Happy 6th Anniversary Texas Tweeties!!!


I just realized that this Texas Tweeties blog is six years old today.  My, oh, my, how time flies. This is my 860th post.  I must ask myself, how in heck did I come up with something to write about 860 times?  It all started when my dear friend, Deb Tappan, up there in Knoxville, Tennessee told me that I should write a blog.  And, of course, my wife, Ann, chimed in and said, “Do it, do it!”  Well, I couldn’t very well turn down my two best friends, could I?

Me and my two best friends, my wife, Ann and Deb.

Me and my two best friends, my wife, Ann and Deb. (photo by Paul Tappan.)

I wanted a catchy name that would connect with the birds and birders.  Deb came up with name Texas Tweeties.  At first, I thought people would confuse that with Twitter.  But that hasn’t been the case.  For the record, I don’t Twitter.  I might tweek, squeak, whistle, burp and make other funny noises, but I don’t Twitter.

So I jumped in and got my writing juices flowing.  I don’t remember what my first post was about, but I thought afterwards, heck, this ain’t so hard.  This is from a guy that for many, many years, I was such an introvert that my worst fear was that someone would ask me to say grace before a dinner occasion. 🙂

Anyway, 6 years, 860 posts.  As of this date, I have been read by 181,394 people in 161 countries, and I only write in one language.  There must be a heck of a lot of bi-linguals out there.

But I am having a bunch of fun doing this.  Of course, the blog is about photography, too, but my wildlife and birding pursuits go hand in hand with it.  I also, have been know to go off on a tangent and rant about some other thing, but as most of you know I stick to birding most of the time.

That being said, I must say that my friend Deb was the cause of me getting into bird photography.  Ann and I were visiting her home.  Outside her living room window was a large cedar tree of some type and all of these colorful birds were hanging around it and under it.  Deb encouraged me to open the window and take some shots with my camera.  Wow!  I was stunned with all of those colorful species.

Up to then, my bird vocabulary was ducks, pigeons, or sparrows.  My major photography interest was flowers and landscapes.  Well, my world changed after that visit.  I started photographing birds as often as possible.  Then, I needed to be able to know what I was photographing, and voila!!, another friend got Ann and I into the birding hobby.  You know, learning to identify them.  Holy Mackeral!!  I found that there are in the vicinity of 914 species of birds in North America, nearly 649 of them found in Texas alone, and 383 recorded sightings here in Tom Green County where I live.  So far, I have learned to identify ony 283 species.  I don’t have and accurate figure on how many of them I have photographed but probably near that last number.

Anyway, I am getting away from the purpose of this post and that is to celebrate another Texas Tweeties birthday.   I appreciate all of my readers, from near and abroad, for staying with me and continuing to hopefully, enjoy my meanderings, my strange jokes and my photographs.

Let’s try for another year. Happy Birding to all!!

A little nonsense, and some neat photos.


It has been exactly a week since my last post.  Birding hasn’t been too exciting those seven days, mostly seeing the usual resident birds around.  I did get some nice photos to show you, but I will get to them in a moment.  Stay with me here.

First, I decided to prowl my archives to see what little surprises I might find.  How about a little humor to start the week.  These two photos are several years old.  I have already posted them on FaceBook but I know a lot of you readers haven’t seen them yet.

"Safe!! He slid in under the tag!"

“Safe!! He slid in under the tag!”

That caption speaks for itself.

Dueling snowplows.

Now that I have you in a good mood, here are some photos from the past week, all taken around the local parks here in San Angelo.  We started out at Spring Creek Park.  That is where I and Ann spotted this Osprey.  About 300 yards away across the river and into the woods.

Osprey

Osprey

This Great Blue Heron was across the river, too, but only about 250 yards away.

Greata Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

These Yellow-rumped Warblers are scrambling around on the ground, making for an easier photograph.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

This Eastern Phoebe is my favorite of the bunch.  He posed for me in several spots.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Titmice are one of the most difficult for me to photograph, they are so quick and flighty.  This one hesitated for a few extra seconds making it easy for me to get the shot.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

This Great Egret came flying down the river.  I quickly just aimed the camera and got lucky to lock the focus.  I rattled off a few shots and this was the last one as he was almost out of sight.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Another little bird that is hard to photograph, is the Dark-eyed Junco.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

We’re in a deep-freeze here with light freezing rain, today so I won’t be getting out for a day or two, when the sun might shine again.  Fortunately, the cold doesn’t last long here.  I hope you enjoyed the photos.  I hope to write another post by the end of the week.

From the Archives – a wintery photo


A short post today.  The cold temps made me dig into my archives to see what I could find to celebrate the day.

In this photo from a couple of years ago, the Cactus Wren seems to be contemplating if to walk from the snow into the dark shadow.

" I aint afraid of no shadow"

” I ain’t afraid of no shadow”

Stay warm everyone. 🙂

Baby, it’s cold outside…….


It’s so cold I saw a dog frozen to a water hydrant. 🙂

I put a bucket of hot water outside and it froze before it stopped steaming. 🙂

I was going to stay in and think up one-liners, then decided to do a post.  I noticed it has been several days since I wrote anything.  I did manage to get out and get a few snapshots.  Still getting used to my new Canon EOS 7D Mark II.

The light was all wrong for this Cormorant.  He was back-lit so I had to do some adjusting to my exposure.  Not bad.  The colors of his feathers look pretty nice.

Double-crested Cormorant  showing off his colors.

Double-crested Cormorant showing off his colors.

The Black Vulture is always hard to get a good exposure because of the dark colors.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

The Meadowlarks are starting to arrive in large numbers.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

This Bewick’s Wren tried to hide from me.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren

That’s about it from me for this time.  Sorry for the short post.  I forgot to mention that I have a torn muscle in my chest.  Feels like a broken rib, but my buddy, Aleve, is helping me get through it.  I sneezed hard and that is what the doctor said caused it.  Leave it to me to get all of the weird stuff.

By the way, mark your calendars.  December 13, from 3:00 ’til 6:00PM.  At the Fort Davis Art Gallery.  They are honoring me with a reception as their featured artist as part of the Fort Davis Frontier Christmas celebration.  Stop by if you are in the area.

Well, I might build a fire in the fireplace if the smoke doesn’t freeze and plug up the chimney. 🙂

Hey, I clean up pretty good……


Okay, for all of you readers that may be wondering what I really do look like, check this out.  It was taken by the eleven year old son of my dear friend, Shannon.  When Ann and I were visiting them last October, it seems that young Scottie, was on the prowl,  taking candid photos with his little camera.  I didn’t know of the existence of the picture until Shannon posted it to her blog yesterday.  I think the little guys’ got talent.  I obtained permission from her, and Scottie to use it here.  Personally, I think it is one of the best photos I have of myself.  Check out them blue eyes.

Bob

Bob

Click photo to see enlargement.

Fun birding with Bob and Ann – Chapter 2


If you haven’t read chapter one, click here.  Of course, it isn’t titled chapter one, because when I wrote it I didn’t know that someday there would be a chapter two.  Frankly, I don’t know where this post will lead until I start typing, AKA writing.  It may be a bunch of nonsense.  I do that on occasion, you know.

Anyway, we went out today to do a bit of birding, planning on hitting all of our usual haunts where we ususally find something to write about.  We stopped first at Twin Buttes reservoir, and would you know there were a few birds, but no water.  Yes, I will repeat, no water.  No wonder there were few birds.  We are in an extreme drought, so we are waiting patiently for some heavy rains.

Next we drove by the parks at Lake Nasworthy, namely Middle Concho Park, and Spring Creek Park.  Still plenty of water there, but the levels are dropping a little.  That is because Lake Nasworthy gets it water from the Twin Buttes Reservoir.  We did see several small birds, the usual ones that hang around, and four Red-tailed Hawks.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

When we go birding, (and photographing birds), Ann keeps a journal of what we see, like the one of little Angie’s that was pictured in my previous post.  Normally this time of year we can see about 30-35 species at a time.  Today I think we managed only about 25 today.   Something about the migration being off schedule, or they are passing by here and looking for more favorable places to spend the winter.  Today we saw, besides the four Red-tailed Hawks, some Eastern Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and several species of sparrows, etc.

As we passed the gun club, we saw some Claybirds flying, but I imagine they were spooked by the gunfire there.  I told Ann we shouldn’t put them on the list.  They are hard to photograph in flight, too.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention, we saw the first Ring-billed Gulls of the winter season.  Soon the little beach at Mary Lee Park will be overrun with them.  But we can also hope that sometimes there will be a Tern of some type, mixed in with them.

Well tomorow it is supposed to get really cold, a high of 47 is forcast, (but what do they know) so we’ll probably hang out at home.  Freeze for tomorrow night, too.  The change may bring in some of the winter ducks and other water fowl that we are used to.

Well, I am going to get out my winter jammies.  Stay warm, you guys.

Brown Pelican with captions.


I went back out on Saturday afternoon to see if the Brown Pelican was still at Middle Concho Park.  He was, still sitting on the same buoy.  He had been seen earlier flying nearby, but this must be his favorite perch.  The lighting was still not very good.  Even though it was later in the day, with no clouds and a bright sun, the conditions were less than perfect.  Such is the way of a professional wildlife photographer.  We have to dance with the lady we brought.  Try to make lemonade from the lemons.

The pelican wasn’t very active.  Mostly perched, and occasionally preened and posed for me in various positions.  Here is how I in interpreted those poses.

"Do you like this side profile?"

“Do you like this side profile?”

"Betcha you can't do this."

“Betcha you can’t do this.”

"Hmmm.....what have we here?"

“Hmmm…..what have we here?”

"How about a head and shoulders for my presidential library?"

“How about a head and shoulders for my presidential library?”

I hope you enjoyed these photos, and my captions.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Yakkety-Sax Man – Part V: Cavaliers’ Rockabilly Heaven


Part IV concluded with me having that twinge mi my chest while I was doing my job as chief cashier at Karamursel AFB.  Thinking that it was just a minor muscle twitch, I tried to walk around.  Wow!  All of a sudden, I was short winded after taking just a few steps.  Fortunately, the infirmary was just next door, so I limped over there to see a doctor.

It turned out that my right lung collapsed about 75% in those few seconds.  I had been smoking, but that wasn’t the cause.  It turned out later the blame was with the Marfan Syndrome that I was later diagnosed with many years later.  Unable to correct this malfunction at Karamursel, they put me on a stretcher and flew me to Istanbul, where I would meet a larger aircraft that would take me to Wiesbaden, Germany, where a larger military facility existed.  It was a three day trip through Athens, Greece, then Tripoli, North Africa and finally to Germany.   A tube was inserted in my chest there and I was kept there several days so my lung could re-expand.  I would spend a total of about two weeks there before being flown back to my home station in Turkey.  At that time, the medical people still had no idea why my lung had collapsed.

Meanwhile, back in Turkey, orders were issued for our transfer back to the United States.  Since I wasn’t there, Air Force personnel assisted Ann in making arrangement for our furniture to be shipped back to the USA.  So, when I walked in the door of the apartment,  Ann says, guess what??  Of course during the time I was gone, we had no communication between us.  No phones, cell or otherwise.  So, three days later, we left Turkey for good, spending a weekend in Frankfort, Germany, then making the final trip home in a civilian TWA Boeing 707.

English: Shows a decent view of downtown San A...

View of downtown San Angelo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We arrived here at Goodfellow AFB on December 20, 1961.  The next day we purchased a brand new house and decided that San Angelo would be our final home.

After reporting in to my duty assignment, and getting settled into our new home, I turned to the next order of business;  finding music work.  I put an ad in the newspaper that I was an available sax player, adept at any genre of music.  I promptly got a call from guitarist Sid Holmes, who along with a bass player Lewis Elliot, were re-organizing the Cavaliers, a band that had broken up several months previously.  They liked my credentials so we became a three-piece band  We got booked into a small club, “The Blue Rail”.

We played all instrumentals as we lacked a vocalist then, mostly western and rock-a-billy hits.  We finally found an airman on base that wanted to sing.  We auditioned him at the club.  Lewis, the bass player, and I, didn’t think he could sing worth a flip, but Sid, the leader, over-ruled us and hired him. His voice was high and raspy, but with us backing him up, he sounded good for the rock and roll music of that era.  His name was J. Frank Wilson.

J. Frank Wilson

J. Frank Wilson

Word got around about us, and were packing them into the tiny little club.  J. Frank was getting better.  I was only with the band for about four months, leaving when Sid Holmes and I had a few differences.  But it was a fun period playing that type of music.  Sid Holmes wrote the book, “Rockabilly Heaven”, the story of the Cavaliers, and on page 95 he gave me a nice write-up with my photo, saying that I was “San Angelo’s best kept secret”.  In 1964 the Cavaliers, along with J. Frank Wilson, recorded the song, “Last Kiss”.  One of the greatest hits of that time.  But that was J. Frank’s only big recording.  He died several years ago in a nursing home in south Texas.joz4006

The Cavaliers and I  were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2004.

In April of 1962, I joined the Leonard King Orchestra.  Now it was back to the dance music that I was more accustomed to, the old big band style.  We played country clubs, officers clubs, etc., with our ballroom style of music.  I also was back to doing vocals along being the front man with my sax.

San Angelo was called the Wool Capital of the World back then.  Sheep production was one of the main industries here.  The annual Miss Wool of America Pageant was held here at our coliseum.  Our band furnished the music at that event for a couple of years.  There were always special guests and we backed up the likes of Peter Nero among others.  The pageant finally went on national television after a few years.  A larger band from Dallas was booked to replace us.  Upon arrival from Dallas, they needed a good sax player.  Guess who they called upon.  You got it.  I was one of their sax players for the TV production.

English: San Angelo Cactus Hotel, old Hilton.

San Angelo Cactus Hotel, old Hilton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But before that, on June 4 of 1962, we were playing for a dance in the ballroom of the Cactus Hotel.  During the second intermission, I took a smoke break.  After sitting back down with the other saxes to begin the third set, I felt that familiar pain in my chest.  I thought, “Oh sh*t, not again!”  I said to myself, “Zeller, you had one too many cigarettes.”  It was my left lung this time, collapsed nearly 90%.  I went into denial, and managed to play three more songs before I admitted it was for real.  Without going into details, I will say that I managed to drive home.  There, Ann called the air base and an ambulance was sent for me.  I never smoked  another cigarette after that evening.

I was flown to Wilford Hall U.S. Air Force Hospital in San Antonio.  There I spent three months recuperating and having tests done to see what was causing the spontaneous pneumothorax’s,  the medical term or my collapsed lungs.  In the end, as before mentioned, I was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome and given a medical discarge from the military.  I was told by the medical staff that I would eventually get emphysema.  I proved them wrong on that, but my dreams of a full time professional music career were ended.  After I healed, I resumed playing with the Leonard King band.  I continued just being satisfied playing with bands and musicians locally, so to be near medical help if needed.

I do believe that by continuing with my saxophone playing it was good

Randy Dorman

Randy Dorman (Photo credit unknown)

therapy for my lungs.  During the 60s, I also played with the Billy Aylor Orchestra, Johnny Dutton Western band, Alton Baird and the Moonlighters, and a few other local bands as needed.  Randy Dorman, the great jazz guitarist with Kenny Rogers, started his career in San Angelo and I was honored to play with him during one engagement.

One funny anecdote.  Al Ricci, John McMillan, musican friends, got booked to play for a dance following a dinner/play in Wichita Falls, Texas on New Year’s Eve.  We were being paid 175.00 each to play from 10:00 until midnight.  The dinner and play ran late and we didn’t get started until about 11:45.  We played for the fifteen minutes, collected our money and drove home.  I was riding with Al in his pickup.  Al wore a toupee, and during the drive he opened up his window, the toupee blew off and fortunately landed in the bed of the pickup with his string bass.  We got a good laugh out of that.

All of these years Ann had been working for the local Coca-Cola Bottling Company.  In 1968 she was asked to transfer to the Las Cruces, New Mexico plant to re-organize the office operation there.  Our four years there will be the subject of Part VI coming next week.

The book, “Rockabilly Heaven” is published by Ft. Phantom Lake Publishing, 6204 S. Freeway, Ft. Worth, TX 76134.  It is also available from the author Sid Holmes at sid-holmes@charter.net.  It is the untold story of the Cavaliers from 1956 -1964.  West Texas music in the 50s and 60s.

My own book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes” is still available from my Blurb publisher.  Click on the link on right side of this page or e-mail me at bob.zeller@aol.com.

To read Parts I thru IV, click Categories, then select Music Career on right side of page.

Yakkety-Sax Man – Part IV: It’s Istanbul, Not Constantinople


Istanbul, Turkey.  Formerly Constantinople.  Getting off the plane the smell is instantly noticeable.  Turkish cigarettes and other odors cling to the air.  This is Istanbul International Airport.  We were debarking from an Air Force Super Constellation that brought us via Bermuda, Madrid, Tripoli, and Athens.  The Madrid stopover was necessitated by a failure of one of the four engines over Gibralter.  We stayed there overnight while the engine was replaced.

Harbiye'deki Hilton otelinin Taksim tarafından...

Istanbul Hilton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After staying over night at the Istanbul Hilton for about  $15.00 American, we were flown to Karamursel AFB, which would turnout to be our home for nearly three years.  This flight was a rickety Air Force C-47 that was from our duty station there to pick us up.  The pilot, who eventually became a family friend, had to. at times, poke a broomstick that he carried in the cockpit, up into the engine on start-up.  I don’t know what this accomplished, except to raise the eyebrows of new arrivals.

Karamursel AFB, was the home of TUSLOG Det. 3, (Turkish United States Logistics Group),a unit of the United States Air Force Security Service.  But other branches of the service were represented there, too.  It is on the Sea of Marmara southeast of Istanbul.  Our mission was monitoring communications of our friends north and east of the Black Sea.

English: United States Air Force Security Serv...

United States Air Force Security Service emblem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yalova Turkey Provinces locator

Yalova, Turkey upper left.  Just north of it you can see the Bosphorus canal that separates the two parts of Istanbul, between the Sea Marmara and the Black Seas. Meditereanean is at far left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Initially, Ann stayed in the States, as I didn’t have the rank for the Air Force to pay her way.  There were no quarters for families on the base and married couples lived in Yalova, a village about 12 miles away.  But after living in a barracks environment for about two months, I asked Ann to sell the Buick and use the money for a plane ticket to Turkey.  A few weeks later, she made her first plane trip ever, and I met her in Istanbul.  After a night at the Hilton,  we took the ferry to Yalova, about an hour’s trip.

I had found an apartment on the 4th floor of a building in Yalova.  Another military couple was the previous tenant, and our neighbors in the building were all military, too.  The rent was about $11.00 per month.  These low prices were because of the exchange rate.  We had a maid, $3.00 monthly and a houseboy, another $3.00.  These rates were American money, but with exchange rates the wages were average for the Turkish.  The apartment was two bedrooms and a kitchen.  The bath had a hot water tank with a fire-box underneath.  You had to build a fire before going to bed to have hot water in the morning.  Then you built another fire to have hot water in evening.  Our house boy took care of that, lugging firewood up the four flights of stairs.  He also met us when we came home from work, to carry any of our groceries, etc. upstairs for us.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  After my own arrival earlier and getting settled in, I stopped by the Airmen’s Club, that was in the base fire station.  It was temporary and plans were in the offing for a permanent club.  Anyway, some musicians were jamming one evening.  They were using instruments from the special services department.  My sax was still in transit so I picked up this battered looking alto and and used it.  I was immediately invited to play with a group that was playing a few gigs around the area.  It was made of of Navy personnel mainly.  We played at the NCO club a time or two and down at a submarine base at Golcuk, Turkey.

To do the appearances at the club at Golcuk, we needed a vehicle to haul the large equipment, drums, base, etc.  One of the sailors worked at the motor pool, and we “midnight requisitioned” a van of some type, and sneaked it past the military police on the gate.

Ann arrived then, and I ran into some Air Force musicians that also had a group and we re-organized.  We really could put on a show.  We had a piano player, upright bass, trumpet, sax, (me) and drums.  We romped to the style of Louis PrimaI fittingly happened to play a Sam Butera style at that time.  What a blast it was!  We would occasionally go to Istanbul and entertain at a USO club there.  We had to take our equipment on a ferry across the sea.  Quite a chore, but there was always a bunch of Turkish civilians that were more than anxious to help us.

Turkish ferry.  Harbor at Istanbul, Turkey.  @Bob Zeller.

Turkish ferry. Harbor at Istanbul, Turkey. @Bob Zeller.

Ann had gotten a job as office manager for the Officers’ Club and was instrumental in getting us to play at the dances there.  We played for the grand opening of the new NCO club, and many dances after that.  It was during one of those outings that a USO Show was there for extra entertainment. The caracaturist that drew the likenesses of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was there with the group and he thought I was a great candidate for a caracature.   Below is the resultblog_bob_caracature.  I think he liked my Adam’s apple.

Our trumpet player was a member of one of the major big bands before entering the Air Force.  He was only serving a two-year hitch and was planning on re-joining that orchestra.  I don’t remember the name of that band.

Our upright bass player, Les White, had been a radio announcer, and he was our MC.  We didn’t do many vocals, as we were more of a show band.

By now you may be wondering where my photography came in.  It was at this Air Base that I bought my very first 35mm camera.  It was a German-made Kodak Retina IIIs rangefinder type.  Of course, I had always owned a camera of some sort, but they were the cheap little box cameras of the era.  The Brownie Hawkeye comes to mind.  I started shooting Kodachrome slides with a film speed of ASA 10.  To me the best slide film ever made.

Turkish Fishing Boat  @Bob Zeller

Turkish Fishing Boat @Bob Zeller

I began to get serious, and I enrolled with the home study course from the New York Institute of Photography.  I shot hundreds of slides while in Turkey, but during the shipment of our household goods back to the States many of them were lost or damaged.  But while I was there, I got acquainted with the official base photographer and he let me use the darkroom.  In return I let him use some of my own photos to use for the base commanders briefings for VIPs that dropped by.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Tukey.  ©Bob Zeller

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey. ©Bob Zeller

Since Ann and I were doing so well, with our “side jobs”, we extended our tour an additional year.  My job on base was Chief Cashier and in charge of the payroll.  I was responsible for paying all military and indigenous civilian personnel at the air base, plus two smaller detachments on remote sites on the Black Sea.  Most of the time, I was sitting in a cashiers cage, with a .45 caliber pistol at my side, handing out thousands of dollars each day.

It was on one of these days, in September of 1961 that I felt a twinge in my chest while I was sitting there.  Uh oh!……….  To be continued…………

Watch for Part V in about another week.  If you missed the first three parts, click the links below.

Part I, Part II, Part III

Yakkety-Sax Man Part III: From to Reno to Ardmore


Reno, Nevada. “The Biggest Little City in the World”, so says the big arch over the main street.  I arrived there during the early hours on the “City of San Francisco” streamliner out of Chicago.  A two-day trip if I remember correctly.  I got a hotel room and reported in at Stead AFB the next morning, a few miles outside of town.  It was the Survival School for the U. S. Air Force.  They trained pilots and other military to live off the land by taking them up into the Sierra Nevada mountains, giving them basic survival tools, knives, parachutes,, etc, and leaving them for the week.  They also had some serious training on how to survive POW camps.  My assignment was the headquarters building and my living quarters were in downtown Reno, near the University of Nevada.  Not a wise place to live for an airman with a paycheck of only $37.00 per month, plus a meager food allowance.

"The Biggest Little City in the World&quo...

“The Biggest Little City in the World” Sign – Reno, Nevada (Photo credit: travelswithkim)

Two days after reporting in, a friend introduced me to the casinos and I promptly lost my money.  With a week to go until the next payday, I found that there is such a thing as a guardian angel.  Another friend, a faithful Christian, invited me me into town to buy me a cup of coffee.  I was pretty down, and he kept telling not to worry, that things would work out.  We went to a place called Tiny’s Waffle Shop.  My pockets were empty, (I thought).  He bought me coffee and on the way out of the place, I happened to discover a dime in my pocket.  In a reaction that I don’t completely understand, I promptly dropped the dime into a slot machine that all establishments in town had near their doors.  I pulled the handle and I instantly won a $10.00 jackpot.  To an airman of my status, at that time it was enough that to live off for a week.  The Lord works in mysteriously ways………

I never went into a casino again during my stay there in Reno.

I had brought my saxophone with me, of course, and I promptly started looking for side work.  At first I got an evening job washing dishes at Dante’s Inferno, a pizza place.  During slow periods, I played the sax for entertainment.  That lasted a few weeks until I got a small 4-piece combo organized.  I ran into a few other musicians, and I organized the Bob Zeller Combo.  Drums, bass, piano, and my sax.  We booked into a small club downtown and played there on weekends.  During that time, Harrahs Club, offered me a job playing in the pit orchestra.  It probably would have paid well, but I get bored just playing as a sideman.  Also, I must not forget that I worked for the government, in the U.S. Air Force.  This wouldn’t be the last time that I was asked to take another playing job.

Since the “entertaining” hours in Reno didn’t begin until about 10:00PM, I would sleep a few hours after I got off work at the air base at 5:00, then get to the club about 9:30 to get ready to work.  We would generally play until around 2:00AM, then head to another club to jam a bit with other musicians for an hour or so.  I would then hop on the personnel truck heading to the base, getting there in time for breakfast.

English: Thunderbirds performing at Reno, Neva...

Thunderbirds performing at Reno, Nevada during the National Championship Air Races. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I only spent about three months at Stead, as it was in the throes of changing missions.  It is now a municipal airport and is the site of the annual National Air Races.

I got orders to be transferred to Ardmore AFB, at Ardmore, Oklahoma.  It was there that my music took a completely different direction.  I fell in love with Country/Western Music.  It doesn’t take long for word to get out that there are new musicians arriving.  I dropped into the service club and ran into other musicians.  One of them was Billy Deaton.  He was organizing a new western band.  He liked my sound, and we were soon one of the best western swing bands in the area.

The Melody Rangers photographed during a casual rehearsal.

The Melody Rangers photographed during a casual rehearsal.

In the photo above Billy Deaton is second from left on guitar and most of the vocals.  After his air force career he became one of the record producers in Nashville, Tennessee, and also had a band playing out of San Antonio, Texas.  The drummer was Lou Brown, and he was always asking me to date his mother, as she had a crush on me.  Of course, I am second from the right, and on the far right is Stu Basore, the steel guitar player.  After he got discharged he played steel for some of the best, including the great Ray Price.  I also did many of the vocals.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember the names of the others in the picture.

I also was involved with a singing group that we called “The Skylighters”.  There were three of us, me, S/sgt Hollis Davidson, and S/sgt Mickey Blanchard.  We, on purpose, decided to imitate the Four Aces of national fame.  Somehow, we were able to write our parts so when we sang we sounded exactly like that famous group.  This group and the Melody Rangers were always in demand for playing engagements and also for on-base functions.  The Air Force provided us with a C-123 Provider cargo plane and flew us to Oklahoma City, for their Centennial Celebration in 1957, if I remember correctly.

Back:  Melody Rangers Front:  The Skylighters

Back: Melody Rangers
Front: The Skylighters

The photo above was taken when both groups were competing for the Tops In Blue Air Force Talent competitions.  Billy Deaton was not available for the photo.  I competed with both groups, and the Skylighters took second place.

One notable experience was when a Grand Ole Opry touring show visited Ardmore. The headliner for the show was Judy Lynn, one of the best female western singers of the time.  Also on the show was Brenda Lee, soon to be one of the greatest of all time.  A friend of mine, Howard Short was stationed with me, and he knew some members of the Judy Lynn’s band.  He suggested that we go into town with my sax and his guitar.  He said that we could warm up with them before the actual show started.

So there we were, on stage, and having a blast playing with the band while a few of the paying customers started to dwindle in.  I can’t remember the names of the band’s musicans, but Brenda Lee was sitting there tapping her foot, with her mother watching over her.  I believe she was between 10 and 15 years old then.  Of course, at that time nobody knew how great she was going to become.  I am thrilled that I was able to say I met her.  Judy Lynn afterwards tried urging me to continue the tour with them.  They had about six more cities left.  Unfortunately, I had just re-enlisted for my second Air Force tour, just a few weeks prior.

I spent nearly three years at Ardmore, and it was some of the best years of my life.  On Saturday nights, if I wasn’t booked somewhere else, you could find me at the Cotton Club in Ardmore, where Leroy Thompson and the Western Swingtime Cowboys played.  I became friends with the whole band and I usually ended up playing about two hours with them each night.  I would sit in, playing the sax, and also occasionally the string bass and drums.

It was while I was there, that I married Ann, the love of my life.  We lived in a nice garage apartment in downtown Ardmore.  We moved into it about a week after we were married.  (And some of you may remember that we met in person only two days before we were married.)  Our landlord took a liking to us and promptly told us that his son would sell us his 1953 Buick Roadmaster for only $795.00.  It was a cream-puff of a car.  The following day I took Ann to the base, and she was able to get a Civil Service job.  So as you can see, our married life was off to a wonderful start.

Our next place of duty would be Karamursel, Turkey.  It is with our new asssignment there, that I will continue with Part IV.  Watch for it soon.