Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April trains, Wayne the Train

A few photos from what we've seen and done out along the tracks during the month of April...

M practices a balancing act on some surplus rail sections...

UP 6936 leads an officers' special south out of Denton on April 5.

A "Star Wars" themed moniker on a tank car west of Weatherford.

UP 7829 climbs upgrade on the Baird Sub at Preble.

Never too busy for a self-portrait... Whiskey on the UP Baird Subdivision on April 13.

Some aggressive high-speed driving yielded this view of UP 7829 approaching Judd on the UP Baird Sub.

Wayne Hancock at Dan's Silverleaf - April 26

I've seen Wayne"the Train" Hancock more times than I can count, but he never disappoints. Last Saturday night after work, I hurried up to Denton to catch his show at Dan's Silverleaf.

I was glad to see that Wayne had found another steel guitar player. He has been without one since the departure of Eddie Rivers, who is now with Asleep at the Wheel. Wayne announced that the new guy, Tony Locke, has performed with him in the past, but not for several years. This was his first show since joining the band on a full-time basis. At times, he seemed to be a little "out of sync" with the rest of the guys, but still did a good job.

Wayne Hancock & his band at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton TX - April 26
In addition to numerous Hancock originals ("Highway 54", "Tulsa","Kansas City blues"), Wayne and the boys threw down a number of covers such as Hank Thompson's "6-pack to go", Johnny Horton's "Honky tonk man", and Johnny Cash's "Big river." And of course they included a handful of obligatory Hank Williams covers such as "Lost highway", "Your cheatin' heart", and "Lovesick Blues".
It's fun to see the reactions of folks in the crowd who have never been to a Wayne Hancock show before. One guy standing near me was excitedly telling his friends how Wayne sounded "just like he does on the cd" but didn't look anything like what he had imagined. (He was expecting "some old guy with a beard".) And a couple of older women were amazed at the voice they heard coming from the guy on stage with the slicked-down hair, rolled-up jeans and Chuck Taylor high-tops. "He sounds just like Hank Williams!" one of them squealed. Indeed.
Huck Johnson, Wayne Hancock, Tony Locke, Eddie Biebel

Wayne likes to make sure the rest of the band works as hard as he does, and he gave steel player Tony and guitarist Eddie Biebel plenty of opportunities to show their stuff as they cranked out lengthy solos during many of the songs. Wayne just stood off to the side of the stage and grinned as Tony and Eddie dueled back and forth with their solos. The solos during "Kansas City Blues" lasted so long, I forgot what song they were doing! Even bassist Huck Johnson got to pound out a few short solos on his upright bass.
Famous for playing up to (or even past) closing time, Wayne was threatening to leave the stage early... he and the band had a long drive ahead of them the next day for "Bob Wills Day" in Turkey (about 3/4 of the way to Amarillo). But when 2 a.m. rolled around, they were still on stage, giving the fans every last dollar's worth until the sound man turned on the house lights and asked everyone to leave. Fun times!
Check him out if you get a chance...

np: Townes Van Zandt - "Darcy Farrow"

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Friday, April 25, 2008

A month of live music

It's been a great month for live music here in north Texas. Here are a couple of the shows I've been to...

Sunday, April 6 - Mark David Manders, Liz & Lincoln - Shiner Sunday at Love & War in Texas (Plano)

My friend Stephen was in town visiting from Memphis, and joined me for the long haul over to Plano to see Mark David Manders. It was a picture perfect day for sitting in the sun on L&W's porch, drinking beer, and listening to some great live music.

Liz & Lincoln open for Mark David Manders at Love & War

First on stage were Liz & Lincoln, an acoustic duo with a likable, folksy sound that reminded me a little of the Sidehill Gougers. They sounded as good as Liz looks -- and that's saying something... wow. They played mostly original numbers but their set included at least one coverof a Townes Van Zandt song and another song that they co-wrote with Ray Wylie Hubbard. They talked too much between the songs, but their music sounded great. They'll have an album out later this year or early next... check em out at http://www.lizandlincoln.com/

Mark David Manders and his band at Love & War in Plano
I had caught the last couple songs of a Mark David Manders show a few years ago, but this would be my first time to see him play a full set. They opened with a cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "I'm gonna live forever", which actually served as a final sound-check before they started their REAL set. Mark and the boys played with lots of energy, smiles, and good attitudes. It's hard to pinpoint anything especially unique or special about MDM and his band that sets them apart from the crowd of other good Texas country acts -- although his fiddle player is damn good -- basically, they're just a group of solid musicians playing good ole Texas country music. Their set included MDM originals such as "Blackjack Road" and "Jim Murphy". I was a little disappointed not to hear their rendition of "Brokeback Mountain", their hilarious, off-color cover of the Claude King classic "Wolverton Mountain". Maybe next time. Still, it was a fun afternoon...

Sunday, April 20 - Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Sunny Sweeney - Granada Theater, Dallas

The Granada Theater on Lower Greenville in Dallas

I first saw Ralph Stanley at Poor David's in Dallas a little over three years ago. What were the odds, especially given my current work schedule, that I'd be able to see him again on his VERY NEXT show in D-town? As soon as I found out he was scheduled to play a Sunday afternoon show at the Granada Theater, I made plans to attend.
It was KHYI, especially during the Bruce Kidder era, that really helped develop my appreciation for the Ralph Stanley / Stanley Brothers sound. The second album Stanley recorded with Jim Lauderdale ("Lost in the Lonesome Pines") was also a big influence. Even casual music fans, who might be unaware of Stanley's status as "the king of mountain soul", or his musical background which stretches back more than six decades (he's 81 year sold), are probably at least marginally aware of his work which appeared on the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers' film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Dr. Stanley visits with a fan before the show

The show was scheduled to start at 5 pm. I got there about 4:15, purchased a ticket ($37 - a little pricey, but definitely "worth it" to see a legend like Dr. Stanley) and walked inside. Sitting at a table to my right, ready to autograph his cd's for the crowd, was the man himself. How awesome was that? I purchased two cd's, both of which he signed for me. I thanked him for his autographs and for coming back to Dallas. He seemed a little "distant", acknowledging me with little more than a nod. I took the cd's back to my truck and then went inside the Granada to find my seat.

Sunny Sweeney opens for Ralph Stanley at the Granada
Sunny Sweeney opened. I've purchased a couple of her songs on itunes but had never seen her perform. She has one of those nasally, twangy high-pitched female country voices that people either love or hate. Think: a combination of Loretta Lynn and Kasey Chambers -- with maybe a touch of helium. I actually dig her sound pretty well... she and her band -- which includes an electric guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a talented steel player -- produce a nice, fairly "traditional" honky-tonk sound. With name-droppin' songs like "Trains don't sound like Johnny Cash no more" and her tribute to Merle Haggard (sorry, I can't remember the title of that one), it's not hard to envision Ms. Sweeney enjoying a lot of success in the "Texas country / Americana" scene in the coming years. She didn't play "Lavender Blue", arguably her best song, which she recorded as a duet with Jim Lauderdale (a cover of what was originally a Keith Sykes / Iris DeMent duet), but I was glad to hear her belt out the rockin' "If I Could" to wrap up her set before Dr. Stanley took the stage.

The impression that Ralph Stanley left on me the last time I saw him was reinforced at the Granada show. He puts on a polished, first-class production of hand-clappin', foot-stompin', bluegrass. Along with the legend himself was his full 6-piece band. Known as the Clinch Mountain Boys, the band consists of a fiddle player, a banjo player, two guitarists (one of which is Dr. Stanley's son, Ralph II), a mandolin player (Stanley's grandson Nathan) and a bassist.
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys

Dr. Stanley didn't lead every song -- he sang only small harmonies on about half of the numbers -- but the ones he did sing made the show well worth the price of admission... especially his a capella rendition of "O Death" from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". What a voice! During most of the show, Stanley stood at center stage and sang with his hands folded (when he wasn't holding a sheet of paper with the words to the songs). But he did pick up a banjo and do a little pickin', "claw-hammer" style, during one of the songs. In addition to several gospel tunes, musical highlights from the show included covers of "Long Black Veil" and "Orange Blossom Special" as well as"Angel Band" (also from the "O Brother" soundtrack) and "Clinch Mountain Backstep".

Ralph Stanley on "claw hammer banjo"

Between songs, Stanley told stories about himself and his band members, and cracked a few jokes as well. My favorite was the one about how they press many of their cd's themselves -- so they can keep ALL the profit. The speed with which he made his way out to their cd table in the lobby after the show told me he was only half-joking... it was the fastest I'd seen him move all night.
Stanley signs an autograph after the show...

"But wait - there's more..." I'm not through yet. I plan to catch Wayne "the Train" Hancock this Saturday night in Denton, so stay tuned and you'll be seeing a review here soon.

np: Flatt & Scruggs - "Shuckin' the corn"

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Zoo field trip

Last Thursday, I joined M's first grade class for a field trip to the Fort Worth Zoo. I hadn't been to the zoo in a few years; I ended up enjoying it just as much as the kids did.

The phrase "monkey in the middle" comes to mind here...

M's teacher put me in charge of him and his friend, Z.

M interrogates a zoo-keeper...

The parakeet exhibit was one of the kids' favorites.

Z feeds a parakeet

Wrestling the komodo dragon statue

Visiting with a goat at the petting zoo.

Class photo - their teacher has her hands full!

Foam is where you find it - the zoo train.

another fine entry from Farmer Burwash

Among the small list of blogs I regularly visit (i.e. three or more times per week) hoping to see an update, is the Rambling West blog by Martin Burwash, a railroad enthusiast, photographer, author, historian, feed mill worker, farmer, and philosopher from Burlington, Washington.

For many years, I've enjoyed his ramblings and photo essays that he shares with the ObsCar list -- as well as his occasional article which graces the pages of Trains, Railfan & Railroad, or Railroads Illustrated.

Check out his latest entry on the topic of "Turning the Good Earth" . If Rambling West is not on your list of blog subscriptions, it should be. http://ramblingwest.blogspot.com/
np: Willie Heath Neal - "Whiskey stains"


Monday, April 21, 2008

New Mexico highways, El Paso streets

Time to wrap up the New Mexico trip, considering it's been about 30 days since it ended. Here are a few scenes taken along New Mexico highways, and on the streets of El Paso. Enjoy...

Sims Auto Salvage - Roswell, NM
US Post Office / Bowser Company rooftop ad - Picacho, NM

UFO Museum - Roswell, NM

Golden West Flour - Texico, NM

Marcas del Prestigio - near the international bridge in El Paso
The border town of El Paso is one of my favorite cities anywhere... I'd move there tomorrow if I could. Full of friendly people, the city is blessed with captivating mountain and desert scenery, and what I consider to be a near-perfect climate. Scenic highlights include a picturesque downtown skyline and the UTEP campus perched atop a hillside -- complete with the Sun Bowl football stadium. Recessed into a natural depression in the side of a mountain, the Sun Bowl is one of the coolest settings anywhere for a football game.

And then there is Mexico. Larger than its sister city on the north bank of the river, Ciudad Juarez on the Mexican side is home to over one million people, with more arriving every day, hoping to find a better life in this huge city on Mexico's northern border. Drive west along I-10 at night and see if you don't feel the energy of this thriving metropolis as you look down on millions of sparkling lights lining both sides of the Rio Grande. West of downtown El Paso in the daytime, you can look right across the river into Mexico at boulevards, mercados, barren soccer fields... and farther west, at the shantytowns lining the hillsides outside of Juarez -- an eyeful of poverty and the contrast between America and Mexico that must be seen to be believed.

And you don't even have to cross the river to appreciate the rich Mexican heritage and culture of the borderland region ... flip through your radio dial and get an earful of that conjunto music blaring from the stations on the Mexican side. Drive around the city -- on the American side -- and count the number of signs that are in displayed in both English and Spanish... or sometimes, Spanish only. There are plenty of places that leave you feeling as though maybe you crossed the river without realizing it! One particularly colorful part of town is the retail district (illustrated in the photos shown here) located south of downtown near the El Paso del Norte international bridge. Consisting largely of businesses like shoe shops, lingerie shops and run-down second-hand clothing stores, it's clear that the average customer patronizing these shops isn't coming from the American side. Grab some lunch at a nearby tacqueria -- along with a Mexican bottled Coke -- and enjoy the show!

Ropa Usada - El Paso, TX

Zapatos / Baratos and street vendor - El Paso

alley - El Paso, TX

Black Jack Grocery - El Paso

np: Tom Russell - "Tonight we ride"

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hiking to Monjeau

On Saturday March 22, M joined me for a hike in the Lincoln National Forest. We decided to walk to the Monjeau lookout tower, a National Forest tower where forest rangers watch for fires. Normally you can drive right to it -- and we had driven there a few years ago -- but this time the road was still closed for the winter so we had to walk. The distance was about 2 1/2 miles from the point where the road was closed, a round-trip distance of 5 miles. It was a beautiful day and we got a nice workout.

hiking uphill
We found a lizard that kind of looked like a horned frog -- I didn't know they had those in New Mexico.

almost there - climbing the steps to the tower

Monjeau Lookout Tower - Lincoln National Forest, NM

M really wanted to go up into the tower...

We had to settle for this view instead.

Did I mention we were above the snow line?

Hiking back to the truck. This is one of those pictures that makes me realize M isn't a little kid anymore -- in fact, he had his 7th birthday during our trip.

Later, back at the house, M played on a tire swing I set up.

Stay tuned... I still have more New Mexico photos coming up next time...

np: KLLI-FM - "Big Dick Hunter's Wild-Ass Circus"

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Monday, April 14, 2008

New Mexico behind the scenes

"Behind the scenes" on our daylong trip from Ruidoso to Albuquerque...

Baca Chevrolet - Mountainair, NM

Legion hall - Mountainair, NM

my co-pilot for the day...

waiting for the next train at Scholle

ready to get the shot

well-posted directions near Isleta

One of my favorite spots for lunch in Belen

getting the shot south of Bernalillo

a great view of the Manzano Mountains at Sais.
np: "The 40-year-old Virgin"

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