It All Came Forth the Fall His Dad Bought Him an Electric Guitar
I was driving wildly toward a party one night. I'd just gotten a new car. A used Cadillac. 1955 Sedan de Ville. Baby blue. FM/AM radio. Dimmer on the dashboard. Automatic transmission. Baby blue interior. Baby blue seat covers. A cat's meow car in those days. A car that would make the ladies take notice as I drove it flashily around town. The town was Dallas.
I had just gotten out of the US Army. I was in great shape. Weighed 155. No fat. Strong legs. Strong desires. Whippet-like attitude when it came to action. My sister-in-law thought I would be living with her and my brother for the rest of their lives and thinking back on it now I guess I did live off them a short stack of bothersome months. But then out of nowhere I lucked up and landed a good job. This after dragging my ass through maze after maze of dead ends in trying to find a job I was qualified to do. Then it happened. It happened as I was sitting in an employment agency office being interviewed by this blue-suited, hair-pulled-back-and-tied, drudgely pretty woman to determine whether she had any jobs on her current list I might fit. I was spouting out fluidly my vast work experiences and all about my graduate degree when she got a phone call. She excused herself and answered it. The call was obviously from a business asking her to find them a qualified person to fill a job opening they had. I listened in as she began taking down information about this job. Wow, I was surprised, the job sounded perfect for me. I got excited. I wanted this job suddenly badly. I became nervous for her to hurry up and finish the call and hang up. I got antsy. And the minute she hung up I screeched, "I want that job." "But, you're over qualified for this job, Mr. Wolfe," she shot back. "I don't care," I said strongly in my deepest male voice, "It's as if God himself is telling me to take this job." And then I almost screamed an order at her: "I want that job." And so she caved in, called 'em back and told 'em she had a candidate, made an appointment for me that afternoon, handed me a card with the how-to-get-there info and who to see when I got there info, and by 2 that afternoon, 3 hours after I'd overheard that call coming in to that employment agency woman, I was the new office manager for a Dallas County juvenile facility. Making $350 a month. Good money for a young Turk like I was in those days.
Soon that good salary was being spent splendorously around the good city of Dallas. Party, party, party, and more party. I joined a group of coeval partiers whose party schedule only allowed them rest on Sundays. Sundays were for slowing down, regrouping, and readying for Monday morning when you were at the office again and surely someone would already be passing invitations around to a party of some kind starting off that very Monday evening. "Just a little quick wine and cheese. We want you to meet my brother just in from a psychiatric conference in Bern." Any reason for a party. "Our bird Lil' Snootie just died, so, hey, let's party!" "Bobby Mack and I just got a divorced! How 'bout 8 o'clock, Thursday night, at what's now my place to celebrate? BYOB."
Soon after (every action happens in a lot of "soon after" situations in this true tale)--so soon after I knew I had become very popular, with a capital P, on this party trail, I soon again, too, saw that I needed my own means of catting around town. My own piece of Detroit iron. My own automobile. At that moment of realization I was using my current girlfriend's MG 1600A. The moment of realization came flat upon me the night a repo man chased me around Dallas trying to repossess that MG. Turned out my girlfriend had never made a payment on it since she'd had it--almost a year. That's why she'd given the car to me to use. Following that night of out driving and backstreet dodging that repo man, I started looking for my own damn car.
I had seen this outrageously fine-looking Cadillac with a for sale sign in it sitting out in front of this filling station on Lemon Avenue just around the corner from where I lived. I first spotted it one fine morning while riding to work with this guy who worked with me and lived just two buildings down from me and who I had started riding to work and back home with as a result alas losing use of the MG. The repo man finally got it one night when I stayed late at my then-current girlfriend's apartment. Maddened by love and its overbearing emotions, we both forgot about the MG and time and reality and left the poor car invitingly exposed parked in a parking slot right in front of her apartment's back door. Sure enough, the next morning when we looked out that back door window, we sadly saw the car was gone.
So I was riding with this coworker guy who lived down the street from me the morning I first saw that glorious Caddy. It was so well detailed. It was shined up so righteously it gave off a halo. It was a car that demanded worship. I began to worship it. Passing it every morning. It was alluring. It sparkled a come hither look at me. It teased me with its gleaming white sidewall tires. It intrigued me with its--OK, I'll say it--with its rock and roll star look. Elvis having made Cadillacs the official car of rock 'n roll stars who made it big time. I knew I'd look like a star-branded celebrity driving around Dallas in that gorgeous baby-blue love boat.
That night my workmate-neighbor-chauffeur dropped me off at the filling station. I showed an eager interest in the Caddy out front. I was drooling while looking at it while talking to the filling station owner. He said he'd personally just done a little overhauling on it, new spark plugs and a new oil filter and stuff like that, and he'd tuned it up good, and he guaranteed it was purring like a kitten, low mileage, all the right accessories, hell, he even guaranteed it for 90 days if anything went wrong with it. We went on a test drive. The god-damn beautiful car ran like a dream. Quiet. Not one bit of engine noise. And it had an air-conditioner. And oh how you needed an air-conditioner in your car in Dallas, Texas, in the summertime. "Give me $1100 spuds and this baby's yours," the filling station man said when we'd rolled back into the station. I was swooning when I got out of that car. Now I definitely had to have it.
The next day I went to my job's credit union and said I wanted to borrow $1100. I submitted my request and was interviewed for the loan by a man named Warren G. Harding. It wasn't easy. I had to finagle like a sly fox that loan out of old Warren G. Harding. I had to appeal to every known kindness toward me I could get out of him to get that $1100. He told me he thought it just wasn't practical for the credit union to risk loaning me that much money in order for me to buy a used Cadillac that I'd seen sitting in front of a filling station on Lemon Avenue and knew nothing about in terms of condition except a quickie around-the-block test drive. "This is a pretty big loan for a nipper like you," he tried to parentally guide me. "You've got to make your payments--$90 a month--right on time the 15th of every month. I don't think you're able to...." I was on my knees. My eyes were tearing up. "Come on, Mr. Harding. Look, I'm young, I'm just out of the Army so I'm pumped...I've got everything these wonderful Dallas ladies need EXCEPT a car...an automobile, Mr. Harding. Every woman I know is crazy 'bout an automobile." I don't think Warren knew I was parodying Billy Emerson, but he knew I had him with that angle. He knew I was right. He'd wanted a Cadillac when he was my age. So he OK'd the loan. Regretfully, he sighed, but with a lot of good luck, he hoped.
And it was on a Wednesday eve after work that my coworker dropped me off on the way home at the filling station and I handed the $1100 over to the filling station owner and I picked up my brand-new used 55 fishtail Caddy. Wow how fucking hot I thought I was as I burned a little rubber leaving that filling station. In my big baby blue mean machine. Babe magnet wagon. Superman in his supercar. OH what a feeling as I drove this purring baby back to my apartment. I couldn't wait to show it to my roommate. Then I was boogie-ing off to a party that night. I had recently trained my roving eye on a young babe new to my department. Right out of Yale Divinity School, which intrigued me. A tall blonde rather elegant beauty of a sophisticated lady who I thought would add some class to my nights at the opera...or symphony...or dancing at the Player's Lounge to Jimmy Reed records. "Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby." "Hush, Hush." "Aw Shucks, Hush Your Mouth." "Honest I Do." "Let It Roll." And then it would be time for some Chuck Berry. How crazy that would be to end up at 2 in the morning dancing to Chuck Berry records at the Player's Lounge with this nubile, I thought, virgin who has just graduated from a divinity school.
So here I was, in a new job, and now with a new car, going after a new girlfriend, cruising down Lamar on the far south side of Dallas, Texas, heading around over to Second Avenue as it bent around the Fair Grounds. The party was on Colonial. That area of South Dallas was beginning to become a Black neighborhood. Upwardly mobile Blacks driving out the old-established Whites. That part of Dallas was still big-time industrial. Procter & Gamble had a big facility over there. Armour Packing, too. The Coca-Cola Bottling Plant was there.
So I was whizzing down Second Avenue without a worry in the world when the corner of my eye caught a name on a club marquee--a country & western club that had been there since I was a kid growing up in East Dallas. The name on the marquee didn't pop right out as to who it belonged to at first. It just looked familiar to me. "Gary Van and the Starlighters."
My parents moved to Dallas right after World War II. My dad bought this great two-story brick house. Its face was marked by a huge chimney that hung on it like a nose. Two little push-out colored-glass windows were on each side of that chimney--the face's eyes. Two huge cedar trees rooked either side of the house. This house sat majestically on the tip-top of the highest hill in the whole area. Just off Hilltop Road on what at first was called Fair Vista Drive but later was changed to Belgrade Drive.
Our house was the only house within a huge square of blocks of laid-out streets--the whole area plotted into lots of a started development that was to include an 18-hole golf course with a lake. A park-like community the developer called Parkdale. Then World War II came along and shut down the developer after he'd only gotten about a quarter of Parkdale completed. Our house had not been a part of Parkdale but it was at the far eastern edge of the development.
Soon after we moved there, contractors started coming in and buying up blocks of lots around our house and soon new houses started popping up all around us. Behind us at first but then gradually all around us.
Belgrade swooped down off "our" hill to concrete slab its way straight as an arrow west to end dead end four long blocks down from my house. Dead end into a barricade of trees and vines and an iron fence. Just down a half block from my house was Laska Drive. And one day I looked down on Belgrade and Laska, the southwest corner, and saw a construction crew start marking off the lines for the foundation of a new house they would soon be putting up. And quickly the house began to rise up off the flat but large corner lot. It was a rock house. Out of what was called Austin stone. A white rock. And soon that house was finished. White rock with brown trimming. A huge backyard all grassed and a small front yard landscaped with a winding walkway and some small shrubs along the walk and flower beds across the front of the house.
Next thing I noticed was a moving van backed into the driveway unloading furniture and stuff taking it into this new house. And then when the moving van pulled away for the last time, the people moving into the house showed up. Two cars. The last car pulling another car, a race car, on a trailer. A race car driver was moving into that house. Thrilling for a kid like me who at the time was into car racing. Then I saw the mother, a tall, willowy, dark complected woman. Very stately. Very beautiful. She looked like a movie star from where I was watching her--usually in my front yard. And then I saw a kid get out of one of the cars. A boy. Wow, about my age he looked like. Great! There was a new neighbor close to me and the dad was a race car driver, the mother a movie-star-looking beauty, and they had a kid, a boy my age.
The first time I met Gary Vanlandingham I was on my bicycle. I rode down Belgrade fast past his house. He was in the front yard watering the flower beds. His mother was on the front porch. I flew past fast showing off on my bicycle. Then I came back up the hill as fast as I could pedal until I got right in front of Gary and his house--and his mother wasn't on the porch any longer--just Gary by himself watering the yard so I stopped out at the curb.
"Hi, you can call me Wolfie, what's your handle?" "Gary." "Gary what?" "Gary Vanlandingham." "Whooo, Gary Van What?" "That'll do," he said. And that was that. "You gotta bike?" I asked. "Yeah, it's in the garage." "Wanna go ridin'?" "Sure." Soon Gary Van What pulled a super-slick shiny new Schwinn out of his garage and then we were zipping up and down these concrete-slab streets that were nice and wide. We flew down their hills. Then raced back up their hills. Loving going fast. Loving the wind and the sun and the hot air in our faces. Loving the freedom of being young males on machines on which we could be gone like the wind or arrive with the speed of a cool breeze.
And Gary Vanlandingham and I quickly became like brothers. He was an only child. My brother was nearly 20 years older than I was--so I was like an only child, too. Gary was a year younger than I was but that didn't matter. We both loved bike riding. Then we found out we both loved all sports, even golf and hockey--we once tried to play ice hockey in his big backyard. We used two-by-four hockey sticks and a flattened down Budweiser can as our puck. We only got about five minutes of hockey in before I got hit by the puck in a shin--it cut me pretty bad but like a real hockey player, I kept on playing. Then Gary got hit in the forehead by the puck and he was bleeding really bad and his mother came out and ended our ice hockey careers right then and there--but we both eagerly loved baseball. God how we loved baseball. And soon Gary and I built our own baseball field on a long-winded vacant lot across the street from Gary's house. And soon we met Boston Charlie, a kid who lived over on Power Drive and who'd just moved into a big new house over there after coming to Dallas with his family from Concord, New Hampshire. Charlie had been born and raised in Boston and was a diehard Red Sox fan. Though he wasn't that good a player, not as good as Gary or I, he loved baseball and he tried hard to play it good. He tried so hard he was fun to watch. Boston Charlie glorified over Ted Williams so we let him declare himself Ted Williams in all our neighborhood games when we announced his name in introducing our starting line up at the beginning of each game. With Boston Charlie on the scene and available to play, Gary and I started our own baseball team. We played with a pitcher and catcher, a roving infielder, a first baseman, and a roving outfielder. A five-man team. Or a four-man team if we couldn't find a fifth. Gary and I and Charlie were regulars, but we had to often go over into other neighborhoods and recruit our extra guys--then we'd play teams made up of guys from up in the village of Urban Park, where all of us went to Urban Park Elementary School. On Military Drive at Jim Miller Road.
[Our first season we won 4 and lost 7. The losses were to teams with bigger boys like Larry "the Mechanic" Stephenson who was already 11 years old and also playing on his father's auto repair shop's softball team.]
Gary and I walked the mile and a half to Urban Park Elementary School every morning during the school year and then we'd meet and walk back home together after school. We didn't ride our bikes to school--our parents felt it was too dangerous since Military Parkway was like a well-traveled highway and we would have had to ride up and down it so they banned us riding our bikes to school. So we walked. We walked to school and back on the roadbed of the old Texas Electric interurban that had at one time run from Dallas over to Terrill, Texas, and back. About halfway to school, this old roadbed passed high up on a concrete overpass over a wonderful little always-full-and-running creek that was embedded within its own little stretch of deep woods and magic forest. Cavalry Creek it was called because of some relation it had to a US Army Cavalry troop that was based in the area at one time. We didn't know it as Cavalry Creek; instead we called it Calvary Creek, relating it to Jesus on the cross and not to anything military and on horseback.
That sacred-grove creek had high bluffs on each side, all held firmly embanked by huge old elm trees with smaller oak trees running in and out among them. And with each small bend of that creek one could find great "private" places, like a little pool I liked with a little rippling falls that made enough noise to make the place serene. And Gary and I soon began to ritually stop off to spend some time in this special place I'd found. It became our place, our private place on that creek. And we had many a serious life discussion down on that creek. We became blood brothers down on that creek. Gary knew he had Native American blood in him and I had an uncle who claimed we had Fox blood in my family so we did the ritual down on that creek one afternoon after school. We both carried pocket knives in those days. Sharp ones, too. So we sliced our palms lightly open enough where droplets of blood appeared along the scars and then we shook hands letting our bloods mix Native American style. We became real blood brothers.
From there our creek-side discussions expanded and got very personal and into stuff like bodily discoveries and matters of funny feelings going on with our bodies...figuring natural things out on our own.
Like one afternoon we exposed our penises to each other. Just unzipped our jeans and took our pricks out and watch them hardened up the longer we left them hanging out in the afternoon air. We poked them out hard and proud. Seeing which one of our pricks poked out the hardest the furthest. We didn't dare touch each other's dicks. We knew better than that. This wasn't us experimenting with homosexuality but rather us learning what these things were and what they were eventually for. We knew we pissed through them but we also knew from our mothers mainly that they were nasty things, too. Especially when they got hard. Any time our mothers caught us with hards on, we were told that was something very nasty and we should try to bring our "things" back to righteous softness by putting them between our legs and squeezing them off hardness. We tried to understand through our own ways why these "pee-pees" we "wee-weed" with became such different beings when they got so hard and pointed.
Then later we especially got contemplatively perplexed when two girls, Barbara and Anita, started following us home from school in a funny sort of shaking-us-up way. We talked about how we felt about what these two girls were up to. We knew they were flirting with us. And we knew we liked them flirting with us. And we experimented with judging why our penises got so hard when we discussed these things. Like, Gary saying, "I saw up Jan Philo's dress today and mine got hard." And I would agree by saying, "Yeah, mine was hard all day today, too, because Miz Caldridge bent over right in front of me and I saw down her blouse. I couldn't get that out of my mind and my dick was hard all day thinking about that." And we watched as our exposed penises got more extended, more stretched out forward, hard to arcing points, actually looking like crowing cocks, as we talked about these things. And then we started talking about who did we like best, Barbara or Anita. I knew I liked Anita. She was so cute. She was the type of girl I had begun to hang notices on in terms of something...their faces, the dresses they wore in terms of how much of their legs I could see...or how far up their dresses I could see...even seeing the kind of sox they wore had something to do with this penis-stiffening stuff. This sex stuff. Gary also like Anita. He told me that.
Gary and I seriously discussed why seeing down Miz Caldridge's blouse made our dicks hard. Or why seeing up Jan Philo's dress made them hard. Why? What was up those dresses that made us so curious to see up there? What were those things in those grown women's blouses that made us want to peep down in at them? On the other hand, we both had a negative response to Barbara. She turned me off. She was taller than Anita. Lanky. She wore pants more than dresses. Anita wore cute little dresses that flaired out and sometimes flared up high enough to allow me to ogle her sweet little legs. Thinking about it now, Barbara had the sexiest body. She was way more developed than Anita; yet, Anita was the one I craved. And Gary, too.
So it was Gary Vanlandingham who was with me the day we confronted Anita and Barbara as rutting males--holding back that afternoon, letting the girls walk on down the old interurban roadbed way ahead of us. Then we started after them. They were aware of us and started walking slow. Gary and I walked slow, too. Soon we were up by my house but drifting off away from the direction of our destinations, off down into a park area that sat behind the Cabell Dairy Store (one of the original 7-11 stores) up on Military Parkway, which ran high up over that park.
At that park there was a great high little hill that was grass lined and always a little softly moist. It was perfect for sliding down, rolling down, tumbling down, head first or via a side roll. It was such great fun that when Gary and I followed Barbara and Anita into that park soon we were monkey-like showing off to the girls by challenging them to join us in taking a tumble down that hill. And the girls were giggling and shying away from us but also admiring our antics with big curious eyes, but saying no to our seductions. It was Gary who finally took the bull by the horns and said, "Hey, Anita, come on, try it." "No, I can't get my dress dirty." Barbara was coming toward me saying, "I'll do it." Then as quick as a rabbit she was coming down that hill head first, her dress flying up over her head as she did, her bare legs glowing in the lowering sun, her white panties tight around her bottom and deeply vee-ed between her legs in front. I saw her slit. Gary did too. I already knew girls had slits. Back in my preschool days I had a little 5-year-old girlfriend, Tinker Belle. Tinker had shown me her slit many a time. In fact, every time we played together, which was a lot. I'd even touched Tinker's slit several times with a nervous but curious yellow forefinger. But I'd never seen what I saw looking at Barbara tumbling down that hill and her panties grooved tightly into that slit--I'd never seen it that way before.
Then finally Gary got Anita to take a tumble and oh my gosh! Anita was so white! She was holy white. Her legs all up to her thighs were bleached-flour-white. But her panties were pink with little bluebirds over them and her panties were tight into her slit, too, and her bottom crack, too.
It was getting very late when the girls squealed and said they had to go home and they went running off toward the developed side of Parkdale over by the remains of the golf course and the lake. Gary and I scampered off toward our homes talking a blue streak about which girl we saw the most of, appreciating the experience with our penises hard as rocks. Thus Gary and I discovered the wonders of male sexuality together. We discovered why our penises got so hard when we finally saw wildly and openly up those two marvelous women creatures's dresses, though we still had no idea what the hell to do with our hard dicks in terms of what if we had both Anita's and Barbara's panties off and they were laying there open and naked in front of us.
Gary and I had met through our love of riding bicycles. We had become teammates during that first summer we met and built our ball field and formed our baseball team together. Then while walking to and from school together we became identified by our peers as very close friends. Then that first school year we discovered our creek place and there we became real blood brothers. By the time we discovered our heterosexuality, we were followers of each other. What I liked, he liked; what he liked, I liked. We became sort of like twins.
Like we both were into car racing. We kept track of US auto racing. Our hero was a guy called Spider Webb who was a midget race car driver. The stock cars and the midgets ran on dirt tracks, not paved tracks like the Indy cars. And, yes, there is still dirt-track racing going on in the US today but not like it was back in those raw, dirty, gritty, and scary days.
In the case of dirt-track stock car racing, racing around a dirt oval usually in a banked-track bowl setting. The biggest and best Dallas stock car and midget dirt race track was called The Devil's Bowl Speedway. And Gary's dad, Mister Vanlandingham, was a regular driver out at this Mesquite, Texas, dirt track. And oh what a thrill it was the first time he invited me and Gary to go along with him to watch him race at the Devil's Bowl. His car was a souped up 1936 model Ford V8 coupe, a two-door business coupe, the kind preferred by traveling salesmen, cops, and bootleggers. It was a hot dirty night at the Devil's Bowl. In the first race, involving 10 cars, there were 5 wrecks, one pretty serious when a car spun out of control on a turn and ended up rightsideup in about the fifth row of one end of the grandstand. Jesus, that was exciting. And then came the feature race and we excitedly watched as Mister Vanlandingham tooled his Ford out onto the track. The Eight-Ball 8 was his car's moniker and a pool-ball 8 ball was emblazoned on his Ford's side doors. There were 9 other cars in this race, and then the flag was up, the motors were reved up, and the flag went down, and off went the old Eight-Ball 8 right straight to the front. Mister Vanlandingham had the pedal to the metal as that Ford skidded sideways into the sloping turns to full throttle off the slopes and full speed into the short straightaways before skidding up sideways again onto a bank and trying to come out level with the next straightaway. Mister Vanlandingham was racing for the big prize of the night, $100 and a silver-plated trophy, and points toward Driver of the Year, which was worth $1000. It was the last lap. He was still out front though about five cars were slowly but surely catching up to him. It was gonna be a dash for the finish line and the checkered flag. The Eight-Ball 8 was skidding up onto the last high turn. The last turn before the home stretch to the finish line and the victory.
It rang like a canon shot around the Devil's Bowl. A clanging canon shot. A rumbling canon shot. We watched holding our breaths as Mister Vanlandingham and the Eight-Ball 8 flipped high up into the dusty air, dragging a huge cloud of dirt and smoke up with it as it flipped totally over. It flipped up twenty feet into the air it looked like to us. Horribly high up into the air it hung up there for what seemed like minutes but were only seconds when it then simply just fell flat down with such an impact you could hear the crunch of the Eight-Ball 8's top as it was crushed flat down, pancaked upsidedown flat, as flattened as that flattened Budweiser can Gary and I had used as a puck in our shortlived backyard hockey career. The Eight-Ball 8 ended crunched down flat as a pancake in the far corner of that last turn. The car was rocking back and forth and was smoking out from its exposed underside and the upsidedown radiator was blowing steam out from under the smashed hood like a geyser. Gary, his mother, and I were fixed on that upsidedown Eight-Ball 8. "Oh my God," Miz Vanlandingham was whispering. But then came relief as we watched as Mister Vanlandingham slowly squeezed his snake-thin body up out of the side window of the crushed car. "Thank the Lord, he put that new roll bar in just this week. That's what saved him some serious hurt," Miz Vanlandingham sighed in relief when she saw her man was OK.
It was sad riding home, the Eight-Ball 8 with its caved in top riding high on the trailer, and Mister Vanlandingham saying, "Goddammit..."--"Don't cuss in front of the children, Hon"--"Sorry, boyz, but dammit, I had that race...that hun'erd dollars was mine. Now look. It's gonna take a thousand to fix her back into racing state...dammit."
It wasn't long after this that Mr. and Mrs. Vanlandingham separated.
And I still clearly remember the afternoon I told Gary down in our secret place on the creek that I had started toying around on my mother's piano and how I was digging it and doing so extraordinary at my toying that my brother was going to pay for me to take piano lessons. Rather than being put off, Gary was enthusiastic about it. That's the first time either of us had shown our hands in terms of what musics we liked.
"Do you ever listen to the Grand Ol' Opry?" Gary asked me one day down by the creek after I'd started my piano lessons. "Every Saturday night. I can get Nashville on my radio," I anwered. "Me, too, man. Yeah, did you hear it Saturday when they had Ernest Tubb on for a whole 30-minute show?" "Yeah. Ernest Tubb's from Texas you know." "The Texas Troubador." "Yeah. With Billy Byrd on the pedal steel."
And from that moment on--yes, we still played baseball and rode our bikes all over the place-- we got into the strangest way of exposing our musical talents. It started one afternoon in Gary's garage. It started when Gary asked me if I'd heard this guy Chet Atkins playing the guitar with Mother Maybelle Carter on that past Saturday's Opry and I had. And Gary picked up a small shovel I think it was and he started air-guitar-playing that shovel and imitating Chet Atkins's guitar sound with his mouth. "Wildwood Flower" was the tune. And Gary was playing this shovel guitar and giving it amplified sound through the speaker of his mouth and soon I picked up the leaf rake and I was playing Mother Maybelle's part with him and it was damn fun.
I had a piano at my home but Gary had no instruments at his house. So what we did to rectify that situation, we went over to where they were building a new house and we found some pieces of thrown-away hardwood flooring there of different lengths, which we took back to Gary's garage where with our pocket knives we whittled these floor boards into what we pretended were guitars. We even drew strings on them and put stars and our names on them. And with our hardwood instruments, our hardwood guitars, in Gary's garage, we started doing pretend radio broadcasts--doing the announcing, making the audience noises--I mean we got seriously into concertizing. One session Gary would announce the show of the day--usually the reproduction of a Grand Ol' Opry show we'd heard over the weekend. The next session I would announce a session, maybe a show from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Music Way in Nashville. One of my shows, I remember, featured a Grand Ol' Opry appearance of Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadors with a special guest appearance by the "King" of Swing, Benny Goodman. By then I'd made a clarinet out of a broom stick and Gary had found a bigger piece of wood that he fixed up as a pretend upright bass. And these pretend shows became an obsession with us.
In the meantime, I took piano lessons and started playing for real a real instrument. Gary would come up and sit and watch me play my Czerny scales and Bach drills and then he'd really jump for joy when I'd deviate off into my version of a latest boogie-woogie.
Still, even after practicing my piano lessons, I couldn't wait to get back down to Gary's garage for another Grand Ol' Opry pretend broadcast...or maybe a broadcast from Fort Worth's Panther Hall featuring Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys and subfeaturing Homer 'n Jethro, with special guest Cousin Minnie Pearl or the Duke of Paducah ("Heaven's to Betsy, gal, I'm headin' back to the wagon, 'cause these shoes are killin' me!"). And we did comedy, too. We did it all. We were the bands, we were the stars, we played all the instruments and could imitate them with our mouths. Soon we were great young pretender musicians. We loved all music. I turned Gary on to boogie and blues and swing and Gary turned me on to C&W and Western Swing--he loved Bob Wills and Spade Cooley and Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boyz. And we even imitated the Dallas local stars, like Dewey Groom, Al Dexter, Royal Earl, Whistlin' Alex Moore, Red River Dave, Leon Payne, and the Shelton Brothers who were on the Hackberry Hotel show on early morning Dallas radio and Bob Shelton played a Dizzy Dean hillbilly character called Hayloft Harry who talked about cowlot baseball and the difficulties of playing it. "One problem happened to me during a cowlot baseball game. It was tied. The bottom of the ninth. I was on second. The pitcher threw the ball and I took off for third base. I was flying. The catcher got the ball and he made the throw to try and git me. I caught sight of what I thought was the third-base bag and I slid for dear life. The umpire called me out! 'Ya missed the bag!' he hollered. I'd slud into what I thought was third base but instead was tur..." "Hayloft, no, no," they'd stop him before he said the full "Turd" base.
And for at least a full year, Gary Vanlandingham and I put on radio broadcasts and concerts nearly every afternoon rain or shine, complete with printed programs (hand printed out) and lists of coming guests--like putting Little Jimmy Dickens on with the Texas Playboys, Bob Wills's band. And then finally one day, we both came out of the music closet and gave ourselves star quality--I became Wolfie "The Lonesome Wolf" Wolf and His Densmen and Gary became Texas Gary and the Eight-Balls. And soon we started writing our own tunes--our requested hits. Silly little ditties, I'm sure, though I don't remember any of them at all.
Then came the fall I had just turned twelve. One day my parents announced that my father had taken a job back once again where we'd moved to Dallas from, my hometown of Abilene, which was way out 200 miles west of Dallas, out in the middle of nowhere on the lone prairie. And though Gary and I were still close we were no longer everyday close. Also, since I was older than Gary, that fall I was bussed across East Dallas so I could attend 7th grade at Long Junior High while Gary finished the sixth grade still at Urban Park Elementary School.
It was that same fall that Gary excitedly called me down to his house one Saturday. He jitterbugging excited took me back to his room and revealed to me what his dad had bought him and brought over to him the night before. It was an electric guitar! With an amplifier and everything. A beauty. Red in color. "I'm starting lessons next week," he said, proudly picking it up and slinging it over his shoulder. I looked at that guitar for the longest. It's the first electric guitar I'd ever seen in the flesh. Gary plugged it in and hit the strings--he couldn't play it--just pretend to play it--but the sound coming out of that amp was surprisingly pretty close to the guitar sounds we used to make with our mouths. "Yeah," Gary said, "I'm gonna learn to play this thing better that anybody else on earth, man, and one day, you're gonna hear me on the Grand Ol' Opry, followin' Ernest Tubb maybe."
And then I moved away from Dallas back out to faraway Abilene.
Gary and I kept in touch for awhile after that. We wrote each other long letters. We made up our own newspapers and sent them to each other. We showed how our fictitious sports teams were doing--like the Yankees were winning my pretend American League and the Cardinals were winning his pretend National League; and my cousin Jimmy Dean had upset Ben Hogan at my pretend Master's golf championship that year. And Frank Montgomery who'd once raced Gary's dad on the local dirt tracks won Gary's Indy 500 that year beating Andy Granatelli in an Offenbach Special in a close race. And music. Gary said he was getting pretty good at the guitar--and I reported that I had developed my piano playing into a little White boogie boy act and was playing my boogie woogie at church parties and kids parties and things.
The last time I heard from Gary was in 1953. It was a postcard from Niagara Falls. Gary and his mother were there on a vacation.
I never heard from Gary again after that postcard.
I began thinking of Gary the other night after I'd been out on the town with a woman I truly dig and feel for and had had a great time of mafficking about with and I was laying up in my loft bed with a nice little buzz on and I suddenly got nostalgic and started wondering what ever happened to Gary. Just out of nowhere I started thinking about Gary Vanlandingham.
I remembered that time in Dallas, whizzing off Lamar onto Second Avenue and suddenly coming upon this big Dallas nightclub and seeing that name "Gary Van and the Starlighters" on that marquee. I knew at the time Gary Van was Gary Vanlandingham. I knew it as certainly then as I certainly know it now. Of course I had often regretted not stopping in at that club that night or not trying to find Gary's phone number back then to get in touch with him--but I was zooming along in a fast life lane then, and soon I was swept on away from Dallas, married, moved to New Orleans, then on to Mexico City, then around the US looking for a home, and the years went past fast and thoughts of Gary Vanlandingham were soon like dust on the wind long forgotten.
I got up, took a shower, and set out to work on my computer. I just happened to Google "Gary Vanlandingham"--and look what I came up with.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my childhood pal, my blood brother, and I'm sad to say now my late great great life-discovering buddy (he died in 1980; he was only 41 years old) Gary Vanlandingham, minorly famous in rock 'n roll as Gary Van--here's my pal, Lamp, Intro, and RCS recording star, Gary Van and the Starlighters:
Real name Gary Van Landingham. Born 1939 in Point, Texas. Died ca. 1980.
|Date & Source||Label & Number||Title & "As By" Name||Matrix||Comps|
|Lamp (Calif.) 45-2014||Rockin' Too Much — The Starlighters|
|Slippin' Out — The Starlighters|
|1958/July 21 |
Bb c&w rev.
|Intro (Calif.) 45-9000||Rockin' Too Much — Gary Van And The Starlighters||TEX-3026|| Buffalo Bop CD 55169 (#18) |
Cat CD 1034 (#2)
Eagle LP 317 (#13)
Presto CD 4 (#47)
|Slippin' Out — Gary Van And The Starlighters||TEX-3025|
"Rockin' Too Much" is too much though it's just a snippet. Looks like it was recorded in L.A. And that's for sure my man, my blood brother, good ole Gary Vanlandingham singing it. I'd recognize that voice anywhere anytime. 1958. Only 5 years after we stopped writing each other and Gary was a rock 'n roll legend--and "Rockin' Too Much" got Gary a slot in Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Check out this RCS records site; it's a hoot to see all these great old rock 'n roll originators like my man Gary Van on the RCS rockabilly CD series, names like Gary's long forgotten, originators who deserve to be remembered and listened to; try 'em at: rcs-discography.com/
Here's a full version of "Rockin' Too Much" on YouTube:
There He Is: Gary Vanlandingham as Gary Van. This was Gary's "The Country Side" LP on the Dallas-based Justice label. I found this listed on eBay; also listed on eBay was a 45 rpm single from this album.
Rockin' too much probably killed good ole Gary. Rockin' too much may surely kill me, too, one day. I'm still tryin' to rock, Gary! Rockin' our spirits on to a blood brother glory.
for The Daily Growler