Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from The Great State Of Texas

Archive for the tag “Texas Music”

When the Band Plays the Last Song


Two weeks ago, John Payne, my friend of twenty years, and fellow bandmate was laid to rest. The last song was played, Happy Trails closed the show and JP has left the building.

Our story started two decades back when my old friend Danny Goode, and former bandmate from the 60s, called me after a thirty-year gap and wanted to have lunch.

The next day, over Whataburger’s, he asked me if I would be interested in playing with a rock band that he and two other friends had put together. I said I might be interested, but I didn’t own an electric guitar, an amp, a strap, or even a guitar pick and had not touched an instrument since 1990. He made a call on his cell, and after a brief muffled conversation, he told me everything was arranged. We were to meet at Jordan’s house on Saturday.

That Saturday, I met John Payne, lead guitar, and Jordan Welch, percussionist. John apologized for not having much time to put together the loaner equipment, and he hoped it would be alright. In my spot was a vintage Fender Twin Reverb amplifier with guitar picks and a cold beer sitting on top. The loaner guitar was a 1960s Gibson Les Paul. I told John that I think this gear would be more than adequate. I knew then, that John probably had more vintage gear than Guitar Center.

We played half a dozen songs, and I knew this grouping of four had something special. We all had been playing for decades and the musicianship was there. What was surprising, is our three-part harmonies. We sounded like the Ethel Murman Tabernacle Choir; it was borderline scary. We took a break and consumed a cold one to calm ourselves. We all sat in Jordan’s den, grinning like a Raccoon caught in a trash can.

The three amigos asked if I was in? Well hell yeah! I was then told there was a gig in North Richland Hills on Saturday night; be there at 7 sharp to set up. John said It was sort of a supper club and bar situation. And away we go.

Arriving at the “supper club,” I noticed the sign on the building read “Tuckers Catfish CafĂ©.” Okay, so it’s a seafood restaurant. After parking in the back, I give the secret squirrel knock on the rear door. A series of four or five deadbolts unlock the door parts, and I see Johns’ face peering through the door crack. He asked if I paid that guy holding the paper bag a few bucks to guard my car; if I didn’t, it would be wise to do so. So I did. The paper bag held a 40 oz Miller, and I paid the nice fellow five bucks.

It took a few minutes for my eyesight to adjust to the darkened conditions of the room, but I made out the obligatory small stage in the corner stacked with equipment, the wood parquet dance floor, a trash can full of dancing sawdust, a ceiling-mounted disco ball, shuffleboard, numerous vintage neon beer signs, and a cardboard streamer reading Happy New Year 1965. The place was also one living, breathing ashtray.

John comes over and says, ” well, what do you think of the place?” I should have been more diplomatic, but I blurted out, ” John, this place ain’t no supper club, it’s a beer-joint.”

John is smiling ear to ear, ” yeah, I know, ain’t it cool.” In a way, yes, it was cool. I hadn’t played in a beer joint in decades, so this would be my homecoming of sorts. John clearly dug the place to his bones.

The gig went much better than we expected, and the next few weeks were spent kicking around a name for this outfit. Finally, Jordan comes up with ‘The American Classics Band,’ taken from the brand of drumsticks he uses. Sounds good, everyone’s happy, and we become an official band.

That night, I had no idea what my time with these three amigos would bring, but I was up for the ride; and man was it a ride.

John requested that I call him JP. I did, and we eventually became good friends. He and I loved country and bluegrass music. Not the new stuff, but the classic 40s and 50s songs. We knew many of the same country pickers, and he was a fiddle player, like my father was, so the two of us had things in common, which carried over into the band’s dynamics.

We practiced every Thursday night for ten years, and became such a tight band that we read each others minds like little Yoda. There was not a song we couldn’t play or put our spin on.

Eventually, the practices became more about friendship and less about the playing. Sure, the music was always there, the bonding agent that kept us together, but many nights, there was more fellowship than picking. A bit of beer and some bourbon always appeared from a paper bag.

We helped each other through hardships; the death of a spouse, the death’s of two sons and other problems that happen in families, but the music and the friendships were always there, always strong and enduring.

Twenty years fly by, and Danny, Jordan and myself find ourselves without our friend John, and we know there will be no more music for us. It’s not in our bones, and somehow it wouldn’t seem right without John. We are old men now, all of us in our 70s, but we well remember when this ride for the four of us started, and how it has effected, and shaped our lives.

Play on JP, play on.

The Father of the Austin Music Scene


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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