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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

May I Have a Pecan Log Please?

Each summer, we travel to Georgia to the beach with family. Enjoying a tradition from my wife's side of the family, we are all able to leave the real world behind and take in the sun and sand.

This year and in keeping with our tradition of walking each morning, something my wife and I try to do as it provides a small break from the kids, we headed out and up the street towards the beach.

It was really early this particular morning and my wife suggested we take a walk on the beach. We hit the sand and began walking as the sun rose slowly above the ocean and the gulls swarmed looking for their breakfast.

Within the distance, I saw what looked like a man sitting in a chair with his trusty dog by his side. As we got closer, I noticed he was much older and was smoking a cigar almost down to the nub so he must have been out there for a while. I told my wife that any man who would get out on the beach this early in the morning and smoke a cigar had to be someone I should meet immediately.

We approached the man and while my wife paid attention to the dog, "Tyler, Texas" blurted out of the man's mouth and I was a little taken aback. He pointed at my shirt and I realized that I had worn a Stanley's Barbecue shirt on our walk which had Tyler, Texas on the front.

"I spent half my life in Tyler, Texas." said the old man. "You folks sure are odd about your liquor. When I was there back in the old days, you had to have a club membership for each place you wanted to get a drink. I'll bet I had a hundred memberships in my pocket at any given time."

As he pulled on the cigar, I asked, "What were you doing in Tyler?"

"I was in the construction business. I built Stuckey's up and down the interstate. Of course, that's when the interstates were all brand new so my job was to evaluate land and then build the buildings. I spent a lot of time in Tyler as it was in a good central location. And it was a nice town except the liquor thing."

In Tyler's defense, I quickly told him that we could now buy beer and wine in stores as the law just passed a few months ago. Not sure that this was much of a defense as he began to chuckle at my statement.

The wife glanced my way telling me it was time to get back to our walk. I stuck out my hand and said, "Well it was nice to meet you. My name is Edwin Holt."

"Well it was nice to meet you as well Edwin." said the old man. "My name is Bill Stuckey."

Walking away, I whispered to my wife, "No freakin' way."

This would begin the conversation down my childhood memory lane as Stuckey's was a big deal on any road trip with my mother. Pecan logs were like gold as well as all the other candy they offered.

Stuckey's began in Eastman, Georgia back in the 30's. Williamson S. Stuckey, Sr. had such a successful pecan harvest from his family's orchard that he offered a portion of his bounty for sale in a lean-to roadside shed. Florida-bound tourists traveling the two-lane Georgia 23 blacktop snapped up the flavorful pecans instantly, as gifts for friends and family and as succulent souvenirs of the agricultural south.

As the business continued to flourish, Mrs. Stuckey took to her kitchen and created a variety of homemade pecan candies. The rest, of course, is history.

In 1937, a new building went up in which candy became king. The crowning glory in a profusion of nut-based confections was the now-famous Pecan Log Roll in a size for every appetite and every budget. Restaurant service was added, other fancy foods were stocked, and a souvenir section was installed to cover every whim from rubber snakes to sea-shell ashtrays. Gasoline pumps were a logical addition - all of it tied together with the signature teal blue roof. Stuckey's had come to life, and a new era of roadside travel service was born.

Stuckey's are few and far between these days due to a corporate buy-out that happened back in the 70's. Now, with a Stuckey back at the helm and over 200 franchised locations on the interstate highways spanning 19 states from Pennsylvania to Florida in the east and to Arizona in the west, they're alive and thriving.

Peace out brothers and sisters. And remember, great brands are made from hard work and that great entrepreneurial spirit. Oh...and Pecan Logs!