Part four of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 18 drives featured in Texas Monthly magazine’s Drive issue, June 2012.
Clovis may be across the line in New Mexico but for all practical purposes it could just as well be the other side of Lubbock or Amarillo. It’s a classic western city, defined by railroad lines but laid out for automobiles. The boulevards are spacious and wide, ideal for cruising.
Clovis native Norman Petty started building his recording studio in 1948 in order to record his own mellow music group, the Norman Petty Trio, featuring his wife Vi on vocals. But when Buddy Holly and the Crickets showed up in 1958, Vi and Norm’s own recording dreams took a back seat to the hot rock and roll band from Lubbock. Soon, Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids (“Party Doll”), the Fireballs (“Bottle of Wine”, “Sugar Shack”), the Stringalongs (“Wheels”), Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings (“An Empty Cup and a Broken Date”, “Tryin’ To Get to You”, “Ooby Dooby”), and the Nighthawks (“When Sin Stops”), and Waylon Jennings (“Jole Blon”) joined the Crickets in making the pilgrimage to Clovis. where 12 Top Ten hits were recorded in 15 months.
The sound he created is associated with West Texas rock and roll, wide open, with plenty of space, drenched in echo – part and parcel of the Petty touch.
Since Petty’s death in 1988, the studio has been frozen in time.
The original chair in the control room is perfectly sited between the original Lansing/Altec speakers, which Petty suspended from the ceiling as he did the air-suspended equalizer, all the better to hear “Peggy Sue” and other hit records recorded in the studio. Ken Broad attributes the success of the room to its design (“No flat walls in the studio. They’re cylindrical.”) and to Petty’s perfect pitch.
Shirley Broad plays the celeste keyboard that provided the hook to Holly’s “Every Day” on request and Dean will fire up the Solavox organ that Petty added to “Sugar Shack” after the Fireballs left the studio. If you’re lucky, David Bigham will come along – he’s one of the Roses singing group that backed up the rock and rollers on their recordings after Bigham came to Clovis as one of the Teen Kings, Roy Orbison’s band, after Roy, dissatisfied with his first recordings made at Sun Studios in Memphis, sought out Petty. Petty liked the Roses backing vocals and recruited them to come to Clovis and record for him.
The apartment in the back of the studio was built by Petty for the Crickets, so they could stay and record as long as they wanted. The living area features some innovative designs (eg. a bookshelf built into the fireplace) and zoomy features that capture the essence of 50s moderne.
There’s even an early microwave Petty bought for the apartment. Between the recording studio, the apartment and the home he designed for Vi and him, it’s obvious this eastern New Mexico native was some kind of visionary.
1313 West 7th, to book a tour, contact Ken Broad 575 760 2157/356 6422 Donations requested. I dropped a twenty.
FOXY DRIVE-IN, six blocks from the Petty studio, is a classic 50s establishment with curb service where Holly and his band used to order taquitas, rolled and fried little flautas, now 85 cents each, whenever they were recording. Burgers are pretty great too, with curb service, natch.
720 West 7th @ Thornton, 575 763-7995
NORMAN AND VI PETTY ROCK & ROLL MUSEUM takes the macro view of Norman Petty’s influence on West Texas music in a soda shop/jukebox kind of setting in the basement of the chamber of commerce building. The nine foot Stratocaster and the half circle of piano keys out front mark the spot. Norm and Vi’s private life, Norman’s recording technique (his original mixing board is here), his relationship with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the other bands that flocked to the studio for the magic sound are all showcased, with great photographs of the lesser-known acts. 105 East Grand @ Main Street, 800 261 7656 Hours: 8-noon, 1-5 weekdays, weekends by appointment only. Pettymuseum.org $5 admission
The sound that came out of the Biggest Little Music City in the Whole World is celebrated at the Clovis Music Festival the first weekend of every September
Part five of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 18 drives featured in Texas Monthly’s Drive issue, June 2012
Driving highway 84 from Clovis, thoughts turned to the Crickets’ old game of Beat the Clock – pounding the hundred miles of two-lane blacktop from Lubbock to Clovis in less than hour, so they could arrive before they left, courtesy of changing time zones from Central to Mountain. For the life of me, I can’t imagine anyone pulling it off, especially making it through Muleshoe unscathed. In case local teenagers still try this trick, I was glad the highway was four-lane mostly-divided highway now. This stretch is mostly irrigated farmland – cotton and soybeans, mostly – evidenced by the giant sprinkler systems that bring water from the Ogallala Aquifer deep below the ground to feed the crops, with grain elevators, water towers, and stadium lights rising from the flat horizon.
Then there’s the billboard, bigger than life. The next town may look like all the other towns from the road, but the large sign suggests different – Littlefield is hometown of Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly protege, Nashville Rebel, Willie Nelson partner, Country music outlaw, the baddest of the badasses.
How can one not turn and follow directions to Waylon Jennings Boulevard, leading to one of the coolest, most unusual music museums in the world?
Waymore’s was James Jennings’ Exxon service station for “30 some odd years” before he switched from gas to booze in 2008 and started adding display cases of Waylon memorabilia. W’s first guitar, letters to his family, and the handwritten backstage pass for his mother and father would have been the highlights if James hadn’t shown up. The engaging, self-deprecating “ol’ redneck” is without a doubt one of his big brother’s most entertaining boosters and a joy to hang around. He fills in the blanks when there’s questions about young Waylon and tells pretty good stories about all the folks who’ve dropped by.
Donations accepted and recommended.
E. Waylon Jennings Blvd (FM 54) @ Hall Ave., 806 385 5561, 385 0054
Open 10-9 Mon-Sat. Donations accepted
Farther south on Hall Street is the municipal Waylon Jennings RV Park. Parking and camping are complimentary.
Part Three of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 18 drives in Texas Monthly’s Drive issue, June, 2012
CANYON is the gateway to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas’s Grand Canyon, and the home of Texas’s Smithsonian, the Pahandle-Plains Museum, which tells the stories of the people of the Panhandle, the Great Plains, and far North and near West Texas. It’s a beautiful building loaded with outstanding artifacts and recreations of dugout, Indian communities, and old western towns. One of my favorite artifacts is a painting by Georgia O’Keefe when she was a teacher at West Texas State Normal College in Canyon, now known as West Texas A&M. It illustrates that this part of Texas, not New Mexico, was where O’Keefe first fell under the influence of bright natural light.
PPM is an easy place for a curious mind to get lost in.
Unfortunately, for being such a great repository, PPM does not have a permanent music exhibit (then again, in Amarillo, just up the Interstate, there is no absolutely no formal recognition of local hero Eck Robertson, who is credited with making the very first country music record with Henry Gilliland when the Victor company released two sides they recorded, “Sallie Goodin” and “Arkansas Traveler,” in 1922).
What the PPM does have is an extensive archive including music artifacts. If a visitor plans ahead to make an appointment with archivist Warren Sticker, you can go into the stacks and see up close and personal one of Bob Wills’ fiddles (the best they’ve got in Turkey is a fiddle that belonged to Bob’s father), as well as the acoustic guitar belonging to Buddy Knox from Happy, the band leader of the Rhythm Orchids, the West Texas rock and roll and rockabilly band second only to Buddy Holly’s Crickets, famous for their big hits “Party Doll” as well as “Hula Love,” “Rock Your Baby to Sleep,” and “Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself.”
PANHANDLE- PLAINS HISTORICAL MUSUEM
CANYON Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, 2503 4th Avenue, Canyon
Admission $10 for adults, 9am – 6pm Mon-Sat during summer months
To see Bob Wills’ fiddle and Buddy Knox’s guitar, contact archivist Warren Sticker to set up an appointment. 806 651-2254, firstname.lastname@example.org There is an additional $5 charge to access the research center
The first stop of my West Texas Music drive, as seen in the June issue of Texas Monthly magazine (texasmonthly.com) was Turkey, Texas, home of the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills
Here’s the lowdown on all things Wills in Turkey:
Last April was the 41st year of Bob Wills Day, which draws some folks more than two weeks before the actual event for jam sessions. The Hotel Turkey is reserved exclusively for Texas Playboys on that weekend, according to Lorene Setliff who was manning the counter in the museum on my visit. “They come from everywhere. This morning we had people from Canada and from Delaware. They just want to enjoy the music and see how Bob lived.”
Jim Rob Wills lived poor on the 600 acre cotton farm north of town between the Big Red and Little Red rivers. He lived rich once he made it in music. He honed his people skills cutting hair and chatting up customers at Hamm’s Barber Shop.
Among the artifacts are Ann Richards’ letter recognized the Bob Wills postage stamp, a sheet of Bob Wills Texas lottery tickets, a copy of Dwight Adair’s “Faded Love: The Life and Times of Bob Wills, photos of Bob at home in Abilene in 1957 with his kids and at Wills Point in Sacramento, California where he spent the late 1940s, a fiddle that belonged to Bob’s father, and a shaving brush and scissors from Ham’s Barger Shop where Jim Rob honed his people skills, and a framed Playboy Flour sack from Red Star Milling in Wichita, Kansas.
An enlarged photo of the Texas Playboys standing at attention in front of their bus, with Bob astride a horse on one side, takes up an entire wall. Koozies, notepads, ball caps, bumper stickers, CDs and books by Townsend, Rosetta Wills, and Al Stricklin, the Playboys’ longest-serving pianist, are among the gifts for sale.
602 Lyles, 806 423 1253, 806 423-1033. 8-noon, 1-5 pm weekdays only, or by special appointment. Donations accepted.
The Gem Theater hosts the First Saturday Jamboree on the first Saturday night of every month. 217 Main St., contact Marie Cruse of Turkey Heritage Foundation 806 423-1420.
The whole town comes alive for Bob Wills Day, the last Saturday in April
For more information: www.turkeytexas.net
from the April 18, 2011 edition of the Dallas Morning News
Bid to honor Western swing music hits sour note in Texas Legislature Does Western swing icon Bob Wills’ work represent Texas music better than Van Cliburn’s? Or Roy Orbison’s? Or Brave Combo’s? Or Johnny Winter’s? Or…?
By KAREN BROOKS Austin Bureau email@example.com
AUSTIN — An effort to make Western swing the official music of Texas could see miles and miles of opposition, as one Hill Country music lover finds herself in the opening stanzas of a debate over what defines “Texas music.” “When we’re talking about a symbol, we’re talking about culture and heritage and history, and something that has been long lasting,” said Paula Jungmann, a Boerne housewife who is pushing for the legislative declaration. “When I look at Western swing, that is what I see.” But while she counts no time in politics, Jungmann is discovering that elected officials and creative artist types are pages torn from the same songbook in two big ways: You never know what they’re going to do, and you’ll never get them all to agree on anything. Some musicians — and the “Beer-drinkers and Hell-raisers” who love them (thank you, ZZ Top) — are wondering whether lawmakers should be trying to define and symbolize Texas music in terms of one genre. Particularly if it leaves out Hank Williams’ pain songs, Newbury’s train songs and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” “The official sound of Texas should be Texas music in all its glorious facets,” said Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski. “No official proclamation is necessary when everybody knows we make music better than anybody else.”