My Shambala

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to a version of Shambala a bit ago.  I can (and do) appreciate his posts, but for me there is only one version of Shambala. I say sorry Jim in my comment on Facebook, because Three Dog Night’s Shambala was part of an 8-track of hits that they played at the Wichita County swimming pool (Leoti, KS) in 1976 (had to be 76. Summer of the bicentennial. Cross-country bicyclers hanging in the city park. Crazy year) and I had just learned to swim a few summers previously.  Swimming was my first love, and I say that as someone who just celebrated his 25th year of marriage, to someone I’m still deeply in love with; but even so, swimming remains my first love, a communion with nature itself for me.

Spending a carefree afternoon at the pool, eating icees and listening to music that wasn’t played anywhere else, as far as I could tell, was as close to pure joy that child me ever experienced. We waited for the pool to open, and for the weather to get warm enough that you didn’t freeze, and then every single day that I could get away, I’d ride my Spyder down to the pool (got a ten speed later. Bicycling was my second love) and stay all day if I could get away with it.

In rural Kansas the only radio stations you could pick up reliably were country stations.  I can listen to just about any kind of music, so Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Merl Haggard and of course Johnny Cash (who was a ‘bad boy’ in my mother’s eyes if I remember correctly) figured highly in rotations for the stations that my parents tuned when I was a child, and I didn’t mind.

But the pool was supervised by high school students (with maybe a school coach checking in now and again) so the sound system they rigged up only played their music. The intro riff to Shambala plays, and I can smell the steam coming off the concrete decking, taste the ice cream, remember what it was like to be carefree.

It’s a weird coincidence that I remember the song at all.  The other song that I remember them playing I rediscovered long ago; it had a catchy refrain about a shaker of salt, and while I couldn’t ever figure out what he wanted salt for (I was pretty sure at the time I was hearing it wrong, water in the ears or something) I did eventually discover the song was Margaritaville, and I have been a parrothead ever since.

The weird coincidence? I was watching LOST with the Wife. She had gotten me interested in the show, and it became a bit of a weekly ritual to catch each episode as it aired. It was a pretty good episode we were watching that night. Season 3, episode 11. You know the one, if you were a fan. The episode was largely focused on two of my favorite characters in the show, Charlie and Hurley.  Hurley was certain he was cursed, that the numbers he used to win the lottery, the numbers that were on the hatch, those numbers had been a curse that had followed him and doomed him to this quasi-life he was experiencing on the island. Here is the crucial scene of the episode;

Lost S03E11 – Van Jumpstart with Road to Shambala

The song comes up, and the memory hits me like a blow to the head.  THAT SONG! I remember that song! It was like a trip to the past, so powerful it brought tears to my eyes (it still can) mom and dad were still happy together, Gramma & Grampa still breathing and living just a few blocks away to save me if I needed saving. The world was bright and full of promise…

…That was my Shambala. That time when everything was perfect (even though it never could have been as perfect as you remember it) all of the people you knew caught like insects in amber and preserved to be revisited. Like a mid-season, mid-run episode for a series that ended up going nowhere, but damn it was good in those few seasons where there was still mystery to be explored.

Except you really can’t go back there, because it never really existed in the first place. The rot was already present, present from the time before I was even born. Rot just festering there, waiting to let everything tear apart. Now that I’ve started losing my hearing, even the song itself is a memory that I replay.  I can’t really hear it like I did then, echoing off the hot concrete I would rest my head on to make my barely functioning sinuses open up and drain.

But the memory of the song is like a siren…

“Everyone is lucky, everyone is so kind, on the road to Shambala”

Three Dog Night, Shambala

This version was danceable, so I will give it a plug. H/t to Stonekettle for posting it.

DrVictorMusicDr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels – Shambala – Aug 13, 2010

Jack Steele (1938-2009)

This is the text of the Obituary that ran in the local paper, both here in Canon City where he lived, and in Leoti where he spent a large portion of his life.

John Hyland ‘Jack’ Steele Jr. died peacefully in the presence of family at the St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City late Saturday, June 27, 2009.

He was born Sept. 11, 1938, in Witchita Falls, Texas, to John Hyland and Dorothy (Heim) Steele; they preceded him in death. He also was preceded in death by his son, Kelly Steele.

Jack served his country in he United States Air Force for six years and, for most of his life, received joy helping countless people have a good experience buying a car. He never met a stranger and was loved by all who met him.

He leaves behind the love of his life, Charlene “Charley” Steele and children: Ray Anthony Steele, Jonnette Ann Kraft, Dawn Marie Nickell, John Russell Steele, and Damion Lee Steele; his seven grandchildren and his sister, Jean Mohri.

Jack was a fighter and fought until the end.

At his request, there will be no services. In lieu of flowers, Jack would appreciate donations to Fremont County Orchard of Hope, 111 Orchard Ave., Cañon City, CO 81212.

Arrangements handled through Wilson Funeral Home.

I have never been embarrassed to say “my father is a car salesman”. Horse trading is a long and honored tradition, and my father just applied the same principles to cars that was once applied to horses. In more than 30 years of working the deal, I never met anyone who thought they hadn’t gotten a fair trade from him. Even after he was forced into retirement by his battle with cancer, he could still be found sizing up, buying and selling cars and trucks in his spare time.

A good portion of the population in Leoti probably remembers him as Hyland Steele’s only son, Jack who inherited the service station that Hyland built. A volunteer fireman and occasional fire chief, my father was active in that small community in ways that would put most activists to shame in this day and age.

John Hyland Steele, Jr. was born in Wichita Falls, Texas. My gramma (Dorothy. From Kansas) when talking about those times, remarked “if he’d have waited another hour, he’d have been born in Oklahoma.” that was the life of people who worked the oil fields in the 1930’s. It wasn’t long, though, before they settled in Leoti, and that small town remained home for three generations of Steeles.

I remember fondly, riding the tractor with my Uncles and my Grandfather, working the farms that belonged to friends and relatives. I earned my first wages working in the service station, and my second job was in the fields, clearing weeds from around crops too sensitive to be mechanically maintained.

What I will remember most about my father though is his love of fishing and hunting. Long stretches of the summer season would be spent washing lures in Swanson Lake near Trenton, Nebraska. Winter weekends were to be spent in Twin Buttes, Colorado hunting Canada geese; or quail, pheasant, deer and elk when in season. Fishing, more than anything else, defined the good times that I remember from childhood.

His health in his later years was so poor that I can’t even begin to understand how he managed to drag himself through each day. But he did it for years. He fought his cancer tooth and nail till the end, and survived far longer with it and its after effects than any of the MD’s thought he could. He breathed his last with his youngest adoptive son (as I was also adopted) by his side.

We miss you already, dad.

Courtesy of Cindy Crays

His profile on Geni

The obituary we paid for in the Canon City Daily Record never made it into any online databases because they didn’t have a partnership with an online database (neither did Leoti) in 2009. The current owners of the paper are not interested in making good on payments made to the prior owners, and are only interested in getting me to give them money to do the job I thought we already paid for. Consequently the only place I can currently (3/31/2018) find my father referenced is on this blog, and on Tributes.com which just happens to reference my blog as the source. I will update the broken link to the official obit if the physical papers in either Leoti or Canon City are ever scanned and uploaded to the internet.

Ann Johnson: October 23, 1942 – July 7th, 2008

I was woken from a dead sleep this morning at 7:00 am to be told that Ann Johnson had passed away during the night from respiratory complications.

Several years ago when she left her townhome for an assisted living facility she asked me to oversee the moving of her stuff. It took me far longer than any reasonable person should expect; about a year all told. The delay was on my end, not hers. Patience was never one of Ann’s virtues, but she showed far more patience with me than I had any right to expect.

During the course of sifting through the volumes of video tapes housing the most cherished memories of her lifetime, the crates of magazines and fanzines for the various shows and groups she was following or was a member of; and, of course, the tons of collectibles and artwork that she had amassed through a lifetime of collecting, I found the following photograph.

I thought at the time “this is the way I want to remember Ann.” I’m glad that I was able to dredge up a copy from the records so that I could post it here.

The word is given, Ann. Warpspeed.

Here’s a link to her journal page at AOL. (Link altered to point to archive.org. Donations for their tireless work are appreciated. -ed.) Yes, she was an AOLer, but I never held it against her.

Guitartown Auction Results

Cybertar

Cybertar sold for a respectable $5,500 last night. I’m not going to complain about that price, although the artist did. I tried to explain to her that she didn’t go for the cute factor, didn’t have a famous person’s signature on the sculpture (and wasn’t already famous herself. Yet) or incorporate a famous person in the composition (although it does say “Dell” in about 4 places) and didn’t do the cultural equivalent of scream “Keep Austin Weird” somewhere in the piece. If she had done that, a five figure price would have been guaranteed.


This observation lead to jokes concerning incorporating flashing LED’s into the body of the guitar, something that would be bound to get any geek to pull out his wallet. LED’s that spelled out “Keep Austin Weird”? Top seller


The full results of the auction can be found at the Julien’s website. A grand total of $693,000 raised for charities in and around Austin.

Trip to the Light Fantastic
Reflections of Austin
Striking Texas Gold

The big winners of the night were also the ones that I personally found most impressive; Trip to the Light Fantastic, Reflections of Austin and Striking Texas Gold. The reason they are impressive might not be apparent in the photos. All of them are 360 degree mosaics (all of the surfaces are covered) of tiny little pieces of glass or stone, all of them meticulously glued into place by hand. How they got them finished in the time allotted is a mystery to me.

Fractal

Most underrated painted guitar: Fractal; it’s a picture, inside a picture, inside a picture, inside a guitar. Or maybe I just looked into opposing mirrors too much as a child.

Gibson Tree

Most underrated sculpture: Gibson Tree; This sculpture was featured on the cover of XL, and it still didn’t draw more than a 10,000 price. This was also an impressive display in the amount of time invested by the artist (the stand was molded to look like a tree trunk that the guitar had been carved out of) If any artist at the auction had reason to be disgruntled, this artist does.

Several of the guitars were donated back to the city for redisplay on the streets of Austin. While I can appreciate the charity of this action, I have to wonder who will be responsible for maintenance of the artwork once it’s back out on the street. I can’t imagine that the artists will be willing to continue maintaining the art for free; and as a libertarian, I don’t really think the gov’t should be saddled with this cost to be paid for at taxpayer expense. Maybe a private organization will step forward and offer to maintain the art, as has been done in other cities with public art displays. Only time will tell.


I left out the T-shirts. While at the auction, we stopped at a table for Wiskyclothing.com. They were selling T-shirts with a nice guitar collage on them, as well as shirts with your favorite guitar only. To quote S.C. Essai:

They are a bit pricey but then again… they are very very nicely printed. Not iron on transfer like Cafe Press. They “FEEL GOOD” is the best way I can describe them. They are printed on very comfy and durable t-shirts. I checked it out myself.
So.. what the heck.. feel like it ? Buy a shirt!

…and yes, the artists get a commission on shirt sales; so I’ll be buying at least one.


Remember all those funky 10-foot-tall guitar sculptures that were standing around town most of the year? They were part of a public arts project sponsored by – who else? – Gibson Guitar, to brighten up our cityscape for a year (and get the name of Gibson out there, natch). They were plucked from their perches a few weeks ago, so they could be auctioned off for charity, and so they were on Oct. 17. A crowd of 500 packed GSD&M’s Idea City to bid on (and watch others bid on) the 35 10-foot-tall guitars and 30 regular-sized guitars that had been transformed into works of art. Lone Star songster Ray Wylie Hubbard served as emcee, while international auctioneers Julien’s Auctions supervised the sales. They were brisk – Reflections of Austin, by Shanny Lott, and Striking Texas Gold, by Diane Sonnenberg, went for $55,000 apiece – and overall the Austin GuitarTown Auction Gala brought in $589,000. That wealth will be spread among four area charities: the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the Austin Museum of Art, American YouthWorks, and the Austin Children’s Museum.

Austin Chronicle, GuitarTown Project: Going, going, gone!

XL features Guitartown

That small piece of artwork that I helped complete a while back (and wrote about here) has been featured in the XL portion of the Austin American-Statesman.

Here’s a link to the story and the photo gallery.

Here’s the important part:

‘CYBERTAR’

Where: Outside the Littlefield Building, 106 E. Sixth St.

S.C. Essai’s sly ‘Cybertar’ communicates on multiple levels. Made from ‘dead computer parts’ Essai has collected over her years working in the tech industry, the geek-chic guitar represents Austin to the core. ‘This is sort of a way to merge elements of Austin, merge the high-tech with the music,’ she says. ‘I’m one of not a whole lot of people whose art is made from spare computer parts. And the name I use is part of the art itself. SCSI is an abbreviation that stands for Small Computer Systems Interface.’ Very clever. Essai painted the individual pieces and worked diligently to sculpt them into the (difficult, it turns out) contours of her fiberglass canvas.

Cybertar

March 15, 2019. I cannot find a single working link to any of the Gibson Guitartown information that was easily accessible at the time that I wrote this piece. The Statesman has hit hard times and no longer keeps records online where they can be found. Gibson has also removed all the data to an archive that is a pale reflection of what existed previously. I may have to reach out to the people who put the original pages together and find out if there is any way to get them onto the Wayback machine so that this period in history is not lost to the future. This is something we are going to have to take much more seriously.

Home is Where the Heart Is

A story about the old home town, on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday when I was growing up. I called a small town in Western Kansas home for most of my childhood years and Leoti, Kansas still occupies a special place in my memories even though it may not be home now. I lived in Leoti for eleven of my first fourteen years. Now that the grandparents have passed and dad has moved to Colorado (and also passed) I have a hard time thinking of Leoti as home anymore. But I know every square inch of the place intimately.

A small town is a great thing when you are a child. You can ride your bike in the street with little or no concern for car traffic. Amber Gribbon lived in the house facing the main highway, directly across the alleyway from our house. Amber is the only person I know who was struck by a car in the 11 years that I lived in Leoti. She had just been given a brand new pair of sneakers for her birthday, and she thought she could run faster than a car after putting them on. She was quite unhappy to find out that she couldn’t. Not as unhappy as the driver she ran out in front of. That was probably his worst day, a nightmare come true for any driver. She enjoyed showing us her cast and telling us the story, but she seemed no worse for wear even with the cast.

In a small town, everybody knows you. More importantly, everyone knows who your parents are, so you know that everything you do will probably get back to them. Nearly everything worth doing is within easy walking distance so there is no need to drive, at least not with any sort of a hurry required.

My paternal grandparents lived 7 blocks away, just past the old City Park. I always think of that direction as North. I don’t know why. I know full well that Tribune is a half-hour drive down the road in that direction, and that the Rocky mountains are visible not too far West from Tribune. That direction has to be West, not North. But in my head Grandma was North of our house. When I think of directions in relation to home as it was then, I have always gotten the directions shifted by 90°. The front of our house faced Grandma’s house, and that way was North in my head. Maybe it’s the wanderers desire to go where the sun goes that makes me think of that direction as the direction to go, or maybe it was that I felt safe at Grandma’s house. I’ll probably never know.

Hyland’s Map

Our family had lived in the area for several generations by that point. Our Grandfather’s uncle had bequeathed his property to the state (after his only son died) for the purpose of turning it into a state park. It still is a state park, (Kansas Travel) featuring one of the few natural springs in the area. I still have the map Grandpa drew for me showing how the homestead was laid out. He once told me the story of how the orginal dam was made of wood, a palisades dam as he described it, not the concrete dam you can see there now. One spring brought heavier than average rains and, as he told the story,

We watched the wave of water advance on the dam from the top of the nearby hill. the water covered the dam and went over it. When the flood passed where the dam had been, there was no remaining evidence that the dam (and our work) had ever been there. The ground was scraped clean.

Steele homestead, Scott State Park

The only other story of working with his uncle that I can recall him telling was when the university types began to take interest in the indian artifacts that they found when grandpa and his uncle were out working the fields. The guy nearly had a stroke and then a whole bunch more of them showed up and started digging around in the dirt looking for more useless stuff. I think that was my first introduction to the field of archeology. I’ve remained fascinated with useless stuff ever since.

There were (and still are) at least a hundred Steele relatives in the immediate area of Wichita, Scott and Saline counties, and about that many Heims (Grandmother’s family) as well, so a family gathering was a massive affair, something to really look forward to. Grandmother loved Thanksgiving. She loved to cook, and there would be pies galore. Pies made from the sour cherry trees she and Hyland cultivated on the backside of their property, pies that were baking a week in advance in preparation for the family event. Everybody brought a dish of their own, in addition to the massive turkey that would be cooking in the old gas oven at Grandma’s house.

You never knew who would show up for the event from year to year. The same old regulars would generally be there; Uncle Jake, Edna and Ted, Uncle Russ. But there also seemed to be a varying cast of additional characters that you never really got to know, but you knew were related somehow. They’d explain it to you if you asked, but I could never keep it all straight.

Dorothy, Evey and Edna. At least, I think that is Edna with her back to the camera.

A little after noon the feast would commence, and it didn’t stop for the rest of the day. After the initial round, the adults would break into groups and play cards or watch the football game, with the occasional return to grandmothers massive cherry banquet table, just to make sure that you were indeed no longer hungry. The children would go out and play in the croquet court that was Grandad’s pride and joy. It had poured concrete curbs and the bare earth could be leveled flat by an enormous angle-iron drag that I towed by hand around the court more times than I care to mention. The children could also just wander around town if they liked. The yard had no fence having once been just the verge of the fields that grandfather owned, fields now sold off to neighbors for their houses to be built on. Everyone knew Hyland and Hyland knew all of them. It was a very relaxed affair.

I can remember those times as clearly as if I was sitting in the old house right now. I cast myself back and I can picture the polished wooden floors in the kitchen. Floors inset with a dual light colored band that we used to mark off our kid-sized bowling lane until someone wanted to watch the television. To the right would have been the kitchen proper with it’s breakfast bar jutting into the room and high stools to prop yourself up on so you could chat while Grandma cooked. If you went to the left down the hallway you’d come out in the breezeway after taking a left at the washing machine, and if you went around the garage that was right in front of you there would be the double line of cherry trees. To the right was the back of the Methodist church were Grandpa sang every Sunday. If you followed the road past the church you would be facing the old Leoti High School (now the elementary school) on one corner, and on the other facing corner there was an A&W drive-in that tried to compete with the Dairy King that was on the other end of town. Dairy King is still there. It’s better situated, being right across from the fairgrounds and the softball/baseball diamonds.

The town has changed from what I remember. It has changed and yet it is still exactly the same in some fundamental ways. A friend of mine who worked for Broadwing (a fiber optic cabling company) had a tire blowout while she was on the road a few years back. It was Sunday and she needed to be somewhere else, but she wasn’t going anywhere until her car was fixed. She had taken a room at the only motel in the little town she was in and called me to pass the time since there was nothing else to do there. She remembered me mentioning that I had grown up in Kansas and wanted commiserate with me on how flat and boring Kansas was. I asked her where she was. She said “Leoti”.

I told her to hang on, and I made a call to my uncle Frank. Uncle Frank was Dad’s best friend and owned the gas station directly across the street from my Dad’s (Grandad’s before him) filling station in Leoti. Between them they owned the only two fueling spots in the entire county when I lived there. While I hadn’t spoken to Frank in several years, I knew he would remember me. Sure enough, we dropped right back into old times, and as soon as I mentioned my friend’s problems, he said not to worry about it.

My friend called me in amazement a few minutes later. “How did you do that? Every place in town is closed, I checked.” Two guys showed up with a tow truck, took the car down the road to the service station, and got it back on the road in a few hours. This happened on a Sunday in rural Kansas, where nothing gets done on Sunday. I just called an old friend, I said. Someone I really should have talked to more frequently.

Where the wart is now.

I have visited Leoti since then and I didn’t like the changes much. Frank’s son had inherited the family business and had to compete with a convenience store that they had built just off the town square. They knocked down what I remembered as a ginormous brick building, the home of Jaeger Implement for all of my memory, and erected a split faced concrete block and painted steel wart, right in the center of town. Well, the wart of a convenience store is directly across the street from what was the slab of the first grocery store in town, never rebuilt after the fire that gutted it, with what I always remembered as the State Farm insurance offices built on the back half the corner with brick tables and benches taking up the other half. The bank building on the opposite corner never was a bank in my memory even though everything about it said bank other than the occupant who lived there.

The store facing the wart across 4th street was the Three Way department store. It had a basement that mom lost me in once. I went exploring while she was shopping, and she nearly had a heart attack looking for me before I got bored and wandered back upstairs. It’s a True Value Hardware now, according to Google. The hardware store was the store further down the block. It had dusty, unfinished wooden floors and a narrow aisle that went front to back and exited on the alleyway at the back. A few doors down was the newspaper offices, right next to Pepper’s IGA, which was built as the only movie theater in Leoti way back before I was born. It was Pepper’s IGA when I tried my hand at shoplifting as a child. I had to go back in with my backside smarting to pay the cashier for the candy that I stole. I never did that again, but the shopkeepers never forgot it. They were always chasing me out of the stores when they would catch me reading comic books on the floor like it was my living room. All of town was my living room, from where I saw it.

What became Pepper’s IGA

The place where Peppers was is now an empty, grass-covered lot. The building that had been a theater and was later the IGA burned down a few years after my one childhood criminal act. It burned down like so many of Peppers’ businesses did before he was cordially invited to leave town. Next to that was the courthouse and the library, my home away from home. I could lay on the floor and read all day there and no one would chase me out for doing it, either. I still get nostalgic walking into a library. The smell of books always brings that feeling back.

The tavern is still the second building behind the insurance office across Broadway from the wart (Sinclair? In Kansas? Since when?) right where I remember it being. I remember it being there because of the many times Grandpa would drive us downtown on errands to buy groceries for Grandma. He’d always have to stop in and shoot a snooker game with the boys along the way. Further down Fourth Street in that direction was the Post Office and the barbershop, before you ran into the old fire station (now the Museum of the Great Plains) if you take a right there and go two blocks you will hit the elementary school that I attended.

Across the street from the tavern, the Post Office and the terrifying barbershop was the Rexall drug store and the Ben Franklin’s five and dime thrift store. I always get the location for that drug store mixed up because the druggist (pharmacist) lived on the other end of Fourth Street, two houses closer to the library than our cross street was. Seven blocks from home to school, and I walked that distance every day that there wasn’t snow on the ground, sometimes even then. When I got my first bike and was liberated from walking everywhere, I rode all over town, exploring every street.

I could even ride across the railroad tracks, an ominous barrier a full two blocks further over from the school, that I only dared to cross once prior to that, and I did it in order to speak to the girl I was sweet on when I was about ten or twelve. I remember that incident because a kid named Ray lived near her. He hated me and I knew he could run faster than me. But I got away scott free that day. Liberated on my bicycle I could even ride to my friend Mitch’s house, a full three or four blocks farther North on Fourth Street from the railroad tracks. Why, that was nearly out of town!

On the other end of Fourth Street, on the South edge of town, was the Catholic church where I went to see what Catholicism was all about with my aunt Betty and Uncle Clem. They moved into town the last few years that I lived in Leoti, and they built a house on the corner that lead back towards the swimming pool, one block down Fourth Street from where the Wichita County hospital was at the time. The city offices now sit where the hospital was, caddy-corner across the alleyway from my old house, and the hospital is now two blocks further back from Fourth on the other side of the street, next to what we baldly proclaimed as the Old Folks Home back in the day. We could see the building every day that we were swimming during the summer since it was across the county park from the pool.

I remember the Old Folks Home because that was were they put Grandma after she started showing signs of Alzheimer‘s. The year we went back for Thanksgiving and the Wife made Dad take his cigarettes outside to smoke. Grandma thanked her for that. “I hate the way those things smell.” Dad comically shivered and looked mournful out on the porch all by himself. That was the year that the Daughter got to meet her great grandmother. The last time we all got together and laughed as a family. The last real Thanksgiving, in my estimation.

Grandma died in 2000, eighteen years after the love of her life, Hyland. His former filling station is now a bare concrete slab. One of the eight different businesses that he ran during his long lifetime in Leoti Kansas. When Grandpa saw something that needed doing, he’d figure out a way to get a business started that could do it. If the business didn’t make money or was too much work, he’d sell it. If it did make money and he liked doing the work, he’d keep it. His house was bought by the town mayor after Grandma no longer needed it. The mayor painted the house grey and took out the raised flower bed outside the living room picture window that was Grandma’s pride and joy. All of the cherry trees have died and grass grows where they and the croquet court used to be. Time changes everything.

Kansas, it’s a great place to be from. Home is someplace else now. Thanksgivings are just not the same anymore. The cherry pies are sweeter and they don’t have that sour bite that Grandma’s pies had. When you have to do the cooking, and you hate cooking like I do, Thanksgiving becomes a chore that you’d just as soon not engage in. Chores like putting up and taking down decorations that no one notices in the big city. They don’t look unless your entire neighborhood loses its mind and lights the entire street and all the trees. Then they show up and they never stop coming until you take the lights back down again. Traffic snarled for blocks in all directions so badly that you can’t even get home to enjoy the holiday. Who wants that?

Grandpa hosted the nativity scene for the Methodist church on his front lawn every year. He had life-sized statues with bales of hay around the animals, and strings of multicolored lights hung on all the eves of the house. We’d go out and help him set up the display not too long after the Thanksgiving feast was over. We never had anyone come by to gawk that I can remember, certainly not enough of them that we couldn’t get into the house when we wanted. But he went through the labor every year, just like Grandma did for Thanksgiving. I never understood it, but I always did appreciate it. A memory to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. May yours be a happy one.


Editor’s note, 2019. Wayback Machine archive from 2012 showing the original article. It’s longer and reads better, but essentially the same. You be the judge.

Steele Penny Pub & Los Lonely Boys

This is a blog entry I’ve been threatening my brother with for a long time. I just can’t put it off any longer though, not with The Stones playing in town tonight; and opening for The Stones (perhaps the oldest and still most popular rock band actively touring these days) one of the newest bands to hit the charts, Los Lonely Boys.

Last week they were featured at Austin City Limits Festival, and this week they are opening for The Stones. They’ve hit the big time, these three guys from San Angelo, thanks in no small part to my brother.

Why my brother? Let me tell you a story…

There was a little place in San Angelo called the Steel Penny Pub, one of the few places in that town where you could go to get good cold beer and great live music. My brother opened the venue with the intention of creating a place for his band Hazytrane to play, only to discover that the demands of owning a business took up too much time for him to continue pursuing his own musical career. Not too long after starting the Pub, his band folded up and went their separate ways. The lead guitarist became a lawyer. I still can’t wrap my head around that transition.

What he did instead of featuring his own band was to look around for another house band to fill the void that was left where his band used to be. What he found was Los Lonely Boys. Even though (as this article notes) they were underage at the time, Russ gave the boys the job, and they honed their already impressive skills playing several nights a week at the pub.

I would really like to say “I heard Los Lonely Boys at the Steel Penny Pub” but I was a professional architect working in another town, and I didn’t have time to fool around with music in those days. Somehow I managed to miss all of their performances there. Luckily for them, Willie Nelson didn’t. While in town for a show of his own, Willie stopped by the Pub and heard Los Lonely Boys for the first time, and recognized their talent right away. Within a few months they were playing at festivals and concerts alongside Willie Nelson, and not too long after that their first album debuted.

…And the rest is history. Heaven (not my favorite song on the album, but definitely a very catchy tune) reached the top ten, and stayed there for 18 weeks. My brother handed over management of the Pub to his business partner, and went on the road with Los Lonely Boys as their road manager for nearly two years. It was quite a ride.

I finally got to see & hear Los Lonely Boys play at Antones here in Austin, early in their first tour. I’ve never seen anybody play guitar like these guys can. If you get a chance to see them live, you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t take the time to go see them play. Live is the way to experience most music; and live is without a doubt the best way to experience Los Lonely Boys music. You just won’t know what it’s really like until then.

The last time I saw them was in the largest ever attending crowd (30,00 plus) for the Town Lake summer concert, which they turned into a concert video. And now they are opening for The Stones tonight. I know where my brother is going to be. Wouldn’t mind being in his shoes tonight, not one bit.

Board Art

Been hanging out with a local artist lately, trying to help her get her latest art project ready to display. She submitted a proposal to Austin GuitarTown, and was overjoyed when they accepted it.

…and then the scope of the work to be done looms overhead, just like any deadline in any business with deadlines (are there any without?) but, with the last minute efforts finally completed, it’s time to relax.

Modern art really isn’t my thing; but I have to say, the boards create an interesting effect on the body of the guitar. I’m hoping the rest of the viewing public agrees.

S.C. Essai is “not just another scuzzi artist”