SEVEN: Before the Music
“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
I began writing the story of my music adventure in 1991 from notes initiated in 1972. The deaths of my good friends Bob Venable in 1996 and Buck Ramsey in 1998 triggered strong emotional introspection of gathering and deciphering old memories—some vague, some not. I journeyed back to dim childhood memories during the Second World War when American families were held captive by calamitous, historic events of the early 1940s. Even in those fateful times, Amarillo was a fine place for a youngster to be raised. It was small enough to be relatively safe and large enough (1950 population 75,000) to provide job opportunities for my parents.
But I was born in Austin, Texas at the old Seton Hospital that was located at West 26th Street and Seton Avenue near the University of Texas campus where Dad attended law school for a year and a half until his father’s ability to fund a college education was swept away by the Great Depression of the 1930s. My parents met in Austin where Mom lived and worked after high school graduation in her hometown of Elgin, just 30 miles to the east. When I was six months old we moved to the town of Pampa in the Texas Panhandle about 50 miles northeast of Amarillo and not far from Dad’s hometown of Alanreed, a small town about 60 miles east of Amarillo on U.S. Route 66. During two years of the war we lived in Pantex Village, unit #269, a part of the Pantex Ordinance Plant where Dad worked as an IBM punch card operations manager. Pantex was a bomb-building factory turned nuclear weapons production facility in 1951 and today the only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in the U.S. The eldest of five brothers, Dad volunteered for military service, but an abdominal hernia rendered him 4-F. With each of his brothers enlisted in the military, Dad’s strong feelings about making a personal contribution to the war effort led to his employment at Pantex.
Are you old enough to remember Second World War rationing and other war-related events? One must have been born by about 1942 to have any personal recollection of this war. I remember hearing the songs “Blue Skies” and “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral” by Bing Crosby—the latter once described by a black comedian as the origin of “white scat singing”! Because nylon was used in the manufacture of parachutes, nylon stockings were unavailable, and Mom was excited when they were available again at the war’s end. I remember how lye soap would burn my eyes, and that the remnants of bar soap were taken to the butcher shop. My son Marc informs that butchers processed large quantities of animal fat trimmings, which made their shops logical collection points for household waste fat, lard, cooking oil, and bar soap made from tallow (rendered animal fat) used in various products needed for the war effort, including explosives made from glycerin in the fat. Uncle Jess gave Dad several European war souvenirs still in my family’s possession—a German pocket watch; several bills of war-time European paper money; and an unusual 16-gauge, double-barrel French shotgun. By the mid to late 2040s there will be few living people with personal memories of the Second World War. When I was young, some of the oldest people had experienced Civil War events.
In 1944 we lived at 1701 Taylor Street in Amarillo, where early in February my grandmother Reeves cried off and on all day long—a memorable event since it was the only time I ever saw her cry. Throughout the day family members went in and out of her bedroom, but I wasn’t allowed to see her. Years later, I realized this was the day she learned her son Ray, a radio operator and gunner in the 67th Squadron of the 44th Bomb Group, was shot down behind enemy lines near Ecalles, France on January 21, 1944 while on a bombing mission of a German V-1 rocket launch site. For about six months from July 2, 1943 until that fateful day, Technical Sergeant Ray P. Reeves flew a total of 20 missions in Italy, Sicily, Germany, France, Austria (the bombing mission of the airframe plant for Messerschmitts fighters on October 1, 1943), and Romania (the famous bombing mission of the Ploesti oil fields on August 1, 1943).
On his final mission Uncle Ray was not assigned to 67th Squadron, but instead the 68th, consisting of seven B-24 Liberator bombers of which only three returned. With an 11-man flight crew the B-24 Liberator nicknamed “RAM IT-DAM IT” was piloted by 1st Lt. Hartwell R. Howington of Cantonment, Florida. All four crew officers were killed and two crewmen were taken prisoner. The other five crewmen, including Uncle Ray, returned to England with assistance from the French UG (underground). The escape route from the Haute-Normandie crash site in northern France led south through Paris, and eventually through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain—a 600-mile trek taking more than four months. Uncle Ray was hidden by the French UG and transported by bus and by train. As a security precaution he and a fellow soldier were situated in separate locations on a bus in Paris when two Gestapo officers boarded, headed straight for the blond-haired, blue-eyed fellow soldier and led him away. Uncle Ray believed his own olive skin, dark hair, prominent nose, and French beret allowed him to better blend with the French populace and avoid the same unfortunate fate—one in which the fellow soldier never returned home. Weeks later, after arriving at the Pyrenees Mountains where his French UG guide abandoned him, Uncle Ray nearly froze to death before reaching the safety of Spain. Each of Dad’s four brothers—Graham, Jess, Ray, and E. B.—returned from the European theatre of war physically unharmed, although Uncle Jess would never again be willing to sleep in a dark room.
Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allies was on May 7, 1945 and V-E Day, Victory in Europe Day, was declared on May 8th. Here are transcriptions of two letters, which Uncle E.B., Dad’s youngest brother, wrote to his mom, sister, and family on the first two days following V-E Day.
Dear Mom & Bonnie & all,
Czechoslovakia May 9, 1945
I guess the war is over now and we are all very happy but if you could see us you wouldn't think so because no one is celebrating. I guess everyone is thinking about home. I was awake at 1:00 this morning and heard the Russians fire a 21-gun salute to celebrate the official end of the war. We didn't have any of that stuff. None of our boys had anything to drink. If we had I think I would have taken part.
I am sending you a little letter from [U. S. General] Patton and a couple of other stuffed shirts. I thought it would make a fair little souvenir. At least it shows that my outfit has seen quiet a bit of action. My Battalion is considered one of the best in this theatre, and at the present they are up for the Presidential Citation. I sure hope they get it. It would look rather nice on a fellow’s [shirt]. Oh, something else. I finally received the Good Conduct Metal. That is one I sure didn't expect to get (Ha).
I had some snapshots made and may get them back soon so I will send you one. I have to change countries because Czechoslovakia is off limits and a Lt. just chased me back into Germany.
Germany May 10, 1945
It seems sort of funny to have Jerries [German troops] around you and not taking shots at them. I was on guard last night and Jerries were sleeping all around me and I really began to realize that this is really over. Today they are coming in by the hundreds anyway they can and they are really a beaten army. Some of them are still a little "snooty" but we'll take that out of them. It is sure hard to treat them decently but we have to just the same. I guess they are human but you wouldn't realize it if you had to fight them and some of the things they have done.
Some of their prisons are really horrible. I guess that will be forgotten by the people who make peace terms but it won't be forgotten by any person who has seen or been in one of them.
I must close All my love
After the war our family moved to Amarillo where I lived for nearly 20 years with the exception of a year from the summer of 1948 to the summer of 1949 when we lived in Austin so Mom could be near her own family, especially her mother. During that year I attended third grade, my sister Jackie was a sixth-grader, Dad sold Blue Cross insurance, and Mom was an assistant to the secretary of Dr. T. S. Painter, president of the University of Texas. After high school graduation in 1934, Mom learned shorthand and typing at a business school in Austin, and sometimes on Sunday mornings she would sharpen her skill by typing the preacher’s sermon on an imaginary keyboard in her lap. Mom was timed at 110 words per minute on the manual typewriter of yesteryear, during the dark ages of typing when a mistake required the manual use of an eraser on the master document as well as on all carbon copies. If fact the notation “cc:” originated as reference to “carbon copy”—a secondary copy sent to someone other than the original recipient. Today “cc:” represents “complimentary copy.”
When our family returned to Amarillo, and during her employment history thereafter, Mom applied her skills eight hours a day as a legal stenographer for Phillips Petroleum; the law firm of Culton, Morgan, Britten, and White; the Texas Cattle Feeder’s Association; and the office of the Potter County District Attorney. During the earlier years I witnessed Mom’s amazing typing skill—da, da, da, da, da, da, bang, da, da, da, da, da, da, bang, with "bang" being the sound of the manual return carriage as Mom sent it flying back across the typewriter in tempo with her rhythmic typing concerto.
In Austin we lived on the upper floor of a large frame house at 2710 Nueces Street (since replaced by a condominium), directly across from the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house and just around the corner from the former location of Seton Hospital. Our home was just a few blocks from Mom’s job on the UT campus, and only three blocks from the original location of Wooldridge Elementary School (now a multi-story, off-campus UT student housing facility at 2400 Nueces Street) on West 24th Street between Nueces Street and Seton Avenue where my sister and I attended school. To track the accomplishment and progress of each student, the school issued written reports in place of letter grades as part of an educational research program.
After school I walked the three blocks home where I was alone until my sister arrived about an hour later. My parents had explicitly instructed me to keep the doors locked while alone on the upper floor of the frame house our family occupied. A hallway at the top of the stairway had four doors leading from it to various rooms—one to the living room, one to my parents’ bedroom, and one to the kitchen, while the fourth led to the bathroom that was accessible only from the hallway. Shortly after arriving home one afternoon I heard slow, heavy footsteps moving up the stairway and then into the hallway. The heavy footsteps moved slowly, but very deliberately through the hallway as attempts were made to open the doors to my parents’ bedroom and the living room. Fortunately, both were locked. My heightened attention morphed into overwhelming fear when I realized that after using the bathroom I had failed to lock the door leading from the hallway to the kitchen. With mind racing to comprehend my circumstance, I instinctively retreated to the sleeping porch that served as a bedroom for my sister and me.
The slow, heavy footsteps continued toward the bathroom and kitchen doors, followed by the sound of the bathroom door being opened and then closed. Silence followed—total silence accompanied by my terror as I sat perfectly still on the sleeping-porch bed. My paralysis blocked all senses until interrupted by a series of explosions—one quickly following the last. “What could it be? Was this real?” These questions flew through my brain until the realization emerged that the repeating explosions were the pounding of my very own heart. The heavy footsteps continued, but to my astonishment and great relief, not in the direction of the unlocked kitchen door. Moving toward the opposite end of the hallway they paused while the living room door was again tested. And then they continued, but as the sound of each successive step grew fainter and fainter I knew the intruder was moving down the stairway and away from a terribly frightened eight-year-old boy. It was my first experience of being overwhelmed by fear. And what if the hand connected to those slow, heavy footsteps had given the unlocked kitchen door a try? Even now, it’s unsettling to ponder such possibility.
The SMU vs. Texas football game on Saturday afternoon October 30, 1948 at Texas Memorial Stadium was the first football game I ever attended. Dad raved about running back and 1948 Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker and also All-American Kyle Rote who together led the #11 nationally ranked SMU Mustangs. Texas’ star fullback Tom Landry, later famous coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and quarterback passing-ace Paul Campbell from Breckenridge led the unranked Texas Longhorns. A vivid picture is still etched in my mind of a Texas fumble near one sideline on a run-off-tackle play. Doak Walker snatched the fumble in mid-air and ran swiftly about 60 yards down the same sideline for an SMU touchdown. The Mustangs won 21-6, and I can still feel the first blush of excitement of football heroics rendered that warm, sunny autumn afternoon.
Prior to living in Austin, I attended Margaret Wills Elementary School in Amarillo during the first and second grades. We lived at 1010 B. Virginia Street and then 4226 West 15th Street, and from either place I could walk to school along the railroad tracks running adjacent to Plains Blvd. and along the south side of the dark redbrick school building. Sometimes I placed a penny on one of the rails and searched for it on the way home. If found, it was flattened thin with a diameter almost doubled in size.
For several months during my fourth-grade year we lived in a two-room apartment located above a single-car garage at 610 South Maryland Street, and again I attended Margaret Wills along with friends Mart Tomlinson, Bobby Cantine, Phillip Ehly, Robbie Robinson, and Tex McKinney. Late one afternoon while hanging around Cheyenne Terrace near the homes of Mart and Robbie, we played a creative prank where two of us stood at the edge of the street, one on each side, while another climbed a tree to serve as lookout. An approaching car would trigger the lookout’s verbal notice, which signaled the two boys on each side of the street to lean back with arms stretched stiffly forward to create the appearance they were vigorously holding onto a wire or cable stretched across the street. A driver paying attention would react by slamming on their brakes as they would in reaction to a hazardous condition. We would shout exclamations and laugh and run away. When one angry driver gave chase, I flew over a five-foot fence in the side yard of the Robinson home like it was the slightest of obstacles. I discovered an adrenaline rush could transform a fourth-grader into Superman—if only for a few seconds.
At the end of the fourth grade during the summer of 1950, I played second base for the Margaret Wills Parrots softball team sponsored by Kids Inc. Bobby’s dad, T.R. Cantine, was our coach and supplied a detailed record of batting and fielding performance in a mimeographed report titled “THE PARROTS PATTER WEEKLY.” In issue No. 5 dated July 11, 1950 Coach Cantine states, “I thought by now some of you devoted mothers would have gotten together and given the boys a watermelon feed or a wiener roast or something. They deserve it.” He noted to the boys, “There is nothing I can say to you except ‘Let’s get going and really whang the rest of them.’ You are a good bunch.”
I don’t know how many games we won, but some of the team’s statistics are quite interesting. By the July 11th report we had played 13 games and scored 215 runs—an average of more than 16 runs per game. In 402 collective times at bat the team had 136 hits for a team batting average of .338. My individual batting average of .632 was the highest, followed by Benny Sherrod with .495 and Roger Roundtree with .435. In 402 times at bat the team had 109 “base on balls”, or 27% of the time, affirming we weren’t facing all-star pitching. Our team’s “on base” average was .478 and mine was highest at .810, followed by John Fry with .780 and Roger Roundtree with .618. John Fry was a short boy, and in 33 times “at bat” had a total of 26 “base on balls”—an amazing 78% of the time. The Parrots didn’t hit many homeruns, only seven out of 402 times “at bat.” Benny Sherrod hit four, and three other players, including me, hit one each. Our team had 53 fielding errors in 13 games for an average of more than four per game. I had two of them and Bobby Cantine had 12—possible evidence of the pressure created for a coach’s son.
Such glowing performance for a 10-year-old might hint at a promising future in baseball, but that didn’t happen. I continued Kids Inc. softball through the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, and then spent much of the summer after the eighth grade in 1954 with Bobby Cantine learning to play tennis on the court at the Sunset Terrace home of schoolmate Ann Cornelius. At the start of 10th grade a choice between tennis and basketball was necessary, and I chose the latter much to my later chagrin since tennis, like golf, is a sport more socially accommodating for business professionals.
The unexpected death of Mart Tomlinson’s father during our fourth-grade year was my first experience of death being so near. I felt helpless and afraid, and at that young age didn’t know how to express those feelings in word or in action. It was especially frightening when I wondered, “What if my dad died?” I didn’t know how to process a question about something so dark, so vague and so frightening—so unknown but suddenly so real. It was awful that Mart’s dad died so young—young for his dad and young for Mart. Over 50 years later, after writing these thoughts and after harboring these unresolved feelings, I finally and appropriately expressed my sadness and condolences to Mart about the death of his dad. I guess it’s never too late to convey one’s feelings since such expression can’t happen until those emotions can be understood.
In the seventh grade I was invited to join the Junior Cotillion, an organization that sponsored a few dances each year for its young members. The girls wore formals, and in the popular style of the day I wore a blue flannel suit. Before departing for each dance Mom required I undergo her loving, detailed inspection to ensure all was proper—hair combed neatly, tie properly tied, decent physical appearance in general—and with the laser-like bent of a perfectionist she removed any visible lint or debris on my suit. After all, the Junior Cotillion was associated with the Amarillo Country Club, and our family wasn’t a part of that well-heeled social circle. Possibly my invitation to participate was a caring outreach to folks financially less fortunate or maybe some other acceptability factor. Whatever the reason, it remains a mystery to me.
As I stood for inspection in our living room, a small white speck on the lapel of my suit caught Mom’s attention. But this was no ordinary piece of lint or stray debris. Instead, it was the end of a piece of thread from a spool of sewing thread I had placed in an inner pocket of the coat of my blue-flannel suit. With a sewing needle I had run the thread through my coat to the outside of the lapel where I turned the end of the thread flat against the lapel to ensure its visibility. I knew the white speck would not escape Mom’s attention to detail. Immediately she grabbed the white speck to remove it, and as her hand moved away from my lapel, a long, white thread emerged from my coat. Her face lit with shock and dismay in the belief she was unraveling my beloved blue flannel suit. “Oh, my goodness!” Mom cried. While on the verge of tears she closely examined the foot-long piece of thread. I began laughing and revealed the spool of thread from my inner coat pocket to construe the composition of my prank. Her concern quickly turned to laughter and this event became one of her favorite stories. I can still hear Mom asking, “Eddie, tell the story about your blue flannel suit.”
On a beautiful afternoon during the seventh or eighth grade at Sam Houston Junior High School, the sky began turning golden—as in golden sandstorm or Golden Sandies, the Amarillo High School mascot. This slow-moving giant blanket of suspended, sunlight-reflecting particles of sand soon turned to violent sandstorm, followed by rain mixed with the sand that formed a thick batter oozing down the classroom windowpanes. Within minutes the hard rainfall washed the windows clean allowing a full view of something known as a blue norther. Then, the sky darkened, the temperature dropped 30 to 40 degrees, and giant snowflakes began gently falling from the sky. This all happened within an hour or so and demonstrated why some say, “There’s nothing between the Texas Panhandle and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence—and it’s usually down.”
The quarterbacks for the ninth-grade Sam Houston Rangers football team were Doug Veazey, first-string; Dale Alexander, second-string; and me as third-string. Coach Teal seldom used Dale in a game, and I played briefly in only one game that year—a game with Horace Mann Junior High whose huge, tough players were slaughtering the Rangers. Even our biggest guys like Phillip Ehly were getting their asses kicked. As Coach Teal paced up and down the sideline urging the team to fight harder, the blood veins on each side of his neck bulged as his passion raced. It was a scene straight from a classic movie with Coach Teal epitomizing the consummate football coach—our very own Knute Rockne.
We were getting beat up so badly that Coach Teal was considering all possibilities. He approached Dale and me and asked, "Dale, are you ready to go in there and get something going?” "Yes sir, Coach." On the first play Dale lost two or three yards, which wasn't bad given the circumstances. Dale played only one set of downs as the other team continued to cream us. The next time we had the ball Coach Teal came thundering down the sideline toward his third-string quarterback. In desperation he yelled, “Reeves, are you ready to go in there and get something going?” I summoned all the strength within me to unequivocally reply, "No sir, Coach!” I was a crazy kid but not suicidal. I knew those animals would kill me. Coach Teal was so stunned by my reply that he stood motionless, looking deeply into my eyes while the veins in his neck continued to pulse. In disbelief he turned and walked away, slowly shaking his head from side to side. Dale was standing near me and I wonder if he recalls this scene. I was smarter than I was big or strong. Later, Coach Teal sent me in for the only plays I quarterbacked that year and it was a disastrous two plays. The bad news is that those big brutes tackled me even more quickly than they had tackled Dale. The good news is this meant I lost fewer yards.
During elementary school I played Kids Inc. football, baseball, and basketball, and at that young age showed promise as a sprinter. In the fifth and sixth grades I won awards in an elementary school competition, but because I wasn’t big enough or strong enough to be of merit in football, basketball became my sport. Newspaper clippings from those days list me as the top scorer in a few games. I continued basketball at Sam Houston Junior High, but as my peers matured and became faster and taller, I began competing less well although in the last year of junior high school I was one of two Sam Houston basketball players given the opportunity to participate in spring training with the Amarillo High School team. The other player, Ron Mayberry, went on to play college basketball at Texas Christian University on teams that won two Southwest Conference championships. After college he coached high school and college basketball at 16 different schools, never left a school with an overall losing record, led his teams to playoffs for 19 consecutive years, won coach of the year 11 times and national coach of the year once. Ron also coached 11 players who went on to play in the NBA. I was excited about the opportunity of high school spring training and played with all possible enthusiasm.
The following year I played for the high school “B team”, and discovered the team’s practice every afternoon for the entire school year defined the more serious nature of Amarillo High School basketball. Practice sessions and home games took place in The Armory, an old army reserve or National Guard armory building located across Tyler Street from the main high school building. The Armory’s basketball court was at ground level and the first row of spectator bleachers began about five feet higher than the court. When female classmates sat in these bleachers to watch practice sessions or games, teammates were keenly aware that from our much lower vantage point some risqué views would likely emanate from up in the bleachers. Coach Hull was also aware of this quirk and firmly scolded any player whose attention was diverted in such manner.
One Lubbock player, E. J. Holub, also played football and was the first player for Texas Tech to be consensus all-American. Holub had a stellar football career—inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986, had a successful 10-year pro career mostly for the Kansas City Chiefs as linebacker and then center, played on the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl championship team, named All Pro in 1962 and 1963, and was inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1976. At 6’ 4” and weighing 236 pounds, he was known in high school as “The Gladiator.”
Our “A team” won their game, and following a home-court loss, Lubbock’s team and fans somberly sang their school song, during which fellow “B team” team member Jim Doche and I discovered a particularly entertaining view up in the bleachers. Whispering and nodding about our discovery, we were soon interrupted by “The Gladiator” who didn’t appreciate our irreverent behavior. Stepping toward us he firmly instructed, “Quiet!” At that particular moment the object of our enjoyment far outweighed the subject of wise deployment as we continued to nod and hold risqué conference. Now the "The Gladiator" was pissed, and with greater menacing demeanor and tone he commanded, “Shut up!” and loudly enough for the Lubbock High team and some fans to perceive the objects of his chagrin.
Like a crossfade of movie scenes, the final reverent note of Lubbock High’s school song dissolved into E. J. grabbing me by the throat and hoisting me straight up into the air where as previously reported by Jim, “Eddie dangled while E. J. contemplated the amount of force required to stuff Eddie down my throat.” A moment earlier I’d been looking up at this angry giant, then suddenly looking down at him. As I hung suspended about two feet above the basketball court my attraction to opportunistic bleacher view was supplanted by far more urgent matters. Within seconds of my hoist, a morass of Lubbock players and fans piled on top of us with what seemed certain intent to maim, if not kill. In a miraculous maneuver Jim and I managed to crawl out from under that potent pile of human anger and race to our locker room. Our team’s departing charter bus was followed by several carloads of Lubbock fans throwing rocks, waving baseball bats, and shouting death threats to the dismay of our coaches and the bus driver. Our safe transport required a police escort of 20 miles to the town of Abernathy.
The education I absorbed from the Amarillo public school system was fair at best. Most teachers were unable to gain my serious attention, but math teacher J. M. Boswell succeeded in securing my partial interest by his unusual manner. He often wore combinations of green and brown—a green sweater with brown pants or green pants with a brown shirt—and drove a green and brown Buick. Sometimes while addressing the class he would stop, look down or away from his students with his eyes closed and quietly say, “I went to university with some very intelligent people—some very smart mathematicians.” Then he continued with the subject at hand. The most memorable quirk was when at times he’d ask, “Reeves, do you understand this problem?” If I replied, “No, Mr. Boswell, I don't,” his most usual reply was, “Well, Reeves, you may never.” Then he would move to the next topic without offering an answer to the question he had posed. I wondered if this was an attempt to instill curiosity, or only another idiosyncrasy.
I attended Mr. Boswell’s class during the last period of the day, and midway through class on a few occasions he would leave and not return. On one such occasion someone exclaimed, “Look outside.” There was Mr. Boswell driving away in his green and brown Buick. With positive proof our teacher had left the building, the class usually became unruly—throwing erasers and spitballs, drawing silly things on the blackboard, and other misbehavior escaping from those pent-up teenage bodies and emotions. I really liked Mr. Boswell. He seemed to be a sweet man and I found his quirkiness attractive. I’m reminded of this unique teacher whenever I work algebra problems for recreation or make use of green and brown in my clothing or home decor.
My dad had a thing about cars. He had a mustard-colored '53 Chevy, which was my good fortune to drive. Dad was strict in many ways—making good grades, being home on time, etc.—but regarding automobiles he was most liberal. In sixth grade I had an Indian Papoose, an extremely small motorcycle with only one gear and a top speed of about 30 mph. On May 31, 1954, the last day of school at the end of eighth grade, I piled six or seven school mates into my little red Jeep to play a game of “ditch ‘em” with Austin Jr. High student Lehmer Dunn driving a blue and white Buick. A city policeman stopped us near 28th and Parker Street where I received my first traffic citation—“reckless driving and contesting for speed.” During those earlier, innocent Amarillo days a 14-year-old was allowed a “learner’s driving permit” and the policeman’s note in the margin of the citation states, “10:00 AM, June 5, 1954 with parents.”
In the summer after ninth grade while driving around in the red Jeep with friend Ted Broom, a carload of guys from the other side of town began harassing us—cutting in front of us, hanging out their car windows calling us names, and providing a well-known obscene gesture—the only digital world we knew back then. Ted, the most badass guy I knew, threw some choice words and sign language of his own that were answered with the threatening display of a large hunting knife. Ted challenged, “Put that knife away and I’ll fight the toughest one of you.” They offered up a 10th-grade wrestling star that Ted quickly vanquished with a chokehold. When the wrestler’s face turned deep blue I feared Ted might kill him. After surrender was finally begged and Ted released his potentially lethal hold, those guys piled in their car and peeled away, wanting nothing more to do with badass Ted Broom.
During the eighth and ninth grades some students began having access to automobiles—sometimes their own, but usually their parents’. After a rainstorm some of us would drive along the muddy unpaved streets—West 7th, West 8th, and San Jacinto Streets—that ran east and west on the eastern side of Sam Houston Jr. High. Several blocks were unpaved, causing thick mud to form during heavy rains. We’d spin our wheels, wildly fishtailing from one extreme side of the road to the other resulting in cars unidentifiable by color and barely by make or model from the thick covering of mud. Automobiles and puberty; gasoline and hormones—the machinery and fuel of teenage life that was most aptly demonstrated in the ninth grade by classmate Hugh Potts who was expelled for the pubescent invitation painted with shoe polish on the side of his car:
ALL GIRLS WHO SMOKE THROW BUTTS IN HERE
Dad bought my sister a green ‘51 Ford coupe when she was a high school senior and I was a ninth-grader. Her dates on weekend evenings gave me access to the Ford coupe—an exciting event for me. During a hayride party at the home of classmate Lulu Banks, who lived on the northwest corner of Amarillo Blvd. and Western Street (eventual location of Toad Hall, family home Stanley Marsh 3), classmate Bud Gossett challenged me to race his dark-colored ‘50 Ford. We blasted out across the fairly level grassland in our prairie version of the famous Rebel Without a Cause race scene, but instead of driving over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean, some rough terrain ended our race. I lost my first-ever drag race to Bud’s faster Ford, and it was a bit frightening to speed out in the dark of night across totally unfamiliar ranchland. But the great rush of excitement completely overshadowed the fear.
I don’t know what happened to the ‘51 Ford, but the following year I worked on Saturdays to help pay for a ’50 Mercury sedan for transportation downtown to Amarillo High School. I added some custom touches—lowered in the rear, chrome covers on the top half of the headlights, and glass-pack mufflers—ideas engendered by the ’49 Mercury James Dean drove in Rebel Without a Cause. I also wore a black nylon windbreaker just like the red one worn by James Dean.
Sometimes after rainstorms I drove down Canal Street—now Southwest 26th Street running from Austin Jr. High School to Georgia Street. After one heavy afternoon rainstorm Don Riley, Bobby Cantine and I headed for Canal Street—a street so named due to its function as both a city street and a water drainage artery prior to the city solving the severe flooding problem in that part of Amarillo. Over a foot of water flowed down Canal Street at the start of our journey, and the strong resistance of the large volume of rapidly flowing water allowed me to “put the pedal to the metal” for a thrilling ride filled with sounds of engine straining and water pounding. Sometimes the car would stall from the engine being inundated by water, but not on this day as we hurled along creating giant waves aimed at completely engulfing any unfortunate oncoming vehicle.
With Don in the front passenger seat and Bobby seated directly behind him in the back, our full-throttled thrust created a giant wake much greater than any ski boat ever made. Then, for some unknown reason, Bobby opened the back door—a back door that opened in the opposite direction of most cars. This unique design created the perfect conduit for a substantial amount of the giant wake to enter the interior of the ’50 Mercury, and my first thought was that the force of the water would rip off the door, but it did not. What did occur was that with great force a very large wall of water completely engulfed the back seat area, overwhelming Bobby to the point of knocking him down. The tsunami then shot around the rear window and came forward with enough force to slam my head into the steering wheel, and continued its circular path across the front windshield to include Don in its wrath. Continuing its journey around the interior of the car a second time, it was as if that ’50 Mercury had been transformed into a gigantic washing machine fueled by Bobby’s continuing inability to close the back door. The second wave knocked my foot off the accelerator, causing the car to quickly slow, which enabled Bobby to finally close the back door. We came to a standstill in the middle of Canal Street with about a foot of water trapped inside the car. For efficient drainage Canal Street had been contoured in a “V shape” so stopping in the middle of the street where it was much lower than at either side meant we had stopped in the deepest water possible. We opened the doors to release the water only to discover the water flowing in the street was at about the same height as the water trapped in the vehicle making it necessary to move the car to one side of the street to enable the water to drain out. The three of us and the interior of the car, including its ceiling, were totally waterlogged, but such circumstance did nothing to quell our hysterical laughter and exclamations of disbelief. Two or three days later when the Mercury had completely dried out there seemed to be no obvious sign of critical damage.
Later, I had a ’54 Mercury, and then a ’55 Pontiac. The University of Texas did not allow freshmen to have a car, but in my sophomore year I had a copper-colored ’59 Chevy Impala. In my third and last year of college, I had a turquoise ‘61 Chevy convertible with white top. The cloth top was cut during a burglary, and replaced with a black top and matching black stripes on each side for a one-of-a-kind, custom-colored ’61 Chevy convertible that was way cool. I didn’t expect to have so many different cars, but my dad liberally offered them. Although it was never discussed, his generosity may have been shaped by the financial difficulties caused by the Great Depression during his own college years at UT.
In 1963 I bought a new, black ’63 Corvette Stingray with black interior and removable hardtop—the first production model-year for the Stingray. I sold it to Jimmy Gilmer when I moved to Manhattan in 1964, but it would be a kick to still have that car. Just prior to my move I’d had trouble with some guys from across town. One afternoon while Jimmy sat in the black ’63 Stingray at Stanley’s Drive In, the driver’s door suddenly flew open and a big guy yanked Jimmy out of his car. Just as Jimmy was about to be clobbered, one of the brute’s friends yelled, “Wait! Don’t hit him. That’s not Eddie Reeves.”
Looking back, being raised in Amarillo was my good fortune to a greater extent than I could have known then, or have readily recognized over the years. I was an innocent boy growing up in a mostly wholesome place during more innocent times—a simple life filled with goodness and rich experience. I’m rewarded whenever I revisit the days after our family moved to 317 Mississippi Street on the northeast corner of West 4th and Mississippi. I was a fourth-grader creating poignant memories like going to the Rex Theater on West 6th for a double-feature movie on Saturday afternoons. Sometimes I got a dime for the 9-cent admission, and sometimes I got more to buy popcorn or a drink. When parents dropped off students at San Jacinto Elementary School after a snowstorm in those cold Amarillo winters, some of us would sneak up behind a car and grab hold of the rear bumper—something not possible with today's cars. We’d hang on for an exciting ride of half a block or so along the slick, snow-packed street—a daredevil feat later condemned over the school P.A. system by Mr. Birchfield, the school principal. Sometimes we ate lunch at Mr. and Mrs. Schuard’s candy store just west of the school, where I washed down those great hot dogs with an RC—a Royal Crown cola. Some of us went “skinny-dipping” a few miles south on Western Street at a swimming hole known as “Two Trees”—now part of the Rolling Hills residential community development by my dad and his business partners. Some of us learned to swim at Gem Lake swimming pool on Gem Lake Road and some, like me, learned at the Community Center on Carolina Street between SW 6th and SW 7th Avenues, where the Amarillo Midtown YMCA is located (in 2016).
On many Saturday afternoons Don Riley and I visited Edenborough’s Drug Store where we drank RCs that fizzed from the salted peanuts we poured inside. We’d look at “girlie” magazines camouflaged by placing them inside comic books so Mr. Edenborough wouldn’t discover the true nature of our literary interest. These risqué magazines showed beautiful young ladies adorned only in bathing suits, some even two-piece bathing suits. Oh my, how times have changed. Surely, Mr. Rudyard Kipling Edenborough, whose family name is spelled differently than Edinburgh, Scotland, saw through our charade. But we figured we had him fooled. What an exciting but innocent time it was for the 10, 11, or 12-year-old youngsters we were during those cherished days.
And there we were at Edenborough's Drug Store, on the northwest corner of West 6th and Mississippi Street, just across Mississippi from the Ideal Food Store, just down West 6th from the five and dime store, across and down from Country Club Cleaners where Coach Teal worked in the summers, and just a block from Diggs Drug Store—all located on West 6th, which at the time was U.S. Route 66, the famous Mother Road of our nation connecting Chicago and Los Angeles to take folks out west to the promised land of California. And some of those travelers rode in fancy Cadillacs with long tailfins as saluted and documented by the art visual, “The American Dream,” commonly known as the “Cadillac Ranch.” But unlike some young men from the Texas Panhandle—Red Steagall, Tom Thacker, Jimmy Bowen, Don Lanier, Terry Stafford and John David Souther—whose interest in rock ‘n roll and the business of music propelled them along that same westward route those Cadillac tailfins sailed, I, instead, headed east on the Mother Road to Oklahoma City, and from there to Memphis—home of Sun Recording Studio—and then through Nashville on to New York City—the nation’s music business capital at a time when emergence of rock ‘n roll helped foster the final breaths of Tin Pan Alley. I began my long journey out across the landscape of the American music business in 1964, and it was a fine ride. And that skinny, young Amarillo kid who “headed out east for Manhattan Island with his face a smilin’” has now, all these years later, finished wrestlin’ the many words that tell his story.