Friday, June 20, 2014

Hey Dad...That would be a cool place to play.

When it comes to kids, they see everything. They approach life with eyes wide open so it was no surprise when my thirteen year old pointed out the stage at Bergfeld on our way to church. “Hey Dad…that would be a cool place to play…don’t you think?”

I’ve driven by Bergfeld a million times but have never given the stage a second glance really. So out of curiosity, I drove by on my way home one day, parked the truck and took a walk around the stage. Pleasantly surprised, our town has a really great stage and I don’t think anyone ever uses it.

Rolling the idea around in my head and then discussing it with Rose Festival folks, we
decided that a good way to celebrate the Strutters 75th anniversary would be to hold a concert at Bergfeld this year.

Now for some, you are all too aware of what a large production it is when I perform. Not that I’m a big deal, but I do have certain standards when it comes to equipment and not really knowing what the facility had to offer in the way of electrical, we contacted the city for further examination. And in doing so, we discovered that the stage at Bergfeld Park has enough power to run sound and lights for a Texas Stadium concert. And no, I’m not exaggerating as the Rolling Stones themselves could plug in and blow the water right out the seal fountain in our modest little park.

Learning this about Bergfeld, it made me realize just how many diamonds we have around here that no one really appreciates. I’ve been parked on the brick streets of College and University now for two years and every day I look around at what I believe could be the next Fort Worth. Buildings with incredible potential that are left empty and abandoned. My hats off to a couple of local guys for taking on the People’s Petroleum Building as it takes this kind of vision and attention to detail when you bring something like that to life again.

I had a conversation with a city councilman who received a call from someone who was barking at him about Tyler not having an outdoor venue for concerts. He calmly told them that we do but no one ever uses it. Forest for the trees I suppose.

So….on October 16th of this year, I’ll be bringing it like you’ve never imagined. In tow will be over a quarter of a million dollars in sound and lights which will exercise the power in Bergfeld and provide enough base to shake the leaves off the trees. Shouting from one of the prettiest parks in East Texas, I hope to showcase what no one really appreciates and open the eyes of Tyler to yet another diamond in the rough. And I hope that you will join me as we celebrate this park as well as the tireless efforts the Strutters put forth each year coordinating the Texas Rose Parade. It’s a great bunch of guys and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Oh...and did I mention it’s free?

See you in October. And yea Homer, that will be a cool place to play!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Much Will Be Demanded

With all the media rhetoric and political opposition that has literally consumed Americans concerning the Affordable Care Act, it's time to step back and take a deep breath. And once you've exhaled, let's all look at this debacle using some good old common sense.

First, I think we'll all agree that Obama is a big picture guy regardless of whether you like the pictures he's painting. I know a lot of CEOs as well as folks in general who have made a lot of money due to their abilities in seeing a bigger picture. But these folks were all in the private sector and weren't relying on government to execute on details. And because our government attempted to execute on a private sector level, we all stand witness to one of the biggest train wrecks in U.S. history.

Details. It's where the devil lives in all projects and anyone will tell you that big ideas always fall short due to the details. And one of the details that no one seems to be talking about is the market itself so I will ask you good folks to put on your marketing hats for a moment and hear me out.

The Affordable Care Act was created for people that can't afford health care. That's straight forward and from a business perspective, that's the target market. These are people who struggle to make ends meet. They live paycheck to paycheck and may or may not have enough money to pay their bills each month. This population represents 15 to 20% of America and is growing daily due to the great divide between wealth and poverty as the middle class continues to shrink.

In theory, this sounds great. We create a health care plan for the uninsured where payments are evened out in hopes of balancing prices for both healthy and unhealthy people. And without any marketing research on how this population lives or pays their bills, a web site was built with the hope that 7 million people will sign up for the plan and make it sustainable.

So let's take a look at this population and try to define them. How does this market behave that we know damn good and well wasn't ever really evaluated with any kind of research other than the fact that they don't have health care? Surely we can all agree that little if any research was executed in light of such a
disastrous roll out. What I mean is they spent a lot of time baking the cake but bought really crappy paper plates and never found out if the market had a fork to eat it with.

I'll switch hats now for some perspective. Not to go into a great amount of detail as most of you already know I played blues music in the ghettos of south Dallas for years. I've traveled with band members, slept in their houses, rehearsed in their garages and ate at their tables. These are modest and humble people that struggle on a day to day basis. Focused on their grocery bill and the rent, budgets are extremely tight. They may have a day job while the music helps subsidize additional living expenses or the wife may work full time. Visits to the doctor are only on an as needed basis. And this as needed basis had to be pretty serious as I was called on numerous times as a taxi to Parkland due to the absence of a car.

As we evaluate this market, our government has created a system that requires the following.

1. You must apply using a web site. This means you must have a computer. Ok…let's say that all of these folks I know have a computer. Not all of them do but we'll say they do so we can move on to the next step.

2. You must have a credit card to pay the average $328 bill each month. They have a computer, in our imagination, so let's say they have a credit card as well. Not one of those debit cards you purchase at the grocery store but a real personal credit card.

3. This amount must be paid every month without fail for the program to work. That means each month that the credit card must work. Not declined and not maxed out.

It would be a stretch to think that I have any idea what it's like to live month to month even though I saw it first hand. But the elephant in the room is our own government has this market all figured out. It should be obvious that everyone  owns a computer, we all have credit cards and without a doubt, won't have any trouble making payments each month. Keep in mind that the most a lot of these folks can afford for rent is around $300 per month. A family of four may live in a one bed room apartment. They have no car and ride the bus. If they do have a car, it's used and they only put five or ten dollars of gas in it at a time. They have no bank account and live on cash. They eat fast food because it's all they can afford.  

But hey…paying $328 a month on your laptop with your own personal credit card is going to be a piece of cake.

This entire effort has about as much of a chance, if I can quote Merl Haggard, as a snowball headed for hell. But before we all stomp our feet and complain about our government, we all need to take a good hard look at ourselves. If you remember anything I've ever written on these rambling blogs, remember this my friends. Our job is to take care of the folks that need to be taken care of and if we don't do it, the government will step in and do it for us. I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican, you will never convince me that the government has some duty in tending to the poor. That's your job. That's my job. That's our job.

Take heed this Christmas my brothers and sisters and remember your job. A job that was given to all who have much. I believe it was our good friend Luke who said, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Crossroads

The other weekend, I played a gig in Fort Worth and was asked a question. This is a question I'm asked a lot but the answer is so long that I never quite give it the justice it deserves.

The question is simply, "Do you perform all the time and how come I've never heard of you?" Which I guess makes two questions really.

So here is my story as best I can tell it. It's long and definitely on the edge of insanity but hopefully it will settle the curiosity surrounding my musical career.

I grew up in New London, Texas which is a small East Texas town. Population of 942 people when I left and it hasn't changed all that much.

Musically, I was just like everyone else which is why most of my childhood friends had a hard time grasping my love for blues music. I was an eighties kid. Big hair rockers like Van Halen and AC/DC filled the speakers most of the time. My exposure to real music was somewhat limited due to my location but that all changed when I went to Mississippi to attend Ole Miss.

Ole Miss is another story all in itself but the short version is I never went to class. I got caught up with a senior who owned a t-shirt business and controlled pretty much all the fraternity and sorority shirts for any and all parties. A business he left to me due to my drawing abilities after my freshman year. I waisted no time in finding another vendor out of Dallas cutting out a middle man in Oxford and was pulling in a very sizable income every month in pure cash. This amount not including my allowance so throw that much money on a 19 year old kid with a very busy social calendar and there were no boundaries. I went and did pretty much as I pleased and none of it included class which would bring me back home the end of my sophomore year.

However, during those two years and all the road trips from Memphis to New Orleans, I fell in love with the blues.

When I came home, I began to practice the harmonica. I didn't have much else to do as I was attending Kilgore Junior College attempting to get my grades into shape in hopes of alleviating any laughter from Texas Christian University as they gazed upon my transcript.

For over a year and a half, I practiced that harmonica every day with a glass of scotch. Usually around two hours of practice which would earn me a spot in a Country and Western band in Gladewater on highway 80. It was the roughest joint you could imagine with a hole above the toilet in the bathroom put there by a shot gun blast. I played every Friday and Saturday night for twenty dollars a night. The beer for band members was fifty cents a bottle so the twenty dollars turned into ten dollars by the end of each night making for some interesting driving as I made my way home down highway 42.

I was finally accepted into TCU and the weekend before Dad and I were scheduled to look for apartments, our housekeeper heard me playing harmonica on the front porch. She told me I was getting pretty good and asked if I would like to follow her to Dallas the next weekend to a real blues club. I asked Dad and since we were headed that direction anyway, it sounded like a reasonable detour to make. And so we went.

Upon arriving at the original R.L. Griffin's Blues Alley in 1989, Dad and I realized we were the only white people in the joint. Dad whispered to me as low as he could, "If you don't play your ass off, we might not make it out of here alive."

We were met with stares as we slowly moved into the club and about half way through the night, I was brought up on stage as a young man from East Texas. Unbeknownst to me at the time, R.L. was from Kilgore and he was curious to see what a young white boy from East Texas might do on stage. Since we were with my housekeeper, Louise, I decided to sing the song "Louise" originally recorded by Howlin Wolf. And when I did, the whole club came undone. It was like nothing you had ever seen before as I was suddenly the long lost white boy that everyone was related to.

During my first year at TCU, I began to visit the club more frequently and R.L. and I became very close. I was his project so he would invite me in as much as he could which would lead me into acquiring my own band in 1990. The name of the band was the Little World Show Band and featured a keyboard player, bass, guitar, drums and female vocalist by the name of Lady Princess. This jaunt would go on for three years until it was cut short by one word…marriage.

I got married the same year I graduated from college which was in 1991 and that would mean leaving the juke joints behind and becoming serious about a real job. As most of you know, I'm also a designer and went into advertising as soon as I could find something permanent.

Music would take a back seat leaving me to play when my wife went out of town or sometimes I could talk her into letting me go down in the hood if it meant playing for friends. The nights were always long and coming home at three in the morning smelling like you've been rolling around in an ashtray wasn't real conducive to the married life.

These little visits to the guetto would continue until 2000 when Johnnie Taylor passed away leaving his band leader, Jack Williams, with very little to do. My wife had gone out of town with family and I found myself down at R.L.'s once again and having played with Jack a couple of times, he told me if I ever needed a twelve piece band to give him a call. He would be more than happy to back me up.

This offer ended up at the feet of my wife and her response was that as long as I played really nice events, it would be acceptable. No more blues clubs which was fine by me as I had never played with a band this size before and the thought alone surpassed any venue that we might get a chance playing. Full horn section. Back-up singers. I had to dive into old soul music just to prepare some sort of song list.

Within one year of playing with Jack, I landed a headline spot on the Texas Blues Festival as their featured artist. From there, I began to play really big social events in Dallas for five years until a group of friends along with a label approached me about producing an album. I had never done anything like this and the mere idea was very exciting.

We would soon hit the studio producing my very first and only album which would make all kinds of noise on XM Satellite radio hitting a number one pick to click. The album was being played all over the world as I received reviews from Paris, England, Germany and Italy.

That's when I got a call from a group in Dallas that wanted me to open for Al Green. He would have to approve of me first but I was their top pick for the opening act. I couldn't believe it as Al Green was huge on my playlist. Al would approve which blessed me with one of the most memorable evenings of my life. One that I will cherish forever.

Soon after Al, I received another phone call. This time, I was asked to fly around the world to headline the 2006 Broadbeach Blues Festival in Australia. A seventeen hour flight that almost killed me but I made it standing up only to stay in Australia for three days and then come back home to a weary wife and four kids.

The weary wife and four kids was a reality that an almost 40 year old man had to come to grips with. I was torn between two worlds. One of which seemed a bit more stable but it was hard to stand at those crossroads staring at a corporate world on one side and a world of music down the other.

And so the story goes…I hung up the music and went down the corporate road. Or as corporate as I'll let myself get anyway. A father and a husband first was the path I chose which left me with no regrets and a very full cake.

And the best part is the music is still the icing every now and then.