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Vol. 2, No. 5    May-June 2021
HOOPTEDOODLE
           I'm lucky and blessed to have a crackerjack couple of guides to kindly and surely lead me by the hand through the online jungle: Lourdes Alcala, my media coordinator, and Joey Hambrick, my social-media director. Both of them have suggested that I do more blogging around the birth dates of people whose work I admire, or the anniversaries of events I feel were especially important (as in, recently, the April 14, 1939 publication of John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH).
            With that in mind, I want to take some space this month to acknowledge the 81st birthday of one of my all-time favorite musicians, the Texas-based organist, singer, and songwriter Augie Meyers, who was born in San Antonio on May 31, 1940. As you'll read in the Augie piece featured in this newsletter, I was able to spend a little time with him several years ago, soaking up his stories – including the ones about how his grandparents, who raised him, would attach his pre-schooler self to a piano with a long length of rope, leaving a platter of cookies for him while they went out to work and run errands. It was during those days that he taught himself how to play the piano.
            The story reprinted below was first published in the TULSA WORLD in 2006, only a few months before I retired from the newspaper business. I first posted it, with permission of the WORLD, on my website on December 17 of the next year. So it's been a while – well, 24 damn years – since it's seen the light of day. (Newsletter subscribers will recognize the reference to my meeting John Carradine, which I wrote about in much greater detail in Vol. 1, No. 4, November 2020.)
                    

         Thanks to the peerless Kelly Kerr for capturing the magic of our meeting with his great photo. I don't know exactly how crisp the resolution's going to be here on the site, but maybe, if you look hard enough, you can see two of my favorite people in the world in the background: the Red Dirt Rangers' Brad Piccolo and my late pal Steve Ripley, leader of the multiplatinum-selling group the Tractors and, at the time the photo was taken, the head of the venerable Church Studio.
            Something that's not in the original story: Prior to Augie's arrival, Steve shipped my Vox organ all the way to California for a checkup and a tuneup, just to make sure it would be in tiptop shape for the master. I'm still playing it today.
            And now, the story, as it originally ran in the TULSA WORLD under the headline “This American's Idol,” on March 1, 2006:

            For 23 years, my job has involved talking to celebrities. And when people find that out, they sometimes ask if I've ever been intimidated.
            I used to say, "Yeah, once," and then tell them about going to the set of a Tulsa-made movie called REVENGE and coming face to face with Old Hollywood star John Carradine, then an octogenarian.
            The moment he opened his mouth, I was pitched back to 1959, when I'd heard that same Shakespearean baritone issue from the lips of his Count Dracula during a showing of HOUSE OF DRACULA on TV's SHOCK THEATER. 
            A grown-up with a job to do, I reverted, at least internally, to my former 10-year-old monster-crazy kid self.
            It was weird. I never figured it could happen again.
           
           THINKING OUT OF THE VOX

            Maybe you don't know who Augie Meyers is. But if you're of a certain age and a certain mind-set, he's a rock 'n' roll hero of the first magnitude.
            I've been an Augie fan since 1965, when a churning three-chord rocker called "She's About a Mover" hit Top 40 radio.
            Sounding as though it had been recorded inside an industrial washing machine, it was propelled -- I learned later -- by the raggedy voice of lead singer Doug Sahm and the innovative Vox organ work of Meyers.
            The band was called the Sir Douglas Quintet, undoubtedly to try and cash in on rock's British Invasion, whose second wave was just then crashing on our shores. In fact, however, the Quintet was from Texas, some of its members Mexican-American.
            Regardless of its geographic origins, though, the tune hit you like a fist to the solar plexus.
            A few years later, the Quintet charted again with "Mendocino," featuring an organ lead by Meyers that's not quite like anything heard before or since. It sounds so simple -- until you try to play it.
            A keyboardist of extremely limited skills myself, I tried. For decades I tried, right on up into middle age, as I played in a series of garage-band groups. Thanks to one of my bandmates, Mitch Maurer, I even scored a vintage Vox organ like Augie's. But that Meyers sound continued to elude me.
            Meanwhile, I kept on following his career, a true, full-blown fan.
           
           THE CHURCH SESSIONS

            In 1981, Meyers came into Cain's Ballroom with the Sir Douglas Quintet to play what is still one of the three or four best shows I've ever seen in my life. In full fanboy mode, I met him briefly then. A few years later, after I'd landed my present job, I was thrilled when he sent me a handwritten letter following my review of one of his solo discs.
            Then, last week, Augie Meyers came back to town. This time, he was by himself. The Red Dirt Rangers, whose regard for Meyers is as profound as mine, hired him to play on their new disc. They were recording it with Steve Ripley at Church Studio, and they not only asked me to come over, but asked if he could play my old Vox on the sessions.
            I make my living with words, but I don't have the words to describe that visit. It was a joy, but that doesn't begin to cover it.
            Meyers was full of funny stories about the old hippie days ("My wife and I would go to restaurants back then, but they wouldn't let us in because my hair was too long and her dress was too short"), obscure bands he had been in (Lord August and the Visions of Lite, Closed on Mondays), and people getting song titles wrong, like the guy who kept asking for "Herbie the Mexican Lion," which was actually "Who'll Be the Next in Line."
            He talked about his old amigo Sahm, who once drove from Austin to San Antonio to have a car dealership remove a couple of dollops of bird manure from his new Cadillac.
            And he played Vox organ like it was 1969.
           
            THE HEART OF A CYNIC

            He also showed me how to play that elusive lead from "Mendocino," inverting the chord and adding a 10th note. Watching his right hand on the keys of my own Vox organ, I finally saw the light.
            In this business, we insulate ourselves with cynicism. We gird ourselves in psychological armor to try and keep from looking goofy or vulnerable, to attempt to avoid having our souls bruised when the people we love, whether they're stars or just plain folks like us, don't live up to our expectations.
            But sometimes, you've got to let it drop. The armor has to fall, and you have to open yourself up to the possibility of seeing something with your 1959 eyes, or hearing it with your 1969 ears. Yeah, sometimes you're burned.
            But sometimes, you're blessed.
BOOKS,MOVIES,AND A VERY BAD PUN(OR TWO)
    Big thanks to my friends Paul McSpadden, John Locke, Peter McGarvey, and John McMahan for alerting me to recent stories running in the online GUARDIAN and on the website for TV station KWBW in Monterey, California, all concerning an unpublished John Steinbeck novel titled MURDER AT FULL MOON. They knew this couldn't have been more in my wheelhouse – a Steinbeck thriller involving werewolves.
            Hot dog! What could be better? 
            Now, I don't know if it's one of those stories in which an allegedly supernatural monster ends up having more prosaic origins – I expect that it is, because that's how murder-mystery fiction usually ended in 1930, when Steinbeck completed the manuscript. Then again, a posthumously published book from another of my favorite authors, the American naturalist Frank Norris, did actually have a werewolf in it; VANDOVER AND THE BRUTE, which Doubleday, Page & Company brought out in 1914, included a memorable sequence in which a human character goes full-bore wolfy.
            Anyway, the publicity on MURDER AT FULL MOON has apparently come out because a college professor named Gavin Jones, who specializes in American literature at Stanford University – over in Steinbeck's old stomping grounds – is petitioning the Steinbeck estate to allow MURDER AT FULL MOON's publication.
            “It's a whole new Steinbeck – one that predicts Californian noir detective fiction,” he told THE GUARDIAN's Dalya Alberge. “It is an unsettling story whose atmosphere is one of fog-bound, malicious, malignant secrecy.”
            Well, you can sign ME up for it.
            That combination of Steinbeck and horror – and my reference to John Carradine in the Augie Meyer story reprinted above – got me to thinking about a story my great pal and frequent co-conspirator Michael H. Price told me about a chance meeting he had with Carradine himself. Michael was a young teenager in Fort Worth, Texas, already playing sessions at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis, New Mexico – some six hours away. On this particular day, his dad was to drop him off at Petty's and then attend to some other business in Clovis.
            As Michael remembers it, he and his dad were having lunch in a little cafe on the Clovis town square when they suddenly heard an unmistakable voice, ordering “chicken-fried steak and a bottomless pot of your BLACKEST coffee.” They had just been talking about John Carradine, who was in town for a Shakespearian workshop – and suddenly, there he was.
            Price pere et fil introduced themselves, and, finding Carradine in a voluble mood, Michael whipped out a Big Chief tablet and started taking down what the great actor told him. “He sensed my interest in his horror movies,” recalls Michael, “and he said, `My lad, you'll be ESPECIALLY interested to know of the picture I'm preparing to do. It's about a ghastly ghost with a grudge against the entirety of humanity.'”
            “`Gosh, Mr. Carradine,' I said. `That sounds great.'
            “'Yes,' he said. `It's called THE GRIPES OF WRAITH.'”
            With that in mind, I should also mention that there's a long-held rumor that the first draft of Steinbeck's immortal novel about the travails and ultimate nobility of America's migrant workers began life as a horror story involving groups of merchants who unleash super-gorillas on the migrants traveling down Route 66. It was to be called THE APES OF WRATH.
            Yes, I'm very sorry.

 
JUNE SPECIALS
                   With baseball making its wonderful comeback, along with Father's Day happening later this month, we'll keep our last month's specials in place for another 30 days or so. That means you can get a fine Father's Day gift for Pop with RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE, my as-told-to biography of the great Oklahoma pitcher Ralph Terry, in either of two versions: a trade paperback, signed by Ralph and me, for $20.00, and a limited collector's edition in hardcover and dust jacket. Each one of the latter has also been signed by both of us and numbered one of 338, which represents the regular-season games Ralph appeared in during his major-league career with the Yankees and others.
            We've sold out of most of the hardcovers, but I've got a few left. Regularly priced at $84.50, you can get one during June for $62.00 – a nod to Ralph's magical year of 1962. PLUS, with every order for one of these, or any other book from my website, I'll throw in a copy of the Kitchen Sink comic book DEATH RATTLE No. 17, from July 1988, which features a 20-page softball story by co-author Jim Millaway and me called “Slide, Sinner, Slide,” drawn by the great underground cartoonist Rand Holmes. (NOTE: The book also contains the first half of a saga by another underground legend, Jack Jackson, that's pretty much R-rated.)
            I only have a handful of these 33-year-old DEATH RATTLE black-and-white comics, but I'll send 'em out until they're gone. And, if you just want the comic book, you can get it for its original price of $2.00, although you'll have to throw in another five bucks for shipping costs.
            As I look at this, I'm afraid I may have left a DEATH RATTLE out of a RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE order or two last month. If that was the case with your order, my apologies; let me know and I'll get a copy of the comic book right out to you.
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