What an adventure! I just spent last week in my hometown Lubbock, Texas with some really great people getting a LOT of good work done on the Radio Dreams Project, working in the Crossroads of Texas Music archives department at Texas Tech, helping hand over many pictures, recordings, writings, memorabilia, costumes, original scripts and drawings from theatre productions. I also visited and lectured a 20th Century Music, Texas Music Race Class and Gender, Women’s Studies and songwriting class.
One of the biggest highlights of the week was “Women and West Texas Music” a Lubbock community event, hosted by Dr. Curtis Peoples, at the International Cultural Center featuring a panel discussion and some music… Guests: Kimmie Rhodes (Musician, playwright, and author), Amy Maner (Producer, designer, and Lubbock Lights documentarian), Kathleen Hudson (Educator, and author of “Women in Texas Music” and “Telling Stories, Writing Songs: An Album of Texas Songwriters”), Tamara Saviano (Grammy Award winner, Guy Clark biographer, and manager for Kris Kristofferson’s record label, among other things) and Diana Finlay Hendricks (Delbert McClinton biographer, educator, writer.) It was a real honor to share the stage with such talented writers and producers. The first session was a 45 minute on stage discussion about my new book “Radio Dreams,” which included some songs. The second session was all women on stage discussing their careers and ties to West Texas music. For more information contact Curtis Peoples 806-834-5777, email@example.com
As an ambassador for The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation http://www.tbhef.org I performed and told stories at a book signing event hosted by The Buddy Holly Center. https://www.mylubbock.us/departmental-websites/departments/buddy-holly-center/home
Thanks to all of you who made this possible by supporting the Radio Dreams Project! Below are some pictures taken of the work and events.
Stay tuned for the next phase… The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum comes to our home in Austin to pick up all the tapes and many other precious things we are donating to the museum in anticipation of the “Outlaws and Armadillos: County’s Roaring 70’s” exhibit that opens May 25 and runs through February 14, 2021. Here’s a link to that for details> https://countrymusichalloffame.org/exhibits/exhibitdetail/outlaws
Love and happiness,
PS Special thanks to Curtis and Amber Peoples, Jim and Kathy Gilbreath and Bella and Grant Gerlich for feeding us and making us feel welcomed!
Dr. Curtis Peoples, historian and head of the department, checked in on us regularly. His dedication and passion for preserving and recording the history is an inspiration. I’m very grateful for his interest and his help placing these archives in a permanent place where they can be used for education and research. Curtis not only booked all the events for the adventure and arranged scheduling but also escorted me to all of the classes I visited and lectured during the week.
John Holmes, Kimmie Rhodes & Curtis Peoples in the archives department.
Journals and lyrics dated and labeled and filed in acid free materials ready for processing and cataloguing.
Thanks to the good folks at The Buddy Holly Center for hosting a successful book signing for “Radio Dreams” that included a tour, performance and storytelling. I also had a chance to discuss my treasure I have placed there on loan for the next few years… my autographed lyric sheet from the day Waylon Jennings and I wrote our song “Lines” and sing the song. Here’s what it looks like below…
Kimmie Rhodes and Diana Finlay Hendricks at The Walk of Fame in Lubbock, Texas
Telling the story of Radio Dreams and how the book and project began at the Women and West Texas Music event. (photo by Jim Eppler)
Singing the song “Radio Dreams” written with Gary Nicholson at the Women and West Texas Music event. Press play to hear it and read the lyrics below. (photo by Jim Eppler)
by Gary Nicholson & Kimmie Rhodes
With my little transistor hid under my pillow I drifted away in a dream
Where rock ‘n’ roll and Memphis soul showed a whole new world to me
I’d wake up with a song rollin’ round in my head
Feeling a groove I’d never forget
I felt a change coming over me
Dreaming my radio dreams
Radio Dreams, Radio Dreams
I’ve been tuning in all of my life to my radio dreams
Radio Dreams, Radio Dreams
I’ve been tuning in all of my life to my radio dreams
I got a guitar and played Beatles and Stones
Soon I was making up songs of my own
I started to be who I wanted to be
Dreaming my radio dreams
Radio Dreams, Radio Dreams
I’ve been tuning in all of my life to my Radio Dreams
From the dashboard speakers of my Chevy one day
The magic came drifting in on the airwaves
I heard my own voice coming back to me
singing my radio dreams
Radio Dreams, Radio Dreams
I’ve been tuning in all of my life to my radio dreams
Radio Dreams, Radio Dreams
I’ve been tuning in all of my life to my radio dreams
(photo by Jim Eppler)
This is beginning to be a lot of fun!
Pending licensing clearances still underway for the Audio Documentary Companion we hope you’ll enjoy a “sneak peek” preview via the EP we recently produced to promote the upcoming Radio Dreams Launch tour beginning in London Spring 2018! It features a new song co-written with my friend Gary Nicholson just for the occasion… you guessed it… Radio Dreams! It also has an excerpt of the intro to the Audio Documentary (coming soon!) that was produced by Bob Harris, a rare vintage recording of Joe Gracey singing a Jack Cowboy Clement song “I Guess Things Happen That Way”, an archival clip of the traditional ending of Joe Gracey’s radio broadcasts and the title track from my 1996 album West Texas Heaven. Many exciting promotional plans are in the works for the coming year including concerts, book signings, university lectures & storytelling, songwriting workshops hosted by our sponsor The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation, museum exhibits, television appearances and even a RADIO DREAMS radio broadcast, so please visit https://kimmierhodes.com/events/ and get the details as they are added to the list of events. The first copies of the book have been sent to all of those who supported the Radio Dreams project and it is a real joy to already be getting those “book reports” back from friends and fans! Keep ’em coming and thanks so much for your encouragement and support for this labor of love! It really means a lot to me! Please stay tuned!
Personally autographed copies of the book can be ordered here on the website at this link https://kimmierhodes.com/books/ until I hit the road in April at which time the physical sales will have to move to Amazon.com worldwide. Digital versions are available also here on the website and at Amazon for all reading formats.
Kimmie entertains us going “live” on Facebook, Thursday 8pm (CST) while painting an oil on canvas original in celebration of her duet memoir, Radio Dreams, the love story of an outlaw DJ and a cosmic cowgirl. She also promises to play and sing a couple of her favorite songs penned by Joe Gracey. So, tune in, ask questions, become part of the creative process and tell her what color YOU think the roses should be! Click here to watch and comment! https://www.facebook.com/KimmieRhodesMusic/
Once the painting is finished we will spit it again. This painting is the “Louve & Happiness” incentive for the Radio Dreams project fundraiser. Limited edition signed and numbered Valentines cards based on the painting are also available.
For more information on how to purchase this original work of art click here > http://bit.ly/RadioDreams
Here’s a sneak peak of Kimmie reading one of her memoirs from the book:
This is such a wonderful journey already and it’s just beginning! Many many many of Gracey’s friends from the past, childhood friends, his high school buddies, his KOKE-FM radio days fans, have reached out to share old Austin and Ft. Worth stories! I can see that I’m truly in for a great year ahead once this book and audio documentary are out and the events surrounding the release begin!
Booking is underway for a tour with Bob Harris (who produced the companion audio CD to the book) and my virtuoso son Gabriel Rhodes, to tell tales and sing and play songs. Special thanks to The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation for pledging some tour support! I’m thinking this might just turn out to be the most fun and creative adventure ever!
So thanks to all of you who are helping fund our Radio Dreams project! With your support we will soon be able to place some really wonderful archival documents and recordings and artifacts in The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and The Wittliff Museum in San Marcos so they will be available for research and keep Texas music and legendary musicians we love in the hearts and minds of future generations. Everything is being preserved in acid free paper and plastic and the recordings are being backed up digitally. As the momentum of the project grows people are continuing to offer buried treasures to us for safe keeping knowing we will make sure they are placed where they belong in music history. The lyrics draft of the song “Lines” that Waylon Jennings autographed to me the day we wrote the song has found a perfect home at The Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock and that makes me very happy. It’s so much better for it to be where the folks who pass through there can glimpse the creative process we went through that day than it would be for it to have stayed hidden away in a dark closet.
Last week we focused on the importance of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Joe Gracey’s story. Without the care he received there in the 70’s he would have missed 30 years of amazing life, so we will continue to work with their PR department to offer up our story to encourage and comfort those whose lives have been affected by cancer. I even loaned his Making Cancer History t-shirt he liked to wear to treatments to The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum along with his Ernest Tubb autographed cowboy hat! To read the first letter Gracey wrote me, which is also now on loan there click here > https://kimmierhodes.com/the-archive/joe-graceys-1st-letter-to-kimmie/
So stay tuned everybody and please continue to share our social media posts with your friends and keep those stories and comments coming! It feels so great to know that people love and remember Gracey and to know that so many people have pre-ordered the book and CD so he will soon be able to speak for himself once more and even tell you some of his great stories too!
Love & happiness & much gratitude,
“Joe Gracey’s time as a patient at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, both in the 1970s and later in 2009, when his cancer returned, made his treatment and survival experiences important to the research department. He was a willing participant, happy that through his experiences he was able to help towards meeting the goal stated by MD Anderson: “Making Cancer History.” These days it’s difficult to find someone whose reality has not been touched by cancer in some way. It is our sincere feeling that by sharing our many musings on the subject of cancer as patient and caregiver we might help those who have been affected by the disease and loss find kinship, courage, and peace.”
Joe Gracey was proud of his role in helping the research department at MD Anderson. Kimmie remains active with the public relations department at MD Anderson. Below, see a video and an interview she did for them on caregiving. Also, read an excerpt from “Radio Dreams” of a letter Joe Gracey wrote at the request of the speech pathology department to a fellow patient who was about to lose his voice.
“You don’t have to think about cancer all the time.” – Kimmie Rhodes, Caregiver
Singer Kimmie Rhodes had been married to legendary music producer Joe Gracey for 28 years when he died of metastatic esophageal cancer in Nov. 2011. The couple met in 1979, after Joe completed treatment at MD Anderson for his first bout with cancer — which involved the complete removal of his tongue.
“I was actually married to a man who didn’t speak,” Kimmie says. “In a way, I became the voice he lost, but he could communicate very well without speaking.”
The couple married in 1982, and Joe reinvented himself as a record producer, while Kimmie kept performing. They enjoyed almost 30 years together before Joe’s cancer returned in the spring of 2008.
A long-time Austin resident, Kimmie had never heard of MD Anderson before meeting her husband. But once here, she learned a lot about being a caregiver to a cancer patient.
Here’s Kimmie’s advice for other caregivers.
1. Take care of yourself
The first thing Kimmie learned was the importance of taking care of herself.
“People caring for cancer patients can get hyper-focused, but you don’t have to let yourself be consumed by it,” Kimmie says. “Shift your attention and think about something else for a while. Ask for help if you need it. And have hope. That’s what MD Anderson is all about.”
2. Make plans
Kimmie maintained the couple’s quality of life by planning activities around town — both solo and together — while her husband was receiving treatment here.
“You don’t have to think about cancer all the time,” she says. “You can still have fun. So look around and find things that feed your soul. There are so many places around Houston to see and do interesting things. It has art galleries, science museums, restaurants and parks. In the spring, you can even tour homes with azaleas blooming.”
3. Express gratitude
For Kimmie, finding things to be thankful for every day was the key to maintaining an upbeat attitude. This philosophy even proved useful after her husband had died.
“The answer to grief is gratitude,” Kimmie says. “I lost Joe to cancer, but I don’t look at it as a failure. You can either be sorry for what you didn’t get to have, or thankful for what you did. I had Joe for 28 years, and we had a great life together.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
The following is a letter Joe Gracey wrote at the request of his speech pathologist to a patient who was about to permanently lose his voice to cancer and was preparing to undergo a total glossectomy and laryngectomy at MD Anderson Hospital.
Our speech pathologist told me about you last time I saw her. I assume you will be having a total glossectomy (tongue) and laryngectomy (larynx) like I did thirty years ago. Couple of things I can tell you based on my experience, for what it may be worth:
1) Squamous cell carcinoma is very slow to spread, if at all, so your chances of long-term health are extremely good. I am living proof of this.
2) Not being able to speak has its advantages as well as its frustrations, of course. I do miss singing, which is a *&&^%$%$ drag, but on the other hand I almost never say anything I wish I hadn’t said, because by the time I write it down I have edited myself. And, people think I am wise because I don’t rattle on about stuff like most people. I am not.
3) Now they have ways to give you a pretty good voice back, such as TEP, which I am myself about to try out, and which seems to hold real promise for most of us.
4) You will still be able to eat and taste food. The only flavor I don’t really taste is sweet, which means I don’t care much about dessert, but I still love and enjoy ice cream. This is because most flavor actually resides in the sense of smell, not in the tongue. I’d say about 95%, in fact. At first it may not seem that way to you, but as time goes on you will begin to sense aromas and tastes more fully. I also seem to have some residual ability to taste bitter and even sour, because I have the feeling that there are a few taste buds that reside in other parts of the mouth and throat besides the tongue. So, don’t mourn the loss of food and it’s pleasures . . . they will still be there. In fact, one of my jobs is as a food and travel writer, and I love good wine and food.
5) You will have to get used to the whole thing, of course. I live with a certain amount of frustration and I think you have to go through a period of mourning for the loss of your voice, but life does go on and eventually you figure out ways to cope. Therapy is good. A supportive spouse is good. A sense of humor and a willingness to adapt and not sulk or throw tantrums is good. I wish I had something wise and terrific to tell you that would fix everything and make it ok, but I think the thing to remember is that the human spirit is very able to handle setbacks and problems, much more than you may know right now. I would rather have lost my voice than my sight, or my hearing, or my legs. It is in fact almost a minor handicap when you get right down to daily living, far as I am now concerned. There are many ways to cope, and deal with it, and laugh at it, if you just plow ahead and figure it is just a minor test of your will to live fully and well and happily.
I wish you all the luck on earth, and if meeting me personally would help you of course we can do that. I am out here in Spicewood west of Austin on 71. I am in fact going to MDA to have some more stuff done, the TEP insertion and some dental work, from the 13th to the 23rd, so perhaps we can even meet there before they haul you in for your fun and games.
P.S. The MDA team are the greatest people on earth. Lean on them- they can help, too…
JOIN US LIVE ON FACEBOOK AT THIS LINK – http://bit.ly/2y6OvPx
Kimmie Rhodes will be going live, on Facebook, Tuesday, Oct. 10th, 7:00 PM (United Kingdom) 8:00 PM (Europe) 1:00 PM (CST) USA, to discuss Radio Dreams, her memoir and companion audio documentary. She will also be answering your questions, singing your favorite songs and reading and playing excerpts from the project.
“This is the story of two great people – Kimmie Rhodes and the late Joe Gracey, told through the lens of Kimmie’s memory and Gracey’s writing. It is a trulyinspiring account of their love and strength together, withstanding challenges that would have defeated all but the most resilient souls.”
Bob Harris OBE – BBC Radio 2
“I am delighted to endorse this excellent book, as Kimmie is a highly respected and much loved artist/songwriter hailing from Buddy’s birthplace, Lubbock,Texas…. It gives me great pleasure that she has joined our close knit family as an ambassador of The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation.”
Maria Elena Holly – The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation
“Kimmie’s West Texas Heaven album should be handed out to every aspiring vocalist to offer lessons in tone, taste and phrasing. When she wasn’t out there singing, she was completing Radio Dreams, a book that reveals an extraordinary love story, accompanied by a sound track filled with great Texas music.”
Peter Cooper – Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
“I believe that Radio Dreams is really a cultural touchstone that poetically weaves together the humorous, heartfelt and heart-wrenching stories of two “Super Roper” soul mates set against the eclectic backdrop of Austin’s “cosmic” music scene. No doubt that “Willie, Waylon and the boys” are proud of their “Outlaw Sweetheart” Kimmie Rhodes, for her courage in pouring her heart into these pages as only a true artist can.”
Eric Geadelmann – Filmmaker & Author “They Called us Outlaws”
Townes & Kimmie at Cowboy Arms Hotel & Recording Spa 1995
Push play to hear “Im Gonna Fly” duet recording
One afternoon in 1995 I came home and found a message from Waylon Jennings on my telephone answering machine. Life had been a lot like an Easter egg hunt of late with good things showing up around just about every corner, so I can’t say the call surprised me so much as delighted me.
With no budget we had begun piecing together an album (which later would be titled “West Texas Heaven” but I’d not yet written the song) and had a couple of tracks recorded with Willie Nelson at his Pedernales Studio west of Austin in the hill country. Joe Gracey was recording an artist who had purchased a block of time so once they were finished for the day we could sneak in and utilize the left over night hours at no cost. Having no money for a band, we were cutting tracks with just the vocals and acoustic guitar, jesting that we could “always overdub the band later.” Gracey had nicknamed me “battleship Kimmie” because of my unconscious faith to keep sailing in the right direction, knowing things would all work out, which they always did. However backwards, from my point of view I figured if I had Willie readily accessible and happy to record with me then I already owned something more rare than money and a band so didn’t question much of anything. When you’re flying blind, life is a bit like a game where you wait to see what falls into the picture next and have no choice but to trust that things are landing in the right order. I’ve seen this happen time after time after year after year and decade after decade now and it’s the fun of it, really. After a while you realize you’ve wandered too far out to turn back anyway so you just keep walking the road you’ve taken as it unravels.
So, once I had played the message from Waylon multiple times (and for the amusement of all the other house members) it began to dawn on me that what he was saying was he liked my song “I Just Drove By,” wanted me to call him back and had given me his number, which I eventually screwed up the nerve to dial, so was soon speaking with the deep rich voice of the hero I’d never met. It’s another story, which I’ll get to sometime later, but after some demo mailing and a little more phone calling one thing led to another and we decided to record a couple of songs I’d written, “Be Mine” and “Maybe We’ll Just Disappear.”
Looking back I marvel now that it never truly occurred to me that we had no more funds with which to produce a recording session with Waylon than we’d had with Willie. I guess I had learned by that point that all you really needed was the studio and the song. Willie had enjoyed recording that way with me pointing out that no matter what we added later it would be impossible to ever “remove the heart from it.” I picked up the phone and called our infamous buddy and mentor Jack “Cowboy” Clement, who had a very trippy fantastic place in Nashville, “The Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa” and told him the news, explaining that we needed to use his studio and would find the money to pay the engineer but would have to swap him something for the time. Besides having been for a short era Waylon’s brother-in-law the ingenious Cowboy had produced earth-moving records on him (my favorite, “Dreaming My Dreams”) Once I’d made Jack understand that we would also, due to lack of funds, be recording with no band he agreed to let us in under the non-negotiable condition that I hire a bass player to keep us in line. Knowing he was right, I acquiesced to finding the money to pay the legendary Johnny Cash sideman, Joe Allen, whom Cowboy suggested, knowing he was a fan of my singing so might agree to nail down the rhythm for my drummerless session.
A couple of weeks later on the eve of the event we were hanging in a Nashville bar when in walked Townes Van Zandt. With Gracey voicelessly writing to him on the child’s toy “magic slate” explaining that we were in from Austin to record with Waylon at Cowboy’s next day I interjected, “Hey, why don’t you come sing a song with me?” He agreed and it wasn’t until later that I realized I’d just enlisted the Shakespeare of Americana songwriters to record one of my own songs with me the next day without actually having the song. (So much for all you needed was a studio and a song!)
By morning when we arrived at Cowboy’s I’d mused over it and remembered a song I’d written recently titled, “I’m Gonna Fly.” Unlike all the others I’d ever written, I had finished this one without ever really knowing what it was about. When I had reached the end of writing it I did feel that familiar “tone” that assures me I’ve said what I meant to communicate but this time it had been more like when you wake from sleep and can’t remember exactly what you dreamt but know how it made you feel. If that makes any sense, that’s why I decided this song, which was really more of a poem, might be the perfect one to record with Townes. Besides, it was the one I had.
The recordings with Waylon went great (still another story) and my friend, Beth Nielsen Chapman, an incredible songwriter (who as it turned out had been the one who had generously pitched Waylon my song in the first place) was at the session and having mistakenly taken her for an extremely accomplished pianist, I invited her to play on the track with Townes. True to her indomitable spirit and adaptability she excused herself and went into the piano room to practice and invent a part, which became a stunningly simple and beautifully childlike solo bit. By then Townes had arrived in a very drunken and fragile state, though still way cool and quietly sweet and we went into the studio where I timidly began to show him the song. The idea was that Townes and I would play acoustic guitar, Joe Allen bass and Beth piano. All the songs were being recorded all together “live” and in one or two takes. It became immediately apparent that Townes wasn’t going to be able to keep up so Joe Allen graciously offered that we might record the track and then overdub his vocal. Townes was shuffled off into the control room to further imbibe whilst we laid down the track and then Beth and Joe Allen went away and Townes returned.
Townes was seated about two feet away from me and I had placed the lyric sheet on a music stand beside him. He motioned for me to move closer and said, “OK… here’s what I’m gonna need you to do. Put your knees on mine.” I guessed this was to steady him in some way and complied. Once we were settled with both knees touching he instructed, “Now, when it’s time for me to sing a word I want you to point to it.” Hearing all of this from the control room, the engineer, David “Fergie” Ferguson started the playback and as the track began I waited through my first verse for the second verse, which Townes was to sing and then one by one touched each word of the phrase… The sunbirds song’s for what he longs for… Other loves may shine as bright but not in my eyes… which Townes sang, but then he stopped and began to cry. Fingering away tears he said, “This is a beautiful song.” In that moment I understood what the song was about, except through his eyes, or ears as it were. Forging on with a few more stops and a little more crying and still pointing at each word I sang dumbfoundedly to myself, “Ooohhh dear, this is sooo aaamaaazing but I’m afraid weeee aren’t geeeetting anything weeee will beeee aaaable to uuuse.” Finally we settled in and made two uninterrupted passes and went into the control room to listen back. Not only were both takes usable but every note Townes sang was calloused with a show stopping grace coming from somewhere deep inside his ironic and soulful heart.
We spent the rest of the night laughing and smoking, dancing and drinking, listening to the days work, swapping lies and singing songs down in Cowboy’s office, which was unchallenged as the best hangout in town. Townes sang his famous rendition of the Lawton Williams lament “Fraulein” and at one point Cowboy got mad at Townes because he said he’d “made him too intimidated to even play a C chord by badgering him about everything he played” (which was true.) Lucinda Williams showed up for her duet 4 hours late so that didn’t happen but she hung out with us anyway as did David Conrad, the gifted songman who was about to become my publisher for the next ten years.
I have no way of knowing but I’ve been told that was the last recording Townes ever did. He died a few months later leaving me with the memory of a timeless moment where when filtered through the guy that was Townes Van Zandt I sat there fully understanding how a “heart can only make one sound like a whippoorwill in the midnight.”
Listen to Kimmie’s audio version of this blog post which emanates from the car radio of Terry Allen’s “Road Angel” sculpture at Laguna Gloria Art Museum in Austin, TX
I first heard about heaven attending worship services at 23rd and Grace, the Church of Christ, where my babysitter took me as a child. If you were “good” during your lifetime on some undisclosed day a shout would unexpectedly come from the sky and angels would begin playing harp music to awaken yours and others spirits which could then rise up from their graves and drift to “The Promised Land,” where heaven was located. Once you had arrived at “The Pearly Gates ” you were screened by a saint named Peter who checked “The Book of Life” to be sure you were where you belonged. If indeed you were on the list and gained clearance, greatly relieved, you were welcomed through the gates onto streets that were “paved with gold” into “the most beautiful place you could imagine” where you could then spend eternity in a blissful garden setting amongst departed loved ones and docile beasts. Once I had gotten my head as best I could around a time continuum with no end… ever… my small mind moved forward delighted and amused by trying to picture paradise.
My father was an abandoned child, an orphan, a self-made boy with a second grade education who became a mathematics whiz on the sidewalks of Wichita Falls, Texas. At the tender age of seven years he bravely set up shop across the street from the window of the drugstore where his much older sister, Gladys, who was a small town Marilyn Monroe, worked behind the counter. He bragged that he made more money during the Great Depression than most adults by selling Gladys’ phone number to passing men after making sure they also purchased a newspaper whilst he was “spit shining” their shoes. He claimed to be able to sell an Eskimo a refrigerator or a man “his own hat.” He taught himself to read and write but was awful at spelling.
By the time I was five years old, Daddy, because he had curtailed his drinking somewhat, had managed to work his way up from the shoeshine business to owning a brand new used car lot. He took great pride in the row of “slick one owners” and “cherries” with prices and sales slogans cleverly sponged onto the windshields in white shoe polish. Our glistening “spotless” “previously owned” “low mileage” automobiles lined the front of the lot which was covered by a grand open air tent made of colorful plastic flags that flapped crisply against the backdrop of the blue sky. Then one day that sky turned a toxic shade of green and a twister spun down from a darkly looming Cumulonimbus and blew the lovely hard earned cars away rendering our family penniless in the short space of one afternoon.
I’ve never really understood why such a good-hearted and generous man was dealt such a cruel hand. Ever the prince of reinvention, lured by the opportunities of the nearest boomtown, Daddy Ray made a decision to pack up the family and move farther up tornado alley to Lubbock, Texas where my Uncle Les owned a pool hall named “The Golden Cue.” Aunt Gladys and a few other ragtag friends followed, settling in the area and soon we had another new world of our own. Daddy sold advertising by presenting samples from a leather case, hustled pool, flipped the occasional used car, took illegal football bets in backrooms and bars and studied in the evenings for a real estate license. My Mom worked at the telephone company and I began my longed for first year of school at Dupre Elementary.
Our religious denomination changed to The Southern Baptist Church, Mama’s preference. Now the sacred hymns we sang could be accompanied by Hammond organ but the tone of the sermons became threatening and grim. One Sunday morning the preacher chose “The Judgment Day” as his topic. Repeatedly slamming The Holy Bible on the pulpit in dramatically timed intervals and screaming in rehearsed vocals that rose and fell like Beethoven’s 5th symphony the scary man spoke not of a land of hope and wonder but of a hell where there was “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and a “brimstone fire” that mysteriously never quite consumed your melting flesh completely so as to wrench you with pain for (again)… eternity… meaning forever. To make matters worse The Devil, a clever mean guy who tricked you into going to hell stoked the furnace. The day when this hell was to begin was apparently the same day as the shout and harp music one that was to send the good souls drifting off to heaven, but now it had a name… judgment.
Having been uprooted less than a year before, I was immersed in fearful contemplation as we left the church that day. During the two hour drive to Aunt Gladys’ house in Odessa where we were to dine I vowed to myself to never do one bad thing ever again that might anger the God and his son Jesus whom I’d always thought loved me.
While the meal was being prepared I wandered outside onto the covered back porch of the house, which faced a vast expanse of plowed flatland that would have stretched all the way to the horizon had it not been interrupted by a roiling black cloud peculiar to arid regions known as an Haboob. Driven by cold fronts from the easterly winds these dreaded monsters overtake a sunny day like a freight train gathering every grain of stray dirt that has been kicked up by cultivation for the springtime planting of cotton, which is the mainstay of The Great Plains economy.
Staring in quizzical amazement at the rapidly approaching phenomenon it began to dawn on me that I was standing directly in the pathway of something biblical that was about to happen. The fact that I’d been deeply pensive for the past several hours was not lost on my big brother, Michael, who was a professional opportunist when it came to torturing me. Lounging on the porch swing, too stupid to be alarmed, he nonchalantly remarked, “Oops! Looks like the judgment day is about to be here!” Mobilized by the shocking realization that I wouldn’t after all be having the time I’d counted on all afternoon to repent for my sins I hit the screen door to the kitchen and began circling the table which had been set for lunch crying in horror, “The end is here! The end is here! It’s the end of time! It’s the Judgment Day! We are all going to hell!!! Run!!!!!
My parents, unaware of the approaching calamity, tried to calm me but by then the storm had begun hitting the house. Cracking lightening bolts rattled the windows as gigantic mud globs mixed with golf ball sized hail pummeled Gladys’ vulnerable rent house smacking the roof with a vengeance only God could rain down on us wicked trapped inside. Hiding beneath the table, eyes closed in prayer and shaking uncontrollably, visions of ghosts rising from nearby graveyards underscored by haunting harp melodies rendered me inconsolable as I waited for the earth to open and receive us all, especially my dad and brother, into the fiery depths of hell.
Mercifully, and most probably because my repentant shrieks were heard on high, we were spared and soon the sun was shining again and the few trees that existed in “The Panhandle” area glistened with raindrops as we headed home leaving the past stretching safely behind us. Monday morning, the first day of the rest of our lives, was just a short night’s sleep away and there would be all the time in the world to try to be better people.
In the days following my divine forgiveness, as we drove down Broadway Street in downtown Lubbock, I imagined a magnificent “West Texas Heaven” because that was the only landscape I had ever known. The bricks that paved the street (which I had been told were laid by prisoners) were solid gold and the park at Buffalo Lakes was lush with flowers, like in the Garden of Eden. My favorite place in the city, Prairie Dog Town, was running with lions that would gladly and peacefully lie down with the tiny mound dwelling creatures as well as any lambs that might come along.
This became the inspiration in later years for a love song I wrote about leaving those innocent days behind. It became the title track of an album that featured duets with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt, recorded at Willie’s Pedernales Recording Studio in Austin, Texas and Jack Clements’ Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa in Nashville, Tennessee. It was the first recording session my son and producer Gabriel Rhodes ever played with me and the signature guitar part he created for the intro set the tone for the entire track and I think made the song a success. One day out of the blue my publicist received a call from David Letterman requesting I play “West Texas Heaven” on his show. I requested that Gabriel come with me to play with the stellar house band.
As I stood singing my song on the stage of the famous theatre in New York City where the Beatles played their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show I remembered the night I sat cross-legged on the floor in our little house on 27th Street in Lubbock watching. I realized I was standing in roughly the same spot John Lennon had been when he was crooning “she loves you yeah… yeah… yeah…” Thank Heaven that now “the most beautiful place I can imagine” looks more like somewhere along the French Riviera!
Hear samples or purchase songs from the album West Texas Heaven.
Note: USA Today chose “West Texas Heaven” for their “Best Bets” section and later named the album among their Top Ten Country Records of 1996.
This and future blog posts include excerpts from “Radio Dreams” the combined memoirs of Kimmie Rhodes and Joe Gracey scheduled for release Spring 2018. For more information or to pre-order a signed first addition copy please visit the book page of this website.