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James R. Stout

The Last Ride of The Trio

            I recently wrote a blog entry about me and my old duet partner and friend, Lonny Schonfeld. I wanted to write about something related to that friendship and our duet partnership. As I mentioned in that earlier blog, Lonny and I had begun our duet in November of 1972. At the time, we were strapped for cash and undecided on exactly how we would embark on our adventure. Lonny owned an old Gibson Melody Maker electric guitar, but no amplifier. A decent amplifier would cost him around $300-$500. I owned two acoustic guitars and if we “went electric” then it meant I would have to buy an electric guitar and an amplifier as well as we would have to expand with a drummer. I did own an old “no-name” bass guitar and a 2x15” bass speaker cabinet with a 100-watt Bogen amplifier. So, it meant that our “duet” would have to become a band and we would need to add a lead guitarist (if I was to play bass) as well as a drummer. We experimented with this to some degree for a couple of months while performing as a duet using my two acoustic guitars. I’ll expound on those in just a minute. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we preferred two acoustic guitars and just doing the duet as opposed to an electric band. So, by the time the first of March 1973 came around we had decided to go the route of an acoustic duet. Now, to those two acoustic guitars that I had. They were birds of the same kind. Cheap cheap cheap! One was another “no-name” guitar. I had gotten it in the summer of 1972 from a pawn shop. It literally didn’t have the name of the maker on it. I am positive it was a cheap knock-off from Japan or Mexico. The sound was tinny, and the action was poor. But it had only cost about $50 when I got it. The other acoustic guitar was a 1970 Sears Silvertone that probably had cost my parents about the same amount at Christmas 1970. The fact of the matter was that if Lonny and I were going to pursue the acoustic duet route, then we were going to need better guitars.

            I had started to work at the Oak Village Theater in late January of 1973. So, I was saving my money for a better guitar and my first car. But it was clear I would need the guitar quicker than I could save enough money. I’ll get to that in just a moment. Lonny made the decision to sell his Gibson Melody Maker and use the money to buy a good acoustic 6-string. He made a deal with a local music store and traded even for a new Alvarez 6-string with a hard-shell case. The guitar was quite nice with great tone, smooth action, and it even had gold Grover tuners. We were halfway there.

            On more than one occasion over the decades since then Lonny and I have talked about how my father was so supported of us and our musical endeavors. We didn’t actually realize how much a part of our dream he was. We’ve talked a lot about how the 18-month period of time from November 1972 through June of 1974 was very special. It was exciting, a lot of action going on, and we shared experiences that only the two of us have memories of. But the truth is, my father was there for much of it. When we start to reminisce about those days, we almost always realize how much my father was a part of it. His encouragement was paramount, but he also provided his experience and such mundane things as his “big ole long drink of water”, as he called it, 1972 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. On several occasions he provided transportation in that car for us and all of our equipment. It held not only our guitars, but the new Peavey P.A. system that we purchased in the summer of 1973 that included microphone stands and microphones. We used it to haul our equipment to more than one audition or performance. Dad was even there for us when we had car trouble on the freeway on the east side of Houston. He dropped what he was doing, arranged for a tow truck to come get my car, drove 25 miles to pick us up, and treated us to dinner at a Denny’s on the way home.

            So, the first of March rolled around and I sheepishly approached my Dad about a money problem. I explained the guitar situation to him and asked if he would co-sign with me for a loan through Evans Music City on a new guitar. He knew the owner of the store and took care of their pianos. I told him that I would be able to pay off the loan early by saving my money at my job. Dad didn’t bat an eye and said, “When do you want to go to Evans?” Well, in those days’ stores closed at 6 p.m. and by the time I could get home from school we would barely have time to drive over to Evans and shop for a guitar. No problem for Dad. He wrote me a note allowing me to leave school during the middle of the day. He came to the school and pick me and Lonny up about 10:00 a.m. and off we went to Evans Music in that Ford station wagon. It was like we were a trio instead of a duet.

            We got to Evans and I started to try out different guitars. I had saved $100 to put down on one. Our “sound” in those days included me playing a 12-string guitar. I’ve had some people who knew who I was at school in those days come up to me years later at a class reunion and say, “You were that 12-string guy!” So, as I walked around looking at the guitars and trying them out, I came to “the” 12-string. It was an Alvarez model 5068. I still have the receipt for it. The cost? Well, with hard shell case it was going to be nearly $400. That doesn’t sound like much, but as per the official calculator for how much buying power that would be today it was about $2,075! It turns out that the guitar was hand made by a world-renowned luthier. Well, I gulped at the price, but I fell in love with that guitar the minute I took it off the wall. Just the feel of the neck in my hand before I even played a note was something special. It didn’t take long for me to say, “This is the one.” Dad looked at the price tag and I think he might have turned a little green around the gills, but that didn’t stop him from helping me out. We set down with the salesman and Dad co-signed the loan with a balance of $315 after taxes and interest on the loan. He gave me his best “Dad look” and said, “Now son, you know if you fail to pay this, then I’ll have to and if that happens, then the guitar is mine!” Well, that was only fair, but I was never going to let that happen. I can still smell the new smell of the inside of that hard-shell case, gold in color, as the salesman put the Alvarez inside of it and closed up the case.

            Dad drove us back to school, but not without treating us to lunch first, and when I got out of the Ford to go back in school and he drove off with that guitar in his car it was like I was saying goodbye to my girlfriend. Yea, silly it seems now, but I was just 17 and you know what I mean? Lonny and I were set. We had a coffeehouse performance coming up in a week and some other performances in the works. We couldn’t wait to get to my house that night to practice with our new guitars. I remember Dad standing in the hallway listening to us and a great big smile on his face. I guess I should tell you that even though my monthly payment for the guitar was only $26 a month and I had a year to pay it, I paid if off by that July. We even had earned enough money to buy that P.A. system by then too.

            We played a significant amount of time in an Anthology performance in April that year and were the featured performers by opening the show and then performing 6 songs in our own part of the program. I’ve attached a photo taken by the school newspaper photographer of that performance. I’m facing the camera (but my face is somewhat blocked by my microphone) while Lonny’s profile is captured. The lighting was perfect. I’ve also attached a photo showing that guitar on the wall at Evans Music.

Dad had also been associated with the V.A. hospital in Houston. For one thing, he himself had been a patient there back when I was a baby after he was in a bad car accident. He got to know the event planners and such and took care of the pianos at the hospital. Dad had been telling the man in charge of performances that were held at the hospital auditorium about me and Lonny and the guy invited us to come out and play on a Saturday evening in April. It was a huge auditorium and when we got there we were immediately scared to death at the size of the crowd. We were used to an audience of 50 or so people at small coffeehouses. We wanted to do the performance as a practice for the upcoming Anthology performance. But we had no idea that in reality we would be playing for a great many more people at the V.A. than at Anthology ’73. There was an audience that night of about 2000 people. Our veterans, heroes all, many of them wheeled in on gurneys to watch us sing, were amazing and so inspiring. Remember, a lot of these veterans were just back from Vietnam. Of course, we had gone there with my Dad in that Ford. It wasn’t until years later that I learned something from my Dad about that night. It has come to mean something special to me. There was a certain song that we did that I played lead guitar on and it was a somewhat difficult bit of guitar playing and even more so on a 12-string guitar. Dad was sitting out in the audience and as I was navigating through that guitar solo a man sitting next to Dad remarked, “Look at that kid go on that 12-string! That boy’s good!” Well, Dad turned to the man, a stranger to Dad, and beamed with pride when he told him that the kid playing the 12-string was his son.

            The thing that both Lonny and I came to realize as the years passed was that often times Dad was the only one of our parents in attendance when we made a performance. When we got our first decent paying gig at a Steak-n-Ale restaurant in January of 1974 Dad surprised us by showing up just to hear us and see us playing. It came to mean a lot to us how much support we got from Dad and we realized too that he was part of that golden time period for us.

            Fast forward to June 14, 2016. I had told Lonny on the phone that Dad wasn’t doing well in hospice in Palestine, Texas. Dad was 93-years-old, suffered from congestive heart failure, and had lost his left leg due to peripheral artery disease two months before. We arranged to meet at the facility there on that day. I brought Mom with me. We spent some time in Dad’s room, but Dad was not able to talk. His time was near. Lonny, Mom, and I went out to lunch and then came back for a little while to Dad’s room. We weren’t sure just how much he was aware of at the time, but then as we all prepared to leave, with each of us saying our goodbyes to Dad. My mother remarked later that even on his death bed his hand grip was like a vice when she took his hand and leaned over and kissed his forehead. I remember watching as Lonny took Dad’s hand and said some words of encouragement and Dad tried to reply but was just unable to. The hospice nurse told us that Dad probably would not last another 3 days. I bent down and kissed his cheek and then I whispered in his ear. I said, “Dad, I’ll take care of Mama. You can count on me. Do what you need to do and it’s OK to go if you need to go.” For just a second he opened his eyes and we made eye contact and I knew he understood.

            Lonny went back home to Dallas and I drove Mom to their home in Trinity, Texas. I was outside my house around 7 o’clock that evening when my cell phone rang. It was the hospice nurse and she told me that Dad had passed away. I didn’t want to tell Mom on the phone, so I decided to drive over to her house. On the way I made two phone calls. First, I called my sister Debbie to let her know. She would call our sister Barbara to let her know. They were sisters after all and closer. I also called Lonny and let him know. Thinking about it now, I realize it was only fitting that Lonny was there and got to say goodbye to Dad. In many ways, Lonny had been like another son to Dad. I have no doubt that Lonny could regale you with some of my Dad’s old jokes and pranks. And, that was the last ride of our Trio.

 

 

Lonny and I performing at Anthology '73 on April 27, 1973

 

The 1973 Alvarez model 5068 12-string guitar

My father circa 1973.

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