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.