Monday, December 27, 2010

The South Dallas Flavor

A friend of mine once told me that he liked hanging around with me because I have flavor. He was from Michigan and when he moved to Dallas, he had a hard time figuring out the lay of the land when it came to the folks. I suppose to any Northerner or Midwesterner, the south in general can be a little different. Let alone the foreign country of Texas.

Flavor was such an odd word to use I thought. But it made me reflect on some of the folks that I have enjoyed spending time with over the years.

One such individual is a man by the name of Raymond Lee Griffin. Known to the blues community as the right reverend of the blues, Mr. R.L. Griffin.

He's a club owner, a blues singer and some what of a real estate tycoon. You would never know this at first blush but he holds an MBA from the University of Hard Knocks. It's not a well known university and really doesn't have formal classes per say. However, R.L. in his own quiet and back door manner could go toe to toe with Ross Perot in any negotiating senerio.

I was once back stage with him about to go on before Johnnie Taylor. He and I were openers for the show. As we visited back stage, in walks his guitar player complaining about the sixty dollars he was getting paid for the show and how he was worth at least $200. R.L. looked him square in the eye and says, "I'm sure you're worth every penny of $200. But right now, you can make $60. I'm not talking about later. I'm talking about at this very moment, you can make $60. So if you know somewhere that you can go right now and make $200, then you should go do that. But right now, it's $60. If I were you, I would make the $60, then go somewhere else and make the $200. Then you would have $260." Not in the mood for a story problem, the guitar player would grumble out of the room. He would of course stay for his $60.

R.L. Griffin was born and raised in Kilgore, Texas. He attended C.B. Dansby High School which was the all black school before segregation.

His mother owned a barbecue stand and R.L. worked at the Roy H. Laird Country Club as a caddy while going to school.

Mr. Rufus B. Anderson, the band director, introduced him to the drums which would put him in the pocket of Big Bo Tomas in 1965. He would now be performing side by side with just about every R&B artist rolling through town.

After being on the road for so long, he came to the realization that you could make just as much money performing if you owned your own place. I think he may have underestimated his potential a bit as he's not making "just" as much money. I know the artists that are out there as well as how difficult it is to make ends meet in the blues world. At five hundred people a night paying ten dollars each to get in for eight nights a month? You do the math.

It's funny to have a conversation with R.L. about all the musicians he's known and met through the years. I've never heard the same story twice. One of my favorites is when Al Green came to town and according to Griffin, was nobody. He had no money and had to sleep on R.L.'s floor between gigs. Shortly after that, "Tired of Being Alone" would hit the air waves and go gold for Al shooting him straight up the charts.

Stories like these go on and on with Griffin. Sam Cooke, James Brown, Freddie King. They were all scratching for that money together like farmers plowing dirt for food.

In his years now, R.L. is still one of my favorite people. He is smart, funny and can still bring it on stage. He has helped feed and nurture more musicians than you can count. I suppose that he understands more than anybody what it takes to make it in this world. And he's a testament that anyone can make it if they work hard enough.

Here's to the flavor. The flavor of R.L. Griffin.

Photo above by Jeff Horton

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Ninja Like Dance Moves

When my wife and I first got married almost twenty years ago, she wanted to take ballroom dancing. Well you can just imagine my reaction as most of you know me anyway. In fact, I think I camp with most guys when I say I would rather gouge my eyeballs out with a flat head screwdriver than take ballroom dance lessons. I'm more of a free style kind of dancer with his own skilled moves that show up after a couple of stiff drinks. A real Nepolean Dynamite with cat-like reflexes and abilities.

But like most insistent wives when they really want to do something, this idea of hers wouldn't go away. And like most good husbands who just want their wives to be happy, I agreed to her wishes and prepared myself for action.

The nightmares would begin with two uncoordinated people trying their best to remember the moves that were set by the instructor. While the music played on, our feet would never fall within their assigned steps. Mine especially.

I'm not sure what my problem is but I can't remember things when it comes to set actions. I would get all flustered and then this would be followed by anger which would lead to, "What in the Sam Hill are you making me do this for?"

Or...Something like that.

Our dance lessons would last about two months at which time both of us could see that it was going no where. Like a failed marriage, her dreams of showing out on the dance floor would diminish due to the inabilities of my uncoordinated feet.

I suppose I never really appreciated the whole ballroom dancing thing. And I don't think I ever would have if not for the new reality show, Dancing With the Stars.

My wife started watching it and I kind of got into it a little. I can really respect the talent of someone being able to have an entire dance routine all figured out in their head before they ever hit the floor. Not to mention actually being able to carry out the moves gracefully and look good while doing them.

Not too long ago, I received a Youtube video from my favorite guitar player, David Brashier, featuring a movie clip from "Hellzapoppin'"  filmed in 1941. It started the wheels turning on swing dancing and where it came from as I had never seen anything like this before. Oh sure, I've seen swing dancing and jitterbugging by white people in the 50's but this was like swing dancing on steroids.

Digging a little deeper, I was surprised to learn that swing dancing was invented by the black community in the 1920's. On March 26th, 1926, the Savoy Ballroom opened in New York and was an enormous success. This dance club attracted the best dancers in the New York area as well as the best black swinging jazz bands around.

As the story goes, one evening in 1927 following Lindbergh's flight to Paris, a local dance
enthusiast by the name of "Shorty George" Snowden was hanging around watching some of the couples dance. A reporter from the news inquired as to what kind of dance they were doing out there and glancing at a headline on a newspaper that featured Lindbergh's flight, Shorty replied, the "Lindy Hop."

The "Lindy Hop" along with the "Jitterbug" which came from a song written by Cab Calloway in 1934 would become the two backbone names for swing.

As mentioned, I've been pretty impressed with the whole Dancing With the Stars show and I like watching it from time to time but this is like nothing you've ever seen before. Prepare yourself for some real heat on the dance floor.

Swing it up.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Killer in the Big House

As many concerts that I've attended over the years, the ones that made lasting impressions are a handful. In fact, some of the best musical experiences I've had weren't even concerts at all but just me being at the right place at the right time.

From a very early age, I knew I loved rhythm and blues music. I had discovered my father's 45 collection from his high-school years and that's what I listened to all the time. In fact, I didn't receive a new record until 1972 when my mother brought home "American Pie" neatly tucked in it's white sleeve protecting that brand new untarnished vinyl.

There was nothing quite like getting a brand new record. I know I sound like some old man but music is too easy to buy these days. Hopefully some of you will remember the anticipation of a new record coming out. Now it's just click and download whatever you want and as novel as that is, I think it takes the fun out of it.

Regarding one of those musical experiences that not only made an enormous impact on me but the memory will remain etched in my brain for all eternity, the year would be 1973 and I was six years of age. My mother received a phone call from her brother who was a prison guard in the Huntsville prison system. I remember seeing him at holidays from time to time as well as transporting prisoners through Kilgore while stopping to eat lunch at the Community Inn.

He called my mother to invite the entire family to see Jerry Lee Lewis perform live in an upcoming concert. And where would this concert be? Well the Huntsville prison system...of course.

I think it's safe to say that my parents might have been just a little liberal when it came to what they would expose me to. Not that Jerry Lee was questionable, although there were some that would argue that, but the idea of taking a six year old to a prison concert was a little out of the box.

So there we were. The Cleaver family showing up in one of the toughest prison systems in Texas. Surrounded by guards, we were all escorted into a large open room that had a stage. Behind me were convicts as far as the eye could see and all of them were chained leg to leg shrouded in cigarette smoke. It was a Shawshank moment for sure.

When the "Killer" walked out on stage, the whole room went into an uproar and he proceeded to tear that piano down from top to bottom. You couldn't imagine the scene if you tried and if I ever get to Heaven, I'm hoping God has it on DVD. Being a kid, you remember bits and pieces but the what pieces.

Jerry Lee hails from Ferriday, Louisiana. His parents mortgaged their farm to buy him his first piano and if you've ever seen the movie featuring Dennis Quaid, you know his influences came straight out of the juke joint across the tracks. In fact, the primary joint was called Haney's Big House. Kind of ironic that the Killer came out of the Big House...don't you think?

Here's to the Killer. Keep on thumping those keys my brother.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Perfect Margarita

Tequila. Just the word will make the biggest man in the pack coward into fetal position. It is a word that by definition deserves respect and by no means should be taken lightly.

I say this as margaritas are my favorite of all beverages. For you Yanks that read my blog, we have a phrase down here next to the border. "Frozen or on the Rocks?"

What I'm about to give you is a working recipe. It has been given to me three times over these many years and each time it has been a little different. There is a margarita scientist behind the madness and his name is J. Eric Lawrence. He has been mixing and tweaking on this beverage for the last 15 years and it is by far the best margarita I've ever had. Even if the concoction varies from time to time.

Now I will warn you. Like I said in my opening paragraph, this is not some lemonade drink. I've seen this beverage do some amazing things to some straight and narrow people. And the folks that ain't so straight and narrow? Man I'm not even going there.

 J. Eric Lawrence's Margaritas

For approximately 4 margaritas:

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (3-4 ripe limes)
2/3 cup premium tequila (Patron, Don Julio, etc.)
1/3 cup Cointreau
Splash of Agave Syrup (or simple syrup), about a teaspoon or so.
1 egg white (optional, but this is the old school way mixologists "stepped up" the feel of mixed drinks)

Pour in shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 15 seconds or so.

Pour in salted glass with ice.

Top with a heavy splash of Grand Marnier and a lime wedge.

Enjoy yourself.

Illustration above titled: Bar Shrine by Dan Witz

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You Want Hot on That?

I suppose that my culinary tastes must be written on my forehead. Either that or there are certain guys that have telepathic powers capable of detecting a brother in the bond who may have an appetite for down home cooking.

When we moved back to East Texas a few years ago, my real estate agent who also tends to indulge in the finer foods made great efforts in telling me about Pat Gee's. He kept saying, "It's your kind of place Holt. You want hot on that?" I had no idea what he was talking about.

Now it is true that I am weak when it comes to solid down home cooking. When we lived in Dallas, I would troll the ghettos in search of cafes and dives that served the food I missed so much. The food that when eaten, my father defines as a Lay Down Meal. Because when you're done, you'll damn sure want to lay down.

It wouldn't be for a few more years when one Tylerite would grace me with the venture deep in the woods of East Texas to the crossroads of culinary delight. The crossroads that held a small shack breathing smoke and about fifteen oil field trucks parked outside. Held in close confidence about like the Salesmanship Club in Dallas, I felt like I was now part of the club.

Pat Gee's has been around since the 70s and was owned and operated by it's name sake. That of course being Pat Gee.

Pat passed away in 1999 leaving his family members to take the reigns over the place. It's nothing fancy. A wood-framed building with a few tables and a separate room on the side that houses about a six foot pit that tends to fill the entire structure with smoke. The only air-conditioner in the joint is the one operated by God who from time to time will offer up a nice breeze that moves through the small holes of the screened in windows.

And the food? Well I'll make this easy for you. Order brisket, hot links and bone-in ham.
If you're brave, have him mix the ham with the brisket and chop it up. This should be placed on a piece of white bread and drenched with sauce. That being the "Hot on That" which is homemade.

And the review? I've since taken my youngest there during the Summer months when he didn't have school. A small face covered in barbecue sauce while holding  a white plastic fork in the air told me, "This is the best day I've ever had."

Take it from a six year old. You won't get a more honest opinion.

Pat Gee's is located at 17547 Jamestown Road which is off of Highway 31 between Kilgore and Tyler. If you're coming from Kilgore, it's after the Tavern. If you're coming from Tyler, it's after the Apache. It's only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until the meat runs out.

Always yours in smoke. Peace out!

Photographs taken by Guy Reynolds

Friday, October 29, 2010

Help Feed East Texas

Holt Design's Little Red Wagon program is gearing up to roll down the roads of our community in an effort to gather canned food items for the East Texas Food Bank.

Just look for the Little Red Wagon in Marvin United Methodist Church and you can help us feed someone during this holiday season.

The Little Red Wagon will be in place to collect canned food on:

November 7, 2010
November 14, 2010
November 21, 2010

All canned items of food will be taken to the East Texas Food Bank, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, that has helped to feed children, families, seniors, and others throughout 26 counties in East Texas since 1988. As a clearinghouse for donated food, its mission is to reduce hunger by providing support and education with passion and efficiency by collecting, inspecting, sorting, packaging, and distributing fresh, surplus, frozen, mislabeled, dented-can foods, and more to those in need. 

For more information on the East Texas Food Bank, 
call 903-597-3663 or toll-free 800-815-3663.  
Or visit them online at

Marvin United Methodist Church is located at 300 W. Erwin Street in Tyler, Texas.
For more information on Marvin, visit them online at

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tears in Heaven...or East Texas?

It's really tough to write about a writer. Writers as well as creative people in general want the focus of their efforts to be about the art in which they create. Their bios or life stories read more like an outline and they never pull you into their world as it's the world in which they feed upon. A world of experiences that lend themselves to lyrics, books, paintings, the mediums of expression.

A really good song writer is usually pretty quiet. They soak it in rather than spill it out if you know what I mean. Can't ever tell what's going on in their heads most of the time as they are all great listeners. Listeners of life and the experiences in which it holds.

Not too many people know that Will Jennings, one of the most successful song writers in America, came right out of Kilgore, Texas on June 24th in 1944. His family moved outside of Tyler when he was just a boy where he attended Chapel Hill Independent Schools.

In 1967, he earned his Bachelors in Art at Stephen F. Austin State University and would
begin teaching shortly after at Tyler Junior College and then on to the University of
Wisconsin_Eau Claire.

Now you should know that creative people are not like regular people. They are driven in an almost mad-like direction if they feel it will accomplish and aid in their end result. The best comparison I can give is when the folks in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" were driven to create a mountain and Richard Dreyfuss filled his entire living room with dirt. This is exactly what it's like when you have an idea buried in your head. A creative will stop at nothing until it's complete within their own vision even it it means building a mountain of dirt in their own home.

Will would have enough of teaching as the creative bug drove him straight to Nashville in 1971. I don't think Will likes to elaborate much about Nashville as you don't see it in any of the stories written about him. However, the Nashville stretch lasted three years from 1971 to 1974 and he will tell you in so many words that he almost starved to death. There is no doubt that It was an exciting time to be in Nashville during the seventies. Waylon, Willie and Kristofferson were like three crock pots boiling over with constant hits and if you were a young song writer with essentially no contacts and zero experience, it was a tough road to hoe.

Moving to Los Angeles was an even bolder move as most folks would have thrown in
the towel and gone back to teaching or whatever it was that they could fall back on. But L.A. proved to be the golden doorway to Will's success and placed him smack dab in the middle of where his talents would excel to the greatest heights.

As I mentioned above, Will's rap sheet reads like some sort of never ending outline. The amount of material he's written is almost endless so to hit the highlights, his major awards are as follows:
  1. Best Pop Vocal Performance 1993 Grammy Awards "Tears in Heaven" written by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings
  2. Academy Award (1997), Golden Globe Award (1997), Grammy Award "My Heart Will Go On" performed by Céline Dion for the motion picture Titanic.
  3. Academy Award (1983), Golden Globe Award (1983) along with Jack Nitzshe and Buffy Sainte-Marie for "Up Where We Belong" performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes from the motion picture An Officer and a Gentlemen
  4. Grammy Award (nomination) (1986) "Higher Love" performed by Steve Winwood
  5. Grammy Award to Dionne Warwich (1979) "I'll Never Love This Way Again" written by Richard Kerr and Will Jennings
  6. Academy Award (nomination) (1980) "People Alone" for the motion picture The Competition
Will lives in L.A. now but still visits his sister in Tyler when the months are cooler. Judging from his list of accomplishments as well as his age, he's what my dad refers to as playing in the fourth quarter of his life.

Although a very bright star that shot straight up above the entire world, it's important to note that the star shot right off of Highway 64.

Tears in Heaven? How about Tears in East Texas? It's the same thing really.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The East Texas Red White and Blue

For as long as I can remember, our home was always full of Rangerettes.  

Once a Rangerette herself, my mother made great efforts in always supporting and representing this Texas icon of women going so far as to establish a Rangerette scholarship fund in hopes of providing an education for those with such great talent.

During my youth, she nurtured a program called "Adopt a Rangerette" in which she would provide a home away from home for these girls who might want to escape for the weekend or just enjoy a home cooked meal. Mostly freshmen trying to carve out some time to study or just get away from the demanding sophomores, these young women would crowd our home like visiting family members on holiday.

So there it is. I'm sixteen years old, scared of girls and my house closely resembles that of a dormitory full of drill team dancers.

I was the most famous kid around and it wouldn't be too long before my friends were wanting to come by and visit. All boys of course and like me, they didn't have a whole lot of game around all those Rangerettes. We offered very little in intelligent conversation plus the fact that we all still lived with our parents, a real bonus for any college girl.

It's funny how you grow up so close to something and have very little historic appreciation for it. At that age, it's hard to appreciate anything I guess. Throw in some teenage hormones and it's a wonder how I even made it through school.

Aside from all of that, it is important to note that this is no ordinary drill team. In fact, it is and will always be the very first of it's kind representing an elite model for all drill teams to aspire to.

Unlike a lot of things grand that start out as a vision or a goal, this was not the case for the Kilgore College Rangerettes. They just sort of happened.

In 1939, Dr. B.E. Masters was having a couple of issues with Kilgore College. Enrollment for women was down and as funny as it sounds in today's world, they wanted some entertainment during football game half-times. Apparently the crowds were leaving in order to freshen up their beverages, Gregg county style.

So Masters found a young Miss Gussie Nell Davis who had started the very first high-school drill team in Greenville, Texas. Word had spread far and wide about these dynamic half time dancers known as the "Flaming Flashes" as well as the bold and no-nonsense approach that Miss Davis executed as a leader and a lady.

Hailing from Farmersville, Texas, Gussie Nell Davis was not your typical dance instructor. She was a classically trained pianist who held a Masters in Science from the University of Southern California. Given the disciplines from her classical background and the fact that it was almost impossible for a woman to get a lot of traction during the 30's, she led those young women to a level of hard nosed perfection like a drill sergeant refines a marine. Her standards were nothing less than perfection and because of this, the Rangerettes have received more honors and awards than you could count including Miss Davis being inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1965.

For seventy years, this drill team has traveled all over the world and continues to pave the road of perfection that Gussie Nell forged so long ago. A road that very few women have ever taken let alone created from scratch.

It is a road that hopefully will always be paved with perfect high-kicks as well as ingrained with the standards held by such an interesting and driven woman. A woman that paved a red, white and blue road through the heart of East Texas.

Here's to the real Red, White and Blue. My hat's off ladies.

The above image is from the cover book design of "Kilgore Rangerettes" by O. Rufus Lovett. 
The book is available for sale through the University of Texas Press.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Embracing Your Community

As most of you already know, I became a member of Facebook. I held off for as long as I could as the whole concept of it took some
getting used to. I suppose it's my age as it's sure not my understanding of technology. I've always tried to keep up with the latest and greatest when it comes to my computer.

The thing that I find odd is the abundance of communication that goes along with it. Quite frankly, I'm not interested in where someone is all the time. That's weird. And as I've watched different people use the application as well as the age groups that are within those generations, the level of community is astounding.

Moving back to East Texas five years ago, I began to have some clarity of Facebook and the word, "community". It happened as I drove to Palestine for a meeting one day and found myself staring at all the old buildings in downtown. What must it have been like in this town so many years ago when these buildings went up and businesses were thriving with people walking the streets? A group of people that all knew one another and held together like any other tight knit East Texas town.

There was definitely a sense of community in New London where I grew up. It was one of those places where everyone knew one another as well as your business. You couldn't move one toe without the whole town knowing about it. And yet, here we are in 2010 clinging to that same sense of community that for some, tried so hard to leave.

As I sometimes drive through these little towns, they have obviously all seen better days. They are stacked with empty old buildings as their children have all ventured off to cities in search of a better life. Better jobs. Better money. Better opportunities. But where is the community?

Which brings us back to Facebook. I honestly believe that Facebook has actually filled the void of what we so dearly hold as community.

Living in the city for so long, I can tell you there is no community. Yea sure, I've got friends. We hopefully all have friends but the clincher is how busy we all are and the amount of time we spend at work. Throw in kids and there is no social life whatsoever. The phrase, "We should get together", is a joke. It doesn't mean anything when Friday rolls around and all you want to do is lock yourself up in a closet and flush your mobile phone or Blackberry down a toilet.

And so you turn to the only community you have left. A Facebook community where the
human need to belong will hopefully be met and you can actually get together in some sense.

Call me old fashion but I miss the real thing. There is nothing greater than a group of
friends just hanging out and enjoying each other. Throw in some merlot or an ice cold beer and you'll find me on the front row.

Peace out. And now to post this. How ironic.

Photo of Texas Theater in downtown Palestine by Phil Bebbington

Thursday, September 30, 2010

That's Heart Music

In 1972, Brady, Texas was the center of the universe for my father. I couldn't even begin to tell you how many times I was loaded up in a green Pontiac after school and driven to this mesquite covered rocky terrain.

There were two trailers set up side by side and one lean-to shack that had
a cot in it with a Coleman stove placed on a top shelf. At four in the morning, I was rustled out of bed usually wearing the same clothes I had on the night before to indulge in some sort of breakfast before we ventured off to the deer blinds.

At night, we would gather around a fire where "Sleepy", our campfire cook,
would be boiling up a pot of Mulligan stew while all the men would be popping bottle tops and carrying on.

One of the many memories injected into my brain from those trips is the sound
of Patsy Cline ringing through an eight track player. Charlie Dickerson, my father's best friend, would say, "You hear that boy? That's heart music."

Fast forward thirty years and I'm in my office one day answering a phone
call from one of my wife's friends in a total panic. Apparently the designer that was working on a project for her had flaked so she was now calling me for help. I told her it wouldn't be a problem and she immediately came over with files in hand. She explained that she was chair for a fund raiser in Dallas and would be putting on a concert at the Meyerson featuring k.d. Lang. My reply would naturally be, "k.d. who?"

If you know me, I don't listen to popular music. In fact, I would rather have
a colonoscopy than have to listen to what they call music today. She told me that she was this incredible vocalist and showed me her picture. Still not much reaction from me which probably added to the fluster of her day but patiently she gave me my marching orders and I produced all the design work she needed. In an effort to thank me, she gave me tickets to the event as well as some incredible seats.

The night of the big shindig, my wife and I made our way to the Meyerson where
I was still leery about this gal. Who is k.d. Lang? Why couldn't they have just hired Al Green?

We sat down and when the show began, my mouth may have fallen open.
Her vocals were not only smooth but packed some huge power that literally made the ceiling shake.

But it would not be until her last number that I almost fell out of my chair
as she blew out the greatest rendition of Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray I've ever heard. She might has well have reached into my chest, pulled out my heart, threw it on the floor and smashed it with her bare feet.

For a brief moment, I was five
again sitting around that fire with my Daddy while they drank scotch and smoked cigars. I had to wipe the tears away before my wife could see them.

It is music like this that I miss so much. The music that for a brief moment, makes the hair on the back of your neck stick up and pulls at your heart.

You know, that heart music.

Peace out brothers and sisters. And if it ain't on the radio, it's probably really good music.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The East Texas Battle of the Burgers

Man alive! A Jucys Hamburger joint is opening up right by my house. I will now begin the process of weight gain. And so close to the holidays. Lucky me as I just bought some new jeans.

If there was ever a weakness in my diet, it's the cheeseburger. A nice grilled piece of
ground beef covered in cheese placed nice and neat on a toasted bun with mayo and mustard. Add some crispy bacon, you can't leave out the bacon, and some jalepenos and you'll be ready for your two o'clock nap in no time.

To add to the interest of my many sociological observations, Tyler has now become
the battle ground for three burger icons. And I'm going to call it like I see it so if you have a favorite, just ignore my comments all together.

It is important to give some color on each of the players before I begin as they are all great warriors in this soon to be burger battle. And to start, we'll go to Highland Park smack dab in the middle of Dallas, Texas.

Last year, a Burger House franchise was purchased and opened in Tyler. Burger House
began on Hillcrest right next to SMU and is a staple to the Highland Park community. During the Summers, it's stacked with barefoot children crowding in to get their grilled fix along with a homemade shake. The special ingredient on these burgers as well as their fries is the garlic salt. An item that took some getting used to for me when we lived in Dallas.

Now let me say this about myself as it's important to this key ingredient of garlic. I'm a country
kid and not a city kid. I was raised on burgers that were not seasoned at all. In fact, the only seasoning an old fashioned burger relied upon was the flavor from a well seasoned griddle. There's just something about that griddle that leaves an unmistakable flavor that I have never been able to forget.

When we lived in Dallas, Burger House was literally three blocks away so as soon as I would
mow the yard on Saturdays, I would hit it. Af first, it wasn't my favorite burger. It was surely not what I was used to and you might say it was an acquired taste. But once polished enough to enjoy it, it was a double double with chili that packed the digestive system which set me up to finish with the weed eating and edging.

Next on the dock is the newly opened and very popular Smash Burger that broke ground earlier
this year and will open in another location on Broadway fairly soon.

Smash Burger started in Denver, Colorado and there isn't a lot of history associated with it.
It's what they would call a concept restaurant and it focuses primarily on a more high brow gourmet burger with fresh cut items like avocado and chipotle sauces. Even the shakes are made with Hagendause which is like the Mercedes of ice cream.

It's a great burger and deserves to be appreciated as like with most great food, someone took
the time to push it to a different level. But hey, we're talking about a cheeseburger here.

Which brings us to the fat boy on the corner.

Jucys has been around since I was a kid. There was always a heated debate between Butcher Shop and Jucys when we went to Longview and if you sided with my mother, it was Jucys every time.

Jucys is comfortable. Jucys is what I grew up on with a deep seasoned griddle taste in the roof of my mouth. Their fries are fresh cut and the ice cream is Bluebell. It's nothing fancy which fits the way I prefer to eat a cheeseburger. That is not to say that I don't appreciate fine food but a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger. It's like wearing jeans most of the time. Yea, you'll put on a suit to go to church or to a meeting but as soon as it's done, you're back in the denim.

The battle of the burgers here in Tyler is just beginning and it won't be long before the cows start kicking.
But when all is said and done and the world gets back to normal, my money is on Jucys for the long haul. It's what I grew up on and most likely, it's what you grew up on.

I'm out of here. They just called my name at the window.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tequila and Cadillacs

At some point in a company's life, the creative edge is lost and they become a huge corporation with very little soul. I've been in a lot of meetings in my life where the only thing in view outside of the conference room is a sea of cubicles and zombie like employees.

It's a lot like the television series, The Office, where an employee handbook is the law and your life revolves around how many days you've accumulated for vacation.

Within these mega corporations are thick lines that you must not cross when
executing best business practices. And in my opinion, these very lines yield very little return on the human spirit that abides by them.

Now you may believe that by saying this, I'm bashing the big corporation and painting a bowl of cherries for the small business. On the contrary as I own a small business and I can tell you first hand, it ain't no picnic. The money is always tight, the cash flow is always a challenge and don't even get me started on insurance and payroll taxes.

But at the end of the day, the spirit is pushed to the bitter end in a small
shop. It becomes like a well oiled basketball team of solid players that come in and play ball for eight hours every day. They eat, sleep and dream their passions and those passions hopefully stem from a great place to work. And if that work produces great product or service, then the big corporations will always come a calling to get the very thing that they may have lost so long ago.

It is with this in mind that I tell you one of those small business tales that can
only happen within the insanity of a creative mind. Throw in some loosey goosey business tactics and you've got yourself the American dream.

In 1989, a photographer by the name of Marty Snortum was approached by an Italian/German boot maker/entrepreneur who wanted to move back to Europe. It would seem that he longed for his homeland and couldn't take the Texas heat. Whatever the case, Marty saw it as an opportunity as the Italian/German had started a boot company in El Paso and wanted to sell it.

Now if you know anything about creative people, we're all pretty much broke pretty much all of the time. So Marty did what only few genius creative people might do in this situation. He bartered one valuable for another a
nd in this case, that would be one 1953 vintage Cadillac Hearse and one fifth of El Paso's finest tequila. No lawyers. No bankers. Just good old fashioned tequila shots and lets get down to business.

Marty, being a designer as well as a photographer, has an extreme passion for old retro things. Not too many folks would actually own a 1953 vintage Cadillac Hearse so one would see that he might have a fetish for the finer things in life.
This love affair with retro things transformed into Rocket Buster Boots which for the last twenty years has created and produced some of the most innovative an original cowboy boots in the world.

With over 100 designs to choose from, their clientele roster ranges from Billy-Bob Thorton to Oprah Winfrey and just about everybody in between.
They have six folks on staff and four of them are second generation boot makers. They produce around 500 boots a year that will bring an average of $2,800 a pair.

As most small businesses do, I'm sure they have their share of struggles. They probably wonder when the next customer will come through the door or how in the world they will make payroll next month. No small business is without the worry of a solid consumer market. But I'll bet my hat that they are all happy people creating something that is as fulfilling to their souls as it is to their customer's feet.

If you're ever in El Paso, put a Rocket up your Buster and get your boots on.


Peace Out!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Women Dressed In Black

For eighteen years of my life, I was raised around the world's largest tombstone. They called it a monument but in reality, it's a tombstone that recognizes the untimely death of over 300 school children.

For those of you that are not familiar with this tragic story, on March 18th, 1937,
a natural gas leak that occurred within the New London school building spread gas throughout the entire structure. It is believed that a wood sander was plugged into a wall socket igniting the gas within the air causing an explosion that would destroy the entire school building and just about everyone that was in it.

Growing up around all of this, I've heard the story a thousand times. It's been written
about in countless newspapers and now someone has created a film documentary on the disaster. But in my opinion and not to discount the lives of these children that were lost in such a horrible tragedy, they miss the silver within the lining. And to find that lining, you would have to travel all the way to Poland where you would find a young woman by the name of Frances Siedliska. She was a noblewoman born into a wealthy and cultured family who from a very young age was extremely passionate about her relationship with God.

When her father passed away, she consecrated herself to the service of God and became the foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, established in Rome in 1875. Her religious name would become 'Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd.'

In 1885, Mother Mary would receive a request to bring her community to America in order to minister to the thousands of immigrant Poles who had fled to the new land in search of a better life. They arrived in New York on July 4th, 1885 and proceeded to Chicago, IL, where they set about establishing schools and caring for orphans.

The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth would continue to grow in numbers while serving all over the United States in different capacities. However to an East Texan, the most important role would be the opening of Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, Texas on the day of March 18th, 1937. (now Trinity Mother Frances Hospital)

The initiation of the hospital movement dates back to committee meetings held for the purpose of selecting proposed PWA projects. And believe it or not, the hospital was moved to the back of the line and would become third on the dock for construction. However, largely through the insistence of a local architect, Shirley Simons, it was moved to the front of the line and would be the first project to complete.

Dr. C.C. McDonald launched the movement in organizing the physicians of Smith County while Father S.A. Samperi, Pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church, placed the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in charge while moving them from Chicago.

As the story goes, the 60 bed hospital wasn't even scheduled to be open until March 19th but would swing wide open the doors in order to receive and treat over 100 victims from the New London explosion. The Sisters and Doctors worked day and night for two days straight without any sleep rendering assistance and aid to children and teachers while the entire civilized world grieved.

To find a silver lining in such a horrific story is a difficult task. The idea that something positive could come out of something so tragic seems almost impossible but we must never forget the eighteen women who rose to the occasion. Through their leadership, they managed to bring an entire community together while working tirelessly to save lives. And in the end, they will be seen as that silver lining that God used to aid in the darkest of East Texas days.

For the record and to remember them by, the Sisters that worked so hard in helping so many children are as follows:

Mother Ambrose Bochenek
Sister Alphonsina Stachowicz

Sister Grace

Sister Innocence

Sister Narcissus

Sister Almira Szpak

Sister Benigna

Sister Bertha
Sister Xavier

Sister Imelda Zapchenk

Sister Leonica Wirkus

Sister Consuela Pulkowska

Sister Vincent

Sister Lucita Zmuda

Sister Anastasia Michalowicz

Sister Armella Drika

Sister Serva

Sister Simplicia Biunlowska

God bless the memory of these women.

New London Monument Photo by Ric Moore

Monday, September 13, 2010

Band With A Soul

It is extremely rare that I would write on new music. In fact so rare, that it never happens as I've only recognized two new artists in my life time that made me stop and actually listen. That would be the voice of Alison Krauss and the steel guitar playing of Robert Randolph.

That is not to say that
there are no other artists that I've thought were catchy or fun to listen to but it is rare that a new band has that soulful sound that I look for. Whether it's the vocals or the way they play an instrument. That special something that sets them apart and makes them different. Different enough to pay attention.

And it would seem that miracles never cease as from across the water, a new
band has now retained my attention. And it came about in such an odd account of events.

A couple of weeks ago in the studio, Ross Holmes, who plays fiddle for Cadillac Sky, mentioned that they would be going on tour with a band from London. Well I wasn't really paying attention. He said he would be playing at House of Blues in Dallas while on tour with this band but I was so caught up in what I was doing that all I heard was bla bla bla House of Blues bla bla bla Mumford and Sons.

Then about a week ago, some friends were in town from Dallas and their teenage
daughter and my son were talking new music. Again, not really paying attention as who really listens to teenagers ramble on about whatever it is they are rambling on about? But I did hear one thing during their rambling and that was the name, Mumford and Sons.

Then while driving the kids to school, my oldest wanted to play some Mumford and Sons
in the car and that's when I really started to listen. This was not your ordinary band and certainly deserved a bit more attention than what I was giving them.

The band, Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane, are from West London.
The style of the music is very much Irish but with a hint of blue grass. Which is all very natural since bluegrass hailed from Irish Scottish immigrants who nestled themselves in the American Appalachian mountains.

Mumford and Sons formed in December of 2007 just on a whim during what could be defined as a jam session in
the depths of a London pub. And ever since then they have been hitting it hard all over Europe.

This band is real. There is nothing commercial or ordinary about them in any way as they represent the very
raw soul of what is great music. And if they can keep true to their roots and inspiration, they will be as large or larger than Green Day or even Dave Matthews himself.

For the record, as Ross chastised me over email when I inquired, they will be performing with Cadillac Sky
here in the U.S. for a brief tour. They will be at House of Blues in Dallas as well as Stubbs in Austin if you're able to make a Texas concert. I highly recommend it if you can as in my opinion, this will be the band that catches your attention. And everyone else's.

By the way, this song uses profanity. And not just any profanity as it's the "F" word. I'm not a big
fan of using profanity in music but these guys actually get away with it.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Wolf Keeps on Howlin'

In my own humble opinion, there were three main icons within the blues world. There was Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and of course, Howlin’ Wolf.

Although I have great admiration for all three of these legends, it would be Howlin’ Wolf that continues to resonate the deep barrel of a sound that I have never been able to get out of my head.

Born Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi, he was named after the 21st President of the United States. As a child, he was supposedly enormous which earned him nicknames like Big Foot Chester and Bull Cow. He would finally settle on Howlin’ Wolf, a name evolving from his grandfather (John Jones) who would tell him tales of wolves running the delta that would eat little boys if they misbehaved.

Wolf grew to a full 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed in at 300 lbs. His presence was as robust as his voice as they used to say he sounded like heavy machinery operating on a gravel road.

Sam Phillips of Sun Records discovered Wolf and quickly signed him in 1951. He soon became a local celebrity which would take him to Chicago. There, he would eventually sign with Chess Records side by side with legends Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Chuck Berry and Etta James.

When soul music would begin to take the lead in popularity and blues would fall behind, Wolf faded away like so many other blues artists. He would not resurface in the public eye until 1971.

After an automobile accident in 1970, his kidneys suffered major trauma which would finally put him to rest in 1976.

One of the greatest blues men of our time and well worth any recorded purchase.

I decided to not write much on the Wolf as hearing is believing.

Here’s taking it to the alley baby.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Good Money After Bad

When I wore a much more youthful appearance and could actually drink whiskey without having to admit myself to an ER, I carried a group of guys fishing every year. Within this group would be my guitar player, David Brashier, who not only plays extremely well but also writes.

During these fishing trips, we would usually sit around in the evening and listen to David play. I might chime in depending on my condition but there were many variables at play during those times and the odds were always a little dicey.

One evening, David would pull a song out of his hat and sing it for all of us around
the campfire. The name of the song was "Good Money After Bad" which he wrote back in the 80s. For me, as well as my entire generation, the song resonates the bigger better lifestyle that all of us as a society strive towards whether we can afford it or not.

After the recent financial meltdown and just by chance, I listened to the song again on
my iPod and realized that there was a lot more to it than what I had initially thought.

During these tough economic times, there has been much talk about where to place the blame on our current state as a nation. We've all listened to our administration blame the previous administration which is indeed humorous by all accounts.

But that's just one aspect of the big problem. A whopper of an issue is our way of life and the delusions that exist on what we think we deserve. We have to have that car and we have to have that house. And it's not just us. Our leadership included as they jet off to Spain for vacation or book Stevie Wonder for a concert in the living room. Sorry you don't have a job but I've got to get my groove on.

So it is with this reality on what America has become that I've decided to record this song. Since the lyrics were written in the 80s, I rewrote some of it to reflect where we are currently as a society as well as my feelings on our leadership in Washington.

I would simply request that you forward this link to as many people as you can so that they will buy this song and play it loud. Play it for yourself as well as your fellow man as America is in dire straights these days. And only you can save her.

Keep the faith and remember, go listen to some real music.

Purchase the MP3 below:

Friday, August 13, 2010

That Ain't Country

In 2006, friends Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen, decided to make a documentary focused on the homogenization of popular music. I know. Big word that simply means to blend things that might not go together. In this case, they are referring to several things. Corporate America, strategic marketing, formulated music and finally, a pretty face.

For me and the music I’m so fond of, the fingers of big corporate America have managed to keep a safe distance. Which for my tastes translates into weak markets that don’t generate big revenues.

For instance, aside from a lot of other music, I love bluegrass. It’s a complex soulful kind of sound with abundant European influences. And the market for bluegrass music is so small, it remains pure and untainted.

So you’re asking yourself, what’s the big deal with Corporate America getting involved with the music industry? Simply put, when business mixes with art it’s like dogs and cats trying to live together. And too often the dog ends up killing the cat.

A great example of this is the now popular country music. And folks, I’m truly sorry but that ain’t country. If you think it is, you’ve lost your mind and need to immediately purchase some Patsy Cline and listen to “Crazy” because you are.
Country music used to be about the MUSIC. Words that represented real life and not that it’s “Five O-Clock Somewhere”. Lyrics that told a story leading its listeners down a path of someone’s life. A life that was lived by a professional guest of real experiences.

So what kind of guy am I talking about if not the new country musician with a real tight t-shirt who does a lot of boating in the Caribbean? I’m talking Charlie Rich country. I’m talking Loretta Lynn and George Jones. These are people that I believe if had existed in today’s country music market would have made it as far as a joint on highway 80. And that’s as far as they would have ever gone.

Pat Green is a great example of this conundrum. At the heart of Pat is a real song writer and not a Justin Timberlake with a cowboy hat on. He’s the real deal and because he is the real deal, he will struggle against what’s marketable.

I know you, the reader, are busy. Which is why I try to keep my articles fairly small. But if you really love music, I would invite you to watch the documentary by Andrew Shapter and Joe Rasmussen. It’s called “Before The Music Dies” and you can watch it for free on

So get yourself a glass of merlot and flip your laptop open. And don’t forget the earphones so you can drown out the cries for water from the kid’s bedroom. I don’t get that. Why do they get thirsty after you put them to bed?

Peace Out and remember…go listen to some real music!

The below is just a trailer and not the full feature film.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Quail Hunter - An Endangered Species

Well here it is. Finally, the article that will make the earth move and the mountains shutter. A tradition that has remained at the center of the Holt House universe for over a hundred years and counting is now the topic of my article. And the issue? It may soon vanish with my father’s generation.

For as long as I can remember, I have gone quail hunting. And for as long as my high-school years would carry chores, I was the caretaker for over 6 hunting dogs at any given time. I took care of them, I fed them and I cleaned their pens every Saturday. And for reasons such as these, it will be the end of quail hunting with my generation.

You are speculating that my challenges on continuing this tradition are because of the amount of work that a bird dog entails. Kind of. But it’s not exactly where you need to be after an accurate assessment.

It is important to understand two things when reaching a conclusion on this issue. The first is the condition of my current generation. The second is the amount of time quail hunting consumes. And I’m not talking about pen-raised hunts. I’m talking about finding a lease, inspecting the lease, negotiating the lease, paying for the lease, setting up feeders, training your dogs or sending them to the trainer, working with your dogs, taking care of your dogs, booting your dogs, dog trailers, dog collars, shock collars, snake boots, shot guns and shells, snake venom kits, skunk spray, porcupine quills and wild hog attacks. And that's just for starters.

However, let us examine what has happened to our current generation as it compares to my father’s generation. A generation that hunted almost every weekend of my youth. And that’s not an exaggeration as now that he’s retired, he will hunt over 100 days this year.

A while back in doing some marketing research on my generation and attempting to understand our purchasing habits, I became acquainted with a sociology professor at Southern Methodist University. After much discussion, the reality of who and why I am was quite sobering.

After the great depression, there was a big push with America to never go back to that kind of life. A lot of women were daughters of mothers who had nothing and lived under some pretty difficult conditions. This would lead to a woman who strived for perfection in her household and the want for her children to have everything they needed. These would be the “June Cleaver” years where women dressed up everyday and dad would come home after a tough day at the office and prop his feet up.

When the sixties rolled around, a great number of women became restless with the 50s way of life. Resentment would begin to fester in women as men would generally come home and end their day the moment they hit the door while women continued their work throughout the remaining evening. This would be the years of “mother’s little helpers” and martini lunches. Being married and raising a family became a burden to a lot of women as men were not real involved. Historically, men were never involved. They were hunters then farmers and both of these jobs required long hours. A farmer, like my grandfather, would work from sun up to sun down. He plowed fields with a mule so it wasn’t expected of him to become real involved with raising the children. That was the woman’s job. Fast forward to the 50s and men suddenly had office jobs that would bring them home by five. The idea of the woman raising the children was left over from years past so you begin to see where the winds would begin to change.

During the sixties, women’s lib would evolve and they would become more active in the job force. Suddenly they could work and earn their own money. Given this new independence and the seeds of resentment beginning to sprout and blossom, the divorce rate would begin to rise.

Divorce statistics would continue to escalate on into the 70s and 80s not slowing down until the 90s tearing families apart and leaving a lot of children my age lacking confidence with the whole concept of marriage. This would lead my generation to not only marry later in life but something else. Fathers would now be involved with raising children and in a big way. The efforts now made within the family by the husband are tenfold compared to past generations. And this, good towns folk, will be the contributing factor that will diminish the sacred word known as “time”.

Combine the lack of time along with the enormous responsibility that is required for real quail hunting, the sport is beginning to vanish leaving guys my dad’s age wondering what will happen to something they love so dear. Aside from all the work that goes into quail hunting, it is a beautiful sport. To see a great pointer at work is true excellence. It’s really like nothing you’ve ever seen before as they run and cross the fields smelling for a covey of quail or honoring another point from 50 yards out.

I don’t know what will become of quail hunting. But I hope that the generations that follow will pick up the torch that shines on one of the last great sports.

May a man and his dog always represent something pure and genuine. 


Jalapeño Corn Casserole

Every Thanksgiving, there is one dish that my mother has to prepare or the entire day is ruined. I suppose every family has one of those dishes for special holidays and if you like the spice, you’ll want to add this one to your featured side items.

In all honesty, this recipe did not originate from my mom. It is the handy work of a schoolteacher by the name of Joan Bane. She lived and taught government in New London, Texas. Her son actually married my cousin so I guess you could call this a family recipe by marriage.

Good food should be the result of good match making and that’s what you get with this side. There is just enough cream cheese and corn to soften the hot on the peppers. However, if you think this dish might limit out your taste buds, simply cut back on the peppers.

I will warn you though. This is the dish you’ll keep going back to the fridge for along with your turkey sandwiches. You can’t beat it around midnight with an ice cold coke. I watched my brother-in-law finish three helpings of it last November. A sight to see.

5 cans shoe peg corn (white)

1 can jalapenos (small)

½ stick butter

3 Tablespoons of flour

2 eight ounces of cream cheese

¼ cup of milk

Drain the shoe peg corn and jalepenos. Either let your cream cheese soften naturally or put it in the microwave for a minute or two just to get it soft. In a mixing bowl, add cream cheese, butter, flour and milk. Stir in corn and jalapenos and mix thoroughly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.