February 2019 Archives

Fort Stockton High School Band (1967-1968)
February 18, 2019 1:53 PM | Posted in: ,

This is the second in a series of four posts spotlighting music from the Fort Stockton (Texas) "Pride of Pantherland" High School band. [Here's the first, 1966-1967.] These posts will span the school years from 1966-67 through 1969-70, corresponding to the time yours truly (and MLB) spent in the band. I'm doing this as a way of preserving some of the musical memories that were made in those years. I'm sure that not everyone who was in the band at that time kept the record albums that were issued after each spring concert.

If you were a band member during that era, please feel free to share your memories via the comments section below. A half century has passed, as have many of our schoolmates. This is a good time to record some history.

One could make the case that 1967 was the greatest year in music history. Groups like Cream, the Rolling Stones, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors, and Jefferson Airplane populated the charts, and the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. All good stuff, but in Fort Stockton, the Pride of Pantherland was continuing its hot streak.

Band in my sophomore year (1967-1968) was more comfortable. Mr. Jarrell, our director, was a stern but capable leader, and I was much less intimidated by him. 

I also improved my skills during the year, and made the All-District band for the first time. I don't have much natural musical talent but what I had back then was the ability to actually enjoy practicing. And it's a good thing I was improving in band because I was a lousy athlete.

Here are photos of the band's 1968 album front sleeve and the record label. The song I've selected from this album is Chester, composed by William Schuman who, according to this article, won the first Pulitzer Prize for music composition, and also received a Kennedy Center honor in 1987. The piece was written in the mid-50s and the tune is based on a 1778 anthem purported to be sung around campfires and adopted as a marching song by the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Schuman died in 1992 at age 81.

Record album front sleeveRecord album front sleeve

As before, here's the digitized version of the original vinyl recording. The first two minutes are pretty sedate, but the notes come in vast bunches shortly thereafter. We must have impressed the judges; for the second consecutive year, the band won Sweepstakes.

The Fort Stockton High School Band (1966-67)
February 14, 2019 10:21 AM | Posted in: ,

This is the first in a series of four posts spotlighting music from the Fort Stockton (Texas) "Pride of Pantherland" High School band. These posts will span the school years from 1966-67 through 1969-70, corresponding to the time yours truly (and MLB) spent in the band. I'm doing this as a way of preserving some of the musical memories that were made in those years. I'm sure that not everyone who was in the band at that time kept the record albums that were issued after each spring concert.

If you were a band member during that era, please feel free to share your memories via the comments section below. A half century has passed, as have many of our schoolmates. This is a good time to record some history.

I was a freshman clarinetist entering high school in 1966, and being in the band was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I don't have many specific memories of that year, but I do recall being rather intimidated by the director, James A. "Buddy" Jarrell. What I do remember is that Fort Stockton had a pretty good band, and we proved it by winning "Sweepstakes" that year. Sweepstakes was awarded to high school bands that received a "1" ("superior") from the judges in three separate contests: marching, sight-reading -- playing never-seen-before music -- and prepared concert.

I was a pretty good clarinet player in junior high, but high school was a whole other ballgame. Still, even as a freshman, I managed to work my way up to the middle of the section, playing the second part. 

The best part of the year was when my future wife walked into the band hall. Little did I suspect that in seven years, we'd be married, and I'm sure she would have been aghast at the proposition at that point.

Here are photos of the band's album front sleeve and the record label. The song I've selected from this album is Incantation and Dance, composed by John Barnes Chance and premiered in 1960. Chance composed a number of pieces popular with high school bands, including Variations On a Korean Folksong which our band actually performed the next year. Chance died from accidental electrocution in 1972, at age 39.

Record album front sleeveRecord album front sleeve
There I am...third row on the right, third from the end. You see me, right?

Here's the song, ripped directly from the original vinyl, in all its crackling glory. It starts slowly, but morphs into a pretty challenging piece.

Jump to: 1967-1968 | 1968-1969 | 1969-1970
Lately, I've seen a lot of discussion on various local social media about folks who are having issues with critters tearing up their lawns and/or living where they shouldn't be living (e.g. skunks declaring a homestead under a back yard deck). These discussions often contain a lot of good advice, as well as some that's ineffective (in my experience) and other that's just wrong. The real problem is that, as far as I can tell, there's not a single repository for advice backed up by local on-the-ground experience, hence this post. Google being the good servant it is, I trust that someone searching for trapping tips in the Texas Hill Country will find this article and try out some of the things I've learned since moving here.

First, I probably should establish my bona fides as a trapper, although if you're a regular Gazette reader you've seen this many times before and can skip the next paragraph. 

Before moving here in the late summer of 2017, I had never caught anything bigger than a lizard, nor had I any reason to do otherwise. But we moved into a house that backed up to a creek and was surrounded by a golf course and large vacant lots and wooded areas. We immediately were confronted with a seemingly endless parade of varmints dedicated to the proposition that our lawn was the animal kingdom's equivalent of a Golden Corral. Also, there was this.

Out of necessity, then, I became a trapper, and after just over a year, this is my scorecard:

Pictograph showing numbers of animals trapped, by species

In case my icons aren't intuitive, that's 17 raccoons, 24 armadillos, 7 possums, 4 skunks, and two house cats...more than 50 animals in all. So, perhaps I've gained some experience you'll find useful.

  1. Learn the Law. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is the state agency that regulates, among other things, "fur-bearing animal" trapping and hunting. The definition of "fur-bearing animal" includes the most commonly trapped animals in the Hill Country: raccoons, skunks, and possums (note that armadillos are not included). If any of these species are damaging your property, they fall into the category of "nuisance fur-bearing animals" and may be lawfully trapped by the property owner without any license or restriction. However -- and this is a big one -- trapped animals cannot be relocated to someone else's property without that property owner's permission. Visit TPWD's website to familiarize yourself with the relevant regulations.

  2. Identify your culprits. A lot of different animals live around here, and most of them are diggers or can otherwise damage your property. Squirrels dig tiny holes, but generally in flower beds or pots. Skunks dig holes, but not many and not too deep. Raccoons are worse than skunks about digging, but armadillos will make a literal minefield out of your yard, searching for grubs and worms. You need to figure out what's doing the damage in order to know what steps to take to mitigate it. Invest in a good game camera (I use a Moultrie) and set it out overnight near where you've spotted evidence of animal activity.

    Not only will you be able to know for sure what you're dealing with, you might also have some interesting surprises.

    Buzzard inspecting trap

  3. Get the right trap for the job. An effective armadillo trap probably won't work for a raccoon or skunk, and vice versa. For armadillos, I highly recommend this scented trap. Armadillos are creatures of habit and will often follow the same trail multiple nights in a row. Set this trap at night somewhere along where you first found the damage, and chances are you'll find an armadillo in it the next morning. It doesn't need to be baited; the scent (don't ask) embedded in the wood lures them in. They lumber blindly into the trap, hit the length of wood hanging down in the middle, and both ends of the trap drop down. The armadillo will bang around inside for a while, and then settle down and go to sleep.

    For raccoons and skunks, I use a Havahart Live Animal trap, a wire trap that humanely imprisons animals for later release. The wire part is important; you want to be able to see if you've caught a skunk instead of a raccoon, for example. These traps are relatively inexpensive and are available at most hardware stores in the area. They do need to be baited. I've found that an open can of sardines is effective in luring fur-bearing varmints into the trap while being ignored by armadillos; other people have claimed success using cat food. (This might not be the best idea if you have a lot of cats in your neighborhood, although they'll eventually steer clear after spending a couple of nights in your trap.)

  4. Don't underestimate the capabilities of your foe. I've learned the hard way that I'm not always smarter than a raccoon, and I have grudging admiration for their ability to develop countermeasures for each of my trapping strategies. So, here are a couple of sub-lessons:

    • If you place a raccoon trap in your yard, make sure you place it on something they can't dig through -- like a thick doormat -- and stake it to the ground. I use bungee cords front and back attached to tent stakes embedded in the ground (make sure the cords don't interfere with the trap mechanism). These are critical steps because they WILL attempt to dig their way through the floor of the trap and they WILL absolutely destroy the grass beneath the cage in the process. Raccoons are very active prisoners and they are able to roll a trap if it's not tied down and sometimes escape in the process.

    • Raccoons are also inventive little thieves, so your bait should be placed as far back in the trap as possible to increase the likelihood that they'll step on the trip plate instead of reaching over it and absconding with a full can of delicious sardines. At some point, you may also discover that they've figured out a way to reach through the sides of the trap and pull out the bait a little at a time. I eventually customized my trap with wire mesh tied to the sides and end of the trap closest to the bait to prevent this behavior.
  5. Release responsibly. First, never set a trap if you won't be able to check it within the next twelve hours. It's inhumane to leave an animal in a trap for an extended period of time (and, yeah, I realize that some of you are simply going to exterminate what you trap, and that's certainly your prerogative, but while they're alive, be nice). Second, abide by the TPWD's regulations for releasing your animals, something that I confess I haven't always done due to the difficulty of tracking down property owners in undeveloped areas. Your best bet, if you live within city limits, is to call your local Animal Services department and have them deal with the trapped animal. This is especially true if you've trapped a skunk and don't want to simply release it (which, by the way, can be done safely if you're careful), or if the animal is behaving erratically, evidence that it may be rabid. I would also recommend getting Animal Services involved if you trap a fox...which is unlikely in my experience, but not impossible.
I hope these tips are useful for ridding yourself of these kinds of critters. If, however, you're dealing with something like a black mamba or a 1,000-pound feral hog or a man-eating Bengal tiger...well, good luck with that, and let us know how that turns out.

Glenn Miller & Liner Notes, Pt. II
February 4, 2019 7:16 AM | Posted in:

Alert Gazette readers will recall the Gazette's staff's unnatural fixation on vinyl albums featuring the music of Glenn Miller, and album notes related thereto. For those who were hoping this was a passing fancy, we regret to inform you that there's (at least) one more episode.

Album front coverI have previously mentioned that I'm digitizing LPs from my parents' collection, but I've also got a few albums that were previously in the possession of my father-in-law. One of those, a two-platter set, is entitled Glenn Miller -- A Memorial -- 1944-1969
If you're wondering, as I did, about the seemingly odd span of years in the album title, the only explanation I found is that it corresponds to the 25-year period between Miller's disappearance over the English Channel and the year of this album's release. It's a non-intuitive reference, to be sure.

This particular collection contains thirty of Miller's performances, most of which are duplicates of other albums I've already digitized. But there are some new cuts, such as Perfidia, Elmer's Tune, and At Last, a song that I had always attributed to Etta James but which was actually first recorded by Miller's orchestra.

One track that appears on more than one album is a swinging arrangement by Bill Finegan of Song of the Volga Boatmen, the no-doubt-familiar-to-you, normally-dirge-like Russian folk song. I started to give you my own condensed description of how this arrangement unfolds, but instead I'll direct you to this Swing & Beyond post that leaves absolutely no stone unturned. But I will tease you with a clip highlighting Ernie Caceres's 30-second alto sax solo:

The tracks on this collection are listed in the order of the recording dates for each song, beginning in April, 1939 and ending in July, 1942, the year Miller enlisted in the Army. He recorded additional music with the Army Air Force (AAF) band he led, but no additional recordings with his original orchestra were made.

Liner Notes

The album notes included in this collection are significant due primarily to their author: Benny Goodman. Mr. Goodman elected to not comment on the individual performances included in the collection, but rather focused on his personal relationship with and observations about his fellow musician and close friend. Following are those liner notes in their entirety.

The Personal and Distinctive Sound of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

The majority of you who buy this record are probably dyed-in-the-wool fans of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, and perhaps this music will revive the memories of dancing to Glenn in person.

I too have been a Glenn Miller admirer, and for over a longer time than any of you, for we were friends for many years. During the late '20s we worked together in Ben Pollack's Band, for which he arranged and played trombone and in which I played sax and clarinet. When the band broke up in the early '30s, Glenn and I lived together and hoped we would find enough work to support us.

At first it wasn't easy. Those were deep depression days and there wasn't enough work to go around for all the musicians. We lived at the Whitby Apartments on West 45th Street and things got so rough for us that occasionally we would get up early and borrow empty mile bottles from in front of other apartments and cash them in at the local grocery store so we could buy hot dogs for lunch.

Glenn in those days was exactly the same as he was about eight years later when he became leader of the most popular band in this country. He was an honest, straightforward man and you knew just where you stood with him. He was always serious about his work, but off the job he was an excellent companion with a wonderful sense of humor and a great feeling for the ridiculous. Have you ever heard the nonsensical lyrics he wrote for the Dorsey Brothers record of Annie's Cousin Fanny? You had to have a pretty real sense of humor to come up with ideas like those.

We who knew him well in those days found him to be an excellent friend - generous and concerned, sometimes serious, but never stuffy, and all the musicians in our circle admired him tremendously. He was a dedicated musician and an excellent arranger, full of original ideas such as the lyrics he contributed to the Charleston Chasers recording of Basin Street Blues, the one on which Jack Teagarden sang. We both played in the pit of two Gershwin shows: Strike Up The Band and  Girl Crazy.

I think his greatest contributions were made to organized dance orchestras. He wrote many fine arrangements for us in the Pollack Band, so when the Dorsey Brothers decided to form their own band, they asked Glenn to arrange for them. He not only created some exciting charts but also played a major part in the formation of their band. And so it wasn't surprising that when Ray Noble came to this country he selected Glenn as organizer and arranger for his American band. Here again Glenn turned in a first-rate job.

Those of us who had been close to Glenn weren't entirely surprised when he decided to form his own band. After all, he had proven himself to be a careful and thorough organizer and rehearser, and, even though he had never officially been credited as such, at least some sort of co-leader of the various bands in which he had played.

As all Miller fans know, it wasn't easy for Glenn at first. I remember that in either late 1937 or early 1938, when we were playing in Dallas, I ran into Glenn, whose band was working one of its first steady jobs at the Adolphus Hotel, and he was very downcast and discouraged and kept asking me just what it was he needed to become successful. I really couldn't tell him anything he didn't already know, but I remember I did try to encourage him all I could. Nothing I said, I suspect, had anything to do with it, but within a year Glenn's band had suddenly hit. If after that anybody was going to anybody else for advice, it might have been smart of me to turn to Glenn for his!

Many people try to analyze just what it was that made Glenn's music so successful. I can think of several reasons. He had a great sense of the commercial, of what would attract the average listener, and this he managed to do without sacrificing his musical integrity. This is one reason why his band was so loved by so much of the public while still retaining the respect of so many musicians. Glenn was also able to find the particular sound he was looking for that gave his orchestra the personal and distinctive sound which was recognized as his signature.

Glenn had an amazing ability to recognize talent, even when it was in the raw, and to help develop it. Think of the many young musicians who broke in with his band - men like Tex Beneke and Hal McIntyre and Trigger Alpert and Willie Schwartz, and especially the arrangers like Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray and Billy May who had done all right with other bands, but really blossomed under Glenn.

And, finally, I should point out that Glenn had a great knack for handling people. He may have seemed aloof to some of his public - and that aloofness was natural, for Glenn was not an outgoing person, at least not until he got to know somebody well - but he still managed to impart a sort of mature warmth to his public. However, it was in dealing with musicians that he really shone. He was a "driver," as many of us leaders of those days were labeled, but he drove his men gently and with reason, and he invariably respected them and treated them as human beings, just as he himself always expected to be treated by others.

The music contained in this album certainly reflects the spirit of Glenn Miller, the Musician. I hope these notes will have added to your knowledge of Glenn Miller, the Man. I shall ways remember him and be grateful to have had him as a good friend.

Signature - Benny Goodman

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2019 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2019 is the previous archive.

Archives Index