I am a retired Chemistry teacher/professor with 46 years teaching in Texas public schools and colleges. Now a more active singer/ songwriter with several BMI published songs. I play Flamenco, folk, rock and blues guitar. I also write political parody songs and political/scientific essays/blogs. Born an Okie from Muskogee in 1941 but quickly moved to beautiful Tyler, Texas where I lived until 1961. I went to Texas Colleges and Universities and earned two advanced degrees. I had an early interest in science and music.
Beethoven to Sousa to Montoya to Elvis to Dylan to Miguel – My Musical Journey!
Thanks to my enlightened sixth grade teacher, Earline Andrews, I was exposed to the perfect fifth interval of monumental Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony early enough to make a lasting impression. People from all cultures generally recognize the Da Da Da Dum introduction of his masterpiece which can stir several strong emotions even in a 12 year old boy with some innate musical ability. I did not understand the full impact of Beethoven’s genius until I heard “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony in a Music Appreciation class at Baylor University in 1963, and later in the soundtrack to Clockwork Orange composed by Wendy/Walter Carlos on a Moog Synthesizer. Carlos created a unique analog/digital masterpiece which gave rise to the digital music movement; that point I decided that I would pursue and master the guitar one day and play classical music before I was too old to find inspiration. I assumed that that type of inspiration must be from romantic, religious, and sexual experience or some combination of all the above. Beethoven was the Beatles and Elvis wrapped into one of his generation and women actually swooned and fainted when he played "Moonlight Sonata" for them. This was documented in the movie Immortal Beloved, one of my top ten movies of all time and by far the best soundtrack CD ever recorded.
While long suffering through the pop music wasteland of the late 40's and early 50's with such stellar hits as "Mr. Sandman", I found myself in a musical quagmire. After a halfhearted attempt at the trumpet in four years of school band left me exhausted and bored after playing a litany of Souza Marches in Tyler’s famous Rose Parade. Thirty choruses of Stars and Stripes Forever on 1st trumpet in a three hour parade can take its toll on lips, legs and ears! Several years later I would be more easily riding in the parade on a float playing guitar with Robin Hood and his Merry Men to the latest rock and roll hit by Jerry Lee Lewis "Whole Lot of Shaking Goin’ On", a far cry from "Stars and Stripes Forever", and a helluva lot more fun to play and I could wear jeans and a short sleeve shirt and cool sunglasses and be a local pop celebrity!! My popularity at the Crest Drive In with the young ladies on weekends and at school was increasing exponentially, and I loved the attention!
Fortunately, my band career was short lived when the head cheerleader, who I was dating at the time, asked me to be manager of the girls drill team. It was the dream job for a high school junior boy! There were over 300 girls in the Blue Brigade and only five of us Blue Guards. I was in Blue Brigade heaven! We protected the girls from predators, aggressive jocks and other sketchy characters and gave them emotional support at all night slumber parties and all out of town trips to football games as we were the only guys on the bus. We also took care of equipment for performances and sometimes would help with their costumes, undergarments and other support, some of which I did not realize existed and wasn’t sure what the function was, but assumed it was related to breasts. Some of the jocks would have gladly changed places. I hung out with mostly senior women and Myra, now my wife, was one of them, but I did not date her until much later after she was married to a friend and co-song writer, Knox Henderson. Music and song writing brought us together after several years of searching for the right instrument to pursue and the burning desire to write a hit song far from Mr. Sandman’s sound.
My early musical career was launched when my neighbor, Sue , gave me an old ukulele to strum along with tunes on the radio and her 45 rpm record player.
"Mr. Sandman" was my first song to learn after buying a book of chords. After playing "Mr. Sandman", "Never on Sunday" and "Lady of Spain" way too many times; I was ready to make a change because my baseball team buddies were not impressed and doubted my masculinity and sexual preference as indicated by their comments after several choruses of "Mr. Sandman" on the ukulele. Then one glorious day a new genre was born in the movie Blackboard Jungle. "Rock Around the Clock "was burnin’ up the airwaves and my radio was smokin’. The ukulele wasn’t cutting it anymore on "Rock Around the Clock"! Very soon after that another revelation came across the airwaves on KDOK Radio in Tyler one day. Elvis and his songs, " Mystery Train" and "That’s All Right Little Mama" changed everything! I saw Elvis with his Gibson guitar on some early black and white TV show and suddenly realized that the guitar would take me to musical nirvana and into the promised land of the 50's and 60's.
My mother had encouraged, but my father discouraged, my taking piano lessons earlier – his decision was somehow related to Liberace . This was a common myth concerning all male piano players would be like the overtly flamboyant Liberace in his famous TV show. When Elvis and Johnny Cash came on the scene my dad seem to be very accepting of me having a guitar; consequently the ukulele and trumpet went in the closet and stayed after another neighbor gave me an old arch back Kay guitar. I suppose it was simply luck, but does to a degree today seem like a matter of destiny and a serendipitous sequence of events. I can remember as if it were yesterday listening to "Mystery Train" on Sue’s 45 rpm record player and trying to figure out the chords and rhythm and when I finally did, it was a defining moment! I could actually play and sing along with Elvis and knew I was destined to play in his band one day – a bit ambitious at the time! I wonder where Springsteen was that day – he did play for Elvis in his Las Vegas band much later! It all seemed so natural and easy at the time! Then Johnny Cash released "Folsom Prison Blues" and it was a guitar player’s song because of the repeating characteristic Cash sound on the bass strings – Dum, Ditty Dum, Ditty Dum, Ditty Dum! I thought I was a real genius when I figured how to play and sing "Folsom Prison" along with Johnny Cash – way cool! My baseball buddies and girlfriends were all impressed now and I was invited to all the parties as long as I brought my guitar and played some Elvis, Johnny and Carl Perkins and his "Blue Suede Shoes" which I actually wore! I could never get tired of playing "Folsom Prison Blues" infinite times! That was really weird! Two choruses of Sandman and I was bored, there was definitely something magic about Johnny Cash and Elvis and the sound of their guitars! They both played Gibson guitars, so the next step was definitely a big body flat top Gibson. Gibson guitar stock went up dramatically and all aspiring musicians looked to Memphis and Sun Records for inspiration. I even dreamed of playing for Elvis or Johnny in their traveling bands. I saw Johnny on his first tour at a club in Tyler and sat in the tenth row. Scottie Moore’s Gibson Byrdland guitar was the most beautiful instrument I had never seen! The glossy finish shimmered in the spotlight and danced around the room in rhythm to the music. I was mesmerized by one the first of many American musical country icons. They would change our culture forever, and I seemed to be part of the revolution! Elvis and Johnny were the long awaited Messiahs of American pop culture. They would lead us out of the wilderness of the 40's into the promised land of the 50's and 60's with a bit of a bumpy ride in the psychedelic 60's when we lost a legion of apostles to drugs in the countercultural revolution. It was and still is a high price to pay for musical and cultural progress. I hope Mr. Sandman himself has been buried and locked up forever! Praise Jesus, Johnny and Elvis! Religion did play a big role in their careers as they were both devout Christians and both were singing gospel music at an early age and those elements were always present in their music.
My next crossroads experience started in 1960 with exposure to Flamenco by Carlos Montoya, not Satan as the blues players all have to deal with at their crossroads according to legend. I could keep my soul which is also very important to flamenco, if not more so. In a sense, the soul is actually completely exposed and resurrected during the true flamenco experience between dancers, the guitarists, singers and aficionados. It is called “Duende” in Spanish and is the metaphysical experience of “Bare Truth”, when one is somehow transported to very depth of all things to experience emotion in its most naked and poignant state. I have experienced this in small gypsy family venues in Spain; also listening to my guitar teacher, Miguel Antonio, and to some extent playing certain soulful pieces myself. Listening to a Beethoven symphony comes close to this experience, but doesn’t equal it for flamenco aficionados -- you must experience it to fully understand. Carlos was a nephew of Ramon Montoya, one of the patron saints of “Flamenco Puro” music. Carlos was one of the first to take flamenco out of the dance halls in Andalusia and play it on the concert stage all over the world, and I would be one of his first disciples in Texas. Mrs. Anton who owned the only record store in Tyler said to me one day, “Larry, why don’t you take all those gypsy records in the guitar bin and listen to them - they never sell. Keep the ones you like and bring the others back to me”. How random was that? A bit of a luck and serendipity! Well it was instant love for the Flamenco sound. The magic I heard in the driving rhythms and percussive sounds of Carlos playing Malaguena and Solea was overwhelming and I was hooked. Little did I know it would take another 40 years to learn ten pieces with only marginal proficiency? A resurrected Carlos would probably give me the sign of “dagger to your heart and into your guitar” because I still often break rhythm (fuero de compas) trying to obey the very strict rules of Flamenco. These strict rules are necessary in order to maintain the timing between dancers and guitarists so necessary for the dancers to appear to be very spontaneous and unrehearsed, even though the rhythms are very structured.
The road to Flamenco nirvana took a 180° turn to rock and roll in the late 50's. I played and sang a early rock song, "I've Had It", with a friend, Billy Don Adams on drums at a school talent show . Is was a big hit and all the girls seemed a lot friendlier, so at the time I assumed rock and roll was the future, also there were no Flamenco books in English or teachers. I jammed with the Stanley Brothers, Larry and David, and then we formed a band named Larry Stanley and the Satellites soon after the advent of Sputnik. Our big break came when we played at the Crest Drive In all summer 1959 during intermissions for free admission and limited concession snacks for as many friends and family as we could pack into a 1958 Ford. I played rhythm guitar on my new Gibson flattop big body guitar with custom pickup my parents bought for me. Larry Stanley played a Les Paul Junior guitar and is still an icon in Tyler in East Texas. David Stanley played bass and is also an icon among bass players. David and Larry played for Dolly Parton on the road and at Dollywood (Nashville) for years. We were one of the first rock and roll bands In Tyler and East Texas and Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly would have been proud! Larry and David are natural born musicians and still amaze audiences with their guitar wizardry!
The next step came when a local pianist/singer sat with us one night at the drive in named Robin Hood Brians. We later recorded some tapes at a recording studio in his living room – his studio is now considered to be one of the finest anywhere. Robin later asked me to play guitar on his nationally released record, "Just a Itty Bit of Your Love" on Fraternity Records and then we started the band named Robin Hood and his Merry Men. We played the local Friday night talent review at Bergfeld Park and were the house band for up and coming stars including Bugs Henderson, Ronnie Weiss (aka Mouse), the Neville Sisters and a 12-yer-old powerhouse blues singer Vicki Britton. It was a great experience and I learned all styles of playing and we played many big recording sessions while I was playing guitar in his studio for several years. Some of them are now legends, i.e. Tina Turner, Dale Hawkins, the Uniques, Tony Douglas , David Houston, the Five Americans and ZZ Topp. We played the country club circuit in East Texas and played regular gigs for the American Legion, the Elks Club, the Rose Festival and big private parties. We even came to Dallas and were the house band for big shows such as the Bobby Rydell Show and Roy Orbison at the State Fair. Robin Hood taught us how to read Nashville style chord charts so we could play with minimal rehearsal, which was unusual for most rock and roll/ pop bands those days.
While attending Tyler Junior College I sang in the First Baptist Church Choir and learned how to sight read choral music. I was part of a quartet and we sang special songs and I played guitar for the Sunday morning service and Youth programs. The choir director, Joe Carroll, asked me to be a counselor at the youth camp at Piney Woods one summer and organize and conduct the campfire singing service. After 1000 verses of "Kum Ba Ya" and "500 Miles" night after night I was ready to retire from that job.
After graduating from Tyler Junior College, I moved to Waco to attend Baylor University in order to further my pre medical career. I hooked up with a very talented musician named Ramsey Horton who was a member of the Tryon Coterie fraternity. We formed a band named Ramsey Horton and the Silvertones. Neil Shoop played bass and sang vocals, Dennis Black was on sax, and Alan Thompson played the drums. We played fraternity and sorority parties at Baylor and at U T Austin for three years and were well known in central Texas. We played the first unofficial dance on the Baylor campus at May Day Fest, 1964, and were busted by the Deans. Dancing was forbidden on the Baylor campus until the late 80’s because of the Southern Baptist tradition. It made the Baptist Standard worldwide paper and I had some explaining to do to parents and preacher back home. I am still on the “Prayer List” at Baylor because of this little transgression. We also got busted one night when, after returning from a party we played, Dennis Black decided to play his sax while streaking butt naked in the dorm. We played a toga party for a U.T. Austin fraternity and that was an “eye opening experience”. The UT sorority girls were a bit more liberated than the Baylor girls; the Texas Tri Deltas were beautiful, and they were scantily dressed in togas – pretty crazy for ’64. After sharing the better part of a keg with the Kappa Sigs, the Tri Delts looked like Greek goddesses – “the girls all get prettier at closin’ time”. It was much better than the Animal House movie experience and with friendly Texas Tri Delta girls!! We were actually unaware that we actually opened for Willie Nelson one Friday night at the Castle Rock Club in Waco until someone told us later. No photos - I could have jammed with Willy! We later went to Tyler and recorded a record, First Kiss, which was a Floyd Cramer style song featuring Ramsey on piano and the Neville Sisters, Debby and Sharon on vocals at Robin Hood’s studio. I played guitar for an up and coming blues sensation and friend, Vickie Britton, who had a very successful nightclub in Dallas for years.
While at Baylor I was involved in several productions at the Baylor Theater and met a young folksinger named Patty O’ Neill. She asked me to play guitar at a local coffeehouse and then for her on the Bob Hope College Tour Concert which was coming to Waco. I had been playing in a folk music trio with one of Ramsey’s fraternity brothers and Dennis Black’s wife, Colleene. Patty was a great talent with a beautiful voice and later went to New York City and became a star on Broadway and on daytime TV. After graduation in ’64, I went to New York City with some friends from the Baylor Theater to work at the Texas Pavilion at the New York World’s fair. I auditioned for a singing Cowboy guitar band which was playing standard Texas songs in a bar for five shows per day. After playing Deep in the Heart of Texas and Yellow Rose of Texas four times a day not counting rehearsal, I was ready to move on to a new musical challenge. I went to the Village East one night and heard Bob Dylan. Halfway through "Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right", I knew I had a new musical mission – to learn how to play and sing like Bob Dylan and play the harmonica. At the time I thought I was a better guitar player, but his vocals and lyrics were so dramatically different and so appealing that I knew this guy was destined to be a major star and force in American folk and pop music. Soon after that I came back to Texas to start my first teaching job in Marshall, Texas in the fall of 1964. The first thing I did why I got back to Tyler was go to Mrs. Anton’s record shop and buy Dylan’s first album and second album. I immediately bought a Marine Band harmonica, sat down and learned all the Dylan songs! I played some of my Dylan songs for my rock and roll buddies and at first they did not seem impressed. One of them, Ronnie Weiss, aka, Mouse, is now considered to be the very first successful neo Dylan Punk rock artist and his band, Mouse and the Traps had several big hits in the neo Dylan genre. They still play reunions and I opened for several and they still have a big fan base in Europe and here as an early 60's garage rock band.
Then one day while at Robin Hood’s studio, I met another Bob Dylan aficionado named Knox Henderson. Knox had written some songs in the bob Dylan’s style and was looking for someone to record them. Well it was perfect timing, and he gave me a Dylan style put down song named "You Ain’t Tuff". Little did we know that this song was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of the punk rock/garage band genre. This was further verified later by the release of the Nuggets box set in 2002, and Knox being called Grandfather Punk by Rolling Stone Magazine after he wrote a national hit and punk rock classic for Mouse and the Traps, "Public Execution". I recorded "You Ain’t Tuff" at Robin Hood’s studio in the summer of 1965 and it was released regionally on Robin Hood’s label R. B. E. records. After some airplay, a group named the Joe Stampley and the Uniques covered the song and released it on a major label named Paula Records out of Shreveport Louisiana. I played harmonica on the master and received some praise for my playing; it was my first big harmonica gig. The song was a regional hit, and made it to number one in Dallas on K. L. I. F. radio’s pop chart for several weeks. I played with the Uniques on several of their local gigs. The money I made from royalties was not much. It turned out Paula Records and they paid you want they wanted you to have, no questions asked! Robin Hood, the publisher, is still working on the legal side of the issue after it was re released on the Nuggets Box Set and sold over 100,000 copies. Earlier, Knox gave me 10-15 song lyrics and I have rewritten and rerecorded several of them since his death in 2002. Two of them are definitely commercial and Willie Nelson would probably record "Madonna of the Roses" if I can give him a great master. Knox, and Myra my future wife, moved to Hollywood in 1966 where Knox was under writer’s contract with Four Star Music and wrote several hits for the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and was their road manager for a while. Myra had a great job at CBS TV Hollywood where she saw many stars and met Jim Morrison at a party after a gig at the Whiskey a Go Go. Knox and Myra had two different short tenures in Hollywood and in between they opened the first mod/English/hippie style clothing boutique in Dallas in 1968, the Electric Rocking Horse on McKinney Avenue near Hall Street. They sold bell bottomed pants, ruffled shirts and complete outfits for many of the top bands on tour, local musicians and the “hip crowd”. It was pretty radical for conservative Dallas. After about 1/12 successful years they were bought out by another partner, John Paul Price. He and Knox didn’t agree on how to run the shop; Myra left Knox in 1971 and moved back to Tyler after his being caught up completely in the Hollywood lifestyle and “forgetting” he was married much of the time. I started dating Myra after their divorce and the rest is history as we had been good friends for many years – nothing more, nothing less!......... Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right!
While teaching in Grand Prairie from 1967–1970, I played at local coffeehouses including the Rubiyat on McKinney Avenue and played primarily folk and Dylan and some Flamenco. I meet and auditioned with the only Flamenco teacher in North America, Edward Freeman, who was able to transcribe Flamenco from gypsy records and also built guitars. I had one lesson because he didn’t like my style because I had not studied classical and he slapped my hands around - he was a bit loco! Flamenco went back on the back burner! After a five year graduate school tenure at East Texas State University, (now A&M Commerce), I moved back to Dallas with Myra and Paul and started my tenure teaching Chemistry at Highland Park High School for 20 years where I sponsored the Guitar Club. I played numerous charity gigs, big private parties and weddings for years including the Park Cities debutante gala, La Fiesta de la Seis Banderas. One day while at Frets and Strings, the upscale guitar shop in Dallas, I met my mentor Miguel Antonio the gifted Flamenco master artist and teacher. It was serendipity at its finest level! Finally, I would be able to learn how to play a Flamenco piece correctly! After 20 of lessons with Miguel, I can play ten short pieces fairly well. I was teaching full time all those years, so the progress was slow, not to mention the level of difficulty. It took several lessons just to learn how to clap the rhythm for the Bulerias, then several more lessons to play the piece, which is a simple arrangement. The masters all start very young and learn by ear and watching other players – very little is written down in the gypsy culture and it is very spontaneous and largely improvised! It gives an illusion of a high degree of continually evolving entropy/disorder while being performed, but all the while maintaining a high degree of rhythmic structure - random on one level yet structured on another! I assume that is why I am attracted to Flamenco, and this realization probably explains why my learning style and teaching style is similar and it works for me! I suppose I am lucky to be able to understand that much about myself and make it productive; if I could only overcome procrastination, I might be able to play 20 pieces well by now and it wouldn’t take 30 years to finish my two CD’s!! My Flamenco CD will be the next one on CD Baby - stay tuned!
I played at a Victorian style club in Commerce during my grad school days owned by Mike Reid. I played 3 - 4 hours of Dylan, Folk, Progressive Country and Flamenco. I think I played all the clubs , coffehouses and cafes in Commerce from '70 -'75. I opened a college concert gig for Jimmy Buffett on his first tour in'73 and I had barely heard of him . Didn't even get a picture taken or an autograph!
During the early Highland Park years, I met two teachers, Jerry Smith and Steve Wilkes and together we would become The Highland Trio, a folk group and later Jerry, Hairy and Larry. We played an annual Christmas concert for 25 years for students and teachers until political correctness and a new principal aligned with the ACLU and deemed the songs too religious for Highland Park, a ludicrous decision since HP was one of the most conservative high school in the country. The songs were partly secular with some traditional Christmas folk songs. It infuriated everyone and polarized my politics even more. We also played for the annual Football banquet for the storied HP Football and other sports teams. We relyriced songs and included players in the songs - It was a huge hit every year! We are now working on a CD of all those HP Football songs, assuming we can clear some copyright issues, and plan to place it in CD Baby before the 2012 football season. We also have a reunion every Christmas with students and teachers and play the same concert we did for years at HP!
I am now trying to improve my song writing skills and have finished about 30 songs. I took a songwriting and music business course with Mary Dawson at S.M.U., a local songwriter, teacher and publisher. My wife Myra and I have recently written several country songs which Robin Hood Brians believes are commercial and hopefully we can place them with a big star possibly Dolly Parton – the next step in my musical journey as far away as I can get from Mr. Sandman!