Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stockyards, White Elephants, Cowboy Poetry and Stockbrokers

A year ago, I wrote the article that has drawn the most comments and most views (by far) of any I have written. That is a testament to Annie Golightly and her legions of friends, not to my writing. Take a look if you have not seen it. Now back to where we left off last week.

I didn’t really put all the Godwinks together at first, either. Not for a long time. Here’s another recap: Jerald and Saddle Songs/Dorrance and Farnsworth at Cowboy Hall of Fame/Moline painting on Cowboy Magazine of Don Edwards/Moline in Yippy Yi Yea along with Buck Taylor. Just a string of coincidences, right? Then along comes another issue of Cowboy. A painting of Waddie Mitchell (the Bard in Bard and Balladeer) graced the cover.

Inside, Waddie, a veteran Nevada buckaroo of twenty-six years, tells us the difference between buckaroos and cowboys. He, along with Utah folklorist Hal Cannon, established the first cowboy poetry gathering in Elko, Nevada in 1985.

A few pages later, there is an article on Tom and Bill Dorrance and Ray Hunt. Yes, the same Tom Dorrance we had met at the Cowboy Hall of Fame six months earlier. Again, not too big a coincidence, but another connecting thread.

Yippy Yi Yea’s next issue came along only a few days later. There was a beautifully tooled saddle on the front and an inset picture of Don Edwards. Inside was an article, complete with pictures of Don and his Sevenshoux Ranch in Weatherford. 

The saddle on the cover sat in his living room. Guess who made it? Bob Moline. There is also a picture of the Wrangler award he received from the Cowboy Hall of Fame. On one of his walls hangs a rawhide riata made by his friend and traveling partner, Waddie Mitchell (the Bard part of The Bard and The Balladeer).

In the article, Don refers to himself as a cowboy Leon Redbone. I learned that he once played at Six Flags Over Texas when it first opened and was a regular and once part-owner of the White Elephant Saloon, one of my favorite watering holes. I am not there often, but I try to visit whenever I am in the Fort Worth Stockyards area. There is a mural of Don on one of the walls in the saloon.

I admit that I may be making too much of a series of coincidences, and I did not think much about what was happening at the time. But I did feel that I needed to meet Don Edwards. I wasn’t sure how that would come about.

I sort of chalked it all up to fortuitous events and moved on with business as usual. Then someone put a flier on my desk in my Dallas office about the Fort Worth Cowboy Gathering organized primarily by Red Steagall. Don Edwards was going to perform.

I met Don briefly at the Fort Worth gathering and found him friendly and down to earth. I sort of knew that this was not my last encounter.At the time,I was in charge of annual conferences and training for the financial services firm where I worked. I began to look at the stockyards through new eyes. Plans began to formulate for the next conference. 

Cowboy poetry was just taking off in those days, and guys like Waddie Mitchell and Baxter Black were appearing on late night talk shows after appearing at gatherings like the ones in Elko, Nevada, or Alpine, Texas.

I asked my associate Greg Aden to look into booking The Bard and the Balladeer. My first mailing from their recording company and agents, Western Jubilee Recording Company in Colorado Springs, included a pamphlet with a picture of Richard Farnsworth (yes, the same one we met at the Cowboy Hall of Fame) endorsing their music.

I made a little research trip of my own to the Worthington Hotel, checking out ways we could entertain a bunch of CPA's and stockbrokers who hailed from all over the country. There was a large group from the Baltimore area and a few from California and other places that I feared might not appreciate my bringing them into the cowboy lifestyle for a business conference.

On my fact-finding mission, I took along copies of all the magazines I have described. Satisfied that we had chosen the right hotel in the right town, I drove out to a peaceful middle class suburb. I knew where I was going, but did not know why, and I was going unannounced. 

I stopped in the driveway of a nice, but non-pretentious house and knocked on the door of a small building in the backyard. I knew that it was an artist’s studio because I had seen pictures of it in Yippy Yi Yea.
God winked again when Bob Moline opened the door.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bard and Balladeer and More Godwinks

Let’s recap where we are on Godwinks. (1) Jerald gave me Saddle Songs CD) (2) I met Dorrance and Farnsworth at Cowboy Hall of Fame (3) My first issue of Cowboy Magazine had painting of Saddle Songs singer Don Edwards by Bob Moline on the cover. Now back to the Bard and Balladeer.   

The painting introduced an article called “Too Good for the Mainstream” about Don Edwards.  By this time, I knew that Don had grown up in New England. He was not a real cowboy, but had adapted the cowboy lifestyle well, even trying his luck at rodeos before deciding that playing and singing suited him better. I fully understand that.

In the article, he explained what cowboy music is and what it isn't: 

               "The best explanation I‘ve heard was by the famous old-time cowboy Andy Adams. 
                'There is no such thing as cowboy music. It is a hybrid between the weirdness of an Indian                    cry and the croon of the darky mammy. It expresses the open, the prairie, the immutable desert.”

In a footnote to the article, Don said this about the above statement:
" I refuse to succumb to the mindless stupidity of political correctness. This is a direct quote from Andy Adams back in the later 1800’s and not meant to insult the red man or the black man, both of whom played monumental roles in the making of western history. I hold all peoples of the West in the highest esteem, regardless of race, color or creed."

"If anyone reading this has a problem with this colorful and picturesque language of the old time masters, then all I will say in the matter is lighten up, grab holt of yourself and get a life."

Attaboy, Don. I was beginning to like this balladeer more and more. But the Godwinks were just beginning.

Another cowboy magazine back in those days was called Yippy-Yi-Yea. Sounds corny, I know, but it was a good magazine that did an excellent job of covering the real western lifestyle. No glamor shots of models wearing so-called cowboy gear. When models doesn’t normally dress western, they always look like the hats on their heads and the boots on their feet are garish costumes.  

My first issue had Buck Taylor on the cover over a caption that said “From Gunsmoke to Brushstroke”. Buck, best known for his role as Newly O’Brien on Gunsmoke, was doing more paintings than movies then and I was interested in his transition. Also, I had been mistaken for Buck on at least one occasion and more were to come. Sorta hurts my feelings, because he is a lot older. 

The Godwink came inside, however, where I found a feature article on Bob Moline (remember the guy who painted Don’s portrait for the cover of Cowboy?) Are you following the trail here? From Saddle Songs to seeing Don in Cowboy magazine and then seeing a feature article on Bob Moline (the guy who drew Don’s portrait for Cowboy) in my first issue of Yippy Yi Yea that had Buck Taylor (my sometime twin) on the cover.

We’re all going to wind up in Commerce at my old roping arena and the saloon that Jerald built (yes, the guy who gave me the CD that started it all). So stay with us. 

Jim Ainsworth's deep, quiet voice rumbles around your chest in yet another fast-paced Rivers family saga. You experience the thrilling guilt of a youth's dangerous liaisons, the helpless longings of a young father, the angst of their parents' witness. You taste their cowboy coffee, smell the bacon frying, and feel the sturdy rumble of their trucks. This family clings to a hard-earned life as the music we all hear inside, whether stirred by the patriarch's violin or the clink of bottles in trunk of a fast car, resonates straight into your heart. Do yourself a favor and read this book. And if you've not read his others, add all of them in your Amazon order! As a writer myself, I admire Jim's style, voice and dedication to picking us up and plunking us down in the middle of his flying East Texas pages. Thanks again, Jim. Donna G. Paul,

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Bard and the Balladeer

I occasionally present a program called “When Coincidences Ain’t”. This blog and a few to follow will introduce a series of coincidences that I think ain’t coincidences. I need your full attention.

It began like most good stories do—a good friend or loved one does or says a little something that makes your life better in a small or big way. I have discovered that it may be weeks, months or even years before we realize the full positive impact of a small good deed. That’s the case of my relationship with the Bard and the Balladeer.

Friend Jerald Thomas brought me a CD (or was it a cassette?) back in the early nineties from Canton, his home away from home and location of the world’s largest flea market. The album was titled Saddle Songs and featured the voice of Don Edwards. I had never heard of him, but I pitched it onto the console of my pickup so I would be reminded to play it.

I was a road warrior in those days, spending a lot of time in cars and airplanes, so I listened to a lot of music as I traveled. I looked forward to hearing what I hoped might be at least one good cowboy song on this new album.

Though I had enjoyed cowboy music since I was a child listening to my grandfather play the fiddle, the genre had always been a distant second to old country. And I mean old country going all the way back to Jimmie Rodgers. The cowboy songs I grew up with had too many clichés like “git along little doggie”. More importantly, they did not tell a story. And I always covered my eyes when Gene or Roy or Rex broke into song when they should have been doing more exciting things.

New country has almost no appeal to me. It no longer reflects its rural roots and too many songs just repeat the same tired verses. I have supplanted new country with mountain music. But Don Edwards’s songs were different—a combination of Eddy Arnold’s yodel (Don can do Cattle Call as well as Arnold could) and a voice that reminds many of Marty Robbins. And his songs tell stories.  

My little cassette suddenly became a treasure. But little did I realize that Jerald’s small gift would bring about a series of what one author recently called Godwinks.

Corporate life and being confined in various airplanes and large cities had me yearning for my roots and I longed to get back to a semblance of the cowboy lifestyle. I knew that was not in the immediate future, so I did the next best thing.

I subscribed to a lot of cowboy magazines and whenever possible, I arranged my schedule to be in places where I could connect to cowboy-dom. You know, places like Wyoming, Montana, Colorada, Utah, Idaho New Mexico, even Nevada, where Waddie Mitchell (the Bard part of the duo) hails from. Some of these are buckaroo states. Of course, the number one places for cowboys are still Texas and neighboring Oklahoma.

In the spring of 1995, through a set of fortuitous Godwinks, Jan and I found ourselves in Oklahoma City attending the Western Heritage Awards banquet at the Western Heritage Museum (Cowboy Hall of Fame). I was in hog (make that horse) heaven, surrounded by my heroes from the past, present and future. (I will post a series of blogs on that). For now, suffice it to say that I met Tom Dorrance that night, widely recognized as one of the premier horse trainers in the world. You will see how that fits in to this series of events brought about by Saddle Songs later. I also met Richard Farnsworth, one of my all-time favorite actors.

One of the magazines I subscribed to was Cowboy. Yep, just Cowboy. The first Godwink came with my initial issue of the magazine in the summer of 1995. There, on the front cover, was a painting by Bob Moline called The Minstrel of the Range. The subject was Don Edwards. What a coincidence. I had no idea at the time that the artist, Bob Moline, did more than paint. Jerald led me to Don Edwards and that led to the magazine and that led to Bob Moline. More about why that's important later. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Moments to Remember

Last week left me in the field house preparing to register for my first semester at ETSC.

I had dog-eared the pages of my catalog devising a plan to get through one semester. I decided on the general studies courses and an easy elective. Dr. Arnspiger, they said, was nationally known as the father of general studies and he required everyone to attend Forum Arts and take Personality Foundations.   

My job started at one, so I had to get all my courses in before noon. I was making progress before I stopped at Dr. Elton Johnson’s table.  The morning session of Business Math was full, he said, and I would just have to take it in the afternoon.  I meekly protested that I had to work in the afternoon. 

He removed his cigar and pointed it in my direction.  “Work or school.  You need to decide, boy.”  I hid behind the bleachers and waited until he took a lunch break.  The graduate assistant who replaced him took pity on me.  Little did I know that I was destined to cross paths with Dr. Johnson many more times.  I even grew to like him.

In freshman English, Dr. Fred Tarpley wrote a nice note on one of my first college papers.  He asked me to consider English as a major.  He doesn’t remember either of these, but his words made me think I might just be able to do this college thing. 

I learned more about literature from Bill Jack and Bob Dowell and was privileged to meet and listen in on a discussion with Flannery O’Connor, though I am ashamed to admit I did not appreciate the significance of the event and the effort it must have taken to bring a legend of literature to Commerce. 

Dr. Lawrence McNamee joked with me in German class and made me feel collegiate. E. W. Roland seated us alphabetically and separated the boys from the girls.  He made showing up late a humiliating experience, but he and Dr. Joe Saylor taught me things about politics and government that I still use today.  Hugh I. Shott asked me to join the honors program, but I declined, still not sure how I would ever make it to graduation, much less with honors.  

When Accounting and Finance chose me (I did not choose them), I started to feel a part of a small circle of new friends.  I met Carroll Kennemer, another small-town boy, and we have remained friends for almost five decades.  Ken McCord and Emmett McAnally convinced me that I could actually get a degree. In Office Machines class, Weldon King told me I had excellent hand-eye coordination.  Too bad it had to be with a ten-key adding machine instead of a baseball bat or the reins of a good cow horse. 

Some students went to SMU in the summer to avoid Dr. Carroll Adams’ classes in economics, but that was impossible for me.  He made me sweat, but taught me lessons that continue to serve me well.

Dr. Perry Broom’s statistics class featured tiny mechanical calculators with knobs that had to be rung backward and forward with ears pressed close until a bell sounded. Distinguishing my bell from twenty others was impossible.  He taught from a book he had written instead of the text listed in the catalog.  His book was long out of print, but I managed to procure a worn copy.

A tennis player in the class challenged the three-hundred-pound-plus Dr. Broom to a tennis match.  The whole class watched as Broom beat him three sets without moving more than ten feet on the court. 

When graduation moved from dream to reality, and E.T. changed from college to university, the school arranged interviews for prospective graduates.  Dr. Graham Johnson took me aside and counseled against a job I wanted.  “You’ll be bored in a month.” 

I told him it paid twenty bucks more per month than the second best offer.  He looked down at the shoes I had bought for job interviews and asked how much they cost. I said seven bucks.  He looked down at his.  “These cost twenty.  You’ll get used to quality.” 

With that analogy, he tried to convey the naiveté of a career decision based on the price of a pair of good shoes. I missed his point and took the job anyway. What matters is that he cared enough to take the time. 

E.T. provided an opportunity that changed my life for the better.  I have one of the last ETSC rings and one of the first ETSU diplomas.  I was a student when the first doctoral programs were added and when the Memorial Student Center was constructed.  I parked on campus years later and watched while they tore it down. 

The Four Lads performed on campus when I was a student, singing “Moments to Remember”, the chosen song of my high school class.  I was so disassociated with campus social life and so short of funds that I did not attend.   

I regret missing that event and many others like it, but in retrospect, I appreciate the university more because the institution, the professors and fellow students pulled a green country kid along paths for his own good, even when he resisted. 

The student center of my day may be gone and the campus changed forever, but I can still walk across it, imagine President Gee carrying his swagger stick, and have those “moments to remember”.