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.

Okay, Okay, I Accept the Award


For the fourth time in as many weeks I have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award.  I already had been awarded this pseudo prestigeous award for achievements in the profession of blogging.  I was going to ignore them this time, but it would be unkind to do so, as I don’t want to appear un-appreciative to those who nominated me.

These people who nominated me are, in no particular order are, H.J. Ruiz who writes Avian 101, a blog about birding in general;   Bruce Stambaugh of Roadkill Crossing, stories from the Amish country of Millersburg in northwestern Ohio;  Katie Johnson’s Camera Blog, writing and photographing about the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico;  and the lovely Nandini Dhiman of Life Just Is, writing from the lap of the Himalayas in India.

If I remember correctly from my first time receiving this award, I must list 10 interesting facts about myself, the following that task, to list 10 more deserving recipients of the award.

First, my 10 interesting facts about myself.  This isn’t going to be pretty. 🙂

  1. I met my wife, Ann, for the first time in person, only 2 hours before the wedding rehearsal.  Click (here) for details of that adventure. 🙂
  2. I was a professional musician, saxophonist, for a large portion of my life.  During about 45 years I appeared at clubs, arenas, convention halls in U.S. and abroad.  Big bands, jazz, country music.  You name it, I did it. 🙂
  3. Also during my life, at various times I sold furniture, tires, used cars and encyclopedias.
  4. For three years, I owned a lawn and landscape business.
  5. I was the city bowling champion of Las Cruces, New Mexico during the season of 1971-72.  My average was 198 and I beat a bowling pro by the name of Rocky Thompson, by one pin.
  6. I have Marfans Syndrome.  A genetic disease with no cure.
  7. My photography has been published in four magazines, on the cover of one.  My work is also featured in a book, “See No Evil, Speak No Evil”, written by local author, Ross McSwain.  A photograph of mine is also on the cover.
  8. I have a great, but sometimes, weird sense of humor.
  9. I am a dog lover.  However, the older I get the smaller my dogs get.  I once owned a large Collie, named Trooper.  Now I have a little 15 lb. Shih Tzu named Suzie.
  10. I love crossword puzzles.  I work the daily challenge from the local newspaper every morning.  No one will play Scrabble with me

Next is the nominating of some other deserving individuals to also receive this award.  But I will go a bit astray on this.  Many or most of my blogger friends already have received the award, and of course, some have not.  So I am not going to demand that any of them do these lists unless they really want to.  But I am going to honor the following individuals, whether they want me to or not.  Click on their names to visit their blog.

  1. Mia McPherson.  This blog should be must reading for anyone who aspires to be a wildlife photographer.  The photographs are awesome and breath-taking.  I was reluctant to name her, because I am afraid I might lose some of my followers to her blog. So after checking her out, please come back.  Please.
  2. Melissa Koski.   One of my favorite people.  She has great wildlife photos and stories from around her home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  She sometimes makes me homesick, (but only sometimes)  because I was born and raised only 40 miles from her in Muskegon.
  3. Holly Stanley.    Another Michigander from Lansing, the state capitol.  I have watched her grow from a rank beginner in photography, to an accomplished artist in that genre.  All in the past two years or so.  Way to go, Holly. 🙂
  4. Jeff Lynch.   A man after my own heart.  He, like me, is in love with west Texas, particularly the Big Bend National Park area.  His photography and articles about that part of the state, urges me to go back again and again.
  5. Linda Rockwell.  Great wildlife photos and articles from the Land of Enchantment, particularly I like her photos from the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
  6. Cindy Kilpatrick.   I am certain that she already has been nominated for this award, but doggone it, she certainly deserves to be one of my honorees.  Her beautiful, awesome photographs, and accompanying beautifully written articles are something to behold.
  7. Denise Richter.    If you are ever planning a trip to the Alamo City, (Texas talk for San Antonio, Texas), you need to first visit her blog.  San Antonio’s Chamber of Commerce should be paying her.  She can answer all of your questions as where to stay, where to eat, things to do, and tell you how to get on the boat to tour the downtown Riverwalk.
  8. Teresa Silverthorn.  Her blog is one of the most interesting, mysterious, eerie, things you can ever read.  For me, she is a must read, and I check out her latest happening every day.
  9. Jim Miller.   Jim is a personal friend who is in the U. S. Air Force, now stationed in San Antonio, Texas.  I met him when he was stationed here in San Angelo and our interests are the same.  Wildlife photography.
  10. Martina Landolt.   Martina photographs what she sees.  My favorites are her beautiful landscapes.  But you can expect photos of wildlife and interesting places, too.

So those are my nominees/honorees for this time.  I know I have left out some other people, but that comes with having so many loyal and loving followers.  So if you are not on the list, I still think highly and appreciate each and every one of you.

Blog Changes – Marfan Syndrome


This is just a short post to update everybody on the change to my blog.  You will notice that I now have a page entitled “Marfan Syndrome“.  I just thought it would be a good idea to make people aware of this disease, that I am afflicted with.  The page tells of my experiences with it and a link to the National Marfan Foundation.

My blog, as usual, will continue to be about, birding, nature, and wildlife photography.

Celebrating a Milestone


What milestone is that, you may ask.  Well, today I reached my 75th year on this great planet of ours.  I saw it coming, but just couldn’t delay it.  It may seem odd, but I have always watched my life in 25 year increments.  Age 21 didn’t do as much for me as age 25 did.   Oh, yeah, at 21 I could drink and carouse around, but I really didn’t think about aging until I hit 25.

At 25 you start to think that, hey, I better start growing up and acting my age, you know, act a little more mature.  Then at 50 you think that this is the top of the hump and you’re only going to start downhill.  Little do you know that you also start picking up speed.  So then between when I turned 70 and yesterday, I always said that I was in my early 70s.

So that brings us to today.  Can’t say early 70s anymore, now it will be upper 70s for awhile.  Wow, now that takes my breath away.  How can that be?  I feel the same now as I did yesterday.  Actually, I feel the same as I did when I was in my mid-60s.  And that’s what important.  Age is only a number, and as the saying goes, you’re only as old as you feel.

If you read my bio you noticed that I didn’t say much about my early years.  I was born a  little pudgy round little babe, but started to lose weight until at about five years of age I was kinda scrawny.  I got anemic, had to take weekly shots for several years to counter that.  I suffered through a bout of encephalitis, which at that time was, and maybe still is, a somewhat rare malady.  I had got bitten by a some kind mosquito they said, but I don’t remember much as I was in a coma for about five days.

Then at age twenty I decided to enlist in the Air Force.  My younger brother Jim decided to enlist also.  We went together to sign up.  Now Jim was two inches taller, out-weighed me by 50 pounds.  I was 6’1″ tall and only weighed 119 pounds.  Everybody expected me to get rejected, but instead it was Jim that couldn’t get in.  They said he had some kidney abnormalities.

During basic training in upstate New York, I contracted pneumonia.  I was put in the hospital.  There the docs decided to fatten me up.  I spent thirty days in there, but I came out a svelt 139 pounds.  Whoopee!!  I ended up spending a little over seven years in the service of my country, then got released because of a medical problem.  It seems that I have a little deal called Marfan’s Syndrome.  It caused my lung to collapse on two different occasions.  One of those times I was playing the saxophone at the Cactus Hotel Ballroom with Leonard King’s Orchestra.  (More about my music career in another blog)  So there is no cure for this so-called disease.  It is genetic.  But not to worry, it is not necessarily fatal as long as I take the right pre-cautions.

So having said all that, and I can’t believe I unloaded all that at this time, I will begin my quest of another 25 years.  Despite what I said above, my overall health is great.  My doctor says I am in great shape considering the shape I’m in.  And my doctor isn’t the type to joke around much.

So my special day today started with a Happy Birthday from my very special best friend in Knoxville, Tennessee, then Ann and I decided to go birding at San Angelo State Park.   Saw that same flock of about 250 American White Pelicans, some herons, egrets, etc.  We stopped at the bird blind.  Several birds for awhile, until a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in and spooked them all away.

As soon as I finish this blog, if I can get myself to shut up, I may work on a new book that I want to publish.   It will be a deluxe edition of some of my best bird photos.   You know, a “Bob’s Greatest Hits” type of thing.   Then maybe Ann and I will go out some for a nice supper.

I wonder what the next 25 years will bring.  Hmmm………………………

Happy Birding!!