphalt parking lot is so hot it’s melting the rubber soles of my PF Flyer “tinny” shoes to the pavement. It’s July of 1957, and there are at least one hundred kids, including our neighborhood coterie of twenty-five standing on that lot, waiting to see our television idols, Mickey Mud Turtle and Amanda Opossum.

Piggly Wiggly Food’s hired the puppet duo from Channel 11, for the grand opening of their newest grocery store on Berry Street. With the following the show had developed, the folks at Piggley are betting on a full house, because every kid in Fort Worth, Texas, wanted to meet Mickey and Amanda up close and in person.

Without an introduction, the puppets popped up onto the stage of their television theater and launched into their shtick. The jokes are age-appropriate and corny. Birthdays are shouted out and then more jokes, but with no cartoons to kill time, the felt and cardboard critters are out of material and are bombing like the Hiroshima fat boy.

The Mud Turtle launched into a commercial for Piggly Wiggly, and the Opossum began her’s for Buster Brown Shoes, over-riding Mickey, which in turn made him mad, and he grabbed a small bat with his mouth and popped Amanda Opossum a good one. The kids loved it. Watching the two puppets fight is better than cartoons, any day, hands down.

I feel a tug on my shirt, and realize my mother is dragging me into the grocery store. As we pass the back of the puppet theater, a gust of wind blows the side curtain open and there, in living color is two adults, sitting on low stools with their hands stuffed up the butts of our beloved stars. Kids are good at fooling themselves into believing things that aren’t real. I know they are cheesy, cardboard, and fabric puppets, but destroying my imagination is serious stuff.

Mortified and traumatized from the scene I witnessed, my mother drags me through the air-conditioned store as she completes her shopping. There is no sympathy or coddling from this Cherokee woman. She mumbles something about puppets being stupid, and I feel tears forming on my cheeks. I may never recover from this destruction of my childhood.

Leaving the store, we pass the stage, and a man and woman are putting the puppets into their wooden boxes and autographing glossy postcards of the critters. I still have mine.

Father Frank Saves The Church


By Phil Strawn. This is an earlier post from March of 2012 when I lived in Georgetown, Texas, and was forced to shop in the Sun City HEB.

I visited my local H.E.B a few days ago to do my shopping for the week. Just so you know, I loathe shopping for groceries; negotiating the crowded aisles, pushing a cart that steers hard left, while trying to read your shopping list and dodge the blue hairs wanting to run you over. It’s more than any man my age should have to endure.

The geriatric inhabitants of “Clan Sun City” have christened this store as their domain, and they make their own rules of engagement. I’ve had my toes run over, my legs pinned between a grocery cart and the dairy cabinet, rammed from behind for being too slow, and was verbally assaulted by an 80-pound octogenarian because I got the last loaf of “dollar bread.” The old bag pulled out a flip-top Motorola cell phone and threatened to call 911 to report me, so I reluctantly handed over the loaf. She shook a bony finger in my face and growled, “And your little dog too.”

Wednesday is the big day for the sample gals to push their wares on the shoppers. You can’t go twenty-feet without a chirpy hostess wearing her “Pioneer Woman” apron wanting to stick a sample of food in your face. Forget trying to get away, they track you until you stop and then thrust the toothpick impaled morsel into your protesting mouth. I unwillingly managed to taste sushi, sausage roll, carrot cake, cheese whiz, and wine before I could get to the first aisle, and by then, I needed a Prilosec OTC, so I bought that as well.

Shopping completed, I proceeded to the checkout stand. As I rounded a corner near the book section, I bumped hard into a table, partially blocking the aisle.

There, sitting behind a 6-foot fold-out table, was Father Frank, the priest from my church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Repentance.”
On his table is a stack of leaflets, bottles of water and give away key chains shaped like the Virgin Mary. It’s been a while since I have seen the good Father, so we exchange our pleasantries.

After a brief howdy conversation, I asked Father Frank why he is staffing a table at a grocery store?
With a deep sigh, he explained, “The church is losing so many of the flock that the diocese has put me here to drum up new members.”
Not wanting to offend by asking delicate questions, I say, ” I suppose you have to start somewhere, and the crowd here is about the right age to be finalizing their looming Heavenly travel arrangements.” He thought that was prolific and says he will use that phrase in a future sermon.

Now, more curious, I ask him about the giveaways laid out on his table.
With a big smile, he explains, “The bottled water is actually blessed holy water, bottled right in my church by altar boys. We figure if it’s good enough to drive out demons and christen babies, it is strong enough to cure the pallet and insides of foul offenses. It has a slight hint of mint, so it may be used as an alcohol-free mouthwash in a pinch. I drank a bottle a few days ago and was confined to the rectory bathroom for many hours. Nothing like a happy gut and pleasant breath you know”.
I said, “Yes, I know that feeling, and my cousin Beverly could have used a case of that for mouthwash if you know what I mean.” He said he did and gave me a bottle to aid in her deliverance.

The good Father is on a roll and excitedly explains that they have made considerable changes to his church to attract new members.
Handing me the leaflet to inspect, he proudly proclaims, “look at these pictures! We now have a glassed-in section of pews with flat-screen monitors installed on the back of each bench so the young ones can access their computer games and social media during the sermon, that is piped into the enclosure by a high powered HD digital audio system.
In order to save parishioners time, confessions can be uploaded via your home computer or smartphone, and communion has an optional wine flight, that, for a nominal fee, comes with a small crystal goblet.”
Am I not hearing him, right? Preteen kids gaming in the pews, computer confessions, wine tasting? How about the singing choirs, the fire, and damnation, the rock hard pews that make your butt sweat and your legs go numb? A church service is supposed to make you miserable, not comfortable.

I tried to interrupt, but the good Father was in over-drive, as he continues to exclaim: “the most daring change and the one I’m most proud of is the conversion of the adult Sunday school room to a sports bar for after service football games. It’s a brilliant concept, come to church, then walk across the hall and watch the game on 70 inch flat screens. We call it “The Blue Nun Sports Bar,” and with the help of Mother Prudy, I recruited some of the younger nuns from the Abby to come over and wait tables after their service. The sisters are doing a great job, but grumbling about the miserly tips and are threatening to hold a sit-in.
I told them to stop offering a repentance prayer over every beer served, and the tips may improve. It’s best to reserve a blessing for food service only.
Next thing I know, they are wearing tight fitting t-shirts with ‘We Aren’t Your Mommas Nuns’ on the back. I don’t know what gives with these younger sisters. The piercings, tattoos and spiky hairdos are not what I‘m used too. Nuns are supposed to be stoic and mean, not cute and hip.”
Well, I say, ” you’re certainly doing everything you can to increase membership, I may have to come to see you next Sunday. I need a good dose of religion and football.”
I shake the good Father’s hand, bid him adieu and shuffle on to the checkout.

On my way out of the store, I notice, tucked in by the potting soil and flowers was a table staffed by a young, tanned, rock star, poofy haired, frock clad fellow flanked by two bikini-clad girls handing out free cold beer and hot dogs.
The sign above them read ‘Rolling Rock Love and Peace Community Church Membership Drive.’ I was thirsty, so I scooted on over. Looks like Father Frank may be in trouble here.

The Dreaded Report Card


by Phil Strawn, based on personal experience

There is a school system on the East coast that is changing its grading system so every student can “feel better” about themselves. This smells suspicious, and is likely extracted from the same rotten bag of education as  “everyone gets a trophy.” Every letter grade is now lowered by five points, promoting a grade of “C” to a “B” and so on. Who benefits from this PC madness?

From personal experience, I can tell you that bringing home a low grade on your report card does have negative consequences. The younger you are, the fewer repercussions from your Mother since you are still her baby. As you age, the fear factor increases.

There is nothing that scares a kid more than bringing home the dreaded “F” or even the slightly better “D.”

You slow walk your way home, looking for every excuse to prolong the firestorm that the small piece of cardboard is going to create. You’re begging God to intervene and miraculously change that red “F” to an acceptable, blue “B.” Nothing changes, and you accept your fate. God is likely a teacher on the side.

With a cheesy fake smile on my face, I hand the report card to my mother, hoping for leniency.

Everything is fine until she sees that miserable sixth letter of the alphabet. Her happy smile fades, and she paralyzes me with that squinty-eyed mom stare.

My young life flashes before my eyes; I’m a goner. In desperation, I blame everything except my own stupidity. I fall to my knees, squeezing out fake tears, begging for forgiveness. She has none of it. The mom court is adjourned. I await my sentence.

Short of being sent to the “orphans home,” my mother’s go-to threat, I guess I get off good. No cartoons for two-weeks, no playing outside for a week, no Hostess cupcakes or Saturday baseball for a month, which is alright, its winter.

My next report card was better; no bad grades. My fear of personal failure and my parents were a determining force in my education. Everyone wants to make good grades, and many students struggle to meet those expectations. If that bar is lowered, then the students that excel will be punished, and the students that strive to excel will take it for granted.

Hey Kids! It’s Fun Being Sick


By Phil Strawn

Kids are an intelligent species. They know far more about human interaction and theatrical interpretation than their parents suspect. I can’t put a date on when this anomaly was discovered, but people with fancy degrees first noticed this behavior in the early 1950s. My neighborhood may have been ground zero for their study.

As a bunch, the kids in my neighborhood were healthy. We ate mouthfuls of dirt, sucked on pebbles, and ingested every foodstuff imaginable without washing our hands. This was perfectly acceptable to our mothers. Our young immune system was that of a caveman: we laughed at germs.

The only malady that affected us, kids, as a species, was the Monday morning tummy-throat-aching body-virus. This malady usually broke-out in early October, after a month of school and a thirty-day incubation period. It spread like wildfire through our four-block coterie, mostly affecting boys, but the girls were losing their immunity at an alarming rate.

On the second Monday in October, most of our first-grade class was infected. The symptoms were: headache, stomach ache, sore throat, and body aches. When our mothers asked how we felt, we would point at the affected area and groan, eliciting additional sympathy.

The first morning was the worst, then by noon we recovered enough to watch cartoons and eat some ice-cream, then after supper, the symptoms worsened, and mom made the call for us to stay home another day. Sleeping in was mandatory, and if we were recovered by lunchtime, we could go outside for some fresh air. This bug was known to not last more than 36 hours, tops.

Six-year-olds can’t grasp the enormity of a situation the way their parents can. As a group, we were unaware that our symptoms matched those of the dreaded Polio Virus. Our kindly school nurse, fearing the worse, calls the health department for back-up.

Two blocks away at George C. Clark Elementry, our diligent principal cancels all classes and has the entire building sanitized by a nuclear cleanup team from Carswell Air Force Base. The newspapers are on this like white on rice.

Lounging in bed eating Jell-O, and watching cartoons, my cohorts and I am unaware of our neighborhood pandemic.

Tuesday, mid-morning, a contingent of doctors and nurses from the health department, arrive to access the outbreak. They plan to visit every affected home and test every sick child. Large syringes and footlong throat swab are required.

Skipper, my stalwart best buddy, was the first to break. With two syringes sucking blood from his boney little kid arms, he sobbed and said he was faking it. Roger Glen ran screaming from his house when he saw the size of the needles, and Annie gave a signed confession. The pandemic was over.

Most of us couldn’t comfortably sit for a few days, but we were all healthy until the next school year. That’s when the Chinese Bird, Cat, and Rat Flu got us.

Living the Keto


My wife and I are on day 4 of the keto diet. Tonight we are having keto pizza. Looks yummy, right? Well, it is after you remove the pepperoni, the cheese, the peppers, and everything but the crust, then you eat the meat and veggies and toss the rest. I told her tomorrow I’m going to Whataburger for a keto swiss and mushroom burger. I’ll figure out the particulars after I order the sandwich. Last night I dreamed of a McDonalds Filet of Fish and french fries, even though I haven’t had one in years. This keto thing gives you nightmares. Got to go now, too weak to type.

Son of Greenjeans


If you were a kid in the 1950s, then you knew who Captain Kangeroo and his sidekick Mr. Greenjeans were. Their television show was broadcast five days a week in glorious black and white and viewed by millions of kids on tiny television screens. ” Don’t sit too close to that TV, you’ll go blind.” That was the stern warning from every mother, and here we are today, all wearing glasses, or blind. How did you expect us to see the Captain and Greenjeans on an 8-inch screen?

The burning question we all had was, did Mr. Greenjeans wear “green jeans?” We were kids, with no color sets, it made us crazy. Was this man green?

A few months ago, I was taking a short -cut through a Fort Worth neighborhood to avoid road construction and noticed a weirdly dressed man using a hand pump sprayer to paint his yard a deep shade of kelly green. I stopped and watched as he worked his way from the curb to the house. Long even strokes, coating the brown grass to imitate spring’s favorite color. It was then I noticed his house was green, the cars in the driveway were green, his clothes and skin were green, and a small dog sitting on the porch was also green. What the hell? The man saw me staring and motioned me over.

I parked my car and walked up to the fellow, feeling a bit foolish for interrupting the work of a stranger. I introduced myself and complimented him on his handy work. He thanked me and extended his hand to shake and said, “names Levi, Levi Greenjeans, nice to meet you.”

” That’s an unusual name, sir. The only time I’ve heard that last name was on Captian Kangaroo, and that was sixty years ago,” I said.

The green fellow laughed and say’s, ” that’s the family name. Mr. Greenjeans was my pop. My sister and I grew up in a green world, so this is pretty natural for us. Dad’s been fertilizer for a good many years now, so it’s up to me to carry on the family brand.” I agreed, he looked pretty good for an old green guy.

I didn’t want to pry or be too forward, but I asked, ” Sir, what might the family brand be?”

“Call me Levi,” he said. ” You know that song ” The Jolly Green Giant?, I wrote it and collect mucho royalties. That Tom Jones song about green-green grass of home wrote that one too. The Green Giant food brand, that’s mine, also, copyright infringement made them pay up. Home Depot has a Greenjeans color named after Dad, I get change from that and a shiny penny from Youtube for the Captain Kangaroo videos.” This dude has turned green into green cash.

I am impressed and honored to be in the presence of one of the famous Greenjeans family, but now is the chance to get the answers to my childhood questions. I am afraid of coming off like a six-year-old Duffus, but I asked, ” did your dad wear green jeans and did he have a green face, and was the captain a nice man, and why did he have a big mustache, and did your dad really have a farm? There, I spat it out, and I am an idiot.

Levi chuckled and said, ” dad wore green jeans, and his face was green from stage makeup. The captain, bless his dead heart, was not too friendly. He wore a mustache because, on the first live show, a little kid threw a Coke bottle at him and split his lip, the stash hid the scar, and that’s why he disliked kids. He carried a small cattle prod under his sleeve, and if the kids got to close, he would shock them. Pretty funny stuff to see them jump. And the final answer is yes, dad had a farm and grew veggies and raised prize-winning Llamas. Recently, my sister Denim planted forty acres of butt-kicking pot that we will sell in our “Mr. Greenjeans Apothacary Co-op in Denver.”

I thanked Levi for his kindness and started to leave when he stopped me. Extracting a green sharpie from his pocket, he signed his name on the front of my white Eddie Bauer Polo shirt. ” hang on to that shirt brother, it’ll be worth some cash one day.”

Everyone Gets A Trophy!


Good Lord, what has happened in the great state of Iowa? The most sacred caucus in our country has been dusted, busted and is no longer trusted. Either some geek tweaked the app or there’s a Russian in a basement somewhere in Iowa messing with the internet signals. I’m barely a step above neanderthal when it comes to AI and such, but damn folks, cant you at least get this right with all those Millenials you have working on your behalf?

I ran into an old liberal buddy of mine at Whataburger this morning at breakfast. That’s what us Texans do, we eat biscuits at Whataburger and talk shit about everybody, family included. My pal Squeaky had his pet chihuahua nestled in his chest-mount baby carrier and was feeding him bites of sausage from his sandwich. Squeaky is not your average Democrat. For most of his life, he was redneck, four-wheel driving, gun-toting, Alamo loving, beer drinking Republican, that had a Rebel flag hanging in his garage.

While hunting wild pigs in San Saba, Texas, Squeak ran his ATV through a bob-wire fence and messed up his vocal cords, so he now sounds like Mickey Mouse when he speaks. While he was lying there close to dying, he said the ghost of former Democratic Texas Governor Ann Richards visited him. Hovering over his body, giving him sips of sweet tea, she said if he converted his political affiliation from conservative to liberal, he could live on. We thought it was complete bull-shit, but he swears it true: and he’s still here.

I grabbed a biscuit and coffee and sat down across from Squeaky. His chihuahua, Giblet snarled his teeth at me, so I gave him a bite of my hashbrown to take the edge off. Small talk and trashing family finally got down to the Iowa caucus, which I knew he watched last night. He takes it seriously, even posting a picture of the brisket and sausage he was smoking for the event.

I know Squeak is kind of fragile after his accident and cries easily, so I gingerly asked him, ” what did you think of that hot mess of a caucus last night?” I’m not a tender guy when it comes to politics. He looked at me kind of squinty-eyed and said, ” My boy Buttercup says he is the winner. Somebody tried to mess with those computers and put comrade Bernie and Pochahontes in there, but Mayor Buttercup is gonna be the nominee.” I know that Mayor Pete’s name is hard to pronounce and remember, so I didn’t offer a correction. I agreed with him on that, Mayor Pete is the less frightening of the bunch. ” What if there is no clear winner?” I asked.

Squeaky didn’t answer right away, but pondered the question a good five minutes, thinking between bites of his sausage biscuit. I was afraid I had offended him in my usual way, but he surprised me when he answered, ” well, I guess everybody gets a trophy and a pizza.”

Life Is A Percentage Game


The Mooch-o-Matic 2020

A few weeks ago, my buddy Mooch and I were driving to Glenrose on a little road trip. We often take an adventure when we hear of something worth investigating. The stranger the better to occupy our precious time.

Mooch heard from someone at the feed store that a lady owns a pig that recently received the “Purple Paw,” the most prestigious civilian award an animal can receive for bravery. We have to see this pig for ourselves since Glenrose is right in our back yard.

Two hours of searching, we find the lady and her pig living in the RV Park by the river. This one is a wild goose chase. It seems her little boy didn’t win a prize in the stock show, so she took a purple TCU lanyard and tied a large gold-painted Mardi-Gras coin on the lanyard, making the pig a medal. This satisfied the whining child and turned the pig into a big shot. Now the kid and the pig think they are hot stuff and are raising hell in the RV Park. The expedition wasn’t a complete waste of time, we ate barbecue at the “Squealing Piglet” and topped it off with some pecan pie and Blue Bell ice cream.

Driving back to Granbury, the oil message light came on warning me I had ten percent oil life left on the old Honda. I bragged to Mooch about how smart my car is, and it seems to know everything. I mentioned, jokingly so, that it would be great if some pharmaceutical company could invent a device to tell us, humans, how much life we have left. Mooch, ever the tinkerer, has a small invention lab in his shed and is always coming up with strange things. He said he would look into that. I knew he would.

A week goes by, and Mooch shows up at my door with a white box under his arm. We sit at my kitchen table, and he pushes the box over my way, urging me to open it. Before I could get the lid off, he yells, ” I did it, its the invention we talked about, its a Mooch-O- Matic Life Meter, we are going to be wealthy.”

I open the box and pull out what appears to be a digital children’s thermometer. On the back are a crudely installed USB port and a sticker reading made by Mooch 2020. I’m impressed that he could invent something like this so quickly. In my book, his rating just increased by twenty points.

Knowing Mooch was about to explode with pride, I ask him,”What’s in this thing and how does it work?”

Mooch proudly exclaims, ” I took a “Tommy Bear In The Summer Sun” children’s digital rectal thermometer, added two chips from a Nokia flip phone, the activation strips from a “Ellen’s Own”digital pregnancy test, a chip from a Martha Stewert Meat Thermometer, a few innards from my old Firestick and a USB port so you can save the information. Now all that’s left is to test it on a human. I tried it out on my dog Rex, and damn if he doesn’t have 35% life left. The cat saw me testing Rex and is hiding, so now it’s down to you and me. How about you be the next participant?”

I reluctantly agreed to be the first human to test the Mooch-O-Matic. I entered the bathroom, inserted the device into the proper orifice, and waited until I heard the three beeps that signaled the reading was complete. After straightening myself up a bit I exited the bathroom and gave the device to Mooch. He scrolled through a menu and then blurted out, “holy crap, you have 25% life left, you lucky S.O.B.”

Well, there ya go buddy, I’m going to be watching many more Super Bowles. Mooch then took the device into the bathroom to test himself. After ten minutes, I’m getting worried so I knock on the door.

In my best-concerned tone, I said, ” Mooch, you okay, little buddy, you didn’t fall and break a hip, did you?” Mooch opened the door, and his face is the color of snow-whites butt. With a shaking hand, he handed me the device. I looked at the reading and was shocked. Mooch has 1.5% life left, which translates to, he could assume room temperature any minute or by morning at the latest. We are both speechless, and Mooch has tears in his old watery eyes.

Without saying a word, he leaves the house, and me holding the prototype of our disappearing wealth. Just for testing sake, I pulled a previously frozen whole chicken from the fridge and inserted the Mooch-O-Matic into the deceased bird’s butt. Three beeps later, the soon to be chicken dinner that has been dead for who knows how long, reads 35% life left.

I thought for a moment about calling poor Mooch to tell him his device is faulty, but he owes me $200.00, so I’ll let him sleep on this until he pays up.

The Little Buckaroo


The little buckaroo, early 1950s

I was young, barely talking, so I couldn’t say Trigger. It came out as twigger. The other little buckaroos in the neighborhood mocked my speech impediment. I was three years old, so what. I rode the wilds of Sycamore Park, ducking under low branches, hearing Indians in the trees, and Buffalo calling. I rode the banks of the swollen creek, watching turtles feed on the carcass of a carp. I was in my intended element, a cowboy. Then the owner of the Little Pony Picture Service lifted me off and put the pony in the trailer. Bummer.

Why A Wine Cave, You Say?


Prototype Wine Cave for Hidey Hole Wine Caves in Granbury Texas

Wine Caves are back in the news. The beleaguered, but smiling, Mayor Pete can’t catch a break. One measly fundraiser in a friend’s elaborate wine cave and the press brands him an elitist – extended – pinky finger – chardonnay guzzler. You know most of the folks in Hollywierd have them. I’m betting that Brad Pitt has one in each home. Hugh Hefner had multiple wine caves stocked with excellent wines and even better bunnies. I’m pretty sure the Cowboys owner, Old Smiley Jones, has one for wine and another for scotch. Hell, everyone deserves a wine cave, so that’s why I am launching my new business, ” Hidey Hole Wine and Survival Caves,” because every citizen deserves to have one.

I called Hector, a buddy of mine in Granbury that owns a concrete business and asked if he could dig a tunnel and a large room under the foundation of a home without the house caving in.

” Hell ya, man, I’m a concrete dude; we know how to dig,” he proudly exclaimed. He gave me a price, which was much less than I had planned, so Hector is on board. His cousin lays block and stucco, and another cousin finishes interiors, so I have my crew in place. I placed an ad in the local DFW “Wine Sniffer” magazine, so now, I set back and wait for the work to come rolling in.

Update from this morning, ” Wine Sniffer” magazine rejected my ad on the basis that it sounds like Rednecks and Mexicans digging holes under houses. How did they know?

“This Aint Your Grandmas Scooter”


The day after Thanksgiving, I made my usual trip to the grocery in search of any food item that didn’t resemble a turkey. It was a fruitful excursion. I came away with ice-cream sandwiches, Ding Dongs, and Kinky Friedman salsa. Dinner was sure to be interesting.

As I was leaving HEB, I noticed a gathering at the far end of the parking lot, so I wandered over to see what the fuss was about. Being close to Sun City, a throng of seniors usually means a medical condition or someone got mashed by a car. 

There, gathered under a brightly displayed “Scooter Town” sign, was a throng of senior citizens, milling about a display of personal electric scooters, or as I call them ” fancy wheelchairs.”

I squeezed into the mob to have a better view and was surprised at how beautiful this “new generation” of personal scooters were. The throng was “oohing and ahhing” as if they were witnessing the unveiling of the new Cadillac at the State fair car show. One old-timer commented to his wife that “these new-fangled scooters made his one at home look like a Model T.” I had to agree; they were light-years better than the one my Aunt Beula used to ride around Santa Anna, Texas.

One particular scooter caught my eye, so I moseyed over to check it out. As I was bent down, admiring the tires, the salesman walked up and said, “go ahead, sit in her, crank her up and take a test drive.”

” Aren’t these supposed to be for use in the house and grocery stores?” I asked.

“Heck no, he said, these aren’t your Grandma’s scooter boy, these are the new generation of senior transportation. You can drive these babies anywhere. Take them to the store, the post office, the gym,  Luby’s, the doctor- where ever. They are 100 percent street legal, and the best part is you don’t need a license. So…when the kids think your a vegetated pabulum sucker and take away the car, you can get one of these beauties and keep on trucking.

He was in full salesman mode now, and continued to explain in further detail:” take this model you’re looking at here, this is our newest one, The Woodstock Retro.

Notice the authentic tie-dye seat, the leather fringe appointments, the custom paint job, that is an exact copy of John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls Royce. Upfront here, we have the hand made-Tibetan copper bull horn, and in the back, there is a 2500 lb wench with a carbonized cut-proof chain. The tires are reproductions of the legendary Goodyear Redline radials wrapped around these special little Krager Mags. To finish off the package, we’ve included a Lear-8 track tape player, a leather stash bag, and that cute little bird sitting on the guitar decal”.

“Why would you need a bullhorn and wench?” I asked.

” the bull horn” he exclaimed ” is for yelling at people that get in your way, such as punk kids or anyone disrespectful to old folks, and,  if you’re still feeling frisky like back in the day, it can be used to voice your opinion when protesting at Wal-Mart or the Social Security Office.

The wench and chain have come standard on our California and Oregon Protest models for years are for attaching you and your scooter to tree, gate, power plant, or structure of your choice. That cut-proof chain makes it tough for the police to get you unhooked.

Now, how about a test drive there.. boy?

I agreed and eased onto the cushy seat.

After a few minutes of instruction, I was ready to roll. I turned the ignition key and felt the “hard bump” of a  powerful transmission lighting up.

” Go ahead, gun the throttle, listen to those pipes,” said the salesman.

I gunned the throttle, and the digitally-reproduced sound of a Harly Davidson roared out of the side pipes. He was right, this was not my Aunt Beula’s  scooter.

The salesman sternly warned me to take it easy because the controls were extremely touchy. With that warning clearly ignored, I pulled the sleek little scooter onto the parking lot and accelerated down to the exit.

The salesman didn’t say anything about “not” driving in traffic, so I figured it would be alright to at least cross the street and take a spin around the Dairy Queen.

While waiting at the exit to cross the street,  I thought some tunes would be cool, so I reached down and pushed the button on the Lear 8 Track, and Steppenwolf blared from the two Bose side-mounted speakers. I also mashed a small button next to the sound system labeled “Turbo.”

“What the hell! Let’s see what this baby can do,” I yelled.

With “Born to Be Wild” blaring at 250 DB’s I gunned the throttle.

Now, I expected a decent surge of acceleration, but “I didn’t expect” that sucker to raise straight up on its rear wheels and do a “high ho Silver” wheelie across Williams Drive.

With absolutely no control of the scooter,  I shot down the busy street like an NRA dragster, narrowly missing a bread truck, an eighteen-wheeler, and three suvs by mere inches.

As I roared by a Cadillac, the lady behind the wheel crossed herself and showed me her rosary. With that sign, I figured “what the hell, I’m going to die.”

Pinned to the back of the seat by the G-Force, hand frozen on the throttle, I somehow made a hard right turn into the parking lot of the Dairy Queen, spewing dirt and gravel on cars waiting in the take outline, as I did a rubber-burning 360 and came to a stop.

The “little beast” expelled a  tiny raspy -cough from the shiny side pipes, shuddered a few times and died.

Stunned and disoriented, I dismounted the scooter, and on shaky legs, departed, leaving the little beast where it died.

Driving home, I decided that I ever need one of those scooters, I think I’ll buy something safer, like a Harley.

My Interview with Mike Dugo of the 60s Garage Band website


The Orphans 1967. L to R: front-Danny Goode, Jarry Davis, Marshall Sartain, rear-Barry Corbett, and Johnny Strawn

From the Dolphins to the Orphans and then ATNT, Johnny Strawn was a key player to the Dallas music scene in the 1960s. Though still currently performing, Johnny looks back at the time spent in his early bands as “absolutely the best time of my life.” Here are his recollections.

An Interview with Johnny “J.P.” Strawn A Key Contributor To the 60’s Garage Band Days in Dallas, Texas.

[Mike Dugo] How did you first get interested in music?

Johnny Strawn: My father played with the Light Crust Doughboys and Bob Wills in the late forties and through the fifties. I grew up with western swing, jazz and country music, as well as a good dose of the musicians that played it. My father tried his best to discourage me from playing an instrument, but when he realized I just wanted to have fun, and it was ingrained in me, he taught me a few chords on my Gibson J45, and I was hooked.

[Mike Dugo] Was the Orphans your first band?

Johnny Strawn: My first band was The Dolphins, formed around ’64 in Plano. We were together in different forms until we morphed into The Orphans in late ’65.

[Mike Dugo] How did that come about?

Johnny Strawn: Jarry Davis, Barry Corbett and myself formed the original band with a bass player and keyboard player from McKinney Texas – Ronny and Johnny; I can’t recall their last names. We were pretty good, did mainly the top 40 stuff you heard on KLIF and KBOX.

[Mike Dugo] What about the later line-up?

Johnny Strawn: The final version of the 1967 Orphans was Johnny Strawn, vocals and lead guitar –  Jarry Davis, vocals and rhythm guitar-  Danny Goode, lead vocals and bass –  Marshall Sartain, vocals and keyboards- Barry Corbett, vocals

[Mike Dugo] I’ve been in contact with James Goode, whose brother, Danny, was in The Excels with him. I assume this is the same, Danny?

Johnny Strawn: One and the same. Danny did play with the Excels in the early sixties. There was a whole group of musicians from McKinney that played in quite a few bands. Danny and James of course, Billy and Donny Cave, Don McCutchin,  Gary Crawford, Joe Copeland, Don Davis, Danny Haynes and others I can’t remember.  Plano and McKinney fed off of each other for talent. Whenever someone left a band in one town, the phones started ringing in the other looking for a replacement. We all played together at one time or another.

[Mike Dugo] Where did the band typically practice?

Johnny Strawn: We started out in a vacant storefront in old downtown Plano. Jarry’s mother was a real estate agent and had good connections with the city fathers. She got us a building where we could leave all of our gear and practice anytime we needed. Plano closed the sidewalks at dusk in those days, so evening practice sessions were undisturbed. Most nights in the summer when we did practice, the main street would fill up with kids, parked and listening or sometimes dancing. It was a lot of fun – kind of like a country beach party movie. The only thing missing was the beach. After a while, it got to be a bit much for the city fathers so we turnedJarry’s garage into a studio with soundproofing and carpet.

[Mike Dugo] What type of gigs did you initially land?

Johnny Strawn:We started out playing parties, then school functions, then skating rinks, sock hops, teen dances and then clubs … pretty much in that order.

[Mike Dugo] How would you describe the band’s sound?

Johnny Strawn: Our sound was all over the place. Remember back then, you played a lot of dances, so everything you did was meant to keep them on the dance floor: Soul music, Beatles, Bee Gees, Rascals, Hendrix, Doors, Steppenwolf, Cream, Stones, Vanilla Fudge, Jefferson Airplane. We did a pretty good mix of tunes. We used to change costumes in between sets to go with the music. Jeans and such, then Nehru shirts and beads, then it got a little complicated after a while, and we had to have as much room for wardrobe as equipment.

[Mike Dugo] Did you play any of the local teen clubs?

Johnny Strawn: Oh yeah, we played them all on a regular basis. The Studio Club, LuAnn’s, Strawberry Fields, Phantasmagoria, The Cellar, The Box and some more I can’t remember in Dallas and other cities. We used to do a lot of double bills at The Studio Club and LuAnn’s; that was a big thing back then. I remember playing a lot of them with Southwest F.O.B. We were playing at LuAnn’s one weekend when during the Jimi Hendrix song Fire, our drummer put lighter fluid on his cymbals, lit his drum sticks, then hit the cymbals and ignited them. It got a little out of hand and it burned up his drums. That kind of stuff wouldn’t fly nowadays, but back then, we didn’t think of the repercussions. The crowd loved it, sort of like The Who, only with real fire and smoke. Miss Lou Ann was not pleased and banned us from the club for about six months. We eventually worked our way back into her good graces. Ron Chapman the famous DJ on KLIF and KVIL remembered us as the band that nearly burned down LuAnn’s. Some legacy.

[Mike Dugo] How far was the band’s touring territory?

Johnny Strawn: All of Texas, some of Oklahoma. We didn’t go too far from home in those days. Three of us were still attending high school so traveling during the week was tough. 

[Mike Dugo]Did the Orphans participate in any Battle of the Bands?

Johnny Strawn: We did a few that I remember. One (was) at McCord’s Music, and one at the Arnold and Morgan music store. I remember The Dancing Bear, Us Four and maybe the Redwood Page (also competing). We won one of them but placed second at the other.

[Mike Dugo] How did you hook up with Mark Lee? I know he also managed Kenny and The Kasuals?

Johnny Strawn: Mark Lee heard us at the Studio Club and approached us. We signed a contract with him and, after that, we really started getting busy. We played every weekend and some weeknights I recall. He booked us to open for the Iron Butterfly at Strawberry Fields when they did their first tour. We were so stoked; we did one of their songs off the album. The song was Possession, I believe, and we really nailed it. They didn’t appreciate that, and to show us just how much (they didn’t), promptly relieved me of my Vox Wha-Wha peddle and our drummer’s velvet Nehru suit. A hard lesson learned by all. Mark put us up to it knowing it would torque the Iron Butterfly, and afterward, he just howled at the whole scene it created. He tried to see us perform as much as possible, usually at Studio Club or LuAnn’s. I’m not sure where Mark is these days or what he’s up to, but it would be nice to talk to him again. He wasn’t much older than we were – maybe mid-twenties or so.

[Mike Dugo] How popular locally did the Orphans become?

Johnny Strawn: Pretty popular. After signing with Mark Lee, we really took off. We were well known in Texas and Oklahoma.

[Mike Dugo] There was reportedly another local band named The Orphans. Did you ever come into contact with them?

Johnny Strawn:

No, we didn’t. 

[Mike Dugo] Did the Orphans ever record any singles?

Johnny Strawn: We recorded a single in 1966 at Summit Sounds on Greenville Ave. The title was “Leader of My Mind.”I wrote the tune – kind of a Byrds’ folk-rock thing with harmonica. It got a little airplay locally and was on the Fashion label. We recorded another single in 1968 after we had changed our names to The ATNT. The title was “No One Told Me About Her” with the flipside of “Cobblestone Street.” Danny Goode, Barry Corbett and I wrote the tunes. The second disk got good airplay locally and in south Texas, but never made much money. It was also on the Fashion label. Artie Glenn and Smokey Montgomery produced both records. They also produced Paul and Paula and Bruce Chanel at the time. 

[Mike Dugo]

Why did you change your name to The ATNT? What did it stand for?

Johnny Strawn: Jerry Deaton, a guy our drummer knew, wanted to manage us. We were happy with Mark Lee and turned him down numerous times. I guess he was a little sour about the deal and had the name “The Orphans” copyrighted, and then threatened to sue us if we used it. We liked ATNT {Alice talks “n” talks} and Jerry’s mother was the inspiration for that name. Later, we found out that he had managed another band called the Orphans for a while, so that was the reason for all the drama. He copyrighted the name so we had to change. 

[Mike Dugo] Are there any vintage live recordings or unreleased songs?

Johnny Strawn: I still have a few copies of our second

record, “Cobblestone Street”; the first one I assume is lost forever. Barry Corbett, our late drummer, had some 8mm films and some live tape recordings, but now that he’s gone, they may be lost forever.

[Mike Dugo] Did the band make any local TV appearances?

Johnny Strawn: We did the “Mark (Marky Baby) Stevens TV Show” a couple of times over at the WBAP studios. All the film went with Barry. There may be some of that program in a vault somewhere. It was all lip-sync to your record.

[Mike Dugo] Why did the band break up in the ’60s?

Johnny Strawn: I was forced to leave the band over a disagreement with our rhythm guitar player. It was either study to pass my final exams in my senior year or practice. I had to make a choice, so I did. Pretty petty stuff really, but what do you expect from teenagers? The band stayed together a few more months after that and then broke up. Some of the guys continued to play with other groups.

[Mike Dugo] What about you? Did you join or form any bands after ATNT?

Johnny Strawn: I didn’t play too much until about ’74 when I became involved with the progressive country music scene in Austin and Dallas. I played with various people around town and some in south Texas and did some pick-up and studio work. I joined the Trinity River Band in late ’79 and played with them until ’85. I also played with The Light Crust Doughboys from time to time and did some studio work on the five-string banjo. I was fortunate to play on the Light Crust Doughboys album, ” One Hundred-Fifty Years of Texas Music.” 

[Mike Dugo]What about today? How often, and where, do you perform?

Johnny Strawn: I am a project manager in commercial construction, and do a lot of painting and artwork – mostly Texas art. After 35 years, Danny Goode, who I played with in ATNT and the Orphans, called me and asked me to be part of their group, The American Classics. I joined them about two years ago and that’s what we do nowadays. The band consists of Danny Goode, bass and lead vocals; John Payne, lead guitar and keyboards; Jordan Welch, drums; and me on rhythm guitar and vocals. We play about once a month or so around Dallas Fort Worth, mostly private parties. We recently played in Deep Ellum, and will probably be back down there soon. We stick to mostly ’60s music – it’s what we know well. It’s good to still be playing rock music at this age. You really never outgrow it.

[Mike Dugo] How do you best summarize your experience with The Orphans?

Johnny Strawn: It was absolutely the best time of my life. How could you not enjoy being a teenager in the ’60s and playing in a popular rock band? The people we met and played with, the experience that we will all carry with us the rest of our lives. It was just a part of life that helped shape us into what we are now – being part of that change in our country, that decade. It was a time of turmoil, but it was also the last year of the innocence we grew up with. Teenagers these days are so hardened. The music then was happy and said a lot. It would move you, whether you played it or danced to it. The music now has a meaner, harder edge, and reflects the times we live in.

Interview with Phil Strawn for the Big D 60s website


The ATNT playing Flower Fair 1968, Dallas Texas. Foreground: Johnny (Phil) Strawn, Jarry Davis, Barry Corbett (drums) Danny Goode, and Marshall Sartin

Big D 60s musical humans: My friend William Williams has asked me to scribble some text for his website devoted to rock bands in Dallas during the 1960s. To gather information for the text, I am circulating the following questions (and a few random thoughts) in the hope that they might spark memories and inspire participation.

In my view, the 60s did not “end” until about 1973, and in some ways, the period has never ended. Our “generation,” of course, faces the recurring question: Did the 60s seem such a unique period because of the sweeping social and cultural change of the era? Or was it simply due to our youth? I.e., might every generation feel that the world underwent some sort of major transformation during that generation’s “coming of age” or struggle to find/create its own identity?  Or some combination of the two explanations?

On a separate sheet(s) of paper, answer as few or as many of the following questions as you wish. Email is okay, too, but printed on preferred. If you hate to type but want to respond, dictate your thoughts onto a cassette and send that. Also, feel free to provide answers to questions that I have not been alert enough to include here….

1. Q: Name.

A: Phil Strawn, but I went by Johnny Strawn back in the sixties.

2.Q: Instrument(s)

. A:  In those days, it was strictly guitar, but later on I picked up five- String Banjo and mandolin.

3.Q: In what part(s) of Dallas did you live?

A: I was born, and grew up in Fort Worth Texas, but spent my rebellious and formative teenage years in Plano Texas. My family moved there in 1964 when there was only one red light in the middle of town and the Dairy Queen was considered fine dining. It was the only restaurant in town where your family could enjoy a deep-fried dinner and your dad (or mom) could burn rubber on your way out of the parking lot (after circling three times of course) and no one cared. In the “1964 Plano”, it was a blood rule, If you didn’t live and die football, you better mosey on over to Richardson or Dallas, where all the “city folk lived”.

4. Q: What band(s) were you in?

A:  My first band was with a classmate, and friend, Jarry Davis, or “Jarry Boy” as his buddies liked to call him. We called ourselves, The Dolphins, or Blue Dolphins, or The Laughing Dolphins, depending on the mood of the band that particular week. It included myself, Jarry, Ron Miller on drums, and Warren Whitworth on bass. Warren really didn’t play bass; he borrowed one from a cousin and had the largest amplifier.

The only progressions he knew, were in “E”, so everything was in that key (early power chords).  We used cheap Silvertone, and worse amps, and these god-awful Japanese electric guitars with five pickups, and a cluster of switches that did nothing. It was impossible to keep them in-tune, so we went with something close. The equipment was crying pitiful, but we managed to sound decent. In late 64 and early 65, Jarry and I formed “The Orphans”, with Barry Corbett on drums. The original spelling was “Orfuns”, but our drummer was “on the outs” with his parents, (as usual) and never the ones to pass on “drama”, we became “The Orphans”, as in, “children without parents”. A few years later, there was another band in Dallas with the same name, and things got sticky with attorneys, copyrights and such, so went switched to “The ATNT”, But that’s another story.  We realized during our first practice, that Barry, was “Phil Spector’s twin from a different mother ”. He amazed us with his musical lunacy. This boy could hum notes on a perfect pitch from a dead sleep, and play any instrument or piece of machinery. He once played a song on a lawnmower, and it was pretty darn good! He also was equally versatile on keyboards and Indian Sitar (even had his own makeup tin for the dot on his forehead). On bass guitar, was Johnny Malone, and a keyboard player, Ronny “the frogman”, (can’t remember his last name), both, strong-boned “chicken fried” country boys from McKinney Texas. They were also darn good rockers.

Got to love those jackets and boots

Barry’s father, noticing the improvement in the band, helped us purchase some decent P.A. equipment and new drums for Barry. We begged  “Lil’ Spector” to get the gray Ludwigs that Ringo played, but instead, he purchased these “ LSD looking Slingerlands with a “swirl margarita” 3-D finish.” If you wore those cheesy 3-D glasses from 7-11 while looking at them, and the light was right, you could see the “summer of love” two years before it took place. The new drums were complimented with a 1950’s garage sale, rotating colored light, from an aluminum Christmas tree display. We were so impressed with the setup; it became our first light show.

We all had menial to worthless summer jobs of sorts, so we took our paltry wages, stored in tobacco bags, and visited Larry Morgan, at Arnold and Morgan Music in Garland. Larry, noticing our inexperience (as well as our little bags of gold) helped outfit us with new gear. We purchased huge Fender Showman, Custom and Vox amps and Rickenbacker, and Gibson guitars. We were afraid to look at the total, so we handed Larry the money, signed a note, took our spoils and left. We now had the “proper tools of the trade”, so it was time to make some money to pay the debt.

Along with the fall, came high school football in McKinney, and we lost our bassist and keyboards. We put the word on the street for replacements and were surprised when, two “older musicians”, (again from McKinney) auditioned for the spots.

Danny Goode (brother of James Goode) had recently played bass with The Excels, and Marshall Sartain, who was a classically trained pianist, caught in the “throes of musical and parental revolt”, had just purchased a new Farfisa organ. He was a mix of Van Cliburn and Jerry Lee Lewis, and we never knew who would show up at the gigs. He either came looking a little “too sharp”, or like he had been on a week’s bender in Shreveport with his second cousin. He was one hell of a keyboard player and gave “Lil Spector” some friendly but serious competition.

After Danny and Marshall joined, the sound of “The Orphans” was born. It had been a “stick chewing labor”, but the monster it produced was worth the waiting. The first song we played as a group was perfect! causing us all to take a step back to collect ourselves. It was as if we played and sang together for years.

Miss Alice, our manager(Jarry’s mother) was so astonished; she seated herself in an aluminum lawn chair and summoned a cardboard fan and a stiff drink of Jim Beam. Apparently, she suffered an attack of “rock n roll vapors”. Shortly after that, she discovered Valium and was better at dealing with us, and our music.

Armed with fresh talent, and newly seeded dedication, we committed to practicing three nights a week. First, using an old storefront in downtown Plano (until the merchants ran us out) and then, remodeling Jarry’s large garage into a studio complete with soundproofing and air conditioning. Our practices became a social gathering on summer nights. We would walk outside during a break, and find a full-blown street party in front of Jarry’s house. It was somewhat of a “countrified beach party”, complete with beer, muscle cars burning rubber, rock “n” roll and a trail of teenage broken hearts. We agreed life didn’t get any better than this, at least until later on.

5.   Q: Musical influences

A:  I was raised in a musical family.  My late father, Johnny Strawn played the fiddle (violin if you are from north of the Red River) with the Light Crust Doughboys for over 50 years, and with The Red Foley Show known as the Ozark Jubilee broadcast out of Springfield MO. and with Bob Wills and others.  We didn’t own a record player or a radio, or need one; we had the real musicians! It was common for; Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Billy Hudson, Glen Campbell, Paul Blount, Carroll Hubbard, Bob Wills, Smokey Montgomery, Ralph Sanford, Ronnie Dawson, and others to be there playing or visiting when my father was home from the road. My musical influences were all over the map, starting with Country and Western, (or hillbilly) Fort Worth Western Swing, jazz and big band.  Later on, with inspiration from Ronnie Dawson and the Big D Jamboree, I latched on to rock n’ roll. I learned an early lesson from Ronnie. If you played guitar on a stage and could shake your ass and sing, you got any girl, any time. It was a simple equation; play guitar and sing, watch girls go “ga-ga”.That’s the real reason Ronnie had that big smile on his face, and any guy that says he didn’t take up guitar to “meet girls”, is a liar. I know.

My sister and I, being babes recently removed from mother’s arms, innocently assumed that everyone lived with a house full of “ goofball musicians” And if you didn’t play an instrument, you “weren’t quite right”. Later on, we learned it was definitely the other way around.

7. Q: What clubs and/or other venues did you play?

A:  Starting out, we played the lightweight gigs; school functions, the battle of the bands and private parties given by students, for students. Sometimes, we were lucky and made a few bucks. The times we didn’t were all right with us, because we always wound up with the cutest girls. We booked better-paying gigs, as we became well known; larger school proms, college fraternity parties, company parties, and street dances.

In later 65 into 66, we started playing clubs in Dallas and Fort Worth. The Phantasmagoria, Studio Club, LouAnn’s, The Box, The Cellar in Dallas, and later on Strawberry Fields, Panther Hall, Bronco Bowel, and some clubs in Houston, Oklahoma and Surfside Beach. We played all of the venues in the area, and now, I now wish I had kept better records of “where and when”, because all of those old venues are gone.

8. Q: Were you ever forced to quit playing early at a gig because you played too loud / played too many original songs / your appearance scared the audience?  A: “Turn it down!” Those were the first words spoken by the “adult in charge” of any function we played. They never asked us to stop, but I do remember a few high school principals diving for the power cords because we were making the chaperones (teachers) “writhe in agony”. It never failed, as soon as we struck the first chords of “Satisfaction” or “Gloria”, the old ladies (teachers who were sorry they were chaperones) grabbed their heads and began staggering around like “zombies” from “Night of the Living Dead”. The louder we played, the more they jumped and wailed. We had no idea that music could inflict such pain on anyone “over forty”. Although now, we have personally“ felt the pain.” We played a few original songs, but mainly the current tunes on the radio. No one gave much attention to the original music. If the songs were not on the radio, they didn’t exist. The kids wanted to dance to the tunes they recognized from KLIF or KVIL.  We were a polite bunch of clean-cut guys most of the time; we didn’t become “scary” until 1969.

9. Q: Describe any other unusual experiences you may have had while playing a public engagement. A:  Good Grief! That could take pages, but I’ll keep it short. Let’s see…playing with strippers at the Phantasmagoria, “musical arson” at Lou Ann’s (these are in the recent recollections on the BigD60’s site). The LouAnn’s weenie roast is my favorite. We were doing Hendrix songs (as were most of the bands in Dallas) and decided to use” real fire” during the song “Fire”. What a brilliant idea that was! Stanley Hall, our equipment manager (pre-roady days) squirted lighter fluid on our drummer’s cymbals so they would ignite when struck with a lighted drumstick. The fluid accidentally dripped onto his drum set, and when it ignited, the drums, as well as cymbals, flamed up. If you can imagine, the crowd, fueled by brown bag booze, whooping it up and urging us on, thinking it was part of our act. We were oblivious to the danger we had created, and kept right on playing, “basking in our moment of artistic adulation”. Lucky for Lou Ann’s, and us, we received a free pass that night. We didn’t burn the place down but learned a life lesson. The wise words of our parents hit us full force, “don’t play with matches, you’ll burn the house down”. The only thing left for us to do was “ shoot our eye out with a BB gun”, and we were working really hard on that one. It was a long time before LouAnn’s asked us back.  I think Mark Lee “paid them” to let us return, but they frisked us for matches and lighter fluid at the door.

Another memorable gig was a time we played the high school Christmas Dance in Ennis Texas. We had recently acquired a new ride in the form of a “ lumbering, black Cadillac Hearse”. To that visual, add this; a psychedelic painted equipment trailer, Nehru jackets, Beatle boots, beads, and peace symbol jewelry, semi-long or ratted up hair, and a newly found attitude. We were, (and very proud of it) a girl’s parent’s worst nightmare.

Upon arriving at Ennis High School for the gig, we were welcomed by the stoic social committee, also known as the “defensive line”. The colorful but “ rock n’ roll illiterate” students thought we were “dirty hippies” from Dallas, and gleefully proceeded to harass the band. It didn’t bother us too much. After all, when you wear paisley Nehru shirts and jewelry, you have to expect a little of that.

This warped adulation went on all evening, and after four hours of relentless name-calling, request for songs from Mars, and some rather amusing and inventive heckling, our rhythm guitar player “Jarry Boy”, (a kinder and more gentle guy you’ll never find), had reached his limit. You never know when someone will snap, one second he’s a normal guy, then with no warning, turns into Norman Bates. The band watched amusingly as Jarry stopped playing, and started to shake like a “Chihuahua dog passing a peach pit”.  He calmly walked to the front of the stage, gripped his beautiful new Cherry Red Gibson 335 guitar like a Louisville Slugger, and swung it like Roger Maris going for the strike zone. He smacked the main antagonist, a “plug” of a fellow, weighing in at around 250 lb. (and standing about five feet tall) up the side of his head, sending the poor boy staggering into the crowd. It was a mighty blow, and we heard the spine of the beautiful Gibson crack as it was delivered.

To our surprise, when the guitar bounced off of “ the plugs ” head, it produced a beautiful thread of feedback that was so sweet. The rest of the band, never ignoring a good dose of feedback, and being the insensitive dip-sticks we were, launched into a Vanilla Fudge song.

We played beautifully, and with such feeling, while the “butt whooping” was in progress at the edge of the stage. We figured it this way; “Jarry Boy “ needed some theme music while he was in the process of destroying his guitar, “the plugs” head, and our freshmen careers with Mark Lee as musicians.  We agreed it was a superior show to the one that The Who had delivered a few months back at Memorial Auditorium. We were positive, Pete Townsend had never assaulted his audience with his guitar. The end of the song signaled the end of the dance, and non-too soon. Ennis was in our rearview mirror in mere minutes with most of the defensive line escorting us out of town. I’m not sure we even picked up or check. We pointed that hearse south, and headed for Dallas, via Houston for more holiday gigs.

Our chaperone, Miss Alice, thought we were “heathen children and should be whooped”. We politely reminded her that it was “her son” who wielded the “Gibson Ball Bat” and administered the “whooping to Opie”. Miss Alice (and the rest of the band) got through that tour and with a lot of help from Jim Beam and branch water.

Arriving back in Dallas a few days later, we rolled up to the Fairmont Hotel, where we were to play a Christmas party for a group of nurses and interns from Methodist Hospital. The concierge tapped on the driver’s window and with a big smile told us to” pick up the body at the loading dock”. We got a lot of funeral jokes. The crowd looked really young, everyone appeared to be well under thirty, and being the “swinging sixties”; they proceeded to act like they were the poster children for “out of control adults gone wild”.

Next door, in a smaller ballroom, a group of Braniff Airline employees (mostly flight attendants and pilots) was having their Christmas shindig… but with no band. Once the music started, it didn’t take them long to crash the party. The tiny airline bottles of booze were everywhere. I had my pockets stuffed like a squirrel’s jaws in October, as did the rest of the band. Adults were dancing on tables, chairs, and even had a “conga line” going on the bar top. We were joined on stage by volunteer go-go dancers (flight attendants and nurses) sort of like the “Sumpin Else” show dancers, but with some moves, Ron Chapman would have censored, and some we hadn’t seen before. The nurses thought we should be more sociable and “have a better time”, so they got the band “commode hugging” drunk. I am sure we sounded awful, but the crowd was so blasted, it didn’t matter. Our drummer and keyboard man turned up missing for a few days. We assumed they were somewhere in Oak Cliff receiving an “intense checkup” or, flying around Texas on Braniff.

10. Q: Contrast the environment for rock bands in the 60s/early 70s with that of today. It appears that originality is encouraged today, whereas “back in the day” it was actually discouraged. Why the heck?  A:  In the sixties, the radio was Top 40 format only. It was AM stations blasting the area with 50,000 Watts of rock music and caffeine crazed DJ’s talking so fast you understood half of what they said. FM “underground rock radio” (as it was tagged) didn’t happen in Dallas until late 67, and then, it was only one station with DJ’s that talked very little and were “oh so cool”.

If a band wanted to work, you played the tunes that were on the radio, and throw in a few of yours in between. The music scene in Dallas was innocent. There wasn’t a “Deep Ellum” to feed and showcase the bands. It was strictly a handful of clubs, private parties, and shows sponsored by the radio stations. A few of the department stores had traveling shows with bands and dancers, sort of a “rock n roll medicine show”, with local DJ’s hawking the store’s products.  A lot of the local “disc jockey’s” like Ron Chapman, Ken Dowe, Johnny Dark, Jimmy Rabbit, Marky Baby, and others, did emcee spots at the local clubs and were helpful in getting the local bands known. We always enjoyed doing shows with them. They built you up with this over the top introduction, and by the time you reached the stage, the crowd thought you were The Beatles. It actually made you try a little harder.

Tom Hanks made a movie a few years ago,” That thing you Do”, an accurate film about a garage band in the sixties, that had a hit record and their fifteen minutes of fame. The scene when they heard their record on the radio for the first time is a classic. They stopped their car, jumped out and were dancing around, acting like the kids they were. All so very “sixties”. I know that our band acted just as goofy the first time we heard our song on the radio, and I’m sure that most guys that had a 45 on the radio identified with that scene in the movie.

11. Q: What popular songs of the 60s/early 70s made you want to puke?

A:  I couldn’t stand most of the girl groups and the bubble gum tunes, The Archies or “ Come on Down to My Boat Baby”, The Royal Guardsman and the Snoopy songs. They made you want to fall on a sword, or run your car into a wall. But, these bands had tunes on the radio, and most of us didn’t, so as much as we slammed them, we were quietly envious.

12. Q: Did you perform original songs or all covers?

A: The majority of the songs we played covered. In 1968, we started playing more original songs, after our record was getting airplay. For a band to carve out their own signature sound, when you were expected to sound like Sam and Dave on one tune and Jim Morrison and The Doors on the next, was tough. It was confusing, but it made us better musicians. We didn’t stop to think that it took “ real musicianship” to pull that off, unlike today’s musicians that depend entirely on distortion for every song. I feel today’s young artists lack the drive to develop their musical ability any more than a handful of power chords aided by the latest distortion effects units. There are exceptions, but not many.

13. Q: What artists/songs did you really like back then which/who you now cannot stand or just aren’t too crazy about? If any.  A: I liked the Beatles, Rick Nelson, Simon and Garfunkel, Tim Buckley, Phil Oachs, Eric Clapton, The Rascals, The Doors, they were just a few. I never could get into the “girl groups” like The Supremes, The Ronettes, etc. it was chick music, and the only reason we ever allowed it on our radios was to pacify our dates. To get to any of “the bases”, you had to suffer through it. Although I dug Dusty Springfield, she had a lot of soul for a blue-eyed blond English girl and great musical arrangements.

14. Q: What, if anything, about being in a rock band in Dallas in the 60s/early 70s was different from being in a rock band during that time in, say, Cleveland, Denver, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, St. Louis, Atlanta, etc.?

A: We played in Texas and Oklahoma, so I can’t be sure of how different it was in other states. Jarry’s cousin, from Memphis TN, played with The Gentry’s for a while and after hearing us, he commented we were too “hard edge and needed more soul”. Understandable, since everyone in Memphis was rationed a few pounds of it at birth. We always thought our music to be Texas rock n roll. Where else could you hear bands with a singer that sounded like George Jones playing “ Sunshine of Your Love”.

15. Q: Ditto for Dallas compared to the rest of Texas.

A:  Dallas bands appeared to be more polished. When we played in south Texas, we were always well received because we played a different selection of music than the home town bands. I think it was more of a local thing that dictated what you played. Dallas was an “Alice inspired rabbit hole” for Texas rock music, look at all the good bands and players that escaped from here, and moved to Austin. Q: Today, of course, Texas music is widely understood as being a unique genre all its own. So many of our best artists are not easily pigeon-holed as rock or country, for instance, which is refreshing in light of the mind-numbing monotony of corporate radio.

16. As regards Dallas rock bands of the 60s/early 70s, do you feel that you/they contributed to that unique nature or mostly responded to trends originating overseas or in New York and California?

A: It all started in Texas. The roll call would take pages, but most of your rock historians have written, and will testify that Texas was ground zero. Those of us who grew up and played the music here already knew that. Buddy Holly, Ronnie Dawson, Bill Haley, Waylon Jennings, Joe Poovey, Bobby Fuller, they were all known as rockers, but they all grew up playing country and could wear either hat with comfort. It was the same for us in Dallas and Fort Worth. We played rock, but could also play a Buck Owens or Willie Nelson tune, and didn’t mind mixing the riffs and phrases together to create a hybrid that was labeled as the Texas sound. In San Antonio and Corpus, they were infusing the Latino border music and really coming up with some hot stuff. (pardon the pun)

Q: How have your own musical tastes changed, if they have, as you have logged more years on the planet?

A: My taste in music hasn’t changed much. I’m still playing classic rock music in a band. And, I have learned to appreciate the older music as I’ve aged. Since the turn of the century, American music has chronicled every decade with its own style that’s easily recognizable as being from that time.  I think the 60’s experienced the most drastic shift in music, if only because of the meteoric changes in our society. The Vietnam War fueled the protest songs that changed folk music from “ethereal sweet sing-alongs” to caustic social commentaries. Rock music cast aside the innocent “love songs” and became gritty social anthems that mirrored the displeasure of the youth and the growing anti-war sentiment. Our nation’s young were becoming “anti-everything”. The song lyrics changed from “ sweet Mary Lou I’m so in love with you”, to “ what a field day for the heat, a thousand people in the street”. It was heady stuff. Because of those changes, that decade produced many of the best songs and songwriters in the history of music. They set the musical bar for years to come. I have learned to appreciate those songs for what they are; well written, well-played tunes documenting the “ideals” of a generation that “got the changes they wanted…like them or not”.

17. Q: Is there any music from the old days you’ve heard recently that surprised you in some way?

A: I’m assuming the old days, meaning 50’s and 60’? Yes, the music of the Beach Boys has caught my interest again. We didn’t cover any of their songs because the vocals were so difficult. But today, I marvel at what they did on record. The vocal arrangements alone would drive today’s bands to drink, or back to the garage. And, today, when I listen to The Beatles music, it sounds so simple and at times, raw, but try and replicate their songs live, and you realize just how talented and crafty they were. They changed the way we wrote and played. Their work represents songwriting at it’s best, and they challenged a generation of rock musicians to play more than four chords.

18. Q: What factors influenced the breakup of your band(s)? And if you no longer play music, what led to that? Do you ever desire to start again?

A: Let’s just say this, to this day, I have hard feelings about the breakup of our band. My exit was not handled well considering these guys were my friends. The band stayed together a few more months and then our keyboardist left for a commune and the rest drifted away. It usually ends that way with most groups.

I kept my hand in music, playing progressive- country in the ’70s with different people. I played with The Trinity River Band for five years, but that became too demanding, so I quit and laid the guitar down to concentrate on my family and career. I played with the Light Crust Doughboys on occasion and did studio work on the banjo. I didn’t own a guitar and didn’t want one. When I decided to quit, I cut off the appendages. A severe move for a life long musician. But it was a cleansing of the soul is what I sought.

I started to miss music but didn’t have the heart to again commit to it. Then, two years ago, my old bandmate and friend, Danny Goode contacted me via email from ClassMates.com. After exchanging brief histories of our lives to that point, he asked me if I would like to set in with their band for practice. I didn’t own equipment and wasn’t sure I even wanted to re-visit that place. But, after a little encouragement from Danny, I decided to give it a shot. I borrowed one of John’s guitars and an amp. We played a few tunes, and once again, it was as if we had never stopped. Time stood still for a brief moment, and it felt great. So, I joined the band.

We call ourselves the “American Classics”, and we play 60’s and some early 70’s rock. We stay busy enough to make it fun, but not work. Danny and I played in “The Orphans” together in the ’60s, and John Payne (JP) played in “The Fabulous Sensations” out of Lubbock while Jordan Welch, our drummer played in a Dallas band “The Coachmen”. We played the same songs, so re-visiting them was easy.

The American Classics today playing Poor Davids Pub, Dallas Texas. Right to left: Phil Strawn on guitar, Danny Goode on bass, John Payne on lead guitar and Jordan Welch on drums

19. Q: As a geezer-in-training, how do you maintain a rock-and-roll attitude?   (If that is something you aspire to do.) (Aside from wishing you had the dough to have a dietician and personal trainer follow you around like Mick does.)

A:  Poor Mick, someone needs to feed that boy a cheeseburger, or a chicken fried steak.  We don’t have a rock-and-roll attitude anymore. We’re having too much fun when we play. To a man, we feel fortunate to still be playing, and doing it well, if not better than back then. We know it won’t last forever so we enjoy every gig and every practice as if it were our last. We figure that we have about five more years before we start to embarrass ourselves. When we need to mount our guitars on our walkers, that’s when we’ll stop.

20. Q: As the years ground by, and punk and grunge and rap and who-knows-what-the-hell-else became popular in the underground and then got co-opted by Madison Avenue, did you ever find yourself wondering what the hell is wrong with kids today? If so, did you wanna slap yourself upside the head?

A: The American  “Pop Music” industry has been in the toilet for the last fifteen years, with the exception of country music and some of the smaller “indie” labels that still find talented musicians to record “real music”. To find “good old rock”, you listen to the country artist. It’s the same licks from the ’60s but they’ve added steel guitars and fiddles. I recently heard Cross Canadian Ragweed and was expecting a country band, but these guys rocked.  They threw out fantastic 60’s fueled licks with hot country lyrics. I swear the ghost of Jimi Hendrix was in them.  Another great band today,“ The Derailers” out of Austin, “rock a billy” with 60’s overtones.

What’s wrong with the music and the kids today?  The destruction of our educational system, also known as “ dumbing down”. “Giving in” to students that are not willing to put forth the effort to learn. Once the kids figured out it was socially acceptable to be stupid, the music naturally, fell to the same level.

Grunge rock, a depressing form of music where every band sounded the same, arrived. It was infused by pathetic, morose lyrics written by boys who couldn’t pass a fourth-grade spelling test. These were the “Pied Pipers” that the record industry crammed down the throats of our children, who, (was so addled by years of playing video games while their minds turned to oatmeal) mistakenly believed that “ life imitates art”. After Grunge got a stranglehold, someone in L.A or New York, opened a sewer cover, and out crawled “RAP”. Which is, in no way related to music in theory or sound.

The numbing beat and gutter- laced words, encourages these kids to embrace hatred for everything good and just. You have seven-year-old children going around talking about killing cops, and “ getting some hoe’s”. The Madison Avenue record machine is no different than Enron or others of their ilk. They go, with no moral regret, straight for the jugular to make the buck, and will walk on the bodies to get to the bank. There is little, if any accountability in the mainstream music industry today. Do I sound mad as hell about this? I’m completely disgusted.

21.Q: What was best about the Dallas music scene back then? What was the worst? Name some of your favorite Dallas bands from back then.

A:  The music scene in Dallas was young and full of excitement. The kids couldn’t wait for the weekends to pack into places like; The Studio Club or LouAnn’s. The Oaklawn area was full of boutiques and clubs. You could visit Lee Park on most weekends, sit on the grass and listen to free concerts by local bands. Oaklawn was re-inventing itself into the “Height Asbury” of Dallas. Most of the local bands that played the “circuit” knew each other. Dallas was a large city, but enjoyed and embraced a small, but sometimes-cliquish music community. I enjoyed the sounds of The Jackals, The Novas, The Southwest F.O.B., The Coachmen and The Chessmen; those were just a few of the many.

22. Q: Were your parents supportive of your musical endeavors? Conflicts?

A:  In our band, all of the parents eventually came around and supported our endeavors. We spent so much time playing that they finally accepted the fact that we were not going to stop. My parents came to our gigs a few times, but usually left doing the zombie head-grab and staggered out the door. They couldn’t take the decibels, and though we would never admit it, we couldn’t either. Everyone in our band now is partially deaf because of the loud music onstage. We play much quieter now.

23. Q: Did rednecks ever pound the dooky out of you for having long hair?

A: Yes they did but in their own inventive way.

I was on the pier one summer night in Port Aransas, 1969.  I was walking with this cute girl I had met earlier in the evening. We had been on the beach with friends, sitting around a campfire picking guitars and drinking beer. I wanted to walk on the pier, to check the waves for the next mornings surfing. I had my Gibson (1940’s) J-45 slung over my shoulder, and was looking really cool. As we ambled down the pier, two “big old boys” made a crude remark to the young lady. I should have let it go, but I couldn’t.

My parents had taught me that you didn’t speak that way to a lady. So, with the girl almost in tears, and me not being in my right mind, I approached the offenders. They were sitting on their bait buckets, drinking Lone Star Beer, and trying really hard to keep it from running out of their mouth from lack of teeth.

I volleyed back with a tirade of “eloquent put-downs” that would have made George Carlin proud. I figured after slick words like that, they couldn’t possibly say anything but “ we’re sorry”.  I stood there, waiting for the apology I knew wasn’t going to come. When those two boys raised up from their “bait bucket lounger’s”, I was staring into the face’s of “Bubba-Zilla” and his spawn. That’s the first time I was ever conscious of sucking air through my lower orifice.

It was “way too late” for apologies, and, I didn’t have anywhere to run, so I stood there smiling like a raccoon caught raiding the trash can. The girl sensed that she was sharing my last minutes on earth, so she hauled-ass down the pier. The smaller of the “Bubba-Zillas” grabbed me  (with my guitar still attached to my body) and did one of these “WWF” moves, spinning me above his head to build up momentum. When I reached launch speed, he sailed me out over the railings, and into the night. For a moment, I had a good form going; spreading out like “Rocky the flying squirrel”. I was hoping to glide toward the beach and lessen the impact into the Gulf of Mexico, thirty feet below.

I was all right with hitting the water; I could swim to the beach if the sharks didn’t get me first. But, In the instant, before I hit, I remembered my Gibson J-45 had taken the flight with me. I was immediately sick.  I hit the water like a cowpie dropped from Babe the Giant Blue Ox. It hurt like hell! After floundering around in the surf for a while, I washed up onto the beach, gripping my ruined guitar. Through the mist, I could see the “Bubba-Zillas” illuminated by the lights, whooping it up and stomping around the pier. For a brief moment, I thought about going back up there and “ kicking some butt”, but then my head cleared, and I figured it was time to get a haircut.

I agree that the sixties didn’t end until the early seventies. No one wanted to let go of the music and the feelings that were so much a part of that short ten years. I had a great time. Thanks for asking me to share my memories.

Thanks!

Gene Fowler

3101 Dancy

Austin, TX – 78722

Ph. 512-322-0602

genfo@email.com

Uncle Nehi’s Nap Camp


 

I read an article in my local paper a few days back about a youngster from Louisiana that fed his pet earthworms small amounts of nuclear waste, which in turn, made them glow in the dark and grow to the size of a state-fair hotdog. 

He is now raking in cash, hawking them on his own late-night infomercial. Every fisherman in the south wants a giant wiggling glowing worm. Every bass needs one. I wondered, what kind of person would come up with such an idea?

My family tree back in the “old country” was chock full of these sorts. Dreamers, schemers, and medicine show hucksters. All died poor except one.

Take my Great-Great-Great Uncle Nehi, a puny Scott with a sweet tooth. He spent his spare time in search of sugary delights. One night, while experimenting with various potions of colored water, fruit, and healthy doses of sugar, he invented “Nehi Soda.” Now It wouldn’t be summer without a grape Nehi and a Moon Pie, would it? His tinkering resulted in the “all American soda.” Soda pop made him wealthy, and he died young from a roaring case of Diabetes, but he died prosperous and happy. 

I always preferred Dr. Pepper, but my parents made us drink Nehi every year on the anniversary of his passing.

If it wasn’t for “dreamers and hucksters,” a beloved section of our economy would not exist. There would be no infomercials on television. Drug stores would have fewer isles full of useful little “as seen on TV” things. People would be wondering how to make their fresh juice or cover that bald spot. How could they make their hair puff out to look like a jelly roll while roaming around town in a snuggly blanket with armholes? Hanging upside down tomatoes would not exist. How would the astronauts write upside down without that nice ballpoint pen? I get a little scared thinking about what life would be like without these gadgets.

This past Saturday, my wife and I enjoyed lunch at a quaint restaurant alongside the Guadalupe River in Gruene, Texas. It was a hot one. A real sizzler. 100 degrees in the shade and we were sitting outside on their covered deck, enjoying the river’s tranquility and cooled by the misters. 

My wife, Maureen, full of food and a cold beer, drowsily commented, “a nap would be nice right now.” I agreed, but there was nowhere to have a nappy except the hot car, so that idea was out.

I summoned our bill and sat staring at the beautiful river, watching the tubers drift by, listening to the lull of bubbling water, I was entranced, hypnotized by nature’s respite.

 My bill arrived, and on the servers plate was an ice-cold Nehi Grape Soda, bound for another’s enjoyment. I hadn’t seen a Nehi soda in decades. 

I was slapped hard by this boy and girls, the Nehi, the river, the need for a nap, and nature, it all hit me at once. I couldn’t speak, and could only croak out “nap camp…Nehi…nappy.” 

Thinking I was having a stroke, my wife whipped out her cell phone and started to dial 911, but stopped when I finally choked out the words, “Uncle Nehi’s Nap Camp.” I had that stupid look that she knows all too well, something akin to “hold my beer and watch this.” She waited for the spiel, of which I was overly anxious to deliver.

Grabbing her reluctant hand, I dragged her down to the river bank. She was scared: I was excited. Invigorated and drunk on the elixir of my vision.

“Why didn’t I think of this years ago” I yelled. “It’s like the boy and his nuclear fishing worms. It’s not too late, seize the minute, make your mark, mark your territory, piss into the wind for a change. People need to sleep, they need a good nap, it’s our right!”

I was so excited I was waving my arms and spinning around like a “tent revival preacher.” I was on a roll. 

I was yelling like a five-year-old on a sugar high, “over there in the trees by the river, we can build cedar post and metal roof pole barns, add ceiling fans and misters and put up some comfy hammocks. We’ll have an outside bar selling Nehi sodas, cold Lone Star beer and baloney, and rat cheese sandwiches. We could have a small barn with little hanging beds for the kids and dogs, and a separate napping barn for in-laws and people you don’t care for. Imagine, napping in a hammock next to the calm river, life doesn’t get any better than that. Right?”

A grizzled old fisherman was sitting by a tree with his cane pole listening to this opera of fools. He piped in, “not a bad idea, sonny boy, but Old Blind Mable tried that back in 1949 and lost her butt. You can’t put a business in a flood plain. This river flooded pretty well every year back then.

Old Blind Mable had a mess of hammocks and people sleeping in them thangs, and the river floods and washes everyone down to New Braunfels, whether they wanted to go there or not. If you got some money to piss away, go ahead, I’ll have a nap here until it rains, then I’m heading to high ground.” My wife looked at me and said: “let’s go home and have a nap, Einstein.”

I was crushed, a broken man, my vision was a pile of raccoon crap, shot down by a crusty old river rat: and my wife agreed with him. No Nehi sodas, no ice-cold Lone Star in a hammock, no nap camp. What the hell.

As we walked back to the car, a large dog came strutting down the street, pulling a kid on a skateboard. I watched them cruise by and thought, “a big skateboard for two, add seats, get some big dogs and rent them to pull people around town, “now that’s a moneymaker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Indian


I celebrated a birthday a while back, and my sister gifted me with an Ancestery.com account. For years I was curious about where my family roots came from and who they were, really. I knew about the crazy aunts and rowdy cowboys in old Fort Worth, but I was interested in the other ghost from the family’s past.

When the kit arrived, I spat into the tube and sent it away. A few weeks later, I received the results via email. It was not what I had expected.


I look like an Indian, and my mother looked Indian, as well as my grandmother, an American Indian. She grew up on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma, making Buffalo hide clothing and sleeping in a teepee. So who is to question that? Ansestery.com, of course. They say I am a full-bore European from Scotland and Ireland. Not one mention of my Native American genealogy. Furious with the outcome, I call Ancestry and give them a piece of my mind.


I ranted a bit about this and that and how wrong they are. Then, the kind lady told me that Native American heritage is almost impossible to confirm because the tribal counsels refuse to comply with DNA testing and release records. She assured me I was an Indian and could go on acting like one if it pleased me. I am better now.


I am pleased to let my family and friends know that we are still related to Belle Starr, Chief Quanah Parker, Chief Grey Squirrel, and Dancing Rain Doe. Our Cherokee heritage is intact and our war bonnets are flying in the wind.
The best part is that as a kid playing cowboys and Indians, I always played Tonto, and can now prove I was a real Indian. As Chief Dan George once said, “May the wings of Eagles carry you to a peaceful land full of fat game and cold beer.” Kemosabe.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: