Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from The Great State Of Texas

Archive for the category “music”

“Maybe It’s Time For The Beatles to Just, Let It Be”


The Mop Tops, photo by Mick Jagger

I am a Beatles fan from the night I saw them on Ed Sullivan back in February of 1964. I bought all of their albums, and when I played in a rock band starting in 1965, I played their music with a vengeance. Loud amplifiers and crunching electric guitars, that’s what the lads inspired us to do. They also taught me that there are more than three guitar chords as well as diminished and augmented ones to boot. The poor Beach Boys never figured that out until Brian Wilson wrote and engineered Pet Sounds. The boys from Liverpool gave them a lesson or two.

I watched the trailer for the upcoming Beatles documentary by Peter Jackson a few nights ago. “Let It Be” is and will be a huge hit and seen by millions if not more. Beautiful cinematography and soundtrack make this the best rock music movie ever made. Hats off to Peter for his effort and talent.

The Beatles, as a band, hasn’t played a lick together since 1970, and then it was an unpleasant experience from what I have read. The movie gives us a glimpse of their shared acrimony, but we will never know the sordid details, nor should we.

Recently, Sir Paul, the fossilized bass player said it was John that killed the band, not he. I can see that being true, but at this point, there are not many who still care who’s fault it was, or is. John and his muse, Yoko, or was it the other way around? drove a stone wedge into the heart of the lad’s kindred spirits ending the greatest musical act ever known to humans of my generation and perhaps a few after.

Paul also said a few days ago that the Rolling Stones were basically a blues cover band. Well, that is true, that is what they were and still are. Their music pales to the catalog of the Beatles. It’s almost amateurish in comparison, and if you have seen the Stones live in the last 10 years, you wonder who keeps digging up their graves and reanimating them, although Charlie Watts checked out with some class the others will never have. And that is what brings me to this next observation.

The Beatles had their time in history and used it well. Their legacy and music will be around for centuries in one form or another, the two remaining members will not. Ringo Starr has throttled it back and enjoys being in his late 70s, playing a gig here and there, and enjoying what few years he has left. Paul McCartney, the cute one, the mop-top lovable narcissist can’t seem to let it go. Once the “old man” voice sets in, then it’s curtains. Paul has it bad. Time to pay the valet and get the hell home, drink your Ovaltine, and hit the sack. It’s a bit embarrassing to see an old geezer jumping around on stage flicking his hair about like he is 20 years old. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what Mick the Jagger does, but only a bit better, and he is more agile and thinner because he hasn’t eaten a cheeseburger in 50 years and lives on good booze, spring water, and replacement organs.

I find as the years have slipped by, I am less a Beatles fan than I was in the 80s, 90s, or even the early 2000s. I still have all the albums, but rarely spin them. I guess one could say I suffer from Beatles fatigue, or misplaced envy, or even old age, of which I am, at 72. One thing good is that I am still a musician and singer, and can play most of their tunes if I wished to. The trouble is, I don’t wish to now. I’m not hating on the boys, and I hope Peter Jackson makes a zillion bucks with his film, and it wins an Oscar or some trophy.

I am only suggesting that maybe after 57 years, maybe the Beatles should just say goodnight, and Let It Be.

Sharing A Piece Of Juicy Fruit With Tex Ritter


Tex Ritter, photo courtesy of Roy Rogers

“Do not forsake me, oh my Darlin,” on this our wedding day,” who didn’t know the first verse of that song from the radio? A massive hit from the 1952 movie “High Noon,” performed by everybody’s favorite singing cowboy, Tex Ritter.

In 1957, I was eight years old, and on some Saturday nights, I got to tag along with my father to the “Cowtown Hoedown,” a popular live country music show performed at the Majestic Theater in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. My father was the fiddle player in the house stage band, so I was somewhat musical royalty, at least for a kid.

Most of the major and minor country stars played Fort Worth and Dallas as much as they did Nashville, and I was fortunate to have seen many of them at this show. One, in particular, made a lasting impression on my young self.

I was sitting on a stool backstage before the show, talking to a few kids; who, like me, got to attend the show with their fathers.

My father came over and asked me to follow him. We walked behind the back curtain and stopped at a stage-level dressing room. There in the doorway stood a big fellow in a sequined cowboy suit and a 30 gallon Stetson. I knew who he was; that is Tex Ritter, the movie star and cowboy singer. My father introduced me, and I shook hands with Tex. I was floored, shocked, and couldn’t speak for a few minutes. What kid gets to meet a singing cowboy movie star in Fort Worth, Texas? I guess that would be me.

Tex asked my name and then told me he had a son the same age as me. We talked baseball and cowboy movies for a bit, then he handed me a one-dollar bill and asked if I would go to the concession stand and buy him a package of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. So I took the buck and took off down the service hallway to the front of the theater. I knew all the shortcuts and hidey holes from my vast exploration of the old theater during the shows.

I knew nothing of the brands and flavors, not being a gum chewer, but the words Juicy Fruit made my mouth water. Not having much money, what change I did get from selling pop bottles went to Bubble Gum Baseball Cards, not fancy chewing gums.

I purchased the pack of gum for five cents. Then, gripping the change tightly in my sweating little hand, I skedaddled back to Tex’s dressing room. He was signing autographs but stopped and thanked me for the favor. He then gave me two quarters for my services and disappeared into his dressing room for a moment. He handed me an autographed 8×10 photograph of him playing the guitar and singing to the doggies when he returned. I was in country and western music heaven. He also gave me a piece of Juicy Fruit, which I popped into my mouth and began chewing, just like Tex.

Juicy Fruit became my favorite gum, and now, whenever I see a pack or smell that distinct aroma as someone is unwrapping a piece, I remember the night I shared a chew with Tex Ritter.

“Things Learned On A Sunday Morning”


I was awake at 2: 45 this morning. I have learned that once my brain engages, there is no time for sleep. I get up, turn off the alarm, turn on Mr. Coffee and my laptop. I don’t bother with television news anymore, but I prefer to read news sites for my information. The coffee brews, a cup is poured, and it tastes darn good. After two cups, I forget about coffee and start making notes for a future blog post. Thirty minutes later, I decide on a third cup. Good grief, the coffee taste like swill, burned, and nasty. I learned this morning that if you leave the coffee on the burner for thirty minutes, it’s ruined, and you might as well pour it down the drain. This makes an excellent argument for using our Keurig machine, but the pods will break your grocery budget, so it stays in retirement. I am meant to suffer for coffee.

I follow many blog sites on WordPress. In turn, some follow mine. It’s an excellent trade-off. For example, this morning, I came across a blog focusing on religion, one of my favorite argument topics.

The writer, a Christian and a Catholic living in the UK, takes offense to music in church. Not so much the white-haired old lady playing the Hammond organ and a choir singing old-time religious songs, but the entire rock band on stage with a trio of singers wailing away about who knows what. He calls it “Jesus Rock.” I get it. I am a musician, and I know how music can move you. A well-played tune can energize your soul or take you to your knees in grief. But, unfortunately, the wrong kind of music can also distract your worship and send me running for the exit. I don’t need a Van Halen tribute band blowing the roof off the house of worship and the congregation holding up Bic lighters as they sway to the music. So I tend to lean more to the liturgical side of prayer. The old-style church service from “back in the day” is what I know. Damnation soothes the soul.

Sunday mornings sitting on a rock-hard pew, sweating, and fidgeting in my starched shirt and slacks while the Baptist preacher tells me I am going to Hell; now that is the real church of my youth. Although at six years old, I have no concept of Hell or why I am going there? My mother tells me to be still and then cleans my ears with a handkerchief and spit. The organist and the choir break into The Old Rugged Cross, the plate comes around and I deposit a dime. I am miserable. It is God’s wish.

“The Light Crust Doughboys Are On The Air”


The Light Crust Doughboys 1990s

I am posting a picture of the legendary Texas western swing band, The Light Crust Doughboys, in memory of National Country Music Day. Top L to R; Jerry Elliot and Bill Simmons, bottom L to R; Smokey Montgomery, Johnny Strawn ( my father) and Jim Boyd.

As a small child growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, these men were part of my life until I helped carry some of them to their final rest. Texas, country music, and I are better because of them.

“Iron Butterfly’s Are Heavy”


In 1968, the rock band I was in signed a management contract with the top agency in Dallas, Texas; Mark Lee Productions. We had been together since 1967 and played all over Texas, but once we hitched on to Mark Lee, we entered another level. Friday and Saturday nights were booked for the next year, and we made more money than our fathers. Pretty good for a bunch of teenagers in Texas.

That was the year that rock music exploded in Dallas and Fort Worth. Forget Los Angeles and New York, we had more bands and better music right here in Texas. American Blues, which would soon be ZZ Top, Felicity that would become the Eagles, Delbert McClinton, Roy Orbison, B.W. Stevens, Michael Martin Murphy, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy Vaughn, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Doyle Bramhall, Southwest F.O.B that would birth England Dan and John Ford Coley, Kenny and The Kasuals, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Sly Stone, The Jackals, The Nova’s, and our band, The ATNT. We didn’t think much about the East or West coast; there was too much happening here.

A rock band out of San Diego, California, was making some noise with a 45 that was getting some airplay on KLIF AM radio in Dallas. The Iron Butterfly was unknown outside of California but was starting to make some noise in our neighborhood. With the release of their 45 and the following album, they hit the tour circuit playing smaller venues in the Southwest.

Mark Lee informed us that the band would be coming through Dallas in a month and if we would like to do a few dates with them at a local music club called “Strawberry Fields” and “The Phantasmagoria.” It was a go. We got their 45 and really dug their music, so we learned the two tunes and added them to our set-list. Folks liked them even though the songs were much heavier than what our local bands were playing.

The night of the first show at Strawberry Fields, we set up first then the Butterly arrived and added their gear to the stage, making it darn tight, so we agreed to let them use some of our equipment. In the dressing room, they were quiet, talking among themselves and not much to us. We were teenagers, 16 being the youngest and 19 the oldest. They were in their mid-twenties or older, hardcore and mysterious rock musicians from the west coast.

Before we went on, our manager, Mark Lee thought that it would be nice if we did one of The Iron Butterly’s songs; an adoring shout-out of sorts. We were young and stupid, so we agreed to do their song “Possession.” If we had massacred the song, it would probably have gone unnoticed, but we nailed it to the wall and plastered it with gold stars. We finished our set and were met by the pissed-off members of the Butterfly. The keyboardist and the elder leader, Doug Engle, tried his best to keep his band members from kicking our butts. He understood what we had done and didn’t take offense to our gaff. Our illustrious manager thought the entire event was hilarious and was laughing his ass off. Feelings were soothed, tempers lowered, and we finished the gig and on to the next club where, by the end of the evening, we were all buddies, exchanging phone numbers and promises to keep in touch after we all made the big time rock scene.

“Two Kings In A Caddie”


I wrote this story back in 2014. A few changes and editing have been made for a smoother read. Of course this is pure fiction, but if you believe everything that has happened to us in 2020, this could as well.

The high desert at night, is solitude. The velvet blackness holds wondrous things.

The “57” Caddie pulled away from the gas station, spewing gravel and dust. The old man that had filled it up a few minuets ago watched until the tail lights disappeared down the highway. Two, twenty-dollar bills for ten dollars of gas, go figure. There was a two-dollar bill mixed in the bills; TCB was printed on the front. What the hell did that mean?

The most comfortable place in the world to the aged singer was sitting behind the wheel of his beloved white Cadillac.  

Not the sleek crooner in size thirty-six sport coats anymore, he really didn’t care to be. He was comfortable in his own skin.  After decades of dieting, he surrendered to the siren’s call of biscuits and gravy, and his beloved peanut butter and banana sandwiches. “Hell, everybody gets a little heavy as they age,” he told himself, and after seeing an old girlfriend in a supermarket trash magazine, he felt better about his expanding looks. The once sleek red-headed dancer was now as portly as himself. It’s a shame he couldn’t call her up. But then again, she loved the man he used to be and he loved the girl she once was.

The decision to disappear back in the late 70s was his way of escaping the hell he had created for himself. Drugs, alcohol, guns, crazy-ass women, and an army of hanger-on’s. The whole scene was sucking what life he had left from him. Realizing, that, if he was going live incognito, Las Vegas Nevada was ground zero. Every casino on the strip had Elvis impersonators. He could hide in plain sight.

To stave off boredom, he worked for a while at one of the cheesy late-night wedding chapels, imitating himself. He loved the irony of it all. He would have the wedding party crying and gagging with laughter, telling stories that only the “real Elvis” would know. The patrons were appreciative of his stories and his one-man karaoke performance, and he could still make a few young brides swoon.

At times, he became bone-weary of it all and yearned to go home, but he knew that could never happen, except in dreams. These long rides in the desert calmed him and allowed sleep without prescription drugs. He was clean now and was damn – straight going to stay that way.

The Caddies headlights illuminated the figure of a man standing by the roadside, thumb in the air. Aaron had never picked up a hitcher, but a tingling feeling in his scalp told him he should stop for this one. Pulling over, he waited for the stranger to approach the car. The door opened and a figure slid into the seat beside him. He turned to introduce himself.

In the glow of the dash lights sat an old man; long gray hair was tied into a ponytail, and a neatly trimmed gray beard filled his face. He wore a loose-fitting red running jacket with matching sweat pants. His gold lame’ running shoes, shined like gold bars.

Aaron studied him for a moment and then asked the old man, “I know you, mister, I’ve seen you on TV, aren’t you Willie Nelson? What are you doing out in this desert this time of night?”

The old man looked at Aaron and spoke softly, “No, I’m not Willie Nelson, and that’s a fine compliment, to be sure. I’m not going far and it’s nice to meet you Elvis.”

He spoke Aaron’s first name as if he had known him forever, and the tone of his voice made him squirm. Elvis ditched his first name years ago and now referred to himself as Aaron, his middle name. It was part of the plan; Elvis was who he used to be.

“No sir, I don’t know who you are if you’re not Willie,” Aron stammered.

In a slightly scolding tone, the old man addressed Aaron, “young man, I’m shocked that a Christian boy like yourself from a Baptist church in Tunica would not recognize me. Don’t you find it strange that I know who you are? In fact, my boy, I know everything about you from the day you were born. And while we are here together, let’s ditch the Aaron thing. I will address you as you are known back at home. Elvis fits real nice, don’t you think?” Elvis nodded agreeably.

The old man pushed the button on the caddie’s glove box. The door dropped down with a clunk. From inside, came an angelic light that illuminated his face in a soft glow.  Elvis found himself staring into the most striking blue eyes he had ever seen; endless in depth, filled with kindness and forgiving but tinged with a bit of sadness. The old fellow looked to be as old as dirt, but in that light, his features were as soft as a pastel portrait.

“Does this help?” he asked.

“No sir it doesn’t, any lounge magician from Vegas can do those light tricks, although that’s pretty darn good coming from that glove box, that light hasn’t worked twenty years. While you’re in there, hand me one of the banana and peanut butter sandwiches would you?” asked Elvis.

“Surely, may I have one also? I haven’t eaten in a while,” asked the old man.

Elvis, turning to face his visitor, replied “Help yourself, sir. You’re pretty good with them tricks, I could probably get you some work in the lounges back in Vegas if you’re needing some cash.”

The old man sighed, and in between bites said, “No, but thank you, I’m pretty busy most of the time, seems like I’ve been working for an eternity, but I could use a little excitement.”

“Looky here now, I’m going to give you a final chance to figure out my identity and why you felt so compelled to give me a ride young feller, pull this caddie over by that pond up there” ordered the old man.

Elvis, laughing, said “Pond, there ain’t no ponds in the desert, unless they’re concrete, and in someone’s back yard.”

The old man said, “just pull over here please, just by that beautiful cactus patch.”

Elvis parked the caddie on the shoulder and turned off the engine.

The old man motioned for Elvis to follow “Come with me please, I think you will like this. It’s not everyday that I go through this much work to impress one of my children.” He said.

Elvis, now a bit amused by the scenario, followed him into the desert. Ink Dark and no moon, they were both stumbling on rocks and bumping into cactus, so the old man switched on that angelic glow to light the way. This impressed Elvis. This guy was really good.

They walked a short distance until they came upon a small lake. It wasn’t a stock tank, or a catch basin, and it wasn’t your typical Las Vegas casino pond, but a beautiful sparkling lake with palm trees and lush tropical plants lining the shore. Small waterfalls cascaded to the water’s surface producing a peaceful sound. The perimeter of the lake was back- lit with that same eerie light.

The old man turned to Elvis and said “Okay, my son, I usually don’t pull this one out much, but you’re a real special case boy.”

And with that said, he walked down the bank and out onto the waters surface. He didn’t sink, but skimmed across the surface like a dragon fly. Stopping about twenty yards out, he turned, faced Elvis, and raised his arms to the sky. The water boiled and swirled, flashes of lightning hit the surface, and the waters parted into two walls on either side of him.

On the bank, Elvis jumping up and down, screamed, “Hot Dog, I’ve seen this before. I know who you are now…you’re Charlatan Heston, that actor… you played Moses in that Easter movie, the Ten Commitments.”

That did it for the old man. It took the weight of the universe to tick him off, but this hillbilly in an old Cadillac had succeeded.

The old man walked to the bank, and directly to Elvis. Without saying a word, he pointed his finger at Elvis forehead, looked up to the sky and said, “Father, thy non-believers shall wallow with the hounds beneath the porch of the out-cast, let this man of doubt feel your wrath.”

There was a blinding flash of light. Elvis, knocked on his rear, found himself looking up at the old man. “Way up”.  He felt funny. He itched, his breath smelled like a skunk, and he felt the urge scoot his butt on the ground. Looking down, instead tennis shoes, he saw paws, and a lot of dirty, matted hair. He attempted to speak but his words came out in barks. This went on for a few minuets until he became a nuisance.

Another flash of light, and Elvis was once again eye to eye with the old man.

The old man smiled and said, “Elvis, I’m sorry I turned you into a dog, but like I said, you are a special case.” The glowing light usually convinces most people, but you’re just a little thick ain’t you boy.”

The old man smiled, put his arm around Elvis’s shoulder, and said, “Look, let’s get back to your car, I’ve got someplace to be, and I want you to go with. We can have a little visit along the way, a counseling session of sorts, no charge, it’s on the house. And by the way, when I’m down here, in this realm, I prefer to be called just plain old Sonny, it’s less frightening…puts people at ease.”

After driving for a while, Sonny turned to Elvis and said, “You know son, I play in a band when I’m home, and your name comes up often, the guys are always asking me when you’re coming up to join them.”

Elvis said “that’s nice sir, who might your band members be?” and where exactly, is home?”

“Well, home is where my Father is; Heaven. You know, the pearly gates and such, sitting on clouds, the weathers good all the time, all of that stuff you read about.”

“You mean streets of gold and everyone lives in their own temple type of Heaven?” asked Elvis.

Sonny replied, “Well not exactly, the streets of gold were a real maintenance nightmare, so we went back to Jordanian river – rock. The temples were a little small, so we made some major changes right after Frank Lloyd Wright came up. Everyone now has a nice little place with a view of the garden…everyone’s equal in Dad’s eyes you know. Your Mamma and Daddy’s place is an exact copy of Graceland. Bet you didn’t know that!”

Elvis swallowed hard and said “You seen my Momma and Daddy?”

“Well of course I have you nimrod. Didn’t I just tell you who I am and where I live. Don’t you listen!” replied Sonny.

Sonny clapped his hands on his knees and said, “Now, back to my band for a minute. It’s made up of the best musicians that ever lived.  Your old buddies Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash just recently joined up, and I’ve got Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison on guitars, Gene Kruppa and Keith Moon on drums, and I’m looking forward to Ringo joining up pretty soon. There’s Count Basie and Mozart on keyboards, Roy Orbison, Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly, and Old Blue Eyes on vocals. Man, that Orbison can hit those high notes…really ticks Sinatra off. Frank has a bad attitude about everything, always wanting to get the Rat Pack up and running again. Dads always sending him “down below” for a few days, just to keep him in line.”

Elvis was struggling to comprehend what he was hearing, he knew all those dudes when they were alive, and Bobby Darin was a running buddy back in the day.

Sonny on a bit of a roll continued, “Myself, I play a little bass sometimes, if Noel Redding is busy greeting the British arrivals down at the gate.  John Lennon still claims it wasn’t Yoko that broke up the band, he swears it was McCartney’s doings, and old Ed Sullivan already has a Beatles reunion show planned, just waiting for the other two to show up. I told him it wouldn’t be too much longer, but it wasn’t a deal if he had that stupid little mouse puppet Popo Gigio on the bill.  I just wanted to squeeze him until his little eyes popped out. Puppets make me uncomfortable.”

Elvis, staring at the road ahead was sweating like a lawn sprinkler. His mouth, dry as cotton, and he couldn’t catch a good breath. This was too much for him to digest at one time. Here he is, giving a ride to the Son of God. “Is this the way it’s suppose to be” he thought, “Aren’t you suppose to see a white light and your loved ones coming to meet you?” Not the Lord telling you he plays in a rock band full of dead musicians and hates mouse puppets. Maybe he was having an LSD flashback.

Sonny turned to Elvis and said, “No, Elvis, you’re not having a flashback, and you don’t always see the light…and yes, I can read your thoughts.  Really, this is pretty much the way it happens. I make special provisions for people as needed, and you are a special provision type of fellow, so enjoy the evening.  I’m not saying it’s your time to come home to “my place,” but who knows. Take the next right up here; you’re going to like where we are going.”

Elvis turned the caddie down the dirt road and after a mile or so came to a ramshackle tin building. The exterior looked to be an old military barrack, and over the door was a cheesy neon-sign that read “Sonny’s Place.” No cars parked in the lot, and no tire tracks in the sand. This joint was really out of the way.

Sonny escorted Elvis through the front door where they were greeted by a kindly lady with big hair sitting behind a counter. Elvis noticed her name tag read “Patsy C.” When she saw Sonny, she lit up and said, “My Savior, how good to see you again, everyone’s been asking if you were going to come by tonight, who’s your pal?”

Sonny replied, “This is the famous Elvis Presley darling, but he’s not here officially yet, he’s just visiting for a spell, slap one of those silver wrist bands on him please.”

Elvis interrupted, “Excuse me sir, what’s the silver band mean?”

Smiling, Sonny said “Oh, it means you can’t have the top shelf drinks, can’t use the nice restrooms, and most of all it means you’re not dead yet…understand.”

Elvis understood alright, and that was okay with him. As long as he had not assumed room temperature, that’s all that mattered.

When they walked into the main room, thunderous applause greeted them. Sonny humbly waved and nodded, and Elvis, slack-jawed and gob-smacked, stared at all the dead musicians and singers he had known.

On stage, Bobby Darin was kicking off “Mack The Knife” accompanied by an all-star band made up of Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Mozart, Charlie Bird, Gene Krupa, Glen Miller, Harry James and a full horn section. Bobby saw Elvis and gave him a big smile and a thumbs up.

When the song ended, Bobby directed a spot light to the small table occupied by Sonny and Elvis, and in that “oh so cool voice,” he announced “Ladies and Gents, in the crowd tonight we have the one and only, my good friend, Mr. Elvis Presley, stand up and take a bow, E”

The crowd went wild. Everyone, was on their feet, applauding, and from the back of the room a chant was growing, “Elvis..Elvis..Elvis.” A shaking, teary-eyed Elvis stood as best he could and acknowledged his peers…. dead peers.

Sonny touched his arm and said, “Go on up there my son, give it all you got.”

When Elvis walked onstage, the band came over and gave him a hug. His old friend Bobby held him the longest. Elvis grabbed the microphone, turned to the band, and yelled “Viva Las Vegas in the key of G.”

Strutting, gyrating, not missing a note, the crowd dancing in the isles, and Elvis was putting on the show of his life. His heart was so full of joy that he felt it would burst; and then it did.

As he floated backward, he felt hands engulfing his body, lowering him to the stage. He was aware of people standing around him, and then he saw a beautiful bright light, and from that light emerged his parents, and were leading him through a heavenly garden to a beautiful Graceland.

The musicians, formed a circle around his body, heads bowed, quietly praying.

When Sonny came on stage, they parted, and he knelt next to Elvis’s body. With his hand on Elvis’s forehead, he said, “wake up Elvis, you’re home now.”

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.

A 70 Year Lesson


Today, September 17th, 2019 is my 70th birthday. I knew for a decade or two that it was coming but never expected it to show up so soon. It’s like an irritating distant relative that uninvitedly knocks on your door while you’re watching a good movie and now you have to entertain them, share your cheese and crackers, and miss your show. We are courteous in Texas. That’s what we do; even with birthdays, and relatives.

Birthdays, at least for me are personal, and I am often reluctant to share what I write with my followers and friends on social media. People need their privacy. Social media platforms allow and encourage you to give large pieces of yourself away to strangers. It’s too easy to write things you shouldn’t and hit the post button. It allows us all to make fools of ourselves in HD and living color. Hold my beer and watch this.

I convinced myself a few days ago to purchase a manual typewriter and spend less time on my laptop. Hemingway, Harper Lee, Capote, and Steinbeck all wrote longhand then completed their work on a typewriter. I am regressing but I feel in a good way. I am on a mission to complete numerous short stories and a children’s book before my batteries run down. Time is of the essence.

Ken Burns is the best documentary filmmaker in the business. If there is one better in some remote region of the Amazon or the mountains of Tibet, let them come forth. His latest effort on country music is a masterpiece in American history and the way our nation evolved to what we are today.

I love country music. I bleed three chords and a yodel. The old callouses on my fingers remind me that I am a musician and will be until the end. It’s my legacy and I fiercely protect my inherited history.

I grew up the son of a western swing fiddle player in Fort Worth Texas and watching the documentary film and seeing the faces of the people I knew as a child, renews my pride in what I was a part of.

Musicians playing instruments in our home was part of our everyday life. The guitars, fiddles, and banjos warmed the cold walls in the winter and floated on the summer breeze through our open windows to the delight of our neighborhood. I was a child in a crib, absorbing the notes. How could I not become a musician?

The men I knew that played their instruments and sang their songs are gone from this life and have been for some time. I watched them grow old and struggle to play until they couldn’t and graciously accepted their fate

I grew old with them. I walked and carried some of them to their final rest. I am humbled to have been part of their journey. It never occurred to me until decades later, that their journey was also mine. It was much more than classroom learning; it was life lessons. I am a better man because of my father and his country musician friends. The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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