A couple of years back I had stated that I didn’t want this newsletter to become an obituary column, and of course, I still don’t. But life doesn’t always hand you what you want it to...and this newsletter, while commerce and music/art oriented, also necessarily has a lot of reflection from my personal life as the label is more or less and one-man shop and many of the folks I write about in it are longtime friends and in this case, family. And if you have any level of curiosity or appreciation for what I do and/or why I choose to attempt to perpetuate a dying art, this will interest you because the genesis of my love of rock’n’roll began with my brother Barry.
While the Hickoids were pretty close to wrapping up our Spanish tour last month I got a call from my oldest brother Martin. He alerted me that my other brother Barry (ten years my senior) was in the hospital and not doing well at all. He’d endured some recent health problems and several major hospitalizations over the past few years. But I had spoken to him a few days previous and his voice was strong and he was talkative, he sounded good. He was a robust, big framed guy and had weathered a near-death, two week stay in the ICU just under two years ago. So, while upsetting, I didn’t feel that worried. I thought he w
as just giving us another scare. A short while later I received a voicemail from my nephew that they were pulling out all the stops and that he was not expected to make it. I wasn’t able to get hold of anyone who knew anything specific and about an hour after we arrived in Madrid I got the call that he had slipped away about thirty minutes previous. I was dumbfounded. It just did not seem possible.
If you’re a longtime reader of this newsletter you might remember the story of Barry absconding with my ticket to The Sex Pistols infamous Randy’s Rodeo show in San Antonio when I was about 14. I was heartbroken at the time but not really that mad. And, it would prove to be a helluva’ get out of jail free card to be used repeatedly, at any time over four decades. I apologize to Barry, and you, for that being the only impression I’ve ever offered of him in this format because it shortchanges all that he was and his influence on me. He was my original rock’n’roll hero and was always my biggest fan.
When his bandmate Hector Saldana of The Krayolas spoke at Barry’s funeral he related how much it meant to him that Barry was the first person who wasn’t a family member or a girlfriend that actually believed in him musically, and, that he had the ideas and ability to make what The Krayolas were doing better. Unlike myself, Barry chose to set aside childish things when responsibility called. But he never shot me down for doing what I wanted to and always continued to encourage me, like he did for so many others.
One of my first real memories of Barry was fifty plus years ago. I had a little plastic sherif set; handcuffs, badge, etc. It probably cost less than a dollar at the time, I must have been three or four. We were in the den of our family home in Tulsa. Barry slapped the cuffs on me and then went in the next room and started making a loud siren noise and then ran into den “Jeff, the cops are coming to get you!” I started bawling of course. But everyone got me calmed down and it was instructional as one of my first experiences in having one pulled over on me and would portend Barry’s flair for showmanship. Martin (my oldest brother, thirteen years my senior) and Barry were always great to me when I was a kid. They were more like uncles in some way at that time and would be out of the house by the time I was coming into my own as human at the age of six or seven. But they always showed me a lot of love, wanted me to benefit from their experience and tried to steer me right.
It was also around this time that I began to notice Barry’s extensive record collection. His taste was more extreme than Martin’s and he’d play stuff that was quite a bit beyond my comprehension, but I sure loved looking at the album covers. And while other kids my age were getting dosed with The Archies, Captain Beefheart tunes ‘The Blimp’ and ‘Orange Claw Hammer’ would become two fo my favorites.
In 1969 my family moved to Houston and Barry would attend Lee High School with some of the guys who would become Really Red, his lifelong friend and collaborator John Harris, and, some other dude named Billy Gibbons who made a few bucks and sold tens of millions of records playing rock’n’roll with ZZ Top. In recent years Barry’s eyes would really light up when he’d talk about the concerts he saw in this era in Houston...Mott the Hoople, Slade, meeting The Faces and drinking with them after the show.
John and Barry would start a band called The Satellites, I never saw them and there’s no audio of them as far as I know but they would soon hit the road. John recently posted a photo on Facebook of their the settlement sheet from a booking at a hotel bar in the Midwest. They ended up pretty far in the red after inviting everyone up to and trashing their rooms. Different times they were...as I’m fond of saying, it wasn’t rock’n’roll that got small, it was the audiences. Eventually the band would land in New Orleans, playing at a mob owned venue called The Sho-Bar on Bourbon Street. It’s the same place Elvis sang at in ‘King Creole’, except with real-life gangsters. A number of years later I just happened to be in New Orleans the week the owner had passed and came across his obituary in the Times-Picayune. I was impressed by the way the obituary managed to make the deceased Italian gentleman’s career as a local mafia boss and dispenser of misery seem so matter of fact and commonplace. From what Barry told me they lived above the bar and would play four or five sets a night, occasionally backing up greats like Fats Domino. This engagement ran its course after some months and Barry would briefly join up with Vince Vance and The Valiants - sort of a Southern equivalent of Sha-Na-Na, before landing back at my parents house in San Antonio in the mid-70’s.
Barry was trying to figure out his next move. He was broke. We were getting to know each other again. I had begun listening to the radio after not really having much music in the house for several years. I’d listen to the local top ten station, the regional oldies station KONO and KMAC/KISS the legendary heavy metal station that launched or ignited the careers of many bands in the United States including Judas Priest, Rush, AC/DC and inordinately large number of Canadian bands that could still draw a couple of thousand people here if they had anywhere to play between Toronto and Texas. We’d soon be making trips to the record store together and would pick up copies of Melody Maker and New Music Express (usually with my allowance money, as was the case with the long-suffering, fabled Sex Pistols tickets.) We’d read about the bands, almost in real time, as opposed to the American music press which was generally pretty slow on the uptake and reporting of all but the major acts. It was a study in bullshit detection and much more dramatic week to week thing than was offered by Rolling Stone and the much cooler Creem Magazine, and, I had the coolest professor in the world.
Contemporaneously, Barry had met the Saldana Brothers, Hector and David and soon became part of their band The Krayolas. Initially the band might have reminded you of a hispanic version of the band in ‘That Thing You Do’ (a movie which I admittedly have only seen snippets of) come along eight years too late. But Barry saw the raw talent and potential and wanted to be part of it. Barry really pushed the aspects of costuming and showmanship, and injected a little more of the R&B elements of rock’s roots into the equation. They would soon become a fairly unrivaled act in the region, occupying a space between the hard rock bands and the pseudo-hippie “cosmic cowboy” acts that dominated this area, something of a proto-new wave act without the pretense of trying to be weird. Their originals were melodic and catchy, they were well rehearsed, and, counter to the other styles of acts mentioned previously they knew how to entertain people with something other than a guitar solo.
The band would cycle through several iterations from the mid-70’s through the early 80’s with Hector, David and Barry as the core and John Harris joining the group for a while. They were a popular act on the frat party and nightclub circuit and were one of the first acts to have a video on MTV. Sadly, their recordings never succeeded at translating the fire of the live act and without any big label interest they hit a wall for the time being. Barry would marry his bandmates’ sister Anna and soon would have a young son Matthew on the way, essentially marking the end of his music career.
Happily, this was not the end of The Krayolas. Hector and David continue to record their best work ever and you can hear them often on Little Steven’s Garage on Sirius Satellite Radio. DJ Mighty Manfred gave a shout out to Barry on his show a couple weeks ago.
Barry set about getting a degree in geology from UTSA. After graduation he began working in the petroleum industry again (having worked roustabout summer jobs in the 60’s and later as a roughneck in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 70’s), and other than a brief foray into real estate in the 90’s he would work in the oil business for the rest of his life. As a mud engineer he worked around the world...many years in Nigeria, Israel, The North Sea, Alaska, West Texas. He really enjoyed the travel and getting to know the local people. In 2010 he began a Master of Petroleum Engineering degree at Texas A&M which he completed and had been working for a local firm since graduation. I went to go clear his personal effects out of his office last week and spent a while talking with his boss. He said “Barry told me that he had played music a little but I didn’t really know anything about that part of his life until his funeral.”
He was in a conservative industry in a conservative state and probably figured unfurling his old freak flag wasn’t going to land him any clients or impress the good old boys writing the checks. He did what he had to do and he was accomplished on an entirely different level. But he never once told me “quit wasting your time.” And while I could say a lot of things about materially generous things he has done for others, that speaks volumes about the generosity of his spirit and the love he showed me.
Barry had not forgotten about music or totally abandoned his aspirations just because he wasn’t playing in a band. He had grown especially fond of Hammond B3 players including favorites Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff. In the 70’s he had envisioned ‘Dan Callahan’s Surf Caravan’, sort of a cross-celebration of beach, surf and car culture to be staged in an expo-hall style setting and over the past decade and a half he had turned his attention to writing and staging musicals. One vaguely followed his experiences working in Africa - ‘East Africa’, while another was a rambling tale set in California’s Antelope Valley and New Orleans which was to feature new arrangements of the music of Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band (he had acquired the rights to use the material in a theatrical context). It is my hope to one day stage one of these works in some fashion as a tribute to him.
I could go on but the bottom line is that Barry is irreplaceable in my heart and memory. He was a good friend, brother, father and son.
And, as I shared at his funeral, four decades on I finally found it in my heart to forgive him about The Sex Pistols tickets. I hope he and that girl he dated for two weeks enjoyed the show. I know I enjoyed watching his.