As a kid growing up in Las Cruces, NM, my grandparents lived about an hour north of us, a mile off the old two lane highway, in a little farm town called Garfield. Tipped off to the agricultural opportunities in the valley, in lieu of going all the way to California, my grandmother’s family had settled there in the 1930’s fleeing the Oklahoma dustbowl. Almost a decade older, my grandfather had left the same conditions, traveling around the west before coming to the Hatch Valley to build roads and bartend. The pink adobe house my grandparent’s eventually owned was a hundred yards east of the family’s original homestead where my grandmother’s sister lived. In the summers when school was out with both my parents working, I would spend a lot of time there doing whatever chores I could to pick up a few dollars and riding my bike around the fields planted with onions, lettuce and of course the famous Hatch Chiles. When some kids were at Disneyland I was having the time of my life throwing rocks at bottles and catching horned toads at the land fill up in the hills. On Saturday afternoons my favorite thing to do was watch the fights with my granddad. The hard punching heavyweights were my favorites, Ken Norton and Earnie Shavers and whoever was fighting against the fleet footed jabbers and runners like Ali and Holmes. YouTube has reminded me of the thrill of Shavers flooring Holmes with an impossible haymaker and the heartbreak of Norton getting robbed by the judges in the third fight with Ali. One of the most memorable afternoons with my grandpa was watching hard hitting middleweight Marvin Hagler in three rounds destroy British champion Alan Minter who’d made racist comments in the press, on Minter’s home turf in London. The crowd reacted with rage and hostility, throwing chairs and bricks in to the ring. It opened my young eyes to how ugly racism and nationalism can get and in Hagler showed me what courage looked like. I lost interest in boxing as the brutality didn’t fit with my musician state of mind, but I have retained a lot admiration for those iconic 70’s and 80’s warriors who were battling racism, cultural marginalization and poverty making a political statement in the ring.
My grandmother’s sister had one daughter, and with no father around she grew up like a sibling to my dad and his sister. The proximity of the two houses made for a compound like atmosphere and when my cousins would come down from Colorado to stay with their grandma, along with my sister, we would all hang out in the converted garage apartment behind my grandma’s house. I was the youngest of the first four grandkids and endured a lot of typical abuse. The other three would tell me they saw a UFO and I’d look and look up to the sky until I’d just lie and say i saw it too at which time they’d call me out for lying. Sometimes they would get me to line up for a foot race between the two houses and when one of them shouted “go” I was the only one to take off, getting halfway there before looking back to see them going in the house. As we got older my two and a half years behind gave them a heavy influence on my adolescent education and world view. My male cousin had a major impact on my musical taste and political philosophy by turning me on to punk rock. Eventually he’d move to Las Cruces, his grandmother renting him an apartment as a bribe to finish high school, and become a really big part of my circle of friends. Most of my memories though are of those early teenage years, sitting on the trunk of one of the big old American cars our grandmothers drove, watching the sun set across the Rio Grande and over the hills, telling our secrets and trying to figure out what life was going to be like while the adults in our lives tumbled through romantic dysfunction, alcohol and drugs. We all grew in to being quite a handful, even when I was a homeless musician living in a primer grey Oldsmobile Delta 88 I could lay no claim to black sheep status.
I wrote this song about those nights, the line about burying friends or kin being all too prophetic as that is the only time we’ve seen one other of late. I don’t remember much about writing the words. Sometimes I’ll find a notebook with the handwritten sketches of lyrics and it takes me back to the moment, but I’ve never found any drafts of this one. I do remember buying a little pocket sized digital recorder from a box store like Best Buy and making a demo of it. I really enjoyed recording it but I think I struggled so hard getting the track off the recorder and on the to the computer that I gave the thing away. The version from the CD was recorded with Ron Flynt and Vicente Rodriguez at Ron’s Jumping Dog Studio. I remember cutting the basic track in a booth playing my telecaster. I overdubbed the guitars really fast as I had already worked out parts to do on another tele and a Gretsch I had at the time. The intro lick is three guitars playing a variation of the same lick in different octaves which gives it kind of a seasick stuttering feel. I believe Ron played the organ and piano parts that day as well and I walked out with an almost finished track. I remember going to Aranda’s on South First with Vicente after the session and being really excited about the song, having listened to it over and over on the drive. It had all the requisite Keith Richards type licks but at the same time to me felt like something new as it was lyrically nothing at all like a Stones track.
Promoting the record was really hard. I was going through a bunch of life changes and never really put the type of band together that could play the songs. It is pretty easy in Austin to get some super talented cats to back you up if you strum your songs on an acoustic and just let them do their thing. This was much more rock’n’roll band music and required the parts to play off of each other to really do the job. After some gigs that ranged from pretty okay to disastrous, I gave up and went to work trying to make other people’s songs come to life, in particular playing in a real band for awhile with my friend Bracken Hale. I have lots of criticisms and a few cringes now but the CD Ghost Stories did get some good reviews and airplay and I used it as a stepping stone to do other stuff even though I always regret how few people heard it. More importantly I feel like the song “Ghost Stories” got me one step closer to the type of songs I really want to write.