Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Crossroads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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