I Wanted to be Wild

Editor's Note: Andy Benz has offered the following memories and profiles of classmates for your enjoyment. Feel free to comment or add to: in the Discussion Forum area to the left. 

I Wanted to Be Wild


Get your motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

And whatever comes our way


Yeah, darlin’, go make it happen

Take the world in a love embrace

Fire all of your guns at once, and

Explode into space.


Born to be Wild, Born to be Wild

1968, from “Born to be Wild,” Steppenwolf  (Mars Bonfire)


Abilene Cooper High School Class of 1969: Born to be Wild?


(Andy Benz)

        The class of 1969 adopted the Steppenwolf hit as our very own, if unofficial, class theme.  This was our collective self-definition as well as our destiny.  We were Born to be Wild, and we delighted in thinking of ourselves in those terms.  Wild was the opposite of domesticated; we were untamed.  Wild was promiscuous, wild was out of bounds; we recognized no fences, no barriers, no rules.  We could not be caught, trapped, or bridled. 

        In truth, most of us never achieved Wild, even if we thought we wanted it.  To be Wild was mostly an image we desired.  Several made it to at least naughty.  We attempted to appear Wild, in dress, in speech and affected manner.  But drugs were edgy and a bit frightening, so, with a few exceptions (you know who you are), weren’t within consideration.  Liquor was more palatable and more available, even having to deal with living in a dry county.  (Remember the “Twin Cities” area – Abilene / Impact?)  And as for sex, well, casual sex was a rumor, or, more accurately, an oxymoron, in 1969 – nobody but nobody was ho-hum, whomever, take it or leave it, casual about it.

        Did you want to be Wild?  Do you think you made it?


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

It took me years to write, will you take a look?

It's based on a novel by a man named Lear, And I need a job,

So I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer.


It's a thousand pages, give or take a few.

I'll be writing more in a week or two.

I could make it longer if you like the style. I can change it 'round,

And I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer.


If you really like it you can have the rights.

It could make a million for you overnight.

If you must return it you can send it here, But I need a break,

And I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer.

1965, from “Paperback Writer”  The Beatles  (Lennon / McCartney)


Limitations of Content and Disclaimers

(Andy Benz)

        If you would care to add your own memories and caricatures, or maybe a self-defense, that would be GREAT!!  Please observe a good boundaries and limitations on what is appropriate.  And please be sure that no one is slandered or libeled without their permission, and that good taste and forbearance are maintained.


Those schoolgirl days of telling tales and biting nails are gone,

But in my mind I know they will still live on and on.

But how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?

It isn’t easy, but I’ll try.


If you wanted the sky, I would write across the sky in letters

That would soar a thousand feed high, “To Sir, with Love.”


The time has come for closing books, and long last looks must end.

And as I leave, I know that I am leaving my best friend;

A friend who taught me right from wrong, and weak from strong,

That’s a lot to learn.  But what can I give you in return?

1967, from “To Sir, with Love,” Lulu  (Black/London)


W. T. Thaxton


(Andy Benz)

        Warren T. Thaxton was band director in Madison Junior High from 1963-1967, and to Cooper High in the fall of 1967.  For several of us in the class of ’69, W.T. was the only band teacher we ever had.

        Mr. Thaxton taught us that “good enough” never was, that practice makes better, and that, while perfection may be unachievable, we’d better do our darn level best to attain it anyway.  His greatest frustrations were with those for whom music and mastery of instrument were secondary.  He expected us to perform better than we were capable, and, as a group, we met his challenge over and over again.  Most members of band felt personally responsible when we let him down, and we did so rarely.

        Within that frame, he showed us we could have fun, too.  Off the podium, he was affable and relaxed.  Several of us frequently stopped by for just a chat, or to let him recount an event from his perspective.

        I started out in band playing the trumpet, and was quite proud of the Sears Silvertone instrument my parents had given me in the 6th grade.  Upon moving to Abilene and into 7th grade band, it became apparent that I was really pretty bad, and consistently sat near last chair.  Toward the end of that school year, after directing me to play a line solo in front of the band, Mr. Thaxton proclaimed, “Andy, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worse sound come out of a horn!”  I was, of course, utterly embarrassed.  But after class, he privately pulled me aside and asked if I would consider switching instruments.  He thought my mouth structure would work better with a larger mouthpiece, and suggested the baritone horn.  I agreed to the change, and quickly improved. 


We Did It His Way

        When the band was preparing for concert contest in 1969, he selected a piece that began with a baritone horn and oboe duet.  It was a terrible piece of music to a wannabe rocker, slow and dirge-like, and written fully a musical third below the accepted range of my instrument.  It tried everything I could think of to play it well:  I practiced my music (a rare event!), I changed to a shallow mouthpiece, and even tried W.T.’s personal 4-valve euphonium to better stay in tune on the lowest notes.  But 2 weeks before contest, after rehearsing the passage, Mr. Thaxton stopped the band and instructed me to pass my music to the bass clarinet section.  As I recall, Ricky Harding got my part.

        Now the important point of the story is what didn’t happen.  The director didn’t ask my permission to relinquish my part.  He didn’t inquire of the bass clarinet player if it would be OK.  No vote of the band at large was taken.  He didn’t call the composer to see if changing the instrumentation would exceed artistic license.  The director did not check with the principal to make certain he wasn’t violating my rights, and the District Fine Arts Council was not called into session to debate whether some rule or code was being broken.  Mr. Thaxton was the director, and we were his band; the choice was his to make, and his instructions were ours to follow.  He taught us to do it his way, even if we disagreed, because he was responsible for the results.  It is still an appropriate lesson, and I’m grateful to have learned it.


Ah Got Faith in Yew Boys

        As the Cougar Brass and other groups began to have some acceptance outside the realm of the band hall, Mr. Thaxton was encouraging, and I think he was a bit proud.  I don’t recall that he came to see us play in other venues, but he was generally accommodating to our schedule of gigs.  He permitted several of us to play a new Year’s Eve job at the Country Club in Midland before we were to march in the Cotton Bowl Parade the next day, knowing we would have to travel all night to get there.  We arrived just in time for parade muster, half expecting our places to have been filled. But W.T was confident we would be there, and had held our spots in the formation.  He told us he never had a doubt, and I’m not sure he was lying.

        I think Mr. Thaxton felt most let down by us when we were caught “decorating” the band hall on a Saturday (nothing malicious, just some banners, crepe paper, and the like) before band officer elections.  We had used bootleg keys, hastily copied from a drama teacher’s master (he let us use them to go to the next building for “just a minute”) and distributed among our friends, to gain entrance to the building.  Not only did Pick (Richard Pickett) leave his keys dangling in the inner band hall door, but we couldn’t quite clear the ladder before W.T. entered the room; he saw the last few rungs exit down the passage leading to the choir room.  I remember David Foster getting caught along with me and Richard, but Gary Israel and a couple of others escaped.  I also remember clearly the deep look of betrayal our director wore as he demanded an explanation and our keys, grilling us about how we had attained them.  We wouldn’t tell him everything, of course, which seemed to sting him all the more.

        W.T. continued to be a friend even after we graduated.  He loaned me his personal baritone horn to play my first year at college.  He was always most welcoming each time I stopped by to visit, either at school or elsewhere.  Even in the last few years, as I’ve visited with him on breaks during the Rehab telethons, he has maintained a warm, even fatherly demeanor.  I may have learned more data from other teachers, but I was never more taught.


Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon,

Way up in the sky, in my beautiful balloon?

We could float among the stars together, you and I,

For we can fly, we can fly!


The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon,

It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon.

We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky,

For we can fly, we can fly!


Up, up, and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon.

        1967, from “Up, Up, and Away,” The 5th Dimension  (Jim Webb)


Richard Pickett


(Andy Benz)

        Richard Pickett was my best friend.  We were in band together beginning in 7th grade at Madison Junior High, we shared many classes and interests through high school, and we were roommates in college.  Richard was an excellent trombone player in band, but clearly most accomplished on piano.  He lived on Hunter’s Glen (off south Elmwood north of 20th), and had a sister several years older named Martha.  During the later years at Cooper, as we took adaptive nicknames, we began calling him Pick.  Richard had natural dish blonde hair, moderate acne, and was generally regarded as better-than-average in appearance.

        Richard first played trombone in the Cougar Brass, and after Nick Androvitch, Richard took over the keyboard.  He proved to be a great asset as an arranger, scoring “MacArthur Park,” “Up, Up, and Away,” and several other Jim Webb songs for the group.  Pick also arranged the Roger Williams’ rendition of “Born Free” as a piano feature with the Brass backing him up.  He loved to ham his performances on stage, and in person was often quite zany, sometimes even bazaar, in his behavior. 


Andy learns to play bass

(Andy Benz)


He’s free as the breeze, he’s always at ease.

He lives in the jungle and hangs by his knees

As he swings through the trees with a trapeze in his B.V.D.s.

He’s got a union card, and he’s practicing hard

To play the guitar, gonna be a big star.

Yeah, he’s gonna go far and carry moonbeams in a jar.

He ordered Chet’s guitar course C.O.D., like A and E, and he’s working on B,

Big W&W, and R&B, and even the chimpanzees agree

That someday soon he’ll be a celebrity.


Gitarzan, he’s a guitar man

He’s all you can stand.

Give him a hand, Gitarzan.

1969, from “Gitarzan,” Ray Stevens


        Richard was totally responsible for getting me to walk onstage and play the bass.  When we were in the 8th grade, he worked up a couple of ragtime songs on the piano and landed a job working for W. M. Casey at Old Abilene Town.  He made $10.00 each evening he played, and in my eyes in 1964, that was very close to being a millionaire.  There was no way I could let him best me; I had to find a way to join him.

        I persuaded the orchestra director at Madison to let me check out a school-owned string bass, explaining that I had a full class schedule so I couldn’t take his course, but I really wanted to learn the instrument.  And so, a couple of evenings later, I put on a white shirt with a colored vest and a couple of arm garters, and walked onto the little stage in the Old Town restaurant with Richard.  I had to be careful to play very softly, because I had no idea where notes were – I hoped to just make a quiet “thumping” noise that wouldn’t conflict with the piano.  It worked, I suppose, because Mr. Casey liked the look of the bass on the stage with the piano, and let me begin receiving those outrageous wages for my own.

        Now, Richard always had something of an impish streak in him, which was sometimes funny and sometimes made me want to do him harm.  Just a couple of weeks after our duo debut, as we were closing the second set of the evening playing “Maple Leaf Rag,” Richard’s face took on a peculiar mirthful quality.  He rolled around on a musical vamp, looked toward the audience, and shouted, “Take it, Andy!”  Then he quit playing.

        That very night I learned to play the bass. 

        In truth, I had at least found a few of the notes by then, so it wasn’t a totally helpless situation.  Somehow, I plunked and thumped my way out of that first solo, maintaining a smile and acting like I was enjoying myself, and all the while fuming.  Richard took pity after a few measures, played the closing chorus, and we exited.  He was out the door before I could catch him.

There will be another song for me, for I will sing it.

There will be another dream for me, someone will bring it.

I will drink the wine while it is warm

And never let you catch me looking at the sun.

And after all the loves of my life, after all the loves of my life,

You'll still be the one.


I will take my life into my hands and I will use it,

I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it.

I will have the things that I desire,

And my passion flow like rivers through the sky.

And after all the loves of my life, after all the loves of my life,

I'll be thinking of you, and wondering why.


MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark,

All the sweet, green icing flowing down...

Someone left the cake out in the rain.

I don't think that I can take it

'cause it took so long to bake it

And I'll never have that recipe again.

Oh, no!

        1968, from “MacArthur’s Park”  Richard Harris  (Jim Webb)


A few other Pick stories

(Andy Benz)

        Richard is the only person I ever knew to teach himself perfect pitch.  When the Accutron watches first came out, they were touted as having greatly improved accuracy over the more common Swiss mechanical action.  But they also had an unadvertised feature: when you held it up to the ear, it sang an F-sharp.  Richard already had developed a keen relative pitch; he could accurately tell the musical relationship of any one note compared to any other note he heard.  So he now had a reference note on his wrist.  He took delight in listening to a song on the radio, checking his watch, and announcing the key of the music.  He did this little exercise so often that, by the time he finished his sophomore year, he no longer needed the watch; he could hear any note, any sound, anywhere, and accurately tell the note to play on a keyboard to match.  I never knew him to be wrong.

        Pick and I shared a desire for discovery of how things worked.  We re-wired his home Magnavox hi-fi, marrying it to the Hammond organ in his living room.   We taught ourselves how to record and edit tape on his Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder.  And, in the 9th grade, we decided to look closely at the way a piano worked, so we took my mom’s blonde spinet apart.  Every key, every hammer, every leather, everything except the harp and soundboard was scattered around our living room when my mom came in the door.  As she looked over the scattered array of parts strewn across the room, she struggled for words, or actually, struggled not to say what obviously came to mind.  She finally choked out, “Put it back together exactly the way you found it,” or words to that effect.  So we did, and everything worked.  Later that year, we took that piano to Comanche to play a job outdoors on a flatbed trailer, and it was never the same.  Not only did a leg get broken, but the action just responded differently after that trip. 

        During the last year of the Cougar Brass, Pick fancied himself the “Leader of the Band.”  None of us other members had any great objection at first, but he then decided he no longer should help unload, set, strike, or carry any of the equipment.  This was received as a flaunting insult to the rest of the group, all of whom had instruments, and many of them quite bulky.  One evening, he picked up his music from the piano, disconnected the PA mic from the stand, and announced, “I’ve taken care of my stuff.  You get yours.  I’ll see you later.”  Well, he had goaded me once that day already, so I decided to help him see the error of his perspective.  I guess my bulging eyes and clinched fists telegraphed my intentions.  And I wasn’t alone; both Mike Summerlin (drums) and Geoff Cecil (guitar) were every bit as ticked.  As we gave chase, Richard bolted for the door, made his car, and ripped a quick exit out of the backstage parking lot.  We stood and watched him drive away, and laughed out loud – none of us could stay mad at Pick very long, and he looked as though he had really been afraid of us.  We didn’t see him for about 3 days, and when he returned, he agreed to share in the manual labor.  (Actually, it wasn’t unusual for him to withdraw for some days when he was greatly upset, but we wouldn’t know why until well after we had graduated.)

        My sister Dianne went through a stage where she loved to t-p houses, particularly those of any boy unfortunate enough to catch her fancy.  She and a friend conned Richard, sometimes along with David Foster, into coming over to our house in the wee hours of the morning.  Dianne would slip out her bedroom window, and Richard then delivered them, along with several grocery sacks of decorations, to the intended victim’s house.  I know this happened at least a few times, but it ended on the night they got caught.  As the house lights came on, all dashed away, escaping into the night, but Pick’s license plate was made as he drove away, and the police were called.  Richard had to go to the house and clean up Dianne’s mess to avoid charges, and he never took her out for such escapades again.


The long and winding road that leads to your door

Will never disappear – I’ve seen that road before.

It always leads me here, leads me to your door.


Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried.

Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried,


But still they lead me back to the long winding road.

You left me standing here a long, long time ago --

Don’t leave me waiting here, lead me to your door.

        1970, from “Long and Winding Road  The Beatles (Lennon / McCartney)


Richard beyond 1969 Cooper

(Andy Benz)

        Pick and I started off as roommates when we attended North Texas State University, and we promptly drove each other to distraction and sometimes anger.  He was a neatnick and I wasn’t.  He would carefully sweep his side of our dorm room and deposit the dust on my side, explaining that it really didn’t make any visible difference in how my portion of the room looked.  I tried to protest, but he was right.  I repaid him by locking him out of the room as he returned from a shower, and then forced him to swap his towel for a key.  He stood wet and naked in the dorm hallway for several minutes as I teased the key under the door.  I was the one who had to run away from wrath on that occasion.  We made it through a year as roommates, but that’s all. 

        Richard graduated in ’73 with a degree in Music Composition, and along the way, married Susan Morton from Dallas in 1971.  She was a piano performance major, and Richard’s close friends dubbed her “Pickschick” during their courtship.  They had a little girl, Sara, in 1975. 

        In 1976, Richard suffered a major psychotic break.  After a brief stay in a Dallas hospital psychiatric ward, he was admitted to the MHMR facility in Terrill and was there for several months.  Richard was diagnosed as a childhood schizophrenic, meaning, among other things, that he had been mentally ill for as long as I had known him.  What his friends and I attributed to being zany and peculiar had actually been psychotic. 

        Richard eventually was returned to his parent’s care, and still lives in Abilene with his mom, Elsie.  He plays piano and works as custodian for a small church in the north part of the city.  I try to see him at least once every year.  The musical genius is burned or repressed, and my friend no longer makes the lightning connections I remember.  Even so, we love to visit, so we drink a cup of coffee together and drive around town. 

Left a good job in the city

Workin’ for the man ev’ry night and day

And I never lost one minute of sleepin’

Worryin’ ‘bout the way things might have been


Big wheel, keep on turnin’

Proud Mary, keep on burnin’

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’ on the river.


If you come down to the river

Bet you gonna find some people who live

You don’t have to worry if you got no money

People on the river are happy to give.

1969, from “Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival  (J.C. Fogerty)


Gary Israel


(Andy Benz)

        Gary Israel played french horn, one of the critical core of 8 required to permit W.T. to finally get to play “American Overture for Band” for contest in 1969 – he said he had waited years to have a horn section good enough to hack it.  Gary also had a really great car, a blue Plymouth Road Runner, fitted with the hottest engine possible.  He made no secret of driving fast and pursuing a number of worldly pleasures.  He may have been as close as anyone I knew to true Wildness, but he held his evaluations and experiences closely, so I was never really sure.  While we had very few classes together outside of band, he projected an attitude of confident ease that I envied. 

        But Gary had another talent that was much less obvious: he was (and still is) a catalyst.  His presence made things happen, even when he wasn’t directly involved in the outcome.  Gary put people together; he seemed to have a knack about who would fit with whom.  While he never played in any of the off-campus groups, he seemed to be always in the edge of the room.  I’m not sure, but he may have suggested some of the people that later became players, particularly James Means.  For certain, it was his contacts, directly and indirectly, that permitted the Cougar Brass to play several events in Albany, Breckenridge, and Coleman.  He seemed to know people in every town and at each venue; it appeared that he had friends in every location and at every social stratum.

        Gary also seemed to bring out the daredevil in the Brass members.  One moonless night in the wee hours, we were returning from a job in Breckenridge, barreling toward Baird.  Gary was with us, and there were at least 2 other cars.  On a dare, all headlights were turned out.  I was with Buddy Bailey in the lead, and after few miles, when we topped a hill, he quickly pulled off the shoulder into the grass, and we stood outside the car.  We heard the other two cars go by with the very distinctive sounding James Means’ Mustang in front.  But the night was so black that Buddy and I never really saw them until they had passed, and then we could just see the glow of exhaust pipes.  It was utterly foolish, of course, but hilarious to all of us at the time.  We didn’t turn on lights until we hit Interstate 20.

It was twenty years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play

They’ve been going in and out of style, but they’re guaranteed to raise a smile.

So may I introduce to you the act you’ve known for all these years?

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band!

1968, from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band,” The Beatles (Lennon/McCartney/Starr/Harrison)



The Cougar Brass


(Andy Benz)

        I wish I could remember who first had the idea to get together, but the Cougar Brass became possible as a result of quite a number of factors.  One ingredient was the popularity of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, which provided music that demanded instruments we played in band, and music that was an acceptable alternative to play in an era of rock and roll.  Another factor was the established rhythm foundation of Richard Pickett, Lee Manly, and me, who had been playing at Old Town together for quite a while.  As the Brass group began to coalesce and expand in repertoire, it quickly became a weekend attraction for Mr. Casey’s restaurant.  The group was also accepted by the faculty to play during home Cooper basketball games when the full band wasn’t available.  All of us were members of the stage band, directed by W.T., and could read music, and generally understand fundamental elements of jazz composition.  Members included the following core group, along with their graduating class year: 

                    Richard Pickett, piano / trombone, 1969                                   Andy Benz, bass, 1969

                    Buddy Bailey, lead trumpet, 1969                                              Geoff Cecil, guitar, 1970

                    Mike Bailey, second trumpet, 1970                                           James Means, tenor sax, 1968

                    Lee Manley, drums, 1970                                                            Toby Williams, trombone, 1970

Also, on a more limited basis:       

                    Nick Androvitch, piano, 1970                                                    Mike Summerlin, drums, 1971

                    Alvin Harper, trombone

        Each group member was a friend as well as a coworker.  We tended to seek each other’s company, share each other’s opinions and support each other’s failures.  We had squabbles about money, music, labor, and position; we broke up and reformed more than once; we got mad at each other and we learned to forgive, or at least act like it. 

        And, from what I remember, the Brass was musically pretty good.  Even though rock and roll was king of the charts and topic of tune-related conversations, we arranged and played music that entertained our parents and our patrons. It also challenged our creativity.  We sought mastery of our instruments and innovation in our presentation.  And, although several in our school were openly derisive of the non-rock sound, we gained and maintained an acceptance among most peers, and even some measure of local recognition. 


Born free, as free as the wind blows,

As free as the grass grows,

Born free to follow your heart.


Live free, and beauty surrounds you

The world still astounds you

Each time you look at a star.


Born free, and life is worth living

But only worth living ‘cause you’re born free.

        1966, from “Born Free,” Roger Williams; 1968, Andy Williams (Don Black / John Barry)


Nick Androvitch


(Andy Benz)

        Cooper High School in 1968-69 was host to a young Turkish student who was officially visiting with his sister, who was married to an American airman stationed at Dyess.  Nick Androvitch was slight and wiry, with short dark hair and an ego the size of Alaska – well, Montana, anyway.  He played drums in band, but he was a highly accomplished pianist.

        Nick quickly became dominant as a premier jazz player, and Lee and I joined him to form a trio.  He played the Roger Williams rendition of “Born Free” as soon as it hit the charts, garnering wide appreciation for his effortless talent.  The Trio repertoire featured songs from Ramsey Lewis, Dave Brubeck, and Count Bassie.  The Nick Androvitch Trio was widely accepted in the Abilene area, where we regularly played several private clubs and restaurants. 

        During that era, the Trio worked (unpaid) as the “house band” for the Rehab Center Telethon.  The telecast was still fledgling, and lacked much of the polish it has today, but it stayed on the air all night long.  That year, Fess Parker came to town as the featured guest, and along with him came Dallas McKennon, who played the barkeeper in the “Daniel Boone” television series.  Dallas was quite taken with Nick’s talent, and we were flattered to have a true celebrity pay attention to us.  We played several songs for him privately in an adjoining room.  Mr. McKennon invited us to talk business later in his hotel room, and seriously offered to take Nick back to Hollywood.  He promised he could get Nick into television, or at least get him acquainted in the entertainment industry.  Nick was loyal to his group; he wouldn’t accept the offer unless Dallas included Lee and me in the bargain.  That caveat was a deal-breaker, partly because we both had parents that objected, and mostly because Lee and (especially) I weren’t in the same caliber of talent.  Mr. McKennon directly and even hurtfully said so.  Nick wouldn’t budge, and even though Dallas stayed in town a full week beyond the telecast, he left alone. 

        The trio played a paid assembly at Cooper during my senior year, benefiting some club or school organization.  My sister Dianne was a sophomore then, and attended.  During the show, we feigned a one-ups-man-ship quarrel between Lee and me, with us each taking turns trying to outdo each other in solo performance.  Lee went through “talking drums,” “Wipe Out,” and a very fast series of rolls and licks; I stood my string bass in front of his drum set and played a lot of notes as fast as I could, working up high onto the neck, managing to stay in key and finishing with great flourish.  It was pretty cheesy, but my sweet sister thought we were seriously fighting, and was on the verge of either calling me down or changing her name out of sheer embarrassment.  Of course, the whole purpose was to permit Nick to play us both into the ground, and we concluded by bowing low before his musical prowess.  The skit received hearty applause.

        Nick was very innovative musically.  He bought a small wind-driven instrument, kind of a blow-accordion keyboard that had a range of only a couple of octaves.  By extending a hose between the mouthpiece and the little box, he could play piano with this left hand while playing a lead line with the right.  It was a sound that foreshadowed electronic keyboards, mimicked a harmonica, and added a new dimension to some of our jazz favorites. 

        I don’t know what became of Nick.  I heard from one source I believed that his Visa expired and he was forced to return to Turkey.  A further rumor said that he fell into disfavor with the ruling junta, and was imprisoned.  Does anyone reliably have more information?  I’d sure like to know his whereabouts.


Do you like good music,

That sweet soul music?

Just as long as it’s swingin’,

Oh, yeah, oh yeah.


Spotlight on Lou Rauls, y’all.

Ah, don’t he look tall, y’all?

Singin’ “Love’s a Hurtin’ Thing,” now,

Oh, yeah, oh yeah.


Spotlight on Sam and Dave, now.

Oh, don’t they look boss, y’all,

Singin’ “Hold on, I’m Comin”?

Oh, yeah, oh yeah.


Spotlight on Wilson Picket

That Wicked Picked Picket

Singin’ “Mustang Sally”

Oh, yeah, oh yeah.

1966, from “Sweet Soul Music”  Arthur Conley



Lee Manley


(Andy Benz)

        Lee is one of the best drummers I’ve ever known.  Lee was a year younger than me, graduating in 1970.  He has an older brother, Clay (Lloyd), who graduated in 1969.  His father was a Sergeant at Dyess, His mom also worked outside the home, but I don’t remember her occupation. 

        Lee was not a strong academic student, but he exposed a hard working talent that listened intently and rehearsed incessantly.  He would hear a lick and would not rest until he mastered it.  For example, I had thought Ringo Starr to be something of a mediocre drummer (silly me!) despite his fame with the Beatles.  But Lee showed me the creativity of the rhythmic patterns, the sheer difficulty in mastering some of them, and how Ringo kept the drums as a driving force without overwhelming the rest of the music.  After Lee mastered certain patterns, he would then find a way to work it into one of the songs we played, subtly shifting the emphasis and making it his own.  In so doing, he conquered numerous styles of music, and was equally comfortable in light jazz, hard rock, big band, or Dixieland.  Even now, as I listen to the recording of the Cooper stage band of 1969, Lee is clearly the talent that is a cut above the group.

        Lee started playing with Richard Pickett and me on the little stage at Old Abilene Town by 1967.  As a trio, Mr. Casey began to notice an increasingly large number of patrons asking when we would be there and planning their dinner outings to coincide.  He increased our pay, which was still paltry by today’s standards, but a source of pride to us.  Lee later joined me with Nick as a jazz trio, and we played rock with Buddy Bailey & Geoff Cecil as well. 

        Lee was one of my groomsmen when I married in 1971, along with Pick.  By that time, his wavy red hair was “shoulder length or longer,” (remember that line from the musical “Hair”?) and he was making plans for college.  He traveled to England and Ireland to play and record; later that he moved to Austin for a slot in a well-known rock band. 


Post-script: I “found” Lee living in Austin in 2004, and renewed the acquaintance.  Then he contracted throat cancer and passed away in 2007 in Austin, TX.  I’m still in mourning.

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.

Asked the Lord above for mercy, “Save me if you please.”


You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown.

You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown.

And I’m standing at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down.

        1969, from “Crossroads”  Cream  (Robert Johnson)



Mitch Watkins


(Andy Benz)

        In June of 1968, a new kid moved into the house 4 doors south of my Glenwood home, and just a few days later, he came up to meet me.  I wasn’t at home, but he saw my Kustom bass rig through the front screen door.  He came back the next day, and we became friends instantly.  Even though he never attended Cooper, he impacted my circle of friends musically and personally during the summer of 1968.

        Mitch was the best guitarist I’ve ever known personally.  That first day, back at his house, he picked up his acoustic 6-string and played a Bach fugato, with full counterpoint and no part left out.  I had never heard anything like it.  After introducing him to Buddy and Lee, Mitch pulled out his electric guitar and wailed tirelessly.  He was not just technically masterful of the instrument; he had an ear and a feel that made every lick artistic.  On another occasion at Buddy’s house, as I was asking him about different bassist’s styles and techniques, he picked up my Fender Jazz and, to demonstrate, played the entire bass solo from Vanilla Fudge’s “Break Song” flawlessly.  While he did so to encourage me and teach me, I realized he had just done something that would take me weeks of listening, transcribing, and practice, and he had done so with no effort or thought; it just came out.  Mitch never was formally a member of any of the groups because he arrived in our Senior year, and there wasn’t enough time to integrate him before we graduated and split. But he did play as a guest artist several times. 

        The zenith of music with Mitch was the jam sessions he played with Lee Manley and me.  Mitch was most at home in the blues, and he understood the dynamics of key changes as well as chord progressions.  On one particular night, we went to a dance where another band was playing.  As they took a break, Mitch, Lee, and I were asked to play a little, and, without any formal rehearsal, we began a blues session.  For 20 minutes or so, Mitch played, interacting intensely with Lee rhythmically, and me trying to keep up with both of them through several different styles, moods, keys, and directions.  I was greatly out of my musical league, but Mitch and Lee were zoned together.  Their music was utterly fantastic. 

        Mitch only lived in Abilene that summer of 1968, leaving for TCU in late August 1968.  He currently lives in the Austin area, and is ranked as one of the top 10 guitarists in the state.  He plays regularly with Jerry Jeff Walker and Lyle Lovett, and has 4 jazz albums to his personal credit as well.

She asks me why I’m just a hairy guy

I’m hairy noon and night, hair that’s a fright

I’m hairy high and low, don’t ask me why.  Don’t know.

It’s not for lack of bread like the Grateful Dead, darling.


Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair,

Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen.

Gimme hair to there, shoulder length or longer.

Here baby, there mama, everywhere, daddy, daddy,

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair,

Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair.

1969, from “Hair” The Cowsills  (Ragni/Rado)


Mike Summerlin


(Andy Benz)

        Mike was two years younger than Pick and me, but he became one of my really close friends.  His dad, Doctor Macon Summerlin, had a small studio on Barrow street, and gave private lessons in several instruments, as well as teaching music theory.  I took string bass lessons there.  Mike and his dad, along with Bobbie, his mom, lived south of the freeway off of Buffalo Gap Road in what was at the time a pretty rural setting.  Mike, according to my sister, was very good looking, and he kept his hair as long as possible without getting expelled from school.

        We called Mike “The Big S,” and he truly enjoyed acting bigger and braver than anyone else.  He drove his yellow LeMans fearlessly.  He would stand for hours in the back of my Dad’s pickup as I drove, cutting wildly and jumping curbs to try to throw him off balance.  He would look in the mirror at my face and bray, daring me, taunting me to knock him down or toss him out.  The Big S was loud, boisterous, and always fun to be around.

        Mike was not only a good drummer, but good friends with Lee Manley, which may seem odd.  Mike covered Lee’s departures at first, stepping into roles that Lee vacated.  In so doing, The Big S became very accomplished in his own right, and eventually exceeded Lee in some styles, particularly hard rock.  When Lee was with Nick playing jazz, Mike played ragtime with Pick.  When Lee played with the Brass, Mike played rock with Harbinger’s Complex, another group in the area.  Mike and Lee emulated each other, taught each other licks, and never seemed to be competitors with each other.  The most fun I had with both of them was when they set up both trap sets in the same room while the Buddy / Geoff / Andy band practiced and watched them duel with each other. 

        Mike was the only one of my friends to ever date my sister Dianne (that I knew about).  One evening, as they were sitting in the living room, I came in to start a record on the hi-fi since it was wired to a speaker in my bedroom.  I put on Blood, Sweat, and Tears.  Big S perked up, and began listening to the music intently.  He later called me back into the living room, and we listened and backtracked and dissected the blend of rock, jazz, and R&B.  We finally turned the lights on and spent the rest of the evening talking about the group, how it differed from other popular sounds.  When Mike finally left, my sister gave me a look – you know, a LOOK -- that reminded me of how I had messed up her evening.

        I always enjoyed going to Mike’s house when his dad was home.  Macon was a music prof. at McMurray, and was a true master of several instruments.  He once claimed that he could play any chord on the guitar without moving more than 4 frets; Pick took up the challenge, and Macon shot him down.  Macon puffed a pipe, muttered incessantly, tinkered with a homemade synthesizer, and was the fulfillment of the absent-minded professor caricature applied musically. 

        On another occasion, I was taking a string bass lesson from Dr. Summerlin in his studio when a young college student came in with an LP and asked if Macon could transcribe a solo for him.  With a chuckle and a nod, the record was played and, almost in real time and with only one hearing, Macon wrote the notes, properly transposing for the alto sax.  The entire effort took less than 3 minutes.  But when Dr. Summerlin announced his fee, the fellow was aghast, and refused to pay.  He shouted that he was being greatly overcharged less than 5 minutes effort.  As Macon tore up the manuscript paper and tossed it in the trash can, he replied, “Son, I’m wasn’t asking you to pay me for my time.  You owe me what I asked for the years it took to know how to do it.” 



Watch it!

I was born in a crossfire hurricane,

And I howled at my ma in the drivin’ rain.


I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.

I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.

I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.

I was crowned with a spike right through my head.


But it’s all right now, in fact it’s a gas

But it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash, it’s a gas, gas, gas.

        1968, from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”  The Rolling Stones



Buddy Bailey


(Andy Benz)

        Short and slightly pudgy, Buddy Bailey sported a big grin with dimples and a personality to match.  He was wit, a cut-up who could control himself when he felt the need, which was rare.  Buddy was an only child.  His dad, Wayland, was a banker, and they lived in a small frame house on Matador Street north of 11th.  Buddy drove a Ford Galaxie with glass packs, but it didn’t have power steering; it was just heavy enough to cause him to wheeze when he had to turn the wheel in tight quarters.  Buddy was much more social than most of the other Brass membership; he maintained varied but steady dating relationships, and made many friends outside of the band hall. Buddy loved music deeply, to listen, to play, and to write.

        As Buddy took the part of lead trumpet in the Cougar Brass, he and his parents also took on much of the support role for the group.  We would leave our instruments set up in his house for days at a time, taking over a large portion of their living area.  Later, when he started playing organ and guitar to get into rock, we left our amps set up and stacked along the wall, ready to power up.  Buddy’s mom never failed to have snacks for us on practice days, and she would almost always accompany us to jobs that weren’t in real dives.  She took pictures, arranged photo albums, and worked on advertising fliers.  All of us knew we were always welcome without reservation.

         Buddy was a good trumpet player, both disciplined and talented.  His parents gave him a silver Getzen trumpet, similar to the horn Doc Severensen blew.  He filled the room with very close imitations of Herb Alpert, and squeezed out the highest notes in Pick’s Jim Webb arrangements.

        But he wanted to play other music, and took up both keyboard and guitar.  He wrote a few songs as well.  One piece called “Red Light, Green Light” was set in 7/4 time, and we had a grand laugh playing it at dances and watching people try to catch up to the beat.  In truth, while I knew him, Buddy never quite achieved the accomplished musicianship on the organ or guitar like he did on the horn, probably because he had only been playing for only a few months, and technique just takes time to develop. 

        Buddy really hated soul music.  One night we were on stage at the Dyess NCO club, and we were just finishing a set when one of the dancers shouted for us to play something with soul.  Buddy responded, fully into the mic, that we’d play soul just as soon as we finished playing music.  Geoff and I tried hard to contain our laughter, but when we looked at each other, we burst out full-bellied and red faced.  Buddy really didn’t think it was all that funny – he was just expressing his disdain for soul.  The patron angrily dressed us down and left the club.  That may have been the last night we played that room.

        Buddy lives with both of his parents on Matador Street, and still writes. 



I see the bad moon a-risin’,

I see trouble on the way.

I see earthquakes and lightinin’,

I see bad times today.


Hope you got your things together,

Hope you are quite prepared to die.

Looks like we’re in for nasty weather,

One eye is taken for an eye.


Don’t go around tonight,

For it’s bound to take your life.

There’s a bad moon on the rise.

1969, from  “Bad Moon Rising”  Creedence Clearwater Revival  (J.C.Fogerty)


James Means and Gwen Giles


(Andy Benz)

        I think James Means was the hardest working friend I had prior to adulthood.  Although a year older, James easily slid into our circle, and he played with Cougar Brass more out of relationship than musical drive.  He was considered to be handsome by my female friends, and he played tenor sax.

        James was always working.  He had a paper route.  He held a fast food job, first in Burger Chef on 14th Street, and then at Pizza Inn on US-80 East of downtown.  James hated to play free gigs, and seemed to be driven by finances.  His work schedule prevented him from spending a lot of time horsing around with the group. 

        He did let three of us into the Pizza Inn one night as we waited for him to close, and we got into a huge pizza dough fight.  The consistency was just right to form into balls that would splat satisfyingly and raise a welt when it hit bare skin. Afterwards, we stayed to help him clean up, and it took a couple of hours – we found chunks of dough everywhere!

        He was always late; no matter what we did, or how hard he said he tried, James seemed never to make a job on time.  It drove Pick insane (well, not really, but you know what I mean), which made for some great entertainment when Richard would attempt to assert himself when James finally showed up.

        I had a small Star of David pendant that I wore as stage jewelry occasionally, and I as a joke, I began to rub it as a touchstone while facing East and incanting a wish.  And, very strangely, it seemed that much more often than not events would occur that could be construed as a positive answer.  Well, when time change Saturday came around, we were playing at the Sears on Sales and First, and James was late.  Just to be funny, I went into my spin and wished James present.  At that moment, he walked up to the stage.  Well, after the set, Buddy was telling James about the coincidence, and Pick, still half angry, said that he wished for James to forget to set his clocks that night.  To humor Pick, I again went through the spiel, rubbing the pendant, facing East, and calling on the power of the Star to make James forget the time change.  We all laughed.  But the next day, James called me on the phone.  He had remembered to set his clocks, but he changed them in the wrong direction; he was 2 hours off!  Thereafter, each time he was tardy, I would threaten him with the Star of Incantation.  He would plead with me not to do so, and we would all laugh. 

        During the time I was friends with James, he was rarely unaccompanied.  Gwen Giles, a beautiful but very quiet girl from the class of 1969, was almost always with him.  She played double-reed in the band (oboe / bassoon), perhaps the most difficult instrument to learn well.

        What was very clear was that James and Gwen were “in love,” although I believe she more than he.  They seemed to be always together, hands or arms entwined, touching, cooing, and otherwise being cute and/or revolting.  James would delight in making some public crack about their private conversations, or offer some innuendo about her body.  In either case, Gwen was easily embarrassed, usually good-naturedly but sometimes flush-faced, which delighted James immensely. 

        Gwen showed extraordinarily sensitivity and gentleness.  She never spoke that I didn’t perceive a caring spirit.  Gwen exhibited a transparent sense of humor that would make her eyes twinkle and a crooked smile cross her face when she was tickled. 

        She hasn’t changed in 30 years!


When I was just a little boy, you know my one and only joy

Was listening to the good old rock and roll.

When I was, well, I just turned 23,

And if you want to get a message to me

All you gotta do is listen to that good old rock and roll.


They’re really rockin’ in Boston, and in Philadelphia PA

Deep in the heart of Texas, out to San Francisco Bay

1969, from “Good Old Rock and Roll” Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys



Geoff Cecil


(Andy Benz)

        One person in Cooper is most responsible for leading me into an area that would later become my career.  He introduced me to a soldering iron and audio connectors, transistors and resistors, signal processing, amplifiers, and speakers.  Geoff Cecil showed up in band in the winter of 1967, and played cornet. 

        Geoff was thin framed and sprouted reddish hair, and he really loved playing guitar.  We conscripted him into the Cougar Brass later that year.  His dad was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, and they lived within Dyess.  I only met his parents on one occasion that I recall, and I don’t remember anything about them.  Geoff was gentle in spirit, a straight-arrow morally, and very smart without a smidgen of nerdiness.

        Geoff was a technical tinkerer.  When the Brass began working on the Tijuana Brass’ “Casino Royale,” there was a dominant part for a “fuzzed” guitar note near the end of the song.  Geoff didn’t have a “fuzz box,” so we were talking about how to re-assign that line to another instrument.  Geoff said he’d take care of it, and he did.  He routed his electric guitar signal through a small tape recorder and then to his amplifier, and then he deliberately overloaded the recording input.  Voila, fuzzy guitar.  He laughed at my amazed expression, and said, “Hey, it’s only controlled distortion, and it doesn’t much matter how you create it.” 

        Geoff’s dad had 2 vehicles, a Cadillac Coupe DeVille, and a green VW bus.  Guess which one Geoff drove?  He loved to frighten anyone riding with him in the bus by getting them in the front passenger seat, and then pulling into a driveway or behind a large truck.  There was only a foot or so of distance between the passenger footboard and the front bumper of the van, and if he waited until the last minute to apply the brakes, stopping only 18” or so from a barrier, it had a profound effect on the novice passenger.  When he introduced me to the technique, I yelled, braced for impact, and closed my eyes, being certain we were about to crash.  Buddy Bailey tried to leap into the back seat.  Someone else, I don’t remember who, tried to jump out of the bus.  Geoff had entirely too much fun laughing at us.

        But Geoff fell victim to teaching me too much.  In the late 60s, guitar and bass amps could be powered referenced against either leg of the incoming electrical mains.  It didn’t make any difference as long as your body wasn’t grounded, or you didn’t touch anyone else’s instrument.  But if there were two amps on opposite polarities, there could be quite a few volts of difference.  The effect wasn’t dangerous – there wasn’t enough current to be harmful – but it could really sting.  One night, as the Geoff / Buddy / Andy / Lee rock group was playing, we did a song where Geoff sang the lead.  As he broke for the guitar solo in the middle, I wandered over to his amp and hit his switch with my foot, reversing his polarity.  As he stepped back up to the microphone and opened his mouth, a short spark leapt from his tongue to the ball of the microphone.  It so startled him that he instantly stopped playing and stopped singing, covering his mouth with his hands as tears of pain forced into his eyes.  And then Geoff, who rarely used foul language at all, shouted a sharp expletive directly into the mic.  All eyes turned toward him, the dancers ceased on the floor, and I looked at him like he had gone insane.  He quickly flushed and made an apology, and we resumed the song after the awkward pause.  Oh yes, we also reset his amp switch.  But I noticed he never got quite so close to the mic again that evening.  And I don’t remember ever telling him it wasn’t an accident.

        As I mentioned, Geoff was sharp.  It was always his intention to attend Georgia Tech and major in Electrical Engineering.

        Geoff now lives in the Houston area.


Now when your girl is gone and you’re broke in two

You need a little bit o soul to see you through

And when you raise the roof with your rock ‘n’ roll

You’ll get a lot more kicks with a little bit o’ soul


A little bit ‘o soul, yeah, a little bit ‘o soul

1967, from “Little Bit O’ Soul” The Music Explosion  (Carter-Lewis)


Toby Williams


(Andy Benz)

        Toby played trombone with Pick in the band, and as Richard moved to piano, we needed a trombonist for the Cougar Brass.  Toby was the obvious choice.  But “Tobe” integrated into the mishmash of personalities so thoroughly and comfortably that the group would hardly have been the same without him.  Toby was a little rotund and wore glasses, and he was a true comic and a real charmer.  He kept us in stitches as every rehearsal, making us laugh at ourselves and everyone else.

        One interesting exchange I had with Toby was years after Cooper High.  I was visiting my parents, and we had occasion to go to Hendricks Hospital to visit a family member.  As I went through the line at the cafeteria, there was Toby.  We hardly recognized each other.  I looked at him and said, “Toby, you got skinny!”  He replied, “Andy, you got fat!”  We both laughed and talked very briefly about our lives since 1969.  Toby is a physician, and his reputation is extremely good (I checked).



Pretty woman, walkin' down the street,

Pretty woman, the kind I like to meet.

Pretty woman, I don't believe you, you're not the truth,

No one could look as good as you.  Mercy!


Pretty woman, won't you pardon me?

Pretty woman, I couldn't help but see,

Pretty woman, that you look lovely as can be.

Are you lonely just like me?

1964, from “Oh, Pretty Woman” Roy Orbison  (Roy Orbison / Bill Dees)


Jan Simpson


(Andy Benz)

        During most of high school, I was secretly enamored of one dreamboat in particular.  She was a shorter girl with whom I shared class in both band and Latin.  She was quiet, easy to talk to, but difficult to engage in extended conversation.  She wore a winning smile set off by her rounded, dimpled cheeks.  Her name was Jan Simpson, and she was a majorette, flute player, and walking vision of adoration.

        Jan was kind enough to help me out in a non-musical area.  I hated homework, despising the idea that any teacher would want my personal time in addition to my attendance.  Our Latin teacher didn’t share my sentiments, so I stayed pretty low on her list.  On several occasions, trying to stay out of trouble without making any effort, I would ask Jan to let me look over her homework from Latin class.  She would always oblige.  On a couple of occasions, she even let me keep it through the next period.  While I don’t think she knew I might either memorize or copy it, I’m not convinced she would have minded.  More than once, she even left her perch in the band hall and assisted me through conjugations or vocabulary.  These helpful exchanges were always purposeful, quite friendly, and I loved being in the company of a true beauty, inside and out.

        It was with some joy that I have found Jan to be very much the same 30 years later.


Wild thing,

You make my heart sing

You make everything groovy

Wild thing.


Wild thing, I think I love you

But I wanna know for sure

Come on and hold me tight

I love you.

1967, from “Wild Thing”  The Troggs  (Chip Taylor)


Vicki Crosswaite


(Andy Benz)

        One of the things most of us do from time to time is look back and realize we were dumb.  It’s especially regretful when you see that you’ve been insensitive or unintentionally hurtful, and realize that sometimes indifference is the most painful stone we can hurl.  This is a 30-year-old regret with an attached belated apology.

        Vicki was a majorette in the band, tall, thin, quite lovely, with dark red hair.  Vicki also worked at Old Abilene Town as a hostess.  I can still see her in my mind wearing a long western dress, which tried to hide her figure and wound up flattering.  Vicki was present many of the weeks when I was there, either with Pick playing ragtime, or with the Cougar Brass.  She worked part of the summer when I took a “job” to play around in the tourist amusement area of Old Town, trying to act like a gunslinger, dressing in (unauthentic) cowboy attire and shooting blanks with my dad’s revolver.  Vicki’s manner was always kind and gentle, and she gave sincere compliments to each of us from time to time.

        Vicki was at the restaurant the night I disturbed most of the patrons.  Richard had brought his reel-to-reel tape recorder to use for a rehearsal, and he also had some pre-recorded tape “albums” we listened to from time to time.  I went back into the far party room and set it up with headphones to listen to a tape, and as I listened, I began to sing along.  Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sing while you’re wearing headphones, but it can be very funny or very upsetting for those around you.  When you’re wearing them, especially if they’re very loud, you sing out to hear yourself, but you’re not aware of it.  This was exactly what happened to me.  I sat in the room by myself, singing along to a tape, with my off-key, untrained and uncontrolled voice getting louder and louder.  Finally, Mr. Casey himself came back to the room and shook my shoulder to get my attention.  When I got the phones off my ears, he asked if I was hurt, and I assured him I wasn’t.  He asked what I was doing, and I told him.  He then told me that I was bellowing so loud I could be clearly heard across the entire restaurant, and some customers were convinced I must be in pain.  He was mad and I was mortified.  Somehow, Pick and the rest of the group found it funny.

        The truth is, I ignored Vicki.  It wasn’t that I didn’t speak to her; we had a few brief conversations.  She was occasionally around for our traditional late suppers after we played the last set, and would circle the table as part of her job and as part of being the friendly and interested person she was.  I don’t recall even having a direct conversation of more than a few passing words.

        Vicki, I sincerely ask your forgiveness.

I got me a complication, and it's an only child

Concernin' my reputation as something more than wild.

I know it serves me right, but I can't sleep at night.

Have to hide my face or go some other place.


Here's the situation, and how it really stands:

I'm out of circulation, I've all but washed my hands.

My social life's a dud, my name is really mud.

I'm up to here in lies, guess I'm down to size.


Talk talk, Talk talk, Talk talk, Talk talk

1966, from “Talk Talk” Music Machine (Sean Bonniwell)


Cheri Smith & Randi Rowntree


(Andy Benz)

        I knew Cheri Smith from Madison Junior High.  She was a bit short, strikingly beautiful, and quite popular.  I remember sitting near her desk the day Kennedy was assassinated, listening to the radio broadcast piped throughout the school, watching her cry, trying and failing to comfort her.  She was never unkind, and seemed never to mind talking with me even though we didn’t have a great deal in common.  In many ways, she was always a couple of years older and wiser than her age.

        Buddy Bailey scored 4 tickets to a Jimi Hendrix concert in Dallas, and he had already asked if I would go with him.  Of course, I was most pleased to accept.  Buddy asked Randi Rowntree to go with him, and to bring a friend.  She chose Cheri.  Randi was boisterous, beautiful, a majorette, and all around hot commodity.

        Cheri agreed to come along on one clear and unwavering condition: it must be well understood, declared in advance, that she was not going anywhere “with” Andy Benz.  While Buddy and Randi were dating, Cheri and Andy were not.  Understand, Cheri was not at all being rude; she had a boyfriend at the time about whom she was serious, but wanted to attend the concert and be with her friends.

        We all had a great time on the trip.  The concert was everything we hoped it would be, and much more.  Buddy and I were overwhelmed by the sheer genius of Hendrix’s ability, as well as his bassist and drummer.  The warmup group was a little known bunch that called themselves the Chicago Transit Authority.  Cheri and Randi, by every appearance, had an equally good time.  We all enjoyed each others’ company and conversation.  Late that night, we headed back toward Abilene.

        By prior agreement with Buddy, I drove the return trip.  When we started, he and Randi were in the back seat.  Then, after a brief stop, the girls changed seats so Cheri could sleep better in the back with Buddy, who was also pretty tired.  Randi and I talked for many miles, and then she curled up and dozed off herself.  Somewhere along the road, as Randi moved around in her sleep, her short skirt rode up, exposing some part of her underwear. 

        Now, aside from the obvious distraction, this was a serious problem, and I didn’t know what to do.  As I began to weigh my options, none of them looked promising.  If I woke her, she’d be embarrassed and/or angry.  If I didn’t, and she woke up on her own, she might accuse me of some manner of perverse voyeurism.  I looked around for a jacket or blanket or pillow, but there was nothing in sight to cover her.  Miles went by, during which she stirred several times.

        Buddy finally came to, and I got his attention, with the good fortune that Cheri was asleep.  I tilted my head and pointed out the problem, and once Buddy spied the exposure, he started laughing, not out loud, but visibly shaking to hold it in.  To relieve my awkward discomfort, and he slowly sat up, confidently reached over, and tugged her dress back into place himself.  Randi never woke up.


I’m not scared of dying, and I don’t really care.

If it’s peace you find in dying, well then, let the time be near.

If it’s peace you find in dying, and if dying time is here,

Just bundle up my coffin, ‘cause it’s cold way down there.

I hear that it’s cold way down there, yeah, crazy cold way down there.


And when I die, and when I’m dead and gone,

There’ll be one child born in this world to carry on, to carry on.


Now troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well.

I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell.

Swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell,

But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell.

1969, from “And When I Die”  Blood, Sweat, and Tears 


Ricky Harding


(Andy Benz)

        Richard Pickett introduced me to one of his longtime childhood friends with whom he had built brush and mud forts in Catclaw Creek.  Ricky Harding was loud and boisterous, big and brash, frequently funny and sometimes a bit frightening.  He played bass clarinet in the band.  And he was one of my most consistent and loyal friends throughout high school.

        Rick never did much of anything halfway; he was a full throttle guy.  One the first and strongest lessons he taught me came when several band fellows were talking during lunch, and the subject turned to a fellow friend absent from our circle.  Several negative and humorous statements were made, ridicule was bantered around the table.  But Ricky turned red in the face and dressed us down quite loudly for talking about a friend behind his back.  He announced he wouldn’t be party to it, and he left our company.  I didn’t join him, but I wish I had.  And I could never be in his presence afterwards without feeling respect.

        As the band took long bus rides to football games, Ricky and I felt we had to have some way of playing some music.  So he brought over an automotive 8-track player, and together, we rigged a car battery for a power supply and strung half-a-dozen speakers together.  When installed in the luggage racks overhead, the entire bus could hear pretty well.  It was another great success, except that some sourpusses didn’t appreciate the selections offered. 

        But Rick’s volatility scarred me on one occasion.  We went out to the Clyde area one fall weekend to shoot a few doves during season, and we drifted apart until we were separated by a large cattle tank.  It wasn’t a good day; birds were scarce and we didn’t have a dozen between us.  I spotted one coming over the water just as we were getting ready to leave, and I cranked down my variable choke shotgun and fired shot toward the bird, which was flying pretty high.  I missed the bird.  But the shot fell back to the ground and hit around Ricky. He came storming up, shouting at me for peppering him.  And to emphasize his point, he said words to the effect that I needed to know what it was like to get shot at.  Ricky then aimed his shotgun at me and pulled the trigger.  We were too far apart to hurt anything, but to see a muzzle flash in my direction scared me to my toes.  I was frozen in place as shot fell to the grass around me.  I think I was only hit by one BB, and I hardly felt it.  As much as I respected and liked Ricky, we never went hunting together again.


How can people be so heartless?

How can people be so cruel?

Easy to be hard, easy to be cold.

How can people have no feelings?

How can they ignore their friends?

Easy to be proud, easy to say no.


And especially people who care about strangers,

Who care about evil and social injustice?

Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?

How about a needing friend?  I need a friend.

1969, from “Easy to be Hard” Three Dog Night


Judy Cole


(Andy Benz)

        I didn’t make a great many Cooper friends outside the hallowed halls of band-dom, but Judy Cole was an exception.  We shared a couple of classes, and found that we shared a number of irreverent attitudes and humorous outlooks.  I liked Judy a lot; she was easy to talk to and unthreatening to be around.  She laughed easily, appreciated talent, and saw through bluster. 

        Judy covered over what could easily have been an embarrassing moment for both of us.  We had taken the habit of playing paper football in the back of the classroom whenever possible.  (You know, the game played with a folded triangle of paper thumped with the middle finger toward a makeshift goalpost made of arms and fingers.)  After all, we were such superior students, we didn’t need to pay attention in class!  She was a pretty good player, but I was usually a little better.  (Did she let me win?)  One day, determined to make a goal from way across the room, I took careful aim and fired a long shot as hard as I could thump.  I missed.  The low trajectory didn’t carry the paper between her arms, but hit squarely between her knees and bounced up her dress.  She had to stand to let it fall out.  I felt my face turn several shades of red even as I strained to keep from laughing aloud.  Judy never goaded me about it; she was as much amused as I.  As a matter of fact, later that same class, she made the shot I was attempting.  Of course, I wasn’t wearing a dress, so she didn’t have anything to worry about.


Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?

Then we wouldn't have to wait so long.

And wouldn't it be nice to live together

In the kind of world where we belong?

You know its gonna make it that much better

When we can say goodnight and stay together


Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up

In the morning when the day is new?

And after having spent the day together,

Hold each other close the whole night through?

Happy times together we've been spending,

I wish that every kiss was never-ending.


Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true.

Baby, then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do.

We could be married, and then we'd be happy --

Wouldn't it be nice?

from “Wouldn't It Be Nice” The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson / Tony Asher)

Judy Cole (continued)


(Andy Benz)

            It was some years later that I placed an operator assisted long distance call from my parent’s home in Abilene, and the helpful operator recognized my voice and asked if this was Andy Benz.  It was Judy, and we chatted very briefly. She told me she had married Gary Israel, and I was most happy for both of my friends.


Everybody’s building ships and boats,

Some are building monuments, others are jotting down notes.

Everybody’s in despair, every girl and boy.

But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna jump for joy.


Come all without, come all within, you’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn!

Come all without, come all within, you’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn!

1968, from “The Mighty Quinn”  Manfred Mann (Bob Dylan)


Ted Krieger


(Andy Benz)

        To meet Ted for the first time demanded you notice his physical appearance.  He has a stiffened arm jutting at an awkward angle and a walk of some difficulty.  As he moved through a crowd, he’d sometimes hold his awkward arm with his good one to keep from hitting doors and jostling people.  And then, as you talk awhile, you found that you hardly ever again see those oddities.  He was gentle in demeanor, engaging in conversation, an intent listener, and a substantive thinker.

        I have no doubt that there was a time in Ted’s life when the meanness of childhood brought taunting remarks and hurtful teasing.  I’m sure that, if you deeply probed him, he could tell stories of great personal ridicule and hurt.  But Ted projected a perspective of “so what” regarding his body.  “So what if I can’t play football; I can enjoy the game, and find a way to help my team.”  “So what if I can’t run quite as fast; you go ahead and I’ll catch up, because I’m no quitter.”  “So what if you can do things I can’t; I can do things you can’t, too.”  And you’d better be careful telling him he couldn’t do anything, because as likely as not, he’d make a liar of you.  Ted chose to not be victim of his circumstance.  He saw himself as perfectly normal person in a slightly less than perfect body who was seeking a purposeful life, and you can’t help but share that attitude with him.

        I owe a lot to Teddy.  He was inspiring, to be sure.  If he could live well with a limited body, I should most certainly feel the same way about my limits that are less visible.  But, much more than that, he had a way of putting people at ease around him.  He’s wasn’t fragile, his feelings were not (visibly) hurt easily, he wasn’t high maintenance.  You could relax and enjoy him for the person he was.

        In 1984, when my life companion Dona was stricken with M.S., I ran through a deep course of emotions.  I railed at the unfairness, I grieved the loss, I wept for the years of limitations we knew her diagnosis would certainly bring.  But then Teddy’s lessons kicked in to bolster my faith.  I remembered that bad things happen to all of us, yet we must still achieve, believe, and pursue.  Tragedies and losses come, and we can, we must, find a way to overcome, even though our lives will always be crippled and scarred.  And that’s OK; it’s our scabs and scars that show our character. 

        Teddy would never think of himself as anything but just another guy who happened to have a hill somewhat steeper to climb than the rest of us.  But he is a true hero.  He learned great bravery at an early age.  He showed us how to press on, to pursue excellence, joy, faith, and fulfillment regardless of obstacles. 

Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball.

From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all.

But I ain’t seen nothin’ like him in any amusement hall,

That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!


He’s a pinball wizard, there’s got to be a twist,

A pinball wizard, ‘s got such a supple wrist.

How do you think he does it?  I don’t know.

What makes him so good?

1969, from “Pinball Wizard” The Who


Grady Waddell


(Andy Benz)

        There are usually one or two people in every crowd for whom achievement seems to come easily.  Grady Waddell was first chair French horn, which is a difficult instrument to master.  And even thought he was quite good musically, it wasn’t his passion.  He bested me in physics and trigonometry, competed with me in chemistry, tried (and failed) to help me understand analytical geometry derivatives, and was an all-around very smart fellow.  Grady wasn’t athletic; he was disposed to allergies and frequently had a slight wheeze, sometimes fighting to clear his throat. 

        Grady and I became fans of the slide rule as we studied logarithms in math, and we became very adept at chain calculations.  He preferred a circular rule, and I really liked the straight slide.  We once had Mr. McGoy, our physics teacher, give us a series of calculations to see how fast and accurately we could perform, and neither of us could best the other.  I guess that made us kings of Nerdville for that particular week.

        Grady also played with me and others in an ensemble for UIL contest, and made the trip to Austin for the state level competition.  He had his dad’s Chevy with a loaded 396, which didn’t make it a dragster by any means, but carried a top end that was comfortably in 3 figures.  The intakes made a throaty “wahhh” wail as the engine wound up, and it could be heard some distance away, especially as it came toward you.  As we made the trek to Austin, I was in another car, but Grady was the pacesetter with whom we struggled to keep up.  He would grab the lead by half a mile, and then taunt us by pulling onto the shoulder until we came in sight.  The return trip late that night was even faster.

Did you ever have to make up your mind,

Pick up on one and leave the other behind?

It's not often easy, and not often kind.

Did you ever have to make up your mind?


Did you ever have to finally decide,

Say yes to one and let the other one ride?

There's so many changes and tears you must hide.

Did you ever have to finally decide?

1966  from “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind”  Lovin' Spoonful


Ricky Stanaland and Sharon Sudberry


(Andy Benz)

        Sharon Sudberry was one of the few people I feared at Cooper High School.  She was friendly but reserved, nice to everyone, but I was rarely sure what she was thinking.  She wore her hair fairly short and carried herself athletically with authority.  She projected an expectation to behave, to do well, to be positive.

        Sharon played cornet, and was drum major for 1968-69.  As she stepped us into position in the end zone before a halftime show, she once called me to task for goofing off and cutting up, stepping out of formation, and making a bad presentation.  I found myself responding in obedience, and even being appreciative of her walking the line between being responsible without being overbearing.

        Another cornet player watched Sharon more closely.  Rick Stanaland was a hard worker with a dry sense of humor.  He had a trademark of making statements that were just over-the-edge enough, with a deadpan look, that one never quite sure if he was serious.  He rarely was.  Rick and Sharon were attracted to each other, and became sweethearts.  They didn’t make big displays of affection, they didn’t talk about each other all the time, but neither would either permit criticism of the other without a little bristle.

        Before the Cougar Brass was formed, Rick played with Pick and me and a few others on some our fledgling arrangements.  In particular, at my house, I had attempted an arrangement of “Goldfinger” for 2 trumpets, trombone, baritone, and piano.  It was a miserable attempt, and the key transpositions were never quite right.  We struggled through most of the piece with everyone trying to play their part and not be critical.  But near the end, Rick finally pulled his horn down and exclaimed, “What IS this?  It’s terrible!”  The gate burst, and everyone agreed my arranging skills were wholly inadequate.  Richard pulled out something he had done for us to work on. Wisely, I never tried to write music by myself thereafter. 

        That Sharon and Ricky were married a couple of years later was not a surprise.


Want some whiskey in your water?  Sugar in your tea?

What’s all these crazy questions you’re askin’ me?

This is the craziest party there could ever be!

Don’t turn on the light, ‘cause I don’t wanna see.


Open up your window, let some air into this room.

I think I’m almost chokin’ from the smell of stale perfume,

And that cigarette you’re smokin’, ‘bout scared me half to death!

Open up the window, let me catch my breath


Momma told me not to come, momma told me not to come.

She said, “That ain’t no way to have fun, son,

“That ain’t no way to have fun.”

1970, from “Momma Told Me”  Three Dog Night (Newman)


Andy Benz


(Andy Benz)

        While I hope most of you remember me, I’m sure many will not.  I was unremarkable in appearance, moderately tall at 6’0” and a comfortably thin 160 lbs., somewhat pimply faced, and topped by jet black hair.  My family lived on Glenwood Drive between 20th and 23rd.  I have a sister 2 years younger, Dianne, and a much younger brother, David. 

        In Cooper, I was a borderline nerd, operating my slide rule (along with Grady Waddell) with confident ease, but I don’t think I ever wore a pocket protector to school  (I did own a couple).  I took all of the math and most of the science offered at the time, which also demanded that I be in summer school between the 11th and 12th year.  I was usually participatory (to a fault) in class, but truly despised homework and often refused to do it.

        I played baritone horn in the band.  I also played string bass, and later bass guitar, in the stage band.  And I played bass with several groups, including the Cougar Brass, the Nick Androvitch Jazz Trio, and a couple of rag-tag rock-and-roll groups.


Goodbye, let our hearts call it a day.

But before you walk away,

I sincerely want to say:


I wish you bluebirds in the spring

To give your heart a song to sing,

And then a kiss.  But more than this,

I wish you love.


And in July, a lemonade,

To cool you in some leafy glade.

I wish you health, and more than wealth,

I wish you love.


I wish you shelter from the storm,

A cozy fire to keep you warm.

But most of all, when snowflakes fall,

I wish you love.

1964 from “I Wish You Love” Gloria Lynne (Trenet / Beach)


Ya’ll Come Back Now, Y’ Hear?

        I trust you’ve enjoyed the snapshots and glimpses of our together past.  I really hope you take the time to write a little yourself, making your friends and your memories part of this collection.  We’re all a little poorer if you won’t.