The Stories Behind the Songs

Do Good, Be Well, Have Fun

When my older son Matt was young and he was going out to play, I’d tell him to have fun.  At some point, I added the phrase “be well” to the saying.  So, when he was heading out, I’d say “be well, have fun”.  I wanted him to not only have fun but also to be okay.  I added the term “do good” to the phrase once younger son Gus entered the picture.  The complete phrase became “do good, be well, have fun”.  I wanted the boys to be good citizens and do the right thing, stay safe, and enjoy themselves.  I still want that for them and for everyone.  I commissioned Xavier Ali Travis to draw this cartoon and he nailed it.

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A Treasury of the Familiar

My grandfather Don (whose first name was Walter) said that the first time he saw his future wife, he was working in his father’s bank and “she came tripping in like a little quail”.

My grandmother left her own family and moved in with her cousin Beulah and Beulah’s parents when she was young.  She was a bit of a Cinderella figure with her new family but stayed close with her cousin. 

When Beulah passed in the 1970s, she left much of her estate to my grandmother.  One item was a book called A Treasury Of The Familiar, a collection of poems, songs, essays, political addresses, Bible passages and pithy sayings. My grandmother, whom we called Nema (and whose first name was George, which she didn’t like; and middle name was Louise, which she did) appreciated that book and made notes and circled passages that she liked.  

On June 3, 1979, she inscribed the book to me as a going away present since I was graduating and moving to Cincinnati to launch my business career.  However, she thought I was too busy and distracted when I stopped by to say goodbye so she didn’t give it to me then.  In 1986, she made a second inscription to me but for some unknown reason she didn’t give it to me then either.

When she passed away in 2007, her daughter, my Aunt Kaye, mailed me the book of which I had been previously unaware.  I opened it and saw the inscriptions and flipped through the pages to find notes in her handwriting.  Next to the song “Little Brown Jug”, she said “my mother used to sing this to me when I was small…it must be very old”.  Through this book, Nema spoke to me from the other side and I still hear her kind and loving voice when I read the words.

One of Nema’s specialties was melt-in-your-mouth pot roast so naturally pot roast is in the song.

My grandfather Don (whose first name was Walter) said that the first time he saw his future wife, he was working in his father’s bank and “she came tripping in like a little quail”.

My grandmother left her own family and moved in with her cousin Beulah and Beulah’s parents when she was young.  She was a bit of a Cinderella figure with her new family but stayed close with her cousin. 

When Beulah passed in the 1970s, she left much of her estate to my grandmother.  One item was a book called A Treasury Of The Familiar, a collection of poems, songs, essays, political addresses, Bible passages and pithy sayings. My grandmother, whom we called Nema (and whose first name was George, which she didn’t like; and middle name was Louise, which she did) appreciated that book and made notes and circled passages that she liked.  

On June 3, 1979, she inscribed the book to me as a going away present since I was graduating and moving to Cincinnati to launch my business career.  However, she thought I was too busy and distracted when I stopped by to say goodbye so she didn’t give it to me then.  In 1986, she made a second inscription to me but for some unknown reason she didn’t give it to me then either.

When she passed away in 2007, her daughter, my Aunt Kaye, mailed me the book of which I had been previously unaware.  I opened it and saw the inscriptions and flipped through the pages to find notes in her handwriting.  Next to the song “Little Brown Jug”, she said “my mother used to sing this to me when I was small…it must be very old”.  Through this book, Nema spoke to me from the other side and I still hear her kind and loving voice when I read the words.

One of Nema’s specialties was melt-in-your-mouth pot roast so naturally pot roast is in the song.

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Golden Boy

One of my brothers, Neil, tried heroin at the age of 15 and by the time he was 17, he was on his way to prison for the first of five times.  He was the middle son and was born healthy and happy with bright blue eyes and an engaging personality.  In high school, he was voted most handsome and dated many of the popular girls. However, heroin addiction pretty much ate his life.

During one of his stints in prison, he learned to be a machinist and manufacture screws and such. The reason I bring this up will be evident shortly. He also became a master painter with particular proficiency using an airbrush.  We had a longstanding letter-writing relationship (and in fact I visited him in three different prisons but don’t tell anyone I went to prison three times!). Neil would send me a letter and a deposit slip and I’d fill out the slip and mail it, along with a check, to his prison account.  He’d decorate the envelopes with all sorts of drawings and paintings and I still have 30+ of these along with a couple of airbrushed handkerchiefs. I think he found that if he spent the time (which he had plenty of!) to decorate the envelope, there’d be a better chance I’d follow through with a deposit.

Neil seems to be sober these days although his health isn’t good.  He’s become more spiritual and recently told me his spirit guide is Archimedes.  When I mentioned that to Dave as we were writing this song, Dave said “wasn’t that the guy with the lever?”.  We looked up Archimedes and sure enough, he was the ancient inventor, philosopher and mathematician who said “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I can move the world”.  Archimedes also invented the auger, a screw enclosed in a tube which can move solids and liquids.  Neil and Archimedes were both screw-makers!

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Grace

The first song I wrote on this album was “Grace”.  Grace is my four year old goddaughter and her dad is my best friend Chico.  Grace has a rare genetic condition known as CTNNB1 syndrome which makes it a challenge for her to walk and talk.  However, she continues to grow and progress.  Her laughter is frequent and contagious and she absolutely loves to be in water.  She is an amazing blessing and I love her unconditionally.  When I'm with her, I can feel that God is near.

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If I Were Jesus

This song is a bit irreverent and certainly a departure from my first album but I’ve had the tune stuck in my head for a long time.  The point is, I’m only human so if I was given supernatural power, I’m not sure I could be humble and selfless.  When I told my pastor I was writing this song and was including some of Jesus’s parables, she said to be sure to include the two illustrated by stained glass windows in my church.  So I did.

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Cobalt Fire Flower

This is a song about an extraordinary dream I had where I suddenly found myself in a scene where the devil was in a hot tub with two bikini babes.  He saw me, and he saw me see him, and I realized I was in mortal danger. As he was getting out to come get me, a blue lotus flower rose up into the sky.  It opened up, and as blue flame came out of it, warm blue light suffused everything, the devil (and yes, his bikini babes) disappeared and I was surrounded by blue holiness.  You might call it a classic battle between good and evil.

I asked my friend Diane Dimperio to paint a picture of my cobalt fire flower.  She asked me to play the song for her first.  She “got” it, and she produced a winner!

Secret Lake

When my son Matt was in high school, he was given the assignment to write a poem in the style of Emily Dickinson. He chose to write about a very special place in South Texas owned by a small number of families including my friend Chico’s.  We get to go there occasionally and stay at the lake house.  Diversion Lake is several miles long, has dams at both ends, and is walled on both sides by steep limestone cliffs.  It’s private property; rarely do you see anyone else.  Matt loves to fish and Chico has a couple of kayaks.  We’ve been out on the lake at midnight watching meteor showers and experiencing the majesty of nature.  It’s a wonderful, secluded, supernatural getaway.

I took Matt’s poem and made it into the song Secret Lake.  Much of the original poetry is still embedded in the words.

Secret Lake

When my son Matt was in high school, he was given the assignment to write a poem in the style of Emily Dickinson. He chose to write about a very special place in South Texas owned by a small number of families including my friend Chico’s.  We get to go there occasionally and stay at the lake house.  Diversion Lake is several miles long, has dams at both ends, and is walled on both sides by steep limestone cliffs.  It’s private property; rarely do you see anyone else.  Matt loves to fish and Chico has a couple of kayaks.  We’ve been out on the lake at midnight watching meteor showers and experiencing the majesty of nature.  It’s a wonderful, secluded, supernatural getaway.

I took Matt’s poem and made it into the song Secret Lake.  Much of the original poetry is still embedded in the words.

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Higher Ground

I originally called this song The Gift when I wrote it some years ago. Unfortunately, alcohol and drug addiction has taken a major toll in my family.  However, recovery…is…awesome!  Dave assured me I could hit a high E note near the end of the song and I can assure you that I can go no higher!

Big Yellow House

When I was at the University of Texas in Austin in the 1970s, my grandfather told me about a house his father, a banker, had built just north of campus.  He suggested I go see it even though it was no longer in the family.  I did and found it to be a magnificent old yellow brick home.  And, it had become a Quaker meeting house which pleased me very much.  In the summer of 2018, I suggested my younger son Gus go visit the house with his cousins. He called me to say the Quaker meeting house had relocated and did I have the address of the big yellow house. After some research, I found it and, surprise, it had changed hands again to become the Austin Zen Center. This also pleased me very much. And, double bonus, it had 12-step recovery meetings!  I attended a Sunday night meditation meeting and during the followup sharing, I stated my name and said that my great grandfather had built this home and that I was seeking inspiration to write a song about it.  I did and the result is Big Yellow House.

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Beauty of a Star

One day I was in Chico’s home in San Antonio and I noticed a framed, typewritten yellowed document.  I took a closer look and saw that it was a prayer called Be With Me God.  As I read it, I realized the meter was much like my own songwriting.  Chico told me his father was a 19 year old Marine in World War II whose squad was charged with rooting any remaining enemy soldiers out of caves on several Pacific islands. His father carried this prayer with him as a brave, scared combat teenager.  I decided to make a song out of it and re-titled it Beauty Of A Star for one of my favorite lines in the prayer.

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Gulf Coast Highway

This is the only cover song on the album but it is so near and dear to my roots that I had to record it. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and Highway 90 runs through San Antonio out to Sabinal where my dad spent his last days. The bluebonnets are in blossom right now and there’s nothing like driving down a rural Texas highway, hardly anyone around, and seeing the wonder of fields of these blue lupines.  Gulf Coast Highway was written by James Hooker, Nanci Griffith and Danny Flowers and originally released by Nanci Griffith on her 1988 album Little Love Affairs.

One of my friends has this painting in his home which perfectly epitomizes the song.