Lubbock, Texas, Buddy Holly’s hometown

Last part of the stories behind the story of my West Texas Music drive, one of 16 drives featured in the June 2012 Texas Monthly Drive issue.

June 2012 issue

Today, we conclude where it all started, at least for the teenagers known as Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

The Hub City is the largest city in all the Great Plains, and home to Texas Tech University. But for all its assets, the city’s contribution to rock and roll is the one that continues to resonate around the world, even if some of the locals are still uncomfortable with the social implications the music wrought.

THE BUDDY HOLLY CENTER is Lubbock’s all-purpose museum with art exhibitions and traveling exhibits, and music on the patio during summer months. The main attraction, of course, is Buddy Holly, whose life is celebrated in the Buddy Holly Gallery, a permanent exhibit at the center with a $5 admission fee.

Showcases are devoted to Buddy’s childhood with his leatherwork, Cub Scout uniform, and drawings of cowboys and horses, and self-portrait in pencil, and his personal record collection, which includes The Midnighters’ “Sexy Ways” and Larry Williams’ “Slow Down;” his early influences; his rapid rise; Petty’s studio; and to the Crickets.

The Gallery features the writing of Robert Palmer from the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, a music timeline from 1929 to 1959, and a touch screen It’s So Easy trivia quiz prepared by the late Bill Griggs, the World’s #1 Buddy fan. It isn’t as easy as Griggs would have you believe.
Sample question: Buddy had a pet cat named Booker T and a pet dog named
a) Charcoal
b) Reddy Teddy
c) Alonzo, the correct answer

As Holly’s renown grew, his glasses got bigger, although the pair he died with, which are on display, were classic black horn-rimmed frames.

There’s a 15 minute film where Paul McCartney makes clear the Beatles’ biggest influence were the Crickets, Keith Richard discusses the Holly sound, Don McLean discusses “American Pie,” his song about the plane crash that killed Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper, J.I. Allison demonstrates rhythm, and Vi Petty plays Celeste. Gallery admission: $5

An adjacent room with no admission fee is the West Texas Hall of Fame loaded with great casual photos of Holly and Jennings, along with a special shoutout to Bill Griggs, the world’s #1 Holly fan who spent the last years of his life in Lubbock by choice. The Ivy West Texas Music Map illustrated by John Chinn in the center’s hallway shows all the talent who came out of the region. 1801 Crickets Avenue @ 19 th St., 806 767-2686, buddyhollycenter.org

Directly across from the center is the West Texas Walk of Fame, honoring entertainment celebrities from the region (hey, y’all, where’s Natalie Maines?) whose centerpiece is a life-sized statue of Buddy Holly brandishing a guitar.

THE CACTUS THEATER, a block from the Buddy Holly Center, is Don Caldwell’s musical labor of love and the linchpin of the Depot Entertainment District. The Cactus presents live music and musical performances most weekends and many weeknights. The Buddy Holly Story musical has enjoyed several extended runs in this lovingly restored 30s vintage venue.
1812 Buddy Holly Ave. @ 19th, 806 762 3233 cactustheater.com

KDAV AM 1590, one of the coolest oldies radio stations anywhere, welcomes visitors to step inside the radio station and see the disc jockeys in action up close and personal. The station bills itself as the Buddy Holly station, and I gotta say, there’s something about hearing “That’ll Be the Day” crackling over the AM radio while cruising Lubbock’s wide streets that make everything seem right in the world.
1714 Buddy Holly Ave., 806 744 5859 kdav.org/kdav

LUBBOCK HIGH SCHOOL is Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ alma mater as well as the most significant architectural structure in the city. The red-tile roofed, sand brick high school is between downtown and the Tech campus on
2004 West 19th @ Avenue D, 806 766 1444. Call the administration office in advance to request a hall pass to view the Buddy Holly showcase in the hallway

STUBB’S BARBECUE is where folks like Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Terry Allen and the rest of the Lubbock mob played back in the 1970s before all of them, Stubbs included, moved away. The Stubbs barbecue sauce legend started here as did some storied events such as Jesse Taylor’s Sunday Night Jam and the night when Tom T. Hall played pool with Joe Ely using an onion as the cue ball. Underneath the statue of Stubbs in overalls holding a heaping plate of ribs is a small plaque that reads “There will be no bad talk or loud talk in this place” – Mr. Stubblefield’s mantra that was written on his menus and posted throughout his joint. Having enjoyed the establishment in its heyday, it’s startling to see how small the building footprint is today. 108 E. Broadway http://stubbsbbq.com/started.php

Continue on East Broadway to MLK, turn right and continue to Teak and follow the signs to the Lubbock cemetery and the final resting place of Buddy Holly. The simple gravesite is plainly marked. Tradition mandates you leave a guitar pick on the flat headstone. The earth from which Holly sprang from and to which he returned may look hard and desolate, but it’s fertile soil for music makers who sound like Texas.

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Norman Petty Recording Studios, Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum, Clovis, New Mexico

Norm at work
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.
http://www.superoldies.com/pettystudios/pettytour.html

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

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Waymore’s Museum and Drive-Thru Liquor, Littlefield, Texas

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.

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Panhandle-Plains Museum, Canyon, Texas

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
806-651-2244 panhandleplains.org.
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, wstricker@pphm.wtamu.edu There is an additional $5 charge to access the research center

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Woody Folk Music Center and This Land is Your Land Fence, Pampa, Texas

Part two of the story behind the story of my West Texas Music drive for the June issue of Texas Monthly magazine


Woody Guthrie, America’s greatest folksinger may have come from Okemah, Oklahoma, but he came of age in Pampa. Here’s what I found, starting with the Woody in Pampa website :

THE WOODY GUTHRIE FOLK MUSIC CENTER is the old Hall Drug Store on Pampa’s red brick old main street, where Woody worked from 1930-1935 and learned to play guitar, combined with the barber shop next door. Woody’s father ran a “cot house” across the street for oil field workers who flooded the town in the early 30s, which may or may not have included a bordello in the back.

The folk center is the vision of local historian and author Thelma Bray, whose two biographies of Guthrie are on sale at the center; the second, revised edition was published after Pete Seeger consulted Bray.

While the center is packed with photographs, newspaper articles, and copies of letters Woody and others wrote (did you know his song “Up from Boston” is the Boston Red Sox theme?), the center’s greatest artifact is “the building itself,” says Mike Sinks, one of the center’s supporters, who showed me around. “It’s where Woody Guthrie learned to play music.”
He also formed his first ensemble, the Corn Cob Trio, in 1934.

Sinks tells good stories about Woody, how he was known around town for spending so much time in the library reading books, and how his political leanings still divide the town – an attempt to name a street after him failed in the mid 90s when a Pampa official protested that Guthrie was a “communist” and naming a street after him would give the town a bad reputation. [Pampa officials today could do worse than talk to their peers in Okemah and find out what they’re missing.

Taking cues from Woody, live music is the main feature of the center: acoustic jams on the first Friday night of every month, electric jams on the third Friday, and informal pickings any old time.

The tracks where Guthrie first started hopping freights to California are a block north.

320 South Cuyler, www.woodyguthriepampatx.com The office is open 1-4 Fridays, but if you’d like to look around the folk center any other time, call or email Mike Sinks (806-664-0824; sinks2011@hotmail.com), or one of the other center board members found on the website and open the building for you and show you around. Donations appreciated.

Arlo Guthrie played Pampa on behalf of the folk music center back in March, a few weeks after Jimmy LaFave stopped in coming back from a Colorado gig, which was front page news in Pampa.

Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday will be celebrated at the center on July 25 and nationally on July 14, his actual birthdate.
All pickers are welcome, in the spirit of Woody.

THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND MUSIC NOTE FENCE in East Coronado Park on the south side of the AmericInn motel, 1101 North Hobart, (US 70 North), was created by welder Rusty Neef. Pampa city fathers balked at naming a street after Guthrie in 1995. “They didn’t want to name a street after a communist,” Mike Sink said. Nothing was said of Guthrie’s three tours of duty for the US military.

For general Pampa information go here cityofpampa.org

Good listening: The Saturday morning Western Swing and Other Things radio show hosted by Dodge City, KS Marshal Allen Bailey and his sidekick Cowgirl Jane, heard on High Plains Radio public radio affiliates throughout the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, and Kansas every Saturday

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Turkey, Texas Home of Bob Wills

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

base of the statue

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

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Could Texas Go It Alone? from NPR’s All Things Considered

National Public Radio correspondent John Burnett did a piece on Friday pondering What If Texas Seceded from the United States?

I was one of those playing along. Adelante Los Vaqueros!

Lone Star State Of Mind: Could Texas Go It Alone?

by John Burnett
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All Things Considered
[8 min 54 sec]

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Lone Star Nation: Today, the Texas capitol flies both the American and Texas flags, but after independence the Lone Star flag would fly on its own.
Steve Dunwell/Getty Images

Lone Star Nation: Today, the Texas capitol flies both the American and Texas flags, but after independence the Lone Star flag would fly on its own.
text size A A A
March 30, 2012

It’s a popular idea in Texas that the Lone Star State — once an independent republic — could break away and go it alone. A few years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry hinted that if Washington didn’t stop meddling in his state, independence might be an option. In his brief run for the White House, he insisted that nearly anything the feds do, the states — and Texas in particular — could do better.

So we’re putting Perry’s suggestions to the test — NPR is liberating Texas. We asked scholars, business leaders, diplomats, journalists and regular folk to help us imagine an independent Texas based on current issues before the state. (Though, to be clear, no one quoted here actually favors secession.)

We begin our exercise in Austin, capital of the new Republic of Texas, where the Independence Day party raged until dawn to the music of Austin’s own Asleep at the Wheel. Lead singer Ray Benson announced to the crowd, “We have severed the ties with the United States of America. Texas is free!” and the masses roared in response.

The former state has reinvented itself as a sort of Lone Star Singapore, with low taxes, free trade and minimal regulation. It enters the community of nations as the world’s 15th-largest economy, with vast oil and gas reserves, busy international ports, an independent power grid and a laissez-faire attitude about making money.

Texas Is ‘Open For Business’

The Texas Association of Business advertises the new nation’s economic potential with a radio ad that declares, “Texas: Now it is a whole other country — and it’s open for business … C’mon over. Be part of our vibrant free-market nation.”
Driving around Texas, it’s not uncommon to spot bumper stickers that tout the idea of an independent Longhorn nation.
Enlarge John Burnett/NPR

Driving around Texas, it’s not uncommon to spot bumper stickers that tout the idea of an independent Longhorn nation.

“What we have been able to do since we threw off the yoke of the federal government is create a country that has the assets necessary to build an incredible empire,” says Bill Hammond, the association’s president.

Imagine airports without the Transportation Security Administration; gun sales without the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; land development without the Endangered Species Act; new congressional districts without the Voting Rights Act; and a new guest-worker program without Washington gridlock over immigration reform.

Indeed, new immigration laws sailed through the Texas Congress. Immigrant workers are now legally crossing the border to frame houses, mow lawns and clean hotel rooms.

“We now have a safe and secure guest-worker program that allows immigrants to come and go as the jobs ebb and flow, and fill the jobs that Texans are unwilling to do,” Hammond says.

The new normal is a leaner government that bears little resemblance to the full-service nation it left behind. The Tea Party faithful who embraced nationhood early on say it’s a lot better than being beholden to Chinese bankers.

“What is the Republic of Texas charged with actually doing? [It’s] charged with defense, charged with education, charged with a few things that you have to do, and the rest is wide open,” says Felicia Cravens, a high school drama teacher active in the Houston Tea Party movement. “Liberty may look like chaos, but to us it’s a lot of choices.”

Under statehood, the U.S. government contributed 60 percent of all Texas aid to the poor. In an independent republic, federal benefits like food stamps, free school lunches and unemployment compensation would disappear, according to two Dallas Tea Party leaders.

Liberty may look like chaos, but to us it’s a lot of choices.

– Felicia Cravens, Texas high school teacher

“The nation of Texas is a living experiment into what we call the empowerment society. It is no longer a caretaker society,” says Ken Emanuelson, founder of the Grassroots Texans Network.

Texas Tea Party member Katrina Pierson adds, “There’s a safety net that’s always been out there. We don’t have that anymore. You will be a productive member of society and our environment doesn’t allow for people to not be productive.”

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson imagines that low-wage Texas would become a new magnet for assembly plants that might have considered setting up shop in Mexico or Malaysia.

“Since Texas has become independent, we are surprised — and some are pleased — to see that maquiladora [or foreign-owned] plants are springing up on the south side of the Red River and on the Sabine [River],” Jillson says. “The American South is complaining because some plants are moving to Texas.”

With independence, the epic battles between the state of Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency would finally be over. The state sued the EPA repeatedly for telling Texas how to run its refineries and coal-fired power plants. Business experts say the new republic would rely on voluntary pollution controls with minimal oversight — a boon to the industrial sector. But how would that go over with residents of refinery towns who have to breathe the air where they live?

“I am very, very skeptical that the nation of Texas will do a good job at protecting the health and safety of the people, because the EPA is no longer in the equation,” says Hilton Kelley, founder and director of the Community Empowerment and Development Association in Port Arthur. “It’s all about petroleum; it’s all about money.”

‘Peeling Back The Onion’ Of Texan Independence

As an independent country, Texas’s red granite capitol building would no longer fly the American flag, only the Lone Star. The new nationalism that breaks out inside the new government would soon be tempered by an independence hangover.

“Every day we’re peeling back the onion and finding another level of complexity that I don’t think anybody initially anticipated,” says Harvey Kronberg, longtime editor and publisher of the Texas political newsletter Quorum Report.

According to Kronberg, a modern sovereign nation requires more — not less — government than a state would. Consider all the new departments it would need to monitor things like foreign affairs, aviation and nuclear regulation. And then there are all the expenses Washington used to take care of — things like maintaining interstate highways, inspecting meat and checking passports.

“Reality is beginning to stagger the folks in the [capitol] building,” Kronberg says.

Public education is a good example. In 2011, the Texas state Legislature slashed billions of dollars from school systems at a time when Texas was already 43rd among the states in per pupil spending and dead last in the number of adults who completed high school.

Steve Murdock, the former Texas state demographer and current director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, expects that things would not improve under the budget of a struggling infant nation.

“For Texas to be the competitive nation that we would all wish it would be, it has to make major improvements in education,” Murdock says, “because right now it’s falling short.”

Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski sits on a bench in downtown Austin, ruminating on the hassles of self-rule.

“You can’t get in the car and go to New Orleans [and] be there in six hours anymore,” he says. “Listen, have you been to the Louisiana checkpoint in Vinton? They’re extracting some kind of revenge, the way they treat us as Third World citizens.”

Patoski imagines losing a number of friends to the post-secession “Texodus,” when U.S. citizens fled Texas for the Upper 48 states. He says he’s rooting for the republic, but he’s anxious for its future.
Today, all that marks the state line between Texas and Louisiana are welcome signs. After independence, those signs would most likely be replaced with the customs and immigration checkpoints that come with any border crossings.
Enlarge Getty Images

Today, all that marks the state line between Texas and Louisiana are welcome signs. After independence, those signs would most likely be replaced with the customs and immigration checkpoints that come with any border crossings.

“I’m still proud to be a Texan,” he says, “but I wish they would’ve thought this through before they jumped and cut the cord.”

Step 1: Don’t Go To War With Oklahoma

During the state’s first run as a republic, from 1836 to 1845, Texas established diplomatic relations with England, France, the Netherlands and the United States. Today, the modern nation of Texas would find even more countries eager to build embassies in Austin, says Carne Ross of Independent Diplomat, a New York firm that advises fledgling nations.

“Because of Texas’ wealth — [it’s the] 15th-largest economy in the world — [foreign nations] do not want to have bad relations with Texas,” Ross says. “There are many countries, China for instance, that want to preserve their ability to access countries with major oil and gas reserves, so Texas fit into that.”

Unlike the first republic, a modern nation of Texas needs to have positions on things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“But what was interesting was that Texas’ positions were often quite different from the remaining United States,” Ross says.

What would Texas’s foreign policy entail? Country singer and humorist Kinky Friedman imagines what he would do as the Texas secretary of foreign affairs.

“I think the first thing we would do is go to the Third World countries and teach the women how to grow big hair and give the men Rick Perry wigs,” he says. “I will keep us out of war with Oklahoma. And one of the first countries we’ll open free trade with is Cuba. We will be opening cigar stores all over Texas. We’re not supporting their economy; we’re burning their fields.”

From Texas To La Republica De Tejas

Texas might see itself as culturally akin to its former fatherland, but as time goes on, the nation’s destiny would be determined by its genetic ties to the south. If current demographic growth continues, Texas will become majority Hispanic within a generation. The prospect of Texas as the newest Latin American nation amuses Austin cultural marketing consultant Mando Rayo.

“Texas becomes La Republica de Tejas,” Rayo says. “The panhandle city of Amarillo becomes Amarillo, and our national pride, the Dallas Vaqueros, win the Super Bowl.”

But would the U.S. let Texas go or would there be a constitutional standoff and opposition from the remaining united states? University of Texas, Austin, presidential scholar H.W. Brands doesn’t anticipate a painful separation.

“The Texans were all set for a fight,” he says. “I don’t know, maybe they were a little bit surprised — maybe they were miffed — that much of the rest of the country said, ‘Well we’ve had enough of the Texans, let ’em go. We’ll be better off without ’em.’ ”

The premise of an independent Texas isn’t actually all that popular in the Lone Star State. Last year, Public Policy Polling asked Texans if they favored secession, and fewer than 1 in 5 were for it. As for the 18 percent that said yes — they can just consider our simulation food for thought.

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Pleasures of the High Rhine: A Texas Singer in Exile book review

Richard Dobson is a Texas singer-songwriter from Tyler and former roughneck who gamboled around Galveston and Houston, then Austin and Nashville, before spending the past 13 years living in Switzerland and playing all over Europe. That’s the shorthand. The long version is this fine piece of contemporary literature, Pleasures of the High Rhine – A Texas Singer in Exile.

I’ve known Richard since the 1970s when he was hanging around Austin and sometimes touring as part of Townes Van Zandt’s band, as told in his previous book Gulf Coast Boys, and have stayed in touch over the years by reading his eloquent observations in his occasional Don Ricardo’s Life and Times newsletter.

He’s enjoyed nominal success, his songs having been covered by Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Kelly Willis, Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds, and the Carter Family, among others. As solid as his tunes are, it’s Dobson’s literary writing that grabs me.

Pleasures of the High Rhine was written at a critical time in Dobson’s life: his friends Townes and the writer Roxy Gordon have died fairly young, leaving him to contemplate their lives and demise. A red-haired Swiss woman has left her family and joined him in Galveston for a year before returning to Switzerland as a couple. A new millennium has begun.

Pleasures of the High Rhine covers songwriting, collaborating, performing and recording with a German band led by Thomm Jutz (now a Nashville cat), the strangeness of playing venues that ostensibly showcase American country music, and observations thereof, a critical skill for any songwriter.

But it’s also about living as an expatriate in a foreign country, redefining what home is, learning to speak German, being welcomed into a new family, living on the Swiss-German border, food, drink, his relationship with Edith, trips back to Houston and Nashville, gardening (including growing his own marijuana in a society that doesn’t much care one way or another) aging, and, water.

The latter is where Dobson really sings. He opens with a passage about fishing in the Gulf off of Galveston, down to describing the second and third sandbars offshore and the joys of “green water” fishing in the fall when the Gulf clarifies briefly into Caribbean-like beauty. Finding beauty in its harsh roughness, he writes the Texas Gulf like no one I’ve read before.

He soon finds himself on the Rhine River and delves into it with similar zeal and a newfound curiosity.

His pursuit of a fishing license – no easy thing in Switzerland, requiring an extensive 140 question test in Deutsch – a steep learning curve how to fish the Rhein, especially for elusive trout, and his summer swims in the river lead to deep history of the river and its inhabitants, including not so pleasant events such as Kristalnacht when synagogues were burned and Jews persecuted, and the historic fouling and restoration of the waterway.

He gets it.

Contemporary global events such as the election of George W. Bush and 9-11 are seen from a distance that lends perspective, written by a kindred spirit.

The finest singer-songwriters possess the gift where their words often transcend the music. In Pleasures of the High Rhine, Richard Dobson’s words simply sing.

Available through mytexasmusic.com

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Snake Farm’s Charms Still Casting Spells

from the Friday, July 15 southwestern edition of the New York Times via the Texas Tribune

 

Tomorrow is World Snake Day, meaning a large number of vehicles will be veering off of southbound Interstate 35 at Exit 182, between New Braunfels and San Antonio, to pay their respects at the Snake Farm.

Before there was Sea World or Six Flags Fiesta Texas, there was the Snake Farm. Since 1967, when the main highway out front was still Route 81, parents of a certain age have viewed the Snake Farm as the only truly irresistible roadside attraction on the iconic car trip to the Alamo. Inner Space Cavern, Aquarena Springs (which featured Ralph the Swimming Pig), Wonder World Cave and the Natural Bridge Caverns could all be ignored. But if there was a herp freak in the back seat, you had no choice but to pull over at the Snake Farm.

Those carloads add up — and it’s not just families. Even after four-plus decades, the Snake Farm manages to attract 400,000 visitors of all ages annually. At $9.95 per person ($6.95 for children 2 to 12), it’s a tidy little business.

In the late 1970s, the iconic New York punk rockers The Ramones stumbled upon the Snake Farm while on tour between Austin and San Antonio. The band subsequently began to wear Snake Farm T-shirts as part of their stage and offstage personae. Snake Farm shirts, replicas of those worn by the late Dee Dee Ramone, have been available online for $49.95.

Five years ago, Ray Wylie Hubbard (the singer-songwriter who performs on the other side of New Braunfels tonight at Gruene Hall) paid homage with “Snake Farm,” a song about a guy in love with a stripper who works the counter at, yes, the Snake Farm. The engaging sing-along refrain: “Snake Farm, sure sounds nasty. Snake Farm, pretty much is. Ewwwwwww.”

A persistent legend among many young Texas males is that if you asked for change for a 20 at the Snake Farm, your double sawbuck would be kept and you’d be directed to one of the trailers out back, where a lady of the night would be waiting, in the tradition of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange.

The reality is snakes, and lots of ’em. More than 200 species are on display inside a no-frills cinder-block building. Stickers on some vivariums identify the Snake Farm’s Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes. The No. 9 King Cobra and No. 2 Black Mamba appear far more threatening than No. 1, the Inland Taipan, a small, rust-colored snake.

In addition to snakes, there’s a petting zoo, outdoor cages with lemurs, hyenas, parrots, monkeys, kinkajous and peacocks, and a pond filled with crocodiles and alligators. This explains the official name, Animal World and Snake Farm, even though the souvenirs all say Snake Farm Exotic Animal Park.

For the past eight years, the staff, led by Jarrod Forthman, the director of outreach, has overseen daily animal encounters at noon and 3 p.m., offering lizard talks and bringing out a huge python for photo ops. The big ’un is the Sunday 3 p.m. Croc Feed, in which the resident family of crocodilians have their once-a-week meal of raw chicken parts.

Mr. Forthman, 30, describes the weekly feeding as the most dangerous show in the country. “I have some job security, if you know what I mean,” he said with a sly grin. Mr. Forthman added that the farm was not regulated like most zoos. “So we’re able to do things normal zoos cannot,” he said. “You can get up close and personal.”

You can also get bitten. Mr. Forthman, who has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” has 100 stitches in his right hand from one croc bite and is missing half a thumb from another.

With the recent purchase of 45 acres behind the present three-acre footprint, Mr. Forthman envisions more snakes, more animals and a drive-through safari. But it’s the old-fashioned cheesy aura and staff members’ willingness to risk digits and limbs in the name of putting on a good show that will keep drawing the crowds.

“I get no greater thrill than having to handle some of the deadliest snakes,” Mr. Forthman said. “Call me crazy, but I’m doing what I love.”

Joe Nick Patoski is a regular contributor to these pages.

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