The night they drove old Dixie down

April 22, 2013

Tonight I watched a tribute to Levon Helm call “Love for Levon.” A whole slew of grey-haired musicians like Roger Waters, Greg Allman, Joe Walsh, and many more sang their hearts out for Levon and his music for a couple of glorious hours.

I remember back in the early seventies in Austin. For about a year, there was a bar called Bonnie’s (I think) that became ‘the place’ to be on Wednesday nights. It was a little ramshackle place with a large outdoor patio. Beer was a quarter or fifty cents–what ever was really cheap back then. At the end of the night, every time, whatever band was playing that night, played the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The whole audience sang along. That song signaled the end of the evening and if you didn’t have someone to go home with yet, that was the cue to find someone fast.

The tribute to Levon, made me cry. It made me miss my youth. Now, I’m OK with who and what my life is now, but really, those were the days.

So, I’m gonna take a load off fannie (mine being considerably larger these day), have a beer, or three, and watch that show again.


My Dream House

August 31, 2010

I have this house I dream about. It’s the house I lived in from 1969 to ’77 in Austin, Texas. Fresh out of college, two single, white females with hair down to our waists, my roommate and I found this house during an evening stroll. It was empty; but, we could hear it calling to us. We found the owners and asked if we could rent.  Amazingly, they said yes, rent is $90 a month. Even back then, it was a great deal.

The house was built in 1926, a split level with a small downstairs apartment. It was (and is still) located right on the cusp of Clarksville near Mopac. The house had no air-conditioning and a old refrigerator with the motor on top. But, it was full of good vibes.  We moved in and proceeded to live the life we had been dreaming of those past four years in school.

Without a doubt, those were the best days of my life. Oh, not that I don’t think all my days are the best, including tomorrow, next week, next year… In 1969, the neighborhood was in flux. With only a few actual homeowners left, the hippies had moved in. The neighborhood felt like a commune. We had our own gardens and vegetarian guru who supplied all our greens, if you know what I mean. I worked as a waitress in a popular restaurant and made plenty of tips. I think we saw every band that played the Armadillo. We came home in the early morning with our dancing shoes in one hand and a sweet boy in the other.  Later, our naked little babies played together in the back yard.

After we both had moved out and moved on, I began frequently dreaming of the house. I’d walk through the rooms with feelings of deep emotion, like a longing to be back home. Over time, the dreams became less frequent and the house began to look kinda distorted with odd shaped rooms or a weird view from the windows. But, it still felt like it was a place I wanted to get back to.

Our House is a very fine house.

Several years ago, my husband and I bought our first home.  Some days I sit in my comfy chair, by a cabinet full of all my souvenirs, and look out the large front window. With the smell of jasmine and honeysuckle wafting in, I watch the sparrows flinging bird seed all over. I say “thanks” for this wonderful home.  And, I can’t remember the last time I dreamed of the Austin house.


I Want to Go Home to the Armadillo

August 1, 2010

One of my favorite lines is “if you remember the 60’s (or 70’s) you weren’t really there.”  Well it seems plenty of us were really there and are remembering the Armadillo World Headquarters–that venerable music venue in Austin, Texas which was THE place to hear live music from 1970 through the early 1980’s.

Having been pointed in the direction of the ‘I Remember the Armadillo’ Facebook page by my brother Jack, I became an immediate fan.  I proceeded to spend way too much time reading the posted memories, checking out the list of bands and dates they played, and creating my own nostalgic musing. Since my downstairs neighbors worked at the Armadillo, and would put me on the ‘list,” it seemed I was there every time the doors opened.

Just about every band or musician you ever heard of and, some you hadn’t, played at the ‘Dillo.   Always the best audience, we gave a standing ovation for everyone—Ravi Shankar to Jerry Lee Lewis, Commander Cody to Frank Zappa, Freddy King to Boz Scaggs, and the list goes on.  The Armadillo embodied everything about that era in Austin, the music, the camaraderie, the wafts of smoke (you know what I mean).  But, it was definitely, first and foremost about the music for me.

So this weekend, I grooved to some of my old LPs, did a little dance and felt the love.

Listen to some good music this week.


Race Relations

July 16, 2010
Uncle Seymour Washington-The Walking Blacksmith

Uncle Seymour Washington-The Walking Blacksmith

Updated December 29, 2016: Found two old pictures, one of Townes and Rex, and one of me and my baby son Jack Berry at Unk’s place. 

The other day, I was wondering just what constitutes “family” anymore? It seems that in one or two short generations, the definition of family changed from a mom, a dad, and 2.2 kids to include ex-husbands, your kids, his or her kids and your kids together. Does a relative have to be blood or marriage related? Last Thanksgiving, I had dinner with my sister’s ex-husband’s daughter from his first marriage and her children. Can’t that be family, too? And now, on June 26, 2015, I add a family of two dads or two moms to the possibilities.

This post is a very late tribute to Uncle Seymour Washington, affectionately called Unk. No, not my “real” uncle, but a treasure of a man who adopted, like family, a whole lot of folks in Austin during a time in the late 60’s-mid 70’s.

A retired blacksmith, Unk had worked on many ranches in South Texas including the famous King Ranch. He was a simple but wise, peaceful, Christian man who opened his front yard and home to a motley crew of people–hippies, musicians, elderly neighbors, and more. I’m not sure how it all started. I am sure he did not understand many of us, but accepted us into his life and his heart with kindness and some of the best smoked chicken and sausage I ever ate.

Unk came by his home in the Clarksville area of Austin, just off West Lynn, by way of his ancestors. Clarksville was land originally deeded to freed plantation slaves after the Civil War. Most of the people who lived there were actually descendants of those slaves. The streets were unpaved and many did not have indoor plumbing.

townes-and-me0001-2Unk’s front yard consisted of a few wooden benches under a tree, a big wash tub for icing down the beer, a really big Bar-B-Q smoker, and an outhouse. There was frequently something cooking, guitars playing, kids chasing each other and the dogs–we were all feeling the love. Unk would hang out with us until he got tired or it just got too rowdy and then he would go in his little house and take a nap. His neighbors didn’t know what to think about all these white kids hanging around, but they finally warmed up and joined the gatherings when they saw we were helping take care of Unk.

townes-and-me0001-3

Townes Van Zandt & Rex Bell

Besides musicians like Joe Ely and Jessie “Guitar” Taylor, Townes Van Zandt always came by when he was playing in or around Austin. Heartworn Highways, a music documentary, includes the late, great Townes sitting in the Uncle Seymour’s kitchen singing “Waitin’ Around to Die” tears running down Unk‘s face.

When Unk passed, his “adopted” family, along with his one nephew, packed the Sweet Home Baptist Church for his funeral.

So, what is family? I like to think it is the human family, but, I am not sure we have all caught on to that yet. I miss Unk, I miss those days; but as humans, we keep on creating our own unique family relations. How’s yours?

If you were a friend of Unk’s, please leave a comment.

Also read my blog post “And we all shine on” about a March 2020 Townes Van Zandt Tribute in Austin. Flashbacks and fun.