October 17, 2015

My fifteen seconds of fame

The Texas Book Festival is this weekend. My partner in crime and I have made every year for the past half decade or so. And as proof, here's a story from NRP that documents our presence.

Yep. See that guy in the back row checking his bag? That's my main man Ian. I'm sitting next to him.

May 23, 2015

I'm going with the chickens

"I don't know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens."
- E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, in a letter to James Thurber, May 23, 1953

May 10, 2015

RIP Johnny Gimble 1926-2015

I've had the pleasure to hear Mr. Gimble live on several occasions and the honor to know the Gimble family for a few decades.

Johnny Gimble fiddling around with Aly Bain and Junior Daugherty in 1985.

The first time I heard Mr. Gimble live was December 14. 1995. You may be wondering how I could remember this date with such precision. It's because that was the date that the Thursday night jazz jam at the Waco Hilton closed down to make way for a sports bar. As a regular attendee, I was there, and after the first set I ran out to my car for my laptop and recorded a play-by-play of this historic and transcendent musical experience.

I include the entire transcript below, but here I will excerpt the Johnny Gimble moments.
Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans. Nice tune. Gimble's sound seems to oscillate between sounding like a soprano sax and a fiddle. Must be the amp. 
I Can't Get Started. Johnny Gimble does some VERY fiddle, no hint of sax on this tune, sweet and unadulterated.
Honeysuckle Rose. Johnny Gimble is definitely on familiar ground, here. His solo is full of double stops and trills. Frazier and J. Gimble take the tag in duet in the fine tradition of Western Swing.
[Ed: The  above linked video is Johnny playing with Asleep at the Wheel. Emily Gimble, Johnny's granddaughter, is now playing keyboards for the Wheel.] 
[Ed: Here's a tune that calls back to Honeysuckle Rose. You should get this album because it rocks!]
Confessing. A nice ballad. J. Gimble does a solo that consists almost completely of double-stops and for two verses. Incredible. Horton (bass) declares that he can now leave Texas, as this must be the consummate experience and anything else will be anti-climatic.
And the full review. Feel free to start this play list in the background as you read.

Tag-team Jazz

The last night of jazz at the Hilton, December 14, 1995

Six-and-a-half years of jazz on Thursday nights at the Hilton came to a close on December 14 as the Waco Jazz All Stars played their final gig. The Hilton has decided to renovate the lounge and convert it into a sports bar. (As if we don't already have a plethora of those dives in this town.) Hibbard has threatened to pop back up somewhere else in a few months. I recommended that it be some place that has Guinness on tap. I'll keep you posted. (As if you cared.)

While I was listening to Johnny Gimble wail, I had the idea of reviewing the last night of jazz at the Hilton, so at the next break I asked my table buddies (Jack Fletcher and wife) to guard my seat (which was at a premium by then) while I sprinted to the car and got my laptop. What follows is my impressions, mainly of the last two sets, since I only made sketchy notes on the first two.

First set

Personnel: Dave Hibbard - trumpet and flugelhorn, Jim Popejoy - vibes, Jeff Horton - bass, Charles Burleson - drums, Bill Howard - keyboard, Dave Wild - keyboard and soprano sax, Tommy Riggs - tenor sax

Didn't start writing anything down for this set, so I don't have any play-by-play. The entire set was rather subdued as the crowd was small and the band seemed to be settling in and warming up. A few remarkable spots, but I don't remember who did what.

Second set

I am joined at my stage-side table by Jack Fletcher and his lovely wife.

Starting line-up: Dave Hibbard, Jim Popejoy, Jeff Horton, Charles Burleson. Dave Wild - Keyboard, Kenny Frazier - guitar, Johnny Gimble - fiddle.

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, Eddie DeLange. Nice tune. Gimble's sound seems to oscillate between sounding like a soprano sax and a fiddle. Must be the amp. Hibbard's solo borders on Dixieland in several spots without ever actually getting there.

Dick Gimble picks up the bass. Bill Howard picks up piano.

I Found A New Baby, Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams. Burleson sounds like he finally woke up on this tune. Howard dishes out some very clever licks at the end of his solo. Dick Gimble throws in some nice trills and bends on the bass and gets an ovation for his trouble.

I Can't Get Started, Ira Gershwin. Tommy Riggs, evidently inspired by the playing or just a fan of the song, steps in and shows he was only warming up on the first set. Johnny Gimble does some VERY fiddle, no hint of sax on this tune, sweet and unadulterated. Frazier starts out soulfully and picks up the pace. The rhythm section responds and then slows it down at the end of the solo to bring Hibbard back in for the tag.

(Fletcher comments that Horton should sing a tune or two. Horton responds that "Hibbard would rather french kiss a dog than hear me sing.")

Honeysuckle Rose, Bob Wills. Johnny Gimble is definitely on familiar ground, here. His solo is full of double stops and trills. Riggs takes a very nice ride and Burleson goes wild with triplets on bass and tom that elicits an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Frazier and J. Gimble take the tag in duet in the fine tradition of Western Swing.

Confessing. A nice ballad. J. Gimble does a solo that consists almost completely of double-stops and for two verses. Incredible. Horton declares that he can now leave Texas, as this must be the consummate experience and anything else will be anti-climatic.

Third set

Starting line-up: Dave Hibbard, Jim Popejoy, Jeff Horton, Charles Burleson. Dave Wild - soprano sax, Bill Howard - Keyboard.

All The Things You Are, Oscar Hammerstein II. Byron Swann sneaks on stage with his trumpet during this tune and comes in with a powerful solo. Wild does some nice, fluid work on soprano sax. Horton blusters out a frenetic bass solo, which is well received. Howard follows with a bluesy, melodic solo and the rhythm section drives the tune on to chaotic finish.

Blues by Five. Miles Davis. The band comes in solid and soulful. Hibbard ups the ante by going up an octave as they leave the tag. Swann picks up the gauntlet and gives the crowd a run for its money, starting out energetic and powerful, then laying back to a more lyrical yet raspy swing in the second verse that captivates the crowd, which takes on the aspect of a tent revival. Wild comes in with soprano and picks up the lyrical aspect of Swann's challenge. He lays down some very melodic arpeggiations, but fails to carry the energy that Swann introduced, giving some flashes of it at the end as he passes off to Hibbard, who has donned a mute. (Actually, he put it on his trumpet.) The rhythm section pulls back to give him some room, but stomps back in, refusing to allow the energy to be diluted. Hibbard accepts the challenge and passes off to Lovejoy on the vibes. He starts off with a series of unisons that seems to weaken the stride for a few measures, but fires back in with some flashes and settles into a stride that the rhythm section picks up and carries out to the pass to Howard. He starts off with right hand only with a deliberate pace, gradually introducing the left hand for staccato chords to buttress the melody and steamrolls into a full, striding solo that sweeps the crowd along with it. He fades into the ovation as Horton emerges with a frenetic, flight-of-the-bumble-bee beginning. The horns/keyboards introduce a slow triplet to alternate with the bass and he gradually works out of the frenzy to some lyrical double-stops and then back to the energy. They stride into the tag with the cumulative energy of the entire song.

Blue Bossa, Kenny Dorham. Jumps into a syncopated unison with a popping bass foundation which rocks on in a Latin rhythmic energy into the head, its characteristic lyrical feel underscored by the Latin rhythm. Solos in order: vibes, soprano sax - extended and intriguing, trumpet, keyboard - moody morphing into flashes of melodic scales. Back to tag.

Howard leaves and Wild switches to keyboard.

My Funny Valentine, Lorenz Hart. Comes in dark, moody, swinging, yet introspective. Hibbard carries the melody while Swann supports nicely, dropping out as Hibbard takes the first ride to light applause out of the head. Bass and keyboards funk it slightly and Hibbard syncopates it nicely for awhile, switching into a swing that the rhythm section follows. Greg Bashara steps onto the stage with his tenor sax as Hibbard pushes up the energy level a bit and then pulls back and passes to Bashara. It is very melodic but slightly too soft to pick up from my corner table and I miss what I am sure are some very tasty licks. He heats up a bit, but the rhythm section comes along with him, so I still can't catch all the notes. What I hear is quite nice. Wild comes in on keyboard and does an outstanding job. Fletcher leaves the table and I miss the end of the song in the parting pleasantries.

Howard comes back on keyboard and Wild switches back to soprano sax.

Stella By Starlight, Victory Young. Howard counts it off and the band carries the head, passing to Howard who launches in with full energy, leading with a right-hand riff and quickly pouncing in on the left. Rousing solo which passes to Hibbard and the band takes it out with the tag in a short but energetic rendition of this classic.

Fourth set

Personnel: Dave Hibbard, Jim Popejoy, Jeff Horton, Charles Burleson. Dave Wild - Keyboard, Greg Bashara - tenor sax.

Four Eyes. Miles Davis. Bashara takes the first ride on tenor sax, beboping in fine style. Popejoy picks it up and is playing it like he means it. Hibbard steps in for a short solo. Wild picks it up, flashing along in his trade-mark arpeggiated flourishes, oscillating back and forth between that and his characteristic full-chord style. Horton gets excited and rises momentarily from his seat in a frenzy of sixteenth-notes. (Or are they thirty-second notes? Things are happening too fast for me to count them now.) Burleson comes in with his most rhythmically melodic solo of the night, swelling with bridled energy and garners a bit of applause as the band takes it out in a (I don't know what happened to the end of this sentence in my notes!)

Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, Signumd Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II. Doesn't start out softly, but rather with a strongly syncopated rhythm section which is overlayed by the lyrical, Latin theme. Horton rises to his feet and moves with the beat. Bashara takes the first ride, smoothly winding his way through the rhythms with a slight variation on the theme and then breaks first into a syncopated riff that gives way to a rising wail of bebop. He passes to Lovejoy, who exploits the Latin feel to give the vibes a Caribbean flavor for an extended solo. Hibbard steps, makes his statement, which is enthusiastically received, and passes to Wild. True to his name, he keeps his right hand going in flourishes non-stop for almost an entire verse. The second verse shows some nice interplay between left-and right-hand and very funky segue (where's the spelling checker when I need it?) into the bridge. Horton picks it up with his characteristic flashes on the bass, slides into a funky back-beat groove without losing the flash, and melds the two into an unbelievable marriage of funk and bebop that is some of his best work. Kenny Frazier steps in (where did he come from?) and displays the clean, melodic brilliance he is noted for, to much enthusiasm from the audience. Burleson takes his turn, starting out with much cowbell but abandoning it for the rest of the set before the verse is out. It is nice but without the drive of earlier solos. However, it is well-received by the crowd. The band takes it out with the tag. The feel of this song bears no resemblance to its name.

Simone. Frank Foster. Hibbard takes the first ride. Burleson keeps the energy in there. Wild picks it up and works left-hand for a while, then brings in the right. Hibbard expresses his approval, as does the crowd. Bashara steps up next and alternates between slower melodic lines and frantic arpeggiations until he works himself up into a few screeches. Frazier picks it up. He is in rare form and doesn't cut any slack. In one short verse he significantly ups the ante and passes to Popejoy, who does not disappoint, all the way to the theme and the band takes it out with a few tasteful licks from Frazier.

Equinox. John Coltrane. My one request for the evening. They play it double-time compared to Coltrane. Horton, impatient, starts it off in an abrupt, syncopated groove. Burleson and Popejoy pick it up and Hibbard/Basahra come in with the theme. Hibbard, with mute, leads off with a short blistering solo that bodes well for the rest of the tune. Horton is irrepressible and manic. Popejoy takes the challenge in a blinding flurry of mallets and hits all the melodic nooks and crannies this tune affords. Frazier amazes and the crowd roars its approval. Bashara turns out some very nice melodic turnarounds, although I lose much of it because the hole I'm sitting in resonates the bass, which is a juggernaut that drives this song relentlessly onward. Bashara wails to keep pace and manages quite nicely, thank you. Wild has a challenge on his hands, literally, and he answers, mixing his stock trilling right-hand triplets with nice lyrical content and meaty left-hand work. He transitions to full chord melodies for a verse and passes to Horton, who is practically ablaze. He starts out calmly enough but quickly bursts into his trademark flurry of notes that seem bitten off like the end of a cheap cigar, and ends up with some nice vibrato on a few notes sustained between the final death-throes of his solo. The crowd erupts and the band joins in on the tag to a standing ovation.

Oh well. Maybe sometime again, soon.

April 11, 2015

I will love you till the end of time

In celebration of barbershop quartet day, here's a record of my midnight revelries with the North and South Carolinas District convention in Myrtle Beach 2013.

March 21, 2015

Cramb-bo: Monkey Style

Blast from the Past Department

In 2004, I ended up in Osaka, Japan for two days. I spent one day meeting with a customer and the next touring the temples and the imperial palace in Kyoto. There's a story about returning an umbrella in there, but that's for another time.

In the intervening night I stayed in the smallest hotel room in the world. (I encountered the smallest elevator in the world in Geneva, Switzerland, but that is another story. Again.)

Before I crashed, I went out for dinner. As I walked across the pedestrian bridge over the tracks near the train station, I came upon a three-piece band rocking out. And when I say rocking out, I mean exactly that.

These guys were owning it like Bono on tour. Tight. Focused. Stylish like only the Japanese can do. I listened for several songs and then bought a CD. They found it very amusing when I asked for them to sign it.

My favorite cut from the album is titled Monkey Style. For all I know it could be obscene, but since I don't speak Japanese, I'm spared that knowledge. Actually, I think it's about Mylanta. Or maybe Sacagawea. But it's the chorus that seals the deal for me.

Your mileage may vary, but you can hear it on this Japanese website and decide for yourself.

March 6, 2015

Strange Vacation

What kind of wacky person writes a comedy novel about assisted suicide vacations? And who names the main character Berf?

Five years ago on Writing on the Air I talked about the article I read ten years ago that inspired Strange Vacation (and Endless Vacation).

January 28, 2015

Radio Interview - Indie Publishing

Part 3 of highlights from my January, 2015 Writing on the Air interview. We talk about indie publishing, screenwriting, and story structure. On a stick.

Radio Interview - Open Season

Remember when I read 38 novels to prepare for writing Open Season?

Find out why in this highlight reel from the Writing on the Air interview in January, 2015.

Radio Interview - The Fred Books

Did you hear the one about how I got tricked into writing Postcards from Fred?

Check out highlights from my interview on Writing on the Air in January, 2015.

January 26, 2015

Breaking Radio Silence Redux

It's been over two years since I've talked about my books on the radio, and I've written a few hundred thousand words since then, but the long national nightmare is finally over.

Tune into KOOP FM 91.7 (or online at koop.org) at 6 pm CST on Wednesday 1/28/2015 to hear me discussing Postcards from Fred and Open Season on the program Writing on the Air.

To hold you over, here are some highlights from the 2009 show.

January 24, 2015

Breaking Radio Silence

It's been over two years since I've talked about my books on the radio, and I've written a few hundred thousand words since then, but the long national nightmare is finally over.

Tune into KOOP FM 91.7 (or online at koop.org) at 6 pm CST on Wednesday 1/28/2015 to hear me discussing Postcards from Fred and Open Season on the program Writing on the Air.

To hold you over, here are some highlights from the 2012 show.

January 17, 2015

Reclamation Brewing Company

Prohibition began 95 years ago today. I celebration, I bring you this interview with Ben Smith at the Reclamation Brewing Company. Toward the end he recommends "What Would Jesus Drink." Ha!

-30:00 Story of how his father got run out of his church through religious bullying.
-19:00 WWJD mentioned.

January 16, 2015

Torn Curtain Church and WWJD

On the eve of the ninety-fifth anniversary of Prohibition, I'm going to turn you on to a cool study on a subject I know a few things about. I've heard countless sermons and read a dozen books on this topic, as well as doing the research to write a book of my own.

If you want a good overview of what the Bible says about drinking in a quick, easy read, What Would Jesus Drink? is your best bet. It's a short book, but it's all meat, no fluff, so you don't have to skim through stuff to get to the good parts. And the price is right.

However, if you want a deeper dive into the subject, Seph Coutinho at Torn Curtain Church has a four-hour, four-session podcast also titled What Would Jesus Drink? that knocks it out of the park.

The four sessions are:
  • Prohibition vs. the Bible (where he endorses my book about 5 minutes in)
  • Total Abstinence vs. Jesus
  • Moderation vs. Abuse
  • A History of Drinking
In the last segment at 24 minutes in, Seph again endorses WWJD as an easy read and mentions two other books on the subject, God Gave Wine and Drinking with Calvin and Luther.

January 11, 2015

A reader who gets it, except for . . .

I have sometimes described the Fred books as a seduction of language, you get swept up in the writing, but when you get to the end, you realize that nothing much really happened.

Imagine how gratified I was when I read this review of Welcome to Fred on Amazon by J. Bitney. Here's an excerpt:

"I cannot really "get into" a book which has such a light plot and then does not really resolve in any way. I would have given it a "3", but anyone who can write as beautifully as the author deserves better than that. I kept reading just because I enjoyed the author's way with words and the clever turns of phrase, but what I kept waiting for did not occur; nothing happened."

Of course, there really is a plot, however evanescent, and a resolution, however vestigial, but I think J captured the essence of what I set out to do in the Fred books.

I say that she gets it "except for" because if a story captivates you, there's no need to ding it because it's not plot-heavy.

Of course, if you insist on a more plot-forward story, you can always check out my other books, which bring more plot to the table while retaining the style.

January 5, 2015

Strange Vacation gathers in the offing

We have a cover design. We have the back jacket copy. Can April Fool's Day be far behind?

Want to get sneak peeks at new books, freebies, and an email when a new book is available? Sign up for the email newsletter. Because next comes a Hensley book. Lord willing and the creek don't rise.

Berford Oswald Wiggins vows to take his best friend on a killer vacation. And a Wiggins always keeps his word.
Berf loves Jake like a brother, but not like a brother-in-law. After all, he wouldn’t wish his sister on anyone, least of all Jake. When Berf’s warning falls on deaf ears, he falls back on The Code and serves as Jake’s best man.

The ill-fated marriage scarcely lasts two hours before going south, and Berf decides he and Jake should do the same. But the trip is far from an idyllic escape.

A series of bizarre accidents gets Berf to thinking of Spider, an extreme sports freak who recommended this special CancĂșn deal. Did Spider ever come back from his Caribbean vacation?

And when a fellow traveler drops dead out of a clear blue sky, Berf suspects they might not be going home next week. Or ever.

January 1, 2015

Grateful thoughts on New Year's Day 2015

It’s a bitter fate for a novelist to be best known for his first book. –Reviewer writing of Aidan Higgins

But not as bitter as to never be known for any book at all. –Brad Whittington writing of the joy of getting published