Notes From The Cactus Patch

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

Archive for the month “January, 2020”

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

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