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James R. Stout

Everything In Its Own Time

            There was once a place in Southwest Houston that was a great place to go for shopping and for going out on a date. It was called Westbury Square. The first time that I went there was with a couple of friends and my girlfriend. It was in October of 1975. We went to a eat at The Village Square Pizza Parlor and listened to live music. I have no recollection of who the band was, but I recall liking them. They performed then current Top 40 tunes. We walked around the square but didn’t actually do any shopping that night. The place was a fair distance from where we all lived, so we didn’t go back for many months.

            At the time, I was preparing to do a “single” (solo performance) in clubs and restaurants. I worked part-time at a K-mart in the photo department and spent several hours a day working up a repertoire that would allow me to play five 45-minute sets. I planned on using two different guitars and sing. I would use my Takamine 12-string and my Alverez bi-centennial model 6-string acoustics. They were both great guitars and fully suited to the music that I planned on performing. I worked up many singer-songwriter songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s as well as I kept current with songs that were in the same vein. Some of the current songs at that time that I could appropriately perform with just an acoustic guitar and vocal included “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Annie’s Song”, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “Sister Golden Hair”, and the hit cover by The Carpenters of “There’s A Kind of Hush”. I also included in my sets several songs that I had written. These included “Your Heart Will Bleed”, “Loneliness”, “The Ax-Wax Museum”, “It’s Been So Long”, “Love In Me”, “Cry Me A Rainbow”, and “I Looked Into Your Eyes”. I’ll come back to that last one in a minute.

            I had a Peavey PA system with two columns that each had 4 10” speakers and a 130-watt mixer. It was plenty of volume and would accommodate plenty of microphone inputs. By the middle of January of 1976, I was ready to take on the world. The only drawback to doing a single at the time was an annoying thing called “Disco” that was becoming very popular. I say it was annoying because it did not lend itself to a just a guy and his guitar. The “beat” or drums were very much in the forefront of that genre as well as synthesizers and a prominent bass. It was also a multi-voice genre with lots of harmony. However, there were still a lot of people who wanted to hear the kind of music that I was playing. I quit my job at K-mart at the end of January and started to actively seek some clubs or restaurants to obtain bookings. It took me about 6 weeks to get my first booking. I signed a contract with a nice restaurant and club called “The Bull and Anchor”. You’ll never guess what kind of food they served! Oh, and guess where it was located? Yes, good ole Westbury Square. I had a guaranteed contract for 7 weeks starting the second week of April. I bought some new shirts and pants to go with what I considered my “Saturday Night” suit. It was a dismal gray leisure suit. Yuck! I would be playing five nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. The club part of the establishment was where they seated people while they waited for a table on the restaurant side as well as it was a full-blown bar for people who just wanted to hear live music and buy a few drinks.

            I guess I should have mentioned it before, but at the time I was the ripe old age of 20. I look back on it now and it took a lot of guts and some talent to do what I did. While I was actively seeking a booking agent, I got this job on my own and while I played there, I started to have a regular clientele or following. Although I had performed in clubs going back to when I was 18, I had been in a duet back then. Having all the responsibility on my shoulders was a different animal altogether. And, those 7 weeks were eye-opening. I learned that all kinds of people went to clubs. Some of them were extremely nice and some of them were extremely rude. The rude ones generally had partaken too much in the way of libations. There was always some smart-a** who would ask me to play Kiss or Led Zeppelin knowing full-well it just couldn’t be done with a single acoustic guitar and vocal. However, I did start working up songs by many of those artists that I could do just to shut up the loudmouths. I worked up “Angie” by The Rolling Stones, “Over The Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin,” and “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who among others. I quickly learned that there were certain songs that were well-liked by people who otherwise liked a different genre. “Annie’s Song” was one of these. It turned out that the chef was engaged to be married and that song was his and his fiancé’s favorite song. He asked me to sing it at their wedding and so I did. My girlfriend at the time was only 17 and couldn’t legally go into the club, but I had her in a couple of nights and it helped to have someone there that I knew in the audience. On one of those nights when it came time to take a 15-minute break, we walked around the square and did some window shopping. There were actually some very nice little shops there. The first Hallmark store that I ever went to was there.

            It turned out that I missed out on a very cool concert during that time. I had purchased tickets to go see Paul McCartney and Wings. The concert was going to be on a Sunday night and that meant that I could go. But there was a postponement of the start of that tour and when it was changed the concert was on a Tuesday night. So, I sold my tickets to a friend. To rub salt in that wound I ended up being caught in a traffic jam on my way home due to all the traffic from that concert. Boo.

            The last week that I was there the manager came to me and told me that they were going to no longer have live entertainment. They were going to install a dance floor and have a DJ playing disco. More annoyance. On the last night that I played I decided to let my true colors come out. You see, even though I played where they served alcohol, I didn’t drink. I was true to my girlfriend despite several young ladies trying to pick me up. I would marry that girlfriend in September of 1976. I decided to make my last song there “I Looked Into Your Eyes”. I had written it with a little bit of deception. The lyrics go, “I looked into your eyes and found such peace. I looked into your face and quiet serenity. I never knew of such a perfect love. As that love you have for me. I gotta say thanks for your love.” All the way up until the very last line of the song a listener would believe that I was singing about a girl. But the last line of the song goes, “I never knew of such a perfect love. As that love you have for me. Thank you, Jesus, for your love.” I still believe that song is one of my finest. However, I have not made a truly decent recording of it. That night I sang that song and as I was putting my guitar down to finish my run there, a middle-aged man sitting in the back of the club spoke up.

            “What was that last line you sang?” he asked

            So, I told him. He looked at me and then said, “That’s beautiful, young man.”

            Well, it made me feel really good to hear that. That night was the last night that I would play in a club for another 4 years. Getting married and all that goes with that, including supporting a wife, kept me working outside of music performance. Like I said earlier, I learned a lot in those seven weeks. I gained confidence and perspective too. I also learned that when six loud young people are all drinking from a huge with 6 straws, they are probably drinking what was then called “A Zombie”. It inspired me to write a song called “Zombie Music”. I learned that you needed to unplug the tabletop pong game while performing because you just couldn’t compete with it at the time.

            When I think of Westbury Square I remember all of these things. Several years ago, I happened to be on business in that area and thought I’d go check out the square for old times sake. It was very sad. Most of it was torn down and replaced by a Home Depot. What little was left was condemned by the city and would have been dangerous to trespass. What had once been a quaint place to go was no more. In fact, the neighborhood areas around it had fallen on hard times as well. Time takes its toll. I mean, I’m not exactly what I was back then either. I wish I was in that condition. Everything in its own time. Its own time.

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