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 Hulu.com.

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.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Prehistoric Texas

There have been times in my life when someone might have suggested that I go see or experience some thing or some place. At that point, you start to try and visualize whatever it is they’re talking about. When you actually arrive at the recommendation, you’re either pleasantly surprised while other times you’re disappointed. Kind of like someone recommending a movie and you either like it or you don’t. Never much of an in-between.

This would be the case of Caddo Lake and the first time my father ever took me to Uncertain, Texas. I was in my sophomore year in college and he made the suggestion that we go fishing. Since I had never been to Caddo, that might be a good place to try as he had fished there many times in his youth and he wanted me to see the lake.

Growing up in the region, I had sadly never been to Caddo Lake. It’s important to note that Caddo had long lost its luster for fishing by the 70s when newly created Toledo Ben became the hottest fishing lake around. Many mornings as a kid, I slept in the floorboard of a dark green Pontiac pulling a boat headed towards a full day of fishing on this massive reservoir lake. I had never even heard of Caddo until my dad suggested it.

I’ve read several articles and seen hundreds of images placing Caddo as a point of interest and they all fall short in my opinion. The articles as well as the photography are mere pinpricks against a massive rock mountain. And why would I say this? If you look at a picture of an elephant, it’s an elephant. Not much else going on with it and it just doesn’t pack much of a punch. Now take that same elephant and put yourself four feet in front of it and it’s a little different. You are now aware of how massive they are and you begin to understand what an amazing animal the elephant really is.

The same is true for Caddo Lake. I’ve never read or seen anything that would match the impact created by being in the middle of this 25,400 acre lake covered in cypress trees dressed in Spanish moss. It’s truly another dimension in itself and for a moment you feel like you’ve gone back in time. At any second, you’re under the illusion that you might see a prehistoric animal. And you’re not that far off as I’ve met some fishing guides that could pass as prehistoric animals.

Like the elephant, it is massive in person. So massive, that it’s not uncommon that you would get lost among all the waterways and trees. I ventured out one afternoon with some friends on what we thought would be a short cruise. Before we knew it, a dark cloud had rolled in and it started to rain. A couple of wrong turns later and we had no idea where we were. When the lightning started flashing, one of my best friends smiled at me and said, “Man I hope all you boys have been tithing.”

The lake was named after the Caddo Indians who lived within the area until their expulsion in the 19th century. It is said to be the home of 189 species of trees, 216 species of birds, 90 different fish and reptiles and 47 different mammals.

Located on the Texas Louisiana border, it is the only natural lake in the state of Texas. According to legend, the lake was created by an earthquake in 1812 but it’s more likely that it formed gradually by the “Great Raft” which was a 100 mile long log jam on the Red River in Louisiana.

Whatever the case, I will say that there is no amount of writing that will prepare you for the Caddo experience. Even if you’re not a fisherman, it’s well worth a boat tour. Or what the locals call a go-devil tour which is a flat bottom boat attached to an extended propeller capable of getting you anywhere in the swamp.

And yes, there are alligators. So make sure you invite that coworker who gets on your nerves. Tell them you’re all going swimming.

Peace Out…Bait it up and gitty up!

Photos of Caddo Lake by Sam Smead

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Drinking From The Fire Hose

Growing up in a small town certainly had its advantages. My only worry in the world was getting to the drugstore in time to make the latest additions of all the comic books. A coke float and brand new Spider-Man and I was on my way. However, living in an environment such as this, you are limited to your surroundings.

It was in this environment that a little boy I knew would take up an almost impossible challenge of becoming a classically trained violinist. If you can imagine the amount of animosity that he faced growing up in the woods. Surrounded by an almost dominant country music market, his struggles were many as his peers challenged his efforts within this kind of music. This music that was so foreign to all of us.

That little boy would be my first introduction to classical music but it would not be until my adult life that I would begin to understand the music and develop an appreciation for it. And it’s not easy. It took me almost two years to develop this kind of musical palate and in all honesty, I was forced to do it.

In 1998, I was selected as agency of record for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The marketing director at that time made the executive decision that if an East Texas boy was going to sell classical music, he better start understanding it. So to school I went.

Now before I get into the weird part of this article, let me preface it by saying that classical music is complicated. It can have several parts, or movements, to one song. Kind of like chapters in a book. And to add to the complexity of the music, there are at least 100 musicians on stage at one time. Now I’m a musician and that’s nuts to me. The amount of different things going on all at once is mind boggling and it can be very overwhelming if you really listen to it. Kind of like drinking from a fire hose.

And this would be when it gets weird.

About two years into going to the symphony every Thursday, something happened to me sitting in that chair. I became capable of listening to everything at once and it began to take me somewhere else. Almost like a religious experience. It’s really hard to explain it but the music moved me in such a way that I became completely immersed within it almost like having tunnel vision.

Now I know most of you out there are thinking there is no way I’m going to sit in a chair for two years in order to appreciate classical music. And I’m not suggesting that you do. I think I would have taken to it a lot quicker if perhaps I had gotten a milder taste of the hot sauce rather than drinking an entire cup of Tobasco every Thursday night. Slowly wading into the shallow end instead of jumping into the deep end without knowing how to swim is always a better way to go.

So I’m going to make a suggestion and you can take it as an experiment if you dare. There are two guys that are widely known as the very best in classically trained guitarists. Brazilian brothers Sergio and Odair Assad might be the greatest players you will ever hear. The kicker with them is that they are highly skilled at reworking symphony music themselves creating their own arrangements. So figure scaling a song written for 100 musicians down for two guys on guitar. And perhaps by scaling down the complexity of the music, it might be a good place to start without trying to drink from the fire hose.

Below is a performance by Sergio and Odair Assad. If you click it, I recommend that you really listen to the music which means earphones if you have them. Music like this is meant to be listened to carefully and takes some effort.

So turn off the rest of the world and give it a chance. You’ll be glad you did.

Peace Out…Now get your classical on.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Something From Nothing

As a designer, we are bombarded by paper companies selling their wares in hopes that we’ll design a project and have it printed on their paper. I’m sure the general public would be surprised that there are so many different kinds of paper but like everything in a free market, you’ve got a massive selection to choose from.

In 2002, Clampitt Paper out of Dallas delivered an unusual piece to my doorstep. And to be honest, I’ve never kept a paper sample for myself in my entire life. I’ve seen thousands of samples over the years but this particular sample was special. Not because of the paper, sorry Mr. Clampitt, but because of the information and images that were printed on it. So special that I managed to keep it now for eight years and I don’t ever intend on tossing it.

The piece, or booklet, showcased the “Rural Studio” located in Hale County, Alabama which is an architectural studio started by Samuel Mockbee. This studio provides Auburn University students of architecture hands on experience in dealing with clients. Well, sort of.

These so called clients are the poor who primarily live within the Black Belt. A name given to the dark soil it sits upon stretching from central Alabama to northern Mississippi.

The concept of the studio is to design architecture by letting a building evolve out of the culture and place you are designing within. Which is exactly what this group has done over the years by designing beautiful structures made from rural materials. Using mostly salvaged or donated materials, homes or structures can be created from railroad ties, old bricks, donated lumber, hay bales, baled corrugated cardboard, rubber tires worn thin, car windshields, license plates and road signs. The list goes on and on but the end result is always stunning. Endless structures that are both amazing looking and extremely functional.

All of these structures are built for people that are in need in an area that houses a forty percent population of poverty. So the students from Auburn are learning a bit more than just how to design and build. They are all learning what it means to make a difference in the lives of people that are in great need. A need that all students will tell you that by meeting has made huge differences in their own lives as well as the lives of others.

Samuel Mockbee, a true modern day Saint, has since passed away but the studio lives on under the direction of Dennis K. Ruth along with new young recruits from Auburn University. It is programs such as these that truly make the world a better place to live in. Literally. They serve as an example of how we should all try to live our lives by giving to others through the talents that we have been bestowed.

Peace Out! Now go pick up a hammer…or something.