Looking back on all this, my story was just as much an oddity as it was an odyssey.
It all started back in 1982: I had been on the road for about 12 years, hitting the honky tonks all over the West and Northwest, a real road warrior…going out for two or three months at a time, back to Austin to decompress for a few weeks and then back out there again. About that time, a wild man by the name of Billy Callery came into my world. Billy had written some great songs (Hands On The Wheel, Pot Don’t Call The Kettle Black, etc.), and had a deal with Willie Nelson on his Lone Star Record Label. Billy decided that he couldn’t take the road anymore, so he took me out to Willie World on the Pedernales and introduced me. Billy told Willie that he wanted to give me his deal because he knew I would go out on the road and promote it. Time passed and I kept waiting for Willie to call. I was about to give up on the idea…when my girl friend Pam, tired of my complaining, loaded me into her Toyota and drove me out to Willie’s house. I knocked on the door and was relieved to find out from his daughter that he wasn’t home. Just as I got back down the drive, here came Willie. I mustered my courage and nervously blurted out, “Willie, you said you were going to get me in the studio; I just wondered if that was for real or what?” Willie smiled at me, shook my hand and said, “Can you come in the first of next week?”
Sure enough, just a few days later we were recording at Willie’s Studio. Around that time, producer/musician, Steve Mendell, had moved down from Nashville and was working with people like Stevie Ray Vaughn and playing with all kinds of musicians from Neil Young to B.B. King to James Brown…you name it, he’s played with ‘em. I had met Steve at several gatherings around Austin and we quickly became friends; when I asked for his help, he didn’t hesitate. He brought in a lot of people to spice it up…like The Cain Sisters, then Fred and Julie Minter who wanted to help by investing in our trip to Nashville to put the “A” Strings from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra on it. Legendary steel player, Pete Drake laid down some tracks and Johnny Christopher, “Always On My Mind,” played guitar. We even got the guy that played cello on the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” on this thing. ‘The sixth Beatle,’ man, I thought I was on my way to the big time!
When we got back from Nashville, we still needed a few more songs to finish the album. I had a few more up my sleeve, and one night, a bunch of us were hanging out downtown and decided to go to Freddie Joe Fletcher’s studio in the Austin Opry House and lay down some tracks. We recorded, The Best Part of Lovin’ with Stephen Bruton and Sammy Creason (Kris Kristofferson’s band), Chris “Easter” Ethridge (Flying Burrito Brothers) and Reese Wynan (Stevie Ray Vaughn, Los Lonely Boys). What a trip!
It was about this time that I was introduced to my future wife’s grandmother, Ms. Kathleen Yellott. “Mom,” as everyone called her, lived on the edge of a Bayou on the edge of the spooky Big Thicket. “Mom” was a seer and a Curandera. When we first met she said, “You’re a musician aren’t you? I asked how she knew and she said, “Sit down, I’m going to look into your future.” I did…and she did… and then she gave me some news I didn’t want to hear. She told me that I was going to make it in the music business…but not until a quarter of a century had passed. Well, here I was, getting all these great gigs and playing with some of the finest musicians in the world. I had the world by the tail … and I just thought she was way off base! Well in the past twenty-five years, I’ve thought about that conversation a lot…
I hung around Austin until 1987 waiting for something to happen…but it never did.
I’ll never know why, but Pam agreed to marry me in May of ’82. Soon my blushing 24 year old bride was blessed with a 12 year old son, when son Eric from my first marriage, came to live with us. I was still on the road and my little family missed me. By ’85, our daughter Tiana was on the way and my recording tapes still lay in the can, the record companies insisting that my sound was “just not right for the times.” I was still getting some great gigs though. I sang the state song at Mark White’s Governor’s Ball and had a cut on the 1986 Texas Sesquecentenniel Album. But…, with a teenage son in need of his dad and a newborn baby girl in tow, I decided is was time to leave the crazy life on the road and head home to West Texas to help my wife raise our children. I’d made pretty good money playing, and all of a sudden I found myself with no job, no skills—other than musical - and no prospects. At first, I hocked my instruments to buy food and pay the rent on the tiny house Pam had rented in the old section of town. But soon, an old high school buddy and fellow musician, Richard Ramirez, gave me my first “real” job—as a plumber’s helper. Let me tell you, digging a 60 foot trench with a pick and shovel seemed a long, long way from playing before 40,000 screaming fans at Willie’s Picnic! God had plans for me however and before long some other high school friends, the Andersons, hired me to work at their communications company. They taught me the Tower trade. They “taught me to fish”—as the saying goes.
But without music there were too many long days, and shortly Richard and I went back to our old ways. In 1988 we started a band, The Old Hat Band. At first it was just the two of us, Richard on keys, piano bass and a drum machine, with me on guitar and harmonica. We both sang and had great harmonies…still do! Then we got Manuel Burciega to play drums for us and added various guitar and bass players through the years…but kept on playing “to keep the dream alive” with the Old Hat Band. All the songs we played were the old stuff. It was “Old Hat”!
A couple of years ago, I started wondering what had happened to the tapes we’d done “back in the day.” I got in touch with Steve Mendell and he set out on a quest to find them. When he did, at Arlyn Studio in the old Austin Opry House, they had suffered, covered with a quarter-century of dust and the emulsion coming off the backing. Steve got in touch with the 3M company and they sent him a machine to bake the tape. We went into the Loma Ranch Studio in Fredericksburg (one of the only places left in the country that still had an old Studer tape machine) and we started downloading to digital. Lo and behold, the quality was still there!!!! Then we got to work! Richard, Manuel and our bass player, Joe Dianda went down and added some new parts. I called my old guitar player from the original sessions, Joe Forlini, and he came in and put some new guitar work on the project. Man, has Joe learned a trick or two in the last 25 years. Steve then suggested we get Johnny Gimble to lay down some fiddle. He came in and did a great job. I’d met Pauline Reese (the Mother of the Alamo) while working on Crockett’s Fiddle, recorded inside the Alamo with my friend K.R. Wood. I asked her if she would come in and sing my lovers part on a couple of songs. She agreed to…but promptly reminded me that when I first started this record, she was only two years old. Thanks, Pauline!” With the help of Augie Meyers, Flaco Jimenez and Al Gomez of Texas Tornados fame, we went back in the studio and recorded a couple of new songs that tell the story of our “journey through time”!
Twenty-five years later, full circle…and just beginning. I can’t wait to make my next record…look for it in around 2032! (T. Gozney)