The Carnival

There was this kid I knew from grade school who got arrested for breaking in to storage units when we were about 19 or 20 years old. He and his cohorts rented a unit to stash their stolen goods in the same complex where one of my half-assed bands “rehearsed”. He was a tough little dude who had a hardened, detached attitude even when we were young kids. His parents were older and obviously struggled to control him. Today he’d probably come with at least a couple diagnosis, back then he was just a little bastard. A life of crime was no surprise.

At that time “rehearsal” was code word for party. We played a little bit through the drinking, enough to learn some songs and slog through a performance or two but very little action, musically or commercially was to be had at that time. No matter how good of friends we were then and how much love for one another we may have stashed in the corners of our hearts today, we were probably all looking at that band as a temporary thing. A place to test out the individual flash of genius we were certain was inside ourselves, until we each could find the real situation to apply our talent to. We did have good times in those storage unit practice spaces and somehow that kid left our Peavey Bandit amps and Squire guitars alone.

It wasn’t because he and I were friends. In sixth grade playing basketball I came down with a rebound and elbowed him hard in the temple as I turned to pass the ball. He tumbled over, sprung up and punched me square in the nuts. I caught my breath and proceeded to throw the absolute dumbest punch of my life. With all my weight I swung a roundhouse right haymaker that missed my intended target, his eye, landing nothing but pinky knuckle on the hardest part of the human skull, snapping my metacarpal in two places. The coaches separated us and we got back to playing until my hand began to swell up and I had to take the long walk of shame three blocks home and show my parents what I had done.

Most likely he and his criminal cohorts left us alone because our hours were highly unpredictable and as rehearsal parties spilled out in to the drive way our soberest members could probably identify the vehicles they used to transport their stolen goods. We were lucky no matter, as there was larceny all around us, we’d later learn from the police when they started to investigate.

During these highly confusing, difficult years stumbling out of adolescence and in to adulthood, one of my friends and I concocted a “What would Johnny Cash do?” credo. We’d read a book about Cash and how he’d done a lot of dangerous, destructive and impulsive things, so we mostly used him to justify our reckless behavior. One evening on our way to rehearsal we passed a traveling carnival in the Montgomery Ward’s parking lot on Lohman Ave. My friend, who was not in the band, suggested we stop off and check it out. When I put up a protest about having to rehearse he countered with the assessment that Johnny Cash would know that this band sucked and he’d go to the carnival instead. I could not argue that logic. With Sonic cups full of generic vodka and sticky sweet soda pop we walked through the midway, people watching and trying our drunken hand at the various games.

I fixated on a Harry Dean Stanton-looking carny with tattoos on his knuckles and scars on his face. His flannel shirt was half unbuttoned and his jeans were covered in grease. Watching him hustle the last dollar off customers by alternately challenging, insulting and teasing their hopes, I felt like I was watching a maestro. A dirty, drug addicted, law evading maestro who was no stranger to sleeping on the ground or walking in the rain. With his gaunt cheekbones and gold capped tooth he was complete outsider to polite society. If he played guitar he could start a band with Keith Ferguson and Hunt Sales.

At the end of the 1980’s in the midst of Reagan’s Cold War, several of the kids ahead of me in school enlisted in the service. The guys who were sort of my punk rock mentors, who taught me about politics and music and relationships, were all gone from Las Cruces leaving us to create excitement and figure things out on our own. The future was staring us right in the face. Standing there in the midway with a cheap vodka buzz, watching the master carny and contemplating the value system of Johnny Cash, I felt some sort of epiphany about my own maturity and independence. There were a lot of stories out there and I wanted to make it my job to live them and tell them. I would continue to trip and fall and plod through life before finding any consistent way to do the things I wanted to do musically but I remembered that night well enough to write a song about it the day Johnny Cash died.

I saw the kid from school again about five years later. He walked in, shoeless, to a bar in Las Cruces I often played with my much more organized band, some members veterans of those same storage unit practice spaces from years earlier. The tall blonde jock bartender immediately began telling him to leave as he’d been banned for stalking one of the regulars. Apparently he’d been caught peeping in her windows and lurking in the bushes around her home. The kid obediently turned to leave but stopped before reaching the door and began hurling a string of obscenities at the much larger bartender, challenging him to fight. The bartender picked up an axe handle and started for the shoeless kid who stepped out the door. The bartender followed, as did everyone in the club. In the parking lot the bartender was waving his stick and telling the kid to stay away when the little dude rushed him and in some move far too quick for my eyes, wrestled the axe handle away effortlessly and stood crazy eyed threatening the stunned and humiliated bigger man. After a tense moment of standoff the kid took off at a full run for the street smashing the axe handle on a fire hydrant breaking it in half, tossing the remnant in the air as he disappeared in to the night.

The following song was released on a record I put out in 2008 called Nature of the Blues. I poured my heart and soul in to making the album. Many of the songs were conceived while I was driving a delivery truck back and forth to Houston. I had no radio and would have to sing to myself to stay entertained. Ron Flynt, Vicente Rodriguez and I played most of the instruments with a few guest spots by Ponty Bone, Jud Newcomb and Larry Tracy. We play a few of the songs live with my current band but not this one, although I’ll do it solo every so often. The groove was influenced by the Band’s take on “Long Black Veil” and the words just evolved from wanting to write something about Johnny Cash, who never made it in to the song.

The Garbage Man


I was stumbling down St Peter or maybe Toulouse Street between Bourbon and Royal on a hot, sweaty, drunken New Orleans summer night when a car pulled up beside me and flashed a case of cassette tapes they were selling for a dollar each. The Cramps Bad Music For Bad People was right there calling my name. My roommate would later chastise me for buying stolen stuff, which in my youthful naivety never crossed my mind. I mean, I was in the city, a wild ass city where it seems anything goes. I was trying to find my bearings of how things worked in such an exotic locale and drive by cassette sales seemed no less out of the ordinary than walk up booze stands. I played the hell out of that double bootlegged compilation tape, Cramps vernacular making it’s way in to my everyday speech. I thought I was the Garbage Man looking for a New Kind of Kick.
Later I was back in Las Cruces due to the unsustainable nature of whatever chaotic living situation I was trying to pull off in Louisiana, Texas or Tennessee. After goofing off for a spell, I put in an application at a Man Power temp agency to get down to the business of saving some money to leave again. My only prospect was working for Waste Management, the independent rural garbage collection company. I got up at the crack of dawn and made my way to the WM headquarters off South Main Street by the railroad tracks. A couple of guys were there, a dispatcher and the driver I’d be riding with. They were staring at a busted open trash bag on the concrete floor. “You like rice hombre?” the driver asked, kicking the bag off to the side to reveal thousands of maggots squirming on the wet floor.
We filled up water jugs with powdered gatorade and took off on our route. They had enlisted temp help because the automated single operator truck was down. It would be my job to ride on the back of the truck, hopping down to pull the trash bins to the hydraulic lift where I’d hook them up and dump them over. The driver would never leave the cab. It was kind of fun but very tiring in the summer heat. Our route was the Mesilla Park area and several times we stopped at houses of old classmates. Homes just a few years earlier I had been in for birthday gatherings as a child and keg parties in high school. At the home of one particularly affluent and somewhat snotty family the trash bin was full of generic Albertson’s Grocery Store brand plastic liquor bottles. I cracked up at the image of the grand professor funneling his empty Chivas and Don Julio bottles full of the bottom shelf rot gut.
A couple hours in to the day I was back in the passenger seat of cab riding to the public landfill. We were headed east on University Ave, headed towards the Organ Mountains when my partner rolled down the window and began cat calling a group of college students. “Hey mamacita!” I shrunk in my seat from embarrassment as I recognized one of the girls as the older sister of a kid I knew from school. My partner turned toward me, “orale cabron, you don’t like chicks or what?” He got on the radio to let the dispatcher know what a disappointment I was. “Pinche guero, ain’t no garbageman….”
At the landfill waiting for our turn to dump the truck my partner put on one of the heavy duty canvas protective gloves we were issued and pulled a discarded light bulb from the heap. “Can you do this homes?” he challenged, squeezing the bulb to a shatter in his palm. My head filled with the conflict I had been dogged with since adolescence. In my heart I was sensitive, an artist with special power of empathy and observation. The guitar was my passion and though I didn’t play with the deft technical expertise of a jazzman or the bold acrobatics of a heavy metal shredder, my hands did glide across the fretboard coaxing a pleasant tone I was proud of from my blues based simplicity. Half my instincts balked at endangering my precious hand in such a pointless test of courage. That said I was also full of macho bravado. In my years of manual labor I was quick to take on the toughest tasks of any job. I drank and caroused all night then sprung to life in the morning, shaking off my hangovers under the hundred degree sun. I earned respect, or at least my pulled my weight, at every job I’d had, though I was mocked and alienated for reading John Steinbeck and Nelson Algren in my car at lunch. I knew my refusal to harass women on the street had me marked as weak and if I was going to hang as a garbage man I had to take the hazing challenge. I grabbed a bulb and shattered it without blinking.
After that my partner and I were cool. We hit the various outlying neighborhoods around Las Cruces. On the east mesa towards the mountain we picked up trash from the endless rows of trailer houses where every other yard was home to a vicious attack dog. One particular Rottweiler would lay still on the back porch watching the truck roll down the alley waiting to spring forth at a full sprint as I reached for the bin crashing in to the chain link with such velocity I feared each week would be the one where the fence came down. Heart racing I hopped on the back of the truck and rode on to the next adventure. One day west of town in the foothills by Picacho Peak we got the truck stuck in a sandbar and burned up the transmission. The next day we took a commercial truck out, borrowing a small dumpster which I had to manually lift the bins over the edge to dump which made for my hardest and only certifiably hellish day. In short time the original single operator truck was back in action, I was laid off and my pocket was full of enough money to move on. I had no lust to find another job in the sanitation biz but I did enjoy holding court with my friends telling the tales of having the longest day and the dirtiest job.
I heard a Velvet Underground cover by the Beat Farmers the other day that took me back to my youthful days in the hot farm valley working manual labor and drinking all night listening to the New York Dolls, Stooges and Ramones. My buddies and I would form bands, practicing in the storage sheds or garages, unselfconsciously knocking around songs by our heroes in our own style. I cut this version of the Stooges “No Fun” in 2014 at Patrick Herzfeld’s studio west of Austin. Patrick played drums and Ron McRae played bass. The legendary Warner Hodges of Jason and The Scorchers fame played lead guitar. The groove of the song came from me playing it solo on my acoustic guitar and morphed in to an almost Tony Joe White feel. The video is a slide show I made on my phone.


Big Brothers and the Black Cat Lounge

When I moved to Austin in 1990 Roky Erickson had recently been arrested for stealing his neighbor’s mail. These were the days when the written and stamped letter held major sway in communication with friends, lovers, family and wannabe lovers. Leaving home and the comfort of my small pond was a daring move and I needed all the encouragement I could get. On days the mailbox was empty, my friends and I would joke that Roky had stolen our mail.

Not long after arriving in Austin I met some girls at a Will Sexton show at Scholz’s Garden. In a moment of questionable judgement my 17 year old self had gotten tattooed in a small town Louisiana biker tattoo parlor with some pretty generic “rockabilly” images. One of the girls broke the ice by lying and saying those tattoos were cool. In the ensuing conversation I was tipped off that the real action in town happened at a bar on 6th Street called The Black Cat Lounge and Monday night when Rick Broussard and Two Hoots and a Holler played was thee night to be there. Still about two and a half years shy of my 21st birthday, I inquired about the ID situation and they assured me that it was wide open.

The 1990 Black Cat Lounge was the second incarnation of the club. It had been in an even smaller space a few doors down. The expanded version was tiny in it’s own right, looking more like a partial roof and loft built in an alley between two proper buildings. The sides had bleacher seats and the middle was a dance floor. The relatively high stage split the space in half, with an open air yard more or less taking up the back. My first night there I paid the three dollar cover, bought a dollar Pabst Blue Ribbon and took a seat up on the bleachers. It was like a cowpunk psychobilly dream come true. The guys were slicked back in black leather, girls in sleeveless western shirts with cow skull tattoos. On stage was the coolest human being I’d ever seen. Blond pompadour piled high, wielding a white telecaster (outfitted with a Bigsby tremolo) plugged straight in to a sparkle blue tuck and roll Kustom amplifier. He marched the band into a hard hitting no frills version of Johnny Rivers’ “Poor Side of Town”, the class struggle anthem stripped of the original’s soft rock trappings. This was everything to me, everything I imagined could happen in mythical Austin, Tx.

I lurked around the corners and shadows of Two Hoots and a Holler gigs until I finally got invited to an after show party somewhere in South Austin. I picked up a battered Stella guitar in a mostly empty room and played a Lefty Frizzell song. Rick sat down across from me, expressed approval of my repertoire and played back for me a bit of Rank and File’s “Sundown” with the “number one in ’53 and old Lefty got around” line. He told me a few stories about going to LA as a teenager and growing up playing Cajun music. After that we were friendly enough that I hung around a lot after gigs, one time getting in to an old fashioned Greasers vs. Soc’s standoff in the alley behind the club with some fratboys while the band was loading out.

The combination of influences that Rick drew from made perfect sense to me. I grew up in a small town surrounded by agriculture. Country music was a dominating cultural force, impossible to ignore. Southern New Mexico is full of farmers, ranchers and rodeo riders. I got to hear a lot of country music in it’s natural environment and developed a love/hate relationship with it, as any free thinking person would. I loved the drive and power of Johnny Horton, the heart wrenching sadness of Hank Williams and the bad ass bravado of Waylon Jennings, but I hated the simple minded redneck sloganeering and the overly sentimental cliche ridden heart string tuggers that the radio preferred. My parents listened to a lot of country music, the middle of the road Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell songs on the radio in the morning, Merle Haggard and George Jones hard honky tonkers when friends were at the house in the evenings. My dad also played a lot of early rock’n’roll exposing me to Ritchie Valens, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and especially Elvis. This is the music that first hit me and drove me to play. Punk rock was one step over and the New York Dolls, MC5, Heartbreakers and Stooges music that a record store clerk sent me home with fit right in with those oldies. Throw in some cut out bin cassette tapes of Freddie King, The Yardbirds and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, and my vision of a seamless blend of American music came together. As long as it had some twangy guitar and a bad attitude it was good with me.

When I first started seeing Two Hoots and a Holler their four hour set list jumped around from Rick’s Orbison and Holly inspired originals to covers of the Cramps “Garbage Man”, Webb Pierce’s “No Love Have I”, The Clash’s “Career Opportunities”, The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Motorhead’s self titled basher all rendered in unmistakeable Two Hoots style. Rick’s ultra clean telecaster sliced bar chords while Vic Gerard’s bass lines danced over Chris Staples steady groove. It was a magic sound. On special occasions the great guitarist Johnny X Reed would add a layer of texture and sheen, never changing the dynamic of the trio, just taking licks out of Rick’s own bag and adding bits of flourish and finesse to the sound without interrupting the drive. For where I was at that time of my life they made perfect music and created a perfect scene.

We did a show with Rick’s new band the RB3 and our friends the Soulphonics the day after Roky Erickson passed away. Rick told a funny story about playing his version of “Starry Eyes” for Roky before he recorded it. It was a really fun night of playing rock’n’roll for nothing but the sake of playing. We cranked our amps up loud and chased the day drinkers out while our wives and girlfriends danced in their seats and the scattered friends and band members leaned against the bar talking about guitars and telling war stories, downing as many Topo Chicos as Pabst Blue Ribbons. Rock’n’roll 2019 still feels just as good. At the end of the night I hollered to Rick to get a picture, noting “I’ve known this motherfucker 30 years and there’s no photographic evidence!” I don’t see my old friends nearly as much as I used to but I still think of guys like Rick as my rock’n’roll big brothers. The people who opened up the doors of possibility right before my eyes.

I was looking for an email address for another rock’n’roll big brother Ron Flynt, when I found a mix he sent me of this track. We recorded it in 2015 with Neal Walker on bass and vocals and Ralph Power on drums and Ron applying some tasty B-3 work. It is a song about two small town juvenile delinquent brothers who plan to fix up an old truck their uncle left behind and run off when one falls in love and decides to stay. I really liked it when I wrote it but never played it much as it has a lot of words and kind of needs the three guitar parts to really work. It is an extension of what I was going for on the record I made in 2011 called Ghost Stories. I made this slide show so it can finally be heard. I think it fits right in with talking about big brothers and wide eyed eighteen year old adventurousness.