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James R. Stout

Stand By Me

            My father used to say, “Any job worth doing is worth doing right.” He also used to say, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” I have tried very hard to follow his advice. Unfortunately, I haven’t always been able to accomplish everything that I set my mind to. The truth is there are always going to be things outside of our control that may ultimately thwart our attempts to accomplish a task. Let me tell you about one accomplishment that I set my mind to doing and despite the odds being against me I managed to not only accomplish it, but to do it right. But it sure wasn’t easy.

            I graduated from high school in 1974. I thought about going to college then, but I was too interested in trying to “make it in music”. I made a very brief attempt in the summer of 1978 and managed to get 9 hours college credits. Then the desire to keep trying to make it as a singer and songwriter got in the way again. The next several years were a series of ups and downs. In 1979 I was offered a staff songwriting job for MCA records in Nashville. I was ready for the adventure. Unfortunately, my wife of not quite 3 years didn’t want to move so far away from her parents. It was briefly discussed, and it was my feeling that I had a choice. Move to Nashville and take the job or stay married. Well, I loved my wife and I took my vows seriously. I called my contact at MCA and declined the job.

            By 1982 I had bought equipment for a home 8-track recording studio. It was a modest set-up, but capable. It was my idea to record demos and keep trying to shop them around via correspondence. That was just plain naivete on my part. Most of those tapes were likely thrown in the trash without ever being opened. You just couldn’t get your songs heard that way. In September of 1983 we learned we were expecting our first child. That changed things drastically. For one thing, it was a difficult pregnancy for my wife, and she was unable to work. I had recently (before knowing about the pregnancy) left my job in the architectural hardware business (a job that was going to play out within months anyway due to a severe downturn in the building industry in Houston) and secured a 2 month contract to play at a Houston restaurant and club chain. It was a good gig. The plan was for me to keep getting more contracts. But then another one of those “out of your control” things came into play. The new fad of DJ’s was starting, and a lot of the clubs were switching over from live music to DJ’s. I was unable to secure any concrete gigs after the 2 months and now we were in serious money trouble. I took what I thought would be a temporary job in the delivery business and it ended up lasting nearly 3 years. Our son was born in April of 1984 and then our daughter in August of 1985. We were barely making ends meet and in some cases the ends weren’t meeting. I even sold all of my musical equipment except for one 6-string acoustic guitar. It was a very rocky time.

            By 1986 I decided that I would have to do something to better myself and therefore provide better for my family. In those days, you couldn’t even get an interview for a good job without having a college degree. So, we made a plan. My wife was on board, but somewhat leery. The plan was about as cockamamie as they get, but if we stuck to it, I knew we could make it to our goal. The road was going to get pretty bumpy for the next 4 years. The plan was that my wife would get a full-time job doing what she had been doing prior to the babies. We moved closer into town and leased a house for less than what we had been paying for our house out of town. I took a series of part-time jobs and at some points a full-time job while attending school at night. Over the next four years I delivery pizzas, delivered the Houston Post, Houston Chronicle, and Wall Street Journal (the first two were 7 days a week from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.!), worked as a locksmith for the University of Houston, worked route sales one summer for Borden’s Ice Cream, and for two years also worked a part-time position (on top of the delivering papers etc) as the youth director at two different churches. I kid you not when I tell you that I don’t believe I got more than 3 hours sleep in a row for four years! I was taking an average of 12 college hours a semester. Oh, and I stayed home all day to be the primary care giver to our children. This allowed me time (during their nap) to study. It also saved us the money that would have been spent on daycare and most importantly it allowed our kids to be raised by a loving parent.

            Now, I would love to tell you that everything was great, and it all worked out the way we wanted. But the fact is the stress and strain of all it was causing some problems between me and my wife. She didn’t like her job (and I understood the feeling very well) and I would find out later that she resented me going to school when she wasn’t able to. But that’s another story. Things were really getting dicey by the fall of 1987. I wanted badly to tell my wife that I just didn’t think I was going to be able to do it without her support. Well, it was true. I had a lot of reasons for accomplishing my goal, but I needed to know she was standing right there beside me and that I had her support.

            One day in November I needed to go to the mall near the townhouse we were then leasing (even cheaper than the other lease house). As I was walking through one of the main areas near the food court, I saw a sign that caught my attention. There was a little fad at the time that I had pretty much laughed at but seeing that sign gave me an idea. It was for a new recording booth operation. It was pretty cheap. Well, it was downright cheap. They had some very cheaply made background tapes of a boatload of songs and you would go inside a little booth and while they piped in the background tape you sang along, and the finished product was recorded. It cost you $15. I looked through their list of songs and one jumped off the page at me. It was the old Ben E. King song, “Stand By Me”. It was getting a lot of airplay again despite being 27 years old. The reason was because of the movie with the same name and that the song was featured in the movie. Great movie, by the way. I had also liked John Lennon’s version from 1975. So, I decided to pay the $15 and record that song and then give the cassette tape to my wife as a way of asking her to stand by me as I worked towards our goal of me finishing school and then being able to get a better paying job to support our family. A funny side note to this is I didn’t realize that they were going to be piping me through the loudspeakers set-up in the food court! I’m sure glad I didn’t stink the place up! I knew the song quite well because I had sung it hundreds of times in clubs. It only took one take. When I stepped out of the booth a crowd had gathered outside and gave me big round of applause. I think I turned several shades of red.

            Well, I took that tape home and after the kids had gone to bed, I told my wife that I wanted to talk to her about something serious. I told her how much I loved her and the kids. I told her that I was sorry that I hadn’t made better plans when we were younger. I told her that more than anything I wanted to complete school and provide a better life for her and the kids. Then I told her I wanted her to listen to something. I played the tape for her. Well, she cried. I wasn’t sure if she was upset or happy or whatever until she gave me a big hug and kiss and told me that she would stand by me and together we would get through to the end.

            The next 2 and a half years seemed to drag by. But some great things happened along the way. After completing 57 hours at the University of Houston, I was offered a full scholarship to Houston Baptist University starting in the fall quarter of 1988. All I had to pay for was the books. The scheduling of my part-time jobs became a tightrope act given my upper level classes were all daytime classes. My wife quit her full-time job and got a part-time job while I delivered the Houston Post 7 days a week and worked at the church. Her part-time job allowed her to be home with kids when I couldn’t be and visa-versa. It was a mess is what it was, but then I graduated in 1990 from HBU with a 3.5 G.P.A.

            I would love to tell you that we lived happily ever after. But life doesn’t always go the way you hope that it will. The marriage ended in 2003 shortly after our daughter graduated from high school. I won’t go into all of that now. I hold no animosity towards my ex-wife. I truly mean it when I say that I hope she’s happy. The point of this story goes back to those two sayings that my father used to tell me. The job was to complete college. I had set my mind to doing it and I did it right. Those are some good words to live by. Another saying, this one from my mother, was “Do your best” comes to mind. I did my best and with the help of God, the support of my wife during those years, and the right attitude I accomplished my goal.

            Just for grins, I've attached that 32 year-old recording. The instrumentation was very cheaply made. It sounds like someone did it all using a very inexpensive keyboard for all the parts. But, it did the job for the time. Just click the link.

https://youtu.be/ldouvgNjlEA

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