© 2006 Library of Congress, USA
Autobiography of a Musician
dear parents must have sensed my desire to
perform because that Christmas I got a magic
set with a little cape, a hat and a magic wand.
It took me only a week to learn all thirty
tricks, some of which were rather impressive.
Of course, I was only ten at the time. I
decided to start putting on magic shows, so I
built a small stage and rigged up some colored
lights in my garage. Soon I was plastering my
neighborhood with posters announcing the new
Houdini in their midst.
was a small hit in the neighborhood. Parents
and their kids would attend my shows. I even
charged an admission and made a few bucks.
After my garage filled up, which it always did,
I would put on my parent’s Tommy Dorsey
record and enter the garage, dressed in full
Mr. Magic attire. Being my roadie, my Mom had
the job of taking the needle off the record
after I made my grand entrance. She always
refused the fifty-cent payments I offered her
after each show for her services,
though she seldom accomplished her task
without causing several elongated and
irritating scratches. Her role as DJ was
probably hindered by an extra scotch and soda
or two, which I’m sure I would have indulged
in had I felt required to attend my
performances like she did. I did discover one
thing at that time. I liked being a performer
in the spotlight.
Howdy Doody puppet arrived the following
Christmas, and I spent weeks practicing with
it, trying to get him to dance with some
semblance of grace. After coming to terms with
my lack of skill as a chorographer, I decided
to work up a simple conversation instead, with
dear Howdy Doody playing three different roles.
Trying to emulate a cast of three puppets using
only one puppet had its
limitations, but I
carried on, undeterred. A few weeks later I
expanded my shows to include a second act –
Howdy Doody bouncing from one character’s
position to another’s while delivering his
trite three-character monologue. It didn’t
take long for me to realize Act II was
seriously lacking in entertainment value.
chemistry set came the next year and I again
spent weeks learning all the experiments.
Eventually I focused on five of the most
visually interesting ones: making and igniting
gunpowder, using Potassium Permanganate to turn
a glass of clear water deep purple, and so on.
After perfecting them, I added a third act: The
Mad Scientist. It went over exceptionally well,
but Howdy Doody was seriously dropping in the
ratings so I cut him and returned to two acts.
One act, two acts, three acts, it didn’t
matter. There was no way around it. I was a
Carl Frazier was a handsome man in his
thirties with an Elvis hairdo and long
sideburns. He lived in the house at the corner
and repaired TV’s at the local shop. A single
man in suburbia, he was considered a rather
strange character. He had weird friends and
they all partied a lot. Carl would often pull
up at his house with some sexy gal in the front
seat of his Cadillac convertible. They would
hug and kiss as they darted inside. Two hours
later he’d drive her home, and the following
week he’d have a new sexpot with him. When I
came home one day my mom told me he had dropped
by. He’d heard my band practicing and wanted
me to go into the studio with him that night. I
didn’t even know he was a musician. I did
know he got laid a lot between TV repairs.
“You play a mean guitar, kid,” Carl
said when he opened his door.
I was only sixteen at the time, so I
was honored. “Gary,
I nodded and he invited me in, then
introduced me to his band mates and two nasty
looking ladies in low cut dresses that revealed
more than a mouthful of enticing cleavage. On
the couch were several acoustic guitars. Carl
offered me a beer, which I accepted, then said,
“Let’s play my songs for him.”
He and two of his teammates grabbed
their guitars, the tall cowboy counted off, and
Carl started singing some trite tear-jerking
country song he’d written. As he strummed
away I noticed he was missing chord changes the
others were playing. The cowboy rolled his eyes
back, the fat guy shook his head with obvious
frustration, and the weasel keeping beat on a
cardboard box shrugged his shoulders. I was not
impressed, but I pretended like I was because
the gals kept giving me the eye and an
occasional wink. ‘Lucky Carl,’ I thought.
Then came another song that was more
upbeat, but equally horrendous. However, Carl
could sing well, and he put his heart into
every word, scanning his puppy-dog eyes across
the room for signs of approval. His band mates
probably thought they could become country
superstars by backing him up, assuming they
could get him to play the right chords to his
own damn songs.
“Think you can add some lead guitar
parts to these,” Carl asked me after he
finished some pathetic ballad about too much
booze and too few sleazy women.
anyone could add much polish to
his songs, but I said, “Well, I can
try,” hoping that just for my efforts he’d
throw one of the broads in on the deal.
“Great. Let’s head to the
His band mates loaded their guitars
into their cars and drove off. I hopped in
Carl’s Caddie with him and the two gals, and
he drove to my house to load up my gear. My mom
snickered as we drove away. It was a good thing
my Dad was not at home at the time. He didn’t
care much for goons with sideburns, and he
certainly would not have wanted me in the
company of lecherous Carl and his scantily clad
The studio was in a garage behind a
nice house in south Ft. Worth. I was impressed
with all the musical gear, the soundproof
rooms, the huge mixing board and tape recorder.
The cowboy grabbed a Gibson electric guitar,
the fat guy grabbed a bass guitar, and the
weasel hopped behind the drum set. We ran
through Carl’s songs a few times as I plugged
away at some fills. I had never played country
music and it showed. Everything I tried sounded
like blues or Chuck Berry riffs, not exactly
what they had in mind. But chord-missing Carl
kept encouraging me.
After a few takes Carl, the broads and
his band mates decided to walk outside and take
a smoke break. I was about to join them, but he
suggested I stay and talk to the engineer about
the recording process. When they returned a few
minutes later they all smelled weird, not like
cigarettes, and they seemed a lot happier,
giggling and slapping each other on the back.
Little did I know then.
They were quite lively when we tried a
few more takes, but it became evident I just
didn’t have the country chops Carl wanted in
his songs. So we turned it into a jam session.
In no time I had them banging out a three chord
blues pattern while I played
Freddie King lead riffs. The gals
really liked the change, and I got a few more
winks, but no offers.
I assumed I’d blown my first studio
gig because I didn’t hear back from Carl. Two
months later I took our TV down to his shop. He
greeted me with a warm handshake and gave me a
45 of his lame song about too much booze and
too few sleazy women. Some other Carl Frazier
masterpiece was on the flip side, but I doubted
if the record would ever make it on my list of
“We got a really good country picker
to do the lead work, Gary, but thanks for
coming to the studio and trying.”
“It was my pleasure,” I added,
visualizing his big-titted gals goggling at me.
As I walked towards the door a very attractive
woman came in.
“Hi, baby,” Carl said with his
exaggerated smile. “I’m wrapping it up. You
ready for a fun time tonight?”
Obviously she was because she nodded,
then planted a big kiss on him as I left. Carl
may never have made the big time with his
music, but had the times been like today, I’m
sure he could have made a bundle as a porn
Dave met Revis through a friend of a friend. The day I met him he insisted over and over that his parents gave him that name at birth, but it was obvious he got the idea from Elvis. He dressed the part, acted the part, and lived the part, and he came as a package deal with a guitar player named Stuart who also played keyboards and sang great harmonies. Dave and I asked Harry to rehearse with us at Revis’ house and he happily accepted the invitation. Revis was a nice character with polish and style, a good singer and an entertaining showman. They had good gear, things gelled immediately, and our following practice sessions were a pleasure.
Within a few weeks another series of gigs came our way, thanks to Revis and Stuart this time. They were several years older than us and had rich friends who hired us for their parties. All the Revis and Stuart shows went over smoothly until the day Rick, a weird musician whose band we had quit, found out where we were playing and suddenly appeared on the scene. We were playing for a large party at a plush country home on a warm evening. With a perfect sunset in the background, the guests were dancing away to our music when Rick barged through the crowd, stood right in front of us as glared as us.
Rick pointed at me, then Dave, then me, then Dave. Stuart and Revis had no idea who this weirdo was, and they didn’t like him. Dave threw Rick a friendly nod, followed by me, and finally Harry. Unappeased, Rick shot Harry the finger, then pointed it at Dave and me. We tried to ignore him, but ignoring Rick was like ignoring an erupting volcano only feet away.
Revis gracefully finished the song, walked over to Rick and asked, “Is there a problem? Sir.”
“Yeah, this is my band. They stole my bass player!” Rick shouted, again pointing to Dave and me, then Harry. The guests began noticing the commotion.
“This is not your band,” Revis calmly replied. “In fact, this is not even your party. It’s a private party and…”
“Hey, screw you!” Rick shouted, then pointed at us again. “They invited me.”
Revis turned to me. I took my guitar off, Dave got from behind his kit, and together we walked over to Rick to try to put the lid on him. Harry held his ground next to his rig. He wanted no part of it. Revis announced we would take a break, and he and Stuart walked away.
I pulled Rick off to the side. “Look, we like these guys and…”
“And they don’t go crazy on people!” Dave interjected. “We just can’t work with you anymore, Rick. It’s too much strain, too much… I don’t know.”
Rick pointed to Harry and shouted, “Well, you didn’t have to steal him! Assholes! He’s my bass player.”
“How can you steal someone, unless you kidnap him?” Dave asked.
“Harry joined us of his own free will,” I added. “Ask him.”
We all turned to Harry, but somehow he’d slipped away undetected.
“Is everything okay?” a deep voice asked.
We spun around to find four big guys with rippling muscles and twenty-eight inch necks glaring at Rick. The beast in the back row popped his knuckles. Another brute pounded his fist into his palm. All of them smirked with power.
“Yeah, we were just talking,” I said to the biggest of the quartet.
“Good,” he replied, turning his eyes to Rick. “Let me know if you find any rude company you would like escorted away, okay?”
“I will. Thanks.”
“Or buried alive,” he added.
Rick tried to conceal his fear as the four hulks slowly sauntered away, occasionally glancing back at him. West Texas guys like these were born to crush guys they didn’t like, guys like Rick. He waited until they were out of sight, growled a few more ‘you screwed me over’ lines at us, then walked away like a defeated soldier. I felt sorry for him. Dave was relieved. Harry was still hiding somewhere.
After the gig we promised Revis and Stuart that Rick would never come to another gig. We weren’t sure how we could guarantee that, but if the thick-necked quartet happened to be in the vicinity, we knew we could have Rick escorted away. Or buried alive.
A friend of mine named Jake called me one evening that summer and invited me over to an apartment where he was staying. He’d just returned from Vietnam and was about to sign up for another tour. I went over to see him, unsure what to expect. He cooked some weird concoction that he called stew, but when the smell found its way my nose I told him I’d just eaten, which was a lie.
We talked and drank beer on his porch as he gobbled down a three bowls of his strange brew. After sunset we retired to his couch and he pulled out a fat joint.
“You smoke?” he asked.
“Good. This is ‘Nam weed. Strongest stuff on earth. A medic I know brings it back. I think he stuffs it in bodies.”
Pot stuffed in dead bodies didn’t sound too appealing, but we shared that joint, then another one twice its size. I was blasted. It was indeed powerful weed.
Jake got up and turned off all the lights. “This is how we smoke it in ‘Nam. It’s dark outside and you can hear gunfire all around you.” He sat down next to me. “Then the gooks scream, and some unit nearby locates ‘em and blasts ‘em back to Hell. Man, it’s crazy over there!”
“So why did you sign up for another tour?”
“Because it’s fun!”
Fun? I got a little nervous. Jake was suddenly a different person, not the person I had known for years.
“You ought to sign up, Gary. It’s a real life and death experience, every second, every night, and all day long. Makes you… really feel alive!”
I got more nervous.
“RAT, TAT, TAT, TAT, TAT!” he suddenly shouted, mimicking a machine gun in his hands. “Then they fall over like dominoes.”
“How does it feel to…” I choked, “…to kill someone?” The moment those words left my lips I knew they shouldn’t have.
“It feels great! They’re our fucking enemies!”
“Well, there are different points of view on that,” I added. I should have just made for the door.
“Screw those peaceniks! I’m over there serving my country while they’re sitting here at home on their asses. You’re not one, are you?”
“No,” I mumbled. “I just… wanted… to mention… different points of view.”
“Good,” Jake growled. Had I told him ‘yes’ I might have left his house in an ambulance. I was not at ease with what I was seeing in my old pal Jake. Chills ran up my spine, and I trembled throughout several of Jake’s horrifying stories. After an hour I headed home, shattered and mind blown.
work the following day a constant stream of
images of Jake flashed across my mind. The next
few times he called I told him I was busy. He
was too much, but I felt sorry for him. A mild,
goofy and innocent guy had been turned into a
soldier, then into a killer who thoroughly
loved his job.
Gary L. Wimmer
7209 Whispering Oaks Dr.
Austin, TX 78745 USA